Studying our Songs

by | Mar 29, 2021

I took a class by Dr. David Powlison last year, and at the beginning of every lecture, he exposited the lyrics of a hymn and then had the class sing it all together. It was a wonderful way to start each class, and his routine was an intentional reminder to us, students, that the material he would be teaching was meant to draw us to worship.

It is a great practice for the church, for me, and one I have been doing out of necessity for many years now. As the pastors or elders select songs for the church to sing when they are gathered, it is of necessity that those shepherds examine the words that the church will be singing. Songs are sermons too (I got this from someone else, but I forget who). You can do this at home too, and I would encourage you to do so – look over the lyrics of the songs your church will sing before or after you sing them. Many songs and lyrics Christians have been singing in worship to God for decades and centuries.

One song Dr. Powlison shared with us that I want to share with you is How Firm A Foundation. This hymn was first published in 1787 and we are not sure who wrote it. The hymn has five verses – no chorus and no bridge – full of rich theology that has fed the church for over 230 years.

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, 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 gracious, omnipotent hand.

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

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean 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.”

Looking at the lyrics you see that in the first stanza the songwriter is speaking to “saints” (all believers who have put their faith in Jesus alone for salvation), and the last four stanzas are in quotes as though someone else is talking. The first stanza states that what else can Christ say to you who have already fled to him for refuge, and yet, as you read on, you see the next four stanzas are full of Christ speaking to us.

In this song, we learn much about God the Father, Christ the Son, the Scriptures, and the work of God in our lives. A few things that jump out to us in these lines is that God has given us his Word as our firm foundation, God is with us and we have no reason to fear, God will help us by his grace, God is all-powerful, God is sovereign over sorrow and trouble to use them to bless and sanctify us, God’s grace is what we need, God is working to make us holy, and God will never ever leave us or forsake us.

Those are good words. Those are healing words. Those are words I need to sing with my brothers and sisters that come from God’s Word and are rooted in the person and work of Jesus for us. I hope you get to look over these lyrics and the lyrics of the other songs you sing with the gathered church on Sunday. May this study of songs aid in your preparation for gathered worship or allow your gathered worship to continue feeding you throughout the week.

Thank you for stopping by our church blog, it’s new to us (this is our first post), and we hope it is a place for the sharing of songs, poems, books we are reading, things we are learning, and good articles we come across that we think would be helpful for you. Come back often as we hope to keep the content coming.