"THE CHURCH’S ONE FOUNDATION"
"…Other foundation can no man lay than…Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3.11)
INTRO.: A song that emphasizes the fact that, just as an army must have a good foundation in order to fight well, Jesus Christ is the only foundation for His church is "The Church’s One Foundation" (#’s 409-410 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #212 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Samuel John Stone, who was born at Whitmore in Staffordshire, England, on Apr. 25, 1839, the son of William Stone, an Anglican minister. Educated at Charterhouse School in London and at Pembroke College, Oxford, he received the B.A. degree in 1862. Very athletic, he captained his college rowing crew on the Thames and thought about becoming a soldier, but after graduating he became a minister in the Church of England, serving first at Windsor, a mission church in the tough suburb of Spital, having nothing to do with the royal castle nearby or aristocratic Eton College across the river. Most of his surviving hymns were produced while he was at Windsor for the benefit of the cottagers who did not understand many of the truths of the Bible.
In 1863, Bishop John William Colenso of Natal in South Africa, who accepted the so-called documentary hypothesis which affirmed the human evolutionary development of the scripture rather than its divine inspiration, attacked the Mosaic authorship of Genesis through Deuteronomy in a book The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua, Critically Examined. A great controversy ensued in the churches of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Robert Gray of Capetown deposed Colenso and issued a strong defense of the Bible. Stone was an active supporter of Gray and in 1866 published his Lyra Fidelium ("Lyre of the Faithful") which consisted of twelve hymns asserting faith in the scriptures. "The Church’s One Foundation" was the ninth and originally had seven stanzas. A revised form made by Stone, with stanzas one, two, five, the first four lines each of stanzas six and seven, and one additional stanza, appeared in the Appendix to the 1868 Hymns Ancient and Modern, set to the tune (Aurelia), which had been composed by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876). He was a grandson to the great hymnwriter Charles Wesley (1707-1788). It had first appeared in the 1864 book A Selection of Psalms and Hymns with the song "Jerusalem the Golden" attributed to Bernard of Cluny (12th c.).
In 1870, Stone became assistant to his father at St. Paul’s Church at Haggerston in London, a very poor district with a population of 7,000, and then upon his father’s retirement succeeded him there in 1874. During this time, he published several volumes including The Knight of Intercession, and other Poems in 1872, Sonnets of the Christian Year in 1875, Hymns in 1876, and The Order of the Consecutive Church Service for children, with Original Hymns in 1883. His labors nearly wore him out, so in 1890 he moved to All Hallows on the Wall at London Wall in London, where he remained until his death at Charterhouse, England, on Nov. 19, 1900. He was a member of the committee which eventually prepared the 1909 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. After his death, his Collected Poems and Hymns were published by F. G. Ellerton.
Among hymnbook published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson. The text was used with a tune (Webb), most commonly associated with "Stand Up for Jesus," in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson, although in No. 3, Sanderson also arranged Stone’s words and Wesley’s music to create a new hymn, "The Church Has One Foundation." Both Wesley’s and Webb’s tunes were included in the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. The Wesley tune was used in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater, where Frances Ridley Havergal’s "Another Day Is Dawning" is also set to it as well. Today, "The Church’s One Foundation" may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed. (both with the Webb tune), and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise (with the Wesley tune) all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns (with the Webb tune) edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised (with the Wesley tune) edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord (with both tunes) edited by John P. Wiegand; as well as Hymns for Worship (with both tunes), Sacred Selections (with the Wesley tune), and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church (with the Webb tune) edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
This hymn identifies several Biblical facts about the Lord’s church, His spiritual army.
I. Stanza 1 affirms that Jesus Christ is the church’s one foundation
"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."
