The theme for this morning is fellowship. There are many kinds of fellowship in the world, but the fellowship we are going to think about is "Christian" fellowship, which is distinct and different from other kinds of fellowship. What specifically is "Christian" fellowship? Ephesians chapter two reminds us that we have been brought together as one body by the blood of Christ. A man who lives over 200 years ago expressed in poetic lines the beauty of Christian fellowship.
BLEST BE THE TIE THAT BINDS
Dr. John Fawcett was a minister of a small church at Wainsgate. He ministered there for some time when he was invited to go and be minister of a larger church in London in 1772. He accepted the offer and prepared to move. On his last Sunday at Wainsgate, he preached his farewell sermon to the congregation. The wagons were loaded with his books, his furniture, and other possessions. All was ready for the big move and they prepared to leave. As they prepared to leave, the members of that little congregation gathered around him. With tears in their eyes, they begged of him to stay. His wife said, "Oh John, John, I cannot bear this." "Neither can I," he exclaimed, "and...we will not go. Unload the wagons and put everything just as it was before." His decision was hailed with great joy by the members of his congregation. In 1782, he wrote the words of a hymn in commemoration of the event. This is a song that has stood the test of time. We still sing it today.
The song begins,
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
This is a song that expresses the beauty of Christian fellowship and how the ties that we have together are not of this earth. Our ties together come from our Lord. The next verse says,
Before our Father's throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.
When we approach God in worship, we don't do it as a loose collection of individuals. We do so as one body. Our one-ness, unity, and mutual care and service to one another is a reflection of the character of our Lord. Together, we blend our voices and thoughts when we come together to worship. The next verse says,
We share each other's woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
As the body of Christ, we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We not only pray together, but we share one another's burdens and fulfill the law of Christ. The law of Christ, the royal law, the fulfillment of the law, the central characteristic of our Lord that binds us together is...love. The next verse says,
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
A fact of life is that we do not continually live together. While we come together for worship, work together in ministry, get together to just enjoy being in each other's presence in the Lord, we sure hate to leave. We linger for awhile at the end. However, we know that we will meet again, if not in this life, then in eternity. The next verse says,
This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.
We know that a special day is coming. We all have this same hope. Jesus will return and take us home to live with him together in the home that he is preparing. We remind each other of this hope and it encourages and strengthens us. It is our ultimate longing together as the family of God. The next verse says,
From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.
While the fellowship of the saints and their prayers are wonderful and helpful, it can never fully remove our pain, toil, sorrow and sin; however, the day is coming when Jesus will return and completely destroy death and all of the misery associated with it. It will be a day of joy, a day of healing, a day of fellowship, a day of reunion, a day without end. What a wonderful hope and expectation we have! And what a wonderful fellowship we have in the meantime!
Let us sing this song... #395 Blest Be the Tie that Binds
This kind of fellowship that we have just sung about is only possible through our Lord. Fellowship between our Lord and us is the desire of his heart. It is our ultimate hope. IN 1847, a minister in England complete a poem describing this great hope of ours.
ABIDE WITH ME
Henry Francis Lyte was born in Scotland. As a young boy he enjoyed writing. Although always physically fragile, he tirelessly worked toward his life's goals. His motto was always "It is better to wear out than to rust out." After attending college in Ireland, he ministered at several churches and was well known and liked for his steadfast faith and courage. He served the last 23 years of his life ministering for a poor church near a fishing village in Devonshire, England. He and his wife, Anne, were given a beautiful home on 41 acres of land by King William IV, who had a great respect for Lyte's work in the ministry. Henry loved the peacefulness and beautiful views of the water at his home, and this is where he wrote many of his sermons, music, and verses.
In his later years, after a long battle with asthma, he developed tuberculosis and grew progressively weaker. He continued to preach and serve the Lord until he no longer could. He preached his last sermon on September 4, 1847. Hoping a break from the damp, cold winter in England would help him recover, he planned a trip to Italy. While packing, it is said that he discovered a poem in his desk that he had begun to write 25 years earlier. That evening, he felt compelled to finish it. The poem was on his mind as he traveled, and he wrote down several revisions and then mailed them to his family at home. He never made it to Italy. Too weak to travel further, he stayed the last few days of his life in France and went to abide with his Savior on November 20, 1847, at age 54.
This hymn was inspired by the story of the two disciples Jesus met on the way to Emmaus. Luke 24:29 says that the disciples asked Jesus to "abide with us", and he did! What hope this gives Christians even today! During our darkest hour we can be confident that we are never alone, and Jesus is walking beside us.
The music for this hymn was written in 1861 by William Henry Monk, who discovered that this poem needed a tune while editing a hymn book called Hymns Ancient and Modern. He was so touched by the words that it is said he wrote the music in less than half an hour. It is one of his best melodies!
This song is a prayer we sing together. We are asking our Lord to abide with us, and he will. He has promised to be with us to the end of the age. He has promised to live within us. He is our advocate with the Father. He is our savior, Lord, and friend.
Let's take a moment to read the words of the poem together...
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempters power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
As the Psalmist wrote in the 73rd Psalm, "The nearness of God is my good." Whatever happens in life, whether it is the change and decay Lyte talks about in this song, whether it is in temptation, in life or in death, our greatest desire is that our Lord abide with us.
Jesus has promised to be with those who place their complete, total faith and loyalty in him as Lord. In John 14:23, he said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him."
Turn to song #471, Abide with Me. In a moment we will put our voices together and sing this song. Really think about what it is you are saying as you sing this song.
If you love Christ and keep his word, he will abide with you! Have you kept his word? If you have not, 1st John 1 says that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins. Perhaps this is what you need to do this morning so that Christ will remain with you. Perhaps you need to confess your faith in Christ this morning for the first time, perhaps you need to turn your life over to him and let him run it as your Lord and Savior. Maybe you need to be baptized and let him wash away your sin. If you have not done any of these things and need to, please come to the front while we stand and sing this song.
Sources used includes articles from Christian History Magazine, A Song is Born by Robert Taylor, and Cyberhymnal.com