Don?t Mess With ?Come Thou Fount?!

Come thou font

Ok here we go. ?I?m probably going to get yelled at for this one.

There’s a line in the hymn that bothers me. ?In our church we sing an updated version that dropped ?Here I raise mine Ebenezer.? Basically nobody in our church knows what that means anyway (probably because of my poor instruction). We think it has something to do with Ebenezer Scrooge but we don?t know exactly what.

But there’s another line that bothers me. ?The one I don’t like is: ?Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

Now before you start screaming, ?Dont? mess with Come Thou Font!? ?We’re not going to change it or stop singing it. Years ago I wrote new lyrics to Joy to the World because I didn?t understand what a lot of the original lyrics meant. ?Man did I get the flack for that one. ??Don?t mess with Joy to the World!? people screamed, including my wife. ?But I still don?t like the line, ?Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.? ?Here’s why…

Though I know believers are tempted to wander and tempted to be unfaithful to Christ at times, I don’t see that Scripture says we are still “prone” to sin and wander.

The doctrine of sin is one of the most important and helpful doctrines. However we should not emphasize indwelling sin more than our resurrection life in union with Christ and the glorious truth that he has made us new creations, given us new hearts, new desires and new power to obey him.

The Bible says believers are ?prone? to obey the God they love. Prone to follow Jesus.

For example, we read in Ezekiel 36:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. ?And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. ?(Ezekiel 36:25-27)

So although sin still remains in believers to some degree, it?s no longer the dominating factor in their lives – now the Holy Spirit is the driving force. ?The Holy Spirit within us “causes” us to walk in God’s statutes and be careful to obey his rules. ?The Holy Spirit fills us with love for God and powerfully motivates us to obey him.

Yes we once were prone to wander. ?But Jesus? death on the cross cured us of that tendency:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. ?For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. ?(1 Peter 2:24-25).

Jesus? death had a life-altering effect upon us – now we can die to sin and live to righteousness. ?And when Peter says ?by his wounds you have been healed,? he doesn?t mean physically – he means we have been healed of our tendency to stray like sheep. ?Our proneness to wander.

The doctrine of sin has helped me immensely over the years. ?But we must put indwelling sin into perspective. ?It?s there, but it?s nothing in comparison with the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us. ?We should not have an expectation to live defeated lives. Rather, we should expect to live victorious lives by the Spirit’s power.

So, yes we are still tempted, but are we “prone” to wander? ?Maybe I’m splitting hairs. ?But I want to be sure we have a proper emphasis on God’s mighty power in our lives.

So I?ll keep singing Come Thou Fount – after all, I love to sing a ?melodious sonnet? to my Lord. ?But when we come to the ?prone? part of the song I might quietly sing ?Prone to love you, Lord I feel it, prone to please the God I love….?

Ok, let me hear your thoughts. ?Go ahead, blast me. ?I probably deserve it. ?Maybe “prone” is just a poetic description. ?Hey, as a songwriter I understand poetic description. ?Just want to be sure we’re singing the truth….


  • E Avila says:

    Well said! Good reminder to really thing about what we're singing/saying…is it true? Quite encouraging as well: "prone to love" is what I want to do. "Prone to wander" is defeating to me.

  • Jenn Grover says:

    Outstanding, Mark! Terry Virgo recently blogged about what you are talking about in terms of a focus on us as sinners vs. saints: This is a point that has fallen out of balance in reformed circles and I am glad to see you make the distinction here. Taking it a step further, in our pursuit of sanctification it seems that we have also abandoned the concept of "putting on" and focused solely on the concept of "putting off" in the name of mortification of sin.

    By the way, I liked your Christmas song re-writes…. and I like your new lyrics here, too.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Thanks Jenn! I’ll have to check out Terry Virgo’s piece. And thanks for letting me know you liked my Christmas song rewrites ? I think you were the only one.

  • Eric Grover says:

    Very encouraging Mark. I love the new lyrics! I will be using them henceforth.

  • Tim says:

    I think I get your point, Mark, but I disagree with your application in the context of this song's main motif. The whole lyric is a prayer that God's Spirit would come and renew that work of grace. It's a contrast of God's renewing work of sanctification and our fallen depraved state (hence the tension of the seldom-sung verse 2). As that renewing work is done, He makes it our pleasure and prone desire to praise and glorify God. In this life, we are never able to participate in that worship without the Spirit's active aid.

  • Mike says:

    Until Christ returns and we are fully past this life of sin and death, we are still prone to wander. Romans 7 is written from the perspective of a post-Salvation Paul. Without the continued work of the Holy Spirit sealing out hearts for the "courts above" we will follow the sinful inclinations of the flesh. Still not sure, just examine every time you have failed to turn your focus on Christ. Those feet, and your heart, make not hesitation in wandering in the wrong way.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Yep E! We're now prone to love.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Thanks Eric!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Thanks for your comments, Tim! Overall, I agree, it's a wonderful song of "Thy good grace."

  • Elaine says:

    Great post, Mark…I love "Come Thy Fount" but I have to agree with your post. My struggle with sin is always present and it catches me off guard more frequently than I would care to admit. But the Lord is a faithful and good Father to His children. He is much stronger than my struggle with sin, no matter how difficult it may seem to me. I am no where near where I should be but prone to wander….thank the Lord, not anymore!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hi Mike, I agree that we must put sin to death all our lives by the Spirit's power. It's a matter of emphasis – maybe it has just been in certain circles, but I have at times seen more of an emphasis on the power of indwelling sin than the power of the Spirit, and have seen many Christians who have a more or less defeated mindset – a mindset that says I'm doomed to sin – rather than I have the mighty power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in me to give me the power to put sin to death and put on Christ.

    Also, there are a number of theologians who would say Paul is describing the experience of an unbeliever (like a Pharisee) who would agree that the law is good, but is still a slave to sin.

    Anyway, thank you for your comments!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Thanks Elaine! I love that hymn too. And I want to "sing Thy grace" and songs of "loudest praise" for all Jesus has done for us in pouring out his Spirit into our hearts.

  • Jenn Grover says:

    Now, if you could only do re-makes of "This I Know" and "Grace upon Grace". :)

  • Hi Mike…Actually, there is perspective from some biblical scholars that Romans 7 is written concerning pre-salvation… ie, Paul talking about his BC self… just saying…

  • Nick says:

    I love the emphasis on an aspect we can tend to forget – we have new life in Christ!
    However, "prone" as I understand it, means "likely" or "liable". When I look at my life and a lot of the Christians I know, it does seem that we are both likely and liable to sin. Not that that is the end of the story, but it is still a liability in me. Praise Jesus that his Spirit is inside of me and I CAN put on godliness.
    All that to say I think prone is an apt word.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    I was thinking more of a remake of "I Have A Destiny"……

  • Jake Phillips says:

    Of course, technically, you're right, insofar as "prone" means an overwhelming tendency. I don't know that "prone" has to mean that, however, especially not in this context. Songwriters, I would think, deserve some sort of poetic license. I know would think that when you see His holiness most clearly, it's when you metaphorically see Him crucified, not because you put on your glasses. The same license is deserved here, no?

