Why I Re-wrote The Last Stanza Of A Famous Hymn (no disrespect intended)

Posted on January 6, 2011

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Have you ever had a love / hate relationship with someone or something? If you have, then you know how conflicting of a disposition this can be. Personally speaking, I have had a love / hate relationship regarding an old, yet beloved hymn of the faith. This hymn is, in my opinion, one of the greatest hymns that has been written in the last five hundred years! Some of today’s top musicians have redone this hymn and that is precisely how I became aware of this song, its rich history, and the amazing story behind it. Yes, I could tell you all these wonderful things about the song, but I would like to spend the next few minutes telling you what really bothers me about the original lyrics however. The implications of this could be life changing! The major problem I have had with this song has entirely everything to do with the last stanza. Let me be very clear…I am not a musician, I do not understand music theory, nor am I a regular song writer. The problem that I have had has to do with the heart, perspective, and focus that is communicated in the last stanza. Please keep in mind that while this song is one of my favorite songs, the last stanza almost always trips me up. The last stanza stops me dead in my tracks. No matter how hard I try, the words of this last stanza just don’t seem right coming out of my mouth. I simply can’t sing them. They even make me angry! Ok, you get the point. That is exactly why I had to rewrite the last stanza. So, what song am I talking about?

Come Thou Fount

Come Thou Fount was written in the 18’th century by Robert Robinson. Like I mentioned, the song is a beautiful song about the love, rescue, faithfulness, and grace of God. It is for these reasons that I take issue with the last stanza. The earliest version had a couple more stanzas, but the modern version of the song has been reduced to the following set of lyrics:

Come Thou fount of every blessing

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace

Streams of mercy never ceasing

Call for songs of loudest praise

Teach me some melodious sonnet

Sung by flaming tongues above

Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it

Mount of Thy unchanging love

 

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Hither by Thy help I come

And I hope by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home

 

Jesus sought me when a stranger

Wondering from the fold of God

He, to rescue me from danger

Interposed His precious blood

 

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 Lord, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above

 While what I’m saying might not seem like a big deal, the focus & theology behind the last stanza is a very big deal indeed. Let’s take a closer look at the first line of the last stanza:

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!

Grace and debt…hmmm, that could be a problem. The essence of grace is that it is completely unmerited on our part. We did not, nor could not, have received God’s grace because of our actions or merits. Obviously, we were in debt to God because of our violation of God’s law & character. The penalty was and is so steep that we could never have repaid it even if we spent an eternity working night and day to try to repay it. What our efforts could not do in an eternity, God’s grace does in a nanosecond! Jesus, His sacrifice for our forgiveness, His resurrected life and invitation into His house and family are God’s lavish grace on us!

Grace is such a lavish thing that we could never repay the giver of that gift. The mere thought of trying to repay the giver of that gift would put us right back into debt. Debt is defined as something that is given to us with expected repayment. Jesus carries, in His bloodstream, a lavish grace for us that could never be repaid. He does not have a “You owe me” mentality. We did not trade one debt for another. It is for this very reason that we could never be a ‘debtor’ to grace. Failure to understand this will put us right back into a pious sounding system of slavery called ‘religion.’ It truly is a dangerous concept that can creep into our thinking in a very subtle way. Let’s move on to the second & third lines of this stanza that are even more troublesome in my opinion:

Let Thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wondering heart to Thee

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

Forgive me for not being able to belt these ‘joyous’ lyrics out. There are three major reasons why I cannot sing these two lines with confidence and joy.

 

1. The heart of those two lines goes directly against the truth contained in Hebrews 12:1-2:

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…

The beautiful truth in this passage is the fact that it indicates that Jesus is an amazing author! He does not start projects that He does not intend to finish. He is the author and finisher of our faith. If I am going to be completely honest with you, I’m going to have to admit that is exactly what Jesus has been doing in me all along. No matter how many times my flesh wants to go off in a certain direction, no matter how many mistakes I seem to make, Jesus always perfects my faith. He continually pulls me back and brings me back to Himself. If my life were put on a bar graph of some sort, you would see an upward trend that continually leads back to Jesus no matter how many times I may have strayed. Am I being arrogant in making these statements? No way, because Jesus really is the ‘perfector’ and I am in Him! Words like ‘prone to leave’, ‘wonder’, and ‘wondering’ are simply not true statements that describe my heart. How can I sing them?

 

2. The second reason that I cannot sing this last stanza in its current form is because the words indicate a focus on our flesh and old nature, and not on our regenerated heart.

My heart is captivated with Jesus because it is my heart that has been made new. He is my first love, and my heart inwardly aches and craves Him. Christ Himself reclaims my heart every time my flesh tries to draw me away from Him. According to the numerous promises throughout scripture, my wicked and unclean heart of stone has been gloriously replaced with His new nature and heart. This heart does not ‘wonder.’ While my flesh may certainly be repulsed by Christ, my heart is certainly not. While my flesh tries to pull me away and wonder, my heart does not. I will not say, or sing, that my heart is ‘wondering’ or is prone to ‘wonder’. My heart is prone to run to Him and cling to Him for love. It is the heart He has given to me.

 

3. The third reason that I cannot sing this last stanza is because it indicates an impure and wrong focus. Philippians 4:8 says this:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” 

Our flesh is hostile to Christ and His supremacy. It actively opposes Him and is prone to leave Him continually. Thankfully, this flesh has been put to death. The sad reality for many Christians, however, is that they cannot fathom a lifestyle in which victory over the flesh and a lifestyle free of the bondage of sin (in this life!) is the norm. There is a reason for this that must be recognized. Because there is such a focus on the flesh, the failures of the flesh, ways to manage the ‘issues’ of the flesh, and on ‘disciplining’ or ‘maturing’ the flesh, that all we can see after a while is our corrupted flesh. The flesh becomes larger and larger. The situation becomes bleaker and more hopeless. The focus on Christ and His own divine nature in us is forgotten about, or certainly not focused on. All we can see is the failures in ourselves and others. When this occurs, seeing Christ in ourselves and others is a foreign idea.

As a result of not actively seeing Christ, the Holy Spirit’s operation in our lives is quenched and we begin to live powerless like the disciples before Pentecost, not after. Before Pentecost, the disciples were constantly living in their own strength, constantly messing up, wondering from Christ, etc…after Pentecost is was a different story. While the disciples were not perfect by any means, after Pentecost they lived their lives in the power and reality of this new nature and the divine life of Christ in them because of the power of the Holy Spirit. I have found that the quickest way to quench the Holy Spirit’s operation and power in my life is to take my focus off of the person of Christ and put it on my flesh.

As a result of this, I certainly don’t want to sing about my flesh and its tendencies! Remember, it is not humility to focus on your flesh and on your life apart from Christ. Remember, you have been gloriously joined to Him and are now in Him! Don’t let anyone tell you differently and shift your focus. It will only serve to keep you enslaved. So with that said, I’d like to leave you with the lyrics to ‘Come Thou Fount’ with a rewritten last stanza. It’s nothing major, just a few of the words have been changed. In my humble opinion, it rings much more true. If you’re a musician and you’re reading this, maybe we can hear this new version put to music.

 

Come Thou fount of every blessing

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace

Streams of mercy never ceasing

Call for songs of loudest praise

 

Teach me some melodious sonnet

Sung by flaming tongues above

Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it

Mount of Thy unchanging love

 

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Hither by Thy help I come

And I hope by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home

 

Jesus sought me when a stranger

Wondering from the fold of God

He, to rescue me from danger

Interposed His precious blood

 

Now by grace I am no debtor, am no more constrained, but free!

Let Thy goodness like a fetter, bind my hungry heart to Thee

Prone to run to God I feel it, prone to re-claim my first love

Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above

 

It’s amazing how the trajectory and focus of our lives can change with the changing of a few little words! May Christ, and His righteousness in you, be your trajectory this New Year.

 Jamal Jivanjee

www.illuminate-us.com

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