The City - its Sins and its Sorrows
THE CITY: ITS SINS AND SORROWS.
SERMON I. He beheld the city, and wept over it." - LUKE xix. 41.
One evening as Saul returned to Gibeah with his cattle from their distant pastures, the lowing of his herd was lost in a wall that grew louder and louder ai ho drew near the city. Some mischief had happened. Amazed and alarmed, he hurries forward to find tha people all dissolved in tears - distracted by some public grief. What can have happened? Bathed in golden sunset, Gibeah from her mountain seat looked quietly down on the golden vale of Jordan, away to the silent shores of the Dead Sea. The king saw no occasion whatever for this terrible turmoil. He saw nor dead nor dying. Why, then, do the men pluck their beards, the women with dishevelled hair and long, loud wail beat their naked breasts, and the very children, moved by sympathy, and infected with the general grief, mingle their own with their parent's tears?
Since morning, when he left the city, a messenger, Who sped on flying feet, had arrived, breathless, from Jabesh - Gilead. He brought alarming tidings. He tells Saul's townsmen that unless they and the country will rise to the rescue, the city must open her gates to the Ammonites, and submit to the most barbarous cruelties. Ignorant of this, nor seeing occasion for their sorrow, Saul - upon whom the Spirit of the Lord was about to descend, that he might rise an avenger and deliverer of the oppressed - demanded to know the cause of this frantic grief. He said: - " What aileth tie people that they weep?"
The same question may be asked regarding the Saviour's tears on the occasion to which my text refers. A mighty crowd was rolling down upon Jerusalem from the sides of Olivet. On they came, rending the air with exclamations. With prophetic ear, and five centuries before, Zechariah had heard these shouts; and, catching them, where he stood upon the heights of prophecy, he shouted back again to the jubilant multitude: - " Rejoice greatly, 0 daughter of Zion, shout 0 daughter of Jerusalem, behold thy King cometh unto thee. He is just, and having salvation, lowly and riding upon an ass."
Now, I can fancy one of that crowd - who was near enough our Lord to see the tears upon his cheek - with greater surprise than Saul, asking John or Peter; or some other one of the twelve, who formed all the body-guard of this King, What aileth Jesus that he weeps? In such an hour, what makes him sad? Did ever king thus enter his capital - on the eve of his coronation thus present himself to a joyous people? What ails him? What would he have? The nation renders him every honour. His enemies being witnesses, the whole world is gone after him. The palm trees yield their branches, the men their robes, the women their admiration, the whole multitude their voices, as they pour their hearts into the joyous cry: - " Hosannah, Hosannah, blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Why, then, that shadow on his thoughtful brow, that deep expression of sorrow on his face - these eyes that swim in team? Everything smiles on Jesus. The day is auspicious. Jerusalem has come out to welcome her long expected King. The whole scene is bathed in sunshine, nor is there a cloud in all the sky of his smiling fortunes to account for this shower of tears. What aileth Jesus that he weeps? There must be some secret grief, that, swelling and overflowing the deep fountains of his heart, runs out at his eyes in those streaming tears. There was.
Often coveted yet fatal power! he foresaw the future. But, however eventful to this world were the next three days, it was not on their sad scenes and circumstances that his weeping eye was fixed. Down in that garden, by the glare of midnight. torches, that flashed and flickered amid its hoary olives, he saw a prisoner bound fast with cords; in yonder judgment hail, that towered conspicuous above the other buildings, he saw a captive, arrayed in the mockery of purple, and bearing on his brow a thorny crown; in that long street which wound through the city, he saw one exhausted by brutal usage, and, pale with loss of blood, fainting beneath a cross; and on a distant mount, which rose beyond Jerusalem, by the light of what seemed a dying sun, he dimly saw a mangled form hanging on the fatal tree. In these figures; which presented themselves in affecting and terrible succession, the "seer" saw himself - none there around to weep for him but some kind women, nor any one to confess him but a dying thief. Is it for this he weeps? No. He looked over the intermediate events, onward to the future of forty years.
The curtain rose. Jerusalem was before him. "He beheld the city;" not, as now, with the tide of business, but the roar of battle in its streets - torn by contending factions, and Caesar thundering at the gates - brother, stagger. ing from the famine-struck house, to strike his sword into a brother's bowels - the holiest laws of nature horribly reversed - not infants living on the fountain of a mother's breast, but mothers - famished, miserable, maddened mothers - feeding upon their own offspring; the breached and battered walls manned by living skeletons; the streets resounding with the groans of the dying, and choked with the festering bodies of the dead. How miserable the aspect of Jerusalem! He beholds scenes of suffering, which, as described by an eye-witness, are without a parallel even in the annals of most savage wars. Nor does the curtain fall an this tragedy of many terrible acts, until the Roman torch has wrapped the city - body and limbs, the royal house of David, and the sacred house of God - in one red winding-sheet of flame, and the Roman plough has buried her guilty ashes in the silent earth.
