Sermon Series: Songs of Faith ~ It Is Well With My Soul

This hymn was written by Horatio Spafford. He suffered great financial loss in the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, as well as deep personal loss. Nonetheless, amidst his grief, he was moved to write, “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Sermon Series: Songs of Faith ~ It Is Well With My Soul~ November 11, 2018 ~ 2 Corinthians 5:1-8

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
And sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”
It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.
My sin, oh 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, oh my soul.
It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when my 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.
It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.

Twenty-four years have passed since Jesus ascended into heaven. The apostle Paul is on his third missionary journey. He is sharing the gospel and he is planting churches. He stayed for a while in the city of Ephesus, and in Ephesus he answered some mail. See, that’s what most of the New Testament is. They are letters. They aren’t just letters that Paul sat down and started to write because he felt like writing a letter. It is more often than not questions that came to him and he answered them. It’s kind of like answering his email. So, he’s in Ephesus and he answers some mail. He actually writes three letters to the church in Corinth – we only have two, he references a third one in another one of his letters, but two survive for us – because the people had a lot of questions! We should remember that this whole Jesus thing, this was new to folks. They had been Jews their entire lives, as their father was before them, and his father was before him, and all the way back to Abraham. All of a sudden, much of what they had been taught had either changed or had been transformed in some way. Think about it – there is a big shift in hearing, “The Messiah is coming, the Messiah is coming!” to “The Messiah is HERE!” That’s significantly different. And they had, understandably, lots of questions – What does that mean for me personally? For my church? For my faith? – including everybody’s favorite question: “What happens after I die?”

It’s a question that many people still have today. Well, one answer was from Job. Job mentions in the Torah, chapter 19:25:

“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!” (Job 19:25-27)

So, Job knew he was going to stand in the presence of God.

What happens after we die? Paul answers it this way. Would you join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the word of God.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Paul answers the question in 2 Corinthians (for the second time, he mentions is the first time in 1 Corinthians 15. Here we are, 2 Corinthians 5:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies…

J – I can identify with that! –

… and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:1-8)

So, when asked about what happens after we die, Paul basically says, “Don’t worry. To be absent from the body is to be home with the Lord.” That’s why that song [I Can Only Imagine, by Mercy Me] gets me every time I hear it. Those words. Can you imagine being “surrounded by his glory? What will our hearts feel? Will we dance for your Jesus, or in awe of you be still? Will we stand in your presence, or to our knees will we fall? Will we sing hallelujah? Will we be able to speak at all? I can only imagine” what it’s like to stand in the presence of God.

But for a believer, being in the presence of God, that’s the prize, right? That’s the goal. That’s the point. It’s the whole reason we share the gospel. We tell people about this in the first place because we want to share with them about heaven, about the prize, about the goal, so they too can answer the question, “What happens after we die?” What happens after we die? There aren’t a lot of options. I’ll tell you what happens after we die. There are only two choices: heaven or hell.

We want everyone, especially the ones we love, our family and friends, to be in heaven. To be surrounded by his glory. The Bible says that heaven shines…

…with the glory of God and sparkles like a precious stone – like jasper as clear as crystal. (Revelation 21:11)

In heaven, the paradise of the Garden of Eden is restored. In heaven, the river with the water of life flows freely. In heaven, the tree of life is available once again to us. Heaven is the place where God wipes away every tear from our eyes, and there is no more death, or sorrow, or crying, or pain. All those things are gone forever. Who would not want to be there? And our decision about Christ determines our destination. That’s why we share the gospel. If you want your loved ones in that place where there is no death, or sorrow, or crying, or pain, tell them about Jesus, because without faith in Christ, we are lost forever.

However, after we confess our sins to him and receive his forgiveness, we are saved! And that should bring some level of joy, some level of comfort, some level of peace! That’s God’s promise. And his promise of heaven should bring comfort to those of us believers who look forward to heaven one day ourselves. Or have had to say goodbye to someone we love.

God continues to amaze me. I said good morning to Miss Haley this morning. I had no idea she was going to ask me to lift up a young man from Avon High School named Ethan who was sixteen years old and Satan convinced him to take his own life. I hope this message works for Haley and others who have walked that road. The promise of heaven should bring comfort to those of us believers who look forward to heaven ourselves, or have had to say goodbye to someone we love.

It did for Horatio Spafford.

Horatio Spafford was a man born in 1828. Horatio became a very successful lawyer – senior partner, in fact, in a Chicago law firm. Horatio was also a committed Christian. He was an elder in a Presbyterian church, and he supported the ministry of D.L. Moody. We know, however, that being a Christian does not vaccinate us from pain in life, and Horatio faced his share of tragedies – some might say more than his share of tragedies. Horatio loved his hometown, his city of Chicago, and as such he invested heavily in Chicago real estate, and he did well for himself. That all changed on October 8, 1871, when fire broke out. It turned into such a conflagration that it burned for three days.

The fire killed upwards of 200 people, destroyed nearly three and a half square miles of the city, and left more than 100,000 residents homeless. The Great Chicago Fire did something else – it completely wiped out Horatio Spafford financially. He was destitute.

But he was a man of faith. So he set to work rebuilding his fortune. Through hard work and perseverance – he hadn’t quite gotten there – but after two years, in 1873 he was finally in a position to take his family on a vacation, and they chose to go to Europe. Unfortunately, because of his business, he wasn’t able to join them right away. He needed to send them on ahead first, and he would follow a little later. So, the Spafford family boarded the ocean liner Ville du Havre and set sail for Paris.

