THE RETURN HOME
by Frank Sewall
And every man went unto his own house.—St. John vii. 53.
WHEN our Lord was on earth few people there were who knew Him and received Him in his true Divine character, as God manifest in the flesh and descended to earth for the salvation of the human race.
There were frequent questionings and disputings about Him, his origin, his mission, and his teachings. Some thought Him to be a prophet sent of God; some thought Him to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, come to deliver the people of God. Others disputed this, because they supposed that He had come from Galilee, and the Scriptures declare that the Messiah must come from Bethlehem; not knowing that in Bethlehem Jesus had indeed been born. And so “there was a division among the people because of Him, and some would have taken Him, but no man laid hands on Him.” And on one occasion, when the chief priests were contending that Jesus, having come from Galilee, could be no true prophet, and ought to be given up to the law, while the officers, on the other hand, declared that the law could judge no man until it had at least heard him,-— the dispute being ended, we read that ” every man went unto his own house.”
A little statement, seemingly very commonplace and unimportant. Yes! ” And every man went unto his own house” Is not this true today of those who hear of the Lord Jesus, who witness the various opinions and doctrines held by man concerning Him? who hear his own holy Words as they have come down to us in the gospel, and who must in their own minds decide whether they will henceforth be followers of the Lord Jesus, or join with those who persecute and deny Him? ” And every man went unto his own house.” Neither then, nor now, does the Lord compel any man to believe in Him and worship Him. We are all in freedom as to what we will think and do concerning Him who was born in humility in our flesh to become the Saviour of the world.
Once three disciples, Peter, James, and John, saw the Lord transfigured in his Divine Glory; they saw Him as He appears in heaven; as the angels there see Him; his face shining as the sun, his garment white as the light. It was God, and not man they saw there, and they hid their faces before the splendor of that august and holy Presence! But not so did these men see the Lord, who disputed about Him, and questioned whether to follow Him or deliver Him up to the law. The Lord might have summoned about Him legions of angels to protect Him from their violence or to awe them with his Divine Majesty. But He had no interest in having men to follow Him and worship Him as Divine, except as they did so willingly, from the heart. Gladly, indeed, would He have men give up all and follow Him; but they could only of their own will give up their selfish lusts, their earthly idols. The Lord would not take anything from them by violence. The Lord would have a man to compel himself; the Lord does not compel. And to compel one’s self is an act of the highest freedom. It is an act of the will; it is a deciding which we will follow and obey, the Lord or the devil.
This is a decision which no one else makes for us; each one of us must make this decision for himself, and in his own heart. The will of man, the affections, and the persuasions of his heart, is his spiritual house. It is the house in which he abides as to his motives, his purposes, his desires, in the conduct of his daily life. Here in this spiritual house of the will every man decides whether or not Jesus is his God and Saviour. He has heard what the Church says of Him, what the high-priest and the Pharisees dispute concerning Him, and now it is for him to decide, not from any outward compulsion, from no temporary excitement of the feelings, from no sudden fears, from no terrifying threats, but in the still privacy of his own heart, in the turning of his own affections to the Lord or to the world, toward heaven or toward hell, and in the formation of a permanent principle of life, good or evil, he is to decide whether he is for or against the Lord. It is a question that concerns himself and not another. It is a question which he and no other can decide. It is a question of his own inward life,— of that inner heart which God sees and reads, but which men know little of. It is a question of what is most intimate, most private, most real, most essentially his own.
“Am I a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ ?” Books, learning, disputes, reasonings, preachings are by! The man is returned into his own heart, his soul’s house. What witness does his life there, as known to none but himself and God, bear concerning his acknowledgment or rejection of Jesus the Saviour, the True God and Eternal Life ?
“And every man went unto his own house.” When we have been in church and heard the Lord’s Word read and have been instructed from his holy doctrine concerning our religious duties, our duties to God and to our neighbor, then it is as true of us spiritually as literally, that “every man goes unto his own house.” We go to our homes one one way, another another, each to his own peculiar station, place, calling, and circumstances in life. No one person’s home is just like that of another. Our homes are the nearest things to our hearts, and, as a general rule, they best portray our hearts. The outward visible home corresponds to the inward invisible home of the will. Not that the things themselves which a man has about him, the creations of his wealth, the work of the architect or the upholsterer, always bespeak the heart, the kind of home within. Many a gorgeous, most beautiful, and cheerful palace shelters a man or woman whose soul’s house is gloomier than a dungeon and foul with the damps of caverns; and as truly are there beneath humble roofs and amid plain walls many fair and heavenly mansions growing up in loving, Christian souls, bright with the sunshine of heaven, and adorned as with all beautiful and precious stones.
In the spiritual world, indeed, in heaven and in hell, a man’s house is always the picture of his heart and his inward life; for there the ruling love of a man shapes the outer world into conformity with itself. Here on earth it is not wholly so, although the principle holds true here, in some degree. For it is an accepted maxim that four walls do not make a home. That is, a man’s home, or his “own house,” consists not in the natural things he may chance to have accumulated about him, the rich in abundance, the poor in scanty supply, but rather in the general sphere, the order, the sentiment, the kind of principle, in a word, that pervades everything in the house, that makes everything to be in some way expressive of the inward character and disposition of the inmates. How different does the same house look when another occupant has moved into it ! We carry our homes with us; for we have the real soul’s house, the spiritual house, within us, and this is what shapes to itself somehow the house we inhabit and makes it to become home to us. Now, what I would say is, that when, after the church service is over, we go “every man to his own house!” we do really go to our own homes spiritually as well as literally. For in going back into the house we inhabit, into the family, into all the domestic and social relations which belong to us there, we go back into our ordinary inward state of life; we put on, so to speak, our everyday clothes; we are ourselves, thinking, speaking, and willing in freedom, out of the spontaneous impulses of the heart. The holy state of worship which the external rites of the Church has brought upon us is now removed; we enter into our ordinary familiar moods and ways. And here are we to put to use what we have heard and learned in church concerning the Lord and our spiritual duties. Here if anywhere are we to determine whether or not we will lead the Christian life; whether we will try to put to practice the holy lessons we have learned, and so to take up our cross and follow the Lord in the regeneration.
