One hundred years before Billy Graham’s world-wide evangelistic ministry, there was Dwight L. Moody. Moody was the best known evangelist of the late 1800’s, and like Billy Graham’s Just As I Am, Moody also had a favorite song that he would use as he ended his message and invited the crowds to come forward. His favorite song was written by a friend of his, Will Thompson. The title was Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling. Hundreds of thousands of people came forward to give their lives to Jesus Christ as the gentle words of this hymn were being sung by the choir: “Come home, come home,” goes the refrain; “You who are weary come home; earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, calling O sinner, come home.” This has been called the greatest soul-winning hymn of all time. If coming to faith is a matter of the head and the heart, these words about ‘coming home’ certainly do speak to the heart.
Will Thompson was born in 1847 in East Liverpool, Ohio. His dad was a wealthy businessman and was able to afford to send Will to the very best music schools, both in the United States and in Europe. When still a young man, Thompson wrote several patriotic songs and some lively dance tunes. A publisher in Cleveland offered him the measly sum of $25.00 for the whole works. Thompson thought he could do better on his own, so published the songs himself. His songs became very popular and he became a millionaire.
The young man credited God with his success, and then dedicated his life to writing Christian songs. Some of them became popular, but none caught on like “Softly and Tenderly.” When Moody picked it up for his crusades, it went international.
Despite his wealth and success, Thompson was known as a simple and sincere man. He returned to the small town of his youth, and ran his publishing business from there. He was concerned that while famous musicians traveled to great cities to perform before large crowds, people in rural areas and small towns seldom had anyone to perform for and minister to them. So he loaded up an upright piano on his two horse wagon and drove all over the Midwest, playing his religious songs in churches, city parks, and even at farm homes. Will Thompson was a millionaire and did not have to do that, but he wanted to give people the opportunity to hear the Gospel in song.
In the 1985 movie Trip to Bountiful actress Geraldine Page won an Academy award for her portrayal of a little old lady who just wants to go back home to her small town of Bountiful, Texas one last time before she dies. She lives with her son and daughter-in-law, but they are mean and don’t even let her out of the house. So she has to devise a scheme to get away, get over to the bus station, and get out of town. She manages to escape, and then, on the way, she cheers up everyone she meets with her simple faith and her Gospel hymn singing; and her favorite song is Softly and Tenderly. The song has a double meaning for her. She wants to go home to her childhood earthly home just one more time before she goes on to her heavenly home. It’s a nice movie and a beautiful use of this song. Here’s what one lady wrote about seeing the movie:
I turned on the TV and here were these two women on a bus talking. Nothing about the scene was very dramatic, but the conversation was compelling. And then the older lady started singing, “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me, see on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.” All of a sudden I had this vision of Jesus, standing on a rock, motioning with his hand to come to him, and I could see in his eyes that he was saddened by me not coming. I started crying, and then, for days after I was humming that tune and trying to recall the words. Then one day my husband heard me humming and started to sing all the words. “‘How do you know that song?,” I said. He said, “We always sung it when I went to church as a kid.” There was not a bit of faith left in either of us at that time, but that song in that movie was the beginning of our journey back to God. It was to me the most beautiful music in the world, and it evoked a personal call from Jesus to me: “O for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me, though we have sinned he has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me. Come home, come home, come home….”
That song has had a similar effect on countless people over the years. But why do these words ‘come home, come home,’ have such a powerful emotional appeal for us? Think of that lady, sitting on her couch, getting all choked up over a song about going home. She was at home! She was sitting in her own house. What is going on there?
Deep inside of us all there is a longing for something or someplace else. We can feel in our bones the truth of what the Bible teaches when it says that this world is not our home, that we are but strangers and pilgrims here, and that we are just passing through on our way to someplace else. This world, even in the best of times, is not our home. In bad times and in good, our hearts are set to longing for something more. That, says the Bible, is because we were created for more than the sadness and the confines of this sad world. We were created for God and for life, with him, in his home. And so even a person of no faith at all, when hearing a song about going home, can get a lump in their throat and begin to long for that eternal and heavenly home.
Jesus is always saying to everyone of us, “Come home.”
Matthew 11:28-30 — Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
John 14:23 — Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
Revelation 3:20 — Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
Revelation 20:3, 4 — I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: “Now God’s home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.”
May the eternal God bless us and keep us, guard our bodies, save our souls, direct our thoughts, and bring us safe to the heavenly country, our eternal home, where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ever reign, one God for ever and ever. Amen. –Sarum Breviary