Sympathy, an Element of Christ's Nature
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17
It was a noble sentiment of Terrence, the utterance of which electrified the Roman senate, "I am a man, and nothing that is human is foreign to me." With what higher sublimity and profounder emphasis of meaning might our adorable Lord- the Divine Man- have pronounced these memorable words! His whole life was a living, luminous illustration of the thought. He was the highest type of humanity. Essential
God, He was not the less, but all the more, perfect man. He had all the sympathies of manhood. Descending from a pre-existent state of glory, He made His advent to our nature, assuming everything that was essentially human, while relinquishing nothing that was essentially divine. He was intent upon being man, because He was intent upon redeeming man, and "very man of very man" He was. With that one joy set before Him- the joy of saving the lost- and oh, who can sound its depth? -no stoop, no humiliation, no suffering, should deter Him. His first step was to descend to the nature which He was to ransom and exalt. Around the solar rays of His Godhead He cast the darkling vesture of our manhood, shading and softening, not extinguisting or lessening, the glory of His divinity. In that marvellous, that fathomless descent to our nature, there was one exception we must ever, in our study of this subject, keep in view. He assumed all that was human but the accident of sin. "He knew no sin." The drapery of "flesh" which hung in such ample and graceful folds around His hidden and superior nature, was morally untainted and untinted by transgression. Its entire texture, woof and web, was as essentially pure and undefiled as the divine and ineffable glory it sought in vain to conceal. Let it be remembered that sin, as we have just remarked, is an accident of, and not a property essential to, our nature. It was not necessary, no, it was not possible, that in creating man God should create him sinful. Sin is a foreign and alien element, not originally entering into the formation of Adam, but exported from some dark and unknown climate into our humanity, since God first created it in His own holy and ineffable image, and then pronounced it very good. So far, indeed, from sin being a necessary and original element of our humanity, we became less human when we became less holy. In proportion as we recede from the prototype of our creation, we descend in the scale of God's workmanship, and sink the rational in the animal. Sin, despoiling our lower nature, reduces us to a level with the brute creation, from whom God bids us learn: "Ask the beasts, and they shall teach you!" Are not all our faculties and powers paralyzed and prostrated by the Fall? Have we not lost those fine and noble instincts, those traits of beauty, sensibility, and power, which, though human, once looked so divine? Is not our humanity materially changed and essentially deteriorated by sin? Most undoubtedly we are less human because we are more sinful. We think the less profoundly- reason the less accurately- feel the less intensely- act the less vigorously- and achieve the less nobly, because we were shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin. This train of thought will serve to place in a clearer and more impressive light the great and precious truth it is intended to illustrate.
Christ, as we have remarked, was the most perfect type of our humanity. Essentially and entirely free from sin, He was the purest and most exalted specimen of man. The difference between the original formation of His inferior nature and ours is strikingly suggestive. His human body was not, as Adam's, framed of the dust of the ground, but proceeded from ours by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit; so that, while partaking of all the natural properties of the human, it likewise partook of all the essential sanctity of the divine. He was that "holy One" that knew not and could not sin- "the holy child Jesus." The thoughtful reader will at once perceive the object at which these remarks have pointed. We are about to unfold in these pages the perfect human sympathy of Christ with man. And in order that the fact may have all the force of which it is capable, we have sought to present it in the light of its perfect sinlessness, seeing that, as our humanity becomes freed from the brutalizing influence of sin, its emotional feelings, its sensibilities, and sympathies become all the more unselfish, intense, and exquisite; so that we are prepared to find in our Lord Jesus Christ a sympathy with our sorrows and infirmities such as it would be impossible to find in any other being. Every Christian grace in the believer has its opposite, every human virtue its dark antithesis. If we have faith in God, it is assailed by unbelief. If we love the creature, our affection glides into idolatry. If benevolent, we are exposed to prodigality. But not thus was it with Christ. Every divine grace, and each human excellence, dwelt in Him pure, simple, and unmixed. He could love, without adoration; confide, without suspicion; be cheerful, without levity; be humble, without lowliness; be mild, yet not timid; be firm, yet not tyrannical; secret, yet not crafty; generous, without waste; and tender, compassionate, and sympathizing, without the slightest approach to weakness or unmanliness. And all this because- "He knew no sin!"
