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My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.”  This popular hymn text was written by British Baptist minister Edward Mote (1797-1874) in 1834. Although his childhood was characterized by no particular religious education, he soon found himself under the sway of the Rev John Hyatt at Tottenham Court Road Chapel. A contemporary biographer of Mote's writes of this particular hymn's development:

The writer of this hymn has kindly informed us that the chorus of this hymn flowed into his mind one morning as he was walking up Holborn Hill, London, on his way to business, about thirty-five years ago. Four verses were soon written, and two more on the following Sunday. They were of immediate use in affording comfort to a dying friend. This encouraged their author to have a thousand copies printed. These being without initials, were inserted in collections, and other names put to them; but the author vindicated his claim in the ‘Gospel Herald.’ The original being—“Nor earth nor hell my soul can move.”[1]

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders inspired Mote to compose this text. In this familiar story (found in Matthew 7 and Luke 6), Jesus exhorts us to put His Word into practice—to build our house on the secure rock rather than on the sinking sand. Mote’s hymn, with a refrain, encourages us to build on the solid rock which is Christ:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

No merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.

What does it really mean for one’s hope to be built on “nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness?”  To me, for whom the careless use of clichés can cause indescribable mental pain, this phrase can too easily degenerate into a harmless platitude.  In another stanza not contained in LSB, Mote writes, “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus name.”  What is this “sweetest frame” which seems to be the antithesis of “Christ the solid Rock?”  One might recall the many heroes of the faith.  The martyrs of the first three centuries of the Church proved with their lives that they trusted Christ above that of Roman law.  The “sweet frame” of earthly life, although they probably would have preferred it, could only pale in comparison to eternal life.  One thinks of the so-called “Morningstar of the Reformation,” the Englishman John Wycliff who, because of his biblical translations and teachings, was burned at the stake.  Certainly he could have recanted and lived into old age.  He chose to forsake that “sweet frame” in favor of faithfulness to his conscience which, although they are not necessarily always congruent, happened to correspond to God’s Word, particularly with the Great Commission.  Of course, Martin Luther could have chosen to ascend the ranks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy as the gifted professor of Wittenberg—esteemed, rich, powerful, famous.  It has always amazed this writer that Luther was not burned at the stake as many of his friends and co-reformationists were.  Luther himself gave up a life of luxury to become one of the most despised men in Europe, although his faithfulness to his conscience resulted not only in the return to an evangelical Church, but even of some reform in the Roman Church (Council of Trent [1545-1563]).   Certainly the list from Christian history is extensive of those who have proven, not through empty words but through their lives and sacrifices, that they truly could sing with assurance, “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;  All other ground is sinking sand.” 

When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant and blood support me in the raging flood;

When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.

Scripture is replete with nautical references and metaphors, which unsurprisingly make their way into the corpus of hymnody which so depends on scripture for its own inspiration. This is all fine and good, but we still have little more than platitudes in applying this to our lives. Do we truly forsake “every earthly prop?” Do those of us who are “professional” church workers test every thought, saying, and doctrine with God’s Word?  Do we simply take the word of others simply because we assess their piety as being equal to or greater than ours?  Do we take for granted the words of human beings instead of heeding the advice of I John 1: 4, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world”?  Consider Hebrews 6: 16-19: "Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all arguments. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." Ideas, culture, practices, and the world may change, but Jesus Christ and His promise remains unchanged.

When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found,

Clothed in His righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before His throne!

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

[1] Josiah Miller, Singers and Songs of the Church: Being Biographical Sketches of the Hymn Writers in all the Principal Collections (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1869), 449.

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