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May Hymn: "The Church's One Foundation"

Reverend Samuel J. Stone composed the text to this popular hymn in 1866. At the time the hymn was penned, Stone was still serving as a curate in Windsor, Berkshire in England but would later go on to replace his father in the role of vicar at St. Paul’s Church. Stone is primarily remembered today for his composition of this text. The Church’s One Foundation is the ninth installment in a series of twelve hymns inspired by the Apostles Creed titled “Lyra Fidelium; Twelve Hymns on the Twelve Articles of the Apostles’ Creed.” The ninth article of the Creed is “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints.” Stone was inspired to write the hymns as a result of the controversy surrounding the teaching of John William Colenso, the Bishop of Natal in the Church of South Africa. The Bishop questioned Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch and wrote a book wrongly calling into question the doctrine of the church. When disciplinary action was taken against Colenso, Stone entered the debate with this hymn.

Verse 3 in particular has much to say about the issues the church was facing during the time of controversy, and specifically Stone’s response to it.

Though with a scornful wonder we 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.

The hymn originally had seven verses. Our hymnal uses 1,2,4,5,6 of the original seven omitting verse 3 and 7. You can read those below. Verse 3 also speaks quite frankly about the Colenso controversy.

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.

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.

The longevity of this hymn’s popularity has much to do with the richness of its truth. Louis Benson, who wrote “Studies of Familiar Hymns” in 1923, claims that it embodies “practically every doctrine concerning the church held most dear (its divine origin, its unbroken continuity, its catholicity and essential unity, its orthodoxy, its sacramental grace, its communion with God and with the departed saints, its militancy and final triumph).” As we sing this hymn, we remember that God gave the church a unique role in His kingdom. We mourn in our failures and persecution, but we rejoice in the cornerstone of our faith, Jesus Christ, who reigns over all. Ultimately, we look forward to the day when we will be united with Christ in His glory forevermore!

The Church’s One Foundation (No. 689 in The Worshiping Church)

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.th

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.

Though with a scornful wonder we 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 forevermore,
till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,
and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.

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.