How Firm a Foundation

# 636 How Firm a Foundation


Text:      Richard Keen

Tune:     Foundation

Composer:  Anonymous

“How Firm a Foundation” is a hymn that for over two centuries has assured believers of the faithfulness of Christ and the certainty of hope. The first verse acts almost as an introduction to the rest of the text, giving us cause to stop and ponder the Word of assurance that God has given us, described in greater detail in the next four verses. Those four verses are in fact paraphrases of Scripture passages: Isaiah 41:10, 43:2, Romans 8:3-39, Hebrews 13:5, and Deuteronomy 31:6. In the words of this hymn then, we carry with us the Word from God, and the call to trust in that Word. But God’s Word is expansive and not limited to letters on a page - the fifth verse moves us to a trust in the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. Thus we are assured by the words we sing, the Word we are given, and the Word made flesh, of the steadfastness of God and His unfailing love.

This hymn, believed by most to have been written by Richard Keen, was first published in 1787 in John Rippon’s A Selection of Hymns (Rippon was minister at the London church Keen attended). Keen’s text originally included seven stanzas and was entitled “Exceeding great and precious promises.” It appeared in A. Fletcher Baptist’s 1822 Collection of Hymns in only four stanzas, omitting the original second, fourth and fifth. Today, hymnals include anywhere from three to five stanzas, often the original first, third, fourth, fifth and seventh stanzas. The number of verses found in each hymnal differs, but the actual text has not been altered much. When all five stanzas are used, the text powerfully moves from references to the faithfulness of God in the Old Testament to the certainty of the faithfulness of Christ.

Almost every hymnal and version sets the text to the anonymous tune FOUNDATION, first appearing under the name SINCERITY and SOLICITUDE in Southern Harmony, and appearing with this text in the Sacred Harp. It now appears in most hymnals in the key of G. In the Episcopal Hymnal, the text is set to both FOUNDATION and LYONS, by Haydn.

Here’s a spirited rendition by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. YOUTUBE