We can find some great theology in some of the lesser known hymns of the church, especially the texts that come to us from the ancient church, including Christ is Made the Sure Foundation, UMH #559. The early church had to be theologically clear in its texts, as their work was teaching the early converts the foundations of their faith, while establishing the foundations of Christian theology upon which modern theology is based. The hymns we sing today that were based on these early texts are usually full of that same wisdom and clarity, and can be sung and treasured even today.
Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone;
chosen of the Lord and precious,
binding all the church in one;
holy Zion’s help forever,
and her confidence alone.
This hymn was translated from a 7th century Latin text titled “Angularis fundamentum” by John Mason Neale, who has authored other familiar hymns like “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” and “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice”. Neale was an Anglican clergyman and a Latin scholar, and poured his life into his scholarly research, adopting and revitalizing hymns of the early church for use in congregations today.
The text of this hymn uses language from the New Testament, specifically Ephesians 2:19-20:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
and 1 Peter 2:5:
…like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
to illustrate the transformative nature of Christ’s coming to earth, and how it redefined the meaning of the temple for God’s people.
The temple was the center of religious life for God’s people in the Old Testament. It was the sacred meeting place of heaven and earth, where the people of Israel went to encounter God. Christ’s arrival changed all of that: with his descent to earth and the establishment of the New Covenant, heaven and earth no longer met through the physical temple of Israel. Instead, Christ himself became the temple– in Christ, and through Christ, the people of God could encounter God.
This was a radical idea for the early church, especially for those who were Jewish and who had always understood the temple as God’s holy place for the people of Israel. This 7th century hymn helps to describe this transformation from the temple of the Old Testament to the temple of the New, with Christ as the foundation and the cornerstone. They no longer had to be in a specific location to worship and experience God, instead they could now experience God wherever they met Christ.
This hymn remains a reminder for us today that the sacredness and worthiness of our worship doesn’t come from a place or a physical foundation, but from Christ himself present in our midst as the temple of our faith, uniting the global Christian church through Him.
To this temple, where we call thee,
come, O Lord of Hosts, today!
With thy faithful loving-kindness
hear thy people as they pray,
and thy fullest benediction
shed within its walls alway.
Here vouchsafe to all thy servants
what they ask of thee to gain;
what they gain from thee forever
with the blessed to retain,
and hereafter in thy glory
evermore with thee to reign.
Laud and honor to the Father,
laud and honor to the Son,
laud and honor to the Spirit,
ever three and ever one;
one in might and one in glory,
while unending ages run.