Editor’s Note: This is a lightly edited transcription of the audio message. Thanks goes to Marilyn Fine for the transcription work.
Thank you very much. I appreciate that. I never understood people complaining about having a birthday. I am so thankful to be alive and I am thankful to have every year and every day. Aren’t you? I am so grateful. I found a song not too long ago. I can never remember the title, but it said, “Lord, do not take me away in the midst of my days.” That is a prayer I pray, “Lord, I do not want to get sick and do not take me before my time. I want to enjoy every day, every month, every week, every year that You give me.” Time is a gift from God. I am so glad to be here today.
I have really looked forward to getting back together with you. I have loved coming to Focus and listening to Paula and just getting to sit back and put my feet up and have a good time. That has been fun, but I am very happy to be here today and begin our series on Great Hymns of the Faith. I know that some of you are not all that familiar with hymns so I want to spend just a couple of minutes talking about why this is a study that will be beneficial to everyone.
Who does not like to sing? Everybody likes to sing—or at least you like music. I guess people who have really beautiful voices like Rebecca, who is going to sing for us today, love singing. I do not have a good voice, but I love to sing anyway. I can sing with Brooklyn Tabernacle like you cannot believe in my car. In fact, one time I scrapped the whole side of my car on the garage because I got a little carried away with Brooklyn Tab. So, enthusiasm has a lot to do with it.
I have learned from my study this week that there are so many verses that talk about singing. I was amazed, and I knew this was a strong theme in scripture. But there are just page after page of people in the Bible talking about singing and exhorting us to sing—especially in the Book of Psalms. It is an integral part of worship.
I do not know about you but the first thing I look for on Sunday morning when I get into church is the music. I open the bulletin and the first thing I want to see is what we are singing. Do you do that? Other people are not that interested in the sermon. I am very interested in the sermon, but I want to know what we are going to sing. I have to get my mind ready for it. Singing is so important. Paul tells us in the Book of Ephesians, “Be filled with the spirit and speak to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” There are psalms that we sing and have been sung in the past. There are hymns which we are talking about today, and then there are spiritual songs – praise songs and choruses. All of these things give praise to God.
Now you know the funny thing is music is very subjective, is it not? There often are some disagreements about music. Some people just like hymns, and some people just like praise songs. I have learned that I have my own particular preference of music. But just because something speaks to my heart in a unique way does not mean it will to everyone. I found that some, especially the younger generation, like the praise songs and the choruses. That to them speaks to their heart in a way that hymns speak to mine. So, music is very subjective.
I remember quite a few years ago hearing Dr. Dobson on Focus on the Family had done a series on Christian music. I happened to tune in the last day when he said he was going to take a vow right now to his audience. “I will never again do a series on this because it is so subjective and people’s emotions are so strong when it comes to music.” It is very individual, but there are some things we can definitely all agree on.
First of all, singing is a theme in scripture. You go back to the Book of Exodus when the Jews, the Israelites left the land of Egypt. Remember they crossed over the Red Sea. Remember what they did? They sang the song of Moses led by Miriam, “The horse and rider thrown into the sea…” There are so many references to music in the Old Testament. When the armies would go into battle they would sing praises. David talked frequently about singing in the Psalms. In the Book of Revelation, it ends with what? Singing around the throne. We will someday stand and sing around the throne. That tells us that there is singing in Heaven. That tells us that music is a gift from God, is it not? It is a gift from God and it does something for our spirit.
Now, in Church history all through time the Church has sung. Even before the Church, the Jews in the Old Testament used a psalter which is the Book of Psalms. Most of the Book of Psalms is written in poetry when it was written in Hebrew. Now that it is in English we do not see that part of it. But, this was also used by the early Church. The psalms were also used by the early Church and spiritual songs and hymns were also used. Even as far back as the very first century themes of songs were beginning to develop.
Some people believe in Philippians 2 when Paul quoted that “every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess” that that was the line of a well-known hymn at that time. But, singing began to die out and it was Gregory the First, Pope Gregory the First, in the seventh century who brought back singing. That is his place in history. He brought back congregational singing and choral singing. He made popular, which has had a comeback recently, Gregorian chants. Have any of you ever heard Gregorian chants? Let’s listen to a Gregorian chant. (playing chant)
Okay, you are not jumping up and clapping with Gregorian chants. But, you know what it brought back? Harmony, beauty, a time in the service that was given for people to be quiet and listen to the harmony and the music. Of course, they understood the Latin at that point.
So, it was during the Reformation, though, that singing became popular as we know it today. Martin Luther, without a doubt was one of the most important men in history. He brought the Reformation to its height. He brought back congregational singing. He was a musician and he wrote songs. He would take words, scriptural words, and take popular tunes of the day. He even took some of the songs from the bars. If you remember he got criticized for that, but his comeback was, why should the devil have all the good music? Is there a good tune? Let’s use it. It is just a tune. It is just a tune until you put it with the words. So, he said “with all my heart I would extol the precious gift of God and the noble art of music for music is to be praised as second only to the Word of God because by her all emotions are swayed.”
Now, let us talk about what makes a hymn a hymn. A hymn is a structure that has usually three or four verses and a chorus and it has an ordered thought. Most hymns we will see tell a story. I started here, then I came here, then I went here, and now I am here. That is usually how hymns are structured.
It is amazing how hymn writers will put tunes that match the words. For example, if you hear “Alas, and did my Savior bleed,” it will be a quiet, almost mournful tune because it is about the death of Christ. If you are hearing a song “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation,” it is soaring and loud and majestic and it is a song of praise. So, many of the hymn tunes reflects the feeling of the words. But, you know, here is the thing that I want you to know about hymns. Hymns are timeless. The same hymns, the words that you are going to hear sung in a few minutes, are words that have been sung for years and years and years by churches in foreign lands, by mission points, by people in downtown churches, and by people in mission churches. These words reflect the feeling of people throughout the years. That is called “transcendence.”
Now, very quickly, if you grew up in a church, then hymns were a part of your life. I grew up in a church that had, I guess they would call it “good church music,” but it was very boring. Every Sunday morning, EVERY Sunday morning we sang “Come Thou, Almighty King,” which is one of my favorite hymns now. But here is how people sing it….(singing in monotone). Nobody sang. They just mumbled it like that. It was years later when I was somewhere else and I read those words and I thought, “these words are unbelievable.” “Come Thou, Almighty King, help us Thy praise to sing” with unbelievably soaring words. Let me tell you something. The Bible does not talk about singing and mumbling. The Bible says “make a joyful shout to the Lord, all the earth. Sing out the honor of His name.” Is that mumbling? “Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth. Break forth in song. Rejoice and sing praises. Praise the Lord for His goodness. Sing praises to our God for it is pleasant and praise is beautiful.” Listen, singing is an important part of expressing our love and devotion to God. Your voice may not be beautiful. It does not matter. You are to sing with joy and aggressively and with your spirit. So if somebody complains about your singing on Sunday. You just say I am supposed to sing this way. It pleases God.
Now, let me tell you about our song today. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” It was hard to pick these hymns. There are so many, but this is such a classic song.
I want to tell you the story about Robert Robinson who wrote this song before Rebecca comes and sings it for us. You know, when you know something about the author of a song or a book it enhances the meaning, does it not?
Robert Robinson was a young man in the early 1700s when he was sent away to a trade school by his mother. His father had died young. She had too many children that she did not know what to do. She sent him to trade school and as happened to most young men in that day what he learned to do was steal and rob and to drink. He went with some of his friends one night after a drinking binge. They went to see a fortune teller. It really rattled him because she talked about the spirit life, the spirit world. It really shook him.
He found himself just a few weeks later standing in an evangelistic meeting on a street corner in London which was being preached by the most famous preacher of his day, George Whitfield. Whitfield was one of the leaders of the first great awakening here in the United States. He was a great, great preacher. Robert stood there. He and his friends had gone to make fun of this man, but as so often happens he was moved by the message of the Gospel.
A few days later he invited Christ to come into his heart and he went into the ministry. He went to seminary and was trained and began pastoring in London. At 23, he entered the ministry and he wrote this song. At the young age of 23, he wrote “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” He was preaching that Pentecost Sunday and he asked the Holy Spirit to help him write a hymn that would ask God to flood into our hearts with His strings of mercy and keep us faithful to Him and enable us to sing praises to Him.
Years later, Robert Robinson began to suffer bouts of depression. He began to doubt his faith. He began to question the reality of God and he left his church and abandoned his call. As he was working and traveling around trying to make a living, he fell into a deeper, deeper depression.
Well, one day he was on a stagecoach and a young woman got on the stagecoach and sat next to him. She had just become a Christian and she started trying to share her faith with him and tell him about how her life was changed by the Lord Jesus. He said, “I do not want to hear it. I do not want to hear it.” She said, “Let me read something to you that helped me so much. Maybe it will help you.” She opened the song book she had in her lap and she began to read to Robert Robinson the words, “Come thou fount of every blessing. Tune my heart to sing thy grace. Streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise.”
Robert Robinson sitting next to her began to weep. Then, his weeping turned to sobs. He said, “Oh, madam, I would give 1,000 worlds, if I had them, to mean those words as you were saying them. Because, you see, I am the person who wrote them. I cannot get back to God.” He began to tell her about his depression and this brand new Christian woman said to this man, “Oh, no, sir, no, no. Look, here it is right here: streams of mercy never ceasing.” It was at that point that he began to pray and ask God to forgive him and he began a journey back to the Lord.
He eventually returned to London, and was preaching in churches around the area. He was scheduled to preach at a church in London on Sunday and that Saturday night before, at age 54, he died in his sleep.
What a story, though! That this man, it is almost eerie, that he lived his song. The last verse of the words that you will hear, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” He knew himself. He knew his heart. “Here is my heart, oh take and seal it.” He did wander. He did wander from God, but God restored him through the words of a woman who had no idea what she was sharing. Isn’t that the way God works?
On your table are the words to this song. Rebecca Hoagland is going to come and sing for us. Rebecca works for Hunt Petroleum. She is a faithful member of Focus and she and her backup group are coming to sing for us. We are delighted to have them.
Thank you. Susie, that is an incredible story. I have been preparing the song and had no idea the story behind it. Let me introduce to you quickly the band. This is Mark Frye who is the music minister at Meadows Baptist in East Plano and Patrick Berg is our student minister at Meadows. Our words are a little different in the second verse, but I think that is just translation. (music playing - singing hymn -- applause)
There is something about adding music to words, is there not? Thank you, Rebecca. That was wonderful. Thank you so much.
Now, you may have noticed in the song, as some of you were reading the words, that this song is a prayer. Is it not? “Come, thou fount of every blessing.” Right away the writer, Robert Robinson, says to us that God is the source of every blessing. Is He not? James said for “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of light.” Every good thing is from God. I just want to kind of walk quickly through these verses as we see what they mean.
The first one: “God’s streams of mercy.” I love that picture that there are streams of mercy. If I could put a picture with this, in my mind I have a picture of those posters you see from Colorado with the mountain streams tumbling, and the water spraying everywhere over the rocks. Streams of mercy. God’s mercy is available to us and he says God’s streams of mercy, implying that there are always available to us.
Do you know what Paul said in the Book of Ephesians, chapter 2? He said, “but God who is rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our sin, made us alive together with Christ and raised us up to sit in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus.” Rich in mercy! God’s mercy is rich.
I want to say this to some of you who may be here and think you probably push God to the end. You do not have to worry about that. God is longsuffering. He is patient. There is no such thing of Him running out of mercy. He is rich in mercy. I used to think years ago when I was first married I used to think the definition of a rich person was somebody who could go to the grocery store and buy whatever they wanted. Well, yes, I still think that. I want to tell you. I went Saturday and think the definition stands. Yes, a rich person has what? Unlimited resources, unlimited resources. They do not have to worry about balancing their checkbook, I guess, to the penny. They do not have to worry about making a deposit before they go to the store. They do not have to worry about those things. They are rich. Unlimited resources. God is rich in mercy. Not only does He never run out of mercy and say “I am sorry your account is up.” He never says that, but He says to you also they are new every morning.
We will talk about this more next week with “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” In Lamentations 2, the writer says this in the midst of this really sad book. Lamentations is a book of lament. It is a sad, sad book by the prophet, Jeremiah, who is called a weeping prophet. The word in Hebrews literally means aching, but there is one good verse in there. Amidst all the sadness and sorrow and depression of that book, Jeremiah is saying that as bad as things are, God’s mercies are new every morning.
Now, you know what that means? Today can be a new start. Every day is a fresh start. When the sun comes up, it is a fresh start for you. If you have blown it the day before and you have tried to do things in your own strength, you can start over tomorrow morning when you get up. Every day His mercies are new.
“Streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise.” Does that not tell us then when we hear that part of the verse that these songs call for a response? It calls for a response. So much of music and so much of praise is putting out something and asking us to respond to it.
He says, “come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise.” You know that is a line I use when I am having my quiet time or I am in church. Do you ever do this? You sit down and you just kind of feel dead inside. You are just not with it. Do you ever feel, “yeah, it is probably just me. Spiritual giant that everyone else is here. I just feel blah.” This is the line that comes to my mind. “Come thou fount of every blessing tune my heart.” Get me in tune. Let me start thinking. Bring some music, some psalms and words to my mind. Get me tuned up. Get me all tuned up like an orchestra does. You know when it is getting ready to play and they tune up a few minutes before. Tune my heart to sing thy grace. “Streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise.”
Now, verse 2. Rebecca sang the words in a little more modern translation or modern interpretation, which is good. You may know it as the old verse which no one ever understands which says, “here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by thy help I come and I hope by thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.”
Rebecca sang the words and basically what it means is, I have come this far. You brought me this far and now help me to realize that and to continue on from this point. The story, the “Ebenezer” that no one ever understands, is from I Samuel 7, a story with the Israelites and Samuel. The Philistines, if you know much about Old Testament history, they were the tormentors of the Israelites. They were tormenting the Israelites and the Israelites came to Samuel and they said something like “please pray for us that God would give us victory over these people that we would live in this land of blessing and not be tormented by the Philistines.” So, Samuel prayed for them. He was the prophet at the time. They went into battle and they overcame the Philistines and they did not bother them for something like 40 more years.
In honor of their victory, in memorial of their victory, Samuel did what Old Testament prophets and kings often did. He set up a stone, a memorial stone. The memorial was to remember that God has brought us this far by faith and this far safely. He named it Eben-ezer. Eben is stone in Hebrew. That is what the word stone means in Hebrew. Ezer means help. Stone of help. So, an Ebenezer is a memorial you set up as a stone showing, reminding yourself. You know, the Israelites were big on this on visual aids. They were always building memorials and stone altars to remind them, to show them as a visual sign of God’s protection and God’s guidance. That is the “here I raise mine Ebenezer.” It stood for God’s help on behalf of helpless men. That is what Robert Robinson was saying. Here I am saying I am helpless, but God can help me. We see in his life’s story how he was helpless; how he fell away, but God brought him back and restored him.
Now, the second part of that verse it says “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God.” Just this line in itself has so much rich, rich theology in it. Jesus sought me. Did you seek God and say “Hey, can I become a Christian?” No, He sought you. We love him, why, because He first loved us. I know you all are familiar with that verse. God seeks us.
I remember this summer telling you about a book I read about the orthodox Jewish woman who became a Christian and she said it is like God was stalking her. Jesus was stalking everywhere she turned around she heard somebody talking about Him. The next time she turned around she heard a song. The next thing she would be in a store and she would see that picture of Him, the kind of brown picture where He just had that long hair and it would enthrall her and she would be drawn to this picture. She said it is like Jesus was stalking her. I know that sounds weird, but I love that because that is what He has been called, a Hound of Heaven. When God goes after somebody He brings them to Him. Jesus sought me. He came after me. He came after Robert Robinson even when he had fallen away. How? Through the words of a young, brand-new Christian woman.
So, “Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God.” That phrase reminds me of the famous story in the gospels where Jesus told the story of the 99 sheep. Do you remember that? There was a man having 100 sheep. He has 99 in the fold, but he is missing that one. Here is the difference between man and God. I know myself, I would say “99, oh, well, what is one? You know, I am doing pretty good with 99.” But what does God do? No, He wants that one, that little lost sheep.
