The Story Behind: The Old Rugged Cross

CLICK TO LISTEN: The Old Rugged Cross

By Taylor Brantley

Though he wrote nearly three hundred songs in his day, George Bennard struggled to write his most famous hymn. For a time, all he had was a tune, the lyrics eluding him. It took a certain spark to give him the inspiration he needed to find the perfects words.

Bennard was born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1873. His early days were spent how a childhood should be spent: carefree. However, those carefree days were quickly stripped away from him when his father died. Bennard took up the mantle of family provider, getting a job at the coal mines. Deep in dangerous mines is just how a childhood should not be spent, but Bennard did it. No matter how difficult the job became, he knew he had to keep going for his family.

Bennard always kept hope he would escape those dark mines, and after many toilsome years, he finally did. Three great things came into Bennard’s life: he found a wife named Ariminda, got a job at Salvation Army, and, best of all, became a Christian. God was seemingly eager to bless the man who chose such a selfless life for others.

In years to follow, Bennard became a minister, and he began writing hymns. He wrote many in his day, most becoming lost to time. But time had different plans for one song in particular.

On a simple day in the simple town of Albion, Michigan, a simple tune formed Bennard’s head. Though he was well versed in writing lyrics, Bennard struggled to find appropriate lyrics. This brain block lasted months, and all Bennard could settle on was the line ‘I will cherish the old rugged cross.’

Bennard put the unfinished hymn aside for the time being as he traveled across Michigan to preach sermons. As it turned out, the tour of sermons renewed Bennard’s appreciation for the sacrifice on the cross, and when he returned home, he tried once again to catch the lyrics that had been eluding his mind. He did not have to grapple and grab for them, however. This time, the lyrics came to him easily. Before long, he was calling Ariminda into the kitchen and singing his completed hymn for her. ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ was finally finished.

It is a good thing Bennard learned at such a young age to persevere. Quitting is extraordinarily tempting when things get hard, but those that persevere are the ones who receive the reward. If Bennard left the mines when he found them difficult, his family would have fallen into poverty. If he threw away an unfinished hymn with lyrics that wouldn’t come to him, the world would be short of one of the all-time greats.

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