Every now and again, I hope to bring you some words from other solid brothers. Here’s the first of many from Jon English Lee.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Over the past few years How Firm a Foundation has become one of my favorite hymns. If you will permit me, I would like to make a case that it is a perfect example of what hymns should be.
1. It is theologically robust.
From the very beginning of the hymn the reader (or singer) is reassured of the trustworthiness and sufficiency of scripture. A hearty Doctrine of Scripture can be hard to come by when singing some hymns of today. The author also reminds us that Jesus is our refuge. Proper Christology and Bibliology in one verse! Who doesn’t love that?
2. It is packed with Scripture.
The remaining verses are all drawn from the Scriptures themselves. Verse two comes straight from Isaiah 41:10, which is a solid passage on God’s sovereignty (again, theologically robust). The third and fourth verses come from Isaiah 43:2 and 2 Corinthians 12:9, respectively. These verses together encourage us that God is our refuge when in fiery trials (like verse one), and that His grace will be sufficient to sustain us under any duress. The final verse points us to Hebrews 13:5. What more encouraging words could be heard than to hear the sovereign creator of our universe tell you that, “I will never forsake.”
3. It is simple.
The layout is simple and solid. First, tell how the Bible is completely sufficient for believers. Then use Bible passages to encourage the faith of all those who hear or sing this song. This hymn can be sung and understood by even young children in our congregations without fear of theological confusion.
4. It is deep.
This may be related to point number 1, but here goes anyway. I have already stated that this song can be understood by even young children. However, that does not mean that even seasoned saints can’t appreciate the hymn’s theology. In fact, the longer one has been a Christian and the more evidences of God’s faithfulness have been experienced, the more reasons the aged singer has to sing all the louder. When we sing as Jesus as our refuge, wouldn’t our song be all the sweeter if we can sing with the memories and experiences of that sweet refuge in mind? When we have lived for many years and can trace God’s providential hand at work throughout those years, won’t it be a joy to sing of being “upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand,”? Even though the young can appreciate the apparent simple theology, the most seasoned saint can’t help but shout “Amen” and sing even louder this wonderful praise to the Lord.
How Firm a Foundation has stood the test of time as one of the best hymns ever composed. I may not have convinced you that it is the perfect hymn, but I hope I have at least led you to think about the quality and content of what you are singing on Sunday mornings.