“Calvary” means, the place of the skull. It is a place that is visited by thousands of Christian pilgrims each year, and it is the place where our Lord and Savior’s life was given to pay the penalty for our sin. The author, William Newell, was contemplating what this meant on the way to teach one of his many Bible classes.
As soon as he reached an empty classroom, he wrote them down on the back of an envelope. The words used today are these same words written in those moments. Then he met Daniel Towner, the Director of Music, and asked if he could try to put a tune to the words. After teaching his class, the two met up and the tune had already been written, so they sang it together. It was then first published in 1895.
Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1990) p. 111.
Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1985) p. 39.
William J. Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1976) pp. 249, 390, 446-447.