    To the actual teaching of the post, however, I offer an "Amen"! Well said, sir.

  • Ricky Alcantar says:

    Okay maybe I'm just being simplistic but it seems to me that the larger context of the verse qualifies the "prone to wander" line and puts it in its place:

    "O to grace how great a debtor/ Daily I’m constrained to be!" Yes we are "constrained" by the grace of God to follow him. Thank God. I don't know how much more emphatic you can get about this than "constrained."

    "Let Thy goodness, like a fetter/ Bind my wandering heart to Thee." Knowing that we are 'constrained' by God, the songwriter asks that God would indeed 'constrain' us and bind us to himself. His knows his confidence must be in God's ability to do this, not in his own ability. But, as stated above, he knows God's grace *will* do this.

    "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it/ Prone to leave the God I love." Not all the time, not every moment, but there are times when the Christian is prone to wander. The disposition of our heart apart from Christ is to wander and we still deal with the indwelling effects of sin.

    "Here’s my heart, O take and seal it/ Seal it for Thy courts above." But the verse ends with plea for God's sustaining grace. In fact the entire next verse is a confident assertion that, yes, indeed, God *will* seal us and we will sing before his throne. The eternal outcome of the Christian's life is not in doubt here.

    In other words, I put "prone to wander" down to a bit of poetic license within the larger context of the verse and song itself. Just my two cents.

  • Dave Ketter says:

    I think there’s a fine balance between the doctrine of sin/fallen state and resurrection union with Christ. I say this as someone who is constantly pushing my more reformed friends to get away from their “I’m such a horrible sinner” theological depression to recognizing that according to Ephesians 1-2, they are NOW seated with Christ sharing in His victory and reign.

    That said, I do think Luther got the “simul iustus et peccator.” (at the same time saint and sinner). It captures Paul in Romans 7. People try to say that’s Pre-conversion but I don’t think that bears out in the book and why Paul can conclude with “But thanks be to God for Jesus Christ.” So, while I definitely see your concern, Mark, I feel the freedom to sing “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it/ Prone to leave the God I love” as a Gospel promise- the promise that I will always remember that I have never and can never stand in my strength or faith, and that I can pray “Here’s my heart, take and seal it/ Seal it for Thy courts above” in the full confidence that the Holy Spirit has done and continues to do just that because my life is hidden in Christ and in Him, I am seated at the right hand of the Father. To me, this is not a verse to be sung in desperate awareness of sin, but with joyful confidence in the Triune God’s redemptive work.

  • D.L. says:

    prone: having a natural inclination or tendency to something
    I think our natural inclination is definitely to wander. Thanks be to God that by the Spirit we can walk in newness of life. But it's not really us, it's Christ in us that is doing the right thing.
    I like the hymn the way it was written, because if we are truly honest, we are always prone to wandering. I don't wallow in knowing that, but I'm humbled by it, knowing that I'm completely dependant on Christ… Just a few thoughts.

  • Jon says:


    That line has always bothered me too, THANK YOU! The problem is that I otherwise love the song. I’ve had thoughts like that about lines in songs here and there, and I guess I’ve come to allow I little artistic license when looking at things, trusting that the expression of the artists heart may not be quite what I’m interpreting the words to mean. But I totally agree on this one. I like the ebenezer line though, knowing the backstory!

  • danni mencer says:

    Thank you, Mark for taking a stand as to who we really ARE in Christ. Romans6. 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness… As to the Ebeneezer reference…..this is a wonderful reminder to many of the members of our church from 1 Samuel 7 that , "Thus far, God has helped us!" Much love….

  • Jenn Grover says:

    A good dose of purpose never hurt anyone. :)

  • MarkAltrogge says:

    You are probably right, Jake. as a songwriter, I know the fine line it can be between the metaphorical and literal. thanks for adding your comments.

  • MarkAltrogge says:

    You\’re probably right, Ricky. In context, it probably is poetic. I think the overall tone of the song, which I really love, is a prayer asking God to constrain, bind, etc. which I agree we should ask the Lord to do for us. And definitely if God didn\’t constrain us, if left to ourselves, we\’d run into sin without a doubt. Yet, for me I\’d like to hear more of the \”positive\” – thank you Lord for making me a new creation, giving me your Spirit and power, etc. I\’m probably just being too picky. Thanks for your comments I appreciate your two cents.

  • MarkAltrogge says:

    Great comments, Dave, as are those by the other guys. I\’m not planning on changing any of the lyrics and we will keep singing the song. But I think we need more songs on our union with Christ, our being seated with Christ, etc. I too know many who would tend to emphasize the sinner part and don\’t seem to have the joy in their union with Christ.

  • MarkAltrogge says:

    Thanks, D.L. Our \”natural\” inclination is definitely to wander. I was just comparing that with Ezekiel 36 and many other passages that tell us we are new creations with new Spirit-birthed impulses. Although I love this hymn, I\’d love it if the writer had developed that side more, because I know so many believers who are more conscious of their sinfulness than their \”newness of life.\” However, I don\’t ever want to let my guard down when it comes to sin and temptation, for I know that if I don\’t stay close to Jesus, I can easily fall.

  • MarkAltrogge says:

    Hi Jon, Yes I like this song a lot and we\’ll definitely keep singing it. And I was half-kidding about the Ebenezer line, though I\’m always thinking of new believers and unbelievers in our midst who wouldn\’t understand what we\’re singing.

  • MarkAltrogge says:

    Thanks Danni! Yes, God has helped us much! And this is a good reminder. Just that it almost needs to be explained every time we sing the song. Like I said to Jon, I\’m always conscious of the young believers and nonbelievers who are with us, and want everything to be clear to them, even our songs. Thanks for adding the verses from Romans 6!

  • MarkAltrogge says:

    I agree with your comments, Nick. I may just be a bit oversensitive to the word. I?ve just been thinking a lot about the power of the Spirit in us lately. I know lots of Christians who seem to feel like it\’s inevitable that they\’ll fall into sin and have a kind of defeatist attitude, rather than an attitude that they will increasingly conquer sin. Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  • MarkAltrogge says:


  • Dave Ketter says:

    True story and I’ll definitely pray with and for you in that endeavor. I wish I had the ability to create those songs, but I think the extent of my musical talent is in singing with the congregation (where I do take my leadership seriously as to how I worship). Though maybe a good resource in thinking/praying/writing these songs on union with Christ would be the gospel music world. Thank you for serving the whole Church so faithfully in teaching God’s people how to praise Him.

  • PjB says:

    I will have to put my two cents in as a minority. That's one of my favorite lines. I never saw it from the angle you (and others) do. My heart knows that it is God himself who keeps me faithful and walking with him with any degree of steadfastness. I think it's a matter of the author saying that we have an old nature still within us, and an enemy outside of us that are bent on steering us away from our beloved. So I tear up whenever I sing that line, as I HAVE wandered, and am prone to but that he keeps me til the end. So…the loss of that line would be sorely missed…by me.

  • Johnnie says:

    Thanks to those who have defended the poetic "prone to wander" as we are all tempted and often. If God is not a central part of our daily life, even as Christians, we will follow our own ways.

