The Compassion Of Jesus
( Originally Published 1895 )
"When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?"—John vi. 5.
DAVID says in one of his psalms that it was the gentleness of God that made him great. It is the compassion of Jesus that has charmed the heart of mankind. The multitude that had followed him into the desert were inspired by many and differing motives. Many of them were only curiosity seekers, running in the wake, then as now, of every new thing; some of them full of aches and pains and hoping to be cured; some longing for the Messiah, no doubt, and wondering if this were he. But all of them were weary and tired and ready to faint from the long fasting. Their suffering aroused in the heart of Jesus tender compassion and sympathy. For the Savior had sympathy not only for the worthy but for the unworthy as well. Many of our standards of sympathy and charity in these days are, I fear, only polished and refined heathenism. We are ready to sympathize with and give a helping hand to those who have been able to so retain their up-rightness of character that we count them worthy. Yet, after all, the unworthy are also our brothers and sisters; they, too, need our sympathy and compassion. If Jesus had not had compassion on us when we were unworthy, what hope would there have been of our salvation? As in David's case, was it not so in ours, that the gentleness and compassion of the Savior in our unworthiness was what changed us and made it possible for us to be saved? There is constant necessity that we shall put the emphasis on this characteristic of our Savior, and our own consequent duty as the representatives of Jesus Christ in the world. I think especially at this very time in the city of Brooklyn we need to be aroused to fellowship with Jesus Christ in compassion for those who are weary and discouraged and ready to faint.
I confess that I have hesitated about speaking the words that have been in my mind and heart in regard to the strife at present agitating the city because of the street-car strike. I have hesitated because it is so hard to speak without being misunderstood. And yet I dare not, as a Christian minister, keep silent at a time like this. Let me say that, of course, I have absolutely nothing but rebuke for riotous proceedings. There is no safety for rich or poor except in law and order in the community. That we must have. t is the sworn duty of the public officials to see that law is enforced and that protection is granted to the life and property of all the people.
Now, after having said that, I want very clearly to say that my sympathies as a Christian man and a Christian minister are most distinctly with the strikers. I do not think that they have been justly treated, and I believe that if Jesus Christ were here on earth, his sympathetic presence and loving counsel would be with these five thousand or more men and perhaps twenty thousand women and children whom they represent. I also believe that if the public officials whose duty it is to enforce the law, and who are now calling out the militia in order to do so, had been as careful to make the street-car companies obey the law, it is quite probable the strike would not have occurred. I have been unable to find it denied by any responsible parties that the schedules for trips were so arranged by the street-car officials that employees were compelled, in order to earn the scanty wages granted them, to break the law which requires the trolley cars not to run faster than ten miles an hour. Instead, they have been obliged to make fifteen or twenty miles an hour on a good part of their route. If they have refused to do this, they have been discharged. If they did do it, and accident resuited, they have also been discharged. They have been held in a grip equal to that old hard-shell theology by which men were damned if they did, and damned if they didn't. The result of this lawlessness on the part of the street-car companies has at least contributed to a hundred brutal murders and the maiming of hundreds of other unfortunate citizens. This state of facts cannot be overlooked when we are considering the position which Christian people ought to take in regard to the issue between the companies and their employees.
It does not appear to my mind that the management of the street-car companies have regarded their men from the standpoint of their humanity. They have dealt with them, seemingly, as they would with so many horses, or so many cars—to be had and used at the lowest price, and under such conditions as brought in money, without regard to the result upon the men. John Ruskin has never been regarded as a fanatic on social questions, and this is what he says about the duties of employers of labor: "Five great intellectual professions exist in every civilized nation. The soldier's profession is to defend it; the pastor's, to teach it; the physician's, to keep it in health; the lawyer's, to enforce justice in it; the merchant's, to provide for it. And the duty of all these men is, on due occasion, to die for it. On due occasion; that is, the soldier, rather than leave his post in battle; the physician, rather than leave his post in plague; the pastor, rather than teach falsehood; the lawyer, rather than countenance injustice. Supposing the captain of a frigate saw it right, or were by any chance obliged to place his own son in the position of a common sailor,—as he would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of the men under him. So, also, supposing the master and owner of a manufactory saw it right, or were by any chance obliged to place his own son in the position of an ordinary workmen,—as he would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of his men. And, as the captain of a ship is bound to be the last man to leave his vessel in case of wreck, and to share his last crust with the sailors in case of famine, so the manufacturer, in any commercial crisis or distress, is bound to take the suffering of it with his men, and even to take more of it for himself than he allows his men to feel,—as a father would, in a famine, ship-wreck, or battle, sacrifice himself for his son."
Does anybody believe that if such a spirit had been shown by the management in this case, this strike would ever have transpired?
