Dr. William Newell was a gifted preacher, faithful and effective teacher of the scriptures, author of multiple popular Bible commentaries, and author of the classic gospel song, At Calvary. Born in Savannah, Ohio, on May 22nd, 1868, his childhood was surrounded by the ministry as his pastor father dedicated his life to others. In adulthood, Newell earned degrees at Wooster College and Princeton and Oberlin Theological Seminaries, and he served as pastor in several churches before he was appointed assistant superintendent of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. Here he was responsible for teaching several Bible classes in the Institute but also chose to travel by train to multiple cities nearby to hold regular Bible classes.
His widely known hymn of personal testimony, At Calvary, was written at the Institute one day when, as he walked to his next lecture, he was struck with the idea for this song. Ducking into an empty classroom, he quickly penned the lines on the back of a used envelope. Continuing to his class, Newell crossed paths with his friend, Institute music director Dr. Daniel B. Towner. He handed Towner the envelope in passing and asked the gifted musician to compose a tune for the lyrics. Towner sought out an unused piano practice room and quickly wrote the melody and harmony. After his class concluded, Newell sought out his friend and together the men sang At Calvary for the first time. Officially published in 1895, At Calvary’s joyful tune and lyrics of grateful praise have resounded in churches and private worship ever since. In retirement, William Newell moved to DeLand, Florida, where he died on April 1st, 1956.
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