One of the Best Loved Hymns

There are some hymns I’m convinced every church should sing. These hymns contain a depth of truth, soaring along a memorable melody, that transcends the age. Hymns that fall in this category would be anthems like “Amazing Grace,” “It is Well,” “There is a Fountain,” and “A Mighty Fortress.”

Another title, for me, that belongs in the discussion is Augustus Toplady’s magnificent “Rock of Ages,” which has been called “the best known, best loved, and most widely used hymn in the English language.” Does your church sing it?

The Story Behind the Song1

In 1756 Toplady was converted at the age of sixteen while listening to a man of God preach the word in a local barn. Six years later he was ordained as an Anglican priest.

One of the more interesting aspects of Toplady’s ministry is his animosity towards John Wesley. As a convinced Calvinist he believed Wesley’s doctrine fell far short of Scripture. He once wrote, “I believe [Wesley] to be the most rancorous hater of the gospel-system that ever appeared on this island.” “Wesley is guilty of satanic shamelessness,” he wrote on another occasion, “of acting the ignoble part of a lurking, shy assassin.”

In 1776 Toplady published an article on the subject of God’s forgiveness and one scholar says it was intended “as a slap at Wesley.” The article ended with an original poem containing the now famous words:

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

The poem far outlived Toplady (who died at the tender age of thirty-eight) and in 1830 Thomas Hastings put it to a melodic line that echoed around the world for almost two centuries.

Take Your Pick

A hymn of gospel richness awaits your people in “Rock of Ages.” Thankfully, some recent arrangements of the hymn have come out and give Toplady’s work an artistic, yet congregational flourish. Check out the lyrics below and a few of the best arrangements available today.


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 labor of my hands
Can fulfill 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, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
[originally When my eye-strings break 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.

  1. Adapted from Then Sings My Soul by Robert Morgan.