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SYMPATHY A NOTE OF THE CHURCH.
ISAIAH lxi. 1.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”
THE Person of our blessed Lord is a type of the mystical personality of His Church. The notes by which He was manifested to the world as the true Messiah are the notes by which also His Church is manifested to the world as the true Church. Among many false Christs, there is but one true: He came first, and they arose after Him. Among many, there was none holy but He alone; none but He was the Saviour of all. “There is” but “one God, and one Mediator between God and man.” He only is the “Holy One of God.” He only is “the Saviour of all men,” “the Lamb of 201God, that taketh away the sin of the world.” He is the one holy, universal Saviour of mankind, from whom His Church also derives the gifts and properties which are called signs or notes. The prophet Isaiah here gives another note, which indeed is not another, but a development of the same, by which the true Messiah should be known. He was to be the true Healer and Comforter of all, bringing good tidings of good, binding up broken hearts, loosing prisoners out of bondage, comforting mourners, sympathising with all, drawing all that are afflicted to Himself, by the consciousness of their own miseries, and by the attractions of His compassion. And this He did by His own divine love, by His perfect human sympathy, by His own mysterious experience as the Man of Sorrows. This was a note of the true Messiah which none could imitate. They might shew . signs and wonders, and utter words of wisdom and moving persuasions; make a great shew of holiness and pity for man kind, and draw away many after them; but the reality was wanting: the meek and the broken hearted, the prisoner, the bondsman, and the mourner, had in them something too deep, vivid, and piercing, to find rest until the one only and true Messiah should appear.
Now it is to this that we find our Lord Himself appealing in proof of His divine commission. Immediately 202after He had been manifested by the descent of the Holy Ghost in His baptism, and had been tempted of the devil in the wilderness, we read that He “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of Him through all the region round about. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath-day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, be cause He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And He closed the book, and He gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on Him. And He began to say unto them, This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.”108108 St. Luke iv. 14-22.203
And soon after we read: “Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them, and healed them. And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And He rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that He was Christ.”109109 St. Luke iv. 40, 41.
Again: “And He came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of His disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear Him, and to be healed of their diseases; and they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him: for there went virtue out of Him, and healed them all. And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.”110110 St. Luke vi. 17-20.
Again we read: “John, calling unto him two of his disciples, sent them to Jesus, saying, Art Thou He that should come? or look we for an other? When the men were come unto Him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto Thee, saying, Art Thou He that should come? or look we for another? And in the same hour He cured many 204of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind He gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the Gospel is preached.”111111 St. Luke vii. 19-22.
Such was the whole life of our blessed Lord. He was at all times encompassed by the multitude of sick and poor, widowed and desolate, mourners and penitents; all day long “there were many coming and going;” and He and His disciples had at times no leisure “so much as to eat.”112112 St. Mark vi. 31. They came “from all cities and villages,” and “from all the country round about,”—Jews, Samaritans, Syro-Phomicians, Greeks, and Gentiles; some to hear His words, some to touch the hem of His garment, some to ask Him to “speak the word only,” that they might be made whole. He was the one only and all-sufficient Healer and Consoler of the sorrows of all flesh. And He drew to Him all that mourned in sins, in sicknesses, in desolation of heart. They clung to Him as their true and only Rest. In Him they found the answer to all their perplexities, to all their troubles of heart; He was the true solace of all their anguish. His words, His touch, His very looks of pity, soothed and healed 205their woes in body and in spirit. He was “a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones” was “as a storm against the wall.” The prophecy was fulfilled in Him: “A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”113113 Isaiah xxv. 4; xxxii. 2.
