The 90th Psalm, says Isaac Taylor, might be cited as perhaps the most sublime of human compositions, the deepest in feeling, the loftiest in theologic conception, the most magnificent in its imagery. True is it in its report of human life as troubled, transitory, and sinful; true in its conception of the Eternal—the Sovereign and the Judge, and yet the refuge and the hope of men who, notwithstanding the most severe trials of their faith, lose not their confidence in Him, but who, in the firmness of faith, pray for, as if they were predicting, a near-at-hand season of refreshment. Wrapped, one might say, in mystery, until the distant day of revelation should come, there is here conveyed the doctrine of Immortality; for in this very plaint of the brevity of the life of man, and of the sadness of these his few years of trouble, and their brevity, and their gloom, there is brought into contrast the Divine immutability: and yet it is in terms of a submissive piety: the thought of a life eternal is here in embryo. No taint is there in this psalm of the pride and petulance, the half-uttered blasphemy, the malign disputing or arraignment of the justice or goodness of God, which have so often shed a venomous colour upon the language of those who have writhed in anguish, personal or relative. There are few, probably, among those who have passed through times of bitter and distracting woe, or who have stood, the helpless spectators of the miseries of others, that have not fallen into moods of mind violently in contrast with the devout and hopeful melancholy which breathes throughout this Ode. Rightly attributed to the Hebrew lawgiver or not, it bespeaks its remote antiquity, not merely by the majestic simplicity of its style, but negatively, by the entire avoidance of those sophisticated turns of thought which belong to a late—a lost—age, in a people’s intellectual and moral history. This psalm, undoubtedly, is centuries older than the moralizing of that time, when the Jewish mind had listened to what it could never bring into a true assimilation with its own mind—the abstractions of the Greek Philosophy.1 [Note: Isaac Taylor, Spirit of the Hebrew Poetry, 161.]
1. There was a tradition among the Jews, although these traditions are not altogether trustworthy, that Moses, the man of God, wrote this psalm or prayer. And it has always been felt that the psalm seemed to have some special connexion with, or reference to, the experience and the impressions of the children of Israel in the days that they were doomed to wander up and down in the wilderness without being allowed to enter into the Promised Land. And there is much in the psalm that corroborates that view. It is the psalm of a generation of men who felt themselves to be wasting away under God’s wrath, consumed by His anger. They are spending their years as a tale that is told. The vanity and emptiness of life are pressed home upon them with great severity. At the same time, it is not a psalm of mere wailing and lamentation. Very far from it. There is the exercise of faith in it, not only in the first verse, but in the appeal to God to come and dwell with them as their case requires, and make them experience His mercy. The cloud is dark that hangs over the congregation, but faith is still, as it were, seeing the bow in the cloud.
2. By whomsoever written, the psalm makes it plain that the writer was thinking and speaking not only for himself, but for all his own people of Israel, if not for the whole race of mankind. These opening words are the Eternal Gospel of the Fatherly Love of God, in which the sons of men can ever find their “home.” How precious is that last word, and what a pity that our translators did not adopt it instead of “dwelling place.” Alas! how many there are whose dwelling-place is not a “home.” The Prayer-Book Version is a little better in giving us the word “refuge”; for to most of us home is the best refuge we can find, if not the only one. It is our retreat after the toils and turmoils of the busy world, our refuge from the strife of tongues, our covert from the scornful rebuke of the proud. Our home, if it be as God intended it should be, is the place where all that is best and sweetest in life is cherished and enjoyed, the one sacred shrine where even the outcast can find love, and the stern, hard heart can also find an opportunity for giving a little love in return. Home is the scene of our keenest anxieties and our bitterest griefs, no less than of our most restful peace and of our highest joys. But in the process of evolving and growing mankind, all things are yet unfinished and imperfect; even our very homes are not full enough of purity and peace and love to satisfy the immortal heart of man. Defect, disturbance, and decay, with all the varied chances of this mortal life, make even the best of homes partial and transient. Our immortal souls want everlasting security, unbroken peace, unalloyed happiness. Nothing less than the Eternal God can be a perfect refuge, a perfect home, for the souls of His children. And in Him is all that the most craving and grasping can possibly desire. God has made us so that nothing shall, nothing can, ever satisfy us but Himself. And when we have found Him, and made Him our real refuge and home, we have gained the Eternal Peace, which the whole world can neither give nor take away.
“Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” Beside that venerable and ancient abode, that has stood fresh, strong, incorruptible, and unaffected by the lapse of millenniums, there stands the little transitory canvas tent in which our earthly lives are spent.… If I make God my Refuge, I shall get something a great deal better than escape from outward sorrow—namely, an amulet which will turn the outward sorrow into joy. The bitter water will still be given me to drink, but it will be filtered water, out of which God will strain all the poison, though He leaves plenty of the bitterness in it; for bitterness is a tonic. The evil that is in the evil will be taken out of it in the measure in which we make God our Refuge, and all will be “right that seems most wrong,” when we recognize it to be “His sweet will.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren, The God of the Amen, 166.]
1. Men everywhere have either burrowed under the ground or built above it, and sought to provide some kind of place in which they might dwell, and which they call home. Rude and imperfect it often is, made of such materials as they could find to hand, or in such ways as their faculties could devise. Or where civilization and intelligence have advanced or wealth abounded, men have built houses larger, more splendid, and furnished with ample conveniences. But in all, the aim and desire have been to have a place where they could obtain shelter and rest.
The wilderness episode in Israel’s life meant that they had no home. They were always moving, moving—all the year, and then another year, for forty years. Never settling down at home, always moving—you might well call such an experience a wilderness. Old Egypt, the land of bondage, had been bad enough; but at least there were homes in Egypt, and it was no wonder if at times the people longed to turn back into Egypt. Homes had been promised in Canaan, but that promise was for the benefit of their children. These adult Israelites through one long forlorn generation must be always moving. And the long-continued homelessness taught them something. For all time to come the memory of that homeless wilderness would make them value the homes that God should give them in Canaan.
Archbishop Leighton died in an inn in 1684 during a visit to Loudon. He had often expressed a wish to die in an inn “because it looks so like a pilgrim’s going home, to whom this world is all a pilgrimage.”1 [Note: A. Alexander, in The Expository Times, xii. 563.]
How passionately the longing could possess Stevenson is familiar to all those who have read the thoughts of home from abroad in Songs of Travel and Vailima Letters. In a deeper sense, as it concerned the inward life, the same thing is true. Apparently an unresting traveller in the spiritual country, he yet had come to rest upon certain great convictions, in which his spirit had its home. These he expresses often with an evident sense of relief and the comfortable peace of assurance. In the longest journey of all, the lifelong journey, the same shadowy but hospitable and firelit sweetness awaits its close. The Covenanters pass the dark river amid a “storm of harsh and fiercely jubilant noises” which add a tenfold peacefulness to the shores which they had reached. For himself, who does not know the Requiem which, written seven years before his death, was inscribed upon his tombstone at the last:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me;
“Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”
Such words imply more than they express; perhaps they mean more than the speaker knows. In them we hear echoes of a great voice that calls home the thinker to faith, the struggler to achievement, and the dead from dying to a new life. And so there is arrival as well as travel, after all. Indeed the two are combined in regard to faith, and achievement, and that dimly seen but beautiful country beyond the grave. In all these, the true life is at once making for a land that is very far off, and yet at the same time it is ever coming home.1 [Note: John Kelman, The Faith of Robert Louis Stevenson, 183.]
Now more the bliss of love is felt,
Though felt to be the same;
’Tis still our lives in one to melt,
Within love’s sacred flame:
Each other’s joy each to impart,
Each other’s grief to share;
To look into each other’s heart,
And find all solace there:
To lay the head upon one breast,
To press one answering hand,
To feel through all the soul’s unrest,
One soul to understand:
To go into the teeming world,
The striving and the heat,
With knowledge of one tent unfurl’d
To welcome weary feet:
A shadow in a weary land,
Where men as wanderers roam:
A shadow where a rock doth stand—
The shadow of a Home.2 [Note: George J. Romanes.]
2. There are places in which men live, calling them homes, but in which there is no comfort, and not even the appearance of it. Poor, wretched dwellings and abodes of poverty, squalor, and suffering, where there is scarce a glow on the hearth to warm, or a morsel on the table to soothe the pangs of hunger. Or there are dwellings of misery and wretchedness from vice and its effects, scenes of brawling, strife, and anger. Or there are abodes where, though there may be earthly abundance and luxuries, there is a moral coldness, a want of sympathy and affection between those who dwell under the same roof; and so with all its comforts, it is a home of misery. But it is not such that we associate with the true idea of home, for the right and good and true home is a place of happiness and comfort.
