A Hymn Story for a Flawed Church

samuel-stone-hymn-writerA few weeks ago I went to the funeral for the mother of one of the elders of Trinity Church. The funeral itself was at Calvary Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in Watseka. Pastor Don Love did a marvelous job but he was also helped by the marvelous funeral liturgy of his church and the genius of a hymn that was written in the 1860’s by Samuel J. Stone.

Today, verses 3 and 4 are almost never sung but they may be the most needed verses for the Church to reckon with in the present climate of our culture. Verse three talks about the Church being hated by the world but will prevail nevertheless because her Lord will not let her fail. 

Verse 4 speaks of the internal problems the Church faces because of her own frailty and hypocrisy as well as the doctrinal heresies with which she is sometimes beset. Its cry (verse 4) reminds the Church that it shall triumph yet and God will purify His bride in the end. It rings with a realistic hope that knows the Church is flawed but also that she is great.

Stone was born in England 100 years before WW II would break out in Europe. His father was a pastor, a Hebrew scholar, and an accomplished botanist. He also had a love of hymns and published a six-volume compilation. That love of hymns was picked up by his son who became a poet in his own right and followed him into the pastorate as well becoming a Church of England curate.

Wikipedia says that Stone also wrote “a set of hymns based on the Apostles’ Creed in 1866. He titled it, Lyra Fidelium; Twelve Hymns on the Twelve Articles of the Apostles’ Creed. ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ is based on the ninth article, The holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints.”  

[I would love to see a collection of those hymns. That might be a good late night research project.]

Here are some other fun facts from the Wikipedia article on the Hymn itself:

In the 1941 film One Foot in Heaven, the song is featured in the final emotional scene.

Science Fiction author David Weber has used portions of The Church’s One Foundation as book titles for his Safehold series.

In 2013, a line from the hymn was given prominence in the landmark publication from Crossway: “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective” (eds. David Gibson & Jonathan Gibson), a multi-authored volume which defends the Christian doctrine of definite atonement.

The song also served as the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling‘s 1896 poem, Hymn Before Action.

1 The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her

To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

2 She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one Holy Food,
And to one Hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

3 The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against or foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

4 Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

5 ’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

6 Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s Hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

7 O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide! Amen

Here are two interesting versions of the song. The first is from what looks like an Indian church and is a good example of the second verse, “She is from every nation.” The second is a simpler version done by Indelible Grace. Enjoy.

The Church has but ONE foundation, Jesus Christ her Lord.

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