Such was His character and ministry; and such is the character and ministry of His mystical body, which is the Church. The anointing which was upon Him flowed down from the Head to the members. It consecrated apostles, prophets, martyrs, and saints: they were like Him, and prolonged His ministry on earth not so much by imitation as by union and incorporation with Him—by actual participation of the spirit, sympathy, and mind of Jesus Christ. So we find after His ascension. The Holy Ghost came upon them in the day of Pentecost, and thenceforward they opened their work of compassion and of spiritual mercy by works of healing and by words of consolation. It was indeed the dispensation of the Comforter: the Church was the almoner of the poor, the physician of souls, the solace of the afflicted; it spoke peace, forgiveness, ransom, purity, gladness of heart, to all. 206And after the descent of the Spirit, the Church passed into that truest discipline of sympathy, the experience of sorrow. It was led, as it were, into the wilderness. In all the world it was tempted of the devil; by allurements and by afflictions he fought against it, making it thereby, and against his intent, to be partaker of the sufferings of Christ. Christians were sons of consolation, because they were men of sorrows; they inherited the title and the office of their Lord; they were called to “fill up that which was behind of the afflictions of Christ in the flesh, for His body’s sake, which is the Church.”114114 Col. i. 24. It was this that gave to the apostolical ministry such a divine and persuasive power. All the world answered to its voice, because in all the earth there were the same afflictions, and in the Church the same power to heal. From the time of the humiliation of the Son of God, sorrow, suffering, and pain became sacred and holy. To the poor was given the first place in Christ’s earthly kingdom: widows, orphans, and mourners were so many distinct orders, whom the Church nourished and consoled; little children were among its chiefest cares. The infirmities of human nature, old age and sickness, were more sacred still, and were tended with a greater love; for besides natural compassion in its most perfect form, the body of 207Christ was quickened by His divine sympathy. By the anointing of the Holy Ghost, charity and tenderness were shed abroad in the hearts of His disciples; and, above all, they knew that, in ministering consolation to sorrow and suffering, they were ministering to Him who in our nature had made suffering and sorrow peculiarly His own. “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me.” This is the true secret of the wonderful fact, that hospitals for the sick, poor, aged, and strangers, homes for the outcast and desolate, are peculiar to the Church of Christ. Heathenism had none. The cold and stately cities of the heathen world had no hospitals or houses of mercy. The very name of hospital was not in their language, because the grace of charity was not in their nature. Neither had they spiritual consolations, because the very idea of repentance and contrition was unknown. It was by the mystery of the Incarnation, and the coming of the Holy Ghost, by the regeneration of the faithful, by the knitting together of the members of Christ’s mystical body, that the ministries of repentance and consolation were opened to mankind. The whole visible system of hospitals, asylums, almshouses, and the like, are the expression and means of fulfilling the ends of mercy for which the Messiah was anointed by the Spirit of the Lord. 208It is His commission which was opened in the synagogue at Nazareth, extended throughout the earth, and prolonged unto this day. This is the peculiar note and office of the Catholic Church. It was not the work of civil powers, nor could be. Christian states have borrowed the principle, and reproduced cold and remote imitations of catholic charity; but the true test is, to look at political governments before Christ came into the world. Take Athens and Rome, the greatest and most vaunted polities the world ever saw as detached from Christianity. What did they for the alleviation of human sorrows in body or in spirit? Refinement, and civilisation, and warlike greatness, and high-sounding patriotism, and subtil philosophy, what did all these for the poor and miser able? Sorry comforters are the men of this world at their best estate. It may be very unpalatable and offensive to statesmen and politicians to be told, that they can do little or nothing more than borrow grace and wisdom of the Church they despise and patronise. Yet so it is. Kingdoms and states can retain the semblance and organisation of charity only so long as the Church quickens the mass of a people and the frame of government with its life. As that declines or withdraws itself, the distributions of state-charity dry up, and we hear of famishing poor and spiritual destitution. 209So also with Christian sects. Whatsoever of charity they have among them is borrowed of the Church, and belongs to it. Their institutions, few and scanty as they are, do but copy and imitate the ministries of manifold charity through which the mystical body of Christ consoles meek, bro ken-hearted, and mourning spirits. And imitations as they are, they are short-lived—they die out. It has ever been an axiom in the Church, “The branch cut off withers, the stream cut off dries up.” At the outset, sects are always distinguished by a great profession of sympathy with the spiritual and bodily sufferings of mankind. They found themselves on the alleged neglect or inability of the Church to minister to the contrite and afflicted. Their strength lies in their popularity, in a moving affectionateness and forward profession of disinterested solicitude, and in stealing away the hearts of the people. As Absalom said, “Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice! And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took him, and kissed him.”115115 2 Samuel xv. 4, 5. But this lasts only for a time. The first zeal dies when the point is gained; labour and care grow slack, and self-210denying charity cold and scant; the system relaxes, and shews inherent weakness; makes many attempts to rally, and for a time seems to succeed; but is always going down, losing its hold on men’s hearts, and with its hold losing its power of unity and control. At last men forsake it, be cause the deep yearnings of their hearts meet no sympathy; there is nothing to stay their souls on. They are stirred, excited, and vexed by its soli citations and upbraidings, its high-sounding words and cold affections; and in the end they are repelled by its antipathies, and fall into irreligion, or are drawn away by strong vital attractions of fervent charity in the Church. So end all schisms; sooner or later they cease to be. Howsoever long they may simulate the notes of the Church, adopt its language, and affect its charity, they sink by mere exhaustion at last. “Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.”116116 St. Matt. xv. 13.
