An orphan at the age of twelve, John Fawcett (b. Lidget Green, Yorkshire, England, 1740; d. Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, 1817) became apprenticed to a tailor and was largely self-educated. He was converted by the preaching of George Whitefield at the age of sixteen and began preaching soon thereafter. In 1765 Fawcett was called to a small, poor, Baptist country church in Wainsgate, Yorkshire. Seven years later he received a call from the large and influential Carter's Lane Church in London, England. Fawcett accepted the call and preached his farewell sermon. The day of departure came, and his family's belongings were loaded on carts, but the distraught congregation begged him to stay. In Singers and Songs of the Church (1869), Josiah Miller tells the story associated with this text:
This favorite hymn is said to have been written in 1772, to commemorate the determination of its author to remain with his attached people at Wainsgate. The farewell sermon was preached, the wagons were loaded, when love and tears prevailed, and Dr. Fawcett sacrificed the attraction of a London pulpit to the affection of his poor but devoted flock.
Fawcett continued to serve in Wainsgate and in the nearby village of Hebden Bridge for the remainder of his active ministry.
Fawcett, John, D.D., was born Jan. 6, 1739 or 1740, at Lidget Green, near Bradford, Yorks. Converted at the age of sixteen under the ministry of G. Whitefield, he at first joined the Methodists, but three years later united with the Baptist Church at Bradford. Having begun to preach he was, in 1765, ordained Baptist minister at Wainsgate, near Hebden Bridge, Yorks. In 1772 he was invited to London, to succeed the celebrated Dr. J. Gill, as pastor of Carter's Lane; the invitation had been formally accepted, the farewell sermon at Wainsgate had been preached and the wagons loaded with his goods for removal, when the love and tears of his attached people prevailed and he decided to remain. In 1777 a new chapel was built for him at Hebden Bridge, and about the same time he opened a school at Brearley Hall, his place of residence. In 1793 he was invited to become President of the Baptist Academy at Bristol, but declined. In 1811 he received from America the degree of D.D., and died in 1817, at the age of 78. Dr. Fawcett was the author of a number of prose works on Practical Religion, several of which attained a large circulation. His poetical publications are:—
(1) Poetic Essays, 1767; (2) The Christian's Humble Plea, a Poem, in answer to Dr. Priestley against the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1772; (3) Three hymns, in the Gospel Magazine, 1777; (4) The Death of Eumenio, a Divine Poem, 1779; (5) Another poem, suggested by the decease of a friend, The Reign of Death, 1780; and (6) Hymns adapted to the circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion, Leeds, G. Wright & Son. 1782. They are 166 in number, and were mostly composed to be sung after sermons by the author.
Whilst not attaining a high degree of excellence as poetry, they are "eminently spiritual and practical," and a number of them are found in all the Baptist and Congregational hymn-books that have appeared during the last 100 years. The best known of these are, “Infinite excellence is Thine;" "How precious is the Book divine;" "Thus far my God hath led me on;" "Religion is the chief concern;" "Blest be the tie that binds;" “I my Ebenezer raise;" and "Praise to Thee, Thou great Creator." These hymns, together with others by Fawcett, are annotated under their respective first lines. [Rev. W. R. Stevenson, M.A.]
In addition the following hymns, also by Fawcett, but of less importance, are in common use:
1. Behold the sin-atoning Lamb. Passiontide. No. 60 of his Hymns, 1782, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines. In several hymnals in Great Britain and America.
2. I my Ebenezer raise. Birthday. No. 102 of his Hymns, in 10 stanzas of 4 lines. Usually given in an abbreviated form.
3. Infinite excellence is Thine. Jesus the Desire of Nations. No. 42 of his Hymns, in 12 stanzas of 4 lines. In several hymn-books in Great Britain and America in an abridged form.
4. Jesus, the heavenly Lover, gave. Redemption in Christ. No. 10 of his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines, and headed, "The marriage between Christ and the Soul." In Snepp's Songs of Grace & Glory, 1872, it reads, “Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom, gave," and stanza v. is omitted.
5. Lord, hast Thou made me know Thy ways? Perseverance. No. 122 of his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 8 stanza of 4 lines. In the Baptist Hymnal, 1879, No. 451, stanzas iv.-vii. are omitted.
6. 0 God, my Helper, ever near. New Year. No. 108 of his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 6 stanzas of 4 lines. The New Congregational Hymn Book, 1859-69 omits st. vi.
7. 0, my soul, what means this sadness? Sorrow turned to Joy. No. 111 of his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 5 stanzas of 6 lines, and based upon the words, "Why art Thou cast down, O my soul?" &c. It is in common use in America, and usually with the omission of stanza ii. as in Dr. Hatfield's Church Hymn Book, 1872.
8. Sinners, the voice of God regard. Invitation to Repentance. No. 63 of his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines on Isaiah lv. 7, "Let the wicked forsake his way," &c. It is in common use in America, but usually in an abbreviated form.
9. Thy presence, gracious God, afford. Before Sermon. No 165 in his Hymns, &c., in 4 stanzas of 4 lines, and a chorus of two lines. In Dr. Hatfield's Church Hymnbook, 1872, No. 126, the chorus is omitted. Fawcett has another hymn on the same subject (No. 79) and beginning, "Thy blessing, gracious God, afford," but this is not in common use.
10. Thy way, 0 God, is in the sea. Imperfect Knowledge of God. No. 66 in his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines on 1 Corinthians xiii. 9, "We know in part," &c. It is in several American collections, usually abbreviated, and sometimes as, "Thy way, O Lord, is in the sea." In this form it is in The Sabbath Hymn Book, 1858, &c.
11. With humble heart and tongue. Prayer for Guidance in Youth. No. 86 in his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines on Psalms cxix. 9. "Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way." It is No. 954 in the Baptist Psalms and Hymns, 1858-80.
About 20 of Fawcett's hymns are thus still in common use. Two hymns which have been ascribed to him from time to time, but concerning which there are some doubts, are fully annotated under their respective first lines. These are," Humble souls that seek salvation," and "Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing."
-- John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)