Hymn Stories: Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

As their ship burned, passengers who jumped overboard sang out “Rock of Ages” as they waited to be rescued from the water.

This story comes from Carl Price’s One Hundred and One Hymn Stories:

The author, the Rev. Augustus M. Toplady (1740-1778) bitterly opposed the doctrines preached by the Wesleys, who lived at the same time, but his sincere Christian piety produced this great hymn, that has become endeared to many generations of Wesleyan followers.

Years ago* the steamer Seawanhaka burned at sea. One of the Fisk Jubilee singers was aboard. Before jumping into the sea he fastened life preservers on himself and his wife; but someone snatched hers away from her. In the water, however, she put her hands on his shoulders and thus kept afloat until, almost exhausted, she said to her husband, “I cannot hold on any longer!” “Try a little longer,” begged the agonized husband. “Let us sing ‘Rock of Ages’.”

And as the hymn rang out over the waves, others almost sinking took up the strains of the pleading prayer to God. The hymn seemed to give new strength to many in that desperate hour. By and by a boat was seen approaching, and as it came nearer the singing was renewed until with superhuman efforts they laid hold upon the lifeboats and were carried to safety. The singer, in telling this story himself, declared that he believed this hymn had saved many lives, besides his own and his wife’s, in that dreadful disaster.

Likewise, hundreds of stories might be told of the saving of souls spiritually through the helpful ministries of this, one of the greatest hymns ever penned in the English language.

*The Seawanhaka was lost on June 28, 1880, when a furnace backdraft sent coals flying into the engine room, setting it afire. All but forty of the three hundred passengers were saved thanks to the heroic efforts of the captain, Charles P. Smith (1826-1881), who stayed at the wheel and ran the boat aground on the flats off Ward’s Island. Many jumped overboard in an effort to flee the burning ship. More Info.

Here are the full lyrics of “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”

Rescuing Passengers Seawanhaka Disaster
Rescuing Passengers.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
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 labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s commands;
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 the 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 mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

Hymn Story taken from One Hundred and One Hymn Stories by Carl F. Price; Hymn 89, page 97.

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