The Glory of God in the Hymnal Classic ‘Rock of Ages’ – Part 4

By Robie Day

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to the 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.

In the second stanza of the poem, I noted that while Augustus Toplady did not actually mention the word “grace,” it was the focus of the entire stanza.  Here, in the third stanza, Toplady does not fail to point out his focus, continuing to emphasize that salvation is given by the grace of God alone.

Realizing that I am nowhere near the writer or theologian that the apostle Paul was, I wanted to direct your attention to a passage from Paul’s epistle to Titus, as much of what I am going to say about this stanza is much better expressed in his words.  Titus 3:4-7 states,

[4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Toplady begins this stanza with the phrase, “Nothing in my hand I bring,” meaning that there is nothing we have done, or can do, to purchase or achieve our salvation (Titus 3:5).  There is nothing we have to offer that could pay the penalty that is due to those who sin against the holy God, the penalty of death and eternal separation from God (Rom. 6:23).  Since we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23; Ps. 14:1-3), the only hope that any of us have to avoid this punishment is to “cling” to the cross of Jesus Christ, in which he mercifully paid the penalty for our sins by absorbing the punishment we deserve.  And in doing so, we are justified, or declared to be without sin (Titus 3:7; Col. 1:22), and given the gift of eternal life and fellowship with God (Titus 3:7).  Since it can be found nowhere else, this is what Toplady is emphasizing when he tells the “Naked” to “come to thee for dress,” and the “Helpless” to “look to thee for grace.”  In our fallen, sinful state of being, we come to God naked, helpless, and broken, yet, in his grace and mercy, he clothes us and heals us, regenerating us and making us new creatures in Christ (Titus 3:5; 2 Cor. 5:17).

In the final two lines, Toplady explains that we should not look to our own hands for salvation, but only to the grace of God who graciously sent his Son to die in our place (Titus 3:4-6).  He is urging those who are lost in their vile and “foul” sins, to “fly” to Jesus, the “fountain,” to be cleansed and “washed.”  For without the cleansing power of Jesus, as seen in the final line of the stanza: “Wash me, Savior, or I die,” we are condemned to an eternal separation from God.  Let us cling to the cross of Christ, in which he cleanses us and graciously provides the gift of eternal life (Titus 3:7).

This version of “Rock of Ages” by Ascend the Hill is my personal favorite.  Hope you enjoy!

Read the whole series: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

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