Our Fears, Our Dreams, Our Goals Are One
John Fawcett was born on 6 January 1739 and passed away on 25 July 1817. He was a British-born Baptist theologian, pastor and song of praise writer.
Fawcett was born in Lidget Green, Bradford. In the year 1762, Fawcett joined the Methodists, but three years later, he united with the Baptist Church and began to be a pastor of Wainsgate Baptist Church in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, England.
Fawcett served for seven years, regardless of a small income and a growing family. It seemed only helpful that he move to a church that paid a larger salary. When he got a call in 1772 to the large and inspiring Carter's Lane Baptist Church in London, he planned to accept the call. Yet at the last minute he changed his mind, and stayed at Wainsgate where his salary was £25 a year. To commemorate this event, in the year 1782 he wrote the words to his the "Blest Be the Tie that Binds" song of praise, his most popular hymn by far.
In the year 1777 a new chapel was constructed for him at Hebden Bridge, and about similar time he opened an educational institution at Brearley Hall, his place of residence. In the year 1793 he was invited to be the President of the Baptist Academy at Bristol, but rejected. In the year 1811 he got a Doctor of Divinity from America.
Fawcett passed away at the age of 78.
One of Fawcett's songs of praises, "Humble souls who seek salvation" with the heading, "Invitation to follow the Lamb", (Matthew 3:15) had the following note: "The author lays claim to this song of praise, 'though it has appeared under another name: he hopes that the insertion of it, and the following, will give no offense to those of his friends who are differently minded, as to the subject to which they refer. Obviously someone's name had been wrongly given as the author of the song of praise."
Fawcett's song of praise in 'Spiritual Songs' is no. 267, "All fullness lives in Jesus our Head". The original text of this song of praise is in Baptist Psalms and Hymns, 1858–80) The first line is "A Fullness lives in Jesus our Head" and is rendered in this way in George Vicesimus Wigram's 1856 Little Flock Hymnbook, and in J.N.D's 1881 edition; also in William Kelly's 1894 edition. T. H. Reynolds and W. J. Hocking's editions have "All fullness resides, etc."
John Fawcett, a dissenting Baptist preacher in England, gave us one of the most beloved farewell songs of praises of all time. Fawcett’s parish in Wainsgate, explained by hymnologist Albert Bailey as “a straggling group of houses on the top of a barren hill,” may have been usual for many rural pastors in the eighteenth century.
Fawcett, orphaned at the age of 12, was “bound out” to a tailor in Bradford where he worked long hours. He studied to read and eventually mastered Pilgrim’s Progress, the sacred classic by John Bunyan.
John Fawcett was converted under the strong preaching of George Whitefield while the evangelist delivered a message to 20,000 people in an open field. It is said that upon telling Whitefield he desired to sermon, the evangelist gave Fawcett his blessing.
Mr. Bailey explains Fawcett’s congregation at Wainsgate: “The people were all farmers and shepherds, less fortunate as Job’s turkey; an uncouth lot whose speech one could not understand, not able to read or write; most of them pagans execrated with vice and ignorance and wild tempers. The Established Church had never touched them; only the respectful Baptists had sent an itinerant preacher there and he had made a good beginning.”
John and Mary Fawcett went to reside there in the year 1765 following his ordination. By engaging families house-to-house, he raised a congregation that grew to the point that a gallery had to be included to the modest meetinghouse. With the addition of 4 children to the family, a modest salary that was supplemented by parishioners’ donations of wool and potatoes was barely sufficient, especially during the long winters.
The story is told that a reputable parish with added financial resources in London, Carter’s Lane Baptist Church, extended a call. It is at this point that it begins to be difficult to separate fact from apocryphal imagination.
Mr. Bailey, a detailed storyteller, sets the scene: “[John] and Mary opted to accept. The announcement was made to the church, and the farewell sermon was proclaimed, the vast items of his furniture and a few of his older books were sold and the day of departure arrived. The two-wheeled cart approached for the rest of his belongings, and likewise came the parishioners to say good-by.”
The crowd was disheartened and in tears. As stated by Mr. Bailey, Mary is quoted as saying, “I can’t stand it, John! I know not how to go.” John answered, “Lord help me Mary, nor can I stand it! We will not load the wagon. . . . [To the people], We have changed our minds! We are going to remain!” Mr. Bailey explains a scene of pandemonium as the crowd broke out in joyful acclamation.
It was the practice of many ministers to write songs of praises on the theme of the day to be sung at the conclusion of the preaching. This song of praise was included under the title of “Brotherly Love” in Fawcett’s Hymns Adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion (year 1782). UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young notes that the “collection contained 166 songs of praises, most of them to be sung as a congregational response to the preaching.”
We do know that John Fawcett stayed in Wainsgate for 54 years and nearby Hebden Bridge. We do not know if this song of praise was written in conjunction with his decision to stay in Wainsgate, but its language joins well with congregations, identifying with the hardships of life and our unity in Christ.
No doubt this song of praise has been tearfully sung by more Christians upon parting than any other song of praise.
Fawcett developed an educational institution for the area children by adding on to his home. He was well-known as a professor and scholar, as well as a fine preacher.
In the year 1811 Fawcett produced his Devotional Commentary on the Holy Scriptures and was also honored with a Doctor of Divinity degree from Brown University, Providence, R.I.