The Sympathy of Christ
Hebrews 4:15
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are…

Our subject is the priestly sympathies of Christ. But we make three preliminary observations. The perfection of Christ's humanity implies that He was possessed of a human soul as well as a human body. Accordingly in the life of Christ we find two distinct classes of feeling. When He hungered in the wilderness — when He thirsted on the Cross — when He was weary by the well at Sychar — He experienced sensations which belong to the bodily department of human nature. But when out of twelve He selected one to be His bosom friend; when He looked round upon the crowd in anger; when the tears streamed down His cheeks at Bethany; and when He recoiled from the thought of approaching dissolution; these — grief, friendship, fear — were not the sensations of the body, much less were they the attributes of Godhead. They were the affections of an acutely sensitive human soul, alive to all the tenderness, and hope and anguish with which human life is filled, qualifying Him to be tempted in all points like as we are. The second thought which presents itself is that the Redeemer not only was but is Man. He was tempted in all points like us. He is a high priest which can be touched. The present manhood of Christ conveys this deeply important truth, that the Divine heart is human in its sympathies. The third observation upon these verses is, that there is a connection between what Jesus was and what Jesus is. He can be touched now because He was tempted then. His past experience has left certain effects durable in His nature as it is now. It has endued Him with certain qualifications and certain susceptibilities, which He would not have had but for that experience. Just as the results remained upon His body, the prints of the nails in His palms, and the spear-gash in His side, so do the results remain upon His soul, enduing Him with a certain susceptibility, for "He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities"; with certain qualifications, for " He is able to show mercy, and to impart grace to help in time of need." To turn now to the subject itself. It has two branches.

1. The Redeemer's preparation for His priesthood.

2. The Redeemer's priestly qualifications.

I. HIS PREPARATION. The preparation consisted in being tempted. But here a difficulty arises. Temptation, as applied to a Being perfectly free from tendencies to evil, is not easy to understand. See what the difficulty is. Temptation has two senses, it means test or probation; it means also trial, involving the idea of pain or danger. A weight hung from a bar of iron only tests its strength; the same, depending from a human arm, is a trial, involving iv may be the risk of pain or fracture. Now trial placed before a sinless being is intelligible enough in the sense of probation; it is a test of excellence; but it is not easy to see how it can be temptation in the sense of pain, if there be no inclination to do wrong. However, Scripture plainly asserts this as the character of Christ's temptation. Not merely test, but trial. First you have passages declaring the immaculate nature of His mind; as here, "without sin." Again, He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." But then we find another class of passages, such as this: "He suffered, being tempted." There was not merely test in the temptation, but there was also painfulness in the victory. How could this be without any tendency to evil? To answer this, let us analyse sin. In every act of sin there are two distinct steps. There is the rising of a desire which is natural, and, being natural, is not wrong — there is the indulgence of that desire in forbidden circumstances, and that is sin. Sin is not a real thing. It is rather the absence of a something, the will to do right. It is not a disease or taint, an actual substance projected into the constitution. It is the absence of the spirit which orders and harmonises the whole; so that what we mean when we say the natural man must sin inevitably, is this, that he has strong natural appetites, and that he has no bias from above to counteract those appetites; exactly as if a ship were deserted by her crew, and left on the bosom of the Atlantic with every sail set and the wind blowing. No one forces her t., destruction — yet on the rocks she will surely go, just because there is no pilot at the helm. Such is the state of ordinary men. Temptation leads to fall. The gusts of instincts, which rightly guided, would have carried safely into port, dash them on the rocks. No one forces them to sin; but the spirit-pilot has left the helm. Sin, therefore, is not in the appetites, but in the absence of a controlling will. Now contrast this state with the state of Christ. There were in Him all the natural appetites of mind and body. Relaxation and friendship were dear to Him — so were sunlight and life. Hunger, pain, death, He could feel all. and shrunk from them. Conceive then a case in which the gratification of any one of these inclinations was inconsistent with His Father's will. At one moment it was unlawful to eat, though hungry; and without one tendency to disobey, did fasting cease to he severe? It was demanded that He should endure anguish; and, willingly as He subdued Himself, did pain cease to be pain? Could the spirit of obedience reverse every feeling in human nature? It seems to have been in this way that the temptation of Christ caused suffering. He suffered from the force of desire. Though there was no hesitation whether to obey or not, no strife in the will, in the act of mastery there was pain. There was self-denial — there was obedience at the expense of torture natural feeling.

II. The second point we take is THE REDEEMER'S PRIESTHOOD. Priesthood is that office by which He is the medium of union between man and God. The capacity for this has been indelibly engraven on His nature by His experience here. All this capacity is based on His sympathy — He can be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities." Till we have reflected on it, we are scarcely aware how much the sum of human happiness in the world is indebted t,, this one feeling — sympathy. The child's smile and laugh are mighty powers in this world. When bereavement has left you desolate, what substantial benefit is there which makes condolence acceptable? It cannot replace the loved ones you have lost. It can bestow upon you nothing permanent. But a warm hand has touched yours, and its thrill told you that there was a living respouse there to your emotion. One look — one human sigh has done more for you than the costliest present could convey. And it is for want of remarking this, that the effect of public charity falls often so far short of the expectations of those who give. Love is not bought by money, but by love. There has been all the machinery of a public distribution; but there has been no exhibition of individual, personal interest. Again, when the electric touch of sympathetic feeling has gone among a mass of men, it communicates itself, and is reflected back from every individual in the crowd, with a force exactly proportioned, to their numbers. It is on record that the hard heart of an oriental conqueror was unmanned by the sight of a dense mass of living millions engaged in one enterprise. He accounted for it by saying, that it suggested to him that within a single century not one of those millions would be alive. But the hardhearted bosom of the tyrant mistook its own emotions; his tears came from no such far-fetched inference of reflection; they rose spontaneously, as they will rise in a dense crowd, you cannot tell why. It is the thrilling thought of numbers engaged in the same object. It is the idea of our own feelings reciprocated back to us, and reflected from many hearts. And again, it seems partly to avail itself of this tendency within us, that such stress is laid on the injunction of united prayer. Solitary prayer is feeble in comparison with that which rises before the throne echoed by the hearts of hundreds, and strengthened by the feeling that other aspirations are mingling with our own. And whether it be the chanted litany, or the more simple read service, or the anthem producing one emotion at the same moment in many bosoms, the value and the power of public prayer seem chiefly to depend on this mysterious affection of our nature — sympathy. And now, having endeavoured to illustrate this power of sympathy, it is for us to remember that of this in its fullness He is susceptible. Observe how He is touched by our infirmities — with a separate, special, discriminating love. There is not a single throb, in a single human bosom, that does not thrill at once with more than electric speed up to the mighty heart of God. You have not shed a tear or sighed a sigh, that did not come back to you exalted and purified by having passed through the Eternal bosom.

1. We may boldly expect mercy from Him who has learned to sympathise. He learned sympathy by being tempted; but it is by being tempted, yet without sin, that He is specially able to show mercy.

2. The other priestly power is the grace of showing "help in time of need." We must not make too much of sympathy, as mere feeling. We do in things spiritual as we do with the hothouse plants. The feeble exotic, beautiful to look at, but useless, has costly sums spent on it. The hardy oak, a nation's strength, is permitted to grow, scarcely observed, in the fence and copses. We prize feeling and praise its possessor. But feeling is only a sickly exotic in itself — a passive quality, having in it nothing moral, no temptation and no victory. A man is no more a good man for having feeling, than he is for having delicate ear for music, or a far-seeing optic nerve. The Son of Man had feeling — He could be " touched." The tear would start from His eyes at the sight of human sorrow. But that sympathy was no exotic in His soul, beautiful to look at, too delicate for use. Feeling with Him led to this, "He went about doing good." Sympathy with Him was this, "Grace to help in time of need." And this is the blessing of the thought of Divine sympathy. By the sympathy of man, after all, the wound is not healed; it is only stanched for a time. It can make the tear flow less bitterly, it cannot dry it up. So far as permanent good goes, who has not felt the deep truth which Job taught his friends — "Miserable comforters are ye all "? The sympathy of the Divine Human! He knows what strength is needed. He gives grace to help. From this subject I draw, in concluding, two inferences.

1. He who would sympathise must be content to be tried and tempted. There is a hard and boisterous rudeness in our hearts by nature, which requires to be softened down. Therefore, if you aspire to be a son of consolation — if you would partake of the priestly gift of sympathy — if you would pour something beyond common-place consolation into a tempted heart — if you would pass through the intercourse of daily life, with the delicate tact which never inflicts pain — if to that most a cure of human ailments, mental doubt, you are ever to give effectual succour, you must be content to pay the price of the costly education. Like Him, you must suffer — being tempted. But remember, it is being tempted in all points, yet without sin, that makes sympathy real, manly, perfect, instead of a mere sentimental tenderness. Sin will teach you to feel for trials. It will not enable you to judge them; to be merciful to them — nor to help them in time of need with any certainty.

2. It is this same human sympathy which qualifies Christ for judgment. It is written that the Father hath committed all judgment to Him, because He is the Son of Man. The sympathy of Christ extends to the frailties of human nature; not to its hardened guilt: He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities." There is nothing in His bosom which can harmonise with malice — He cannot feel for envy — He has no fellow-feeling for cruelty, oppression, hypocrisy, bitter censorious judgments. Remember, He could look round about Him with anger. The sympathy of Christ is a comforting subject. It is besides a tremendous subject; for on sympathy the awards of heaven and hell are built. "Except a man be born again" — not he shall not, but — "he cannot enter into heaven." There is nothing in him which has affinity to anything in the Judge's bosom.

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

WEB: For we don't have a high priest who can't be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin.

The Sympathy of Christ
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