Grace Notes

GRACE NOTES, November 2017, by Elizabeth Tosterud 


 Our hymn of the month, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, was written by Robert Robinson. He was a small boy when his dad died in 18th century England. There was little in the way of a social welfare system and he was required to work while he was still very young. Without a father’s guidance he fell in with bad companions.

One day a group of these rowdy companions harassed a drunken gypsy by pouring liquor into her. They demanded that she tell them their fortunes for free. She pointed her finger at Robert and said he would live to see his children and grandchildren. He pondered that if he was going to live to see his children and grandchildren, he should change his way of living.

Robert Robinson decided to go hear the Methodist preacher George Whitefield. In a weak moment, he encourage the rowdy boys to go with him and heckle the gathering. Whitefield preached on the text: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matthew 3:7) Robert left with fearful thoughts and experienced a deep sense of sin that lasted for three years.

At the age of twenty, he made peace with God and quickly set out to become a Methodist preacher himself. Two years later, in 1757, he wrote this hymn that expressed the joy he found in his new faith. In the last stanza, Robert wrote these lyrics:


Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,                                                                                                                           Prone to leave the God I love                                                                                                                                Take my heart, O take and seal it                                                                                                                           Seal it for thy courts above.


Robert was decidedly prone to wander. He later left the Methodists and became a Baptist. At the age of 23, he was the pastor of a rather large Baptist church in Cambridge, England and he was known as an able minister and scholar. Later on, he became a close friend of Joseph Priestly and he was accused of becoming a Unitarian. Priestly and other Unitarians denied the full divinity of Christ. Supposedly he became a Unitarian. However, in a sermon he preached that Jesus was God, and added, “Christ in Himself is a person infinitely lovely as both God and man.”

Robert Robinson died on June 9, 1790. Had he left the God he loved? A widely-told, but unverifiable, story says that he was riding in a stagecoach one day and a lady asked him what he thought of the hymn she was humming. 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 now the feelings I had then.”

The tune is an American folk tune known as “Nettleton,” composed by the printer John Wyeth or possibly Asahel Nettleton. This tune is most commonly sung in the United States. The tune “Normandy” by C. Bost is used in the United Kingdom.

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