Monday, April 6, 2020

Hopeful Hymns in Uncertain Times (Part 1)

During these uncertain times, it is important to hear from God's word and from godly counsel. One of the resources that provides us with good Christian teaching is good Christian music. Hymns, both new and old, are a treasure for the church as we seek to sing spiritual songs that remind us of great truths. My hope is that these little devotionals will encourage Christians in days of trial. 

"How Firm a Foundation"
Author Unknown

John Rippon was an English Baptist minister who assumed the pastorate of famed commentator John Gill. He pastored New Park Street Chapel until he died in 1836, a tenure that lasted 63 years. A little over twelve years after he passed away, Charles Spurgeon became the pastor of the church. Rippon wrote a variety of hymns ("All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" is attributed to him), but his largest musical contribution was his hymnal, known as Rippon's Selection. The hymnal was used by his church and many others as a standard work until Spurgeon produced an updated version.

That initial hymnal was the first instance of the publication of "How Firm a Foundation." It was a favorite of General Robert E. Lee and has been beloved by Christians for more than two centuries. In the original publication, the author's name is listed merely as "K." The initial might stand for George Keith, the son-in-law of John Gill.

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?

The song opens with a strong, biblical declaration concerning the basis of Christianity. Scripture makes plain that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ being the cornerstone (Eph 2:19-22). As the author points out, this foundation is firm. What a critical detail to observe!

Fear not, I am with thee; oh 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,
upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

Shifting to the first-person voice of the Lord, this verse brings great comfort to the adopted child of God. The Bible clearly teaches that God is all-powerful (Job 42:2) and this section of the song reminds us that God uses His power to guard and protect His people for His glory (Rom 8:28-39).

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.

Continuing the theme of God's omnipotence and omnipresence, this song expresses the Lord's help in the midst of trouble. Many people seek to escape their trials, but the Christian worldview sees God's purposes in trials. A variety of psalms come to mind that match this theme, including Psalm 40.

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.

An interesting layer of God's sovereign control over our tribulations is added here. It can be assumed with little doubt that the author was thinking of the Lord's reply to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you," (2 Cor 12:7-10) when this verse was penned. The fire that the Lord brings us through is designed by Him for our good. (See also: "Every Day" by Sovereign Grace Music)

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.

Though demons attack and accuse, God never releases His almighty hold on His children. Jesus' teaching in John is so comforting and vital to our confidence. The Savior taught, "I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand," (10:28). In uncertain times, how much confidence can the Christian have knowing the power of the Lord!

1 comment:

  1. I love this hymn! The second verse, based off the Isaiah 41:10 scripture is my favorite. I've sung it in my head often, especially lately. It gives such peace and comfort, knowing He is there to hold me up. Thank you for your description of this beautiful song!