John Fawcett (1740-1817) wrote the text to this hymn which is useful to sing at the end of corporate worship or other Christian gathering. As The Hymnal 1982 tends to do, hymns appropriate for the dismissal are often grouped in the “Holy Eucharist” section, even though their connection to communion is tenuous. The text makes no mention of the sacrament, although the refrain of the first stanza, “O refresh us, O refresh us, traveling through this wilderness,” could obliquely refer to the Sacrament of the Altar. If we read it this way, however, we must realize this was not what the author intended. John Fawcett was a Baptist, and had been “converted” by George Whitefield (who also “converted” Augustus Toplady, author of “Rock of Ages”) in London at age 16. (More accurately, the Holy Spirit is the only one who can convert people, so we must be careful in ascribing people too much credit in the endeavor.) Fawcett preached in a small village in northern England. In 1772, he was extended a “call” to be pastor at a large evangelical church in London (the equivalent of Prestonwood Baptist, perhaps) for which he subsequently announced his acceptance. However, when the carts were loaded with his furniture and when the horses were strapped with his books, the crying and tears of the townspeople imploring him to stay got the better of him, and he remained. (This technique seldom works for congregations these days. . .)
Fawcett wrote many books on “Practical Religion.” He was concerned with living the Christian faith, not just speaking of it or thinking of it. (Notice the second stanza of this hymn: Thanks we give and adoration/For your Gospel’s joyful sound./May the fruits of your salvation/In our hearts and lives abound.) This hymn is not written to “praise,” or to express “confession,” or to manifest any other ambiguous emotion. There was a need (at the time) for hymns at the closing of the service, and this hymn was written with that practicality in mind. This hymn should be sung like a prayer, praying for the manifestation of “the fruits of thy salvation in our hearts and lives abound: ever faithful, ever faithful to thy truth may we be found.” In a world which offers many temptations that allure us away from Christ, this hymn reminds of the centrality of Christ and his salvation earned on the cross.