Song Stories

'The Old Rugged Cross' is a beautiful blessing

By Lucy Adams | Mar 14, 2017
Photo by: Thinkstock

How could it ever be a blessing to think of Jesus, the perfect son of God, being sent to the cross? His 12disciples, in those early days of walking with him, saw no blessings in such an event.

In the Gospel of Matthew we read, “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21)

The last few words — “and on the third day, be raised” — are the source of our great joy as we study this passage during these days of Lent. As we look toward Easter, we know the ending from the beginning, praise God!

That experience was the turning point in the life of composer George Bennard. Born in 1873 in Youngstown, Ohio, he was a young man who had some difficulties in his life.

But when he attended a stirring revival, he wrote in his journal,  "After a very trying experience in my soul, I have discovered a loving kinship with Christ's sufferings.” Even though the details of this experience are not known, the results are the hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross.”

As he prayed and searched the Scriptures, a theme was born. But before he even wrote the words, the lilting melody was composed in his heart. Then the words seemed to fall on each note as he wrote of new insights about the crucifixion of Jesus.

This became George Bennard's testimony in music. The manuscript was sent to the famous hymn writer, Charles Gabriel, whose immediate reply was, “We will certainly hear from this song.”

It proved to be a prophetic statement.  Soon it was the most widely published song, sacred or secular, in America.

Regardless of our doctrinal differences, we can all lift our voices in song and renew our love to the one who died for all on that cross of Calvary:

“So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross / ‘Til my trophies at last I lay down. / I will cling to the old rugged cross/ And exchange it someday for a crown.”

Benard and his wife joined the Salvation Army. He was always grateful for their input into his life during his great conversion experience. They served there for several years. Then he was ordained into the Methodist Episcopal Church and became a traveling evangelist.

At Albion College in Albion, Michigan, a 12-foot cross was erected to honor this beautiful hymn and the composer who was a beloved graduate of the college. He died on Oct. 9, 1958, when he was 85-years old and exchanged the “old rugged cross for a crown.”

Lucy Adams is the author of“52 Hymn Story Devotions.”