Song 339: Sufjan Stevens, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (2002)


This is another song I look forward to hearing every holiday season. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” isn’t technically a Christmas song—it’s more of a general “Jesus sure is great” song—but it just sounds like a night spent in front of a fireplace and a Christmas tree.

Maybe that’s why Sufjan Stevens included the song on his collection Songs For Christmas. Actually, it originally appeared on one of his semi-annual Christmas recordings he made for friends, which he then released in 2006 as Songs For Christmas. It’s a goofy, heartwarming, touching bunch of songs, ranging in style from power pop to hushed folk.

Quick history lesson: The origins of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” date back to 1757, when pastor Robert Robinson wrote the hymn. The melody in most versions is cribbed from the hymn “Nettleton” by printer John Wyeth; its lyrics come from 1 Samuel 7:12, in which the prophet Samuel raises a stone (which he names “Ebenezer,” meaning “stone of help”) and says, according to the King James Bible, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

The serenity of the hymn, and of Stevens’ version in particular, makes Samuel’s gratitude sound less joyous than quietly grateful. And I think there’s power in that gentle approach, because it denotes a kind of confidence that Jesus will always come through for Samuel, that there’s no reason to be surprised about his devotion to mankind.

I’m not at all religious, but we can all relate to love and devotion, and that’s what “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is about. Putting these hymns (and, uh, songs called “Get Behind Me, Santa!” and “Hey Guys! It’s Christmas Time!”) in arrangements with guitars and banjos make them more accessible, and Stevens is a master musician and arranger. Everything here just works.


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