Near the Cross

gospel song written by Fannie Crosby
commentary by:
P.B. Mistretta III

Francis Jane Crosby was born on March 24, 1820, in the rural Putnam County of New York.  In her early infancy she acquired an eye illness.  The community doctor was away, so the family sought treatment from a man who was later believed to be an imposter physician, and whom when questioned, left and was never seen again.  His treatments left her blind for the rest of her life.

She was raised in a Puritan home, and memorized large portions of Scripture as a youth.  In 1835, she was sent to the New York Institute of the Blind, where she excelled as a student and a poetess.  In later years, she began to teach, and continued to write, and became widely known as “The Blind Poetess.” 

In 1850, after having a dream, she became concerned about the state of her soul and of her eternal destiny.  She began to attend a series of Methodist revival meetings.  One night, while seeking God at an altar call, the congregation began to sing the Isaac Watts’ classic “Alas and did my Savior bleed?” and when they got to the last verse, “But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe, Here Lord I give myself away, Tis all that I can do,” she was touched by God.   

In 1864, she met the Christian hymn composer, William Bradbury, and began to write gospel hymns.  She went on to write an estimated 9,000 hymns.  “Blessed Assurance,” "Pass Me Not,” “I am Thine, O Lord,” and “Redeemed,” were among her finest.  She would often write the lyrics to songs in one sitting, and she was known to come up with the words to a song after hearing the melody played on a piano by one of her composers.  This happened in 1873 with “Blessed Assurance.”  Fanny Crosby recalled, “My friend Mrs. Joseph F. Knapp, composed a melody and played it over to me two or three times on the piano.  She then asked what it said.  I replied, ‘Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!’ ”

In her later years, she was highly respected and revered by many, and became known simply as, “Fanny Crosby, the Hymn Writer.”  Her songs were sung in revival services, as well as regular church services and Sunday schools, and they touched millions all over the world.  “Pass Me Not,” was heard in the German language by a visiting evangelist in the Swiss Alps.  “Saved by Grace,” was heard being sung in Arabic in a tent in the Arabian Desert by an American clergyman.  In 1885, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” was sung at the funerals of President Grant, and of Lord Shaftsbury, a founder of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).  Upon her death in 1914, fellow and noted hymn writer, Charles Gabriel (1856-1932), said of her that her name “will live on as long as people sing the Gospel.”   

No gospel song commentary series would be complete without at least one of these songs from this hymn writing giant.  One of her finest is this month’s old-time gospel song of the month, “Near The Cross,” which was originally entitled, “Jesus, Keep Me Near The Cross.”  This song mentions the cross in every verse.  It speaks not only of the saving power, but also the keeping power of the cross, and in the necessity of us as believers of the gospel to keep what Jesus accomplished there, ever before us.

Vs. 1         Jesus, keep me near the cross – There a precious fountain, 
                  Free to all a healing stream, Flows from Calvary’s mountain.

Fanny Crosby opens up in verse one of this gospel song with a prayer for Jesus to keep her near the cross where there is a precious fountain.  Now we know that Zechariah prophesies of a fountain that would be “opened” for sin and for uncleanness. (Zechariah 13:1)  This fountain was opened at Calvary when Jesus was scourged and sent to the cross to be crucified.  After His death also, the Roman soldier pieced the side of Jesus with his spear and blood and water issued out. (John 19:34)  Peter tells us that we have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. (1Peter 1:19)  Revelation 1:5 tells us that He washed us from our sins in His own blood.  The writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 9:14, tells us that the blood of Christ purges our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

However, this glorious and complete salvation does not stop with the cleansing and purging of the inside and of the conscience of the believer.  It also makes the outside body holy.  The fountain that Zechariah prophesies of is filled with the holy blood and water from the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  This fountain makes the temple holy, as Paul tells us in I Corinthians 3:17, “for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”  Paul then beseeches us in Romans 12:1, to present our holy bodies to God as a living sacrifice.  Ephesians 5:26 tells us that he sanctifies and cleanses his church by the washing of water by the word. 

This “precious fountain” is “free to all a healing stream,” as the songwriter says.  John, in Revelations 21:6, records Jesus, after the resurrection, saying, “It is done.  I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”  This gospel leaves no one out.  It is for “whosoever will.”  Just before Jesus died, he said, “It is finished.”  The resurrected Savior said that, “It is done.”  All one has to do is repent and believe the gospel and freely receive.

