Hymn: Rock of Ages

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.

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, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting 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.

 

“Rock of Ages” is a popular Christian hymn by the Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady written in 1763 and first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775.

This hymn was regarded as one of the Great Four Anglican Hymns in the 19th century.

Traditionally, it is held 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 on a playing card.  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.

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages, Burrington Combe

The hymn though potentially inspired by an event in Toplady’s life, it is more probable that he drew the motif from the story of Moses hidden in the cleft of the rock. (Ex 33) It is the beautiful story of Moses’ deep desire to know God fully as he asks to see His face. God replies, “You cannot see my face and live, it is too beautiful, too holy, too powerful, too glorious.” But God has a remedy for Moses, if Moses is hidden in the cleft of the Rock he will be able to see God. His “terrible beauty” (Psalm 68:35, The Message) will not consume but will rather protect him. Paul speaks of this same Rock as a type and figure of Christ “and the rock was Christ”(1 Cor 10;4) He says that Rock which sheltered and provided sustenance for Moses, was in fact Christ.

Augustus Toplady poetically alludes to the wound in Christ side being the very cleft within which we find protection, comfort and sustenance. “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, / Let me hide myself in Thee;” We are hidden in the cleft of his wounds.

Jesus, this Rock, is not only protection from “terrible beauty” but rather makes us terribly beautiful. This Rock that was stricken in the desert and from which water flowed (Ex 17:6) becomes not only protection but the very Living Water that washes us whiter than snow, or as Toplady puts it so eloquently:

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.

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