THE PRECIOUSNESS OF CHRIST'S SYMPATHY WITH OUR INFIRMITIES
"Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." Matt. 8:17
Our Lord's union with our nature—the essentially divine in coalescence with the perfectly human—was not, as the Doecetae, a branch of the Gnostics, heretically taught, a mere appearance of humanity, a fiction, and illusion;—it was an actual and personal, a living and tangible humanity,—a mysterious and profound, but not less true and visible, manifestation of God in the flesh! It was, probably, in part to refute this early heresy that the Apostle John wrote his Epistle, in which he thus condemns the errorist while he affirms the truth:—"Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." (1 John 4:2, 3.) It is not, then, less a doctrine essential to the Christian system, or less an evidence of a true Christian, and of a sound Christian teacher, than it is a source of the richest consolation and soothing to the Christian Church, that the Son of God became, by a mysterious union of the two extremes of being, the Son of Man; and as such—"Himself bearing our infirmities, and carrying our sicknesses"—becomes at once a fount of sympathy and love, its soothing and its healing spreading like a sea over our sin and sorrow stricken humanity. In this point of light, the truth of Christ's sympathy with our infirmities—which furnishes the theme of the present chapter—presents itself with an actuality and vividness the most realizing and personal. The proper discussion of our subject suggests, in their order, the consideration of the infirmities which appertain to our humanity—our Lord's personal participation in those infirmities—and the preciousness of His sympathy with the varied infirmities of His people.
The existence of physical infirmity in the saints of God is a fact so self-evident as to require no labored argument. It is the natural effect of sin—a part of the curse under which our humanity came in consequence of the fall. To assert that we were "conceived in sin, and born in iniquity"—as the Bible most distinctly and emphatically does—is to claim for our whole being—physical, moral, and intellectual—the existence of weakness, imperfection, and decay, which no surviving and still lingering emblems of our original stateliness and grandeur can possibly annihilate or conceal. How true a picture of the animate and the inanimate world has the pen of inspiration drawn, when it describes "the whole creation as groaning and travailing in pain together until now!" In this paralyzed and convulsed condition the saints of God are equally involved. Our humanity is essentially the same as that from which the electing love and sovereign grace of God has rescued and separated us. We are "by nature children of wrath, even as others." Our humanity differs from the most enslaved and degraded of our species only as Jesus has borne its sins, removed its curse, and, by the Spirit's renewing and indwelling, has made it the temple of God. Before we enter more fully upon this subject, let us remark, that the bodily infirmities under which the children of God labor are to be regarded rather as the consequences of sin than as in themselves sinful. For the want of clearly observing this distinction, many of the Lord's people walk in bondage. Sin is the cause, infirmity the effect. In all the instances in which the word is employed in the Bible, this idea would seem prominent. Thus, for example, physical deficiencies, bodily weaknesses, or actual sickness, are described as infirmities of our nature. We read of "a certain woman which had been healed of a spirit of infirmity." Her spinal cord was contracted, and she was bowed down and could in no wise lift up herself. We also read that many came to Christ "to be healed of their infirmities;" and that, "in that hour He cured many of their infirmities." And when Paul enjoined upon Timothy the use of a little wine, the plea upon which he enforced the duty was his "often infirmities." And when, in the lowly spirit of the Gospel, he abjures all self-glorying, laying his mouth in the dust, and esteeming himself the chief of sinners and the least of saints, he exclaims, "If I must needs glory, I will glory in the things which concern mine infirmities." And in another place he says, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." Let it then be distinctly remembered that sin is not an essential adjunct, a necessary concomitant of our nature—it is rather an accident of our being. Our nature was created sinless, reflecting, without a line to deface its beauty, or a shadow to becloud its luster, the intellectual and moral image of God. This curious and magnificent mechanism, as it came from the hands of the Divine Craftsman, was pronounced by Him to be "very good." What a glorious creature was man! No shade of care upon the brow, no hectic flush upon the cheek, no paralysis benumbed the limb, no trembling agitated the nerve, no heart flutter, nor convulsions, nor pain, nor restlessness—nothing, in a word, to shade, deform, or depress his humanity,—he was without sin, and consequently without suffering. We may therefore infer, and the inference is replete with comfort to the holy and spiritual mind, that our bodily infirmities are not sins, and are only to be viewed in that light as, through our unprayerfulness and unwatchfulness, they become causes or occasions of sin. But let us take a more comprehensive view of this subject, seeing that Christ's sympathy extends to all the infirmities to which His people are subject—this it is which makes that sympathy so precious.
