Monday, June 25, 2018

'There my burdened soul found liberty - at Calvary' - William Reed Newell

This is an old hymn I’ve known forever, one that’s deeply embedded in small evangelical halls around the country. It’s a classic of the genre, its words written by William Reed Newell (1868–1956). So, having noticed the potential in his name, I started digging for his ancestry.

He was born in Savannah in Ashland County in Ohio, the son of David Ayers Newell and Elizabeth Reed Newell. William went to Princeton and became the assistant superintendent of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and later the minister of a Presbyterian church in Leesburg, Florida where he died in 1956 aged 87. He also wrote a number of Bible commentaries. His son - the significantly-named David McCheyne Newell - died in 1986. As you can see here in David’s obituary it confirms that ‘his father’s family is of Scotch-Irish blood’.

Elizabeth’s brother, Congressman Joseph Rea Reed (1835-1925) was a figure of some repute as his Wikipedia entry explains; he was also a member of the Scotch-Irish Society of the USA (see page 296 here).

Scotch-Irish people don’t ‘own’ the gospel, but as with most other subjects it’s becoming increasingly clear that their influence in many walks of life has been vast.

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 everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Of Calvary.

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
At Calvary!


And - so many of the old gospel songs of the late 1800s were written for ordinary folk to easily remember and sing along with - as 3 chord wonders, in 4/4 time - so it's dead easy do this kind of thing with them... Simple words, repeated choruses, and 'hooky' melodies that stick in your head for a lifetime.

They say that this kind of hymn started to appear in the 1850s. It's no wonder then that 100 years later in the 1950s when singers like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and even Elvis Presley came along, who were all reared in the kind of churches where these 3 chord hymns had been sung for a century - that many of their own songs followed a similar format. Here's my brother and I having a bit of fun with it, and below that, a Mennonite choir.