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Sheltering in the Rock of Ages

Category Articles
Date February 23, 2007

What a mercy it is to be able to sing, “Rock of Ages cleft for me”. That is, that we recognise that the Lord Jesus is the Rock that was cleft, who was wounded, who shed His precious blood, for us as individuals.

The hymn is based on a number of scriptural analogies. Firstly, it is based upon the marginal reading of Isaiah 26:4: “Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” The marginal reading says that “The Lord Jehovah is the Rock of Ages”. The Book of Psalms is replete with references to the Lord being a Rock: “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer” (Psalm 18:2); “He shall set me upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5), etc. But the analogy that I want us to particularly look at is that of the smitten rock.

In Exodus chapter 17 the Children of Israel have complained to Moses of their lack of water. Moses is shown a rock by the Lord and told to smite it. “And thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink” (Exodus 17:6). The Apostle Paul identifies the rock as being the Lord Jesus Christ. “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

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.

When the Children of Israel murmured again because of lack of water, Moses was commanded of God to speak to the rock, to bring forth water. Moses struck the rock twice when he had been told just to speak to the rock. The water gushed out but there was no necessity to strike the rock a second time because it had been struck but once (Numbers 20:12). Likewise there is no need for a second cleaving of the Lord Jesus Christ. He made one sacrifice for sins for ever – never to be repeated (Hebrews 10:6). Christ the Rock was smitten, He was cleft once on Mount Calvary.

But Toplady speaks also of the certainty of the death of Christ. Christ did not swoon. He was dead upon the cross. How do we know? Because the blood separated into the plasma and the corpuscles. The Roman Soldier’s spear was thrust into his side “and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34).

Let the water and the blood
From thy riven side which flowed.

Here is the death of Christ asserted! And here is the purpose of His death explained:

Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not only does the blood of Christ cleanse from actual sin (1 John 5:7-9), but it cleanses from the power of sin that holds the fallen nature of man. The Christian believer walks before the Lord in newness of life. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body” (Romans 6:12); “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6: 14).

Toplady continues in the second verse to speak of his own inability to save himself. He cannot keep the law of God by his own endeavours:

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfil Thy law’s demand.

It is impossible, he says. His zeal for God cannot save him. His tears cannot cleanse away his sins. Esau sought a place of repentance with tears, says the Apostle Paul, but he found no place (Hebrews 12:17), likewise neither could Toplady, nor anyone else. None of these things can save and atone for sin –

All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save and Thou alone.

Where then is the blessing of salvation to be found? When we are emptied of self and stripped of all our pretended righteousness, then and only then will we approach unto the Lord Jesus Christ and view Him as the alone Saviour of Sinners. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace.

Here then is there to be found the needed cleansing from sin? Only in the fountain of Christ’s blood. “In that day,” writes the prophet Zechariah, “there shall be a fountain opened … for sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1). The chorus puts it like this:

I know a fount where sins are washed away;
I know a place where night is turned to day.
Burdens are lifted, blind eyes made to see,
There’s a wonder working power in the blood of Calvary.

Toplady puts it like this:

Foul I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

He then turns in the last verse to the inevitability of death. It comes upon us all. We cannot escape from its cold, icy tentacles. And where will be our final destination? He is conscious that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of the deeds done in the body. Where is the place of safety when his breath ceases, when his eyestrings break in death? Where is safety to be found? Only on the Rock of Ages. Only in the Lord Jesus Christ!

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyestrings break in death,
When I soar through tracts unknown,
See Thee on thy judgment-throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

As I mentioned before, it is a mercy when we are able to sing that the cleaving of the rock was “for me”. God grant that we each have that assurance that it was for us individually.

J. E. North is from Totton in Hertfordshire, England.

Taken with permission from The Gospel Magazine, January-February 2007, in whose pages over 200 years ago this famous hymn first appeared.

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