Chief and prominent we must place the indwelling of sin—the believer's great infirmity, and the source and parent of all others. Sin is a word easily spoken, soon written—a mere monosyllable—but of what mighty and solemn import! Sin is the cause of all evil, the source of all sorrow, the spring of all suffering—its guilt, tyranny, and condemnation only met, cancelled, and removed by the incarnation and sacrifice of the Son of God. What must be the nature, the magnitude, the terribleness of sin, to demand on the part of God's moral government such an expedient! Now, it is this indwelling of sin in the believer that forms the baneful root of all infirmity, and is to his holy mind the greatest of them all. Listen to the inspired language which, in all ages and dispensations, has been but the one cry of the Christian Church—"O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" A deep truth is unfolded here—the principle or body of sin in the believer, as constituting the ground of his profoundest humiliation and sorrow. It is not the dark speck here and there, as indicating the existence and process of the moral gangrene that produces the painful anxiety of the apostle—it is the corrupt body itself. We come short of just views of sin if we only estimate its enormity by its outbreak here and there—the spots upon the surface. The evil lies deeper and is concealed. We speak of the principle of sin, from which all sin originates. We do not ask you, reader, if you confess and mourn over sin in its external and overt acts,—this, doubtless, you often do with de
ep self-abasement. But the deepest sorrow for sin is that which springs from the conviction and consciousness of its indwelling principle and power—this should be our profoundest humiliation before God. To think of the depraved nature, the evil heart, the corrupt mind, the empoisoned and impure fountain, the body of sin and death constantly borne about with us—lying down and rising up with us—carried into our most sacred places, and with us in our most hallowed engagements—constantly, inseparably, ever prompting to evil—oh, this is our humiliation, and this should be our sorrow. Beloved, count not yourself to have arrived at any proper or adequate view of the burden and sinfulness of sin, until you have been brought to embody in your daily acknowledgments, humiliation, and sorrow, the sin that dwells in you. Then shall we be set upon the great work of mortification—and only then. No longer seeking merely the moral filtration of the impure streams, we shall task our utmost energies to the work of purifying the fountain. And who sees not that, this done—the source of evil met, the heart seasoned with grace—we shall then the more cheerfully and successfully address ourselves to the work of "cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God?"
There are other infirmities which may be classed as constitutional. Our spiritual and mental constitutions, like our physical, vary. As each individual has a natural constitution peculiar to himself, so has he a moral and intellectual one. Our constitutional infirmities are not all alike. The temperament of some is warm, excitable, impetuous; they have ardent, impulsive feelings; their affections are fervent, their sensibilities strong, their emotional nature intense—they can sympathize, can weep, can love. The temperament of others is cold, phlegmatic, immovable; they have but little of the emotional, the susceptible, the sympathizing, and it requires a great calamity often to rouse them to feeling. There are yet others, whose mental characteristics are those of depression, despondency, and gloom. Overlooking the bright and cheerful tints of life's landscape, they love to ruminate upon its dark and somber hues,—always gazing upon the gloomiest aspect of the picture, and dwelling with morbid pleasure upon the most unpromising and hopeless. Others, again, are of a sanguine and hopeful temperament; they live in a world of illusion and romance; without adequate premises they leap to conclusions, and without proper data they assume facts; credulous, unsuspecting, and confiding, they take for granted what some minds accept only upon demonstration. Now, all these are, doubtless, constitutional infirmities. It is an infirmity to be too feeling; it is an infirmity to be too cold. It is an infirmity to be too trusting; it is equally an infirmity to be too suspicious. It is an infirmity to be totally fascinated by the sunny, golden, and mellow tints of the picture, and equally so to be mentally absorbed and depressed by its shaded and gloomy coloring. "This is my infirmity," may be the exclamation, as each one passes in review. Yes, they are infirmities: levity, gravity; the sanguine, the desponding; the feeling, the phlegmatic; the confiding, the distrusting; the sensitive, the impassable; the ardent, the frigid; the liberal, the parsimonious; the credulity that believes anything, the skepticism that believes nothing;—all these—and a thousand more constitutional characteristics that might be adduced—in consequence of the sin that dwells in us, are infirmities clinging to our fallen humanity, the source and the occasion frequently of our deepest and bitterest sorrows.
