The Journey Home
Reminiscence is considered the privilege, if not the symptom, of old age. Few have leisure to sit down and take stock, to look around, during their working years. Most are so busy doing things or getting on, that they have little inclination to pause in their activities. Christian maturity might be considered the youth of eternity. The years are rich with the fruits of experience and ripe with memories of loving-kindness. One may look back across retreating years with profit. Evidences of loving-kindness lie so thick about the way that a recollection of mercies here, of help there, of strength supplied and comfort given, renews vigour and deepens confidence in Him who loves with an everlasting love.
A traveller to a foreign land watches the fading coastline of his native shore with that affection peculiar to familiar scenes. But as the journey proceeds new experiences begin to claim attention. When at last the journey nears its end there is a mounting excitement, a quickened interest in the new country, in the life to be lived there. All that imagination has long envisaged will soon become reality. As the new land appears on the horizon, steadily getting closer, assuming the solid proportions of a new world and a new life, the mind will flash back to the day of leaving the old home, to all that has befallen by the way, to find that realisation surpasses anticipation. Christian life is the greatest journey of all. From the analogies of an ocean voyage, an adventurous land journey, a hazardous mountain ascent, the Christian pilgrim has drawn inspiration. No one travels alone. They who leave the world to climb the heavenly steeps are always in good company, for as one of our finest pilgrims said out of the fullness of his own experience: "Those who delight in the Lord's way have blessed communion and fellowship with him. They live on a higher plane, breathe a purer atmosphere and enjoy a holier, sweeter friendship than the world could ever offer".
During the long era set aside for the gathering together of God's family, they have been on the road together. Circumstances have differed, time and miles have divided them, but in experience, in aim, in love, they have been one band, on the march to the City of God. Now as the sun sets over the world and the evening star beckons the wayfarers up the last hard slope, it may be good to halt while we look back across the chequered experiences of the road. From it we may draw new courage for the final mile that will lodge us safely in the Father's house. All that has passed has brought us to this hour. None of it may be lived again. Time pushes us forward. We must go farther on. We will not go reluctantly nor with unseemly haste, but with firm and steady foot, watchful, meek and reverent as those commanded to appear before a royal presence. How long ago it seems since first we lifted eyes towards our Father's home, yet memories fresh as yesterday, bittersweet with pain and joy, come crowding back, bright as shimmering dew drops and the eager, questioning eyes of youth. How remarkable has been the journey! There are those early days like basking in the summer meadows. In poem and picture lay the celestial mountain, distant, mysterious; strangely attractive with its wordless invitation so readily accepted. By what strange power are hearts drawn and feet wooed to take that road where they may sit with Christ! "With loving kindness have I drawn thee". It was not the rod of force or fear driving us where we would not go, but love, wondrous love, yearning, drawing, winning as a parent wins a child to take its first steps. "We love him because he first loved us"; realising the power of His love at work in our mind and heart, we could not choose but to go.
It is never easy, for the world raises its voice in protest, the ties of flesh stretch out restraining hands, and the sceptic tongue lets fall its acid words of doubt and thinly veiled contempt. To the worldly-wise it seems a fool's errand. The abandoning of the certain and the seen for the ethereal uncertainties of the unseen, for a kingdom which cannot be entered upon by flesh and blood or with out struggle of mind and sacrifice of self, appears to the natural mind an unreasonable throwing away of all that is best in life. But the Christian traveller is encouraged in the experiences of those who have gone before.
Abraham, the father of all faithful pilgrims, left the known and familiar, content to journey he knew not where, led, supported, and blessed by the loving kindness which drew him from pagan Ur to the promised land. Rebekah readily left home and kindred, drawn by love, to a new land and a wonderful destiny. Meditating upon that journey of his great ancestress, the Psalmist saw a greater Bride, setting out upon a longer, more hazardous journey and left his vision in words for our inspiration. "Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people, and your father's house, and the king will desire your beauty: since he is your lord: bow to him". (Psalm 45.10,11 NRSV) Paul, counting his all an easy loss, that he might win Christ, his real treasure; counting the perils and pains of the way a light affliction, not worthy to be compared with the journey's end and the crown of life. We are in good company. The Lord of pilgrims Himself left the heavenly glory, was made flesh and for our sakes became poor, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps.
