Last week, at the end of my sermon during first service, I used an illustration of what contentment looks like from the life of Horatio Spafford (1828–88). Spafford was responsible for penning the famous hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.” Spafford wrote this hymn after he suffered the loss of his five children. I argued that Spafford’s reflection on the goodness of God even in light of the tragedy that he suffered is a great illustration of what contentment looks like.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Horatio later became a questionable figure, maybe even a heretic. From the sources I consulted, Horatio became a schismatic, denied the doctrine of hell, believed that all people would go to heaven, and taught harmful doctrines regarding marriage and family.
Had I known this information, I wouldn’t have used Spafford as an illustration. While I still believe we can and should sing “It Is Well with My Soul,” Spafford shouldn’t be used as an illustration of godliness. In the second service, I did not use this illustration. After first service, one brother keyed me into these developments in Spafford’s life, and I changed course.
In the pulpit, the preacher must take pains to preach the truth. We must demand this. We must not lower the bar, even though it is a difficult endeavor to preach the truth. Always expect and demand the truth from a preacher. However, given a preacher’s sinfulness and ignorance, he will fail in this task. Preachers, too, are saved by grace alone. When necessary, preachers should acknowledge their mistakes.
I apologize for using the Spafford illustration. I assumed that, given the popularity of the hymn, Spafford was an OK guy. I was wrong. I am thankful for God’s grace and your patience. May our pulpit continue to be a place where God’s truth is upheld.