Fawcett, John (A)
b Lidget Green nr Bradford, Yorks Jan 1739/40, d Hebden Bridge, Halifax, Yorks 1817. His father died when John was 4, leaving his mother to bring up a large and very poor family. He learned to read from The Pilgrim’s Progress, and resolved as a child to become a pilgrim. Becoming an apprentice at the local woollen mill, he worked his 14-hour days and saved enough pence to buy candles in order to read his Bible in bed at night; he would also pray with an older brother in a nearby barn. He heard the preaching of Grimshaw, Venn and the Wesleys, and was moved most by a sermon of George Whitefield’s, specially noted in his diary. Marrying at 19, he joined a Baptist ch in Bradford where, after a discouraging start, he soon became well-known as a preacher himself. In c1761 he urged John Newton (qv) to write down the extraordinary narrative of his conversion; see also under T Haweis. In 1765 Fawcett was called to pastor the Baptist congregation at Wainsgate nr Hebden Bridge, sharing the poverty of the people in a demanding and caring ministry. His first published verses appeared two years later, followed in 1772 by the poem The Christian’s Humble Plea. That same year he accepted an invitation to move to the more prestigious and comfortable pastorate of Carter Lane Chapel to succeed Dr John Gill. As his Wainsgate friends gathered tearfully around the cart which was already loaded for the long journey south, he found it impossible to leave them and had his luggage brought back inside the house. Over the next few days he wrote his most famous hymn, and the next Sunday he preached from Luke 12:15. A year later he began a school in his own home which soon outgrew the space, moving to Brearley Hall nr Halifax and later to Ewood Hall, Blackburn. A larger chapel holding 500 was built in 1777; next year Fawcett published An Essay on Anger, sending a copy to the king (George III). The king was impressed, and later granted an appeal against the death sentence imposed on a relative of a church member.
In 1782 he first published a volume of 167 hymns, mostly Scripture-based and written ‘in the midnight hours previous to the Sabbath, while others were enjoying the sweets of balmy rest’—JF. Their full title, which saw several edns, was Hymns Adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion. One notable item of ‘invitation and warning’ was Sinners turn, why will ye die, which the 1933 Methodist Hymn Book is among the last to include. His other writings included Advice to Youth; or the Advantages of early Piety, and a monthly magazine Miscellanea Sacra. After 54 years at Wainsgate, its pastor retired to Hebden Bridge, enjoying the garden he planted and the completion of his Devotional Family Bible which soon became his best-known publication. In 1811 he received an Hon DD from N America; his last sermon (Feb 1816) was from Nah 1:7, and he died in his 78th year. See also under B Beddome. No.587.