“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
Edward Mote, author of the hymn text My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less, grew up on the streets – a child of inattentive parents who owned a pub and refused to own a Bible. Mote later said, “So ignorant was I that I did not know that there was a God.” But, as a teenager, Mote began an apprenticeship with a Christian cabinet-maker where he was introduced to the Christian faith and eventually baptized. For years he worked in his own successful cabinet-making shop near London and then, at age fifty-five, heard and responded to a call to the ministry. He served for more than two decades as the pastor of a Baptist church and was so beloved by his congregation they offered to gift him the church building. Mote replied “I do not want the chapel, I only want the pulpit; and when I cease to preach Christ, then turn me out of that.”
Deeply interested in hymn singing, Mote wrote more than one hundred hymns in his lifetime but My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less is the only one that has stood the test of time. The refrain On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand – from Matthew 7:24–27 – came to Mote one morning in 1834 as he walked to work in his cabinet-making shop. By the end of the day, he had completed four verses. The following Sunday he shared the hymn with a friend and his friend’s wife liked the text so well that she asked for a copy. Mote went home, wrote two more verses, and – encouraged by the woman’s interest in his text – sent it to a publisher to have a thousand copies printed for distribution with the title Jesus, My All in All.
In churches today, we sing an edited four-verse version that uses combinations of the stronger poetic lines of Mote’s original six-verse hymn. It’s typically paired with Solid Rock – a cheerful melody written by William Bradbury specifically for Mote’s text. (Fun fact: Bradbury is also known for composing the music to Jesus Loves Me and He Leadeth Me.)
Often when I set out to write an arrangement of a hymn, I use the hymn’s text or the story behind the hymn to inspire ideas of how the music should sound. And Mote’s story of God’s grace, second chances, and second careers is truly inspiring on a lot of levels. But this time I was drawn more to the tune so I let that steer my imagination. Since it’s such a plucky little ditty, I gave this version of My Hope is Built on Nothing Less bouncy syncopation and a touch of ragtime whimsy to create a bright, hopeful arrangement that’s loads of fun to play. Enjoy! 🙂
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.