Sunday Hymn Stories: The Old Rugged Cross

Sunday is for hymn stories. This came about because I wanted to learn to appreciate the hymns we sing and the stories behind them. I also desired to pass that appreciation to my kids because many of our hymns are theologically rich and birthed from struggle or a time of growth. The first in the series is The Old Rugged Cross, a favorite of my grandma, Florence Vasquez who is now with the Lord.

The composer of this hymn was George Bennard (1873-1958), son of a coal minor. George’s father ended up passing away in a tragic coal mining accident in his teen years, which meant George went to work as a coal minor to support his mom and siblings, 4 sisters I believe.

It was in 1895 that Bennard’s life would change forever. Bennard heard of some revival meetings that were led by the Salvation Army and decided to walk about 5 miles in to town to see what they were about. It was that night the Lord called and Bennard committed his life to Christ there.

George and his wife became officers for the Salvation Army in 1898 and served nearly a decade. In 1907 George became a traveling evangelist and became ordained with the Methodist Episcopal church later.

It was in this era of his life that Bennard wrote the beloved hymn Old Rugged Cross. Bennard was going through a soul trying test which caused him to reflect on the cross and this verse,

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Phillipines 3:10)

His reflection inspired him to write this hymn. He began to write it in 1912 many say it took about a year to complete.

In Bennard’s own words, “I was praying for a full understanding for the cross and its plan in Christianity. I read and studied and prayed. I saw Christ and the Cross inseparably. The Christ of the Cross became more than a symbol . . it was like seeing John 3:16 (For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”) leave the printed page, take form and act out on the meaning of redemption. While watching this scene with my mind’s eye, the theme of the song came to me, and with it the melody.” —Rev. George Bennard

On a hill far away
stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross
where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

Refrain:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.

Oh, that old rugged cross,
so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God
left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross,
stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross
Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross
I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day
To my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.

How my grandma would have listened to the song in her native language.

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