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“Rock of Ages”

Laura and Mary lay in their trundle bed and listened to the Sunday hymns, for even the fiddle must not sing the week-day songs on Sundays – “‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me,'” Pa sang… — Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 5, “Sundays”

Rock of Ages was written by Augustus M. Toplady around 1762; it was set to music by Thomas Hastings in 1830. The lyrics were inspired when Toplady took shelter from a storm under a rocky overhang near England’s Cheddar Gorge. The text was first published on March 3, 1776 in Gospel Magazine as “A Living and Dying Prayer for the Holiest Believer in the World,” following an article in which Toplady attempted to prove his argument that even as England could never pay her national debt, man through his own efforts could never satisfy the eternal justice of a Holy God.

Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778) was born in England, the son of Major Richard Toplady, a British Army officer who died in service while Augustus was an infant. Toplady was graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and was ordained to the ministry of the Anglican Church in 1762. He was known as a powerful and evangelical minister of the gospel, and was vehemently opposed to the views of Methodists John and Charles Wesley. Toplady debated, preached and carried on theological warfare against John Wesley.

Augustus Toplady died at age 38, due to tuberculosis.

Thomas Hastings (1784-1872) was a well known church musician who devoted his life to composing sacred music. Born in Connecticut, Hastings was an albino who suffered from poor eyesight throughout his life, yet he managed to compose over fifty volumes of church music, including 1000 hymns and more than 600 original hymn texts. Hastings is credited with being the most influential person in the development of church music in America.

“Rock of Ages” is one of the most popular and recognized hymns today. It is one of the hymns Charles Ingalls sings on Sunday in the Big Woods. Laura Ingalls Wilder included it in her manuscript for Little House in the Big Woods, where Pa also sang “There is a Fountain.” “Rock of Ages” was mentioned in Pioneer Girl, but in all cases, only the first line of the hymn is used.


1. Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee!
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flow’d,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

2. Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfil 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, Saviour, or I die.

4. Whilst I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyelids close in death;*
When I soar through tracks unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,–
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee!

*Originally, “When my eye-strings break in death.”

(from Little House in the Big Woods)

Rock of ages, cleft for me…

CLICK HERE to listen.



Click on the above images to view a copy of 1876 sheet music for “Rock of Ages.” Although this copy post-dates the Ingalls family’s Big Woods era, it contains a copy of the 1776 lyrics as printed in Gospel Messenger.    


“Rock of Ages” (BW 5; PG)
     “Rock of ages, cleft for me”