Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Who Wrote "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing?"

Robert Robinson, the author of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" and "Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee" was a complicated fellow, if my research is any indication. He was born in Swaffham, in Norfolk, England in 1735. By one account, his parents’ marriage was unhappy, and he was not raised in a religious environment. In another account, his mother is referred to as “a godly woman and far above her circumstances.” This may refer to her spiritual outlook since, they were impoverished, especially after his father died, somewhere between the time Robert was five and in his early teens. 

Robert’s mother had been brought up in a wealthy family. Her father, who was angry with her for marrying beneath her class, left his grandson an inheritance of today’s equivalent of $100, which was considered an insult. She realized Robert was quite intelligent and prone to being bookish. She worked hard, taking in boarders, and seamstress’ work, to pay for his education until she could no longer afford it.

Then a friend of the family told them about his brother in London, who was a barber. The barber was willing to take Robert on as an apprentice and indentured servant. Robert was still more interested in reading than fixing hair, but he continued his apprenticeship. Unfortunately, he made friends with a rowdy and dissolute bunch.

One time he and his friends plied an old Gypsy woman with alcohol to make her drunk and then laughed at her when she made her predictions. But when she looked at Robert and told him he would live to see his children and grandchildren, it made him think about where his life was headed.

At a later time, they went to the church of the great evangelist, George Whitefield, to “mock the preacher and pity his hearers.” Instead, Robert Robinson came away with a fear of God which dogged him day and night. Yet, it wasn’t until three years later, at age twenty, that he made his peace with God. He wrote in Latin in one of his books that he’d “found full and free forgiveness through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.” This took place on December 10, 1755. You can see why he wrote in "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" two years later:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with his precious blood.

George Whitefield preaching, 1857 engraving,
He’d received the living water Christ had to give, our fountain of every blessings, of grace, mercy, and more.

After his conversion, Robinson became a Calvinistic Methodist. He returned home to his uncle’s farm in Suffolk after he finished his indentured servitude and went into the ministry around the age of twenty-two, learning the preaching style of George Whitefield, Wesley, and other Methodist ministers.

While he was there, he also met and married Ellen Payne. They had twelve children.

He also decided to embrace the idea of adult rather than infant baptism. Once he was baptized by immersion, he became a Baptist preacher. He was invited to preach to the Baptist church at Cambridge in 1759 and took up his call there, first temporarily, but then permanently. He didn’t feel worthy to be the pastor at first, but for the next 30 years it was his place of ministry.

The following words in Robinson’s hymn have tugged at my heart. Perhaps he thought of his old nature as he wandered in his sin before he committed his life to Christ when he wrote these words:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.

There is a question still debated as to whether Robert Robinson did wander from his faith, due to his acquaintance with Joseph Priestley, a scientist and Unitarian, (one who denies the doctrine of the Trinity). Robinson apparently spoke at a Unitarian church at one point near the end of his life, but in his writings did not deny the deity of Christ, as far as I could ascertain.

There’s also a widely told, but unverifiable story that supposedly happened toward the end of his life. I found this version at Christianity.com: ‘One day as he was riding in a stagecoach a lady asked him what he thought of the hymn she was humming. 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."’

St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church, Cambridge on the site
of the Baptist Church at Cambridge, from RichTea, 2007, {PD}
However, keep in mind that in 1787, his seventeen-year-old daughter, Julie, died and he never recovered from the grief. He died in 1790, a broken man, physically and mentally. His sermons weren’t making sense, and he was considered insane. He was physically worn out, his friends had deserted him, and financial troubles made him a likely candidate for debtor’s prison. The end of his 54 years on this earth were fraught with difficulties. Perhaps he returned to think of the words of the last verse of his song, which is seldom sung:

O that Day when freed from sinning,
I shall see thy lovely Face;
Clothed then in blood-washed Linnen [sic]
How I’ll sing thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransom’d Soul away;
Send thine Angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless Day.

"Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" is usually set to the American folk tune "Nettleton." It remains a favorite and has been recorded by many artists over the years, still relevant to today's Christian.

Kathleen Rouser is the multi-published author of the 2017 Bookvana Award winner, Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan, and its sequel, Secrets and Wishes. She is a longtime member in good standing of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of thirty-some years, and continues on the elusive quest to brew the perfect cup of coffee to enjoy while she is writing. Connect with Kathleen on her website at kathleenrouser.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kathleenerouser/, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser.

Secrets and Wishes
Stone Creek, Michigan, April, 1901 — Maggie Galloway and Thomas Harper clash after their sons collide in a fistfight. Both widowed, they’re each doing their best as single-parents. Outgoing Maggie has dreams for a home of her own and a business to provide for her son as she searches for God’s path for her life as a widow. Reserved Thomas struggles to establish his new pharmacy and take care of his four rambunctious children, while wondering how a loving God could take his beloved wife.

When a charlatan comes to town, and tragedy soon follows. Maggie and Thomas discover the miracle potions he hawks aren’t so harmless when an epidemic hits Stone Creek. Thomas and Maggie realize they must work together to save lives.

Maggie finds herself caught up in battles within and without—the battle to help the townsfolk in the midst of illness and chicanery, and the battle to know which man—Thomas or Giles, a former beau—deserves to win her heart.


  1. I love that hymn and those particular phrases as well. Thanks for finding out the story!

  2. I appreciate this post and the story behind "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." I enjoy how hymns were written. Thank you for sharing, Kathleen.

    1. Hi Marilyn R.! So glad you stopped by and that you enjoyed this post.
      I enjoy learning the testimonies of faith that led to writing hymns as well.

  3. Thank you, Kathleen, for writing this touching story of Robert Robinson. His story is everyone's story. We are all prone to wander. God bless!

  4. You're welcome, Susan. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a
    comment. Yes, we are all prone to wander as human beings aren't we? I agree.