Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

John 14:1-14

This is my favorite hymn. 

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

This is my favorite hymn… because it’s about wandering.

And oh – do I like to wander.  My soul finds peace when my body is in motion, whether it’s hiking miles down the trail or jogging loops around town.  Andrews UMC has an indoor walking track; when I take my prayer time off my seat and and a’ wandering up there, I pray for three – five – ten times as long.

“Come Thou Fount” isn’t about that kind of wandering, though.

It’s the story of a man named Robert Robinson (1735-1790) – but it starts when he was just a boy.  His dad died when he was young and his mother couldn’t control his wildness.  She sent him off to London with hopes he’d learn the trade of barbering and make a decent life for himself.  Instead, Robinson wandered off that intended path to learn the trades of heavy drinking and gang life.

One day when he was 17 (or so the story goes) Robinson and his buddies were drunk and silly and decided to have fun seeing a fortune teller.  Things turned serious for Robinson, though.  Something about the encounter seriously bothered him.  It seems to be this moment when he first suspects that he had wandered far astray, in a bad direction.

This hymn is about that kind of wandering.  We don’t need to see a fortune teller to tell us when we’re off-course:  friends and family give warnings; our bodies break down; depression sinks in; life seems too hard; or we just get a bad feeling in our guts.  When we recognize the signs, we begin to realize that we’re too far off course.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’ve come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
bought me with his precious blood.

This is my favorite hymn… because it’s about wandering and realizing that you need to turn around. 

The first line of this verse alludes to this, but it needs some explaining.  In 1 Samuel 7 God helps the Israelites beat the big, bad Philistines.  To mark the moment, Samuel takes a stone and names it “Ebenezer” – which means “stone of help” in Hebrew.  “Thus far the Lord has helped us,” Samuel says.

So to lift one’s Ebenezer would be to see the work of God in your life.  This can have a sobering effect if you’re making a series of self-destructive choices; we look back and see the good that God has done for us – and how we’ve wasted or disrespected that, by wandering from it.

Robinson’s “Ebenezer” came in the form of a man named George Whitefield (1714 – 1770).

After that disconcerting encounter with the fortune teller, Robinson suggested to his friends that they go to a nearby evangelistic event.  Whitefield was giving the sermon there – and Whitefield, without exaggeration, was one of the greatest preachers who ever lived.

Sometimes we need to hear warm and fuzzy messages about God’s love and grace; other times we need a slap-in-the-face, douse-of-cold-water wake-up call.  That’s what Robinson needed that day, and that’s what he got.  The sermon topic was Matthew 3:7, where John the Baptist asks the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  That coming wrath was sobering to Robinson – literally (remember, he started this story drunk) and figuratively.  He couldn’t forget Whitefield beginning to cry as he preached:  “Oh, my hearers!  The wrath to come!  The wrath to come!”

That moment was the turning point in Robinson’s wandering life.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above. 

This is my favorite hymn… because it’s about wandering and realizing that you need to turn around – and struggling to wander still.

Real change is hard, is it not?  Even once we recognize that we’re moving in the wrong direction, it can be incredibly hard to stop bad habits or break toxic relationships or settle ourselves down.  If you’ve ever seen the need to change but struggled to turn yourself around, you know this.

As did Robinson.

Whitefield’s words about the “wrath to come” had a lasting impact on Robinson – but not an immediate one.  It took him three more years before he stopped his alcoholic and gang-fueled lifestyle.  Three.  More.  Years.  Until finally, on May 10, 1755, Robinson gave his life to Christ.

By the time he wrote this hymn – for Pentecost Sunday in 1758 – Robinson had become a pastor.  But even then it appears that wandering remained a very real danger to Robinson.  One of the best-loved lines of this hymn confesses that he’s:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love…

This is the part that hits me in the gut, every time I sing it.  It comes out like my own raw confession.  I am prone to wander – not on trails or walking tracks, but in my soul.  I wander and I need God to seal my heart.

Can you feel it, too?  We’re on this Way of Christ, a path defined by repentance and forgiveness and belief.  We place our faith in Jesus Christ, and trust that where he leads is the direction we ought to go.

But as we follow him, there are divergent paths that tempt us to wander.

Some of them are big and dramatic – like Robinson’s choice to join up with a gang.  These paths lead to drug use, or adultery, or theft.  Quickly, they would lead us far, far astray.

Those paths are incredibly dangerous – but to me, they’re obvious.  For me, the more dangerous wandering paths are those that don’t look so bad at first.  Those intersections are marked by a white lie or a small bit of gossip… by cutting out my daily spiritual disciplines… by spending my tithe on a shopping spree… by judging others instead of forgiving them….

The big intersection marked “MURDER” isn’t tempting to me.  It’s those small, subtle choices that lure my heart.  I can step off in that direction before I even realize what I’m doing.  I don’t even know I’m off-course until days, weeks, years later, when some wake-up call comes.  A fortune teller or a great preacher or something makes me aware of just where I am on the map – and how far it is from the Way of Christ I intended to be on.

For me, this last verse is a powerful prayer asking God to keep me from taking those first wandering steps.

here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above. 

This is my favorite hymn… because it’s about wandering and realizing that you need to turn around – and struggling to wander still.

Are you wandering, right now?

Are you realizing that you need to turn around?

Are you on the Way of Christ – but struggling with the temptations to take those divergent paths?

May these last lines of this hymn be our continual prayer – first, of confession; and then, to ask for God’s help.  Because God’s grace is bigger than our sins, and God’s power is greater than our temptation.

prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above. 

Amen.


Sources:

https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-come-thou-fount-of-every-blessing

Robert Morgan’s Then Sings My Soul

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