Appalachia Music

Rock of Ages Cleft for Me

big rocks

“Rock of Ages” is perhaps one of the best known hymns of all time.

I grew up singing the song in church and Pap, Paul and the girls have done the song a lot over the years.

Even though I knew it was an old song I was surprised to learn just how old it is. Augustus Toplady wrote “Rock of Ages.”

Here’s an excerpt about the history of the song from Tim Challies’s website.

“Toplady wrote a number of hymns in his life, but “Rock of Ages” is by far his most famous. When Benson wrote about it in 1923, he claimed it “is to-day in more church hymnals than is any other English hymn.” Not only is it well know among churchgoers, but it is also recognizable in popular culture. A 2006 Broadway musical about rock ‘n roll (and a corresponding Hollywood film in 2012) adopted the name “Rock of Ages.”

As for the hymn, the first stanza appeared in public in 1775 in a periodical called The Gospel Magazine (a periodical which, incredibly, is still in print!). The full version of the hymn was printed the following year in Toplady’s book Psalms and Hymns for Public and Private Worship.

There is a common story of the hymn being inspired by (and even written from within) a rock cleft that Toplady once took refuge in during a storm. The particular rock is in Burrington Combe gorge in North Somerset, England, and it has a plaque on it with this claim to fame. However, the story is probably apocryphal.

As Benson persuasively argues, Toplady was most likely inspired to write the hymn after reading the preface of John and Charles Wesleys’ Hymns on the Lord’s Supper (1745) which contains a prayer voicing many of the themes and words that are also found in the hymn. This is ironic, given the poor condition of Toplady’s relationship with John Wesley; but one can perhaps see the hand of God in it.

Regardless of where and how Toplady got his inspiration, the hymn is a blessing. For generations it has remained a solid testimony to the powerful sacrifice of our Savior and a great encouragement to saints around the world. May God continue its influence, and grant us many more songs with such enduring legacies.”

There’s a whole lot of people who’ve sung “Rock of Ages” since 1775, but its hard for me to believe any of them did it any better than Pap and Paul.

If you’d like to purchase some of Pap and Paul’s music check out the cds below: “Lamp Lighting Time,” and “Shepherd of my Soul.”


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  • Reply
    Catherine Spence
    January 6, 2021 at 9:32 am

    I love this hymn myself, but my great-grandmother couldn’t stand it. I don’t know why, but she always said that if they sang it at her funeral she was going to get up and leave!

  • Reply
    October 13, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    They sang it so well. I’ve known this since my childhood. The old hymns are so full of meaning.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    October 8, 2020 at 10:40 am

    Tipper, I believe that’s the best I’ve ever heard the song and we still sing it. That was really a blessing to my soul especially in my weakened condition.

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    Ed Ammons
    October 4, 2020 at 10:15 pm

    I remembered the song that was bothering me the other day when you wrote about going up on the mountain to reboot your emotions. It was “I Go to the Rock.” In the lyrics are the words “I run to the mountain and the mountain stands by me.” I guess I disremembered a little but the feeling is the same. So too with today’s hymn.

  • Reply
    MARTHA childers
    October 4, 2020 at 8:51 pm

    I enjoyed this song and went looking for others. It is so good to hear the old hymns sung and especially just as they have been sung for years. Most churches around here have gone to the praise music, which I don’t care for, they have no story behind them, just repeating the same words over and over. There are hymnals in the pews, some dedicated to loved ones and they are never used. Such a waste and disappointment. The people who wrote the old hymns wrote from the heart and about things they may have experienced themselves. My favorite is It Is Well With My Soul. It was sung at my daddy, my mother and my husband’s funeral. It was my mama’s favorite song. I used to get e-mail from the Blind Pig years ago and then they stopped, I am so glad I found you again. I grew up in Ala in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains and experienced many things that you have.

  • Reply
    October 4, 2020 at 7:09 pm

    I agree Tipper they say it very well

    • Reply
      October 4, 2020 at 7:09 pm


  • Reply
    October 4, 2020 at 2:27 pm

    Thank you for sharing this inspiring background to such a beloved hymn which has enduring power. The photo illustrates the message perfectly!

  • Reply
    betty stephenson
    October 4, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    beautiful people thanks for posting

  • Reply
    Leon Pantenburg
    October 4, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    Nice post – love the stories of the old hymns!

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    October 4, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    tipper i so love this ..thank you for sharing
    sending love to you and yours….have a blessed day
    xo lynn

  • Reply
    October 4, 2020 at 9:44 am

    Tipper, I loved the song and the history, it is one of my favorites. My wife and I are members of Columbia Baptist Church in Honea Path, SC. We have went to this church all of our lives. This church is traditional in every way. We still sing the old time gospel hymns out of the Baptist Hymn book. I do not think we will change anytime soon. This is an old time country church that is close to 225 years old.

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    October 4, 2020 at 9:43 am

    I just remembered also the chorus of “He Hideth My Soul”, which uses that very language: “He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock that shadows a dry thirsty land; He hideth my soul in the depths of his love and covers me there with his hand.” Not saying Toplady didn’t have his own Elijah experience though.

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    October 4, 2020 at 9:33 am

    Tipper, I would bet a bushel of beans that Toplady’s inspiration was scriptural–probably Exodus 33:22: “I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand.” I have always just assumed that.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    October 4, 2020 at 9:27 am

    Tipper, I couldn’t agree with you more – both the words and the melody of that hymn have been a blessing, and Pap’s and Paul’s lovely harmony brought tears.

    I have a story related to that hymn which brings back both a time of absolute disgust on the one hand and a warmth on the other. It was a Sunday in the early 1990s. We were living in Karns, a community northwest of Knoxville, and attended a large church in west Knoxville. On this particular Sunday, “Rock of Ages” was listed in the bulletin to be sung, and I looked forward to it.

    But when the music started playing, it wasn’t the familiar tune (by Thomas Hastings). It was just awful – some piece of blankety-blank stuff composed in the 1980s. I got so upset that I walked out of the church into a little entry area and did my best to sing it to the familiar tune. Our daughter – I think she may have been 4 or 5 at the time – must have sensed how upset I was, and she came along with me. As I recall, I had a hard time carrying the tune because I could still hear the organ playing that blasted thing.

    To me, it was, and still is, a desecration of something holy, sacred, and foundational, and my stomach still churns just thinking about it. But I also recall that sweet little girl who was so concerned about her daddy, and that soothes the pain.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 4, 2020 at 8:37 am

    I grew up in country where there are thousands of miles of cliffline. Clefts in the rock are common, sometimes running completely across a ridge from one watershed to another. A boys, we spent hundreds of hours prowling around, on and under some of those cliffs. So hiding in the rock brings pictures to my mind.

    Pap and Paul did a fine job with the song. Pap’s tenor is so clear and true. Paul’s is also but there is a difference I’m sure Paul could explain to me but I don’t know in musical terms.

    Blessed Sunday to all of you all. These are the kind of days we would like to bottle and save for January.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    October 4, 2020 at 8:22 am


  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 4, 2020 at 8:07 am

    Your right, Tip, none better than Pap and Paul…it’s beautiful. I had no idea it was so old.

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    October 4, 2020 at 8:01 am

    I enjoyed the history of such a great hymn and listening to and watching Paul and Pap is ALWAYS a welcome treat for my ears! THANKYOU, dear lady, and a happy Sunday to all!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    October 4, 2020 at 6:56 am

    Some good history, Tip…..

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