Practical Christian Theology
Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19).
Many people are longing for some grand sphere in which to serve God. They admire Luther at the Diet of Worms and wish they had such grand opportunity in which to display their Christian prowess. They admire Paul making Felix tremble (Acts 24:25) and wish they had some such grand occasion to preach righteousness, temperance, and judgement. All they want is an opportunity to exhibit their Christian heroism.
Now the Lord Himself comes to us and says, “I will show you a place where you can exhibit all that is grand, beautiful, and glorious in Christian character, and that is the domestic circle. To your friends and your family. Go home.”
Now, I will tell you: If one is unfaithful in a small sphere, he will be unfaithful in a large sphere (Luke 16:10). If Peter cannot lift the cripple at the gate of the Temple (Acts 3:7), he cannot lift thousands through his sermons. If Paul cannot show the Philippian jailer the way to salvation (Acts 16:31), he cannot make Felix tremble hearing his defense. He who is unfaithful in a skirmish would be unfaithful in an Armageddon.
We are all placed in the position in which we can most grandly serve God. We ought to be concerned not with some grand sphere of future usefulness, but with the more pertinent question of “Lord, what will you have me to do here and now?”
The answer to that question, and the one word in my text around which most of our thoughts this morning will revolve, is home.
Ask ten different men the meaning of that word, and they will give you ten different definitions. To one it means love at the hearth, plenty at the table, industry at the workstand, intelligence at the books, devotion at the altar, a greeting at the door, a smile at the chair, peace hovering like wings, joy clapping its hands, laughter, tranquility, rest, and sleep.
Ask another man what home is, and he will tell you it is a cheerless firegrate, an empty bread tray, damp air shivering with curses, no Bible on the shelf, thieving children, obscene songs, ruin, want in the background and sin staring from the front, no Sabbath, vestibule of the pit, shadow of infernal walls, furnace for forging everlasting chains, tears, woe, sorrow, and despair.
In the one case home means everything bright; in the other, everything terrible.
I shall speak to you this morning of home as a test of character, home as a refuge, home as a political safeguard, home as a school, and home as a type of heaven.
In the first place, I remark that home is a powerful test of character. One’s disposition in public may be in appropriate costume, while in private it is in its nightshirt. As actors may appear one way on stage, and another behind the scenes, so private character may be very different from public personna. Private character is often public personna turned wrong side out. A man may receive you into his parlor all smiles, while his heart may be a swamp of nettles. There are businessmen who all day long are mild, courteous, genial, and good-natured in commercial life, damming back their irritability, their petulance, and their discontent; but at nightfall the dam breaks, and scolding pours forth in floods and freshets.
Reputation is only the shadow of character, and a small house sometimes will cast a long shadow. The lips may seem to drop with myrrh and cassia, and the disposition to be as bright and warm as a sheaf of sunbeams, yet they may be only a magnificent display window to a wretched stock of goods. Many a man affable in public life and in commercial spheres, in a cowardly way, carries home his anger and his petulance and drops them on the domestic circle.
The reason men do not display their bad temper in public is that they do not want to be knocked down. Men hide their petulance and their irritability for the same reason they do not let their notes go to protest: it does not pay. Or for the same reason that they do not want a man in their stock company to undersell his stock: lest it depreciate the value. As at some time the wind rises, so after a sunshiny day there may be a tempestuous night. Some persons, in public, act the philanthropist who, in private, act the Nero, with respect to their gown and slippers.
Audubon, the great ornithologist, with gun and pencil, went through the forests of America to bring down and to sketch the beautiful birds, and after years of toil and exposure completed his manuscript, put it in a trunk in Philadelphia for a few days of recreation and rest, came back and found that the rats had utterly destroyed the manuscript. Without any discomposure and without any fret or bad temper, he again picked up his gun and pencil, again visited all the great forests of America, and reproduced his immortal work. And yet there are people with the ten-thousandth part of that loss who are utterly irreconcilable, who, at the loss of a pencil or an article of raiment, will blow as long and sharp as a nor’easter.
Now, that man who is affable in public and who is irritable in private is making a fraudulent overissue of stock; he is as bad as a bank that might have $400,000-$500,000 bills [paper money] in circulation with no specie [gold, silver] in the vault. Let us learn to show piety at home. If we have it not there, we have it nowhere. If we have not genuine grace in the family circle, all our outward and public plausibility merely springs from a fear of the world or from the slimy, putrid pool of our own selfishness. I tell you the home is a mighty test of character! What you are at home you are everywhere, whether you demonstrate it or not.