How can those who do not know Christ and our Father’s home in heaven form any idea of them save from what they see in us and our homes? That is the way the heathen learn of Christ and heaven. In Hangchow, China, Mrs. Mattox had been accustomed to invite the little children to her home and make them happy there. Once a Chinese teacher was talking to some of them, and asked, “Where do you want to go when you die—to heaven?” “No,” they answered. “To hell?” “No.” “Where, then, do you want to go?” “To Mrs. Mattox’s house,” they replied. They could not imagine anything more heavenly than that.1 [Note: R. E. Speer, Men Who were Found Faithful, 141.]
3. There is no place on earth which is so dear to the heart as home, if the home is such as we usually associate with the name. It is connected with our earliest and happiest resolutions. It is the place round which are twined the most tender and hallowed memories. It is the spot in which are centred our fondest affections, and it contains in it the hopes of all the purity and goodness which are to come hereafter. However humble or lowly, still it is home, a dearer and a sweeter spot than all the world beside. And it is one of the most endearing aspects in which God can be regarded, when He is revealed as the home of His people, as the habitation, “the dwelling and abiding place,” of the soul in all time and under every circumstance.
Arriving in New York, after their tour in Canada, the party proceeded by the night train to Washington, where they spent a day driving round and seeing all the chief buildings, and then, two days afterwards, they went on board the “Lucania.” My father writes: “Never shall I forget the joy of this morning and the excitement of seeing, as we drove up, the funnels of the grand ‘Lucania’: I passed through the crowded wharf as on enchanted ground, and stepped on board with a feeling of delight and gratitude reaching almost to ecstasy. Thank God for this trip, for all His mercies, for all the kindness of friends and for the pleasure and instruction of the experience; but oh, the joy of returning to the old country, and to home! That swallows up all other gratification in one great rejoicing. When at length I reach the gates of death, may I have the same joy in prospect of the heavenly home!”1 [Note: The Life of Henry J. Pope, by his Son, 174.]
As one contemplates Mr. Gladstone’s triumphs, one finds oneself recurring in memory to the beautiful background of domestic quiet and stately dignity in which he was as much or more at home than in the public gaze. I can see him now in an old wideawake and cloak—trudging off in the drizzle of an October morning to an early service. I remember how, at Hawarden in 1896, on one of the sad evenings after my father’s death, I dined alone with him and one other guest, and with what beautiful consideration he talked quietly on about things in which he thought we should be interested—things that needed neither comment nor response, and all so naturally and easily, that one hardly realized the tender thoughtfulness of it all. And last of all, I remember how I came one evening at a later date to dine at Hawarden, and was shown into a little half-lit ante-room next the dining-room. He was just at the beginning of his last illness, and he was suffering from discomfort and weakness. There on a sofa he sat, side by side with Mrs. Gladstone; they were sitting in silence, hand in hand, like two children, the old warrior and his devoted wife. It seemed almost too sacred a thing to have seen; but it is not too sacred to record, for it seemed the one last perfect transfiguring touch of love and home.2 [Note: A. C. Benson, Along the Road, 53.]
God our Home
Moses was a homeless man. Early in life he had fled from Pharaoh’s court, where he had been brought up. When he lived in Midian as the son-in-law of Jethro, he took part in the wandering life of the desert tribes. When he was called upon to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt, and to be their leader and lawgiver, he shared their wanderings for forty years in the great and terrible wilderness, where they had no fixed abode. In all their journeys they had before them the prospect of Canaan, the good land which God was to give them for a possession. But Moses was not permitted to enter upon that goodly inheritance. He was to see it from afar from Mount Pisgah, but he was to die in the wilderness, where “no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” And so the old man, who knew no home or lasting abode on earth, finds his home and refuge in Him. He contrasts the eternity and unchangeableness of God with the transitory and fleeting circumstances of man. Thinking of the past generations, he remembered what God was to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when they had no fixed abode, but confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth. And looking to future generations he discerned beyond the earthly Canaan the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. And so, for the homeless man and the homeless people, faith beheld the promise of a dwelling-place, a home, in the Lord.
Nay, by no cumulative changeful years,
For all our bitter harvesting of tears,
Shalt thou tame man, nor in his breast destroy
The longing for his home which deadens joy.
Not blindly in such moments, not in vain,
The open secret flashes on the brain,
As if one almost guessed it, almost knew
Whence we have sailed and voyage whereunto;
Not vainly, for albeit that hour goes by,
And the strange letters perish from the sky,
Yet learn we that a life to us is given
One with the cosmic spectacles of heaven,—
Feel the still soul, for all her questionings,
Parcel and part of sempiternal things;
For us, for all, one overarching dome,
One law the order, and one God the home.1 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, The Renewal of Youth.]
1. God is the natural home of the soul. In that home it was born, from that great Father our spirits came, “trailing clouds of glory from God, who is our home.” To live and dwell in Him, nurtured by His care, fed by His bounty, watched by His grace, guarded by His mercy; to be brought up and kept in His love, and to love Him with our heart and soul, and there and then to find all peace, rest, and blessedness—that is our purpose and our destiny, that the design and blessedness of our existence. And only in Him do we find what we require—protection against temptation, shelter from trials, and refuge from calamity, light in the midst of darkness, warmth to cheer our dulled and deadened hearts, release from the burden of sin, deliverance from the power of passion, food for our hunger, safety from every evil, and rest, quiet, peaceful rest, to our agitated and worn hearts.
When we have been long in a foreign land, associating with strangers or casual acquaintances who have little interest in us, and no love for us; if we have been ill, far away from home and friends, and have had no friendly faces to smile on us, and no sweet, tender sympathy to soothe us, how gladsome it is, after such an experience, to leave that land of exile and strangeness and to sail for home, where we know—
There is an eye will mark
Our coming, and look brighter when we come.
And how cheering and comforting it is for us to know that, though now we are wanderers from home, our home in God still awaits us, the door is ever open to receive us, and the kind, compassionate Father watching for us, eager for our return, and ready to receive us and enfold us in His love, and set us in royal state at His own right hand to partake of His fulness, to be with Him and His dear and loved ones, whose faces will beam on us with tenderness and whose hearts will overflow to us with sympathy and affection; and that out of that home we shall never again go, but be there in infinite joy and glory for evermore. Your soul leaves its house of clay within which it has dwelt here below. Where shall that soul, when it goes, find rest and home?
Here is the house,
Empty and lone;
Where is the home of that which is gone,
Out in the regions of boundless black space,
Floating and floating, no space, no place?
Or did it gather its wealth and remove
To the home up above?
All’s still in the house here below,
God grant that the soul that has wandered away,
Be not homeless to-day.
Into Thy house,
Lord, take us straight,
Lest we be left in the darkness to wait;
Lest we be lost in realms without sun,
And wander for ever where mansion is none,
Crying without, “Let us in! Let us in!”
When the feast shall begin,
And the door shall be shut.1 [Note: R. Stephen, Divine and Human Influence, ii. 271.]
2. Home suggests a place where care is thrown aside, while the affections expand themselves freely and fully, and loving looks and kindly words and gentle deeds are the order of the day. When God is said to be the refuge or home of man, it is meant that God offers man His best and tenderest welcome; that in God, and God alone, man finds that which yields perfect repose and satisfaction to all the pure and tender sympathies of his nature. For man’s higher or spiritual self the One Eternal Being is what the fireside represents to the heart’s affection—a sphere in which man may abandon himself to perfect enjoyment, to that unrestrained delight which accompanies a sense of being among friends, with whom reserve is neither necessary nor possible.
There is a presence moving in that home, anticipating all our wants, cheering us when we are sad, hushing us when we are fretful and impatient, smoothing us when we are ruffled, ministering to us when we are in suffering; and the soul, enfolded in God’s great, tender love, finds rest and blessedness. And as it is a home of love, it is one in which there is no coldness or reserve. In the world there is always a certain reserve. There are joys which delight us, but which others cannot care for. There are sorrows, cares, anxieties which trouble us, but in which others have no interest. There are things that we do not tell and cannot tell. Even with our most familiar acquaintances, there are some chambers in our heart kept locked from them. But at home, in a home of love, everything is open, frank, free, natural; we throw off all restraint, unbosom all our heart’s cares and troubles; we know we shall get sympathy; we speak to interested ears and loving hearts, whose joys and sorrows are ours. We are not afraid to whisper our secrets. It is to no rude and heartless gaze we expose them. We do not fear ridicule or cold indifference. We confide in hearts which love us as they love themselves. And we get relief by others sharing and bearing with us. So the soul finds sympathy in God.
Lord, I have viewed this world over, in which Thou hast set me; I have tried how this and that thing will fit my spirit, and the design of my creation, and can find nothing on which to rest, for nothing here doth itself rest, but such things as please me for a while, in some degree, vanish and flee as shadows from before me. Lo! I come to Thee—the Eternal Being—the Spring of life—the Centre of rest—the Stay of the Creation—the Fulness of all things. I join myself to Thee; with Thee I will lead my life, and spend my days, with whom I aim to dwell for ever, expecting, when my little time is over, to be taken up ere long into Thy eternity.1 [Note: John Howe, The Vanity of Man as Mortal.]
