Hymn: At Calvary

Until a few days ago I had never heard of William Newell. A friend recently told me that he’d bought Newell’s commentary on Revelation and I had to google the author. We’ve sung At Calvary many times at church, but how many people notice the hymn writer unless they are someone really famous like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, or Ira Sankey? Newell wrote the words to this song as sort of an autobiography (see below). He was a respected Bible teacher, conference speaker, and author of three verse-by-verse commentaries. Only God knows how many lives have been changed by grace at Calvary. I look forward to meeting them in Heaven!


At Calvary

by William Newell

Years I spent in vanity and pride,

Caring not my Lord was crucified,

Knowing not it was for me He died on Calvary


Mercy there was great and grace was free,

Pardon there was multiplied to me,

There my burdened soul found liberty–

At 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.


Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus ev’rything,

Now I gladly own Him as my King,

Now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary.


O the love that drew salvation’s plan!

O the grace that brought it down to man!

O the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.



* William R. Newell (1868-1956)

Born in Savannah, Ohio, William R. Newell is remembered as a pastor, evangelist, Bible teacher, author, conference speaker and writer of the beloved hymn, At Calvary. The hymn captures his personal testimony.

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. 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. After Moody, he 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 Bible Institute, 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 wrote 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.

Newell died April 1, 1956, in DeLand, Florida. 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.


The Lamp of Spiritual Contentment


Jeremiah Burroughs suggest that spiritual contentment is like a lamp to comfort us in the darkness of our storms.

“Contentment is a comfort to a man’s spirit in that it keeps out whatever may damp his comforts. I may compare this grace of contentment to a sailor’s lantern: when a sailor is at sea, no matter how much provision he has in his ship, yet if he is thousands of leagues from land, or in a route where he will not meet with a ship for three or four months, he will be in a sad state if he has no lantern on his ship by which to keep a light in a storm. He would give a great deal to have such a lantern. When a storm comes in the night and he can have no light above board, but it is puffed out at once, his state is very sad. So, many men have the light of comfort when there is no storm, but let any affliction come, any storm upon them, and their light is puffed out at once, and what can they do? When the heart is furnished with the grace of contentment, this grace is, as it were, a lantern in the midst of the storm or tempest. When you have a lantern in the midst of a storm, you can carry that light everywhere up and down the ship, to the top of the mast if you wish, and keep it alight; so when the comfort of a Christian is enlivened with the grace of contentment, it may be kept alight whatever storms or tempest come—he can keep the light of contentment in his soul. Oh, this light helps your comforts very much in the storms of life!”


Hymn – There is a Fountain Filled With Blood

“There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” is sometimes omitted from hymnals on the grounds that the metaphor, “fountain filled with blood” is offensive. But there is sufficient interest by many people whose interest is in the Lamb of God and the blood shed for our sins and the sins of the whole world. This favorite hymn has found its place in hymnals for more than two centuries. (It is Hymn #175 in Living Hymns.)

[A rendition of this hymn by George Beverly Shea was the theme song for “Fellowship Time” hosted by Pastor Joseph Stringer every Sunday morning for more than 20 years on WCCM in Lawrence, Mass. This half-hour Bible study was must-listening for us during breakfast before we went to the Sunday morning service at Fellowship Bible Church in North Andover where we heard Pastor Stringer again!]


There is a Fountain Filled with Blood

by William Cowper *

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;

And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains:

Lose all their guilty stains,

Lose all their guilty stains;

And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see

That fountain in his day;

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away:

Wash all my sins away,

Wash all my sins away;

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood

Shall never lose its pow’r,

Till all the ransomed Church of God

Be saved, to sin no more:

Be saved, to sin no more,

Be saved, to sin no more;

Till all the ransomed Church of God

Be saved to sin no more.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream

Thy flowing wounds supply,

Redeeming love has been my theme,

And shall be till I die:

And shall be till I die,

And shall be till I die;

Redeeming love has been my theme,

And shall be till I die.

When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue

Lies silent in the grave,

Then in a nobler, sweeter song

I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save:

I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save,

I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save;

Then in a nobler, sweeter song

I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.


