Horatio Gates Spafford Turns Tragedy into Song

This is the day that Horatio Gates Spafford was born in New York State, in 1828.

He was to become a well known Christian businessman in Chicago; professor of medical jurisprudence at Chicago Medical College; director of a Presbyterian theological seminary; and active in the YMCA. He was a close friend of Moody and Sankey.

The young lawyer moved to Chicago to start a legal business. In 1861 he married Anna Tuben Larssen and they established a prosperous home. Anna bore Spafford a son and four daughters. Horatio junior, however, died of scarlet fever in 1870, aged four. Apart from their business income Spafford had built up a sizable property portfolio.

The Great Chicago Fire swept through the city on 8-10 October 1871, killing 250 people and rendering 90,000 homeless, destroying about a third of the city. While the Spaffords sustained significant personal loss, Horatio and Anna worked tirelessly for two years to help the victims put their lives back together.

Evangelist Dwight L. Moody based his worldwide ministry in Chicago and the Spaffords were good friends of Moody and his ministry. In 1873 they decided to travel to England to participate in the Moody/Sankey revival meetings there, before touring continental Europe.

The family of six travelled to New York to board their ship. Horatio was called back to Chicago by last-minute business obligations, but he saw no reason for the entire family to delay their travel, so he sent his family on ahead, planning to join them as soon as he could.

Anna Spafford, the couple’s four daughters, the children’s governess and two others in their party boarded the French steamship Ville du Havre on 22 November 1873, along with 307 other passengers and crew. At about 2 am on 22 November 1873, in the eastern North Atlantic, the Ville du Havre collided with the British iron clipper Loch Earn, then sank in a mere 12 minutes. 226 people perished, including the four Spafford daughters. Survivors were taken to Cardiff, Wales, where Anna Spafford cabled her husband on 1 December 1873 with the following devastating message: “Saved alone. What shall I do.” Horatio Spafford took the next available ship to join his wife.

It was two years later that Horatio Spafford wrote one of our great gospel songs:
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.

The daughters had all been converted in Moody-Sankey meetings shortly before their deaths.

Ira Sankey, who incorporated this gospel song into his Sacred Songs and Solos, writes: “In 1876, when we (Moody and Sankey) returned to Chicago, I was entertained in the home of Mr and Mrs Spafford for a number of weeks. During that time Mr Spafford wrote the hymn ‘It is well with my soul’, in commemoration of the deaths of his children. P.P. Bliss composed the music and sang it for the first time at Farwell Hall” (My Life …, by I. Sankey, page 191).

Once reunited, Horatio and Anna Spafford returned to Chicago, and by 1880, they had another daughter, Bertha, and another son, also called Horatio. This son, too, died in infancy of scarlet fever.

The Spaffords also had another daughter, Grace, born in Chicago in January 1881. When Grace was just seven months old, the Spaffords moved to the Holy Land in August 1881. They helped to found a group called the American Colony in Jerusalem, with the mission to serve the poor.

Sometime during the 1880s, in Jerusalem, Horatio Spafford suffered a mental illness that caused him to believe that he was the second Messiah.

There he died of malaria on 16 October, 1888, at the age of 60. He is buried in Jerusalem.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Islam’s Lost Foundations

I believe Islam is close to its end as a world religion. I once heard from a man who had been told such a thing in a prophecy and I am personally inclined to believe it. So let me share some thoughts about some things which will contribute to Islam’s demise.

Islam has lost its foundations. Modern Islam attempts to be a complete religion, while ignoring its foundational components. As such this religion will crack and crumble. It is incomplete and unstable unless it rediscovers its foundations.

What are the lost foundations? I’m glad you asked.

Some years ago I developed a character training program for use in schools. The pilot program was quite effective and several schools asked me to implement it for them. One school had a large Moslem contingent in the student body, so I decided to incorporate some Koranic material into the otherwise Christian sources.

I contacted a local Islamic society and explained that what I sought were Koranic quotes which involved the teaching of godly character, so I could use those quotes to support my promotion of good character qualities. After a week or so I was advised that the Koran (Qu’ran) did not teach character.

There was a simple explanation for the absence of character training in the Koran. Since Islam is built on the work of Musa (Moses) and Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah), and they both give clear instruction in character and lifestyle, there is no need for Mohammed to repeat the work of those earlier prophets.

I was further told that the Koran is a book of prophecies, not a book of character training, since those things were done already by Musa and Isa.

The three great prophets of Islam are: Musa; Isa; and Mohammed. The three great prophetic writings, therefore, are the Old Testament (Musa’s prophetic work), the Gospels and New Testament (focussed on Isa al Masih) and the Qu’ran (the prophetic works of Mohammed).

Today, however, the most prominent activists for Islam seem to have abandoned the foundations laid by Musa and Isa. They do not promote the holy law and Ten Commandments of Moses. They do not teach the golden rule or love for others which are central to the lifestyle Jesus taught.

Consequently we have a modern Islam that has lost its foundations and is trying to apply the prophecies of Mohammed without the foundations laid by Moses and Jesus. Many Moslems, it seems, only give lip-service to the place of Musa and Isa. If this is so, then they are denying their own religion. When the followers of a religion deny in practice what they preach in theory, then the religion is dead. It is a vain show of a religion, not a living and dynamic force that can bring good into the world, or even to its followers.

