Story Behind The Hymn, “Rock of Ages”

Written by on February 20, 2022

Augustus Toplady was born in England in 1740. His father was a Royal Marine and died on duty soon after his son’s birth, leaving the boy to be raised by his mother. Toplady had an interest in religion during his younger years and showed this in spiritual journals and moralistic behavior. However, it wasn’t until his fifteenth year, while attending a Methodist revival in an Irish barn, that he felt “brought nigh to God.” It was at this point that he determined to go into ministry.

Having been converted under Methodism, Toplady initially aimed to become a Methodist minister. This changed, however, when he began to consider more closely the distinctions between Arminianism and Calvinism. The Methodist movement was decidedly Arminian, and Toplady, as an offspring of that movement, initially adopted that understanding. But, as Louis Benson writes after he studied the 39 Articles of the Church of England, he became convinced of the Calvinistic perspective and thus became a minister in the Church of England.

The issue of Calvinism versus Arminianism was a hot topic in the church in those days, and for the remainder of his life, Toplady would write and debate on the subject, arguing at length (and at times viciously) for the doctrine of election. Unfortunately, towards the end of his short life, the debate grew increasingly ugly, resulting in a major and public rift between him and John Wesley that would never find a resolution.

Toplady died in 1778 (aged 38) from tuberculosis. He never married, his life and ministry were short, and he certainly had his share of flaws. But God was pleased to use him to write a hymn that would so powerfully communicate the gospel and encourage the saints that his name and story have been preserved to this day.

The Hymn
Toplady wrote a number of hymns in his life, but “Rock of Ages” is by far his most famous. When Benson wrote about it in 1923, he claimed it “is today in more church hymnals than is any other English hymn.” Not only is it well known among churchgoers, but it is also recognizable in popular culture. A 2006 Broadway musical about rock ‘n roll (and a corresponding Hollywood film in 2012) adopted the name “Rock of Ages.”

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