The Glory of God in the Hymnal Classic ‘Rock of Ages’ – Part 2
by Robie Day
It is said that while he was traveling across the English countryside, Augustus Toplady was caught in a violent storm and was forced to seek cover in a small cave. The story goes on to say that his experience of finding shelter among the soft, limestone rock of southern England was the inspiration for the hymnal classic “Rock of Ages.” Whether or not this is the actual account of how Toplady came to write “Rock of Ages,” we will never know. However, it is apparent that in writing this hymn, Toplady was clearly speaking of the refuge and security we have in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
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.
The first stanza of Toplady’s poem begins by citing Jesus as the “Rock” that provides us with a cleft (an opening or crevice of a mountainside) in which we can hide, or seek refuge. However, he is not only speaking of the comfort Jesus offers from the many trials of life, but of the refuge and security he provides in salvation. This is seen in the next two lines of the stanza, “let the water and the blood, from thy wounded side which flowed.” These lines are a direct reference to the cross, when the Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, releasing both blood and water (John 19:34). Toplady is, therefore, connecting our refuge in Jesus’ with salvation. He goes on to point out that Jesus’ death on the cross provides a double cure for sinners. This is seen in the following line, which says that the water and the blood are a “double cure” for sin. As fallen sinners, we are deserving of the just wrath of God (Eph. 2:3). Our sins are crimes committed against a holy God, putting us at enmity with him, and separating us from his fellowship (James 4:4). Jesus, however has provided a “double cure” for our sinfulness, both of which are stated in the last line of the stanza: “save from wrath and make me pure.” In his death and resurrection, Jesus has reconciled sinners by cleansing and purifying them and imputing his own righteousness to them (Rom. 5:15-18). In other words, he gave us the righteousness that we could not achieve on our own, so that we are found to be blameless and without sin (Col. 1:22), paying the ransom for our crimes against God (Matthew 20:28) and reconciling us from the enmity that our sins have created (Col. 1:20). He bore the punishment we deserve (Isaiah 53:12), shedding his own blood in our place, so that we might be saved from the wrath we deserve (Rom. 8:1). Hence, “save from wrath and make me pure.” We, therefore, hide ourselves in Christ as a cleft who, in his grace and mercy, purifies sinners and provides refuge from the wrath that sinners deserve.
Here is a more recent version of “Rock of Ages” by Brooks Ritter:
Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.
(Isaiah 26:4 ESV)
Read the whole series: Part 1