1. What has been said will shew us the benefit of affliction to the Church. It is most certain that it was never so like to its Divine Head as when it suffered for His name’s sake. It was never so full of the Holy Ghost, of humiliation, penitence, love, compassion, and unity, as in the ages of persecution. It cost too much in those 211days to be a member of the Catholic Church for any to venture upon it but such as were willing to “lose their life for Christ’s sake and the gospel,” that they might “find it unto life eternal.” They were knit together in a community of truth and spirit, of sufferings and sorrows; and the true sympathy of the members of one body ran through out the whole. But when the tide began to turn, and the world to shine upon the Church, it was an easy and cheap thing to be a Christian; and it grew to be a custom and a fashion, and multitudes of cold, worldly, unsympathising men mingled themselves in the Church, and lowered its tone. As it has grown prosperous, it has left off to sympathise with the same vivid compassion for the sufferings of humanity. And yet through all ages of the Church there has been a succession of saints dead to the world, likened to Christ, bearing the tokens of the Cross, disciplined in sorrow, full of living sympathy with the sufferings of the poor and penitent. Individual characters indeed have come out with an energy and intensity like apostles and martyrs. Sometimes they have kindled and, for a while, have stirred whole churches to the same fervent charity. But the secret of their perfection was still the same, that they were partakers of their Master’s cross, and that by sorrow they were endowed with the gift of compassion and of 212love. The grace of their regeneration had been developed by the things that they had suffered. Outward crosses helped their inward mortification, and wrought for their perfection. They were endowed with a large measure of that anointing whereby their Lord was consecrated to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, and to comfort them that mourn. It is most certain that the Church has never been less in sympathy with the inner world of spiritual sorrow than when it has been outwardly prosperous. And from this we may derive a great consolation. Whatsoever adversity be upon us, it is manifestly a token not only of God’s love, but of God’s purpose to make us fitter for His work of mercy to the world. Just as these latter days set in upon us, and the first days seem to return in the last, just so may we all the more believe that He is calling His Church from earthly greatness, civil power, visible offices of counsel and authority in states and kingdoms, to its original separation from the world, to a life of unity, and to higher spiritual gifts.
Surely we may say of the Church what St. Paul says of individuals. If it be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then must it be of a doubtful legitimacy, and its commission to witness for God in the world of no certain war rant. There is something to fear in the sight of a 213Church easy, peaceful, prosperous, well furnished with goods, confident of its own purity and of its own right judgment in all things. There is fear that it is, or will become, unsympathising, self-regarding, delicate, unhumbled; that it will one day hear from the mouth out of which goeth the sharp two-edged sword: “Thou sayest, I am rich, and in creased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”117117 Rev. iii. 17-19. And this shews us how needless are our popular alarms. Many good men, when they see the outward system of the Church threatened, think the Church is in danger. Ought we not rather to say, that then it is safe—safe from surfeit and self-trusting, from hollowness and unreality; safe from false confidence, high thoughts of itself, and from the pride which goeth before a fall? Nay, even those greater chastisements and dangers—the persevering attempts of sectarian bodies to alienate the hearts of its people, and the 214loss of many of its members by estrangement and perversion—even in these too there is safety. They are rebukes of love to deepen the interior life of the Church, to quicken a sense of compunction, to work in it the grace of humiliation, to raise the tone of its sympathy and the wisdom of its spiritual guides, to mature within it the gift of meekness, contrition, and spiritual mourning, and thereby to bring out into energy and act the great note of consolation and compassion which revealed the true Messiah at His coming.
