Hymn History: Rock of Ages - Enjoying the Journey
“Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved.” – Psalm 62:1-2
We are thrilled to share a series of brief accounts of how some of the great hymns of our faith were written. Each synopsis has been compiled through the research of Jerry Vargo and is shared by permission. It is our hope that these stories will be a help and encouragement to your Christian walk. This week we read the story behind a strengthening hymn, “Rock of Ages”.
Augustus Toplady was born in Farnham, England, in 1740. He was the son of Major Richard Toplady, who died in the service while his son was in infancy. Shortly after her husband’s death, his mother moved to Ireland with Augustus.
His conversion, at sixteen years of age, happened while he was visiting his mother. Together, they attended a revival meeting held in a barn in a little Irish village. He said of his conversion, “Strange that I who had so often sat in church in England should be brought right with God in an obscure part of Ireland, midst a handful of people met together in a barn, and by the ministry of one who could hardly spell his own name. Surely it was the Lord’s doing and is marvelous.”
Lightning briefly illuminated the primitive, rock-hewn landscape of Burrington Combe in Somerset. It was followed by a deep growl of thunder. The rain lashed mercilessly down, pouring bubbling streamlets down the craggy sides of primeval cliffs, which rise up some 250 feet to the Mendip Heights on one side, and into Cheddar Gorge on the other.
Toplady was the pastor of Blagdon and had been traveling along the road near the cliffs when the storm struck. He dashed into a cave for shelter. He had been fortunate to find this hiding-place so quickly, and while waiting for the storm to pass he began to muse on the idea of the “rock of faith” being a shelter from the “storms of life”. The words for a hymn began to form in his mind but he had no paper in his pocket to write down the words. Looking down he saw some playing cards, which he considered to be a sinful thing. Nevertheless, he picked them up and began to write on the back of them:
Rock of Ages
1. Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.
2. Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.
3. Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
4. While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.