Life is more than possessions

Published 12:03 am Saturday, April 20, 2013

As you stand among the congregation of the church you attend and sing a hymn, do you ever wonder how that hymn came to be? “Blest be the tie that binds…” are familiar words to us from the hymn of that name. We might associate it with baptisms, revivals, other special services, or just a regular worship service.

According to Albert Edward Bailey’s “The Gospel in Hymns,” the Rev. John Fawcett, an Englishman born in 1739, in Yorkshire, wrote the beloved hymn. Orphaned at 12, young John fell into an indentured life as a tailor’s apprentice. At 13, despite working from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., he began reading “Pilgrim’s Progress” in secret by candlelight in his attic room. Apparently, it instilled in him his first religious consciousness. At 15, when he heard Evangelist George Whitefield, he decided he wanted to be a preacher. He joined a little Baptist Church that met in various homes and he soon began speaking at some of those meetings. Upon the advice of several clergymen, he began seizing opportunities to speak in nearby villages.

At 18, he married 23-year-old Mary and eventually became pastor of Wainsgate Baptist Church in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. There he followed an itinerant preacher who had made a small inroad preaching to the poor, uneducated farmers and shepherds who asked him to come preach to them in a building constructed to seat 100 people. Since there was no parsonage, the Reverend and Mary “boarded round” from one parishioner’s home to another. Within five years the parsonage family had increased to six and found it difficult to exist on breakfast porridge and potatoes the other two meals of the day.

In due time, Rev. Fawcett received a call to a London church. It was an excellent opportunity for him and his growing family—a raise in salary, more opportunity for service, and a chance to improve himself. He and Mary announced their decision to the congregation, sold some of their furniture, and he preached a farewell sermon. As they prepared to leave with a cart packed with their possessions, parishioners appeared to say “goodbye.” Some of the women sniffled, another asked, “What are we poor folks going to do…” Another begged them not to leave. Mary suddenly admitted she couldn’t stand to leave, but he urged her and the children onto a seat on the cart. However, when someone shouted that they’d never forget he had performed their wedding ceremony, he began unloading the cart.

The following Sunday, he preached about a man’s life not consisting of the abundance of possessions from Luke 12:15 and introduced the hymn, “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” to the congregation. He had written it the previous night.

He and Mary ministered in that bleak area 54 years. He opened a training school for young preachers, built a new meeting place, wrote several books and another hymn. He died in 1817, leaving the world that wonderful hymn we still sing today.