By Samuel Stone 1866
The church’s one Foundation Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation by water and the Word:
From heav’n he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.
She is from ev’ry 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 ev’ry grace endued.
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 that hate her, and false sons in her pale,
Against or foe or traitor she ever shall prevail.
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.
‘Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation of peace for evermore;
Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,
And the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.
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!
About Samuel Stone the Hymn Writer of our hymn today: It is said that if you had known Samuel Stone, chances are that you might have admired him on one hand and been distressed by his behavior on the other. A priest of the Church of England, he devoted himself to serving the poor and vulnerable, but his athletic build and intense passion sometimes led him afar. It is said that, on one occasion, he gave a thorough beating to a man whom he found mistreating a little girl. Or you might have admired Stone for whipping a bully! Some would and some wouldn’t.
Stone served as a passionate defender, not only of the poor and vulnerable, but also of the faith. He was inspired to write “The Church’s One Foundation” in response to a church controversy nearly half a world away. In South Africa, Bishop John Colenso had begun to question whether Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Bishop Robert Gray moved to discipline Colenso, and the resulting controversy reverberated throughout the denomination.
John Colenso was an Anglican bishop who had published an essay questioning the inerrancy of Scripture. He believed that much of the Old Testament was mythology, and that Jesus had taught wrong things about Moses. This hymn was written as a direct response in 1866 to some teaching by this man John William Colenso, first Bishop of Natal in South Africa. These teachings created schism/divisions within the church in South Africa. This topic is alluded to within the third verse of the text “Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” When Bishop Colenso was deposed for his teachings, he appealed to the higher ecclesiastical authorities in England.
Several other Anglican bishops and ministers also immediately responded to defend Christian orthodoxy. Samuel Stone wrote a series of twelve hymns, based on the twelve articles of the Apostle’s Creed. Stone wrote “The Church’s One Foundation” as one of twelve hymns based on the Twelve Articles of the Apostles Creed. He hoped that these hymns would help people to better comprehend the creed that they oft recited but seldom understood. He also hoped that they would support the conservative side of the controversy that was rocking the church. “The Church’s One Foundation” is the only one of those hymns that is still widely sung today –– and widely sung it is! But most hymnals leave out some of Stone’s more polemical verses.
From this collection, the only hymn generally remembered today is “The Church’s One Foundation”, which was based on the ninth article of the Creed. It was set to a tune by Samuel Wesley, the grandson of Charles Wesley and included as one of the “modern” hymns in Wesley’s 1868 publication, Hymns Ancient and Modern. The collection called Lyra Fidelium (Lyre of the Faithful) and is available online- www.lyrafidelium.com/lyrafidelium.html
The Church isn’t perfect. Though Christ is the head of his Body, the church (Colossians 1:18), the members of that Body are fallible, sinful people. Because of this, there have always been misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and sometimes even outright lies set forth by representatives of the Church. This makes the Church an easy target for criticism.
No matter how valid some of that criticism may be, we are called to love the Church, and through the Church to demonstrate Christ’s love to the world. In fact, one of the primary ways in which Scripture tells us we may know that we are saved is by the love we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 3:14).
The text of this hymn contains a lot of great teaching about the doctrine of the Church. In the first verse, we see why the Church is of supreme importance: Christ gave himself up for her, so that he might redeem her with his own blood (Acts 20:28), and then sanctify her by the water and the word (Ephesians 5:25-26).
Christ’s church consists of “elect from every nation”. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) instructs Christians to make disciples in every nation, and from the Book of Revelation we see that when Christ returns, this will have been accomplished (Revelation 5:9; 7:9). True believers are united by one Lord (Jesus Christ), one faith (the doctrinal truths which all genuine Christians share), and one birth (the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit which baptizes believers into the Body of Christ), as we read in Ephesians 4:4-6. We express this unity through the two ordinances given the church: water baptism (Acts 22:16) and the Lord’s Supper (“one holy food”; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
The third verse, which is usually not included in modern hymnals, speaks of the kinds of divisions and heresies which have ravaged the Church throughout history, which was the occasion for the writing of this hymn. Though Satan is eager to attack the Church, and may wound her, he will never be successful in completely destroying her (Matthew 16:18). The following verse speaks of the peace that we have which is rooted in the knowledge and hope of Christ’s return. This is what allows us to endure the “toils and tribulations” which we must face.
In the final verse of the hymn, we sing of the mystic union (the “unio mystica”) that exists between God and the Christian (John 17:20-23), and between the saints from throughout history. Hebrews 4 speaks of God’s rest, into which some have already entered. This rest has been earned and promised for all believers through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, but we may not enter into it until our death or Christ’s return and the final consummation of all things. Until then, we rejoice in the promise of this blessed hope, and pray for the Lord’s grace that we may grow in maturity and Christlikeness until the future day when we shall be united in perfection with Christ and his Body, singing the song of the redeemed for all eternity.
No, the Church isn’t perfect… but She will be!