John Fawcett Hymn Studies

Biographical Sketches Of John Fawcett


1. John Gadsby, “Hymn-Writers & Compilers””

John Fawcett was born at Lidget Green, near Bradford, Yorkshire, Jan. 6th, (old style, that is now 18th,) 1739. He was brought up in the Established Church, but received his first convictions under Whitefield, while preaching in the open air at Bradford in 1755. The volume before me, however, though it consists of nearly 400 pages, and purports to be a Memoir of Mr. Fawcett, contains very little account of a work of grace on his soul. It would appear that he was “pious” from his youth, and it certainly is an unspeakable mercy to be kept from youthful sins. That Fawcett knew something, however, of the plague of his heart and of the healing balm, will, I think, be manifest from one or two extracts that I may have occasion to make from his diary. He lived in a day when free grace and free will were united together, so far as man could do it; and it was not until the separation between Whitefield and John Wesley that the mist began to be dispelled. Whitefield’s sermon on the occasion I have named was from John 3:14. “As long as life remains,” said Fawcett, “I shall remember both the text and the sermon;” for it seems they sank deep into his heart. He was then only 16 years of age. From this time he began to make a more public profession of religion, and joined the people then called Methodists.

Three years afterwards he joined the Baptist church at Bradford. “One Lord’s Pay,” he says, “I went to the public meeting, not without some apprehension of taking cold, which I believe was the case; for in the afternoon I felt extremely ill, and was overwhelmed with sickness. The sorrows and, as I thought, the pains of death, appeared to take hold upon me, I was ready to conclude that my useless life was drawing towards an end, and that the Lord was about to cut me off in the midst of my days. I had a deep sense of my past sins, which are many and grievous. I saw myself deserving of the divine displeasure, and that if I am ever saved, it must be through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. Many of my Christian friends discovered great sympathy with me. I could not forbear shedding tears at the sight of them. Having taken something to drink, after one of my brethren had offered up to God a fervent and suitable prayer, I attempted to walk home, and reached it, after a little time, by the assistance of some kind friends. Having perspired a little during the night, I found myself this morning much relieved, for which I desire to bless God with all my heart, and would earnestly implore that he would sanctify this affliction to the benefit of my soul. ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.’ (Ps 119:71.)” In 1763, at the request of the church, he entered on the work of the ministry. He went the following year to Wainsgate, over which church he was ordained, July 31st, 1765. His mind was so much exercised for about six months afterwards, that he seriously contemplated relinquishing the work altogether. He wrote the following letter to a friend

“Dear Sir,—I have taken this opportunity to acquaint you with the bitter distress I at present feel. I fear I have entered upon a work to which God has not called me; and instead of combating these fears with success, I think I grow worse. I compare myself to the parched heath in the wilderness, which knoweth not when good cometh. I am continually bowed down under a sense of my weakness and foolishness. I spend my days in pain and anguish of mind on these accounts; and what will be the event of these things I know not. Surely, if the Lord had called me to the work, I should be more sensible of his presence with me, and of his assistance. I make my complaint to him daily, but he seems to cover himself with a cloud that prayer cannot pass through. I am ready to say with Job, ‘When I cry and shout he shutteth out my prayer.’ In attempting to make preparation for the pulpit, I sit for hours together, and can do little or nothing.”

In 1772 he went to London, to supply for Dr. Gill, who, through age and infirmities, was incapacitated from preaching. After Dr. Gill’s decease, Mr. F. was invited to become the regular pastor, which, by the advice of some friends, and seeing that he had an increasing family, with only £25 a-year from the people at Wainsgate, he consented to do; but, after a portion of his furniture and books had been sold, he relented, and told his flock that if they would raise him £40 a-year, it would be the extent of his wishes. This, however, they declined to do. He nevertheless decided upon remaining, and throwing himself upon the providence of God. In 1777 a new chapel was erected at Hebden Bridge, no great distance from Wainsgate, and thither Mr. F. went. The chapel was capable of holding from 500 to 600 people. For several years prior to 1783, he had been a great sufferer from sickness and domestic calamities. In that year, however, (1783,) a favorable change took place in his health, and his appearance was so much altered for the better, that some of his friends could hardly recognise him. In 1703, after the death of Dr. Caleb Evans, Mr. F. was invited to become President of the Baptist Academy at Bristol; but this he declined. In 1808 he preached at the opening of the Baptist Chapel, York Street, Manchester, which had been erected by the people who left St. George’s Road when Mr. Gadsby settled there. Mr. F. was connected with the Baptist Association, and Mr. G. was by them accounted an “Antinomian.” In 1814 Fawcett’s health was evidently rapidly declining, and early in 1816 he had become so weak that he frequently had to use crutches. The account of the state of his mind during his last illness is as follows: “As to the state of his mind in this last illness, it was conformable to what he had experienced and evidenced through all his former afflictions. Mercy, divine mercy, was what he implored, with all the lowliness of a babe in Christ. He joined with the greatest fervency in the petitions offered up at his bedside; and though his mind was not in general so much elevated with holy joy as some of God’s people have been, he had solid comfort, and often expressed his ‘desire to depart and to be with Christ.’ A short time before he expired, he said, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.’ One of his attendants having said, ‘There remaineth a rest for the people of God,’ he added, ‘O receive me to thy children!'” He died July 25th, 1817.

