Keeping the Hymns Close By

At Calvary

Author – William R. Newell, 1868 – 1956
Composer – Daniel. B. Towner, 1850 – 1919
Published in 1895

In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. Ephesians 1:7

When Dr. R.A. Torrey was president of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, he received a letter from a distressed father. The man, a pastor, had a prodigal son named Bill who was breaking his heart. Would Dr. Torrey let the boy enroll at Moody? Dr. Torrey replied that while he sympathized with the man, it wasn’t possible to admit the boy. Moody was a Bible school, not a reformatory. The man wrote back, doubling his entreaties. Finally Dr. Torrey agreed, provided the boy meet with him daily and abide by the rules.
The arrangement didn’t go well at first, and Dr. Torrey thought the experiment was hopeless. The boy had serious problems and seemed torn apart by turbulence. But he did keep the rules, and day by day he shared his frustrations to Dr. Torrey and — as it turned out — was more attentive to Torrey’s answers than it appeared. He furthered his education at Wooster College and at Princeton and Oberlin Theological Seminary. He served in several pastorates and then returned to Moody Bible Institute where he was a beloved professor.
In 1895, William began thinking of putting his testimony into verse form. One day, while on his way to teach a class, the words for this hymn came to him. Stepping into an empty classroom, he jotted down the words on the back of an envelope. As he hurried on to class, he happened to meet Dr. Daniel Towner, director of music at the Institute. Handing him the verses, William gently suggested they could use a good melody. By the time Dr. Newell finished his lecture, the completed tune was ready.
“Bill,” said Dr. Towner, “I was so taken with the poem you gave me that I went immediately to my studio and composed the music. I feel that it could be the best song that either of us will ever write in our lifetime.” The two men sang it together and it was published shortly after.
As a composer, Daniel Towner is credited with over 2000 published songs. Some of the hymns he composed the music for include “Trust and Obey”, “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”, and “My Anchor Holds”. Bill Newell went on to become a well-known Bible teacher throughout the Midwest and the author of a popular series of Bible commentaries. He once said that had he not gone through his troubled years, he might never have fully understood the importance of Calvary’s grace.

Taken from Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan Copyright © 2003 Robert J. Morgan. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson

Taken from 101 More Hymn Stories Copyright © 1985, 2013 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Daniel Towner

Daniel Towner

William Newell

William Newell