Dr. RA Torrey was the first president of the Moody Bible Institute. The school was founded by DL Moody who was a tremendous evangelist throughout the 19th century.
Torrey once told a story about a young man, Billy Newell, who was a rebellious boy. His father was a pastor and he just didn’t know what to do with him. He contacted Torrey and asked him to take his son into the school. Torrey was empathetic but he was firmly opposed. He told the father that he was running a Bible School, not a reformatory.
The father tried over and over and finally Torrey relented. He agreed to take the young man if he would agree to meet with him every day.
Over the course of several months, the young man finally had a breakthrough. He understood what Torrey had been trying to teach him and he gave his life to Christ. The father was elated as the young man dedicated himself to his schooling, exceeding all expectations, eventually becaming a teacher.
Thirty years later, now a professor at his old school, he took the time to think about his youthful rebellion. It came to him in the form of a poem. As he recalled his relationship with Torrey and his encounter with a living Christ, the poem took shape in his mind. He took the poem to DB Towner, the head of the music department, and asked if he could possibly put it to music.
Newell went off to teach his class. When he was done, he found Towner excitedly waiting for him in his office with a tune, already written. The hymn has been a classic from that day forward.
Here is the poem that Dr. William R. Newell wrote, describing his own personal journey of faith.
Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died,
O the love that drew salvation’s plan,
O the grave that brought it down to man,
O the mighty gulf that God did span,
Mercy there was great and grace was free,
Pardon there was multiplied to me,
There my burdened soul found liberty,