"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin." –Hebrews 4:15
"This happiness Christ gives to all His--that as a Savior He once suffered for them, and that as a Friend He always suffers with them." –South, 1633.
0 Sirs! there is in Jesus something proportionable to all the straits, necessities, and desires of His poor people." –Thomas Brooks, 1635.
"Jesus is the great sympathetic nerve of the Church, over which all the oppressions and sufferings of His people distinctly pass. Surveying this scene of overtoiled labor, and sleepless anxiety, and wasting solicitude, in which mortals are embroiled, the voice of Jesus--the Friend of man--the tender Sympathizer with human woe, is heard rising in tones of the kindest compassion." –Harris.
The Rock Christ--the Rock of Deity--the Rock high above the lower valley--mantled in clouds, as if veiled with cherub's wings; inaccessible to human footstep--its glorious summits the privileged home of angels. What affinity can there be between this Mighty God and puny man--between Omnipotence and weakness--Deity and dust?
Affinity, yes more than affinity there is! That Rock, whose top, like the Patriarch's ladder, reaches to heaven, has its base on the earth. The Great Redeemer, as we have already seen, combines the attributes of Godhead with the attributes and characteristics of a true and veritable humanity. To one of the most beautiful features of that humanity--the divine Sympathy of Jesus--this new Rock-cleft introduces us.
Among the heart's most sacred and hallowed emotions, none is surely more hallowed than Sympathy. In these dependent natures of ours, who, in the season of need has not longed for it--and when it comes, has not welcomed it like the presence of a ministering angel? Others working with us, feeling for us--sharing our toils, helping us to carry our burdens; entering into our hopes, our joys, our sorrows; to see the responsive tear glistening in the eye--all this is a mighty strengthener and sustainer amid the vicissitudes of chequered life.
The lonely fisherman on the stormy sea has his midnight of weariness, and it may be of peril; is charmed, as he glances towards the light gleaming in the hut on the shore, and thinks of the wakeful vigils of the loving hearts within. The soldier in his camp under the starry heavens, thousands of miles intervening between him and his native soil, is cheered by the very tread of the sentinel, or the breathing of the slumbering forms around him--or he remembers the far-off home and those whose sympathetic spirits are with him--and the thought is like cold water to a thirsty soul. The martyr at the stake has been often nerved for endurance by the whisper of "Courage, brother!" from the fellow-victim at his side. How the Great Apostle in his Roman dungeon--when he was "such an one as Paul the aged" was cheered by the visits of congenial friends, such as Timothy and Onesiphorus! How touchingly does the illustrious captive invoke God's richest benedictions on the latter and on his household, for "often refreshing him and not being ashamed of his chain."
If human sympathy be thus gladdening and grateful, what must be the pure--exalted--sinless--unselfish Sympathy emanating from the heart of the Great Brother-Man? It is of this, we shall now speak; and taking the words which head this chapter to lead our thoughts, let us consider these two points embraced in them--The sympathy of Jesus, the Great High Priest of His Church; and the one exceptional characteristic here mentioned, that, "Though in all points tempted as we are"--it was "Yet without sin."
Genuine Sympathy requires that there be an identity, or at all events a similarity of nature, between him who sympathizes and the object of sympathy.
The holy Angel, when he sees the children of fallen humanity in sorrow, may pity; but he cannot sympathize with them. Why? Because he never himself shed a tear; his nature never felt pang of trial, or assault of temptation. We see the worm writhing on the ground--we know it is in agony--suffering pain. We pity it--but we cannot sympathize with it. Why? because it is in a different scale of being.
Even in the case of the human family, in their condolence with one another--the finer elements of sympathy are lacking, unless they have passed through the same school of experience. Look at the BEGGAR on the street--the man or woman in ragged tatters, with half-naked children in their arms, singing for a livelihood from door to door. Who, in the majority of instances, are found most ready to respond to the appeal for support? Observation will prove, that it is not the rich, not even the middle class; most frequently it is the poor themselves. We have often marked such charity willingly doled out by the laborer, returning from his place of toil at meal-hour, in workman's attire--one who perhaps himself had known the bitter blast of adversity--what it is to have closed factory doors and silent shuttles, and at whose blackened fires grim poverty once sat--his sympathy arises out of identity of experience with the sufferers.
