“The Great Physician”

"They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick…" (Matt. 9.12)

     INTRO.: A song which identifies Jesus as a spiritual physician who came to heal mankind of sin is "The Great Physician" (#338 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #615 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by William Hunter, who was born son of John Hunter near Ballymena in County Antrim, Ireland, on May 26, 1811. In 1817, when he was six years old, his family emigrated to America and settled in York, PA. Entering Madison College at Uniontown, PA, in 1830 and graduating in 1833, he became a Methodist minister and served the Pittsburgh Conference. From 1836 to 1840 he served as editor of the Pittsburg Conference Journal, and after it became the Christian Advocate he served twice more as editor, from 1844 to 1852, and again from 1872 to 1876. In addition, he was a presiding elder in the Virginia and East Ohio Conferences, and in 1855, was appointed professor of Hebrew and Biblical Literature at Allegheny College, remaining for fifteen years in this position.

     Also, Hunter produced more than 125 hymns which were published in three collections. They were Select Sacred Melodies in 1838, The Minstrel of Zion in 1845, and Songs of Devotion in 1859, the last-mentioned of which first contained this song, titled "Christ The Physician," in seven stanzas. Apparently, the stanzas were based on a refrain by Richard Kempenfelt from 1777 and resulted from a railroad accident in which there were a large number of casualties but several medical men who were on the train were instrumental in saving the lives of many who would otherwise have been among the fatalities. Other Hunter hymns that have appeared in some of our books include "The Hallowed Spot," "I’m Going Home," and "Rest for the Weary." The tune (Great Physician or Sympathy) was composed for this text by John Hart Stockton (1813-1877). Its first appearance was apparently in Joyful Songs Nos. 1, 2, and 3 Combined, published at Philadelphia, PA, by the Methodist Episcopal Book Room in 1869.

     Stockton later published the song in his own 1874 book Salvation Melodies No. 1 for the Friends of Jesus. Other Stockton songs that have appeared in our books include "Only Trust Him" and the melody to "Glory to His Name." Early printings of "The Great Physician" gave the notation "arr. by J. H. Stockton; Harm. Prof. Garland." In 1875, the song was included in the famous Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs, compiled by Ira David Sankey and Philip Paul Bliss. Through this channel, it became widely known. Because of his experience as a hymn writer and songbook editor, Hunter, who spent his latter days as minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Alliance, in Stark County, OH, was one of the twelve appointed by the General Conference of 1876 to revise the Methodist Hymnal, but he died at Cleveland, OH, on Oct. 18, 1877, before it appeared in 1878 as the Hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church with Tunes.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "The Great Physician" has appeared in the vast majority. It was used in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; as well as Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.  None of our books contain more than five stanzas, and most use only three or four.

     The song offers praise to Christ as our spiritual physician and encourages sinners to come to Him for healing.

I. In stanza 1 we are told that the Great Physician speaks to cheer us
"The Great Physician now is near, The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer: O hear the voice of Jesus."
 A. Jesus can sympathize with all our infirmities because He was tempted in all points as we are: Heb. 4.14-16
 B. This sympathy was shown in many of His miracles, and as He was about to heal the paralytic He spoke to cheer His drooping heart: Matt. 9.2
 C. Therefore, we too can be healed if we will hear the voice of Jesus: Matt. 13.14-16

II. In stanza 2 we are told that the Great Physician forgives sin
"Your many sins are all forgiven, Oh! hear the voice of Jesus;
Go on your way in peace to heaven, And wear a crown with Jesus."
 A. Jesus provides forgiveness and heals the broken hearted through the gospel: Lk. 4.18
 B. Those who come to Him for forgiveness can go on their way in peace to heaven because He gives us this hope: 1 Pet. 1.3-5
 C. Thus, through Him we can look forward to wearing the crown of life with Him: Jas. 1.12

III. In stanza 3, we are told that the Great Physician is our Savior
"All glory to the dying Lamb! I now believe in Jesus;
I love the blessed Savior’s name, I love the name of Jesus."
 A. Jesus is our Savior because He is the Lamb of God who shed His blood for our salvation: Jn. 1.29, 1 Pet. 1.18-20
 B. However, in order to have the salvation that He offers, we must first believe in Him: Jn. 8.24, Acts 16.30-31
 C. And those who do receive this salvation will love His name because the very name of Jesus indicates that He came to save us: Matt. 1.21

IV. In stanza 4, we are told that the Great Physician dispels our guilt and fear
"His name dispels my guilt and fear, No other name but Jesus;
O how my soul delights to hear The charming name of Jesus."
 A. Again, Jesus removes all our spiritual diseases, including our guilt and fear, through the gospel which He revealed: Matt. 4.23
 B. We must remember that salvation is found in no other name but Jesus: Acts 4.12
C. Those whose guilt and fear have been dispelled by Him should be so thankful that their souls will delight to hear the charming name of Jesus and make sure that everything they do is in His name: Col. 3.17-18

V. In stanza 5 we are told that the Great Physician will take us to the bright world above
"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."
 A. It is the desire of Jesus to provide sinful mankind with an eternal home in the bright world above of heaven: Matt. 8.11
 B. Therefore, someday, He will come again that we might rise to meet Him in the air: 1 Thess. 4.16-17
 C. After that, He will take us to stand before His throne where we shall join with the redeemed of all ages to sing eternal praises to Him: Rev. 5.8-12

     CONCL.: The chorus continues the strain of praise to Jesus as the Healer of mankind’s spiritual problems.
"Sweetest note in seraph song, Sweetest name on mortal tongue,
Sweetest carol ever sung, Jesus, blessed Jesus."
The two stanzas not included in any of our books are as follows:
4. "The children, too, both great and small, Who love the name of Jesus,
May now accept the gracious call To work and live for Jesus."
5. "Come, brethren, help me sing His praise, O praise the name of Jesus;
O sisters, all your voices raise, O bless the name of Jesus."
Jesus is surely worthy of our praises because we can turn to Him and find spiritual healing from "The Great Physician."


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