Blest be the tie that binds
with VERMONT, DENNIS, BOYLSTON
Text: Origins. John Fawcett was first invited to supply the pulpit at the Baptist church in Wainsgate on 18 Dec. 1763. Initially, he was invited back every other week, then regularly enough that he moved there with his wife in May 1764, leading to his formal hiring — by a unanimous vote — and ordination in July 1765. By 1769, the church was experiencing revival:
The place became too small to accommodate the stated hearers, some of whom came regularly many miles every Lord’s Day. A gallery was erected and several other improvements made in the interior of the place of worship.
His reputation as preacher grew to the extent that he was invited to substitute for the ailing John Gill at Carter Lane Baptist Church in London. Upon Gill’s death in 1771, Fawcett was offered the position, and he seriously considered the move. In spite of its growth, the church at Wainsgate struggled to provide for his growing family; some in his flock “were well aware that what they had been accustomed to raise could not afford an adequate support.”
Part of the furniture and books were sold, and other preparations made for his departure; but his affection for his little flock, which he had so long tended “in the wilderness” would not suffer him to leave them. . . . His attachment to them was so deeply fixed, that he concluded, at once, to cast himself upon Providence, and live and die with them.
His near-departure for Carter Lane is considered to be the inspiration behind one of Fawcett’s most beloved hymns, “Blest be the tie that binds.” It was first printed in Fawcett's collection, Hymns Adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion (1782 | Fig. 1).
Text: Analysis. The hymn, originally extending to six stanzas, is almost always shortened to four, with the fourth becoming a benediction:
When we asunder part,
it gives us inward pain;
but we shall still be join’d in heart,
and hope to meet again.
The fifth stanza builds upon the anticipation of gathering again, while the sixth expands this view heavenward to a more perfect reunion:
From sorrow, toil and pain,
and sin we shall be free;
and perfect love and friendship reign
thro’ all eternity.
This longing for eternal reconciliation is an emotion Fawcett would come to know very well in the following years. He lost his son Stephen to smallpox in 1774, his mother in 1782, and his daughter Sarah in 1785. In 1779-1780, he lost four close friends, including his mentor, James Hartley. These losses made Fawcett a more endearing pastor. In Fawcett, this “long-continued and heavy domestic affliction” brought about “the tenderest sympathy” towards those in his congregation who were also afflicted.
Tune 1. The earliest printing of this text with music was in John Rippon’s A Selection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes, where it was set to VERMONT by Thomas Walker, who edited the collection (Fig. 2). Coincidentally, John Rippon was the eventual successor to John Gill at Carter Lane after John Fawcett declined the appointment. In this setting, the text is not included, but it is referenced at the top, “Hy 254. I.R.S.” which is “Blest be the tie that binds” in Rippon’s A Selection of Hymns (1787); the 4th edition (1793) and thereafter include a reciprocal reference from the text to the VERMONT tune. The tune was also recommended for the paraphrase of Psalm 63 by Isaac Watts, “My God, permit my tongue.” As a short meter double (S.M.D.) tune, it requires two full stanzas of Fawcett’s text. The tune itself is fluid and singable, except in modern congregations it would likely be sung in a lower key, like F or G major. This is a four-part harmonization, with the melody in the third (tenor) part. Note also the temporary shift from 3/4 time to cut time (2/2).
Tune 2. In modern times, the most common tune pairing is with DENNIS, credited to Hans Georg Nägeli (1773-1836) in Lowell Mason’s The Psaltery (1845 | Fig. 3). The tune seems to be an homage rather than a direct borrowing of Nägeli’s tune for the hymn “O selig, selig, wer vor dir,” in his Christliches Gesangbuch für öffentlichen Gottesdienst und häusliche Erbauung, vol. 2 (1829 | image pending), as Mason had a habit of recrafting tunes for his own purposes. In Mason’s collection, DENNIS was set to “How gentle God's commands” by Philip Doddridge. The tune was probably named after the town in Massachusetts, which in turn was named after minister Josiah Dennis (1695-1763). Mason’s tune and Fawcett’s text have been paired together since the 1870s, possibly longer. They appeared together, for example, in Sparkling Jewels for the Sunday School (1871 | Hymnary.org).
Tune 3. Aside from DENNIS, the next most common tune still in use with this text is BOYLSTON, which is also by Lowell Mason, also named after a town in Massachusetts, and also has a long association with this text. This pairing dates at least as early as 1868, possibly earlier, as in Songs for the Sanctuary (1868 | Hymnary.org). BOYLSTON was first printed in The Choir: or Union Collection of Church Music (1832 | Fig. 4), with “Our days are as the grass,” which is an excerpt from a longer paraphrase of Psalm 103 by Isaac Watts, beginning “My soul, repeat his praise.”
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
14 June 2018
1. An Account of the Life, Ministry, and Writings of the Late Rev. John Fawcett (1818 | PDF), p. 16.
2. An Account, pp. 173-174.
3. An Account, p. 268.
“Blest be the tie that binds” at Hymnary.org:
Chris Brown, “Blest be the tie that binds,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
Chris Fenner, “John Fawcett: Pastor, Poet, Patron, and Friend,” The Towers, SBTS, vol. 13, no. 9 (May 2015 | PDF), p. 20.