THE SYMPATHY OF CHRIST
by Octavius Winslow

The Silence of Christ

    But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. Matthew 15:23

    Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." Matthew 15:23

    But Jesus gave her no reply—not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. "Tell her to leave," they said. "She is bothering us with all her begging." Matthew 15:23
 

The silence of Christ! How unlike the winning, glowing conceptions we had been wont to form of His responsive compassion and sympathy! Is it really Christ or some other being of whom these words speak? If it really is Christ whose lips are now so mute to an appeal so touching, how are we to interpret the silence? What are the lessons it conveys?
The reader, conversant with his Bible, will be familiar with the narrative which gave birth to this instructive incident of our Lord's life. It was one of those peculiar and touching instances of our fallen and infirm nature with which humanity alone could sympathize, and which Deity alone could meet. It was a mother eliciting the compassion and invoking the aid of the Savior on behalf of her daughter, demoniacally possessed. Surely no petitioner ever approached Him with a case more calculated immediately to unseal the deepest, warmest springs of His benevolent, sympathizing humanity. How touching, earnest, and irresistible her appeal: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." And yet He was silent. "But He answered her not a word." With the depth and tenderness of a mother's love Christ was personally acquainted. He had felt its warm throbbings in infancy; He was subject to its gentle influence in youth; and in manhood, when the sun of His human life was sinking in shame, agony, and death, its last, its latest rays rested in filial affection and solicitude upon his mother. If, then, there were a request, the tenderness, urgency, and importunity of which it would seem impossible He should resist, it was this mother's. And yet He was silent! Not a look expressed His recognition, not a word His sympathy, not an action His response. But oh, what a silence was this! More significant and expressive far its meaning than syllables could utter or deeds embody. Beneath that veil of muteness were concealed some of the most magnificent traits of Christ's character, and some of the tenderest pulsations His heart ever displayed. Nothing can be more evident, from the sequel of the narrative, than that Christ was revolving in his mind thoughts and purposes of love and help towards this woman- that the largeness of His grace and the outgushings of His compassion were about to weave a diadem for the head of that faith which had now so signally crowned Him. Dropping for a moment the narrative, let us examine the illustration which it affords of a page in GOD'S VARIED DEALINGS WITH HIS SAINTS- the silence of Christ towards His people.
There are but few believers who have not passed this stage of Christian experience, or who may not yet add this chapter to the solemn and instructive volume of their own spiritual history. Few trials of faith and prayer are more keen, and few paths in our homeward march more lone and dreary than this. The absence of Christ, in the experience of believers, creates a sadness and a void no other can soothe or supply. For, as the clinging vine cannot be dissevered from its support without laceration and loneliness, so the Christ-loving, Christ-clinging heart cannot part with the Savior's presence, strength, and communion, without the consciousness of a loss which no created good could remunerate. It is blessed to feel that there is One Being in the universe to whom the heart travels as its center, and reposes in as its rest, that Being is Jesus. Oh, what dreariness can there be, what sadness and solitude, while the soul, as it ascends from the wilderness, leans upon its Beloved, and travels homeward to His glorified presence! Christ's presence makes a heaven of earth, Christ's absence would make an earth of heaven. And yet there is sometimes this peculiar experience in the history of the saints- the silence of the Lord. There may be in prayer no sensible audience; in sorrow no conscious soothing; in difficulty no immediate support; in appeal no audible response; and this silence of Christ is more painful and discouraging than though every other lip in the universe were eternally mute! Mark how keenly David felt this trial of faith. Listen to his appeal: "Do not be silent unto me, O God, lest if you be silent unto me, I become like them who go down into the pit." Listen to Job: "O that God would speak unto me." But speak! Any utterance of His voice that would break the awful silence! Let Him chide, let Him rebuke, let, Him refuse me- anything but the silence of my God! Oh that He would but speak unto me! Let us illustrate, by a few examples, this peculiar phase of Christian experience- the Lord's silence towards His people.
There is sometimes a silence in the Word of God which to the spiritual mind is deeply significant and instructive. Are there not doctrines and revelations and statements in the Bible around which a solemn silence reigns- a silence which eternity alone will break? In our understanding of these truths, we can advance no further than the voice of God is heard- beyond that, no angel-tongue dare break the mysterious stillness. There is, for example, a solemn silence on the revealed doctrine of the Trinity. We believe, on the authority of the Bible, that there are three Persons in the one Godhead- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- that these three are personally distinct, yet essentially and indivisibly one. As to the mode of their existence, there is a divine and awful silence, to penetrate which we must not, we dare not, venture. There is a silence of Scripture, too, touching the equally revealed yet equally mysterious doctrines of the incarnation of the Son of God- the substitution and vicarious sacrifice of Christ- the election and sovereignty of Divine grace, and other cognate doctrines of the Bible, the existence of which in the Inspired Word is as clear as the sunshine bathing the throne of God in heaven.
But what is the great and holy lesson the Holy Spirit would convey by this striking feature of revealed truth? It is, to be silent when God is silent! How constantly is the human mind tempted to speculate and philosophize and reason about Divine truth! to attempt to sound that which is unfathomable, to unveil that for which there is no clue, to understand that which baffles speculation, transcends reason, and, like Him whose truth it is, enfolds itself in inexplicable and awful mystery. Enough of God's mind is revealed to show us how we may be saved, and this must suffice for our present limited range of thought and knowledge. We know but in part. The fall has be-dwarfed, and sin has obscured our mental perceptions; and God, in giving a revelation of His mind and will to man, has wisely and consistently withheld such discoveries as would have dazzled and blinded with their excessive light and luster our feeble and limited powers. Stand in awe, then, of God's Word, and sin not by indulging in vain, speculative attempts to break down the barriers which He has erected around the Sacred Volume. It were impious to tread where God has provided no footing, to tear the veil with which He has encircled the Sacred Ark, to raise the lid and peer into its awful mysteries with a curious, carnal, and forbidden glance. "Who by searching can find out God? who can understand the Almighty to perfection?" Leave the mode of the Divine existence to the explanation- if, indeed, it ever will be explained- of a higher and more perfect state of knowledge. Cease to speculate respecting the origin of sin- the permission of evil- the apparent discrepancies of revealed truth- the mysteries of the Divine government in the world- the few that are saved- the unrevealed details of the future world; leave these questions where God has left them- in solemn, awful, unbroken silence; and let reason give way to faith, and pride to humility; and vain speculation to adoring wonder, gratitude, and love. The only fact necessary for you to know is- that you are lost. The only question worthy your research is- how you may be saved. And both of these are revealed in the Bible with a distinctness and emphasis unmistakable and overpowering. You are lost- but the "Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost." You may be saved- for "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." You are guilty- but "the blood of God's Son cleanses us from all sin." And to know from experience this, is all that is essential to your salvation to know, until God perfects you in the holiness and knowledge of heaven. Oh, seek to work out this great problem of your life- "Am I saved? am I in Christ? have I Christ in me? shall I be in heaven when I die?" It will essentially aid you in this momentous inquiry if you come to the study of the gospel of Jesus with the lowliness, docility, and trustfulness of a little child. With such a spirit can you alone receive into your soul the kingdom of God. Listen to the words of the great Teacher come from God- "Verily I say unto you, Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, He shall not enter therein." The apostle lays down the same rule- "If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that He may be wise." Solemn verities are these! Let them sink down into your heart, that the Word of God may be quick and powerful- the word of light, life, and salvation to your soul. Settle it in your mind as a fixed principle guiding your researches into God's Word, that on all subtle questions of speculative theology Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word, is silent. Touching the origin and permission of evil- Christ answers not a word. Touching the mystery of the incarnation- Christ answers not a word. In explanation of the harmony of Divine providence with human freedom- election and sovereignty- the eternal Sonship- the vicarious substitution of the Savior- the regeneration of man by the Spirit- the details of the future relation of the soul- Christ answers not a word. When He is silent, it behooves us to be silent. Presume not, then, to plunge, rashly and profanely, into these profound abysses of Divine mystery, but rather bow before them in faith, love, and obedience, and let both your ignorance and your science be alike docile, receptive, and trustful. The mysteries of Christianity imply no deficiency in revelation; and because you have no line with which to sound its depths, you are not the less saved if you embrace, in the faith of a humble, penitent, and believing sinner, the great Atonement of the Son of God. Believe and love now, and you will one day know all that God will reveal or you can comprehend.
Conversion, too, is often a work of silence. With what invisible, noiseless power does the kingdom of Christ's grace make its advent into the soul! Real conversion is a marvellous work. No miracle ever wrought approaches it in vastness and wonder. What a mighty moral revolution is passing- what a stupendous work is being wrought- what a magnificent edifice is rising- what a holy temple is forming in the soul! And yet, like that of old- in the construction of which "there was neither hammer nor axe, nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building"- not a sound is heard; so gentle, so noiseless, so quiet is the movement of the Spirit upon the heart. Gentle as the day-dawn of light, still as the night-fall of dew, enters Christ's grace into the soul, and lo! as in a moment, a new creation in Christ Jesus bursts into view, and all the sons of God sing together for joy.
We trace Christ's silence, too, in the advancing process of sanctification. A great conflict is passing within the soul between the law of the flesh and the law of the mind; the kingdom of God within you is extending its empire of Holiness, righteousness, and love; the Divine image is developing its features of beauty and perfection, and the inner man is day by day advancing in its maturity of holiness for heaven, and yet all is so silent! Ah, we often little suspect what is passing within the soul of a child of God. Of his sorrow we are ignorant, and with his joy a stranger cannot imagine. And because He sounds no note, makes no show, awakens no inquiry, we deem not how, unseen and unheard, Christ is rearing within him a temple which shall reflect His glory through eternity, outshining ten thousand suns.
There is, too, the silence of Christ's love. The sense or enjoyment of the Lord's love in the soul may for a season be suspended; the voice of love be still. Jesus answers not a word. There was love in His heart towards the mother suing at His feet on behalf of her daughter, but it was silent love. There was love in the heart of Joseph towards his brethren, to whom He spoke roughly, but it was silent love. "He will rest in His love" margin, "He will be silent in His love." God's love may be silent when it might justly rebuke and chide- it may be silent when it might be expected to comfort and cheer. And still it is love- not less love because it utters no voice. Oh, deem not that Christ's love has chilled or changed towards you because He answers you not a word! He has loved you, O believer, from everlasting! He loves you still, and will love you unto the end! Wait in faith and patience, Jesus will break the silence- Christ will speak; the tempest shall subside, the clouds shall vanish, and sweet the peace your Father will give.
There is often, too, the silence of Jesus in prayer. You approach the throne of grace, you draw near the mercy-seat, but He answers you not a word! Jesus is silent. Around the spot where you had thought His voice would the soonest and the clearest be heard, lo! the stillness of death seems to reign. You have brought a new sorrow, you have come with a new burden, you have repaired- with a new need, and Jesus hides Himself. You weep, you cry, you complain, but He answers you not a word. God's answers to prayer are not always immediate and direct. The "vision" has an appointed time and for that it tarries. But though the Lord is silent in prayer, it does not follow that He hears not the voice, or is indifferent to the appeal of prayer. Oh no! It would seem an utter impossibility that God should be deaf to the voice or disregard the prayers of His people. "O You that hears prayer, unto You shall all flesh come." The silence of God in prayer is to be interpreted but as a test of our sincerity, and as a trial of our faith, and as a lesson He would teach us in His own divine sovereignty. His silence in prayer is not indifference. His delays in answer to prayer are not refusals. Were our faith expert and lively, it would take encouragement from silence, and gather hope from delay. Long and silent was the night of the Patriarch's holy wrestlings with the Angel of the Covenant; but when the day dawned it broke the mysterious silence, and Jacob retired from the conflict a prince and a conqueror. The language of the prophet is, "I will wait upon the Lord, that hides His face from, the house of Israel, and I will seek for Him." Faith waits for a silent God, and seeks for a hiding God; believes that He is a God that cannot He, and so trusts His word of promise even though the silence of death seems to entomb it forever. Lift up your heart, then, child of God! your prayers are heard, Your God will answer. The bright vision may tarry, but it will surely come; the blessing may be delayed, but it will certainly be given. Jesus may auswer you not a word, but He knows the thoughts and purposes He has towards you, and beneath the stillness and solemnity of that weary, painful silence there is revolving in His infinite mind and loving heart, responses to your supplications and prayers the most gracious and full, far above all that you lead asked or thought.
In the season of trial, affliction, and sorrow, the believer may have much to do with the silence of the Lord. He may seem to sit alone in his grief, no one caring for his soul. To the trial of the decay of health, the loss of property, sore and deep bereavement, there may be added darkness of soul, the hidings of God, the silence of Jesus. "This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit." All is gloom and silence. No voice is heard but the resounding billow, no sound save the moans and echoes of the storm. The vessel is tossed amid the waves, the night is dark, and Jesus has not yet come. Such, beloved! is the dreary path traveled by many a hove-bound pilgrim. You are steering Your bark in the wake of many a gallant vessel- you are pursuing your way along a path traveled by many a heaven-enshrined saint. All have experienced the silence of Christ in sorrow. But how is faith to explain and interpret it? Just as the Jews did the silence which sealed the lips of Jesus as He wept in mute grief over the grave of Lazarus. "Behold how He loved him!" It is the silence of love! There are some sorrows so deep, so acute, and so delicate, silence is the most befitting, touching, and expressive form of soothing and sympathy. We read of the friends of Job who came to mourn with and to comfort him, that when they saw his grief, his sad and changed appearance, "they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spoke a word unto him for that they saw that his grief was very great." The silence of a look, the silence of a tear, the silence of a conscious presence in sorrow, oh, who has not felt its magic power and its soothing! Such is the silence of Jesus in grief. He may answer us not a word; He may seem coldly indifferent to the burden that crushes us, to the bereavement that smites us, the cloud that shades us, the temptation that wounds us, the need that presses us, but still it is the silence of a love that once poured forth its utterance of anguish for us on the cross, and now bends down its look of ineffable delight upon us from the throne. If the voice of Christ is mute on earth, it speaks in heaven, and speaks with an authority, power, and tenderness which God cannot resist. The interceding merits of our Savior intercept our supplications on their way to God, blends them with His own, and bears them to the Father, thus securing the acceptance of every prayer and the bestowment of every blessing.
There is not unfrequently the silence of God in His dark and  afflictive providences. How often have these dispensations gathered around you in gloom and mystery, the deep, the awful stillness of which not a divine syllable has broken. Your vessel has been tossed amid the waves of grief, night has, set in, and gloom enshrouds every object. Yes; the mysteries of providence are for a time totally unexplained, and even unmitigated by a single utterance from Christ. The afflicted one must tread his shady and silent way; must walls through trials and sorrows, confront difficulties and impediments, exclaiming, "You are a God that hides Yourself! O that You would speak, and tell me why You contend with me!" Here, again, faith is summoned as the interpreter. And how does it interpret God's silence in afflictive dispensations? Not as the sullen silence of anger, not as the cold silence of indifference, not as the portentous silence of judgment, but as the infinitely wise, holy silence of a Father's love. Afflicted one! God may appear at a great distance from your voice; your cry for support may not seem to reach His ear, nor your appeal to His compassion touch His heart. You go forward, but He is not there; and backward, but you cannot perceive Him; on the left hand, where He dwells, but you cannot behold Him; He hides Himself on the right hand, that you cannot see Him. Nevertheless, He knows the way you take, and when He has tried you, you shall come forth as gold. God's silence to you in this overwhelming calamity, in this crushing affliction, in this overshadowing cloud, in this bitter trial, is the silence of infinite and unchangeable love. Wait, and He will speak anon, and sweet, assuring, and soothing will be the words that shall break that silence, the stillness of which has filled your mind with forebodings so painful, and with an awe so profound- "It is I, do not be afraid!" Your bounding heart shall respond, "It is the voice of my Beloved!"
And mark THE BLESSING which rewarded the faith of the petitioning parent. From the too impatient disciples, weary of her importunity, she is met with an unsympathizing repulse. "Send her away; for she cries after us." Oh, how soon may we come to the end even of a saint's kindness, sympathy, and forbearance! These disciples were dwelling close to the Fountain of boundless compassion, tenderness, and love; and yet how imperfect and shallow their own! how little had they of the heart of Christ! Why do we marvel at this? It is but that of a sinful, finite creature, and must of necessity have its end. After another trial of her faith at length she prevailed: "Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is your faith: be it unto you even as you will. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." Thus shall faith ever triumph. "Shall not God avenge His own elect, who cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily."
The silence of God, both in the kingdom of nature and in the kingdom of grace, is deeply instructive. We trace the working of the principle in nature, some of whose most genial operations and powerful agencies are the most quiet and noiseless. The sun travels its wondrous path, pouring from its bosom a flood of light bathing the world in glory, and yet not a vibration of his burning wheels is felt. The dew of heaven is distilling by night, and the rain by day, clothing creation with life, verdure, and fruitfulness, and yet so gentle and quiet that not a sound is heard. The whole process of vegetation is going on- the root deepening, the blade shooting, the bud forming, the flower blowing, the fruit maturing- and yet all so still and noiseless. So is it in the kingdom of grace. A deep and powerful work may be going on in your soul, O man! through the agency of the Holy Spirit and the influence of Divine grace, and yet so quiet, unseen, and gentle as scarcely to be perceived. The kingdom of God makes its advent to the heart without observation, grows stronger and stronger, deepens and expands, in solemn and holy stillness. Reflect not, then, against yourself because you cannot not pray fluently, or preach eloquently, or reason profoundly, or open your lips boldly to speak for Christ. Your Christianity may not be the less true, nor your religion the less sincere, nor your influence the less power ful because it is quiet, gentle, speechless. The silence of a Godly, holy life is infinitely more eloquent and effectual in its influence, than the most resonant religious zeal in alliance with a dubious profession and an inconsistent walk. It was predicted of the Savior, "He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets." And yet that government, thus so gentle and meek, shook to its center the empire of darkness and sin.
We gather, too, from this subject how silent are some of the profoundest and most spiritual emotions of our renewed nature. The joy of the Lord, when its inspiration is felt in the heart, often distances all thought and forbids all language- it is "a joy unspeakable, and full of glory." The feelings of the soul are too deep for utterance. Could their soundings be measured or their fulness be expressed, could imagery the most rich delineate, or language the most copious interpret them, we might doubt their intensity or question their truthfulness- "Silence is the most perfect herald of joy
I were but little happy, if I could say how much."
Do not be, then, distressed if your elevated, and sometimes ecstatic, spiritual feelings are misunderstood or misrepresented by others. Enough that Christ understands you, and has enkindled in your soul a joy so real and deep that a stranger cannot enter into it, and which the world cannot take away.
In all your concerns let there be a silent waiting upon and for God. "Rest in the Lord, (margin, be silent to the Lord,) and wait patiently for Him." "Truly my soul waits upon God," (margin, is silent upon God.) When the Lord speaks it behooves us to hearken; when He smites to hold our peace. Oh, to be silent upon God! All repining hushed, all murmuring stilled, all disputing mute, the soul behaving and quieting itself as a weaned child. This is no small attainment in grace, no small triumph of faith. The peace and serenity it will diffuse through the soul passes understanding. The moment the heart rests from itself, and the mind ceases to reason and the will to dispute, the believer drops his anchor in a tranquil and pleasant haven, unmoved by a breath, unruflled by a wavelet. "Be still, and know that I am God."
We may learn a holy, practical lesson from this subject. Is it the wisdom of God to be silent? Surely there are times and circumstances when it were so with us! "In the multitude of words there needs not sin: but He that refrains his lips is wise." It has been sagely remarked, that "there are three kinds of silence. Silence from words is good, because inordinate speaking tends to evil. Silence, or rest from desires and passions, is still better, because it promotes quietness of spirit. But the best of all is silence from unnecessary and wandering thoughts, because that is essential to internal recollection, and because it lays a foundation for a proper regulation and silence in other respects." (Madame Guyon).
We need to seek a wisdom higher than our own to know when to speak and when to refrain. Sometimes, when unkindly wounded or unjustly assailed, silence, if it be a committing of our case to Him who pleads the causes of His people, and who judges righteously, is our best and wisest policy. This may be even safer than the soft answer which turns away wrath. Study this silence, too, not only in personal provocation and injury, but in reference to the failings and infirmities of others. Put to confusion all evil-speaking, backbiting, and censoriousness by a becoming, dignified, holy silence. Speak evil of no man. Curb the tongue, seal the lips, be silent concerning a brother's or a sister's failings. God is silent of yours; learn of Him to be silent of your fellow-servants. Go to your brother and tell him his fault between him and you alone, but let no consideration induce you to unveil that fault to another.
How much of the feuds and heart-burnings, suspicions and wranglings, which mar the happiness of families, and which disturb the peace and impede the prosperity of churches, would be prevented were this sacred, holy silence more strictly observed. Spend a whole night in prayer before you open your lips to utter a sentence or to breathe a word tending to sully the fame, to injure the character, or to wound the happiness of a child of God. Think how dear, how precious, that believer is to Christ, and that in wounding the disciple you wound the Lord. "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips."