(picture of William R. Newell)
“And when they were come…to Calvary, there they crucified Him…” (Lk. 23:33)
INTRO.: A song which identifies some of the blessings that mankind can enjoy because Christ was taken to Calvary and crucified there is “At Calvary” (#426 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #574 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by William Reed Newell, who was born at Savannah, near Ashland, OH, on May 22, 1868. Educated at Wooster College in Wooster, OH, he received the A. B. degree in 1891 and later attended Princeton and Oberlin Seminaries. He married Mellicent Woodworth (1870-1935). After working with Congregational Churches at several places, primarily in Ohio, he moved to Chicago, IL, in 1895, and became minister at the Bethesda Congregational Church. Later that same year, he also began serving as assistant superintendent of the Moody Bible Institute under R. A. Torrey.
This song was produced in 1895 as well. The words had been vaguely in Newell’s thoughts for several weeks as he taught at the Institute. Then one day on his way to teach a class they suddenly began to crystallize in his mind. Stopping at an unoccupied classroom, he jotted them down quickly on the back of an envelope. As he continued to his class, he met the composer of the tune (Calvary), Daniel Brink Towner (1850-1919). Since Towner was the director of music at the Institute, Newell handed him the words and suggested that he provide a suitable melody for them. Towner also provided tunes for such well known songs as “Anywhere With Jesus” and “Trust and Obey.”
When Newell returned from his lecture, Towner had completed the tune for “At Calvary,” and they sang it together. The song first appeared in Famous Hymns published in 1895. At the suggestion of Dwight L. Moody, Newell went on to conduct Bible classes at not only Chicago but also other great American and Canadian cities such as Detroit, MI, Toronto, Ontario, and St. Louis, MO. Their success led him to extensive writings which resulted in the publication of various study guides on different books of the Old Testament as well as expositions on the New Testament books of Romans, Hebrews, and Revelation. Following his retirement in 1910 he moved to Leesburg, FL, where he ministered with a Presbyterian Church prior to his death at Deland, FL, on Apr. 1, 1956.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use among churches of Christ, “At Calvary” has appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; 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; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
The song reminds us of what Jesus did through His death.
I. Stanza 1 teaches that Jesus died for our sins on Calvary
Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
- When we choose to live in sin, we spend our time in vanity and pride: Tit. 3:3
- In that condition, we may not care, but the death of Jesus Christ on the cross had been prophesied in the Old Testament as part of God’s plan to redeem mankind: Isa. 53:10-11
- Jesus died not just for “the whole world” in aggregate but for each one of us as individuals: 1 Tim. 1:15
II. Stanza 2 teaches us that we must turn to Calvary to receive salvation
By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
- It is by God’s word that we learn what sin is: Rom. 7:7
- When we come to realize that we are guilty sinners, we should tremble: Acts 23:24-25
- But trembling is not enough—the sinner must turn to Calvary for cleansing, just as the prodigal son came to himself and turned back to his father: Lk. 15:17-21
III. Stanza 3 teaches us that the redeemed can sing of Calvary
Now I’ve given to Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
- To become a true disciple of Jesus, we must give Him everything by denying self and taking up the cross: Matt. 16:24
- In doing this we are acknowledging Him as our King: 1 Tim. 6:14-16
- Once we have been thus saved, our raptured souls can sing of Calvary in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord: Heb. 13:15 (Some have objected to songs that use the word “rapture” or forms of it, apparently thinking that it promotes the false denominational doctrine of “the Rapture;” but the term simply means “ecstatic joy” or “excessive delight,” so a “raptured soul” is one filled with great joy and delight.)
IV. Stanza 4 teaches us that God’s love and grace were shown to us at Calvary
Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
- It was God’s love that drew salvation’s plan: Rom. 5:6-11
- It was God’s grace that brought it down to man: Eph. 2:4-9
- Thus, God spanned the mighty gulf between Himself and sinful man by offering redemption through the blood of Christ: Eph. 1:3-7
CONCL.: The chorus is a refrain of joy at the blessings to be found in Christ through His death.
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
We should ever give grateful grateful praise from a joyful heart because of what God and Christ did for us “At Calvary.”