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SATURDAY BEFORE EASTER.
ON THE COMPASSION OF CHRIST.
HEB. iv. 15.We have not a high-priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
[Text taken from the second Evening-lesson.]
HUMAN life is to good men, as well as to others, a state of suffering and distress. To supply them with proper consolation and encouragement during such a state, was one great purpose of the undertaking of Christ. With this view he assumed the office of their high-priest, or mediator with God; and the encouragement which this office affords them, will be proportioned to their assured belief, first of his power, and next of his compassion. His power is set forth in the verse preceding the text, and the proper argument is founded upon it. Seeing that we have a great high-priest who is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.' But though it be encouraging to know that our high-priest is the 'Son of God,' and that he is passed into the heavens,' yet these facts alone are not sufficient to render him the full object of our confidence. For, as the Apostle afterwards observes, it belongs to the character of a high-priest to be taken from among men, that he may have compassion on the ignorant and them that are out of the way, seeing that he himself is compassed with infirmity.' In order then to satisfy us of our high-priest's possessing also the qualifications of mercy and compassion, we are told that he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and was in all points tempted like as we are. The force of this consideration I purpose now to illustrate. I shall first explain the facts which are stated in the text, and then show how from these our Saviour's compassion is to be inferred, and in what manner it may be accommodated to the consolation and hope of good men, amidst various exigencies of life.
I. The assertion in the text, of Christ's being touched with the feeling of our infirmities,' plainly implies, that he had full
experience both of the external distresses, and of the internal sorrows, of human nature. Assuming a body such as ours, he subjected himself to all the natural consequences of corporeal frailty. He did not choose for himself an easy and opulent condition, in order to glide through the world with the least molestation. He did not suit his mission to the upper ranks of mankind chiefly, by assimilating his state to theirs ; but, born in meanness and bred up to labour, he submitted to the inconveniences of that poor and toilsome life, which falls to the share of the most numerous part of the human race. Whatever is severe in the disregard of relations or the ingratitude of friends, in the scorn of the proud or the insults of the mean, in the virulence of reproach or the sharpness of pain, was undergone by Christ. Though his life was short, he familiarized himself in it with a wide compass of human woe; and there is almost no distressful situation to which we can be reduced, but what he has experienced before us. There is not the least reason to imagine, that the eminence of his nature raised him above the sensations of trouble and grief. Had this been the case, he would have been a sufferer in appearance only, not in reality; there would have been no merit in his patience, or in the resignation which he expressed. On the contrary, it appears, from many circumstances, that the sensibility of his nature was tender and exquisite. He affected none of that hard indifference, in which some ancient philosophers vainly gloried. He felt as a man, and he sympathized with the feelings of others. On different occasions, we are informed that he was troubled in spirit, that he groaned, and that he wept.' The relation of his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, exhibits a striking picture of the sensations of innocent nature oppressed with anguish. It discovers all the conflict between the dread of suffering on the one hand, and the sense of duty on the other; the man struggling for a while with human weakness, and in the end recollected in virtue, and rising superior to the objects of dismay which were then in his view. Father! if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. Thy will be done.' Thus was our Saviour touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.'
It is added in the text, that he was in all points tempted like as we are.' To be tempted, is, in the language of Scripture, to undergo such trials of virtue, as are accompanied with difficulty and conflict, Though our Lord was not liable to any temptations from depravity of nature, yet he was perpetually exposed to such, as arise from situations the most adverse to virtue. His whole life was, in this respect, a course of temptation; that is, a severe trial of his constancy by every discouragement. He suffered repeated provocations both from friends and foes. His endeavours to do good were requited with the most obstinate and perverse opposition. Sometimes, by the solicitations of ignorant multitudes, he was tempted to accept the proffers of worldly greatness. Oftener, by the insults of multitudes, more blind and brutal, he was tempted to desert an office, which exposed him to so much misery. Together with the world, the powers of darkness also combined their efforts against him. We are informed, that he was led into the wilderness,' and amidst all the horrors of a wild and dreary solitude, was tempted of the devil.' The great adversary of mankind seems to have been permitted to exert unusual proofs of his power and malice, on purpose that the trial of our Saviour's constancy might be more complete, and his victory over him more illustrious and distinguished.
From all these circumstances, the conclusion is obvious, that our Lord knows, from personal experience, all the discouragements and temptations, which virtue can suffer. Though he participated not of the corruption, yet he felt the weakness, of human nature. He felt the strength of passion. He is no stranger to the disturbance and commotion, which either the attacks of the world or the powers of darkness, are able to raise within the breast of man. One remarkable difference, indeed, takes place between our temptations and those of Christ. Though he was tempted like as we are, yet he was without sin.' Though the conflict was the same, the issue was different. We are often foiled: He always overcame. But his disconformity to us in this respect, is far from weakening the strength of our present argument. For sin contracts and hardens the heart. Every degree of guilt, incurred by yielding to temptation, tends to debase the mind, and to weaken the generous and benevolent principles of human nature. If, from
our Lord's being 'tempted like as we are,' we have any ground to expect his sympathy; from his being tempted, yet without sin,' we are entitled to hope that his sympathy, unallayed and perfect, will operate with more complete energy.
II. From this view of the facts which are stated in the text, I proceed to show, how justly we may infer our Saviour's compassion, and in what manner it is to be accommodated to the consolation of good men, amidst various exigencies of life.
It has been the universal opinion of mankind, that personal experience of suffering humanizes the heart. In the school of affliction, compassion is always supposed to be most thoroughly learned: and hence, in the laws of Moses, when the Israelites are commanded not to oppress the stranger, this reason is given, for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers yourselves in the land of Egypt.' [Exod. xxiii. 9.] The distressed, accordingly, fly for consolation to those, who have been their companions in wo. They decline the prosperous, and look up to them with a suspicious eye. They consider them as ignorant of their feelings, and therefore regardless of their complaints. Amidst the manifold sorrows of life, then, how soothing is the thought, that our great Intercessor with God was a fellow-sufferer with ourselves, while he passed through this valley of tears. Not that his experimental knowledge of human weakness could increase the benevolence of a nature which before was perfect: he submitted to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and to be tempted like as we are;' not in order to become acquainted with our nature, but to satisfy us that he knew it perfectly; not in order to acquire any new degree of goodness, but to give us the firmer confidence in the goodness which he possessed, and to convey the sense of it to our hearts with greater force and effect. The perfection of an Almighty Being, who dwelleth in the secret place of eternity, whom no man hath seen or can see,' might be overwhelming to a timid apprehension. Whatever proceeds from a nature so far superior to our own, is beheld with a degree of awe, which is ready to overpower hope. But in the person of Jesus Christ, the object of our trust is brought nearer to ourselves; and of course adapted more effectually to our encouragement. His goodness is the goodness of human nature, exalted and rendered perfect. It is that species of
goodness with which we are best acquainted, compassion to the unhappy; and compassion cultivated by that discipline which we know to be the most powerful, the experience of
For such reasons as these, because the children are partakers of flesh and blood, Christ himself likewise took part of the same. In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful' as well as a ‘faithful high-priest.' When we consider his assumption of our nature in this light, what a mild and amiable aspect does it give to the government of heaven!-What attentive solicitude of goodness is shown in carrying on the dispensation of our redemption upon a plan, so perfectly calculated to banish all distrust, and to revive the most timid and dejected heart! How naturally does that inference follow, which the Apostle makes in the verse, immediately succeeding the text; Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.' More particularly in consequence of the doctrine which I have illustrated, we are taught to hope,
II. 1. That, under all our infirmities and errors, regard will be had to human imperfection; that a merciful distinction will be made between what is weak, and what is wilfully criminal in our conduct; and that such measures of obedience only will be exacted, as are proportioned to our circumstances and powers. What can more encourage our religious services, than to be assured that the God whom we worship, 'knows our frame, and remembers we are dust;' and that the Mediator, through whom we worship him, is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.' The most virtuous are the most apt to be dejected with the sense of their frailty. While vain and superficial men are easily flattered with favourable views of themselves and fond hopes of divine acceptance, the slightest apprehension of guilt is ready to alarm the humble and delicate mind; just as on coarse bodies an impression is not easily made, while those of finer contexture are soon hurt. But though religion promotes great sensibility to all feelings of a moral nature, yet it gives no countenance to excessive and superstitious fears. That humility which checks presumption, and that jealousy which inspires vigilance, are favourable to piety: while those