A couple of weeks ago in a post, I shared a verse from one of my favourite hymns, “Blest/blessed be the tie that binds”, by John Fawcett. Like all good 18th-Century Baptists, his hymns might not be fancy or all that poetically impressive*, but they're certainly helpful and give us plenty to think on and thank God for.
There's a lovely story about John Fawcett that highlights some of what I wanted to get across about Christian love and family.
From 1765, Fawcett was pastor at a Baptist church in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. In 1772, he received a call from a larger and more prestigious church in London, taking over from Dr J Gill (a big name in 18th-Century Baptist circles).
He accepted the call, preached his farewell sermon, packed his wagons and was ready to go.
However, when it came to actually say goodbye to his church family, their tears over his departure and clear love for him was too much, and he knew that he couldn't leave them. Career-wise, he ought to go to London. But he couldn't leave the family he loved so dearly, and he stayed in Hebden Bridge.
He turned down offers to go elsewhere because he loved the church family God had put him in.
It's strange how close a local church can grow. We don't always get on, we don't always like each other, humanly speaking – we wouldn't have anything in common if it weren't for our shared Christian confession.
And yet, God throws us together like a mismatched ensemble cast of a Hollywood action comedy (although I suspect it wouldn't go down well if I suggested in a members' meeting changing the church name to “Hogan's Heroes,” “The Dirty Dozen” or “The Magnificent Seven”. Grace Baptist Church Ulverston will have to do).
As we serve alongside each other; as we share the Good News of Jesus; as we sing to our great God and read His Word (the Bible) together; for all our differences, we find ourselves drawing close. We really are a family – we wind each other up, yes. We hurt each other sometimes, yes. But we can't help but love each other.
It takes real effort to work at this, but what a lovely thought: To be so in love with each other because of Jesus that you can stand by the moving van, ready to leave it all behind, only for the tears of your brothers and sisters to prove them too precious to leave.
*Hymns are sometimes criticised by Literary “Experts” for the weakness of their poetic structure, or else just because of their practical purpose for public singing. These “experts” seem to write as if people only wrote hymns because they weren't good enough to get their poetry published, which – along with being a little pretentious – is plain rubbish: There are plenty of hymn writers who deliberately “toned down” the poetry of their hymn tunes so that flowery language wouldn't get in the way of people singing to God and each other. Compare Isaac Watts', William Cowper's or Ann Steele's hymns with their poetry – these men and women were poets, but they were also wise enough to realise that hymns are songs to be sung with understanding by ordinary people. Hymns ought to be “eminently spiritual and practical”.