Wayne S. Walker

“Samuel took a stone, and set it…and called the name of it Ebenezer,
saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Sam. 7.12).

     INTRO.:  Many of the hymns that we sing contain specific scriptural
allusions and seek to make application of those allusions to us.  A song
which uses the imagery of Samuel’s setting up a stone whose name,
Ebenezer, meant, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,” is “O Thou Fount of
Every Blessing” (#420 in “Hymns for Worship Revised”).  The text was
written by Robert Robinson (1735-1790).  His father died when he was
eight, and at age fourteen he was sent to London as an apprentice to a
barber.  There he became associated with a notorious gang of hoodlums and
led a debauched life. However, in 1752, at the age of 17, he heard a sermon preached by George Whitefield.  Three years later, he professed Christianity and at age 20 became
minister of a Calvinistic Methodist chapel.  

     A few months later, Robinson left the Calvinistic Methodists and
organized an Independent congregation at Norwich in Suffolk.  This hymn
was produced in 1757 or most likely 1758 to show gratitude to God for
saving him from a life of dissipation.  It first appeared in “A
Collection of Hymns used by the Church of Christ in Angel Alley,
Bishopsgate,” published in 1759.  In 1759, he again changed religious
affiliation and became minister at the Stone Yard Baptist Church in
Cambridge, where he remained until his retirement in 1790.  In his later
years, he became a friend of Joseph Priestly, the Unitarian philosopher,
who greatly influenced his life, some think perhaps to more liberal
theological views.

     The tune is a traditional American melody often attributed to Asahel
Nettleton (1783-1844).  Robinson’s hymn was included in his popular 1825
“Village Melodies” but the book contained no music and Nettleton was not
known as a composer.  The first appearance of the tune was in the 1813
“Repository of Sacred Music,” compiled by John Wyety (1770-1858).  No
composer’s name is given but it is called a new tune, leading to
speculation that Wyeth may have composed it, but he was not known as a
composer either.  Thus, it is not known precisely where the tune came
from nor who was responsible for it.  Some books credit it to the French
philosopher and amateur musician Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).
Others suggest that a friend of Nettleton’s composed it and named it in
his honor.

     Various alterations have been made in the text through the years.
The original hymn began “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing.”  The last
four lines of the first stanza originally read, “Teach me some melodious
sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above; Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon
it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.”  Why these changes have been made is
not known.  The original lines five and six of the third stanza read,
“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.”  These
were likely amended because they sounded a lot like total hereditary
depravity.  The source of these changes has not been identified, but the
text that we use is that found in hymnbooks published by those associated
with Christian churches and churches of Christ in the nineteenth century.

     The hymn praises the Lord as the source of everything good.

I. Stanza 1 points out that the Lord is the fount of every blessing
 A. He opened a fountain for our salvation: Aech. 13.1; and is the giver
of every good gift: Eph. 1.3, Jas. 1.17
 B. All these blessings call for songs of loudest praise: Heb. 13.15
 C. In so doing, we prove His goodness: Rom. 12.1 (one book changed this
stanza to read, “May I still MY goodness prove,” prompting the objection
that in the midst of a song praising God, all of a sudden we are singing
about our own goodness; this was corrected in a later edition)

II. Stanza 2 points out that the Lord is our helper
 A. The story of Samuel raising up the stone at Ebenezer is used to
remind us that it is by God’s help that we have made whatever progress we
have: Rom. 8.31-32 (one denominational book, saying that the reference to
Ebenezer is not meaningful to contemporary congregations, changed the
stanze to read, “Hitherto Thy love has blest me; Thou hast brought me to
this place.  And I know Thy hand will bring me Safely home by Thy good
grace.”  However, to me, this is just giving in to Biblical illiteracy.
Even the editors of the “Methodist Hymnal,” who have been known to aleter
hymns in an attempt to update the language, said that when they were
presented with the same objection they were not able to supply any
alternative that was consistent with the context of the hymn and the
passage of scripture that it is based upon)
 B. One way that God has helped us is by sending Jesus to seek us: Lk.
 C. And in so doing, He interposed His precious blood: Eph. 1.7

III. Stanza 3 points out that the Lord is our Savior because of His grace
 A. We are debtors because we are saved by grace: Eph. 2.8-9
 B. But it is still possible for us to wander, so we should also look to
God’s grace to bind our hearts to Him so that He will keep us for
salvation: 1 Pet. 1.5
 C. Therefore, we should ask Him to help us not to wander from Him: Mt.

IV. There is a stanza 4, which was omitted in the 1760 “Psalms and Hymns”
by editor Martin Madan (1726-1790).  This practice has been almost
universally adopted since, but the editors of the “Methodist Hymnal”
noted that the omission of this stanza unfortunately eliminates the
apolcalptic climax of the author’s invitatory prayer.
     “O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely Face;
     Richly clothed in blood-washed linen, How I’ll sing Thy sovereign
     Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, Take my ransomed soul away;
     Send thine angels now to carry Me to realms of endless day.”
 A. While it may seem repulsive to some, the Bible says that there will
come a day when the redeemed in heaven wil have their robes washed in the
blood of the Lamb: Rev. 7.13-14
 B. With this hope, we can look forward to the time of the Lord’s coming:
Tit. 2.13-14
 C. And even before then, we can look forward to that time when in death
the angels will carry us to realms of endless day: Lk. 16.22

     CONCL.:  Returning to the Biblical allusion, we see that when Samuel
was judge in Israel, sometimes the people strayed from the Lord.  So
Samuel gathered them together at Mizpah where he called on them to return
to the Lord and prayed for them.  The Philistines attacked, but rather
than trusting in themselves, the Israelites called on the Lord who
defeated the enemy.  It was then that Samuel erected the stone which he
called Ebenezer, the “stone of help.”  Each one of us raises his own
Ebenezer from time to time when we praise our God, saying, “O Thou Fount
Of Every Blessing.”

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