It was these, the guilt of Jernsalem and the sufferings of his countrymen, that were in Jesus' eye. Hence this sorrow and these tears. Hence, on another occasion, that most touching burst of pity, patriotism, and piety : - " 0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." And hence, also, at a time when we should have expected that, through the selfishness inherent to suffering, his own sorrows would have absorbed all his feeling, that tender but ominous advice to the women who bewailed and lamented him: - " Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children." Restrain your grief, reserve your tears for a future occasion, for yourselves, for the babe unborn, the child that hangs upon your breast.
When Pontius Pilate - that unhappy time-server - brought out our Lord before the infuriate multitude, perhaps he may have cherished the hope, that the pitiful sight would calm their passions, as Jesus voice did the blustering winds and rude waves of Galilee. And we are told, that as Jesus appeared, "wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe," Pilate appealed to them, saying: - " Behold the man." These words of a scene, which even in its rudest paintings we cannot study without emotion - although, like oil poured, not on the stormy waters, but the roaring fire, they only increased and intensified the cry of "Crucify him, crucify him,"- may be applied with propriety to tbs scene before us. "He wept" This was not a God weeping - God cannot weep. These were not angels tears - for angles never weep. In them, in the saaad expreesion on his blessed face, I say with Pilate : - " Behold the man!" a true man, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, soul of our soul, heart of our heart - one whose heart was strung by the same hand and tamed to the same harmony as our own. How precious are Jesus' sorrows! They attest his perfect manhood, They assure us of his sympathy, when we attempt to lay bare before you the evils of our city, and rouse you to arrest and amend them. They warrant us to expect a blessing from him who loved his kindred as a man, and his country as a patriot. From heaven he watches our fight with the powers of darkness. He regards with approving eye all - the humblest as well as highest labourer - who, not satisfied with sighing and crying "for the abominations that are done in the land," labour to leave the world, their country, or the city of their habitation, somewhat better than they found it.
Before we unveil the evils that call for tears, and, as we shall by and by show, call for something else than tears, let us-
1st. Look at the city in some of its favourable aspects.
This earth's earliest city was built by a murderer. Its foundations, I may say, were laid in blood. Enoch was its name; Cain was its founder. Those who, living far from the din and bustle of cities, read with a wonder that grows into horror, the dark record of their courts and crimes; those, who see in the effect of their murky air on drooping flower, and sickly shrub, and stunted tree, only an emblem of their withering influence on the fairest human virtues; those simple cottagers, who, tremblingly alive to their danger, have seen a virtuous son or daughter leave home for the distant city, and have received her back from a Magdalene, or him from a prison, to expire in the arms of forgiving but broken-hearted affection - they may fancy that the curse of the first murderer and their first founder hangs over earth's cities-dark and lowering as their cloud of smoke.
We can excuse them for thinking so. Great cities many have found to be great curses. It had been well for many an honest lad and unsuspecting country girl, that hopes of higher wages and opportunities of fortune - that the gay attire and polished tongue, and gilded story of some old acquaintance, bad never turned their steps cityward, nor lured them away from the rude simplicity but safety of their rustic home. Many a foot that once lightly pressed the heather or brushed the dewy grass, has wearily trodden in darkness and guilt and remorse these city pavements. Happy had it been for many that they had never exchanged the starry skies for the lamps of the town, nor had left their lonely glens, or quiet hamlets, or solitary shores, for the throng and roar of our streets - well for them that they had heard no roar but the river's, whose winter flood it had been safer to breast; no roar but ocean's, whose stormiest waves it had been safer to ride, than encounter the flood of city temptations, which has wrecked their virtue and swept them into ruin.
Yet I bless God for cities. I recognise a wise and gracious providence in their existence. The world had not been what it is without them. The disciples were commended to "begin at Jerusalem," and Paul threw himself into the cities of the ancient world, as offering the most commanding positions of influence. Cities have been as lamps of light along the pathway of humanity and religion. Within them, science has given birth to her noblest discoveries. Behind their walls, freedom has fought her noblest battles. They have stood on the surface of the earth like great breakwaters, rolling back or turning aside the swelling tide of oppression. Cities, indeed, have been the cradles of human liberty. They have been the radiating, active centres of almost all church and state reformation. Having therefore no sympathy with those who regard our cities as corresponding to the excrescences of a tree, or the tumours of disease, and would raze them to the ground, I bless God for cities. And before addressing you on their evils, I will advert to some of their advantages.
