Prone to Wander, Lord I Feel It

Tim Brister —  September 14, 2009 — 16 Comments

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.

Share Button
Print Friendly
  • Pingback: Prone to Wander « inexpressible and filled with glory()

  • bradkonemann

    We recently started singing this hymn at LiVE – the young adults ministry at my church in Sydney Australia. It has been a soul-stirring experience singing this in community. Thanks for telling the story behind the hymn. I’ll be telling this story next time we sing it.

    Your application to preach the gospel to ourselves and to live gospel-centred lives really comes to life in light of the example of Robert Robinson’s life.

    Thanks Timmy

  • http://doxoblogy.wordpress.com/ Jeremy Weaver

    Can you point me to your reference?

  • http://www.swoutfitters.com Zach

    Thanks Timmy. What a powerful word. I am daily challenged with this very important need, that of preaching the Gospel to myself. It’s a humbling thing to know that even decades into the Christian life, we still don’t deserve this amazing gift of grace. Thanks for the reminder.

  • http://rebuilt.galleywinter.com Ryan

    This is far and above my favorite Hymn. I wish that more songwriters these days had the gall to write words like “Prone to wander” or “Prone to leave the God I love”. It strikes deep at the heart of our daily struggles… struggles that for a long time I just discounted as my lack of belief or something being wrong with me. I think this hymn truly helped me embrace it for what it is… sin.
    And it also helped me to understand that if it’s sin, then the Gospel will overcome it.

    Thanks for the post. It reminds that I’m not alone in my thoughts of being prone to wander, but also that He “interposed His precious blood” (from another verse).

  • http://www.thomasclay.blogspot.com Thomas Clay

    Timmy, thanks for pointing to the “richness” of the gospel in this great hymn. We are opening next year’s True Church Conference with it along with a refrain that I wrote that says: “O great Fount of Thy redemption/Saving grace that made me see/I am resting in Your power/That is holding onto me”

    God bless, bro!

  • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

    Paul said “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?”

    We live in an age where much of Christianity has been reduced to a mere Experience… and for most Christians this Experience has been reduced to a mere Decision.

    Once the “Decision” has been made… Once the “Experience” has been Experienced… the Modern Christian has very little need for God in his life, and unless he is in the middle of a personal crisis the Modern Christian feels very much in control of things and as the writer of this beloved hymn says; he is “prone to wonder”. (This is the wisdom of this Modern age in which we live)

    In my opinion this casual approach to our relationship with God is a result of two doctrines that when combined has had the same effect on Modern Christianity and the Modern Church as yeast and water have when added to flour … They are: (1) Decisional Regeneration and (2) The Eternal Security of the Believer.

    Modern Christianity, under the influence of there two doctrines, is like modern bread… it is altogether: ”light, and fluffy… puffed up… and full of air”.

    Grace Always,

  • Pingback: Friday Finds September 18()

  • http://www.wordwisehymns.wordpress.com Robert

    Robinson’s experience is not unique, as you point out. Solomon wrote many wise things, but he did not always live wisely. He needed to follow his own advice! And perhaps to a less conspicuous degree it is true of every believer, that we know the truth, but often fail to live the truth. Robinson’s story is a cautionary tale for us all, and his repentance and restoration ought to encourage us.

  • http://www.mikeandsallie.com/sallie Sallie

    We have to preach it to ourselves because we let ourselves forget it.. great post!!

    In christ,
    Sallie

  • http://www.chrishallsayshi.com Chris Hall

    I love these lyrics.

    The story however was never confirmed, as well as his acceptance of Unitarianism.

    It makes for a great and moving and somewhat sad story but I think truth is strong enough.

  • Pingback: Questionable Hymns - Page 3()

  • Pingback: What is original sin? | Reason To Stand()

  • Rose

    This song has ministered so much to me lately….and yes I agree we all need to preach the gospel to ourselves. Thanks brother for the story behind the hymn!

  • Sabrina Fells

    Last night my pastor (baptist) began quoting part if this song. “Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”. This is my favorite hymn only second to Amazing Grace. Imagine my surprise when he said to our congregation that TRUE CHRISTians should NEVER sing this hymn because you cannot be a true CHRISTian if you believe you are prone to wander. I’ve never heard of a PERFECT Christian, even in a group of pastors. Don’t we all need to be refreshed with the teaching of the Bible? Don’t we all stumble and feel like we are undeserving of His miraculous GRACE? If we could all just read the Bible, understand completely what it says and do it then we would have no need to go back and re-read any part of it for we would have complete knowledge of God. I was just so taken aback at what he said and with the force he said it with that it made me research who wrote it and why. Thanks for the post. I understand some pastors even get it wrong sometimes. I have experienced what is called mechanical depression and this song ministers to me when I feel it coming on. According to my pastor he believes fervently that I cannot be a true CHRISTian if I am prone to wander. Thankfully I base my relationship with Christ and what He says more than relying on my pastors incorrect interpretation of this hymn. Again, thanks for this post.