Behind the Hymn: Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages was written by Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady in 1763. The song was first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775.

Rev. Toplady

Rev. Toplady

Rev. Toplady father died when he was a child. He was sixteen when he accepted Christ while on a trip to Ireland, however he’d already been preaching for four years and writing hymns for two years. His conversion came about when he was attending a meeting with an uneducated preacher. The service was taking place in an old barn. He was ordained into the ministry in 1762.
While traveling through the English countryside a fierce storm sent Rev. Toplady scrambling for shelter. He soon found it in the cleft of a great rock.

Inspired by the situation and scenery, he took out a playing card in his pocket and scribbled his initial lyrics. Later Rev. Toplady used the words for an article he was writing for “The Gospel Magazine,” where he was an editor.

In the article, “Toplady had calculated that a fifty year old man in his lifetime would be guilty of; one billion, five hundred and seventy-six million, eight hundred thousand sins. He quite rightly argued that it was humanly impossible for anyone to pay off such a staggering debt of iniquity. Therefore, sinners must needs avail themselves of the mercy and pardon of the Lord Jesus, who died upon the Cross to ‘redeem us from the curse of the law.’ He concluded the article with – ‘A living and dying prayer for the holiest believer in the world’ – which contained the recently written hymn “Rock Of Ages”.

Rock of Ages       This article was written to refute the teachings of John and Charles Wesley. He preferred the doctrine of John Calvin.

Two years after writing that article, Rev. Toplady entered his heavenly home on August 11, 1778 at the age of thirty-eight. Tuberculosis claimed his life, but his words lived on in his popular hymn.

gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England

gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England

The tune was written by Thomas Hastings of Washington, Connecticut. While suffering from eye problems, he still wrote over one thousand hymn tunes and some six hundred hymn text. In 1858, the University of the City of New York bestowed the degree of Doctor of Music upon him.

Today several places claim to be that rock, but no one knows the exact location. Although traditionally it is believed that Rev. Toplady drew his inspiration from an incident in the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England.

While few of his other hymns have lived on, Rock of Ages is still a favorite.

This post originally occurred on my music blog.

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The Untold Story, Rock of Ages

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