Author: John Bowring (1825)
This hymn was probably inspired by Galatians 6:14: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (ESV). The first stanza expands on this verse, while the second and third stanzas deal with the meaning of the cross in times of pain and pleasure, and the peace and joy it brings regardless of circumstance. The fourth stanza summarizes the previous ones.
John Bowring was an Englishman whose career was in business and government. He was also a Unitarian. As such, it is somewhat surprising that he wrote such a hymn as “In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” since Unitarians do not believe that Jesus Christ was divine. In 1825, Bowring published the hymn in his Hymns in London.
The themes of this hymn are the glory of the cross, and the peace and joy that can be found through it in the toils and joys of life. While the hymn originally had five stanzas, the fifth is merely a repetition of the first and is usually omitted.
The most popular tune for this hymn is RATHBUN, composed by Ithamar Conkey in 1849, while he was organist at Central Baptist Church in Norwich, Connecticut. One story associated with this tune is that one Sunday, only one soprano showed up for the choir, so a discouraged Conkey left the service after the prelude. That afternoon, in a different frame of mind, he wrote this tune and named it for the one faithful soprano, Mrs. Beriah S. Rathbun.
This hymn is suitable for Lent or Holy Week, as well as for a Communion service. The slow tempo and meditative quality of the tune make this hymn a good choice for instrumental music during Communion or as a prelude for Lent or Good Friday. “Two Meditations on The Cross” is an arrangement of RATHBUN and NEAR THE CROSS for handbells. For organ, try “Toccata on In the Cross of Christ I Glory” or the setting of RATHBUN found in “Hosannas and Alleluias.” “These Forty Days” contains an arrangement of this hymn for organ and piano duet.