Meet Horatio Gates Spafford.
Haratio was a prominent American lawyer and Presbyterian Church elder.
He is also someone i like to refer to as a “Modern day Job”
For those of you not familiar with the story Job, Job was a man of God. He had everything- land, live stock, a good family and was truly blessed by God. The Devil then asked God if he could torment Job, he wanted to prove that Job would disown God if he didn’t have all the blessings God had bestowed apon him.
Job lost his family, his live stock, his hope- But not once did he curse God, not even during the terrible advice his friends gave him, claiming Job had brought these calamities on himself due to his sinful nature, although we know that wasn’t the case, the Bible describes Job as “Blameless and upright, He feared God (Feared meaning respected) and shunned evil. Instead, Job stood by God during the trials, not once turning his back although hurting immensely.
In the end, God restored everything Job had to full capacity, blessing him more than ever before – and then some.
Got questions wraps it up like this:
Perhaps the greatest lesson we learn from the book of Job is that God does not have to answer to anyone for what He does or does not do. Job’s experience teaches us that we may never know the specific reason for suffering, but we must trust in our sovereign, holy, righteous God. His ways are perfect (Psalm 18:30). Since God’s ways are perfect, we can trust that whatever He does—and whatever He allows—is also perfect. We can’t expect to understand God’s mind perfectly, as He reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9)
Or how Matt Chandler puts it in his new book ” Take Heart- Christian courage in the age of unbelief”
Saint Augustine, the fourth-century bishop of Hippo, said that to be human is to have your face pushed up against a stained-glass window. You see some color, but you see a lot of glass fragments. It is only given to God and those who are with him to be back far enough to see the whole window. To put it differently, to tell God the Father that he should do things differently is to step into a three-hour-long movie for two seconds, and then step back out and lecture the director on the storyline. That’s what it’s like. You just don’t know, and he—the fountain of life—does.
As my husband says “You christians love a metaphor!” As you can tell, he doesn’t share the shame faith i do….But its an easier way to say we won’t always understand God’s great big plan- we see a tiny fragment, a blip of life in a 7,000 year old (Young Earth creationist) or 6 billion year old (Old earth) plan.
This now brings me to the story of Horatio Gates Spafford, Christian and well established Lawyer.
Married to Anne Larsen, the Spaffords where well known in Chicago – a prominent lawyer and a senior partner in a large and thriving law firm, they had it all.
The Spaffords invested in some real estate in the spring of 1871. But it wasn’t to be and in the October of that same year “The Great Fire of Chicago” reduced the city to ashes – including most of the Spaffords sizeable investment.
Fast forward some time later another tragedy was to hit the family, Scarlett Fever claimed the life of his 4 year old son. Could you imagine the absoulte devastation?
Horatio decided to take his family on a Holiday, sometimes getting away from it all can be refreshing for the soul. He decided to go to England where his good friend D.L.Moody would be preaching.
Because of buisness, he was delayed, but he sent his wife and his 4 daughters ahead of him, 11 year old Annie, 9 year old Maggie, 5 year old Bessie and 2 year old Tanetta.
On the 22 of November 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship “Ville du Havre” their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including Horatio’s 4 daughters, his wife survived.
Once arriving in England she sent a telegram to her husband beginning “Survived alone” What harrowing words they must of been to read.
Stafford then sailed to England, having to go over the location all 4 of his children lost their lives.
The staffords went on to have another daughter, Bertha, who claims after all his loss, during that awful journey to England after losing almost everything, he wrote the well known hymn “It is well with my soul”
The original manuscript only has 4 verses and more have been added on over time, but the original verses go:
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:) 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 hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
And Lord haste the day, when the 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.
One more tradgey was still to come, They lost another child to Scarlett fever, their son Horatio Goertner died at just aged 3.
Out of the 8 children they had altogether, only 2 lived to old age. Their daughters Bertha and Grace.
So out of all this tragedy what hope they did have left?
After their at sea ordeal, Horatio and Anna became religious outsiders. They left their Presbyterian congregation and held faith based prayer meetings at their house. Their messianic sect was dubbed “The overcomers” by American press.
In August 1881, the Staffords set out for Jerusalem. A party of 13 adults and 3 children they set up an American colony. Reaching out to people of all religions, they gained the trust of Muslims, Jewish and Christian communities and engaged in philanthropic work (welfare of others) amongst the community of Jerusalem.
They went on to adopt 2 boys, both named Jacob.
What legacy did they leave by doing this?
During WW1 the American colony played a critical role in supporting Muslim,Jewish and Christian communities of Jerusalem through the great sufferings and deprivations of Eastern front by running soup kitchens, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable ventures.
From this devastating story of loss came a story of Hope.
Although the Spaffords lost numerous children, their jobs and money, they continued walking continuously with God. Through their afflictions came life, think of the numerous lives saved during WW1 with the American colony they had opened, which came hospitals, orphanages and charities.
And a song to which is personally one of the moving hymns i have ever sang – to sing “It is well with my soul” with all the tradgey the family had suffered?!
A modern day Job truly.
The Staffords where used in a truly profound way, a way that they might have never lived to see, a way that during their live time felt like a life time of strife and destruction, but God had a bigger plan and even though they lost numerous children (although not lost, but with God now) they saved an amount unknown but could be thousands of lives in the american colony they went on to open.
Some times Gods plan is bigger than our life span and we suffer hurts we may never understand in this life time- but take courage in the fact there is a plan.
Amongst the wreckage, there is hope.