“The Old Rugged Cross” is a popular Christian song written in 1912 by evangelist and song-leader George Bennard (1873-1958).
George Bennard, was a native of Youngstown, Ohio but was reared in Iowa. After his conversion in a Salvation Army meeting, he and his wife became brigade leaders before leaving the organization for the Methodist Church. As a Methodist evangelist, Bennard wrote the first verse of the gospel song, “The Old Rugged Cross” in Albion, Michigan, in the fall of 1912. Charles H. Gabriel, a well-known gospel-song composer helped Bennard with the harmonies. The completed version was first performed on June 7th, 1913, by a choir of five in Pokagon Michigan. Published in 1915, the song was popularized during Billy Sunday evangelistic campaigns by two members of his campaign staff, Homer Rodeheaver (who bought rights to the song for $500) and Virginia Asher, who were perhaps also the first to record it in 1921. The Old Rugged Cross uses a sentimental popular song form with a verse/chorus pattern in 3/4 time, and it speaks of the writer’s Christian experience rather than his adoration of God. Bennard retired to Reed City, Michigan, and the town maintains a museum dedicated to his life and ministry.
“The Old Rugged Cross” remains enormously popular and has been performed by some of the twentieth century’s most important recording artists, including: Al Green, Anne Murray, Brad Paisley, Chet Atkins, Elvis Presley, Floyd Cramer, George Jones, Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash and June Carter, Kevin Max, Mahalia Jackson, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Ray Price, Ricky Van Shelton, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Statler Brothers, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, and George Beverly Shea. The song was also sung on “Gridlock,” an episode of the long-running sci-fi drama series Doctor Who.
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.
More links about George Bennard:
Youtube video of “The Old Rugged Cross:”
- “The Old Rugged Cross” by Alan Jackson
- John Berry sings “The Old Rugged Cross”
- Brad Paisley sings “The Old Rugged Cross”
- “The Old Rugged Cross,” by Johnny Cash
- Lewis George performs “The Old Rugged Cross”