When a religion cannot enrich its own followers it ceases to be a religion, and becomes a political system or some other social entity. I believe that such has already happened in many reaches of the Islamic world. Islam is crumbling from its own failure to embrace Musa and Isa. Islam has lost its foundations.

It is now simply a matter of time, and I predict a short time only. The Islamic nations will become embroiled in increased fanaticism, as people try to live out prophetic teaching without the character, faith and love taught by Moses and Christ. Islam’s greatest enemies are its own fanatical followers who will promote nothing more than obsession and political force. Islam will again try to force conversion at the end of the sword, only it will be holding the sword to the throat of its own people.

Yet Isa al Masih is the Messiah for all people, including the Moslems. He is ready to pour out wonderful grace on the followers of Islam. Moslems will make the most devoted and effective followers of Jesus Christ and they will be mightily used to prepare the world for the return of our saviour.

Millions of Moslems will come to know and love Almighty God with such depth of relationship that they will shame western believers. Millions of fellow Moslems will become the world’s most effective evangelists, even winning the Jews to faith in Christ in amazing numbers. And Millions of fellow Moslems will be so powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit that they will bring to life again things not seen since the life of Christ and the book of Acts.

Islam is about to crumble, yet Moslems are about to enjoy the most wonderful days they could ever imagine. Join me in prayer to hasten this great grace upon the followers of Mohammed.

Revelation of God

If you were raised in the fear of some idolatrous and despotic deity how would that affect your understanding of the true and Living God? If you only knew of gods as demanding, enslaving, capricious and cruel would you readily understand the God who is “love”?

I was recently blessed by the testimony of Meng, a lovely woman of God who helped me focus these thoughts. I asked her for her notes so I could share her thoughts with you and spring into some of my own observations as well.

She shared something of her testimony recently and drew attention to Jesus asking His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (See Matthew 16:13-19). The significance for her is that her own vision of God has had to be expanded, progressively over the years, to open her heart and understanding to the wonder of the God who is her Father. We all have a head knowledge of who God is and can recite some of His numerous titles. In response to the question of who Jesus is, we could all say, “Messiah”, “King of Kings”, “Saviour” and so on. Yet we could easily say those things out of head knowledge, like facts learned for a school exam, rather than truths that burn deep into us.

Peter had a revelation of who Jesus is. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. And Jesus commended Peter for receiving ‘revelation’, since such knowledge of Christ came from God, not from Peter’s own analysis or his discussions with others.

Now, in Meng’s case, having come from an Asian religious background, her understanding of God was tainted by her existing concepts of what a deity is. She described her situation quite poetically, in the allegory of serving the gods of Egypt in her former life of slavery to sin. I let you read it as she put it.

“Before I came into the Kingdom of God, I served under the gods of this world. I was in bondage in Egypt and I served under the god, Pharaoh. As his slave I had to work long and hard to please my master and when I didn’t work hard enough, Pharaoh, my taskmaster, would punish me. I was made to feel guilty and I was compared to others who outperformed me. My god was my taskmaster. I had to work for acceptance – and although I worked very hard for it I still didn’t get it. No matter how hard I worked, it was never enough – my only reward was to work harder. That was all I knew about god and gods.

When I was set free from Egypt, I brought the same concept of God out with me. I left the slavery of Egypt but I still have traces of Egypt in the way I live in the promise land.”

Meng testified to how she has lived under a performance syndrome, having to push herself to do her best, in the vain quest for acceptance. As a Christian she continued with the impetus to please God, as if He too demanded excessive striving before He would accept her.

What set Meng free from that former concept of God were the truth of God’s Word and an ever deepening revelation of God. Isaiah 55:1 blessed her as it reveals how God’s wonderful graces and abundant benefits don’t come because we can earn them. Christ in us makes us acceptable to God, not our own vain efforts.

The anointing of the Holy Spirit and the showering of God’s love in her heart (Romans 5:5) have been rich healing streams, releasing her to embrace the revelation of God as her ‘papa’ who she can snuggle close to, just as a child would to her daddy. Relationship is replacing performance. Being a child of God and a ‘friend’ of God (as Moses was) are transforming revelations. Being the bride to our heavenly bridegroom, Jesus, is also a strong relationship revelation. And in it all Meng is enjoying an ever deepening hunger to know God, to enjoy a powerful revelation of who He is and to go into richer and sweeter relationship with Him.

So, who do you say that Jesus is?

Notice that Peter’s heightened revelation of Christ resulted in him being given new destiny. Jesus blessed Peter and prophesied great authority for him. That’s what comes from an increasing revelation of God. We are transformed by every new insight we have into who God is.

The surest way for you to become like Christ and to be transformed from the inside out is to get a clearer and deeper revelation of God. Those old religious ideas may have become a strong-hold in your heart and mind. I have met people who can only think of God as a fearsome God of judgement. They cannot accept the truth of God’s love and grace.

Your past concepts of who and what God is may well be robbing you of your spiritual growth. And your ideas of what a father is, based on your childhood experiences, may also be blocking your acceptance of God as a loving Heavenly Father. The false teachings of various groups may have infected your thinking.

I recommend that you read the Bible with eyes to see the rich depth of God’s reality and the awesome grace and love which He possesses, along with His holiness, authority and power. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and relationship with God is the outcome of His salvation. I pray that you, like Meng, have an ever increasing longing for intimacy with the God of all eternity.