Swain, Joseph


b Birmingham 1761, d Walworth, Surrey (SE London) 1796. Like other hymnwriters (see eg notes to Doddridge, Gerhardt, Hood, Lyte and Olivers) he was orphaned when young; he was originally apprenticed to an engraver, but travelled to London to seek a quicker fortune and typically fell into a young man’s follies. He was already blossoming into a gifted writer of light entertainment. But in 1783 he was persuaded to attend the Carter Lane Baptist church near London Bridge (at Tooley St, later succeeded by the New Park St church), where John Rippon ministered, and was converted through his preaching. His hymnwriting began soon afterwards, and encouraged by Rippon he trained for the ministry and was called to pastor the Baptist Church in Walworth, also just south of the Thames. There the congregation grew rapidly, but its young minister was taken from them when he died at the age of 35. His collected hymns were often reprinted, together with his Short Essay on Christian Fellowship and Social Religion; some lines, while not peculiar to him in their subject, may indicate his doubtful health and/or a premonition of an early death: ‘A few more days, or months, or years,/ in this dark desert to complain;/ a few more sighs, a few more tears,/ and we shall bid adieu to pain’. The other collections where they are best represented remain the Strict (Grace) Baptist and other evangelical books such as those mentioned in the entry for John Kent. While not in the same league as Cowper, his A friend there is—your voices join deals with the same theme as God moves in a mysterious way and uses some of the same imagery. The current East Street church, while not in direct lineal descent from Swain’s (being a mission plant from the Metropolitan Tabernacle) has inherited many of his traditions and archives. GH retains 4 of his hymns; J Stevens’ Selection of Hymns included 41, with ‘The Church’ (8 hymns) as a prominent theme, and D Denham’s Selection (where many are anonymous) at least 22. (Denham, 1791-1849, was pastor of Unicorn Yard Chapel in Tooley St. not far from Walworth.) See also under B Beddome. No.666.

Hymns and songs by Swain, Joseph

Number Hymn Name
666 Come, you souls by sin afflicted