Rock of Ages (I)
DESCRIPTION: "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, Let me hide myself in thee." The singer admits to the inability to meet God's demands, and asks forgiveness and protection
AUTHOR: Words: Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778)/Music: Thomas Hastings (1784-1872)
EARLIEST DATE: 1775 (first stanza; remainder of text 1776, both in "The Gospel Magazine"; music published 1832)
KEYWORDS: religious nonballad
FOUND IN: US(SE)
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Gainer, p. 202, "Rock of Ages" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fireside, p. 296, "Rock of Ages" (1 text, 1 tune)
Warren-Spirit, pp. 250-251, "Rock of Ages" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 357, "Rock of Ages" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 469-470, "Rock of Ages"
ADDITIONAL: Charles Johnson, One Hundred and One Famous Hymns (Hallberg, 1982), pp. 120-121, "Rock of Ages" (1 text, 1 tune)
John Julian, editor, _A Dictionary of Hymnology_, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes), pp. 970-972, "Rock of ages, cleft for me" (1 text plus assorted variant stanzas)
Buice Brothers, "Rock of Ages" (Bluebird B-5722, c. 1934; rec. 1931)
Henry Burr, "Rock of Ages" (Columbia 1781, 1904)
Peerless Quartet, "Rock of Ages" (Paramount 33010, 1919)
Hamlin Male Quartet, "Rock of Ages" (Supertone 9267, 1928)
cf. "Rock of Ages (II -- Hide Me Over the Rock of Ages)"
NOTES [998 words]: Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778) is most famous for writing the words to this song, which he published in his own Gospel Magazine in 1775-1776. (According to Reynolds, p. 186, he published one stanza in 1775 in an article signed "Minimus." The rest of the words came the next year.) The context of the full version is, to say the least, odd; it begins with a discussion of Britain's national debt, followed by some Calvinist rhetoric, both disguised as a dialogue, then the poem (Julian, pp. 970-971). This was in four stanzas; Toplady revised the fourth stanza in 1776. The text was later revised at several points by T. Cotterill, starting in 1815; still later, there was a Methodist revision.
According to Julian, p. 1693, there was a sort of a legend at Blagdon, where Toplady was curate from 1762 to 1764, that Toplady was once caught in a thunderstorm at Blagddon, took shelter between two great piers of rock in a glen, and was inspired to write this song as a result. But although Toplady was indeed curate at Blagdon, he did not publish the first verse of the poem for another eleven years after he left there, and the whole text did not appear until the twelfth year. Nor did Toplady ever mention any such thunderstorm. Nor is there any early evidence for the claim, although it apparently was widely known in the nineteenth century. Julian formally labels it unproved; the impression he gives is that it was simply false.
Toplady's article gives a different sort of context (Reynolds, p. 186): Toplady for some reason sat down to figure out how many sins a person would commit in a lifetime, and concluded that in eighty years a man would manage 2,522,880,000 sins. This, I suggest, tells us more about Toplady than about sins. One hates to think how many sins we commit today, with computers to make us more efficient....
Johnson, p. 120, gives a brief biography of Toplady which seems to consist mostly of denomination-jumping. He is said to have been "always in frail health," which explains his early death. The immediate cause of death, according to Kunitz/Haycraft, p. 519, was tuberculosis, which he contracted in 1775 -- the same year he published the first stanza of this song. This was 13 years after his ordination in 1762 (Stulken, p. 383).
Julian, p. 1182, gives this account of his early years: "THe life of Todlay has been repeatedly and fully written, the last, a somewhat discursive and slackly put together book, yet matterful (sic.), by W. Winters (1872). Summarily... he was born at Fareham, in Surrey, on November 4, 1740. His father, Richard Toplady, was a Major in the British army, and was killed at the siege of Carthagena (1741) soon after the birth of his son. His mother placed him at the renowned Westminster school, London. By-and-by circumstances led her to Ireland, and young Augustus was entered at Trinity College, Dublin, where he completed his academic training, ultimately graduating M.A."
He is credited with two volumes of religious lyrics. Nonetheless Granger's Index to Poetry lists only seven of his works which made it into their voluminous database (and it appears that two of those are actually alternate names for this piece). This is of course the one most cited (twelve times under various titles). It is also the only work of his cited by Benet (p. 1129), who does not call him a hymn-writer but does call him a controversialist.
The description seems apt. Kunitz/Haycraft, p. 519, say that he was "First converted to the ministry by a follower of John Wesley [one James Morris, according to Johnson], Toplady become the most extreme of Calvinists." Wesley and the Methodists were the most Arminian of denominations -- that is, they absolutely denied predestination. And predestination -- God arbitrarily and capriciously granting salvation at whim -- is the cornerstone of Calvinist doctrine (not that Calvinists put it that way, but we need to understand how each side saw it. Calvinists see Arminians as a bunch of sloppy bleeding hearts; Arminians see Calvinists as a bunch of Nazis with no compassion or flexibility.)
Christians can disagree on such things and perhaps still work together. Not Wesley and Toplady. As Kunitz/Haycraft continue, "[T]he rest of [Toplady's] life was devoted to a crusade against Wesley and Wesleyan doctrines. What is curious is that in this violent controversy both Wesley and Toplady, men of high principles, broad learning, and unimpeachable character, descended to a fish-wife level of public disputation." Similarly Stulkin, p. 383: "because of his extreme views and volatile temper he came into conflict with John Wesley... and the resulting bitterness lasted for many years."
The general tone of his writings is clearly revealed in the titles of some of his books (NewCentury, pp. 1081-1082): The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination, Stated and Assured (published when he was only 29), The Church of England Vindicated from the Charge of Arminianism (published in that same year of 1769), and Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England.
Toplady, incidentally, is wrong. Although the Anglican church was never as Arminian as the Methodists, neither was it historically Calvinist. The seventeenth century of course saw attempts to turn it in that direction, but the key point of the Puritan Movement, and the Civil War, and the Commonwealth, is that Calvinism ultimately *failed* to take over the Church of England. Toplady was arguing a case which had been lost eighty years before he was born.
For another song by Toplady, see "Jesus At Thy Command."
The composer of the usual music, Thomas Hastings, was far less controversial; he published the music for this song in 1832. Although prolific (Stulkin, p. 384, credits him with almost a thousand tunes), little of his music is remembered today.
Although Hastings composed the common tune, a Lutheran work, The Parish School Hymnal of 1926, gives a second melody, credited to Richard Redhead. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Benet: William Rose Benet, editor, The Reader's Encyclopdedia, first edition, 1948 (I use the four-volume Crowell edition but usually check it against the single volume fourth edition edited by Bruce Murphy and published 1996 by Harper-Collins)
- Johnson: Charles Johnson, One Hundred and One Famous Hymns, Hallberg, 1982
- Julian: John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes)
- Kunitz/Haycraft: Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, Editors, British Authors Before 1800: A Biographical Dictionary, H. W. Wilson, 1952 (I use the fourth printing of 1965)
- NewCentury: Clarence L. Barnhart with William D. Haley, editors, The New Century Handbook of English Literature, revised edition, Meredith Publishing, 1967
- William Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal, Broadman Press, 1976
- Stulken: Marilyn Kay Stulken, Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, Fortress Press, 1981
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