Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy riven side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure,
cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r.
Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to thy 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.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyelids 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.
“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”So writes David in Psalm 18:2
David wrote this Psalm when the LORD delivered him from Saul, possibly when David hid in the cave and Saul was placed at his mercy. You can read about that in 1 Samuel 24.
Augustus Montague Toplady, the author of Rock of Ages, is said to have experienced deliverance through a rock as well. The story is told of a great storm that Augustus was caught in. As lightning and thunder crashed around him, he ducked into a cave in the side of a rocky hill. It is supposedly in this situation that Augustus wrote Rock of Ages on the back of a playing card.
This hymn uses the imagery of God as a rock in whom we can hide for protection and rescue. The idea of hiding in a rock is that the rock, solid and immovable, takes the force of whatever is raging around us. In the case of this hymn, God our rock takes all the terror of sin upon himself in order to deliver those who hide in him.
Augustus is not tied to the imagery of a rock and so we will sing of being washed clean by the water and blood of Christ’s sacrifice.
In verse 2 we sing of our utter helplessness in the face of our sin. This is why we hide in our rock, because we have no power in ourselves to find protection from all that our sin deserves. The umbrella of our good works is useless in this storm. The raincoat of our sorrow over sin does little against the onslaught of our guilt. We need a rock to hide in, the rock of Christ.
In verse 3 we meditate on how we are in desperate need of God’s protection because of our great poverty. We should be imagining a naked, filthy, weak, impoverished child coming to our door begging for food. We must see that we are like that child when we come to God. We have nothing to offer, we can only cling to the cross of Christ. There is a play on words in this verse as the word “cleft” is related to the word “cleave” or “cling”. The Rock of Ages that is “cleft” for us, died on the cross to which we “cleave”.
Finally, we will sing of how our Rock of Ages is what we will hide in, not only in this life, but even in the next. I love the Heidelberg Catechisms first question: What is my only hope in life and death? That I am not my own but belong to God. God is our refuge and our strength in life and in death. Even in heaven we will rely completely on God for our provision and life.
He is not just the Rock for a time, God is the Rock of Ages.