The result, whatever it may be, will undoubtedly have this characteristic : that in these cold winter days and nights added hundreds and possibly thousands of people will be suffering for bread to eat, for raiment to put on, and for a sheltering roof over their heads. t is a time for Christian men and women to recall the attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ toward the poor and the suffering and the unfortunate; and to remember that if any-body was found of him who was blind, or deaf, or leprous, or in trouble of any kind, outcast or in disgrace, they were the very ones to whom he gave his thought and attention, about whom he was anxious and solicitous, with whom he was patient and long-suffering. My dear friends, it is a time for Brooklyn Christianity to be like that of Jesus. t is a time to share with the poor and the destitute. It is a time to divide your loaf and comfort with those who need bread and coal. It is a time to stand against oppression of the poor and to give your sympathy and your counsel to those who are scattered abroad like sheep without a shepherd and are ready to faint by the wayside. It is a time for us to study deeply and try to find out what the Master would do if he were here; and having found that, raise no more questions, but proceed to do it. It is a time when your prayers need to be punctuated by sympathetic actions and loving deeds of brotherly fellowship.
Alas! that there should be such great gulfs between the conditions of our Heavenly Father's children. If we could only put ourselves in our brother's place what a different city we could make of it !
Mrs. BalIington Booth tells the story of a little child, a boy scarcely more than four or five years old, who was found by the Slum Sisters of the Salvation Army in New York city. His parents had drifted away, they knew not where. When found, this little fellow was crouched in the corner of a hallway, one cold night in March. He was but half-clad and was numbed with exposure to the cold. Taken into the barracks, the waif was washed and dressed in clean clothes, warmed and fed. He was delighted with the attention that he received, and particularly with his garments; so- much so that when one of the Sisters attempted to undress him for bed, he cried, under the belief that he was about to be permanently deprived of his new apparel. This was very apparent when the Sister attempted to teach him the words of the simple prayer, " Now I lay me down to sleep."
Kneeling, beside him at the bedside, the Sister said : "Say these words after me : `Now I lay me down to sleep.' "
Peeping between his fingers, the little fellow lisped, "Now I lay me down to sleep."
" I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep," continued the Sister.
"I pray thee, Lord, my clothes to keep," whispered the boy.
"No, not `clothes to keep,'—`soul to keep,' " corrected the Sister.
"Soul to keep," said the boy.
"Now say it from the beginning," urged the young woman ; "'Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep.' "
But the poor little fellow was too intent upon his treasures. " Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord, my clothes to keep," came from the little cot, making the same mistake as before.
" No, no; that is not right," spoke the painstaking Sister. "You should pray God to care for your soul, not your clothes. I'll take care of_ those."
" And won't you pawn them," replied the lad, to the astonishment of the Sister; "and buy rum with them? That is what they always did at home when I had new clothes."
Poor little fellow ! He had never had anything nice in his life that it had not been a precursor of disappointment and sorrow. Beaten about from pillar to post by drunken parents, starved and impoverished in every way, how little chance he had to have any proper conception of God's care and love ! How it ought to shame every Christian that we permit city governments to go on protecting this humanity-destroying liquor traffic in its lawlessness, and protecting greedy, law-defying corporations in their lawlessness, while poor, defenseless women and children pay the penalty in sorrow and tears.
But the Lord Jesus has not only compassion for the body—he had compassion also for the soul; not only bread for man's physical need, but bread for his spiritual need. The world has no satisfying food for the soul. It has many things that may interest the intellect, that may give pleasure for a while to the nerves of sensation; but if there be no bread from heaven, the soul is unfed and slowly starved to death.
There is an interesting story which comes to us from the early exploration of Australia. In the central deserts of that island, there grows a strange plant called the nardoo, bearing leaves like clover. The early English travelers, Burke and Wills, while prosecuting their explorations into the heart of this immense region, followed the example of the natives when their food gave out, and began to eat the roots and leaves of this plant. It seemed to satisfy them; it filled them at first with a sense of comfort and repletion. But, nevertheless, they grew weaker and more emaciated every day.
They were not hungry, for the plant seemed to satisfy their cravings for food; yet all the effects of an unfilled hunger began to appear in them—their flesh wasted from their bones, their strength disappeared until they scarcely had the energy of an infant; they could not crawl on their journey more than a mile or two a day. At last one of them perished of starvation and the other was rescued in the last extremity. On analysis, it was discovered that the bread made of this plant lacked an element essential to the sustenance of a European; and so, even though they seemed fed, they were not nourished, and were constantly starving.
What a striking illustration this is of the fatal results that come from trying to feed one's spiritual nature on material things ! Neither riches, nor fame, nor pleasure, nor any other earthly food, can give peace to the conscience nor rest to the aspiring soul. Only sympathy and forgiveness and communion which come from loving fellowship with Christ can properly nourish our spiritual nature, sustain us and prepare us to fulfil the high destiny to which God is calling us.
