The opening lines of “At Calvary” will always remind me of morning chapel at the private religious boarding school I attended my senior year of high school. All those teenagers in their uniforms, not quite awake yet singing in harmony. It’s a wonderful song to be nostalgic about, because it’s an ideal hymn in many ways.
I think that the wonderful old timey piano arrangement has such a beguiling tune. It’s a tune suited for a music box, catchy and pleasing to sing and to listen to. The four verses are short, to the point, and the rhymes are not forced as one finds in some classic hymns. Written by a Moody Bible Institute staff member on the back of an envelope (the guy’s name was William Reed Newell), it’s a song that touches deep and yet does not weary.
It’s a testimony to the tune that attempts to freshen it up with an updated tune (which has been used to great effect with other hymns), results in a really depressing overworked slog (sorry, Casting Crowns). Daniel Brink Towner, the composer of this and many other hymn melody, had such a gift (and training, the guy had a doctorate in music) for getting a song caught in your head. Once you sing “At Calvary” in the morning at school, every time you are bored in class you will hear “Years I spent in vanity and pride, caring not my Lord was crucified”.
Here’s a great jam out of this classic hymn, as a break to my rambling:
I haven’t dug to see if Newell was doing his city wide verse by verse bible classes at this time, or if he was Superintendent of MBI yet. Some sources say that he had just begun to teach there, but I’m not sure how much it matters to me. The verses of At Calvary express in wonderful brevity a testimony of redemption. I look at the photo of Newell that is on every site that bios him and I see those sparkly eyes and think, that man had wit about him.
In fact, the power of such well turned lines means that I’m going to be seeking out Newell’s study materials. I’ve found some online, and I have been truly enjoying them. I have such appreciation for a male writer who does not seem in love with his own words, and he may just fit the bill!
“Mercy there was great, and grace was free, pardon there was multiplied to me, there my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary”