Traditional Christian Hymns
"The Old Rugged Cross"

Author: George Bennard, 1873-1958
Composer: George Bennard, 1873-1958

“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; By whose stripes ye were healed,” I Peter 2:24

Seldom can a song leader suggest a time for favorites from any congregation without receiving at least one request for "The Old Rugged Cross." This gospel hymn, a sentimental favorite of Christians and unsaved alike, was written by George Bennard in 1913. It is generally conceded to be the most popular of all twentieth century hymns.

George Bennard was born in Youngstown, Ohio, but his parents soon moved to Albia, Iowa, and later to the town of Lucas in the same state. It was here that young George made his personal acceptance of Christ as his Savior. Following the death of his father before George was sixteen years of age, he entered the ranks of the Salvation Army. Bennard and his first wife served for a period of time as officers in this organization.

Consequently, Bennard was ordained by the Methodist Episcopal Church, where his devoted ministry was highly esteemed. For some time he was busily involved in conducting revival services, especially throughout the states of Michigan and New York. One time, after returning to Michigan, he passed through a trying experience which caused him to reflect seriously about the significance of the cross and what the Apostle Paul meant when he spoke of entering into the fellowship of Christ's suffering. As Bennard contemplated these truths, he became convinced that the cross was more than just a religious symbol but rather the very heart of the gospel. George Bennard has left the following account regard¬ing the writing of this hymn:

“The inspiration came to me one day in 1913, when I was staying in Albion, Michigan. I began to write ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’ I composed the melody first. The words that I first wrote were imperfect. The words of the finished hymn were put into my heart in answer to my own need. Shortly thereafter it was introduced at special meetings in Pokagon, Michigan on June 7, 1913. The first occasion where it was heard outside of the church at Pokagon was at the Chicago Evangelistic Institute. There it was introduced before a large convention and soon it became extremely popular throughout the country.”

Shortly after writing this hymn, George Bennard sent a manuscript copy to Charles Gabriel, one of the leading gospel hymn composers of that era. Gabriel's prophecy, "You will certainly hear from this song," was soon realized as "The Old Rugged Cross" became one of the most widely published songs, either sacred or secular, in this country.

Bennard continued his evangelistic ministries for forty additional years following the writing of this hymn. He wrote other favorite gospel hymns, but none ever achieved the response of "The Old Rugged Cross." On October 9, 1958, at the age of eighty-five, Bennard exchanged his "cross for a crown." He spent the last years of his life by the "side of the road," a few miles north of Reed City, Michigan. Near this home there still stands a twelve foot high cross with the words, "‘The Old Rugged Cross' - Home of George Bennard, composer of this beloved hymn."

Although it has often been stated that we do not worship the cross as such but rather the Christ of the cross, one cannot ponder the truths of Christ's atonement without a keen awareness of the centrality of the cross in God's plan of redemption for lost mankind.

Taken from 101 Hymn Stories © Copyright 1982 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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