Posted by: chuckbumgardner | March 1, 2009

It Is Well with My Soul

I thoroughly enjoy singing “It Is Well with My Soul,” written by Horatio Spafford.  A few notes:

First, there are more stanzas than we typically sing. Here is the entire 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.

Though Satan should buffet, though 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 — 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, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of 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.

Second, the third stanza should be punctuated, “My sin — oh, the bliss of this glorious thought — My sin — not in part, but the whole . . .”  Some editions of the song (e.g., the text on CyberHymnal) print the first line as “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!”, which grammatically suggests that the glorious thought is of “my sin” itself, not the removal of its penalty!

Third, the last stanza contains two enigmatic words, “even so”.  When singing the song from memory in church one evening, it seemed to me that the words “even so” provided an odd contrast: Jesus will return, but even given his impending return (“even so”), my soul still rests content.  Initially, I thought that the point might be a contented soul in spite of the fact that Jesus has not yet returned.

The answer lies elsewhere, though.  Correct editions of “It Is Well” will enclose “even so” in quotation marks, as above (although, unfortunately, CyberHymnal does not).  This matches the original edition (see #76 in an 1875 songbook, which has to be one of the first published versions of “It Is Well”).

The quotation marks are a tipoff that Spafford is quoting Scripture, and given the context,  he is clearly quoting from Revelation 22:20 (KJV): “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”  Understanding what Stafford is doing there certainly made that stanza more comprehensible to me.

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Responses

  1. […] e-mail. You can also sign up for our free newsletters here. Thanks for visiting!Chuck Bumgardner gives some helpful notes on this beloved […]

  2. I ought to note that CyberHymnal has now updated their text of “It Is Well” to match the actual text.

  3. This is quite an old post at this point, but I came across it in looking for information about that very thing — I remembered from my youth “even so” NOT being in quotation marks, and only recently had I begun seeing it that way.

    Honestly, to me, it makes more sense to leave them out. Without them, it seems like it emphasizes the almost overwhelming majesty of the moment of Christ’s return, and reminds the singer that despite the awe and wonder, our souls will be at peace. I found that the quotation marks, rather than pointing to a Scripture quotation, seem to make it sound almost sarcastic, vaguely mocking of those whose souls will not be at peace in that moment.

  4. I see what you mean, Jeremy, but my point was to try to discover what Spafford meant by “even so”.


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