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.
These words were written by in 1758 by Robert Robinson, three years after his conversion at the age of 23. In a drunken stupor at the age of 17, Robinson and his friends attended an evangelistic meeting of George Whitefield where he preached on the wrath of God. It was his testimony that Whitefield’s message tormented his conscience for three years until he found rest in Jesus Christ. Shortly thereafter, Robinson embraced the call to ministry in the Calvinist Methodist tradition.
The reality of which Robinson spoke of in the third stanza of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” tragically came true when he lapsed into a lifestyle of sin and even turning to Unitarianism. It was during this time that the story is told of Robinson entering a stagecoach with a lady joyously humming one of her favorite hymns. Turning to him, she asked if he knew the hymn that had ministered to her so much. Robinson replied:
“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.”
Why is it that we need to preach the gospel to ourselves? Why is it that we desperately need to live in the good of the gospel on a daily basis? It is because of this reality: “prone to wander Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” Peter admonishes his readers to see they don’t become blind and unfruitful, having forgotten that God had cleansed them of their former sins (2 Pet. 1:9). Augustine and Martin Luther both spoke of the state of living incurvatus in se which is Latin for man living bent in on himself. Through the gospel, that bent is changed from oneself to God, but that does not mean that such a Godward bent does not come without being shaped by the gospel.
How do you go from writing such powerful and soul-stirring words as in the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” only to later get to a place where you would “give a thousand worlds” to know and experience what you had in the Lord? I would argue that it begins with assuming the gospel only to later forget it. This is why all the talk about living gospel-centered lives is so important.
The good news is Robinson’s life did not end “in the far country.” In that encounter with the lady in the stagecoach, God used the very gospel words he once wrote as they were spoken from the mouth of this anonymous woman to draw him to repentance back to a restored fellowship with whom there is “streams of mercy never ceasing.”
May all who love Jesus drink deep of the fountain of delight, treasure the pearl of greatest price, taste the goodness of the Lord, and continually feast at the banqueting table of His presence. And may we live with a Godward bent through the transforming power of the gospel for the day when we shall indeed see “the glory of God in the face of Jesus.”
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.