Balm in Gilead

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul

On Sunday Edward Colston’s statue was dumped in Bristol harbour.

Colston was an investor, board member eventually deputy governor of the Royal African Company, the most prolific slave-trading company in British history.

During his period it is estimated that about 84,000 Africans were shipped to the Americas. About a quarter, 19,000, died chained to the slave decks. Slave traders would call these deaths ‘wastage’.

Sometimes I feel discouraged
And think my work’s in vain
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again

On Monday a powerful BBC drama told the story of Anthony Bryan.

After living in this country for 50 years, in 2016 that Bryan was forcibly removed from his home, detained as an illegal immigrant and treated appallingly.

Bryan was caught up in the Windrush scandal. People, coming to the UK from the Caribbean became collateral damage as the government created a “hostile environment” towards immigration.

The independent review’s ‘profound institutional failure’ turned thousands of people’s lives upside down. Over 160 people were wrongly detained or deported; over 1,270 compensation claims have been made.

If you can’t preach like Peter
If you can’t pray like Paul
You can tell the love of Jesus
Who died to save us all

Colston, Windrush, George Floyd, represent the long, painful history of systemic racism that permeates a sick society.

The despairing prophet Jeremiah asked: ‘Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?’

This spiritual was first sung by African Americans slaves – dehumanised, beaten and killed. Amazingly they answer positively, bringing irresistible hope and powerful faith.  

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul


As with many spirituals the exact origin of ‘There is balm in Gilead’ is uncertain. John Newton (1725-1807) and Charles Wesley (1707-1788) sung early versions of it. It is representative of the slave spirituals of the mid-19th century.

2 thoughts on “Balm in Gilead

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