How tender is the compassion of Jesus to the poor sinner ! I read this morning for our Scripture lesson that wonderful story of the woman who came into the house of Simon when Jesus was at dinner, risking everything that she might-show her love for Christ. What a picture it is! You see the woman there, down on the floor, sobbing and weeping at the feet of the Lord Jesus. Simon is indignant. No doubt all the guests are indignant and astonished. But Jesus—who has been looking down in great tenderness and compassion on this poor woman, and saying to her in words that are sweeter than the honey from the honey-comb to her poor wounded heart, " Thy sins are forgiven thee"—looks around at Simon and says, " Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which o them will love him most?" Poor Simon ! He was in a hard box then. He no doubt saw the drift of the conversation, but he was compelled to answer, " I suppose that one to whom he forgave most." And Jesus replies in a way that must have filled this poor woman's heart with much comfort, " Thou hast rightly judged." Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, " Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gayest me no water for my feet : but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gayest me no kiss : but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint but this woman bath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins are for-given; for she loved much."
O brother, sister, if you will come to him in penitence and faith, you will find that he is still the same loving and compassionate Savior.
The stories of marvelous conversions told in the Bible' are no greater illustrations of Christ's tender compassion and willingness to save than are constantly occurring now. When Mr. B. Fay Mills was holding revival meetings in the city of Cleveland, this incident occurred :
There lived in a neighboring State a lawyer of distinguished ability. He had always been es-teemed a man of sterling worth, supposed to be honorable, and strictly moral. He had been, however, a disbeliever and an infidel of the Ingersoll type. The last five years had been a time of unusual anxiety to this man because of a suit in which he had been engaged involving the ownership of a tract of land worth about fifty thousand dollars. The suit had been tried several times, and had now been carried up to the Supreme Court of the State. The lawyer had invariably won his case—but by fraud. The principal witness on the winning side had been a man whose testimony had been bought for the price of two thousand dollars. Of this, seven hundred dollars was paid down before the last trial of the case; but, smitten by remorse, this miserable perjurer, when he had spent two hundred dollars of his price, brought back five hundred dollars to the lawyer and—gambler though he was—declared that he would not and could not use it. Shortly after this he died. Undeterred by this event, the lawyer made his plans for the further prosecution of the suit, the successful conclusion of which was to bring him the snug fee of twelve thousand dollars, already secured by mortgages on valuable property.
On a matter of business he came to Cleveland, and one Sunday was registered in a prominent hotel. Observing the general interest in the meetings going on at Music Hall, and purely from curiosity, he decided to go there. Sunday evening found him in the immense audience, listening to Mr. Mills as he preached from the text: "And we came to Kadesh-Barnea." As the preacher proceeded, describing in simple but impressive language the magnitude of the crisis to which the children of Israel had come, with the land of promise before them, to enter if they would, and with years of wandering in the wilderness as the retribution for their stubborn faithlessness, the sharp, irresistible conviction was borne upon this man's soul that his Kadesh-Barnea, the unlooked-for but inevitable and awful crisis of his life, was confronting him. All the sophistries of his disbelief shriveled away in the strong light of truth. He saw what was involved in the forsaking of his sins—the utter sweeping away of false reputation and stolen wealth, with perhaps heavy punishment for his crimes.
All night long he faced the crisis. He went to the, meeting at noon on Monday, irresistibly drawn to hear what might be said there. Among the company at the noon meeting was Mr. E. F. Mattison, a man well known in Cleveland business circles. This Christian man, as the company was dispersing, saw the haggard face of this stranger tarrying behind, and went to him. A few words revealed the spiritual emergency, and for an hour the two talked and prayed, the agony for the man's soul breaking forth in earnest entreaty. Rising from his knees, the man confided to his new-found friend the whole sad story of his misdeed, and his awful dread lest he had sinned beyond redemption. He was bidden to make a complete confession and full restitution, though it might leave him penniless. The mercy and compassion of the Lord Jesus was explained to him, and he was encouraged to believe that even he might be saved.
At the close of the afternoon service, several clergymen and a prominent lawyer were called into consultation. Long and earnest was the talk, and fervent the prayer; and, before it ended, light came to the penitent man, and the glad consciousness of Divine forgiveness.
This man was at the evening service. The light of pardon was in his steady eyes, and his voice was clear and firm as he declared his full, glad assurance of God's favor, and his purpose to go straight home and give up all he had to undo the evil he had done. Tuesday morning found him on his way with clear purpose to meet the utmost consequence of his guilt. "My wife will be so happy," he said. " She is a Christian woman, and, how-ever poor we may be, we shall be glad."
That is a chapter from the acts of the modern apostles of the nineteenth century. And I claim that it, and many other chapters which I could give you out of my own personal observation and experience, are as wonderful as anything that is recorded in the New Testament. I preach to you this tender, compassionate Savior. He is waiting to be as gracious to you as he ever has been to any repenting, believing soul, in the history of the race.