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THE CITY AND THE CHILD
‘And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.’
According to the prophet’s interpretation of the City of God, little children and old people are the greatest blessings of a nation, and the surest test of its government. A world without old people and little children would be an intolerable and impossible world. In their helplessness they appeal to all that is best in our nature, and the attitude to that appeal reveals both people and government. If childhood is pure, happy, and safe, and old age contented and peaceful, there is not much wrong with the nation, but if childhood is neglected, and old age despised, the curse of God is not far off.
I. The child in the wicked city.—The prophet’s vision of the city laid waste is full of cruelty, wretchedness, and sin. Irreligion and lawlessness wrought mischief with open hand and brazen face. Justice refused to listen to the complaint of the weak, and withheld its hand from the punishment of the strong. Oppression, heartlessness, and poverty inevitably follow in the track of godlessness. The defenceless were plundered with impunity, the suffering falling most heavily upon widows and orphans, strangers and cripples. They cried in vain to those who ought to have been their helpers; therefore the Lord became their avenger. The whirlwind came, and desolation filled the land. God is not indifferent to the cry of the oppressed, and in every land wickedness, corruption, and cruelty are the forerunners of doom. But in the avenging calamity, as in the course of transgression, the helpless are the greatest sufferers. In days of distress and in times of wickedness the streets are safe only for the strong.
Happily our own land knows nothing of famine and war. Such terrible scenes as the prophet witnessed are unknown in our favoured land, but the cry of the children and the moan of the aged are not unheard in the land. A large proportion of our old people are paupers, lacking all that old age needs of comfort and freedom from care. The children of our streets are overcrowded and underfed. They are exposed to perils greater than those of hunger. Who can tell the lot of a child born in a city slum and thrust into the streets to fend for itself? The intemperance, the gambling, the lust, the squalor, the vice thrust upon the child familiarise the mind with the sordid and brutal, and fit it for a life of crime. When childhood is neglected the nation is lost.
II. The return of the Lord—The return of the Lord changed the character of the city and the condition of its people. Mark the order: ‘I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth; and the mountain of the Lord of Hosts the Holy Mountain.’ The return of the Lord restores truth, and truth establishes holiness. The character of the people is changed, and immediately their condition begins to improve. Prosperity returns. Religion solves the problem of the unemployed. The curse of the land has disappeared with the poverty and misery of the people. They hunger no more, neither is the voice of repining heard in the streets. Is this ancient history? Does not righteousness in every age secure the peace and prosperity of a people? And is not the fruit of goodness first seen in the life of childhood and old age? When Pastor Hsi was converted he brought his heathen mother-in-law under his own roof that he might see to her comfort; and in Rossendale, when a drunken quarryman gave his heart to God, and the family got a decent dinner, the children danced on the pavement, shouting, ‘Daddie’s converted, and we’ve sheep’s head for dinner.’ The true remedy for bad trade is a return to righteousness, and the best cure for poverty is a revival of religion. When the Lord returns the land smiles, and the people sing.
III. The city of God.—No city can realise the Divine intention that does not make provision for progress and defence. The young man with the surveyor’s measuring line is rebuked and stopped. ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited without walls.’ There must be room to expand. Crowded populations foster disease and breed corruption. Cities are no longer to be fortresses, but places of peace and toil. There must be freedom to come and go. The straitened life within city walls, with its narrow streets and unhealthy areas, must give place to a larger, fuller, and diviner life. What a vision of fields and gardens, peace and contentment, happiness and beauty is presented in the city without walls and gates, guns and slums! Cities, not compounds or labour colonies, but an aggregation of homes where strong men work, and old folks sit with folded hands and smiling faces, while the young ones make merry in its streets; the whole population secure and happy in the defence of the Holy Presence, which is as a wall of fire round about.
IV. The child in the city of God.—There is nothing in the city so important as the child. An impoverished childhood means an emaciated nation, and an imperilled childhood a degraded nation. As the child is, the State will be. The prophet says they shall play in the streets—not work in them. Play, not work is the prerogative of the child. Whose heart has not been touched on a winter’s night to see pinched and tired children hard at work when they ought to have been in bed? Such things ought not to be. Childhood is the time to dwell in lands peopled with fairies, and in homes without fear. The streets ought to be fit for them to play in. They must be free from physical danger to the helpless, and without moral peril to the innocent. When the streets of the city are safe for the children they will be good enough for everybody else.
What about our cities? Are we making them fit for the children, and places of contentment for the aged? Or are old age and childhood counters in a political game? Are we caring for the child or wrangling over him? Are we making straight paths for innocent feet, or are we allowing traps to be laid in the streets for their destruction? The child is the standard of judgment. By the safety and happiness of the innocent shall all things be judged. Whosoever despises the child shall surely be cursed. In the salvation of the child the nation will be saved. God cares for every little child. It is not His will that one of them should perish. The first duty of the State is to care for the child, and the first duty of the Church is the salvation of the child.
‘The life of a city, whatever may be its temptations, can never be lacking in interest. The Jerusalem of which the prophet Zechariah wrote would be a city of endless interest and variety. A letter had appeared in the papers, in which the writer said that for twelve years he had lived in London next door to a man whom he never saw. There were no neighbourly relations between them, but, at last, after these many years, his little boy broke a pane of glass in the neighbour’s house, and he called to apologise and pay for the damage. To his astonishment he discovered that the man was his first cousin. The prophet tells us that the heavenly Jerusalem shall be as a town without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein. There shall be no walls barring neighbours from each other.’
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Zechariah 8". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent