George Bennard, author and composer of “The Old Rugged Cross,” was born in Youngstown, Ohio, on February 4, 1873. As a young boy, George moved to Iowa with his family. Before he was sixteen years of age, his father passed away, and George was left to support his mother and sisters.
After his marriage, Bennard became active in the Salvation Army; in fact, both he and his wife served as Salvation Army officers. Later Bennard was ordained by Methodist Episcopal Church. He conducted revival services across the United States and Canada, holding many meetings in Michigan and New York.
As he passed through a particularly trying time in his life, Mr. Bennard realized what it meant to enter into “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10) He understood that the cross was much more than just a sentimental religious symbol. This realization led him to write “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Bennard actually composed the melody for “The Old Rugged Cross” before he wrote the text. The hymn was first sung publicly at an evangelistic meeting in Pokagon, Michigan, on June 7, 1913. “The Old Rugged Cross” soon became extremely popular throughout the United States, and it is generally considered to be the most popular of the twentieth century hymns.
Mr. Bennard continued in evangelistic work for forty years after writing this well-loved hymn. He wrote other hymns, but none were ever as popular as “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Bennard spent his last years in Reed City, Michigan. The local Chamber of Commerce erected a twelve-foot cross near his home, with the words, “‘The Old Rugged Cross’–Home of George Bennard, composer of this beloved hymn.”
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 some day 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.