How Firm a Foundation

Posted on July 17, 2023 by Elizabeth Welte in Freedom Fighters

I love to hear the stories behind the hymns we sing. I was fascinated by the story about the hymn, How Firm a Foundation:


From the pen of Pastor Robert J. Morgan, here is the back story:

On Christmas Eve 1898, many soldiers were encamped in the hills above Havana. It was a tropical, balmy night, and the thoughts of the men were of home. Some were from the North and others from the South, and the tensions of slavery, segregation, and the Civil War were still raw. One middle-aged man was sitting in front of his tent—Lieutenant Colonel Curtis Guild Jr., the former governor of Massachusetts. He was a close friend of Roosevelt and had been appointed inspector-general of Havana during the occupation.

As he sat talking to a fellow officer their thoughts were mellow, and they spoke of what their families were doing back home. When the midnight hour came, a sentinel cried out, “Twelve o’clock, and all’s well.” At that moment a beautiful voice arose from a nearby tent—a clear, booming baritone—singing the hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” In those days this hymn was often sung to the tune Adeste Fideles, the melody for the Christmas carol “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

This is a hymn of seven verses, and it was well-known and very popular, especially since it was Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite hymn. More and more voices joined in with every verse—the Forty-ninth regiment of Iowa, the Sixth of Missouri, the Fourth of Virginia, soldiers from both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line—an entire army, united far from home in the first moments of Christmas 1898.1 “How Firm a Foundation” is an unusual hymn because each of its seven stanzas takes a divine promise from Scripture and puts it into the rhyme and rhythm of a verse. The original title of “How Firm a Foundation” was “Exceedingly Great and Precious Promises.”

The opening stanza says: 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, You, who unto Jesus, for refuge have fled? The stanzas go on to remind us of the promises that our strength shall equal our days (Deuteronomy 33:25); that God is with us to strengthen, help, and cause us to stand (Isaiah 41:10); that He will be present when we go through deep waters or encounter fiery trials (Isaiah 43:2); and that He will bless and care for us even down to old age (Isaiah 46:4). Imagine the comfort felt when this spontaneous, a cappella choir of masculine voices, rising into the heavens from moonlit tents—an entire army, came to the final verse: 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.

Morgan, Robert J.. 100 Bible Verses That Made America (pp. 232-234). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.


Here are the verses to this great hymn:

1: 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?
You, who unto Jesus for Refuge have fled.

2: In every Condition, in Sickness, in Health,
In Poverty’s Vale, or abounding in Wealth;
At Home and Abroad, on the Land on the Sea,—
“As thy Days may demand, shall thy Strength ever be.

3: “Fear not, I am with thee, oh be not dismay’d,
“I, 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.

4: “When thro’ 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.

5: “When thro’ fiery Trials thy Pathway 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.

6: “Even down to old Age, all my People shall prove
“My sov’reign, eternal, unchangeable Love;
“And then hoary Hairs shall their Temples adorn,
“Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

7: “The Soul that on Jesus has leaned for Repose,
“I will not, I will not desert to his Foes;
“That Soul, tho’ all Hell should endeavor to shake,
“I’ll never–no never–no never forsake. [5]


This story ties in so beautifully with our theme, Anchored: Faithful though the Ages.

Take some time to sing through the hymn to the tune: O Come, All Ye Faithful.


Anchored to the Rock

Bill Welte/President/CEO
America’s Keswick


Written by Bill Welte: President/CEO of America’s Keswick: Bill has been married to his childhood sweetheart for 40+ years and has four married kids and 12 amazing grandkids. He loves music and is an avid reader.

Think About This: “No healthy Christina ever chooses suffering: he chooses God’s Will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.” – Oswald Chambers

The Daily Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 29-31. You can download our 2023 Daily Bible Reading Plan by clicking here. 

This Week’s Verse to Memorize: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:14-15

Want to get away & have dedicated time to read & learn God’s Word?

Consider a retreat at America’s Keswick retreat center.


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