Am I REALLY Prone To Wander?

I’ve got a problem with the classic hymn “Come Thou Fount”. It contains this famous refrain:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love

Now, let me bring you inside my slightly (or really) odd brain. Even though I love the hymn, unlike normal people, I can’t sing, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it” without feeling conflicted.

prone to wander lord i feel it

There is a part of me that does feel prone to wander from God. Even though I have been decisively saved by God, I still sin in a multitude of incredibly stupid ways. I guess you could call this sinning being “prone to wander”.

But the more I read Scripture, the more I’m convinced that when God saved me, one of the main things he saved me from was being prone to wander.

I know, I know, it sounds like I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth. Let me explain a bit further.

Israel Was Prone To Wander

Spend any length of time in the Old Testament and you’ll see that Israel’s greatest problem was that they were prone to wander. Actually, the word “prone” is a bit of an understatement.

The speed at which Israel could wander away from God was breathtaking.

In Exodus 12, the Lord delivers Israel from the hand of Egypt in staggering fashion, executing the first-born Egyptian sons and leading Israel on an epic “jailbreak”. He then provides them with manna from heaven, causes water to burst forth from a rock, and leads them to Mount Sinai, where he gives the law to Moses.

If anyone had reason to stay close to the Lord, it was Israel.

But what do they do when Moses clambers up the mountain to meet with God? They say to Aaron, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

Then they create a golden calf and throw an orgy that would make the surrounding nation blush.

Israel couldn’t faithfully follow the Lord, and the results were catastrophic.

Prone To Wander, Prone To Idolatry

This pattern repeats itself again and again throughout the Old Testament, like some sort of apocalyptic broken record. God would deliver Israel, command them to follow him wholeheartedly, and then they would wander into idolatry.

The book of Judges shows Israel constantly deserting God. Judges 2:11-12 describes how deeply Israel was prone to wander:

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger.

Israel doesn’t just abandon the Lord once or twice – it happens again and again. The constant refrain throughout Judges is, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

The people of Israel simply couldn’t remain faithful to God, no matter how many times God rescued them from the consequences of their sins.

Prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel didn’t pull any punches when describing Israel’s constant wandering. In Jeremiah 13:27, Jeremiah uses graphic terms to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness to God:

I have seen your abominations, your adulteries and neighings, your lewd whorings, on the hills in the field. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will it be before you are made clean?”

To say that Israel was prone to wander is a colossal understatement. The Lord describes their unfaithfulness not just as wandering, but as “whoring”.

They simply could not remain faithful to the God who had saved them. If God was going to have a people for himself, something desperately needed to change.

God Writes The Law On Our Hearts

The reason Israel was so prone to wander was that the law of God was outside of them, carved into stone tablets. They didn’t have the inner power necessary to keep the law.

To remedy this dire, hopeless situation, God promised that he would make a new covenant with his people. In this covenant, God will move the law from stone tablets to the hearts of his people.

In Jeremiah 31:33, the Lord gloriously says:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

In Ezekial 36:26, the Lord says:

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.

The heart of the new covenant is new hearts – hearts that are not prone to wander! Hearts that have the law burned upon them and that delight in obeying God. Hearts that are dead to sin and alive to God.

The New Testament describes this spiritual heart surgery as being born again or made alive. It uses terms of profound ontological (who we are as people) change, like dark to light and death to life. When God saves us, he changes us at the very core of our being. Whereas once we couldn’t and wouldn’t obey God, now we delight to do his will. Our identity in Christ has completely changed.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t sin. It doesn’t mean that we don’t still encounter temptation. It does mean that our response to temptation has fundamentally changed. The Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, both convicts us of sin and gives us the power to put it to death.

This is why Paul can say in Romans 8:13:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

The people of Israel didn’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them and thus didn’t have the power to put to death the deeds of the body. They were prone to wander. Not so with us. The almighty, gloriously powerful Holy Spirit dwells in us, giving us the power to put to death the deeds of the flesh.

Does It Really Matter If We Sing “Prone To Wander”?

I imagine that some of you are thinking, Well this seems like a whole lot of theological nitpicking. Can’t we all just get along? 

You’re right: I am being a little nitpicky regarding the phrase, “Prone to wander.” It won’t stop me from continuing to joyfully sing “Come Thou Fount”.

But I believe that the way we see ourselves dramatically influences our ability to fight sin and pursue holiness. In fact, self-identity is at the heart of Paul’s exhortation to holiness in Romans 6.

In Romans 6:11-12, Paul says:

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.

The starting place for overcoming sin and temptation is considering ourselves dead to sin. There are many times when it doesn’t feel like we’re dead to sin. When the temptation is so strong that it feels like we have to give into it.

In those moments, we must remember that we have died to sin and been made alive to God. Our old selves that were prone to wander have died with Christ. Now we are alive to God and have the power to put sin to death. Our feelings aren’t actually true. We don’t have to let sin have the upper hand.

So, no, I’m not going to stop singing the wonderful hymn, “Come thou fount.” But when we get to the phrase, “Prone to wander,” I’m going to call these glorious truths to mind. Unlike Israel, I am united to Christ and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in me.

