(This article was compiled from the message given by Mr. Thava Chelvam at the Good Friday service at the Tamil Christian Congregation of Western Australia 2014)
A closer-to-heart hymnal “The old rugged cross” is sung during the Holy week in many churches across the world. The hymn was written more than a century ago (1912) by Reverend George Bennard (1873- 1958) in the United States of America. He is not to be confused with the English philosopher George Bernard Shaw.
Bennard, the song writer and the travelling evangelist was born in Ohio to a miner and was bred in Iowa. Personal trials in his life led him to reflect the sufferings of Christ on the cross and the Christ of the cross became more than a symbol for the parson. He wrote the hymn based on the Gospel of John 3:16 which summed up the purpose of Jesus Christ’s life on earth. It is indeed an apt hymn to be remembered during this holy week of 2014.
The inspired verse from the New Testament:
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”
John 3: 16 (King James Version)
Rev Bennard, a one-time member of the Salvation Army is believed to have written the hymn on his kitchen table at his parsonage. The song was originally sung at his humble wooden chapel in Iowa and became an overnight-hit across the world. Few years later he sold the song rights to a mere 500 dollars a century ago. Multi versions of this hymn have been sung by many popular singers including Jim Reeves, Johnny cash, Elvis Presley & Anne Murray. Sadly the same hymn was also wrongly used by the extreme hooded order Ku Klux Klan (KKK) during the rituals of their burning of the cross.
In honour of the composer a cross was erected in Michigan where Bennard spent his life after retirement. The 12 foot wooden cross is also etched with “the old rugged cross” to be viewed from afar. The preacher has written many hymns but the “On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, The emblem of suffering and shame” is cherished by many. The composer lies buried at the Inglewood Park cemetery in California where most of the notable celebrity interments are.
One hundred years later his legacy lives on and it was euphoric when the history was covered with the congregational hymn on a sombre “Good Friday” with an OLD RUGGED CROSS.
The following is a version of Anne Murray’s voice depicted with Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ”
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.
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.
O 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.
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.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.