Hymn of the Month, January 2015
Researched and written by Shelby Breedlove and Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
Many of the hymns we sing are gems of wisdom, guidance, and admonition, drawn from God’s Word and set to music so that the word of Christ might dwell in us richly. Let’s take some time to dig into one of these this month, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
Hymn writer Robert Robinson (1735-1790) was eight years old at the time of his father's death. He was a bright, strong-willed child, who became increasingly more difficult for his mother to handle. When Robert was 14, she sent him to London for an apprenticeship with a barber and hairdresser. He proceeded to get into even more trouble as he drank and gambled with rowdy friends.
At 17, Robert and some of his buddies decided to attend a George Whitfield evangelistic meeting, fully intending to disrupt the service. The Lord had other plans! As Whitfield preached, young Robert felt it was directed to him. Toward the end of his sermon, Whitfield burst into tears and cried, “Oh, my hearers, the wrath's to come! The wrath's to come!” Those words haunted Robinson for three years until finally he yielded his heart to Christ on December 10, 1755, at the age of 20. Soon after he answered the call to preach.
Three years later, as Rev. Robert Robinson was preparing to preach a sermon at the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk, England, he wrote the words of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” to compliment his sermon.
The music was composed by Asahel Nettleton in 1813.
(History taken from Sharefaith.com, webpage available at http://bit.ly/13rOLG6, and Robert J. Morgan, Near to the Heart of God)
In a nutshell, this hymn is a plea made by a believer to God. In it each of us asks God to show us his mercy, specifically by helping us in one particular way. Ultimately, however, that plea doesn’t show up until the third verse. The first two verses provide a foundation for that plea. More specifically, in the first verse we praise God for his God’s great mercy in the present, in the second verse we profess God’s great mercy in the past, and in the third verse we plead for God’s great mercy to continue in the future. Let’s consider these verses in greater detail, one at a time.
Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Psalm 106:2 asks, “Who can utter the mighty deeds of the LORD, or declare all his praise?” In that light it makes sense that we would begin by asking God to tune our hearts to sing of his grace. He is the Fount of every blessing (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13). We know that. We delight in that. And we want to sing of that. Thus we ask God to tune our hearts to sing of his grace. Just as a cellist might tune her instrument to play a concerto or a racer might tune his car for an upcoming race, we want God to tune our hearts to sing of his grace. Not our vocal chords or our diaphragms, but our hearts. Tune my heart to sing thy grace.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.
As we go on in this verse, we explain that we don’t want to sing just any old song; no, we want to some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Just to clear up any confusion, the word flaming here means “ardent” or “passionate.” Robert Robertson likely had in mind the heavenly host of the book of Revelation when he wrote this. Throughout Revelation we hear them praise God with passion, with gusto, and we want to do that with them here and now. We want to sing the praises of God with passion too because we, by God’s grace, are fixed or securely standing upon the mount of God’s redeeming love. Who or what is this mount? It’s Jesus Christ, the promised mountain of Daniel 2:35. All we who believe in Jesus Christ are fixed upon that mount, never to be separated from him by anything in heaven or on earth (Romans 8:38-39). Praise the mount!
Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
The opening line of this verse brings up an obscure but marvelous Old Testament reference. In 1 Sam 7:12, we read, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the LORD has helped us.’” In a sense, we are doing the same thing in this second verse. This second verse is our Ebenezer, our monument of remembrance of how the Lord has graciously helped us and led us in the past. He truly has helped us, so much so that we have reason to believe that he can and will bring us safely home. His mighty help and mercy in the past give us reason to believe that he is able to keep us from stumbling and present us blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to borrow the words of Jude 24.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.
Here we draw upon the words of John 10 and other passages to explain the mighty help and mercy we have experienced in the past. In John 10:16 Jesus declared, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” In the final lines of this second verse, we testify to the world that Jesus has done that to us and for us. While we were strangers, wandering far from the fold of God, he sought us. Furthermore, he rescued us from sin, death, and the evil one, as well as the just condemnation of God that we deserved, with his blood, short for his death and resurrection. He interposed his precious blood or put his precious blood between us and those very real dangers. How can we not thus raise up our Ebenezer in song?
O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
We begin this final verse with an exclamation of how indebted we are to God for his grace. Like the woman of Luke 7, who anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment, we love much because we have been forgiven much. And we plead to God to bind us to himself that we might love him forever. This is our deep need. This is our pressing concern. This is the plea that drives this song. Yes, God has saved us from sin, death, and the evil one through Jesus Christ his Son. Yes, he further reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ. We know, however, that is not enough! We need him to hold on to us too, to bind us to himself as with a fetter or chain, so that we will not run off after the desires of our hearts (James 1:14-15) or fall away in the midst of trial (Luke 8:13). Thus we pray, 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.
Here we continue our pleading. Yes, we know with our minds we are fixed on the mount of God’s redeeming love. Scripture declares that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). And yet one glance at our hearts tells us a different story. Here we acknowledge that before God. He certainly knows this already, but before him we acknowledge it openly. Finally we offer him our hearts and ask him to take them, lock them up, and keep them safe until we stand in his presence. That’s the meaning of the word “seal” here. Years ago God commanded Daniel to do the same thing a couple times with visions he had received (Daniel 8:26, 12:4). Now we ask God to do that with our hearts, both for his glory and our eternal good.