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THE SYMPATHY OF CHRIST.
HEBREWs iv. 15. “We have not an high-priest which cannot be touched with the feel.
ing of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin."
One great and blessed truth contained in the mystery of the Incarnation is the sympathy of Christ: that as He is truly Man, so He truly and really partakes of our infirmities, and has a fellow-feeling of them with us. St. Paul had said a little before, in speaking of the Incarnation, “in that He Himself had suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted."* The word “tempted' here includes, of course, all trials of soul and body, such as sorrow, pain, anguish, as well as what we commonly call temptation : but it is to this last that we will now confine ourselves. In the text, St. Paul adds, "yet without sin.” And this raises a question which it concerns us much to consider. We can readily understand how our Lord's perfect humanity should sympathise with ours, because both are of one nature; but bow He who is sinless should sym
* Heb. ii. 18.
pathise with us sinners,—this is the difficulty. He had no taste of the bitterness of conscious sin; that one greatest of all afflictions was positively unknown to Him. He made trial of all things of which our humanity in a sinless state is susceptible; but of that which comes upon us as sinners, it were blasphemy to suppose Him to have tasted—I mean, the fears, shame, remorse, self-abhorrence, which come with sin. It would seem that here His sympathy cannot reach : that it must be confined within the limits of our purer sorrows; such as affliction and pain. How, it may be asked, can He sympathise in repentance, deserved shame, and guilt of conscience? This is no easy question to answer: but so much of the consolation of true penitents must depend on it, that we shall do well to find, if we can, some reply.
It may be said, then, that this difficulty carries its own answer; for His sympathy with penitents is perfect, because He is sinless : its perfection is the consequence of His perfect holiness. And for these reasons:
First, because we find, even among men, that sympathy is more or less perfect, as the holiness of the person is more or less so. There is no real sympathy in men of a sensual, worldly, unspiritual life; unless we are to call that inferior fellow-feeling which ranks with our natural instincts, and is to be found also in the lower animals, by the name of sympathy. There is a natural pity, benevolence, and compassion, which, even among heathen, expresses itself in congratulations and condolences, and we may in one sense call it sympathy ; but it is its lowest and most irrational form, little differing from the perceptions of cold and heat, sweet and bitter, which are common to all mankind. There is little distinct consciousness about it. And even these sympathies of nature are crossed and crushed by personal faults.
Ambition, covetousness, selfishness, will extinguish them; much more actual familiarity with sin. Just as a man becomes infected by the power of evil, he ceases to sympathise with others. All his feelings centre in himself. Sin is essentially a selfish thing. It sacrifices every thing to its own lust and will. It is also peculiarly merciless. Reckless as it is of the evil of sin, and therefore lenient to the worst offenders, it is, nevertheless, peculiarly uncharitable, hard, and unfair. Sinners put the worst construction on each others' words and acts. They have no consideration or forbearance. Their apparent sympathy is but a fellowship in the same disobedience. And so also the sympathy of the world ; how hollow, formal, and constrained it is! How little soothing or consoling in our sorrows and trials are worldly friends, even the kindest hearted of them! And why, but because it is peculiarly the property of true sanctity to be charitable ? and in the grace of charity is contained gentleness, compassion, tenderness of hand in touching the wounds of other men, fair interpretations, large allowances, ready forgiveness. These things ripen as personal holiness grows more mature. We may almost our advance in the life of God by the tenderness of our feeling towards sinners. The living compassion, active emotion of piety, the tears and tenderness with which the holiest men have ever dealt with the sinful, is a proof, that in proportion as sin loses its power over them, their sympathy with those that are afflicted by its oppressive yoke becomes more perfect. It may be said, indeed, that they know by present experience what is the distress and shame of sin; that they really have in them the original taint; and that it is by virtue of this that they are able so intimately to sympathise with the trials of others who are repenting. Nevertheless, it is most certain that this sympathy becomes more perfect in
proportion as their repentance is perfect, and their warfare turned into the peace of established sanctity; that is, in proportion as they cease to be like those they sympathise with in the very point of sinfulness.
And if we may venture a while to dwell on thoughts beyond our probation, in which some have presumed too far, may we not believe that this law prevails to perfect the mutual sympathy of those who are in the higher state of separation from this evil world ? Of the invisible Church we can only speak by conjecture and hope, grounded upon such internal suggestions as are contained in truths undoubtedly revealed. We know that they are without sin. "He that is dead is free from sin." We know that they are “made perfect.”+ We cannot doubt that they are replenished with charity-perfect in the sympathies of love and compassion—that they are knit one with another in a perfect bond of fellowship. And moreover, with their personal identity, doubtless they retain a recollection of this world of sin, and of the trials, infirmities, and falls, from which they have been redeemed. And their sympathy is more vivid, intense, and pure, because they are set free from sin and self. For what but these, our inborn evils, are the hindrances of our sympathy now in this world ? In the midst of our truest compassion there is something which rises up to tinge it, and to infuse thoughts of self into it. They have the truest sympathy who are most perfectly dead to themselves. Therefore, of all the members of Christ's mystical body, they must mutually sympathise most perfectly who are most free from the taints of evil.
2. And from this our thoughts ascend to Him who is all-perfect; who being from everlasting Very God, waş,
Rom. vi. 7.
+ Heb. xii. 23.
# Rev. v.,9.
for our sakes, made very Man, that He might unite us wholly to Himself. Above and beyond all sympathy is that of our High Priest. It stands alone in its incommunicable perfection. “Such an High Priest became us," that is, was required by our spiritual necessities, “who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners."* Because we are sinners, we need one who is without sin to sympathize with us. How can it be reverently or safely thought that any sympathy can be perfect but His? Does not such a thought imply that we do not clearly distinguish what we are speaking of? He cannot, indeed, partake of the awful knowledge, derived from experience, which they possess who have ever consented to sin, who have ever been defiled by it. But that knowledge does not perfect sympathy : it only mars the perfection of the person. Even the holiest must be delivered from this knowledge of sin before their sympathy is raised towards His unapproachable tenderness. In one sense it is true, hat to have been darkened and defiled is the way to learn a bitter knowledge of sin. But it is only so because it inflicts on us the miseries which follow after sin, and scourges us through repentance to purity of heart, whereby we learn its hatefulness. None hate sin but those who are holy, and that in the measure of their holiness; and therefore in the Person of our blessed Lord there must exist the two great conditions of perfect sympathy : first, He has suffered all the sorrows and miseries which are consequent upon sin and distinct from it; next, He has, because of His perfect holiness, a perfect hatred of evil. And these properties of His human nature unite themselves to the pity, omniscience, and love, which are the perfections of His divine. To have sinned ourselves is not necessary to perfect our sympathy with sinners. God
* Heb. vij. 26.