* William Cowper (1731-1800) The simple life of William Cowper, marked chiefly by its innocent recreations and tender friendships, was in reality a tragedy. His mother died when he was six years old. Educated to be a solicitor, he failed to take the exam because his sensitive spirit was consumed by fear of appearing before the bar. He fell in love, but the marriage was forbidden by her father. He never married. What followed was years of melancholy, depression, and attempted suicides.

For the last two decades of his life, William Cowper lived in Olney, where John Newton was his pastor and he assisted Newton in his pastoral duties. His emotional state swung from extreme highs to depressing lows. When a close friend died he experienced months of depression.

His great poems show no trace of his monomania and are full of healthy piety. His poetry marks the contrasting presence of a quiet nature. The spiritual ideas of his hymns are identical with those of John Newton who wrote “Amazing Grace”; their highest note is peace and thankful contemplation, rather than joy. Cowper and John Newton collaborated on the important hymn collection Olney Hymns (1779), to which Cowper contributed sixty-eight hymn texts.

A verse that is familiar to many comes from one of his Olney Hymns, “Light Shining Out of Darkness,” 1779

GOD moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness;

but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

I Corinthians 1:18


Contentment Delivers Us From Temptations


This lesson on Learning Christian Contentment from Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) packs a powerful punch! He makes it clear that the Devil takes advantage of our discontented spirit to lead us into more sin. When we’re disgruntled or dissatisfied with our circumstances—whether we simmer inside or give action to our unhappiness—we give Satan an open door to enflame our passions and to sin against God and His goodness. Learning Christian Contentment is a lifelong pursuit, but the hard words of this lesson from an experienced pastor give us another challenge to pursue spiritual contentment.


Oh, the temptations that men of discontented spirit are subject to! The Devil loves to fish in troubled waters. That is our proverb about men and women – their disposition is to fish in troubled waters, they say it is good fishing in troubled waters. This is the maxim of the Devil, he loves to fish in troubled waters; where he sees the spirits of men and women troubled and vexed, there the Devil comes. He says, ‘There is good fishing here for me,’ when he sees men and women go up and down discontented, and he can get them alone, then he comes with his temptations: ‘Will you suffer such a thing?’ he says, ‘take this shift, this indirect way, do you not see how poor you are, others are well off, you do not know what to do for the winter, to provide fuel and get bread, for you and your children?’ And so he tempts them to unlawful courses. This is the special disorder that the Devil fastens upon, when he gets men and women to give their souls to him—it is from discontent…the rise of it has been their discontent. Therefore it is noticeable that those upon whom the Devil works…are discontented at home. Their neighbors trouble them or vex them, and their spirits are weak and they cannot bear it, so upon that the Devil fastens his temptations and draws them… If they are poor, then he promises them money; if they have revengeful spirits, then he tells them that he will revenge them upon such and such persons; now this quiets and contents them. Oh! There is occasion of temptation for the Devil when he meets with a discontented spirit!


Hymn – Hallelujah to the Lamb


Hallelujah to the Lamb

Lyrics by Isaac Watts *

Chorus by Alfred B. Smith **

Come, let us join our cheerful songs

with angels round the throne;

ten thousand thousand are their tongues,

but all their joys are one.


Hallelujah to the Lamb,

who died on Mount Calvary!

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! Amen.

‘Worthy the Lamb that died,’ they cry,

‘to be exalted thus’;

‘Worthy the Lamb,’ our lips reply,

‘for he was slain for us.’ [Chorus]

Jesus is worthy to receive

honour and power divine;

and blessings, more than we can give,

be, Lord, for ever thine. [Chorus]

Let all that dwell above the sky,

and air, and earth, and seas,

conspire to lift thy glories high,

and speak thine endless praise. [Chorus]

The whole creation joins in one

to bless the sacred name

of him that sits upon the throne,

and to adore the Lamb. [Chorus]


* Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

In 1702, Watts  became pastor of the Independent Church, Berry St., London.. In 1712, he accepted an invitation to visit Sir Thomas Abney, at his residence of Abney Park, and at Sir Thomas’ pressing request, made it his home for the remainder of his life. He did not retire from ministerial duties, but preached as often as his delicate health would permit.

The number of Watts’ publications is very large. His collected works, first published in 1720, embrace sermons, treatises, poems and hymns. His “Hymns” appeared in July, 1707. The first hymn he is said to have composed for religious worship, is “Behold the Glories of the Lamb,” written at the age of twenty. It is as a writer of psalms and hymns that he is everywhere known. Some of his hymns were written to be sung after his sermons, giving expression to the meaning of the text upon which he had preached. His published hymns number more than eight hundred.

Watts died November 25, 1748. A monumental statue (left) was erected in Southampton, his native place, and there is also a monument (above)to his memory in the South Choir of Westminster Abbey. “Happy,” said one of his contemporaries, “will be that reader whose mind is disposed, by his verses or his prose, to imitate him in all but his non-conformity, to copy his benevolence to men, and his reverence to God.”


** Alfred B. Smith (1916-2001)

[Biography compiled from the Living Hymns web site]

The fascinating life of Dr. Al Smith, “Mr. Singspiration,” began on November 8, 1916 in a small Holland Dutch community in northern New Jersey where the news of the day reported that “Mr. and Mrs. Barney Smith” had become the proud parents of a baby boy who they named Alfred Barney Smith. Alfred’s early years were filled with loving care from a father and mother who loved the Lord.

When Alfred was eight and a half years of age his mother decided that it was time to start her son on the violin. Under the tutelage of excellent instructors, young Alfred made great progress, soon he was performing in concerts in various parts of the east including solos with various symphony orchestras.

At fourteen he was invited to a tent meeting in Hawthorne, New Jersey, where he accepted Christ as Savior. He was thrilled upon hearing the one hundred and fifty people in the tent singing “Saved, Saved, Saved” and “One Day.” That day he fell in love with Gospel music It was a love that never left him. In 1930, he began playing on radio broadcasts. The station was WKBO, located in Jersey City, New Jersey. The program was called “the Old Fashioned Gospel Hour.”

In 1937, Alfred B. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute and immediately began as Minister of Music at The Church of the Open Door in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1938 the church loaned him to The Philadelphia School of the Bible – now The Philadelphia College of the Bible.  It was during that year that Smith wrote “For God So Loved the World” after visiting the ninety-four year-old hymn writer  George C. Stebbins. He was beginning an adventure in inspiration that kept him occupied for over sixty years.

In 1939 he was offered a scholarship to Wheaton College (which he gratefully accepted). His next three and half years were busy ones. In 1940 Billy Graham was a student at Wheaton. Smith and Graham decided that they would work together as an evangelistic team. Graham did the preaching and Smith coordinated the music. As a result of their ministry, the company Singspiration was born in 1941. God worked in a mighty way…in Singspiration’s  first two months of sales the entire printing of five thousand books was sold! In 1942 Al Smith married Catherine Barron. The same year he produced “Singspiration Two,” and choose Zondervan of Grand Rapids, Michigan to be his distributor.

In 1953, Montrose, New Jersey became the new headquarters for Singspiration and a new Christian radio station, WPEL. In 1957, John W. Peterson, Norman Johnson and Harold DeCou join the Singspiration staff. New publications including cantatas begin to cover not only America but Canada, England and other parts of the English speaking world.

In 1963, Singspiration moved to Grand Rapids and became part of Zondervan. Free from the pressure of managing Singspiration he devoted most of his time to ministering in church meetings. He also kept quite busy with the writing “Hymn Histories” and the hymnal “Living Hymns.” “Living Hymns” was first published in 1972 and “Hymn Histories” in 1982.

In 1985, Al and his family moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where his children attended Bob Jones Academy. Here for the last fifteen years of his life he was able to continue his publishing. Though he battled cancer in his later years, Dr. Smith was always going the extra mile to share the love of God with others whether in his home church, Greenville Christian Fellowship, or in countless other churches across the nation.

Shortly before Al Smith passed away he shared his vision for the ministry to continue after his death. His sons, David and Jonathan, caught that vision and started Al Smith Ministries to keep the music of Alfred B. Smith available. God has allowed them to continue to offer the resources their father spent his life making. In 2009 Al Smith Ministries partnered with Striving Together Publications to be our exclusive distributor for Living Hymns. A new edition was completed that kept the original hymnal the same, updating the type setting and adding over sixty more songs to the book.

[Note: I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Smith and hearing him speak (he had a strong, clear “radio voice”) when he visited Fellowship Bible Church in North Andover in the late 1970s. He and Pastor Joseph Stringer were of the same era and joked like old friends. The church was filled for a Sunday evening service and Dr. Smith led us in a “Singspiration” of his songs. It was a memorable evening of worshipful music. Salem Bible Church, and other churches formed in those years, call our all-singing services Singspirations!  Of course, our church hymnal is the latest edition of “Living Hymns”! MFV]

Suffering and Prayer


Sometimes suffering can drive us away from prayer when we focus on our present misery, pain, and loneliness knowing that sufferings should move us to more prayer.

This short homily from the “Prince of Preachers” reminds us that Jesus prayed for us even when His crucifixion and death on the cross were only hours away.


A Sermon Delivered October 24th, 1869,


at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, England

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34

OUR LORD was at that moment enduring the first pains of crucifixion; the executioners had just then driven the nails through his hands and feet. He must have been, moreover, greatly depressed, and brought into a condition of extreme weakness by the agony of the night in Gethsemane, and by the scourgings and cruel mockings which he had endured all through the morning, from Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, and the Praetorian guards. Yet neither the weakness of the past, nor the pain of the present, could prevent him from continuing in prayer. The Lamb of God was silent to men, but he was not silent to God. Dumb as sheep before her shearers, he had not a word to say in his own defense to man, but he continues in his heart crying unto his Father, and no pain and no weakness can silence his holy supplications. Beloved, what an example our Lord herein presents to us! Let us continue in prayer so long as our heart beats; let no excess of suffering drive us away from the throne of grace, but rather let it drive us closer to it.


A Rebellious Youth Revolutionizes Congregational Singing


“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!

Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

   Sing to the Lord, bless His name;

Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.

   Declare His glory among the nations,

His wonders among all peoples.”

Psalm 96:1-3


A Rebellious Youth Revolutionizes Congregational Singing *

Line by line the clerk read a Psalm. Line by line the congregation sang after him. That is, everybody sang except young Isaac Watts.

After church services that Sunday in 1692, when his Puritan father called him to the carpet for not singing, Isaac said bluntly that there was no music in the Psalms. He said further that the Psalms did not rhyme and that there was no sense in having to sing them line by line.

When outraged Deacon Watts’ blood pressure subsided, he suggested that if his young upstart son were smarter than King David he might try his hand at writing something better. The result of that challenge was a revolution in church singing that has resounded for more than three centuries.

Staid old Deacon Enoch Watts must have spoken without thinking when he hurled his sarcastic remark at his teen-age son. For at his boarding school in Southampton, the deacon himself had taught Isaac five languages before the boy was fourteen years old. That is, the deacon taught when he wasn’t in jail for his acts against the Established Church.

For twelve years Mrs. Enoch Watts had tutored her oldest son in the writing of verse. At seven he had won a copper medal for writing rhymes. He waxed so poetical that when the elder Watts threatened to flail him for rhyming even his everyday conversation, the boy cried out, “O father do some pity take, and I will no more verses make.”

Accepting his father’s challenge, eighteen-year-old Isaac Watts set about “Christianizing” and “modernizing” the Psalms. The following Sunday the clerk read Isaac Watts’ hymn and the congregation was so pleased that for two years Watts had to bring one of his “modernized” Psalms every Sunday!

Eighteen-year-old Isaac had successfully broken an ancient tradition. From his prolific pen would come “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Am I Soldier of the Cross” and many other notable hymns.

With his bold departure from Psalm singing, Isaac Watts gave to Christianity a popular and inspiring medium of worship and paved the way for Charles Wesley, John Newton, William Cowper, and hundreds to follow.

Here is a hymn, written by Isaac Watts in 1719, that was one of three selections sung by President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill during devotional services aboard the man-of-war H.M.S. Prince of Wales in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland in 1941. Four months later, the United States entered WWII.

O God our help in ages past,

   Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blat,

   And our eternal home.

* A Hymn is Born, by Clint Bonner (Broadman Press, 1959)

Contentment Amid Conflict



from The Valley Of Vision *


Thou art my protecting arm,

            fortress, refuge, shield, buckler.

