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Friday, March 27, 2020

A Fresh Look at "Come Thou Fount"

Doctrine Doctrine Doctrine

This is another in our occasional look at music and doctrine. We've noted that the three most important elements in music claiming to be Christian is whether the singer is wearing a tie... no, wait... that's rather carnal thinking... the three most important elements are:

  • Doctrine
  • Doctrine
  • Doctrine

Music should never be the primary or only source for teaching in our gatherings, but it can be a great source of encouragement and it should strengthen (complement) sound doctrine. With that in mind, this time around we will examine, in part, the beloved hymn "Come Thou Fount."

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 sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

What could be wrong with that? Well, I'm not condemning it in toto, but I think we can do better in terms of doctrinal accuracy. And that is our goal, is it not?

First, we have to acknowledge that some of the "beloved hymns" we know today are not "as written." We will not examine that fact in this study except to say, parts have been dropped from the originals over the decades. That is true of "Come Thou Fount." For now, however, we will simply turn back to the verse in view as we have it today.

Flaming Tongues Above?

The idea captured by "Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above" is a bit of a poser to me. The only "flaming tongues above" with which I am familiar in scripture would be at the Jewish feast of Pentecost in Acts 2. What that has to to do with us (nothing, we're not Jews) has been covered in other studies, but even so, why would the tongues be singing?

I have searched my King James Bible and I do not find the phrase "flaming tongues above." What I do find is this from Acts 2:3.

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

The "them" in the passage would be the chosen apostles of Christ (v.14). The "cloven tongues" are merely "like a fire." It's a simile.  Seems to me the hymn takes great liberties with this one-time, person-specific, time-limited event

Let's take a look at a revision of this verse by Charles Welch:

Teach me some melodious sonnet
Suited to Thy matchless love;
Sovereign grace - I'm fixed upon it,
Grace that nothing can remove.
[Hymns of Praise. Charles H. Welch, Editor, 1957]

I think this is both far better in terms of thought and biblical, doctrinal content.

Gentiles Were Never in the Fold

We return to the common text of the hymn:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God

As Gentiles, we were certainly "strangers" (Ephesians), but we never "wander[ed] from the fold of God." That's fairly close to heretical. I'd say it's very heretical, but given a wide berth perhaps we can find some degree of application. But giving wide berth also gives wide berth to heresy.

Now let's turn to the revision:

Christ did seek me when a stranger,
Without hope, or peace, or God

[Hymns of Praise. Charles H. Welch, Editor, 1957]

Let's not lose site of the change from "Jesus" to "Christ." As Gentiles, we need to be very careful here. There is an air of familiarity and a danger in focusing on the earthly ministry of Christ in the name "Jesus" used alone. Sticking with just Ephesians for a moment (we are going to look a selection from that epistle), the word "Jesus" is used 20 times (KJV) by Paul, yet never alone. He is called "Christ" alone (Eph 2:12), but not "Jesus" alone.

Jesus Christ (5)
Christ Jesus (6)
Lord Jesus Christ (7)
Christ Jesus our Lord (1)
Lord Jesus (1)

Moving to the next line in the hymn, we remember that, as Gentiles, we were without hope, peace, or God. No fold from which to wander. The new rendering is more scriptural and more accurately reflects what we have gained by Christ's work in the current age.

Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us...
Ephesians 2:11-14

You Can't leave God, You're Already Sealed

Now we turn to one of the most beloved sections of the hymn and examine the thoughts and doctrines being addressed.

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.

What could be wrong with that? Well, I don't know about you, but I believe I am sealed by God already. And I don't believe I could leave God if I tried. Nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Yes, we may see this verse from a practical viewpoint, but isn't that one of the complaints against contemporary Christian music? That it tends to be subjective and inwardly focused?

 And now the revision:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Yet I’ll never fall away;
By Thy Spirit, Thou did’st seal it,
Seal my heart for that bright day.
[Hymns of Praise. Charles H. Welch, Editor, 1957] 

We again stay in Ephesians for these glorious truths (doctrines):

in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory... 
-Ephesians 1:13-14

We can wander in the flesh. We can sin. We can fail to run the race. And as we have looked at a number of times, there is judgment coming for Christian service and faithfulness. But even though we may grieve the Spirit, we are forever sealed unto resurrection life. I cannot leave him, and I'll never fall away! Even when we grieve him, we remain sealed!

