Text: John Bowring (1792-1872) Tune: Ithamar Conkey (1815-1867) RATHBUN
1. In the cross of Christ I glory, Towering o'er the wrecks of time; All the light of sacred story Gathers round its head sublime.
2. When the woes of life o'ertake me, Hopes deceive, and fears annoy, Never shall the cross forsake me. Lo! it glows with peace and joy.
3. When the sun of bliss is beaming Light and love upon my way, From the cross the radiance streaming Adds more luster to the day.
4. Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure, By the cross are sanctified; Peace is there that knows no measure, Joys that through all time abide.
5. In the cross of Christ I glory, Towering o'er the wrecks of time; All the light of sacred story Gathers round its head sublime.
MEDITATION After hearing of the renewed civil unrest in Minneapolis and around the country, the words, “In the cross of Christ I glory, Towering o’er the wrecks of time,” seemed to speak especially clearly to the moment. This is one of the great hymns on the cross in English. It is especially well wrought. Usually I decide on the hymn for the next day before retiring. In the morning, oddly enough, that tune and text is often running through my mind. Today that was especially true. It is deeply etched in my memory, partly because we sang it so many times, but also, its poetry is felicitous. But more than that, it is true.
Bowring, a man of incredible linguistic abilities—he could read, speak and write many languages-- was appointed British consul to Hong Kong in 1849 and. became the Governor of Hong Kong in 1854, about the time that Hudson Taylor arrived in China. There is an urban legend about the hymn that has stuck with me for decades. The story goes that as he was traveling somewhere he saw a cross in a glen that was being overgrown with vines. Through the vegetation, the shape of the cross still spoke to him. That is where the line “Towering o’er the wrecks of time,” was supposed to have originated.
Whether or not it is true, the image has remained in my mind. And last night, the image of the cross still "towering o’er the wrecks of time,” was a comforting one for me. It remains when the “woes of life o’ertake me,” and it is there no matter what. It has seen the worst of human behavior and perfidy. Despite all this horror “it glows with peace and joy.” Good words to have running through your mind at such a time!
The writer of the tune has one of the most unusual names in hymnody. It was the name of Aaron’s fourth son, one of his surviving sons who had remained faithful. He was a respected priest whose line goes down to Boaz. People used to name their children after biblical heroes like this and everyone knew the story of the name.
Ithamar Conkey, born in Massachusetts, had Scottish roots. He was a musician in Norwich, Connecticut, at Central Baptist Church where he was serving when he wrote this tune. He moved to New York to be bass soloist at Calvary Episcopal Church. He then became choir director and bass soloist at Madison Avenue Baptist Church. There is a charming, almost primal, church choir story about the composing of this tune. Conkey had been upset that only one soprano had appeared for the Sunday morning service so he left the church after the first hymn. Later that day he found himself writing this tune. He named it Rathbun for the soprano Mrs. Beriah S. Rathbun! There have been a few other tunes associated with the text. Contemporary singers prefer others, some they have composed for it.
LINKS Grace Community Church/Sun Valley CA https://youtu.be/MW_F1MMH2r4
St. John’s Detroit https://youtu.be/PnSJDmc4wKo
Kelvedon Green Music/new tune https://youtu.be/MQWrMcMgbdM