Come, thou fount of every blessing

with NETTLETON, JEWIN STREET

 

Text: Origins. The oldest surviving publication of this hymn is in A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the Church of Christ: Meeting in Angel-Alley (London, 1759 | Fig. 1), in four stanzas of eight lines, without music, unattributed. It is ascribed to Robert Robinson (1735–1790) on the basis of his manuscripts, which included a list of his publications, including the entry, “Mr. Wheatley of Norwich published a hymn beginning ‘Come, thou fount of every blessing’ (1758).” This publication was probably a broadsheet; no known exemplars survive. His manuscripts also included a letter from John Rippon (1751–1836), acknowledging the contribution of this hymn to Rippon’s Selection of Hymns (1787). 


 

Fig. 1. A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the Church of Christ: Meeting in Angel-Alley (London, 1759 | Fig. 1).

 

Text: Development. Shortly after its 1759 publication, the hymn appeared in Martin Madan’s Collection of Psalms and Hymns (London, 1760 | Fig. 2), shortened to three stanzas, and containing some key alterations, especially to the first four lines of stanza 2 and the sixth line of stanza 3 (“Here’s mine heart”). Madan’s edition also provided several Scripture references for comparison.

The following year, “Come thou fount” appeared in George Whitefield’s Collection of Hymns for Social Worship, 10th ed. (London: William Strahan, 1761 | Fig. 3). Whitefield’s version is unique in the way it changed all the singular pronouns into plural constructions for the purpose of congregational singing. Some of the turns of phrase are interesting, but they have not endured.

Madan’s alterations were repeated in The Collection of Hymns Sung in the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel (1764; 1770 ed. shown in Fig. 4), adding the minor change at 2.8 (“Interpos’d his precious blood”). The common change at the end of stanza 1, “Mount of thy redeeming love,” can be traced to the mid-1800s, but the source of that alteration is unclear.


Fig. 2. Martin Madan, A Collection of Psalms and Hymns (London, 1760).

Fig. 3. George Whitefield, A Collection of Hymns for Social Worship, 10th ed. (London, 1761).

Fig. 4. The Collection of Hymns Sung in the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel (Bath, 1770).


Text: Analysis. Madan’s edition (Fig. 2) lists many important Scripture references. The opening line of the hymn is reflected in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (ESV). The allusion to the Ebenezer stone in 1 Samuel 7:12 is somewhat obscure and is sometimes changed in modern hymnals to a phrase more readily understood by the average worshiper (“Here I raise my grateful tribute,” or something similar). Other adjustments are common in trying to reframe the 18th-century English language for modern ears. 

Literary scholar Leland Ryken asserted, “The overall thrust of this poem is to celebrate what God has done for sinners and the gratitude that they feel for their deliverance,”[1] and he equated the poem to Ephesians 2:4-7:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (ESV).

Tunes.

1. JEWIN STREET

This hymn was first set to music in Thomas Knibb’s The Psalm Singers Help: Being a Collection of Tunes in Three Parts (London, ca. 1765 | Fig. 5), with a tune called JEWIN STREET. In this printing, the source of the text was given as “Mr. G.W. Page 184,” which refers to George Whitfield’s Collection (1761 | Fig. 3). The tune carries from left to right across the page break. The pairing of “Come thou fount” with JEWIN STREET was very popular from the late 1700s into the early 1800s and was included, for example, in editions of John Rippon’s Selection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1792 and thereafter).


 

Fig. 5. Thomas Knibb, The Psalm Singers Help: Being a Collection of Tunes in Three Parts (London, ca. 1765). Melody in the middle part.

 

2. NETTLETON

In modern hymnals, this hymn is most widely known with the tune NETTLETON, which was first printed in John Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part 2 (Harrisburg, PA, 1813 | Fig. 6), where it was named HALLEUJAH, scored for two parts (melody and bass), and set to Robinson’s text. Notice how this original printing repeats the bottom line (the last two musical phrases) and adds the text “Hallelujah, hallelujah, we are on our journey home.”

Fig. 6. Repository of Sacred Music, Part 2 (Harrisburg, PA: John Wyeth, 1813).

The change in name to NETTLETON appeared as early as 1868 in Charles Robinson’s Songs for the Sanctuary (Hymnary.org). The name is in reference to Asahel Nettleton (1783–1844), and the tune has been erroneously attributed to him in some collections, even though Nettleton is not known to have been a composer, and his collection Village Hymns for Social Worship (1824) contained no music. A separate tune book prepared as a companion to Village Hymns, called Zion’s Harp (New Haven, CT: N. & S.S. Jocelyn, 1824 | PDF), does not contain this tune, nor was it prepared by Nettleton himself.

Legacy. Fellow hymn writer and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807) was a great admirer of this hymn, quoting it in several sources. In a letter to John Thornton, 4 August 1770, he wrote:

He found me in a waste howling wilderness, in the most helpless state of sin and misery—but in consequence of his everlasting purpose and love, he was pleased to deliver me from ruin, to call me by his grace, to give me a name and place amongst his children, and amongst his ministers. O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be! My soul desires to set up an Ebenezer to his glory this day.[2]

In his diary, 27 June 1777, he wrote:

Lord thou art Sovereign and dost all things well, and right. But I must, I will say, Why me? O to grace how great a debtor. For I was vile beyond measure, yet I obtained mercy.[3]

Newton’s affection for this hymn illustrates how quickly and how pervasively Robinson’s text has entered into the parlance of English Christianity.

by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
5 September 2018
rev. 4 September 2019


Footnotes:

  1. Leland Ryken, 40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2019), p. 60.

  2. Cambridge University, Thornton Papers, Add 7826/1/A, transcribed by Marylynn Rouse, The John Newton Project (http://www.johnnewton.org).

  3. John Newton’s diary, Friday 27 June 1777, transcribed by Marylynn Rouse, The John Newton Project (http://www.johnnewton.org).

Related Resources:

John Julian, “Come, thou fount of every blessing,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), p. 252: Google Books

Leland Ryken, “Come, thou fount of every blessing,” 40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2019), pp. 57-60.

Hymn Tune Index:
http://hymntune.library.uiuc.edu/default.asp

J.R. Watson, “Come, thou fount of every blessing,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
http://www.hymnology.co.uk/c/come,-thou-fount-of-every-blessing

“Come, thou fount of every blessing,” Hymnary.org:
https://hymnary.org/text/come_thou_fount_of_every_blessing