THE SYMPATHY OF CHRIST
by Octavius Winslow

The Sympathy of Christ with True Shame

    And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are you come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me? Mark 14:48

    Jesus asked them, "Am I some dangerous criminal, that you come armed with swords and clubs to arrest me? Mark 14:48

Our Lord's nature, from its essential sinlessness, was at an infinite remove from every sentiment and feeling of littleness. There was in His character no admixture of lowliness with majesty, of baseness with dignity, of littleness with greatness. No thought lodged in His mind, no emotion stirred His bosom, no motive swayed His conduct, no act traced His life that towered not in its loftiness and splendor above the taint and shadow of suspicion. More than this. There was not only the actual existence in Christ of the most perfect honor and rectitude, but, superadded to this, there was a holy sensitiveness to and shrinking from, the least appearance of the opposite. He not only was not a thief, but He refused to be dealt with as a thief. He was not only free from crime, but He would also be free from the suspicion of criminality. He possessed in the highest degree the element of true shame. It was an element of His being, a characteristic of His nature. His delicacy of feeling was remarkable; His sensibility exquisitely acute; His sensitiveness shrinking from the slightest breath. Our Lord possessed the most perfect sympathy with true shame. It was an essential feature and evidence of His greatness. A remarkable and touching illustration of this characteristic is before us. The scene, is the garden of Gethsemane; the time, is midnight; and the occasion, His arrest. Look at one particular of the scene- His arrest. It was by Judas, one of the twelve, attended by circumstances which must have been exquisitely torturing to the feelings of Christ. He had committed no wrong, had done no violence, had sought no concealment, had attempted no escape; and yet the betrayer hunted Him as a fugitive from justice, and arrested Him as a criminal fit only to die. There was a degree of dishonor and degradation attached to the mode of His apprehension from which His native dignity, and conscious innocence and human sensitiveness to shame instinctively and painfully recoiled. Shrinking from their touch, while awe-struck they stood motionless in His presence, He exclaimed, in tones of conscious dignity and integrity, which must have sent the keen rebuke deep into the breast of His betrayer, "Are you come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me?" There was nothing exaggerated, nothing untrue to nature in this. It was precisely the sentiment, the feeling, and the words to which conscious integrity and superiority would give birth. He was upright, and He would not be arraigned as a felon. He was innocent, and He would not be prejudged as guilty. He was willing to die, the just for the unjust, expiating, by a voluntary offering of Himself to Divine justice, the sins of His people; but there shall be no physical force, no human impeachment of His sanctity, no act in the mode of His arrest, which, by implication, should incriminate His conduct, shade His holiness, or brand Him in the eyes of men as a sinner and a culprit. He had a character to maintain, a mission to perform, which demanded an integrity and uprightness which should stand out before the world unimpeached and unimpeachable, at an infinite remove even from the appearance of evil. Willing to be "numbered with transgressors," and to "make His grave with the wicked in His death," He yet refused to be arrested by an armed force, and to be haled to the judgment as a felon and an outlaw. "Then Jesus answered and said unto them, did you come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me?"
In all this we discern a perfect identity of our Lord with our nature- the truest sympathy with one of its most peculiar and deeply-veiled features- the believer's holy regard to true shame. There is a false shame, which we are prayerfully to avoid; and there is a true shame, which we are studiously to cherish. False shame deprecates the good, true shame deprecates the evil; the one is ashamed of being found doing right, the other is ashamed of being found doing wrong. There is a spurious feeling of shame attaching itself to our nature, with which true greatness of character and high moral bearing in the saints of God would ever lead them to combat. Our Lord abjured it, as we shall presently see. His life was one unbroken testimony to the fact that this false sentiment never found a moment's lodgment within His breast. And this fact furnishes another and no slight evidence of His perfect sinlessness. If sin were utterly extirpated from our heart, our cheek would never be suffused with a blush when doing right, as though there was a consciousness of doing wrong. We might blush to find our good, done by stealth, had become fame; or we might be annoyed to find that good evil spoken of, but for the good itself we should never be ashamed. Having said thus much in explanation of the false and the true shame, in the further prosecution of this subject we shall notice Christ's sympathy with true shame, and the instruction and comfort we are permitted to derive from it.
CHRIST'S SYMPATHY WITH TRUE SHAME.
In the first place, our Lord was not ashamed of assuming a nature lower and inferior to His own. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among its." "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also took part of the same." "He that sanctifies, and they who are sanctified, are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren." Such are the declarations affirming this truth. Here was an example of freedom from false shame worthy our profoundest study and closest imitation. That it was a stoop, a descent, a lowering of Himself, who can doubt? It involved a humiliation in the sight of holy intelligence the deepest to which an infinite Being could stoop. It was not a 'created one' sinking in the scale of creation: it was the Infinite descending to the finite. It was the Divine invested with the human. And yet, conscious that He was doing no wrong, conscious of the perfect rectitude and purity of His doing, He lifted His brow to heaven untinged with a blush of shame. What a precious truth is this! Repair, O believer, to Christ, with your nature laden with infirmity, sorrow, and need. Christ will not turn away from His own flesh: He will own you as a brother, for He is not ashamed to call us brethren.
Nor was Christ ashamed of low and obscure birth. Had He so willed it, He might have been born in a palace rather than in a stable; the son of a prince rather than of a carpenter; his mother a king's daughter rather than the wife of a carpenter. But no! He was born to humiliation, and He eschewed not lowliness and obscurity of birth. Let no child of God be ashamed of the circumstance of his parentage and birth, for God has appointed both. Low birth entails no dishonor, and impoverished parentage is no disgrace. The greatest and the holiest have traced their earthly origin to this. Put if our Lord could not boast of noble birth, He could boast of Christian birth. Obscure and low as were His earthly parents, they were holy, God-fearing parents. Are we like favored? Did God give us pious, holy, praying parents? Then the patent of true nobility was theirs. And although Divine grace is not hereditary, for the new birth comes not by the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God, nevertheless, we may be thankful for a God-fearing father and for a praying mother, as among God's most sacred and precious gifts.
Nor was our Lord ashamed of earthly poverty and toil. His parents were poor in this world, and toiled with their own hands for daily sustenance. That He shared their poverty and toil, there can be no doubt. He was not merely the reputed son of a carpenter, but, doubtless, He himself plied at the same lowly craft. He was the son of a carpenter, and Himself a carpenter. Not was He ashamed of this. Why should He be? There is no discredit in holiest poverty; there is no disgrace in industrious toil. He who earns his bread by the sweat of his brow, who labors with his own hands for himself and for those who cannot thus toil, is pursuing an honorable and dignified course; and, however lowly may be his calling, however lowly his craft, poverty is to him no crime, and labor no disgrace; and He may walk among his fellows without dishonor, and lift his countenance unmantled with a tinge of shame.
Our Lord was not ashamed of the opinion of the world. It had its views of Christ, its opinion of His character and conduct. And although there were occasions when Christ manifested an interest in the popular sentiment concerning Himself, "Whom do men say that I am?"- thus teaching that there is a sense in which His disciples may not be wholly indifferent to the sentiment of others- yet, whatever that opinion was, favorable or unfavorable, He never for one moment allowed it so to influence or control Him as to swerve one hair's-breadth from the strictest, straightest line of duty, integrity, and love. Every believer, however limited and veiled from human eye his sphere of life, will create a public sentiment respecting his individual self. His relations, his friends, his neighbors, will form their opinion of his character, doings, and life. Few pass through life incognito to eternity; few slide through society unseen, unnoticed, unfelt. To this we cannot be, nor ought we to be, wholly indifferent. Each individual Christian especially should live for an object. He should so live as to make his talents, influence, and example tell upon the present and eternal well-being of all with whom He comes in contact. "No man lives to himself." As a "light," He is to shine; as "salt," He is to influence; as a "witness," He is to testify for Christ. In a world like this, where there is so much evil to correct, so much temptation to resist, so much sorrow to soothe, so much need to supply, so much misery to counteract, so much ignorance to instruct, so much good to be done, none need be all the day idle, dreaming away existence, vegetating in selfishness, not living for man or laboring for God. Oh, be an earnest, active Christian! Be up and doing! Life is too real, too solemn, too responsible, for sluggishness, inactivity, and selfishness! We are gliding down the stream onward to eternity. Shall we spend our fleeting moments in grasping at the floating straw, when for every moment and act of our present course we shall soon be cited at Christ's bar for scrutiny and judgment? Souls are perishing- ignorance of the gospel is prevailing- iniquity is abounding- Satan is unslumbering- death plies its scythe, and the grave yawns each moment, and an eternity of bliss or of woe is gathering, at every stroke of the pendulum, deathless beings to its bosom. Shall we not, then, be active and earnest in a world like this? But in so doing we must learn, like our Divine Master, to live above the world's opinion. We must not blush, nor cower, nor bend before it. The world hates us because we are not of the world, but testify of its works, that they are evil. We must, therefore, set our face as a flint against its opinion, its opposition, its malice, and its hate, not ashamed of the evil report from which none are entirely exempt who, like Jesus, go about doing good. Oh for more of this dignified, holy freedom from the opinion of men! If we are carrying out our Christian principles, reducing to practice the great and glorious truths of Christ's gospel- meekly, humbly pursuing that course which truth and conscience and love dictate, however opposed by human opinion, and the principles and the spirit and the customs of the world- we may indeed confront the frowns and scorn the censure of man, but we shall walk with an approving conscience, and beneath the smile of a favoring and sustaining God.
Another illustration of our Lord's freedom from false shame was the avowal, everywhere and on all occasions, that His life was ruled by the fear of, and terminated in the glory of, God. He could say, as none other could- "I do always those things which please Him." And why should the child of God, the disciple of Christ, blush to acknowledge that the fear of God is his governing principle, and the glory of God the great end of his being? Why should we shrink to answer- "I cannot pursue that course; I cannot adopt that mode; I dare not conduct my business on those principles; I cannot descend to those questionable arts and subterfuges, because I am a follower of Christ. Others may stoop to the tricks of trade, its artifice and fraud and commercial immorality; but I don't because of the fear of the Lord." Oh, let no false shame turn you from this course. The world may laugh, the false religious professor may scorn, the infidel may scoff, friends may censure, but yours is the honor, the dignity, and the reward of having lived and walked and acted as in the fear of God.
Nor was our Lord ashamed of the death which He died. It was the death of a Roman felon, the most ignominious, tortuous, and accursed death He could die- the death of the cross. And yet we read- "Who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Oh, never did His real greatness and true dignity rise to such an altitude as now! See Him impaled upon that tree, stretched upon that wood, scourged, spit upon, insulted, mocked, derided, taunted, wounded, then left to linger and die; and yet, oh, what glory gathered round that scene of humiliation, suffering, and death! Jesus rose superior to it all, enduring the cross with all its unknown horrors, despising the shame with all its unfathomable depths, all endured, all suffered, all despised, for the love He bore us!
This subject has its PRACTICAL LESSONS as well as its rich CONSOLATIONS. Let us glean a few in conducting the chapter to a close.
It is a false shame to be ashamed of Christ and of His gospel. That there is a tendency to this, even in the renewed heart, is clear from the meaning and instruction of Christ himself. "Whoever shall be ashamed of me and my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels." True Christian discipleship demands an uncompromising avowal of attachment to Christ, of adhesion to His person, and of adherence to His truth. The offence of the cross is not ceased. A real decision for the Redeemer cannot exist without some sacrifice, demanded and made, as a term of discipleship. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." The sacrifices thus expected and thus endured are various. Some are called to assert their conscientious decisions confronted by hostility from quarters the most loved, venerated, and cherished, but all the keener and the more overwhelming. Arrayed against him are father, mother, brother, sister, wife, husband, child- ties of affection which bind the heart so closely to the family altar and the hearth. The pang of separation from these, who can estimate? The deep, lonely grief, who can describe? Yet the Savior has said- "He that loves father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and He that loves son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me." Other saints are called to abandon their worldly interests, to renounce their earthly property, to exclude themselves from the means of acquiring distinction, rank, honor, wealth, and to link them with poverty and toil and need; encountering the reproach of friends, blighted hopes, disappointed wishes, ruined expectations. Be it so. This is nothing more than Jesus foretold and forewarned: "Let us go forth, therefore, unto Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach."
But for whom are you enduring and suffering and sacrificing all this? For Jesus! For Him who, though He was rich, for your sakes became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich. For Him who was not ashamed to call you His brother, but bowed His Godhead to your nature, and on your behalf became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. For Him who, while working out your righteousness by His life of unwearied and perfect obedience, could say, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." For Him who gave His back to the smiter, and His cheek to those who plucked off the hair; who sorrowed in Gethsemane, clad in a purple robe of blood; who was mocked and buffeted and spit upon in the judgment-hall; who bore the full weight of sin and the curse, and the suffering and the desertion upon the cross, and then bowed His head and died. Before this stupendous spectacle, this amazing sacrifice, we exclaim, in the language of an inspired apostle, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes." And, in the words of a Christian poet
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all."
BE SENSIBLE TO TRUE SHAME. This was the shame our Lord felt. "Jesus answered and said unto them, Are you come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me?" I marvel not at this holy indignation and recoil of my Savior! The mode of His arrest was repulsive to every high, honorable feeling of His nature. It was a reflection upon the purity of His character. It was an imputation of His loyalty and honesty in His civil relation to the State. It was a slight upon the pacific nature of His religion and kingdom. It was a denial of the voluntariness of His sacrifice. And it was an impeachment of the sincerity and integrity of His whole career. We marvel not that with holy shame He indignantly repelled the armed force that would arrest and hale Him as a criminal to the judgment. Imitate Christ in this! Be sensible to true shame. Whatever would place you in a false position before the world- whatever would reflect unjustly upon your Christian character, meekly but firmly repel- silence the slander, vindicate your integrity, and then commit your case to Him that judges righteously. So acted the noble and magnanimous apostle. He and his companions had been unjustly arrested and cast into prison. An earthquake ensued. The magistrates, filled with fear, sent the sergeants, saying, "Let these men go." No, exclaimed Paul- "They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust its out privily? no verily, but let them come themselves and fetch us out." And so they did. The religion of Jesus ignores not our civil rights, tramples not upon our natural privileges, nor forbids us to vindicate, before magistrates and rulers, our innocence, uprightness, and integrity against falsity, malice, and injustice. Like your Master, and like our "beloved brother Paul," we must expect to be maligned, falsely accused and condemned, traduced, slandered, and evil spoken of. We must expect to have our doings censured, our motives impugned, our principles scorned, our ends questioned. Nevertheless, "let us consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest we be weary and faint in our minds."
There is much indeed in ourselves of which we have reason truly to be ashamed and to be filled with profound self-abhorrence. We have need to be ashamed of our unbelief- of our low thoughts of the Savior- of our little love to God- of our slow advance in the divine life- of our imperfect conformity to Christ- of the power of indwelling sin- and of our slender spiritual attainments in knowledge, personal holiness, and heavenly meekness. What shamefacedness should cover us that we are so ready to compromise, to falter, and to halt. How deeply humbled should we be that there still exists in us so much carnality, love of the world, and conformity to the world- so little of the crucified spirit, of a cross-bearing Savior! What cause of shame that, with all our profession, the pulse of spiritual life beats in our souls so faintly, the spirit of prayer breathes in us so feebly, that we possess so little real, vital religion, and follow Christ at so great a distance. Filled with self-abasement should we be that the fruits and graces of the Spirit are in us so sickly, drooping, and bedwarfed- that we have so limited a measure of faith, love, and humility, are so defective in our patience and meekness, wisdom, and gentleness- that, with all our blossom and foliage, there is so little real fruit to the glory of our Father. May we not, in view of all this, exclaim with Ezra, in his deep grief and humiliation for the sins of the people, "O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens." Ezra 9:6. Oh, where shall we fly, where hide our blushing face but in the blood of atonement! sprinkled afresh with which, we may lift up our heads and not be ashamed.
My dear reader, look well to your foundation, to your religion, to your hope, to your daily walk. Be this your constant prayer, mixed with a constant self-examination and faithful dealing with conscience- "Let me not be ashamed of my hope." If you are justified by faith, you will know what peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ is; and then you will experience that hope that makes not ashamed, because the love of God will be shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit which is given unto you. And, Oh, may we live in the believing, hopeful expectation of our Lord's coming to roll away our shame and reproach, and to exalt us to glory, honor, and immortality. May we not be ashamed at His coming! But, owning and serving Him now, may we then bear Him say, "Come, you blessed ones! You who have continued with me in my temptations, confessed my name, borne my cross, suffered for me on earth, I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father has appointed unto me. Enter you into the joy of your Lord."
"Then will He own my worthless name
Before His Father's face,
And in the New Jerusalem
Appoint my soul a place."
Go, dear reader, from the perusal of this chapter, to the solitude of your closet, there to beseech the Lord to give you grace henceforth, Caleb-like, wholly and unreservedly to follow Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. We read of the first disciples of the Lord, "And they forsook all and followed Him." The solemn confession of Christ you have made before the world pledges you to the offence, the shame, the crucifixion, and the self-denial of the cross of Jesus. You have bound that cross around your heart, you have identified yourself with its reproach and its boast, its defeats and its victories, its humiliation and its glory; onward you must bear it through flood and flame, through good and through evil report, glorying in its doctrine, despising its shame, enduring its crucifixion, until the Master bids you exchange your sword for a scepter, your cross for a crown, which His own hands will place upon your head! Blessed, thrice blessed, you who, when that blessed moment arrives, will be enabled calmly, exultingly to exclaim, "As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return." 2 Tim. 4:6-8.
"Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave, and follow Thee;
Naked, poor, despised, forsaken,
You from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
All I've sought, or hoped, or known;
Yet how rich is my condition,
God and heaven are still my own!
"Let the world despise and leave me;
They have left my Savior too;
Human hearts and looks deceive me,
You are not, like them, untrue;
And while You shall smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
Foes may hate, and friends disown me,
Show Your face, and all is bright.
"Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,
Come, disaster, scorn, and pain.
In Your service praise is pleasure,
With Your favor loss is gain.
I have called You, Abba, Father;
I have set my heart on Thee;
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather,
All must work for good to me.
"Man may trouble and distress me,
'Twill but drive me to Your breast;
Life with trials hard may press me,
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, it is not in grief to harm me,
While Your love is left to me;
Oh, 'twas not in joy to charm me,
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.
"Soul, then know your full salvation;
Rise over sin, and fear, and care;
Joy to find in every station
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee;
Think what Father's smiles are thine;
Think that Jesus died to win thee,
Child of heaven, can you repine?
"Haste you on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith and winged with prayer;
Heaven's eternal days before you,
God's own hand shall guide you there.
Soon shall close your earthly mission;
Soon shall pass your pilgrim days;
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise!"