Sunday, November 20, 2011

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing -- Robert Robinson


Robert Robinson’s biography is not an easy one to hear, though it has its high points. His story ebbs and flows, as you might guess if you pay close attention to the words of the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that he wrote in 1758. He never forgot from where he’d come, and knowing what happened later on in his life, you wonder if he was trying to warn his hearers, that he was afraid of slipping back into old habits. The hymns he wrote must have been a reminder of what he had obtained, and the distance he had traveled to make his purchase of a new life. Did the fountain keep flowing for him, in impressive fashion (like King Fahd’s fountain in Saudi Arabia in the picture)?

Robinson’s was not an easy beginning. His parents could not offer much of advantage in his early life in 18th Century England, and his father died when he was just eight. His mother sent him to barber school in London when he was 14, but he befriended some local gang-members too, an apparently inauspicious turn of events for a future God-follower, preacher, and songwriter. He suddenly changed direction at age 17 upon hearing a George Whitefield tent meeting sermon, however, and eventually became a minister himself. Six years later, he wrote the words of this hymn “Come Thou Fount…”, perhaps his first, his reach for the God he must have felt he needed to cover many faults in his life. Verses two through five each express his spiritual hope in light of his own shortcomings, and the longing of his inner being for Eternity. What’s it like to leave an old life, making a radical switch like Robinson did? It would not be unusual for old acquaintances to scoff, reminding the newly clean convert of the dirt he once wore. Gangs are kind of like that. Robinson stayed true to his newfound faith; his “Ebenezer” (stone of help) expression in the hymn was as unique as his life. First a Methodist, then an Independent, and later a Baptist minister, he was known as a capable theologian and hymn writer, although only two of his hymns are known (the other was “Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee, written in 1774 when Robinson was 39). Other accounts say he turned to Unitarianism late in life, showing his ‘wandering’ streak, of which he wrote in his first hymn.

It’s also reported widely that Robinson must have felt despondent late in life, particularly during an encounter with a woman in a stagecoach who was studying the hymn he wrote decades earlier. Had his passion waned from the time when he’d first penned the words of “Come Thou Fount”? Perhaps, but that would make him no more unusual than others of faith who have ups and downs. At least Robinson was honest and genuine with his hymn-writing, knowing and sharing his own foibles. Robinson died suddenly in 1790 at age 54, an apparent struggler and searcher, but someone whose authentic words over two centuries old still sound familiar today…at least if I’m willing to share the way Robinson did.         


Information on the song is in many publications, including the books “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications,1990; “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982;“The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; and “A Treasury of Hymn Stories”, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House Company, 1945. 

Also see the following website for information on Robinson and the original five verses of the song:


See a more extensive biography of Robinson at : http://www.hymnary.org/person/Robinson_R?tab=texts



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