The hymn, How Firm a Foundation, was published back in 1787, attributed to an author only known as “K.” It contains five commonly accepted verses—each with just four lines—but the original contained two additional verses.

How Firm a Foundation is very Scripture-conscious, and presents a lot of analogies that could be easily represented visually.

I took the five commonly accepted verses, broke each into a pair of lines and illustrated every one of the ten couplets.

The How Firm a foundation lyrics, illustrated

I started simply by choosing a paper orientation and size. I picked a heavy-duty 11″ x 14″ vellum as my paper, an illustration pen for the line work, and a combination of inks and watercolors to fill everything in. Here’s the whole set of 10 drawings that illustrate How Firm a Foundation’s Lyrics word for word.

1. Verse 1.1: “How Firm a foundation …”

how-firm-a-foundation-lyrics-excellent word

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word

For the first drawing, one visual metaphor immediately stood out to me: the Word—most easily represented by what our Bibles look like today—functioning as a foundation for a building.  I thumbnailed out a few ways of depicting that concept. One aspect I wanted to convey was the depth and sturdiness of that foundation compared with others.

The layers in the ground served as lines for me to place the words along.  I used a white-out pen to draw out the letters, and realized quickly that it didn’t allow me to work on as much detail as I had hoped.

These two lines (along with the next two) set the scene for the entire hymn. Verse one talks about the importance and value of Scripture, and the rest of the verses are direct or modified quotes from the Bible itself.

2. Verse 1.2: “What more can he say …”


What more can He say than to you He hath said
To you, who, for refuge, to Jesus hath fled

The most concrete concept I was able to draw out of these lines was the idea of someone taking refuge in Christ. To allude to chaos the person is sheltered from, I created a semblance of wind.

These lines reference the comfort that can be drawn from the inspired Word of God.

3. VERSE 2.1: “Fear not, I am with thee …”


Fear not, I am with thee, oh be not dismayed
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid

For this drawing, I chose to echo back to other times when “Fear not” shows up in the Bible.  Often it deals with some glorious appearance. In attempt to display the lowliness of humanity’s state compared with God, I made the figure desaturated.

This chunk of text from the hymn directly references Isaiah 41:10a:

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;

4. Verse 2.2: “I’ll strengthen thee, help thee …”


I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand

The image that immediately came to mind when reading the word “upheld” was simply preventing someone, exhausted from an upward climb, from falling off a cliff. So that’s what I drew.

This set of lines is an adaptation of the second half of Isaiah 41:10:

I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

5. Verse 3.1: “When through the deep waters …”


When through the deep waters I call thee to go
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow

This song is heavy with journeying language and symbolism, so to keep the analogy in tact, I focused on another strange landscape with a difficult path.

These lines are adapted from Isaiah 43:2, which says:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

6. Verse 3.2: “For I will be with thee …”


For I will be with thee, thy trouble to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress

The concept for this drawing probably took me the longest to arrive on.  It is quite the abstract pair of lines.  I had a brainstorming session about good things that could come of horrible experiences, and tried to narrow down one that I could actually draw without getting too disturbing or complicated.

Finally, I settled on the idea of blood spilled in the desert, which waters a nearly dead tree.  From the blood-watered tree, a single red flower blooms.

These two lines don’t have a direct Scripture adaptation like most of the others.

7.  Verse 4.1: “When through fiery trials …”


When through fiery trials thy pathway should lie
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply

This set of lines contains more traveling imagery, so I focused on the pathway, attempting to draw out the seeming vulnerability of the traveler by giving the person bare feet.

1 Peter 4:12 talks about the inevitable fiery trials a Christian will experience:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

2 Corinthians 1:9 also talks about the sufficiency of grace:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

8. Verse 4.2: “The flame shall not hurt thee …”


The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine

For this drawing, I had to research how a gold refinery worked. I chose to focus on the process after the impurities have been burned away and the liquid gold is being poured for cooling.

A friend of mine remarked, “does the flame really not hurt?” Fair enough.  I think it does hurt. But I think the concept is more about not sustaining damage than about not experiencing pain.

This set of lines calls back to Isaiah 43:2, which talks about the deep waters and the flame. Being refined through fire is an analogy used extensively in Scripture. Malachi 3:3 uses this analogy of the Levites:

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.

9. Verse 5.1: “The soul that on Jesus …”


The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes

There was a lot of information to try to get into this drawing.  I dealt with the challenge of trying to either shove things that didn’t fit together into one scene, or to try to depict a scene from two different angles.

Eventually, I realized that I could use a reflection to communicate something happening in the foreground. I created a background that implied battle, and put a childish figure burying his head in the shoulder of the swordsman.

It’s not clear to me whether this verse is making a direct reference to Scripture, though the concept of leaning on God is a familiar one (Pr 3:5).

In John 16:33, Jesus tells his followers that, dispite the trouble of the world, they can experience peace. He has overcome the world.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

10. Verse 5.2: “The soul that all hell …”


The soul that all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake

There are many parts of the Bible these to verses draw from. The idea of God never forsaking his children is one we know well. (Mt 28:20, De 31:6)

Psalm 16:10 could have contributed inspiration for these lines (and the previous two):

You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

The lyrics to all seven original verses are as follows:

How Firm a Foundation Lyrics

How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
To you, who, for shelter, to Jesus hath fled?

(In every condition—in sickness, in health,
In poverty’s vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea—
As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be.)

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.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

(E’en down to old age, all my people shall prove
My sovreign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs shall they still in my bosom be borne.)

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
hat soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!