How Firm a Foundation

Earlier this year, I took a Doctoral of Ministry class from Dr. Joel Beeke. Dr. Beeke told a story about a woman in his congregation who was struggling with anxiety and depression. She asked him for counsel. Beeke told her to look through her Bible and write down on different sticky notes as many of the promises of God she could find. Then, she was to post the sticky notes all around her house. As she walked throughout her house, she would be reminded of these promises. Over time, after seeing and reflecting on these promises day after day, this helped strengthen and nourish the woman’s soul.[1]

“How Firm a Foundation” is one of those hymns that is filled with the promises of God. The first stanza begins with the reminder that God’s Word is our sure and firm foundation that we build our lives upon (Matt. 7:24-25). As we run to Jesus for refuge, His Word is fully sufficient to help us in time of need.

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 has said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Journeying through the Word of God, this hymn reminds us of many promises from Him.

God is With Us

The first promise the song mentions is the promise that God is with us. The second stanza is taken straight out of Isaiah 41:10. It says:

Fear not, I am with thee; oh be not dismayed
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand

Because God is with us, we are not to fear. His perfect love casts away all fear (1 Jn. 4:18). Jesus has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33). God may not deliver us from our suffering, but He promises to help us through it. He will give us aid, He will strengthen us, and His powerful hand will cause us to stand. What a great reminder that we are not alone in our struggles!

God Will Comfort Us

The second promise mentioned in the hymn is that God will comfort us. The third stanza reads:

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

This is taken from the first part of Isaiah 43:2. God may take us through the valley of the shadow of death, through the deep waters, but He will comfort us in our sorrows and deepest distress. He is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction (2 Cor. 1:3-4a). It is no wonder that Andrew Jackson requested this to be sung at his deathbed, and Teddy Roosevelt and Robert E. Lee asked it to be sung at their funerals.[2]

God Will Protect Us

As the hymn continues, the second part of Isaiah 43:2 is quoted. The fourth stanza reads:

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

A few years ago, I took my family to an indoor water park. My son, Caleb, was very young and was learning how to swim. He was scared to go down a water slide, but I assured him I was right there at the bottom to catch him so he would not drown. After several minutes of convincing, my son went down the slide with the most frightened look on his face. When he reached the water, I was right there to catch him so he didn’t go under water. He looked at me and said, “Dad, let’s do that again!” For the next hour and a half, Caleb kept going. He grew more confident because he knew I was with him and would not allow him to get hurt.

God is sovereign over our lives. He provides the grace we need as we go through fiery trials. He protects us and provides for us. When we begin to slip, He is right there to help us (see Ps. 121).

God Will Never Leave Us

The last promise “How Firm a Foundation” gives us is that God will never leave us. The fifth stanza reads:

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

This promise is taken from Deuteronomy 31:6, 8:

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

 8 It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

It was said that while conducting evening prayers in Princeton Seminary’s Oratory, Dr. Charles Hodge was so overcome with feeling during the last line of this hymn, “I’ll never, no never, no never forsake” (Heb. 13:5), that he could no longer sing but only gesture the words.[3]

What a promise from God! He will never leave us. He will never forsake us. Even though hell may shake our souls, God will never leave us. He will never allow the enemy to snatch us out of His hands (Jn. 10:28-30).

If you are finding yourself in a difficult season, take the time to sing this song. Reflect on each verse. Review the Scriptures of the promises of God and remember that He never breaks His Word.

[1] Joel R. Beeke, “Puritan Theology and Ministry” (lecture, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC, January 23-27, 2023).

[2] Taylor Brantley, “The Story Behind: How Firm a Foundation.” August 27, 2023.

[3] Tim Challies, “Hymn Stories: How Firm a Foundation”. March 17, 2013.