Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (I)
DESCRIPTION: "Come thou fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing thy praise. Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise." "Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above." etc.
AUTHOR: Words: Robert Robinson (1735-1790)
EARLIEST DATE: 1758 (see NOTES)
KEYWORDS: religious nonballad
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Warren-Spirit, pp. 207-298, "Come, Thou Fount" (1 text, 1 tune -- the tune being "Nettleton")
McNeil-SMF, pp. 115-117, "I Will Arise" (1 text, 1 tune, with the usual confusion of verses following the "Come Thou Fount" opening stanza)
ADDITIONAL: Charles Johnson, One Hundred and One Famous Hymns (Hallberg, 1982), pp, 66-67, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "We Will Walk Through the Streets of the City"
cf. "This Old World" (lyrics, tune)
cf. "Come, Ye Sinners" (lyrics, tune)
cf. "I'm a Soldier Bound for Glory" ("Ebenezer" lyric)
NOTES [1207 words]: This text has been credited to Selina Hastings, countess of Huntingdon, but the strong evidence is that it is by by Robert Robinson (1735-1790; see Stulken, p. 517, and Reynolds, p. 53). Julian, p. 252, gives a very long discussion:
"As various and conflicting statements concerning this hymn abound, it will be necessary to trace, 1st its History, so far as known; and 2nd, to discuss the question of its Authorship.
"i. Its History. This in detail is: --
"1. In a church book, kept by Robert Robinson (q.v.), of Cambridge, and in the possession of the Rev. William Robinson, his biographer, there is an entry in Robert Robinson's handwriting which reads:-- 'Mr. Wheatley of Norwich published a hymn beginning 'Come, Thou Fount of Every blessing' (1758)....
"2. Nothing has yet been found which can be identified as being issued by 'Mr. Wheatley of Norwich' in which this hymn can be found.
"3. The earliest kbown text in print is in A Collection of Hymns used by the Church of Christ in Angel-Alley, Bishopsgate, 1759, now in the library of Drew Theolovical College, Madison, New Jersey, U.S.A. It is No. i, an in 4 st., beginning respectively:--
"St. i. 'Come, Thou Fount of every blessing.'
"St. ii. 'Here I raise my Eben-ezer.'
"St. iii. 'O, to grace how great a debtor.'
"St. iv. 'O, that day when free from sinning.'
"4. This text was repeated in the Hearers of the Apostles Collection of Hymns, Nottingham, 1777; and in a Dublin Collection, 1785. Shortly afterward, however, it seems to have fallen out of use.
"5. The second and well-known form of the hymn is the first three stanzas as given above is found in M. Madan's Ps[alms] & Hy[mn]s, 1760; G. Whitefield's Ps[salms] & Hymns, 14th ed., 1767; the Countess of Huntingdon's Coll., 1764...."
Julian then goes on to discuss whether Robinson or the Countess wrote it. The only evidence that Selina Huntindon did so is an early manuscript, not by the Countess, that attributes it to her. There is much more evidence that Robinson wrote it, including his own note cited above, although there is no autograph copy. Julian is therefore convinced that Robinson wrote it. And I see little grounds for argument.
Julian, p. 1557, mentions that other hymnals give this as "Father, Source of Every Blessing" and "Jesus, Source of Every Blessing."
Although it originated in the Anglican church, this is among the most popular of all shape note lyrics; in the Sacred Harp, for instance, we find it used with "Olney," "Family Circle," "Restoration," and "Warrenton" -- plus, with the first line "Come THY fount of every blessing," the tune "Rest for the Weary." In the Missouri Harmony, it has the tunes "Olney," "New Monmouth," and "Hallelujah."
The standard tune seems to be "Olney;" in Jackson's White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands, it occurs only with "Olney" (#40), as one of two possible texts for that tune. Nonetheless, the text travels a lot, and has acquired various tunes and choruses; see the cross-references.
If I understand Johnson correctly, he believes the original tune to have been "Nettleton," which he credits to John Wyeth (1770-1858), though "Nettleton" of course is also associated with the name of Asahel Nettleton (1783-1843), who published Village Hymns in 1824 (but, according to Julian, p. 794, cannot be proved to have written any hymns; Village Hymns is primarily if not entirely a compilation, and Reynolds, p. 54, says that it contains no tunes). This is the tune used in the Lutheran Hymnal, according to Stulken, p. 517. Reynolds, p. 53, seems to say that the Baptist Hymnal also uses "Nettleton."
Reynolds, pp. 53-54, thinks the chorus lyric "I am bound for the kingdom, won't you go to glory with me?" which sometimes floats into the "Come Thou Fount" text, comes from "Whither goest though, pilgrim stranger," found in the Baptist Songster of 1829; Reynolds prints a text. He seems to link it to the tune "Warrenton" (from the 1844 Sacred Harp).
Of author Robinson, Julian, p. 969 says that he was "b[orn] at Swaffham, in Norfolk, on Sept. 27, 1835 (usually misgiven [in] spite of his own authority, as Jan. 8), of lowly parentage. Whilst in his eighth year the family migrated to Scarning, in the same county. He lost his father a few years after this removal. His widowed mother was left in sore straits. The... boy (in his 15th year) was indentured in 1749 to a barber and hairdresser in London.... In 1752 came an epoch-making event. Out on a frolic one Sunday with like-minded companions, he joined with them in sportively rendering a fortune-telling old woman drunk and incapable, that they might hear and laugh at her predictions concerning them. The poor creature told Robinson that he would live to see his children and grand-children. This set him a-thinking, and he resolved more than ever to 'give himself to reading.' Coincidentlly he went to hear George Whitefield.... Robinson remained in London until 1758, attending assiduously on the ministry of Gill, Wesley, and other evangelical preachers. Early in this year he was invited as a Calvinistic Methodist to the oversight of a chapel at Mildenhall, Norfolk. Thence he removed within a year to Norwich, where he settled over an Independent congregation. In 1759, having been invited by a Baptist Church at Cambridge... he accepted the call... having been previously baptized by immersion." He was very popular with the congregation, and began his writing career in 1770. He retired in 1790, and died later in that year at Showell Green in Warwickshire.
The scriptural references are interesting. "Flaming tongues" is almost certainly related to the Pentecost incident of speaking in tongues (Acts 2:3).
The second verse says, "Here I'll raise my Ebenezer." There are three mentions of Ebenezer in 1 Samuel. In 4:1, the Israelites gather at Ebenezer to fight the Philistines -- and, as the following verses tell, are roundly defeated. The Ark of the Covenant is captured, and the Philistines take it from Ebenezer to Ashdod (5:1). Later, after an Israelite victory over the Philistines, Samuel sets up a stone near Ebenezer, which the Bible renders "stone of help" (7:12; McCarter, p. 146, notes that the root of "Ebenezer," and hence the meaning, is not entirely clear at this time, but "stone of the helper" and "stone of the warrior," which are both possible, would be good cultic terms for someone with Samuel's militant theology). Both sites could have suited Robinson's purpose; the battle in 1 Samuel 3 was a last stand by the Israelites, which fits someone "making [his] Ebenezer," and of course the symbolism of 7:12 is obvious.
It is not obvious that the two are the same place -- after all, the events in 4:1 and 5:1 take place BEFORE Samuel named his spot "Ebenezer." It is, of course, possible that 4:1 and 5:1 call the spot "Ebenezer" after the name Samuel later gave it -- in fact, since Ebenezer sounds rather deserted, it would seem likely. Except that the Philistines generally beat up on the Israelites until the time of Saul. Samuel seems to have been something of a Skanderbeg: He could protect the land the Israelites held, and maintain a scratchy independence, but he could not regain territory. Odds are that the two Ebenezers are distinct. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Julian: John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes)
- McCarter: P. Kyle McCarter, I Samuel, being volume 8 of The Anchor Bible, Doubleday, 1980
- Reynolds: William Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal, Broadman Press, 1976
- Stulken: Marilyn Kay Stulken, Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, Fortress Press, 1981
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