Posted by: rcottrill | August 11, 2010

Today in 1778 – Augustus Toplady Died

Augustus Montague Toplady, was the son of a British army major, killed in action when Toplady was a baby. He was raised by his devout and capable mother.

It is reported that at the age of 16, he was traveling in Ireland with his mother and they passed a barn where he heard singing. Looking in, he saw a small group of country folk holding a service. When the singing concluded, a man began to preach on Eph. 2:13, “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” The Lord used the message to bring the young man to faith in Christ.

Augustus Toplady went on to become a clergyman in the Church of England. A strong Calvinist, he differed with his contemporaries, John and Charles Wesley, in doctrine, but he shared their love for the Lord. Not being of a strong constitution, he died at the age of 38.

Toplady wrote a number of hymns, but most are forgotten today. He is responsible for several stanzas of the hymn Grace, ‘Tis a Charming Sound. (The other stanzas come from the pen of Philip Doddridge.) But the hymn for which he is remembered widely is Rock of Ages. In the eyes of many hymnologists, this hymn claims the highest rank in English hymnody. It is said the only hymn that stands before it is When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, by Isaac Watts.

Graphic Rock of Ages rock

(From The Romance of Sacred Song)

Augustus Toplady was out walking one day, several miles from home, when a sudden thunderstorm caused him to take shelter in a crevice of the rocky cliff shown in the picture. Awaiting the end of the downpour, he thought of how the believer is sheltered from judgment in the Rock Christ Jesus. It gave him an idea for some lines of verse. Looking around for something to write on, he spied a playing card lying on the path. He picked it up and wrote on the back,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee!
Foul, I to the fountain fly:
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

The above account has been challenged by some critics, but it is supported by others. Hymn historian W. J. Limmer Sheppard says that the playing card is still preserved in the United States. In any case, Toplady later fleshed out the hymn to what we know now, calling it A Living and Dying Prayer for the Holiest Believer in the World.

It has been suggested that this title was an intentionally sarcastic reference to John Wesley, but that cannot be proven. We do know that he attacked Wesleyan theology in his writings. And if the rumour is true, he was saying that John Wesley, in spite of his holy life, needed to be saved by grace, through faith in the finished work of Christ, just as we all do.

Even the best of us cannot get to heaven on our own merits. Our righteous standing is based on what Christ has done for us. That is what the Bible teaches. Christ “suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 3:21-28). When he lay dying, Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, said, “If in this hour I had only my worldly honours and dignities to depend upon, I should be poor indeed!” And he repeated feebly the words of this hymn.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfil 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 the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

Below is a pretty standard rendering of the hymn–nicely done, a cappella, by a Mennonite group. But if you’re looking for something different, click on the YouTube file to hear the beautiful voice of Lori Sealy, singing the hymn to a more contemporary tune she wrote herself.

 (2) Sing, My Soul, His Wondrous Love (Data Missing)
Here is another anonymous hymn, celebrating the boundless love of God. The text first appeared in print in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1800. You can hear the tune that accompanied it on the Cyber Hymnal. The melody was written by Theodore Wood, of whom nothing is known but his name.

Sing, my soul, His wondrous love,
Who from yon bright world above,
Ever watchful o’er our race,
Still to man extends His grace;
Sing, my soul, His wondrous love,
Sing, my soul, His wondrous love.

Heaven and earth by Him were made;
He by all must be obeyed;
What are we that He should show
So much love to us below?
Sing, my soul, His wondrous love,
Sing, my soul, His wondrous love.

God, thus merciful and good,
Bought us with the Saviour’s blood;
And to make our safety sure,
Guides us by His Spirit pure;
Sing, my soul, His wondrous love,
Sing, my soul, His wondrous love.

Sing, my soul, adore His name,
Let His glory be my theme;
Praise Him till He calls thee home;
Trust His love for all to come;
Praise, oh praise the God of love,
Praise, oh praise the God of love.


  1. I always enjoy your site. I listened to the song “Rock of Ages” sang by Lori Sealy and it was beautiful. Thanks for taking the time to share your musical knowledge with us. God Bless.

    • Thanks for the encouragement. Drop by any time!

  2. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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