The Story Behind the Song: ‘Rock of Ages’

I was recently given a very old, very beautiful hymn book from a member at our church. The hymn book, titled ‘Sacred Songs & Solos and New Hymns & Solos, 888 Pieces’ was published in 1898 and is believed to be one of the first ever compiled hymnals.

I am so thankful for this special gift and will truly treasure it. The songs themselves are treasures; indeed, the richness in the lyrics and the history and stories behind the songs are priceless.

As I’ve leafed through the pages there are some songs that I recognise and still to this day love singing with our church. One of the songs, Rock of Ages, stood out to me because I recently heard a story related to it.

Rock of Ages was written by Rev. Augustus Toplady in 1763, which means it has been a blessing to Christians for over two hundred and fifty years! This includes English missionary, Daniel Draper, who spent thirty years planting churches and schools in Australia during the nineteenth century.

The story goes: ‘Daniel Draper, an English Methodist, spent thirty years planting churches and schools in Australia, then took a year’s furlough in England. When the time came to return to Australia, he boarded the steamship for London. A gale hit the ship in the Bay of Biscay, and Draper spent his last hours evangelizing to the 250 passengers. In the end, only three passengers were rescued, and one of them reported Draper’s last words: “Those of you who are not converted, now is the time; not a minute to be lost.” As the ship slipped beneath the sea on January 11, 1866, the passengers were singing Augusts Toplady’s famous hymn “Rock of Ages” in their final moments.’[1]

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;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor 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.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my 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.

This song is a beautiful reminder of the incredible sacrifice our Saviour made. To think it was the testimony of those passengers as they died at sea is a great encouragement to me, and I hope to you, that in all things and at all times our Saviour is enough.

As my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:2b)

[1] Robert J Morgan, Near to the Heart of God

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