One there is above all others


Text: Origins. This hymn by John Newton (1725–1807) was first published in Olney Hymns (1779 | Fig. 1). The original text consisted of six stanzas of six lines, without music. It was headed “A friend that sticketh closer than a brother” and was based on Proverbs 18:24, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (KJV). John Newton evidently had in mind that this friend was Christ, an idea reflected in John 15:12-15. The text has an advanced rhyme scheme of ababcc. Two minor changes followed the 1779 printing, one being the adjustment of “grones” to the proper spelling of “groans,” the other occurring in the second stanza, where the fourth line was transposed to read “Reconciled to him in God” in the New Ed. of 1807. The original version is probably the better reading, more consistent with how salvation is expressed.


Fig. 1. Olney Hymns (1779).


Text: Adaptation. Newton’s hymn was adapted by Marianne Nunn to fit the Welsh tune AR HYD Y NOS. This version was published in John Nunn’s Psalms & Hymns (London, 1817 | 4th ed. shown in Fig. 2). Nunn’s version is four stanzas of five lines, rhymed aabbb. Aside from the borrowings in the first few lines, Nunn’s text is almost completely different and is best considered a new hymn with an allusion or an homage to Newton.


Fig. 2. John Nunn, Psalms & Hymns, 4th ed. (London: J. Nunn, 1819).


This text is sometimes known by other first lines, including “One is kind above all others” and “There’s a friend above all others.” See also the article on AR HYD Y NOS for an American variant of Nunn.

Tune 1. Newton’s hymn was first set to music in The Gospel Magazine, December 1780 (Fig. 3), with a tune by an unknown “H.E.” The tune, although tuneful and somewhat ambitious in range, has not endured and was only printed one other time outside of the magazine.


Fig. 3. The Gospel Magazine (London: T. Vallance, Dec. 1780).


Tune 2. In the first several decades of its history, Newton’s hymn was frequently printed with the tune SPA CHAPEL, by an unknown “E. Olive,” first in Thomas Williams’ Psalmodia Evangelica, vol. 2 (London: S. A. & P. Thompson, 1789 | Fig. 4). This pairing occurred at least twenty times through 1820. Like the previous tune, it has a wide range. It is also quite florid, which likely explains its eventual disuse.

Fig. 4. Thomas Williams, Psalmodia Evangelica, vol. 2 (London: S. A. & P. Thompson, 1789). Melody in the middle voice.

Tune 3. Modern tune settings for Newton’s text vary. One of the most common is GOUNOD (or LUX PRIMA) by French composer Charles Gounod (1818–1893), first published in The Hymnary, edited by Joseph Barnby (London: Novello, 1872 | Fig. 5), where it appeared four times (Nos. 148, 235, 375, 614). The tune is said to have been written while Gounod was in England escaping the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), and it was reportedly intended as a setting for “Hark, ten thousand harps and voices” by Thomas Kelly (1769–1855).[1]


Fig. 5. The Hymnary (London: Novello, 1872).


Tune 4. Another common tune setting for Newton’s text is GOTT DES HIMMELS by Heinrich Albert, sometimes also known as GODESBERG or ALBERT or WALTHAM, from the hymn “Gott des Himmels und der Erden.”

Tune 5. One other notable tune associated with this text is ALL SAINTS, a German tune from Geistreiches Gesangbuch (1698) adapted by William Monk for the first edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861).


  1. William Cowan & James Love, “GOUNOD,” The Music of the Church Hymnary and the Psalter in Metre (Edinburgh: Henry Frowde, 1901), p. 63:

Related Resources:

John Julian, “One there is above all others,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), p. 870: Google Books

K.L. Parry & Erik Routley, “One there is above all others,” Companion to Congregational Praise (London: Independent Press, 1951), p. 110.

Richard Watson & Kenneth Trickett, “One there is above all others,” Companion to Hymns & Psalms (Peterborough: Methodist Publishing House, 1988), pp. 116-117.

Christopher M. Idle, “One there is above all others,” Exploring Praise!, vol. 1 (Darlington: Praise Trust, 2006), p. 239.

Carl P. Daw Jr., “LUX PRIMA,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), p. 651.

Elizabeth Cosnett, “One there is above all others,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:

“One there is above all others, Oh how He loves,”

“One there is above all others, well deserves the name of Friend,”

Hymn Tune Index: