There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
1 Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work's in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again. [Refrain]
2 If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus
and say, "He died for all." [Refrain]
This anonymous African American spiritual probably took shape during outdoor revival meetings in the early nineteenth century. The text draws on the image of Gilead, which in biblical times was a source of spices and medicinal ointments. The refrain states in positive terms what the prophet Jeremiah asks negatively, "Is there no balm in Gilead?" "Balm" becomes a metaphor for redemption in Christ.
One of its most memorable phrases, "the sin-sick soul," was taken from hymns by Charles Wesley and John Newton. The refrain alone was published in the Revivalist (upstate New York, 1868) and the complete spiritual in Folk Songs of the American Negro (1907), compiled by brothers Frederick J. Work and John W. Work, Jr. Of those stanzas, the two are included that concern the Spirit's encouragement of discouraged Christians and the task of every Christian to be a witness to Christ's love.
Bert Polman, Psalter Hymnal Handbook
When we receive God’s pardon, we find ourselves at peace with him and at rest again. When the benefits of Christ are made ours, “They are more than enough to absolve us of our sins” and we need no longer look “for anything apart from him” (Belgic Confession, Article 22). We have “freedom from sin’s dominion” (Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 25) and we understand that we are “set free from all [our] sins and misery…” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1, Question and Answer 2). We are “righteous before God and heir to everlasting life” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 23, Question and Answer 59).