Christ is Made the Sure Foundation | There is a Fountain Filled with Blood

Christ is Made the Sure Foundation | There is a Fountain Filled with Blood

Liturgy Lessons: November 5, 2017
Call to Worship: from Heb. 3 and 8, Psalm 118, Rev. 1 (Responsorial)
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Christ is Made the Sure Foundation (#342)
Confession: Psalm 61:1-4
Assurance: Ephesians 2:12-13, 19-22
Hymn of Assurance (insert): There is a Fountain Filled with Blood
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: 1 Peter 2:4-10
Doxology: #731 (a capella)
Sermon: “A Restored Priesthood,” Rev. Casey Bedell
The Lord’s Supper: Bless the Lord (Taize); Be Thou My Vision
Closing Hymn: There is a Higher Throne

Christ is Made the Sure Foundation
Words: Latin, 7th cent.; tr. by John Mason Neale (1851)
Music: Regent Square, Henry Smart (1867)

Henry T. Smart composed this tune for a doxology setting of “Glory be to God the Father.” It was first published in the English Presbyterian Church’s Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship (1867), of which Smart was music editor. The tune was named after Regent Square Church, the “Presbyterian cathedral” of London. A prolific composer of hymn-settings, Mr. Smart gave us many other beloved tunes, including “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “Lead on, O King Eternal.” The arc and shape of his writing are like musical caffeine, full of lift and surge. This tune, sometimes associated at advent with the text “angels from the realms of glory,” has three distinct lifts in each phrase of music, each one rising higher than the last. When I sing this tune, I feel like a kid in a swing, being gently pushed higher with each measure.

The text is a translation of a 7th-century Latin text, Angularis Fundamentum, by the prolific 19th-century writer and translator John Mason Neale. It is a strong trinitarian text that unleashes solid truth in the first few verses, then becomes a tender prayer in the next few verses, and finally closes with a doxological final verse to the Triune God. This is a standard progression of a lot of our hymns. They lead with truth about God and then the response of praise for his people follows. The original Latin text was a staple of the chant repertoire in the medieval church. I am including a link to a recording of that chant by the Benedictine monks in France. Contrasting this with the “newer” hymn tune, it is fascinating to consider how musical practices in the church have changed so radically over time. Pre-reformation singing was almost exclusively congregational chant or polyphonic choral singing in Latin (when most people couldn’t read). Post-reformation hymnody became largely driven by the chorale and later the 4-part hymn-writing set for congregational singing in harmony (when people could read music). Now we are at a place in history where there is a resurgence in ancient hymn texts set to new tunes, largely resulting in unison singing (when most people don’t read music). And still through all the ages, the song goes on…hopefully in harmony!

There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood
Text: William Cowper (1772)
Tune: Lowell Mason (1830)

The following account is offered from
“When William Cowper, who had suffered from severe depression since the death of his mother when he was just six years old, was faced with the prospect of a final law examination before the House of Lords, he experienced a mental breakdown that he never fully recovered from. Having been sent to St. Alban’s asylum for eighteen months, he began to read the Bible, which brought some peace to his mind, and he was able to leave and live with his good family friend, famed author of “Amazing Grace,” John Newton. Newton helped Cowper recover, and together Cowper and Newton wrote poetry and religious verse, which they later published in their own hymnal. “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood” is one such hymn, and it is a dramatic illustration of Cowper’s faith. The last verse in particular speaks to Cowper’s hope of redemption; it reads, “When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue lies silent in the grave, then in a nobler, sweeter song I’ll sing thy pow’r to save.” The mental breakdown at his examination gave Cowper a lisp and stutter that he had the rest of his life, but he knew there was a greater song to be sung than any his earthly voice could raise, a song of praise to the dying Lamb.”

In 1830, Lowell Mason wrote this tune, entitled Cleansing Fountain, for Cowper’s text, and the hymn was published in 1832 in Spiritual Songs for Social Worship. The tune has a symmetric structure to it, and despite the vocal turns, it is quite simple. Its rhythmic vitality and harmonic simplicity seem straight out the pages of Sacred Harp. This is a memorable earworm for children, and parents would do well to discuss the imagery with their kids, who might be prone to take literally the notion of swimming in a blood fountain. The following are scripture verses that I encourage you to read and meditate on before singing this one: Psalm 36:8-9; Zechariah 13:1; Proverbs 14:27.