Men groan from out of the city, and the soul of the wounded cries out: yet God lays not folly to them.
An ominous characteristic of the social condition of modern England is the continuous draining of the population out of the rural districts into the cities. No greater scandal exists than the condition of the crowded multitudes in these great centres. From time to time we are roused by some prophet-voice that draws our attention to the misery and degradation of the city poor, and warns us of the danger that lurks therein. But it is not enough to be periodically startled, and to make occasional spasmodic efforts to remedy the evil. Continuous study and patient, unremitting toil are called for to cope with the dark problem. The bitter cry is shrill and penetrating, and of many voices.
I. POVERTY. This is the first visible cause of the misery. The poor regard London as an Eldorado. It seems as though they must get some employment in the vast, busy city. So they pour into it in shoals. There individually they are lost sight of. The very multitude of them drowns their separate claims and appeals. A huge mass of poverty does not touch personal sympathies. It is a horror of misery, but it does not call for the aid that the distress of one person whose exact circumstances and history are known elicits.
II. OVERCROWDING. This evil means more than wretchedness. It is a distinct cause of moral deterioration, a direct source of dark vices. Herded like beasts, is it wonderful that men live like beasts? The decencies of life are impossible. All the finer feelings are crushed by coarse surroundings. The gracious influences of silence and privacy are unknown. People are forced to live and move and have their being in the midst of a noisy mob. The certain result is a break-down of civilization, and a corrupt civilization is worse than barbarism. The savagery of city slums is of a more degraded type than that of African forests.
III. DRINK. All who have looked carefully into the condition of the miserably poor of great cities are driven to the one conclusion that the most prolific source of evil is intemperance. No doubt the overcrowding, the misery, the absence of all other resources drive people to this one desperate consolation. We must remove the causes of intemperance if we would sweep away the vice. Still, it is a vice. Indulgence in it is morally degrading. So huge a vice demands exceptional treatment. It is the duty of Christian people not merely to enjoy their aesthetic worship, but also to follow Christ in saving the lost. Temperance work must take a prominent place in the activities of the Church.
IV. NARROWNESS OF LIFE. The town life is dingy and compressed. The influences of nature are not felt. The School Board has not yet brought the spirit of culture within the horizon of the crowded people in the lower parts of great cities. Religion is little more than a name to too many of these unhappy people. Such a cramped and crushed life cannot grow and bear fruit in the graces of human experience. Here, then, is a bitter cry that all Christians should hearken to for Christ's sake. It is humiliating to a Christian nation that such a cry should be heard in our land; it will be a sign that our religion is but hypocritical Pharisaism if the cry is unheeded. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Men groan from out of the city, and the soul of the wounded crieth out: yet God layeth not folly to them.