The Story Behind…
“Blest be the Tie That Binds”
Around this hymn lies the story of John Fawcett (1740-1817) and a company of Baptists in the valley of Yorkshire, England, by the Calder River in the middle of the eighteenth century. The Calder was lovelier then than it is now, for the tide of mill buildings, steam engines, and the use of the river’s waters for driving the mills had not marred its beauty. Fawcett was born of poor parents in Lidget Green, Yorkshire, and was converted to Christ at the age of 16 through the preaching of George Whitefield. At the age of 26 he was ordained as a Baptist minister and accepted an invitation to pastor a small and improverished congregation at Wainsgate in Northern England.
One day in 1772 a wagon stood outside the house of the Baptist minister, loaded up with his and his wife’s goods and chattels. All the village knew that the young preacher, now 32, had received an important “call” to a London church and was about to take the long road south away from his native hills and moors and the people who loved him. He had accepted the invitation, had preached his final sermon, and had now come to the moment of the last farewell. Many of his congregation stood by the wagon in tears. The sight of so many tearful people, and all the sad good-byes, proved too much for Fawcett and his wife. He went back to the house and gave orders to unload the wagon. He and his wife had decided to stay among their beloved people and turn their back on the great London church he had been asked to minister to under the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Five years later his people built a splendid new chapel in Hebden Bridge and Fawcett stayed among them for the rest of his life, refusing an invitation in 1793 to be President of the Bristol Baptist Academy. This was the spirit of the man who wrote this tender hymn of affection, “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.”
The music of the hymn was composed by Hans G. Naegeli, who was born on May 26, 1773, near Zurich, Switzerland.
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.
“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
O for a thousand tongues to sing,
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.
My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of His name.
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
The words of this great hymn (it has additional stanzas) were written by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), while the music was composed by Carl G. Glaser.
In order to commemorate the first anniversary of his “spiritual birth” in a fitting manner, Charles Wesley wrote this hymn of 18 stanzas on May 21, 1739, under the title: “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion.”
In 1740 he published it in Hymns and Sacred Poems, a collection compiled by his brother John and himself. In the original the hymn began with the words, “Glory to God, and praise, and love.”
A cento (that’s a literary or musical work made up of passages from other compositions), beginning with the seventh stanza of the original “O for a thousand tongues to sing,” was made by R. Conyers and published in his A Collection of Psalms and Hymns from Various Authors: for the Use of Serious and Devout Christians of Every Denomination, London, 1767.
In an arrangement published by John Wesley in the Wesleyan Hymnbook (1780) he, too, began the hymn with the seventh stanza and used a new second line, “My dear Redeemer’s praise.”
The new title is supposed to go back to Boehler, a Moravian missionary, who said to Wesley: “If I had a thousand tongues, I would praise Him with them all.”
It is just as likely to be traceable to the German hymn “O dass ich tausend Zungen Haette: (O that I had a thousand tongues) by Johann Mentzer (1658-1734), which was a great favorite of Moravian as well as other German Protestant congregations.