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History and Theology of the Hymn, “How Firm a Foundation”

Why did J. Vernon McGee use "How Firm a Foundation" for his opening radio show?

For many years as a young Christian, I would listen to J. Vernon McGee begin his, “Walk Through the Bible” lessons, on BBN radio with the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation Ye Saints of the Lord”. The music was a testament to McGee’s firm desire to preach the word, as a preacher, and later in life, as the voice of a 5-year long expository reading of God’s word from cover to cover. However, it was not until recently that I listened carefully to the full hymn and its teachings on the Lord’s truths. 

History

There is controversy as to the original author of the hymn, but most believe it was written by Robert Keen, and first published in 1787 in Rippon’s Selection of Hymns (details here). Focus passages include Isaiah 43:1-5, and Hebrews 13:5-6. The song can be found in the hymnbooks of many Christian denominations and is especially popular in United Methodist churches (details here). Interestingly, the hymn was included in the first hymn book published by the Mormons (LDS) in 1835. As a Biblical Christian who sees the Latter-Day Saints as anti-Christian in much of their theology, it is worth noting that, even in worship music, Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). 

Verses and Commentary

This hymn has been modified many times (details here) over the years by various denominations. Below is the most recent, along with my brief comments at the end of each of the four stanzas. 

1 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 has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

God has laid a foundation for mankind in His word. That is the reason McGee used this song as his opening on the “Thru The Bible” radio series. The word of God is without error in its original autographs and represents His complete revelation to man. We can interpret it based on our own worldview and limitations, but it cannot and should not be added to, modified, or twisted (Proverbs 30:5-6). Since is it perfect, any discrepancies that man may see must be reconciled by the Scriptures, taken as a whole, to be answered in detail at the feet of our Lord and Savior on the other side of the grave. 

2 “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,
as days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.”

It does not matter what our condition is or our status in life is. It does not matter where we are located in the world. God is omnipresent (everywhere), watching over us. 

3 “Fear not, I am with thee, O 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.”

God is also omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and sovereign (having supreme authority). We should not fear man (Isaiah 41:10 Psalm 34:4, 29:25), but we should fear God (Proverbs 9:10), for He is righteous. 

4 “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.”.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, you are with me… (Psalm 23:4).

5 “When through fiery trials thy pathway 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.”

God promises that He will be with us, but does not offer an easy life in His service. We will face trials and tribulations in being His servants, and as He refines us to be the children we are called to be (1 Peter 4:12). What is most important is our faith that the pathways He chooses for us will not hurt us beyond what He has designed from eternity past (Jeremiah 29:11). 

6 “The soul that on Jesus hath 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!”

The salvation of our soul is based on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Believers lean on Him for our strength and for His wisdom. No one can remove us from the loving hands of God (John 10:28-29). God will never leave us, nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). That is the eternal promise of a loving, all-powerful Father. 

Why did J. Vernon McGee use “How Firm a Foundation” for his opening radio show?

The answer to this question is, of course, obvious from the first verse. Our Biblical Christian Worldview is established by the full revelation of God through His inerrant word, the Bible.

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in His excellent word!”


Salvation – Eternal Life in Less Than 150 Words

Please Read/Respond to Comments – on Medium

AuthorJeff Hilles | BCWorldview.org 

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