A. Jesus Himself promised that He would build the church founded upon the rock of His own deity: Matt. 16.15-16
B. Therefore, the church is His "new creation" by water and the word; some denominational hymnbooks have changed this to "by Spirit and the word," probably to remove any possible reference to water baptism as being necessary, but it is obviously a quotation from the Bible itself, where Paul describes the church as Christ’s bride: Eph. 5.25-26
C. The reason that Jesus is the church’s one foundation is that He died for her and purchased her with His own blood: Acts 20.28
II. Stanza 2 affirms that the church is to be united on the truth of Jesus Christ
"Elect 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."
A. It was prophesied that when the Messiah would establish His kingdom, people of every nation would flow into it: Isa. 2.1-2
B. Yet, in spite of their varied backgrounds, just like an army must work together to accomplish its aim, those who make up the Lord’s church are intended to be one: Jn. 17.20-21
C. However, this unity of the Spirit can be maintained only by accepting the planks laid down by the apostle Paul through inspiration: Eph. 4.1-6
III. Stanza 3 affirms that the church will continue forever in spite of opposition
"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 both foe or traitor She ever shall prevail."
A. It was also prophesied that the Lord’s kingdom would stand forever: Dan. 2:44
B. There will be those from the outside who hate her and try to destroy her, as well as false sons even in her pale: Acts 20:29-30
C. However, with the Lord to defend, sustain, and cherish, she shall ever prevail because she is the result of the incorruptible seed, the word of God which lives and abides forever: 1 Pet. 1:23
IV. Stanza 4 affirms that the church is sometimes disturbed by false doctrines and human creeds
"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."
(Some of our books make some changes in this stanza:
"Though with a scornful wonder We see her sore oppressed
By doctrines rent asunder, By names and creeds distressed;
Yet saints their watch are keeping, They cry, ‘How long, how long?’"
The reason and purpose for making these changes is unknown.)
A. Even though schisms or divisions are lamentable, they must come because there are those who accept error while others accept only truth: 1 Cor. 11.19
B. The word "heresies" here is used to refer to the teaching of false doctrines that often causes such divisions among those who claim to be Christians: 2 Pet. 2.1-2
C. Yet, as when the early church was persecuted by the Roman empire, so now as the church is distressed by error and unscriptural practices, the saints still cry, "How long?": Rev. 6.9-11
V. Stanza 5 affirms that the church is waiting for the coming of her Lord and Master
"’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."
A. As long as this earth remains, the church is the Lord’s army to wage His warfare with the forces of evil: 1 Tim. 1.18
B. However, in whatever age and under whatever circumstances true Christians live, they are always looking forward to the return of Christ from heaven who will bring "the consummation of peace forevermore" by taking His bride home: 1 Thess. 1.9-10
C. Then will be fulfilled the "vision glorious" of "the great church victorious…at rest": Rev. 21.1-4
VI. Stanza 6 affirms that until the end the true church maintains its union with God
"Yet she on earth hath union With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion With those whose rest is won;
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly, On high may dwell with Thee."
A. As a spiritual temple built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the church is the habitation of God on earth: Eph. 2.19-22
B. It also has a "mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won" because it is the general assembly and church of the firstborn that includes the spirits of just men made perfect: Heb. 12.22-24
C. Therefore, as those who are truly fighting the good fight of the faith for the Lord, faithful Christians have the hope of going to dwell
with the redeemed of all ages and the Lord Himself on high in heaven: 1 Pet. 1.3-4
CONCL.: The final stanza is actually made up of portions of Stone’s original stanzas six and seven. The omitted portions are as follows:
"With all her sons and daughters Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters, Repose in Eden land,
There, past the border mountains, Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains Forever shall abide!"
Personally, I have never understood why, when a perfectly good tune is available for "The Church Is One Foundation" hymnbook editors would want to borrow another tune from "Stand Up for Jesus." It is said that in many places when a new church building is erected, this hymn is often sung at the first service. Of course, we recognize that the Lord’s church, as defined and described in the scriptures, is not a physical structure built of stone, wood, or metal, but is made up of people who love and obey Jesus Christ. Therefore, we need to give God thanks for the church as we seek to be faithful soldiers of the Lord by making sure that both it and our own lives are built upon "The Church’s One Foundation."