Rock of Ages

Rock-of-AgesWhy are you going to heaven? Over the years, I have curiously asked that question to a countless number of Christian friends and acquaintances.

The most common answer I hear sounds something like this: “Because I go to church and try to be a good person.” The second most common answer is, “Because I chose Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

How would you answer? Why are you going to heaven? That is a question with which Augustus Toplady wrestled.

Augustus Toplady was an Anglican priest who lived during the mid-18th century. His father was an officer in the Royal Marines who died when Augustus was just a baby. When he was fifteen years old, he and his mother moved to Ireland, where young Augustus studied at Trinity College in Dublin.

In 1764, Toplady was ordained as an Anglican priest. Highly intelligent and strong-willed, Toplady soon became embroiled in the great theological debate which raged in England at the time: Calvinism versus Arminianism.

John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of the growing Methodist movement, was an Arminian. Toplady was a staunch Calvinist. One of the issues in the debate was how a person becomes a Christian. John Wesley taught that God has given all people the free will to choose to follow him or not.

John Wesley wholeheartedly believed that Jesus is the source of salvation. He believed Jesus lived and died to pay the price for all our sins. He believed Jesus did it all. According to Wesley, the only thing you have to do is choose to believe in him. You have to accept him into your heart. God did 99.9%, you just have to do the 0.1% of choosing Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

Augustus Toplady said that was impossible. All people are born dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). A dead person can’t do anything. If I choose to believe in Jesus, I can only do so because the Holy Spirit has already worked faith in my heart through the good news of the gospel. According to Augustus Toplady, God effected 100% of my salvation. I contribute nothing.

In 1776, Toplady published an essay in which he compared the sins of an individual to the national debt of England – a debt which he said could never be paid by one person. Only Jesus could pay the debt we owe. He concluded the essay with a poem:

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.

Not the labors 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.

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!

Why are you going to heaven? There can be no “I” in that answer.

You are not going to heaven because you go to church or are a good person. You are not going to heaven because you chose Jesus. We bring nothing to the table. We contribute nothing to our salvation. We are born beggars.

The only reason you are going to heaven is because the Rock of Ages lovingly lived and died in your place. You are going to heaven because he chose you and gave you faith through water and his Word. He did it all. Everything we now do as Christians is our response – our “thank you” – to him who died that we might live.

Why am I going to heaven? Jesus is the answer.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).

  2 comments for “Rock of Ages

  1. Jon cardiac
    May 11, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Missed an important part of the story! A.Toplady was sheltering from a thunderstorm in Cheddar Gorge in England. His deliverance from the storm brought this hymn to him.

    • schroera
      May 11, 2015 at 3:55 pm

      Jon, Thanks for your comment. The story about Toplady in the storm and finding shelter in Cheddar’s Gorge has never been substantiated and most of the histories I’ve read call it an urban legend.

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