Here I raise mine 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.
This verse is from the well-loved hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” written by English pastor Robert Robinson [1735-1790].
Behind this hymn there are two stories—not only the story of “Ebenezer,” but also of the hymn writer himself.
Both stories serve as poignant reminders to be vigilant about faith and devotion.
Here is the Bible verse on which the hymn verse is based.
I Samuel 7:12 Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.
Briefly: Samuel was once again trying to persuade the children of Israel to return to the Lord. He told them to gather at Mizpah where he would pray for them. The Philistines heard that they had gathered there and approached them in order to attack. The children of Israel cried to Samuel and he offered sacrifice and “cried unto the Lord . . . and the Lord heard him.” Israel was granted victory over the Philistines.
At this point, Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called the name of it “Ebenezer,” saying, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
Ebenezer—stone of help
Hitherto—up to this time or until now
That is: “the Lord has helped us up to now…to the present point.”
Here’s what Spurgeon said:
“The Lord’s ‘hitherto’ seems like a hand pointing in the direction of the past. Twenty years or seventy, and yet, ‘hitherto the Lord has helped.’ Through poverty, through wealth, through sickness, through health . . . in perplexity, in joy, in trial, in triumph, in prayer, in temptation, ‘hitherto has the Lord helped us.’
“We delight to look down a long avenue of trees. It is delightful to gaze from end to end of the long vista with its branching pillars and its arches of leaves; even so look down the long aisles of your years, at the green boughs of mercy overhead, and the strong pillars of loving-kindness and faithfulness which bear up your joys. Are there no birds in yonder branches singing? Surely there must be many, and they all sing of mercy received ‘hitherto.’
“But the word also points forward. For when a man gets up to a certain mark and writes ‘hitherto,’ he is not yet at the end, there is still a distance to be traversed. More trials, more joys; more temptations, more triumphs; more prayers, more answers; more toils, more strength; more fights, more victories.
“Oh, be of good courage, believer, and with grateful confidence raise your ‘Ebenezer,’ for –
He who has helped you hitherto will help you all your journey through.”
There’s another verse to Robinson’s hymn:
Oh, to grace how great a debtor. Daily I’m constrained to be.
Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee.
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.
And here’s where the story of the hymnwriter, Robert Robinson, is so profound, because—sad as it is to consider—Robinson did indeed wander.
Robinson’s childhood home was described as “void of piety.” His parents’ marriage was a disaster. His father abandoned the family and died soon after. Robert’s mother did the best she could to keep him in school—took in boarders and worked as a seamstress, but by the age of 13, Robert’s education had to be ended.
He was apprenticed at age 14 to a London hairdresser. At 16, he heard George Whitefield preach and was converted. In 1758, he left London and returned home, where he began to preach. He was soon preaching to hundreds and people were being converted. Not only was he a pastor of a thriving church, but he also had 15 preaching stations in villages around Cambridge.
Robinson continued to educate himself, learning five languages and becoming a prolific researcher and writer. Perhaps as a result of this intellectual pursuits, Robinson came under the influence of the popular theological trend of the day: Unitarianism. He became a friend of Joseph Priestley [theologian, as well as the chemist who discovered oxygen] and became a proponent of Unitarianism; that is, denying the Trinity. He became increasingly bold in his attacks on this doctrine.
The last sermon he ever preached was in Priestley’s meetinghouse in Birmingham, in which he ridiculed and mocked the doctrine of the Trinity far stronger than Priestly had ever done.
The following Tuesday, Robinson was found dead in bed.
What happened to Robinson, the zealous preacher? Why did he cast aside the doctrines he once held dear?
Perhaps he never stopped nursing the wounds left by his father’s abandonment or the shame of being part of the uneducated, working class. Perhaps the lure of being recognized as a scholar—and a “tolerant” one at that—became greater than his desire to please God.
We should also consider that he never recovered from the death of his 17-year-old daughter Julie in 1787. For any or all of these reasons, Robinson was, late in life, a broken man. By 1790, the year he died, he was physically and mentally ill. His sermons became incomprehensible, and some even described him as insane.
Let Robinson’s example remind us we are all—despite our age or experience—“prone to wander” and keep watch on ourselves and each other.
Galatians 6: 1-2 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; consider thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Hebrews 12: 2-3 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.