« PreviousContinue »
In the first place, the street impresses me with the fact that this life is a scene of toil and struggle. By ten o'clock every day the city is jarring with wheels, and shuffling with feet, and humming with voices, and covered with the breath of smoke-stacks, and a-rush with traffickers. Once in awhile you find a man going along with folded arms and with leisure step, as though he had nothing to do; but for the most part, as you find men going down these streets on the way to business, there is anxiety in their faces, as though they had some errand which must be executed at the first possible moment. You are jostled by those who have bargains to make and notes to sell. Up this ladder with a hod of bricks, out of this bank with a roll of bills, on this dray with a load of goods, digging a cellar, or shingling a roof, or shoeing a horse, or building a wall, or mending a watch, or binding a book. Industry, with her thousand arms and thousand eyes, and thousand feet, goes on singing her song of work! work! work! while the mills drum it, and the steam-whistles fife it. All this is not because men love toil. Some one remarked: ''Every man is as lazy as he can afford to be." But it is because necessity with stern brow and with uplifted whip, stands over you ready whenever you relax your toil to make your shoulders sting with the lash. Can it be that passing up and down these streets on your way to work and business that you do not learn anything of the world's toil, and anxiety, and struggle? Oh! how many drooping hearts, how many eyes on the watch, how many miles traveled, how many burdens carried, how many losses suffered, how many battles fought, how many victories gained, how many defeats suffered, how many exasperations endured—what losses, what hunger, what wretchedness, what pallor, what disease, what agony, what despair! Sometimes I have stopped at the corner of the street as the multitudes went hither and yon, and it has seemed to be a great pantocaine, and as I looked upon it my heart broke. This great tide of human life that goes down the street is a rapid, tossed, and turned aside, and dashed ahead, and driven back—beautiful in its confusion, and confused in its beauty. In the carpeted aisles of the forest, in the woods from which the eternal shadow is never lifted, on the shore of the sea over whose iron coast tosses the tangled foam sprinkling the cracked cliffs with a baptism of whirlwind and tempest, is the best place to study God; but in the rushing, swarming, raving street is the best place to study man. Going down to your place of business and coming home again, I charge you look about—see these signs of poverty, of wretchedness, of hunger, of sin, of bereavement—and as you go through the streets, and come back through the streets, gather up in the arms of your prayer all the sorrow, all the losses, all the suffering, all the bereavements of those whom you pass, and present them in prayer before an all-sympathetic God. In the great day of eternity there will be thousands of persons with whom you in this world never exchanged one word, will rise up and call you blessed; and there will be a thousand fingers pointed at you in heaven, saying: "That is the man, that is the woman, who helped me when I was hungry, and sick, and wandering, and lost, and heart-broken. That is the man, that is the woman," and the blessing wdll come down upon you as Christ shall say: "I was hungry and ye fed me, I was naked and ye clothed me, I was sick and in prison and ye visited me; inasmuch as ye did it to these poor waifs of the streets, ye did it to Me."
A.gain, the street impresses me with the fact that all classes and conditions of society must commingle. We sometimes culture a wicked exclusiveness. Intellect despises ignorance. Eefinement will have nothing to do with boorishness. Gloves hate the sunburned hand, and the high forehead despises the flat head; and the trim hedgerow will have nothing to do with the wild corpsewood, and the Athens hates Nazareth. This ought not to be so. The astronomer must come down from his starry revelry and help us in our navigation. The surgeon must come away from his study of the human organism and set our broken bones. The chemist must come away from his laboratory, where he has been studying analysis and synthesis, and help us to understand the nature of the soils. I bless God that all classes of people are compelled to meet on the street. The glittering coach-wheel clashes against the scavenger's cart. Fine robes run against the pedlar's pack. Robust health meets wan sickness. Honesty confronts fraud. Every class of people meets every other class. Independence and modesty, pride and humility, purity and beastliness, frankness and hypocrisy, meeting on the same block, in the same street, in the same city. Oh! that is what Solomon meant when he said: "The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all." I like this democratic principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which recognizes the fact that we stand before God on one and the same platform. Do not take on any airs; whatever position you have gained in society, you are nothing but a man, born of the same parent, regenerated by the same Spirit, cleansed in the same blood, to lie down in the same dust, to get up in the same resurrection. It is high time that we all acknowledged not only the Fatherhood of God, but the brotherhood of man. Again, the street impresses me with the fact that it is
a very hard thing for a man to keep his heart right and . to get to heaven. Infinite temptations spring upon us from these places of public concourse. Amid so much affluence how much temptation to covetousness, and to be' discontented with our humble lot. Amid so many opportunities for over-reaching, what temptation to extortion. Amid so much display, what temptation to vanity. Amid so many saloons of strong drink, what allurement to dissipation. In the maelstroms and hell gates of the street, how many make quick and eternal shipwreck. If a man-of-war comes back from a battle, and is towed into the navy-yard, we go down to look at the splintered spars and count the bullet-holes, and look with patriotic admiration on the flag that floated in victory from the masthead. But that man is more of a curiosity who has gone through thirty years of the sharpshooting of business life, and yet sails on, victor over the temptations of the street. Oh! how many have gone down under the pressure, leaving not so much as the patch of canvas to tell where they perished. They never had any peace. Their dishonesties kept tolling in their ears. If I had an axe, and could split open the beams of that fine house, perhaps I would find in the very heart of it a skeleton. In his very best wine there is a smack of poor man's sweat. Oh! is it strange that when a man has devoured widows' houses, he is disturbed wilh indigestion? All the forces of nature are against him. The floods are ready to drown him, and the earthquake to swallow him, and the fires to consume him, and the lightnings to smite him. Aye, all the armies of God are on the street, and in the day when the crowns of heaven are distributed, some of the brightest of them will be given to those men who were faithful to God and faithful to the souls of others amid the marts of business, proving themselves the heroes of the street. Mighty were their temptations, mighty was their deliverance, and mighty shall be their triumph.
Again, the street impresses me with the fact that life is full of pretension and sham. What subterfuge, what double dealing, what two-facedness. Do all people who wish you good morning really hope for you a happy day? Do all the people who shake hands love each other? Are all those anxious about your health who inquire concerning it? Do all want to see you who ask you to call? Does all the world know half as much as it pretends to know? Is there not many a wretched stock of goods with a brilliant store window? Passing up and down these streets to your business and your work, are you not impressed with the fact that society is hollow, and that there are subterfuges and pretensions? Oh! how many there are who swagger and strut, and how few people who are natural and walk. While fops simper, and fools chuckle, and simpletons giggle, how few people are natural and laugh. The courtesan and the libertine go down the street in beautiful apparel, while within the heart there are volcanoes of passion consuming their life away. I say these things not to create in you incredulity or misanthropy, nor do I forget there are thousands of people a great deal better than they seem; but I do not think any man so prepared for the conflict of this life until he knows this particular peril. Ehud comes pretending to pay his tax to king Eglon, and while he stands in front of the king, stabs him through with a dagger until the haft went in after the blade. Judas Iscariot kissed Christ.
Again, the street impresses me with the fact that it is a great field for Christian charity. There are hunger and suffering, and want and wretchedness, in the coun