First, The highest humanity is developed in cities.
Somehow or other, amid their crowding and confinement, the human mind finds its fullest, freest expansion. Unlike the dwarfed and dnsty plants which stand in our city gardens, languishing, like exiles, for the purer air and freer sunshine that kiss their fellows far away in dowery field and green woodland, on sunny banks and breezy hills, man reaches his highest condition amid the social influences of the crowded city. His intellect receives its brightest polish where gold and silver lose theirs - tarnished by the searching smoke and foul vapours of city air. The finest flowers of genius have grown in an atmosphere where those cf nature are prone to droop, and difficult to bring to maturity. The meutal powers acquire their full robustness, where the cheek loses its ruddy hue, and the limbs their elastic step, and pale thought sits on manly brows, and where the watchman, as he walks his rounds, sees the student's lamp burning far into the silent night. And as aereolites - those shooting stars which, like a good man on his path in life, leave a train of glory behind them on the dusky sky - are supposed to catch fire by the rapidity of their motion, as they rush through the higher regions of our atmosphere, so the mind of man fires, burns, shines, acquires its most dazzling brilliancy, by the very rapidity of action into which it is thrown amid the bustle and excitements of city life.
8econd, The highest piety is developed in cities.
It is well known that the most active tradesmen, the most vigorous labourers, the most intelligent artisans, the most enterprising merchants, are to be found in cities. And if - just as in those countries where tropical suns and the same skies ripen the sweetest fruits and deadliest poisons - you find in the city the most daring and active wickedness, you find there also - boldly confronting it - the most active, diligent, zealous, warm-hearted, self-denying, and devoted Christians. No blame to the country for that. Christians are like soldiers - it is easier fighting in the regiment, when the men stand shoulder to shoulder, than standing alone to maintain some solitary outpost. Christians, to use a familiar figure, are like coals, or firebrands - they burn brightest when gathered into heaps. Christians are like trees - they grow the tallest where they stand together; running no small chance of becoming - dwarfed, stunted, gnarled, and bark-bound, if, like a solitary tree, they grow alone. You never yet saw a tall and tapering mast, which, catching the winds of heaven in its outspread wings, impelled the gallant ship on through the sea and over the rolling billows, but its home had been the forest - there, with its foot planted upon the Norwegian rock, it grew amid neighbours that drew up each other to the skies. So is it with piety. The Christian power that has moved a sluggish world on, the Christian benevolence and energy that have changed the face of society, the Christian zeal that has gone forth, burning to win nations and kingdoms for Jesus, have, in most instances, been born and nursed in cities. To the active life and constant intercourse which belong peculiarly to them, religion has owed her highest polish, and that freedon from peculiarities and corners, which the stones at the sea-beach acquire by being rolled against each other in the swell and surf of daily tides.
In rural districts, with all their natural and ever fresh charms, a good man often finds a weary loneliness; and where fields, and hills, and long miles separate him from church and Christian neighbours, it needs an extraordinary measure of the grace of God to make his life of comparative isolation "a solitude sweetened." Give me the city with Christian neighbours at my door, and daily intercourse with genial and congenial spirits. If I fall, I have them there that will help me up; If I flag, I have them there that will help me on. If two are better than one, twenty are better than two; and with such opportunities of Christian fellowship as the city only affords, my circumstances there are much more allied to those of the saints in glory, than his, whose lot is cast amid the quiet but scattered homes of rural scenes. He has often to pursue his journey through the desert, so far as human intercourse is concerned, all but alone - a solitary pilgrim to Canaan. Manifold as are their evil,, their temptations, and their snares, it is only in cities that piety enjoys the full benefit of the truth, "As iron sharpeneth iron, so doth the face of a man his friend."
Third, The highest happiness of saints is found in city life.
