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The Cross, Our Future, and the Battle of the Hymns


I have to make a confession. I really don’t like ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ (the song that is, not the actual cross!). And that’s not particularly a problem. It’s not a song I’ve encountered a lot. I didn’t grow up singing it (it’s not even in the Redemption Hymnal) and it’s not suddenly popular and no one’s begging me to use it in church. So why do I even bring it up? Well, simply because the same problem that creeps into ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ so easily creeps into our thinking (even if we’ve never heard of that particular song).

What, you may ask, is this problem precisely? Well, it’s not the age of the song, or the style of the music (or even the fact that it’s not in the Redemption Hymnal). No, it’s the chorus. Or rather, an idea that’s in the chorus.
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.
There are two words there that really jar: ‘till’ and ‘exchange’. Now, I’m all for singing about ‘exchange’ when it comes to the Cross, but the exchange I want to sing about is the great exchange of Christ taking my place. And that’s something I always want to hold onto; I never want to ‘exchange’ that for anything, not even a crown. And so, I don’t want to only cherish the cross ‘till’ a certain point, but always. That’s the problem here: it makes the cross of Christ sound like our ticket to heaven, and then we won’t need it anymore – it can be disposed of like last night’s cinema ticket or yesterday’s bus ticket. It makes the crown so much more important than the cross.

But yet, when the Bible describes the worship of heaven, the cross is at the centre (or, more precisely, the Crucified One, which is who we’re really talking about when we talk about the cross, is at the centre). In the midst of the Throne of Heaven stands ‘a Lamb as though it had been slain’ (Rev. 5:6) and the blood of the Lamb, the blood of the Cross, is the theme of heaven’s praise (‘for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood’ – Rev. 5:9). In heaven, the Cross is never exchanged for a crown. In heaven, the Cross is always central.

And so there’s another old song, of a similar vintage to ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ that gets this much better. The last verse of ‘Jesus paid it all’ says:
And when before the Throne,
I stand in Him complete,
‘Jesus died my soul to save’
My lips shall still repeat.

(New Redemption Hymnal, No. 469)
When we stand before His Throne, we’ll have no desire to exchange the Cross for anything else, for to exchange the Cross would be to exchange our Saviour and His great salvation. The Cross isn’t a disposable ticket to heaven; no, the Cross is our joy and glory for all eternity. The Cross isn't a help along the way; the Cross is our salvation.

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