Rock of Ages

Augustus Montague Toplady
Augustus Montague Toplady

Despite the archaic prose, this hymn's message is very simple. It is acknowledging the acceptance of salvation offered by Christ.

Music score

Other languages

Other hymns

"Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee"

If those words sound a bit archaic, well, that's because they are. The hymn was written way back in 1763 by Augustus Montague Toplady, a Calvinist clergyman.

What was the world like in 1763?

The mid-18th century was the peak of the Atlantic slave trade; America was trying to free itself from British rule; the Napoleonic Wars had yet to start; Captain Cook was packing his trunk to explore New Zealand and Australia (years before Albert Ramsbottom sailed there); and nobody had heard of the internet.

The annual salary for clergy in those days was about £50, which was (as today) somewhere between the wages of a farm labourer and a school teacher. At that time a curate, Reverend Toplady, wrote the hymn Rock of Ages, which was first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775.

Burlington Coombe
Burlington Coombe (map)

Popular folklore tells how the Rev. Toplady was caught by a torrential storm whilst out walking. As he was two miles from his home in Blagdon, he took shelter in a cleft of rock or cave at Burrington Combe gorge. With little else to do, his mind was drawn to the words of Isaiah 26:4 and contemplating these Scriptures he scribbled down the sombre yet comforting words to this hymn. There is no evidence to support the accuracy of this story, but that makes no difference to the depth of feeling within the words.

Yet despite the poetic and antiquated language, the hymn's message is very simple. It is acknowledging the acceptance of salvation offered by Christ. As the above reminds us, life in the 18th century was very different from life today. Now, there is no need to walk for miles to the next town; we can catch a bus or drive a car. And for a recreational walk in the hills, we can check our mobile phones for the weather forecast before we set off.

Although life is different now to that of the 18th century, death is the same and the route to salvation is unchanged.

Rock of Ages

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.

Not the labours of my hands
can fulfill thy law's commands;
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.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

Thumbnail for 'Toplady' by Thomas Hastings
Click on the music for a full score

The hymn ranks as one of the four most popular Anglican hymns of the 19th century; the other three being: 'All Praise to thee, my God, this night', 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing' and 'Lo! He comes with clouds descending'.

If you have further information about this song, please email us and we'll add it to this page.


search 🔍



privacy policy