The Church’s One Foundation
Standing squarely within the English Victorian tradition of churchly song, this hymn bears all the hallmarks one would expect from that cultural milieu—a tune which is solid rhythmically but lilting melodically and a text which juxtaposes good and evil, right and wrong, black and white against one another.
Samuel Stone (1839-1900) published this hymn in Lyra Fidelium, a collection of twelve hymns, each devoted to one statement in the Apostles’ Creed, this being associated with number nine, “I believe. . . in the Holy Christian Church.” Its scriptural precedent is Ephesians 4: 4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Samuel Stone had been distressed by some of the heresies that had plagued the Anglican Church in the late 19th century, particularly from a certain South African theologian, John Colenso, who had questioned the historicity of the Old Testament. Stone’s hymn is meant as an affirmation of the Church Universal, likewise a longing for a Church unified in doctrine and practice, “. . . built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2: 20)
Some hymnals have grievously omitted stanza three with its wrenching, vivid imagery: “Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her 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.”
Christ has not yet returned, and we still live under the hope of the resurrection and Christ’s return. This has been promised us, but the promise will only be fulfilled on the Last Day. The strife experienced in our world today evidence’s that our world is still captive to sin.
We must always continue to fight for proper doctrine–law and gospel preached clearly whereby the Holy Spirit may work as He has promised. We must continue to promote practices which, whilst they can vary somewhat in style, always promote Word and Sacrament rather than simply entertain us or tickle our latest cultural fancy. At the same time, we must realize that we cannot solve so many of the problem in the world caused by sin and, indeed, they will be with us until “. . . 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.”