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)
|First Line:||When peace, like a river, attendeth my way|
|Title:||When Peace, Like a River|
|Author:||Horatio Gates Spafford (1873)|
|Meter:||126.96.36.199 with refrain|
|Refrain First Line:||It is well with my soul,|
In November, 1873, Horatio Spafford sent his wife and four daughters on the French ship Ville du Havre from their home in Chicago to a vacation in France, planning to set out a few days later himself. Somewhere in the Atlantic, the Ville du Havre collided with a British ship coming the other way, and sank in just 12 minutes. Of his family, only Spafford’s wife survived. Spafford took the next boat over, and as he passed the spot where the ship went down, began to write, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll,” and continued until he had the text, “It is well with my soul.” His good friend, Philip Bliss, composed the tune for his words, naming it after the ship, VILLE DU HAVRE. In this hymn, Spafford has given all of us words of comfort and assurance in times of physical and spiritual crisis, paraphrasing those familiar words of Julian of Norwich: “And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Almost every hymnal keeps the original four verses and refrain unaltered. While the first stanza seems fairly autobiographical of the tragedy at sea (“when sorrows like sea billows roll”), as a whole, the text speaks to our assurance of hope in the midst of all trials. It acknowledges that both our earthly trials and spiritual sorrows are not far and removed from each other, but that through the suffering of Christ and the power of the cross, all of our own sufferings, spiritual, emotional, and physical, will one day be removed.
Perhaps what is most startling about this text is the first line: “When peace like a river attendeth my way.” What does that mean, “peace like a river?” Lisa McKay addresses the question beautifully when she says, “I used to think of peace primarily as a stillness – a pause, a silence, a clarity – but that sort of peace is not the peace of rivers. There is a majestic, hushed sort of calm to rivers, but they are not silent and they are certainly not still – even the most placid of rivers is going somewhere…I’ve stopped expecting peace to look like the pristine silence that follows a midnight snowfall. I’m coming to appreciate a different sort of peace instead – a peace that pushes forward, rich with mud, swelling and splashing and alive with the music of water meeting rock.” (McKay, “Peace Like a River,” rachelheldevans.com)
The tune VILLE DU HAVRE is the only one used with this text, which is fitting given the personal nature of the connection between text and tune. It’s possible for this to become an unfriendly tune for a congregation pitch-wise, so be careful about what key you use. It’s most reasonable in the key of C – Bb might be just a bit too low, and Db just a bit too high.
This is a hymn to be sung amidst the “Whys” of life. It is a testimony of our faith, even during tragedies and loss. It’s also a hymn of comfort, soothing the soul and reminding us of our peace in Christ. You could pair it with the hymn, “Jesus, I Come,” “Desert Song,” “Blessed Be Your Name,” or other responses of faith and declarations of trust.
Laura de Jong, Hymnary.org