The BEREAVED tell the story of their swept and desolated home to a friend--a friend too, it may be, full to overflowing with natural feeling. He may listen with heartfelt emotion to all they have to say--but he has never laid a loved one in the grave--death has never invaded his dwelling--the overwhelming wave of bereavement has never left traces of desolation on his soul. Another comes in. He may not have the same natural strong emotions or sensibilities. But he has consigned treasure after treasure to "the narrow house"--he has himself waded through the deep waters--the woes of others have been traced and chiseled in his own heart of hearts; and consequently the very deeps of his being are stirred. More than one endorsed letter has been sent, in recent years, by our beloved Queen, to those in high places who have been called to exchange crowns and coronets for weeds of mourning. These, under any circumstances, would have been a grateful and prized expression of royal condolence. But how much more touchingly and tenderly such utterances came home to those bleeding hearts, when the writing, within its deep border, was known to be blotted with the tears of kindred widowhood!
The same remark may be made with reference to PREACHING. How often do we hear trial dwelt upon in our pulpits by the lips of youth--young (and nevertheless faithful) servants of their heavenly Master, who expatiate on the deathbed, the grave, the broken heart, the wilderness-world, earth "vanity and vexation of spirit." But yet (say as they will), they have only adopted the phraseology of others--they speak from no experience--they believe it all to be true, but they have never felt it to be true. Their words therefore come home with little power; they may even grate upon the ear, as being, in the lips of the declaimers, unnatural and inappropriate. But bring some aged, venerable man--some old veteran in the school of trial, whose memory and soul are ploughed and furrowed with deep scars; whose friends in the unseen world number as many as in this--Listen to him, as he pours oil and wine into the mourner's bosom! How pulse beats responsive to pulse, and heart to heart. He has been "touched with a fellow-feeling," for he has been in all respects tried even as they. He has been in the furnace himself; the arrow of comfort and sympathy comes feathered from his own bosom; and when sorrow and trial are the theme of his preaching, he speaks feelingly, because he feels deeply.
All this has its loftiest exemplification in the sublime sympathy of the Son of God. He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" Why? Because "He has been tempted in every way, just as we are." His is a deep, yearning, real sympathy arising out of His true and real humanity. His was not an angel-life. He was not, as many falsely picture Him, half Angel, half God--looking down on a fallen world from the far distant heights of His heavenly throne. But He descended, and walked in the midst of it, pitching His tent (as we have seen) among its families--"He did not take on Himself the nature of Angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham." The Great Physician lived in the world's hospital. He did not write out His cures in His remote dwelling in the skies, refusing to come into personal contact with the patients. He walked its every ward. With His own hand He felt the fevered pulses; His own eyes gazed on the sufferer's tears. He stood not by the fiery furnace as a spectator, but there was one in it "like the Son of God."
To leave us the less doubt as to His capacity for entering into the feelings and sorrows of His people; note His own longing after sympathy. In the Garden of Gethsemane He could not pray the prayer of His agony without it--"Sit here, while I go and pray yonder." How cherished to Him was the family home of Bethany, just because He could there pour out the tale of His own sorrows in the ears of congenial human friends. Even at the last scene of all, how sustained He was by human presence! "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene." Oh blessed thought! He knows our frame; for He had that frame Himself. "Behold the Man!" Every heart-throb you feel evokes a kindred pulsation in the bosom of the Prince of Sufferers; for "He that sanctifies, and those who are sanctified, are all of one (nature)."
But let us advert to one or two special characteristics.
(1.) It is a PRESENT sympathy. He IS touched with a feeling of our infirmities. "I know their sorrows"--not, 'I have known them once, but have now forgotten them in My state of glorification; I once bore this frame of yours, but the human nature is merged in the divine.' No. "I AM He who lives."
"Though now ascended up on high,
He bends on earth a brother's eye;
Partaker of the human name,
He knows the frailty of our frame.
"Our fellow-sufferer yet retains
A fellow-feeling of our pains;
And still remembers in the skies
His tears, His agonies, and cries."
(2.) Another characteristic is that of INTENSITY. Relationship is one of the elements which generates and intensifies sympathy. A man feels for the sufferings of a fellow-man--but if that sufferer be a relative, connected by ties of blood or affection, how much deeper the emotion.
