Posted by: rcottrill | August 13, 2012

In the Cross of Christ I Glory

Words: John Bowring (b. Oct. 17, 1792; d. Nov. 23, 1872)
Music: Rathbun, by Ithamar Conkey (b. May 5, 1815; May 30, 1867)

Wordwise Hymns (more on John Bowring)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Sir John Bowring was a remarkably gifted man. Before he was sixteen, he’d mastered French, Spanish, Italian, Portugeuse, German and Dutch, going on to add many more languages over the years. He served the British government in China, and was an advocate of prison reform. Though nominally a Unitarian, he is considered a devoted evangelical believer. His tombstone contains, as his testimony, the opening line of this hymn: “In the cross of Christ I glory.”

The hymn was inspired by the words of Paul in Galatians 6:14, “God forbid that I should boast [or glory] except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is a story, mentioned by the Cyber Hymnal, that Bowring wrote this hymn after seeing a ruined cathedral on the shore of China, at Macao, an old Portugeuse trading post. Only the front wall of the church remained, topped by a cross. However, the hymn was published in 1825, and the author didn’t get to China until 1849. Either he heard this story from someone else, or it was another church that John Bowring saw.

Even so, the cross “towering o’er the wrecks of time” is a powerful image. It proclaims that when the works of men are gone the power of the cross will remain. I’m reminded of Shelley’s poem about an ancient ruler named Ozymandias. The boastful  inscription at the base contrasted sharply with the fallen, shattered image, which bore testimony to the fleeting nature of human glory and fame.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Powerful men and women have come and gone from the stage of human history, nations have risen and disappeared, but the cross, and what God accomplished through it, will endure forever. Our worship of the Lord Jesus Christ in the heavenly city will recall His death for lost sinners. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” (Rev. 5:12).

Rather than focusing particularly on the eternal saving value of the cross, Bowring’s hymn shows how it dominates all of our lives. For the believer, the cross remains of central significance. From the cross, and because of the cross, flow all the abundant blessings of God’s grace. It is “sublime,” to use the author’s final word in the opening stanza. He means the cross impresses us with its grandeur and power, and inspires a sense of awe.

CH-1) In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.

Whether in difficult times, or sunny days, the cross has its effect. In trying times, when hopes are shaken and fears trouble us, the cross remains a constant source of peace and joy. And in brighter days, it simply “adds more lustre to the day.”

CH-2) When the woes of life o’ertake me,
Hopes deceive, and fears annoy,
Never shall the cross forsake me,
Lo! it glows with peace and joy.

CH-3) When the sun of bliss is beaming
Light and love upon my way,
From the cross the radiance streaming
Adds more lustre to the day.

The cross is the supreme evidence of the love of God (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). In the words of the Apostle John:

“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I Jn. 4:9-10).

1) What does the cross mean in your life today?

2) Did you ever ask someone who was wearing a cross what it means to them? (What happened when you did?)

Wordwise Hymns (more on John Bowring)
The Cyber Hymnal


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