On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring 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.
Oh, 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 someday to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.
George Bennard was born in Youngstown, Ohio, on February 4, 1873. While he was still young, his family moved to Iowa, where his father worked in the coal mines. For a short while George also worked in the mines beginning at the age of 16, when his father died and left him to support the family. About that same time, George attended an evangelistic meeting of the Salvation Army and came to know the Lord as his Savior. He served the Salvation Army as an officer for a while before answering the call to preach under the Methodist Episcopal Church. Later he broke away from the church and traveled as an independent itinerant preacher, holding services throughout the states of Michigan and New York.
While preaching in Michigan, a group of rowdy teenagers took pleasure in disturbing the services. Grieved by their behavior, Bennard began to write a song to stress the importance of the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. He wrote both the words and the tune, and when it was finished, he accompanied himself on his guitar and sang it for the Rev. and Mrs. Leroy O. Bostwick of Pokagon, Michigan, with whom he was currently holding revival services. The song moved them both to tears, and Rev. Bostwick immediately added it to the order of service. Evangelist Billy Sunday heard the song and began to use it in his services as well.
George Bennard continued to preach for another 40 years and wrote 350 more hymns after penning the words to “The Old Rugged Cross,” but none of the others ever attained to the fame that this one received. Twenty-five years after its debut, “The Old Rugged Cross” was considered America’s most popular hymn, according to a radio poll. More than 15 million copies had been sold, and numerous recordings made.
Bennard died in 1958 at the age of 85. A large cross stands near his home bearing the words:
“The Old Rugged Cross”
Home of George Bennard
composer of this beloved hymn
Information for this article came from Lifeway and Christian Heritage Fellowship.
Photo of Bennard courtesy of Christian Heritage Fellowship
Top photo taken in Milton, FL, 2018