“There Is a Fountain”

"In that day there shall be a fountain opened…for sin and for uncleanness" (Zech. 13.1)

     INTRO.: A hymn which identifies Jesus as a fountain from which springs forth the blood by which we are saved is "There Is A Fountain" (#314 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #160 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by William Cowper, who was born at Great Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire, England, on Nov. 15, 1731, the son of an Anglican minister who was chaplain to King George III. Because of a weak constitution, he suffered physically all his life. In addition, the death of his mother, who was a descendent of poet John Donne, when he was six years old left him emotionally sensitive and subject to periodic bouts of uncontrollable depression in which he believed that God had doomed his soul beyond hope. Sent to a boarding school at Markyate, he later attended Westminster School where he was teased by other students.  His father then encouraged him to study law, and he was called to the bar in 1754. However, the prospect of appearing for his final examination before the House of Lords to receive the post of Clerk of the Journals so frightened him that it caused a severe mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered. He bought poison but could not bring himself to drink it. He then placed a penknife at his heart but did not have the courage to complete this try at killing himself either. He did start to hang himself with a garter, but it broke.

     After this, Cowper was committed to St. Alban’s asylum for eighteen months, during which time he began reading the Bible. This finally brought peace to his mind in 1764 when he was 33 years old. Still, his speech was impaired by stammering and lisping, so he could not practice law. After his release, he went to live at Huntington near Cambridge with a minister friend, Morley Unwin, and his family. Upon Unwin’s death in 1767, Mrs. Unwin and her children were invited to move to Olney, England, and reside with the family of another friend, John Newton (1725-1807). Cowper joined them and remained for nineteen years.  However, the melancholia returned with its voices and visions. Again, he attempted suicide by drowning in the River Ouse. The story, unconfirmed, is told that when he asked the coach driver to take him to a convenient spot where he could accomplish his aim, the driver kept on driving and saying that he had not found a good spot yet until Cowper fell asleep and was then taken home. With the help of Newton he soon recovered and enjoyed some twenty years of relative good health. During his recovery, Mrs. Unwin encouraged him to write poetry to occupy his mind. As a result, he created such well-known works of English literature as The Task, Royal George, and John Gilpin’s Ride. Also he made a translation of Homer. In addition, he produced religious poetry. "There Is A Fountain" is dated 1771 and first appeared in A Collection of Psalms and Hymns from Various Authors, 2nd Edition, published by R. Conyers in 1772.

     Not only did Cowper work with Newton in gardening and raising pets but also the two collaborated in providing hymns for weekly prayer meetings, and together they produced the famous collection, Olney Hymns, in 1779, for which Cowper contributed 67, including "There Is A Fountain," "God Moves In A Mysterious Way," "O For A Closer Walk With God," and "A Glory Gilds The Sacred Page." After Mrs. Unwin’s death in 1796, his problems with instability recurred and he left the Newton home.  Four years later he died at the age of 69 at East Dereham in Norfolk, England, on Apr. 25, 1800. The tune (Cleansing Fountain or Cowper) is believed to be a traditional American western folk melody, characteristic of the frontier campmeeting songs. It is often attributed to Lowell Mason (1792-1872). During the early part of the 1800’s, Mason was always looking for poems to set to music for his hymnbooks. Among his selections was Cowper’s "There Is A Fountain." Mason had probably heard the campmeeting song and arranged it for this text in 1830. Cowper was recognized as the greatest poet of his day and even now is considered the most honored English poet between Alexander Pope and Percy Shelley. Yet, he is equally remembered for his wonderful hymns.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.  Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     "There Is a Fountain" emphasizes the importance of Christ’s blood to our salvation.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that this fountain is filled with blood
"There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood Lose all their guilty stains."
 A. Blood has always been necessary for the remission of sins: Heb. 9.22
 B. The blood of this fountain was drawn from Immanuel’s veins: Matt. 1.23
 C. Those who plunge beneath its flood lose all their guilty stains because redemption is available through Christ’s blood: Eph. 1.7

