The Sympathy of Jesus!
Archibald G. Brown, September 10th, 1871, Stepney Green
"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15
More than a year ago I endeavored to lead your thoughts to this same text. Then we meditated more particularly upon the words "high priest," and looked upon our Savior as filling that office. This morning I purpose dwelling upon the sympathy of Jesus as taught in the words, "Sympathize with our weaknesses." With an old text, we shall yet tread on entirely new ground.
SYMPATHY! There is something in the very word that appeals to the heart and commands attention. If all do not possess it, nearly all are ready to sing its praises. Even in this fallen world, the hearts are few that will deny their tribute of commendation to this gentle attribute. It has many friends, and few foes.
There may be, perhaps, and doubtless there is, a miserable little clique of dried up souls who affect to despise sympathy as something too effeminate for them. They never give it because it is not in them — and they never receive it for the same reason. But these are a minority so insignificant that a bare mention of their existence is almost more than they might expect.
The great mass of mankind, however fallen and hardened in sin, still has a soft place left for the charms of sympathy. There may perhaps be something selfish in the matter. Man knows that changes are so sudden, and almost as certain as sudden — that the one who is upon the top of the wheel today, may be at the bottom tomorrow. The probability therefore of himself needing sympathy, suggests the exhibition of it to others.
But after deducting the selfish element, there yet remains a vast fellow-feeling in mankind — a latent sympathy, often smouldering, which only needs the breath of sorrow to make it leap into flame. It has been well said that, "Though the lower animals have feeling, they have no fellow-feeling; it belongs only to man to weep with those who weep, and by sympathy, to divide another's sorrows and double another's joys."
I have read that the wounded stag sheds tears as its life blood flows fast upon the purple heather — but never that its pangs and agonies drew tears from its fellows in the herd. That finer touch of sympathy belongs to man alone. Sympathy is the echo that a heart gives to another's cry of anguish.
But a few weeks ago I was in the land of mountains, crags, and rocks, and there, at different well-selected spots, I heard the blast of the Swiss horn. Grand were the echoes as they rolled among the mountain gorges, giving every snowy peak a voice, and every pine-clad hill a tongue. It was marvelous to have the sound that first came from our very feet, flung back upon our ears from distant ranges that looked like the embodiment of silence.
But more musical by far, because it is more heavenly, is the response given by a heart touched with the feeling of another's grief, and that grief is the grief of one who has no legal claim on its sympathy. Well might the poet sing:
"No radiant pearl, which crested Fortune wears,
No gem that twinkling hangs from Beauty's ears;
Not the bright stars, which Night's blue arch adorn;
Nor rising Sun, that gilds the spring Morn;
Shine with such luster as the Tear that flows
Down virtue's manly cheek for other's woes."
Yes, clearer than the pearl — more lustrous than a thousand gems — more cheering than the stars that light the night — and more radiant than the sun that makes the day — is the sympathy that feels and weeps and helps.
But let it be remembered, the best of human sympathy is but human sympathy at best. To see sympathy in all its exquisite perfections of tenderness, we have to turn . . .
from man — to his Maker;
from the saint — to his Savior;
from earth — to Heaven.
This is what we desire to do this morning. In His great compassion, may our Lord help our meditations. In dwelling upon the sympathy of Jesus, we will gather our thoughts into three divisions as follows:
It flows through knowledge.
It is prompted by His nature.
It is deepened by His experience.
I. The Sympathy of Jesus flows through knowledge.Ten thousand springs of earthly sympathy are sealed through ignorance. Bad though the world is, I yet believe that half of what is put down as lack of sympathy might be more correctly described as lack of knowledge. Not one tenth of the mass of misery existing, comes before our eyes; and therefore what the eye does not see — the heart does not grieve; and ignorance seals the springs of generous feeling which would otherwise gush forth. Let me show you what I mean by an illustration.
In yonder room there is a happy mother surrounded by three or four healthy romping children. It does my heart good to hear their merry ringing laughter, and watch their innocent but ceaseless play. The mother's eye lights up with natural pride, and yielding to the impulse of her heart, she joins her laugh with theirs, and takes her part in the merry games. Evening comes, and one little darling after another falls to sleep, soothed by the quiet lullaby she sings. Happy, happy sight. Who would for a moment have it otherwise?
But come with me into the adjacent house, into the bedroom that is only separated from the one I have described by a four inch wall. There is a mother there — but what a contrast to the other. Her face is wan and pale, her eyes deep sunk and red with weeping; yet through them her whole soul seems to look forth in an intensity of anguish. She is sitting with hands clasped by the side of a little bed on which, as white as the pillow on which his little head rests, lies her only boy, and he is dying fast. He fights for breath and throws his poor little arms about, while the death rattle sounds in his throat.