Yes, I’m still tempted to sin and still give in to its siren song at times.

But at the core of my being, I’m a new person.

I’m not prone to wander.


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27 comments

  • I’ve struggled with that lyric, too, but I’ve come to identify with its truth in context of the next line…

    Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

    In other words:
    If I was left to my self, my own ways, my own desires, I would most likely wander. Knowing this tendancy, I am giving You my heart afresh, ever clinging to Your sustaining grace and relying on Your Holy Spirit to continue sanctifying me to look more like Jesus and to reflect Your glory in the way You have predestined me to.

    I’ve typically erred on the side of being hyper sensitive about the accuracy of lyrics. It’s actually one reason I write a lot less than I used to. I feel the pressure of good, theologically accurate lyrics. But, I’m coming to see the need to look at a whole verse, song or even song set on a particular Sunday morning for accurate theology, accurate Gospel narrative.

    When appropriate, I may offer a brief exhortation or prayer about a questionable lyric that helps bring clarity (our church practices 1 Cor. 14 type contributions). This is a double edged sword (like your post) – it affirms right theology while also modeling the need to sing with ongoing understanding.

    It’s always important to have discerning eyes about the lyrics we sing, and remember that as music leaders and song choosers, we have a teaching/pastoral responsibility towards the people.

    • Thanks for sharing this Mary. I like your point about using the next line to add context. We know that we still have a tendency to sin so we offer our lives up to the Lord and ask him to take our hearts. Great point!

  • Wow, I had never even thought about this as many times as I’ve sung this song. But I think you’re exactly right. It’s in line with alot of what I’ve been wrestling with lately regarding how drastically different the new covenant is from the old (e.g. the distinctions between ‘the law of Christ’ and ‘the law of Moses’). Just last week I was re-examining my previously held conviction that the “divided man” of Romans 7 is meant to be identified with Christian experience. I no longer believe that to be true (which isn’t to say Christians don’t battle sin), for reasons that are along the lines of what you describe in this article.

    I think we modern evangelicals don’t fully understand the glorious reality of what it means to be participants of the new covenant. I think we unwittingly bring aspects of the old covenant into the new, embracing more continuity between the two covenants than Paul (leave alone the writer of Hebrews) ever demonstrated. So much that Paul would probably be shocked to know we believe such things. And, sadly, the result is that it diminishes our spiritual vitality. God help us.

    Thanks for this, brother.

    • Great points Chris! Like you, I also don’t believe that Romans 7 talks about the Christian. In fact, it’s this reality of the new covenant that leads me to believe that Romans 7 is Paul describing his experience as a devout Jew under the Old Covenant. But that’s for another post!

  • I guess I’ve never had a problem with those lyrics because i know they’re true of me. If we’re not prone to wander, what is Paul talking about in Romans 7:15ff? As we Lutherans like to say we are simultaneously sinner and saint. We are saved, forgiven but we still battle that sinful nature daily. It is very prone to wandering and makes idols out of all kinds of things.

    • Hey Russ! You’re definitely right that we are both sinner and saint! I think the issue is where you see your fundamental identity. Is it as a new creation in Christ or primarily a sinner who can’t help but wander?

      • well i would say it really is the fundamental fact that we’re saints but that does not mean that the fact that we’re constantly battling with sin is untrue either! I don’t see any problem with that lyric, it just speaks of the truth of our sinful being and all the more to rejoice in what God has done for us!

      • Hi Stephen – thanks for taking the time to reply. I think I can better see what you’re getting at now. That gives me something more to ponder. Peace!

  • While I may not have consciously thought of those words as I was singing it… I often get caught up in worship, and unfortunately often don’t really think as I am singing… however, your thoughts are well spoken. Having been brought up, born again, baptized in an Assembly of God Church, attending a Wesleyan College, marrying a beautiful young Baptist girl, and going to work for the Salvation Army before pastoring an Assembly of God Church in the northeastern mountains of New York, I often refer to myself as a Bapticostal, Evangelical United Brethren (formerly ordained in the Assemblies of God, now ordained as a Southern Baptist). Fortunately GOD knows our heart even when our brains may not be functioning with total understanding. I am thankful that, while I may be prone to wander, GOD never wanders from me, is always welcoming me back into his presence as I humbly bow in worship of my LORD.

    • Amen to that! Even though I may struggle with sin, God doesn’t desert me or leave me. He is faithful even when I’m faithless. So grateful for that.

  • I don’t even know this hymn, but I know about wandering.

    I have just been reading the two books in the OT, Jerimiah and Ezekial. Without fail, while I am reading them this niggling voice trumps up in my inner ear proclaiming with such bravo, ‘See, here is the evidence why you cannot trust in your so called God. Read it right here it says how angry he was at His people for wandering away from him. How could you ever trust a god like that?’, and the deliberation goes on.

    Having struggled all of my life wanting to find something or someone to hang on to and that I know that I can trust certainly is being challenged in these readings along with that intrusive niggling voice.