II. Stanza 2 tells us that this fountain washes away sins
"The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away."
 A. This stanza is omitted in all of our books probably because editors have thought it sounded as if the author were saying that we can be "saved like the thief on the cross" (i.e., without baptism). However, it does not say that. It simply says that just as Jesus had the power to pardon the thief, He has the power to pardon us too: Lk. 23.39-43
 B. We may not be thieves, but all of us at one time or another were as vile as he when we were lost because of sin: Rom. 3.23
 C. However, because of the blood that Jesus shed, we can wash all our sins away; when does this washing take place? Acts 22.16

III. Stanza 3 tells us that this fountain provides power for us to be saved
"Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God Be saved to sin no more."
 A. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God whose blood provides redemption: 1 Pet. 1.18-19
 B. Its power is made available to us in the gospel: Rom. 1.16
 C. Some might object to the phrase "be saved to sin no more" because they think it sounds like "once saved, always saved," but it more likely refers to the time when the church of God, which is the saved on earth, will be saved eternally in heaven where there will be no more sin, affirming that until then the grace of God that brings salvation will continue to be available to all mankind: Tit. 2.11

IV. Stanza 4 tells us that this fountain symbolizes God’s redeeming love
"Ere since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die."
 A. It is by faith that we see this stream and through it can be justified before God: Rom. 5.1
B. The stream and its benefits are the results of God’s redeeming love in sending Jesus to save us: Jn. 3.16
C. Therefore, our theme even until we die should be Jesus Christ and Him crucified: 1 Cor. 2.2

V. Stanza 5 tells us that this fountain enables us to obtain a home in heaven
"Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue Lies silent in the grave."
 A. It is important to notice the connection between stanzas 4 and 5, "And shall be till I die. Then in a nobler, sweeter song;" "then" refers to after death: Heb. 9.27 (I have never understood why hymnbook editors want to end the song with a stanza which concludes, "And shall be till I die" without going on to what will happen "Then in a nobler, sweeter song.")
 B. This necessarily implies a belief that the soul or spirit continues to exist after death: Eccl. 12.7, Jas. 2.26
 C. The great hope that the blood of Jesus Christ makes possible is that even though our lisping, stammering tongues are lying silent in the grave someday Jesus will return to raise our vile bodies and make them like His glorious body: Phil. 3.20-21

     CONCL.: There are two other stanzas which I do not believe have ever been used with the hymn at least here in the United States:
6. "Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared, unworthy though I be,
For me a blood-bought free reward, a golden harp for me!"
7. "’Tis strung and tuned for endless years, and formed by power divine,
To sound in God the Father’s ears No other name but Thine."
Many denominational hymnals reverse the couplets in stanza 5.  Donald Hustad noted, "The order of phrases in stanza five was changed by the editors of Worship and Service Hymnal, 1957, to achieve a positive climax." However, this change can be noted previous to 1957. William J. Reynolds wrote, "In the hymnal, the two couplets of stanza five have been reversed. It is not known whenthis shifting of lines first occurred, nor the reason, if any. It may be found in this order in a number of compilations, including the Broadman Hymnal (1940). The original order of stanza five seems much more logical." I agree with Reynolds, and to their credit no editors of any of our hymnbooks have ever followed this unnecessary alteration.  The story is told concerning a young Scottish man, suffering from mouth cancer, whose only hope of recovery was the removal of his tongue. The surgeon asked him, since he would never be able to speak again, if there was anything that he wished to say. A firm Bible believer, he began singing this hymn, and by the time he finished there was not a dry eye in the operating room. Unfortunately, he never regained consciousness from the operation, and thus his last words on earth had been:
"Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue Lies silent in the grave."
Yes, Christ’s redeeming love, as shown through the blood that He shed on Calvary, can be our theme both here and in that nobler, sweeter song took, because "There Is A Fountain."


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