This is the story of an old country preacher from Michigan who was almost totally
unknown until be wrote the hymn, THE OLD RUGGED CROSS
the middle 50s I got to hear George Bennard and his wife sing The Old Rugged
Cross in my home church in Downey, California. Hubris? You better
believe it. To my young imagination, it was like hearing the Apostle John
recite the book of Revelation. It is one thing to READ or SING some Christian
iconic hymn, but to hear the composer sing it with his wife-- that is truly authoritative.
Bennard was a pastor in Michigan before he was well known as the author of the
hymn, but George was never spoiled by the notice he got. He was common as
an old shoe. "The Old Rugged Cross" has to be one of the world's favorites.
my wife and I were on deputation to go to Ethiopia as missionaries in 1972, we
met George's wife in the foyer of Grace Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan.
She was so gentle and sweet, and she handed us a cash gift for the work.
She was in her 90s. I nearly cried. The gift was amazing for a lady undoubtedly
having some issues with inflation and her inheritance, but I love my Lord intensely
for those few priceless moments along life's way when he let me have memories
99.9% or you could never have. These are all mine in Christ. I cannot share them
other than to tell about them. This is why you need to prod those old geezers
you meet around town. They have a few choice stories to tell, and they usually
will not do it unless you really want to know. If you want to hear more of my
own private yarns from life, GO HERE.
I want to take just one liberty with "The Old Rugged Cross." I hear of folks who
don't like to sing it because the chorus says, "I will cling to the old rugged
Cross..." We too were bothered with the "cling to" part. It sounds
a bit Roman Catholic. I know George didn't mean it that way. He was
a real Bible believer, but a change would be in order.
So we sing, "I will sing ofthe old rugged Cross..." Hymns are NOT inspired, so we can change
them. We do it all the time, especially with some of these light weight
choruses in the chorus books. If you won't change a hymn to come in line
with the Word of God, you are treating the hymn writer like an inspired revelator,
rather than a fellow servant. George Bennard would not complain anyway.
There is no Cross in heaven, where George is, to cling to-- just the only
man-made thing in heaven-- the scars of the nails in his hands. To that I shall
one day cling.
Bennard Author of the hymn: The Old Rugged Cross
seemed to have a vision . . . I saw the Christ and the cross inseparable," he
wrote in his memoirs. He wrote the song over a month as he traveled to revival
meetings. The melody came easily, but he labored over the words in the four verses
and refrain. The hymn, published in 1913, was immediately successful.
(pronounced Benn-ARD), who was born in Youngstown, Ohio, was the son of George
and Margaret Russell Bennard, of Scottish descent. The couple, who had five other
children, moved their family to Albia, where the senior Bennard ran a tavern,
and later to Lucas. When the Albia tavern burned, the father of the house turned
to mining coal, and an accident led to his death at 49, forcing young George,
at 16, to support his mother and sisters as a miner.
My Dad, Wesley Van Nattan had almost the same exact experience. He told me many
times that he loved his Dad intensely. My Dad was the youngest of five kids, and
my grandfather become conscious that he had worked hard all his life and neglected
his kids-- he came to this mindset about the time my Dad was about 14. So my grandfather,
a mighy Dutchman with a fierce work ethis, spent a lot of time playing ball with
my Dad and talking to him. My Dad worshipped his father. Problem-- my grandfather
was a godless man, and my Dad was determined to be just like his Dad. My Dad tells
stories of a very rough life of survival during the Great Depression. The house
was nearly foreclosed over and over. But, he dropped out of school and worked
so much that my grandmother made many entries about my Dad and how she worried
that he would ruin his health because of his long hours working. He saved the
home, and he kept house, cooked, and cleaned, and did all the work my grandmother
could not do-- she was invalided with severe arthrutis.
1895, across the state in Canton, Bennard attended Salvation Army meetings, and
at 24 became a minister when he enlisted in the Salvation Army at Rock Island,
Ill. By 1898, he was conducting revival meetings throughout the Midwest, later
transferring to New York, where he resigned in 1910 to go out on his own as an
evangelist. It was at that time that he began composing hymns. Bennard settled
at Albion, Mich., and opened his own hymn publishing company. It was at Albion
that he likely began - and later finished - "The Old Rugged Cross." The hymn was
first sung formally at a revival meeting at Pokagon, Mich. Noted evangelist Billy
Sunday, an Iowa native, popularized the hymn with his nationally broadcast radio
show. By 1939, more than 15 million copies of the hymn had been sold and numerous
died in Reed City, Michigan, where the local Chamber of Commerce erected a cross
near his home. Bennard is buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.
My God fearing garndmother was buried in Inglewood Cemetary..... a feel good moment.
George Bennard and his wife. Brother
Bennard wrote the hymn, The Old Rugged Cross. This photo was taken
in about 1953. You are welcome to copy the photo which we own. Video of
the hymn is sung by the Salem Singers of Oregon.
IS ANOTHER HYMN BY GEROGE BENNARD:
the Lord of harvest sweetly calling,
go and work for Me today? Who will bring to Me the lost and dying?
Who will point them to the narrow way?”
my Lord, speak, my Lord, Speak, and I’ll be quick to answer Thee;
Speak, my Lord, speak, my Lord, Speak, and I will answer, “Lord, send me.”
the time for reaping will be over; Soon we’ll gather for the harvest home;
May the Lord of harvest smile upon us, May we hear His blessèd, “Child,