When Peace, Like a River

Representative Text

1 When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."

Refrain (may be sung after final stanza only):
It is well with my soul;
it is well, it is well with my soul.

2 Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul. Refrain

3 My sin oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! Refrain

4 O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend;
even so, it is well with my soul. Refrain

Psalter Hymnal, (Gray)

Author: Horatio Gates Spafford

(no biographical information available about Horatio Gates Spafford.) Go to person page >

Text Information


Scripture References: st. 1 = Phil. 4:7 st. 3 = Col. 2:14 st. 4 = Isa. 34:4, 1 Cor. 15:52 Late in 1873 Horatio G. Spafford (b. North Troy, NY, 1828; d. Jerusalem, 1888) and his family were scheduled to travel from the United States to Europe. Delayed by pressing business, Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead on the French liner Ville du Havre. The ship collided with the English ship Lochearn on November 22 and sank in just twelve minutes. Spafford's wife was saved, but his daughters perished. After arriving in Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, "Saved alone." Spafford then left by boat to meet her. Near the tragic scene on the high seas he wrote this text. Upon hearing the news, evangelist Dwight L. Moody, a friend of the Spaffords, traveled to England to comfort them. He reported that Spafford said about the tragic event, "It is well; the will of God be done." Philip P. Bliss, another family friend, wrote the tune for Spafford's text. Both text and tune were published in Gospel Hymns No. 2 (1876), a hymnal compiled by Ira D. Sankey (PHH 73) and Bliss. The text conveys a sense of trust and ultimate peace with God's plan for our lives. Even in the face of "sorrows" and Satan's temptations, the Christian believes "it is well with my soul" (st. 1-2). That experience of trust and peace derives from knowing with certainty that Christ has paid the penalty for "my sin, not in part, but the whole" (st. 3).The final stanza affirms that it will also be "well with my soul" on the great day of Christ's return. This hymn has brought comfort to many Christians. In 1856, several years before writing this text, Spafford had moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he established a law practice and became a professor of medical jurisprudence at Lind University (now the Chicago Medical College). Active in the YMCA and as a Sunday school teacher, he served as director and trustee for the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Northwest in Chicago. Spafford became acquainted with Dr. Piazza Smith, a Scottish astronomer, and through him became interested in biblical archeology. Heavy losses in the Chicago fire of 1871, the death of his four daughters in 1873, and the death of his son in 1880 caused Spafford to be accused of some secret sin by uncharitable church members. In 1881 he, his wife, and some friends moved to Jerusalem and founded an American colony there; the family's story was told by another daughter, Bertha Spafford Vester, in Our Jerusalem. Liturgical Use: As a testimonial hymn, often after tragic events, when we want to confess our faith in God's providence even when we don't understand the "whys" of life. --Psalter Hymnal Handbook



The gospel tune by Philip Bliss (PHH 482) was named after the ship on which his friends died; VILLE DU HAVRE (also called IT IS WELL) is best sung in harmony throughout. The refrain may be sung only once–after stanza 4 as a final testimony. Use a moderate organ accompaniment to support confident s…

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