Posted by: rcottrill | July 25, 2010

Today in 1817 – John Fawcett Died

For seven years, John Fawcett served a small Baptist church in a village in Yorkshire, England. It was a time of great blessing, and Pastor Fawcett was loved by his congregation.

Beyond his own community, he was a recognized scholar, and even King George III wrote to express his appreciation for the young preacher. One day in 1772, he received an invitation to serve a much larger congregation in London. It was tempting. The financial support would be greater, and he admitted that was needed, because “my family increases faster than my income.”

After due consideration, and accepting the invitation with some misgivings, he preached his farewell sermon in the little church. Then, with wagons loaded with all their belongings, the family prepared to take their leave. The congregation gathered around to say goodbye. But suddenly Mrs. Fawcett broke into tears and cried, “O John, I cannot bear this. I know not how we can go!” “Nor I,” her husband replied. “Nor will we go. Unload the wagons!” A letter was sent off declining the new position, and Pastor Fawcett stayed an amazing fifty-four years serving in the little church.

It is believed that the bond of fellowship the church family experienced at that time led John Fawcett to write his hymn, Blest Be the Tie that Binds, published in 1782.

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

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

Another fine hymn of Pastor Fawcett’s is Lord, Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing. The fact that there are several hymns with that opening line has led to some confusion about Fawcett’s authorship. But eminent historian John Julian seems to settle the matter in his Dictionary of Hymnology.

Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing;
Fill our hearts with joy and peace;
Let us each Thy love possessing,
Triumph in redeeming grace.
O refresh us, O refresh us,
Traveling through this wilderness.

Thanks we give and adoration
For Thy gospel’s joyful sound;
May the fruits of Thy salvation
In our hearts and lives abound.
Ever faithful, ever faithful,
To the truth may we be found.

(2) Today in 1854 – Francis Rowley Born
The son of a doctor, Francis Harold Rowley became an ordained Baptist clergyman who, for about 30 years, served churches in several States in America. He was also greatly interested in animal welfare, wrote books on the subject, and was president of the Massachusetts S.P.C.A. for 35 years, being made chairman of the board at the age of 91. For his notable interest in both human and animal welfare, the Rowley School of Humanities at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta was named in his honour.

I Will Sing the Wondrous Story is the only hymn credited to Rowley. He was serving a church in Massachusetts at the time of writing it (around 1886). The church was holding a series of evangelistic meetings, assisted by gospel musician Peter Bilhorn. Pastor Rowley says, “One night, after the close of the service, he [Bilhorn] said, ‘Why don’t you write a hymn for me to set to music.’ During the night these most unpretentious and wholly unworthy verses came to me.”

Sometimes today the words are sung to the tune Hyfrydol.  It’s a truly great hymn tune, but my only concern is that it’s used for so many hymns. Most of the older hymn books still set the hymn to Peter Bilhorn’s original melody.

Years after Francis Rowley wrote the song, the author was walking down a street in London, late at night, and saw a group of Salvation Army people holding an open-air service. He says, “As I came nearer to them, it occurred to me that the hymn they were singing was familiar. Then it dawned upon me that it was this one.”

I will sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ Who died for me.
How He left His home in glory
For the cross of Calvary.

Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ Who died for me,
Sing it with the saints in glory,
Gathered by the crystal sea.

It is both a joy and a duty to sing the praises of our Saviour. David pledges, “I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore. For great is Your mercy toward me, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (Ps. 86:12-13).

In eternity, the redeemed of the Lord will join in singing “by the crystal sea.” Observing those around the heavenly throne, John says, “They sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation’….Blessing and honour and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:9, 13).

(3) Today in 1899 – Stuart Hine Born
Stuart Wesley Keene Hine was a British missionary who, with his wife, served in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Russia, until the outbreak of the Second World War. He made an English translation of a much-traveled hymn he had learned during his years of missionary service, adding to it a stanza of his own. The result was the now immensely popular hymn How Great Thou Art.

The Billy Graham team introduced it in North America at their Toronto Crusade in 1955. On a whim, soloist George Beverly Shea made a couple of changes in the opening stanza, believing they improved the song. “Works,” in the second line became “worlds,” and “mighty thunder,” in the third line became “rolling thunder.” Stuart Hine was not at all pleased with the tinkering, but he seems to have grudgingly accepted it in time.

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy pow’r throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!


  1. […] The following rendition of the hymn by the Blackwood Brothers doesn’t really connect with me. The countrified rhythm, and the ”listen to how low I can sing” bass solo…Well, it’s a matter of taste, I guess. Many of us probably grew up hearing Bev Shea’s version. To give it a listen, check out the third item under Today in 1817. […]

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