Behind the Song: Grace Greater Than Our Sins
We all need more grace to be given and to be shown.
This hymn stuck in my mind because I had a resident ask for the song on a regular basis. For a long time I thought it was his favorite, but later discovered it was his wife’s favorite. After she passed, this hymn was a way for him to connect with her.
The hymn was written by Julia Harriette Johnston. She was born on January 21, 1849 in Ohio. At the age of six, she moved to Peoria, IL where she resided the remainder of her life. Her father, Robert Johnston, was a Presbyterian minister.
Her mother founded the Presbyterian Missionary Society of Peoria and Julia served as president for over twenty years. She also wrote Sunday School lessons for David C. Cook Publishing Company. Over the years she authored several books including Indian and Spanish Neighbors (1905) and Fifty Missionary Heroes (1913).
She wrote over 500 hymns, including Trust in Jesus, Praise the Redeemer and What Would Jesus Have You Do?. She worked with various composers over the years to set music to her poems. Grace Greater Than Our Sins is her best known hymn.
The hymn is dated to 1910. The lyrics express the unending grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The lyrics express the dark, despairing world we live in until we accept the grace “where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.”
Daniel Brink Towner composed the music for the poem. He was born on March 5, 1850 and began studying music under his father at a young age. He served as music director for a variety of churches before becoming music director at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL. He composed over 2000 hymns including At Calvary, O Grace of God so Boundless, Send Out the Light and Anywhere with Jesus.
The tune for Grace Greater Than Our Sins was given the name Moody, for Towner’s association with Dwight L. Moody and the Moody Bible Institute.
The song is first believed to have been published in Towner’s Hymns Tried and True in 1911.
Julia Johnston died on March 6, 1919. Towner died later that year on October 3, 1919 in Longwood, Missouri.
In the Baptist hymnal we use for sing-a-longs, this song is across from Amazing Grace and the two songs flow together seamlessly.
How have you seen God’s grace greater than our sins?