Minister authored ‘Blest be’

Published 1:58 am Saturday, October 22, 2011

As you sing hymns during worship on Sundays or other times, do you wonder about their origins? Do you ever note the name of the person who wrote the words or composed the music? Are you curious about what inspired the hymns?

“Blest be the tie that binds,” written in 1782 by Rev. John Fawcett, was inspired by the love of his Baptist congregation at Wainsgate, England. At the age of 15, he had stood in a field among a crowd of 20,000 people and heard the great evangelist George Whitefield preach. Fawcett knew he wanted to preach and sought Whitefield’s blessing.

He joined a Baptist church that held meetings in private homes and began to preach in near-by villages when he found an opportunity. Eventually some Baptists in Wainsgate, a dreary little spot located on a barren hill, asked him to become their preacher. He was ordained in 1765. His congregation consisted of mostly poor farmers and shepherds who could neither read nor write. They built a little meeting house on land donated by a farmer. It held one hundred people. There was no parsonage. He and his wife Mary boarded with various families.

Fawcett quickly won the hearts of the Wainsgate people with his goodness and concern for others. The salary was barely twenty pounds a year. The couple basically lived on porridge for breakfast and potatoes for the other meals.

A growth in the size of the congregation resulted in the erection of a gallery at the meeting house. News of Fawcett’s success at Wainsgate reached London. Word came that a church in London needed a new pastor. The congregation wanted to hear him preach. He traveled to London and returned to Wainsgate with a call to Carter’s Lane Baptist Church. It promised a much larger salary with an opportunity for wider service and self-improvement. After talking it over with Mary, who had presented him with four children in a five-year period, they decided to make the move. He announced his plans to the congregation and the couple set about preparing for their move.

When the day of their departure came, some men from the congregation brought a two-wheeled cart. As the men loaded their possessions, people began to plead with the couple not to leave. Finally, Mary began crying and insisting that she didn’t know how to go. Deeply touched by the pleas of the people and Mary’s reaction, Rev. Fawcett agreed to stay. He asked the men to unload the wagon.

The following Sunday the congregation sang the song he had had written the night before: “Blest be the tie that binds.”

The Fawcett ministry in Wainsgate and a near-by village lasted 54 years. He established a training school for young preachers, published a volume of hymns which included “Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing,” authored several books and built a new meeting house.

Today, those two hymns serve as benedictions in religious gatherings all over the world.