There are good songs and then there are great songs. We sing many Christian choruses and hymns and they are a great encouragement to us all. However, the words of some songs or hymns so capture Biblical truth and the essence of the Gospel that they stand the test of time.
If you were to ask me my favourite song or hymn my answer would change each time, but as I write this, it is Rock of Ages. There are very few hymns that capture as well as this the essence of the Gospel and the depth of God’s grace despite our sin. This week we’ll look at the first two verses and consider them in turn.
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;
cleanse me from its guilt and power
Augustus Montague Toplady (yes, what a name!) envisaged Jesus like a crack in a rock face, where he could hide from the fury of a storm. It is a powerful metaphor for how Jesus covers us and protects us from the judgement we deserve for our sin. Picking up the powerful image of the water and blood that flowed out of Jesus’ side when he was pierced on the cross, he reminds us that it was that blood that cleanses us both from the guilt of sin but also takes away its power over us.
Not the labours of my hands
can fufill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone:
thou must save, and thou alone.
Only a person who truly understands the Gospel could have written this second verse. Toplady knew that however hard we work we cannot keep God’s law perfectly, and so we deserve God’s judgement. It doesn’t matter how zealous we are, how hard we work. More than that, he realises that it doesn’t matter how sorry we are, we cannot pay the price for our sins. Instead, God must save us for we have nothing to contribute to our salvation. It reminds us of Ephesians 2 where the Apostle Paul explains that we are dead in our sins, unable to save ourselves and so totally reliant on God’s grace.
(Next week, we’ll have a look at the third and fourth verses.)