“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” Throughout the Restoration

I remember seeing a survey several years ago that claimed that the two most popular hymns among Latter-day Saints were “I Stand All Amazed” and “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. I have not been able to find that survey online in recent years, but the latter hymn would be an interesting case, since it is not included in the current English hymnbook published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am pondering on hymns that may find their way into the new hymnbook, however, and there seems to be a lot of interest in the hymn and requests for its return. This made me wonder—what is the history of this hymn in our hymnbooks? Why is it not in the current English one? What is the status of the hymn in other Latter-day Saint hymnbooks?

The hymn was written by Robert Robinson and was first published in the United States of America in 1759. It is uncertain what tunes it was sung to originally, but the hymn tunes NETTLETON and NORMANDY became standard in the USA and the UK, respectively. For Latter-day Saints, the hymn text was first included in A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, published in Nauvoo during 1841 as an updated edition of Emma Smith’s 1835 Kirtland hymnbook. The hymnbook competed with a different one published by the Quorum of the Twelve in Manchester, England, however, and after Joseph Smith’s death and the schisms that followed, the Manchester hymnbook became standard for the Church in Utah rather than Emma’s Nauvoo hymnal.

Come, Thou Fount 1841

“Come, Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing” in Emma’s Nauvoo hymnal

Since then, “Come, Thou Fount” has slipped into and out of our hymnody. It was never included in the Manchester hymnbooks, so it remained absent from Latter-day Saint hymnody through the remainder of the nineteenth century. It resurfaced in the extremely popular Deseret Sunday School Songs in 1909 with a stately tune written by Alfred J. Gentry. The Deseret Sunday School Songs served alongside the official hymnbooks in the Church for nearly 40 years, but both were superseded in 1948 by a new hymnbook. “Come, Thou Fount” was included in the new hymnal, but this time with the tune NEDDLETON. The 1950 revision of this hymnbook served the Church until 1985, when it was replaced with the current hymnbook.

deseretsundaysch09dese_0230

“Come, Thou Fount” with the Alfred J. Gentry music in the 1909 Deseret Sunday School songbook

“Come, Thou Fount” was not included in the 1985 hymnbook, officially because it wasn’t popular at the time. Committee members have stated that they believed it was rarely sung and would likely not be remembered if it were dropped out of the hymnbook.[1] The hymn’s Protestant background and focus on grace may have also contributed to its demise. During the preliminary work that led up to the current hymnal, one committee member expressed that their goal was to include more songs that that would “proclaim the revealed truth in this day and time,” meaning “less ‘Protestant-type’ hymns.”[2] This may explain why several obscure and rarely-sung (but uniquely ‘Mormon’) hymns like “Sons of Michael, He Approaches” and “Up, Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion” made the cut, while the better-known (but Protestant) “Come, Thou Fount” did not. Whatever the case, the hymn was not included, but thanks to the efforts of one composer, was certainly remembered.

An arrangement of the hymn by Mack Wilberg provided the means for bolstering the hymn’s status. Premiering at the “Thanksgiving of American Folk Hymns” televised concert in 1994, his arrangement quickly became extremely popular.[3] Performances of the arrangement by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir also served to provide renewed legitimacy to the hymn in the Church. Since then, “Come, Thou Fount” has become one of the few hymns not included in the current English hymnal to be sung somewhat regularly in both sacrament meetings and general conference.[4] Some congregations have even gone as far as pasting the hymn into the inside cover of the hymnbook for regular use.[5] Usually, “Come, Thou Fount” makes a strong showing as the most-requested hymn to add to the hymnbook, such as one decent-sized Facebook survey in which nearly 14% of respondents requested the hymn.[6] Wilberg’s arrangement was important in increasing the popularity of “Come, Thou Fount” among Church members.

Tabernacle Choir Come, Thou Fount

The Tabernacle Choir performing Wilberg’s arrangement of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Strictly speaking, however, the hymn actually has been added to Latter-day Saint hymnbooks—just not the English one. It first reappeared in the 1996 German hymnbook, which was published just two years after Wilberg’s arrangement premiered. Since then, it has been appearing more and more frequently in translations. Currently, eight different language editions of Hymns include “Come, Thou Fount”, including several published during the last few years. This means that nearly one fourth of the current hymnals published by the Church of Jesus Christ contain the hymn. As an interesting side note, the number of verses has not been standardized in these hymnals. For example, the German and Ukrainian hymnbooks have two, the Q’eqchi’ has three, and the Magyar (Hungarian) has four. Whatever the case, “Come, Thou Fount” is showing an increasing momentum in being included in Latter-day Saint hymnals.

Mayan Come, Thou Fount

Q’eqchi’ translation of “Come, Thou Fount”

So, in brief, the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has come and gone from Latter-day Saint hymnody. Only three Anglophone hymnals and songbooks have included the hymn, none of which have included the same tune (if they included one at all). Since Mack Wilberg’s arrangement premiered in 1994, however, it has become very popular in Latter-day Saint culture and has appeared with increasing frequency in translations of the hymnbook published for use around the world. Only time will tell, however, whether it will be included in the forthcoming core hymnbook.

 

[1] See Catherine Reese Newton, “Sing, sing, ye Saints—Mormon hymnbook marks 30 years of praising God in song,” Salt Lake Tribune, 2 October 2015, accessed 5 March 2019, https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=6863967&itype=storyID.

[2] O. Leslie Stone to First Presidency, 4 January 1974, CMD Correspondence, 1967-77.

[3] Catherine Reese Newton, “After 32 years with the same hymns, many Mormons are wishing for different songs to sing,” Salt Lake Tribune, 25 September 2017, accessed 4 March 2019, https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2017/09/25/after-32-years-with-the-same-hymns-many-mormons-are-wishing-for-different-songs-to-sing/.

[4] http://singpraises.net/statistics/sacrament-meeting

[5] See Newton, “After 35 Years”.

[6] Catherine Reese Newton, “After 32 years with the same hymns, many Mormons are wishing for different songs to sing,” Salt Lake Tribune, 25 September 2017, accessed 4 March 2019, https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2017/09/25/after-32-years-with-the-same-hymns-many-mormons-are-wishing-for-different-songs-to-sing/.

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