Posted by: rcottrill | October 9, 2013

The Great Physician

Words: William Hunter (b. May 26, 1811; d. Oct. 18, 1877)
Music: John Hart Stockton (b. Apr. 19, 1813; d. Mar. 25, 1877)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: In the mid-nineteenth century, there was a serious railway accident. Many were killed, and many more might have died, except for timely efforts of four or five medical doctors who had been on the train. Their intervention was the inspiration for this 1859 song.

The repetitious tune (in which three of the four lines are the same) was written specifically for the text. Hymn books today commonly use CH-1, 2, 3, and 7, of the original seven stanzas. You can see the unused stanzas in the Cyber Hymnal.

Physicians are mentioned a number of times in the Word of God. In addition, the Hebrew word rapha, rendered “physician” in the Old Testament, is also translated many times with words such as “heal” and “cure” (e.g. Exod. 15:26; Lev. 14:3).

Sometimes, the reference is to physical healing. For example, King Asa of Judah is criticized for going doctors and not seeking the Lord’s help when he developed a severe disease in his feet (II Chron. 16:12).

But other times, the word is used of dealing with spiritual need (the effects of sin), or psychological distress that required healing. When his three friends provide no encouragement or comfort for him in his misery, but rather falsely accuse him of wickedness, Job calls them “forgers of lies and worthless physicians” (Job 13:4).

In the New Testament, the Greek word is iatros. It’s interesting that two long books, one of the Gospels, and the book of Acts, where written by Luke, a medical doctor who was a friend of Paul’s (the latter calls Luke “the beloved physician,” Col. 4:14).

Since the hymn is speaking of Christ of we are especially interested in the uses of the word “physician” in the gospels.

¤ As one who practised medicine, it’s not surprising that Luke is interested in one who was healed by the Lord Jesus, when no doctors could help her. And notice that Mark is a little more critical of the doctors of his day than Luke is. “A woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any [“but rather grew worse,” adds Mark 5:26], came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped” (Lk. 8:43-44).

¤ When the Lord read the Scriptures and commented, in the synagogue at Nazareth, where He’d been raised in the home of Joseph and Mary, at first He was admired for His “gracious words” (Lk. 4:22). But then He outraged His audience. Jesus said, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country’” (Lk. 4:23). But He reminded them of how Israel had formerly not been receptive to God’s prophets (vs. 24-27).

¤ When the Lord Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees for eating with tax collectors and “sinners,” He responded pointedly, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Mk. 2:17; also Matt. 9:12-13; Lk. 5:31-32).

Nowhere is Christ described as “the great Physician,” but William Hunter’s phrase has become proverbial, and is still used (legitimately, I believe) a century and a half after the song appeared. Rather than focusing on the physical miracles of Christ, He speaks of Him as One who brings sympathy and cheer to the troubled soul (CH-1), and forgiveness of sins and peace with God to the sinner (CH-2). He rejoices that through Christ we can look forward to a home in “that bright world above,” there to worship around the throne (CH-7)

CH-1) The great Physician now is near,
The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer,
Oh! hear the voice of Jesus.

Sweetest note in seraph song,
Sweetest name on mortal tongue;
Sweetest carol ever sung,
Jesus, blessèd Jesus.

CH-2) Your many sins are all forgiv’n,
Oh! hear the voice of Jesus;
Go on your way in peace to heav’n,
And wear a crown with Jesus.

CH-7) And when to that bright world above,
We rise to see our Jesus,
We’ll sing around the throne of love
His name, the name of Jesus.

1) What means does the Lord use to bring spiritual healing (salvation) to the sinner?

2) What means does the Lord use to bring healing of soul (mind and emotions)?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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