"Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary." -- from "At Calvary"
Born in Savannah, Ohio, on May 22, 1868, William R. Newell is remembered as a pastor, evangelist, Bible teacher, author, conference speaker and writer of the beloved hymn, "At Calvary."
However, in his youth, Newell was known as a troubled and wayward teen.
As a last resort, his father wrote to the president of Moody Bible Institute, begging him to allow his son to enroll. Since the college was only open to serious Bible students, the president opposed the idea at first, but finally agreed that Newell would be enrolled on the condition that he would meet with the president daily and take his studies seriously.
Because of a father's prayers, a college president's commitment and a teen's perseverance, Newell eventually graduated, and later returned as a teacher and assistant superintendent. He knew it was only by the grace of God that his life had been turned around and he had been able to accomplish so many good things.
"Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me
He died on Calvary.
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 to Calvary."
Newell graduated from Wooster (Ohio) College in 1891, studied at Princeton and Oberlin Seminaries and, after ordination, pastored the Bethesda Congregational Church in Chicago until 1895.
As assistant superintendent at Moody, Newell displayed his gift of Bible exposition at his city-wide Bible classes in Chicago, St. Louis and Toronto.
This led to publication of his well-known commentaries, "verse-by-verse" explanations on Romans, Hebrews and The Book of Revelation, still widely used today.
In 1895, Newell was also able to write his personal testimony as a poem, the lines sharing his thoughts about his conversion and Christ's sacrifice on the cross. It is said that he wrote the words quickly on an old envelope in his classroom. He showed the lyrics to his friend, Dr. Daniel Towner, director of music at Moody, and in an hour “At Calvary” was a finished work.
"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
Newell died April 1, 1956, in DeLand, Fla., and is buried at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Spring Lake Road in Fruitland Park, Fla., near Leesburg where he had pastored a Presbyterian church.
Understanding the great importance of God's grace in Christ is difficult for some to understand, but Newell communicated that truth in a profound and lasting way through a personal, and moving, song.