As a dissolute youth coming from a poor family, and who was apprenticed as a boy to a London hairdresser after his father’s death, Robert Robinson (1735-1790) had an unpromising beginning to life.1 Without a father to guide him, Robinson mixed with a notorious group of hoodlums and led a life of debauchery filled with liquor and drunkenness.
However, at the age of 17, the grace of God intervened when Robinson attended an open-air revival service where the famous evangelist, George Whitefield, was preaching.2 Robinson went with the intention to “scoff at those poor, deluded Methodists” but left feeling sobered and frightened by the powerful message on “The Wrath to Come”, based on Matthew 3:7 (KJV) – “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Then on Tuesday, 10 Dec 1755, two years and seven months after hearing the sermon, 20-year-old Robinson made his peace with God.3 But it was only in 1758, three years after his marvelous conversion, that he penned his spiritual autobiography in his famous hymn, ‘Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing’.
A hymn of providence and grace, it reflects the outpouring of praise for what God has done for the author: “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God.” (Stanza 2) In acknowledging God’s help that he had been saved, Robinson wrote, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’ve come.” The reference is taken from 1 Samuel 7:12, in which Samuel sets up a stone to symbolise God’s help in defeating the Philistines.
In Stanza 3, Robinson cries, “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.” These words seemed to have been prophetic as Robinson’s later years were characterised by lapses into sin, and instability, as he drifted towards Unitarianism.4
Like Robinson, we are prone to wander in our own ways. However, by His redeeming love, God never fails to bring us back to His fold. Let us give our hearts to God and let Him “seal it for [His] courts above”.
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (The United Methodist Hymnal, #400)
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 God’s redeeming love.
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.
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.
Words: Robert Robinson, 1758 (1 Sam. 7:12)
Music: Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second, 1813
1 Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion: Insight into Three Hundred Christian Hymns (Wilton: Morehouse Barlow, 1985), 218.
2 Ernest K. Emurian, Living Stories of Famous Hymns (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1955), 37.
3 Ibid., 38.
4 Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1982), 52.
Picture by ricardokuhl /Bigstock.com
Dr Yeo Teck Beng –
is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.