Posted by: rcottrill | May 17, 2013

Where Cross the Crowded Ways

Words: Frank Mason North (b. Dec. 3, 1850; d. Dec. 17, 1935)
Music: Germany, by William Gardner (b. Mar. 15, 1770; d. Nov. 16, 1853)


Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn was written in 1903. The tune, Germany, is also used with the hymn Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness.

The inspiration for this hymn comes from the command of a king, in a parable of the Lord Jesus, a story that provides an image of the gospel outreach.

“Therefore go into the highways [the thoroughfares, the crossroads and street corners], and as many as you find, invite to the wedding” (Matt. 22:9).

In a similar parable, in Luke, we find “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Lk. 14:23). The “hedges” likely refers to those that were grown as protective barriers around farming land. Thus is represented both urban and rural areas. However, Mr. North’s focus is on city life.

The author served for some time as a pastor in New York City, and knew his subject well. In his Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, Carlton Young says Pastor North worked among those “whose human needs and civil rights were constantly ignored by racist slum lords, corrupt and self-serving politicians, and greedy and union-busting business entrepreneurs” (p. 701).

As this suggests, the hymn writer was a strong advocate of the Social Gospel. This philosophy, appearing in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, taught that the church is responsible for social activism, dealing with problems such as hunger and poverty, addiction and prostitution, and bringing about reform. Its advocates argued that Christ’s teachings were as much about social reform as about individual approaches to salvation.

Frankly, I don’t believe a careful reading of the Gospels bears that out. But in any event, a couple of things need to be kept in mind.

First, that Christ was ministering to His own people the Jews, a nation that had the Scriptures (the Old Testament) already spelling out how they should live, both individually and in community. But the Lord’s concern was that so often Judaism had become a religion of mere externals, without a true and necessary spiritual dimension (cf. Matt. 15:8-9). That’s the kind of “reform” He was seeking.

Second, we are today living on this side of the cross–a key distinction that must be kept in mind. After the church was born at Pentecost, the gospel of grace was extended to all. Now, in the Church Age, Jew and Gentile enter the body of Christ on a equal footing, through faith in Him (Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 3:6). And that entry is the major concern of Acts and the epistles.

The work of the apostles and others, and the message of the letters they wrote, is overwhelmingly concerned with eternity, with the need for saving faith in Christ, and spiritual growth. That is, in fact, a fulfilment of the Great Commission which the Lord gave believers at the end of His earthly ministry (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15; Lk. 24:46-48; Jn. 20:21; Acts 1:8). The time is short before He returns. Our concern for the spiritual and eternal needs of others must have priority.

But to borrow a statement of Jesus from another context: “These you ought to have done [preaching the Word, evangelizing the lost], without leaving the others undone [showing the love of Christ, and helping those in need in concrete ways]” (Matt. 23:23). We need to minister to the whole person, spirit, soul, and body. But it’s a matter of where our emphasis and primary focus is to be as the church of Jesus Christ.

Saying we are not Social Gospelites is not to exclude any and all involvement by Christians in the material and social needs of their communities. And certainly the great urban centres seem to have more than their share of problems. “The dying groan in the city” (Job 24:12; cf. Ps. 55:9). And “when He [Christ] saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them” (Matt. 9:36). We need to see the multitudes around us through the eyes of Jesus. When we do, we’ll “catch the vision of [His] tears” (CH-2) and lend a hand.

Frank Mason North’s great hymn gives eloquent expression to these needs. And though we may differ with him on some points of theology, or as to our primary mission, I see nothing in this hymn which, in itself, is unbiblical. I encourage you to go to the Cyber Hymnal link and read the entire hymn. Its imagery is passionate and powerful.

CH-1) Where cross the crowded ways of life,
Where sound the cries of race and clan
Above the noise of selfish strife,
We hear your voice, O Son of Man.

CH-2) In haunts of wretchedness and need,
On shadowed thresholds dark with fears,
From paths where hide the lures of greed,
We catch the vision of Your tears.

1) What physical, emotional or social needs are you (or your church) actively involved in meeting?

2) How are these loving ministries kept in biblical balance with the proclamation of the gospel?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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