The hymn “How Firm a Foundation” was first published in 1787 in a hymn book titled, “A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors.” It’s author (apparently thought to be one of the best) was unknown or at least unnamed at the time. The hymn originally had seven stanzas, although only five appear in our hymnal today. Each stanza is based on a verse from Scripture. Consider the following verses from God’s Word and compare them to the hymn stanzas:
“Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation.” Isaiah 28:16
How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He has said who unto the Savior for refuge have fled.” (Stanza 1)
“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.” Isaiah 41:10
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. (Stanza 2)
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
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! (Stanza 3)
“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.” Isaiah 43:2
“‘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.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
When through fiery trials your pathway will lie, My grace, all-sufficient, will be your supply. The flames will not hurt you; I only design your dross to consume and your gold to refine. (Stanza 4)
What wonderful promises our God has given us in His holy Word! And what a firm foundation he has laid for our faith in the Law and the Prophets and in their culmination and fulfillment in the life, death and resurrection of His Son. In Christ Jesus our unimaginable debt has been cancelled and with His Holy Spirit we have been sealed for resurrection to eternal life!
This last Sunday in our study of the prophet Amos, we came across an odd verse. Amos is preaching God’s Word of judgment to Israel and says in 3:14 that the “horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground.” I didn’t even remember that the altar had horns! What’s this all about?
We looked back at Exodus 21:12-14 and saw there that God had designated His altar as a place where a man might seek refuge, especially if he had caused an accidental death. In 1 Kings 1 we find that one of David’s sons, Adonijah, has set himself up as king of Israel when David was old. David had promised the throne to Solomon, and when David finds out that Adonijah has styled himself king in David’s place (treason), David quickly and publicly appoints Solomon king. When Adonijah discovers this, he fears for his life and flees to the altar of the tabernacle for refuge, grabbing on to the horns of the altar. David then grants Adonijah clemency if he will serve Solomon.
The altar is the place where sacrifice is made to God to appease His wrath for sin. Here the blood of the sacrifice is sprinkled as a physical testimony that the debt for sin has been paid. God establishes that one may flee to this place, to the altar, to seek mercy when accused.
But the altar and the sacrifices and the blood were pointing to something greater, to the final once-for-all sacrifice that Jesus would make on the cross, and the shedding of the blood of the Son of God that would pay the debt of all mankind once and for all. If the blood of bulls and goats could appease God’s wrath for sin and deliver mercy to the people, how much more does the blood of Jesus offer forgiveness and mercy to all sinners who in faith come to him for refuge?
How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He has said who unto the Savior for refuge have fled.” I’ll have a little different image in my head from now on when I sing that verse. It will be the image of one running to the altar of God and clinging to its horns for refuge. This is what each of us does as we come to our heavenly Father, confessing our sins, and clinging to His promise that the blood of the sacrifice covers our sin, the blood that Christ shed for us on the cross washing away each stain, cleansing us and purifying us and opening heaven and eternal life to us all.
Stanza five in our hymnal says,
Throughout all their lifetime My people will prove My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love; And then, when gray hairs will their temples adorn, like lambs they will still in My bosom be borne.
What beautiful words. It’s God’s ruling, eternal and unchangeable love that has done it all. It’s his mercy and grace afforded us in Christ that turns God from a condemning Judge into our loving Shepherd, bearing us in his arms to heaven.
May you rejoice always in the love of God your Savior as you stand firm on the foundation He has laid for your faith.