One of my favorite articles of the magazine, Christianity Today, is always at the end and titled simply “Testimony”. The testimonies display God’s amazing grace in how He saved a certain person in some kind of unique way. I know some people who were saved at a young age (such as myself) and spent most of their life in church feel slightly intimidated by powerful testimonies. They believe their testimonies are boring in comparison and feel they don’t have much to share concerning the grace and mercy of God. But we shouldn’t feel that way, and reading these miraculous stories always puts me in awe of God’s love and power and encourages me that He is always working, even in those we might think could never be saved and changed.
Years I spent in vanity and pride
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
Listening to the words of this hymn made me wonder about the testimony of the person who wrote them. I learned that William Newell had been a young man whose pastor father despaired he would ever turn to Christ. His father wrote to R.A. Torrey, president of Moody Bible Institute, asking him to take his son as a student. He told Torrey that his son’s life was “really messed up” and hoped that going to the Bible Instiute would change his life. Though he sympathized, Torrey responded that Moody was not a reform school, and they couldn’t take his son. The father did not give up. After many letters, pleading his cause, Torrey finally relented and said he would take the boy, but he must agree to visit him every day and to abide by the rules of the institute.
By God’s Word at last my sin I learned
Then I trembled at the law I spurned
Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary.
Newell did abide by the rules and God changed his life. Some years later after acquiring degrees from Wooster College and Princeton and Oberlin Theological Seminary, he became the assistant superintendent at Moody Bible Institute as well as the pastor of Bethesda Congregational Church.
Now I’ve given to Jesus everything
Now I gladly own Him as my king
Now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary.
In 1895 while Newell was on his way to teach a class, the thoughts of his testimony and how God had saved him became so clear to him, he stopped in an empty classroom and began to jot down the words to this future hymn on the back of an envelope. As he continued on to his class, he ran into Daniel Brink Towner, the director of music at the institute. Newell gave him the words he had just written and asked him to come up with a tune for them. By the time Newell had finished his lecture, Towner had a tune and they sang the song together.
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.
(Refrain) Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty at Calvary.
What a beautiful, yet simple way to share a testimony! As all of us, at one time, he was unaware and did not care that God had died for him. Yet at some point, God’s Word penetrated his heart and brought him to repentance and faith. I hope you will take time to listen to this song again and worship along with the Collingsworth Family.