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Jul 2020

How Firm a Foundation

But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” – 2 Timothy 2:19

This Sunday, we will be introducing a new hymn to our gathering, How Firm a Foundation. It was first printed in the 1787 Selection of Hymns, published by John Rippon. In the original edition of his well-known hymnbook, the author was identified only as “K.” The 1822 edition listed him as “Keen.” Because Robert Keen was a close friend of Rippon, and served as song director at the Carter Lane Baptist Church, many have concluded that Keen is the author. After Rippon’s death, someone changed the “K” to “Kirkham” for Thomas Kirkham, but it is fairly certain that he did not write it. But no one knows for sure who did. Regardless, How Firm a Foundation is a great hymn full of biblical allusions and promises.

Verse 1 sets the theme for the entire hymn: namely, the foundation for living that believers can find in the words of Scripture. A rhetorical question is then asked not to elicit information, but to assent. “What more…?” with an understood “Nothing more,” and in that answer we are agreeing with the premise that the poet has asserted.

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?

We need to build our lives on the words of Jesus Christ as our rock (Matthew 7:24). The reason that this word can serve as a sure foundation is that it will never pass away (Matthew 24:35). Through it, we can run to Jesus for refuge in the storms of life (Hebrews 6:18).

The poet then arranges his meditation in such a way that everything that appears in the poem after the opening stanza is understood to be a speech addressed by God directly to us. As the assurances unfold, we begin to assimilate the words of God as promises to us, with the aggregate eventually seeming like a contract that God is making with us. All we need to do is to sign the contract with our belief. Verse 2 begins these assurances with the promises that God will be with, strengthen, and help us.

Isaiah 41:10
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

“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.

Those who are in Christ have nothing to fear (Matthew 10:28). Therefore, we can trust that we shall be upheld by His omnipotent hand (Psalm 31:15). Verse 3 then promises that God will guide us through the deep waters of life.

Isaiah 43:2
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

“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.

The “deep waters” symbolize the various troubles and difficulties that we often face in this life (Psalm 66:12). However, God will not allow the rivers of sorrow to overflow us because He has said that with every temptation He will make a way of escape that we might be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Thus, we can take courage in the knowledge that He will be with us (Matthew 28:20). Verse 4 goes on to promise that God will protect us through fiery trials we encounter.

2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

1 Peter 4:12–13
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

“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.

Because of the nature of this world in which we live, Christians can expect that they will be called upon to undergo fiery trials. However, God has promised His grace to supply our needs so that the flame will not hurt us. So, when we follow Him, the trials will serve not to destroy us but simply to purify us as the fire does gold (1 Peter 1:6-7). Verse 5 then promises that God will never leave us nor forsake us.

Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

“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.”

We must always lean on Jesus for repose – that is, trust in Him (Proverbs 3:5). And those who then trust in Him, the Lord will not desert to their foes (John 10:27-29). So we can rest in the promise that He will never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6).

All the promises of encouragement are directed to people in distress. The people addressed by God are those who are dismayed (verse 2), those passing through deep waters (verse 3), those being purified in fire (verse 4), and those being attacked by foes (verse 5). This is a hymn for for us today, and serves to remind us that the greatest calamity that could befall us is the loss of the Lord. But we have a Lord who took the fire He came on earth to bring. Jesus was consumed by the fire of God’s wrath in order to ransom us. With that firm foundation set underneath us, we learn to trust God, that since the worst (losing Jesus) doesn’t need to be a fear, we can walk through fiery trials leaning on Jesus for repose, knowing that since He took our place and was forsaken by the Father on the cross, we will never be forsaken. Our trials then become a doorway to more of Jesus, and an opportunity for deeper joy in fellowship with Him.

You can listen to How Firm a Foundation by watching the video below, and you can purchase and download the full song by clicking here.

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