(Facts compiled from “52 Hymn Stories Dramatized,” and “Living Stories of Famous Hymns,” as well as extensive internet search. Two people speak back and forth to present this sermon. Video used in this sermon can be purchased at bluefishtv.)
Proverbs 10:22 22 The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
We are continuing our February sermon series called “Hymnology 101.” We are spending this entire month looking at some of the most famous hymns that we so often take for granted. Every song in our hymnal has a history, every song has a profound story behind it, and every song is rich with God’s love and inspiration. As we learn the history behind these songs, it is our hope… that we look to every song we sing… with more dedication, more understanding, and more focus on worshiping our God.
We are featuring today a praise song that many of you will instantly recognize. It is a song that recognizes God’s abundant grace and his eternal love for us all. The story of its author is not unique, however… it is a story that is slightly surprising coming from someone who penned the words “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
Josh: “Give her some more liquor, boys,” the young man said. The poor gipsy woman was already so drunk she could hardly stand on her feet. But the wild and reckless young men were determined to get her even more drunk.
Pastor: “Pour it into her, and we’ll get her to tell our fortunes,” seventeen-year-old Robert Robinson shouted. The others plied her with more intoxicants until she agreed to predict their futures for nothing.
Josh: “She doesn’t know what she’s saying; she’s drunk,” one of the rowdier ones shouted, after she had prophesied that evil fortune awaited him. “You ought to know,” Robinson replied. “You’re the one who poured it into her mouth!”
Pastor: Turning to the self-appointed leader, the bleary-eyed gipsy pointed a quivering finger to Robinson and said, “And you, young man, you will live to see your children and your grandchildren.” Robinson suddenly grew pale and said, “You’re right. She’s too drunk to know what she’s saying. Leave her alone. Let’s go.”
Josh: But her words haunted him the rest of the day. “If I’m going to live to see my children and grandchildren,” he thought,” I’ll have to change my way of living. I can’t keep on doing what I’m doing now.”
Pastor: That very night, half in fun and half in curiosity, he took his gang to a church service nearby where the famous evangelist, George Whitfield, was preaching. “We’ll go down and laugh at the poor deluded Methodists,” he explained.
Josh: But the spirit of God was already at work in the troubled heart and confused mind of the wayward youth. That night Whitfield preached from Matthew 3:7, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” The message sobered and frightened Robinson at the same time. He felt that the preacher was speaking to him and only to him.
Pastor: Although he had intended to go scoff at the worshipers and make fun of the minister, young Robert was so impressed and convicted by Whitefield’s strong evangelistic preaching that he soon professed faith in Christ as his Savior. Before long he felt called to enter the ministry.
Josh: Joining the Methodists, and feeling the call to preach, Robinson was appointed by John Wesley to the Calvinist Methodist Chapel, Norfolk, England. There, for the celebration of Pentecost, in 1858, three years after his marvelous conversion, he penned his spiritual autobiography… we now know it as “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
Pastor: Despite his youth, Robert Robinson became known as an able minister and scholar. His vast knowledge of scripture comes to light in the second stanza of this famous hymn. Have you ever wondered about the interesting phrase found there?
Josh: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I come.”
Pastor: Often we sing words such as these without even thinking about what they mean. This particular line refers to the account in 1 Samuel 7 where the Ebenezer or stone was raised by Samuel as a symbolic memorial of God’s faithfulness of His chosen people.
Josh: “While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way… Then Samuel took a stone and set it up and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.’ So the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israelite territory again” (1 Samuel 7:10-13)
Pastor: Robinson felt that he should raise a spiritual Ebenezer in his own heart to commemorate the victory of God over Satan three years earlier. He realized that it was only by God’s help that he had been saved and dedicated to the ministry. Another interesting expression is found in the third stanza of this hymn, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it – prone to leave the God I love.”
Josh: Although Robinson wrote these lines as a young man, it was prophetic of his later years. After nearly a lifetime of ministering the gospel to others, Robinson lapsed into sin and doubt and began to follow a doctrine of Unitarianism.
Pastor: One day as Robinson was traveling in a stagecoach through England, he noticed a lady passenger across from him deeply engrossed in her hymnbook.
Josh: “Excuse me, Madam, but could that be a hymnbook you are reading?”
Pastor: “Oh, my good man, I have just discovered the most delightful hymn in my hymnal. Let me read to you one of its lines:
Come, Thou fount of ev’ry 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.
Josh: Robinson responded “Madam, thank you for reading those words for me. I am the poor… unhappy soul… who wrote that text many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the same feelings I knew then.”
Pastor: It is a sobering thought, that a man of such great conviction, who had undergone such a transformation, could lose his way. But he is not alone. Spiritual vitality will wane over time if we do not work to foster it. Our spirit needs nourishment just as much as our bodies, and if we starve our spirit… it grows weak and faint.
Josh: What happens to us when we lose the joy and spiritual vitality that we once enjoyed? How do we approach this house of worship? How do we often sing these songs of praise? Instead of singing as scriptures tells us… “with the Spirit and with understanding,” we often just mumble along weakly during times of congregational praise.
Pastor: It is important to continually work on building and sustaining our relationship with God, it is important to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our souls to enter this place with praise and thanksgiving. It is important to keep a love of God in our hearts so that we will not find ourselves as Robinson did… at the end of his life, lamenting the absence of God’s spirit in his life.
Josh: May the singing of this hymn as well as the tragic example of its author remind us of the importance of maintaining a lifelong attitude of praise. Let us determine to say with the psalmist David:
Pastor: “I will praise the Lord all my life: I will sing praise to God as long as I love.”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.