First off, is it Come, Thou Fount or Come, Thou Font?
It’s only Come, Thou Font if you want to misspell it and look almost as silly as my piano arrangement of it sounds. Nearly every hymnal I’ve seen lists it as Come, Thou Fount.
So…who wrote Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing?
Good question! After debating this for a number of years, hymn scholars now believe most of the text was penned by 18th century pastor and hymnist Robert Robinson (1735-1790) as he reflected on his colorful history (more on that later.) However, the text has undergone numerous changes and versions can vary with each hymnal. In fact, Wikipedia lists eleven different versions (!) but most start like this:
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.
Okay, then who wrote the tune?
By tune I assume you mean the one you’re listening to right now. It’s called NETTLETON and is the most common melody used with Come, Thou Fount. Who wrote it is another good question but this time hymn scholars have to admit they have absolutely no earthly idea. (But that doesn’t stop them from debating it!)
Sorrowing I shall be in spirit, till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit, here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer; here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Wait a minute…what the heck is an “Ebenezer”??
Nothing to do with Scrooge, that I can tell you! In 1 Samuel 7, the prophet Samuel sacrifices a burnt offering and prays to God to save the Israelites from an impending attack by the Philistines. God miraculously thwarts the Philistines and, in gratitude, Samuel sets up a stone, calls it Ebenezer (Hebrew for “Stone of Help”), and says “Thus far the Lord has helped us”. So when we sing about “raising Ebenezers”, we’re singing about our faith in God’s help as we face our own battles.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me, mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me, I cannot proclaim it well.
Tell me more about Robertson’s “colorful history”…
Like some other hymnwriters, Robertson came from the school of hard knocks. His father died while he was young and his grandfather disinherited him. While a teen, he apprenticed with a barber/hairdresser – not a profession that made his bookworm heart sing. So, like most square-peg-in-a-round-hole teenagers, Robertson started hanging out with the wrong crowd and became a real rascal. In 1752, he attended an evangelical meeting to heckle the believers and, while looking for trouble, found God instead. It was three years before he completely turned his life around – eventually becoming a pastor – and after that wrote Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.
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, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.
Was Robertson “prone to wander”?
Yes…and no. First off, I said earlier that most of the text was penned by Robertson. This verse may not have been. Some hymn scholars think it was added by an attorney-turned-chaplain named Martin Madan (1726-1790) two years after Robertson wrote the original text. However, there is a story floating around that, during a low point of backsliding in his life, Robertson was traveling by stagecoach and another passenger quoted this verse to him for inspiration. When the passenger asked if he was familiar with the hymn, he told her that he was “the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago.” But her words that day helped him to turn his life around – again.
O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothèd then in blood washed linen, how I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry, me to realms of endless day.
So why’d you write this silly sounding piano arrangement?
Purely for fun! I’m crazy-go-nuts for the tune NETTLETON – it’s such a bright, cheerful tune. It lends itself well to some bouncy syncopation making the sheet music a real delight to play. (Besides, how many hymns do you know where you get sing such a funny word as “Ebenezer”? Could the arrangement be anything but silly?) It doesn’t hurt, either, that one of NETTLETON’s lesser-known hymn texts – Sing a New Church by Sr. Delores Dufner – is one of my top ten hymn faves. Enjoy!