The Olney Hymnal
The Olney Hymns was originally published in 1779. The hymns contained inside are from the pens of John Newton and William Cowper (pronounced Cooper). They were very prolific in creating the material for the hymnal. This little book has over 427 pages of hymns and tables.
Many are familiar with the story of John Newton. At one time, he was a slave trader. Then, he marvelously came to know Christ as his Savior and became an abolitionist. Finally, he became the parish priest at Olney, Buckinghamshire, England. While in Olney, he and William Cowper joined together to create the Olney Hymns. The Cowper and Newton Museum at Olney is treasure house for learning about the lives of these two men. In speaking of Newton’s life, here is one of the engravings on the monument marking John Newton’s burial site. It reads:
JOHN NEWTON. CLERK
ONCE AN INFIDEL AND LIBERTINE
A SERVANT OF SLAVES IN AFRICA WAS
BY THE RICH MERCY OF OUR
LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST
PRESERVED RESTORED PARDONED
AND APPOINTED TO PREACH THE FAITH HE
HAD LONG LABOURED TO DESTROY
NEAR 16 YEARS AS CURATE OF THIS PARISH
AND 28 YEARS AS RECTOR OF ST MARY WOOLNOTH
The Trip to England
A few years ago I was privileged to go on a mission trip to the UK with the Sons of Jubal (the men’s choral group affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board). While there we were able to travel to the town of Olney where we visited the museum. This museum is located in the house where William Cowper lived. During the museum tour I saw one of the original 1779 copies of the Olney Hymns. I’ve included a picture of one of the ladies holding it open to John Newton’s most famous song, “Amazing Grace.” As a reminder of the visit, I, and many of the group, purchased a facsimile copy of the hymnal. As I understand it, the Olney Hymns includes the first publication of the great hymn “Amazing Grace.”
While in Olney, we were also privileged to sing in the great Anglican church building. Here, John Newton served as priest.
The Contents of Olney Hymns
The Olney Hymns also has a few other hymns that are familiar to me. These include “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” and “Sometimes a Light Surprises.”
You’ll notice, the hymnal contains three books: Book 1 On Select Texts of Scripture, Book 2 On Occasional Subjects, and Book 3 On the Progress and Changes of the Spiritual Life. Each book has a “Table” at the end.
Here are additional pictures from my facsimile copy of the Olney Hymns. As you can see, they include the title pages, the table of contents, plus the first and last pages of the Preface. And interestingly enough the last printed page of the hymnal looks like an advertisement.
What thoughts do you have when you hear or sing the hymn “Amazing Grace”? Have you experienced God’s grace in your life? How does your life reflect God’s grace? Share your comments below or Contact Me.
PS: I originally posted information and pictures about this hymnal on my Facebook page Richard Dickson. However, for this article, I’ve edited that material, made some additions, and taken new and additional pictures.