George Bennard, an evangelist and song-leader, composed the lyrics for "The Old Rugged Cross," which are found at Library.TimelessTruths.org and MetroLyrics.com. The lyrics refer to the Crucifixion and are a paraphrase of Luke 9:23 to 24, Hebrews 13:12 to 13 and Galatians 6:14.
Bennard wrote the hymn over the course of two years, 1912 to 1913. Bennard and a colleague debuted the hymn during an evangelistic meeting at the Friends Church. Since its publication in 1915, choir directors and singers have delivered the hymn in choral arrangements, with piano or organ, and even with guitar accompaniment.
The hymn breaks with tradition in that it doesn't so much praise God outright as it glorifies God's promise through the speaker, who intends to "cling to the old rugged cross; and exchange it someday for a crown."
Bennard's use of a verse and chorus format and a 6/8 time signature evokes contemporary pop songs and traditional southern Baptist and Methodist hymns. The hymn is a staple of the country gospel repertoire, and many country music singers have recorded it, such as Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard.
Bennard, who was active in the Salvation Army throughout his life, eventually sold the rights to the hymn to Homer Rodeheaver. However, the hymn is now public domain.