Again, I remark that home is a refuge. Life is the US Army on the national road to Mexico, a long march, with ever and anon a skirmish and a battle. At eventide we pitch our tent and stack the arms, we hang up the war cap and lay our head on the knapsack, we sleep until the morning bugle calls us to marching and action. How pleasant it is to rehearse the victories and the surprises, and the attacks of the day, seated by the campfire of the home circle!
Yes, life is a stormy sea. With shivered masts, torn sails, and hulk aleak, we put in at the harbor of home. Blessed harbor! There we go for repairs in the drydock of quiet life. The candle in the window is to the toiling man the lighthouse guiding him into port. Children go forth to meet their father as pilots at the “Narrows” take the hand of ships. The doorsill of the home is the wharf where heavy life is unladen.
There is the place where we may talk of what we have done without being charged with self-adulation. There is the place where we may lounge without being thought ungraceful. There is the place where we may express affection without being thought silly. There is the place where we may forget our annoyances, exasperations, and troubles. Forlorn earth pilgrim, no home? Then die. That is better. The grave is brighter, grander, and more glorious than this world with no tent for travel, no harbor from the storm, no place of rest from this scene of greed, gouge, loss, and gain. God pity the man or the woman who has no home!
Further, I remark that home is a political safeguard. The safety of the State must be built on the safety of the home. Why cannot France come to a placid republic? Ever and anon there is a threat of national capsize. France as a nation has not the right kind of a Christian home. The Christian hearthstone is the only cornerstone for a republic. The virtues cultured in the family circle are an absolute necessity for the State. If there be not enough moral principle to make the family adhere, there will not be enough political principle to make the State adhere.
“No home” means Goths and Vandals, the nomads of Asia, the Numideans of Africa, changing from place to place, following water and pasture. Confused be all Babels of iniquity that would overtower and destroy the home! The same storm that upsets the ship in which the family sails will sink the frigate of the Constitution. Jails, penitentiaries, armies, and navies are not our best defense. The home is the best fortress; household utensils are the best artillery; and the chimneys of our houses are the grandest monuments of safety and triumph. No home: no republic.
Further, I remark, that home is a school. Old ground must be turned up with subsoil plow, harrowed, and reharrowed—and then the crop will not be as large as that of the new ground with less culture. Youth and childhood are new ground, and all the influences thrown over their heart and life will come up luxuriantly. Every smile, good cheer, and best wishes will show in the geniality of your children. And every ebullition [outburst] of anger and every uncontrollable display of indignation will be fuel to their disposition twenty, or thirty, or forty years from now—fuel for a bad fire a quarter-century from now.
You praise the intelligence of your child too much sometimes when you think he is not aware of it, and you will see the result of it before ten years of age in his annoying affectations. You praise his beauty, supposing he is not large enough to understand what you say, and you will find him standing on a high chair before a flattering mirror. Words, deeds, and example are the seed of character, and children are apt to be the second edition of their parents. Abraham begat Isaac (Genesis 21:3), so virtue is apt to go down in the ancestral line; but Herod the Great begat Archelaus, so iniquity is transmitted. What vast responsibility comes on parents!
Oh, make your home the brightest place on earth, if you would charm your children to the high path of virtue, rectitude, and religion! Do not always turn the blinds the wrong way. Let the light that puts gold on the gentian and spots the pansy pour into your dwellings. Do not expect the little feet to keep step to a dead march. Do not cover up your walls with such pictures as West’s Death on a Pale Horse or Tintoretto’s Massacre of the Innocents. Rather cover them, if you have pictures, with Rousseau’s The Hawking Party, Herzog’s The Mill by the Mountain Stream, Herberte’s The Fox Hunt, Hopper’s Picking Summer Flowers by the Stream, Homer’s Harvest Scene, and Van Schendel’s The Night Market.
Do you not get hint of cheerfulness from grasshopper’s leap, lamb’s frisk, quail’s whistle, and garrulous streamlet, which from the rock at the mountaintop clear down to the meadow ferns under the shadow of the steep, comes looking for the steepest place to leap off at, and talking just to hear itself talk?
