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Blest Be the Tie That Binds

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

This is one of the most loved hymns. The author was John Fawcett (1739-1817).

He was an exceptional Baptist clergyman in England. His parish in Wainsgate was described by hymnologist Albert Bailey to be “a straggling group of houses on the top of a barren hill.” This was typical for many rural pastors in the 18th century.

Orphaned at 12, Fawcett was apprenticed to a tailor in Bradford where he worked long hours.

John learned to read Pilgrim’s Progress. He eventually mastered the devotional classic by John Bunyan.

Fawcett became a Christian in an open field where 20,000 people gathered to hear a powerful message of salvation by an evangelist George Whitefield. It was there that John told Whitefield that he wanted to become a preacher too. And the evangelist gave the young man his blessing.

This was how Albert Bailey described the congregation in the Wainsgate church:

“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.”

Following his ordination in 1765, John and Mary Fawcett went to live in Wainsgate. By visiting and sharing with families house-to-house, the congregation grew. An additional gallery had to be added to their modest meetinghouse.

With the addition of four children to his family, the annual salary of £25, supplemented by donations of wool and potatoes from the parishioners, was barely sufficient, especially during the long winters.

Then a call came from Carter’s Lane Baptist Church, a prestigious parish in London. With a need for more financial resources, John and Mary decided to accept the offer.

The announcement was made to the church. The farewell sermon was preached. John sold some of the bulky items of his furniture and some of his older books. And the day of departure arrived. A two-wheeled cart came to load and transport the rest of his belongings. And the parishioners came to say goodbyes. They were downhearted and in tears.

Mary said, “I can’t stand it, John! I know not how to go.”

John responded, “Lord, help me. Mary, nor can I stand it! We will unload the wagon." And he said to the crowd, "We’ve changed our minds! We are going to stay!” The people then broke out in joyful acclamations.

John Fawcett remained in Wainsgate for 54 years. In 1777, a new chapel was built at Hebden Bridge. About the same time he opened a school for children at Brearley Hall, his place of residence. He was known as an educator and scholar, as well as a fine preacher.

In 1793, he was invited to become President of the Baptist Academy at Bristol, but he declined. In 1811, Fawcett published his devotional commentary on the Holy Scriptures. He was also honored with a Doctor of Divinity degree from Brown University, Providence. John died in 1817 at the age of 78.

This hymn was written to commemorate his decision to remain in Wainsgate. It has often been sung by Christians as they say goodbyes during farewells and funerals.

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.



Written on: 27 March 2017