Desperation Brings Clarity: Rock of Ages

Augustus Toplady was definitely one of those guys.

Augustus Toplady (note the smirk)

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:

John Wesley

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.


6 thoughts on “Desperation Brings Clarity: Rock of Ages

  1. Wow, again!
    Over the last few months I’m not sure if I responded this way. I know I spent alot of time in the Psalms but don’t recal processing it all that way. I don’t want to revisit and open closed issues but may walk thru that again w this in mind. God is sovereign but kind of “wish” I’d have seen this eariler.
    Maybe He knew l would learn better thinking thur it now. Thank you Brannon.

    • Thanks again for your thoughts. I’ve been studying a bit about David these days and here’s something I’ve realized: The man lived a life that was marked by grace and grit. I more of us actually lived the way we’re called to live (desperation), maybe we’d find the clarity we’re looking for.

  2. This was great, Brannon. I’ve really appreciated the hymn since finding a comforting, quiet version on a Perry Como Christmas collection of all places. Cheryl and I have even talked about perhaps playing it at church sometime – Ben

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