After salvation, however, it is essential that the believer of the gospel daily remember what Jesus accomplished for him at the cross. 

“Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised).  (Hebrews: 10:19-23)”

Do not be confused with the middle sentence of this passage.  This sentence could be turned around to read, “Having our heart sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”  The heavens were purified by the blood of Jesus. (Hebrews 9:23)  When Jesus shed his blood, Satan was cast out of heaven. (Revelations 12:9, John 12:31)  There is nothing unclean or unholy that will ever enter there again.  Jesus said that the pure in heart shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)  This Scripture in Hebrews talks about drawing near to God with a true heart.  The pure in heart, who have been cleansed in the blood of Christ, and their bodies washed with pure water, also draw near to God and enter into His presence by His blood.  It is a daily fellowship and a daily partaking.  Jesus said that we need to pray for “daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

Jesus in a discourse with his disciples, who were more than just the twelve, said this:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood in drink indeed.  He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. (John 6:53-56)”

The Scripture went on to say that many of the disciples were offended by these “hard sayings,” and no longer followed Jesus.  Jesus was not talking about a wafer and grape juice.  He said that his body and blood was meat and drink indeed, meaning not of the natural, but a spiritual communion with God.  The word “fast” in “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” means to “keep (in memory), possess, retain.”  Jesus, at what is called “The Last Supper,” said, “this do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)  I Corinthians 11:26 says that every time we eat and drink of the body and blood of Jesus we “shew the Lord’s death till he come.”  Hebrews 13:10 says, “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” This speaks of those Jews at the time who did not believe in Jesus and were still serving at the man-made tabernacle.  They had no right to eat at the Lord’s table, and partake of the body and blood of Jesus because they were not born again.  But, we as believers of this glorious gospel are invited to partake to the fullness.

The songwriter prays that Jesus would keep her near the cross.  It is there that there is “a precious fountain,” and that fountain is still flowing freely for those who will draw near to God.  That fountain saved us and it also keeps us.  He makes us holy at the cross and he is able to keep us holy.  If we daily walk in Him, abide in that holy vine, and always keep in remembrance what he accomplished at the cross for us in our thoughts, prayers, and praises, he “is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” (Jude: 24) 

Vs. 2      Near the cross, a trembling soul,  Love and mercy found me; 
               There the Bright and Morning Star,  Sheds its beams around me.  

During the 1800’s in America, there were revivals across the land.  The Methodist circuit rider preaches faithfully carried the gospel to literary every nook and cranny throughout the countryside.  There were also revivals through a holiness preacher named Charles Finney, mainly in New York State, who was a Presbyterian who never officially left the Presbyterian Church.  He would go into a church in up-state New York, where the only church in town was Presbyterian, and they would have tremendous revivals.

It was during this time that Charles Finney would set those who were concerned over the state of their souls on the front bench of the church, that they called a “mourner’s bench.”  He would call these seekers “awakened sinners.”  These awakened sinners would go up to the front after the preaching to seek God for salvation, where others prayed for them.  Sometimes they were taken to another room and even to another building, to seek God all night, if necessary.  This eventually evolved into what they would later call in the church, an “altar call.”  It was during these altar calls that the sinners, after hearing the Gospel and the standard of righteousness and holiness that the preacher had set before them, would allow God to move upon their hearts as they cried out to God for mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.

God said through the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 66:2, “But unto this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”  II Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”  Anyone can be sorrowful after being caught in the sin of adultery, for instance, but that is the sorrow of the world.  Godly sorrow is when He convicts your heart of sin, and you become broken over it on the inside.  You tremble at the word of God.  You come to the realization that you are a sinner and an enemy of God, and that in your present state you are on your way to Hell, and to an eternity without God.

The story of the publican, recorded in Luke 18, is a good example of this.  In this story, we find two people.  The Pharisee was in the temple thanking God that he was not as “other men are.”  He reminded God that he fasted and prayed and paid his tithes.  Then, there was the publican.  He was broken before God.  He was so humbled before God that he did not even raise his head towards Heaven.  He smote his breast before God and cried out, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  Jesus said that that man went home justified.

The songwriter said that she was a “trembling soul” at the cross.  She realized her sinful condition and was broken before God, and trembled at His word.  She said that it was at the cross where “love and mercy” found her. Whenever the New Testament talks about the love of God or Christ, it most often points us to Calvary.  I John 4:9,10 says, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave….” Paul says in Galatians 2:20 that “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Ephesians 5:2 says, “Christ…loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”  Revelations 1:5 says, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”  It is at the cross where the love of God is manifested, and where we are to go to receive his love and mercy. 

