Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling

Will L. Thompson, 1847-1909

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.

Come home.

Our hymnbooks are full of invitations.

Sometimes the songs request that God come to us. Sometimes they bid us to come home to him.

Written in 1880 by Will Thompson, an Ohio music-store owner and music publisher, this soft and tender invitation became a favorite at turn-of-the-century revivals.

Nineteen years after the song's publication, Thompson visited a dying Dwight L. Moody-—-the premiere, nationally renowned evangelist of his day. Though visitors were restricted, Moody insisted that Thompson be allowed to come in. A reflective Moody, looking back over his persuasive ministry, his crowd-drawing preaching, gave Thompson the ultimate compliment:

"I would rather have written 'Softly andTenderly,' than anything I have been able to do in my whole life." Thompson's song tugs at the heart.

Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home. Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home.

Another notable in Moody's circle of friends, gospel songwriter Fanny Crosby, once nudged a New York "Bowery bum" toward the Kingdom, piquing his interest by noting that "the sweetest words in our language or any other are mother, home, and heaven."

Come home. The invitation works for the dying: The choir of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church sang Thompson's classic at Martin Luther King's memorial service.

Time is now fleeting; the moments are -passing . . . Shadows are gathering; deathbeds are coming, Coming for you and for me. Come home. Come home.

It works for the homesick. Cynthia Clawson's interpretation of the song winds hauntingly through the 1985 movie Trip to Bountiful, the story of an old woman's obsession: to escape Houston and her ditzy daughter-in-law and get back to her homestead in Bountiful, Texas. (I think of the William Wordsworth lines: "Homeless near a thousand homes I stood, And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food."

It works for the wayfaring. My colleague Peggy says she came to Christ, being drawn by Thompson's music as rendered in the Bountiful movie, which is ultimately a woman's journey to freedom. Not freedom from a daughter-in-law but freedom of spirit. Peggy recalls watching the movie when it was broadcast on TV.

"It was one of those serendipitous events. I turned on the TV and there were two women riding on a bus, talking. Believe it or not, the scene was compelling.Then came the song: 'Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, See on the portals he's waiting and watching,  Watching for you and for me.' The image flashed into my mind of Jesus standing on a rock beckoning me with soft and loving eyes. He was motioning to me with his right arm to come to him. He could not understand why I would not come and accept this love that was waiting, just for me. For weeks afterward I sang that song and tried to learn the words. I sang and cried while I did the dishes. I sang and cried while I folded the clothes. One day my husband started singing along. Starded, I asked him how he knew the words. He said it was an old hymn they sang in all the Baptist churches. (I had never heard it in a Catholic church.) I was amazed—right here in my own home was someone who could teach the words to me. 'How could you know this song and not sing it or share it?' I demanded. To him it was just another hymn among many. To me it evoked a personal call from Jesus to me to open my heart to him. It was the most beautiful music in the world:

O for the wonderful love he has promised . . . Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, Pardon for you and for me. Come home. Come home.

Fanny Crosby placed home among the most beautiful words in any language. And poet Wordsworth pictured God as being "our home."

Home, where the porch light is always on, beckoning. Not understanding why any homesick child would not come all the way in.

If you make the Most High your dwelling ...

then no harm will befall you,

no disaster will come near your tent.

Psalm 91:9 -10

Lord, I have come to you as my home. And yet I know that you are always beckoning me further in. I open myself to you today. I hear your call to come home, past the parlor, into the kitchen to sit at your table.

From the book: "Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns" by Evelyn Bence.

Ah yes, the Passover is the time to draw close to Christ, to meditate on His love and mercy; a time to deeply think about sin, yes to remember we are sinner, but also to be lifted up in praise and wonderment that Jesus gave His life so we could live forever in the Father's Kingdom. We are indeed saved by grace. If you have never studied my study called "Saved by Grace" on my website, then you need to do so. I feel it is one of the best and most important studies I was inspired to write.

Keith Hunt