How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord

Full Text

1 How firm a foundation you 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?

2 "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.

3 "When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,
for I will be with you in trouble to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

4 "When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace all-sufficient shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

5 "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!"

Source: Lift Up Your Hearts: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs #427

Author: K.

In John Rippon's A Selection of Hymns (1787, plus numerous subsequent editions), "How Firm a Foundation" (no. 128) is attributed simply to "K—". Two other hymns in the collection bear the same mark, "In songs of sublime adoration and praise," and "The Bible is justly esteemed." The author of the hymn has never been definitively identified, but the most common candidates are listed below. I. Robert Keen(e) The most likely possibility is Robert Keene, who served as precentor at Rippon's church. The evidence for connecting K with Keene comes (1) from his close acquaintance with Rippon, (2) Rippon's tune book, and (3) the testimony (of sorts) of Thomas Walker. After Rippon started publishing a tune book, A Selection of Psalm and Hymn T… Go to person page >

Author (attributed to): George Keith

George Keith, according to D. Sedgwick, was the author of "How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord." Little is known about Keith, save that he was a publisher, a son-in-law of Dr. Gill, and the composer of several hymns. --Annotations of the Hymnal, Charles Hutchins, M.A. 1872. Go to person page >

Author: R. Keen

(no biographical information available about R. Keen.) Go to person page >

Text Information

First Line: How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord
Author: K.
Author: R. Keen (c. 1787)
Author (attributed to): George Keith
Source: Rippon's A Selection of Hymns, 1787
Language: English
Liturgical Use: Gospel Acclamation Songs


Scripture References:
st. 1 = 1 Cor. 3:11
st. 2 = Isa. 41:10
st. 3-4 = Isa. 43:2
st. 5 = Rom. 8:35-39, Heb. 13:5, Deut. 31:6

Based on Isaiah 43: 1-5, this text was given the heading “Exceeding great and precious Promises. II Peter 3:4” [sic. II Peter 1:4] in John Rippon's A Selection of Hymns (1787). The author was listed simply as "K" Although some scholars are not convinced of this attribution, "K" presumably refers to Richard Keen, song leader in the London church where Rippon was minister. With minor alterations, stanzas 1, 3-5, and 7 are included from the original seven stanzas.

"How Firm a Foundation" is a noble text, full of comfort for God's people whose "foundation" of faith is rooted in the Word (st. 1) and whose lives experience divine protection when they face "deep waters" and "fiery trials" (st. 2-4). The final stanza clearly moves beyond the text's Old Testament source and proclaims the certainty of redemption in Christ.

A Baptist minister, Rippon (b. Tiverton, Devonshire, England, 1751; d. London, England, 1836) was called to the Baptist Church in Carter Lane, London, in 1772 as an interim pastor. After becoming head pastor, he stayed in that position for sixty-three years. He also edited the Baptist Annual Register (1790-1802). His main contribution to hymnody was his compiling of A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, Intended As an Appendix to Dr. Watts' Psalms and Hymns (1787) and A Selection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1791). These publications became popular in both England and America. However, later hymnologists have often been frustrated by Rippon's work because he frequently did not indicate the authors of the hymns and often altered the texts without acknowledging his changes.

Liturgical Use:
Many occasions of worship that focus on redemption and providence; as a hymn of comfort for those in difficult or tragic circumstances; baptism; profession of faith; prior to reading of Scripture.
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook


How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord. Keen. [Perseverance of the Saints.] This hymn appeared in Rippon's Selection, 1787, No. 128, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines, and entitled, “Exceeding great and precious promises." In 1822 it was repeated in A. Fletcher's Baptist Collection of Hymns, No. 296, in 4 stanzas, the omitted stanzas being ii., iv. & v. Two arrangements of the text were thus handed down to modern hymnals. In the 1835 edition of Fletcher's Collection, the full original text is restored. This is repeated in Spurgeon's Our Own Hymn Book, 1866, No. 732, and other hymn-books.
The authorship of this hymn has been the subject of much enquiry. We have (1) in modern editions of Rippon the name of "Kirkham"; (2) in Fletcher's 1835 edition as above, "Keen"; (3) and in Spurgeon's Our Own Hymn Book, "George Keith."
1. Rippon's original signature was "K—." In modern editions, which are not published by Dr. Rippon's representatives, the "K—“ is extended into "Kirkham," but on what authority we cannot say.
2. The ascription in Miller's Singers and Songs, 1869, p. 349, we find from the Sedgwick Manuscript, is based upon nothing but the statement of an old woman whom Sedgwick met in an almshouse.
3. In Fletcher's Collection, 1822, the "K—" of Rippon is extended to "Kn," and in the edition of 1835 this is still further extended to "Keen," and so it remains. That this is more likely to be correct than either of the other two is gathered from the fact that Dr. Fletcher was assisted in his work by Thomas Walker, the editor of Dr. Rippon's Tune Book, to whom he specially refers in these words:—"Great assistance has been obtained from Mr. Walker, Compiler of Dr. Rippon's Tune Book, and the Editor of the Companion to it, called Walker's Companion; and it is but justice to acknowledge that the principal choice of Hymns and the application of Tunes, has been effected by his extensive knowledge of sacred poetry, and long tried acquaintance with the science of sacred music." Preface, London, Nov. 1822.
In addition, in the Index of the "Names of such Authors of the Hymns as are known," the name "Keen," with the abbreviation “Kn," is also given. Taking Mr. Walker's acquaintance with Dr. Rippon's work into account, we are justified in concluding that the ascription to this hymn must be that of an unknown person of the name of Keen.
The following hymns bear the same signature as the above in Dr. Rippon's Selection, 1787.
1. In songs of sublime adoration and praise (Distinguishing Grace). This is given in Spurgeon's Our Own Hymn Book, on Sedgwick's authority, as "George Keith, 1787."
2. The Bible is justly esteemed (Holy Scriptures).
From the fact that these two hymns have a common signature in Rippon’s Selection, 1787, with "How firm a foundation," &c, and that the three appeared there for the first time, we also ascribe them to Keen. Miller, in his Singers and Songs of the Church, 1869, bases his note on George Keith on the unsupported word of D. Sedgwick as above.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)




The anonymous tune FOUNDATION first appeared in Joseph Funk's A Compilation of Genuine Church Music (1832) as a setting for this text (there it was called PROTECTION). The tune was also published with the text in Southern Harmony and Sacred Harp. The ancestors of Joseph Funk (b. Lancaster County, PA…

Go to tune page >



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