Toplady, Augustus Montague

Anglican clergyman and hymnwriter, remembered especially for his hymn 'Rock of Ages' (HP 273; SF 434). He was born at Farnham, Surrey on 4 November 1740. He was educated at Westminster School and obtained his BA at Trinity College, Dublin in 1760. Converted by a WM preacher, James Morris, at Coolamain, Ireland in 1756, he turned to Calvinism in 1758. He was ordained deacon in 1762 and priest in 1764. He was curate of Blagdon (Som) 1762-1764 and vicar of Broad Hembury (Devon) from 1768. In controversy with John Wesley and John Fletcher from 1769, his polemical writings (with such titles as An Old Fox Tarr'd and Feather'd, 1775) were characterized by both extensive doctrinal knowledge and vitriolic malice. His other writings expounding Calvinistic doctrine against human free will included The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted (1769), The Church of England Vindicated from the Charge of Arminianism (1769), The Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England (1774) and The Scheme of Christian and Philosophical Necessity Asserted (1775). He edited the Gospel Magazine from March 1776 to July 1777.

The story that 'Rock of Ages' was written in Burrington Combe while sheltering from a thunderstorm derives from Sir William Henry Wills, the owner of the Blagdon estate, but has been questioned despite the commemorative plaque. In his closing years he served a French Calvinistic congregation in Leicester Fields, London. Developing tuberculosis in 1775, he died in London on 11 August 1778 and was buried at Whitefield's Tottenham Court Road Tabernacle.

  • Gentleman's Magazine, 1778, p.335
  • A.M. Toplady, A Memoir of some Principal Circumstances in the Life and Death of A.M. Toplady (1778)
  • T. Wright, The Life of Augustus M. Toplady (1911)
  • A.W. Harrison, The Evangelical Revival and Christian Reunion (1942) pp126-7
  • J. Maycock, 'The Fletcher-Toplady Controversy', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, July 1966, pp.227-35
  • George Lawton, 'The Wesleys in the "Orange Street Hymnal"', in WHS Proceedings, 37 pp.93-98, 140-42, 182-93
  • P.E.G. Cook, Augustus Toplady: the saintly sinner (1978)
  • George Lawton, Within the Rock of Ages: the life and work of Augustus Montague Toplady (1983)
  • H.D. Rack, Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the rise of Methodism (1989) pp.198-202, 450-61
  • Oliver A. Beckerlegge, 'Wesley and Toplady', in Epworth Review, May 1990, pp.48-53
  • A. Brown-Lawson, John Wesley and the Anglican Evangelicals of the Eighteenth Century (Bishop Auckland, 1994) pp.301-54
  • Oxford DNB