Sunday, May 20, 2007

Rebecca Writes

Dear Pilgrim Pals:

The following post is reprinted in its entirety from Rebecca Stark's excellent blog entitled Rebecca Writes. She has been featuring hymns written by William Cowper in her Sunday postings. This has been particularly interesting for me as I visited the town of Olney while I was in England earlier this year. I purchased a copy of the Olney Hymns at the Cowper Newton Museum.

Rebecca writes:

Sunday's Hymn: John Newton

I’ve featured John Newton’s hymns here before, but today I’m presenting one more because I want to post a little bit about Olney Hymns, a hymnal published in 1779 that contained hymns written by William Cowper and John Newton. Shortly after Cowper’s conversion, John Newton became his pastor when Cowper moved to live in Olney. They shared a close relationship that continued after John Newton moved from Olney to take over a new pastorate thirteen years later.

From John Piper’s book, The Hidden Smile of God:

Newton saw Cowper’s bent to melancholy and reclusiveness and drew him into the ministry of visitation as much as he could. They would take long walks together between homes and talk of God and his purposes for the church. Then, in 1769, Newton got the idea of collaborating with Cowper on a book of hymns to be sung by their church. He thought it would be good for Cowper’s poetic bent to be engaged.1

As it turned out, Cowper wrote 68 of the hymns included in the Olney Hymns before he suffered another mental breakdown, and Newton finished things off by contributing more than two hundred. The previously featured hymns by Cowper were all Olney Hymns, and so was the ever popular Amazing Grace by Newton.

The breakdown that Cowper suffered was a bad one, and once again he tried to commit suicide repeatedly. Newton, Piper writes, “stood by him all the way through this, even sacrificing at least one vacation so as not to leave Cowper alone.”2 You get a glimpse there, I’d say, of John Newton’s pastoral heart. When Newton left Olney, he kept in close touch with Cowper, and the two men exchanged frequent letters for the next twenty years.

This hymn by Newton from Olney Hymns is one I was unfamiliar with, but it is in my church’s hymnal. I love it’s cross-centered words.

I Saw One Hanging on a Tree

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.


O, can it be, upon a tree,
The Savior died for me?
My soul is thrilled,
my heart is filled,
To think He died for me!

Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

1. John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God, 96.
2. Ibid., 97.

David's note: Although Rebecca wasn't familiar with this hymn, it's one that I learned many years ago. We would often sing it during our Breaking of Bread service (Communion) in our Brethren assembly.


  1. This IS an excellent song David.
    My heart breaks everytime we sing it in the morning meeting and even at some of the sings that we have in the Christian's homes.
    Someone always picks it as their favorite.
    Just to think that as He was dying on the cross for our sins, He looked right into our eyes and we could see the love in them for us, even through His tears.
    How could such a thing be!
    That He would die for the likes of us!

    David, I feel the same everytime I hear The Floida Boys sing that song, "When He Was On The Cross I Was On His Mind"..
    Such lovely hymns that the Lord has inspired His dear ones to write!
    You have written several yourself, Pilgrim.

    I must take some time and visit Rebecca's site!....From Terry PP

  2. Yes I to love the song "When He Was On The Cross I Was On His Mind." I have a Southern Gospel Accapela CD that has this song on it and I play it,(the CD)really loud when I wash dishes. Not every one in my family appriciates hearing this CD so loud but hey, they have to put up with it.
    See if you can listen to the song "He made a change" on the internet. I this one makes me think of Bill Butters. A really nasty hockey player thet used to tease Paul Henderson about his Faith and then asked Henderson for "some information on this Christianinty stuff". He came to know the LORD and I think he works with HMI.
    God bless all you Pilgrim Pals!!

  3. Oh little Montreal girl ..what a nice story about Paul Henderson.
    He was in Port Colborne a while back and he was visiting a local high school where he told the students about his faith in Jesus.
    What a guy!

    I am bad in the summer little Montreal girl...I put my Southern Gosple music just a blaring on in the car and put my windows WIDE open!!
    Man "Heaven Bound" sure does make a lot of joyful noise!!
    Really neat when I am at a stop light!!..Ha!!...Love pigrim pal, Terry