About 2am, midway, on the morning of Saturday the 22 of November, the Ville du Havre was steaming across the Atlantic, and the captain of the iron clipper the Loch Earn saw that the Ville du Havre was dangerously close. In fact, it was on a collision course. All his training kicked in. He did everything he was taught to do and that they had available to them at the time (1873). He rang the ship’s bell, he ordered the ship to take evasive action, but the reality was it was to no avail. The Ville du Havre came right across the Loch Earn’s bow and nearly broke in two. Commotion and chaos ensued. Panicked passengers started grabbing life preservers and tried to push the lifeboats into the ocean. Unfortunately, they had recently been painted, so they were stuck fast to the deck. They rocked them back and forth, feverishly trying, and finally some yanked a few free, and passengers fought desperately to be one of those few travelers to board those rescue boats. Time was short, however, because quickly after the collision the Ville du Havre’s main and mizzen mast had collapsed, smashing two of the lifeboats, killing several people. The time for saving life was very short. In all honesty, the Ville du Havre sank in less than 12 minutes, and finally broke into two pieces as it went down.

Two hundred and twenty-six people died that fateful morning. Among them: Horatio Spafford’s four daughters. His wife survived, and Anna sent her husband a telegram that contained two words. “Saved alone stop.” Horatio was devastated. His four daughters were gone. He quickly boarded the next ocean vessel to join his wife in England where the rescue vessel had taken her. On that boat, on that voyage, he asked the captain of the ship, when they got to the point where the Ville du Havre had gone down, if he would point out the location, the spot that had taken the lives of his beloved girls. His captain did that. He notified Horatio, and Horatio went to the side of the deck and looked out at the fierce Atlantic Ocean, and stood there contemplating, realizing what had happened to his family. Completely unexpected. How do you prepare for a death so sudden?

But Horatio was a man of faith, and because of his faith he remembered. His girls were not at the bottom of the ocean, but were rather in the arms of the heavenly Father. That to be absent from the earthly body is to be home with the Lord, and he believed it with all his heart, and it brought him peace, it brought him comfort. And with this assurance of God’s promise, Horatio Spafford retired to his cabin and wrote, “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 with my soul.’”

I can’t imagine. In the midst of such unspeakable tragedy, Horatio Spafford remembered that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself. To be absent from this body is to be at home with the Lord.

For a believer, heaven is the prize, it is the goal, it is the point, right? I know Horatio and Anna miss their girl. Of course they do. But Annie, Maggie, Bessie, and Tanetta are now surrounded by his glory in a world beyond our imagining.

That’s the promise, friends. That’s the promise for each one of you, that’s the promise for each and every person who has not heard, but needs to hear it from you, and from me. That to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. It’s a much better place.

Look ,think of it this way. I happen to know some people, one in particular, who hates New England winters, and can’t wait to move to Florida. I’ll bet you know someone like that, too. Maybe you’re married to one as well. But let’s just say, for the sake of illustration, let’s say that you won the next $500,000,000 Powerball jackpot! Right, we’ve all played that game. “If I won this jackpot, I would…” and every single one of you says, “I would give to my church.” I know you do and I’m holding you to it. Let’s say you won, and you said, “Okay, I hate New England winters, I am out of here!” and you move to Bali.

You want a house on the water, and I literally mean a house ON the water. So, if you walk out of your front door and forget, you fall in the water. Beautiful, blue water. It looks kind of like Gilligan’s island with that roof. Awesome temperature. That’s what you’re going to do with some of your $500,000,000. The question is, should I be happy for you? Or should I be upset because I can’t come? I mean, the reality is it’s possible I may never see you again. I can’t afford to fly to Bali! And you have no interest in coming back to Connecticut, you’ve made that clear. Maybe I’ll do this. Maybe I’ll hide your winning ticket from you. Would that be the right thing to do? Would that be loving you? Depriving you of a $500,000,000 jackpot? I know that you will be relaxing on a beach somewhere halfway across the world, with all the white sand, and you’re sipping your margarita, and the breeze comes blowing off the ocean.

Every day is Hawaiian shirt Sunday! I know that’s going to be your destination. But I don’t want you to go. I love you.

I really should be happy though, shouldn’t I? Well, listen, heaven my friends, is so much nicer than Florida. Or Bali. In fact, heaven is so awesome, that Paul writes this to the Philippian church, chapter 1:21:

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. (Philippians 1:21-24)

Paul is saying that heaven is so incredible, to be in the presence of God so amazing, to be surrounded by his glory so wonderful, that Paul is wrestling with whether it is better to be dead or alive!

Now, I know there are people out there this morning who have lost the people they love dearly. I know because in many cases, I did the service, and I know it still hurts. On some level, it always will. I can’t even begin to imagine what Horatio and Anna Spafford went through. My prayer is this, though. I pray that in the midst of your grief, that you would also spend some time thinking about where your loved one is right now. That because of their faith in Jesus, they are in a place that shines with the glory of God, that sparkles like a precious stone – like jasper as clear as crystal. That they are surrounded by God’s glory. And in that way perhaps you might be able to say, “It is well with my soul. Thank you, Lord, for preparing a room especially for them in a place where there is no need for sun and moon. For the glory of God illuminates the city and the lamb is its light. Yes, Lord. It is well, it is well with my soul.”

And all God’s people said, AMEN!