1 How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
2 "Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed;
for I am your God, and will still give you aid;
I'll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
3 "When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.
4 "When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
5 "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.
6 "The soul that on Jesus has leaned 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."
Source: Trinity Psalter Hymnal #243
|First Line:||How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord|
|Author (attributed to):||George Keith (1787)|
|Author (attributed to):||R. Keen (c. 1787)|
|Source:||Rippon's A Selection of Hymns, 1787|
|Liturgical Use:||Gospel Acclamation Songs|
“How Firm a Foundation” is a hymn that for over two centuries has assured believers of the faithfulness of Christ and the certainty of hope. The first verse acts almost as an introduction to the rest of the text, giving us cause to stop and ponder the Word of assurance that God has given us, described in greater detail in the next four verses. Those four verses are in fact paraphrases of Scripture passages: Isaiah 41:10, 43:2, Romans 8:3-39, Hebrews 13:5, and Deuteronomy 31:6. In the words of this hymn then, we carry with us the Word from God, and the call to trust in that Word. But God’s Word is expansive and not limited to letters on a page - the fifth verse moves us to a trust in the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. Thus we are assured by the words we sing, the Word we are given, and the Word made flesh, of the steadfastness of God and His unfailing love.
This hymn, believed by most to have been written by Richard Keen, was first published in 1787 in John Rippon’s A Selection of Hymns (Rippon was minister at the London church Keen attended). Keen’s text originally included seven stanzas and was entitled “Exceeding great and precious promises.” It appeared in A. Fletcher Baptist’s 1822 Collection of Hymns in only four stanzas, omitting the original second, fourth and fifth. Today, hymnals include anywhere from three to five stanzas, often the original first, third, fourth, fifth and seventh stanzas. The number of verses found in each hymnal differs, but the actual text has not been altered much. When all five stanzas are used, the text powerfully moves from references to the faithfulness of God in the Old Testament to the certainty of the faithfulness of Christ.
Almost every hymnal and version sets the text to the anonymous tune FOUNDATION, first appearing under the name SINCERITY and SOLICITUDE in Southern Harmony, and appearing with this text in the Sacred Harp. It now appears in most hymnals in the key of G. In the Episcopal Hymnal, the text is set to both FOUNDATION and LYONS, by Haydn. A less commonly used tune is ADESTES FIDELES, best known as the tune for “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
A regal and stately American folk tune, the accompaniment should support the message of the text, the steadfastness and faithfulness of our God. Here are a few options for accompaniment:
Many times this hymn is used just to emphasize the value of Scripture, but it can be used throughout the year as a hymn of comfort and a declaration or profession of faith. It works well as a hymn of response to a Scripture passage or sermon that calls us to depend on God, or as a response to the Words of Assurance. You could use verse 1 as a prayer for illumination, and bring verses 2-5 back after the prayers of the people.
Laura de Jong, Hymnary.org