“How Firm A Foundation.” This is a one of the best Lutheran hymns ever written by a Baptist. This hymn text was possibly written by John Rippon and was certainly first published in his A Selection of Hymns, from the Best Authors intended to be an Appendix to Dr Watts Psalms and Hymns (1787.) Rippon (1751-1836) was an Englishman who graduated from Bristol Baptist College and in 1772 began preaching in London. This same year, he was asked to guest-preach at Carter’s Lane Baptist Church, Tooley Street, for a few months. . . this few months turned quickly into 59 years and ended only with Rippon’s death. (Much as Lord of Life’s organist agreed only to play organ for three Sundays in June, 1993. . .)
This hymn text probably was not actually written by Rippon. He only collected some of the best Baptist hymns of the past and present and published them in his volume. Most ascriptions of authorship were left blank. Rippon’s hymnal was published in many editions. It sold so well that Rippon himself even became rather wealthy. He is buried in the Dissenter’s cemetery of Bunhill Fields in East London, where also Isaac Watts, John Bunyan, William Blake and Daniel DeFoe are buried. LoL’s organist did not realize Rippon was buried here until he literally stumbled over his grave whilst walking on the SW side of the cemetery one. Let us consider the text:
How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord,
Is made 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?
One of the fundamental concepts of the Reformation has been the sola scriptura (“scripture alone”) principle. This idea is viewed differently in different denominations. Baptists view this to mean that church traditions not directly mandated by scripture ought not be done. Luther viewed this as meaning church traditions that were not forbidden by scripture could be done. Regardless, we observe in this first stanza this sufficiency of scripture: “What more can He say than to you He has said?” God’s revelation sufficient for salvation is found in the Bible. This, then can be the only foundation upon which we build our faith.
The second and following stanzas shift the focus from the narration of the hymnwriter to the commands of God: God speaks to us from Isaiah when He says “Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed, for I am your God.” As is typical with penultimate (next-to-last) stanzas, the focus is on sufferings or adversity: “When through fiery trials your pathway will lie, My grace, all sufficient, will be your supply.” (See also “Crown Him With Many Crowns” and “A Mighty Fortress” for similar language in the third stanzas.) The fourth stanza emphasizes sanctification: “Throughout all their lifetime my people will prove my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love. . .” Perhaps here we can determine this was not written by a Lutheran, for a Lutheran, especially of this era, would not write about people proving God’s love. Yet, do we not go about daily living as Christian examples to those around us? Should not God’s love be evident through us daily and in the most mundane actions? If Lutherans do not do this, perhaps we should learn from the Baptists.