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Updated 05/29/2013

 

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing


Asahel Nettleton

“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is a Christian hymn composed by the 18th century Methodist pastor

and hymnist Robert Robinson. The hymn is set to an American folk tune known as Nettleton, by attribution to the

evangelist Asahel Nettleton who composed it early in the nineteenth century. Robinson penned the words at

age 22 in the year 1757.

Robert Robinson (1726 - June 9, 1790) was a dissenting minister and polemic, whose controversial sermons led him into frequent troubles with his congregations and commercial interests. He held pastorates at Congleton, Dukinfield and Failsworth.

Robert Robinson's father died when he was young, and he turned to a life of recklessness and hooliganism. Fearful of a young gypsy's prediction that he would have a long life, and how his mode of behavior would impact future offspring, he attended a service pastored by George Whitefield, and was struck with dread at the wrath of God against sinners. At the age of twenty, he repented of his sin, reformed his ways and became a Methodist preacher.


Robert Robinson

Robinson is best known today for his authorship of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, a hymn which has remained popular in Protestant churches. He also wrote the lesser known Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee in 1774.

"When He was 17 he and some friends attended a meeting where George Whitefield was preaching. Robinson and his friends went for the purpose of "scoffing at the poor deluded Methodists." However, Whitefield's strong evangelistic preaching so impressed him that he was converted to Christ. Several years later he felt the call to preach and entered the ministry of the Methodist church. Subsequently, he left the Methodist church when he moved to Cambridge and became a Baptist pastor. He became known as an able theologian through his writing of many theological works as well as several hymns." - 101 Hymns Stories by Kenneth Osbeck pg. 52.

Robinson penned the words to Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing at age 22 in the year 1757.  As the story goes, turning to the young Robert Robinson, the bleary-eyed

gipsy fortune-teller pointed a quivering finger and said, “And you, young man, you will live to see your children and your grandchildren.”

“If I’m going to live to see my children and grandchildren,” he thought, “I’ll have to change my way of living.”  That very night, half in fun and half seriously, he took his gang to an open air revival service nearby where the famous evangelist, George Whitfield, was preaching. “We’ll go down and laugh at the poor deluded Methodist,” he explained.  Two years and seven months after hearing that sermon, twenty-year-old Robert Robinson made his peace with God, and “found full and free forgiveness through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.”  Joining the Methodists, and feeling the call to preach, the self-taught Robinson was appointed by John Wesley to the Calvinist Methodist Chapel, Norfolk, England. And there, for the celebration of Pentecost (Whitsunday), in 1858, three years after his marvelous conversion, he penned his spiritual autobiography in the words of this hymn.

He was accused of converting to Unitarianism later in life, partly because of his friendship with Joseph Priestly. He, however, seemed to rebuff the notion that he doubted the full divinity of Jesus Christ, a doctrine held by the Unitarian Church. A story, possibly apocryphal, is sometimes told of Robinson that one day in a stagecoach a lady asked him what he thought of the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." 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."

After his dismissal from Dob End Lane Chapel in Failsworth, he moved to Barrack Hill Farm in Bredbury in the 1770s. Robinson died on June 9, 1790. He was buried in a field near his house, where the place was enclosed by a wall. The enclosure was a square red-brick structure below School Brow, out of which elder bushes grew.
 

It was reputed that he was laid in a coffin with a glass panel over his face. James Cocks, in the Memorials of Hatherlow, gives alternative reasons for his mode of disposal. One is that he had a horror of premature burial, and his relatives were instructed to visit his grave periodically to check that he was still dead. An alternative explanation is that he feared the attention of the "resurrection men". A further account is that he had for many years protested against the indecent manner in which funerals were commonly conducted, and so was prompted to prepare a private cemetery on his own land.

However, it appears that the disposal was without ceremony, at break of day, eight days after his death, which gives some credence to another explanation that, because of his disputatious life, his body was not acceptable to the controllers of consecrated ground.

At one time anyone could see the coffin, and large numbers came out of morbid curiosity, especially on Sundays, so that eventually because of the scandal the place was enclosed by a wall.


Asahel Nettleton (April 21, 1783 May 16, 1844) was an American theologian and pastor from Connecticut who was highly influential during the Second Great Awakening. The number of people converted to Christianity as a result of his ministry is estimated at 30,000. He attended Yale College from 1805 until his graduation in 1809 and was ordained to the ministry in 1811. He is most notably known for his participation in the New Lebanon Conference in 1827 during which he opposed the teachings of Charles Finney and Lyman Beecher.

Nettleton's theology was distinctly Reformed. He believed that salvation was a work of God alone and therefore rejected Finney's practice of giving altar calls during church services and revival meetings. The introduction of the altar call, Nettleton believed, exemplified a denial of the doctrines of original sin and total depravity.

Asahel was born 1783 into a farming family in Connecticut. During his early years, he occasionally experienced religious impressions. "One evening while standing alone in a field, he watched the sun go down. The approaching night reminded him that his own life would some day fade into the darkness of the world beyond. He suddenly realized that he, like all other people, would die." These impressions were only temporary.

In the autumn of 1800 Nettleton came under powerful conviction of sin.  This conviction deepened as he began to read the writings and sermons of Jonathan Edwards, but yet he remained unconverted.

It was in 1801 that a revival came to North Killingworth, and by December of that year, 32 new converts were added to the Church; by March 1802 "the congregation had been swelled by ninety-one professions." Among them was Nettleton, who, becoming "exceedingly interested" in missions societies soon had "a strong desire to become a missionary to the heathen."


Lyrics by Robert Robinson

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send Thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.