The Good Shepherd Sings This Hymn To Soothe and Empower Us
Text: Attributed to Robert Keen, ca. 1787. Included in the first
LDS hymnbook, 1835.
Music: Attributed to J. Ellis (ca. 1889)
Tune name: FIDELITY
The Lord Almighty, in all His Glory… the Creator of Heaven and earth… who lit the stars, who organized the rotation of solar systems, who’s voice is obeyed by winds and seas and mountains and planets…
Imagine Him singing a song to you. What would He sing?
This is how I think of verses 3 through 7 of “How Firm a Foundation.”
To me it’s as if a prophet sings to all believers the first 2 verses. And then he steps aside and let’s the Lord speak, or sing, for Himself.
And what does He say? Well of course, He starts by quoting my favorite verse in Isaiah, chapter 41, verse 10. I LOVE Isaiah!
Emma Smith, when putting together the first Latter-day Saint hymnal heard in these 5 verses, the Lord speaking (singing) to us.. That’s why she placed quotation marks around each of the final 5 verses.
Fear thou not, for I am with thee.
Be not dismayed, for I am thy God.
I will strengthen they, yea, I will help thee,
yea, I will uphold thee,
with the right hand of my righteousness.
Hymn #85, Verse 3
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 righteous, omnipotent hand.
But He doesn’t stop there. He sings to us when we’re in “deep water.” When going “through fiery trial.” Even in “old age.” And He sings with a powerful Shepherd call that he will “never forsake” us!
These are not EXTRA verses!
Anybody who calls these EXTRA verses is cutting of the Lord in the middle of blessing us. Would you interrupt the Lord while He’s speaking to us? While He’s blessing us? I hope not.
Let Him sing! Let Him bless us! His words are exactly the balm we need.
Amanda Smith certainly felt that way during the 1838 Haun’s Mill Massacre.
Here’s the story told by Karen Davidson.
“The state militia attacked the defenseless group and killed seventeen Saints, including the husband and ten-year-old son of Amanda Smith. Another son, Alma, had been seriously wounded. Amanda Smith gathered with other bereaved women and children at the home of one of the Saints. “In our utter desolation,” she wrote later, ‘what could we women do but pray?
“One day they received a message form the militia: the sound of their praying was hateful, and they would have to cease praying or be killed. They dared not pray aloud, but Amanda smith store out into a cornfield. ‘I prayed aloud and most fervently,’ she said.
“When I emerged from the corn a voice spoke to me. It was a voice as plain as I ever heard one. It was no silent, strong impression of the spirit, but a voice, repeating a verse of the Saint’s hymn:
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!
“‘From that moment I had no more fear. I felt that nothing could hurt me. The Lord kept his word. The soul who on Jesus had leaned for succor had not been forsaken even in this terrible hour of massacre.” (Our Latter-Day Hymns, pg. 115)
Sometimes I find myself wanting more experimental harmony in our hymns. Or, at least, a more colorful setting of a hymn. I suppose that’s similar to wanting to hear something new and different in General Conference talks.
But the gospel doesn’t need to be dressed up in colorful apparel with all kinds of sparkly new bright shinny objects. It stands on it’s own two feet on the simple yet profound basic truths taught by Jesus.
This hymn is a great example of a simple, straightforward use of foundational music principles. It’s built almost 100% on the 1 chord, 4 chord, and 5 chord. The 3 pillars of basic music harmony. I’m ever so glad that we get a G-flat before the final cadence. Just that 1 added notes hammers home the descending final bass line, anchoring it to the cornerstone.
The tune is has a nice, singable shape to it. Leaps on the main triad and more legato falling steps take us to the half-way point. and the on “Who unto the Savior,” there begins a wonderful “climbing the mountain of faith” leaping on the 1 chord until hitting the high E-flat climax topped off with the final descent to “Do” with the G-flat anchor in the bass.
Simple. Strong. Soothing. Satisfying.
That’s all for today. I hope you’ll take this hymn with you as you go about your day. And if you face challenges, trial, frustrations, dashed hopes, deep waters, fiery trials, or caustic mobs, remember, “He’ll never, no never… No… NEVER… forsake!”
Have a good one,
Commentary from The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This hymn is probably my 10 year old son’s favorite hymn right now, so I cannot help but think of him with tender feelings as I give remarks on this hymn. This text first appeared in a hymnal published in London in 1787. It became extremely popular almost immediately, appearing in many hymnals on both sides of the ocean very shortly after its initial publication. The original text had seven verses, and it is nice to see all of those verses retained in our hymnal, though because only three are printed inside the staves, the other four are too often ignored, thus leaving the message incomplete.
George D. Pyper, a figure of some influence in church leadership and cultural productions in the early part of the twentieth century, remarked that “this hymn becomes, indeed, a rod and a staff, to hold one in God’s sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love. ‘How Firm a Foundation’ should be memorized by every Latter-day Saint.” There is a wonderful story of Amanda Smith relating to this hymn that is worth discovering as well.
This text is set to many different tunes across time and denomination, including the tune ADESTE FIDELIS, most known for its pairing with O Come, All Ye Faithful. The Hymnal 1982 includes two settings, one to to the tune LYONS, which we know as How Wondrous and Great, and the other to the tune that is used in most hymnals today, the American folk hymn tune FOUNDATION. This tune, perhaps the most widely sung of any of the American folk hymns, and is a wonderful tune for this text.
The tune used in our hymnal is FIDELITY, and is unique to our hymnal. It bears slight resemblance to FOUNDATION, and I think is equally as good of a tune for this text. Its simplicity and forward thrust seem to work very well for congregational singing. If you are highly ambitious, I recommend Richard Elliott’s fine arrangement on this tune.
I would definitely play this hymn in two. A tempo that really energizes and moves the tune in my estimation is half note equal to 78-82. This tempo gives it a nice lilt and preserves the feel of in two, rather than in four. I think the suggested tempo is far too slow for this tune. It is too stodgy for me with the pulse in four. I would use a firm foundational registration of a plenum, employing chorus reeds and the whole kit and kaboodle for the final verse (which hopefully would be after the previous six verses are sung!).
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔’, Mixture, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Tierce 1 ⅗, Mixture, Bassoon 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed, Heavy Reed 16’