Now, the emotional- an essential element of our humanity- belonged to Christ, as we have remarked, in its purest and most intense form. Our nature is essentially and highly sympathetic. The curious and delicate network of nerve which transmits from the sensorium to the extremity of the body each thrill of pleasure or of pain, is not more electrical in its influence than is this sympathetic principle of our humanity. Its relation to the intellectual part of our nature is intimate and reciprocal. Not less independent are they of each other, than both are dependent upon God. The history of our race supplies many illustrious evidences of the union of the loftiest intellectual powers with the finest sensibility. There is no necessity whatever why the mind should not act in perfect union with the heart: why we should be less reflective because intensely feeling. In the words of a deep thinker, "Emotion is always attached to some conception formed by the intellectual faculties. Man is so constituted that the conception of certain objects is accompanied with emotion, or, as we would rather say, that certain conceptions are emotional. The conception of probable pain produces fear, and the conception of wrong treatment inflicted, produces anger. Emotions are thus mainly dependent on the intellectual conceptions to which they are attached. But still, as consciousness attests, they are something more than the mere mental conceptions upon which, as well as upon the general train of association, they exercise a powerful influence. The Author of our nature, in making the conception of certain objects emotional, has added vastly to man's capacity of enjoyment, and has also provided for Himself a powerful instrument of government. The basis of every emotion is a conception. But all conceptions do not raise emotions. The conceptions which raise emotions are all conceptions of objects supposed to be good or evil, or supposed to be connected, for instance, with pleasure or pain, with right or wrong. We thus see the importance of right principles or motive powers in the mind. In a mind of right principles, that which is good is always conceived of as good, and that which is evil as evil, and the emotions flow responsive to the guiding principle. When the motive power is allowed by the will to become perverted, and the objects are conceived of as good which are evil, and as evil which are good- the result is a divided sensibility, disturbing the whole equilibrium of the soul, and like the wind carrying it away." (M'Cosh)
No fact will be more vividly brought before the mind of the reader, as we proceed, than the personality of our Lord- a truth but imperfectly realized, and yet of surpassing interest and preciousness. Each emotion of His nature, as it passes before the eye, will bring us into the closest contact with Christ as a distinct and real person. There are teachers who speak of Christ as a traditional and historical being, and yet others as a visionary or ideal being- a mode of instruction well calculated to transport the learner far into the mysteries of cloud-land. It may be true to a certain extent that our Lord is a historical being, for His whole life is history, and history teaching by the purest, loftiest example, which has been defined the truest philosophy. His gospel has supplied the world with truth, His life with history, and His character with a living model of every divine perfection and human excellence. But our nature craves for more than this. We need fellowship, not with a sentiment, not with a tradition, nor with an idea, but with a real, living, personal being. We seek communion with, and sympathy from, a Savior in alliance with our veritable nature, endowed with real, deep, holy sensibility, disciplined by personal sorrow like our own, and moved with a quick response to every note of "The still, sad music of humanity."
We must know Jesus as once tabernacling in the flesh, and dwelling among men as a man- hallowing earthly spots with His presence- entering the dwellings of men- sitting with them at their tables- noticing and blessing their children- mingling all the scenes of domestic life- smiling upon our loves- sanctioning our marriage-feasts- healing our diseases- pitying our infirmities- weeping at our tombs- consecrating our loneliness and solitude; in a word, unveiling a bosom, the perfect reflection of our own, in all but its sinfulness. Oh, it is this fact of our Lord's personality that brings Him so near to us, blends Him so closely with our individual history, and which imparts to His presence and sympathy a reality and preciousness so inexpressibly great and endearing. Read in the clear, steady light of this fact, what meaning and what beauty appear in these inspired declarations concerning Him: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same." "Verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham." "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." "In that He Himself has suffered being tempted, He is able to support those who are tempted." "We have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." Such, my reader, is Christ, and such His sympathy with you! And in all the circumstances of your Christian life it is an instructive and consolatory thought, that your humanity is represented in heaven by the Head of all creation; that the Lord Jesus- the "first-born among many brethren"- is still clad in our nature, and occupies the central throne in glory, exalted "far above all principality and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come." From that elevation of dignity, glory, and power, encircling spirits hymning His high praise, there flows down to you a continuous stream of sympathy, grace, and support, meeting your every circumstance, supplying your every need, soothing your every grief, and shedding the soft and cheering luster of a personal presence on your homeward path to glory. And although we no more "know Christ after the flesh," yet, dealing by faith with His personality, we may realize that we possess a Friend, a Brother, and a Redeemer, in whom are mysteriously yet truly united- the sympathetic nature of man, with the infinite mind of God.