Mama Bergit's Favorite Song

My mother Pearl Ginther wrote that her Mama's favorite song was "It is Well With My Soul."

That truly is a "gold banner" hymn beloved all over the world. How many of us know the story behind it? or why it was composed?

First, the song:


When peace like a river attendeth my way,

when sorrows like sea-billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

"It is well, it is well with my soul."



It is well with my soul, It is well with my soul, it is well with my soul.


Though Satan should buffet, tho' trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.


My sin--O, the bliss of this glorious thought--

My sin--not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O 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.


Horatio Gates Spafford (1828-1888) was the composer. Grandma, then, had the opportunity and knew this hymn quite possibly in Norway (in Norwegian language, of course), and certainly knew it over in America her new homeland, as she sang it many, many times in church and in Stadem home altar fellowship times as well as the Lutheran Fellowship League meetings.

It was a hymn that was widely known and sung, being so popular, probably much like "Amazing Grace" became widely known and popular with millions, Christian or not, not only in America but worldwide.

But it is hard to sing it without getting the Gospel message!

The song proclaims that Christ died for sinners, shedding his very blood for our souls. The song continues: He was nailed to the Cross, and all our sins--not part but the whole of our sins--taken from us by our soul-saving Christ! The composer speaks at last of looking in great anticipation for the Return of Christ the Savior and King of kings, and his glorious Descent to earth to rule over all.

This hymn is truly magnificent. But the reason for the song's coming into existence was a most tragic accident at sea that cost the composer a number of deaths of beloved children, not to mention the previous events: a terrible fire destroying the composer's business and the death of an only son.

From Pearl's hymnal devotional given her on her 88th Birthday by her youngest son Jerry, we read:

Horatio G. Spafford, a forty-three-year old Chicago businessman suffered financial disaster in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He and his wife were still grieving over the death of their son shortly before the fire, and he realized they needed to get away for a vacation. Knowing that their friend Dwight L. Moody was going to be preaching in evangelistic campaigns in England that fall, Spafford decided to take the entire family to England. His wife and four daughters went ahead on the SS Ville du Havre, and he planned to follow in a few days.

But on the Atlantic Ocean the ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and sank within twelve minutes. Two hundred and twenty-six lives were lost--including the Spaffords' four daughters. When the survivors were brought to shore at Cardiff, Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, "Saved alone."

Spafford booked passage on the next ship. As they were crossing the Atlantic, the captain pointed out the place where he thought the Ville du Havre had gone down. That night, Spafford penned the words "When sorrows like sea-billows is well, it is well with my soul."


Romans 5: 2-4: We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.


Note: Grandma Bergit's favorite song has some personal Holbeck and Stadem history and heritage attached to it! She sailed to America with her sister Katrine Holbeck 22 years after the tragedy in which the song's composer lost four daughters in a ship that sank on the transatlantic crossing, which prompted him to write this song. Mrs. Spafford survived but his family was gone. His son had recently died too, shortly before the trip, and shortly before the Great Chicago Fire that destroyed the composer's business. Those details certainly enhance the meaning and depth of the song if known.

As for the phrase: "My sin--not in part but the whole"-- there can be no mistake. As the song proclaims, Christ made FULL EXPIATION for ALL our sins. Only the sinless, innocent Lamb of God could do this for us, anything less and we sinners would have left in our sins, helpless to wipe them away by our own efforts or punishment.

It is maybe strange to our minds at first thought that a man suffering such great grief could rejoice in Christ's Work of Redemption for his soul's salvation, but what else can a sorely grieving man truly rejoice in, in the midst of greatest sorrow, that is greater than what Christ has done on the Cross for us? Material things mean nothing at such times--they can usually be replaced. But what Christ did on the Cross is something that is absolutely priceless and irreplaceable. In that priceless Redemption of Christ's of his soul, the composer rejoiced in his moment of greatest sorrow--a Redemption that gave him peace passing all human understanding, so that he could truly declare: "It is well with my soul!"

Grandma Bergit may or may not have known these stirring details of the composer's losses, but she responded in kind to this heart cry of Spafford's great and abiding and steadfast faith in God in the very midst of his tribulation. Her faith in God too was sorely tested and tried but was found steadfast in the same way, during and also long, long after the losses of her eldest son and her son-in-law in the same plane accident occurring on a bright winter day, January 9, 1947, not far from Baltic, SD. No wonder this song appealed to her all the more, after 1947 and its events! It may have helped keep her mind and faith unwavering and focused and stayed on Jesus--and not utterly overwhelmed with grief. Tragedy has the power to turn us bitter or sweet, depending on how we respond. Our Grandma turned even sweeter, if that was possible!

Please remember this, and I will too, at times when overwhelming grief and sorrow strike the hardest at our souls. May we too, like Horatio Spafford and our beloved Grandmother, or Mama, be able to affirm: "It is well with my soul!"

There is a soul-soothing and healing Balm of Gilead available to us in Jesus and His Redemption Work for us. With them, we can then "rejoice in the hope of glory in God" despite our suffering and loss.

I can think personally that the very dearest person to me on earth was my Mother, and her passing April 30, 2011 my greatest loss (attended shortly by the passings of two dear brothers, my youngest brother and my oldest brother). But as I look in anticipation to the Coming of Jesus Christ, or if the Lord tarry, my own reunion with Mother and all our loved ones safe in heaven with Him, I can say: "It is well with my soul." Oh, not with a saint's smiles and shining countenance of triumph and victory, it is true, and still with tears, but yet I can say it and not lie, for I know I am in Christ and am his child by grace alone. Furthermore, His Word is with me continually. It says that He who is with me in my coming in, has promised to be with me in my going out--that is his precious promise in scripture for me to hold to the end of this little life. So I don't have to turn bitter and blame God, or blame man for my loss of a father, nor my loss of my mother and brothers. My Grandpa and Grandma never blamed God or man for their losses of a son and son-in-law, equally beloved to their hearts. My Mother never blamed God or man for her loss of a beloved husband of only 10 years. It is true I turned bitter in my childhood and youth, and even in to my middle age, resentful that I had lost a father, but at the age of 40 his revelation came to me. God revealed enough of his plan to answer my heart cry for his reason for what happened to me and my mother and family. I finally saw it is all in God's glorious plan, and someday it will be fully revealed what God intended in all these events.

And in this account I know and tell you the truth, using the language of John's Epistles, as you are those who know the Truth and can hear it and be strengthened and comforted.--Ed.

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