And when he came to himself, he said, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!‘ (Luk_15:17)
A Little Light on a Dark Subject
A very fresh and delightful American writer, John Burroughs—a man who often reminds us of our own Richard Jefferies—has given us in one of his books a most illuminative and suggestive paper on Carlyle. Mr. Burroughs visited Carlyle in London—his essay is called “A Sunday in Cheyne Row”—and with great tenderness, and wisdom, and literary skill he has recorded his impressions of the visit. Now I am not going to speak of Mr. Burroughs, nor am I going to preach about Carlyle; but there was one phrase in that essay that seemed to me very memorable: “homesickness of the soul.” “A kind of homesickness of the soul was on Carlyle,” says Mr. Burroughs, “and it deepened with age.”
That, then, is the topic on which I wish to speak. My subject is the homesickness of the soul. I want to take the thought that the soul is homesick, and use it to shed a little light on dark places. Perhaps we shall proceed more comfortably together if I divide what I have to say under two heads. (1) Under this light we may view the unrest of sin. (2) Under this light we may view the craving for God.
Under This Light We May View the Unrest of Sin
It is notable that it was in this light that Jesus viewed it, in the crowning parable from which we have taken our text. The prodigal was an exile; he was in a far country. It was the memory of his home that filled his heart. There are conceptions of the awakened sinner that make him the prey of an angry and threatening conscience. And I know that sometimes, when a man comes to himself, he can see nothing and hear nothing in the universe but the terrors and judgments of a sovereign God. But it was not terror that smote the prodigal deep. It was home, home, home, for which his poor soul was crying. He saw the farm, bosomed among the hills, and the weary oxen coming home at eventide, and the happy circle gathered round the fire, and his father crying to heaven for the wanderer. His sorrow’s crown of sorrows was remembering happier things. He came to himself, and he was homesick.
Now I think that Jesus would have us learn from that that wickedness is not the homeland of the soul, and that all the unrest and the dissatisfaction of the wicked is just the craving of his heart for home. We were not fashioned to be at home in sin. We bear the image of God, and God is goodness. The native air of this mysterious heart is the love and purity and joy of heaven. So when a man deliberately sins, and all the time hungers for better things, it is not the hunger for an impossible ideal; it is the hunger of his soul for home. Ah! do not forget that you can satisfy that hunger instantly. Now, out of the furthest country, in a single instant of time, you may come home. We are not like the emigrant in the far west of Canada longing for Highland hills he will not see for years. God waits. Christ says, “Return this very hour.” “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
In that very fascinating little volume by Charlotte Yonge, in which she narrates the history of the Moors in Spain, there are few pages more enthralling than those in which she tells the story of Abderraman. Abderraman was the first Moorish Khalif in Spain. He was an Eastern, bred by the Euphrates. There was no great beauty in the scenes where he spent his childhood. And his Spanish home, in the old city of Cordova, seems to have been a fairy palace of delight. Yet among all the groves and towers and fountains of fair Cordova, Abderraman was miserable—it was banishment. And when he got a palm tree from his Syrian home, and planted it in his Spanish garden, one of the old ballads of the Arabs tells us that he could never look at it without tears. Do you not think that the children of Cordova would mock at that? It was their home, and they were very happy. They could not understand this Oriental, unhappy and restless among the garden groves. And my point is that you will never understand the soul’s unrest, amid the exquisite delights of sense and sin, unless it is hungering for another country, as Abderraman hungered for his Syrian dwelling. It is not facts, it is mysteries, that keep me from materialism. I believe in the cravings of the human heart, and they overturn a score of demonstrations. If I were a creature of a few nerves and fibbers only, I should be very happy in my Cordova. But we were made in goodness, and we were made for goodness; and the native air of the soul is love and truth; and we shall always be dissatisfied, always be homesick, if we are trying to live in any other land.
This thought, too, helps us to understand why men cover evil with a veil of goodness. It is just the longing of the exile or of the emigrant to give a homelike touch to his surroundings. Why do you find an Inverness in Canada? Because men and women from Inverness went there. And why do you find a Glasgow in Canada? Because it reminded these Glasgow men of home. Do you know what James Chalmers of New Guinea—the greatest soul on the Pacific, as Stevenson called him—do you remember what he called the first bay he discovered in New Guinea? He called it lnveraray Bay. I do not think he would ever have dreamed of that name had he not been born and spent his boyhood by Loch Fyne. And when I see men taking the names of goodness and labeling their vices and their sins with them, when I note how ready we all are to use a kindly term for some habit or frailty that is most unkindly, I think that it is the soul telling where it was born, confessing unconsciously that it is a little homesick, and trying to give a homelike touch to the far country, just like James Chalmers with his Inveraray Bay.
