FRANCES A. MOSHER
Pianist, Christ Congregation
ROCK OF AGES
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Not the labor 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.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Whilst I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyestrings break in death;
When I soar through tracts unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
—Augustus M. Toplady (1740-1778)
The text for “Rock of Ages” first appeared in The Gospel Magazine, a British publication, in 1776. It was printed as the climax to an article by its author, Augustus M. Toplady. In the over two hundred years since its introduction it has surely become one of the best known and best loved hymns of the English-speaking church. Its strong declaration of Christ and His work on the cross as man’s only hope of salvation from the judgment his sin deserves, earns it a place of honor among hymns of grace.
The analogy of Christ to a rock has its roots in Scripture. Alluding to the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings, Paul writes, “For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). Paul is apparently referring to the event recorded in Exod 17:6. Moses, at God’s command, struck the rock in Horeb, miraculously bringing forth a needed supply of water for God’s people. The physical rock is a picture of Christ being struck to provide the “water” needed to satisfy sinful man’s spiritual need. In addition, there are numerous OT references to the Lord as a “Rock” or “Rock of salvation.”
The specific picture of Christ as a rock split open (cleft) to provide a place of spiritual refuge for sinful people is surely drawn from Moses’ experience recorded in Exod 33:20-23. Because Moses, a fallen man, could not see God’s face and live, God Himself protected Moses by placing him in the cleft of a rock as He passed by. In like manner, by being hidden in Christ, the Rock cleft on his behalf at the cross, the believer is sheltered from the eternal death he would face when he stands before a holy, righteous God.
Augustus Toplady was saved at the age of sixteen and later became a respected minister in the Anglican Church. While many grace-oriented Christians today have great respect and admiration for John and Charles Wesley, Toplady did not. The article which introduced “Rock of Ages” was written to refute some of the Arminian teachings of the Wesleys, particularly their belief in man’s free will. Toplady held to a strong Calvinist view of election. While not all grace-oriented Christians will agree with Toplady’s stand on election, all can surely rejoice in this hymn which so effectively states the clear scriptural teaching regarding man’s utter inability to in any way offer God anything to earn or merit salvation. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” (Titus 3:5a).
“Toplady,” the hymn tune most often used today in the United States for singing “Rock of Ages,” was written in 1830 by Dr. Thomas Hastings (1784-1832). Born in Washington, Connecticut, Hastings compiled 53 hymn collections and composed as many as 600 hymns during a lifetime devoted to church music.
1Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace (Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 1990), 114.