“A large city is a place where people are lonely. This loneliness is not the result of an absence of people; rather, it is due to a lack of genuine caring relationships.”1 This was the observation of an American philosopher and naturalist of the 19th century, Henry David Thoreau.
We live in an increasingly troubled world and encounter unimaginable human suffering that can feel overwhelming. Many individuals, Christians included, sometimes respond by turning a blind eye to the pain and loneliness we witness around us. In place of practical help, we merely pray for the needy.
Yet, we are called to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and tend to the sick in tandem with our charge to share the Good News. Social responsibility and soul winning are intrinsically bound together and constitute an inherent part of the Church’s ministry.
‘Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life’ was written by Frank Mason North (1850-1935), a Methodist minister who served congregations in the American states of Florida, New York, and Connecticut.
At the request of the Methodist hymn committee that prepared the 1905 Methodist Hymnal2, the Rev Dr North composed one of the first social gospel hymns that expressed the special needs of American society amidst the increasing urban reality of faceless and uncaring strangers on the streets of New York City.
Even though the hymn was written more than 100 years ago, our world today is still divided by the “cries of race and clan” (stanza 1) and haunted by “wretchedness” and the “lures of greed” (stanza 2). Through this hymn, the Rev Dr North urged us to listen to the “voice of the Son of Man” and to catch “the vision of [His] tears”.
Jesus said, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward” (Matthew 10:42, NIV). This was echoed in stanza 4, where the Rev Dr North reminded us that when we offer a “cup of water”, it “holds the freshness of [Christ’s] grace.”
In the final stanza, the Rev Dr North’s prayer was that “all the world shall learn [God’s] love”. He looked forward to the day when urban hopelessness would be transformed to reflect the “glorious… city of our God”!
May God help us to be a community of faith, sensitivity, and compassion.
 Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1990), 312.
 Michael Hawn, History of Hymns: ‘Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life’, available from www.umdiscipleship.org, accessed on 20 June 2017
Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life (The United Methodist Hymnal, #427)
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.
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.
From tender childhood’s helplessness,
from woman’s grief, man’s burdened toil,
from famished souls, from sorrow’s stress,
your heart has never known recoil.
The cup of water given for you
still holds the freshness of your grace;
yet long these multitudes to view
the sweet compassion of your face.
O Master, from the mountainside,
make haste to heal these hearts of pain;
among these restless throngs abide;
O tread the city’s streets again;
Till all the world shall learn your love,
and follow where your feet have trod,
till, glorious from your heaven above,
shall come the city of our God!
Words: Frank Mason North, 1903 (Mt. 22:9)
Music: William Gardiner’s Sacred Melodies, 1815
Dr Yeo Teck Beng –
is a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.