1740 - 1778 Person Name: Augustus M. Toplady Author of "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me" in The United Methodist Hymnal Toplady, Augustus Montague, the author of "Rock of Ages," was born at Farnham, Surrey, November 4, 1740. His father was an officer in the British army. His mother was a woman of remarkable piety. He prepared for the university at Westminster School, and subsequently was graduated at Trinity College, Dublin. While on a visit in Ireland in his sixteenth year he was awakened and converted at a service held in a barn in Codymain. The text was Ephesians ii. 13: "But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." The preacher was an illiterate but warm-hearted layman named Morris. Concerning this experience Toplady wrote: "Strange that I, who had so long sat under the means of grace in England, should be brought nigh unto God in an obscure part of Ireland, amidst a handful of God's people met together in a barn, and under the ministry of one who could hardly spell his name. Surely this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous." In 1758, through the influence of sermons preached by Dr. Manton on the seventeenth chapter of John, he became an extreme Calvinist in his theology, which brought him later into conflict with Mr. Wesley and the Methodists. He was ordained to the ministry in the Church of England in 1762, and in 1768 he became vicar of Broadhembury, a small living in Devonshire, which he held until his death. The last two or three years of his life he passed in London, where he preached in a chapel on Orange Street. His last sickness was of such a character that he was able to make a repeated and emphatic dying testimony. A short time before his death he asked his physician what he thought. The reply was that his pulse showed that his heart was beating weaker every day. Toplady replied with a smile: "Why, that is a good sign that my death is fast approaching; and, blessed be God, I can add that my heart beats stronger and stronger every day for glory." To another friend he said: "O, my dear sir, I cannot tell you the comforts I feel in my soul; they are past expression. . . . My prayers are all converted into praise." He died of consumption August 11, 1778. His volume of Psalms and Hymns for Public and Private Worship was published in 1776. Of the four hundred and nineteen hymns which it contained, several were his own productions.
If on a quiet sea 446
Rock of ages, cleft for me 279
Hymn Writers of the Church, 1915 by Charles S. Nutter
Toplady, Augustus Montague, M.A. The life of Toplady has been repeatedly and fully written, the last, a somewhat discursive and slackly put together book, yet matterful, by W. Winters (1872). Summarily, these data may be here given: he was born at Farnham, in Surrey, on November 4, 1740. His father, Richard Toplady, was a Major in the British array, and was killed at the siege of Carthagena (1741) soon after the birth of his son. His widowed mother placed him at the renowned Westminster school, London. By-and-by circumstances led her to Ireland, and young Augustus was entered at Trinity College, Dublin, where he completed his academical training, ultimately graduating M.A. He also received his "new birth" in Ireland under remarkable conditions, as he himself tells us with oddly mixed humility and lofty self-estimate, as "a favourite of heaven," common to his school:—
"Strange that I who had so long sat under the means of grace in England should be brought right unto God in an obscure part of Ireland, midst a handful of people met together in a barn, and by the ministry of one who could hardly spell his own name. Surely it was the Lord's doing and is marvellous. The excellency of such power must be of God and cannot be of man. The regenerating spirit breathes not only on whom but likewise, when and where and as He listeth."
Toplady received orders in the Church of England on June 6, 1762, and after some time was appointed to Broadhembury. His Psalms and Hymns of 1776 bears that he was then “B.A." and Vicar of Broadhembury. Shortly thereafter be is found in London as minister of the Chapel of the French Calvinists in Leicester Fields. He was a strong and partizan Calvinist, and not well-informed theologically outside of Calvinism. We willingly and with sense of relief leave unstirred the small thick dust of oblivion that has gathered on his controversial writings, especially his scurrilous language to John Wesley because of his Arminianism, as we do John Wesley's deplorable misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Calvinism.
