Morning thanks – A hymn, a story

That he was orphaned as a 12-year-old only adds to the story. That after attending a revival by none other than George Whitefield, that shining star of the Great Awakening, is also certainly worth mentioning, too. That he had no silver spoon only makes his work more remarkable.

When John Fawcett became a preacher, a Baptist preacher, in England, in 1764, he served a woebegone church, a place called Wainsgate, for seven years, during which time he and his wife Mary had four children. His congregants were illiterate and, by some reports, not all that far down the road from their ancestral paganism. They had no money, which meant that John’s salary was a pittance, much of it coming to their door in potatoes and beans. So when an opportunity arose to go to a bigger church, a church in London, a place with a wholesome salary, John and Mary Fawcett determined it was time to move on. But they loved Wainsgate, and Wainsgate loved them; it was just that the church was full of folks who simply didn’t have the wherewithal to pay him the kind of salary his growing family stood in need of.

It must have been tough to announce his departure. I’m sure people were shocked and saddened to think their young pastor and his wonderful family were leaving.

The Reverend John Fawcett sent many of their belongings on to London, however, because it seemed to him that he had no choice. What things he didn’t send, he and Mary determined to take with them in the final wagonload.

The constraints of love
The day came, and the whole church turned out to see them off. You’ve heard people say, of course, that “the Devil’s in the details,” and sometimes that’s true. But sometimes the Holy Spirit hangs out there, too, and in this little story the details are just too good to have been left behind by the Evil One.

So when the good folks of Wainsgate stood there around him, broken hearts poured out love that must have been radiant and unmistakable. The story goes that Mary was the first to break, telling her husband that she just couldn’t leave. At that, the Reverend John Fawcett looked around – maybe even a tear or two in his eyes – and tallied the love he couldn’t help but witness.

Then he stood in the wagon that would take him to London, and right then and there told the good people of Wainsgate that he and his family were not going to leave.

They stayed. For 54 years.

True story, people say.

Sometime later – not long – he wrote a treasured old hymn that’s almost as widely known as “Amazing Grace,” a song that may well have wrung more tears than any song in your hymnal or mine: “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.”

It’s Monday morning in our broken world. Maybe I should have waited for the weekend to retell that story. “Blest Be” may well be one of the fittingest doxologies ever penned, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a fine way to start the week. Go ahead and hum it.

This morning’s thanks is two-fold. I’m thankful for that old rugged hymn and doubly thankful to know the story.


  • James is a retired Professor of English and the author of more than 40 books, most recently Looking for Dawn (2018).

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