Vs. 3      Near the cross!  O Lamb of God,  Bring its scenes before me;
               Let me walk from day to day,  With its shadow o’er me.

“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.  For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by revelation of Jesus Christ…But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:  Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.  Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:11-12, 15-18)

“Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem…And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.”  (Galatians 2:1-2)

It is unclear as to when did the Apostle Paul receive the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Did it happen during his time in the desert of Arabia?  But, the two things we do know for sure about his receiving this revelation, is that he received it of God and not man, and that he received it before God sent him to the Gentiles to preach it.  Paul said that he did not receive the gospel that he preached from man, nor was he taught it by man, but by revelation of Jesus Christ.  God himself revealed to him the revelation of Jesus Christ.  He revealed to him the purpose of Calvary.  He revealed to him that it was not only Jesus that died that day, but that our old man and body of sin was also crucified with Christ; that the sin nature was then buried with Christ; and that the new man “created in righteousness and true holiness” was resurrected with Christ, and is now “seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

The apostle Paul then carried the knowledge of this gospel with him wherever he went.  In Romans the sixth chapter, he reveals this gospel to those who would hear.  He tells the church how important it is to know the things that were accomplished at the cross.  He says “Know ye not,” in verse three, “Knowing this,” in verse 6, “Knowing that,” in verse 9, and “Know ye not,” again in verse 16.  It is the knowledge of what happened in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the believer of the gospel that is of utmost importance.

The believer then takes this knowledge and walks in it daily.  The songwriter prays that God would ever keep the scenes of the cross before her, and that she would “walk from day to day with its shadow o’er me.”  As we know, the songwriter was physically blind.  She was not talking about seeing something in the natural, or even seeing something in the spirit through some visualization technique.  She was talking about a vision of Christ, and in what he accomplished there at the cross for us.  The apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 4:10. “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” 

In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul was dealing with those who were drawing some away from the grace of God, and towards the circumcision of the law.  They were doing so in order that they “may glory in your flesh,” as Paul states in Galatians 5:13.  Paul goes on to say in the next verse, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world was crucified unto me, and I unto the world."  He also goes on to say in 5:17, “From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” 

Now we know that Paul suffered many things, including beatings, and 195 lashes upon his back over the years. (II Corinth. 11:23-28)  But, in this instance Paul was talking about his crucifixion with Christ.  Paul was talking about the crucifixion marks of the Lord Jesus.  In fact, had he not had this crucifixion with Christ, and had he not had the grace of God with him during these hardships, he would not have been able to keep standing.  Paul said in the same book of Galatians, in 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me: and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by ‘the faith’ of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”  “The faith” in this scripture and throughout the New Testament, speaks of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and what was accomplished on the cross for us.  Paul lived the faith, kept the faith, and proclaimed the faith wherever he went.  He always kept the death of the Son of God ever before him - in his body, believing, praises and preaching, so that the life also of Jesus would be manifested in his body.  And so should we so walk with the shadow of the cross, and the knowledge of the gospel ever before us.

Vs. 4    Near the cross, I’ll watch and wait, Hoping , trusting ever,
             Till I reach the golden strand, Just beyond the river.        

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (II Timothy 4:6-8)

The apostle Paul said that when he came to the end of his course in life, that he was ready because he kept “the faith.”  He says that he was ready to receive that crown of righteousness that the Lord would give not only to him, but also to all them that love his appearing.  There will be two kinds of people, whether dead or alive, when Jesus returns.  They are either lost and without hope, or saved and will love his appearing.  There will be many alive during the time of Jesus’ return who will hate His appearing.  They will be trying to hide themselves from His wrath.  Just as he will return to reward the righteous, he will also come to judge the wicked with His wrath.  The second coming of Christ is known as the third woe, and the seventh and last trumpet. 

