Friday, June 29, 2012

Horatio Spafford

Do you know who Horatio Spafford was?
             I didn't. I know his words, but not his name.

There is always a life story behind words we read, even if we don't consider it at the time of reading.

"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."

              Horatio Spafford wrote that.

Do you know when he wrote it?
              I didn't. I know his words, but not his event.

There is always a story behind what we read.

Considering that he wrote this on a ship, sailing across the ocean at the precise spot where the ship that was carrying his wife and four young daughters sank and  all four daughters drowned.....

......Suddenly the hymn means a little more, don't you think?
                                                        There is always something we don't know.

* * * * *

I have been reading this book which summarises the lives of a couple of great hymn writers. Horatio has particularly grabbed me for two reasons - which I can summarise in one verse:

"There is nothing new under the sun"

So the 2 reasons it grabbed me:
1.  The similarity to Job's experience
2.  Questioning and debating one's faith is not new and the results are often the same.

1. A remarkable similarity to Job.
He was born in 1828. Long ago hey? :)
  • He lost his son to scarlet fever.
  • His four daughters drowned when their ship collided with another.
  • People thought that their children had died because of sin they must have in their lives.
  • He also then lost his nephew who had moved with them to Jerusalem, and was like a son to them. 
  • Yet, in none of this did he doubt the goodness and kindness of God.
"When Horatio's life had flowed like a smooth, tranquil river, he refused to let others
shape his course. Now, amidst an ocean of suffering, neither did he bow to their expectations
or their theology. Horatio asked questions of God, not people. He reviewed Scriptures,
wrestled, analyzed and deduced.... "God is kind," said Horatio. "I do not know why
my children drowned. But our sin or lack of it had nothing to do with their deaths.
My girls are in heaven. I shall see them again."

What friends said of them after their son died:
"If the Spaffords were true Christians, God would not allow such a thing a second time."

What miserable comforters their friends turned out to be.

* * * * *

2.  Questioning and debating one's faith is not new and the results are often the same:

The book describes the event where he realises that he is short sighted. A bunch of friends are admiring the stars in the sky and Horatio said:

"Now Charlie, be candid. Be honest.
Do you really see enough beauty up there to warrant your outburst?"
Charlie lent him his glasses and suddenly "he stood transfixed by the
hundreds of diamonds that sparkled above him in clean, crystalline beauty."

The book goes on to say:
"Once his physical vision was corrected, Horatio wasted no time in scrutinizing his intellectual vision. He no longer swallowed traditional viewpoints, those of others or himself, without inquiry. He examined issues, loosening and peeling away layer of conventionality with sharp questions. How do we know this? Why? ... 

He says to God:
"All my life I had no inkling of the beauty or complexity of Your creation, God.
What else have I overlooked because I never questioned my own limited view?"

He became close friends with Dwight Moody and sometimes diasgreed with him:
"he felt the evangelist placed too much emphasis on God's judgement and not enough on his love.
As usual,he made his position clear to his friend and spiritual mentor (Moody).
But Horatio believed God had used Moody to change his own life and viewed
him as the means to help others change, too."

At some point he was asked to resign from his position in the Church due to his desire to question convention and tradition, though he never doubted the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the love of God.
The book goes on to talk about how newspapers "publicized and often distorted his views."

They, together with a group of friends, moved to Jerusalem after the death of his son and formed what came to be known as "The American Colony". Their lives embraced friendships with Jews, Muslims, Spanish priests and Sheiks (amongst others) as they embraced their culture. Their love and friendship had infiltrated a community of people whose lives were affected because of the their love for Jesus.

He died from malaria in Jerusalem in 1888.

* * * *

Things I can take from his story:
  • My faith will hopefully be as strong as theirs if tragedy befalls me.
  • I am thankful for my family and friends who love me unconditionally. 
  • That you can question tradition and convention
  • You can see things differently from other believers (Like he and Moody
  • Give one another room for their conviction and respect them.
  • There will always be those who are "willing to be companions" on your spritual journey
  • There will always be those who choose to "camp" and frown upon your spiritual journey
  • God is kind and is fully invested in making our journey as adventurous as you allow him
  • That all people from all faiths are to be respected and shown the love of Christ
  • A committed community of Christ followers can make a difference
  • One person started this. So never think that I, being one person, can't make a difference where I am.
We really do 'stand on the shoulders' of these amazing people who went before.

A very edited version of a wonderfully inspiring story.

* * *


  1. Love this Lisa! I found out about Horatio Spatford when I worked for the NBS in Jhb and I was researching some choruses to sing at our little group in the mornings.
    Also, one of our locals in McGregor asked me to translate it into English for her and she sang it to me in the gallery as a practice before sing at an English funeral - goosebumps!
    The other viewpoints are also inspiring.

  2. Allie says:

    Fantastic post Lis - thanks for it.
    ANd the sum-up points at the end are very valuable.
    Onwards in this amazing journey hey. . .
    Exciting stuff!
    PS: Did you see that Allie Chilling has come to the end of her lollipop!?
    Sad day.


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