Friday, April 13, 2018

Hymns & Hymn Writers: It Is Well With My Soul

Spafford wrote the lyrics in 1873, and Bliss supplied the music in 1876. This wonderful piece of music came from tragedies difficult to imagine. Not everyone’s faith is shipwrecked when tragedy strikes.

Horatio Gates Spafford (1828-1888), Lyricist

Horatio Gates Spafford was born October 20, 1828 in Troy, NY. He was a lawyer and elder in the Presbyterian Church for a time. On September 5, 1861, he married Anna Larsen of Stavanger, Norway. The family suffered a major financial setback in the Chicago fire of 1871. In 1873, Horatio thought it would be good for Anna to visit Europe for her health, so he sent her and their four daughters to Europe ahead of him.

His wife and four children (Anna, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Tanetta) were sailing on French S. S. Ville Du Havre when it collided on November 22, 1873 with the British ship Lochearn. The ship sank in 12 minutes, and Anna was found unconscious by the crew of Lochearn, which was also in danger of sinking. Fortunately, another ship, Trimountain, was able to rescue them. Nine days later, December 1, 1873, Anna sent her husband a telegram: “Saved alone. What shall I do.”—they lost all four of their daughters ages 11 to 2. Horatio Spafford wrote the poem as he sailed the same waterway across the Atlantic Ocean to join his wife. Bliss offered to set the poem to music, which is “It Is Well With My Soul”. The song was debuted in November 1876 by P. P. Bliss to a crowd of over 1,000 ministers in Chicago. A month later Bliss and his wife would be killed in a tragic train wreck.

Mr. and Mrs. Spafford would have three more children: Horatio Goertner Spafford (died of scarlet fever at 3 years old), Bertha Hedges Spafford, and Grace Spafford. After all the tragedies, his wife Anna, left the church to worship independently in a movement dubbed “The Overcomers” by the Press. In August 1881 the Spaffords decided to join an effort to set up an American colony in Jerusalem. They adopted Jacob Eliahu who was a 13-year-old boy who discovered the famous Siloam inscription in 1880. Horatio Spafford perished on October 16, 1888 of malaria in Jerusalem and is buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in Jerusalem. His wife would remain there until her death in 1923.

Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876), Composer

Philip Paul Bliss was born July 9, 1838 in a log cabin in Clearfield County, PA. His family was religious and devoted to music. His family moved to Kinsman, OH in 1844, but returned to Pennsylvania in 1847. He left home at age 11 and worked in sawmills. Most of his education was from the Bible by his mother. He picked up schooling when he could, and by the age 17, he was qualified to teach and be a schoolmaster. He joined the Baptist Church during a revival meeting near Elk Run, PA.

He married Lucy J. Young on June 1, 1859 when they lived in Rome, PA. His home in Rome, PA is now the Philip P. Bliss Gospel Songwriters Museum. He went on to do traveling teaching of music. He was encouraged to pursue a career in music which he did. He was influenced by W. B. Bradbury to become a music teacher. He was employed by Root and Cady which were music publishers in Chicago, and he published his first hymn in 1864. Through his singing schools and other works, he gained the reputation as a speaker, song leader, and vocal soloist. One source stated his vocal range was from low D-flat to high A-flat. He published his first songbook, Gospel Songs, in 1874, then he began publishing Gospel Hymns working with Ira Sankey in 1875. He partnered with D. W. Whittle who also wrote Memoirs of Philip P. Bliss in 1877. He was known to work with the Baptist Church, Methodist Church, and Presbyterian Church which he was converted to by his wife.

Bliss has also composed: “Almost Persuaded”, “Hallelujah! What A Savior!”, “I Bring My Sins to Thee”, “I Gave My Life for Thee”, “I Will Sing of My Redeemer”, “Let The Lower Lights Be Burning”, “More Holiness Give Me”, and “Wonderful Words of Life”. The music for “It Is Well With My Soul” was entitled Ville du Havre, the ship on which Spafford’s four daughters were killed.

His end was also tragic as both he and his wife were killed in the Pacific Express train wreck near Ashtabula, OH. Bliss could have escaped, but he refused to leave his wife’s side as she was pinned by the wreckage when a fire broke out. They along with approximately 90 other people perished on December 19, 1876. He was 38 years of age. Their two sons were left behind from the journey. There is no grave for Mr. and Mrs. P. P. Bliss, but there was a monument erected in Rome, PA in their honor. There is also a monument for the unidentified dead of the Ashtabula Bridge Disaster erected in Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Ashtabula, OH.

It Is Well With My Soul

It is reported that Horatio Spafford was notified by the captain of the ship when they were passing over the wreckage where his four daughters had died, that he wrote to his wife’s sister: “On Thursday last we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe, folded, the dear lambs.” He had hope! Hope in the midst of such great tragedy!