    Now about the "Ebenezer." In Scripture there are several times when people have built or raised up a symbol or altar where God has been evident. In 1 Samuel 7:11-13, Samuel places a rock between Mizpah and Shen, then names it Ebenezer. He does this to symbolize the help that God has given.

    Here is the definition of Ebenezer from
       [eb-uh-nee-zer] (noun) a male given name: from a hebrew word meaning “stone of help.”

  • Jon Daley says:

    I was encouraged to read this post – I've sung Come Thou Fount my whole life, but until I went to a Sovereign Grace church, I hadn't really paid attention to the words (one of a handful of things I am grateful to SGM for), and since then I haven't been thrilled with the song, because the teaching was that yes, we were, and still are prone to wander, and sin is not something that can ever be overcome in any sense of the word.

    I have wondered at times if would still be in SGM if I had been at Lord of Life (which I just realized is LOL, and aptly fitting for you guys).

  • Andy Anderson says:

    My daily need of grace is because of my inward desire to be in control, thus to play God. Prone to wonder is my favorite verse of my favorite hymn. I know my heart, so I know my desperate need for Christ. By acknowledge my proclivity to wonder I have the pleasure of asking my Lord daily to seal my heart to His. Taking the verse in part instead of whole meaning of the song's phrase is reducing the authur's picture of grace.

  • Marie says:

    Ay, that's why we sing Psalms, you know. No doctrinal issues.

  • Emily says:

    Whether or not the song is all right or not (personally I thought I detected a slightly tongue-in-cheek tone? :-) I didn't think you were really arguing about it as much as using it as a springboard for discussion…)… I really appreciated the hope in this post. Thanks. :-)

  • Chuck says:

    I hope I don't come across as 'yelling at you'! But this post seems to need some clarification. It comes off to me that you are saying 'We are not prone to wander' but in the post you stress the importance and helpfulness of the doctrine of sin? Anyway, would you say 'I love the epistle to Hebrews…but when he says 'let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely' and then discusses the doctrine of sin/the Lord's discipline in the remainder of chapter 12…it just doesn't seem positive enough' too? HaHa!
    In these discussions I never bring up Romans 7 because you are correct that it isn't clear that Paul is referring to his Christian life (I rather think he isn't, in fact). But we can't we all agree that a main reason Romans 7 is understood as referring to the Christian life is because it sounds like our Christian life??? 'I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.'! And isn't this encouraging? Isn't it encouraging to recognize when I fall short of my desire to live a Christ like life that this is the common experience of Christians, i.e., we aren't perfect! We are prone to wander?!
    I agree with you that the doctrine of sin is important and helpful. I discovered it through JI Packer. He told about being a young man struggling with the common struggles of young men. He was in a Christian group…who understood Romans 7 as describing pre-Christian life!…they only talked of victory over sin and the overcoming life. It seemed to him that no one sinned but him! Then he discovered John Owen and the doctrine of sin. He was set free when he realized his struggles were recognized in the NT. Christians are 'prone to wander'…they 'feel it'! He wasn't the worst Christian in history…he was a Christian and like all Christians he struggled with sin. The Bible recognizes this and encourages us in our fight with the flesh, the world, and the devil as we press on to know the Lord and walk with him.
    Without a reference to Romans 7…check out the many references to the doctrine of sin in the epistles… and this isn't exhaustive!
    Romans 13:13-14
    Galatians 5:17
    Ephesians 4:22-24
    Colossians 3:5-10
    The doctrine of sin can be misunderstood and misapplied for sure. But there is a ditch on the other side too. If we think 'prone to wander' is so destructive we may be in danger of leaving folks in danger of being shocked that they…are prone to wander!
    I know I'm prone to wander…and this song is so encouraging to my soul. I get to confess to the Lord this proneness in the context of the glory of the grace of God. I feel so safe and welcomed. Free to be transparent because I know forgiveness and the love of my dear heavenly Father. With this balanced understanding I am free from thinking sin doesn't matter to God anymore; that I'm the only Christian who ever sins; that spiritual growth isn't a category I need to concern myself with; that I earn my favor with God by my performance; that the gospel doesn't speak to the sin that so easily entangles me…etc., etc.
    I'll end with a quote from Jerry Bridges: 'Adoption describes our family relationship with God. Through our union with Christ, God sees us as righteous – as righteous as His Son. And also through our union with Christ, God sees us as His adopted children. This means, among other things, that God loves us with the same love He has for His Son because we are united to Him…A necessary part of the the Holy Spirit's transformation work in us is to enlighten our minds to progressively see and become more sensitive to the sin still remaining in us, either sinful attitudes and actions we need to put off or fruit of the Spirit traits we need to grow in. Because of this, we need the assurance that despite our continual sinfulness, we still stand righteous before God every day. But we also need the assurance that God is for us, and this is where the Spirit's witness to our adoption is so important.'

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hey PjB, Thanks for your comments. I agree with you – it's only God's faithfulness that keeps us from sinning and wandering. I guess it's a matter of how prone we are – is our sin nature our dominant nature still or is the Holy Spirit indwelling us, and our new nature as new creations the dominant nature. I'm probably making too big a point over one word (prone). My larger concern is that so many believers I know seem to be far more conscious of the power of sin than the power of the Spirit. But I'm not planning on writing a new version of that song….

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Thanks Johnnie! I think they should include this definition along with the lyrics every time this song is sung….

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    If you had been in LOL (now Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana) I probably would have wrecked you…..seriously though, thanks for commenting Jon!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Good point, Andy! Thanks. I definitely agree, need to take the whole song into consideration. I wish the author would have somehow communicated our proneness to obey prompted by the Spirit – though he mentions God's grace that works in our lives.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Not sure what you mean, Marie – the Psalms are full of doctrine. Unless you mean the doctrine is clear in the Psalms and not open to our own poetic interpretation. I definitely love singing Psalms!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    You're right Emily – there was a tongue-in-cheek tone to my Ebenezer comment….and I really wasn't arguing about it so much, as you mentioned. My real point was the hope that the power of the Holy Spirit to change us brings. Glad you saw that! Thanks!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hi Chuck, Lots of good stuff in your comments! Thanks. I have benefitted immensely from the doctrine of sin and would never say that we should assume we won't sin, etc. I think we must guard over our hearts with all diligence, be aware of our enemy, fear the Lord, hate sin, not underestimate what remains of sin – I guess it's a matter of emphasis and one song is not really the point – my larger concern is, among many I know, a greater awareness of how sinful they are than the power of the Spirit to overcome sin. Thanks for your comments!

  • Chuck says:

    Thanks, Mark. A helpful explanation. I get where you're coming from…few things are more damaging to the soul than the misapplication of the doctrine of sin…unless maybe the misapplication of the doctrines of grace! Yikes. Anyway, I am in complete agreement with your concern that Christians not be more aware of how sinful they are than the benefit the gospel brings to overcome sin. I guess I'd just encourage you to go at it positively rather than negatively, i.e., rather than question 'prone to wander' focus on the power of the gospel to transform. Maybe even how the doctrine of sin is a part of the gospel and it helps us love the savior more; gives us wisdom to do what you recommend above (guard our hearts, etc.); shed tears of joy for forgiveness; etc. Good to hear your thoughts…it helps me think through all this.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Excellent suggestions Chuck! Thanks!

