It was just a small Baptist church, located in a poor rural area of the country and made up of parishioners who themselves possessed very little in terms of material wealth. The salary they were able to pay their pastor was barely adequate, often consisting partly of produce grown by the parishioners—which they gave him in lieu of cash.
The pastor had been newly married when he accepted the call to serve them seven years earlier. Then came children. Now that the pastor and his wife were the parents of a growing family, their financial difficulty was becoming more serious, and it may have seemed providential to him that he had recently received a call to be the pastor of a large and prosperous Baptist church in the city. If he were to accept that call, he would, after all, still be preaching the Gospel; and in the new position he would receive a much larger salary—one that would enable him to provide for his wife and children without having to scrimp and cut corners. Was it not his duty to provide for his family as well as he was able?
But what would happen to his “other family,” the church he would be leaving behind? That small rural church had been his first call, and he had faithfully served the people there for seven years. He had baptized them, married them, buried them, attended their sick, prayed for them in all circumstances, and regularly preached God’s Word to them. In those seven years, a strong bond of Christian love had developed between him and those he served in Christ. Perhaps he wondered if their new pastor would love them in the same way that he did. Would their new pastor be diligent in his work even though the pay was paltry? Would they even be able to get someone—anyone—to accept their call, given their meager circumstances?
The decision was made. The household belongings were all packed for the move to the big city. The parting sermon was preached. The day for leaving was at hand, and the parishioners showed up to bid their beloved pastor farewell. There were many tears and emotional good-byes. Finally John, the pastor, looked at his wife, Mary. Their hearts and minds were united in the same conclusion. This place was their home, and these were their people. They would stay, and he would continue to serve this flock as their pastor so long as the Lord enabled him to do so.
John Fawcett (1740-1817) was that pastor, and the small Baptist church was at Wainsgate, in Yorkshire, England. The call to the big city Baptist church was to Carter’s Lane Baptist Church in London. Ten years after he decided to remain with his little and impoverished flock instead of becoming the preacher in the prosperous big city church, Fawcett wrote “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (Hymn 464 in The Lutheran Hymnal) in commemoration of that decision. Although he received other calls, and even an offer to be the president of the Baptist Academy at Bristol, Fawcett declined them all and continued to serve his first congregation to the end of his life—a ministry of fifty-four years.
“Blest Be the Tie That Binds” describes an ideal relationship of believers in the Church and in churches: “Blest be the tie that binds/ Our hearts in Christian love;/ The fellowship of kindred minds/ Is like to that above.” And again, “We share our mutual woes,/ Our mutual burdens bear,/ And often for each other flows/ The sympathizing tear.” The passage referenced in The Lutheran Hymnal for this hymn is Ephesians 4:3, and verses 1-6 of the 4th chapter of Ephesians remind us of what we must always bear in mind for this ideal relationship to exist among us: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
May God the Holy Spirit unite us all in this blessed bond of Christian love.
Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.