And then there are infirmities purely of a physical nature. We embody and bear about with us the seeds and germs of all disease and decay, which, in any climate, in any place, and at any moment, may develop itself, and which, indeed, are gradually and imperceptibly, but most surely, conducting us to the grave. Who can behold the frailty of some, the nervousness of others, the incessant suffering of others more,—of multitudes who know not a day's perfect health, an hour's freedom from pain, a night's unbroken sleep—and not be convinced that the Church of God is "compassed with infirmity?"
Under this head of infirmity may be classed, too, the sufferings and persecutions, the privations, trials, and temptations, to which the saints are constantly exposed, and by which they are frequently assailed. The soul has its infirmities as well as the body; there are spiritual and mental, as well as natural and physical, weaknesses and frailties. Sin, and the curse which followed in its wake, have sown man's path, from his cradle to his tomb, with mingled seed. At each step, and each bend, there springs up a multitude of various ills, and woes, and sorrows. The tare grows side by side with the wheat; the thistle with the rose; the nightshade with the myrtle; the cypress with the laurel;—joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, hope and despondency, the marriage and the tolling bell, all, all blend together in our march to eternity. The woof of our humanity is of many colors; the stones that pave our pathway to the grave are of variegated hues. Such are the varied and dissimilar conditions of God's people. It is the infirmity of one believer that his faith is always faltering; of another, that his courage is always failing: of one, that he is of a desponding tendency of mind, taking but little of the comfort and hope of the gospel; and of another, that he confides too implicitly in himself, and looks too exclusively to his ever-varying and fluctuating experience for the strength and evidence of his Christianity. The experience of Asaph is, doubtless, that of many:—"Will the Lord cast off forever? and will He be favorable no more? Is His mercy clean gone forever? does His promise fail forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? And I said, This is my infirmity." (Ps. 77:7-10.)
It must always, too, be considered one of the infirmities of our spiritual condition, that we look so much to the dark providences of God in our history, rather than to His power, faithfulness, and love in the providence. God must be in all His providential dispensations. They are the chariots in which He rides. "He makes the clouds His chariot." When, then, we are absorbed in a fearful, unbelieving view of the chariot that comes near to us, and overlook Him who sits in it—the God of love, our Father, our Friend—it is no marvel that, with good old Jacob, we exclaim, "All these things are against me." Beloved, there is nothing that is really against you if you are in union with Christ Jesus. There is no enchantment, no divination. It is a "curse causeless!" It may be a tedious way, a narrow way, a thorny way, a self-denying way, a way bedewed with your tears, vocal with your sighs, perhaps tinted with the oozings of your heart's blood—nevertheless it is a right way by which Jesus is leading you, step by step, home to God. You will see that it was all right when you arrive there; and then with the countless minstrelsy of heaven redeemed like you by precious blood, and who with you have come out of great tribulation, you will exclaim, "He has done all things well."
There is a tendency, too, through the infirmity of our faith, to hesitate and falter when summoned to walk in some path of duty. It is seldom that God so leads us but at the sacrifice of some creature good, the surrender of some cherished idol. It is a part of that moral discipline that imparts symmetry and completeness to our Christian character. The call of duty is always the call of God. And yet how we hesitate and demur! How we linger upon the loved spot we are to leave—how we cling to the precious ties we are to sunder—how we grasp the sacred enjoyments we must perhaps forever relinquish! But the path of duty is onward—and onward must be our course. Then we learn how great is the infirmity of our grace. We once thought we could do anything for Christ—now that His glory and our interests clash, we pause, we weep, we reason. But it is only our infirmity, and the Lord knows that it is so. And as sure as He enables us by His grace to take the first step in the path of duty—fearful, trembling, hesitating though it be—He comes and helps each succeeding one by the sympathy of His love, and by the succourings of His grace; and we exclaim, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." In this way of duty, in which there is so severe and lingering a crucifixion of self, lessons in the divine life are learned, and truths in God's Word are experienced, such as, probably, would not be in any other way. In the world there are schools for different branches of knowledge and science, where the principles and systems peculiar to each one are alone taught. Christ has different schools for His disciples:—there is the school of correction, the school of trial, the school of sorrow, the school of temptation, the school of self-denial, the school of active service, the school of patient endurance—in one or all of these schools Jesus is instructing the disciples on earth, and training them for heaven, teaching them the peculiar lessons, and bringing them into the experience of the peculiar truths found in no other way. There are two natures in the believer, the active and the passive—both of which the Lord will unfold and discipline, and both shall alike honor and glorify Him. Peradventure you have reasoned thus—that, because the infirmities of the body or of the mind prevent you from the active service of Christ, you are therefore but a dry tree, a useless member of the body, a cumberer of the ground. Ah! my reader, the Lord has wisely chosen for you another and a different school—that of passive submission to the Divine will—the school of suffering, which is the school of God. Your duty, strength, and service for Christ is to sit still, to cultivate in your soul the passive graces of the Holy Spirit; and so by meekness, quietness, and silence, glorify your Father in heaven.
