Augustus Toplady was definitely one of those guys.
You know the kind: on their way to their systematic theology class, six 800-page books under one arm, ready to recant the five points of Calvinism with anyone who would listen – and in theology-incensed 18th-century Britain, plenty of people did.
John Wesley – arguably one of the foremost theologians in England during the late 1700’s – was the object of Toplady’s argumentative fury. Toward the beginning of their relationship, Toplady and Wesley were actually quite good friends. But because of Toplady’s insistence on his particularly narrow brand of Calvinism, his relationship with Wesley became increasingly bitter and distant, resulting in Wesley making this bout-ending remark to a close friend in a letter:
“Mr. Augustus Toplady I know well. But I do not fight with chimney-sweepers. He is too dirty a writer for me to meddle with. I should only foul my fingers. I read his title-page, and troubled myself no farther.”
That’s English gentility for you.
Here’s the interesting thing: in the midst of all the arguing, writing, pamphleteering, and preaching, Toplady found a few seconds of give the English language one of its most beloved hymns, Rock of Ages.
The story goes that while he was traveling in between preaching engagements, (and likely on the run from those who would ruin him), Toplady was caught in a life-threatening storm. Finding a limestone boulder along the road, he decided to wait out the storm in one of the crags. While he caught his breath, Toplady pulled out whatever paper he had and began to write:
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.
So – what to do with all of this?
Desperation often brings clarity. That’s how most of the Psalms were written – out of a spirit of desperation. Do yourself a favor – forget about the inconsequential pieces of minutiae that invite controversy. Spend your time developing a faith that learns to find God in the moments that matter.