Man is a social as well as domestic being. His arms may 1not, but his heart can embrace more than a family. His nature is social. His religion is social. And as the earth's loftiest peaks rise not in their snows on some isolated hill that stands like a lonely pyramid on the level plain, but where the mountains, as in the Alps, or Andes, or Himalayan range, are grouped and massed together, so the saint's most heavenly happiness is not attained in solitude, nor even amid domestic scenes, but where religious life exists in its social character. It was for a wider than a family circle Jesus taught us the prayer, "Our Father which art in heaven." How sweetly these words sound, when they rise in morning or evening orisons from a loving family! How impressive that prayer appears when, beneath the roof of some noble temple, a great congregation, embracing sovereign and subjects, titled peer and humble peasant, rich and poor, the lowly and the lofty - all on their knees, and with one voice uttering the words - acknowledge in men a common brotherhood, and in God a common Father! And yet that sublime invocation, "Our Father which art in heaven," shall never be offered in its full sublimity till the swarthy Negro, and the roving Indian, and the wandering Tartar, and the homeless Jew, and all the pale and dark-faced tribes of men, send it up swelling to the ear of God, like the voice of many waters and the voice of mighty thunderings. Then shall a free and glad world know the tenderness, the breadth, and the length of the expression, "Our Father which art in heaven."
In presenting heaven itself to us under the emblem of a city, the Bible bestows the palm, and pronounces the highest possible eulogium on city life. "There are many mansions," says our Lord, "in my Father's house." "And I," says John, "saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heavcn, saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God." Again, he says:- " He carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having thc glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone clear as crystal; and had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels." "And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the aim, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." Again he says:- " After these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Halleluiah, salvation and glory and honour and power unto the Lord our God. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of many thunderings, saying, Halleluiab, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigueth; let us he glad and rejoice, and give honour to him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready."
May we all get an invitation to these royal nuptials! Crowned and robed in white, may .we all be found in the train of Christ's heavenly bride! By virtue of the new birth may we all be freemen of a city never built with hands, nor hoary with the years of time - a city, whose inhabitants no census has numbered - a city, through whose streets rush no tides of business, nor nodding hearse creeps slowly with its burden to the tomb - a city without griefs or graves, without sins or sorrows, without births or burials, without marriages or mournings - a city, which glories in having Jesus for its King, angels for its guards, saints for its citizens; whose walls are Salvation, and whose gates are Praise.
2dly. Let us attend to the evils of the city which call for Christian tears, and for something else than tears.
It is said, "Jesus beheld the city." And now, turning our eyes away from Jerusalem, let us behold this city. Ere the heat of day has cast a misty veil upon the scene, or ten thousand household fires have polluted the transparent air, I take a stranger - to whom our city presents its beauties in all the charms of novelty - and conducting his steps to yonder rocky rampart, or some neigbbouring summit, I bid him look. Our ancient capital sits proudly throned upon her romantic hills. Gothic towers and Grecian temples, palace, castle, spires, domes, monuments, and verdant gardens, picturesquely mingled, are spread out beneath his eye; and when rising from the waves of the neighbouring ocean, that with amorous arms embraces the land, the sun blazes up to bathe all in golden light, he bursts into admiration, and pronounces the scene, as well he may, "the perfection of beauty." Wherever he turns his eye, he finds a point of view to claim his admiration. There seems nothing here to weep for. What rare variety of hill and hollow! What a happy combination of ancient and modern architecture! Here, two distant ages gaze at inch other across the intervening valley; while there, with wild wall-flower and golden furze blooming in its rifts, and trees clinging to its crags, a fit ornament of a lone Highland glen - in the very heart of the city, crowned with cannon, and reverberating the roar of business, stands a massive rock, proud emblem of our country's strength and independence. What scene so worthy of the enthusiasm with which the Jew exclaimed, as he surveyed Jerusalem from the top of Olivet: " Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion."
But let our stranger be a man of piety as well as a man of taste, and he will love the city for its Sabbaths more than for its scenery. No loud street cries, nor wheels of business or of pleasure, harshly grinding on holy ears, disturb the peace of the hallowed morning, or scare thoughts of heaven from his pillow. If music awakes him, it is the song of birds that from neighbouring gardens call the sleeping city to arise; and join with nature in the praise of her God. A serene silence fills the street, and leaves him to hear the footfall of a solitary passenger on the unfrequented pavement. The morning meal and worship over, the chime of Sabbath bells bursts upon his ear - accompanied with the tread of many feet outside. He leaves the house with us to seek the house of God. An hour ago these streets were empty, but now such throngs are crowding them as neither the six days business nor pleasure calls forth. Decency sits upon all faces, devoutness upon many. Laughing childhood looks unusually grave, and curbing in its playful spirit, wa1ks with a thoughtful air. No rude manners, no laughter that be speaks the vacant mind, no gay conversation disturbs the ear, or ill accords with the aspect of a people who look as if they were bent on some lofty purpose - to be engaged in a solemn, yet not unhappy work. Their faces give the lie to a common scandal. They look serious, but not sour - they wear an air of gravity, but not of gloom. Imagine that our stranger has come from a land - from a city, such as Paris, for instance - where it maybe said of the door of the church, as of the "strait gate," "few there be that find it ;" where Sabbath bells are drowned in the roar of business, where labour only leaves the streets to give place to gaiety, and make room for the dance of pleasure; where the workman lays down his tools, and the merchant locks his door to whirl away the evening in Sunday ball-rooms, or applaud in the crowded theatre. With what astonishment he gazes on the crowd! Onward it sweeps, by the closed doors and windows of every place of busfness, to discharge itself by different streams into more than a hundred churches, and leave the thoroughfares to resume the aspect of a "deserted city," until the close of holy services again pours forth the living tide - all setting homewards, many, we trust, heavenwards.
