I have been overwhelmed with thanksgiving this week, as my producer, Glenn Barratt, finished all the mixing and mastering for the Hallelujah: A Collection of Hymns album. I’ve had the opportunity to hear all 14 tracks while he put the final touches on the songs, and I’m at a loss for words…it feels like every dream I had for this project has come true. Glenn is an incredible sound engineer and has such a gift for bringing music to life and drawing out everything in such an exquisite way. It is a true honor to work with him—he stretches my musical ability, teaches me so much, and he is also patient as I nit-pick the finest details (details which no one else can probably even hear, but we musicians can be perfectionists!)…Jamie and I are forever grateful for all that he has poured into this album, and we believe that God has used his experience and talent in a mighty way. To be honest, a music artist is really only as good as their sound engineer, whether at a live show or on recording. I can sing my little heart out, but if the sound isn’t “up to par,” listeners’ ears will be hurting! So it is a true honor and blessing to work with a Grammy-Award winning engineer who has years of expertise beyond my own, lifting the bar on every song.
As I’ve been listening to the songs, it’s been fun to discover which ones are my favorites that I didn’t expect! The song that has surprised me the most this week is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Of course it is one of my favorite hymns, that’s why it is on the album, but I didn’t think it was in my top few for the recording…but when I heard it all come together, I was truly overcome with emotion and just felt so inspired to worship. I fell asleep that night with the tune running through my head, and it’s like I’ve come to love this hymn all over again! It may be my #1 favorite on the album, I'm not sure!
Years ago, the Lord placed a dream inside my heart, which I had just set aside and almost forgotten about…Sometimes the Lord gives us a vision, yet we know not when that vision will come to reality. We have to trust and believe and wait. I had written an arrangement for “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” with a musical interlude between the verses. I remember exactly where I was after writing it and I remember singing and playing it for my mom on my keyboard, telling her, “Someday I want to record this on an album, and this interlude part will have lots of strings. It will sound so stirring!” Well, that little seed of a dream that God placed in my soul was left to sit for several years, in fact I hardly thought of it since, with so much that has gone on in my life since then (this was probably over 5 years ago). However, God didn’t forget it. He gave that idea and dream to me for a reason, and when I heard the final mix and master of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” this past week, part of the reason I was so moved was because the Lord reminded me of that very dream I had!
“For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
It will surely come; it will not delay.”
The life of Robert Robinson, the writer of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” was also a testimony of a vision that came to reality—a dream and prayer of his poor, widowed mother. In September of the year 1735, Robert Robinson was born in Swaffham, Norfolk. As a boy of only eight, tragically his father passed away. His mother, a woman of strong faith, was left in a state of poverty, so when the strong-willed Robert was about 14 years of age, she sent him away to London to be an apprentice to a barber. Her dream for him was that he would become a priest in the Church of England, but she couldn’t afford the education.
In London, although he often had his head in books, he also got himself into trouble, drinking and gambling with a rough crowd. In 1752, 17-year-old Robert and his comrades decided to go to a fortune-teller. Something unsettled Robert, so he then suggested to his friends that they go hear an evangelist, where they could jeer and jaunt at the preacher. George Whitefield was the man, who was famous throughout both England and America for his powerful, intense sermons, and passionate message calling all to be born again. As Whitefield spoke on Matthew 3:7 and the wrath to come, the thunderous words penetrated Robert in such a personal way. Yet, het was not ready to give up his life of sin and receive salvation that night. He was haunted by the sermon for the next almost three years, living in anxiety and still running from the “Hound of Heaven.” Finally, on December 10, 1755, Robert surrendered his life to the love and grace of Jesus Christ and was forever changed. He found that sweet and true “peace by believing.”
Robinson penned in Latin his testimony of conversion: “After tasting the pain of renewal for two years and seven months, I found full absolution and grace through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.” For the next few months in London, he listened to other renowned preachers, including John Wesley (the brother of Charles Wesley, who wrote “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”) It didn’t take long for Robinson to enter into the ministry. In 1757, at age 22, not quite three years after his conversion, he served as the preacher at a Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Mildenhall, Suffolk, where he wrote the hymn we now so treasure, “Come Thou Fount of Every Belssing.” He wrote this hymn for his sermon on Pentecost Sunday (which is quite interesting, as Reginald Heber wrote his famous hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” for Pentecost Sunday service as well!) The tune that we now know is referred to as NETTLETON, composed by the great American evangelist, Asahel Nettleton in 1813, and published in John Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second.
What is so beautiful is that the dream Robinson’s mother had for his life did come to pass. Her son not only eventually came to turn from his selfish life of debauchery to follow the Lord, but also devoted his entire life from that point on to the ministry. It is safe to assume that his mother was a woman of prayer, as she was deeply committed to her faith. What a reminder for each of us that “the vision awaits its appointed time…if it seems slow, wait for it; It will surely come.”(Habakkuk 2:3) We can trust God’s promises. It is so important for us to look to Christ first and not just look to the outcome of our prayers, and hopes, and dreams. We must wait upon the Lord and His goodness, His timing, and His perfect way. Things don’t always turn out exactly the way we imagine, but when God gives a promise, and when He is the author of a vision or dream, He is true to His Word. May we look to Christ and look to Scripture, the Word of God, for continual hope and truth. We know not what tomorrow holds, but we do know that our Savior holds the future, and He always knows every detail!
Robinson continued to preach, moving to an Independent church in Norwich and eventually a Baptist church in Cambridge. He lived out his life in ministry to the Lord. He only lived to be 54, but 34 of those years he walked in faith, preaching and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others. For us, his legacy lives on in a very real way through the exquisite hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
Let’s just look for a minute at some of the deep theology found in this hymn, along with the honest cry of confession. I think one of the reasons why so many people love this hymn is because of it’s lyrical authenticity—we can relate so well to Robinson in his human struggles…In verse three, he confesses, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Even for those of us who have been walking with the Lord for years, isn’t it true that every day, our hearts are prone to wander? We are prone toward temptation, sin, selfishness, and distractions and idols of this world. Sometimes it is just the mere busyness of life that gets in the way of our relationship with Christ.
I have noticed in my own life lately that it seems I make time for everything but the Lord. Yes, I give Him some of my time, but He seems not to be the priority. It’s only if I have time, instead of making time. So I ask Him again and again to please “tune my heart to sing Thy grace”—tune my heart back to Yours, Lord! Please “seal my heart for Thy courts above” and “bind my wandering heart to Thee.” Just like a piano needs constant tuning, my heart needs to be tuned daily to be in key with the Lord. I need that time to be still, to be in His presence, where He can convict, grow, mold, and transform me to be ever like Him. Sometimes tuning can be painful and costly, but the end product is so exquisite when the notes of my life are in order and I sing His song with every breath I breathe…Oh Jesus, please tune me back to You, no matter what the process, no matter what the cost. Please allow the song of my life to echo Your praise and Your truth, O God!
In verse three, Robinson wrote, “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be…” We truly are debtors daily to the grace of Christ. It reminds me of the theology of cheep grace versus costly grace, which the holocaust martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote about in 1937 in The Cost of Discipleship. The grace of Jesus Christ is so costly, so perfect, that we are indebted daily to that grace to live for a higher calling—the calling of true discipleship. In verse two, Robinson wrote of “His precious blood,” which reminds us of many of the great hymns of our faith that also speak of the blood, including Robert Lowry’s mighty, “Nothing but the Blood.” As we discovered in that hymn, the words blood and grace are often interchangeable, both displaying the costly gift that was given for our Salvation by our Savior Jesus. Verse two also has the famous line, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer.” I particularly love this portion, as Ebenezer is defined as a rock or stone of help. We see time and again in the Old Testament when God would call his people to raise an altar of remembrance after He gave them victory or passage…the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12 specifically named a stone "Ebenezer" after victory over the Philistines. When God gives us victory in our life—victory over sin, victory over struggles or trials or battles, whether physical and spiritual—it is important to remember what He has done for us by His power and grace. Often songs of praise themselves are our great Ebenezer!
May we, like Robert Robinson, allow our hearts to be tuned daily to the grace of our Lord Jesus, and may we continue to remember to raise our own Ebenezer in remembrance and honor to the God of our Salvation. May we hold onto the promises of His Word and trust that He is faithful until the end, perfecting the work of faith that He began in our lives, and bringing to completion the vision of eternal hope which he has shown us.
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
Here I raise mine Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wondering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood
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
Prone to wander Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love…
Here's my heart Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above
Below is a stanza that is not often included, but speaks of profound theology on Heaven:
O that Day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely Face
Clothed then in blood-washed linnen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry
Take my ransom’d Soul away
Send thine Angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless Day.
Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003.
Peterson, Randy. Be Still My Soul:The Inspiring Stories Behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns.Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014.
“Robert Robinson.” https://hymnary.org/person/Robinson_R
Hawn, C. Michael “History of Hymns: ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.’” https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-come-thou-fount-of-every-blessing