Text: John Newton (1725-1807). Tune: Andreas Peter Berggreen (1801-1880)
1 One there is, above all others, Well deserves the name of Friend; His is love beyond a brother's, Costly, free, and knows no end. They who once his kindness prove Find it everlasting love.
2 Which of all our friends, to save us, Could or would have shed his blood? But our Jesus died to have us Reconciled in him to God. This was boundless love indeed; Jesus is a Friend in need.
3 When he lived on earth abased, "Friend of sinners" was his name. Now above all glory raised, He rejoices in the same; Still he calls them brethren, friends, And to all their wants attends.
4 Could we bear from one another What he daily bears from us? Yet this glorious Friend and Brother Loves us, though we treat him thus: Though for good we render ill, He accounts us brethren still.
5 O for grace our hearts to soften! Teach us, Lord, at length to love; We, alas! forget too often What a Friend we have above: But when home our souls are brought, We will love you as we ought.
Most everyone knows a bit about John Newton from his most famous hymn, maybe the most well known in the world, "Amazing Grace." The movie Amazing Grace put Newton in the context of the abolitionist movement in Britain. His story is truly an amazing one. Raised by a godly mother who filled his mind with Scripture verses, but who died when he was seven, the young boy ended up going to sea with his father when he was eleven. This age was not uncommon at the time. Young boys his age were often pressed into service. What they had to endure is legendary, usually filled with cruelty and forced debauchery.
He tried to desert the Royal Navy ship and was flogged, was taken captive by a cruel slave trader in West Africa, escaped and became a captain of a slave ship himself. During this time he nearly drowned, fell in love with Mary Catlett whom he would marry in 1750, and began reading Thomas á Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. His love for Mary kept him sane while he was suffering his captivity by the slave ship owner. In 1754, he gave up the slave trade and became acquainted with Wilbur Wilberforce, the great opponent of slavery in England. Soon he became a fervant abolitionist. While he was working in Liverpool as a tide-surveyor, he came to know the Wesleys and George Whitefield, the great evangelist of his time.
Under their influence he began studying for the ministry and was ordained into the Church of England to serve in the Olney parish and then St. Mary Wolnoth in London. While in Olney he lived with and cared for William Cowper whose seasons of insanity made him need the care of Newton. Together they produced a hymnal, The Olney Hymnal which contains many favorite hymns, such as "Amazing Grace," this hymn and Cowper’s "God Moves in a Mysterious Way."
Newton became blind toward the end of his life, but did not cease preaching. When told he should, he responded, “Why should this old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?” He never stopped wondering that Jesus, the Son of God, came to be our friend! It really is unfathomable. To be God's friend! This is boundless love indeed!
Newton is exploring the life of Jesus and his works of love through his farewell discourses in John, especially John 15:12-17: I call you friends.
As noted, this hymn first appeared in the Olney hymns of 1781 and has remained popular ever since. It has regained popularity in the past decades probably because of its author whose fame has made a difference. This text is able to compete with any of Newton's others with its depth and conviction.
There are several tunes for the text. The British tend to use LUX PRIMA by Charles Gounoud. Berggreen’s tune was used in the Concordia, Service Book and Hymnal and the Lutheran Book of Worship. Berggreen’s tune is how I know it. It has a Scandinavian sound that reminds me of many other hymns on Jesus as friend. Berggreen was born in Copenhagen and spent his life there. He studied with Weyse, the composer of "O Day Full of Grace," but was most influenced by J. A. P. Shulz, the composer of the tunes for "Thy Little Ones Dear Lord are We" and "We Plough the Fields and Scatter." (HYMN 188) We can hear in Berggreen’s tune the influence of Shulz who worked to make Danish hymnody sound more like folk music. Bergreen became the organist at Trinitatis church in Copenhagen and taught singing there as well. He published several folk song collections from around the Nordic countries and later English, French, Italian and the Slavic countries. Berggreen became an important hymn tune writer for the Icelandic church as well. Over thirty hymns in its hymnal are set to Berggreen tunes.
Gerhard Sundberg Berggreen's tune
Rod Smith https://youtu.be/h6odFds-Q-s
Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, Gounoud’s tune