An excerpt from Who Wrote Our Hymns?
John Fawcett, author of the hymn, "Blest be the tie that binds," was born at Lidget Green, near Bradford, in Yorkshire, England, in January 1739. His father died when he was eleven years old, and the burden of a large family fell heavily upon the widowed mother; thus young John, in his 13th year, was apprenticed to a trader.
When [he was] 16 he heard the great Whitefield preach from the text, John:3:14, 15:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosover believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Young Fawcett was converted then, and rejoiced in Christ his Saviour. “As long as life remains, I shall remember both the text and the sermon,” he wrote many years after. How could he ever forget that which God had used to the salvation of his soul?
The young convert at once identified himself with God’s people; and such was his godliness and zeal for the Lord that the older brethren exhorted him to “go beyond private exhortation; to stand forth and preach the gospel,” which, after much exercise, he did. He did not rush into the ministry, however, as some do, but waited prayerfully on God. After deep heart-searchings he decided to devote his time wholly to the work of the Lord. His prayer to the Lord for light on his path at this time is thus recorded in his diary, “O Lord, I know not what to do, but mine eyes are upon Thee. If in Thy wise counsel Thou hast fixed upon me to bear Thy name to sinners, I earnestly implore that Thou wouldst give me a right spirit, and bestow upon me every needful qualification for that most difficult and important work. If Thou dost not call me to it, O Father, not my will, but Thine be done.”
But God had called him to the ministry of His Word, and he commenced his labors with a small congregation at Wainsgate in Yorkshire. It was here that he wrote his most famous hymn,
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love:
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims, are one,
Our comforts and our cares.
We share our mutual woes:
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
The glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.
From sorrow, toil, and pain,
And sin we shall be free;
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.
It came about in this way: “After he had been preaching several years to his faithful and loving flock at Wainsgate (his family increasing far more rapidly than his income), he thought it was his duty to accept a call to settle as pastor of a church in London to succeed the celebrated Dr. Gill. He preached his farewell sermon to his church in Yorkshire, and loaded six or seven wagons with his furniture, books, etc. All this time the members of his poor church were almost broken-hearted; fervently did they pray that even now he might not leave them; and as the time for his departure arrived, men, women, and children clung around him and his family in distress of soul. The last wagon was being loaded, when the good man and his wife sat down on one of the packing cases to weep. Looking into his tearful face, his devoted wife said, while tears like rain fell down her own cheeks, ‘O John, John, I cannot bear this! I know not how to go!’ ‘Nor I either,’ said the good man; ‘Nor will we go. Unload the wagons and put everything in the place where it was before.’ The people cried for joy. A letter was sent to the church in London to tell them that his coming to them was impossible; and the good man buckled on his armor for renewed labors on a salary of less than two hundred dollars a year. It is said that this hymn was written to commemorate his continuance with his people.”
Was it not Christ-like in this poor but good man, with so large a family, to remain with a people so little able to assist him with their means? And we are sure he did not miss his reward, for God is faithful. He was honored in life, and in the coming day, “at the resurrection of the just,” he will have “a full reward” from the Lord.
In 1788 he published a little volume on Anger, a copy of which was presented to George III. The king was so much pleased with it, says one writer, that he offered to confer upon Fawcett any favor he might desire, but the royal munificence was gratefully declined. Some time after this, however, the son of one of his friends committed forgery, for which he was sentenced to be hanged, death being the penalty for this crime at that time; Fawcett then interceded on his friend’s behalf, and the king, remembering his former promise, granted a pardon.
He continued preaching till 1816, when a paralytic stroke prevented him from laboring further in the vineyard of the Lord. He died July 25, 1817, aged 78. His last words were, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”
His hymns number as many as 166. It is said that many of them were composed in the midnight hours preceding the Lord’s Day. May we imitate him, first in believing the gospel while young, as he did, then in devotion to Christ and His people, especially among the poor.