The History and Mystery of “How Firm a Foundation”

“How Firm a Foundation” is a hymn so well known and loved that it was sung during the funerals of U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. It was sung by American troops engaged in the Spanish-American war on Christmas morning in 1898. It was a favorite of General Robert E. Lee and also sung at his funeral. And yet, with all of its notoriety, the author is somewhat of a mystery. The hymn is attributed to “K,” in the original publication.

First published in 1787, in a book titled A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors , much of the hymns text is straight from The Bible, such as Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 43:2, 2 Corinthians 12:9 and Hebrews 13:5. John Rippon edited the book, and it is believed that the “K” might refer to John Keene, who was the cantor at Rippon’s church. Others have associated ‘K’ with Kirkham, or John Keith. The hymnbook for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints credits the text to Robert Keen.

In October 2006, former Church President Thomas S. Monson gave a talk in General Conference titled “How Firm a Foundation.” He spoke about not relying on others testimonies but developing our own strong foundation through prayer, scripture study and service. At the conclusion of his talk he quotes the following verse from the hymn:

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

From the album, Then Sings My Soul , her is The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square brilliantly performing, “How Firm a Foundation”