Words: William R. Newell: music: Daniel B. Towner
Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
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
Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
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
I am certainly sure and there is no question in my mind that the greatest single event in all of history happened on the cross. The cross is the centre of the world’s history; the incarnation of Christ and the crucifixion of our Lord are the pivot around which all the events of the ages revolve. Throughout the years, an important question has puzzled many: where did Jesus’ crucifixion actually take place, and was there a very special significance to this place? The answer is yes. For those whose sins have been washed by the blood of the lamb, Calvary, Golgotha, the Skull is so significant.
This lovely hymn was written by William R. Newell who was a noted evangelist, Bible teacher, and later assistant superintendent at the Moody Bible Institute. One day on his way to teach a class, he was meditating about Christ’s suffering at Calvary and all that it meant to him as a lost sinner. These thoughts so impressed themselves on his mind that he stepped into an empty classroom and quickly scribbled down the lines of this hymn on the back of an envelope. A few minutes later he met his friend and colleague, Daniel B. Towner, music director at the institute, and showed him the text he had just written, suggesting that Towner try composing music for it. An hour later as Newell returned from class, Dr. Towner presented him with the melody and they sang their completed hymn together.
About William R. Newell:
William R. Newell (1868-1956) is remembered fondly as a pastor, evangelist, Bible teacher, author, conference speaker and writer of the beloved hymn At Calvary. And he is remembered as a humble man who recognized that it was only by the grace of God that he was able to accomplish so many good things.
William was a very troubled and wayward teenager. In desperation, his father wrote to the president of Moody Bible Institute, and begged him to allow the enrolment of his son. Since the college was open to serious Bible students, the president was at first resistant, but finally agreed that Newell would be enrolled with the proviso that he would meet with the president daily, and would take his studies seriously.
A father’s prayers, a college president’s commitment, and the three steps forward, two steps back efforts of Newell eventually resulted in the young man not only graduating, but several years later returning to Moody Bible Institute as a teacher.
In 1895, William Newell put the testimony of his life into poetry format. His friend and fellow Bible teacher, Doctor Daniel Towner, Director of music at Moody Bible, read the words and knew they would be powerful when put to music. The result was the beautiful hymn At Calvary.
The significance of Calvary: Tragically, the word Calvary has been completely stricken from the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible and many other newer versions of the Bible. “Calvary, meaning ‘the place of the skull’, is a place that everyone has heard about and that thousands of Holy Land tourists visit every year. But the significance of the events that took place on this hill nearly two thousand years ago are often not truly realized by many of those who merely view its location. ‘At Calvary’ focuses our attention on the wondrous mercy and grace that Christ demonstrated through His death on the cross. The hymn exalts our Lord for conquering sin and death and bringing salvation to all who will accept Him as Redeemer. The ‘mighty gulf’ between God and man was bridged with Christ’s sacrificial atonement at Calvary!
When we sing Calvary, Calvary, or in the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever. It is not the cross we glorify; it is a memory of what transpired there on Calvary. All of our sins not in part, but the whole was nailed to cross and we bear it no more. Praise the Lord!
What a wonderful Saviour! Jesus paid a debt that He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay. Calvary … what a precious word, is mentioned only once in God’s Word in Luke 23:33, “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.” There’s a rich heritage that has it’s basis in the Biblical term Calvary.
Golgotha is the biblical name for the place where Jesus was crucified. It was probably a small hill just outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition, it was within the area now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The name “Golgotha” is derived from the Aramaic word gulgulta. Matthew 27:33 and Mark 15:22 give its meaning as “place of the skull.” When Saint Jerome translated these verses into Latin, he used the Latin word for skull, calvaria, which were later converted into the English word Calvary.
The Greek word for Calvary is kranion, and means, “a skull.” The word comes from the hill where Christ was crucified in Israel, where a natural skull is clearly visible in the rock (see actual photo to left).
The term Calvary has been precious to believers who use the King James Bible for hundreds of years.
Jesus, who knew no sin, became as sin; that we who knew no righteousness, could be made the righteousness of God… “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Calvary is representative of the loving Saviour who died for us miserable wretched sinners who deserve to burn in Hell. The Bible declares all mankind GUILTY! … Being under the condemnation of God’s Law (Romans 3:19). This truth is clearly evidenced in the powerful hymn, At Calvary. It is clear from the words of At Calvary that the author knew he was a guilty sinner, who had violated God’s Law, and saw his desperate need for Christ who died at Calvary.