Toplady was born an only child at Farnham in 1740, his father had died six months previously while serving with the army in South America. Toplady’s early years were spent on the shadow of his doting mother and when he was nine or ten they relocated to Westminster where the young Augustus attended Westminster School. In 1755 Toplady’s mother removed to Ireland (in order to secure some property there) with her son, who had now finished school. In the same year Toplady enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin. In August 1756 while visiting his mother At Wexford Toplady attended an informal meeting where he heard an uneducated lay preacher (James Morris) preach to such effect that:
"Under that sermon, I was, I trust, brought nigh by the blood of Christ, in August, 1756. Strange that I, who had so long sat under means of grace in England, should be brought nigh unto God in an obscure part of Ireland, amid a handful of God's people met together in a barn, and under the ministry of one who could hardly spell his name!”
Toplady always dated his conversion to this moment and it was during this period that Toplady wrote Poems on Sacred Subject., Toplady exchanged letters with John Wesley by his own words it was an Arminian doctrine that he had embraced.
"a more haughty and violent freewiller within the compass of the four seas."
Toplady had always planned to enter the Church, but he decided at this stage to enter the non-conformist ministry as he recognised that his Arminian beliefs were contrary to the thirty nice articles of the Church of England. At the age of 18 (in 1758)Toplady read "Manton's Discourses on the Seventeenth of John" and almost immediately embraced the Calvinistic doctrine of a sovereign God, stating that:
"I shall remember the year 1758 with gratitude and joy;"
It is this Gospel that Toplady passionately defended for the rest of his life, a typical Toplady comment was heard when he was asked "would you, if you were God, create any being to misery?" Toplady's response was "When I am God, I will tell you."
It was during these years that Toplady's character shone through. He frequented dissenting Churches where the Gospel was faithfully preached but restricted taking Communion to the established Church, the Church for which he intended enter the ministry. At this stage Toplady translated the text of "The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination stated and asserted" from the Latin of Jerom Zanchius Toplady and his mother returned to London in August of 1760, where he eagerly sat under the teaching of George Whitefield, William Romaine and John Gill.
As Toplady was approaching ordination the famous incident occurred where he was approached by a well known bookseller when leaving the shop he was asked:
"Sir, you will soon be ordained. I suppose you have not laid in a very great stock of sermons. I can supply you with as many sets as you please. All originals: very excellent ones and they will come for a trifle." Toplady's response was that "I certainly shall never be a customer to you in that way, for I am of opinion that the man who cannot or will not make his own sermons is quite unfit to wear the gown." The bookseller responded "Nay, young gentleman, do not be surprised at my offering you ready-made sermons, for I assure you I have sold ready-made sermons to many a bishop in my time. "Toplady responded by stating that "if you have any concern for the credit of the Church of England, never tell that news to anybody else from thenceforward for ever."
The Church of England may have been in moral crisis, Toplady certainly was not.
Toplady was ordained in 1762 and was licensed as Curate at Blagdon in Somerset, leaving this position in April of 1764 and he held a few short lived position until he was appointed to the benefice of Harpford with Fen Ottery in April 1766 a living he exchanged for the living at Broad Hembury in March of 1768. Toplady often traveled to London, maintaining his links with the great men of the Church and the issues of the day. This concern led to the publication of The Church of England vindicated from the charge of Arminianism in 1769
Toplady's wit can be seen when a friend observed that he rarely used a horse and commented that:
"Mr. Toplady believes in absolute predestination, and yet he is loath to ride on horse-back for fear of breaking his neck.", Toplady's response was "True, and perhaps that very fear may be an appointed means of preserving my neck unbroken."
Toplady finally published The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination stated and asserted" from the Latin of Jerom Zanchius in the same year.
The very concept of Calvinism was offensive to John Wesley and he saw Toplady's publication as a threat to his Arminian enterprise. George M. Ella believes that the passages that Wesley found to be particularly offensive were the quotes that :
'the number of the elect, and also the reprobate (those whom God has passed over in His work of salvation), is so fixed and determinate that neither can be augmented or diminished.'
