When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ (yes, He has) has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought (a thought)
My sin, not in part, but the whole (every bit, every bit, all of it)
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more (yes)
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul
And 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
Most of us know, love, and sing this song. It is one of the most moving in the hymnal, especially when you know the backstory.
Horatio Spafford, the writer of the lyrics, was an attorney in Chicago who owned significant properties. He and his wife Anna had five children. In 1871, the only boy, a four-year-old, died of pneumonia. In 1873, the Great Chicago Fire took a large portion of his properties, putting the family in dire financial straits. Things began to improve and the family made plans to visit England. Unexpected business came up and Spafford put his wife and four daughters on the ship to England, promising to arrive as soon as possible. Four days out the ship collided with a large Scottish vessel and sank, taking all four of the girls. Anna survived, hanging onto a piece of wreckage. Most of us know that story. It is justifiably famous. Now go back and read those lyrics again, written by a man who had lost almost everything.
"Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul." Could we have written that after some of the trials in our lives? As for me, I am not sure, but I do know that given the New Testament's demand that we learn to live not for this world, but for the one to come, I think I should be able to. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:1-4).
I think we all understand this hymn and the point it makes, whether we can emulate the author or not. But one phrase remains misunderstood by most because of our ignorance of the words of scripture and how some of them were once used. Look at that last verse. First the lyricist speaks of the day God will come in final judgment. Then he begins the next phrase with "Even so." Most of us would immediately think, "In spite of." So the verse would take on the meaning, "One day the Lord is coming, but in spite of this, it is well with me soul." I don't really think that is what we want to be saying.
The people who wrote hymns in those times, were so well steeped in the scripture, especially the King James Version, that they tended to speak and write that way. "Even so" can be two separate words in the Greek or it can be just one. The one we want is, I think, nai. That word is a word of strong affirmation, similar to "Amen." Most of the time it is translated "Yea" or "Yes," but in the older versions also "Verily" and "Truth." Look at this verse in particular. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet (Luke 7:26). Jesus is making the point that you may have thought you were going out to see a prophet when you went to hear John, but he was much more than just a prophet. Affirmation. Certainty.
So what does that mean about our hymn and the phrase in question? It means, "The Lord is coming and yes, I am anxious for his arrival." It is similar to the apostle John's sentiments in the Revelation when he says, He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Rev 22:20). Is that how we feel about that Day, the Day the Lord returns and takes us home?
This hymn has more than one challenging thought in it. Next time you sing it, consider what it truly meant to the man who wrote it, and what it should mean to us.
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen (Rev 1:7).
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Heb 9:27-28).