THE SYMPATHY OF CHRIST
by Octavius Winslow

The Sensitiveness of Christ to Suffering

    And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. Matthew 26:39

    Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Matthew 26:39

    He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground, praying, "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine." Matthew 26:39

There is no point of light in which Christ is viewed so appropriate and soothing to our present condition of sorrow as that of our Fellow-sufferer. In suffering, we naturally seek for companionship; we instinctively yearn for sympathy. And if we but meet the individual whose history bears some resemblance to our own- who has suffered as we suffer, has sorrowed as we sorrow, and who in both has betrayed like human feelings, infirmities, and weakness with ourselves- we are at once conscious of a support the most sustaining, and of a sympathy the most grateful and soothing. It is just in this particular that Christ meets our case, and meets it as no other being can.
The absence of personal suffering in the experience of our Lord, would have been the absence of one of the strongest characteristics of our present condition; and the absence of that sensitiveness which shrinks from sorrow, which recoils from pain, to which we cannot teach human nature to be wholly indifferent, would have been the absence of one of the most essential elements of His sympathy with man. When, therefore, we contemplate our Lord as a sufferer, and as betraying in suffering the sensibility, the sensitiveness, and the trembling, proper to our nature, and of which we are so constantly the subjects, we have truly found in Him a Fellow-sufferer in all points like us, save in that which must ever be the one grand exception- our sinfulness. How full of strong consolation, then, to the Christian, is the subject which is about to engage our study- Christ's instinctive dread of suffering! How close it brings Him to us! How real, how truly man, how essentially human, how like ourselves does He appear! This is just the one attribute in suffering we feel the most replete with soothing and sympathy. It is not merely that Christ was a Sufferer, but that He revealed in suffering that human sensitiveness, that shrinking from pain, and that deprecation of sorrow, which sued for exemption from the cup, which, perhaps, in our own case, we have often thought unbecoming our dignity as men, our piety as Christians, and our filial submission as children of God. But before we embark upon the leading subject of this chapter, it will be proper briefly to view our deer Lord in the light of His own sufferings. We can only understand in some measure what that human sensitiveness to suffering was which He showed, by forming some faint conception of the nature of the suffering from which His spirit shrank. And, although we institute no comparison whatever between the expiatory sufferings which our Lord endured and our own, we may yet trace sufficient resemblance between His human nature and ours in suffering, as to establish a bond of sympathy the most sustaining, comforting, and precious. Let us, then, address ourselves briefly to the task of ascertaining THE NATURE OF THOSE INGREDIENTS WHICH COMPOSED THE CUP OF SORROW FROM WHICH NOW HIS SENSITIVE SPIRIT RECOILED. "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me."
The language is figurative. The suffering upon which the Lord now entered in the garden of Gethsemane, into whose central horrors, and towards whose dark climax on Calvary each step was conducting Him, He compares to the drinking of a "cup." "This cup." And what was this cup from which His sensitive spirit shrank in terror and dismay? Surely it must have been a chalice of which none other had ever tasted- and which none but the Divine-Man could taste. And truly it was so. Lose sight of the fact that Christ suffered in His representative character as the Surety and Mediator of His Church- that His obedience was preceptive, and His death expiatory- the one honoring Divine law, the other satisfying Divine justice- and you have lost all clue to the otherwise profound and inexplicable mystery of His sacrifice. Upon no other hypothesis can we arrive at a satisfactory, or even intelligent solution of this strange, this anomalous facts- the Innocent suffering for the guilty, the Righteous dying instead of the unrighteous, as it is written, "Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might being us to God." But the Bible is interwoven with this truth as by a thread of gold, not simply running through its center, but ramifying every part, linking and interlacing itself with each doctrine, precept, promise, and statement- every revealed truth vivified and tinted with- Atoning Blood. Yes, let the denier of Christ's sacrifice remove from the Bible this essential, fundamental doctrine of faith, and it is as though He had blotted the sun from the heavens, wrenched the soul from the body, sapped the foundation of the building; He has robbed Christianity of Christ, the sinner of salvation, the dying of hope, the saint of heaven. "There remains no more sacrifice for sin" but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." Saint of God! it is written- and it stands until the end of the world, the salvation and hope of the last sinner that shall be saved- "He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities." Behold your Sin-bearer, and rejoice! The work is all complete; the debt is all cancelled. Christ has died, rather, is risen again; and His resurrection from the dead is the Father's acceptance of the Savior's work, and the pledge and earnest of your resurrection to life eternal. Oh, with what melody should you make the mountains and the valleys ring and echo with your song! Jesus, my Sin-bearer, has died for me, and I am saved!
"Your works, not mine, O Christ,
Speak gladness to this heart;
They tell me all is done;
They bid my fear depart.
To whom, save Thee
who can alone
For sin atone,
Lord, shall I flee!
"Your pains, not mine, O Christ,
Upon the shameful tree,
Have paid the law's full price
And purchased peace for me.
"Your tears, not mine, O Christ,
Have wept my guilt away;
And turned this night of mine
Into a blessed day.
"Your bonds, not mine, O Christ,
Unbind me of my chain,
And break my prison-doors,
Never to be barred again.
"Your wounds, not mine, O Christ,
Can heal my bruised soul,
Your stripes, not mine, contain
The balm that makes me whole.
"Your blood, not mine, O Christ,
Your blood so freely spilt,
Can blanch my blackest stains,
And purge away my guilt.
"Your Cross, not mine, O Christ
Has borne the awful load
Of sins that none in heaven
Or earth could bear, but God.
"Your death, not mine, O Christ,
Has paid the ransom due;
Ten thousand deaths like mine
Would have been all too few.
"Your righteousness, O Christ,
Alone can cover me;
No righteousness will do
Save that which is of You.
"Your righteousness alone
Can clothe and beautify;
I wrap it round my soul;
In this I'll live and die."
But it is a specific view of this subject which now engages our attention- our Lord's sensitiveness to suffering; and the consideration of this will yet more fully unfold the depth and keenness of His sufferings. It would seem impossible that as man Christ should be indifferent or insensible to suffering. Had sorrow lighted upon Him as the snow-flake falls on the ocean, or as the arrow flies through the air, untraceable by a single impression, then we might justly have questioned the perfect identity of His nature with ours. But when we mark the surging of the soul, the quivering of the lip, the trembling of the hand, the plaintive cry of pain, and the uplifted prayer for deliverance, we see in Jesus our Fellow-sufferer, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. Let its cite a few examples of our Lord's sensibility to suffering.
Select, as the first and chief, that which is placed at the head of this chapter- the cup of wrath now trembling in His hand. "And He went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." How perfectly true to nature the affecting prayer, the touching ejaculation, thus breathing from the Savior's lips! There was nothing in it wild, enthusiastic, extravagant- no coveting of death, no choosing of pain, no stoical indifference to agony. Unlike some martyrs who have rushed to the stake with maddened joy, goaded by a blinded, excited, intoxicated nature, a high excitation of feeling, blunting the apprehension of a coming woe, He entered into this dark cloud of sorrow and suffering with fear and trembling! And why? Because He was bearing sin, exhausting the curse, and drinking the wrath of God for us. This makes all the difference between Christ's sufferings and those of the noble army of martyr; whom we reverence. He went to the cross laden with all sin- they went to the stake with all sin forgiven. He lifted to His lips and drank the cup of pain and of suffering, embittered with all the strength of the curse, and brimmed with the unmitigated wrath of God- they drank their cup of suffering, as we drink ours, sweetened and alleviated with Divine love, sympathy, and soothing.
But look at His sensibility. "Let this cup pass from me." It was from soul-agony, from mental grief, that He now shrunk. "Now is my soul troubled." He had reached the crisis of His mission, the goal of His passion; and as the dark hour drew on- His enemies watching, His disciples sleeping, His blood-impurpled brow pressing the damp soil of the garden- the midnight stillness is broken with His cry of agony, His prayer for deliverance- "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." Beloved reader, is your spirit troubled? is your mind disquieted? and do you shrink from the cup your heavenly Father has given you to drink? Oh, behold the source of your true sympathy, the lessons and the consolations flowing from Him, "Who in the days of his flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all those who obey him." Your Savior was sensitive to soul-sorrow, and do you think that He will chide or be indifferent to yours? Ah, no! He knows your spirit's grief, and will comfort it. He has passed through your mental sorrow, and will soothe it. He has felt your soul-darkness, and will cheer it. You are, perhaps, suffering from a present, or are shrinking from an anticipated, sorrow. The cup is in your trembling hand. You pray, "O my Father, if it be possible- if it be possible- let it pass from me. Sustain me in this calamity beneath which my wounded spirit sinks. Spare me the impending blow from which my sensitive spirit recoils." Oh, do you think that the sympathy of Christ is not with you now? Can He not enter with you into that cloud, share with you that cup, understand that recoil of feeling, and make all allowance for these keen, wounded, crushed sensibilities? "Father, if it be possible." Who will forbid that prayer?- not Jesus!
Our Lord was equally sensitive to bodily pain. This was, doubtless, one of the ingredients of the cup Christ was now about to drink to its dregs. The body was involved in the fall of man- the inlet to the sin of the soul. In the working out of an atonement for sin, the body must also suffer. Our dear Lord's entire exemption from a sinful nature did not exempt Him from a sensitive nature- a nature sensitive to physical suffering. The absence of sensibility to pain of body would have compromised the fact of His actual humanity. What an essential defect in His sympathy would have been His freedom from bodily pain! How could the Head then have sympathized with the members? The diseases which assail our frame, it is true, found no counterpart in Him; yet, was He not the less exempt from suffering of body. Oh, was there no bodily agony in the laceration of the scourge, in the heavy blows of the clenched fist, in the plucking off the hair, in the thorn-crown, in the spikes impelled through the hands and the feet, in the thrust of the spear entering the side and piercing the heart of Jesus? Was there no torture in the long, lingering agony of the cross, the blood oozing from the wounds by drops, and life ebbing slowly by inches? How literally was verified His own prophetic words, "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheek to those who plucked off the hair!" Hear His cry, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me"- this cup of mortal agony. You, too, may thus be shrinking from bodily suffering. Does the weak flesh recoil from those agonies which no tongue can describe, which no skill can baffle, which no anodyne can soothe, and which no affection can prevent? Jesus can sympathize with you. Do you think that He will desert you in this trial of your humanity, or make no allowance for the weakness of the flesh, the pain and nervousness, the agony and languor, the fainting and swooning which so much interferes with your soul's enjoyment, beclouds your mental powers, and prevents those spiritual exercises of reading, meditation, and prayer in which you have been wont so happily to indulge? Ah, no! He is your fellow-sufferer! and when, in anticipation of the throes, the agonies, and the convulsions which rack the body with pain, the spirit fails, the flesh shrinks, and your trembling heart breathes to heaven its earnest, plaintive cry, "Father, if it be possible,"- you are at once in the closest sympathy with your Savior's sensitiveness to bodily suffering, and He in sympathy with yours. Who will arrest that prayer?- not Jesus!
Our Lord was sensitive to the pain of domestic slight. It is marvellous to trace the perfect assimilation of His humanity to all the natural circumstances of ours. Was there no betrayal of sensitiveness to this peculiar form of suffering when He quoted the proverb as applicable to Himself- "A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and in his own house?" He was as a stranger among His brethren, an alien in His Father's house. They doubted Him- slighted Him- insulted Him. Jesus felt the neglect- and felt it keenly. His sensitive spirit was wounded. How many of the Lord's people are drinking this cup of sadness, are enduring this form of suffering! The icy coldness, the studied slight, the marked neglect of those of your own house, whose confidence, affection, and sympathy you had not forfeited and had a right to possess, is a daily cross, chafing, wounding, fretting the spirit sorely. But your Lord and Master prepared you for this- teaching you the precept, and then enforcing it by His example "Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, no; but rather division: for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three." "And a man's foes shall be they of his own household." How faithfully does our Lord here forewarn His disciples, that love to Him and a profession of His gospel would, in many instances, involve the weakening, if not the entire rupture, of those ties, the closest and the dearest, which bind us to earth's kindred. The religion of Jesus is a separating religion; it has done but little for us if it has not severed us from the world, and quenched in us the spirit of the world, and separated us from all worldly association, and sympathy with the world's followers, bound to us though they are by ties which we cannot and may not entirely sunder. Oh, how extensive and subtle a snare is the world to a disciple of Jesus- to one desirous of living for eternity! Our relations are snares- our friendships are snares- our alliances are snares- our business transactions are snares- our necessary recreations of intellect and taste are snares- and our social and domestic enjoyments are often but pleasant bowers within whose foliage lurks the tempter. If, then, beloved reader, the Lord has given you grace to tread the narrow path of separation- shaded and secluded though it be; if you are called to witness for Jesus and His gospel against the world, error, and sin, surrounded by those with whom you sported in childhood, among whom your youth was trained, who are entwined with associations of later life the sweetest, and with memories of earlier life the most sacred and dear, and yet you are the object of alienated affection, frigid neglect, doubt, and scorn, because you love the Savior- Oh, do not be cast down, as though sonic strange thing had happened to you. Your Lord and Master, for whom you suffer; suffered all this, and infinitely more, for you; and in sympathy and in love soothes and supports and suffers with you now.
Having given prominence to this feeling of our Lord, as man- His sensitiveness to suffering- let us briefly draw from it SOME HOLY, PRACTICAL DEDUCTIONS.
We learn how completely Christ could be our fellow-sufferer, without the slightest compromise of His essential dignity and greatness. It demonstrated no defect in our Lord's character that He should rather have repelled than coveted suffering. We seek the evidence of real humanity- we have it here! Taken into alliance with His absolute Deity, there could be no element in it not in harmony with His higher and superior
nature. When, therefore, we find our Lord in the days of His flesh shrinking from pain, as we now do, we find nothing in it to disturb the perfect equipoise of a well-balanced mind, or to cast a shadow upon the luster of a strong and a great One. A great and holy mind may be so sustained in the endurance of suffering, loss, shame, or death, as to rise superior to them; but it is no mark of real greatness to affect to despise or to be indifferent to them absolutely and unconditionally. A man of God would willingly accept them as alternatives, but thankfully would He escape them, if by so doing He did not compromise his own honor and self-respect, and, above all, his allegiance to Christ and truth. Behold, then, beloved, your Lord as in all respects your fellow-sufferer. He sympathizes with you when you shrink from pain; for there was an hour when He shrunk from it Himself; and in that hour of extreme distress, every nerve quivering, and the sweat like blood dropping from His sacred body, He prayed that the cup might be taken away. Oh, do not think that you betray an improper weakness, or prefer an undutiful petition, when the poor frail flesh dreads the pang, and the spirit cries- Let this cup pass from me!
But not only may this tender susceptibility to pain be perfectly consistent with true greatness and dignity of character, but equally so with the perfect submission of the will to God. An intense desire to be saved from suffering may be in strict harmony with the holiest resignation, fortitude, and courage in suffering. What a page in the history of our Lord is here! "If this cup may not pass from me except I drink it, your will be done." It was not possible that that cup should pass His lips undrank. The salvation of His elect Church hung upon it- the glory of His Father was involved in it- the interests of the universe were bound up in it- it was not possible! But not less did His own love constrain Him to exhaust that cup, than the necessity imposed by the eternal purpose and will of the Father. Oh, deem not that that sensitiveness to pain, that shrinking from suffering, displayed in the plaintive cry "If it be possible,"- manifested the slightest veering of love, the remotest vacillation of mind, the least hesitancy on the part of Christ to offer Himself as a voluntary sacrifice for our sins. Oh, no! Light flows not from the sun more spontaneously, the winds blow not more freely, nor does the mountain stream rush on to the ocean more impetuously, than went our blessed sacrificial Lamb of God to the altar of atonement. And yet we thank, we bless, we laud Him for this plaintive ejaculation- "If it be possible." This is nature, and this is truth. I need not pause to inquire what nature- it is enough that it harmonizes with my nature, that it is true to all the instincts of my manhood, and pours a deeper, richer, sweeter tide of sympathy and soothing into my troubled spirit than the most stoical nature foreign from my own could have done. Oh, how much more deeply and tenderly does that cry of weakness and of suffering touch my sad heart, than the most sublime words of excited heroism! It assures me that my feebleness, my sensitiveness, my prayer for exemption from pain, is not sinful, is not wrong, is not unmanly and undignified, and will meet with no check nor rebuke from Him who in the days of His flesh offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death. Before this loving, sympathizing Savior I am subdued and melted. Oh, how my love is awakened! I love Him, because that He, though God, is near to me, near in the valley of tears and suffering, not chiding but sharing, not crushing but sustaining, not repelling but, sanctifying my infirmities, feebleness, and sorrow. I love Him for the sympathy that soothes, and for the power that supports me. I love Him who, while He sighs with me, weeps with me, sorrows with me, encircles me with His omnipotent arms, upholds me with His Divine grace, and perfects His strength in my weakness. "I love the Lord because he hears and answers my prayers. Because he bends down and listens, I will pray as long as I have breath!" Psalm 116:1-2.
We recur again to the thought that we must not only claim Christ's alliance with us in our cup of suffering, but if we would experience all the advantage of His sympathy, we must conclude His prayer- "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." While our Savior would stoop to our human sorrow, He would raise us to His Divine resignation. He seems to say to us- "You shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of, and in the same spirit of filial submission to your Father's will." Yes, child of suffering and of sorrow! it may not be the will of God that your request should be granted. That cup from which you shrink- it is not possible should pass. It becomes you to drink and drain it, as did He- but His words shall strengthen and aid you, "Your will, not mine, be done." It is in cleaving by faith the deep waters, and in climbing the difficult ascent, we reach the firmest footing, and the highest, brightest, holiest elevation in our Christianity- the complete absorption of our will in God's will. Great trials make great saints. The most deeply afflicted are the most deeply sanctified. It was not until our blessed Lord first pressed that cup to His lips that the conflict and the triumph of will took place. "Let this cup pass from me- Your will be done." Oh, it were worth any cup our Father mingled to be able to bow our head to the earth and say
"Let me never choose- or to live or die,
Bind or bruise, in Your hands I lie."
What a holy, practical lesson may we here learn! Does Christ thus sympathize with us? does the Lord know our weak frames and remember that we are dust? Then let us go forth in perfect sympathy with Christ in everything, that relates to His truth, His kingdom, His people. He is unworthy of a love so self-sacrificing; of a sympathy so engirdling; who feels not himself one and identified with Christ in everything that relates to the honor of that name at which every knee shall bow. Embraced by such a love, and interested in such a sympathy, let us melt into the profoundest sensibility at the thought that it was for us Christ sighed and wept, bled and suffered; and, standing before that awful spectacle- the wonder and marvel of the universe- let us resolve that the sins which crucified Him once shall not crucify Him again- but that the death our Savior died for sins, shall be our death unto sin, and that henceforth we will be Christ's true disciples, Christ's faithful followers.
You will learn, too, to sympathize with the suffering members of Christ's body. Soothed by such a sympathy as His, your own will flow forth in its tenderness toward all who through the weakness and infirmity of the flesh are shrinking from or are drinking the cup of suffering. Catching the spirit, imbibing the gentleness and tenderness of Jesus, in imitation of Him, you will, by your compassion, prayers, and substance, seek to alleviate the pain, soothe the grief, and supply the need of those, the companions and representatives of your Lord, in whom are filled up the afflictions of Christ, which are behind. Recognize a suffering Christ in His suffering members, a persecuted Christ in His persecuted members, a poor Christ in His poor members, a despised Christ in His downtrodden members, an imprisoned Christ in His imprisoned members; a sick, a naked, a hungry Christ in those whom worldly adversity, penury, and need have smitten and laid low. "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me."
Whatever may be the cup your heavenly Father prepares for you, keep firm hold of this truth, that He will never forsake you. "He forsakes not His saints." Shrink not from the suffering that seems inevitable, the cup which may not pass your lips untouched- God will be with you. You are, perhaps, anticipating a fiery ordeal, a dread crisis of your case; the flesh shrinks from the knife, the heart dies within you at the thought of that hour of silent agony which approaches. Oh, have faith now in your heavenly Father. Do you think that He will leave you to drink that cup alone? to endure that pain alone? to pass through that hour alone? Oh, no! He will be with you, Christ will be with you, the Comforter will be with you, and, as "your day, so shall your strength be." Has God ever yet been to you a wilderness? Has His promise ever failed? Has Jesus ever stood aloof from your sore, leaving your wound untouched, unsoothed, unhealed? Has not the Lord always been better than all your trembling anticipations, quelling your fears, reassuring your doubting mind, and hearing you gently and safely through the hour of suffering which you dreaded? Then trust Him now! Never, never will He forsake you! Let His will be done in you, and by you- and thus, both in doing and suffering, you may sweetly sing–
"My Father, choose the path I tread,
Midst drooping hopes and pleasures fled,
Or with bright sunshine round me spread,
But never let me go!
"My Father, choose the rank I fill,
To rule a nation at my will,
Or lowliest services fulfil,
But never let me go!
"My Father, choose my lot in life,
A peaceful home, unvexed by strife,
Or stormy scenes, with danger rife,
But never let me go!
"My Father, choose my work for Thee,
To toil in bright activity,
Or pause and wait on bended knee,
But never let me go!
"My Father, choose my dying day,
In prime of life to pass away,
Or sink in age's slow decay,
But never let me go!
"Yes, Lord, Your wisdom, love, and power
Are my strong rock, my sheltering tower,
And this shall soothe life's darkest hour
You will not let mo go!"