These are the holy scenes which our city presents on Sabbath days. Long may they continue! Beholding the city thus, our stranger sees nothing to deplore. On the contrary, as David in his exile envied the swallow which had her nest by the altar, sad could fly at all times on joyous wing into the house of God, he envies us our Scottish Sabbaths and land of precious privileges. Of a city where God is so honoured, his day is so hallowed, his temples are so thronged, he is ready to say, "The Lord hath chosen Zion he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell."
Such is the aspect in which the city may be presented. But, like the far-famed shield, which, because they saw it from opposite sides, one knight asserted to be made of silver, and another of inferior metal, it presents two widely different aspects. Let us turn it round, and look on the other side.
I know, and I bless God for it, that there is much good, that there is a more than ordinary proportion of godly people within our walls. No sojourner has to tremble here, as Abraham did in Gerar - saying, "Surely the fear of God is not in this place." I will venture to assert, that no city of its population and extent contains more, few, indeed, so many of those who are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. In no large town, perhaps, is the Sabbath so well observed, and will there be found such a proportion of the people in the regular habit of attending a house of God. It the number of our churches may be taken as a test of piety, if the number of our hospitals and asylums may be taken as a gauge of benevolence, if the number of our schools and colleges may be taken as a standard of intelligence, then, more than for its romantic beauty and picturesque position, it bears away the palm from all rival capitals, and sits entbroned and unchallenged as "Queen of Cities." Now I know all that Yet as there are scenes in nature where sylvan beauty is associated with features of a stern and savage character, as I have seen a lovely lake, with its crystal waters and gems of islands, lie sleeping under the shadow, while the woodbine, and holly, and evergreen ivy clothed the feet of a mountain, which, higher up, was rent into gloomy gorges, and reared its thunder-riven, naked peaks into the sky, there is much that is vicious amid all the virtue, and much that is impious amid all the piety of our city. If that is true of this city, let the public be assured that it is no less true of every large city in the kingdom. Which of them shall say to us, "Stand aside, I am holier than thou?"
I once heard a venerable minister, when he came in the course of his public prayers to ask the blessing of Heaven upon our town, pray that God would have mercy upon this great and wicked city. Now I can fancy that the stranger whom we have conducted through its streets on the Sabbath, and who has only mingled in its serious and most select society, would listen with astonishment to such an account of us, either from the pulpit or anywhere else. It hurt our national vanity, and gave deep offence to some who were proud of their native places Yet whether the charge excite surprise or offence, this is a wicked as well as a great city. And he heals "the hurt of the daughter of God's people slightly," he is "a dumb dog that cannot bark," who conceals that fact either from himself or others.
Under a fair and beautiful exterior, there is an extent of corruption, vile corruption, loathsome corruption, which has only to be laid bare to astonish all, and I believe to sicken many. Propriety forbids details. Ordinary modesty, not to say sensitive delicacy, would shrink from them. Otherwise I could raise a curtain, I could reveal that which might make your hair stand on end. Well may parents tremble for the virtue of their children, and every holy mother, taking alarm, gather them beneath her wings, as the moor bird does her helpless brood when hawks are screaming in the sky. I tell you who are parents, you who are the guardians of youth, that you have more need to keep an eye on the associates and hours of your children, than look to the bolts and bars you trust to for protection against housebreakers and midnight robbers. We have heard much of these. Alive to what affects the security of property, the public have been seized with alarm; and houses, if not streets, are barricaded. But there is more in peril than gold, and jewels, and silver-plate. There is something both better worth guarding, and mere needing to be guarded, than anything which iron-barred shutters can secure, or watchman protect. There are more dangerous characters than robbers prowling about our town, and walking unchallenged on our streets - permitted by our laws to do what they dare not in Paris or Berlin, to pursue their infamous occupation - with barefaced, and shameless, and bold effrontery. The sword, which should be a terror to evildoers, rusts in its sheath. And when vice is allowed to parade our streets so openly as to interfere with the freedom of virtuous families and so to establish herself among us, as by creating the worst of all nuisances, to destroy the property of a neighbourhood, surely the substance of liberty is sacrificed to its shadow, and the evil doer protected at the expense of the good.