And we can understand the loneliness of sin when we remember this homesickness of the soul. The man who is homesick is always lonely. It does not matter how crowded the streets are; the city may be gay and bright and brilliant, but all the stir of it, and all the laughter of it, and all the throng and tumult of the life of it will not keep a homesick man from being lonely. Nay, sometimes it intensifies his loneliness. It is made more acute by the contrast of the crowd. It is not in the quiet spaces of great nature, it is among the crowds whom you will meet today, that the bitterness of loneliness is found. Now sin is a great power that makes for loneliness. Slowly but surely, if a man lives in sin, he drifts apart into spiritual isolation. And the strange thing is that the sins we call social sins, the sins that begin in fellowship and company, are the very sins that drive a man apart, and leave him at last utterly alone. That loneliness is homesickness of the soul. It is the heart craving for home again. God grant that if in this house there be one man who is drifting away on a great sea of wretched self-indulgence, from wife and child or mother and sister and friend—God grant that, drawn by the love of Christ, he may come home!
Under This Light We May View the Craving for God
We often speak of heaven as our home, and in many deep senses that is a true expression. If in heaven we shall meet again those whom we loved and lost, and if boys and girls will be playing in the streets of Zion, I have no doubt that heaven will be a homelike place. But in deeper senses heaven is not our home, or if it is, it is just because God is there. In the deepest sense our home is not heaven, but God. Do you remember how Wordsworth put it in his glorious “Ode on the Intimations of Immortality from Childhood”? I think a lesser poet would have written it thus, “Trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.”
Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And—our eternal home.
God is the true home of the human soul.
Do you see, then, the meaning of that craving for God that is one of the strangest facts in human history? You would have thought that in a world like this, so full of interest, color, music, and delight, mankind would have lived in contentment without God. But the Book of Psalms is filled with that passionate craving—”As the hart pants after the water-brooks.” And if the Book of Psalms has lived through chance and change, and been cherished when ten thousand volumes are forgotten, it is largely because it gives a voice in noblest poetry to this unappeased hunger of mankind. We do not crave for God because He is glorious. We do not crave for God because He is sovereign. We are just homesick, that is the meaning of it. We crave for God because He is our home.
Now this homesickness of the soul for God is one of our surest proofs of God. It is an argument more powerful than any that philosophy affords to convince me that there is a God. We are all grateful when a prince of science like Lord Kelvin tells us he is forced to believe in a directive power. But in a day or two you will have someone writing to the Times denying the validity of that induction. But no one denies that souls still pant for God. And hearts today and here still thirst for Him, as truly as the exiled psalmist did. And unless life be a sham, and unless we were born and fashioned to be mocked, there cannot be homesickness without a home. I crave for food, and mother earth holds out her hands to me and says, “Yes, child, there is food.” I crave for happiness; and the shining of the sun, and the song of birds, and the sound of music, and the laughter of children come to my heart and say to me, “There it is.” I crave for God. And will the universe reverse its order now? Will it provide for every other instinct, and call the noblest of them all a mockery? It is impossible. Without a home, homesickness is inexplicable. My craving for God assures me that God is. All other arguments may fail me. When my mind is wearied, and my memory tired, I forget them. But this one, knit with my heart, and part and parcel of my truest manhood, survives all moods, is strong when I am weak, and brings me to the door of God my home.
One of the saddest letters in all literature is a letter written by the poet, David Gray. David Gray was born eight miles from Glasgow; he went to the Free Church Normal in this city. His honest father would have made a preacher of him, but God forestalled that by making him a poet. Well, nothing would satisfy David but he must go to London. He suffered much there and fell into consumption. And this is one of his last letters home:—”Torquay, Jan. 6, 1861. Dear Parents,—I am coming home—homesick. I cannot stay from home any longer. What’s the good of me being so far from home and sick and ill? O God! I wish I were home never to leave it more! Tell everybody that I am coming back—no better: worse, worse. What’s about climate, about frost or snow or cold weather, when one’s at home? I wish I had never left it …. I have no money, and I want to get home, home, home. What shall I do, O God! Father, I shall steal to you again, because I did not use you rightly …. Will you forgive me? Do I ask that? I have come through things that would make your hearts ache for me—things that I shall never tell to anybody but you, and you shall keep them secret as the grave. Get my own little room ready quick, quick; have it all tidy, and clean, and cozy, against my homecoming. I wish to die there, and nobody shall nurse me except my own dear mother, ever, ever again. O home, home, home!”
I will arise and go unto my Father. Thank God we need no money for that journey. Is there not one reader who has been far away, who is going to come home—to God—this very hour?
source : e-Sword