Frank Mason North was neither a missionary nor a hymn writer, but was asked to write a missionary hymn for the Methodist hymnal. That request wasn’t completely random, because North was an officer of two city missions—the New York City Mission and the National City Mission—but in those days, people thought of missions as having to do with Africa or Asia or other faraway places. North hadn’t experienced those places, so he wrote about what he had experienced—our teeming cities.
He wrote “Where cross the crowded ways of life”—and we envision crowds of people at an intersection—waiting for the opportunity to cross.
He wrote about hearing Christ’s voice “above the noise of selfish strife”—and teaches us to listen for Christ amidst honking horns and loud voices.
He wrote, “The cup of water given for you still holds the freshness of your grace”—and we envision the homeless beggar asking for something to eat or drink.
He prays for Christ to “heal these hearts of pain” and to “tread the city’s streets again” so that all might know Christ’s love.
And finally he holds out the vision of “heaven above,” and reminds us that heaven is known as “the city of our God.”
— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan