Honesty in the Pew: Come, Thou Fount

Robert Robinson

Robert Robinson was a drunk.

Then a pastor.

And he was good at both.

Born in 1735, Robert Robinson is best known for writing “Come Thou Fount.” His father died when he was eight years old. He grandfather disowned him for the sum of ten shillings and sixpence (about a week’s wages at that time). At age 14, he was sent to live with his uncle in London where he ended up as barber’s apprentice.

With no father to guide him, Robinson’s life took a turn for the worse. Like the prodigal son, Robinson had a few questionable friends, a little spending money, and plenty of opportunities.

At age 17, Robinson and his group of friends planned to attend a meeting hosted by the fiery yet pastoral preacher George Whitefield (think “Billy Graham meets Mark Driscoll”). The plan was simple: “scoff at the poor, deluded Methodists.” He was every preacher’s nightmare – a professional heckler.

But in the curious providence of God, Whitefield’s words haunted Robinson.

For 3 years.

In 1755 at the age of 20, Robinson gave his life to Christ. Two years later, he gave his church the following words:

…Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love
Take my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.

Sadly, his words were personally prophetic.

An often-told (yet slightly apocryphal) story goes that toward the end his life, Robinson was riding in a stagecoach when he noticed a woman sitting opposite him, deeply engrossing in a hymn book. He listened as she hummed a tune to herself. At one point, she turned to him as asked his opinion about the hymn. Robinson burst into tears and said:

I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I have them, to enjoy that feelings I had then.”

Robinson’s gift to us was his honesty.

For pastors: It’s important to remember that Robinson wrote the words for “Come Thou Fount” just prior to accepting a call as a pastor. Imagine yourself in his shoes: Standing before your congregation and boldly opening your skeleton closet. Admitting all your secret doubts and fears in front of the people who you hope to lead. Frightening, yes? But few things speak louder of a leader’s love for his people than his honesty before them.

For worship leaders: It takes honesty and transparency to connect with words like “prone to wander, Lord I feel it – prone to leave the God I love.” But too often, we rush people into God’s presence – skipping over the impulses of confession and repentance. By the time you ask them to sing: “here’s my heart, Lord take and seal it” very few people actually mean it. Most people end up only half-connecting, feeling like something important is missing.

Intentionally leave time (if only 30 secs or a minute) for honesty to emerge naturally.

Show them how to be quiet. And be quiet well.

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