On November 4, 1740 a baby in Farnham, England, was given the formidable name of Augustus Montague Toplady. His father died in a war, his mother spoiled him, his friends thought him “sick and neurotic,” and his relatives disliked him.
But Augustus was interested in the Lord. “I am now arrived at the age of eleven years,” he wrote on his birthday. “I praise God I can remember no dreadful crime; to the Lord be the glory.” By age 12 he was preaching sermons to whoever would listen. At 14 he began writing hymns. At 16 he was soundly converted to Christ while attending a service in a barn. And at 22 he was ordained an Anglican priest.
As a staunch Calvinist he despised John Wesley’s Arminian Theology. He accused Wesley of “lying and forgery.” “I believe him to be the most rancorous hater of the gospel-system that ever appeared on this island,” Augustus wrote. “Wesley is guilty of satanic shamelessness,” he said on another occasion, “of acting the ignoble part of a lurking, shy assassin.” He described the evangelist as a prizefighter and a chimney sweep.
In 1776 Augustus wrote an article about God’s forgiveness, intending it as a slap at Wesley. He ended his article with an original poem:
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.
Augustus Toplady died at age 38, but his poem outlived him and has been called “the best known, best loved, and most widely useful” hymn in the English language. Oddly, it is remarkably similar to something Wesley had written 30 years before in the preface of a book of hymns for the Lord’s Supper: “O Rock of Salvation, Rock struck and cleft for me, let those two Streams of Blood and Water which gushed from thy side, bring down Pardon and Holiness into my soul.”
Perhaps the two men were not as incompatible as they thought.
I love you, Lord God, and you make me strong. You are my mighty rock, my fortress, my protector, The rock where I am safe. … (Psalm 18:1,2a)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Nov. 4.