The following are extracts from his diary: “Another month is come to a close; I have the same complaints to make as at the beginning. I have been chargeable with many sins of the heart, and many also in word and action. I have made but little progress in the ways of holiness, and gained but little advantage over the evil propensities of my heart. I have indeed formed many resolutions to walk more circumspectly, to be more constant and fervent in the private and public exer- cises of religion; but I have failed in the performance, and fallen into lukewarmness and indifference. I have been of but little use in my family, in the world, or in the church of God. My life has been one continued scene of imperfection and sin. If I had done all that the law of God requires, I should still have been ‘an unprofitable servant.’ What, then, shall I say of myself, since I have come so very far short of its righteous demands in every particular? I am a sinner, but blessed be God for Jesus Christ:

“O Lord, I confess,
To thee my distress,
And acknowledge my folly and sin;
How prone I’m to stray,
From thy righteous way,
How imperfect my actions have been.”

“May 1st, 1760.—I have been but little this day in prayer and meditation. I have found pride and ambition working in my heart. I have reason to fear that I have sought my own praise more than the glory of God in writing the foregoing verses. I have been very cold in my evening devotions.”

“May 26th. My sins have this day been many and great. I have to complain of wandering thoughts and negligence in private prayer; unreasonable anger, and too much levity.”

“Wednesday, Oct. 21st. —This morning I had reason to complain of hardness of heart, and to lament an absent God; but I was enabled to look again towards his holy temple. I see great need of divine strength to preserve me from falling into those nets and snares which I meet with by the way. Alas! How prone am I to be led away by the corrupt inclinations of my own vicious heart! Lead thou me, God, by thy Spirit, and let me not wander from thy commandments!”

Fawcett was greatly fond of psalmody, and often said, “If the Lord has given to man the ability to raise such melodious sounds and voices on earth, what delightful harmony will there be in heaven!” His hymns were printed in Leeds, in 1782. He was also the author of several other works. The well-known hymn, “A crumb of mercy, Lord, I crave,” though not published in Fawcett’s works, was nevertheless written by him. It appears in the “Gospel Magazine,” 1777, with his name and address in full.


2. Henry Burrage, “Baptist Hymn Writers And Their Hymns”

The date of Dr. Fawcett’s birth, as given above, is old style, but according to our present reckoning, he was born January 17, 1740. Rev. W. R. Stevenson, of Nottingliam, who lias given much attention to Baptist hymnology, writes: “This I learn from a valuable book sent me by Dr. Fawcett’s grandson,—a life of Fawcett by his son who assisted him in his school. I found it necessary to allow for the change of style, in order to understand statements made in the book concerning Dr. Fawcett’s age at certain periods. In the book itself, the date is given thus 1739—1740 (0. S.)’ The elate usually given, in sketches of Dr. Fawcett’s life, is January 6, 1739.”

Dr. Fawcett’s birth-place was Lidget Green, near Bradford, Yorkshire. His father died when he was eleven years of age, leaving a widow and several children in humble circumstances. When John was thirteen years old, he was apprenticed to a trader in Bradford, with whom he remained six years. During his apprenticeship, when sixteen years old, he was converted under the preaching of a sermon by George Whitefield, from the text, John 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” Referring to this sermon afterward, he wrote, “As long as life remains I shall remember both the text and the sermon.” For awhile after his conversion, he attended the services of the church of England, but early in 1758, he united with the Baptist church in Bradford, which had just been organized.

He at once made himself useful in church work, and soon the question came before him concerning his duty to preach the gospel. No unworthy motives should influence his decision. He wrote in his diary: “O Lord, I know not what to do, but my eyes are upon thee. If in thy wise counsel thou hast fixed upon me to bear thy name to Gentile sinners, I earnestly implore that thou wouldst give me a right spirit, and bestow upon me every needful qualification for that most difficult and important work. If thou dost not call me to do it, Father, not my will, but thine be done.” The decision was at length made, and in 1763, at the request of his pastor, he began to preach. In the following year, February, 1764, he became pas- tor of the small Baptist church at Wainsgate, near Halifax, West Riding, of Yorkshire, where he was ordained July 31, 1765.

