by Augustus Toplady
‘Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, 0 Lord, in the light of thy countenance.’ Psalm 89:15.
A good man, of the last century, says, and with great truth, ‘The strongest believer of us all is like a glass without a foot, which cannot stand one moment longer than it is held/ And our Lord had a similar view of the matter, when he declared, that he holds all his sheep in his hand: as much as to say, Were I to leave you for an instant, down you would fall; therefore I hold you fast, and none shall pluck you out of my hand.
O how comfortable is it, when the Lord makes these truths known, by his Spirit, to the heart!
How blessed are the people that thus know the joyful sound! Who can see that God has loved them in his Son; who can feel that Christ died for them, to be their everlasting peace; who are satisfied that their peace is not now to. make, but was completely made and sealed, by the precious blood of his cross, ages and ages before they drew their breath; who are sweetly assured that the Holy Spirit, who has begun to shew them the great things of Christ, will go on more clearly to shew them that he will never leave them nor forsake them, in life, in death, nor even at their journey’s end! This is that joyful sound, which God enables his people to know. And what is the consequence of knowing it?
‘Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound.’ Wherefore are they blessed, or happy? And in what does their blessedness consist?’
They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.’ As much as to say, We need but know what it is to be loved, chosen, redeemed, and sanctified from among men, and then that knowledge will cause us to walk upon our” high places, and to triumph in the name of the Lord our God. We shall bask in the smile, we shall enjoy the sunshine of God’s countenance upon our souls.
What is the meaning of that phrase, “they shall walk in the light of thy countenance?’ Suppose any great personage were to patronize some obscure man, and favor him with his peculiar intimacy and friendship. It would in that case be natural for us to say,’ Such a person is greatly countenanced by this or that nobleman.’ So here: ‘They shall walk in the light of thy countenance,’ i.e. they shall be sensibly in the favor of God. They shall enjoy comfortable communion and fellowship with God. They shall have a satisfactory persuasion that the Lord is at peace with them through the blood of Christ; and that being justified by faith, they also are, on their part, at peace with the Lord. They receive the atonement (for the true business of faith is, not to make atonement, but simply to receive and rest upon Christ’s atonement already made, and which faith itself does not render more efficacious than it intrinsically is).
Sometimes the tide of assurance rolls in so richly upon the soul as to rise quite (if I may so speak) to high-water mark, and not to leave so much as the shadow of a doubt upon the mind. When it is thus with the believer, he may be eminently said to walk in the light of God’s countenance. Faith looks within the vail. The interposing scene opens. We almost behold the King of saints in his beauty, shining as the Lamb in the midst of the throne. But soon the scene closes. We descend from the mountain top, and find ourselves again in the valley.
If God, however, has not yet given you any assurance of his love, do not imagine that you are, therefore, an alien and an outcast.
For I imagine that God’s countenance, or favor, and the light of his countenance, or the clear and comfortable knowledge of his favor, are two distinguishable things. God may bear a favor to us, he may love us, and be resolved to save us; and yet not indulge us with the immediate light of his countenance. But of one thing I am as clearly positive as that I am now preaching in the Lock Chapel, namely, that none, whose hearts are at all wrought upon by the finger of God’s Spirit, can sit down quite easily and contentedly without wishing to experience what the light of God’s countenance means. Their desire is to know it, to walk in it, and to walk worthy of it.
Have you never observed, after the sun has been shining, perhaps for hours together, a diffusing mist has arisen from the earth, or a floating cloud has interposed in the sky, and shaded the grand luminary from your view? Yet, in reality, the sun still shone as before, though your sensation of its luster was suspended. Thus in the darkest seasons of spiritual distress, God’s countenance, or favor, is still towards you for good, and shines not only with inextinguishable, but also with undiminishable intenseness.
They are totally mistaken who suppose that the light of God’s countenance, and the privileges of the gospel, and the comforts of the Spirit conduce to make us indolent and inactive in the way of duty. The text cuts up this surmise by the roots. For it does not say they shall sit down in the light of thy countenance; or, they shall lie down in the light of thy countenance; but ‘they shall walk in the light of thy countenance.’…. Nor shall they only walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance; they shall also, at times, even run and not be weary, namely, when they are eminently drawn of God. ‘Draw us, and we will run after thee.’
Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Augustus Montague Toplady (1740 – 1778) was an Anglican cleric and hymn writer. He was a major Calvinist opponent of John Wesley. He is best remembered as the author of the hymn “Rock of Ages.
Augustus Toplady was born in Farnham, Surrey, England in November 1740. His father became a commissioned officer in the Royal Marines in 1739. In May 1741, shortly after Augustus’ birth, Richard participated in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1741), during the course of which he died, most likely of yellow fever, leaving Augustus’ mother to raise the boy alone. In 1755, Catherine and Augustus they moved to Ireland, and Augustus was enrolled in Trinity College, Dublin. 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. Toplady was a prolific essayist and letter correspondent and wrote on a wide range of topics. He was interested in the natural world and in animals. He composed a short work “Sketch of Natural History, with a few particulars on Birds, Meteors, Sagacity of Brutes, and the solar system”, wherein he set down his observations about the marvels of nature, including the behaviour of birds, and illustrations of wise actions on the part of various animals. Toplady also considered the problem of evil as it relates to the sufferings of animals in “A Short Essay on Original Sin”, and in a public debate delivered a speech on “Whether unnecessary cruelty to the brute creation is not criminal?”. In this speech he repudiated brutality towards animals and also affirmed his belief that the Scriptures point to the resurrection of animals. Toplady’s position about animal brutality and the resurrection were echoed by his contemporaries Joseph Butler, Richard Dean, Humphry Primatt and John Wesley, and throughout the nineteenth century other Christian writers such as Joseph Hamilton, George Hawkins Pember, George N. H. Peters, Joseph Seiss, and James Macauley developed the arguments in more detail in the context of the debates about animal welfare, animal rights and vivisection.
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 criticised these students for holding views inconsistent with the views of the Church of England. Toplady then criticised Nowell’s position in 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’s 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. 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 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”.
Toplady spent his last three years mainly 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.