What to cherish

The phrase “I’ll cherish the old rugged cross” from the old gospel hymn has played on repeat in my brain this past week. When I researched the writing of the song, it was with that exact phrase the songwriter, George Bennard, began. 

Bennard, a coal miner, came to know the Lord due to the ministry of the Salvation Army and later became a Methodist evangelist whose ministry spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. 

According to Kenneth W. Osbeck’s book of hymn stories, Amazing Grace, he began writing the song after a difficult experience that “caused him to reflect seriously about the significance of the cross and what the apostle Paul meant . . . ” in Philippians 3:10. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” 

As Bennard devoted hours to scripture and prayer, one day, he wrote, “I saw the Christ of the cross as if I were seeing John 3:16 leave the printed page, take form, and act out the meaning of redemption. The more I contemplated these truths the more convinced I became that the cross was far more than just a religious symbol but rather the very heart of the gospel.” 

From this he began writing a song, for which the melody came easily, but the only words he had according to several sources were “I’ll cherish the old rugged cross.” He persevered in completing the lyrics which took many months to finish, but the song spread and eventually came to the notice of evangelist Billy Sunday who began using it in his services. 

Some find problems with the song’s theology or claim the lyrics too sentimental, but despite those objections, it has become according to Osbeck “one of the most widely published songs either sacred, or secular, throughout America.” 

That pastor husband of mine has often said, “You can’t go from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without passing by the cross.” I do not find it sentimental to cling to the cross and what Jesus did for me on Calvary. It is a powerful image that reminds me of what it cost Jesus for me to have eternal life. 

According to Webster, the word cherish means to “hold dear” or “keep or cultivate with care and affection.” This Holy week is a good time to hold dear all that Jesus has done for us and to allow that work to grow in our lives, so that we “cherish the old rugged cross” not just this week but all the days of our lives. 

Carrie Underwood and “The Old Rugged Cross.”