“Oh, that rugged cross, my salvation.”
“Oh, the wonderful cross. Bids me come and die…”
Have you ever been a little uncomfortable singing about the cross?
The cross is just an instrument, just a tree, a tool used by God to save us. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit saved us, not the cross.
So why are we singing about it and not Him?
Lessons in English
I think I learned more about my native tongue by studying Hebrew than I did in formal English classes. One of the more interesting things that I learned was the prevalence and variety of poetry within the Scriptures. The Bible is absolutely filled with semantic treasures just waiting to be discovered.
One such find was something called “metonymy.”
Metonymy: a figure of speech that consists of the use of the name of one object or concept for that of another to which it is related, or of which it is a part (dictionary.com).
Even though few of us recognize the word, we actually use the figure of speech quite often. For instance, when we speak of “Washington” passing a law we don’t really imagine the city or populace, but rather the various houses of the U.S. government. Likewise, when we say that the White House issued a statement, we don’t visualize a speaking building, but rather the President and his staff. The same is true when we speak of a scepter or crown, symbols of reign and rule representing much more than the physical objects.
The Scriptures are replete with examples of this type of language.
For instance, Mount Zion is geographically limited to one of the various hills that makes up the larger city of Jerusalem, but we see it used in a much broader way in the Scriptures. In the Psalms and prophets, Zion refers to the entire city, the inhabitants of that city and even what that city represents as the dwelling place of God.
Or consider when Jesus holds up “the cup” of the new covenant. He is not affirming a quest for the Holy Grail, but rather, declaring the value of what is symbolically represented by the contents of that cup.
These examples shed light on the use of “metonymic extension.” An author uses an object or concept to represent a larger object or concept closely associated with it. The use of the word is “extended” beyond the precise, literal meaning to communicate something more.
Back to the Cross
With this figure of speech in mind, we turn again to songs about the cross. Rather than idolizing the object, we are exalting the totality of what was accomplished by our gracious God on our behalf. The writers of our songs are using the object of the cross as a poetic substitute for the holistic concept of our salvation.
This is what Paul means in Galatians 6:14 when he writes of boasting in the cross. When we sing of the cross or speak of the cross, we boast of all that was accomplished on that cross.
Literally, the cross is just a piece of wood, but poetically it is so much more. That old rugged cross is the broken body and shed blood of Christ; it is redemption and reconciliation to the Father; it is our life and hope and boast and joy.
“Oh blessed cross, what mercies dost thou bring with thee!” (The Valley of Vision)