Article: A Shame Worth Clinging To! | Jeffry Kochikuzhyil, Canada
“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross/The emblem of suffering and shame…”
The opening of a familiar and beloved hymn (the personal favourite of many Christian mothers, including my own), The Old Rugged Cross harkens to that dreary day on Calvary, when faith seemed to be extinguished, hope appeared to die, and love looked misplaced. The futility of these emotions, per the wisdom of man, appeared to be vindicated. Of course, with 2000 years of retrospective lines, paragraphs, and chapters, we know that the story did not end on that Old Rugged Cross, but it was rewritten. We, heirs of sin and enemies of God, were broken from the chains and bondages that weighed down the human race for centuries and are now called to be His friends and His children. The sin and the shame bore on the cross were not of the cross itself or the One whom it held, but the collective efforts of humanity: past, present, and future.
What are the origins of a song so universally loved across cultures, throughout denominations, and spanning generations? George Bennard, an American from Iowa who was saved at a Salvation Army revival meeting, is attributed as the human author of this mighty work, but it is of course the handiwork of the Holy Spirit’s divine inspiration that led to the creation of this offering to God. Bennard’s father died when he was 16, and Bennard had to work in a coal mine to support his family, despite his desire to become an evangelist. A labour of love that was akin to a sweet-smelling sacrifice, Bennard was dealing with personal problems in 1912 while he was in ministry, which made him reflect on John 3:16. That reflection motivated him to pen words, which he matched to a tune he had composed earlier. The song was so touching to the friends who heard it played first that they offered to pay the printing costs, and the rights were later sold for more than $12,000 (USD). Bennard, who was ordained as an evangelist by the Methodist Church, wrote other songs too, but this was the only one that became well-known. There are three lessons that we can learn from his life.
Firstly, when we face problems, where do we turn? Our spouse, our parents, our friends, ourselves, professionals (medical, legal, financial), religious leaders, and our resources are some common answers. Even among Christians, many of us seek God only after all other avenues have failed. When Bennard turned to the Word of the Lord amid his problems, he was inspired by his reflection. We don’t know if his problem got solved, how it got solved, or when it got solved, but a person of faith can attest that God used that problem in Bennard’s life to create something beautiful, and He wants to do the same in your life with every problem you surrender to Him.
Secondly, who do you keep company with? Are they motivating you, uplifting you, and encouraging you? Do you associate with Godly people who inspire you and strengthen you in your walk with God, or are you surrounded by worldly people who are preoccupied with the cares of this life? When Bennard shared the song, his friends didn’t hesitate to share their appreciation for it, encouraging him to share it with the world. There was no element of jealousy or contempt, and no self-seeking motive. They were not critical, irritated, or uninterested. As the Spirit moved Bennard to write, the Spirit also moved his friends to praise the song and financially back its distribution. Imagine how much has been lost to humanity due to corrupt friendships. Let us not realize such losses!
Lastly, what is stopping God from using you? The answer is most often you! Bennard wrote other songs, but none of them met the same level of acclaim as “The Old Rugged Cross”. Bennard’s lack of success as a songwriter afterward might label him to some as a “one-hit wonder,” but his primary calling was as an evangelist. He wasn’t a songwriter but an evangelist who wrote a song that has blessed the Church for over 110 years now. Bennard didn’t dictate to God how God should use him, but he made himself available to be used as God determined to be perfect. When we set the terms with God, we often limit the outcomes God wanted us to realise on the journey. Going forward, let us allow God to use us against and beyond our expectations.
“I will cling to the old rugged cross/And exchange it someday for a crown.”
The closing words of the song speak to clinging to the cross and trading it for a crown. From suffering and shame to acceptance and glory, the cross is the arc that bridges the separation between man and God. It justifies faith, explains hope, and symbolises love. Though scorned by the world, it will bring the ultimate fulfilment, greater than anything this world might ever offer. As Bennard wrote about clinging to the cross, let us join the saints and cling until the very end.