1 Samuel 7:12
Text: Robert Robinson (1735-1790). Tune: Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second
1. 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.
2. Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by thy help I've come; And I hope, by thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wand'ring from the fold of God; He, to rescue me from danger, Interposed with precious blood.
3. O! to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness 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, O take and seal it; Seal it for thy courts above!
From A Pocket hymn book designed as a constant companion to the pious; 1788.
Spring 1962. Chapel was over. Bernhard Christensen, saintly president of Augsburg, had just preached. My parents revered him and his wife Gracia, naming me for her. He had talked about service and the place it had in our lives—we should serve for Christ’s sake, not our own prosperity. My dad was waiting outside in the car to take me for summer job interviews. When I slid into the car, I said, “Take me to Ebenezer Old People's Home. I can be a nurse's aid there. And serve.”
During my freshman year I had played the organ for their Sunday service--$5.00 a Sunday—I would take the taxi from Augsburg for $1.25, have dinner at the Fair Oaks for $1.50, then walk, or if the weather was bad, take a taxi, home. My profits were to say the least negligible. Ebenezer was what we called an old people’s home that several Norwegian American Lutherans had founded in 1917. The head nurse interviewed me and offered me a job. Because it was a church institution, she said, the pay was low--$.95 an hour. I would work in Field Hall, the midway place between what we would now call assisted living, and Luther Hall, which was for the sick and dying.
I took the job. This was back when tuition was $600 a year, so I could help with my expenses, but other jobs would have paid half again as much. Dr. Christensen urging us to serve without concern for the fiscal realities of life was a peculiar pleasure for my father: I was doing what his hero preached; but he would be on the hook for hundreds of dollars!
Ebenezer--the stone of help--from Samuel—who after a victory over the Philistines, took a stone and set it up, calling it Ebenezer, for “hitherto has the Lord helped us.” Most everyone in the home and its staff knew what the word Ebenezer meant at the time, but now, given biblical illiteracy, most have no clue.
When I was on the Hymn Text Committee of the Lutheran Book of Worship, 1973-1976, and we got to this text, some wanted to remove the word Ebenezer which many hymnals had done. I protested. If the hymnal couldn’t use words from the Bible, heaven help us. It, along with many other words in the original, had been changed by many hymnal committees.
Toward the end of her life, my mother went to rehab at Luther Hall for a couple of weeks while recovering from a broken wrist. Two of her aunts and an uncle had lived and died there. Like home. Now those buildings have been torn down and the place thereof is known no more.
What’s in a name? More than a building or a stone. I think of how that word Ebenezer, unknown and strange, has shaped so much of my life. Without my training as an aide, I wouldn’t have gotten my job in Norway. I wouldn’t have been connected with the work of the church in one of its main outreaches: caring for the widow and elderly. I wouldn’t have learned to know wise and wonderful people, to minister to their physical needs as they faced the end of their bodily existence.
There is more: The line “Teach me some melodious sonnet” (from the original, but changed and now often restored) is also neat. The sonnet has defined my life as a poet. Next year, my collection of 366 sonnets on Jesus will come out. “O to grace, how great a debtor.” So much richness from serving, all associated with this song and the word, Ebenezer. Hitherto hath the Lord helped me. Amen!
This text was written by an English dissenter, a Baptist, who suffered from his father’s early death. He was mistreated by his maternal grandfather who disinherited him simply because he disliked his father. Robinson suffered want and privation during his youth, but continued to learn and became a scholar. When he came of age he went to hear the great Calvinist preacher, George Whitefield, in order to scoff, but instead, had a powerful conversion. The hymn tells that story. He moved toward the Baptist persuasion and then became a pastor of a large congregation in Cambridge, England. We are not sure who wrote the tune which has been long associated with this text, but it appeared in the Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second in 1813. It became part of the shape note tradition. Its sound, from the Scotch Irish folk, is the sound of the American folksong.
Fiddle-Sticks/the Early American sound
Elenyi and Sarah Young
Mormon Tabernacle Choir