Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Hymns For Easter: Come Thou Fount

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth reminds you God sees past outward appearances and looks at the heart.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: It’s not so hard to control behavior. We can do that with rules, with regulations, with lists, with human effort. But it takes the Spirit of God and the grace of God to keep our hearts following after Him.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Wonder of His Name, for Thursday, April 13, 207.

You may recognize that song as the Revive Our Hearts regular theme song, “Come Thou Fount.” But this version of it is from Nancy's piano CD, Be Still. As we near Easter, we’re going to focus on Jesus by hearing some of the backgrounds to hymns that point to our Savior. We’ll hear the back story to one of the hymns on this CD, Be Still.

Nancy: I have a friend who’s had leukemia and has been going through several weeks of chemo treatments and then bone marrow transplant. It’s been a hard, hard time for his family. I sent two copies of the CD to him and his wife—it was an early version of it before the final mix had been done. But I just thought maybe it might minister to them because I know they know and love these hymns.

I sent one for her to have in her car because she’s driving back and forth to the hospital and one for him to have in the hospital. She said he has had that thing playing all night every night, that he just wakes up to push play again so that it can go through again just letting it wash over him. She says nurses will come into the room and say, “That music is so peaceful. What is that?” And that is the goal. That’s the heart. And so already the Lord has been using it to minister to people. 

We want to talk about a few more of the hymns on that CD. If you’d like to have a copy, we’d be glad to send you one. If the Lord prompts you to give a gift to help support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. Let us know that you’d like to make a donation to the ministry. Whatever size the Lord puts on your heart, you’ll be ministering through us to woman throughout this country and around the world as you support this ministry.

Then we’ll send you this CD as our way of saying, "Thank you for partnering with us." 

Well, we want to talk today about one of my favorite hymns. What I understand from surveys I’ve seen that this is a favorite of many people, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” It was written by a man named Robert Robinson who was born in Norfolk, England, in 1735. Robert’s father died when he was just a boy, and his widowed mother, who by all accounts that I’ve seen, was a godly woman. But she was left without any means of supporting her family.

Her father had objected to her marrying a commoner, as she did. So when Robert’s dad died, the maternal grandfather disinherited Robert. So he was really left destitute, and he had to go to work when he was just a boy.

When he was a teenager, he fell in with a gang of bad friends. They were hooligans and mockers of the faith. One day Sunday afternoon they came across a fortune teller, and they managed to get her drunk so that they could make fun of her. In the midst of all this, she told Robert that he would live to see his children and grandchildren, which got him thinking about his life and what he was doing with his life and how he was throwing it away.

About that time, the age of seventeen, he went to hear a man preach whose name was George Whitefield. And Whitefield preached on that text from Matthew 3: “O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (v. 7).

Well, Robert’s heart was pricked as he sat under the ministry of the Word, and the Holy Spirit began to work in his life. For next three years he lived under deep conviction of sin. He lived under fear and dread of the judgment and the wrath of God and finally, at the age of twenty, he found what he called “peace in believing.” He found peace with God through Christ.

Immediately he began to study the Scriptures, quite a different life than what he’d had through his teenage years. He felt called to preach the gospel, so he became a Methodist preacher, and then ultimately the pastor of a large Baptist church in Cambridge, England.

Two years after Robert Robinson’s conversion, he wrote a hymn—so he was just twenty-two or twenty-three years old—a hymn which expressed his praise for God’s redeeming grace. And we know the words:

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.

Now, I want to walk through the stanzas of this hymn and just pick out some key themes that I think it points us to. And the first one that you see in this first stanza is that God is the Fountain—that is the source—of every blessing. Every good thing comes from above. He’s the source of the blessings that are named in the stanza—grace and mercy and love that all come from Him.

Psalm 36 says:

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light (vv. 7–9).

You see, God is the source of all that we need for this life and the next. This is a theme that you’ll find in a lot of great hymns. Every blessing—grace, streams of mercy never ceasing, His redeeming love, the fact that He is our helper. We see that in the later stanzas, that He sought us when we were strangers, wandering from God’s fold; that He rescued us from danger; He interposed His precious blood; His goodness; His grace. These are all great blessings that are referred to in this hymn, and they all come from the Fount of every blessing, who is God Himself.

So, the second theme I see here is that God deserves wholehearted praise from those who have received His mercy and His grace. He’s a fountain who’s just always bubbling up with blessing and grace and mercy and love. And is it not fitting that we should give Him wholehearted earnest praise in response to His blessings?

He talks in the first stanza about songs of loudest praise. Now, I’m not really a loud person. I see some of these church services where people are really expressive. You see with certain ethnicities or certain denominations, you’ll have them be more expressive. I kind of tend more naturally to be of the more reserved praise type of person. But I’ll tell you, when I see those who are a little bit less reserved, it’s a good reminder that God is worthy of our loudest songs of praise. We can’t be too earnest and wholehearted in our praise of Him.

