Rock of Ages

(I’m finishing up a trip to the Northeast; let me post a bulletin article I wrote a few years ago)

When it comes to church music, I have to admit that I favor the old songs. Generally speaking, the older the better. These are the hymns that have endured, that have stood the test of time. I’m moved by today’s praise songs (like “Awesome Power” or “Highest Place”) and enjoy singing the toe tappers of the 20th century (like “Gloryland Way” or “Just A Little Talk With Jesus”) but the old hymns are the ones that tend to touch me deep inside with their elegant music and reflective words.

One such hymn was written in 1776 by Augustus M. Toplady. The words preach a sermon in and of themselves:

1. 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.

Toplady begins with the sacrifice of Jesus. This is the basis of all gospel preaching. We preach Jesus, not ourselves. We preach his sacrifice, not our works. Paul said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Our preaching should imitate his.

2. Not the labors 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.

Here is a key thought that must be brought to the minds of all men, especially those of us who have come to know Jesus. In our zeal to obey Him, we can sometimes forget that our obedience does not work our salvation. We are saved by grace, not by works. Jesus’ words should ring in our ears: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”” (Luke 17:10)

The Christians of Galatia became confused about this. They began to think that salvation came through works and not through faith. Paul called this a “different gospel” and condemned it. He wrote: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing — if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:1-5)

3. 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.

How hard it is to put all of our trust in Jesus! Especially in a country which stresses independence and self-sufficiency. We are taught to believe in ourselves and our own accomplishments. Yet Jesus calls us to believe in Him and His accomplishments.

4. 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.

In the end, all that will matter is whether or not we are in Christ. If we have surrendered ourselves to Him, burying our old selves in the waters of baptism and rising to a life dedicated to Him, we need not fear those final moments. We will be able to approach God’s judgment with joy, knowing that our salvation depends not on ourselves but on Jesus and His blood.

If you find yourself feeling anxious as you think about that final judgment, it may be that you are trusting in your own works and not in Jesus’ all-sufficient work. Surrender yourself to the Rock of Ages. Only He can save your from sin and make you pure in His Father’s eyes.

8 thoughts on “Rock of Ages

  1. I’ve sung this hymn with a hymn tour group in the cleft of the rock in England (or Scotland, or Wales — I do not remember) where Toplady was protected from a storm, which prompted the hymn. Great memory. Great hymn.

    I too prefer the classics. Kind of surprising to me that I do.

  2. Exd 33:22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:

  3. Tim: Love your post here. Good stuff. Preach this!

    I preached this theme out of Phil 3 about a month ago and received many a good word the following week. One older lady in particular stuck out when she said to me, “you know, my husband and I have gone to church for 40-years and are just now, in the last 5-years, learning what grace is.”

    I was stunned. Could you imagine going to church for 35 years and never once hearing the Gospel preached? We need the Gospel in our churches more than ever in these days.

    Preach it, brother Tim!

    Grace to you -

  4. Tim: Is that your words “burying our old selves in the waters of baptism
    and what did you mean by that?

  5. H.B.,

    That is a paraphrase/summary of Romans 6:2-7. When we are baptized, we are united with Christ in death (6:2), buried with him (6:4), and our old self is crucified (6:6). I combined the ideas and said that our old self is buried in the waters of baptism.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

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