Rock of Ages was once a very popular hymn about sin and salvation, although it is rarely heard these days. It was a favourite of British Prime Minister Gladstone and was played at his funeral in Westminster Abbey.

The words to the hymn were first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775.One of around 130 hymns written by the Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady, it was inspired by a beautiful landscape feature in the limestone gorge of Burrington Combe, near Cheddar, England. The popular musical score, named 'Toplady', was written some years later, in 1830, by the accomplished American hymn writer Thomas Hastings.

Toplady was a curate in the nearby parish of Blagdon, and was one day travelling along the gorge when a storm struck. Looking for a place to shelter, Toplady came across a vertical rock pillar with a deep fissure, large enough for him to enter. He went inside and as he waited for the storm to abate the words came to him. It is said that he found a discarded playing card at his feet upon which he started to write: Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.

Burrington Combe and the 'rock of ages' fissure is on the tourist route through the Mendip Hills in the English county of Somerset. Its beauty is somewhat marred now by a defaced plaque, a car park on the road opposite, a pub/tea room, also called Rock of Ages', and the inevitable litter accumulating around the ice cream van near the site. However, go there on a rainy day, out of season, and you can absorb the ancient strength and spirituality of the place as the water drips off the ferns and mosses and the low clouds swirl around the tops of the trees growing from the gorge.

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Rock of Ages - by A M Toplady

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from the riven side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure,
cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labours of my hands
can fulfil thy law's demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears for ever 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, Saviour, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyelids close in death,
when I sour through tracts unknown,
see thee on thy judgement throne,
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.


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