  • Mark,
    When you isolate that line of the song, I can see your frustration with it in light of the Scriptures you quote. After all, we are new creations in Christ! But I think we need to look at it within the context of the rest of the verse.

    O 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.

    Were it not for God's grace which constrains us, His goodness which binds us, and the Holy Spirit which seals us (Eph 1:13-14) we would *most definitely* wander away from God. When I consider the entirety of this verse, it loudly proclaims, "SALVATION IS OF THE LORD!" and not of man. :o)


  • Very, very discouraged by this post and most of the responses.

    I'm thankful that you feel that the Lord has given you spiritual gifts that make you prone to love and obey, but for the rest of us, every day is a struggle to worship the Lord instead of the idols we fashion with our own hands. I need the Gospel that Paul preaches in Romans 7, the Gospel that tells me that though there is evil right there with me, Jesus will deliver me. I am definitely not saying that we should live as defeated Christians, but the "victorious Christian life"/Keswick/Higher Life theology that undergirds the arguments in this post came about a hundred years after this hymn was written. Higher Life theology is one of the most spiritually corrosive forces present in the church today, because it forces Christians to hide their struggles (by communicating that "real" Christians have victory over sin), and in doing so keeps them from receiving the comfort and power of the Holy Spirit.

    John Piper wrote, "Life is war. That's not all it is. But it is always that." When Paul says in 2 Timothy that he fought "the good fight," it should remind us of this war. We live in the daily tension of having such a great a salvation that Jesus has won for us (hallelujah!), yet we are prone to wander, the sin living in us acting like an undercurrent pulling us away from the one we love. In that tension we are called to trust in Him, and there we find Him faithful.

    Lord, I feel it.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Totally agree with you Tom, great comments! As I've mentioned to some of the others, my greater concern is that with many saints I know, they seem to have a much greater awareness of their sinfulness than they do of the fact that God has made them new creations and given them his Spirit who even changes our desires and empowers us to conquer sin. Yes sin still remains and seeks to exert it's passions, but we have a far greater power in the Holy Spirit. I think the issue is – are we MORE prone to follow the Spirit or to leave the God we love? (And I realize that's a poetic phrase). Anyway, I totally agree with you – Salvation is of the Lord!

  • Jenn Grover says:

    Chuck, one thing I would point out is that Scriptures you identified all point to the power to be victorious over sin, versus resigned to it in a defeated mode. The doctrine of sin should never be a terminus, it should be piece of the puzzle. As a hobby, i am a landscape photographer. I try to find something of interest in the foreground of my photos. That small item might be a rock, a flower, or a fence. That foreground interest element is a significant component to my image, yet it isn't the main subject. If it becomes the main subject, the image stinks. so it is with the doctrine of sin. When it becomes our focus, the Christian life stinks. For too long, this has been a problem within Sovereign Grace Ministries. I think Mark is graciously trying to remind people that as Believers, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we have the power to live victoriously over sin. I appreciate the overt attempt Mark has made to address this pitfall. It is difficult to fix a problem unless you draw attention to it.

  • Jenn Grover says:

    Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. Be not discouraged, brother, be emboldened by the power and work of the Holy Spirit.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hi Matthew, I do not say that I don't face the war every day – I'm very aware of it. It is a fight. It's a battle. We have an enemy and a formidable one in Satan and another in the world and another in our flesh. We must guard our hearts with all diligence, for from them flow the springs of life. However, I've known believers who have a more or less defeated attitude, an attitude that they'll probably never conquer their sin, that they'll just have to live with it. I think it's a matter of emphasis – are we more prone to wander? Are we prone to leave Jesus? Or has the Holy Spirit really made us new creations, given us hearts of flesh; does he cause us to keep God's commands as God promised in Ezekiel 36? I guess, ultimately it's both – in one sense, we're prone to wander and prone to obey and we must put to death the tendency to wander. I've heard our walk described as a man going up the stairs with a yo-yo. We are like the yo-yo. We go up and down but overall, Jesus is taking us upward – overall, we become more and more like Christ as we go on with him.

    Anyway, I want to assure you, I too struggle against sin and idols of my heart. I wasn't trying to imply we don't. Thanks so much for adding your comments!

  • Chuck says:

    Jenn, the Scriptures I identified all point out that the inspired Word of God expects Christians to battle sin in their Christian life (also…not sure I see Hebrews 12 teaching victory over sin? The context is sharing the Lord's holiness through the Lord's discipline, endurance, etc.) My point was that 'prone to wander' seems to capture this (sin in the experience of the Christian) fairly- especially in the context of this wonderful hymn. I can't imagine someone singing that hymn and leaving more aware of their sin? Your comment – and enthusiasm for Mark's post apparently – says you have a personal experience, perspective, opinion that is driven by a 'pitfall'. I'm glad you make this clear. You can see that not everyone has had the same experience as you and, in fact, there are many other pitfalls that other Christians have experienced. It's a good dialogue and I think will bear good fruit.

  • Jenn Grover says:

    Chuck, sadly, this has typified SGM over the last decade. I do think that phrase reinforces the propensity to identify more with our sin nature than our redeemed nature, Like Mark, I love that hymn. I have sang that phrase robustly in the past, but of recent, I have grown uncomfortable with this sense of inevitability to wandering and failing in our battle against sin. Scripture is filled with hope and promise of the power to overcome Scripture. That is what we should primarily identify with, not an inevitability with wandering.

  • John Brand says:

    Thanks Mark for a thoughtful discussion but the truthi s I don't know a true believer who is not "prone to wander". The theology is thoroughly biblical and pastoral.

  • Being prone to wander and being made a new creation are not in conflict with each other, but rather in tension– Paul explores this well in Romans 7. When one tries to resolve that tension (in this case, by saying that we are prone to obey, prone to love– which is simply not true), it creates a fracture in the believer's psyche and spirit. It pushes sin underground, where it festers and turns even uglier without the light of the finished work of Christ.

    Dan Allender, a Christian counselor, talks about how if more Christians read (or sang) the Psalms, there would be much less need for Christian counseling. That's because the Psalms reflect what life is really like, the glorious and ugly moments. He encounters so many people in his office who believe their problems and struggles are unique, and have been told (explicitly or implicitly) by their churches in songs and sermons that they should be living victoriously. We are not called to live a life of victory, but of repentance.

    If you don't like the "prone to wander" line, it's hard for me believe that you would think the Psalms are appropriate for worship. I don't mean the sanitized Psalms that most churches sing, where one nice line is pulled out and made into a song, but the full spectrum of emotions – even the ugly, scary ones – that led Calvin to call the Psalms "an anatomy of all parts of the soul." Can we sing "the darkness is my closest friend" (Psalm 88) without singing "the sun will come out tomorrow" (from the musical "Annie")? Can we question and doubt God openly in what we sing, or does that show a "defeated" attitude? I would argue that we would see the glory of God and the work of His Spirit more if we allowed the thoughts and emotions that He has put His stamp of approval on (as His Word) to be freely expressed in our churches.

