Posted by: rcottrill | September 24, 2018

Rock of Ages

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Words: Augustus Montague Toplady (b. Nov. 4, 1740; d. Aug. 11, 1778)
Music: Toplady, by Thomas Hastings (b. Oct. 15, 1784; d. May 15, 1872)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This hymn was authored by an English clergyman with the imposing name Augustus Montague Toplady. Though he only lived to the age of thirty-eight, he packed a great deal into those years, serving in several churches, and writing several books. He also gave us a number of hymns, including one now considered among the finest in the English language, Rock of Ages. It was published in his 1776 book Psalms and Hymns for Public and Private Worship, and, according to Hymnary.org, has been published in 2,521 hymnals.

Written in 1775, and called “A Prayer–Living and Dying,” the present hymn was inspired by a personal experience of Toplady’s. He was out walking and was caught in a sudden rain storm. Near him, there was a rocky cliff with a deep crevice, wide enough to admit him. As he was sheltering in the rock, he thought of how, by faith, we shelter in Christ, from the storms of judgment. (For a photograph of what is believed to be this rocky crevice, see the first Wordwise Hymns link above.)

These articles are about words–chiefly the words of our traditional hymns and gospel songs, and how they express (or don’t do so accurately) the words of the Bible. This time, the key word is “rock.”

It’s amazing how many ways we use that word, in addition to obvious references to a stone. We speak of rocking a baby to sleep, or a boat rocking on the waves. There’s rock music, of course, and Rocky a man’s name, popularized by the 1976 movie about a fictional boxer named Rocky Balboa. And if someone uses the expression, “That rocks!” it apparently means something is especially impressive. There’s also rock candy, and both Newfoundland, Canada, and the island of Gibralter are referred to as the Rock.

In the Bible, some form of the word is used over 130 times in various ways. For example, journeying through a barren area, travelers are glad of the shade provided by “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isa. 32:2). When facing an enemy, God’s people could hide in rocky caves (I Sam. 13:6), or climb up on a rocky prominence to get a safer vantage point (Ps. 61:2-3). And rocky ground is not a good place to sow seed (Matt. 13:5-6), but rock could sometimes yield unexpected nourishment (Deut. 32:13). Also, rock was considered a stable foundation on which to build (Matt. 7:24-25).

It will be seen that many of these instances have both a practical and a spiritual application. Many times, particularly in the Psalms, the Lord is described as a rock.

“For who is God, except the LORD [Jehovah]? And who is a rock, except our God?” (Ps. 18:31).

“He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved” (Ps. 62:2).

There is salvation and security in the Lord, spiritual sustenance and stability too. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11).

Usually, rock is expected to be relatively impregnable and indestructible. But there came a day when the Lord our Rock was shattered. When the incarnate Son of God was crucified, His body was broken, and His blood was shed for us (I Cor. 11:24). “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3). Like the rock in the wilderness that Moses struck, at God’s command, to provide water for the Israelites (Exod. 17:6), from the smitten Rock at Calvary the water of eternal life flowed out for all who will receive it.

The hymn insists that Christ is the only answer to our sin problem (cf. Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12; Tit. 3:5). It’s not what we have done for God, but what He has done for us–“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

“By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

CH-1) 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.

CH-2) 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.

CH-3) 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.

Questions:
1) What are some of the things people presume to bring in their hands to God, to earn His approval?

2) Why are these things inadequate to gain them eternal salvation?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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