This hymn was written by Philip Doddridge in 1735. Doddridge was a pastor of a Dissenting church, which means that he did not accept the authority of the Church of England. He wrote this hymn and many others—perhaps 400 in all—not for publication but to be sung by his congregation. His congregation didn’t use hymnals, but instead had someone sing the hymn line by line from the pulpit with the congregation repeating each line in turn.
Most of Doddridge’s hymns were inspired by a particular scripture, and that was true of this hymn, which was inspired by Isaiah 61:1-2. The King James Version reads:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me;
because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek;
he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all that mourn.”
When Jesus spoke in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, he quoted those verses from Isaiah and then said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). In other words, Jesus was saying that he had come to preach good news, to bind up those who were broken, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to comfort those who mourn. It is in celebration of this work of Christ that we sing this hymn.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan