It is amazing that a hymn written over 250 years ago, is still a favorite, but this one is. It is only three short verses in the Believer’s Hymn Book, but this is only half of the hymn. This hymn was written by a young man who was close to the Lord. In his later years, when he was far away from the Lord in heart and spirit, his own hymn was used to restore him.
Robert Robinson was born of Christian parents who were very poor. He was born in Suffolk, England, and his mother longed to see her son become a man of God. However, his father died when he was eight years old. While he had great intellect and promise, his education had to be curtailed, and his mother sent him, at age 14, to London to apprentice as a barber. Here, he fell in with a gang of youths who influenced him to live a life of sin and debauchery. So bad were his actions, that his family essentially refused to be responsible for his behavior.
One day the gang decided to disrupt a gospel meeting and mock those attending. The great preacher George Whitefield was preaching that day. He was a man mightily used of God in the UK and in the Great Awakening in the new colonies of the United States. His text that day was Matthew 3:7, where the Lord Jesus was speaking in scathing words against the Pharisees and the Sadducees: “O generation of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come (Matt 3:7)?” With tears streaming down his face, Mr. Whitefield preached, “O my hearers! The wrath to come! The wrath to come!” Robert Robinson was touched for eternity by that message. He said, “those words sunk into my heart like lead in the water. I wept … and for weeks, I could think of little else.” Three weeks later, on December 10th, 1755, in his own words, he “found full and free forgiveness through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.”
His salvation produced in him a deep desire to learn and know the things of God. He traveled all over England listening to some of the best gospel preachers of his day. He preached in a number of different churches, and it was evident he had a true gift.
This hymn was written when he was 23 years old. The honesty of the words he used were prophetic. Not only was his salvation touchingly explained, but his future episodes of straying away from the Lord took expression in his words. Even then, he saw in himself that he was “prone to wander,” prone to leave the God he loved. Sadly, there were periods of his life when he did wander. He lapsed back into sinful ways, had periods of great spiritual instability, and even toyed with false doctrines opposed to the truth of Scripture.
One day when he was much older, he was riding in a stagecoach, traveling through the English countryside. A lady sitting near him in the coach was obviously enjoying a hymn she was reading; she was humming the tune, and singing the words aloud. She turned to the stranger beside her, held the open hymnbook out to him, and asked him if he had ever heard that hymn. The stranger was silent for a long moment, and then he burst into tears. He said to her, “Madam, I am the poor, unhappy man who composed that hymn many years ago. I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings that I had then.” Some 30 years later, the very words he had penned had been returned to him, by the grace and providence of God, to break his heart.
He was a gifted preacher who held audiences spellbound. He was a talented writer, and a well-studied theologian. He was a devotional Christian, whose written works about his Savior touched many hearts. Yet, he was an unstable man; impulsive, eccentric, and one whose heart often strayed from the Lord. But the God Who had saved him, called him, and longed after him, was the God Who restored him, by his own hymn! The prodigal’s Father had never let him go.
The words of the hymn seem to come alive as we consider the life of Robert Robinson. He wrote it early in his Christian experience, at a time when he had already wandered, and had been drawn back to the Lord through Psalm 116:7: “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with thee.”
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 measure, sung by flaming tongues above;
O the vast, the boundless treasure of my Lord’s unchanging love!
Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither, by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me, when a stranger wandering 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 that grace, Lord, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.
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.
How often have each of us wandered away from God? Can we not see this very same tendency in our own hearts, and feel how truly prone we are to drift away? The God who caused Robert Robinson to be restored to Him is the God Who follows us, yearns after us, longs for us, and waits for us to return. This dear man was returned to his Father, and lived the rest of his days to the honor and glory of his Savior. He died peacefully at age 55, on the 9th of June, 1790.