In the 1870s Horatio Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer and a close friend of evangelist Dwight L. Moody. Spafford had invested heavily in real estate, but the Chicago fire of 1871 wiped out his holdings. His son had died shortly before the disaster.
Spafford and his family desperately needed a rest so in 1873 he planned a trip to Europe with his wife and four daughters. While in Great Britain he also hoped to help Moody and Sankey with their evangelistic tour. Last minute business caused Spafford to delay his departure, but he sent his wife and four daughters on the S. S. Ville Du Havre as scheduled, promising to follow in a few days. On November 22 the ship was struck by the English ship Lochearn, and it sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors landed at Cardiff, Wales, and Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband the brief message, "Saved alone."
When Horatio Spafford made the ocean crossing to meet his grieving wife, he sailed near the place where his four daughters had sunk to the ocean depths. There, in the midst of his sorrow, he wrote these unforgettable words that have brought solace to so many in grief:
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.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
DISTANT DATELINE: Death Toll Mounts Daily in Carthage Disaster Inexplicable Behavior by Christians Baffles Populace
Disaster has struck this glorious city, honored throughout the empire for our history, size, educational centers and commerce. A plague has struck our proud populace and is wreaking unspeakable havoc. It is impossible to describe the panic that pervades here as dreadful sickness spreads from house to house.
Victims are dying daily. Many are leaving. Others are putting the sick out of their houses hoping that will save them from infection. As a result, corpses are piling up on the streets. It's a time when everyone seems concerned to just save his own skin.
But in the midst of this chaos there is the strange behavior of Christians going about and providing relief and whatever help they can. Incredibly, they are not only tending to their own families and fellow church members, but are actually going to strangers.
But that is not all. We actually are witnessing these Christians providing and caring for those they might rightfully consider enemies. As is well known, there has been widespread opposition and persecution against Christians here. Demetrianus has publicly blamed them as responsible for this devastating plague because of the Christians' refusal to worship our gods. Now we see the most unlikely response of Christians devotedly ministering to many of those who formerly persecuted them.
This extraordinary effort has been organized by the Christians' leader, or bishop, Cyprian. The believers are divided up into groups and give both their money and their personal toil. Cyprian claims they are doing nothing more than what the Lord they worship--one Jesus Christ--has taught them. He spoke of "loving your enemies" and "praying for those who persecute you." Cyprian also cited some theory of "overcoming evil with good."
Cyprian, born here in Carthage to an upper class family became a Christian just four years ago in 246 and was made bishop only last year. He has preached to the Christians that their persecution is to be seen as a reproof from God for their laxity and loss of discipline and devotion. Their response to this horrendous pestilence just makes their way of life even more enigmatic.
EDITOR'S POSTSCRIPT: Cyprian was arrested on August 30, 257, during the persecution of emperor Valerian. He was tried, condemned and executed on September 14, 258. His words upon receiving the death sentence: "Thanks be to God."