By J.R. Miller
"Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations!"
We might translate it thus: "Lord, you have been our home in all generations!" Almost the sweetest of all words, is home. Home is the place of love, where love is at its best. It is the place of confidence. We do not have to be always on our guard at home. Out in the world, we are not quite sure of people. We must be careful what we say in the street cars, or as we walk about and talk--for someone may overhear us, and misunderstand us. We soon learn, not to open our lips too freely, when out in public. But when we enter our home doors--we can lay aside all such prudence and speak freely, without fear or distrust.
Home is the place of sympathy and tenderness. We can lean our head on the bosom of love--and feel the touch of kindness. If we have any trouble--we find comfort at home. If we have been foolish or have done wrong--we find pity and compassion and charity at home. If we have sorrow--there is no comfort like that which we get at home. If people outside wrong us and hurt us, if misfortune comes to us--home is a refuge for us. There we always find a shelter. Whenever other doors are shut upon us--the home door is always open. If we are lonely and without friends out in the world, the thought of home cheers us. So long as we have a home anywhere under the stars--we cannot despair. You all know what your home is to you.
Now listen again to these words, "Lord, you are our home." Think of God in this way. There are some human friends in whose presence we feel at home. No storm touches us--when we are with them. We have no fear; we are vexed by no care or anxiety; we are not annoyed by life's hard or unpleasant experiences, when they are near to us.
Think of God as your home. "You will keep him in perfect peace--whose mind rests, nestles, in You." Peace is the very word--it is one of the greatest words in the Bible. To have God for your home--is to have peace. You have no fear of man, of devils, of circumstances. Paul never said anything greater about the blessing of a Christian, than when he declared, "Your life is hidden with Christ in God." No storm can ever reach it! No danger can ever come near it! No power on earth or hell--can send a thrill of anxiety into it! It is hidden with Christ, in God. That is what it is to be at home with God. "Lord, you are our home!"
Charles Wagner calls his church in Paris, 'The Home of the Soul'. He means that the church he has built, is a spiritual home for the people who come into it. That is what every church should be. Every church should be in its community, as nearly as possible--what Christ would be--if He lived again in human form in a house just where the church stands. Imagine Jesus living here, and people coming to Him just as they used to do when He had His home for many months at a certain number on a certain street in Capernaum. Would not our church become a wonderful Mecca for pilgrims? The weary, would come to get rest. The sorrowing, would come to find comfort. People having problems and perplexities, would come to have them solved. Those who have stumbled and fallen, would come to be forgiven and helped to start again. Mothers would come to have their children blessed. Children would flock here to get Christ's blessing. This corner would be a great resort for all who feel any need of help.
Then all who come--would find a home for their souls here. We know how Christ welcomed all who came to Him. He was everybody's friend. No one was ever turned away from Him, unhelped. The church should be to the people who come to it--what Christ was to those who came to Him. It should be a true home of the soul.
It is in a spiritual way, that the church should chiefly serve us. Some people forget this, and think that it is the business of the church to provide entertainment for those who come to it. We sometimes hear people complain that the church does nothing to furnish 'good times' for the young. But frankly, that is not the purpose of the church.
Are schools--public schools, high schools, colleges--established to entertain those who come to them? Places of amusement are established to entertain--but the purpose of a school is to teach, to educate, to train the mind, to develop the intellect.
Just so, the mission of a church is not to amuse, to provide fun and entertainment--but to lead people to Christ, to train them in Christian duties, to build up in them godly character, and to prepare them for usefulness and service to the souls of men.
One says: "When we say that the way to get young people to the church, is to make the church interesting; I am afraid that we too often mean that the way to do this, is to make it entertaining. Did you ever know the theater to be a successful means of governing conduct? Did you ever know the most excellent concert, or series of concerts, to be the means of revolutionizing a life? Did you ever know any amount of entertainment to go farther, than to amuse for the hour it lasted?"
We need not say that the church is never to provide entertainment for its young people. There are ways in which it may do this most effectively, thus preparing the way for its graver and more serious work. But the great purpose of the church is to do people good in spiritual ways. Nevertheless, we are to do all our work in the brightest and most interesting way. It is a sin to make church services dull and dreary; we should make them bright and attractive. We ought to have as interesting sermons as our preachers can preach. We ought to have the best devotional music we can provide. Our worship should be beautiful. But entertainment is never to be the aim--the aim must always be to honor God and make the worshipers more holy.
Keep in mind the theme--the church a true spiritual home, a home of the soul. Read a sentence or two from the account of the first Christian church, just after Pentecost. "All that believed were together, and had all things common; . . . and they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, ate their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people."
Note the various points in the picture--they were together. There is a volume of meaning in the word "together." They had all things common. The rich shared their plenty--with the poor. They were constant in their attendance at the meetings for worship. They were of one accord--there was no friction, no discordant fellowship. They took their food with gladness. They were joyous in their home life and their social life.
"I wonder if there is so much laughter in any other home in England, as in ours," wrote Charles Kingsley in one of his letters to his wife. We should cultivate gladness at home. Religion does not forbid gladness. It makes us joyous. They were praising Christians at Jerusalem. Then worship was full of sweet song. This first church was a home of the soul to those who belonged to it.