3. The Old Testament is rich in promises that God will supply the earthly needs of those whose trust is in Him. He fed His people with manna in the wilderness; He satisfieth our mouth with good things (Psa_103:5). He prepareth a table before us in the presence of our enemies (Psa_23:5). The promise to those who trust in the Lord is that verily they shall be fed (Psa_37:3). And the Psalmist records his lifelong experience that he had never “seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psa_37:25). And He who gives us our daily bread also satisfies the higher needs of our souls. This blessed fact is fully developed in the New Testament; but even the Old Testament saints record that they panted for God “as the hart panteth after the water brooks” (Psa_42:1); that by Him their “soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness” (Psa_63:5). “He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness” (Psa_107:9). If we make the Lord our habitation, all our wants, spiritual and temporal, will be supplied.
As is a mother to her babe, so is God to us. She makes the children’s home—not the two-roomed cottage of the peasant, with the bare walls and scant furniture, nor the many-roomed ducal palace, with its teeming wealth and oppressive luxury; but the love and light, the warm kisses and tender care, the sweet smile and the strong soul of the mother—she, and all that she is, makes “Home, sweet, sweet Home.” She is the dwelling-place of the child’s heart, the satisfaction of desire, the unfailing nourishment of the child’s life. What God has made that mother to her child, He Himself is to us men—our asylum of peace, our refuge from passing foes, our dwelling-place and home from age to age.1 [Note: J. Clifford, Social Worship, 26.]
4. The inviolability of home is the spirit of our English proverb, that a man’s house is his castle. And in this sense God is the Home of the soul; the soul finds in the presence of God a protection against the enemies which threaten it with ruin in the rough life of the world. In this sense David cries, “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” Or again, “Be thou my strong rock for an house of defence to save me. For thou art my rock and my fortress.” Or, again, “Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort; thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress.” Once more, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I will trust. For he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his pinions, and under his wings shalt thou take refuge: his truth is a shield and a buckler.”2 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Christmastide Sermons, 243.]
One incident of the voyage to America served as a sharp test to Wesley of his own spiritual condition. Amongst the passengers he found a little group of Moravian exiles, who, by the simplicity and seriousness of their piety, strangely interested him. A storm broke over the ship one evening just as these simple-minded Germans had begun a religious service; Wesley describes what follows: “In the midst of the Psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the mainsail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began amongst the English. The Germans calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterwards, ‘Were you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.’ From them I went to their crying, trembling neighbours, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial between him that feareth God and him that feareth Him not.”1 [Note: W. H. Fitchett, Wesley and His Century, 98.]
5. The soul that talks to God rises out of a narrow and selfish individualism into fellowship, not only with the Eternal Creator, but also with the vast and various family of God in the past, present, and future. We are dwelling in the same home as our fathers and brothers and sons. Israel is there in its completeness. God is the eternal home of the race. “The elders who, through faith, obtained a good report,” in the grey dawn of the world, dwelt therein. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the founders of Israel, had long since passed away, but their home was not broken up, for they still lived in and to God. Indeed, all our dead live in Him, for He is not the God of dead men, but of living men, for all live unto Him. Thus we are already all together with the Lord.
Bunyan’s Mr. Fearing was “kept very low, and made his life burdensome to himself” by fear of death. But as he came near to his end his fear disappeared, and “he went over at last not much above wetshod,” sending, as his last message to his friends, the brave words, “Tell them all, it’s all right.”2 [Note: J. Clifford, Social Worship, 31.]
Clifford (J.), Social Worship an Everlasting Necessity, 26.
Glover (R.), The Forgotten Resting-place, 3.
Liddon (H. P.), Christmastide in St. Paul’s, 240.
Marten (C. H.), Plain Bible Addresses, 173.
Myres (W. M.), Fragments that Remain, 122.
Rendall (G. H.), Charterhouse Sermons, 276.
Richards (W. R.), For Whom Christ Died, 141.
Shannon (F. F.), The Soul’s Atlas, 68.
Spurgeon (C. H.), New Park Street Pulpit, i. (1855), No. 46.
Stephen (R.), Divine and Human Influence, ii. 255.
Christian Commonwealth, xxxi. (1911) 557 (R. J. Campbell).
Christian World Pulpit, xlvii. 396 (W. Sinclair); lxiv. 419 (E. H. Eland); lxv. 102 (R. Rainy).