September 7

A Great Reminder of Christ’s Anguish, “The Old Rugged Cross”

A Great Reminder of Christ's Anguish, "The Old Rugged Cross" 1
The Old Rugged Cross | Photo credit:

When asked of a symbol that would best represent God’s boundless love, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If your answer is a cross, then you probably clearly understand Christ’s suffering and what it’s all for. It’s for you and me. Jesus took it upon Himself to bear the consequence of men’s sinful acts – on the cross. That way, none of His father’s creations would go through what He has endured. This suffering of Christ on the cross which symbolizes His enormous love for mankind serves as the heart of the popular gospel song Old Rugged Cross.” As the opening stanza goes,

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross 

 The emblem of suffering and shame

And I love that old cross where the dearest and best 

 For a world of lost sinners was slain

A Brief Song Background

The evangelist song-leader George Bennard was the tunesmith who crafted “The Old Rugged Cross” in 1912. Initially, Bennard came up with the song as an answer to a mockery that he received while holding a revival meeting in Michigan. He was inspired to write a song while pondering the crucifixion of Jesus and reflecting on his favorite Bible verse John 3:16. Bennard didn’t finish the song right away as only the phrase “I’ll cherish the old rugged cross” was coming to him. The song was then completed in early 1913 in between a series of evangelistic services that Bennard conducted. After which, he sent the text to Charles H. Gabriel for him to write the melody. The song went on to become a favorite gospel tune gaining worldwide popularity.

The Song’s Influence

“The Old Rugged Cross” has become a standard country gospel song and many artists from this music genre had since covered it. The late country legend Ernest Tubb was among the earliest artists to cover the song. He also used the song’s title as his 1952 gospel album’s title. This then paved the way for numerous country music stars of the twentieth century to perform and record the song. Among the famous country artists who recorded the song were Alan Jackson, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jessi Colter, Mahalia Jackson, Bradley Walker, The Oak Ridge Boys, Joey + Rory, and Alabama.

In the featured video below is Guy Penrod giving a soulful delivery of “The Old Rugged Cross.”

Here’s another rendition of the song by Anne Murray.

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Charles H. Gabriel, Christ's Suffering, George Bennard, The Old Rugged Cross

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