The Story Behind…
Rock of Ages
Author—August M. Toplady, 1740-1778
Composer—Thomas Hastings, 1784-1872
Tune Name — Toplady
This hymn has traditionally been ranked as one of the most popular hymns ever written. It is certainly one of the best known in the English language. It has been described as a “hymn that meets the spiritual needs of all sorts and conditions of men from the derelict snatched from the gutter by the Salvation Army to Prime Minister Gladstone, at whose funeral it echoed through the dim spaces of Westminister Abbey.”
Whereas most hymns have been written out of some deep personal need or experience, this hymn evidently was born out of a spirit of heated controversy. August Toplady was converted to Christ as a young boy of sixteen years of age while visiting in Ireland. Of his conversion, Toplady has written:
“Strange that I, who had so long sat under the means of grace 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.”
Augustus Montague Toplady was born at Farnham, England, on November 4, 1740, the son of a Major Richard Toplady. who died in the service while his son was in infancy. Later young Toplady graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and was ordained in 1762 to the ministry of the Anglican Church. His various pastorates included the French Calvinist Chapel at Leichester Fields, London, where he was known as a powerful and zealous evangelical preacher. Because of his frail constitution, he died of overwork at the early age of thirty-eight.
The tune for Toplady’s text was composed in 1830 by a well-known American church musician, Thomas Hastings. Hastings was the first musician of sacred music to dedicate his life to the task of elevating and improving the music of the churches in this country. Despite the fact that he was an Albino and afflicted with an eye problem, Hastings wrote no less than 50 volumes of church music, including 1,000 hymn tunes and more than 600 original hymn texts.
God in his providence has chosen to preserve this hymn for the past 200 years so that congregations of believers can sing this hymn with spiritual profit and blessing.
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.
Could my tears forever flow, Could my zeal no languour know,
These for sin could not atone —Thou must save, and Thou alone:
In my hand no price I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling.
While I draw this fleeing breath, When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown, And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.