Those of you that have been reading these notes the last almost two years each week, know that from time to time I like to take an old hymn and review it in some detail to help us see God in a manner that people for hundreds of years have seen and praised Him. There is much to learn from the old hymns, the hymn writers, and the praise they offer up. Today I want us to look at an old hymn said to have been written in 1787; “How Firm A Foundation”.
The author of this hymn is not clearly known since the original was noted simply as being written by “K-”. There are up to four different individuals referenced as the author in different English hymnals from the late 1700’s and 1800’s, all people with a last name starting with a “K”. While the authorship may be in question, most agree that it most likely was written by someone from what is today called the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church in London. The hymn first appeared in the early hymnals of that church when John Rippon was pastor. He pastored the church from the time he was 20 until his death at age 83, some 63 years. The church was founded by Baptists in 1653 during the period in England when the government had signed into law the “Act of Uniformity” which was the law of the land from 1559 to 1689. This governmental action sought to force all churches to conform to the government sanctioned central church, The Church of England. The Puritans or Congregationalists hated this act for several reasons but primarily because the church and state were not “separate”. Their disdain of government overreach into their church was so great they fled to North America in 1620, landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts aboard the Mayflower. Baptist in England at that time hated the law for several reasons with a key one being persecution for their doctrine of “believer’s baptism” which differed from the practice of infant baptism practiced by the state church and practically all the other major churches. Baptists had been persecuted all across Europe for this belief for quite some time following the Reformation of the early 1500’s. Many of these early Baptists in the 1500’s were baptized a “third time” by having rocks tied around their legs and then thrown into the river to drown. The Baptist church and denomination in England grew greatly during this 130-year period when the Act of Uniformity was in effect, despite the persecution and threats to their congregational gathering. The church where this hymn was believed to have originated has had some of the greatest preachers within the Baptist denomination serve as their lead pastor with one of the more notable being Charles Spurgeon who pastored this one church for 38 years. So much for the church history lesson; now back to the hymn.
The entire hymn is one I would love to cover in detail but in order to keep this note shorter I will spend most of the time on the first and last verses. I will provide scriptures passages to back up the other verses so that you can go through those and ponder them yourselves. The words to this great hymn are as follows:
1) How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word. What more can He say than to you He hath said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
Has your faith or trust in God ever been shaken? Have you ever experienced serious doubt in your walk with God? The author of this hymn cites many paraphrases from scripture in these verses but he kicks off the hymn in the first verse with the importance of having a firm foundation. Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:11, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid which is Jesus Christ.” Read that verse again. There is no real, true foundation in your life apart from one which is laid in Jesus.
The Bible has several other examples in it regarding a firm foundation. Likely the most familiar is the example of someone building their house on sand vs. building it on rock as Jesus taught in His famous “Sermon on the Mount”, as recorded in Matthew 7:24-25 and Luke 6:47-48. Another very familiar example, one which is referenced even more in God’s Word, is the reference to Jesus being the Cornerstone. The first step in constructing a building in those, days was setting the cornerstone. This stone, this first and foundational stone, was critical toward ensuring the building was constructed as designed or planned. Ephesians 2:19-22 tells us that we are literally members of the “household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the chief cornerstone” that everything else references off of. The passage highlights for us that this building “is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord --- to become a dwelling where the Spirit of God lives”. The reference to the apostles and prophets is a reference to what God has written and spoken to us today, through them, in our Bibles. The Words of God delivered through them is a part of this great foundation. Finally in Hebrews 6:19 we see that what God has done serves as an “anchor for our soul, firm and secure”. That full passage in Hebrews 6 is speaking to acts that God alone has performed.
The hymn writer tells us next in the first verse that this is a hymn for the one who is a Christian. Only a Christian has this foundation. He then tells us about the relationship between our faith and God’s Word. As you consider faith, recognize that here in this first verse of the song the writer is speaking of our “foundation”. Your foundation in Christ is first and foremost about your salvation, your start on this wonderful journey. That is what the writer is speaking of in this first verse. Many will tell you that faith is something that is yours and something you have to work up and come to on your own in order to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. Be cautious of that for it hints at faith actually being a work. If your foundation contains anything of you, anything other than Jesus Christ and the Word of God, then it is not stable and will shift or crack leading you to doubt who God says you truly are. If you turn to the Word as the writer is proclaiming and look at passages such as Ephesians 2:8, Philippians 1:29, 2 Peter 1:1, Acts 3:16, and Romans 12:3, you see that your salvific faith is actually a gift that is measured out equally, distributed if you will as some translations put it, to all Christians enabling their belief in the first place. It has to be or else your foundation would include something of you and not be solely based upon Jesus Christ and what He has done. This initial faith God has given you will grow as you walk with the Lord but all believers truly owe their belief initially to God Himself who gives us a new heart and opens our eyes and ears at the moment we are born again. Simply said, foundational faith is a gift.
