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May 2011

Rock of Ages: All For Sin Could Not Atone

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
– Second verse of Rock of Ages

No matter how hard I work I can’t make up for what I did
– Briony Tallis from Atonement

About the same time that we hear these words above we see a pair of hands being vigorously scrubbed as if trying to remove some deep stain. Indeed, the speaker, eighteen-year-old Briony Tallis, has been trying to undo a terrible event she caused five years earlier; and her mistake, whether malicious or not, ruined two promising lives. How can she ever make amends for the pain and suffering she brought about?

This scene from the movie Atonement has stuck with me ever since my wife and I watched it a few years ago. Without rehashing the narrative, the movie deals with a woman trying to come to terms with a wrong she perpetrated against others when she was young. We watch on screen as she carries the burden of her sin throughout her entire life, and is filled with contrition although that never brings the comfort she seeks. She understands that grace must be sought again and again. There is no end to the guilt that has defined her life. Her sin not only ruined the lives of others, but her own life as well.

The main theme that runs parallel with the narrative of this movie is the idea of atonement. It also is one of the main themes of verse two of Rock of Ages, our hymn focus this month. But what does atonement mean? In general, atonement means the satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends. Biblically, it means the reconciliation of God and humankind, as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ. Some clever scholars even try to make the definition of it easy by saying it means “God making man ‘At-One’ with Him again.” He does this by forgiveness. He does this by giving his son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice for our sin, because sin must be punished. Atonement is integral to the Christian message. If we are all sinners, and we can’t do anything about it by our own good works, then it’s pretty nice that Jesus is willing to do whatever it takes to make your sin and my sin right with God. He’s willing even to sacrifice himself to make it happen.

Equally, we can never seem to respond with complete devotion to this holy and gracious God who has reconciled us to himself. So often we try to meet the laws demands in our own strength, and prove ourselves worthy of the grace that he bestows on us. We hope that if we have enough passion and devotion to God, he might look favorably on us. But we never seem to be devoted enough or as holy as the next person. And so when all seems lost, we hope that if we repent enough, and show enough remorse for our sin, God will be pleased with us. So we take pains to confess every sin, hoping repentance will save us.

But while all these things look like great ways to atone for our sin, just like in the movie, they all ultimately fall short. They fall short because they fail to recognize how holy God is, and bad off we really are. Sure, we’ll say that we are sinners, but don’t ever want to admit that we are total failures and “dead” in our sin. All the religious work and zeal we put forth may look sincere, but none of these things afford us any additional righteousness apart from what God has already done for us in Christ. If any of this religious zeal and devotion actually worked, then why would we even need a savior?

    Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. – Romans 4:4-5

All our works, all our zeal, and all our tears could never tip the eternal scale of justice in our favor against God’s holiness. We stand condemned. And if we as sinners are ever going to be saved, then “Thou must save, and Thou alone.” When Augustus Montague Toplady penned these lyrics, he knew that his salvation was completely God’s doing. He found it completely amazing and wondrous that God struck his conscience by an illiterate evangelist in a country barn in Ireland. He understood that he was absolutely destitute of any saving merit in and of himself.

Atonement, both in the movie and as we sing about it, serves as a reminder of how hard it is to find the redemption we need. The sins of our past never go away. Our guilt lives with us. No matter how much we do, or how hard we scrub, or how we try to make things right, we will always come up short. But that is the cost we pay to find the true meaning of grace that in the end gives us mercy.

It is only when we realize that we are ungodly, and hide ourselves in the shelter of the only righteous One, Jesus Christ, the perfect Rock of Ages, that we will have peace with God. When we do this, God is glorified, as it is not about what we can do for God, but what he has already accomplished through his son Jesus.




October 29 2013 Reply

i want to download the music and the song of rock of ages cleft for me. thank you.

Hakizimana Patrice

June 29 2015 Reply

Good Morning,pleaze Help Me To Download This Song:rock Of Ages, Thank U!


December 27 2017 Reply

Thank you I needed to be reminded of grace today.Thank you Jesus for dying for my sins and welcoming me into your family, my no merit or zeal I have earned on my own. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit and Grace.

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