It is the reverse of this in the judgments mostly sought for in the world. Men are more concerned about the opinion which is formed from their life out-of-doors than about what men think of their ways of living in the privacy of their homes and families. Respectability, not to say honesty, purity, and gentle manners, are often cultivated with great care for the opinion of men in public and social life, and quite forgotten when men have returned to their own homes. This, indeed, should not be so, and that it is so shows how artificial and false our life is when shaped after the common worldly pattern. We need a higher standard to live by than ” the way that other people do.” God gives us the higher, better pattern in his Holy Word. It is here that we are taught to make clean the inside as well as the outside of the platter, and to act always in the holy fear of Him who seeth in secret.
Here it is most commonly about a man’s public life and conduct,— his manners on the street, or in the office, or in the public worship or in the social assembly, — that we hear opinions expressed, “Such an one is a gentleman ; is so generous; so pure in spirit and thought, so considerate, so truthful, so unselfish !” Would the judgment be always the same were the door opened into that man’s own house ? Is it there under his own roof, and with those who are his neighbors in the nearest and most important sense, that the man is just, true, gentle, and kind ?
In the other world to which we are going this will, I say, all be reversed. Then it will be asked not alone what a man has spoken on the house-tops, but what he has whispered in the ear and in closets; not what a man’s public life, but what a man’s private life, has been not what he did or said in the company of the man whose good opinion he courted, but what he did when he had “returned to his own house.”
Unless, when we so have returned each one unto his own house, we there remember what we have heard, unless we try to practice the laws of heavenly life there amid the common duties and trials which make up our real weekday life, we are far from being the followers of the Lord. We are like those of whom the Lord says, ” This people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” Ah, what a solemn thought it is, that God has so ordained the way of our regeneration that every man, on hearing the Word of Life, “shall go unto his own house !” that with every man lies the responsibility of saving or destroying his soul, and that this issue lies in the man’s own private life, the life of his soul’s home, the life of his ruling affections and principles of conduct! It is not enough that we be pious and zealous Christians in the house of God. The question is, What are we when ” every man has gone unto his own house”? Is it possible that the soul is made fit for heaven at once because smitten with the terrors of hell as depicted by a zealous preacher, or warmed by the momentary enthusiasm of a multitude ? Shall we think that the sensuous excitement produced by eloquent oratory or music, or any ecstasy of the mind under the influence of fear or persuasion or personal magnetism, is really a changing of the heart ? the making over of the old life with its familiar besetting sins into a pure, heavenly, saintly life in an instant of time ?
Ah! how is it when, after such a season of strained emotion and unnatural excitement, “every man has gone unto his own house”? How is it when the self-deluded convert, who shouted aloud the tidings of his salvation in the ears of the multitude the night before, wakes up in the morning to find himself no more in the “house of prayer,” but in the house of his own old lusts and passions, his old worldly loves, his selfish, earthly aims; when he finds his heart and its affections the same as before, the same old temptations returning to him with renewed force, the same cunning plea of the devil in his ear, the same voice of flattery and sinful pleasure and unholy gain whispering to him from the world? Then, indeed, he knows that “every man has returned unto his own house.”
Happy if, discovering his delusion, and seeing then the awful distinction between a temporary pious emotion and the religion of everyday life,— the difference between acknowledging the Lord and shouting his praises in the congregation and inwardly worshiping and obeying Him at home in his soul’s own house,— happy if he be not discouraged! Happy if the evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none, return not into him with sevenfold power, and make the last state of that man to be worse than the first!
We would not hinder any sincere effort or means of rousing men to a sense of the perils of an evil, ungodly life,—of lifting their thoughts to heaven and to God ; but we would that men were taught that the test of conversion is not in the momentary, transient emotions of the hour of prayer, but in the state of life which is entered upon when “every man has gone unto his own house.”
Some there are — alas, too many !—who hear sermons in church, and then go carrying its application, not every man to his own house, but to the house of his neighbor,— hearing for others, not themselves, and letting the stern judgments of the truth fall on the evils they detect in others, rather than on the foes of their own household. Let every man, when the Lord has given him light, carry that light with him unto his own house; to cast thus the beam out of his own eye before he seeketh to cast the mote out of his brother’s eye.
There draweth near to all of us the day and the hour when the Lord shall call us away from these temporary homes of earth and the natural body, and when in the resurrection and the judgment every man shall go unto his own house. Here in the world we have heard the Word of God; we have learned of the Lord our Saviour; we have been taught those Divine commandments which are the way of eternal life. Here it is in our power, by prayer, by looking to the Lord, by shunning our evils as sins, by faithfully fulfilling our duties, to acquire, through the Lord’s ever-present help, a regenerated will, a heart impelled by heavenly motives and fit for the enjoyment of heavenly delights. Such a regenerated will is the soul’s home, which the good man carries with him into the other world; it is his mansion not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. In our Father’s house, which is in heaven, are many such mansions; and may it be our endeavor here to be building for ourselves, by the practice of a holy Christian life, such spiritual homes! that it may be into these heavenly mansions that we may, by the Divine mercy, enter, in that day when “every man shall go unto his own house!”
Author: Frank Sewall from The Hem of His Garment, 1876