Monday, 30 May 2011

The Theology of the Hymns of Augustus Montague Toplady

Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-78) was a preacher. Most of the best hymn writers were. Toplady was an ordained Anglican minister before he left to become the preacher at the French Calvinist Church in London in 1775. What is particularly striking about many of the hymns that he wrote is that they are filled with tremendous biblical theology. Toplady was a thoroughly convinced Calvinist and here is a brief selection of some of his hymns.

The classic for which Toplady is known is 'Rock of Ages' and look at the theology of these words which affirm the doctrine of justification by faith, through trusting in the merits of Christ 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.


Toplady clearly believed and preached the truth displayed in Romans 3:24 'and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus'. The question is 'do we?'.

Toplady's 'A Debtor to Mercy Alone' is another classic; it is because the words are saturated with the 'apostles' teaching (Acts 2:42)'. He knew our just deserve outside of the gospel is the wrath of God as he pens:

A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on, my person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.


In the mind of Toplady, God's covenant mercy alone, saves us from the deserved wrath of God. Paul states in Romans 1:17 and18 that there are two things revealed in the gospel; the righteousness of God and the wrath of God.

For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed ... For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

We need to pray for the recovery of these twin truths in the preaching of the gospel in churches.

Finally a Toplady hymn (actually it was altered by him but written by John Bakewell) that is not so well known is 'Hail, Thou Once Despis├Ęd Jesus!'. The words of this hymn fill our minds with thoughts concerning the precious atonement made by our Lord Jesus Christ. The second verse should thrill the heart of every Christian.

Paschal Lamb, by God appointed, all our sins on Thee were laid;
by almighty love anointed, Thou hast full atonement made:
all Thy people are forgiven through the virtue of Thy blood;
opened is the gate of heaven; peace is made for man with God.


For those men who are involved in preaching the gospel, may we all make sure that we keep Jesus Christ and him crucified as central to the theme of our preaching and sermon preparation.

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