A stranger standing on the pier, seeing a child or youth struggling in the waves, would feel an uncontrollable impulse to rush to its rescue. If a swimmer, he would plunge into the sea, and cleaving his way through the surge, would make every effort to snatch the child from a watery grave. But what would be his feelings in comparison with those of her, who, from the same spot, beheld in that drowning one the child of her bosom? The pity of the former would be coldness itself in comparison with her combined emotions of anguish and tenderness.
The dwellers in the wild valley of Dauphiny, who saw the eagle bearing the infant in its talons to the lofty rock, were moved with horror at the scene, and made several brave efforts to effect a rescue. But it was the mother alone, whose love bore her with fleet foot from crag to crag, until reaching the perilous crag, she was in time to clasp the living captive to her bosom, and say--"This my child was dead and is alive again, it was lost and is found." Such is the intensity and tenderness of the love and sympathy of Jesus, the "living Kinsman"--He who is Parent, Friend, Brother, all in one. "Lord, behold he whom You love is sick"--"Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him"--"As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you."
(3.) The sympathy of Christ is a COMPREHENSIVE and PARTICULAR sympathy--embracing not only all His Church but every individual member of it. It takes in the whole range of human infirmities; outward troubles, inward perplexities, unspoken griefs with which a stranger dare not meddle. No trial, no pang, no tear, escapes His eye. With a microscopic power "He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust," as if we stood alone in the world, and individually engrossed all His solicitudes. A grain of sand, almost imperceptible, affects the tender organ of sight. This is the Bible emblem of the divine-human sympathy--"He that touches you, touches the pupil of His eye."
How varied were the methods by which Jesus, when on earth, expressed His sympathetic love and thoughtful compassion! Not to rehearse familiar instances already given, see how, in order to dispel their misgivings, He joins the two disconsolate followers on the way to Emmaus, how He appoints a special meeting to clear up the doubts of Thomas. His last earthly thought on the cross is providing a home for a mother and a disciple--"Woman, behold your Son!--Son, behold your Mother!"
(4.) The sympathy of the Divine Redeemer was ACTIVE--not a mere emotion evaporating in sentimental feeling; the casket without the jewel. There are those who can be touched by reading the pages of a romance, who shed tears over the columns of a newspaper; yet who, though thus able to indulge in fictitious griefs, stretch out no hand of substantial support to the needy; who, like Priest and Levite in the parable, can see a wounded fellow-being, and leave him half dead.
Not so Christ--He is the world's good Samaritan, binding up the wounds of aching humanity. He was sent to "heal the brokenhearted;" and nobly did He fulfill His commission--"Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I GO that I may awake him out of sleep." The Divine Consoler never mocked the children of sorrow with a stone when they asked for bread--saying, in the cold heartlessness of the mere sentimentalist, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled." He "went about doing good."
(5.) His was, moreover, an ABIDING sympathy. The world's sympathy is often short-lived. It cannot penetrate the depths and recesses of the smitten heart. It cannot make allowances for intense grief. It offers its tribute of condolence at the moment; but if the heart-wounds remain unhealed, it has its own harsh verdict on inordinate sorrow. The ripples in the water where some treasured bark has gone down, have closed again; the world's vessels cross and recross the spot, but no vestige, no legend of the catastrophe is left on the unstable element. Sorrowful anniversaries come back, but they are all unnoted, save by the bereft one, who has learned to lock up these sacred griefs and to weep alone. There is ONE, abiding, unchanging Sympathizer--the Immutable Savior! The moss may gather over the tombstone, and almost obliterate the lettering--but no corroding hand of time or of years–
"Can e'er efface us from His heart,
Or make His love decay."
The sympathy of the dearest earthly friend may be evanescent; brother may be estranged from brother, sister from sister--friend from friend. But "there is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother."
We can do little more than notice, in closing, the 'exceptional clause' in the Apostle's statement, that this Great High Priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and tempted in all points even as we are, was "yet without sin."
Does not this one sentence, however, neutralize, or at least render much inappropriate and inapplicable, of what we have already said? If perfectly sinless, how could He be tempted? and if not tempted, how could He feel? If perfectly sinless, how could He enter into the most poignant part of our woes, the assaults of corruption, the wiles of the Great Adversary?
