In the Cross of Christ I Glory

At the joint Good Friday service we attended this week, the Baptist pastor delivering the message spoke of the story of Sao Paulo Church in Macau, China. This Catholic church was built by Jesuits in the 1600s with the help of Chinese and Japanese craftsmen. The Sao Paulo Church, resting atop a small hill with 68 stone steps leading up to it, was an impressive structure, and was reportedly the largest church in Asia of its time.

Sadly, in January 1835, the Sao Paulo Church caught fire during a storm and the wooden structure burned to the ground. However, the granite facade of the church, with its large bronze cross at the peak, survived.

Around that same time there was a British politician named John Bowring. He was a man with a gift for language, a poet and a hymn writer. He was given political appointments in southern China, namely, Consul of Canton and later, Governor of Hong Kong.

John Bowring wrote a beautiful and profound hymn called, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory.” Some say it is based on Galatians 6:14: “Far be it for me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (KJV).  Others claim that John Bowring saw the Sao Paulo Church and was inspired by the bronze cross atop its facade.

The Baptist pastor told a captivating story of how John Bowring was caught in a storm and shipwrecked in the sea before Macau. As he clung for dear life to a piece of the ship, Bowring was guided safely back to shore by a miraculous light shining from the bronze cross atop the ruins of the Sao Paulo Church. As wonderful as the story sounds, I’m afraid I could find no other reference to it online. Furthermore, since the hymn was written in 1825 and the Church burned down in 1835, this story is most likely fictional.

However, regardless of what may have been the real inspiration behind Bowring’s composition, both the hymn and the cross upon the peak of the Sao Paulo Church have withstood the storms of time to inspire us today.

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. 

United Methodist Hymnal, 1989 (Found on Hymnary.org)

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