Remember, we have always said in here, too, if you want to know what God is like all you do is look at Jesus. That is where you go. The first place you go. If you wonder about anything about God, look at Jesus’ life and how He lived.
SO what did He do? He gave the picture of a man who was out seeking the lost sheep, the lonely, little lost sheep, and brought it back. The Bible says he was carrying him on his shoulders. That is such a picture of God seeking us, coming after us. Maybe some of you have had this experience. Maybe you are having it currently in your life when you feel God speaking to your heart and He is drawing you and He is saying “I want to walk with you. I want to know you. We need to get rid of some things in your life and we need to move on here.” Listen to His voice. He is seeking you.
Listen, the time to respond to Jesus is now. Many times, even though He is always merciful, long suffering and patient, He will not call. His voice will not be heard as loudly as it is now. So, I exhort any of you who are in here. If you feel God drawing you to Him, just that conviction in your heart, then I beg you to respond to Him. He is seeking you. He is coming after you. The Bible tells you He knows your name. He knows the hairs on your head as we prayed a few minutes ago in the prayer room. He loves you. He wants you. He desires you. He is seeking you. That is what this man is saying. Jesus sought me when I was a stranger. I was out there wandering and I did not even know what I was doing and He came after me. He came after me.
When He did this—another old word you may not be familiar with—He “interposed” his precious blood. That just means He intervened for us. He intervened between us and our eternal demise, which was going to be separation from God forever in eternity. He intervened for us with his precious blood.
All right, then in verse 3 we have a prayer where you can see how the author has come to be sought. It is almost as if he is realizing the richness of God’s mercy, the streams of grace, and the seeking that God has performed to go after him so that he ends it with a prayer to God where he says he is “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.”
Anybody in here not sometimes “feel prone to leave the God you love?” Yes, we are all prone to do that without the keeping power of the Holy Spirit. I love, and you should know this about me, I love honest people who will say what they feel. I love the prayer in the New Testament when the man was asking Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus asked “do you believe?” He said, “Lord, I believe but help my unbelief.” I love that prayer. It is so honest and it is so real. I pray it all the time myself. I believe, but I have so much unbelief. Help my unbelief. This is in the same vein where he is saying “I am prone to wander. I feel it.” I know myself. I know what I am going to do. I can tell. I can tell.
“Lord, I pray that You would take my heart. Seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.” An honest prayer. I did not realize until I began studying these how many writers of hymns became so vulnerable in their words. Bernard of Clairvaux, who lived in about the 11th century, a monk, wrote the unbelievable words to the hymn, “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.”
“Oh, Sacred Head Now Wounded,” is another song I heard my whole life and it was not until maybe a few years ago when I listened to it recorded differently by someone else that I really heard this last line. It is a lament over the death of Christ on the cross. The last line he says, “Oh, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for Thee.” That is a pretty serious prayer. Kill me if I back off. Kill me if I leave. Take my life if I ever ruin my testimony. Pretty strong words.
It is in the same vein of Robert Robinson’s prayer. “Lord, I am prone to wander, I feel it. I am prone to leave even the God I love.” So, what do I do about it? Well, here is my heart. I give my heart to You. I give my life to you. You take it and You seal it. Seal it for what? For Your courts above.
Listen, salvation is all by God. He has done it all. All we do is say yes. All we say is “Yes, Lord. Now what? That is the old thing that I fought for so long and it always comes back to that “Yes, Lord, now what? is the question. What do you want me to do? The attitude of “Yes, Lord, I will do what you want me to do.”
I think this song expresses the feelings of so many Christians through the years. God’s grace pursues us. He is rich in mercy. We respond to that and even when we have responded we can sometimes wander. So, what do we do? Say, “Lord, I am prone to wander, but here is my heart. Take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above.”
Now, I want you to take this card with you this week and I want you to read it in your quiet time and in your prayer time. Keep it at your desk and read these words over. Let these words become a prayer in your heart to the Lord.
Let’s pray. Father, thank you for Your goodness to us. Thank you for Your mercies. Streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise. Teach us the melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above. Oh, we praise Your name, Lord. We are fixed upon it. The name of your redeeming love. Now Lord we pray we are prone to wander, but we pray, Lord, here is our heart. Take it, seal my heart, seal it for Your courts above. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.