I remember as boy singing, “Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’ve come… ” I may have been singing with “the spirit”, but probably not “the understanding”! These words come from the old hymn “O thou Fount of Every Blessing.” It’s in most our song books. But do you know the meaning of “Ebenezer”? Or the song’s background?
During the era of the Prophet Samuel, Israel had wandered away from God. Their arch-enemy, the Philistines, had continually oppressed them. “All the people of Israel mourned and sought after the Lord”(1 Sam. 7:2). Jehovah promised He would deliver them if they would whole heartedly return to Him, remove their idols, and recommit themselves to serve God only. They people agreed. So the Lord answered their plea by sounding a loud thunder, causing the opposing army panic and confusion. As a result, Israel routed the Philistines and won a great victory.
“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (v. 12). The “Ebenezer” stone was a monument honoring God, celebrating the divine victory, and recognizing His unfailing help.
When we sing, “Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’ve come; and I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home,” we are reminded that even when we’ve become unfaithful, we can return to God. When the enemy threatens, He provides help. When the situation seems hopeless, the God of hope comes to the rescue. And Offers grace in time of need.
The biography of the lyricist, Robert Robinson, is reflected in the song he penned in 1758. His life wasn’t easy. His father died when he was only eight. At 14 his mother sent him to barber school to earn a living for the family. While in London he was befriended by a local gang and began living a wild, reckless and sinful life. One day at age 17 he attended a tent meeting and heard a sermon by the renowned evangelist George Whitefield. That meeting changed his life. Eventually he became a believer, sought to make amends for his derelict life and became a minister.
The first verse speaks to his feeling of gratitude for God’s grace and mercy,
O, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never-ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise
The original song had five verses and spoke autobiographically of his own sins and shortcomings. His wandering from the fold of God. His rescue from danger. God’s goodness. And his own spiritual longing. In fact, it is almost prophetic because his “heart was prone to wander” and he lapsed back into his sinful ways.
There’s a well-known story that one day this prodigal, in his spiritually fallen condition, was riding a stagecoach. Seated across from him was a young lady reading a song book as a devotional, which was often the custom in those days. At some point she became engrossed in the hymn, “O thou fount…” and began humming the tune. Seeing Robinson choke up she thought he too was moved by the song asked him to look at it and give his opinion. He declined. Finally she realized there was something more to his reaction than being touched by the beauty of the hymn.
With tears in his eyes, he said, “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.” Gently and sympathetically, she pointed at the hymn and replied, “Sir, the ‘streams of mercy’ are still flowing.’” It is said that Robinson was deeply touched by that encounter. As a result, he repented and was restored. Convicted through the ministry of his own hymn!
It’s Our Story Too!
While I like many of the newer songs of praise, I enjoy the old favorites too. In fact, as I write, I’m listening to the Baylor A-Cappella choir sing “O Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I must admit my eyes are moist. And a tear or two rolls down my cheek. There is something about this song that speaks to the heart and pierces the soul of all of us who “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
And isn’t it sometimes ironic, or maybe it’s providential, that God can use our past experiences, former writings, or previous sermons to revive our hearts. Renew our spirits. And restore our relationship with God.
Yes, I too, have been a “stranger.” And have “wandered from the fold of God.” I’ve received “streams of mercy never-ceasing.” And Jesus so loved me that “He to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.” How about you?
Am I a debtor to His grace? Have I been a recipient of His goodness? Does He fill my heart with hope and joy? How about you? Yes, like Robert Robinson, you and I can sing, “Never let me wander from thee, Never leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for thy courts above.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman
Note: Today’s post was adapted from an article I originally wrote for Pressing On “the e-magazine for growing Christians. The editor Mark Roberts is doing a great job. Check it out. I think you will like it. I sure do. http://www.pressingonmagazine.com