John Rippon was born in 1751. After being educated at a Baptist college in Bristol, England, in his mid-20s he became minister at Carter’s Lane Baptist Church in London. Together with the church organist, a man named Robert Keene, Rippon wanted to put together a hymnal for regular church use. A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors was published in 1787. Widely reprinted, not only in England but in America, it included the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” attributed only to “K” (perhaps Robert Keene?).
The unique power of this particular hymn comes from the fact that each stanza is based on a separate Bible verse. Rightly has the hymn been called “the Gospel in seven stanzas.” The fourth stanza is based on Hebrews 13:5: “He Himself has said: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ ” Here is the fourth stanza:
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to His foes;
That soul, though all Hell should endeavour to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
To illustrate the power of these words jump forward three centuries. On April 19, 1995 Timothy McVeigh by remote control detonated a bomb in a truck parked outside the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The truck had been packed with 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and the blast killed 168 people, including 19 children in a day care facility.