The Lord from Heaven
THE COMPASSION OF JESUS
DR. ADOLPH SAPHIR
The loneliness of great minds is inevitable. They live in a lofty region, and therefore in solitude. As they are high above the generality of mankind, they must needs be alone. They are separated from their fellow-men by the comprehensive range of their thoughts and views, and by the elevated tone of their aspirations and feelings. Their joys and their sorrows, their motives and their aims, are but little understood. It is the temptation of great men to yield to a feeling of mingled contempt and despondency with regard to mankind. Gifted with a keen perception of the littleness, folly, and selfishness of men, they are inclined to despise the multitude, and to look upon their elevation as a hopeless task. And if they meet with indifference, ingratitude, hatred, and opposition, a feeling of bitterness is added to the feeling of haughty contempt and despondency.
There is one transcendent
exception to this rule. It is the man
Christ Jesus. He was the
Lord from Heaven; He came
from above, and He was above all (John 3: 31).
He was fairer than the sons of men. He
lived constantly on a mountain height, far surpassing the loftiest elevation
reached by human minds and hearts; for He was, as He Himself expresses it, in heaven (John 3: 13).
The Father was always with Him; His
thoughts, desires, motives, were always heavenly and perfect (John 8: 16, 29). His spotless purity, His perfect love, His
singleness of heart, and complete conformity with the divine will, removed Him
to an infinite distance and height above all human beings. He saw all things in the light of eternity;
His heart and will were always in harmony with the infinite love of God and the
all-embracing purpose of divine wisdom. He
Himself was wisdom, the light of the world. He was the Holy One of Israel, and facing the
whole human race He stood alone, and could say to them, Ye who are evil (Matt. 7:
11). He was the revelation of
God, and, contrasted with Him, even the greatest teachers of
Near the gate of the city of
Of all the sad mourners who were on their way to the burial-ground, none thought of the omnipotent love which was able to turn their weeping into joy. No such hope stirred within their hearts; no petition seeking the help of Jesus rose within their souls. But Jesus was moved with compassion. He saw the widow; she had already experienced the keenest earthly sorrow; a sword had once before pierced her heart. And now her only son was taken in the very morning of his life. Jesus saw her tears, He beheld the depths of her sorrow and desolateness. He had compassion on her, and said, Weep not.
In no other Scripture narrative is revealed to us so clearly the compassionate heart of Jesus in its divine depth, and in its human tenderness. The Lord felt moved in His inmost soul; the sorrow of the mother is felt by Him as His own sorrow, her helplessness appeals to His heart; He fathoms in a moment her utter desolateness, and the whole misery of men, of the banished children of Eve, whom He had come to redeem. Nay, we cannot help thinking, that the image of His own mother Mary and her future great agony stood before Him; and as the Son of man, He felt compassion, as no sinful man, as no mere man, could feel it.
I wish to speak to you of the compassion of Jesus, of Immanuel, God with us. The heart of a true widow is an unfathomable sea of misery, sorrow, and loneliness (Lam. 1: 1). She has no help and consolation but in God only (Isa. 54). And when Gods Spirit shows us our true condition, and takes from us all earthly stays and joys, all human righteousness and strength, then are we like a desolate, helpless, and afflicted widow. And Jesus has compassion, and says unto us, Weep not.
The Compassion of Jehovah
We all know what is meant by compassion; when we see suffering, misery, helplessness, danger, there is in the inmost depths of our being a feeling, spontaneous and irresistible, born of the implanted love of our kind, and the consciousness of the unity of our race. A sharp and yet sweet pain electrifies our heart. Mysterious depths are opened, and reason and all other faculties are solemnised and silenced; all human beings understand the secret, which cannot and need not be translated into words. Scripture speaks of this feeling in very strong and vivid words, which must not be weakened.*
* Scripture speaks throughout Old and New Testament of bowels of mercy. The word translated He had compassion as applied to our Lord is The original in James 5: 11 for very pitiful is So concentrate is the language of Scripture that we may realise the compassion of God, of which our compassion is a faint image.
as is this feature of our humanity - because a feature of the divine image -
let us not think of the compassion of Jesus as merely an attribute of His human
nature. We can never look exclusively at
the human nature of our Lord (
Rise, therefore, from the conception of human pity to the thought of infinite divine compassion. Look upon Jesus in the light of the Old Testament revelation of Jehovah, and then adore the compassionate Jesus as Lord. Dismiss the erroneous impression of the severity and gloom of the Old Testament Scripture, as if the inexorable justice, the unapproachable majesty, the awful sovereignty of God was its exclusive or even predominant topic. Do not confuse the aspect of law, or the dispensation of condemnation and death, with the whole Old Testament economy, which is the revelation of Jehovah, preparing as well as promising the advent of Him in whom we behold and possess the Father. The God of Israel is full of mercy and compassion. He who appeared unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, manifested Himself in most familiar, tender-hearted, loving condescension; in His love He became God unto them, and called them His friends; in His mercy and compassion He considered their weakness, their trials, and their sorrows. How human is the God of the patriarchs and of the children of the covenant! as human as the man Christ Jesus, the centre of the New Testament, is divine.
This same compassion exclaims, in words of deepest, simplest pathos, I have seen, I have seen the affliction of My people, I know their sorrows (Exod. 3: 7). This same compassion is the most prominent element in the name, which the Lord Himself revealed unto Moses, and which became to Psalmist and to prophet the fundamental and central exposition of the divine character. The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (Exod. 34: 6).
David did not hesitate to apply to God the most tender emotions of human compassion. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him (Ps. 103: 13). And with a still greater boldness of faith Isaiah exclaims, Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee (Isa. 49: 15).
This compassion triumphs over
sin and guilt. It only regards the
sufferings and helplessness of sinful men. Were it not for grace, and for the
righteousness through which grace can reign, compassion would be powerless, it
could only sigh and weep. It is the
Redeemer God, it is Jehovah, who has compassion; in harmony with all other attributes, not
merely in harmony but in co-operation. And
compassion is, according to the scripture teaching, the most deep-seated and
all-pervading element which accompanies all the divine gifts and acts. God rebukes our sin, in holy wrath He turns
from our iniquity, His justice prepares and executes
severe chastisements. But His compassion
beholds the sinful, guilty, and polluted
Jehovah, merciful and compassionate; He who condescended to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and in great loving-kindness chose them to be His friends; He who had pity on Israel in their bondage, and redeemed them out of Egypt; He who led them through the wilderness, and was afflicted in all their affliction (Is. 63: 9); He came at last in the person of the divine Son in Jesus, and now men beheld the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Here is a full and perfect revelation of the God of Israel, of that tender, motherly, intense, and inexhaustible compassion which breathes throughout the Old Testament. Here is the true explanation of the Old Testament anthropomorphism; God became man, and man, originally created in the image of God, is redeemed by the man Christ Jesus, who is God above all, blessed for ever.
The Compassion of the Lord Jesus on Earth
Jesus had compassion; Jesus had always compassion. When we look on men, we regard that which is outward and on the surface. We notice more the peculiarities which distinguish them, than the one great and essential thing which they have in common. We see that they are poor or rich, young or old, ignorant or cultured; we distinguish between virtue and vice, loveliness and unattractiveness; in all this we dwell on what is an accidental difference, and one of degrees. Jesus always looked at what is real, eternal, essential (John 2: 24, 25); He saw all men - sinners, without God, without the light and life which alone bring blessedness. He beheld them all, walking in the broad road of departure from God, the only source of holiness and truth. He saw the depth of the fall, because He always remembered the height of mans original position and call - He beheld them, as sheep in the wilderness, who had gone astray; as prodigals who in pride had left their fathers house, and were in the far country; as sick, wounded, poisoned, and perishing men, who were going forward to destruction. It was this their misery which constantly drew out His compassion.
He saw the thirst of the soul, the void and desolate condition of the heart, the want of peace and joy; He saw it in the most cheerful, self-satisfied, and pleasure-loving; and His compassion always said, If thou knewest the gift of God.. He understood the anxiety, the zeal, the eagerness of heavy-laden and burdened ones, who were striving to fulfil the law of God and to obey His commandments, and His heart was full of compassion; He longed to give them rest; He called unto them, Come unto Me (John 4: 10; Matt. 11: 28).
Jesus beheld the multitude, and had compassion. For He saw them as God sees them, in the light of eternity, which alone reveals what is in time. Truly they were in the wilderness - without pasture, without shelter, without having a strong shepherd to feed and to protect them. And He saw them fainting, for even in this life the heart becomes faint and desponding without God, and the shadows of the future fill the soul with great sadness and fear (Matt. 15: 32, 9: 36-38). Jesus realised the emptiness and loneli ness of their life, and how the things of sense and time filled their minds, and yet could not fill their hearts. Jesus had compassion on all whom He saw to be without the knowledge and love of God; whether they were Pharisees and devout religionists, or publicans and sinners, He saw the real state of the heart; and Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of man, knew that man to be blessed, needs only God; and that without Him he is utterly and eternally wretched; and therefore He had compassion.
Jesus had compassion on sinners, and that because He was holy and hated sin; all sin, every sin, from its most secret commencement to its most open manifestation. Jesus, the Son of God, who had become man to be our Redeemer and our Head, beheld always the countenance of His Father; and He knew what man ought to be according to the loving purpose of God. How deeply grieved must He have been with the constant tendency and effort in even the best men to lower the height, to narrow the breadth, to lessen the depth of the divine law. Men did not hallow the name of God and sanctify the features of that divine image in which they were originally created. This idolatry and taking the name of God in vain was their root-sin. Jesus beheld two depths, and that always: the depth of the divine Perfection, and the depth of mans sinful heart, and He was filled with compassion; He beheld constantly the symptoms of our mortal disease, the manifestations of our impure hearts, the lack of all the bright and lovable feature of the divine countenance - and the Physician had compassion (Matt. 9: 12, 13).
Jesus had compassion on man in his labour and toil, his life full of anxiety and trouble. He heard the sigh of the poor, He understood the care-worn face of the destitute, the sadness of the lonely, the bitterness of the despised. He who knew the love and goodness of God, and who desired His disciples to be as happy and free, joyous and full of melody, as the birds of the air, and to grow beautiful in perfect calmness and liberty, like the lilies of the field, was filled with compassion when He saw men burdened, not only with the evil of to-day, but with the weight of tomorrow (Matt. 6: 25-34).
Jesus had compassion when He saw the bitter consequences and fruits of sin in the misery of man. When He saw the sick and the suffering He felt compassion. When the even was come, they brought unto Him many that were possessed with devils, and He cast out the spirits with His word and healed all that were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet Esaias, Himself took our infirmities and bore our sickness (Matt. 8: 16, 17). Jesus healed with power and with compassion. In both He was divine and human. It was divine power exercised by the Son of man, and hence by faith; it was divine compassion, the compassion of Him who above all men and One with the Father, and yet through the human heart and bowels of Jesus. Somebody hath touched Me, the Lord said, when the poor woman in her timidity, and yet in strong faith, sought to be healed by the Son of man. No power went forth from Jesus to heal the sick and to raise up the bowed down without His compassion, His love being moved. No poor sufferer could think of Him and stretch towards Him the arms of his need and care but Jesus felt it in His loving heart. There is no cry, no sigh, no tear, no prayer, but Jesus in the depth of His compassion says, Somebody hath touched Me. It is this compassion which we see in all Christs acts and miracles. Before He healed the deaf man He looked up to heaven; He sighed, and then saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, be opened. He called the poor sufferers who came to Him, son and daughter, for He felt fatherly pity. He comforted them and rejoiced over them, and out of the fulness of His compassionate heart He hastened to say, Be of good cheer. When the two blind men, in reply to His question, What will ye that I shall do unto you? said, Lord, that our eyes may be opened, Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes, and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him (Luke 8: 46; Mark 7: 34; Matt. 20: 34).
Jesus had compassion with our infirmities. His compassion is, so to speak, the soul of His wonderful patience and gentleness in His dealings with His disciples. He remembered their frailty; He pitied them with the considerateness of a father, and the tenderness and inexhaustible endurance of a mother. He comforted them on that last night, when He knew that they should be scattered and leave Him alone. The thought of their weakness in the great struggle and darkness through which they had to pass filled Him with compassion. It is this compassion which meets us in the words uttered in the garden of Gethsemane, when He said unto His disciples, Sleep on now and take your rest; and in the words with which He protected them against the band of men and officers who had come to take Him, If ye seek Me, let these go their way, that the saying might be fulfilled which He spake, Of them which Thou gavest Me have I lost none (John 14: 1; Mark 14: 41; John 18: 8, 9).
could exhaust His love and quench the fire of His compassion.
The compassion of Christ shines forth in brightest glory on His cross. All His perfections are seen there in their fulness, and above all His love to the Father and to the sinner. But in this love compassion is the all-pervading element. We hear it in the first word which He uttered. In reply to all the contempt and hatred, to all the shame and ignominy, to all the pain and suffering, He offered the petition, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. He pities them, and seizes on the only plea which can be brought forward, not to exculpate them or palliate their guilt, but to appeal to the fatherly forbearance and patience for a respite, for a prolonged period of gospel invitations. We see His compassionate heart in the second word, in which He hastens to answer the petition of the believing thief with abundant grace and joyous promise. We see it in His third word, by which He commended His mother, bowed down with sorrow, and in the prospect of desolateness, to the care and final regard of the beloved disciple. The heart of Jesus was full of divine compassion. Though our sin lay upon Him as a heave burden, when He died as our Surety, when he was made a curse for us, He thought of us only in our misery and helplessness with the compassion of a Shepherd, who thinks of the wayward sheep only as perishing, and depending on His care, love, and power; with the compassion of a Physician, whose only anxiety is to heal and to rescue from death. It is this compassion, this tender yearning to bring life and love to mankind, that is expressed in His word, I thirst. His soul thirsted to speak again to man; to say again to poor and needy sinners, who seek happiness in the things that perish, Give me to drink (Luke 23: 34, 43; John 19: 26, 27, 28; comp. John 4: 7).