Mark Altrogge had the nerve to mess with “Come Thou Fount.” He lodges a complaint that I’ve heard from many others (including our Aussie intern): “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 he has a more serious, theological beef with the song. One of the lines says, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Altrogge responds, “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.” Rather, “The Bible says believers are ‘prone’ to obey the God they love. Prone to follow Jesus.”
He goes to Ezekiel and these powerful words:
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)
He explains that although indwelling sin remains, it no longer dominates. Rather, the Holy Spirit causes us to obey God’s statutes and motivates us to obey the Lord. “Yes we once were prone to wander. But Jesus’ death on the cross cured us of that tendency.”
The comments are interesting and Ricky Alcantar nails it in his defense of the hymn as he looks to the context of that verse, showing that the hymnwriter is pointing to a genuine tendency to wander. Within our lives are these opposing desires to honor God and to honor self, to flee from sin and to flee to it. This is the simul justus et peccator of Martin Luther (and the “wretched man that I am” of Romans 7), the fact that we are simultaneously righteous and sinful, sinful in our actions and yet righteous in our standing before God. In good conscience I can continue to sing that I am prone to wander.
Yet I don’t want to take away from Altrogge’s application. As a Calvinist, whose theology of the doctrine of God’s grace begins with Total Depravity, I know that I am prone to tacitly discount God’s grace in my life in favor of declarations of my own wretchedness. I can almost find a strange and ugly kind of delight in my sin, thinking that the more sinful I am, the more my life displays God’s grace. “If he can save a sinner even this awful, then he must be a great God.” And, of course, there is some truth to this. But God also displays his power, his sovereignty, in destroying the grip sin once had on me. God’s grace is shown not only in salvation but also in sanctification. My mother has often remarked that one of the most powerful evidences of God’s grace in a life is when holiness begins to be the natural response to adversity or to being sinned against. I am sure that every Christian can attest to seeing some of this in his own life.