Kenneth Osbeck, in 101 Hymn Stories, tells the story of Robert Robinson, who wrote “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
Robinson was a barbering apprentice in London “associated with a notorious gang of hoodlums and lived a debauched life.” At age 17, he attended a meeting with his friends to mock the Methodist church where George Whitfield—popular for his pronunciation of “Mesopotamia”—was preaching. Robinson was so compelled by Whitfield’s preaching, he accepted Christ.
Years later, he felt a call to the ministry and joined the Methodist church as a pastor. When he moved to Cambridge, he became a Baptist pastor and began writing theological works and hymns.
At age 23, Robinson wrote one of the most popular hymns of the church. Sections of this hymn have been quoted in sermons and baptisms, weddings and funerals. In fact, this is one of the songs I want sung at my funeral.
‘O to grace how great a debtor’
A focal stanza for me is the last:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy grace, Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wand’ring 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. (Baptist Hymnal, 1991)
This song embodies the gospel message in a song!
The truth about us all is that we tend to wander from the loving arms of God. We know the love of God. We can recognize it in creation and throughout our lives; yet, something always pulls us away.
So, Robinson hands his heart to God and says: “Here’s my heart … seal it for [your] courts.” Isn’t that powerful?
Though we will not stop wandering because we can’t, we ask God to please attach us to God.
‘Let Thy grace, Lord, like a fetter’
In response to his wandering, Robinson wrote: “Let Thy grace, Lord, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee.”
Merriam-Webster defines ‘fetter’ as “a chain or shackle for the feet.” To say, “Like a fetter, bind my heart” is like saying, “Lord chain me up to you because I have this tendency to leave you, but I don’t want to.”
I am reminded of the thieves crucified with Jesus. One thief mocked and ridiculed Jesus, while the other thief was so full of remorse that he told the other thief to stop and asked Jesus to remember him. He did not demand that Jesus get him off the cross. He knew he had wandered from God. Instead, he asked Jesus to bind his heart to him and not forget who he was!
Jesus did even more than that, however. Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
‘Jesus sought me when a stranger’
What is the gospel but a Triune God fighting to get us back? Luke 15 depicts this Triune God leaving the 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep, tearing up her whole house to find the one lost coin, and running to his lost son when he returned from his wandering.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in a dark place, beyond what can be found, scared and alone. In those moments, I say: “Lord, bind my wandering heart to you. Shackle me to you.”
Another picture is an astronaut going for a spacewalk and remaining tethered to the ship. Even if the astronaut wanders off or floats beyond being able to grab something, he or she still will be connected to the ship and won’t be lost.
A friend suggested that rather than being bound to God with something like shackles and chains, we are bound to God by more of an umbilical cord. What an image! Like an umbilical cord provides a fetus with breath, nutrients and life, we are attached to God. This is what it is to be bound to God. This is what it is to have such a deep relationship with God that we are bound to the Lord in a nutrient-rich relationship full of breath and life.
A prayer for guidance
“O heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget thee, but may remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” — Anonymous, beliefnet.com
Jaci Garrett is a junior at Howard Payne University and is the interim pastor at Sidney Baptist Church in Sydney, Texas.