"They also serve, who only stand and wait."
But it is possible the Lord sees fit to train you for glory in the school of active and laborious employ. He may summon you to a post of labor at home which, perhaps, your judgment would the last have selected, or from which your taste, feelings, and inclinations recoil Or, it may be, He sends you to the far heathen, severing the fond and sacred endearments of home, and sundering the ties that bound you by associations so precious to the land of your birth. Well, beloved, it is Christ's school, in the which He is teaching, disciplining, and training you for heaven. By nature, by providence, and by grace He has fitted you for active service in the Church, and into His vineyard He condescendingly sends you. While others are learning the same lesson, and are being taught the same truth—the lesson of their own poverty and nothingness, and the truth of Jesus' all-sufficiency and unspeakable preciousness—amid scenes of trial and sickness, of suffering and want, you are being taught by the Master in the school of toil, of hardship, and of self-denial. Be it so, beloved. Each line from the circumference leads to the one center—JESUS; and Jesus will before long bring both the active and the passive disciple He has trained for glory on earth, to rejoice together in the same happy and eternal home in heaven.
We have now reached an essential and touching part of our subject—Christ's personal participation with the infirmities of His people. "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." "Himself" did it. It was a personal act. He confided the task to, and He imposed the burden upon no other. Nor would He admit a partner in the transaction. None should share it with Him. Not a sin, not a sorrow, not a pang, not an infirmity, not a tear, not a sigh would He divide with another. He would tread the path alone, and of the people there should be none with Him. "HIMSELF took our infirmities." Oh, in what a touching light this places the love of our Jesus—the all-concentrating, all-absorbing, all-engrossing love of our Emmanuel—for His people! He so loved us that He would do all for us Himself, nor share the work, nor divide the glory, nor participate the love of another being in the universe. Himself did it, and—did it alone. The question then arises—In what way may we regard our Lord as taking our infirmities and bearing our sicknesses? We think the answer will be supplied by the following considerations:—
First, by His assumption of our humanity. He could only come under the obligation to participate in our circumstances by taking up into union with the Godhead the nature that sin and the curse had bowed to the earth. The human nature to which His Godhead stooped was as free from the taint and pollution of sin as His divinity, and yet was it real humanity. "A body have you prepared me." "He was made sin" (or an offering for sin) "for us who knew no sin." He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." Keep firm hold of this doctrine of your faith, O believer! The shadow of a shade of sin in the human nature of the Son of God would have been eternal destruction to His elect Church—fatal to the accomplishment of His sacrifice, and the salvation of His people. We have said that it was real, true, actual humanity. Its mysterious and close union with the Godhead did not alter it, even as there was no essential change in the Godhead when it took up into union the manhood. There was a union—a personal and inseparable union—of the two natures, but no change in either—both retained their peculiar and essential properties. The humanity was blest by its union with the Deity, but not changed, in the least degree, into the essentially divine. It was filled and enriched with excellent gifts—even the Holy Spirit without measure—but was not in the least degree elevated into an equality with the Divine nature—it retained its own property intact. In taking upon Him the form of a servant, Christ did not abdicate the form of God. He, indeed, emptied Himself and made Himself of no reputation, and was reputed a man, and a very poor and despised man, too; yet He never ceased to be God. The glory of His Godhead was indeed enshrouded, but not extinguished; it was obscured, but not lost. Our infirmities shaded the luster of the Sun, but the Sun behind those infirmities shone with undimmed and undiminishable splendor. "He could not have been a sufficient Mediator had He ceased to be God, and He had ceased to be God had He lost any one perfection proper to the Divine nature; and losing none, He lost not this of unchangeableness, which is none of the lowest belonging to the Deity. Why by this union with the Divine nature should He lose this any more than He lost His omniscience, which He discovered by His knowledge of the thoughts of men; or His mercy, which He manifested to the height in the time of His suffering? That is truly a change when a thing ceases to be what it was before. This was not in Christ. He assumed our nature without laying aside His own. When the soul is united to the body, does it lose any of those perfections that are proper to its nature? Is there any change either in the substance or qualities of it? No; but it makes a change in the body, and of a dull lump it makes it a living mass, conveys vigor and strength to it, and by its power quickens it to sense and motion. So did the Divine nature and the human remain entire; there was no change of the one into the other, as Christ by a miracle changed water into wine, or men by are change sand or ashes into glass. And when He prays for the glory He had with God before the world was, He prays that a glory He had in His Deity might shine forth in His person as Mediator, and be evidenced in that height and splendor suitable to His dignity, which had been so lately darkened by His abasement; that as He had appeared to be the Son of man in the infirmity of the flesh, He might appear to be the Son of God in the glory of His person, that He might appear to be the Son of God and the Son of man in one person." (Charnock.)
