There Is a Balm in Gilead

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"There Is A Balm in Gilead" is a traditional United States African American spiritual.

History[edit]

This is a well-known traditional Black-American spiritual. The “balm in Gilead” is a reference from the Old Testament, but the lyrics of this spiritual refer to the New Testament concept of salvation through Jesus Christ. The Balm of Gilead is interpreted as a spiritual medicine that is able to heal Israel (and sinners in general). In the Old Testament, the balm of Gilead is taken most directly from Jeremiah chapter 8 v. 22: "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my [God's] people?" (Another allusion can also be found in Jeremiah chapter 46, v. 2 and 11: “This is the message (of the Lord) against the army of Pharaoh Neco … Go up to Gilead and get balm, O Virgin Daughter of Egypt, but you multiply remedies in vain; here is no healing for you” - see also Jeremiah chapter 22, v. 6.) [1]

The first appearance of the spiritual in something close to its current form is uncertain. A version of the refrain can be found in Washington Glass's 1854 hymn "The Sinner's Cure,"(see link below) where it is in 7s.6s.7s.6s rather than the Common Meter of today's refrain. Glass attributed this hymn to himself, but like several of the hymns so attributed, it is substantially the work of another. He attached to one of John Newton's Olney hymns [2] of 1779 this refrain:

There is balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole ;
There's power enough in heaven,
To cure a sin-sick soul.

There is no mention of the balm of Gilead in Newton's poem, but it begins:

How lost was my condition
Till JESUS made me whole!
There is but one Physician
Can cure a sin–sick soul.

The similarities in the refrain make it likely that it was written for Newton's verse.

The 1925 7-shape Primitive Baptist songbook Harp of Ages has an unattributed song "Balm in Gilead" with a similar chorus, but verses drawn from a Charles Wesley hymn, "Father I Stretch My Hands to Thee."[3]

The second verse quoted below ("If you can't...") is also found in some versions of another well-known spiritual "(Walk That) Lonesome Valley." "Wandering verses," as they are often called, are quite common in the camp meeting and revival context, and were already found in by 1800 in the African-American community, as shown by Richard Allen's 1801 "A Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs Selected from Various Authors."

In 1845 Edgar Allan Poe mentions it in one of the last stanzas of his poem The Raven:

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted —
On this home by Horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore —
"Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

Traditional Lyrics[edit]

Lyrics are as follows:

Chorus (in bold):

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

(Chorus)

If you cannot sing like angels,
If you can’t preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

(Chorus)

Alternate Lyrics[edit]

Lyrics are as follows:

Chorus (in bold):

There is a balm in Gilead, To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead, To heal the sin-sick soul.
Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my hope again.

(Chorus)

If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

(Chorus)

Don't ever feel discouraged,
'Cause Jesus is your friend,
And if you lack for knowledge,
He'll never fail to lend.

External links[edit]