In the year 1756 a young man of sixteen, while visiting with his mother in Ireland, attended an evangelistic meeting held in a barn at the little village of Codymain. At this meeting the young man was converted. He was none other than Augustus Montague Toplady, who afterwards wrote this famous hymn. Of his conversion the author says: ”Strange that I, who had so long sat under the means 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 marvelous."
At the age of twenty-two Toplady received orders in the Church of England. He was a strong Calvinist, and the author of many popular hymns. He died in 1778. ”Rock of Ages” was first published in 1776, in ”The Gospel Magazine,” of which he was the editor. The hymn has been more or less altered and rearranged several times since then, but the sentiment remains the same.
It was to this hymn that the beloved Prince Consort, Albert of England, turned, repeating it constantly upon his deathbed. ”For,” said he, ”if in this hour I had only my worldly honors and dignities to depend upon, I should be poor indeed."
Mrs. L. S. Bainbridge, who, with her husband, visited China for the purpose of studying Christian missions, tells the following incident: ”The Chinese women, it seems, are so anxious to 'make merit' for themselves, that they will perform any labor to escape the painful transmigrations of the next life. They dread to be born again as dogs or cats, and the highest hope possessed by them is to be reborn as men. In order to secure this they do any and every meritorious act. One woman had excavated with her poor, weak hands a well twenty feet deep, and it was only after this achievement that she learned of the free Gospel of salvation. She was now a woman of eighty, and, stretching out her aged and crippled fingers, we sang together,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.'“
Several tunes have been written for this hymn, the most popular one, however, being the tune by Dr. Thomas Hastings, who was born at Washington, Connecticut, in 1784, and who died in New York in 1872. He wrote many hymns and published several hymnbooks. I have in my possession a large number of hymns set to music by Mr. Hastings which have never been published.