But His assumption of our humanity—"the Word made flesh"—was only a part of His participation with our infirmities—the physical infirmities of our nature. The body He took was but the vehicle by which He acted. He approached yet closer to the actual bearing when he was made under the curse, and took upon Him our sins. As sin and the curse which followed are the sources of all our infirmities—mental, moral, and physical—so, by becoming a sin-offering for the one, and coming under the other, He "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." By this act of bearing our sins, He more truly and strictly took our infirmities than though He had actually sinned as we have sinned. Our great, our grand, our chief infirmity is—SIN! This is the parent, and root, and spring of all infirmity. Jesus took our sins: "He bare our sins in His own body on the tree;" "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities." Could language be stronger? Not merely the punishment for sin, but sin itself was laid upon Him!—yet was He "without sin." And thus it was our blessed Lord "took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." And now trace His own actual, personal participation in our infirmities. Jesus knew what it was to be weary—to hunger and thirst—to be homeless and friendless—to be maligned, traduced, slandered—to be wounded by foes—to be deserted by friends—to be taunted by men—to be tempted by Satan—to be forsaken by God. Was not this a taking upon Him our infirmities? Did not this include them all? What is your infirmity, O child of God? Is it sin?—Jesus bore it. Is it sickness?—Jesus carried it. Is it a weak, infirm, frail body?—Jesus assumed it. Is it loneliness?—Jesus lived much in solitude. Is it irritability, impatience, fretfulness, nervousness?—Jesus bore the sin and curse from whence this springs. Is it wounded love, betrayed confidence, disappointed friendship?—Jesus trod this shaded path before you. Is it poverty, straitened circumstances, humiliating dependence?—Jesus too was poor, and, supported by the charities of those who ministered of their substance to His wants, was subjected to this humiliation. Are you bereaved?—keenly did Jesus feel this sorrow, when His tears fell fast and thick upon the grave of His friend at Bethany. Tell me, then, have you an infirmity which your Lord did not bear before you? "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses."
How illustriously did Christ exhibit this assumption of, and sympathy with, our infirmities when He was on earth! Take a general survey. He healed the sick—restored sight to the blind—made the lame to walk—the deaf to hear—and lifted up those that were bowed down. Nor this only. He restored reason to its throne—ejected demons from their usurped dominion of the soul—chased the cloud of sadness from the spirit, and made the widow's heart to sing for joy. How beautiful and artless the narrative—how graphic and lifelike the description!—"When 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 Elijah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." Pause, and contemplate the scene—it is full of poetry and power. It is twilight—or, as Mark narrates, "at even when the sun did set." All nature is in harmony with the touching spectacle. The sun has almost finished his daily course, his burning wheels reposing upon the utmost verge of the sky. The last smile of day yet lingers, gilding with liquid gold the lofty dome of the Temple, and tipping with streaming silver the mountain's brow and the leafy spires of the grove. All is hushed, as if Nature itself were dead. The confused din of the tumultuous city has ceased, and the toil-worn laborer rests from his employ. The weary winds forget to blow—the gentle gales have fanned themselves to rest—not a wavelet breaks the smooth surface of the lake. The aspen ceases to quiver, and echo herself slumbers. This is the hour and this the scene Jesus has chosen for His works of benevolence and power. Holy and precious the instruction! Is it, beloved, the twilight of life with those on whose behalf we would implore the compassion and help of the Savior? Is the sun of human existence just setting, his last, his latest rays falling upon the world's gray landscape, now receding into the deep shades of night? Hear you their plaintive cry, "Woe unto us! for the day goes away, for the shadows of evening are stretched out?" Take heart, my brother! The sun has not yet gone down—night's darkness has not yet come; it is not too late to bring in faith and hope the objects of your sympathy and love to Jesus. It was "at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were diseased, and He healed them." What Jesus then was He is now, "the same yesterday, today, and forever." Despair not, then, of their salvation. Lay them down at His feet, cast them upon His heart, take hold of His robe, nor let Him go until He speaks the word, and lo! "at evening-time it shall be light." Blessed Savior! The world's din is hushed—the thick shades of evening are gathering over life's landscape—the sun of human probation touches the horizon—the long, dark night of eternity approaches—the all-important crisis has arrived—one look, one word, one touch from You, and there shall be healing, there shall be light, there shall be life!
How precious, then, the sympathy of Christ with human infirmity! His fitness thus to sympathize is portrayed by the apostle as inspiration alone could depict it—"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. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time need. For every high priest, taken from among men, is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on those who are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity." Behold your Lord's fitness to share and sympathize with all your infirmities! He was "encompassed with infirmity." He knew what hunger and thirst were—He knew what labor and fatigue were—He knew what languor and sleeplessness were—He knew what pain and suffering were—He knew what spiritual depression and mental darkness were—He knew what the fiery darts of temptation were—He knew what the weight, and curse, and sorrow of sin were—He knew what the assaults of the world, the malignity of foes, the fickleness of friends, the distrust and woundings of brethren were—He knew what it was to be denied by one disciple, to be betrayed by another, and to be forsaken by all! Child of God! what more shall Christ endure, what ruder path shall He tread, what deeper sorrow shall He experience, what bitterer cup shall He drink, what darker cloud shall He penetrate, what infirmities more human, more severe, more humiliating, shall He take, in order to be touched with the feeling of yours? Will not this suffice to wake your heart to love, to win your mind to confidence, to inspire your soul with hope, to replenish your spirit with joy, and tune your lips with praise—that Christ's sympathy, so human yet divine, all so tender, all so clinging, all so personal, entwines around your every infirmity—bodily, mental, spiritual—and makes it all His own? "Touched with the feeling of our infirmities."
"And do you weep in sorrow, brother?
Do not think you have a lonely lot;
The very pang now your, Another
Endured for you, and murmured not.
"To consecrate the path of sorrow,
He left the glory of the skies;
And deigned our suffering flesh to borrow,
That He with grief might sympathize.
"Do mourn beneath the fierce temptation?
On Him the tempter's shafts were cast.
Are your the waves of tribulation?
Often o'er His soul those waters passed.
"Each suffering that enthrones your pillow,
Is felt within your Savior's heart;
His hand will hold you o'er each billow,
For He has felt your every smart.
"He who stood by the sisters weeping,
Their brother raised, and dropped the tear,
Marks all your tears with eye unsleeping,
When grief bends o'er the recent coffin.
"Though far removed from mortal vision,
His heart still beats with sympathy;
The sufferings of His earthly mission
Have left deep scars, which plead for thee.
"In all your sufferings, do not think, brother,
Your is a lone, unfriended lot;
Look up, and feel there is Another,
In sympathy who ceases not."
—W. J. Brook
"And bare our sicknesses." You inquire, How could this be, since Christ knew not bodily disease? But it was not necessary, in order to constitute a perfect sympathy in Christ with our physical infirmities, that He should know in His own person what sickness was. He bare our sicknesses when He bare our sins, and by His atonement put them for ever away. If He bore the cause of all our sorrows and infirmities, surely He is fitted to sympathize with its effects—and sickness is one. And when Jesus ministers at our sickbed, imparting support and soothing, alleviation and recovery,—when He approaches and vouchsafes patience of spirit, and strength of endurance, and submission to the Divine will, giving gracious manifestations of Himself by day, and songs of praise and thanksgiving in the night season, and then raises you up again to health, to duty and service—surely, then, He may be said, in a most emphatic sense, to bear our sicknesses. Sick believer! you are not alone—Christ is with you. He knows all your weakness, infirmity, and pain. He understands perfectly the mysterious relation of mind and body, and can enter into all those delicate shades and subtle distinctions in the mutual operation of the one upon the other, which escape the eye even of the most skillful and vigilant. What is purely mental, what is simply physical in your case, and how they sympathize and often seem to blend, is to Him who bear our sicknesses when He took our sins, and who rebukes and heals all our diseases now, an object of the intensest interest. Suffering one! Christ is bearing that suffering with you. The burning fever, the writhing pain, the faintness, the languor, the sinking—all is known to Him. The difficulty of concentrated and consecutive thought, your inability to meditate, to read, to pray, the absence of spiritual enjoyment, the dimmed evidences, the beclouded hope, the fears and tremblings—all, all are entwined with your Redeemer's sympathy. His "grace shall be sufficient for you," His "strength shall be made perfect in your weakness;" and thus you shall be enabled to "glory in your infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon you."
With the infirmity of prayer we may especially invoke and expect the aid of Christ's precious sympathy. That there is a close relation between the two, is clear from the passages we have already quoted, and, for our argument, will quote again. The reasoning of the apostle is, "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." Then follows the exhortation—"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." The connection of our infirmity in prayer, and the tender, succouring sympathy of Christ with that particular infirmity, is adduced as an encouragement to pray. And who is not sensible of infirmity in prayer? In no spiritual duty, perhaps, is our earthliness, weakness, and failure more manifest. In proportion to the elevation, spirituality, and solemnity of the engagement, is our frailty and shortcoming. It is your infirmity that you feel such a reluctance to pray, and that when you rouse yourself to the privilege, it is to you a burden and a task. It is your infirmity that, at the Mercy-Seat, your mind is so wandering, your thoughts are so vagrant, your heart is so divided; that, in spite of your endeavors to concentrate the mind on the great business of converse with God, it starts off like a broken bow; and the feelings, that ought to dissolve and flow forth in one ardent current of affection, congeal as into icicles around the Mercy-Seat, bathed in the very sunbeams of Divine love. The deep consciousness, too, of your sinfulness operates often as dissuasive to prayer. You cannot imagine how one so unworthy may be permitted—yes, invited—to approach; and when you approach, the suspicion haunts your breast that such petitions as yours can never find acceptance with God. But we have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of this infirmity. What a provision has His mediatorial work made for it in the unceasing sympathy of the Holy Spirit! Thus reasons the apostle—"Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." (Rom. 8:26.) To this intercession of the Spirit He adds the merits of His own oblation. Blending, as we have shown in the preceding chapter, the incense of His merits with the incense of our prayers, and tenderly commiserating the feebleness and frailty of a nature which, "when it would do good, finds evil present with it," He graciously purifies and perfumes each petition, and then presents it with acceptance to God. Come boldly, then, to the throne, you timid, trembling souls!—you whom sins distress, whom guilt burdens, whom sorrow bows, whom infirmity disheartens,—for you have a "High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of your infirmity," and who invites you to draw near and ask what you will in His name.
If Christ patiently bears and tenderly sympathizes with your infirmities, be you as patient and sympathizing towards the infirmities of your fellow-Christians. In this respect "let the mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." Our brethren are encompassed with infirmity—each having his own and peculiar cross to carry, his burden to bear. Learn to be like Christ—gentle, patient, charitable, and sympathizing. The sympathy which the Gospel inculcates in the disciples of Christ towards our fellow-disciples is large and comprehensive in its nature. The precept is —"Rejoice with those who do rejoice, and weep with those who weep." The exhortation is—"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." Now, the feeling implied in these words is something more than sympathy, or at least as commonly understood,—it is sympathy in its strict, literal, and legitimate import,—something far exceeding ordinary pity or commiseration. The family of God is one household, one brotherhood. And the essential unity of this one family is in nothing more truly and touchingly exhibited than in the oneness of sorrow and of joy which pervades alike each member of the sacred household. But, as if the Holy Spirit would define yet more clearly the nature of true sympathy, the Church of God is presented under the similitude, not of a family only, but of a body. Alas! we find not always in a family the mutual affection and confidence, the sympathy and communion which ought to distinguish and hallow an institution so sacred and precious as the domestic. But if we pass from the similitude of the family to that of the body, we think we shall have a more vivid conception of the nature of that sympathy which ought to animate the Church of Christ. "Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular." The sympathetic union of the body—each part with the other, and all with the whole—is of so close, tender, and inseparable a nature as not to be surpassed nor equaled. The sympathy which a sound member of the body has with a suffering member, is a sympathy which makes that suffering its own. The net-work of nerve, so fine and universal, which extends from the censorium to the furthest extremity, indicates to the remotest member the existence of suffering in any one part of the body, and instantly awakens a responsive sympathy, which amounts, in fact, to a corresponding uneasiness and suffering. There may be said to be actual pain in one member when there is sympathy with positive pain in another. So should it be in the Church of God, which is "the body of Christ." In virtue of our individual membership, we are to make a brother's or a sister's affliction, sorrow, and infirmity as much ours as if it were our own. If one brother is wronged, wounded, slandered—or another is bereaved, afflicted, tried—or yet another is borne down by some heavy, clinging infirmity,—I am to make that brother's wound, that brother's affliction, that brother's infirmity my own. That blow is to be upon me as well as upon him, and that wound is to penetrate my heart as it penetrates his:—"That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it." (1 Cor. 12:25, 26.) "Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Such is the sympathy of our great and glorious Head. "In all their afflictions He was afflicted." And the trials, and sorrows, and infirmities which still adhere to His Church on earth, the Holy Spirit denominates the "afflictions of Christ." In behalf, then, of Christ's infirm and suffering body, we bespeak your patience, gentleness, and sympathy. Speak gently, or, rather, speak not at all, of a brother's failing; unveil not a sister's weakness to another eye. Act towards that infirm or erring one as though that infirmity and that error were your own. Imitate your Lord and Master. "For even Christ pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached you fell on Me." Guided by this principle, actuated by this spirit, and imitating this example, you will be gentle towards those who are "weak in the faith," will participate in "the infirmities of the weak," and, "if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual will restore such an one in the spirit of meekness considering yourself, lest you also be tempted." Do not think, beloved, that we are exacting too much from you in requiring that you should thus identify yourself with the Christian sufferer, and act as though that sufferer were yourself. Your common Christianity demands it, and your exemplification of the sympathy is one of the surest tests of your membership. And our identification with a brother's infirmity is nothing more than the practical recognition of our being "members one of another; "and nothing less was meant by the apostle when he enjoined on believers, that they should "remember those who were in bonds," not merely as pitying and commiserating, but as actually "bound with them." Lamb of God! mold us to Your truth, and make us like Yourself!
"Lord, leave us not to wander lonely
Through this dark world, unloved by Thee;
All other friends are helpless only,
Though full of love as friends may be.
Drear are the fondest homes around us,
Sad, like our hearts, when You are far;
When You have sought us, heard us, found us,
How sweet Your consolations are!
Hear us, cheer us,
Lord, and leave us not!
"Leave us not when pride and anger
In the heart would dare rebel;
Claim us in our utmost danger,
Calm us at the mouth of hell.
Leave us not until we inherit
Charity that works no ill,
And we hear Your gentle Spirit
Inwardly whisper—'Peace, be still!'
Hear us, cheer us,
Lord, and leave us not!
"Leave us not in days of trial;
Let us act at duty's call,
Though it lead to self-denial,
Though we have to give up all.
Raised on high, or humbled lowly,
Praised or scorned from land to land,
Bear us up, our Father holy,
Bear our burdens in Your hand.
Hear us, cheer us,
Lord, and leave us not!
"Leave us not when all has left us,
Health and vision, strength and voice;
When of friends death has bereft us,
Let us still in You rejoice:
Near us when in doubt, to guide us;
Near us when we faint, to cheer;
Near in battle's hour, to hide us;
Nearer ever, and more dear.
Hear us, cheer us,
Lord, and leave us not!
"Leave us not when foes come nigher,
Cheer us when the grave looks cold;
Lead us onward, upward, higher,
Forward to the gates of gold.
Leave us not when ailing, failing,
Sore depressed, and bending low;
Be Your love then most availing,
Then to aid us be not slow.
Hear us, cheer us,
Lord, and leave us not!
"Leave us not until You have brought us
To the holy, wealthy place,
There to see You who have bought us
Fought our fight, and won our race:
There to hear no more the shouting,
And the thunder of our foes;
Danger past, and past all doubting,
And the grave's austere repose.
Hear us, cheer us,
Lord, and leave us not!"