John Fawcett

6 January 1739/40–25 July 1817

Note: John Fawcett was born in a time period when the New Year began on March 1. He was born in 1739 “old style,” but his birthday is often corrected to 1740.

John Fawcett, in Henry Burrage, Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns (1888).

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 6, 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 up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John iii. 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 ripe fruits of his later years 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!”

In addition to the commentary already mentioned, Dr. Fawcett was the author of several other works. In 1772, he sent out a pamphlet entitled “The Christian’s humble Plea for his God and Saviour.” This was published under the assumed name of Christophilus. The following were some of his other works:

The Sick Man's Employ (1774); Advice to Youth, on the Advantages of Early Piety (1778) (of this several editions were sold); an Essay on Anger (1788); The Cross of Christ—the Christian’s Glory (1793) (this was afterwards issued by the Tract Society); The Life of the Rev. Oliver Heywood (1796); Christ Precious to Them that Believe (1799). He was also the author of The History of John Wise, a book for children. Of this also there was a great sale.

Dr. Fawcett began authorship by publishing his Poetic Essays (1767): they are pieces written mostly before he left Bradford. His hymn-book was not published till he was in the middle of life : it is entitled Hymns Adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion. The preface bears date January 17, 1782, Brearley Hall, near Halifax. It contains 166 pieces; some were written in early life, and some during his ministry, many being intended to be sung after sermon. It was not intended to supplant Dr. Watts’s Psalms and Hymns, but only to supplement it, and to provide suitable metres for new tunes. He also wrote three other hymns in The Gospel Magazine (February 1777). Without the highest excellence, his hymns are yet suitable for public worship, and eminently spiritual and practical in their character.

by Josiah Miller
Singers and Songs of the Church (1869)


Collections of Hymns and Poems:

Poetic Essays (1767)
The Christian's Humble Plea (1772: PDF)
The Death of Eumenio: A Poem (1779: PDF)
The Reign of Death: A Poem (1780: PDF)
Hymns Adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion (1782: PDF)
A Brief Supplement to the Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts, D.D. (2nd ed., 1816 | WorldCat)

see also The Gospel Magazine (1777: website)
see also John Rippon, A Selection of Hymns (1787: PDF)

Life & Works:

An Account of the Life, Ministry, and Writings of the Late Rev. John Fawcett, D.D. (1818: PDF)

The Miscellaneous Works of the Late John Fawcett: Author of the Devotional Family Bible, Comprising Essays, Sermons, and Tracts: Now First Collected, with a Memoir of the Author (1824: PDF).

Josiah Miller, “John Fawcett,” Singers and Songs of the Church (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1869), pp. 271-274: Archive.org

John Gadsby, “John Fawcett,” Memoirs of the Principal Hymn-Writers & Compilers of the 17th, 18th, & 19th Centuries, 4th ed. (London, 1870), pp. 53-56: HathiTrust

Edwin Hatfield, “John Fawcett,” Poets of the Church (NY, 1884), pp. 243-245: HathiTrust

Henry S. Burrage, “John Fawcett,” Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns (Portland, ME: Brown Thurston & Company, 1888), pp. 79-84: Archive.org

W.R. Stevenson and John Julian, “Fawcett, John” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892 | Google Books), p. 373.

Chris Fenner, “John Fawcett: Pastor, Poet, Patron, and Friend,” The Towers, SBTS, vol. 13, no. 9 (May 2015 | PDF), p. 20.

John Fawcett, Hymnary.org:
https://hymnary.org/person/Fawcett_John1740

Chris Brown, “John Fawcett,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology (subscription required):
https://hymnology.hymnsam.co.uk/j/john-fawcett

John A. Hargreaves, “John Fawcett,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/9221