“Take Up Thy Cross”

"If any man will come after Me, let him…take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24)

     INTRO.: A hymn which encourages us to take up the cross and follow Christ is "Take Up Thy Cross" (#523 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by Charles William Everest, who was born at East Windsor, CT, on May 27, 1814. Intending to become an editor, he was educated at Trinity College, Hartford, CN. While in school, at the age of nineteen, he published a book, Visions of Death and Other Poems in 1833, from which this song is taken. Another of his hymns, "Oh, Why Should the Spirit of Mortal Be Proud?" has sometimes been found in hymnbooks. After his graduation, which occurred in 1838, he decided to become a minister in the Episcopal Church.

     Beginning in 1842, Everest served at Hampden, near New New Haven, CN, for 31 years until his retirement in 1873, during thirty of which he also maintained a school there which was both important and very successful. In addition, he was an officer in the Society for the Increase of the Ministry. This hymn did not appear in many American songbooks until more recently. However, it was included, with alterations, in the 1857 Salisbury Hymn Book, an English collection. By whom the alterations were made is unknown. In 1861, it passed into Hymns Ancient and Modern, and from there into other English hymnbooks. Everest died at Waterbury, CN, on Jan. 11, 1877.

     Most modern books have a tune (Quebec, Hesperus, or Venn) that was composed in 1854 or 1859 by Henry Baker (1835-1910). In 1861 it was submitted to the London Penny Post which was searching for a new tune for "Sun of My Soul" by John Keble. With Keble’s text it was first published in John Grey’s 1866 Hymnal for Use in the English Church. Today, it is most often associated with the hymn "Father and Friend, Thy Light," written in 1824 by John Bowring. One source suggests a tune (Germany) taken from the 1815 Sacred Melodies by William Gardiner and used in our books with Frank Mason North’s "Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life." Some older books have a tune (Eucharist) that was composed by Isaac Baker Woodbury (1819-1854).

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Take Up Thy Cross" is found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann, which uses the Gardiner melody; as well as in Hymns for Worship, where earlier editions had the words only with a note to use a tune (Maryton) by Henry P. Smith which is most often associated today with Washington Gladden’s "O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee." The Revised edition sets it to the
Baker tune, and also uses that same tune with Edward J. Cooper’s "Father of Heaven, Whose Love Profound." The Woodbury tune appeared in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater with the hymn "At Even, When the Sun Was Set" by Henry Twells, which others of our books have set to another tune (Eden) by Timothy Mason.

     The hymn helps us understand what taking up the cross involves.

I. Stanza 1 teaches us that taking up the cross means following the Savior
"’Take up thy cross!’ the Savior said, ‘If thou wouldst my disciple be.
Take up thy cross with willing heart, And humbly follow after Me.’"
 A. Jesus wants us to be His disciples: Matt. 28:19
 B. However, being a disciple of Christ requires a willing heart or mind: 2 Cor. 9:12
 C. One purpose for Jesus’s coming was to leave an example for us to follow Him: 1 Pet. 2:21-22

II. Stanza 2 teaches us that taking up the cross means accepting the weight
‘"Take up thy cross! Let not its weight Fill thy weak spirit with alarm;
My strength shall bear thy spirit up, And brace thy heart and nerve thy arm.’"
 A. We should not be alarmed at the cross, because Jesus said that His burden is light: Matt. 11:28-30 (updated versions read ""Fill your weak soul with vain alarm")
 B. He has promised that His strength will be sufficient for us if we trust Him: 2 Cor. 12:9
 C. Therefore, with His help we can brace our hearts, nerve our arms, an dstrengthen the hands which hang down: Heb. 12:12

III. Stanza 3 teaches us that taking up the cross means not heeding its shame
"Take up thy cross! nor heed the shame, And let thy foolish pride be still;
Thy Lord did not refuse to die Upon the cross on Calvary’s hill."
 A. We should never be ashamed of anything relating to the Lord: 2 Tim. 1:8
 B. Rather, we should eliminate all pride, remembering that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble: 1 Pet. 5:5-6
 C. Christ Himself did not heed the shame of the cross, and neither should we: Heb. 12:1-2

IV. Stanza 4 teaches us that taking up the cross means looking to Christ for strength
"Take up thy cross, then, in His strength, And calmly sin’s wild deluge brave;
‘Twill guide thee to a better home. It points to bliss beyond the grave."
 A. The only way that we can truly bear the cross is to stand in His strength alone: Eph. 6:10
 B. In this way, we can be guided to that better home for which the patriarchs looked: Heb. 11:13-16
 C. Thus, we can have hope of bliss beyond the grave when the Lord returns: 1 Cor. 15:51-54 (the newer versions read, "And lead to victory o’er the grave")

V. Stanza 5 teaches us that taking up the cross means carrying it until death
"’Take up thy cross, and follow Me, Nor think till death to lay it down;
For only he who bears the cross May hope to wear the glorious crown.’"
 A. We should not think of laying our cross down until we meet the appointment of death: Heb. 9:27
 B. Bearing the cross, of course, simply means bearing our own load of responsibility in life: Gal. 6:5
 C. Only those who do this faithfully until death will receive the crown of life in heaven: Rev. 2:10

     CONCL.: Many modern books attempt to "update" the language by eliminating the Elizabethan pronouns, even in the title making it "Take Up Your Cross." Whether this is advisable, or even necessary, or not each one will have to decide for himself. The "updating" also makes stanzas 2 and 5 simply exhortations rather than representing them as statements from Christ, as "His strength shall bear your spirit up" and "Take up your cross, and follow Christ." Jesus was willing to bear the cross to Calvary and die on it for us. He asks us then to bear our cross, symbolizing whatever responsibilities and burdens that following Him places upon us, for Him. Therefore, everyone who wishes to please God and receive a home in heaven should respond with joy when Jesus says, "Take Up Thy Cross."


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