    Can we live in that tension without someone rushing to resolve it? I haven't seen it. Christians are afraid. Afraid that our faith will fall apart, or someone will get the wrong idea, or that somehow acknowledging the reality of how hard the Christian life is– how we are more prone to wander than we are prone to love– will somehow be an offense to our Lord. He is not offended. The Psalms are proof that He welcomes us and is not afraid of our feelings, our doubts, our struggles.

    I very much appreciate your emphasis on how we are made new creations, and I agree that so often believers (myself included) forget the awesome power of the Spirit, Who is more than enough for our our need. But I'm concerned that criticizing this "prone to wander" line is symptomatic of the deeper issue– of what is and isn't acceptable to say or feel in our lives and times of worship.

  • Julie says:

    I find "prone to wander" a comfort. It's reality. Until Christ returns I'm immersed in sin and don't even realize the extent of that (what's the big theological term for that? noetic effects of sin?). I'm like a fish who doesn't realize it's wet. When I sing this hymn, I feel solidarity with those men and women who walked this road before me, who fought and fought against sin, who prayed and cried out to God yet still seemed to stumble and fall….Not focusing on "prone to wander" isn't being honest…there is no "higher life" of sanctification. We're all crawling, by God's mercy toward heaven.

  • "We are not called to live a life of victory, but of repentance. " Well said.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hey Matthew, I believe we can and should express our emotions, doubts, etc honestly to God and each other. I believe we need to run to our sympathetic high priest who was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin. We should take refuge in God and pray for grace and strength to overcome sin and temptation. I pray many times in a day, "Jesus, help me!" So I don't have a Pollyanna view of things. So if someone shared a struggle with me, I would try to show compassion and sympathy, and look to myself in that I could be tempted as well, not judging them, but also seeking to encourage them to have faith that Jesus would help them powerfully.

    I think part of the challenge with using some of the "darker" statements in the Psalms in worship is that not everyone is in the same place when they come together on Sundays – some would be suffering, some would be discouraged, yet others would be in a season of blessing. So it's tricky finding an appropriate way to serve everyone using the full spectrum of the Psalms – I think Matt Redman's Blessed Be the Lord does a pretty good job of acknowledging that we all have seasons of struggle, and seasons of pain.

    Thanks again!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    I agree to an extent John. Are true believers, filled with the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit, truly "prone" to leave the God we love? We are truly subject to serious temptation, etc. but that's different than being "prone" or inclined to abandon God. Of course, that's a poetic expression. Anyway, I believe we should take temptation and indwelling sin very seriously, as well as have hope in the power of the Spirit. Thanks John!

  • brianfulthorp says:

    great post!

  • Joe T says:

    If I understand your theology, I agree with it. But I think you miss the meaning of the hymn-writer. We ARE prone to wander in our flesh and our only hope is that God will "take and seal" our hearts from this wandering. God's sheep are wanderers, else they would not need the continual presence of the Shepherd. It has been the regular confession of saints in all ages that, apart from the restraining grace of God, they would leave Him. If left to ourselves we will most certainly leave, and we feel that principal or law within us. But we are not left to ourselves, we are sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit (the very thing the hymn writer prays for) Therefore, despite the strong temptation to give up, we do not. The regenerated spirit of a believer has no desire to leave God, his flesh has no desire to stay. This warfare between flesh and spirit will not be gone until the flesh is dead and renewed to be like Christ. If the hymn's sentiment is not correct, then much of the Scriptures is useless exhortation.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Thanks Julie! Appreciate your comments. In our battle though I believe we should, as one man said, take 10 looks at Christ for every one at ourselves – our "focus" should acknowledge and be aware of sin and temptation and its very real presence, but should also regularly thank God and believe him for his Spirit and power that will help us increasingly put sin to death and walk more and more in victory. Not that we won't struggle till the end of our lives. But too many Christians I know have a defeatist attitude – that they are doomed to repeat their sins over and over and never get victory. That's the main issue I was trying to address. Thanks for even reading the post and responding!

  • dan says:

    Given the fact there are 60 replies to this already you will most not likely reply to this but what the hey…

    I respect you and that is evidenced by frequent visits to your blog. However, I think you're way off on this one. Romans 7 really details out the struggle between the principle of sin (which makes us prone to wonder) and the desire of the inner man.

    "21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For dI delight in the law of God, ein my inner being, 23 but I see in my members fanother law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from gthis body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

    Total freedom from sin (i.e. the body of death) is an eschatological freedom that we have yet to attain. I think this is also seen in Phil 3.

  • Joe T says:

    BTW, I find it interesting that yesterday I was preaching in the local rest home. One of the songs we sang was "Come Thou Fount". The final line had been changed from the original and the new wording was very troubling to me. The change had been made in the 1930's showing that weakened hymnology is no new thing. I am very thankful for the hymn-writers of old who wrote according to Scripture and experience and am also thankful to see that there are some writing some good solid hymns in our day.

    The version of the hymn found at the cyberhymnal shows the hymnwriter's meaning more fully:

    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.

    Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
    Till released from flesh and sin,
    Yet from what I do inherit,
    Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
    Here I raise my Ebenezer;
    Here by Thy great help I’ve 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;
    How His kindness yet pursues me
    Mortal tongue can never tell,
    Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
    I cannot proclaim it well.

    O 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.

    O that day when freed from sinning,
    I shall see Thy lovely face;
    Clothed then in blood washed linen
    How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
    Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
    Take my ransomed soul away;
    Send thine angels now to carry
    Me to realms of endless day.

  • Thank you, Mark, for shining a light on a complementary theme in Scripture. "I am the foremost sinner" (1 Tim 1:15) must be balanced with "God made us alive with Christ, raised us up with Christ, and seated us with God in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:1-10). As Ricky Alcantar pointed out, context is key. Another very valuable contribution made by the context is verse 4: "O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see thy lovely face…"

    By the way, your post made me check the authorship of "Grace Unmeasured." Bob wrote a song to say exactly what you want to sing! We sing both songs to maintain our balance.

  • Holly says:

    Do you yourself never feel that you might be prone to wander? from my own experience, i can absolutely identify with this line, "prone to wander". Certainly at other times i feel prone to love, but telling the Lord that I am prone to wander is a beautiful thing because I am able to tell him my burdens, lay them at his feet, and only then can I feel his true healing power. Lord, I am prone to wander. Lord, give me a new heart each and every day that i may not follow these temptations to leave you.

  • As soon as you say that you don't understand the "Ebenezer" line you undermine your credibility since this is based on scripture. "Prone" just refers to a tendency. You acknowledge that tendency yet you say that you don't want to sing about it. Is it not possible to sing a confession of our weaknesses so that we might better acknowledge the power of the Holy Spirit? Without accepting our tendency to sin we cannot fully realize the blessing that we have through Christ's saving work. Rom 7:21-25 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin."
    The victory is sure but there are still battles to fight.

