Ministerial Alliance Program- KLMX

Hymn Theology- How Firm a Foundation


April 21-28, 2008

Bryan Kimsey

1st Baptist Church, Des Moines, NM


Welcome to the Ministerial Alliance program on KLMX radio.  We’ve been looking this week at the theology behind some popular hymns and I think it’s been an interesting study.  If nothing else, I hope you’ll think about what you’re singing next time you’re in church and if you’re not singing in church, well, please find a church and get with the program!  Today we’ll look at one of most theologically deep hymns I know of- “How Firm a Foundation.”  May God grant me wisdom and words to show you His glory and may this be done in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior.   Amen!


The author of “How Firm a Foundation” is unknown.  Various hymnals credit it to different authors, but history remains unclear on exactly who wrote it.  It is an amazing hymn, though, as we’re about to see.  It starts off like this:


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?


When I hear the words “how firm a foundation”, I immediately think of Jesus’ example in:


Matthew 7:24-27  "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:  (25)  and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.  (26)  "But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand:  (27)  and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."


The next line “…is laid for your faith in His excellent word…” The song says that our firm foundation is laid in the word of God and this brings to mind Paul’s instructions to Timothy:


2 Timothy 3:16-17  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  (17)  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.


Paul says that Scripture is profitable for a whole list of things- doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction so that the man of God may be complete and ready for every good work.  That fact that I’m sitting here basically repeating Paul’s instructions word for word is exactly what the author of this hymn is saying when he writes “What more can He say than to you He hath said?”  What more can I say that what is already in Scripture?  It’s all there!  Scripture contains everything we need to know about The Important Stuff.


Our last line in this verse reads “You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?”  The “you” in this line is referring to the “saints” of the first line.  While it’s common among some religions to refer to only those special and hard-working believers as “saints”, the Bible doesn’t do that.  In the Bible, all believers are saints and all share in the priesthood common to all believers.  There are certainly levels of “saints” in that some are elders and some are apostles and so on, but all are saints of the Lord.  Anyone who has fled “unto Jesus for refuge” is a saint. 


Now, ask yourself, “what is this refuge?”  Why should I flee unto Jesus for refuge?  Refuge from what?  Well, as I pointed out yesterday, the Hebrews put the blood of an unblemished lamb on the doorway of their household and this caused the angels of the Lord to pass over that household as he was executing God’s wrath on the Egyptians.  Likewise, it is the atoning sacrifice of Christ on our behalf that saves us from the wrath of God which we deserve, thanks to our sin and disobedience to God’s commands.  We can see this clearly in:


Romans 5:8-10  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (9)  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  (10)  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.


So, it’s from God’s own wrath that God has saved His saints through the sacrifice of Christ who is God Himself in the flesh.   Now, that is an amazing thing, if you ask me.


I’m going to skip to the 3rd verse of our hymn and it reads:


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.


Many of us are familiar with Psalm 23, of which v 4 reads:


Psalms 23:4  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.


But there is another Bible verse that reads even closer to this passage and it is:


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


This is a prime example of what a hymn should be.  It’s God’s own words being sung back to Him.  In doing this, we recognize and acknowledge how totally sufficient His excellent word is.  Since man was created to glorify God, this acknowledgment fulfills man’s purpose and simultaneously fulfills God’s purpose in creating us.   Perhaps this is why singing theologically rich hymns is such a satisfying thing.


The next verse of “How Firm a Foundation” goes like this:


When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.


Last time I was here on KLMX I spent a week talking about suffering in the Christian life and you can see that theme in this verse.  This theme is continued in the next verse, which is a verse that I used in the series on suffering.  Here it is:


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.


What a great verse this is!  I have this one memorized.  Notice that it say “when through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie…” and not “if….”  The line “my grace, all sufficient, shall by thy supply” reminds me so much of Paul’s thorn in the flesh from:


2 Corinthians 12:7-9  And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.  (8)  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  (9)  And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.


The section in the hymn which says “the flame shall not hurt thee, I only design, thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine” brings to mind these three passages:


Zechariah 13:9  I will bring the one-third through the fire, Will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them. I will say, 'This is My people'; And each one will say, 'The LORD is my God.' "


Isaiah 48:10-11  Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.  (11)  For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; For how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another.


Psalms 66:10-12  For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.  (11)  You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs.  (12)  You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.


There is no question that troubles and trials are both fiery and painful and there’s no question that they also challenge our relationship with God.  If our faith is true and pure, that relationship is improved as dross comes to the surface where it can be removed.


And now we get to the last verse in the hymn and my favorite:


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.


In the Bible, whenever things are repeated, it’s for emphasis.  Thus, when God says “Abraham, Abraham…”, He’s emphasizing the closeness of their relationship.  There are few places where a word is repeated thrice and two of them are when the heavenly host call God “Holy, holy, holy.”  This repeated phrase is the ultimate emphasis.  Likewise, we see in this verse that, regarding the soul leaning on Jesus, God will not, will not desert to its foes.  Jesus says:


John 10:27-29  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  (28)  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  (29)  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.


And Paul says:


Romans 8:38-39  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  (39)  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


If we lean on Jesus and trust in His security we are safe.  We are truly lambs in the arms of the Great Shepherd.  And, as our hymn says, “though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”   This song isn’t Scripture, of course, but the writer is using the Biblical tool of triple repetition to give the ultimate emphasis.  God will never forsake us.    This truth can be seen in:


Hebrews 13:5-6  Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU."  (6)  So we may boldly say: "THE LORD IS MY HELPER; I WILL NOT FEAR. WHAT CAN MAN DO TO ME?"


And in:


Psalms 37:28  For the LORD loves justice, And does not forsake His saints; They are preserved forever, But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off.



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.


What a comforting verse that one is.  As we come to the end of today’s study, I ask you- have you leaned upon Jesus for repose?  Do you have a firm foundation, built upon the faith that is given by God and not created by man?  When the storms hit, only the faith built upon the rock will stand.  Ask yourself these question and answer them honestly.  You can fool me and you can fool yourself, but you can’t fool God.  Lean upon Jesus and even all hell cannot shake you loose from God.


I’m Bryan Kimsey from 1st Baptist Church in Des Moines.  Thanks for listening today and please join us tomorrow.  Also, let me remind you of our church website at  You’ll find all my Ministerial Alliance messages there as well as some information about our church.  We’ll see you tomorrow- may God hold you fast in his mighty hands.


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