Some of us are about to make a new effort for the reclamation of fallen woman, and the protection of such as are willing, Magdalene- like, to bathe Christ's feet with tears, and wash away their deep sins in his blood. As a preliminary step to this Christian enterprise, we have procured accurate statistics of the extent of this great sin and sorrow of our large city. Of them I will say nothing more than this, that, while they were read, men held down their heads with shame, or held up their hands in horror, or burst out into expressions of deep indignation.
By that ravening wolf that wastes our folds, I had seen one, and another, and another, and another lamb plucked eut of this very flock. I had seen fair and promising flowers that I had cultivated in this very garden plucked by the hand of the spoiler, and cast forth as vilest weeds-trodden in the mire of the public streets. I had seen the fall of a daughter, - that bitterest of household sorrows, - blanch a mother's head, and, still more terrible to look on, turn a father's heart into stone. I had known how a mother, when we all were sleeping in peace, with weary foot and weeping eyes, had wandered, Christ-like, up and down these streets, searching many a foul den of sin to seek and aave her lost one. I had seen enough to make a man exclaim, with Jeremiah, "0 that mine eyes were tears, and mine head a fountain of waters, that I might weep day and night for the daughter of my people 1" But never, never had we so much as fancied the extent and horrors of this evil, the number of short-lived victims it devours, the bold daring with which the accursed trade is pursued, the invisible nets that are spread across the path of unsuspecting innocence, the fiendishly ingenious methods which are plied to snare virtue - what masks of friendship are worn, what cunning arts of apparent kindness resorted to that vice may get the victims within her grasp, and drag them down into perdition. I do believe that were the villany and iniquity that are working and festering here and elsewhere, in every such large city, laid bare before the eyes of public virtue, nothing would restrain its indignation. Men would take the law into their own hands. Men would be a law unto themselves; and by what many might condemn as an illegal, but others would applaud as a virtuous outbreak, they would sweep our cities clean of these panders of vice and dens of iniquity.
It is not of property, but of virtue that families are plundered. It is not life, but souls that are murdered among us. Crimes are done, that to my eye cast into the shade the guilt of him who, having through a trade of murder supplied subjects for the dissecting room, was received on the scaffold by the roar of a maddened crowd, and launched into eternity amid shouts of public indignation. That old legend of a monster, to satisfy whose voracious appetite a city had year by year to sacrifice a number of its virgins, who, amid the lamentations of their mothers and the grief of their kindred, were led away trembling to his bloody den, is no fable here. That monster is amongst us. And if there is no other way of calling forth some champions to do him battle, of rousing the public from their supineness, of stirring up the minister in the pulpit to draw the sword of the Spirit, and the magistrate on the bench to draw the sword of the state, it may be necessary to throw this report out of its present secrecy, and leave it to burst upon the city like a shell.
I am guilty of no exaggeration. I ask you, meanwhile, to believe that, with all our apparent goodness, there lies beneath the surface much which no Christian man could behold, without - like our pure and pitiful Saviour - weeping over it. I know enough to call upon the young to shun the associate, who is infected with vice, more than the one infected with spotted plague or deadly fever. Keep away from them that are going down to hell, more than from the grasp of a drowning man. "My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother." "If sinners entice thee, consent thou not." "Keep thy heart with all diligence." "Ponder the path of thy feet," that they may never follow one of whom it is written - " Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold on hell."
I also know enough to implore parents most prayerfully to commit their children to the keeping of an all-present God. Guard them sedulously. Fold them early. Before the shades of night bring out the ravenous wolf, and the wily fox, and the roaring lion, have all your lambs at home. Make it a bright, cheerful home. Mingle firmness with kindness. And from late hours, from dangerous companions, from nightly scenes of pleasure and amusement, more carefully keep your children, than you bolt door or window against the intrusion of those who can but plunder you of property infinitely less valuable than your domestic purity, of jewels infinitely less precious than your children's souls.
Sermon 1 of "The City - its Sins and its Sorrows"
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