I remember sitting (or probably standing) in church and singing all the verses of Come Thou Fount for the first time. The song was pretty jazzy and the words seemed pretty profound. I was starting to get into the song. Then it happened…
“Here I raise my Ebenezer…”
Wait, what? I could not focus on the rest of the song because the only Ebenezer that I was familiar with was the crotchety old duck from Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol. Why did the worship leader just encourage us to raise a crotchety old duck? And what does that have to do with Jesus? What in the world is an Ebenezer?
After reading through all of the words my solution at the time was to think that perhaps the word Ebenezer meant “complaint”. So the dude who wrote the song is raising a complaint. That complaint, I figured, was that his heart kept wandering. So in this song he is raising a complaint (kind of like a holy dissatisfaction) to the Lord.
Sounded plausible, but unfortunately quite wrong.
What is an Ebenezer?
The term Ebenezer comes from the Hebrew which means “stone of help”. So, back in the day (like in the 1700’s when Richard Robinson wrote the hymn) the term was used to speak of a marker that you set up to remind you of God’s great faithfulness in times past. John Newton used it similarly when he speaks of the mature believer reflecting on his life…
“while he reviews the Ebenezers he has set up all along the road, he sees, in almost an equal number, the monuments of his own perverse returns…”
“Raising an Ebenezer” means that upon this place the author is setting his monumental stone. What is that place? What is that fount? It is Christ. He is saying that he is setting up his “stone of help” on the fixed work of Jesus Christ. Though his heart is prone to wander he knows that he has a surety in what has already been accomplished by Christ.
As a side note it is probably not an accident that Charles Dickens chose the name Ebenezer for Mr. Scrooge. Mark Roberts makes a compelling case that the character is “to remind us of things we ought not forget, lest we end up like Jacob Marley and the other spirits who walked the earth in sorrow, dragging the heavy chains they forged in life.”
Should You Raise One?
Though it sounds like something that might accompany a sneeze or call to mind a “bah humbug”, it is a great practice to raise an Ebenezer. An Ebenezer is actually the opposite of a “bah humbug", it is a permanent reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness.
I’m not necessarily talking about driving a stake in the ground outside your grandpa’s barn as a reminder of the day you trusted in Jesus. And then every time you doubt the veracity of your faith you go back to that stake and remember that you prayed a prayer. Though that might hold a little value I believe we ought to “drive our stake” in the same place that Robert Robinson did, in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
I have many Ebenezer’s in my life of the Lord’s faithfulness to me. I have many stories that remind me that the Lord is real and that He is active in my life. But none are as sure and as certain as the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is here that men like John Bunyan would raise their Ebenezer.
One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he lacks my righteousness, for that was in front of him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today, and forever.” . . .Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed.
Christ is our Ebenezer.