Posted by: rcottrill | July 18, 2011

How Firm a Foundation

Words: Kn. (possibly short for Robert Keene; no other data available)
Music: Foundation or Protection (anonymous)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Mysteries remain regarding the origin of this superb hymn and its tune. It first appeared in A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, published by Pastor John Rippon, in 1787. In early editions the words were accompanied by the letters “K.,” or “Kn.,” and we know that Robert Keene was the song leader (precentor) in Pastor Rippon’s church. He may, or may not, have supplied the text for this hymn.

The origin of the tune is also obscure. It comes from A Compilation of Genuine Church Music, published by Joseph Funk, in 1832. In a later book, it’s attributed to “Z.” But that’s hardly much help! (The tune Adeste Fideles, that we use for O Come, All Ye Faithful, also works well with this hymn.)

In spite of the uncertainty about its origin, this remains one of the greatest hymns in the English language. Almost every line is a quotation of, or allusion to, some text in the Word of God. It’s unfortunate that most hymn books I’ve seen limit themselves to using only four or five stanzas (CH-1, 3, 5, 7, and sometimes CH-4). But they’re all worthy to be included. Not a weak link among them. I encourage you to take the time to check them out at the Cyber Hymnal link.

I realize the modern trend is to shorten our hymns. Sometimes the words of only a verse or two are projected on the wall, with an added refrain–often of inferior quality. Seven stanzas must seem like far too much work! But there is an irony to this, since some of the contemporary choruses are sung over, and over again, repetitiously. And by omitting parts of our better hymns, we definitely miss a blessing. May I suggest a compromise? It’s not necessary to sing every stanza of every hymn every time. We can select ones that best suit the theme of a particular service, and return to sing the others on another occasion.

The opening stanza of our hymn sets the table, reminding us that the Scriptures are trustworthy, and a firm foundation on which to stand. When the Bible speaks of the household of God being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20), it means that our foundation is the Word of God revealed through them (cf. vs. 5). And since the Lord Jesus is central to that revelation, it’s equally true to say that He Himself is our foundation (I Cor. 3:1).

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,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

“What more can He say?” Nothing more. Oh, we might wish the Lord had given us explanations of any number of things, but in His wisdom He has chosen to withhold information that is unnecessary to us. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29). “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:3). All that we need to live the Christian life, and be equipped to serve the Lord is found in the pages of Holy Scripture (II Tim. 3:16-17; cf. Matt. 7:24).

Stanza CH-3 is almost an exact quotation of Isaiah 41:10. CH-4 and 5 are drawn from Isaiah 43:2. And CH-7 (the final stanza) gives us a literal rendering of the Greek original of Hebrews 13:5. Kenneth Wuest’s Expanded Translation of the New Testament shows how repetition is used for emphasis, bringing added assurance to the believer’s heart:

“He Himself has said, and the statement is on record [in Deut. 31:6], I will not, I will not cease to sustain and uphold you. I will not, I will not, I will not let you down.”

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

And let me conclude with the two stanzas most often omitted in our hymnals. Again, both are packed with wonderful truths, anchored in the promises of God’s Word (cf. Deut. 33:25; Isa. 46:4).

CH-2) In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

CH-6) E’en down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

1) Four common human conditions are referred to in the first two lines of CH-2. What particular problems can they cause? How does the Lord help us and sustain us in these things?

2) Based on this hymn, what is the author’s attitude toward the Bible? If we share his attitude, how will it show in our lives?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I love this old song!! I once had a hymn book that showed 24 stanzas for it. I would like to find those stanzas once more!!

    • H-m-m… Well, the original hymn had only seven four-lined stanzas, so it seems as though someone has added quite a bunch of their own. Sometimes it happens that a hymn with eight-lined stanzas has each of these split in two, doubling the number. But what you describe is something different. Let me know if you find it. Always interested in such things.


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