THE OLD RUGGED CROSS                                                          written in 1913

The Story

From 1925 to 1960 this hymn was ranked as America’s favorite gospel hymn!

The song came from the heart of George Bennard (1873-1958) when he was going through some personal spiritual struggles.

George was born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1873 and spent his childhood in Iowa. His father was a tavern owner and, later, a coal miner. George’s conversion at the age of 22 through the evangelistic ministry of the Salvation Army in Canton, Iowa, led to his ordination and commissioning as a traveling evangelist in 1898. In 1910, stepping out in faith, George resigned and began his own itinerant ministry. He traveled throughout the Midwest, holding revivals until his retirement in Reed City, Michigan, more than 30 years later.

But in 1912, an evangelist traveling throughout the Midwest, was heckled incessantly by several youth at a revival meeting in Michigan. Troubled by their disregard for the gospel, he decided to reflect on the meaning of the Cross, what John 3:16 was all about, and what Paul meant when he spoke of entering into the fellowship of God’s sufferings. Then, one day in the course of his studying, he said, “I saw Christ on the Cross as if I were seeing John 3:16 leave the printed page, take form, and act out the meaning of redemption.” He became convinced of something Baptists have known all along, the Cross is “the very heart of the Gospel”. Then, he said, “The words of the finished hymn were put into my heart in answer to my own need.”

So, George’s personal struggles became the seed that planted one of the most popular hymns ever written!

The melody came easily, and the first verse was completed by George during a series of meetings in Albion, Michigan. Several months later, the remaining 3 verses were completed in Pokagon, Michigan, where George was leading meetings at a local church.

After completing the hymn, he performed the song in its entirety for the sponsoring pastor and his wife, Rev. Leroy and Ruby Bostwick, in the living room of the parsonage. The Bostwicks were moved to tears and incorporated the song in the revival service on June 7, 1913.

First, George sang his hymn with guitar accompaniment, and then a five-voice choir sang with organ and violin accompaniment.

The hymn quickly spread throughout the region and came to the attention of the evangelist Billy Sunday, who frequently utilized it in his meetings. 2 years later, George sold the copyright to the song for a payment of $500, forgoing future royalties. Upon the renewal of the copyright 28 years later, he received a final payment of $5,000.

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – picture in your mind Christ on the Cross.

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.

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 someday 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. (Refrain)

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. (Refrain)

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
its shame and reproach gladly bear;
then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
where His glory forever I’ll share. (Refrain)


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