Sunday, June 27, 2021

John Fawcett and the Tie that Binds

The Story of John Fawcett and “Blest Be the Tie that Binds”

1. Blest be the tie that binds 
Our hearts in Christian love; 
The fellowship of kindred minds 
Is like to that above. 

2. Before our Father’s throne 
We pour our ardent pray’rs; 
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, 
Our comforts and our cares. 

3. We share our mutual woes, 
Our mutual burdens bear, 
And often for each other flows 
The sympathizing tear. 

4. When we are called to part, 
It gives us inward pain; 
But we shall still be join’d in heart, 
And hope to meet again. 

5. This glorious hope revives 
Our courage by the way; 
While each in expectation lives 
And longs to see the day. 

6. From sorrow, toil, and pain, 
And sin, we shall be free; 
And perfect love and friendship reign 
Thro’ all eternity.

Wainsgate, in the West Yorkshire countryside of Northern England sets the scene for this story. Hymnologist Albert Bailey described it as “a straggling group of houses on the top of a barren hill.” The people were farmers, hardworking, but mostly poor and illiterate. The Baptists had sent an itinerant preacher there and he had made a start. John Fawcett (1739-1817) and his wife Mary Fawcett went to live there in 1765 after he was ordained. He met with great success and friendships in Wainsgate.

In 1772, Carter Lane Baptist Church in London extended a call and Fawcett accepted. Over a period of time Fawcett announced this to the church, preached a farewell sermon, sold their large items (such as furniture), prepared to depart. The rest of their belongings were loaded on a cart, and the church members came to say good-by. The crowd was moved tears. According to the hymnologist Bailey, Mary said, “I can’t stand it, John! I know not how to go.” John responded, “Lord help me, Mary, nor can I stand it! We will unload the wagon.” To the crowd, Fawcett said, “We’ve changed our minds! We are going to stay!”

This hymn was published ten years later, in 1782, in Fawcett’s hymn book Hymns: Adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion (Brotherly Love, Hymn CIV, page 188). The original had six stanzas, but many songbooks only reproduce the first four. It is believed that his feelings and expression derive from this parting experience, regardless of exactly when the hymn was written. Some apocryphal material may have attached to the story, but we know Fawcett wrote the hymn, and that he did change his mind and stay at Wainsgate. In fact, John Fawcett stayed in Wainsgate and nearby Hebden Bridge for another 45 years. He is buried at the Wainsgate Baptist Church Graveyard in Hebden Bridge, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England.

The Carter Lane Baptist Church in London was pastored by John Gill. The call to Fawcett was extended after Gill’s death in 1771. After the withdrawal of Fawcett, John Rippon accepted that pastorate. Carter Lane eventually became the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Information not original; copied from various public domain sources

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