Yes, he is dying, her only boy. The only one left her on earth after her husband's death. Dying, and with him are her hopes and expectations of a future happier than the past. It is hard to realize, and harder still to bear. The very thought of the blank his loss will make, convulses her with grief, as unclasping her hands she holds her burning brow, and the big tears roll down upon the coverlet. Yes, her boy is dying, and no one seems to care about it.
Hark! What is that? It is the shout of the children in the next house, as they romp and play. Their laughter drives the dagger to its hilt! For them to be laughing — and him gasping his last. The contrast is too great. Night comes on, and the dying lad's face looks more ghastly still in the light of a single candle. And now the first mother's voice is heard singing her evening song next door. It is more than the poor crushed heart can bear, and she murmurs, "Why does she sing now? It is too unkind!"
Wait poor soul; it is no lack of sympathy, only a lack of knowledge. Had that happy mother known it was your dark hour, she would in a moment have hushed the laughter of her children and, stopping her own song, she would have blended her tears with yours. The wall that admits the sound, shuts out the sight.
Do you see that sailor's wife as she tosses her child in motherly glee, and laughs as the sun glints upon the waters? Poor soul, she little thinks that her husband is fighting for dear life in the waves at that very moment.
Or to come nearer home — as you walked to the house of God this morning in company with your friend, you chatted about a dozen different things. To hurt his feelings was furthest from your thoughts — and yet through ignorance of his history and present position, you gashed his heart a thousand times! You did not notice the shudder that ran through his frame when you spoke of so and so being in financial difficulties, and suggested it could not be long before he went completely bankrupt. No, you thought he was rather silent and so talked faster to try and cheer him — not knowing that on the morrow the secret of his own bankruptcy will be known, and his difficulties will be discussed in every business circle. If you had but known it, you would rather have had your tongue plucked out by the roots, than to have uttered the words you did.
The fault, if there was any, was not in the heart — but in the head. It is perhaps a great mercy that but little of the sorrow which is in the world comes under our notice; as it is, there is sufficient to make the heart ache, and test to the utmost our powers of help. But to see it ALL would (if we had any sensitivity of soul) "touch" the spirit so constantly and deeply that life would lose all charm, and every place would become a Bochim — a Valley of weeping!
Child of God, the sympathy of your Savior is never lacking through lack of knowledge. There is no wall of separation, however thin, that hides from His eyes the sorrow within your soul. Jesus knows the every care of every saint. Think for a moment what that means.
Looking round upon the great company here this morning, the thought must come to every mind, what a collection of cares has been brought within these walls. There is not one heart present that does not contribute to the multitude, for "every heart knows its own bitterness," and in many cases what a number of bitternesses are crowded into one small heart!
Surely there is not one home, that has its representative here, however humble or affluent, that does not also have its skeleton — hidden perhaps from most, and draped with forced smiles. Yet there it remains, casting its shadow upon the hearth, and ploughing deep furrows upon the parent's brow. But what are we, among the hosts that love the Lord? A mere drop in the ocean. And every saint in the myriad multitude has his own peculiar cares. If the company of saints is vast, what must be the number of their cares when every heart contributes its thousand? Innumerable indeed!
Yet Jesus knows the every single care of every child of His! Not one need exclaim in despair "my way is hidden from my God." Sympathy is not withheld from any through ignorance of his need. All is known and all is felt by Him we love, and by Whom we are loved.
Poor troubled one, you may venture near. You cannot tell Him anything that He did not know long before. Are you trying to carry your cares in your own bosom? Like the Spartan youth who stole a fox and hid it in his coat — are you letting it eat its way into your very vitals, rather than have it discovered? For pity's sake, forbear!
It is care untold and unbosomed that fills our madhouses and digs ten-thousand graves! Go cast yourselves upon the sympathy of Him who not only reads the sorrow of the face — but the deeper anguish of the heart.
So much then for our first point. May the Lord give us all the comfort that is to be gleaned from the thought that the sympathy of Jesus is one that flows through knowledge.
"Anxious cares and heavy woes
Oft agitate my breast;
And no balm on earth that grows
Can give my spirit rest.
But midst worlds that lean on Thee,
You have gentle thoughts for me."
II. The Sympathy of Jesus is Prompted by His Nature.In my previous division I have only supposed a lack of sympathy, owing to a lack of knowledge — but now I have to go further and say that with some, to know is not to be touched — to see is not to sympathize.