We must be careful to guard with jealousy this precious jewel in the Savior's humanity, His "IMPECCABILITY." He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." He could utter the unanswerable challenge, "Who of you convinces Me of sin?" There was no affinity in His nature with sin or temptation. Apply the lighted torch to the loaded cannon, it will at once give out its voice of thunder because loaded with the explosive element. But, apply the fuse to that same piece of artillery in which the fulminating ingredients are not; it will remain mute and harmless as the rocks and stones around--and the timid bird can nestle safely in its barrel.
So it was with the sinless nature of Christ. Temptation, in His case, was the lighted torch applied to the uncharged, unloaded cannon. Ignition was impossible; for affinity there was none between the Tempted and the Tempter.
But though incapable of sin, and incapable of temptation in the sense of being overcome by it, He was not incapable of suffering by it. "He SUFFERED, being tempted." The very holiness of His nature--the very recoil of His spotless soul from evil--made the presence of sin, and of temptation, the cause of unutterable anguish. And these same refined sensibilities impart to Him now, a livelier and acuter sympathy for those who are tempted; just as the purer the glass, or the brighter the metal, the more visibly are they sullied if breathed upon.
Though the Prince of this world came and found nothing in Him--though no device could drag Him from His steadfastness--though the sinless One rolled back wave on wave of temptation, and sent the Adversary away, thwarted among his legions of darkness; did He not feel, with a shrinking and sensitiveness all His own, that Tempter's presence and power? Hear the testimony and exclamation of His own lips--"Now is My soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour, but for this cause I came unto this hour."
When He was standing in meek, silent majesty in Pilate's Judgment-Hall--the Lamb speechless before His shearers--Incarnate Truth in the midst of error, impiety, and blasphemy--or on the cross, while listening to the cruel taunt and ribald jest of the passers-by--did He feel nothing? Though breathed in silence, here is His prophetic experience–
"My enemies surround Me like a herd of bulls;
fierce bulls of Bashan have hemmed Me in!
Like roaring lions attacking their prey,
they come at Me with open mouths.
My life is poured out like water,
and all My bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax,
melting within Me.
My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
My tongue sticks to the roof of My mouth.
You have laid Me in the dust and left me for dead.
My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
an evil gang closes in on Me.
They have pierced My hands and feet.
I can count every bone in My body.
My enemies stare at Me and gloat.
They divide My clothes among themselves
and throw dice for My garments.
O Lord, do not stay away!
You are my strength; come quickly to My aid!
Rescue Me from a violent death;
spare My precious life from these dogs.
Snatch Me from the lions' jaws,
and from the horns of these wild oxen."
Believe it--it is not a sinful nature, or sinful practice, that makes us feel a deeper sympathy with our fellow-sinners. As it has been well observed, when David was living in scandalous and unrepented of sin--when his conscience was blunted, and prayer restrained before God; then he had no sympathy--no mercy for the cruel author of a hypothetical case of violence and wrong. When Nathan told him the story-parable about the ewe-lamb--"The man that has done this," said David, "shall surely die." Sin hardens the heart; blunts the sensibilities. It is the highest and purest specimens of humanity who are the kindest, best, most tender. What, then, must it be with the Great Ideal of all excellence; the sinless God-man Mediator?
Yes! if I wish a true, perfect sympathizer, I look to Him, who, while He had (and He has at this moment) a real humanity, is, at the same time, "the Holy One of God"--"tempted," "yet without sin;" and exult in the Prophet's words of comfort--all the more because of His infinite purity--"A Man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
Reader, do you know what it is to take refuge in this glorious Rock-cleft, the Sympathy of Jesus? There are crisis-hours in our lives when more especially we need strong support--when, like Jacob at Bethel, we are all alone in a desolate place--the sun of our earthly happiness set, and our summer friends gone. Or like John, as he wandered in Patmos, the sole survivor of the Apostolic band, old fellow-disciples and companions removed--like a tree left solitary in the forest. These are the times when the Savior delights to come, showing us the ladder which connects the pillow of stones and the weary sleeper with the heights of heaven--or, as in the case of the lonely exile of the Aegean Sea, raising us from our prostrate condition, and whispering in our ears His own gentle accents of reassuring peace! It is when the tempest is fiercest, we know the preciousness of such a Refuge--"When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to THE ROCK THAT IS HIGHER THAN I!"