Fight for me and my foes must flee;

Uphold me and I cannot fall;

Strengthen me and I stand unmoved, unmovable;

Equip me and I shall receive no wound;

Stand by me and Satan will depart

Anoint my lips with a song of salvation

            and I shall shout thy victory.

Blessed Lord Jesus, at thy cross,

            may I be taught the awful miseries from which I am saved,

                        ponder what the word ‘lost’ implies,

                        see the fires of eternal destruction;

Then may I cling more closely to thy broken self,

            adhere to thee with firmer faith,

            be devoted to thee with total being,

            detest sin as strongly as thy love to me is strong,

And may holiness be the atmosphere in which I live.


* From The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975

“The prayers in The Valley of Vision are steeped in Scripture, yet never succumb to mere formula. They are theologically fresh and vibrant, yet they are rooted in confessionalism. They range over a huge sweep of Christian experience and devotion… They brim with deep emotion and transparent passion, but they carefully avoid mere sentimentalism. This is a book that teaches readers to pray by example.” — D. A. Carson


Content with the Imminent Return of Christ

The Meaning of “Imminent”

from: Maranatha, Our Lord Come!, by Renald Showers

[Note: As Dr. Showers explains in this excerpt from his excellent book on the Rapture, the concept of imminence has in it an element of uncertainty. Uncertainty can make us nervous, impatient, discontented. Or, it can thrill us with joyous anticipation. Waiting for a loved one to arrive at the airport when their flight is delayed can make us excited. The airline assures us that the plane is circling overhead waiting for clearance to land. Yet we keep looking up in anticipation. Despite repeated assurances, we can’t seem to sit still. Brethren, we are waiting for our Lord to return at any moment! Now is not the time to be discouraged or unhappy with troubles around us. We wait with expectation for our Beloved to arrive!]

The concept of the imminent coming of Christ is a significant inference for the Pretribulation Rapture of the church. To understand this concept, we must examine the meaning of the term “imminent.”

When an event is truly imminent, we never know exactly when it will happen. In line with this, A.T. Pierson stated, “Imminence is the combination of two conditions, viz.: certainty and uncertainty. By an imminent event we mean one which is certain to occur at some time, uncertain at what time.” Thus, “imminent” is not equal to “soon.”

In light of the meaning of the term “imminent” and the fact that the next coming of Christ has not happened yet, we can conclude that the concept of the imminent coming of Christ is that His next coming is always hanging overhead, is constantly ready to befall or overtake us, is always close at hand in the same sense that it could happen at any moment. Other things may happen before Christ’s coming, but nothing must happen before it takes place.

Because we do not know exactly when Christ will come, three things are true:

  • First, we cannot count on a certain amount of time transpiring before Christ’s coming; therefore we should always be prepared for the event to happen at any moment.

  • Second, we cannot legitimately set a date for Christ’s coming.

  • Third, we cannot legitimately say that Christ’s coming will happen soon. Again, it may happen soon, but it does not have to in order for it to be imminent.

Christians should have an expectant attitude toward Christ’s coming. Since it is imminent and therefore could happen at any moment, believers should constantly look forward to, look out for, or wait for that event.

“Looking for that blessed hope,

and the glorious appearing

of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;”

Titus 2:13

The Excellence of Contentment as Worship

“In contentment we come to give God the worship due to Him.”

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646)

“I say it is a special part of divine worship that the creature owes to the infinite Creator, in that I tender the respect that is due from me to the Creator.

“You worship God more by contentment than when you come to hear a sermon or spend half an hour, or an hour, in prayer. These are the acts of God’s worship, but they are only external acts of worship: to hear and pray. This is the soul’s worship: to subject itself thus to God. You who often will worship God by hearing and praying, yet afterwards will be froward [contrary, perverse] and discontented—know that God does not regard such worship; He will have the soul’s worship, in this subjecting itself unto God.

“Oh! That I could do what pleases God! When we come to suffer any cross: Oh! That what God does might please me! I labour to do what pleases God, and I also labour that whatever God does shall please me: here is a Christian indeed, who shall endeavour both of these. It is but one side of a Christian to endeavour to do what pleases God; you must as well endeavor to be pleased with whatever God does, and so you will come to worship as a complete Christian when you can do both. And that is the excellence of contentment.”