Sunday, February 10, 2013

18th Century Hymnody: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Hymnody: hymn singing; hymn writing; the hymns of a time, place, or church.

Not long after I began writing stories with an 18th century setting, I became curious about the hymns my characters might have sung when they gathered in churches, or barns, or secluded forest clearings to worship God. I plan to highlight some of those I found (in many cases rediscovered from my early Baptist roots), and talk a little about their writer's inspiration, where such is known. I hope you'll enjoy this small musical history.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing



Come Though Fount of Every Blessing, hands down my favorite 18th century-composed hymn, was written in 1757 by Englishman Robert Robinson (1735-1790), at the age of 22. Robinson was influenced during this time of his life by the teachings of the evangelist, George Whitefield. Robinson went on to eventually become lecturer, then Pastor, of Stone-Yard Baptist Chapel, Cambridge.

In the USA the hymn is usually set to an American folk tune known as Nettleton, composed by printer John Wyeth (or possibly Asahel Nettleton), while in the UK the hymn is often set to the tune Normandy by C. Bost. I'm not sure I've ever heard the Normandy version.

Speaking of versions, this hymn has gone through many alterations, which can be found here, with notes on their origins. Following are the lyrics ascribed to the original version  (you might compare them to the Chris Rice version in the video above). No matter how you arrange them, they are a powerful testimony to God's saving grace, and the soul's longing to see Him.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Cloth├Ęd 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.

One more lovely arrangement, guitar and mandolin, by Grant McNeill


What's your favorite 18th century-written hymn? Have you ever heard Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing sung to a tune other than the one is these videos?

photo of Celtic cross by Damian Gadal, flickr commons

2 comments:

  1. Lori, I've also researched the hymns my characters would have been familiar with and possibly sung. It's such a soul-stirring study because I know so many of them and have sung them from my childhood in church. I've never heard this one sung to a different tune, which is just as well because I tend to prefer the tunes I grew up with. And sadly now these precious old hymns of the faith are disappearing from modern church services.

    One that's my particular favorite, which I've actually never heard sung or played, is Charles Wesley's "Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose," so I don't know if I'd like the music it's set to or not. But the words are incredibly meaningful for someone going through trial, and I added it to the revision of Native Son to the sequence where Carleton is enslaved by the Seneca. I realize it probably wasn't known in the colonies at that time, but since he spent 10 years in England I figured he might have heard it there, if it was sung then. Who knows. The words just fit too well, and the basic time frame fits, so I went ahead with it.

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    1. I hadn't heard of that particular Wesley hymn, but looking at the words (I looked them up), yes I can see how they fit Carleton's captivity journey.

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