The hymn was written by Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778). He was born in Farnham, England. After the death of his father, He and his mother Katherine moved first to Westminster and then to Ireland and then back to England. He credited his conversion to a sermon he heard preached in a barn soon after he graduated from Trinity College, Dublin. He was ordained to the ministry of the Church of England in 1762.
The story arose that the inspiration for Rock of Ages came when he was caught in a violent storm and found shelter under a rock overhang. However, most historians discount that story.
In I Corinthians 10:3-4, St. Paul writes, in the context of the fathers of Israel journeying in the wilderness, “And all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” The tradition arose that the rock from they drank followed them through the desert and Paul interprets that rock as the saving presence of Christ.
When we sing of the water and the blood flowing from his riven side, we think of the scene on Golgotha when, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once came out blood and water.”
Thus when we come to God we come empty handed and naked. We can but helplessly cling to the cross looking for Christ’s grace. Thus when we gasp our last breath and we enter into the realms of heaven to come before God’s judgment throne, we can only pray, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.