People love Rock that Ages, Cleft for Me, with an excellent reason. Together, the text (written by Augustus M. Toplady) and also the most often-used melody (entitled “Toplady,” composed by thomas Hastings) make a fitting hymn because that obeying God’s command:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and also admonishing one another in every wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and also spiritual songs, through thankfulness in your hearts to God. — Colossians 3:16 (ESV)
Let’s research it to see what we can learn together songwriters, prayer leaders, and disciples of Jesus.
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Like numerous old hymns, the text has actually survived (and sometimes benefitted from) lyrical revision in ~ the hand of separation, personal, instance poets and also hymnal committees. Ns will use the version my church (Sojourn) sings, due to the fact that I feeling it is the best. It’s a famous version, however I will suggest out part equally renowned textual variants. You can listen to it as sung (and arranged) by my girlfriend Brooks Ritter:The Basics: singing Meter and also Subject Matter:
“Rock that Ages” is a 77.77.77 meter hymn. Together I questioned here, hymns v 7-syllable lines are commonly trochaic, definition the vocal emphasis falls ~ above the weird syllables once sung or spoken. These 7-syllable trochaic lines room abrupt, starting with a bang, and also are thus proper for conveying solid emotions, such together excitement, remorse, love and also repentance. “HELP me!” is a trochaic cry.
So Toplady has chosen a great hymn meter, provided that his subject matter is plaintive and also pleading: “Jesus, permit me hide in you.” Let’s malfunction the main thought of every verse:Save and also cleanse meI can’t perform it on my ownI can’t even help, or market anything. I carry nothing come the table.This will finish badly because that me if girlfriend don’t intercede. I’m guilty as deserve to be.
Notice the natural progression of thought in this verses. A common problem among songwriters is that they create verses in which every verse past the an initial merely repeats the information or story line of the first, rather than shed brand-new light or breakthrough the plot. Not so with “Rock that Ages.”
As because that the melody, Hasting’s song evokes these lyrics well. And also if I have the right to put in a word because that a friend, ns think Brooks’ chord structure improves upon the by tying the melody even closer to the poetry.
Verse by Verse:
Rock the Ages, cleft for me,Let me hide myself in Thee:Let the water and the blood,From her wounded next which flowed,Be of sin the twin cure;Save native wrath and also make me pure.
The rhyme plan for these 6 lines (and the remainder of the hymn) is AABBCC, meaning that each couplet (unit of 2 back-to-back lines) rhymes. An alert how solid action verb propel the story: cleft, hide, save, make. Discover from Toplady; use strong verbs.
We additionally get the immediate, colorful metaphor “Rock the ages.” absent is a usual biblical metaphor for God, offered over 20 times this way in the publication of Psalms alone. Yet Toplady’s use of this metaphor stems native an previously source: Moses, who had requested to check out God’s “glory.”
God explained that his glory to be too an excellent for frail, fallen flesh to see. Moses would certainly die in ~ the vision of it. For this reason God says:
and while mine glory overcome by ns will placed you in a cleft of the rock, and I will certainly cover you with my hand until I have actually passed by. — Exodus: 33:22 ESV
So Toplady identifies through Moses. He to know we must all show up before the referee seat (2 Corinthians 5:10). We will stand over there naked, helpless, foul (words Toplady will usage in a later verse). There is only one solution — “Hide me in the cleft of the rock!” and also if over there is any doubt, he reveals the identity of this rock, cleft for us: “Let the water and the blood/ From her wounded side which flowed” — it’s Christ. That is saying “Credit the justice of Christ to mine account, now and on that referee day.”
The various other reason he come up v “rock” as a an allegory is the a poor storm had actually rained under on Toplady if he was traveling one day, so he hid in a cave. Purportedly, the photo of a rock together a shelter from storms that life emerged to the there, and also he started to compose the text on a play card he’d found on the floor of the cave. This is frequently the means it works with worship songwriters today: biblical angry combines with life experience to offer us ideas.
The very first verse end on a masterful note, yet Toplady can’t take it credit. His original finishing read:
Be that sin the dual cure,Cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r.
When Toplady composed “Rock that Ages” in 1763, “cure” and also “power” rhymed. This is other many civilization don’t establish — when you look in ~ old hymns that seem to contain a lot of imperfect rhymes, it is often because pronunciation has changed over the centuries.
In 1815 thomas Cotterill enhanced the happiness of the couplet by transforming the last line come “Save native wrath and also make me pure.” This, then, is the “double cure.” however he aimed come do an ext than change the rhyme. He gave us a deeper meaning: Christ not only saves us, he sanctifies us.
On come the 2nd verse:
Not the labors of my handsCan fulfill thy law’s commands;Could mine zeal no respit know,Could my tears forever flow,All because that sin can not atone;Thou have to save, and also thou alone.
This is a repudiation that works-based theology and also emotional excess. He most likely meant present three and also four together a shooting on the Wesleys, v whom he feuded, being contemptuous the the “zeal” and “tears” that were hallmarks that Wesleyan revivals. Toplady’s very own zeal for the gospel — and his proud — sometimes acquired the much better of him. Yet these lines room true. Us can’t knife salvation with a present of emotion, whether contrived or real.
The singer doesn’t go almost everywhere in this verse. He speak of his insufficiency, aware that only God deserve to save. We’ll see movement in the following verse:
Nothing in my hand ns bring,Simply come the cross ns cling;Naked, involved thee because that dress;Helpless, look to thee for grace;Foul, I also the fractional fly;Wash me, Savior, or i die.
The native “Naked,” “Helpless,” and also “Foul” are crucial here. Toplady names our state in three successive lines that carry us ago to the Garden of Eden after the Fall. But while our forbears hid in vain native God, he comes forward, understanding the futility of hiding in anything but the slit of the rock:We room naked, in require of dress. Our fig leaves will certainly not suffice.We are helpless. The serpent that beguiled us has actually no lull for united state now, together judgment nears.We space foul, stained come the core by sin.
All that is left for us, as we cling come the cross, is to plead “Wash me Savior, or ns die.”
Note his strong, short verbs in this an important turning-point that the hymn: “bring/ cling/ come/ look/ fly/ wash/ die.” and now the end:
While I draw this fleeting breath,When mine eye shall nearby in death,When ns soar to human beings unknown,See thee on thy judgment throne,Rock that Ages, cleft because that me,Let me hide myself in thee.
Toplady concludes his poem with the exact same couplet with which he started it, bringing us complete circle come the only thing that deserve to save: Jesus Christ, the absent of ages.
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Many hymnals contain an alteration of Toplady’s original line 4. The alteration reads: “And behold Thee on thy throne.”
This is unfortunate due to the fact that it weakens the whole suggest of this hymn: We room helpless in the confront of sure, perfect justice and judgment. Of course we know God will certainly judge indigenous his throne, but Toplady drives the point home with “See thee top top thy judgment throne.”
Again, Toplady’s verbs room succinct and also strong: draw, close, soar, see, cleft, hide. And also the lines contain many of internal rhyme, choose “mine/eyes,” “soar/worlds,” “See/ thee,” “hide, myself.”
Memorable, evocative, theologically astute — “Rock that Ages” has rightfully take away its place among the good hymns the the Church. This is a song that deserve to sing friend home.