Rock of Ages (Christian hymn)

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"Rock of Ages"
Music: Thomas Hastings
Words: Augustus Montague Toplady
Published 1775
Language English
Melody name Toplady
The Rock of Ages, Burrington Combe where the Rev Mr Toplady is reputed to have sheltered from a storm

"Rock of Ages" is a popular Christian hymn by the Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady written in 1763 and first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775.

Traditionally, it is held that Toplady drew his inspiration from an incident in the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England. Toplady, a preacher in the nearby village of Blagdon, was travelling along the gorge when he was caught in a storm. Finding shelter in a gap in the gorge, he was struck by the title and scribbled down the initial lyrics on a playing card.

The fissure that is believed to have sheltered Toplady is now marked as the "Rock of Ages", both on the rock itself and on some maps, and is also reflected in the name of a nearby tea shop.

Commentary on lyrics[edit]

"When my eyes shall close in death" was originally written as "When my eye-strings break in death".[1]

There has been speculation that, though Toplady was a Calvinist, the words, "Be of sin the double cure, Save from wrath, and make me pure," suggest that he agreed with the teachings of the Methodist preacher under whom he received his religious conversion, and of his contemporary, John Wesley, who taught the "double cure," in which a sinner is saved by the atonement of Jesus, and cleansed from inbred sin by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.[2] However, Toplady's own published hymnal of 1776 refutes such a notion, with the lines: "Be of sin the double cure, Save me from its guilt and power," a clear indication that the double cleansing was from the guilt and power of sin.[3]

Some contemporary artists, including Amy Grant in her recent rendition, prefer the words, "Be of sin the double cure, Save me from its guilt and power," possibly suggesting a disagreement with the holiness movement doctrine of two works of grace.[4]

Music settings[edit]

"Rock of Ages" is usually sung to the hymn tune "Toplady" by Thomas Hastings or "Redhead 76" by Richard Redhead or "New City Fellowship" by James Ward. "Toplady" is most typical in the United States and "Redhead 76" in the United Kingdom, although both tunes circulate in the churches of both countries.

Lyrics[edit]

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,
Safe me 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 Thy 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 rise to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgement throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.[5][6]

Uses[edit]

The hymn was a favourite of Prince Albert, who asked it to be played to him on his deathbed, as did Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. It was also played at the funeral of William Ewart Gladstone.[7]

In his book Hymns That Have Helped, W. T. Stead reported "when the SS London went down in the Bay of Biscay, 11 January 1866, the last thing which the last man who left the ship heard as the boat pushed off from the doomed vessel was the voices of the passengers singing "Rock of Ages".[8]

The opening lines of the hymn are used in the chorus of 'Birmingham' by the band Shovels & Rope.

In the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, the hymn is being played on the organ in the funeral scene in which the protagonist experiences a flashback to her father's own funeral.

Other[edit]

This hymn was regarded as one of the Great Four Anglican Hymns[9] in the 19th century.

Johannes Maas, a leader in the faith movement, commented on this hymn, "The words of this hymn are among the most profound, inspiring, encouraging, sacred, devotional, and precious words ever penned."[2]

Also, in his score for Altered States, John Corigliano made reference to this hymn many times, to symbolise the religious struggle of the hero, and the memories of his anti-religious father, which figures in one of his hallucinations.

In director Peter Bogdanovich's 1973 film Paper Moon, Rock of Ages is sung during the opening sequence at Addie Pray's mother's funeral.

Translations[edit]

The hymn has appeared in other languages including German (as "Fels der Ewigkeit") and Swedish ("Klippa, du som brast för mig").

There were also Latin translations by William Ewart Gladstone as "Jesus, pro me perforatus" and by Canadian linguist Silas Tertius Rand as "Rupes saeculorum, te."[10][11] On reading this version, Gladstone wrote to Rand, "I at once admit that your version is more exact than mine".[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Barkley, John M. (1979), Handbook to the Church Hymnary (3 ed.), London: Oxford University Press, p. 96, ISBN 978-0-19-146811-7 
  2. ^ a b Maas, Johannes, "comments on lyrics", hymnal.net 
  3. ^ Toplady, Augustus M., Psalms and Hymns for Public and Private Worship 
  4. ^ Amy Grant is a member of the (non-Calvinist) Churches of Christ.
  5. ^ Gospel Hymns Consolidated, Embracing Numbers 1,2,3 and 4 Without Duplicates. New York: Biglow & Main. 1883. p. 85. 
  6. ^ "Rock of Ages Lyrics". Timeless Truths. 
  7. ^ "Rock of Ages". The Cyber Hymnal. Retrieved 28 August 2010. 
  8. ^ Stead, William Thomas (1900). Hymns that have Helped. New York: Doubleday & McClure Co. p. 141. 
  9. ^ Breed, David R., D.D. (1903), The History And Use of Hymns And Hymn-Tunes, London: Fleming H. Revell Co., pp. 142–3 
  10. ^ Littell's Living Age, November 1882. It originally appeared in The Spectator in the late 1850s.
  11. ^ Burrage, Henry Sweetser (1888), Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, Brown Thurston & Co, p. 345 
  12. ^ Clark, Jeremiah S. (1881), Rand and the Micmacs, Charlottetown, P.E.I.: The Examiner Office, p. 24 

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