If all the skies hurtled with tempest and everlasting storm wandered over the sea, and every mountain stream went raving mad, frothing at the mouth with mud foam, and there were nothing but simooms blowing among the hills, and there were neither lark’s carol nor humming bird’s trill, nor waterfall’s dash, but only a bear’s bark, a panther’s scream, or a wolf’s howl, then you might well gather into your homes only the shadows.
But when God has strewn the earth and the heavens with beauty and with gladness, let us take into our home circle innocent hilarity, brightness, and good cheer. A dark home makes bad boys and bad girls in preparation for bad men and bad women.
Above all, my friends, take into your homes Christian principle. Can it be that in any of the comfortable homes of my congregation the voice of prayer is never lifted? What! No supplication at night for protection? What! No thanksgiving in the morning for care? How, my brother, my sister, will you answer God in the Day of Judgement, with reference to your children? It is a plain question and, therefore, I ask it. In Jeremiah God says He will pour out His fury on the families that call not on His name (10:25).
O parents, when you are dead and gone, and the moss is covering the inscription of the tombstones, will your children look back and think of Father and Mother at family prayer? Will they take the old family Bible, open it, and see the mark of tears of contrition and tears of consoling promise wept by eyes long before gone out into darkness?
Oh, if you do not inculcate Christian principle in the hearts of your children, you do not warn them against evil, and you do not invite them to holiness and to God, and they wander on into dissipation and into infidelity, and at last make shipwreck of their immortal soul, on their deathbed and in their Day of Judgement they will curse you! Seated by the register or the stove, what if on the wall should come out the history of your children? What a history—the mortal and immortal life of your loved ones! Every parent is writing the history of his child. He is writing it, composing it into a song, or turning it into a groan.
My mind runs back to one of the best of early homes. Prayer, like a roof, over it. Peace, like an atmosphere, in it. Parents, personifications of faith in trial and comfort in darkness. The two pillars of that earthly home long ago crumbled to dust. But shall I ever forget that early home? Yes, when the flower forgets the sun that warms it. Yes, when the mariner forgets the star that guided him. Yes, when love has gone out on the heart’s altar and memory has emptied its urn into forgetfulness. Then, the home of my childhood, I will forget! The family altar of a father’s importunity and a mother’s tenderness, the voices of affection, our father and our mother with interlocked arms like intertwining branches of trees making a perpetual arbor of love, peace, and kindness—then I will forget them—then and only then.
You know, my brother, 100 times you have been kept out of sin by the memory of such a scene as I have been describing. You have often had raging temptations, but you know what has held you with supernatural grasp. I tell you a man who has had such a good home as that never gets over it, and a man who has had a bad early home never gets over it either.
Again, I remark, that home is a type of heaven. To bring us to that home Christ left His home. Far up and far back in the history of heaven there came a period when its most illustrious citizen was about to absent Himself. He was not going to sail from beach to beach; we have often done that. He was not going to put out from one hemisphere to another hemisphere; many of us have done that. But he was to sail from world to world, the spaces unexplored and the immensities untraveled. No world had ever hailed heaven, and, so far as we know, heaven had never hailed any other world. I think that the windows and the balconies were thronged, and that the pearline beach was crowded with those who had come to see Him sail out the harbor of light into the oceans beyond.
Out, and out, and out, and on, and on, and on, and down, and down, and down He sped, until one night, with only one to greet Him, He arrived. His disembarkation so unpretending, so quiet, that it was not known on earth until the excitement in the cloud gave intimation that something grand and glorious had happened.
Who comes there? From what port did He sail? Why was this the place of His destination? I question the shepherds, I question the camel drivers, I question the angels. I have found out. He was an exile. But the world has had plenty of exiles—Abraham an exile from Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31); John an exile from Ephesus; Tadeusz Kościuszko an exile from Poland; Giuseppe Mazzini an exile from Rome; Robert Emmet an exile from Ireland; Victor Hugo an exile from France; Lajos Kossuth, an exile from Hungary. But this One of whom I speak today had such resounding farewell and came into such chilling reception—for not even an hostler came out with his lantern to help Him in—that He is more to be celebrated than any other expatriated one of earth or heaven.
It is 93 million miles from here to the sun, and astronomers agree that our solar system is only one of the small wheels of the great machinery of the universe, turning round some great center, the center so far distant it is beyond all imagination and calculation; and if, as some think, that great center in the distance is heaven, Christ came far from home when He came here.
