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 hath said?
to you–who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Fear not, I am with thee; O 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.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shalt 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.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose–
I will not, I will not desert to his foes.
That soul, though all Hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never—no, never—no, never forsake.

from Rippon’s Selection… (1790)

First, I don’t intend this to be hymnologically profound post–I get to teach that all week long, but don’t intend to do it here (if you’re interested in more info and original spelling/capitalization, start here).

What I will do is express my wonder at the number of hymns I had memorized as a child, but didn’t really understand until I was in college (or later!).

For example, How Firm a Foundation is a song all about God’s promises, which ground our souls in a world of upheaval. I regret to say that I sung this hymn for years before realizing that the first verse is merely an introduction to the rest of the stanzas, each of which recount a specific promise of God from Scripture.

I regret to admit that it was a long time before I realized that the last verse has nothing to do with us committing not to forsake God, but precisely the opposite. It’s paraphrasing God’s promise never to forsake his own, reminding us that he will not act “against” those who have hidden in Jesus (Rom 8:31+ff.).

Now, it’s possible that in the first eighteen years of life, I was unusually dense and inattentive to the words I was singing. But I suspect that I was not (and am not) alone. It makes me wonder how many people are still singing this song and have no idea what they’re singing.

So how important is it for a music director to occasionally plan one or two sentences to help introduce a hymn and point us to the heart of what we’re about to sing? On some Sundays, it might be the most fruitful twelve seconds of your day.