Posted by: rcottrill | June 4, 2010

Today in 1820 – Elvina Hall Born

Sitting in the choir loft one August Sunday morning, Elvina Mabel Hall listened to Rev. George Schreck offering the pastoral prayer. As he prayed on, her mind began to wander. (Has that every happened to you?) She thought of the cross of Christ and its meaning to her. Then, taking her hymn book, she turned to a blank page at the beginning and jotted down the words of a simple poem. Later, it was discovered that those words exactly fit a tune written earlier by the church organist. And that is how the hymn Jesus Paid It All was born!

The song expresses a wonderful truth. That when the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary He took upon Himself the punishment for all sin. As the Bible puts it, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). “And He Himself is the propitiation [the full satisfaction of God’s justice] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (I Jn. 2:2).

But does that mean everyone is automatically saved? No, it doesn’t. The payment has to be accepted personally. If someone offers you a cheque, you don’t get the benefit of it until you take it and cash it. It has your name on it, but it’s not yours to benefit from until you accept it. We do that in spiritual terms by trusting in what Jesus did for us on the cross.

That is what John 3:16 is saying: “God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). In the words of Mrs. Hall’s hymn:

I hear the Saviour say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

And when, before the throne,
I stand in Him complete,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
My lips shall still repeat.
Jesus paid it all…

(2) There Is a Balm in Gilead (Data Missing)
This is another of those traditional Spirituals whose orgins are lost in the mists of time. The inspiration for the text is taken from the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there?” (Jer. 8:22).

Gilead was famous for a medicinal salve made from the gum of the storax tree. And it was available close by, just east of the Jordan River. The expression became proverbial. The balm (or ointment) is used as a symbol of God’s power to cleanse and restore His sinful people, if only they would reach out to Him.

The southern kingdom of Judah had backslidden, and they faced the painful chastisement of God (destruction and captivity at the hands of the Babylonians). But it was not as if there was no remedy available. They needed to turn to God in repentance and faith. The healing balm for sinners today is Christ and His saving work on the cross.

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.

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.

Here is the inimitable Paul Robeson, singing his version of the song. (Note that the refrain of the song comes first.)


  1. Hi, I like your idea of having a hymn for each day- or composer of one for the day. It just makes that day meaningful without having to go to a book to find it – the research has already been done. will come back to check it out again.

    • Thanks Clara. I’ll be interested to see how many folks enjoy this brief dip into our heritage of Christian hymns day by day.

  2. […] Blogs, Music and Songs So many good old songs. You can read about the hymn’s author, Elvina M. Hall here on Robert Cottrill’s excellent Wordwise Hymns blog. I like the clear testimony of […]

    • Thanks for the link, and for your comments. I’m not sure I agree though that the mortality rate is just the same as it was 150 years ago (except in the sense that one out of one dies!). Before the advent of improved medical techniques, and powerful drugs, many died in infancy, or at least long before their three-score-and-ten. I do think that is a factor. Death was an all too common occurance, keeping before people the prospect of eternity beyond.

      But all that medical advancement, and the wonders of technology can be a two-edged sword. To the secular mind, it holds out the prospect of paradise on earth, and folks can become enamoured with material things, and living the “good life.” Sadly, the outlook of some Christians becomes so tainted with this worldly view that they think little of the world to come. I have one old hymn book in which more than 10% of the songs relate to the heaven and the Lord’s return. Many of these hymns are long forgotten.

  3. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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