John Bowring was reading from the book of Galatians when he came across these words: "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. " From this text he penned the words of one of the most elegant and stately hymns of the Church- which he also used as an epitaph on his tombstone: "In The Cross Of Christ I Glory."
John was born at Exeter in Devon, England, in 1792. He was considered to be one of the most remarkable men of his day as well as one of the greatest linguists who ever lived. He was a member of nearly every learned society in Europe. Before he was sixteen years of age he had mastered five languages without the aid of a teacher. It is said that he could converse in over 100 different languages before his death. He also did much in translating literary works from these various languages. Throughout his life he was noted as a biographer, naturalist, financier, statesman and philanthropist. He served in the House of Commons and was appointed governor of Hong Kong as well as being knighted by Queen Victoria for outstanding service to his country. Yet despite his many accomplishments, including thirty-six volumes of published works, John Bowring is known today primarily as the author of this simply stated hymn text. "In The Cross Of Christ I Glory."
The writing of the tune in 1851 by Ithamar Conkey is also interesting. He was the organist and choir master at the Central Baptist Church of Norwich, Connecticut. One Sunday during the Lenten season of that year, Conkey was disappointed when only one choir member appeared for the morning service. He was so displeased and irritated with his choir's unfaithfulness that he left the service in disgust immediately after playing the prelude. That afternoon he thought with remorse of the service that he had left and recalled one of the hymns to have been used, John Bowring’s text, "In the Cross Of Christ I Glory," sung to a dull and obsolete tune. Before the evening service Conkey composed a new tune for this text and confessed later "the inspiration that came to me at that moment was a vivid contrast to my feelings at the morning service."
When you look in your hymnal under the title, "In The Cross Of Christ I Glory" you will find the word "Rathbun" the title of this article. And even as Jesus memorialized the act of the woman who poured costly perfume on his feet, so too did Ithamar Conkey honor the only person who showed up that morning for the choir, his faithful soprano soloist- MRS. BERIAH S. RATHBUN.
His cross is the door by which every member of the human race can enter into the life of God. The cross should always remind us of the price that was paid by the eternal God for man's redemption. Faithfulness to God may mean that we will be the only one to show up for the choir.
References: Gal. 6:14, and 101 Hymn stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregal Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 49501.
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