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Come, Thou Fount

 

“Come, Though Fount of Every Blessing”  This hymn may be better-known in Baptist or Methodist churches than in Lutheran churches as it appeared in no LCMS hymnal until Hymnal Supplement ’98, the precursor to Lutheran Service Book. The writer of music notes never paid the tune much heed before the new hymnal came out, and now it has become one of his favourite texts and tunes.  The text was written in 1758 by Robert Robinson (1735-1790), an amateur theologian who studied with John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) and eventually served Methodist, Baptist and Independent churches in London. 

          The tune is probably of early American origin, being first published in Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music in 1813 (a volume which LoL’s organist owns, and which also has brought us several well known hymn tunes, including the tune associated with the common Advent text, “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns.”) 

          The second stanza of this hymn contains the phrase, “Here I lift my Ebenezer, Hither by Thy help I’ve come,” which is a reference to the stone set up by Samuel as a thanks to God for the Philistines’ defeat by the Hebrews in I Sam. 7:12.  This phrase, whilst somewhat anachronistic in modern parlance, reminds us that—just as with Samuel—God has helped us in the past and, given that assurance, we can be assured of His continuing intervention.  As the second stanza continues, “And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home.”  This “hope” is not to be thought of secularly, as evidenced in one hoping something will come to pass, whilst realizing in reality it may not.   A Christian’s hope is a longing expectation of a historical certainty—the hope of heaven.  Romans 5: 4, 5 reminds us that  "…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us."  We hope knowing that for which we hope will actually come to pass.  God has promised salvation to those who believe on His name;  He is evidenced in history, and we are assured that this hope is not misplaced.   The last stanza tells of this hope:  “Oh, on that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face;  Clothed then in blood-washed linen How I’ll sing Thy wondrous grace!”

          One of the attractive musical aspects of this hymn is that it is in the familiar AABA form. In other words, the first line repeats twice, then new musical material is presented (the B section), after which the first line (the A section) returns. This is fairly common in folk repertory, probably because of the ease with which it is learned. This form is similar to the Bar form of the Reformation chorales such as “A Mighty Fortress,” in which the first line repeats, then there is a new B section in the third line, but instead of a repeat of the first line, the hymn is simply brought to a swifter conclusion. In both cases, these hymns developed from folk singing, and the form would have been familiar and easily learned by unmusical, or even illiterate, people, whether they were in Renaissance Germany or nineteenth-century Appalachia.

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

Lord of Glory

 

“Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us”  This text was written by Eliza Anderson (1818-1889) and included in the first edition of that great monument to English Victorian hymnody—Hymns Ancient and Modern (1865).  Anderson was married to an Anglican vicar, and her talents in writing and painting became evident early in life.  One should note at this point the preponderance of women hymnwriters during the Victorian era both in the United States and England.  Charlotte Elliott (“Just as I Am”), Frances Havergal (“Take My Life and Let it Be”) and Sarah Adams (“Nearer, My God, to Thee”) are but a few of the women hymn writers whose contributions have enriched Christian hymnody.  There had been women hymn writers all the way back to the middle ages (Hildegard von Bingen in the Roman tradition) and German Lutheran hymnals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries exhibit the work of Lutheran women early in the Reformation.  However, most women hymnwriters prior to the Victorian era were nobility.  They were wives of aristocracy, if not just aristocracy in their own right.  Poetry was considered an aristocratic skill to be cultivated, and it most certainly was.  In the first three centuries of the Reformation one continually finds references to women hymn writers of the nobility.  However, with the Victorian era was inaugurated a time of middle-class hymnists.  Most hymn writers of the Victorian era were either country vicars or their wives.  They were hardly poor, but they were certainly not royalty and, by the very nature of their job, they were exposed to the realities of the day-to-day living of their parishoners.  It is perhaps this bourgious connection which ensured that their hymns were not only accepted but loved by generations of rich and poor alike. 

            This hymn text belies its provenance of nineteenth-century England.  In the first stanza we sing of that great redemption being bought by Christ’s “lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice.”  In other words, Christ counted it of no accord that He had to die for all of us—in the words of that other Victorian hymn, “Yet cheerful He, to suffering goes, that He His foes from death might free.”  This redemption has resulted in our being given “Blessings countless as the sand. . .”  Anderson then moves the second stanza to our response to this work of love, “And with that have freely given blessings countless as the sand to the unthankful and the evil with your own unsparing hand.”  We do not do good deeds to earn our salvation.  Our good deeds are done cheerfully in response to what Christ has first done for us. Anderson observes, “Yes, the sorrow and the sufferings which on ev’ry hand we view channels are for gifts and offering due by solemn right to you. . .”  We can be led down dangerous theologizings when we try to ascertain why a “God of love would bring such devastation” on such-and-such a location;  often, this thought is accompanied by either a denial of God’s existence or at least of His goodness.  The writer of music notes cannot pretend to address why bad things happen on earth, since the genesis of it all is sin both of nature and of humanity.  But this hymn helps us to move beyond the useless cliché variably stated as “God works everything for His purpose,” as that somehow is supposed to provide comfort to the distressed and grieving.  In the words of this hymn, we know that these sorrows and sufferings provide opportunities (“channels”) for us to evangelize and to serve with our “gifts and offerings.”  Maybe we exhibit this through giving much money—every church leader would like for us to think this!  But maybe we demonstrate this through selfless service and personal sacrifice to the Church or to others.  Some people are extroverts and enjoy evangelizing or being of service to others on a personal basis.   Others are introverts, and seek to make their contribution in less tangible, but no less meaningful ways.  However this service be expressed, we dare not think in the words of the fourth stanza, “Right of which we may not rob You, debt we may not choose but pay.”  We owe to Christ more than we have the ability to pay back;  our good deeds are predicated on the understanding of this redemption, Christ first loved us and redeemed us that we may love and serve others!

 

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

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