It may seem strange that such a sedate hymn as “Rock of Ages” was written by a feisty, pugnacious man named Augustus Toplady. Converted under a Methodist evangelist while attending the University of Dublin, Toplady decided to prepare for the ministry. Although he was impressed with the spirit of Methodism, Toplady strongly disagreed with the Wesleyan theology and waged a running battle with the Wesleys through tracts, sermons and even hymns. “Wesley,” said Toplady, “is guilty of Satan’s shamelessness.” To which Wesley retorted,” I do not fight with chimney sweeps!”
Toplady wrote “Rock of Ages” to conclude a magazine article in which he emphasized that, just as England could never repay its national debt, so humans through their own efforts could never satisfy the eternal justice of God. He died of tuberculosis and overwork at the age of thirty-eight, two years after he published his own hymnal, in which “Rock of Ages” and Charles Wesley’s “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” were placed side by side.