Summary: The analogy of Christ to a rock has its roots in Scripture. There are numerous Old Testament references to the Lord as a "Rock" or "Rock of my salvation." Or as one of our songs, drawn from Psalm 18 says, “The Lord liveth, and blessed be the Rock.”
This sermon is rather unusual in format. I paused at various times for one of the members to lead a song relevant to the topic under consideration at the moment, sometimes followed by a prayer directly related to the subject. These notes reflect the pauses and the songs that were sung at those moments.
The Cleft of the Rock
Many years ago, while driving in western Colorado near the geologic uplift called Grand Mesa, I looked to my left and noticed a deep fracture in the escarpment that ran from the top of the mesa downward as far as I could see. It occurred to me that it was a place where one might find shelter from a storm. It reminded me of the hymn, Rock of Ages, written in 1763 by Augustus Toplady when he was only 23 years old.
Augustus had been traveling near Somerset in England’s west country, along the road with cliffs on either side when the storm struck. He dashed into a hollowed out place in the rock for shelter. He had been fortunate to find this hiding place so quickly, and while waiting for the storm to pass he began to think on the idea of the “rock of faith” being a shelter from the “storms of life.” The words for a hymn began to form in his mind but, according to a story that still persists; he had no paper in his pocket to write down the words. Looking down he saw a playing card, considered a sinful thing by this young minister. Nevertheless, he picked it up and began to write:
Rock of ages, cleft for me
Let my hide myself in Thee
Either then or afterward, he expanded the thoughts flowing from that memorable experience, and penned the words to one the most beloved of all Christian hymns:
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labor 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.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
The analogy of Christ to a rock has its roots in Scripture. There are numerous Old Testament references to the Lord as a "Rock" or "Rock of my salvation." Or as one of our songs, drawn from Psalm 18 says, “The Lord liveth, and blessed be the Rock.”
Alluding to the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness, Paul writes, "For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:4). Paul is referring to the event recorded in Exodus 17:6. Moses, at God’s command, struck the rock in Horeb, bringing forth a needed supply of water for God’s people. That physical rock is a picture of Christ providing a never-ending flow of "water" to satisfy sinful man’s spiritual need.
So our song, Rock of Ages, was conceived in the mind of this 23-year-old man. It was not published until years later, when he himself published it in Gospel Magazine the year before he died at the age of 38.
One may ask, “What is a ‘double cure’ (of sin)?” I suggest that the disease of sin assaults the life we now live, and first wreaks havoc with the quality of it; and second, it undermines our salvation.
Song - Rock of Ages
Prayer of thanks for shelter from storms and trials
The specific picture of Christ as a rock broken open, or cleft, to provide a place of spiritual refuge for sinful people was surely drawn from Moses’ experience recorded in Exodus 33:20-23 (read).
There are things about God which we must not see. Others are shown to have seen dazzling visible representations of the glory of God, though perhaps none so directly as Moses; and Moses was granted this favor only with some proper limitations, restrictions, and precautions. That which we crave to see and to know of God and the way he acts is beyond us.
• Why God acts as he does
• Why God acts when he does
• Why God does not seem to act at all
• Though we would like to see all of God, Man cannot be brought to a full view and understanding of God