But we need help to praise God as He deserves. This side of heaven we cannot do that well on our own. We’re limited. And so the hymn writer prays, “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” Tune my heart. I played a couple of different instruments over the years. One is a flute, one is the cello. You have to tune those before you play them. Actually the piano has to be tuned, too, but you get a piano tuner to do that, and usually if you are a pianist you can’t do that on your own.

As we were recording this CD, the strings on the piano actually got out of tune three times in one day in the studio. So we had to call a tuner back in. I couldn’t even hear it. But our producer, Brian Felton said, “That note’s out of tune. That note’s slipping. Can we get the piano tuner back in here?” We needed help so that we could make music that was in tune.

Well, we need God’s help. “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” That’s a good thing to pray as you go into church, as you head to corporate worship, as you go into your personal quiet time, “Lord, tune my heart so that it’s ready and prepared to give You the praise that You deserve.

And then we see that we are utterly dependent upon God’s grace and help—in the past, in the present, and in the future. Listen to the second stanza:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Now, some of this language we’re not so familiar with so we have to stop and say, “What does that mean?” “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” That “Ebenezer” is a reference to 1 Samuel 7 where God gave a supernatural victory to Israel. And then it says, “Samuel took a stone and set it up . . .  and called its name Ebenezer [a Hebrew word that means “stone of help”]; for he said, 'Till now the Lord has helped us'" (v. 12).

So he put a marker there so that every time they saw that stone they would remember, “Here is a place that the Lord helped us.” Ebenezer. Stone of help. The Lord is our help. And so the songwriter says, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.”

I set up this stone, this marker, and I realize I come to this place by Your help. I couldn’t be where I am today without God’s help, His grace at every step of the way. But not only has He helped me in the past, he says, “And I hope or I believe that by Your good pleasure that I will safely arrive at home.” He’s helped me in the past. He will help me all the way home.

It reminds me of another maybe more familiar stanza written by John Newton about fifteen years later where he says, “'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Same thought. God has helped me; hitherto, He has helped me to this point and all the way home He will help me.

And then he says, 

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;

We see here as we do in many of these great hymns, the redemption story telling in music and in poetic verse the story of how Christ gave His life, shed His lifeblood to save us who deserved to die for our sins. “He, to rescue us from danger.” What danger were we in? Danger of eternal damnation and the wrath of God we deserve for our sins because God is holy and we are sinful. Jesus came to this earth to rescue us from danger. He gave His precious blood so that that could happen.

And then that third stanza:

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. 

So here is a young twenty-three-year-old believer. As young Christian, young man, Robert Robinson, recognizes his weakness, his wandering heart, his proneness to wander, his inability to be faithful in this Christian life apart from God’s keeping, sustaining grace.

Do you feel that? “Lord, if You don’t keep me, I’m not going to be kept. If You don’t pour out Your grace on my life, I cannot live this life.” It was true of Robinson; it’s true of us. He says, “I’m daily constrained to be a debtor to this grace.” Every day. Not just “x” number of years ago when I got saved I needed God’s grace, but I need God’s grace today and tomorrow and the next day. We can’t live one single day without His grace and help and strength!

It’s His goodness that binds our fickle hearts to Him, that keeps us loving Him and clinging to Him and believing Him. Because left to ourselves, we’d be like those dumb sheep that Scripture talks about who wander off and do their own thing and have it their own way. We need His goodness, His grace to bind our fickle hearts to Him, our wandering hearts.

You see, it’s not so hard to control behavior. We can do that with rules, with regulations, with lists, with human effort. But it takes the Spirit of God and the grace of God to keep our hearts following after Him. Not just doing the right thing, but being the right people. We’re utterly dependent upon His grace and His help.

That leads me to make this observation that even those who love God and have received His mercy are still prone to wander at times. Now, if you’ve been a Christian any longer than about ten minutes, you probably have your own testimony of this. But I think we forget it and we think that, I’ve been a Christian a long time. I ought to have this thing down.

I can remember as a young girl looking at older Christians and thinking, Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to get to that place where you’d just be mature in the faith and you would just kind of coast spiritually. I don’t know where I got that idea, but it was a lie women believe. It was really not true.

Now as I am an older believer, I’m reminded daily that no matter how long you’ve known the Lord, how much you love Him, how much mercy you’ve received, that our hearts are still at times prone to wander.

That’s what God talks about in Jeremiah 2 where it says:

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters [come Thou fount of every blessing], and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water (v. 13).