In Revelations, it talks about the return of Christ in 22:11.  It says, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still."  Again, we see the two kinds of people.  One is unjust and filthy.  The other is righteous and holy.  When he returns it will be too late to receive anything else from the Lord.  Everything pertaining to sin and freedom from sin, and righteousness and holiness, was dealt with in the cross of Christ.  He made us righteous and holy in the new birth.  We are to “watch and pray,” as the songwriter says.  We are to walk in newness of life, stand in the true grace of God (I Peter 5:12), and trust in that grace to keep us from falling, until we reach the end of our course in life or until Christ returns.  We grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18), grace and peace is multiplied unto us through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord (II Peter 1:2), we grow in the fruit of the Spirit, etc.  But, we never grow from unrighteousness into righteousness.  Sinners are made righteous (Romans 5:19) through the new birth, and then walk in holiness. 

Peter tells us that “his abundant mercy hath begotten us again [born again] unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:3-5)  He said in the next verse that in this we greatly rejoice.  Praise God!  We are born again into an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance, and are kept by the power of God until he returns.  Paul tells us that we, who were once enemies of God because of our wicked works, have now been reconciled to God “in the body of his flesh through death, to present you unblameable and unreprovable in his sight, If ye continue in ‘the faith’ grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of ‘the gospel.”  (Colossians 1:21-23)  We rejoice in these things that were accomplished in the cross for us, “watch and pray,” and keep trusting and hoping, until we reach our final destiny.

Chorus      In the cross,  in the cross,  Be my glory ever,
                   Till my raptured soul shall find Rest, beyond the river.

The apostle Paul said that if any man glory, let him glory in the Lord. (II Corinth, 10:17)  Paul said that he gloried in the cross of Christ, by whom the world was crucified unto him, and he unto the world. (Galatians 5:14)  To glory means to boast.  To put it in today’s terms, Paul was simply bragging on Jesus.  Paul was not being arrogant when he made this statement about being crucified with Christ, because he realized that he could not crucify himself.  He realized it was a finished work at Calvary, and that all he did was to just repent and believe the true report, and walk in newness of life “dead unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ,” and stand in His grace.  He realized that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” (Ephesians 2:10)  Paul realized that it was the grace of God in him that caused him to labor more abundantly than all the other apostles. (I Corinth. 15:10)  In all of his labors, triumphs, and persecutions, he gave the glory to God, and simply stood in the grace of God, and bragged on Jesus.

The songwriter mentions that she will glory in the cross until her “raptured soul” finds rest beyond the river.  She is speaking of the final reward and the final destiny of the child of God.  However, if one is not resting in Christ now, he will never make it to the heavenly rest.  Jesus said to “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  In this discourse in Matthew the eleventh chapter, Jesus had just pronounced “woes” upon the religious cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, for not repenting under His ministry.  He then thanks His Father, because he has hid the kingdom truths from the wise and prudent (religious) and has revealed it unto “babes.”  This is when he gives his invitation for those who “hear” to “come unto me.”  He was speaking to those who were burdened by sin and by religion and were given no help by the religious of the day.  Jesus had chastised the Pharisees for putting burdens on the people, and for shutting up the “kingdom of heaven against men.”  He said that they go not into the kingdom, and also keep others from entering in. (Mt. 23:13)  Isn’t this the picture of much of the modern church?  They do not believe in this glorious gospel of freedom from sin, and they prevent others from believing it also.  They say we are all sinners.  They say that it is impossible for one to be free from sin in this life, and that the sin nature is always with us.  They directly contradict the scriptures, and hold their experience above the Word of God, and  “hold the truth in unrighteousness.” 

The prophet Jeremiah mentions the word "resting place."  He says in 50:6, “My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.”  Again, isn’t this the perfect picture of much of the modern church in America?  Instead of the modern church preaching that the old man is crucified and buried with Christ, and that the body of sin is destroyed, and that the new man, “created in righteousness and true holiness,” is resurrected with Christ and “seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” where there is no sin or unrighteousness; they say that the child of God is not sitting on the “mountain” with Christ, but is instead a sinner playing around on the mole “hills” of life.  They say that we are still sinners and will sin every day because we are still living in this sinful world, and sin is all around us and we cannot help but to sin.  However, the Scriptures say that even though we are physically in this world, we are not “of the world.”  We are of Christ, and our spiritual abode is presently seated with Christ in the heavens. 

Jesus Christ is the resting place for the child of God.  He is seated in the high “mountains” in heavenly places, and so are we.  If you are not free from sin and religious burdens now, you will never be in the end.  Notice that the songwriter says, “My raptured soul shall find rest, just beyond the river.”  The soul of the believer is already raptured and seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, in the resting place.   Hebrews 4:9-10 says, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.  For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.”