Augustus Montague Toplady

Augustus Montague Toplady (November 4, 1740 – August 11, 1778), was an Anglican clergyman and hymn-writer. He was a major Calvinist opponent of John Wesley. Today, he is best remembered as the author of the hymn "Rock of Ages". Three of his other hymns - "A Debtor to Mercy Alone", "Deathless Principle, Arise", and "Object of My First Desire" - are still occasionally sung today, though all three are far less popular than "Rock of Ages".

Background and early life, 1740-55

Augustus Toplady was born in Farnham, Surrey, England in November 1740.

His father, Richard Toplady, was probably from Enniscorthy, County Wexford in Ireland. Richard Toplady became a commissioned officer in the Royal Marines in 1739; by the time of his death, he had reached the rank of major. In May 1741, shortly after Augustus' birth, Richard participated in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias, the most significant battle of the War of Jenkins' Ear, during the course of which he died, most likely of yellow fever [cite web | title=Sheltering In The Rock | work=Banner of Truth | url= | accessdate=2006-07-28] , leaving Augustus' mother to raise the boy alone.

Augustus' mother, Catherine, was the daughter of Richard Bate, who was the incumbent of Chilham from 1711 until his death in 1736. Catherine and her son moved from Farnham to Westminster, and, from 1750 to 1755, Augustus attended the Westminster School.

Years at Trinity College, Dublin, 1755-60

In 1755, Catherine and Augustus moved to Ireland, and Augustus was enrolled in Trinity College, Dublin.

Shortly thereafter, in August 1755, the 15-year-old Toplady attended a sermon preached by James Morris, a follower of John Wesley (though in his "Dying Avowal", Toplady denies that the preacher was directly connected to Wesley, with whom he had developed a bitter relationship), in a barn in Codymain, co. Wexford. He would remember this sermon as the time at which he received his effectual calling from God.

Having undergone his religious conversion under the preaching of a Methodist, Toplady initially followed Wesley in supporting Arminianism. In 1758, however, the 18-year-old Toplady read Thomas Manton's seventeenth-century sermon on John 17 and Jerome Zanchius's "Confession of the Christian Religion" (1562). These works convinced Toplady that Calvinism, not Arminianism, was correct.

In 1759, Toplady published his first book, "Poems on Sacred Subjects".

Following his graduation from Trinity College in 1760, Toplady and his mother returned to Westminster. There, Toplady met and was influenced by several prominent Calvinist ministers, including George Whitefield, John Gill, and William Romaine. It was John Gill who in 1760 urged Toplady to publish his tranlataion of Zanchius's work on predestination, Toplady commenting that "I was not then, however sufficiently delivered from the fear of man." [Quoted from volume 1 of Toplady's works, page 189 at page 34 of T Wrights 1911 biography of Toplady.]

Ecclesiastical career, 1762-78

In 1762, Edward Willes, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, ordained Toplady as an Anglican deacon, appointing him curate of Blagdon, located in the Mendip Hills of Somerset.

Toplady wrote his famous hymn "Rock of Ages" in 1763. A local tradition - discounted by most historians - holds that he wrote the hymn after seeking shelter under a large rock at Burrington Combe, a magnificent ravine close to Blagdon, during a thunderstorm.

Upon being promoted to priest in 1764, Toplady returned to London briefly, and then served as curate of Farleigh Hungerford for a little over a year (1764-65). He then returned to stay with friends in London for 1765-66.

In May 1766, he became incumbent of Harpford and Venn Ottery, two villages in Devon. In 1768, however, he learned that he had been named to this incumbency because it had been purchased for him; seeing this as simony, he chose to exchange the incumbency for the post of vicar of Broadhembury, another Devon village. He would serve as vicar of Broadhembury until his death, although he received leave to be absent from Broadhembury from 1775 on.

Toplady never married, though he did have relationships with two women. The first was Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, the founder of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, a Calvinist Methodist series of congregations. Toplady first met Huntingdon in 1763, and preached in her chapels several times in 1775 during his absence from Broadhembury. The second was Catherine Macaulay, whom he first met in 1773, and with whom he spent a large amount of time in the years 1773-77

Calvinist controversialist, 1769-78

Toplady's first salvo into the world of religious controversy came in 1769 when he wrote a book in response to a situation at the University of Oxford. Six evangelical students had been expelled from St Edmund Hall because of their evangelical views. Thomas Nowell, Oxford's professor of modern history, criticized these students for holding views inconsistent with the views of the Church of England. Toplady attacked Nowell's position with his book "The Church of England Vindicated from the Charge of Arminianism", which argued that Calvinism, not Arminianism, was the position historically held by the Church of England.

1769 also saw Toplady publish his translation of Zanchius' "Confession of the Christian Religion" (1562), one of the works which had convinced Toplady to become a Calvinist in 1758. Toplady entitled his translation "The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted". [ [,M1 "The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted"] by Girolamo Zanchi, translated by Toplady, with a letter to John Wesley appended] This work drew a vehement response from John Wesley, thus initiating a protracted pamphlet debate between Toplady and Wesley about whether the Church of England was historically Calvinist or Arminian. This debate peaked in 1774, when Toplady published his 700-page "The Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England", a massive study which traced the doctrine of predestination from the period of the early church through to the career of William Laud. The section about the Synod of Dort contained a footnote identifying five basic propositions of the Calvinist faith, arguably the first appearance in print of the summary of Calvinism known as the "five points of Calvinism".

The relationship between Toplady and Wesley that had initially been cordial, involving exchanges of letters in Toplady's Arminian days, became increasingly bitter and reached its nadir with the "Zanchy affair" [For a fuller treatment see chapter 8 of George Ella's 2000 biography "A Debtor to Mercy Alone".] Wesley took exception to the publication of Toplady's translation of Zanchius's work on predestination in 1769, and he in turn published an abridgment of that work titled "The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted", adding his own comment that "The sum of all is this: One in twenty (suppose) of mankind are elected; nineteen in twenty are reprobated. The elect shall be saved, do what they will; the reprobate will be damned, do what they can. Reader believe this, or be damned. Witness my hand". Toplady viewed the abridgment and comments as a distortion of his and Zanchius's views and was particularly enraged that the authorship of these additions were attributed to him, as though he approved of the content.

Toplady published a response in the form of "A Letter to the Rev Mr John Wesley; Relative to His Pretended Abridgement of Zanchius on Predestination". [ [ "A Letter to the Rev Mr John Wesley; Relative to His Pretended Abridgement of Zanchius on Predestination"] (March 26, 1770).] Wesley never publicly accepted any wrongdoing on his part and seemingly denied his authorship of the comments contained in his abridgement when in his 1771 work "The Consequenses Proved" that responded to Toplady's letter he ascribed his additions to Toplady. [The abridgement was not included in Wesley's "Collected Works" until 1872.] Subsequently Wesley avoided direct correspondence with Toplady, famously stating in a letter of June 24 1770 that "I do not fight with chimney-sweepers. He is too dirty a writer for me to meddle with. I should only foul my fingers. I read his title-page, and troubled myself no farther. I leave him to Mr. Sellon. He cannot be in better hands.".Fact|date=December 2007

Toplady mainly spent his last three years in London, preaching regularly in a French Calvinist chapel, most spectacularly in 1778, when he appeared to rebut charges being made by Wesley's followers that he had renounced Calvinism on his deathbed.

Toplady died of tuberculosis on 11 August 1778. He was buried at Whitefield's Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Road.



* Toplady, Augustus, "The Complete Works of Augustus Toplady" (Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 1987) ISBN 1-59442-078-5
* Arthur Pollard, "Augustus Toplady," in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

ee also

* "The Gospel Magazine" which Toplady edited 1775-1776
* "Rock of Ages" written by Toplady and first printed in "The Gospel Magazine"

External links

* " [,M1 Psalms and Hymns for Public and Private Worship] " by Augustus Toplady (1776)
* [ Toplady and His Ministry] by J. C. Ryle
* [ The story behind "Rock of Ages" and a brief biography]
* [ Hymns by Augustus Montague Toplady]
* [ Site with several of Toplady's controversial works]

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