The Good Physician

How lost was my condition

with
THE GREAT PHYSICIAN
BALM IN GILEAD

Text. This hymn by John Newton was first published in Olney Hymns (1779 | Fig. 1) in five stanzas of eight lines, without music, tucked among other hymns based on the book of Isaiah but without a specific Scripture reference. Newton probably had in mind Isaiah 53:4-5 (KJV):

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.


 
 

Fig. 1. Olney Hymns in Three Books (London: W. Oliver, 1779).


The hymn, titled “The Good Physician,” is not about physical sickness, it is about the quest for spiritual healing and the forgiveness offered by a great Savior. It is also a hymn of invitation and testimony, ending with a plea to unbelievers.

Tunes. The hymn was set to music for the first time in Jeremiah Ingalls’ The Christian Harmony (Exeter, New Hampshire: Henry Ranlet, 1805 | Fig. 2). Here, the tune is aptly named THE GREAT PHYSICIAN and is set in three parts, melody in the middle part, either composed by Ingalls or borrowed from a previously unpublished oral source. For this setting, Ingalls added three additional stanzas of text. Stanzas six and seven and the first two lines of eight are from the hymn “I’ve found my soul deliver’d,” by Edward Manning (ca. 1767–). The final two lines have unclear origins and may have been from Ingalls’ own hand. This tune has not endured.

Fig. 2. Jeremiah Ingalls, The Christian Harmony (Exeter, New Hampshire: Henry Ranlet, 1805).

American printings of the hymn frequently use a tune called BALM IN GILEAD, a precursor to the melody for African-American spiritual “There is a balm in Gilead.” The development of the tune is discussed in greater length in that article.

by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
4 October 2018


Related Resources:

“How lost was my condition” at Hymnary.org:
https://hymnary.org/text/how_lost_was_my_condition