January 20

The Meaning Behind The Country Gospel Favorite “Old Rugged Cross”

Did you know that the popular hymn “Old Rugged Cross” was written as early as 1912? Methodist evangelist George Bennard wrote the country gospel favorite as he traveled to revival meetings when he seemed to have a vision of Christ and the cross, and how they seem inseparable.

But while the melody came easily to Bennard, the words took him a long period of time. Bennard was well versed in writing lyrics – having written approximately 300 songs – but he struggled to find some appropriate lyrics for this hymn. 

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It took a certain spark to give Bennard the inspiration to find the perfect words. In the fall of 1912, Bennard finally wrote the first verse, which was apparently a response to the sneering comments he had received at a revival meeting in Albion, Michigan. Before the year ended, Bennard then traveled – with a renewed meaning of the cross etched in his mind and heart – from Chicago to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, where they held evangelistic meetings. The song eventually took shape in bits and pieces. 

The completed song was first published in 1915. From this point, “Old Rugged Cross” became a staple at evangelistic crusades. It then proved to be an extremely popular country gospel when it was recorded by numerous artists. This includes Ernest Tubb, who used it as the title track of his 1952 gospel album. Other popular artists who covered the song are Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Patsy Cline, and so much more.

Meaning Behind The Song

“Old Rugged Cross” is a beautiful hymn that leads us to focus on what Christ had done and sacrificed on the cross at Golgotha, where he died, to show the depths of God’s love for the entire humanity. It portrays the lengths Christ took to save us from our sins.

In the first verse, the cross is presented as an emblem of suffering and shame and, eventually, an instrument of death. However, even though it became the symbol of Christ’s agony – the grief and sorrow he went through were not meaningless. It had a purpose!

Indeed, it’s a song that reminds us of how important the cross is. Tune in and play the video below to listen to “Old Rugged Cross.”


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