A Boy Runs Away From Home
( Originally Published 1902 )
THERE was an old retired minister who belonged to our church in a Western city. His name was Samuel Longden. His head was bald and his beard long and white ; his tone was rather monotonous, and his voice was deep and strong; he had excellent common sense and was a good preacher. He was very regular in his attendance upon the services of the church, usually sitting in the altar and often assisting in the opening or closing services He was kind in spirit and true and loyal to me personally. I always felt better when he and two or three other aged ministers were present in the meeting. One day Father Longden came to the door of the parsonage, where I met him. His face was radiant as he said, " Oh, pastor, I have good news for you, good news," and he alternately laughed and cried. " Sit down and let me tell you what it is that makes me so happy. Twenty-five years ago, in a State far east of here, I had my home. We were having family prayers one morning, when one of my boys indulged in a game of marbles while I was praying. I caught him at it and switched him. He went out of the house into the yard, and when dinner-time came he was not at the table. I thought he had been persuaded to dine with some playmate, or had perhaps gone to see a relative in another part of the town, and felt no uneasiness about him. At suppertime he did not make his appearance, and I began to feel quite anxious. We searched everywhere in vain for him ; we spent the night looking for him. The next day we dragged the canal, and looked in every open well and in every place of danger, for his body. I have never seen his face since and have never heard a line from him until today. I have just received from the office, a letter from the postmaster of a town in Kansas to the postmaster of this place, asking if there is a man living here by the name of Samuel Longden, and that if there is to tell him that his lost boy is alive and wants to come home. That letter has almost set me wild with joy. The name of the man mentioned in the letter is the name of my son, and I am so happy at the thought of meeting him again. I have written my little boy—now a man thirty-two years old—to come to us as quickly as the train can carry him, and I hurried to your house as rapidly as I could at the discovery of my boy, who was dead and is alive again, who was lost and is found. You could appreciate my joy a little better if you only knew what terrible sorrow I have endured. I have never had a real happy day in all the twenty-five years since the boy left home. If I had known that he was dead, then the wound, which was severe enough, would have had some opportunity to heal, but twenty-five years of awful suspense has brought an anguish to my heart which no language can describe. I have often thought I was too severe with him that morning; that if I had corrected him a little more tenderly I might have drawn him to, instead of driven him away from, me; but they used the rod more in those days than we do now, and I did, at the time, what I thought was best for him. Mind you, I do not excuse the boy's irreverence, nor his early rebellion, but now, thank God, the black night of my sorrow is past, and the bright day of my joy has come. Pastor, another reason why I have come to see you is, that you may be of possible spiritual service to my son. I do not know whether he is a Christian or not ; if he should be, I know you will rejoice with me in the fact; if he should not be, I bespeak your kindly service in his behalf."
No fiction ever seemed so strange or thrilling as the true story of this old man ; when he was dwelling upon the sad parts of the incident the tears would pour down his face, and when he came to the joyful part he would smile and almost shout with delight. Sure enough, the train on Saturday brought the boy home, and he was in the church Sunday morning. I shall never forget him, as he sat on my right under the window and hung on every word that was uttered. He had not given his heart to Christ, and I prepared my sermon with special reference to him, and I have reason to believe that I had some little share in bringing the prodigal, who had returned to his earthly father's home, to the Heavenly Father's heart.
Both with and without provocation, young men often stray out into the world into a life of mystery and discontent, bringing a deep shadow of gloom upon the home which they have left. It is a fortunate thing when such come to themselves and return to the hearts that long for and love them. Always without provocation, the sinner strays away from God, the home of the soul, and goes into a far country, falling into evil company, contracting evil habits and at last perishing with starvation. It is fortunate for him if he shall come to his senses; discover his lost condition and return to his Heavenly Father. The nearest the Saviour could come to telling the joy of the Infinite heart at the return of a wandering soul was to describe an earthly father running to meet and embrace his prodigal son. I never recall Father Longden's joy in finding his son, that I do not think of the infinitely greater joy of the Divine Father's heart at the return of his penitent child.