HYMN 123 Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me
Norwegian: Klippe, du som brast for meg
Swedish: Klippa, du som brast för mig
Text: Augustus M. Toplady (1740-1778) Tune: Thomas Hastings (1784-1872)
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, Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
2. Not the labor of my hands Can fulfill 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.
3. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die!
4. While I draw this fleeting breath, When mine eyes shall close in death, When I soar to worlds unknown, See Thee on Thy judgement throne, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.
MEDITATION When movie directors want to use a Protestant hymn they frequently turn to Rock of Ages. It has been used in an astonishing number of movies over the years, from Gunslinger to Silence of the Lambs. It was considered one of four best hymns in the Anglican church during the 19th century.
The story is that Toplady needed shelter in a storm and found it under a famous rock in the area where he was walking near Blagdon in Bristol, in the gorge near Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills. Its protection gave him an image to describe what Jesus had done for him. Jesus as the rock upon which we build is common; what Toplady does here is work the image through the crucifixion, Jesus being cleft for us so that his blood and water—which poured out when the Roman soldier pierced his side—can cover us and save us from our sin.
The side of Jesus is an important Biblical image that goes way back to Adam. It is one that I had missed until I was translating the Passion hymns of the Icelandic pastor, Hallgrímur Pétursson. In his 48th hymn, he treats this scene on Calvary. In it he sees, as many did in the tradition, how Eve is formed from Adam’s side. From this the tradition argued that Jesus, the new Adam, is giving birth to the church, his bride, through his side—with baptism in the water and the sacrament of the table in the blood. In like manner, Noah and his family leave the ark by its side. In the hymn, Noah is portrayed by Hallgrímur as peering through the window into the sky as the rains cease. He and his family walk out through the side of the ark into a new creation and a new life. Likewise, Moses strikes the rock for water during the Exodus. Through that water, the pilgrims were saved, as we are. As Toplady uses it in his hymn, it is this flood coming down from the side of the Savior that is our salvation. Anyone who remembers the movie, Ben Hur will also remember the blood and water streaming down from the cross into the cell to heal the prisoners, including Ben Hur’s mother. It is a powerful picture of the saving and healing power in the blood of Jesus. Mary, Jesus’ mother, and John, the beloved disciple, have been standing beneath the cross. Jesus has just told them they are bound to each other in a new relationship, as mother and son, connecting them as family, now the church. His blood and water are essential to the church. Toplady also uses the notion of clothes—another big theme in the Gospel. We need to wear the garments of Christ, his blood and righteousness, in order to enter in and enjoy the banquet. In the end, we are to hide ourselves in Christ, our new wedding garment. This is all very rich. Jesus brings all of Scripture together in his life and works. Toplady makes clear we bring nothing to this deal. Christ richly supplies us with all of himself so that we can live with him forever. Luther puts it in his explanation to the Second Article of the Creed, that we will live with him in Righteousness, Innocence and Blessedness. RIB, my father used to say, hitting his ribs with his elbows, so his confirmands could remember the explanation. Out of Jesus' rib we are born anew. Praise God!
HYMN INFO Toplady had been converted after hearing a Methodist preacher. He went on to become a clergyman in the Anglican Church. He was good friends with the Wesleys, and even worked with them, as he did with George Whitfield. They were on opposite sides of a theological debate about predestination. Wesley, whom Toplady first agreed with, did not agree with Whitefield on predestination. Later, Toplady became a fierce defender of the theology of Calvin and Whitefield. The last two lines in Toplady's first stanza were "Be of sin the double cure/Save from wrath and make me pure." It was changed later, by someone, to a more Wesleyan idea: “Be of sin the double cure/Cleanse me from its guilt and power.” That is more about sanctification and sinners being able to overcome the power of sin in their lives than being made pure.
There are a couple of tunes for the text, but the Hastings' tune seems to be preferred. Hastings, an American musician, had much to do with Lowell Mason and his efforts to improve the taste of the American hymn and church music. He wrote maybe a thousand tunes, and authored a book Dissertation on Musical Taste, the first of its kind by an American author. The hymn is probably more popular in Scandinavia now than it is here as you will see below.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Mons Takle/Norwegian https://youtu.be/RTtL0iGqQeM
Arnt Haugen Reviderte
Ulf Christiansen/Swedish https://youtu.be/HHy1PZgiJD0