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Words: Mary Augusta Lee Demarest (b. _____, 1838; d. Jan. 8, 1888)
Music: Ione T. Hanna (b. Aug. 21, 1837; d. Aug. 6, 1924)
Note: Mary Lee wrote this hymn before her own marriage, when she was twenty-three. Her original poem appears to have had about eight stanzas. For the hymn, half have been chosen, and the metre adjusted slightly to fit the tune.
Some years ago, I was on the staff of a Bible college. The registration and orientation of freshmen each year was not always easy for them. So much to remember, so much to learn. It was all rather intimidating. And, for some at least, there was the problem of homesickness. Perhaps they had never been away from home before, for any extended period.
This added depressive feelings to the anxiety of facing something quite new. At times it actually made the students physically ill. Fortunately, a few days of adjusting to the college routine, along with making some new friends, usually moderated their distress considerably. But not always. There were a few, over the years, who simply surrendered to their longings for home and quit school before they even got going.
There is an example of homesickness in the Bible. Late in the Old Testament period, when the people of Israel continued in disobedience toward God, and in idolatry, He allowed the armies of Babylon to enter their land and take many of the choicest citizens captive. There, the people pined for their homeland.
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, and those who plundered us requested mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:1-4).
A similar experience led to the writing of a beautiful hymn in 1861. The story is told by gospel musician Ira Sankey, the soloist and song leader for evangelist Dwight Moody. I’ll only take a paragraph to summarize it here. I encourage you to read the whole story. You’ll find it on the Cyber Hymnal link.
Many years ago John Macduff and his young bride left Scotland for America, there to seek their fortune. After tarrying a few weeks in New York, they went on West, where they had great success. But John’s wife’s health began to fail. The anxious husband said that he feared she was homesick. “John,” she replied, “I am wearying for my ain countrie.” Her husband’s heart was moved with compassion, and in an effort to save her, he eventually sold his home, and took her back across the ocean to Scotland where she did indeed recover.
In 1861, Mary Demarest, when she heard about the Macduffs’ experience, wrote a hymn entitled My Ain Countrie. But instead of Scotland, she portrayed the believer’s longing for the home the Lord Jesus said He is being prepared for us above.
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:2-3).
Paul tells us he had “a desire to depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). A similar longing for a home God would provide was in the heart of Abraham, centuries before. “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:9-10).
It was with such longings and expectations that Mrs. Demarest created her hymn. It was written in Scottish dialect, so it is not likely used many places other than Scotland–where Ira Sankey himself sang it as a solo, blessing many. Below the full text I’ve given a “translation” of several of the more obscure lines.
CH-1) I am far frae my hame, an’ I’m weary aftenwhiles,
For the langed for hame bringin’, an’ my Father’s welcome smiles;
An’ I’ll ne’er be fu’ content, until mine een do see
The gowden gates o’ heav’n an’ my ain countrie.
The earth is fleck’d wi’ flowers, mony tinted, fresh an’ gay
The birdies warble blithely, for my Faither made them sae:
But these sights an’ these soun’s will as naething be to me,
When I hear the angels singin’ in my ain countrie.
CH-2) I’ve His gude word o’ promise that some gladsome day, the King
To His ain royal palace his banished hame will bring;
*Wi’een an’ wi’ hert rinnin’ owre, we shall see
The King in His beauty, in oor ain countrie.
CH-3) **Sae little noo I ken, o’ yon blessèd, bonnie place
I only ken it’s hame, whaur we shall see His face,
It wad surely be eneuch for ever mair to be
In the glory o’ His presence, in oor ain countrie.
CH-4) He is faithfu’ that hath promised, an He’ll surely come again,
***He’ll keep His tryst wi’ me, at what oor I dinnna ken;
But He bids me still to wait, an’ ready aye to be,
To gang at ony moment to my ain countrie.
* With eyes and with heart running over, we shall see
** So little now I know of yonder blessed, lovely place
*** He’ll keep His appointed meeting with me, at what hour I do not know.
1) What things in our lives help to awaken a longing for our heavenly home?
2) What things can tend to dampen or hinder this desire?