During his residence at Bradford, Dr. Fawcett had written quite a number of short poems. These he published in 1767, under the title “Poetic Essays.” In 1772, he went to London to preach for Dr. Gill, the eminent expositor, then drawing near to the end of his life; and useful life. After Dr. Gill’s decease he was invited to become the expositor’s successor. It seemed to him his duty to accept. Says Dr. Belcher “He preached his farewell sermon to his church in Yorkshire, and loaded six or seven wagons with his furniture, books, etc., to be carried to his new residence. All this time the members of his poor church were almost broken-hearted; fervently did they pray that even now he might not leave them; and, as the time for his departure arrived, men, women, and children, clung around him and his family in perfect agony of soul. The last wagon was being loaded, when the good man and his wife sat down on the packing cases to weep. Looking into his tearful face, while tears like rain fell down her own cheeks, his devoted wife said, “Oh John, John, I cannot bear this! I know not how to go!” “Nor I, either,” said the good man: “Nor will we go; unload the wagons, and put everything in the place where it was before.” The people cried for joy. A letter was sent to London to tell them that his coming to them was impossible; and the good man buckled on his armor for renewed labors, on a salary of less than two hundred dollars a year.”

It was to commemorate this incident in his life that Fawcett wrote his well known hymn:

“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 longs to see the day.

From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign,
Through all eternity.”


These lines have become dear to Christian hearts wherever the English language is spoken.

In 1772, Fawcett published “The Christian’s Humble Plea for his God and Savior; in answer to several Pamphlets lately published by the Rev. Dr. Priestly.” In 1774 appeared “The Sick Man’s Employ.” In 1777 a new chapel, which would seat six hundred people, was built for him at Hebden Bridge, near Wainsgate. His residence was at Brearley Hall, in the village of Midgley, in the same neighborhood, where he opened a boarding-school, subsequently removed to Ewood Hall, which he continued through life as an aid in the support of his growing family. In 1778 he published his “Advice to Youth, on the Advantages of Early Piety,” which passed through several editions. His hymn book appeared in 1782. It was entitled “Hymns adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion.” It contained one hundred and sixty-six hymns. Many of them were written to be sung after the sermon to which they had reference, and were composed in the midnight hours preceding the Sabbath. An”Essay on Anger” appeared in 1788. “The Cause of Christ; the Christian’s Glory,” and “Considerations in favor of the newly organized Missionary Society,” followed in 1793, the “Life of the Rev. Oliver Heywood” in 1796, and “Christ Precious to those that Believe” in 1799.

Dr. Fawcett was also the author of “The History of John Wise,” a book for children. It is an evidence of Dr. Fawcett’s high reputation as a scholar and an educator that in 1793, after the death of Dr. Caleb Evans, he was invited to succeed the latter as President of the Baptist Academy at Bristol, an honor which he declined. In 1811, he published, as the fruit of his ripe biblical knowledge, his “Devotional Family Bible.” His life was one of suffering as well as of toil, and his sufferings grew heavier rather than lighter in the closing years of his life. A paralytic stroke, in February, 1816, was the occasion of his relinquishment of pastoral work, and he died July 25, 1817, having as the end drew near devoutly ex- claimed, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

Dr. Belcher gives the following account of Dr. Fawcett’s last public service: “Let us take our last look at this excellent minister of Jesus Christ. He has ascended the pulpit at an association in Yorkshire. A thousand eyes are fixed on him in love and admiration, and all present express their conviction by words and smiles, that a spiritual feast has been provided for them. As a good soldier of Christ, he has endured hardness for more than half a century. His praise has been in all the churches, his ministry has been greatly prized through the whole of that populous district, and his usefulness has been honored at home and abroad, in the college and in the place itself. He has now come to bear his dying testimony to the doc- trine of the cross, and to bid farewell to the ministers and friends with whom he has been so long associated. Many of them have a strong presentiment that they shall see his face no more, and are prepared to receive his message as from the lips of a man who has finished his course, and now stands at the entrance of heaven. As he rises in the pulpit, a deathlike silence overspreads the crowded congregation, and all ears are opened to catch the words of inspiration. With a tremulous voice, and with deep emotions, he reads the text; ‘This day I am going the way of all the earth,’ Josh 23:14, and long before he finished his discourse the place became a Bochim—the house of God—the gate of heaven. The sermon, which was committed to the press by the agency of its hearers, yet exists as a monument to his love of truth, his holy affection, and his zeal for the extension of the doctrines of sovereign mercy.”

The honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon Mr. Fawcett by Brown University, in 1811.


3. Josiah Miller, “Our Hymns: Their Authors And Origin”

For several hymns of average excellence we are indebted to this divine, who was chiefly remarkable for his laborious faithfulness to his people and his work during a long period of years. From his “Life and Letters,” 1818, by the Rev. John Parker, and from other sources, we learn the following particulars:—He was born January 6th, 1739, at Lidget Green, near Bradford, Yorkshire. At the age of twelve he lost his father, to whom he was much attached, and was left one of a numerous family, with his widowed mother. The following year he was apprenticed at Bradford, where he remained six years. He had been brought up in connection with the Established Church; but during his apprenticeship, when, at the age of sixteen, he heard Mr. Whitefield preach on the words, “And as Moses lifted the in the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” John 3:14. “As long as life remains”, he says, “I shall remember both the text and the sermon.” Changed in heart, he felt himself at first drawn into sympathy with Whitefield’s followers, at that time called Methodists; but three years after, in 1758, he joined the newly-formed Baptist Church at Bradford. At an early age he married Susannah, the daughter of John Skirrow, of Bingley.

After engaging in works of Christian usefulness, he was, in 1763, requested by the church at Bradford to go beyond private exhortation, and to stand forth and preach the Gospel. This he did, though at first discouraged by the seeming difficulties of the work. In May, 1764, he went to be the Baptist minister at Wainsgate, where he was ordained, July, 1765. At first the pressure of the work was so great on him that he seriously thought of resigning, and feared that he had undertaken a work for which he was not qualified; but, overcoming his fears, he remained faithfully at his post, and after a time undertook also the labours of authorship. In 1772, he went to London to preach for Dr. Gill, who was relinquishing his public duties on account of age and infirmities, and his services were so acceptable that he was invited to succeed the declining doctor. This was a great temptation to a man conscious of growing capacities, with a limited opportunity for their exercise, and with scarcely means to meet the wants of his increasing family. But he allowed love to prevail, and remained with his attached people.

In 1777, a new chapel was built at Hebden Bridge, not far from Wainsgate, and thither he removed his ministry; and the previous year he went to reside at Brearley Hall, a convenient home for his family and pupils. There he had a lecture on Sunday evenings for many years. After the death of Dr. Caleb Evans, in 1793, he was invited to succeed him as President of the Baptist Academy at Bristol, but this honour he declined. His life was one of suffering, but, notwithstanding, of incessant useful activity. From 1807 to 1811, he was occupied in storing the fruits of his later in a work called “The Devotional Family Bible.” It consisted of comments on the Scriptures. In the year this was completed, 1811, he received his degree of D.D. from America. His sufferings increased towards the close of his life, but they were borne with patience. When near the end of his course, he said, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

John Fawcett (1739-1817) was an English Baptist preacher, theologian and hymn writer. Edwin Long wrote of him:

“Although Whitefield did not perpetuate his influence through the composition of any hymns, yet he was the means of the conversion of some hymn-writers, who are, after the march of a century, still shaping the eternal destiny of precious souls. Who can measure the circle of influence that has widened out through the singing of that oft-repeated hymn:—"Come, thou Fount of every blessing!” Its author, Robert Robinson, was among the thousands of Whitefield's converts. So was also the Rev. John Fawcett, D.D. Both, when lads of about sixteen years of age, were drawn into the stream of salvation by the tide of Whitefield's popularity. Fawcett was born at Lidget Green, England, January 6, 1739. His father having died when he was twelve years of age, he was apprenticed for six years at Bradford. While at this place he was tempted to follow the crowds that everywhere surrounded the eloquent Whitefield. The sermon, that was made effective to his conversion, was from the words, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” “As long as life remains,” he says, “I shall remember both the text and the sermon.” In 1758, he united with the newly-formed Baptist church at Bradford. After using his talents in exhortation for some time, he was urged by the church to prepare for the regular work of the ministry. To this advice he yielded. In May, 1765, he was ordained as pastor of the Baptist church at Wainsgate. Two years later, he issued his "Poetic Essays," and in 1782, he gathered together his hymns, one hundred and sixty-six in number, in a volume, entitled, "Hymns adapted to the circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion."

John Fawcett Hymn Studies
John Fawcett's Hymns