“How Firm a Foundation” first appeared in a hymnal in 1787, titled “Selection of Hymns”, edited by John Rippon, pastor of Carter’s Lane Baptist Church in London for 63 years, and his Minister of Music, Robert Keene. Their vision was to publish a church hymnal of the best authors, as an appendix to Dr. Watts’ psalms and hymns. There were eleven British editions of this hymnal. An American edition appeared in 1820.
No one knows the author, or composer, of this hymn, though many scholars attribute the composition to Robert Keene.
Each of the seven original stanzas was based on biblical promises, giving this hymn unique power. The first verse established the hymnist’s theme – God’s Word is a sufficient foundation for our faith. Precious promises of the Bible were selected and converted into hymn stanzas, among them:
• Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
• Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.
• 2 Corinthians 12:9 – My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
• Hebrews 13:5 – For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
It is clear to see why this hymn was first published under the title “Exceedingly Great and Precious Promises.”