Posted by: rcottrill | July 11, 2011

The Old Rugged Cross

Words: George Bennard (b. Feb. 4, 1873; d. Oct. 10, 1958)
Music: George Bennard

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

George Bennard says the cross is “despised by the world” (CH-2). But is that actually so? Look around. There are crosses everywhere. There are cross tattoos, cross pendants, cross earrings, and more. Perhaps in some cases they are a testimony to personal faith in Christ. But definitely not always! And surely most who adorn themselves in this way do not “despise” the cross, or they wouldn’t wear one. So, if it isn’t a sign of faith in the Saviour, why do they do that?

Perhaps it’s done in ignorance, and considered simply another kind of decoration. Or perhaps a cross is worn to gain popularity with those who are religious–even though it means little to the one wearing it. Perhaps it is worn for superstitious reasons, and considered a kind of good luck charm, or in the belief that it can garner religious merit, and earn favour with God. The more altruistic may see it as a vague symbol of self-sacrifice, and commitment to a cause you believe in.

Yet the Bible does speak of “the offense of the cross” (Gal. 5:11). So, where is the offense? Two things.

  • There is a certain ignominy in being executed as a criminal. Yes, it was “an emblem of suffering and shame” (CH-1). To be crucified was a “shame” (Heb. 12:2), and when we identify ourselves with Christ, we bear His “reproach [His shame and disgrace]” (Heb. 13:13).
  • But it is more than that. The offense lies not so much in the object, as in the message behind it. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (I Cor. 1:18). And what is the message of the cross? The Bible says it quite simply (italics mine):

“Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3). “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7). “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Pet. 2:24). “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust” (I Pet. 3:18). He “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5).

What is it that all of these texts have in common? It is a reference to sin. On the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ took upon Himself the penalty we deserve, because of our sin. As our hymn puts it (CH-1):

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.

That means, that to appropriate the saving value of the cross, we must recognize our need of it. We must see ourselves as sinners, lost and condemned–“condemned already,” by a holy God (Jn. 3:18, 36). We are in desperate peril of eternal ruin, and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. No meritorious act of our own will fit us for heaven. In fact, “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6). That is a humbling truth! An offense to our pride!

Surely there is something we can do that will earn us God’s favour. No, there isn’t. Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, received by faith, “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). But the rebel heart is repelled and offended by that. Therein lies the offense of the cross. That humble admission of impotence, and total inadequacy. And it is that which is “despised by the [unsaved] world.” But “to [we] who believe, He is precious” (I Pet. 2:7).

CH-3) 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.

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.

1) How will a believer behave, if he or she truly “cherishes” the cross?

2) The Bible speaks of those “having a form [outward appearance] of godliness but denying its power” (II Tim. 3:5). How does this relate to those who wear crosses, but aren’t born again believers?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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