The last part of this first verse asks us a question. The writer basically asks you, the one who is coming to Jesus for refuge, “what else can He (God / Jesus / Holy Spirit) say” other than what He has already said? What is the author referring to? He is saying that God has already said plenty and that it is recorded in His Word. We must turn to the Word for help in strengthening our foundation, making it solid so it will stand firm against the troubles we will face and also to be an encouragement to others who will face troubles. God’s Word says that our foundation must be based on Jesus Christ. It must be based on what He has done and nothing you have done. It must start there. It is then built upon further through the Word given to us through the Holy Spirit via the prophets, and the apostles and later through the many, many things God has done and will do for you during your life. You nor your actions can be a part of a “firm foundation” when it comes to your salvation. You do not want to stand and rely upon something you did. You want to only stand upon something Christ has done. It is the only way to live a life free of doubt and surety of the eternal salvation God has given you.
2) Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed, for I am thy God, and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, up-held by my righteous omnipotent hand.
3) When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow. For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
4) When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design, thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
Here are just a few of the scriptures that the author based the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th verse’s upon for you to consider and study:
Isaiah 41:10 - “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”.
John 10:28 - 30 – “I shall give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.
Isaiah 43:2 - “When you pass through the waters, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior”.
There is so much to expound upon from these verses. Please take the time to read them and let God bring to mind things that have occurred in your life and things that God did for others as recorded in His Word to prove to you that these things declared are so very real and for today.
5) The soul that on Jesus still leans for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes. That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!
Finally, the last verse reinforces one of the greatest passages in all of the Bible from one of the greatest chapters – Romans 8. The church and pastors where this hymn originated had a very definitive interpretation of verses 28-30 that allowed them to personally claim verses 31-39 with all their heart. These believers knew who God said they were. Our churches since the time this hymn was written, especially in America, have embraced a more nuanced interpretation of a couple of points stated in those verses. This more nuanced interpretation can greatly diminish the impact God intends for you through those latter verses. The church members where this hymn originated and those gone generations before them, stood by faith on what God said He had done and nothing they had done. They used the terms “All Grace” and “Free Grace” when speaking of their salvation. This empowered them to get through all of the persecution they experienced as a church and denomination in the 1500’s through the 1600’s. Their belief and interpretation of those passages are outlined in what is known as the “1689 Baptist Confession of Faith”. That summary of faith is still used by most “Reformed Baptist” churches today as a summary of the key points from scripture that serve as their foundation.
The hymn author reminds you to lean on Jesus for repose. What does that mean? It simply means that you are to “rest” on Him. Oh, brother and sister in Christ, recognize what the hymn writer is saying here. You come to Jesus to rest. You can do that because it is about what He has already done and not about what you have done and have yet to do. Doing so you can now boldly claim that God will not desert you or leave you alone as foes come against you. The hymn author goes further to tell you that God will never, no never, no never forsake you (a very emphatic phrase), not even if all hell comes against you, trying to shake and destroy your very foundation. The hymn writer and church responsible for this hymn knew all too well about hell trying to shake their foundation. Even with that, they knew their God would never, no never forsake them. Here are the highlights from verses 31-39 for you to reflect upon and rejoice in:
· “If God be for us who can be against us?”
· “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?”
· “Christ is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us. Who then can condemn us any longer?”
· “What then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
· “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I pray you have a firm foundation, one based solely in what Christ has done for you and built upon His Word. Lean for repose upon the One that came searching for you and found you. Jump in His huge lap and large arms and rest there. Enjoy being in those arms and big hands. May you see as those early saints that sang this hymn did, how God “set His love upon you”, “knowing you” even before you were born, leading you to be able to claim all that is declared in Romans 8:31-39. May that reality and truth strengthen you and help you stand against even hell itself, no matter how strong hell may try to shake and destroy you.