We’ve turned away from the Lord, wandered from Him, and instead we wander over to these other places where we hope we can get something that satisfies.

So we wander off into this field or that field, or this place or that place. I’ve got to have this; I’ve got to have a husband; I’ve got to have a different husband; I’ve got to have a child; I’ve got to have a house; I’ve got to get a new set of living room furniture; I need a new car; I need a friend.

There is nothing wrong with those things in the will of God, but those aren’t the things that satisfy. Those aren’t where we get our real blessing. So we’re prone to wander off into these things we think will satisfy us. And God says, “This is a great evil because I am the fount of every blessing. I am the fountain of living waters, and I want you to drink from Me and find your satisfaction in Me.”

Again, in the book of Jeremiah, God remembers the pure devotion of His people when they were a new bride. They were freshly devoted to Him. Some of you can remember when it was that way in your relationship with the Lord. But now, the prophet says, they have neglected God; they have forsaken Him; they have wandered off; they have pursued other gods and lovers.

God was faithful all along, but His people were unfaithful. It is a chronic condition of the human race that we are prone to wander. We think something or someone else will be better for us, will do more for us, will mean more to us, will be more satisfying than the Fount of every blessing. 

And so this hymnwriter feels the weakness of his own flesh, his wandering heart, he's prone to wander. He says, “I’m prone to leave the God I love.” Don’t think it can’t happen to you.

I’ve been reading recently in the book of 2 Chronicles. I’m just looking at all these kings. Some of them, a handful of them, were really good kings—at the beginning. And then so many of them, something happened, something snapped, something, they were prone to wander. They got proud; they got self-sufficient; they started to think the victories God had won for them were their own victories. Different things happened, but they got proud. So many who started well didn’t finish well.

I’ve found that as I’ve been reading that book in recent weeks, my prayer has been this, “Lord, help me finish well. I’m prone to wander. I’m prone to leave the God I love.” If you ever get to the place where you think it can’t happen to you, you have become vulnerable to leaving the God that you love.

Evidence suggests that the words of this third stanza proved to be sadly autobiographical for Robert Robinson. Later in his life, as a pastor, he seems to have drifted doctrinally. There’s a widely-told story, though we don’t know for sure if it is factual. I’ve tried to verify it. I’ve read it in a lot of places, and I’ve heard it told different ways.

But the gist of it is that one day, in a spiritually backslidden condition as an older man, Robinson was riding in a stagecoach when he heard a lady humming this hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” the hymn that he had written. She asked him what he thought of the hymn, not realizing that he was the one who had written it.

And the story is told that he responded, "Madam, I am the poor, unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then." According to one account I read, this woman responded gently, “Sir, the ‘streams of mercy’ are still flowing.”

So if you find yourself in that backslidden condition, not experiencing the reality and the grace of Christ that you did at one point in your life, remember the source of all fullness, the Fount of every blessing, and run to Him for mercy.

Well, this future hope we have in Christ, the promises of God, are what inspire perseverance and faithfulness as we live in the here and now. This song writer says, “I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.” Do you realize that this is not home? That we’re headed toward home will help us to live here and now in the light of that ultimate reality.

“Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.” We need to keep reminding ourselves in the nasty now and now that there is a “there and then” coming and that will give us grace to be faithful and persevere now.

And then we ought to take courage as we remember that the day is coming when we will be freed from all tendency to wander, from all our sinning, and that’s the day when we see Jesus. And so that fourth stanza says:

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen

How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace.

Live today in light of that certain hope we have that the day is coming when we will be freed from sinning, from wandering, and we will be forever united with the Lord that we love. We will cling to Him. We will love Him for all eternity. Faith will be sight. That is the great hope of every true Christian that can keep us going and believing and cleaving to the Lord as we live life here in this fallen world.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth on piano playing the hymn “Come Thou Fount.” Earlier she shared the background of the hymn with us and reminded us of the need to daily lean on God’s grace.

To hear Nancy’s full version of “Come Thou Fount,” get a copy of her CD Be Still. She recorded this album to encourage listeners to set aside busyness, to focus on the Lord and rest in Him. I hope you’ll get a copy of the CD and let it encourage you to have a still and peaceful heart.

We’ll send you the CD Be Still when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. We can’t bring you the program each weekday without the support of listeners who believe in the ministry and want to keep hearing it.

And that’s especially true here in April. Listener support has been down for several months and the ministry is currently facing a budget gap of about $500,000. Would you be praying that the Lord will meet this need? When you you help meet the need with your gift of any size, ask for the CD, Be Still as our way of saying thanks. You can donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com. Or call 1–800–569–5959.

Well, William Cowper was prone to bouts of depression and even tried to take his life. Yet, the Lord used him to write a hymn we still sing today. Hear about that hymn Monday here on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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