So the journey begins without misgivings, with out backward look, though not without sorrow. "When love meets truth and truth must ride above", the heart knows a widening gulf which may never be crossed again. It meets its first heroic test "when love can leave love though the heart may bleed". The gulf was crossed at that Jordan of baptismal waters and separation from the old ways. Feet were firmly set upon the narrow, holy ground that leads to heavenly life. Confidence lent vigour to the energetic striding, to the heart eager to be active, to be off, to mount the paths of grace and knowledge. But consternation puts many a damper on the ardent traveller, expecting to see round every bend the golden land of promise. With what dismay we read on each signpost "a little farther on" and view the next hill with a lesser sense of conquest, realising by now that beyond that lies another and yet another.
Looking back we can but smile over those fond hopes that the kingdom of heaven lay around every corner. That with brash certitude we could, in a few swift mountings, stand boldly before its gates, take it by storm, as it were, the privileged, knowledge able, favoured few, for whom all heaven waited, before there could begin a work of blessing the multitudes of men upon this little planet Earth. Only as the road lengthened, as Time took its toll of hasty conclusions did we look from many a vantage point and see as God sees. Time is no mean element. It took time to frame the world and it takes time to make a saint. God is in no hurry. With patience and certainty the Lord of Eternity works out His sovereign will, taking hold of human material, shaping and moulding it to His own heart's desire. This is one of the hard lessons of the pilgrim way. The great Forerunner had to learn obedience, quiescence, by the things that He suffered. The servant, lower than the Master, learns the same lessons in the same way, shares the same school and the same suffering. "As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth". It is more than a wordless acceptance of reproach and more than a silent resignation to the hand of God. It is love in unquestioning repose. Meditating on that last rise before the heavenly portals reveals that this is the real meaning and purpose of life. Factions, parties, creeds and dogmas fade away into nothingness before the one abiding, eternal grace. We ponder the steps by which we have risen, the road on which we have travelled, the books by which we have learned, even the very conflicts in which we have engaged. What we took to be truth and error, right and wrong, fall away like autumn leaves before the certainty that nothing but Godlike, benevolent love will gain admittance to the glorious courts of the Most High. The pilgrim must stand alone at the last step, stripped of all earthly trappings, deprived of all human support, freed from all natural pretensions. If the earthen vessel has at last become the container of the spikenard, refined and scaled of all its dross and roughness into the lustrous beauty of the spirit, then the labour and the journey have not been in vain.
At journey's end there will be nothing left but that. The old faraway beginning will be lost to sight; the flower strewn pastures far behind. All the hazards and storms of the journey will be over. Only the quiet resting-places will remain in memory to refresh the last lap of the road. Even the very road itself, zigzagging up and around the Mount of God will be lost in the mist of the years that are gone. Now the eye must be constant to the peak, the step firmly forward. With staff in hand and robe tightly girded, the wayfarer must go as Moses went to meet his God, to put himself finally and forever into His keeping.
David saw his Lord leaving the ivory palaces, his garments fragrant with healing essences as he passed among men. The Revelator saw the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem, descending from heaven adorned in all the glory and beauty of life- giving power. And a great voice proclaimed the event as the time for the wiping away of all human miseries, the drying of tears, and the water of life flowing freely to every thirsty soul. It is the grand culmination of the pilgrim way, the event for which heaven and earth have waited long. The light afflictions of earth will not begin to compare with that weight of glory allotted to those who hold on in faith through thick and thin, through rough weather and awesome solitudes, to the very throne of God. There at last the load, the cross and the trophies will all be laid down, replaced by the crown of life and victory, to the accompaniment of the heavenly choirs chanting their glory songs to the Most High.
("Herald of Christ's Kingdom")