  • Roger Robart says:

    I'm with PjB on this one in that this is my favorite line in the hymn. I would say that the song is pleading to God to send His Spirit so that we can overcome the sin in our life. I don't think the it's saying that our sin nature is dominate. If it was we would have no reason to ask God to "seal" our hearts. It's only b/c the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can overcome our sin nature that we have reason to ask God to take and seal our hearts and He needs to b/c without God's Spirit we would wander.
    Just my 2 cents :) Blessings

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Thanks Brian!

  • Stan Patterson says:

    I didn't read all the responses, so I'm thinking someone may have already made this point. I appreciated your thoughts and relate to what you point out, especially your reference to Ezek. 36. The covenant promise of God, is a new heart for His people, and His power to both love and live for Him. Paul is clear in Romans 7:21-25, that there is both the law of God and the law of sin at work within me, one in the mind/heart and one in the flesh/old man. THANKS BE TO GOD! that His law, which is settled in my mind and heart, because of His promise, is eternal, but the law of sin, that I serve in my flesh, is temporary and will one day come to an end. "Here's my heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above".

  • FaithChristine says:

    Pleas read the personal story of the hymnist. After he wrote the song, he walked away from the fellowship of the church and with Christ. It was the testimony of his own lyrics, reminded to him from a fellow believer, that brought him back to a joyful relationship. Knowing that has caused my heart to swell when I sing it. Sometime the scripture (Ebenezer's origin) and personal stories of the hymn writers are tremendous help and encouragement.

  • Elaine Bittencourt says:

    Thank you Matthew for your most helpful comment! I feel it too, everyday, every single day!

  • Holly says:

    Though everyone may be in a different season of life, God's word and His truths apply to every time and everything, in the context of His saving power and grace ("Come Though Fount of EVERY blessing"; "streams of mercy, never ceasing"). God's Word, Jesus, God Himself, the apostles, David…none of them watered down these truths. If I am in a place where I am blessed to be consistently seeing His blessing, certainly this line humbles me, allows me to see where God has truly saved me from, and rely on Him without becoming prideful. If I am in a place of darkness and sorrow, this line reminds me that I am not alone, that God hears my cries, and that certainly even when I AM wandering, as I am prone, that He comes and rejoices in finding me (as in the parable of the lost sheep). If I am discouraged, this song encourages me. In light of the entire song, "prone to wander, Lord I feel it" finds victory in Christ's power, and not in my own.

  • Jeremy says:


    I think you may have missed the distinction between justification and sanctification that is present in this hymn.

    Certainly you are correct from a justification stand point, but certainly you are incorrect from a sanctification stand point.

  • David Ketter says:

    Hey Chuck: I'm not sure this blog is the best place to do any sort of self-promption, but I had the opportunity to do some serious, prayerful thinking about Hebrews 12 (and the promise it holds for the believer about God's holiness) in the past few months and have a fairly brief paper on it, if you're interested. Maybe do some reading/commenting over at my blog ( and I can let you know when the paper's uploaded to Scribd or just email you a copy, depending on your preference. Thanks, and God bless!

  • smatt says:

    i think we're losing the point if we try too hard to be politically correct and theoretically appropriate. Yes we are by grace a new creation and yes, we are by His power given a new heart and spirit. but aren't we still prone to wander.?

    Firstly, regardless of whether or not Romans 7 was written post or pre salvation i believe Paul made it clear we are wretched beings with an inherent sinful nature, prone to sin and subject to death
    the Holy Spirit renews our hearts and sets our minds on things above but that certainly does NOT eliminate the possibility of us falling into sin.Therefore it obviously does NOT eliminate the TENDENCY for us to do so either.

    Secondly, to isolate a single line and cross reference it with that the doctrine of sin teaches isnt fair to the song at all.if we wernt constrained by grace bound by His goodness or sealed by the Holy Spirit we are certain to wander and fall in the least..much less be PRONE to do so.

    Thirdly and most a christian daily waging war with the sinful nature of my flesh, struggling with the temptations of a world that is not my home,this line rings truer than any other in the personally evokes the most sincerest of my worship because it reminds me of my frailty in contrast to Gods steadfast love.
    i wish we were people who were prone to love the Lord and to please him but there would be much of a fight to be fought or a race to be won now would there..we shouldnt let scrutiny yield convoluted notions as such about a timeless hymn that has lead so many to Christ

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hey Joe, thanks for your comments. I basically agree with them. I agree that we have the warfare between flesh and spirit and that we will have it until we die. I think it's just a matter of emphasis for a lot of people. A lot of people I think tend to view it as a contest between equals. Almost like the flesh is as powerful as the Spirit. Yes, the flesh tempts us and it can feel very strong at times–I think this is why "prone to wander" feels appropriate. Because the temptation of the flesh feels strong. But the reality is that we are no longer slaves of sin but slaves of righteousness–a slave of righteousness is prone to righteousness. The Holy Spirit is infinitely more powerful than our sin nature. Paul urges believers not to give into sin because they are no longer under obligation to it as slaves of righteousness. I have noticed a lot of saints seem to have an almost defeated attitude. That's basically what I was trying to get at. Thanks again for your comments!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hi Dan, thanks for your comments! I definitely do not believe that we have total freedom from sin in this lifetime. a number of theologians believe Paul is talking about his life as an unregenerate Pharisee in Romans 7–one who would agree that the law is good but find the law of sin at work in his life. at any rate, I definitely believe that we have a battle with sin that remains within us. It's just a matter of emphasis and probably my wrestling with the poetry of the song–we are slaves of righteousness and no longer slaves of sin. Romans 6 says we are not under obligation to obey sin. Ezekiel 36 tells us that we have new hearts, and the Spirit dwelling within us who causes us to keep God's commands. I believe that the emphasis of Scripture is on our new nature, our union with Christ in his resurrection life and our power by the Spirit to obey Jesus. So yes, I believe there is a certain “proneness” to sin – but it is far out weighed by the power of the Spirit. This does not mean we should ever let our guard down or underestimate sin. Also, if you set aside the poetry I don't believe that as new creations with new hearts who are slaves of righteousness that we are “prone” to leave the God we love. Unless that's just a poetic way of saying we are tempted to sin.

    at any rate, thank you for even reading our blog and I do appreciate your comments. and I realize that I could be missing the point of the song, which I really do love by the way.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hey Jeremy, thanks! I do agree that both themes are there in Scripture–I just think that with a lot of people I know they tend to put much more emphasis on the sinner theme than they do on the grace of God theme. We love that song by Bob in our church.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    thanks Holly! That's a beautiful prayer. I regularly cry out to Jesus for help to fight temptation. I just think we need to be careful to balance feelings of being “prone to wander” with the truths of Scripture like we are slaves of righteousness, we are no longer under obligation to sin, we are new creations with new hearts that desire to please God. However, the powerful feelings of temptation we experience can make us feel prone to wander and Jesus does tell us to cast our cares on him, because he cares for us and that we should regularly run to the throne of grace for mercy and help in time of need. Thanks so much for your comments!

  • Jeremy says:

    Yes. And Amen.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hi Kristi, Actually I do understand the Ebenezer line–I was trying to inject a little humor into the post–apparently I didn't do it too well! With the issue of "prone to wander" – (I wrote this earlier) It's just a matter of emphasis and probably my wrestling with the poetry of the song–believers are slaves of righteousness and no longer slaves of sin. Romans 6 says we are not under obligation to obey sin. Ezekiel 36 tells us that we have new hearts, and the Spirit dwelling within us who causes us to keep God's commands. I believe that the emphasis of Scripture is on our new nature, our union with Christ in his resurrection life and our power by the Spirit to obey Jesus. So yes, I believe there is a certain “proneness” to sin – but it is far outweighed by the power of the Spirit. This does not mean we should ever let our guard down or underestimate sin. Also, if you set aside the poetry I don't believe that as new creations with new hearts who are slaves of righteousness that we are “prone” to leave the God we love. Unless that's just a poetic way of saying we are tempted to sin.

    Anyway–I agree with your last statement–the victory is sure but there are still battles to fight. Amen. thank you for adding your comments!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Amen, Stan–it's so good to know that sin is temporary and will one day come to an end. I don't know if you would be interested, but if you read some of my comments up above you will see that I agree we have to battle sin and temptation but for so many Christians I know they have an over emphasis on since power and somewhat of an under emphasis on the power of the Spirit. I would just like to encourage people in that camp to look more and more to the power of the Holy Spirit in Scriptures that tell us things like we are now slaves of righteousness and no longer under obligation to sin. Anyway, it's a great hymn. Thanks for your comments!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Thanks FaithChristine! Sounds like I would enjoy that testimony.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hi Jeremy, maybe I have missed the distinction, but the passage from Ezekiel 36 seems to me to be more of a sanctification passage–The Spirit causing us to keep God's commands (which is sanctification) there are many other scriptures as well that seem to be more sanctification oriented to me –Scriptures like we have become slaves of righteousness, we are no longer under obligation to sin, and this is one of my favorite Scriptures too:

    And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18).

    all this is not to say we don't have a serious battle on our hands and that sometimes temptation feels really really strong. very often Paul tried to encourage believers along these lines–though the temptation to sin feels very very strong, remember who you are in Christ and which you have in Christ–you don't have to sin though it may feel like it.

    Anyway, thank you for commenting!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hi smatt, I said this to someone above: I regularly cry out to Jesus for help to fight temptation. I just think we need to be careful to balance feelings of being “prone to wander” with the truths of Scripture like we are slaves of righteousness, we are no longer under obligation to sin, we are new creations with new hearts that desire to please God. However, the powerful feelings of temptation we experience can make us feel prone to wander and Jesus does tell us to cast our cares on him, because he cares for us and that we should regularly run to the throne of grace for mercy and help in time of need.

    Thanks for your comments! I love the hymn and will keep singing it!

  • Jeremy says:

    Sure! I think though this passage is referring to the “not that I have already obtained all this, but press onward to the goal” and “of whom [sinners] I am the chief” sentiments of Paul more than the new self passages of scripture.

    That tension is, as mentioned earlier, between the “prone to wander” [sin nature] and the “God I love” [new self]. The being transformed is not some magical bestowing of glory, but grace that shows us our dross and faith that helps us exercise our salvation to work through it. But, ultimately, the hymn writer is expressing how he feels, and you have every right not to agree.

  • S.D. says:

    Really, Mark, does singing about one's tendency to sin at all seem not right? Although your point about putting sin in its proper perspective is great, the tone of your post comes across as one "hymn expert" who sins less than others. What do you gain from changing the "prone" lyric to something more … acceptable? Positive?

    If only more modern worship songs and hymns could be less lyrically bland and melodically forgettable. Please do your homework.

  • I believe the line reflects the author's own personal experience. Based upon what I've read, Robert Robinson was prone to wander a bit in his faith.

  • Chris says:

    I actually found the line "prone to wander" in a more recent song on "The Gathering" CD put out by Sovereign Grace Ministries. It's the "Your words of Life" song by Joel and Pat Sczebel. The 2nd verse contains the line "We are often prone to wander, as we hear may we be changed."

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Someone else mentioned that too Tony. I'd be interested to know the backstory to the hymn.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hmmm. I may have listened to this in progress. But only recently have I been thinking about the phrase as we sang it in church. thanks Chris!

  • Judy says:

    I don't think we are prone to love the Lord, though we might long to love Him more. What we long to do versus what we are prone to do is Paul's age old dilemma – the good that I would do, I don't (my paraphrase); I think the hymn-writer got it right!

  • tlhartsfield says:

    Here's a place to start:….

  • Frank Martens says:

    David had the Spirit of God, if he was not "prone" to wander, then what the whole bathsheba incident about?

    There is also something to be said about our understanding of the meaning of the word "prone" namely "having a natural inclination or tendency to something; disposed; liable."

    The Psalmist understood this when he wrote Psalm 119. In verse 10 he said, "With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments." He saw the possibility for wandering and pleaded with God to keep him from wandering.

    If we look at Romans 7, Paul makes this case that our flesh has this very tendency. In fact he says, "for I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to cary it out" and later he says, "I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin." To which he then launches into his great plea and thanksgiving.

    So, I think the author of the hymn has it right, our flesh is prone to wander and wages war against our minds, but it is God sealing our inner being through the work of His Holy Spirit that binds us to Him (thank God Paul wrote Chapter 8!!!).

    I think Ricky Alcantar's point is solid, always always always, we need to look at the context of words in order to understand the author's true use and meaning. This goes for everyone and everything, especially when it comes to scripture and anything that deals with the spiritual realm.

  • Jono Brooks says:

    Hi Mark,
    So where does that leave your answer on the question concerning the "darker" statements of the Psalms in corporate worship? For instance "How Long" by the Sojourn group based on Ps. 13?

    I think that if you see your corporate singing as "formative" (as i think it completely is and should be), then a Christian who isn't presently oppressed (as the psalmist obviously was in Ps. 13 and as Robinson was when writing "Come Thou Fount") can be made ready in a sanctifying manner by singing about the circumstance that all Christians find themselves in eventually… Namely, oppression from their own sin or the sin of others.

    Basically, I really take issue with your statement, "I think part of the challenge with using some of the "darker" statements in the Psalms in worship is that not everyone is in the same place when they come together on Sundays – some would be suffering, some would be discouraged, yet others would be in a season of blessing. "

    I'm sure you could give examples of some lines form the Psalms or old hymns that we could discernibly agree wouldn't be helpful for congregational singing. But, the one you've brought to attention ("prone to wander") makes me think we would radically disagree on most of that discernment.

    So, closing question…

    Is is a "challenge" worth accepting? Or do we simply take out the words "prone to wander" and instead sing something like…

    "sometimes i wander, Lord i feel it, but mostly seek the God i Love…" ? – I'm only halfway kidding…

  • Brad Koehn says:

    "I am such in debt to grace, every day. My prayer is that in God's goodness, He would continually make my heart like His. My flesh is always wanting me to wander away from Him, I feel the pull in times of weakness. I cry out to God that He remind me how I am sealed with His Spirit eternally, and I don't have to obey my desires."

  • James T. Mace says:

    I think we must avoid pouring our own meaning into the old lyric's term, "prone," as if it means the "primary determining factor," which it seems the poster has done here. "Prone" need mean nothing more that having an inclination to do something, and I think that fits the hymn lyrics' context, biblical theology, and Christian experience. We do still have a natural inclination to sin, and that must be recognized, not denied, to best counter it. Positive thinking (a current heresy) will not remove our tendency to sin; dropping our guard and sticking our heads in the sand from denial will not bring sanctification.

    And this is not a new position. The great classic of Christian literature, John Bunyan's Calvinistic "Pilgrim's Progress," shows Christian prone to wander (and I'm not even a Calvinist). He sleeps when he shouldn't and loses his scroll, he wanders off the path and is enslaved by Giant Despair in Doubting Castle, etc. Being prone to imperfect obedience is not a condition best served by wishfully denying it exists.

    So keep happily singing this theologically orthodox lyric, for, without keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, we are prone to wander, Lord I FEEL it! :-)

  • Allene says:

    I understand the importance of concentrating on the indwelling power, strength and love of our heavenly father. However, to not acknowledge our dependence on Him and our own depravity is to have a simplistic view of the Christian walk. I would be dishonest if I presented myself as having no battle to trust and that I had it together 100% of the time. There is something comforting about realizing that all humans from the beginning of time have struggled to walk in obedience to God. At the advent of sin God gave us the promise of victory in Jesus. He told us that Jesus would crush the serpent's head but that the serpent would bruise our heels. I don't know about anyone else but I have bruises. Singing Prone to wander Lord I feel it encourages me to keep on keeping on because in those words I recognize my own helplessness.I also affirm my only source of victory is in the power God has given me through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and forgiveness through Jesus' death on the cross. I can be completely transparent before my heavenly father and come to him with my hurts and my confusion. He comforts me and gives me peace through his promises, but it is a daily battle. I become discouraged when it seems that everyone else has it all together, because I don't but I always find renewal when I meet with God and cast all my cares on Him. The end result of the battle to find victory over my own wayward ways is greater intimacy with God this intimacy is the only treasure I can take with me when I exchange this earthly body for my citizenship in Heaven. It is hard to surrender to Him if we present ourselves as only joyful, loving, people. It is hard to give a struggle to God if I do not acknowledge that I am struggling and seek His
    strength. So I guess I vote for leaving the lyrics as they are.

    Often times I have been so blessed by the truth in the timeless lyrics of the old hymns. I ponder them in my mind and think about what the words mean. Sometimes I even need to hit the dictionary. The effort to understand brings me to the feet of God and helps me to dwell on the Word of God building the treasure of intimacy with Him. These old hymns are so ingrained in my mind that even
    instrumental versions of the songs bring phrases of lyrics to my mind. Sometimes I have to look up the lyrics on line or on my cell phone to remember them. Reading and thinking about the lyrics makes me focus on spiritual truth. Sometimes the modern songs lack the theological depth of the old hymns. I always check out theology with the truth in God's Word because I know that it is my source of discernment.

    Now that said, Mark and my fellow respondees, I want to thank you so much for your thoughtful posts. Conversely I know that I am more prone to dwell on the old nature negatives than the transforming power of thankfulness, praise and other spiritual positives. The discussion we have shared has encouraged me in a personally trying time. You have reminded me of the simplicity and hope of salvation and the promise of ultimate victory through our growing submission to and intimacy with our heavenly father. I am also thankful that this website allows guests to comment. It is the first time I have ever responded on-line to a topic such as this and it has really blessed me. Being from the pre-tech days I am slowly finding out the perks of technology. I thank my God for you all.

  • Donna says:

    When a church drops "Here I raise mine Ebenezer" it is a pretty good sign that they don't teach or preach much Old Testament. As a new Christian I did a drastic thing, I looked it up in a concordance and amazingly I found out WHAT the writer was talking about. It is one of my favorite hymns.

  • Tony Moore says:

    I still love I Have a Destiny!

  • mike slaughter says:

    Paul said in Rom 7:19 – 25 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
    Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
    I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
    For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
    But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
    I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. And 1John 1:8 – 10, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
    If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

  • Bridget says:

    I agree Donna. Some of my favorite words are the signifying of repentance and a monument to the renewal to follow Christ

  • Don Thomason says:

    What do you do with Romans 7? And why does Paul say he "dies daily to sin?" If there is not a proneness to sin; then no need to die daily. If we are prone to love and please the God we love, then no need to die daily, right?

  • Felipe says:

    A lot of people already said a lot of things, but on my quick scan of responses I don’t think I saw any one referencing Hebrews 3:12-14, so here goes:

    12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
    13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
    14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

    There’s no doubt the author is talking to believers here (i.e. “brothers”). While not exactly the same sentiment, one could consider Come Thou Fount a confessional version of this passage. Even more so when you consider the idea of “wandering”, warning, and a daily “striving to enter His rest” in the context of the rest of this passage in Hebrews (and the next). All that to say, I don’t find this one passage egregiously unbiblical.

  • Corey says:

    I know this is really late, so hopefully the author of the post will see this, but are you aware of the revised last verse? My faith tradition (one of the Restorationist branches) sings this rather than the "Prone to wander" part:

    "Never let me wander from Thee, never leave the God I love.
    Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above."

    From my research, it appears to have come about in the late 1800s, but is still "attributed" (likely falsely) to Robinson. But it's always been my preference, even after I learned of the original lyrics.

  • Todd Stepp+ says:

    The hymnals in the Church of the Nazarene have changed the last verse of the hymn. (I'm guessing other Wesleyan-holiness churches have, as well.) – I'm out of my study, so I have been searching on-line for the Nazarene version and came across your article. – Pick up a Sing to the Lord hymnal (Lillinas publishing/Nazarene Publishing) to read the verse. Or, if you email me, when I get to my study, I will be happy to send the Nazarene version.

  • Todd Stepp+ says:

    Found the lyrics:

    O to grace how great a debtor
    Daily I’m constrained to be!
    Let Thy Grace now, like a fetter,
    Bind my yielding heart to Thee.
    Let me know Thee in Thy fullness
    Guide me by Thy mighty hand
    Til transformed in Thine own image
    In Thy presence I shall stand.

  • Allen Mickle says:

    Actually this is one of those Baptist urban legends. Just because Robinson hung out with some unitarians doesn’t mean he became a unitarian. He actually rebuffed against the charge, and preached some bold messages about Christ that indicated orthodox theology.

  • Noelle says:

    I really needed this reminder. Thank you so much for sharing boldly!

  • Jessica says:

    I hadn’t thought of that line like that before, and I think I can still sing even that line with my heart translating ‘prone’ to ‘tempted’ – but yes yes and yes, I agree with you! I think we get so caught up in ‘being a sinner’ that we forget that the gospel is so much more than simply a free ticket to heaven to keep in your back pocket without any change of identity. Jesus changed us and removed our heart of stone for a living, beating heart, turned towards him. Thank you for writing this!

    However, I’m still left wondering… what in the world does Ebenezer have to do with anything?!

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