“Rock of Ages” – Devotional for July 24, 2021
“ROCK OF AGES” – 1776
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. John 10:29
On November 4, 1740, a baby in Farnham, England, was given the formidable name of Augustus Montague Toplady. His father died in a war, his mother spoiled him, his friends thought him “sick and neurotic,” and his relatives disliked him.
But Augustus was interested in the Lord. “I am now arrived at the age of eleven years,” he wrote on his birthday. “I praise God I can remember no dreadful crime; to the Lord be the glory.”
By age twelve he was preaching sermons to whoever would listen. At fourteen he began writing hymns. At sixteen he was soundly converted to Christ while attending a service in a barn. And at twenty-two he was ordained an Anglican priest.
As a staunch Calvinist, he despised John Wesley’s Arminian theology and bitterly attacked the great Methodist leader. “I believe him to be the most rancorous hater of the gospel-system that ever appeared on this island,” Augustus wrote. “Wesley is guilty of satanic shamelessness,” he said on another occasion, “of acting the ignoble part of a lurking, shy assassin.”
In 1776 Augustus wrote an article about God’s forgiveness, intending it as a slap at Wesley. He ended the article with an original poem:
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.
“Rock of Ages” was first published in 1775 in The Gospel Magazine. Traditionally, it is believed that Toplady drew his inspiration from an incident in the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England. Toplady, a preacher in the nearby village of Blagdon, was travelling along the gorge when he was caught in a storm. Finding shelter in a gap in the gorge, he was
struck by the title and scribbled down the initial lyrics. The fissure that is believed to have sheltered Toplady is now marked as the “Rock of Ages”, both on the rock itself and on some maps, and is also reflected in the name of a nearby tea shop. The German translation is called “Fels des Heils”.
Augustus Toplady died at age 38, but his poem outlived him and has been called “the best known, best loved, and most widely useful” hymn in the English language. Oddly, it is remarkably similar to something Wesley had written 30 years before in the preface of a book of hymns for the Lord’s Supper: “O Rock of Salvation, Rock struck and cleft for me, let those two Streams of Blood and Water which gushed from thy side, bring down Pardon and Holiness into
my soul.” Perhaps the two men were not as incompatible as they thought.
As we live out these days may we find a way to recognize the similarities of our lives and hearts rather than the differences. May forgiveness for perceived wrongs rise to the surface, overcoming bitterness and resentment. May God stand in the gap and sooth our pains and anxieties as only he can do. Amen.
Grace, Peace and Joy to you as you listen!