    I know that I am saved, but what I struggle with is my ultimate commitment to the work that is required of me once I have committed my life’s journey to Jesus. It is here that I wander the most

  • I used to go to a Baptist church in Germany where they refused to sing any “new hymns.” They didn’t think songs by Keith Green–who wrote some of the most incredible worship music ever–should be sung in church. But they’d sing this song. They’d sing “Mansion Over the Hilltop,” which to me seems a crass invitation to loving wealth and doesn’t mention God at all, much less Jesus. They’d sing “A Mighty Fortress,” written by Martin Luther–whose other famous works included a 17-page pamphlet called “The Jews and their Lies,” which Hitler used as part of the basis for the Holocaust. They’d sing “Church in the Wildwood,” which is all about church as a sentimental meeting place (like “Mansion,” it has no mention of God or Jesus). And they’d sing “Gimme That Old-Time Religion,” which again contains no mention of God or Jesus. There are a lot of old hymns that don’t get it right and that are only sung because you can clap your hands to it or because, in the case of Luther, you’re scared not to. Yikes.

  • You write very Shephen. Just like Paul says I pray with my spirit and with mind also, we do the same with singing. Both our spirits and minds should be engaged thus. The mind will obviously not help noticing some theological inconsistencies. Just as another reader has observed, we have a tendency of erroneously wanting to bring continuity between the Old and New covenants. The OT law was external and conformational yet the NT law is internal and transformational. Whereas Moses was about dos and don’ts Jesus Christ is really about being and becoming as He beautifully enunciated in His ministry manifesto (Matthew 5:1 – 12). But I am sure the hymn line still holds truth: If we cannot cleave and cling to Him, we are prone, susceptible, vulnerable, likely, able… to WANDER although we will not be LOST.

  • Yes, I can relate to the song – back in the day. I’m an old lady now saved over 50 years, when I was about 22 years old accepted the Lord as my savior.. Yes, indeed, many days I wanted to walk away from God and His teachings as I thought I knew a better way. TODAY, I KNOW God knows what He is doing so I willingly align my will to His. I do understand prone to wander – Lord I feel it, to leave the God I love. No question. Right now, I’m going to continue, I’m going to the end that I might see the strong tower and testify of HIM!!!

  • In a practical sense, and Hebrews 12 affirms it, we are prone to wander. “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which SO EASILY entangles us…”. Being easily entangled seems almost synonymous with being prone to wander. At the same time, I agree with you. We are, in essence, new creatures that are very much prone to remain. Actually, that’s an understatement…we aren’t merely PRONE to remain, it is impossible for us to NOT remain by virtue of the fact that we have the Living God residing within, and He’s not prone to wander too far from Himself!

  • Even as Christians, we have a sin nature and it is true that we may wander. Many people that claim to be Christians may talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk, a form of wandering.

    Ironically, the author of the lyrics, Robert Robinson, wandered himself. Later, while riding in a stagecoach, he sat across from a lady that was reading. Suddenly she began to recite the lyrics of this hymn. He was convicted, got down on his knees right there in the coach, confessed, and restored his relationship with God.

  • Great post, when I was young and taught thou shalt not steal then later on in Church sing a song “I just steal away and pray”. talk about confusion at a young age.. then how about the one mentioning “when you feel a little prayer wheel turning” I thought we just got mixed up with some Buddha doctrine. So yes I often wondered about lines too.

  • It is good to hear about the benefits of my new life when I became born again (43 years ago). I am thankful for your emails and the Word of God that encourage me in the life that Christ’s resurrection awards me.

  • Wow! when I was younger I often wondered how Israel could see God’s awesome wonder and keep falling back into their same old sin. I thought how blind and stupid could they be? As I get older, I feel like I am Israel. God has shown me infinite mercy in my life but what have I really done for him? Your posts really speak to me. It’s refreshing to have someone write from such a humble perspective. Keep up the good fight!

  • Thanks Stephen! I think this is something that is really an issue in the reformed / evangelical church. There is so much focus on the depravity of man (“I’m just a worm”), and holiness and battling sin (which are all valid) that our identity gets stuck there. And that isn’t healthy! I have changed my thinking in this regard also, seeing myself not as a hopeless sinner, but as a child of God who is secure in His love, led by the Holy Spirit, a new creation in Christ! It’s a much healthier more joyful mindset.

  • Stephen I understand your point. However I see that the “prone to wander” syndrome affects my life and thoughts continually as the Apostle Paul seem to lament in Romans 7: 15″For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”

    So I always have to remind myself of verse 7:24-25

    24 “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 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.”

    My thinking about this verse snippet always goes along with what Mary B posted: “I’ve struggled with that lyric, too, but I’ve come to identify with its truth in context of the next line…

    Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”

    We always have to deal with the fleshly sin nature in the power of God Almighty dwelling within us. This struggle in my mind is confirming evidence of my need for Jesus, the savior who saves me from this body of death. The consciousness of this ongoing struggle means that I am sealed by the Spirit of God who gives me the power to resist my sin nature and avoid the traps of the devil.

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