Some natures are hard from their birth. No one can recollect them being anything else than stern, harsh, cold, unlovable, and unloving characters. In boyhood their games had no charm, unless spiced with a little cruelty to somebody or something; and now that they are grown up, they are little better. They can dissect misery and discuss it, and blame the steps that led to it; in fact they can do anything except feel for it and help it.
They may perhaps be just and upright men — but that something which draws the unhappy to itself, and makes the miserable feel he can confide his sorrows in its ears — is utterly lacking in their constitution. They are more machines than men, and it is a difficult matter believe that they actually have hearts that beat.
Others, although not naturally hard, have become steeled by selfishness. In their early days, selfishness became a besetting sin, and instead of at once flinging the accursed thing aside — they pandered to it until like a hideous serpent, it flung its coils around them, securing them hand and foot. Far within there is a heart that sometimes feels — but it has no power left to yield to any generous impulse. They are encased and encrusted in themselves!
Doubtless many of you have, as did the speaker, visited the Dripping Well in Yorkshire. The drops as they fall on anything turn it gradually to stone. Hanging above your heads are stone nests, in whose soft beds the mother bird once watched her brood. There are stone handkerchiefs, stone sponges — everything is stone — however soft and flexible it might originally have been. That dripping well petrifies all that comes beneath its influence.
Such is a selfishness indulged. It turns the softest heart to stone. Some grow callous by often witnessing scenes of suffering and grief. To live constantly amidst scenes of trial will be sure to produce one of two results: either it will intensify tenfold the compassionate feelings of the heart — or it will breed a stolid indifference.
With many it is the former. With others it is the latter, and after a time they can look unmoved on spectacles of grief that would formerly have harrowed every feeling of the soul. Solitary cases of misery are lost in the general. Others become hardened by enduring trouble themselves. As in the former case, so it is in this: bearing trouble will either make the heart more sympathetic — or far less so. Trials will prove our greatest blessings, or our deepest curses. I hardly know a sadder sight than the man devoid of compassion for others because he was hardened by his own troubles.
Thus, dear friends, you see that from different causes there are some who, although they know, still fail to feel the griefs of others. Hearts that give no echo to the cry for help — natures that take no more impress than the granite rock or icy glacier.
Now blessed be His holy name, with Jesus — to know is to be touched. If His knowledge cuts the channel — His nature at the same moment fills it with the stream of compassionate love.
Would you know what Jesus is? Then you have but to find out what Jesus was. Learn the latter, and you know the present, for He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. In this blessed book we have some sweet photographs of the deep compassion ever dwelling in the heart of our Lord.
There is one little sentence often occurring in the gospels that seems to me to give a beautiful insight into the workings of Jesus' heart. It is "moved with compassion." Kindly turn with me to just one or two references. The first you will find in Matthew, the ninth chapter and thirty-sixth verse, "When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd."
In the same gospel, the fourteenth chapter and fourteenth verse, you will read, "Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion towards them, and He healed their sick."
Again we find the same thing in Mark, the first chapter and forty-first verse — but here not in reference to a multitude — but to one poor leper: "A leper came to Him, beseeching Him, and kneeling down to Him, and saying to Him: if you will, you can make me clean. Jesus, moved with compassion, put out His hand and touched him, and says to him, I will — be clean."
How exquisite is that expression, "moved with compassion." He not only felt it — but He was moved by it. All the manhood and deity of our Savior was agitated by a sight of need or misery. His heart was moved, and then a moved heart moved His hand, for he healed the sick and touched the leper.
One day our Savior was wending His way towards the city of Nain, and as he approached the gates, a sad procession met Him. It was a funeral. A young man stricken down in the prime of life was being carried out to be buried. There were many following the corpse — but among them one who in a moment became the object of our Lord's attention. It was the mother of the young man, and she was a widow. With a heart bursting with anguish, she follows the body of her only boy. "And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said to her, Do not weep." He stops the funeral march, and with a word calls back to life the only son, and then with a thoughtful tenderness the evangelist did well to record, "He delivered him to his mother." O loving heart, how quickly touched by a widow's woes!!
Later on the news is brought to Him that the friend He loved was sick, and now the friend was dead. Now mark that although Jesus knew what He was going to do, although He saw the raised Lazarus in his sisters' arms — yet the present sorrow, however brief, touched in a moment that tender heart, and "Jesus wept!" John 11.35. He could not keep from being one in the sorrow of His people, however transient He knew that sorrow would be.
Yet once again. With bleeding back and thorn-crowned brow, He is being hurried to the place of execution. There are cruel shouts of hatred and brutal blows. Surely if ever there was a time when a heart might be expected to be wholly engrossed with its own anguish, it was then. But hark! His quick ears have caught the sound of some women's sobs, and turning to them in that hour of darkness and death, His compassionate heart forgets itself as He exclaims, "Do not weep not for me — but weep for yourselves." Luke 23.28. The future sorrows of others were more to Him than His own present griefs.
That is what he WAS. Believer, He is just the same NOW. No selfishness has steeled the loving spirit, no gazing upon scenes of sorrow has made that compassionate heart grow callous. Still it is true, "In all our afflictions, He is afflicted." He who was moved with compassion at the sight of a hungry and disease-stricken multitude — He who had all the sympathy of His nature roused by the sight of a stricken widow — He who mingled His tears with the tears of two bereaved sisters — He abides the same now. Christ is no unmoved spectator of our trials — but,
"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.
In every pang that rends the heart,
The man of sorrows had a part;
He sympathizes in our grief,
And to the sufferer sends relief."
III. The Sympathy of Jesus is deepened by Experience.This is very beautifully taught in the closing sentence of the verse, "But he has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." There can, after all, be but little true sympathy, however loving the heart — where there has been no similar experience. It is the widow who knows best how to speak words of comfort to the one from whose side an affectionate husband has been torn. It is the man who has himself passed through the agonies of a financial difficulty, that knows best how to cheer the one who, after every desperate effort to retrieve his fortune — yet finds himself bankrupt step by step. It is in the school of experience that the language of sympathy is best taught. How precious is the thought, dear friends, that He who sees all, and He who has a heart to feel all — has also Himself passed through all.
Christ's knowledge of our trials is not a theoretical one — but an experiential one. He knows what the weight of a burden is, by having carried it. He knows what anguish means, by having endured it. Unlike the surgeon who only knows what suffering means, by having seen it in his walks through the wards of the hospital — Christ knows what it is by having "Himself suffered."
Beloved, whatever may be your trial this morning, your Savior passed through it before you. However rough the road you tread, Christ's feet have been lacerated by its broken stones before. What is your trouble?
Is it poverty? Does need weary you, and privation perplex you? Remember that He said "the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests — but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head."
Is it depression? Does a heavy weight hang on the spirit? Is the sky above your head of one dull leaden hue? If so, I can pity you indeed. There is nothing harder to bear than that languor of heart that paralyzes the arm, stupefies the brain, and plunges into sore amazement. Yet of Him we read, "He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death!' And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground!"
Is your trial temptation? Is Satan letting his fiery arrows fly at you in a veritable cloud? Are you saying "I shall one day fall by the hand of my enemy!" He was "Tempted by the devil forty days and forty nights." O mark that lone man, as in the dreary wilderness He encounters with His single arm, all the powers of darkness.
"But spotless, innocent and pure
The great Redeemer stood,
While Satan's fiery darts He bore,
And did resist to blood."
"But," I can imagine another saying, "My trial is of a different kind. I am suffering from the betrayal of my friends. Just now, when I need them most, I look in vain to find them. When I was prosperous I had so many friends I could hardly count them; but now that I am in difficulties, it is still harder to reckon them, only from a different cause — they have all gone."
Your case is hard indeed, dear friend; but remember, it is recorded of your Savior's friends, that in the moment of His extremity "They all forsook Him and fled."
But from yonder corner of the sanctuary there comes a voice saying, "My case is worst of all. I have not merely lost my friend — but the one in whom I most confided. The very one with whom I walked in company to the house of God, has basely betrayed me. I carried a viper in my breast — and for my kindness, he has stung me with his poisonous fang!"
Sad indeed; but Jesus said, "He who dips his hand with Me in the dish shall betray Me!" It was the one who sat next to Christ, and shared the dish with Him, that afterward sold Him for thirty pieces of silver!
Some of us doubtless know what it is to be burdened with the cares of others in addition to our own. So it was with our Savior; for what was the first thing the disciples did with their own sorrows? "They went and told Jesus!" It is a fountain of consolation, to know that Jesus sees our sorrows — it is sweeter still to believe that He is touched at the sight — it is sweetest of all to remember that He has felt them all Himself. Believer, concerning all your sorrows and difficulties, Jesus can say "I have tried them!"
What should be the effect upon us of this sympathy of Jesus? Surely we have it in the verse following our text. "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." May the Lord command His blessing upon the word for His Name's sake. Amen.