‘Beneath the Cross of Jesus’, was written in 1868 by Miss Elizabeth Cecilia Douglas Clephane. The inclusion of ‘Douglas’ in her forenames identifies her with the famous ancient Douglas clan of that noble house from the Scottish Lowlands. She was the daughter of Andrew Clephane, Sheriff of Fife, and Anna Maria Douglas Ashenhurst.
Elizabeth Clephane suffered all her life from ill health. She was a Scottish Presbyterian who took her faith in God seriously. Besides giving time to Bible study she also helped the needy in the community and feeding the hungry.” Despite her ill health Elizabeth is said to have had a personality that made her cheery and refreshing to be around. “Although sick, she always had a smile.”
Elizabeth had two older sisters named Anna Maria and Anna Jane Douglas. Anna Maria lived to the age of 72 and Anna Jane Douglas to age 85. But Elizabeth died aged 38.
The three sisters dedicated themselves to the service of God. They gave to charity all their belongings except what they needed to support themselves. Due to her cheerful disposition the community referred to Elizabeth as, “The Sunbeam”.
Elizabeth had a gift for writing poetry. The year before she died she was asked to write a poem for a children’s magazine, the Scottish Presbyterian Magazine entitled “The Family Treasure”.
She wrote other poems, the majority of which were published in the magazine in 1872, three years after her death on February 19, 1869. It is said she left us a legacy that stands higher than life itself.” Considered to be the greatest of her poems, “Beneath The Cross Of Jesus” is a well-loved hymn in our own day, and appropriate for the Easter Weekend.
It was Charles Maker, a renowned organist in the city of Bristol in southern England, who composed the music for this hymn entitled, “St. Christopher”.
In 1872 the editor of the magazine, Mr. W. Arnot wrote these words about the hymn and about Elizabeth Clephane: “These lines express the experiences, the hopes and the longings of a young ChristianA. “ Approaching 150 years down to our day we have the privilege of sharing in those same hopes and longings that she wrote about for her time.
The words of the hymn are very appropriate for Good Friday. For one who had not enjoyed good health all her life one can appreciate sharing her thoughts on the eve of her young life, that reflecting on the cross finds “rest upon the way, from the burden of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.” The following year from writing this she would lay down life’s burdens.
The poem is all very personal: It Begins, “Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand.” And then she writes in the second verse, “The weary dying form of one, who suffered there for me.” And she closes with the words, “My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.” The poem is a personal reflection on the cross and on one’s own mortality.
While we can share in the sentiments collectively, the acceptance of Christ as Lord and Saviour has to be experienced personally, as Elizabeth expressed at the end of verse 2: “And from my smitten heart with tears, two wonders I confess, the wonders of redeeming love, and my own unworthiness.”