In the early years of my new birth, Horatio Spafford’s soothing and faith-buoying It Is Well With My Soul encouraged me greatly. It was my favorite hymn. I even have a wood carving of the sheet music in my study, a gift from my mother-in-law.
And like probably all of us, the back story of the origin of the hymn, born out of the tragedy of his losing his four daughters on a doomed transatlantic passage, only added to the moving song’s power.
What I didn’t know until recently is that Horatio Spafford was–how do I put this in sound theological terms?
A heretical whack-job.
That’s right. Not only did he deny the doctrine of eternal punishment and uphold the false Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, Spafford and his followers (we’ll get to that next) even believed that Satan himself could be saved. He also caused a very public schism in his church, and grew to disavow all churches.
Well, that last point is half-true. Apparently he was OK with the cult group he started, which went on to have over-the-top pentecostal-like services, had a “prophetess” who got her revelations through the sniffles of her runny nose, and proclaimed oranges as manifestations of the Holy Spirit. (Yes, you read that right.) And then he and his “Overcomers” or “Spaffordites” as they were called, went off to start a colony in Jerusalem–partly to escape his creditors over his bad debts.
As one would expect, this cult turned into a commune, which then espoused no marriages and celibacy, which then–unsurprisingly–turned into something of a sex cult until finally re-affirming marriages.
You can read further details here at Presbyterian Minister Angus Stewart’s summation, based on the book by Rachel Phillips, Well With My Soul: Four Dramatic Stories of Great Hymn Writers.
It won’t keep me from enjoying the song, but I’ll certainly never look at it in the same light again, that’s for sure. How about you? Orange you surprised?
Photo of oranges by malcolm garret from pexels.com