Biography of the Author and Composer
John Newton was born on July 24, 1725, in London, England. Newton is most noted for the hymn, Amazing Grace, but the hymn that we are looking at this week is equally powerful in the message that it conveys. Amazing Grace speaks of the wonder and amazement that Newton had for the gracious hand of God on his life. There is a good article at Christianity Today’s website that details the numerous “dangers, toils, and snares” that God graciously brought him through, preserving his life, and then saving him. Newton was raised by his mother in a Nonconformist, Congregationalist church, but when he turned his life to the full-time preaching ministry, he entered service under the Anglican church. He began his first pastorate at the little village of Olney, near Cambridge, England,. His work for the next fifteen years (1764-1779) was a most fruitful and influential ministry in that very poor district of England. After concluding his ministry at Olney, Newton spent the remaining twenty-eight years of his life as pastor of the influential St. Mary Wollnoth Church in London.
Not unlike the words to the hymn Amazing Grace, the words to the hymn One There Is Above All Others centers around saving grace, and the loving, self-sacrificing nature of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ toward undeserving, ungrateful sinners such as ourselves. This is a theme that remained near to Newton to the end of his life. Shortly before his death a spokesman for the church suggested that he consider retirement because of failing health, eyesight and memory. Newton replied, ““What, shall the old Africa blasphemer stop while he can still speak?” On another occasion before his death he is quoted as proclaiming with a loud voice during a message, ““My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!”
In the days of John Newton there was a dirth of good, sound hymns for church singing among English-speaking people. Newton, while serving at Olny parish, with the aid of his close friend William Cowper, produced what has come to be known as the Olney Hymnal. Newton contributed to the project by writing 280 hymns, while Cowper contributed 68.
John Newton Died on December 21, 1807, in London, England.
Albert Heinrich, the composer of the tune GODESBERG, was born on July 8, 1604, in Lobenstein, Saxony (Germany). While John Newton lived eighty-two years, Heinrich lived only a brief fourty-seven. The course of Heinrich’s life was also very different from Newton’s. From accountsunts, Albert Heinrich avoided much of the debauchery associated with that of the life of the young Newton. Albert Heinrich studied composition with his cousin Heinrich Schütz at Dresden in the early 1620’s. While he attended the University of Leipzig, studying law for three years, his musical activities were encouraged by Johann Hermann Schein. In 1631 he became cathedral organist at Königsberg. Albert Heinrich composed hundreds of songs which were fine examples of the German Baroque style of his day.
Albert Heinrich died on October 6, 1651, in Königsberg, Germany.
101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 49501.
The Cyber Hymnal