Have you ever thought of the homesickness of Christ? Some of you know what homesickness is, when you have been only a few weeks absent from the domestic circle. Christ was 33 years away from home. Some of you feel homesickness when you are 100 or 1,000 miles away from the domestic circle. Christ was more millions of miles away from home than you could calculate if all your life you did nothing but calculate.
You know what it is to be homesick even among pleasurable surroundings; but Christ slept in huts or outdoors, He was thirsty, He was hungry, and He was on the way from being born in another man’s barn to being buried in another man’s grave.
I have read how the Swiss, when they are far away from their native country, at the sound of their national air get so homesick that they fall into melancholy, and sometimes they die under the homesickness. But, oh, the homesickness of Christ! Poverty homesickness for celestial riches! Persecution homesick for hosanna! Weariness homesick for rest! Homesick for angelic and archangelic companionship. Homesick to go out of the night, the storm, and the world’s execration, and all that homesickness suffered to get us home!
At our best estate we are only pilgrims and strangers here (Hebrews). “Heaven is our home.” Death will never knock at the door of that mansion, and in all that country there is not a single grave.
How glad parents are in holiday times to gather their children home again! But I have noticed that there is almost always a son or a daughter absent—absent from home, perhaps absent from the country, perhaps absent from the world. Oh, how glad our heavenly Father will be when He gets all His children home with Him in heaven! How delightful it will be for brothers and sisters to meet after long separation! Once they parted at the door of the tomb; now they meet at the door of immortality. Once they saw only through a glass darkly; now it is face to face (cf 1 Corinthians 13:12). Corruption putting on incorruption; mortality putting on immortality. Where are now all their sins, sorrows, and troubles? Overwhelmed in the Jordan while they passed through dry shod.
Gates of pearl, capstones of amethyst, and thrones of dominion do not stir my soul so much as the thought of home. Once there let earthly sorrows howl like storms and roll like seas. Home! Let thrones rot and empires wither! Home! Let the world die in earthquake struggle, and be buried amid procession of planets and dirge of spheres. Home! Let everlasting ages roll with irresistible sweep. Home! No sorrow, no crying, no tear, no death. But home, sweet home, home, beautiful home, everlasting home, home with each other, home with God.
One night, tired, lying on my lounge, my children all around about me in full romp, hilarity, and laughter—on the lounge, half-awake and half-asleep—I dreamed this dream.
I was in a far country. It was not Persia, though more than Oriental luxuriance crowned the cities. It was not the tropics, though more than tropical fruitfulness filled the gardens. It was not Italy, though more than Italian softness filled the air.
I wandered around looking for thorns and nettles, but I found that none grew there. I saw the sun rise, and I watched to see it set, but it sank not. I saw the people in holiday attire, and I said, “When will they put off this and put on workmen’s garb, and again delve in the mine or swelter at the forge?” but they never changed clothes.
I wandered into the suburbs of the city and looked all along the line of the beautiful hills, the place where the dead might most blissfully sleep. I saw towers and castles, but not a mausoleum or a monument or a white slab could I see.
I went into the chapel of the great town, and I said, “Where do the poor worship? Where are the hard benches on which they sit?”
Someone answered me, “We have no poor in this country.”
I wandered out to find the hovels of the destitute. I found mansions of amber, ivory, and gold. Not a tear could I see, not a sigh could I hear. I was bewildered, and I sat down under the branches of a great tree. “Where am I?”
Then out from among the leaves, and up the flowery paths, and across the bright streams there came a beautiful group, thronging all about me. As I saw them come, I thought I knew their step. As they shouted, I thought I knew their voices; but then they were so gloriously arrayed in apparel such as I had never before witnessed that I bowed as stranger to stranger.
When again they clapped their hands and shouted, “Welcome, welcome!” the mystery vanished. Time had gone; eternity had come. We were all together again in our new home in heaven.
I looked around and said, “Are we all here?”
The voices of many generations responded, “All here!” And while smiles of gladness were spreading across our cheeks, the branches of the trees were clapping their hands, and the towers of the great city were chiming their welcome, we all together began to leap and shout, “Home! Home!”
“Heaven is a permanent residence … a place where we unpack our bags and stay forever …. What a glorious thought to wake up in heaven and realize it is home!” ~Charles L Allen
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Wedding Rings
*Adapted from “The Domestic Circle,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], The Wedding Ring: A Series of Discourses for Husbands and Wives and Those Contemplating Matrimony (New York: Louis Klopsch, 1896). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.