Throughout Toplady lacked the breadth of the divine Master's watchword "Forbid him not, for he that is not against us is for us" (St. Luke ix. 50). He was impulsive, rash-spoken, reckless in misjudgment; but a flame of genuine devoutness burned in the fragile lamp of his overtasked and wasted body. He died on August 11, 1778. The last edition of his works is in 6 vols., 8 vo., 1825. An accurate reproduction of most of his genuine hymns was one of the reprints of Daniel Sedgwick, 1860. His name occurs and recurs in contemporary memoirs and ecclesiastical histories, e.g., in Tyerman's Life of John Wesley. The reader will find in their places annotations on the several hymns of Toplady, and specially on his "Rock of Ages,” a song of grace that has given him a deeper and more inward place in millions of human hearts from generation to generation than almost any other hymnologist of our country, not excepting Charles Wesley. Besides the "Rock of Ages" must be named, for power, intensity, and higher afflatus and nicer workmanship, "Object of my first desire,” and "Deathless principle arise." It is to be regretted that the latter has not been more widely accepted. It is strong, firm, stirring, and masterful. Regarded critically, it must be stated that the affectionateness with which Toplady is named, and the glow and passion of his faith and life, and yearning after holiness, have led to an over-exaltation of him as a hymnwriter. Many of his hymns have been widely used, and especially in America, and in the Evangelical hymnbooks of the Church of England. Year by year, however, the number in use is becoming less. The reason is soon found. He is no poet or inspired singer. He climbs no heights. He sounds no depths. He has mere vanishing gleams of imaginative light. His greatness is the greatness of goodness. He is a fervent preacher, not a bard. [Rev. A. B. Grosart, D.D., LL.D.]
Toplady's hymns and poetical pieces were published in his:—
(1) Poems on Sacred Subjects wherein The Fundamental Doctrines of Christianity, with many other interesting Points, are occasionally introduced. . . Dublin: Printed by S. Powell, in Crane-lane, MDCCLIX.; (2) his Psalms & Hymns for Public and Private Worship, 1776; (3) in The Gospel Magazine, 1771-1776; and (4) in Hymns and Sacred Poems on a variety of Divine Subjects, &c. D. Sedgwick's reprint, 1860. His Works, with a Memoir by W. Row, were published in 6 volumes, in 1794. Walter How was also the editor of the 2nd and some later editions of the Psalms & Hymns. He was a most careless editor, and attributed several hymns by C. Wesley and others to Toplady.
The following additional hymns in common use together with centos indicated in the sub-lines, are from:—
i. His Poems on Sacred Subjects, 1759.
1. Can my heaven-born soul submit? All for Christ.
2. Come from on high, my King and God. Holiness desired.
(1.) 0 might this worthless heart of mine.
3. Earnest of future bliss. The Witness of the Spirit.
4. From Thy supreme tribunal, Lord. Christ's Righteousness a Refuge.
(1.) The spotless Saviour lived for me.
5. Great God, Whom heaven, and earth, and sea. For Peace.
6. I saw, and lo! a countless throng. Saints' Days. Revised form in the Gospel Magazine, 1774, p. 449.
7. Immovable our hope remains. Divine Faithfulness.
8. Jesus, God of love, attend. Divine Worship. Pt. ii. is "Prayer can mercy's door unlock."
9. Jesus, Thy power I fain would feel. Lent.
10. Lord, I feel a carnal mind. Mind of Christ desired.
11. My yielding heart dissolves as wax. On behalf of Arians, &c.
(1.) 0 Jesus, manifest Thy grace.
12. Not to myself I owe. Praise for Conversion,
(1.) Not to ourselves we owe.
(2.) The Father's grace and love.
13. 0 that my heart was right with Thee. Dedication to God desired.
14. 0 Thou that hearest the prayer of faith. Christ the Propitiation.
15. 0 Thou Who didst Thy glory leave. Thanksgiving for Redemption.
16. 0 when wilt Thou my Saviour be. Trust in Jesus.
(1.) Jesus, the sinner's Rest Thou art.
17. Redeemer, whither should I flee? Safety in the Cross.
18. Remember, Lord, that Jesus bled. Pardon.
19. Surely Christ thy griefs hath borne. Redemption. Revised text in Gospel Magazine, 1774, p. 548.
(1.) Weary sinner, keep thine eyes.
(2.) Weeping soul, no longer mourn.
ii. From the Gospel Magazine.
20. Compared with Christ, in all besides. Christ All in All. Feb. 1772.
21. Eternal Hallelujahs Be to the Father given. Holy Trinity, Dec. 1774.
22. From whence this fear and unbelief. Reviving Faith, Feb. 1772.
23. How vast the benefits divine. Redemption. Dec. 1774. From this "Not for the works which we have done" is taken.
24. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? Christ All and in All, Feb. 1772. From this "If my Lord Himself reveal" is taken.
25. Jesus, immutably the same. Jesus, the True Vine. June, 1771.
All these hymns, together with "O precious blood, 0 glorious death" (Death of Christ), are in D. Sedgwick's reprint of Toplady's Hymns, &c, 1860. We have met with several other hymns to which Toplady's name is appended, but for this we can find no authority whatever.
-- Excerpts from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)