Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies. Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Alright. I admit it. Now that we are more than one-third of the way through our collection of thirty great hymns, we’ve finally come to one I just can’t recall singing. Now, admittedly, I should be familiar with this classic. I am sixty-four years old (at the time of this writing) and I did grow up in a very traditional church setting where the singing of the hymns was a vital part of each and every worship service. But alas…today, I’m stumped.
Yet don’t feel too bad if you are like me. Apparently, even the best music historians are not clear on the true beginnings of this popular hymn. All that is known of its’ origin is that in 1787, Dr. John Rippon, a long-time Baptist minister in Carter Lane, London, published a collection of hymns entitled, A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, Intended As an Appendix to Dr. Watts’ Psalms and Hymns. (With a title like that, you’d think it likely that it might never get used, but as it turned out, this collection of hymns proved to be vastly popular and brought Dr. Rippon both fame and fortune in his day!)
Hymn Number 128 in Rippon’s collection is entitled How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, and it had seven stanzas of four lines each and was subtitled, “Exceeding great and precious promises.” But now the mystery deepens. Apparently, Dr. Rippon was not a stickler for details, because he frequently did not indicate the author of the hymns published in his collection, leaving Hymn Number 128 to appear with only the initial ‘K–’ listed as the composer! That fact has left music historians a bit frustrated when attempting to credit the right person for the powerful words to this popular hymn. Many believe the ‘K–’ stood for Dr. Rippon’s song leader at his church named Robert Keene, but other names (George Keith, Thomas Kirkham, etc.) have been associated with the text as well.
Regardless of the hymn’s author, countless generations of Christians have found great comfort and reassurance in the words of this hymn that first appeared in 1787. Based primarily from biblical texts, especially Isaiah 43, this hymn is known to have been the favorite of General Robert E. Lee and was sung at his funeral. It is also reported that once, while conducting the evening worship service in Princeton Seminary’s Oratory, Dr. Charles Hodge was so overcome with emotion while singing the last line of this hymn (“I’ll never, no never, no never forsake,”) that he could no longer speak but only gesture the words! Today, only four or five of the original seven stanzas are published in hymnals, but for your reading pleasure, let me give you all seven, just so you can see the magnificence of the hymn in its entirety…
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?
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, —
The Lord, the Almighty, they strength e’er shall be.
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathways 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.
Even 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.
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.
My prayer: Father God, thank You for the amazing promises that are found in Your Word and then re-applied in the text of this amazing hymn. I may forget the hymn, but help me, Holy Spirit, to never forget the power of Your Word. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: According to this hymn, the Scriptures are a firm foundation, laid for my faith in God’s excellent Word. Where might I have strayed of late, placing my hope in other words or lesser promises found in the world today? What might it look like for me to return to the place where God’s Word is my truest foundation for my life in Christ?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together 30 Great Hymns of Faith?
Between now and Easter 2016, we will be sharing with you this blog series we call Thirty Great Hymns of Faith. In order to keep all 34 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Thirty Great Hymns of Faith home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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