Week 9: Crucifixion and Salvation



The Old Rugged Cross

Text: George Bennard (1873–1958), 1913

Tune: George Bennard (1873–1958), 1913

  1. Despite nearly instant popularity, “The Old Rugged Cross” has also been subject to fierce criticism (it took 50 years to be included in the Methodist hymnal). In 1967, the prominent hymnologist and scholar Erik Routley called it “a monstrous blasphemy,” saying, “I believe it to be wrong, misleading, and spiritually wicked to treat the Cross as affectionately as that lyric does.” Or consider this quote from a 2003 symposium of the Christian Conference of Asia (Dr. Muriel Orevillo-Montenegro, Silliman University Divinity School):

    Shall I cling to the “old rugged cross”? My answer is no. I refuse to cling to the mystified and romanticized symbol of violence that had for centuries endorsed the subjugation of peoples and reinforces the suffering of women at the intersection of patriarchy, sexism, classism, racism, and ethnocentrism.

    What is the proper place of the cross in Christian worship? Do we focus on it too much? Too little?

    • The cross has served as a Christian symbol from near the very beginning.

      • Early Christians used the staurogram (⳨) to represent the cross and chi-ro (☧) for Jesus

      • In the 2nd century, Minucius Felix recorded references to the cross in various arguments against Christianity:

        Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses glided and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it.

      • One of the oldest English poems, “The Dream of the Rood” from the 900s, tells the story of the crucifixion from the point of view of the cross.

    • Perhaps today, the cross is less idolized than it is commoditized, merely a fashion statement.

    • At the same time, the cross has taken on unsavory connotations, having been used as a symbol in the Crusades, in Nazi Germany, in KKK rallies, etc.

    • Paul speaks about the “scandal of the cross” (Galatians 5:11), as a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

    • Luther said that “the cross alone is our theology” (“crux sola est nostra theologia”).

    • Another factor leading to the hymn’s slow adoption could be prohibitive charges for copyright fees (Bennard sold the rights for either $50 or $500, far less than its eventual royalties.)

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Text: Isaac Watts (1674–1748), 1707

Tune: Lowell Mason (1792–1872), 1824

  1. In contrast to “The Old Rugged Cross”, this hymn of Watts is highly praised by scholars and critics, considered to be one of his finest, if not the very best. The British poet Matthew Arnold called it “the greatest hymn in the English language”, and it’s reported that Charles Wesley once said he would give up all of his other hymns to have written this one. The imagery is not complex, but it is powerful. Of the poetic devices in the hymn, which are most poignant to you? Why?
    • The verb “survey” implies concentration and focus in meditation, not just a cursory glance.
    • The saying “my richest gain I count but loss” is a reference to Philippians 3:4-8.
    • In “pour contempt on all my pride”, why “pour”? A very visual word, what does it imply?
    • “Forbid … that I should boast” references Galatians 6:14, which accompanied the hymn in its original publishing.
    • “His head, his hands, his feet”: reinforces “survey”, all the places where Jesus was pierced.
    • “Sorrow and love flow mingled down”: imagery of the blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side?
    • “Sorrow and love … love and sorrow” is a ‘chiasmus’, literally meaning ‘crossing’. Popular in Greek and Hebrew literature, it is also used to represent Jesus, since the first letter of “Christ” in Greek is chi (X): ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ
    • “My soul, my life, my all” shows the magnitude of commitment inspired by the magnitude of love

Sinner, Where is Room for Doubt?

Text: David L. Ward (1974– ), 2012

Tune: Joanie Madden (1965– ), 1999

  1. In the first verse, the phrase “Did He not lay down His life / and the Father’s wrath remove?” is reminiscent of the well-known song “In Christ Alone” when it says “Till on that cross as Jesus died / The wrath of God was satisfied”. In fact, that line recently caused the hymnal editorial committee for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to exclude “In Christ Alone” from their hymnal, as they wanted to modify it to read “the love of God was magnified” but the authors (Keith Getty and Stuart Townend) would not grant permission. What is your own understanding of the “wrath of God” as it relates to Christ’s death and resurrection? Would you include this hymn in a hymnal?

    • This theology is known as the “penal substitution” interpretation of substitutionary atonement.
      • It was not present in the early church, which nearly universally subscribed to a “ransom theory” of atonement, in which Christ’s sacrifice redeemed (“bought back”) humanity.
      • In St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo of 1098, the foundation for penal substitution is laid in his “satisfaction theory” of atonement (using concepts of feudal society, Christ’s sacrifice paid God’s “honour” or “weregild” as an alternative to punishment).
      • John Calvin became its most visible proponent during the Reformation, recasting Anselm’s argument in legal terms of God’s judgment and Christ’s punishment for man’s guilt (Calvin was trained as a lawyer).
    • Note the chiasmus in “In Christ Alone”: “for I am His and He is mine”
  2. The hymn is organized by facets of our lives that Jesus came to take away (“doubt”, “guilt”, “toil”, and “pride”), yet it seems that every person still struggles with one or more of these. Which do you find most relevant personally, and how does this hymn change your perspective on it (if at all)?

    • Verse 1: “doubts and fears” are paired together - both fear of the unknown (“what if I’m wrong?”). The proof is in His “bleeding, loving side”; just as His wounded side satisfied Thomas.
    • Verse 2: echoes the “In Christ Alone” phrase “no guilt in life, no fear in death”. Why do we still feel guilty for our sins, even when we know they’re forgiven?
    • Verse 3: recall creation’s 7th day; irony that the law fulfilled by Jesus mandated a day of rest?
    • Verse 4: pride is the root of all sin; the glory belongs to God alone, not us.