How can we make church, a real home of the soul to all who come into it?
First of all, Christ must be the center of the church. No other name must be worshiped but His name. No other face must be seen. You remember the story of the artist who had painted a picture of the last supper. He had tried to make the Master's face so radiant, so attractive, that nothing else on the canvas would be seen. But when the picture was unveiled, he heard the people talk admiringly of the silver cups, and of the embroidery on the tablecloths, with not a word about the face.
He was disappointed and grieved, and taking his brush--he dashed from the canvas, all the secondary features he had heard praised, that the blessed face alone might win men's eyes. Christ should be the great overshadowing Presence in the church. No other face should win attention. The worshipers should see only His face. Just so far as the church is filled with Christ, as He is loved and thought about and worshiped--will it be a home of the soul to those who come into it.
We ministers must keep ourselves out of sight! Let us try to get people to love Christ--and not us. Only Christ can bless and help, and comfort, and strengthen, and heal. Be sure you never elevate yourself--as the one the people see. Seek to be unseen, that those who come with their needs shall meet only Christ. Let us make our church indeed Christ's church, and then it will be a home of the soul to all who enter its doors.
It must also be a church of love. God is love--it cannot be God's church--unless it is filled with love. They tell us that the beloved disciple had only one sermon when he got very old, and that he preached it every Sunday, "Little children, love one another." Perhaps it seemed monotonous to have the old man say the same words every time he spoke to the people--but really there is nothing else to preach. All the commandments are summed up in this one, "Love one another!"
If we can get the people of a church really and truly to love each other--we will make a home of the soul, for all who come in. Christ's prayer for His disciples was that they should be one. We are to live together, as brethren. We are not to be a company of individuals--a thousand, two thousand distinct individualities; we are to be one, one family knit together as one.
"Love is patient; love is kind." That is, it bears injuries and wrongs and insults--and does not get cross. It continues to be kind, giving love always in return for unkindness. They tell us that when the sea worm perforates the shell of the oyster, the oyster immediately by a marvelous secretion closes the wound with a pearl. That is what you do when a brother hurts you, does you some great wrong, and you as a Christian forgive him. You heal the wound in your own heart with a pearl. George Macdonald says, "What am I brothered for--if not to forgive?"
There are a great many things that happen every day in common fellowship, which make it hard to keep love unruffled--but that is the lesson we are to learn if we would make our church, the home of the soul for ourselves and others. Love is always a lesson only partly learned--we must be learning it continually. It is a very long lesson--it takes all one's lifetime! A church is not a company of saints--but a mass of material for making saints. You are yet only saints in process of being made.
Remember, too, that the more testing of love you have in your experience, the more opportunities you have for learning the lesson. When, tomorrow, somebody treats you rudely, says a sharp or unkind word to you--it is a new practice lesson for you.
A tourist who had just been to Pike's Peak said that near the top he saw a great mass of forget-me-nots, growing in the snow. He said he never saw the flowers so blue or so fragrant, as these were. The sweetest love comes out of the hardest lessons. Christians must live together in love--if they would make their church a home of the soul to others. It never can be done, by living together unlovingly.
Then we must also have love--for all who come to us. Christ was the love of God, to all who came to Him. The worst people found Him gracious. His enemies were always trying to pick quarrels with Him--but they never could. He answered all their insults--with kindness. His reply to their false accusations, was silence. When they drove the nails into His hands--His response was a prayer for them!
When the suffering and sorrowing came to Him--He met them with sympathy. His disciples were dull, slow learners and tried Him sorely--but He never lost patience with them. Even when His friends proved untrue--He did not chide them. He was always merciful and loving to every kind of people. He welcomed the poor. He knew no caste. The worst sinners He received graciously. If we would make our church the home of the soul to those who come into it--we must make it a church of love to all.
An English paper tells of a 'glad hand committee' whose only duty was to speak pleasantly to every stranger who came to the church. One day a man came in who had not been at church for years. After service one member of this glad-hand committee, came and spoke to him and shook hands with him. A little way down the aisle another welcomed him, near the door a third, then a fourth met him, and another spoke to him in the vestibule. The man said he never dreamed the church was so friendly, and said he was coming again--and he did.
A godly man recently told of being a stranger in a city for several months, and attending a church all the while, without ever receiving one word of kindness from anyone. The sermon and the worship may be helpful to those who come into the church--but people need love--as well as sermons! Christ met all men with love, with sympathy, with kindness. We must do the same. We do not know what burdens the stranger who comes in is bearing, how heavy his heart may be, how he is longing for the warm grasp of a hand, how much he needs a word of cheer.
Jesus had compassion upon the people. Everyone who came near to Him--felt the power of His sympathy. He said that He would draw men to Himself. If we would win and draw men, if we would be a blessing to them--we must love and care for them. In one of the Psalms the writer says, "No man cares for my soul." The friends of Christ must care for souls. They must love people. They must have pity for the sorrowful; they must sympathize with infirmity and weakness.
Everywhere sympathy works miracles. Those who truly and deeply care for men--have power to help them. Those who are not true lovers of men--can never be winners of men, nor greatly helpers of men.