George Bennard, son of a tavern owner, was born in Ohio in 1873. At the age of 22, Bennard stepped into the Christian faith through the ministry of the Salvation Army. By 1898, he was a traveling evangelist. He held revival meetings until his retirement more than 30 years later.
While speaking at one of these meetings in Michigan in 1912, Bennard was heckled mercilessly by several youth. In his deep concern for these boys, he reflected on the cross of Jesus as recorded in scripture.
“I seemed to have a vision,” he reported. “I saw the Christ and the cross inseparable.”
Bennard’s vision led him to write the first verse of a new hymn. Several months later, he added three more verses. Its first performance, in the living room of a pastor in Pokagon, Michigan, moved its audience to tears. On June 7, 1913, the hymn was incorporated into a revival service for the first time, with guitar accompaniment.
The church in which they met was a former hops barn. Today, that building welcomes thousands of visitors each year. It’s owned by a non-profit group called The Old Rugged Cross Foundation. You can guess why.
Fast forward to November of 2020. Jules Glanzer, President of Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas, is in an ICU ward fighting Covid-19. While still recovering, he was able to write about his amazing experience in an article that appeared in the Christian Leader online magazine on February 1, 2021.
“I was standing in front of a very large cross, rising hundreds of feet into the air, square wood and brown in color. It was blocking everything. I sensed that behind me was the world and everything that pertained to living on earth. I had an incredible sense of total forgiveness, deep assurance of salvation and a peaceful serenity.
“It was clear that this was the cross of Jesus. It was not a pretty cross.
“I remember thinking, ‘Everything in this world ends at the cross. The gate of heaven is a cross.’ I sensed that if I stepped into the cross, I would be on the other side and that I would see Jesus.”
Glanzer wrote about how 2020 and his Covid-19 experience has motivated him to reset his life based on five words that were impressed upon his heart: contentment, gratitude, simplicity, smallness and focused.
Jules Glanzer is married to my husband’s cousin, so I read his story with great interest. It brought to mind George Bennard’s vision and hymn. “The Old Rugged Cross” remains one of the most cherished hymns of the Christian faith, especially on Good Friday. You can find it in most hymnals and recorded by numerous contemporary Christian artists.
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.
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.