Posted by: rcottrill | June 9, 2010

Today in 1790 – Robert Robinson Died

In his youth, Robert Robinson was apprenticed to a barber in London and lived a wild and reckless life. But one day he heard a sermon by George Whitefield on the stern words of John the Baptist to the Jewish leaders of his day, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7). The Spirit of God convicted the wayward young man and he put his faith in Christ.

Associated with the Wesleys for a time, Robinson served as a pastor in several churches. He wrote a number of works on theology, and two hymns that we know of, Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee, and Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. The latter hymn begins:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.

The song is autobiographical in its confession of a proneness to wander away from the Lord. Though a man of intellectual brilliance, Robert Robinson was, in the words of Scripture, “unstable as water” (Gen. 49:4). In his later years he drifted away from God. This weakness is reflected in a later stanza of the hymn above:

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.

In a spiritually backslidden condition, the author was traveling in a stage coach one day. His only companion was a young woman unknown to him. In the providence of God, and not realizing who it was she spoke with, the woman quoted Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, saying what an encouragement it had been to her. And try as he might, Robinson could not get her to change the subject.

Finally, he said, with tears in his eyes, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who composed that hymn, many years ago. And I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I then had!” Gently, she replied, “Sir, the ‘streams of mercy’ are still flowing.” He was deeply touched by that. As a result of the encounter he repented. His fellowship with the Lord was restored through the ministry of his own hymn, and a Christian’s willing witness.

(2) Today in 1834 James Thompson Born
James Oren Thompson fought with Maine’s 17th Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War, but for most of his adult life he served pastorates in a number of churches. He is known for one hymn only, a missionary prayer from 1885. (To read about the composer of the tune, James Clemm, see the second item under Today in 1837.) The song says:

Far and near the fields are teeming
With the waves of ripened grain;
Far and near their gold is gleaming
O’er the sunny slope and plain.

Lord of harvest, send forth reapers!
Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry;
Send them now the sheaves to gather
Ere the harvest time pass by.

The refrain is based on the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 9. The Bible says, “When [Christ] saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (vs. 36). In response, the Lord said to His followers, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest” (vs. 37-38).


Responses

  1. […] one of the most remarkable hymn stories is the one about Robert Robinson, whose life was turned around by his own […]

  2. What an amazing and encouraging song and story!–which I used to quote in my sermons.

    • Yes, I agree. And there are a number of instances when hymn writers have been significantly impacted by listening to their own songs. D. R. van Sickle was not a Christian. But he claimed that anybody could write a hymn, even him. And he did. He wrote:

      All hail to Thee, Immanuel,
      We cast our crowns before Thee;
      Let every heart obey Thy will,
      And every voice adore Thee.
      In praise to Thee, our Saviour King,
      The vibrant chords of heaven ring,
      And echo back the mighty strain,
      All hail! Immanuel!

      All hail to Thee, Immanuel,
      Our risen King and Saviour!
      Thy foes are vanquished,
      And Thou art omnipotent forever.
      Death, sin and hell no longer reign,
      And Satan’s power is burst in twain;
      Eternal glory to Thy name:
      All hail! Immanuel!

      But God is not mocked. Years later, he came under conviction and was brought to Christ when visiting a church and listening to his own song sung by the choir!

  3. Thanks for your words about “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I am the person who blogged about singing that and other songs to the inmates at the prison. I’ll share Robert Robinson’s story with my friends.

    • Thanks Andrew. I actually heard from a prison chaplain one time that stories about some of the inmates’ favourite hymns were a great blessing. Maybe you could use the story that way. It has to do with repentance and redemption, a much needed theme behind prison walls.

  4. What an amazing story of God’s faithfulness to His children, even in our stubborn disobedience. As you know, I recently posted a simply acoustic arrangement of this hymn on my site, davidpottermusic.wordpress.com.

    • Thanks for your comments. Yes, God’s faithfulness, and certainly His mercy and grace are in view, in dealing with His wayward child.

  5. […] Blessing, and Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee. His story is dealt with elsewhere in the blog, here. He refers in the former hymn of his proneness to wander, and the lyric surely speaks to the […]

  6. […] missionary hymn of the same name. (To read more about this hymn, see the second item under Today in 1790.) The song is based on the words of the Lord Jesus regarding the need of willing workers to serve […]

  7. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  8. […] This hymn is a favorite of mine. I am absolutely touched by the sad story about the author of the song, Robert Robinson. And I quote from Word Wise Hymns: […]

  9. Personally I have such difficulties with the Mormons’ heretical ‘faith’ that I wouldn’t listen to their choir or anything from them at all !!

    • I do agree with your view of Mormonism, though I enjoy music that’s well done. You’ll be happy to see that because of copyright the video clip has been pulled from the site.

  10. Dear Mr. Cottrill,
    I have heard the story of Robert Robinson a number of times (of him being backslidden and riding in a coach with a woman who was reading his hymn), but I have been unable to verify that he really did this and that he fell into a life of sin. Dominic

    • As you can see, many of the details you mention are in the article I posted. I’ve got many resources that tell basically the same story, so yes, I do believe it’s accurate. You do raise a good point though: how we can be certain of things that happened so long ago. In many cases, data comes from journals and autobiographies of the individuals themselves, or from material written by their acquaintances, or others closer to the time. I do my best to track down the information. Sometimes, readers send comments that help.

  11. I was wondering if you have cited your resources for accuracy? I can’t see them, but maybe I’m missing them. I do love the idea of the story, whether it’s historically accurate or not.

    • It’s a good question. Actually, all the seventy plus books listed in the Bibliography and more have been used in research for the articles on the blog, but I haven’t always taken the extra time required to pinpoint what particular information came from where.

      The initial comment of Robinson about wishing he felt as he had years ago when he wrote the hymn is well documented. And a number of sources refer to his later repentance. As to the part the young woman had in that, I can’t recall where I saw that, but I notice Paul Lee Tan refers to it in his Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations (Assurance Publishers, 1979, p. 183).


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