"'Not one of the elect can perish, but they must all necessarily be saved.' `For this reason', Zanchius goes on to say, the elect "are styled vessels of mercy."
In 1770 Wesley published a tract entitled "The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination stated and asserted, by The Reverend Mr A_ T_" that abridged Toplady's work and ended with Wesley's words attributed to Toplady:
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 shall be damned, do what they can.
Reader, believe this, or be damned.
Witness my hand,
Wesley had in effect forged a work so as to make it appear to be the Work of Toplady, especially offensive as Toplady had never been a vocal exponent of double predestination and Toplady responded shortly afterwards in 1770 with his work "A Letter to the Rev. Mr. John Wesley relative to his pretended Abridgment of Zanchius on Predestination",
Toplady was gathering a substantial following and in April of 1770 he preached a sermon that was immediately published as A Caveat against Unsound Doctrines. Toplady then suffered the crushing loss of his beloved mother however he continued preaching and early the following year (1771) published Jesus seen of Angels and God's Mindfulness of Man. Toplady also wrote topical pieces in 1771, Free Thoughts on the Projected Application to Parliament for the Abolition of Ecclesiastical Subscriptions followed by Clerical Subscription no Grievance in 1772.
Wesley's formal response to A Letter to the Rev. Mr. John Wesley relative to his pretended Abridgment of Zanchius on Predestination", took the form of the 1771 pamphlet "The Consequence Proved" that scandalously repeated the lie as to the authorship of Wesley's forgery, the pamphlet commencing with:
Mr. Toplady, a young, bold man, lately published a pamphlet, an extract from which was soon after printed, concluding with these words: —
"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 shall be damned, do what they can."
Toplady's 1772 response was entitled "More Work for Mr. John Wesley: or A Vindication of the Decrees and Providences of God from the Defamations of a late printed 'The Consequence Proved."
Toplady's real problem with Wesley was that Wesley was in his view ignoring his ordination vows and encouraging others to do the same, he was being dishonest and cowardly. Toplady had to prove that it was Wesley not himself that was seeking to subvert the Church and in 1774 he published his monumental work Historical Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England . Toplady's health was suffering and in 1775 he employed a Curate to care for Broad Hembury and increasingly spent his time in London, publishing his sermons of the previous year Free will and Merit fairly Examined and Good News from Heave. Toplady also continued his campaign against Wesley with the publication of The Scheme of Christian and Philosophical Necessity and the shrill An Old Fox tarr'd and feathered .
Toplady is often seen as a humourless prig, but when in 1775 he was given a snuff box carrying a portrait of Calvin his response was:
" I must trouble you with my written thanks for the polite instance of your esteem, which arrived here to-day. You have made me the obliged owner of the neatest snuff-box I ever possessed. Nor can I at any time have recourse to its contents without being reminded of two most valuable persons, namely, the donor, and of that admirable Reformer whose profile decorates the cover. What will the Arminians say, should they hear of my receiving such an 'Antinomian' present? Snufftaking will be doubly heretical out of a box ornamented with John Calvin's head in demi-relievo. Every blessing attend you, and may God's Holy Spirit give both you and me to experience daily and hourly the refining and enlivening power of the gospel."
At the close of 1775 Toplady began editing the Gospel Magazine, a task he continued until August of 1776, during this time his great hymn "Rock of Ages" was first published and in 1776 he published his great hymn book Psalms and Hymns for Public and Private Worship. In 1776 Toplady also published his sermon Joy in Heaven. and Moral and Political Moderation recommended.
Toplady's health was fast deteriorating however he was licensed to preach at the French Huguenot chapel at Orange Street in April 1776, and preached there to great effect until his early death two years later. As Toplady approached death the Methodists repeatedly spread stories about his conversion to Arminianism which forced Toplady to preach one last thunderous sermon and publish the text as The Reverend Mr Toplady's Dying Avowal of his Religious Sentiments.
Following his death Toplady demanded a funeral without any shows of affection or esteem, for him all eyes should be on his saviour. He died firm in the faith that gave him such comfort.