“Rock of Ages” was written by Augustus Montague Toplady, an Anglican clergyman. The tune, Toplady, was named in his honor.
Toplady’s father was a soldier who died in battle while Toplady was a still an infant, so he grew up in the care of his mother. He proved precocious, writing hymns as a young teenager, but dated his conversion to a worship service that he attended when he was 16 years old—a service conducted in a barn by an uneducated Methodist layman.
Even though he was converted by a Methodist lay-preacher, Toplady was a thoroughgoing Calvinist and a strong supporter of the doctrine of election. He jousted verbally with the Wesleys for years over the issue of election vs. free will. His position as editor of The Gospel Magazine gave him a forum to write polemics against the Wesleys and their doctrine of free will—and write them he did. He accused Wesley of “Satanic shamelessness.” Wesley responded, “I do not fight with chimney-sweeps.”
Toplady wrote “Rock of Ages” in support of the doctrine of election. The hymn emphasizes human helplessness in the face of sin and our total reliance on God’s mercy for forgiveness.
Toplady became ill with tuberculosis when he was 36 years old, and lived only two more years. It was while he was ill that he wrote this hymn.
Copyright 2008, Richard Niell Donovan