2. Another thing we may learn from what has been said is, the design of God in afflicting the several members of the Church. It is to make them partakers of this true note of Christ’s mystical body. We are all by nature hard and unsympathising. By our regeneration we learn to see the great truth of Christian compassion: we receive the grace through which we may be perfected in love to the members of Christ: but it lies dormant in us, until by the visitations of His hand it is unfolded into contrition and spiritual sorrow. It is God’s deepest way of teaching: and what we learn by affliction is our truest learning. We are thereby brought to know things by tasting their reality. The mystery of sin in us, of which we are so unconscious, becomes a vivid sense of personal unworthiness, and a source of 215deep humiliation and sorrow of heart. And these things make men strangely gentle and tender to others, full of pity and a softer tone. As they are taught to be themselves meek and contrite, so they learn also the exceeding fulness of the consolation which is in God; and that secret of consolation is shewn to them not for their own sakes alone, but for the sake of others. They are thereby constituted messengers of consolation, channels of the sympathy of Christ. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”118118 2 Cor. i. 3-6. It is God’s way of dealing with us, to make those by whom He will comfort others, first to go themselves through the darkness and realities of the world of sorrow. Buoyancy, high spirits, untamed vigour, great 216health of body, inexperience of the changes of life, make even the most amiable of men unapt to console the suffering and sorrowful. They cannot enter into the depth and reality of their trials. They are out of place in sick-rooms. Houses of mourning are not their natural home. With the kindest intentions and most sincere desire to minister comfort, they do not know what to say, or how to address themselves to the offices of consolation. There is an admonition in the fact, that our blessed Lord was tempted before He began His ministry. It was the discipline, if we may so speak, of His perfect sympathy. So is it with His servants. And this goes far to explain the trials which fall chiefly on the most favoured of His members; on those that partake His office of love; on those who minister to His mystical body.
Therefore, whatsoever trial comes upon us, let us not shrink from it, nor lose any part of the full lesson of humiliation which it is sent to teach. Let us fully give ourselves to it, to suffer all it has to lay on us. There are, it may be, deeper things to be known of our own sinfulness than we can know without the teaching of some special chastisements. By them we learn to be severe to none but to ourselves; to be gentle to the sins of others, as He that breaks not the bruised reed, while we are unsparing to our own. It is by the knowledge that 217we are frail, and that we dwell on the very brink of great falls, if the grace of God should be for a moment withdrawn; by this we learn to pity them that are fallen, “to heal the broken-hearted,” “to set at liberty them that are bruised.” If He should deal with us as we deal with each other, who should stand in His sight? What unfair constructions, what hard views of the falls and failings, what hasty censures and unmerciful interpretations of other men do we indulge in! If we were true penitents; if we had learned the great lesson of humiliation; if we knew how to say with St. Paul, “For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should here after believe on Him to life everlasting;”119119 1 Tim. i. 16.then we should learn to be gentle in eye, hand, and heart, towards the sins and humiliations of our brethren. For this reason He sometimes lets us fall, to break our harsh, unsympathising nature, and puts on us a yoke of secret shame, which makes us for ever to look with tenderness and compunction on the sins of others.
So likewise in the sorrows of sickness or bereavement. None know the unspeakable depth of such wounds but they who have endured them. It is all in vain to try to imagine their keen and 218penetrating anguish; how they make the whole soul faint, and the whole heart sick. Sorrow is a season of peculiar temptations; and there are very few who do not yield to waywardness, selfishness, or irritation, when the affliction is upon them. How deeply do they resent the want of vivid sympathy in others! What thoughts and feelings of unkindness find their way into wounded hearts, and make all their wounds tenfold more piercing!
If we truly knew what sorrow is, we should count it a high calling to be allowed to minister the least word of consolation to the afflicted. Therefore if we be called to suffer, let us under stand it to be a call to a ministry of healing. God is setting us apart to a sort of pastoral office, to the care of the sick of His flock. There is a hidden ministry which works in perfect harmony with the orders of His Church; a ministry of secret comfort, diffusing itself by the power of sympathy and prayer. Within His visible Church are many companies of sorrow, many that weep alone, a fellowship of secret mourners; and to them the contrite and humbled are perpetually ministering, shed ding peace, often unawares. Things that they have learned in seasons of affliction, long-pondered thoughts, realities learned by suffering, perceptions of God’s love and presence,—all these are put in trust with them for the consolation of His 219elect. They know not oftentimes to whom they speak. Perhaps they have never seen them, nor ever shall. Unknown to each other, they are knit in bonds higher than all ties of blood; they are joined and constituted in that higher unity which is the order of Christ’s kingdom. When all the relations of this lower life shall be dissolved, the bonds of their heavenly kindred shall be revealed. Mourners and comforters shall meet at last in the holy city. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”120120 Rev. xxi. 4.
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