“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (I)”

Author: Words: Robert Robinson (1735-1790)
Earliest date: 1835 (Sacred Harp)
Keywords: religious nonballad
Found in: US

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.

Notes

This text by Robinson (1735-1790) 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 undertand 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.

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, an 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; P. Kyle McCarter, in the Anchor Bible volume _1 Samuel_, p. 146, notes that the root, and hence the meaning, is not entirely clear at this time,but "stone of the helper" and "stone of the warrior," both possible, also 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. 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

Cross references

References

  1. ADDITIONAL: Charles Johnson, One Hundred and One Famous Hymns (Hallberg, 1982), pp, 66-67, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #15066
  3. BI, NEctfoeb