John Fawcett was an 18th century British preacher, theologian, and hymn writer. He was born in Lidget Green, Yorkshire in 1739 to impoverished parents; by the age of 12, he was an orphan. He was then apprenticed to a tailor in the city of Bradford, where he worked long, hard hours. But in his spare time, he learned to read, eventually completing John Bunyan’s devotional classic Pilgrim’s Progress.
A short time later, at 16 years old, he was alongside about 20,000 others in an open field to hear the great Methodist revivalist George Whitfield preach. Under his influence, Fawcett determined to become a preacher himself, allegedly securing Whitfield’s blessing. After initially joining the Methodist church, he became a Baptist 3 years later.
In 1765, Fawcett accepted a call to serve the Wainsgate Baptist Church in West Yorkshire, far in the north of England. The situation there was typical of many in rural districts in that day. The hymnologist Albert Bailey describes the congregation: “The people were all farmers and shepherds, poor as Job’s turkey; an uncouth lot whose speech one could hardly understand, unable to read or write; most of them pagans cursed with vice and ignorance and wild tempers. The Established Church had never touched them; only the humble Baptists had sent an itinerant preacher there and he had made a good beginning.” But Fawcett and his wife, Mary, set to work; through their efforts in engaging families door-to-door, the church eventually grew to the point that the humble meetinghouse had to be enlarged.
Nevertheless, times were hard, and the community was poor. The church could only afford to pay him a meager salary—25 pounds, the equivalent of perhaps $10,000 today—supplemented with donations of wool and potatoes and such. Meanwhile, over the course of the next 7 years, the Fawcett family grew to include 4 children; the situation seemed to be untenable. And when the large and influential Carter’s Lane Baptist Church in London came calling, with a salary to match their prestige, it only made good sense for him to accept.
The announcement was made to the church and a farewell sermon was preached. On the day of their scheduled departure, the members of the congregation all gathered around the wagon, loaded down with their belongings; men, women, and children openly wept at their parting. It was more than Mary could endure: “John, I cannot bear to leave. I know not how to go!” Fawcett replied, “Lord help me Mary, nor can I stand it! We will unload the wagon.” They told the crowd that they had changed their minds and to unpack their things, at which point joyous chaos broke out through the crowd.
Out of genuine love, Fawcett stayed and ministered to those people until he died, some 45 years later. But his most lasting legacy is the hymn he wrote in response to these events, first published under the title “Brotherly Love”:
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.
This glorious hope revives
our courage by the way;
while each in expectation lives
and waits to see the day.
From sorrow, toil, and pain,
and sin, we shall be free;
and perfect love and friendship reign
through all eternity.
Today, we celebrate our 84th annual Homecoming, prompted by this same spirit of Christian love that binds us together. Thank you for joining us. May God bless you.