And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 
-Ephesians 4:30

The "beloved hymn," as commonly sung, casts doubt on our position in Christ, even if only subtly so.

We Must Use Biblical Standards

Finally, I turn to a couple of  "hymn-only" proponents (as we have in previous studies) and apply their concerns to our hymn in question.

No one should deny the power of music to proselytize! Pastors in particular must defend their flocks from false teaching, heresies and ‘ear ticklers’ who bring worldly sensuality into the congregation; you are right to point out how easily this comes into a church through worship music. It seems wiser to decline the use of what seems to be a perfectly good song, rather than to give any honor and hint of endorsement to the composer and his/her mission”
Dan Lucarini, author of Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement: Confessions of a Former Worship Leader

The emphasis is mine. In the video at the end of this entry, you will see some emotional proselytizing going on by some pretty serious heretics using the "beloved hymns of the faith" (including "Come Thou Fount"). We also noted the subtle (and not so subtle) heresies in "Come Thou Fount" in this study. "Worldly sensuality" is catch-all and can mean whatever they want. They never seem to define it. Beware such subjective arguments without scriptural backing.

"Endorsement of the composer?" Might want to check how many hymns are based on music written by Roman Catholics. Is that really a concern? I have no idea who wrote most of the hymns, but that doesn't stop me from judging DOCTRINE.

Another critic of contemporary music is David Cloud (Way of Life Literature). I want to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Some of his concerns are valid. However, his approach is often not doctrinal, but personal. And he's stuck on the horrible pagan doctrine of "fiery torture by God" and can't see past his own lust for vengeance. I admit that's a personal judgment, but feel free to read his own words. 

Fifteen times in the New Testament, Hell is described in terms of fire. “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44,46,48). Hell is described as “fire” (Mt. 5:22; 18:9), “everlasting fire” (Mt. 18:8; 25:41), “fire unquenchable” (Luke 3:17), “this flame” (Lk. 16:24)

So, this is good place to link a study or two on this topic. Honestly, when I read statements like the one above (feel free to read his entire article, I don't want to be accused of cherry-picking), it comes off as so biblically deficient, I can only speculate that he so wants people tortured by God (the vast amount of humanity, by the way) that he won't take five minutes to examine the verses he chooses in context. He seems to relish the thought. 

Traditions that Interfere With True Understanding 
Another Look at Gehenna "Hell" 
The Horrible Doctrine of Man's Traditional "Hell" 
Lake of Fire and Torment? 
Animals are Souls and You are Not Immortal

Ironically, in his post, Mr. Cloud attacks the modern Papal doctrines on hell while not realizing his own position is one championed by traditional Catholicism and by scores of Popes and Catechisms. The doctrines of the "immortal soul" and "fiery torture by God" are Greek paganism adopted into corrupt Christendom. The early Reformers fought these ideas. Unfortunately, men like David Cloud side with Thomas More and the Popes in their interpretation rather than with men like Tyndale (or more to the point, Paul).

Finally, below is the video I promised. It features some the most "beloved hymns" sung some of the worst heretics (Some of whom love the KJV too). The hymns don't seem to be doing them any good either doctrinally or in personal conduct. Should I employ the innuendo and logical fallacies often used against those who use contemporary music and blame the hymns for their heresy and sin? After all, "Come Thou Fount" as found in most hymnals today is more aligned with Catholicism's or Mormonism's view of salvation than that of Biblical Christianity.

In the montage, the traditional "Come Thou Fount" is sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Hymns for Heretics

Amazing Grace (Tammy Faye Bakker)
A Closer Walk With Thee (Jimmy Swaggart)
Are You Washed in the Blood (7th Day Adventists)
The Old Rugged Cross (Benny Hinn)
Come Thou Fount (Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
How Great Thou Art (Kenneth Copeland)
Rock of Ages (Jehovah's Witnesses)
Amazing Grace (Emmanuel Catholic Church)
The Sweet By and By (Earnest Angely Ministries)

Irony Alert: one of the comments under the original 7th Day Adventist video pointed to how the old hymns contained more doctrine than the contemporary songs... apparently it's not helping.