Saturday, August 13, 2016

Blest Be the Tie that Binds – John Fawcett

He must have thought he could leave, but the raw emotion of the moment took him by surprise. As he reflected on what had overwhelmed him a week earlier, John Fawcett poured out these emotions in six verses of “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” one day in 1772. Wainsgate, England (see its flag here) was his family’s home, and so they reversed themselves and discarded what would have undoubtedly been a more comfortable and financially prosperous tenure in the big city. Was there something else going on at Wainsgate that was like a magnet for John, his wife Mary, and their family, or was it just some perpetual sentimentality that bonded them like superglue to that church?  Was their experience perhaps a microcosm of another home and family one might encounter?

John Fawcett had a well-developed sense of appreciation for Christian fellowship and its personal impact on him by the time he wrote the six stanza-poem in 1772 that was eventually published some 10 years later. He was a child from a poor family, was apparently an orphan by the age of 12, and for a time worked long hours at something like slave labor. Converted at age 16, and then having begun by age 25 his first ministry at Wainsgate in northern England’s West Yorkshire county, he no doubt must have identified intrinsically with those whose hard-scrabble life mirrored his own. John’s preaching reputation nevertheless had earned him some notoriety, and an offer to switch to a much wealthier church in London. For his wife and young family, this must have initially seemed like a God-send after seven years in what someone might have derisively labeled ‘the boondocks’. Who wouldn’t have accepted, as the Fawcetts originally did? But, with their belongings packed and a church crowd gathered to bid them farewell, the hearts of John and Mary were pricked. Did someone perhaps read from the episode of Paul’s departure from Ephesus, to memorialize this sad event (Acts 20)? Was it the thought of leaving these poor folks deprived of not only their friendship, but also other considerations that gnawed at them? How would this Wainsgate group fare without the Fawcetts? In that moment, the Fawcetts concluded, and decided, to live out the truth of the aphorism ‘there are some things money cannot buy.’ As John later admitted, he had temporarily overlooked the other riches he and his family enjoyed there. They spent 54 years in Wainsgate, evidently because they sensed that the benefits of that poverty-stricken church outweighed the alternative in London. This place and people were home.

John originally entitled his poem “Brotherly Love”, and it says all I need to know about the Fawcetts’ choice that day in 1772. What was on their minds? The key word is ‘our’. Our hearts (v.1). Our Father’s throne, our ardent prayers, our fears, our hopes, our aims, our comforts, our cares (v.2). Our mutual burdens (v.3). Our courage (v.5). You get the feeling John and Mary had just completed a mental, or rather heart-level, survey of what they’d been doing with this group for seven years. And, they must have thought this home was too valuable to dismiss so easily. Would the new crowd in London have grown on them too? You think they missed an opportunity? Look at what they already had. Our is what we all aim for up there, isn’t it? In 1772, John and Mary Fawcett had it, and decided to keep it. Start acquiring it now, if you can’t say our.

The following website has all six original verses, and copy of the song story:
See the song story in these sources also: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; and A Treasury of Hymn Stories, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945.  

See this link for picture and background on the church where the composer wrote the hymn:

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