Tragedies will come in life, but the question remains: are we prepared for when tragedies come? It is said that Robert Owen, skeptic, remarked to Alexander Campbell that he was not afraid of death. The two debated in 1829 in Cincinnati, Ohio; but before the debate Robert Owen visited Bethany to meet Alexander Campbell. Owen commented that “There is one advantage I have over the Christian—I am not afraid to die. Most Christians have fear in death, but if some few items of my business were settled, I should be perfectly willing to die at any moment.” Alexander Campbell responded, “You say you have no fear in death; have you any hope in death?” Alexander Campbell pointed to an ox on his farm showing Owen that his view was no different than that of an ox’s view—neither had fear nor hope in death.

Are you prepared to meet your Creator? The wise man wrote, “Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, Or the golden bowl is broken, Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, Or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:6–8 NKJV). Remember, the thesis of the book is a life lived without God is a life of futility, emptiness, and vanity!

Is it well with your soul?


“Anna Tobine Larsen Øglende Spafford.” No Pages. Cited 25 March 2018. Online:

“Family Tragedy - The American Colony in Jerusalem.” No Pages. Cited 25 March 2018. Online:

“Horatio Gates Spafford.” No Pages. Cited 25 March 2018. Online:

“Horatio Spafford.” No Pages. Cited 25 March 2018. Online:

“Philip Bliss.” No Pages. Cited 25 March 2018. Online:

“Philip Paul Bliss, Sr.” No Pages. Cited 25 March 2018. Online:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hymns & Hymn Writers: O To Be Like Thee

The song “O To Be Like Thee” is dated to 1897 with Thomas O. Chisholm writing the lyrics and William J. Kilpatrick composing the music. Both of these men were prolific songwriters, and we have been the beneficiary of their talents for expressing our adoration to Jesus in song.

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960), Lyricist

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born July 29, 1866 in Franklin, Kentucky.  He was educated and was quickly moved into the position of educating others at the age of 16.  He was on the staff of the local newspaper, the Franklin Favorite. He was converted to Methodism by Henry Clay Morrison.  He served as a preacher for one year; however, his constitution was not suited for the demands of the position so he resigned the work.  He wrote some 1200 songs with an estimated 800 set to music.  Some songs which we sing with which we may be familiar:  “Living For Jesus”, “Be With Me Lord”, “Bring Christ Your Broken Life” and others.  Chisholm married Katherine Hambright Vandervere in 1903, and they had two daughters.  His wife passed away in 1954. Chisholm eventually retired and lived the remainder of his days at the Methodist Home for the Aged in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  He passed away on February 29, 1960 in Ocean Grove and was buried in Saint Thomas Episcopal Church Cemetery in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania next to his wife.

William James Kilpatrick (1838-1921), Composer

William James Kilpatrick was born February 27, 1838 in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. His parents were Thomas Kirkpatrick and Elizabeth Storey. His parents migrated to Pennsylvania in 1840. He was reared in the home of a musician and school teacher, so his source of training goes back to his parents. Still, he did receive formal training from T. Bishop Kirkpatrick. He published his first collection of hymns in 1859. He also wrote under a pseudonym of Annie F. Bourne. He married his first wife in 1861, but she passed away in 1878. He served for a time in the 91st Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. He also worked for the Methodist Episcopal Church. Some of the songs Kilpatrick composed with which we are familiar include: “A Wonderful Savior”, “Blessed Be The Name”, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah”, “Lead Me To Calvary”, “Redeemed”, “Stepping in the Light”, and others. He married his second wife, Sara Kellogg Bourne Kirkpatrick, in 1893. William Kilpatrick died on September 20, 1921 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He had told his wife that he had a tune in his head he wanted to write down before coming to bed. She later found him at his desk dead. He was buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

O To Be Like Thee
Jesus Christ is our example, our pattern, our role model. The term Christian literally means a follower of Christ. What are the characteristics of Christ which we need to be sure to have in our lives too? The song speaks of Jesus being “full of compassion, loving, forgiving, tender and kind, helping the helpless, cheering the fainting, seeking the wand’ring sinners to find.” We examine the life of Christ in the gospels and admire the Savior, but do we remember that we are to follow His example in these ways too? The song goes on to describe Jesus as “lowly in spirit,
holy and harmless, patient and brave; meekly enduring cruel reproaches, willing to suffer, others to save.”

Think about how attractive Jesus is to so many. If we want to be attracting people to Jesus, then we must have the same characteristics that Jesus manifested. Also, keep in mind that not everyone is going to be attractive to Christ by incorporating the characteristics of Jesus in our lives. That is not realistic as evil truly exists in our world. The question is which lord do we want to serve? We need to have the commitment to follow the Lord! To follow the Lord means we must be like the Lord—O To Be Like Thee!


John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN:  Praise Press, 1997.

“Thomas Chisholm.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“Thomas Chisholm.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“Thomas Chisholm.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“Thomas Chisholm.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

V. E. Howard, Editor, Church Gospel Songs & Hymns, Texarkana, TX:  Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.

“William James Kilpatrick.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“William James Kilpatrick.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“William James Kilpatrick.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“William James Kilpatrick.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online: