“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth those that fear Him” Psalm 103:13.
It is upon the friendly invitation of the Staff of Beacon Lights that I undertake to write a few thoughts on the subject of Christian sympathy-empathy. I am deeply grateful for this singular privilege to write a few thoughts for the hearts of the readers of this magazine. It is also, of course, a great responsibility which requires some painstaking searching of the Scriptures on this worthwhile subject. It touches the lives of all of us.
It is nearly the semi-centennial year of the publication of our little Young People’s publication. Think of it, people who are seventy years old now were the young people who began the publication of Beacon Lights. It was the tender mercies of God that made this possible and a reality. God raised up faithful and trustworthy men and women throughout these years. Great is and was God’s faithfulness in tender mercies, which are new each morning.
May our paper continue to be a “beacon light” on a candlestick, serving to let the light of the Scriptures shine as a light upon our path and a guide for our youthful, and not so youthful feet. Such is our earnest prayer.
The subject “sympathy” is indeed as interesting as it is important. It requires a bit of loving sympathy of Christ in our hearts even to discuss the subject in an inspiring and deifying manner. It is also true that one must have real Christian empathy in our hearts to understand that in this entire question, we must know how to fulfill the law of Christ. The Bible states this so very simply: bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
What comes to mind are the very solemn words uttered by Christ as recorded in Matthew 25:34ff, “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in…And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me….”
Here is a living expression of Christian empathy. Such was the keynote of the exhortation to Israel concerning their calling to befriend the “strangers” in their midst, as well as the fatherless and widows (Deut. 24:19, 20, 21). Israel had walked in the shoes of such strangers in the land of Egypt for 400 years! They could have sympathetic-empathy in their hearts for the needy and the helpless!
At the same time in Israel’s deliverance there is the Divine covenantal-sympathy of Jehovah for His people. We read in Exodus 3:7 loving, sympathetic words of Jehovah: “And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters: for I know their sorrows.”
Yes, He came to succor them. “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.”
These words, taken from Psalm 103:13 are deeply profound words of truth; they are filled with Divine mysteries of His sovereign love and tender compassion. Let me say this very reverently. There was deep pain in the heart of God to see His beloved children languish and suffer under the heel of cruel Pharaoh in relentlessly persecuting His beloved people, who are the apple of His eye! When He says “I know their sorrows” He tells Moses of the length and breadth, the height and depth of a love which is past all human understanding (Eph. 3:17ff).
What creature, be he angel, Seraphim and Cherubim, or men in all their contemplations, can fathom the ocean of God’s empathy? We shall see more of this when we study the great high priests, who is ours’ who is not such that he cannot be touched in his heart with the feelings of our frailties and infirmities (Heb. 4:15, 16).
So let us simply in childlike faith listen to God pouring out His heart to Israel in the prophetic promissory Scriptures. In Isaiah we hear God pouring forth in clear and unmistakable language, yea “in human tongue” his matchless concern for Israel, His church. We read in Isaiah 41: 13, 14: “For I the LORD thy God will hold (strengthen) thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. Fear not thou worm, Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.”
Here is condescending sympathy. Here is reassuring promise of mercies, which will redeem Israel from all her sins. Israel can now cast all her fears away. The great Redeemer has spoken. He will surely redeem Israel at the Cross of Calvary as he once brought Israel out of Egypt with His mighty arm. Hence, fear not thou worm, Jacob-Israel. I will come down from heaven at the appointed time. There I will be your Savior. I shall have Paul an erstwhile persecutor to write the faithful words in II Cor. 5:19-21: “…To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in God’s stead be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
Here is Divine condescending sympathetic love rooted in eternal justice of God. Mercy and truth kiss each other. God is for us a righteous God in all His tender love at Calvary. God made perfect His strength and power in our weakness there. Yes, He assures Jacob, who is but as a lowly worm, crawling in the dust, saying fear not!
We shall do well to ponder these words with believing hearts.
The entire world of unbelievers also speaks of the notion of “sympathy.” But they think not the thought of God, but the thoughts of man. Thus did Peter when he rebuked Jesus for speaking of the necessity that He would die for them in Jerusalem. The entire world yearns for sympathy, but it is mere human empathy which motivates them! God is not in all their thoughts. They are also in this regard walking in horrible darkness and sin; they do not know God in His sympathy, and do not have the faintest notion of the fathomless depths of God’s understanding of the objects of His sovereign love. This love makes for a divine empathy which there is none greater! We shall pursue these thoughts still a bit more in depth when we consider the great love, Jesus.
But the import of the great sympathetic love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, we will attempt to show from the Scriptures in our next installment in Beacon Lights. In the meanwhile I ask the thoughtful reader to reflect on such propositions as:
1. That the Biblical concept of the sympathetic-empathetic love is a most spiritual one. The natural man does not understand this great eternal loving attitude of God. He rather dreams and talks about a love of God apart from Christ, for all men, His is the notion of FATHERHOOD of God for all men, which is, of course, nothing but humanism.
2. That implied in God’s everlasting, unchangeable sympathy is the truth of God’s eternal election. God will never and has never cast away His people whom He foreknew (Rom. 11:2). Such was the assuring word of Samuel to Israel of old (I Sam. 12:20). And God Himself assures Elijah in Israel’s darkest hour of His elective faithfulness and pity for those who fear Him (I Kings 19:18; Rom. 11:4).
Till next time then.