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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Sympathy —The subject of sympathy, considered in its relation to Jesus Christ, is so large as to be almost co-extensive with His whole life and work. The Incarnation and the Atonement, whatever be the exact theological meaning of the two words, are undoubtedly exhibitions of the intense sympathy which resulted not only in the human ministry of Christ, but in the redemption of the world. It is therefore impossible here to treat fully of the sympathy of Christ in its broader aspect. The scope of the present article will be limited to the consideration how far the sympathy of Christ which made the redemption of the world possible was manifested in His dealings as the Son of Man with His fellow-men.

1. The miracles as expressive of sympathy

(a) Miracles of healing .—The miracles of healing are truer expressions of the sympathy of Christ to us to-day than they were in the earlier days when miracles were regarded more as a proof of His Divinity than an incident connected, with it. The tendency of Biblical critics of late years has been to modify very considerably the scepticism of a generation ago. Especially in reference to cures of disorders of a nervous character, men of science have no hesitation in admitting the power of such a Personality as that of Jesus Christ in dealing with these complaints. Yet this way of regarding the miracles adds greatly to the significance they possess as expressive of human sympathy. The power to perform such acts of healing presupposes a combination of the tenderest sympathy with commanding authority, and it is interesting to consider that some, at least, of these miracles are instances of sympathy according to its etymological meaning (σύν, παθεῖν), and that Christ Himself shared the suffering in the act of relieving it. This idea is suggested by His remark with regard to the healing of certain demoniacs ( Mark 9:29), that the performance of the miracle must be preceded by prayer, and is illustrated in the healing of the woman with the issue of blood ( Mark 5:30), when Christ perceived ‘that virtue had gone out of him.’ According to this view, the healing ministry is not to be regarded as a proof of His Divinity so much as an outcome of it; and in this context it is especially important to notice that He never appears as a mere worker of marvels, but in a larger and grander way as the friend of sufferers, relieving their physical suffering, no less than their sorrows and their sins, by human sympathy.

(b) Nature miracles .—The sympathy of Christ, as revealed in His miracles, was not confined to the relief of physical sufferings occasioned by disease. The feeding of the 5000 ( Mark 6:35 etc.) shows sympathy for the ordinary needs of the body; the raising of Jairus’ daughter, of the widow’s son at Nain, and of Lazarus at Bethany, illustrates His sympathetic interest in family life with all its joys and sorrows. The stilling of the storm ( Mark 4:37) shows His willingness to allay the fears of His disciples in the time of personal danger. Standing in a class by itself among the miracles is the turning of the water into wine (John 2), and yet this is an act of especial interest as revealing an aspect of the sympathy of Christ which must be borne in mind. It reminds us that His sympathy extended to a wider range than the mere relief of distress. He who watched the games of the children in the market-place, as they played at weddings and funerals ( Matthew 11:17,  Luke 7:32), and used their games as illustrations in His discourses, entered no less readily into the social pleasures of their elders. The sympathy of Christ was broad enough to cause Him to desire actively to promote social happiness, and to supply not merely the necessaries of life, but the means of enjoying its luxuries.

2. Christ’s teaching as expressive of sympathy. —What Christ showed by His own deeds and actions to be the rightful attitude in dealing with others, He also enunciated clearly in His teaching, which may be regarded as the ethical counterpart of His sympathy. The central feature of Christ’s teaching dealt with the ‘Kingdom of God,’ and the subjects and members of this Kingdom in their relation to one another no less than in their relation to God. The Sermon on the Mount is full of His teaching on this subject. The ‘Reign of God’ would witness the transmission of the Divine love and sympathy into the various subjects of the Kingdom. The clearest enunciation of the principle is in His ‘Golden Rule,’ which bids us place ourselves in the position of others in order that we may be guided as to the effect of our actions upon them ( Matthew 7:12). Combined with this are His various injunctions to be merciful ( Matthew 5:7,  Luke 6:36), forgiving ( Matthew 6:14,  Luke 17:3), pitiful ( Matthew 18:33), and to show these qualities to enemies as well as to friends ( Matthew 5:44). In all these cases the Divine example is adduced as the chief motive. God makes His rain to fall on the evil and on the good, on the just and on the unjust; and His children must be ready to follow His example, to reconcile an offended brother, and to forgive an enemy. The teaching is further illustrated in several of the parables. The unmerciful servant ( Matthew 18:23-35) forfeited his claim on God’s mercy. Every act of love and kindliness would be revealed in the final separation on the Judgment Day as done to Himself ( Matthew 25:31-46). The parable of the Good Samaritan ( Luke 10:30) taught the universal brotherhood of man, apart from the artificial distinctions of creed and country; that of the Prodigal Son ( Luke 15:20) shows the Great [Note: reat Cranmer’s ‘Great’ Bible 1539.] Father as bestowing the same mercy and forbearance as He would have us display. The parable of Dives and Lazarus ( Luke 16:19-31), again, inculcates the duty of mercy, while that of the Pharisee and the Publican ( Luke 18:9) was directed against certain who ‘despised others.’ Such teaching as this is thoroughly in keeping with the life of One whose chief occupation was to go about doing good, and who on the cross prayed for His murderers.

3. Christ’s relation to others as expressive of sympathy

( a ) Christ’s relation to sinners .—By His friendly attitude towards ‘publicans and sinners’ He gave a practical expression of His doctrine of mankind, and of the power of human sympathy to reclaim. The great social gathering of outcasts in Capernaum ( Mark 2:15-17), brought together by Levi or Matthew, was a concrete statement of the great truth that a man at his. worst is still a man, and a bearer of the Divine image, however that image may have been defaced by faults of character and actual sin. It was this attitude towards the individual—an attitude so different from the conventional attitude of the religious world of the day—that gave Him power over such a soul as Mary Magdalene. Two classical instances of this power may be quoted, and both from St. Luke’s Gospel. One is the feast in the house of Simon the Pharisee ( Luke 7:36 ff.). The contrast is pointed between the self-righteous host and the sinful woman who loved much because she had been forgiven much. Christ had come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance, and so His work lay with the publican, with the harlot, and the poor. The other instance is that of Zacchaeus ( Luke 19:1-10). The reclaiming of Zacchaeus is an illustration of the fact that a man will tend to assimilate his character to the opinions which others entertain of him. Zacchaeus was an outcast only so long as he was treated as an outcast. Jesus reclaimed him not by condoling with his trials, not by talking to him about his soul or by preaching to him about his sins, but simply by treating him as a friend and an equal. His simple words, ‘I will abide at thy house,’ seemed to identify Him with the publican, and to acknowledge a brother.

( b ) Christ’s relation to various people .—His sympathy was not confined to publicans and sinners. He was sorry for the young man whose riches stood between him and life. He could deal with the unbelief of Thomas and the fall of Peter. His heart went out particularly to those who were in any spiritual need, and the conversation with the woman of Samaria shows how the ‘doctrine of mankind’ rose superior to the superficial cleavages of race, descent, occupation, or even character, and pronounced them all of small account in comparison with that which is common to all humanity—a soul. Indeed, as His whole mission was one of self-sacrifice and compassion for the race, it is fitting that the rare instances recorded of His weeping should be for the sorrows of others—at the grave of Lazarus—and for the sufferings of Jerusalem, rather than in the Garden of Gethsemane or for His own sufferings; and that in His death-pangs His thoughts should be on the daughters of Jerusalem, on His mother, on the dying robber, and on His murderers, rather than on Himself. It is left to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews ( Hebrews 4:15 f.) to state plainly the continuing nature of the Divine compassion of the Son of Man: ‘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,’ etc.

4. Characteristics of Christ’s sympathy

( a ) It was universal .—It was not evoked by any one need, but by every need of which the human nature is capable. He could rejoice with them that did rejoice, and weep with them that wept. His presence at festivities of various kinds caused the Pharisees to bestow on Him the title of ‘glutton and wine-bibber.’ He appears at other times as the patron of family life, sharing alike in its joys and sorrows. Yet amid all this there stands out conspicuously the claim of the outcast, which He expressed Himself by saying that ‘the Son of Man was come to seek and to save that which was lost’ ( Luke 19:10). The call of pain, whether bodily, mental, or spiritual, was especially strong.

( b ) It was individual .—There is a vague way of speaking of the work of Christ in the Atonement which does not realize the tender, affectionate, and personal love by which that constant reconciliation is effected. The sympathy of Christ was not merely love of men in masses. He loved the masses, but He loved them because they were made up of individuals. ‘He calleth his own sheep by name’ ( John 10:3). Christ held the master-key to the being of each one. In the Garden He uttered the one word ‘Mary’ ( John 20:16). Many had called her by that name before, but none with the same revealing and interpreting inflexion. It is true that ‘he had compassion on the multitude,’ but He had also discriminating, special tenderness for erring Peter and Thomas. He felt for the despised and lonely Zacchaeus in the sycomore tree. He had compassion on the discomfort of His disciples. He added His tears to those of others by the grave of Lazarus. He called the abashed children to His side. He detected the individual touch of faith: ‘Master, the multitude throngs thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?… Someone hath touched me’ ( Luke 8:45 f.).

( c ) It was loving and judicious .—Sympathy is not always welcomed by those on whom it is bestowed. When it savours of superiority, it is. resented more than scorn. Yet this was never the case with Christ’s sympathy. ‘He knew what was in man’ ( John 2:25), and was capable of sympathizing in the full meaning of the word,—of entering into the state of the individual for the time being, and of identifying Himself with it. An interesting question arises on account of the persistent mention of the need for faith on the part of the recipient of His acts of compassion, and it has been asked whether mutual sympathy was the medium of the miraculous cures. Suffice it to say here that the sympathy of Christ was so tactful and so judicious as to inspire confidence, and with it the faith that was needful on the part of the sufferer to co-operate in the work of relief.

( d ) It was practical .—Christ did not openly sympathize with the sinner as such on account of the supposed beauty inherent in the sinner’s nature, as has been suggested by a recent writer of the aesthetic school (Oscar Wilde, de profundis , pp. 113–116). He sympathized only with the sinner in whom the germ, at any rate, of repentance was present. Compassion would have been wasted upon the Pharisees; stern treatment was necessary there. They were in the position of a man who suffers from a hidden disease, and must have it revealed to himself before he will co-operate in effecting a cure. Divine sympathy is a remedy which can operate only when the wound is open.

( e ) It was free from mere sentiment .—The sympathy of Christ has nothing in common with a type of modern humanitarian sentiment, which is but a parody of the Divine compassion. There is a tendency to prize feeling qua feeling, and to praise and admire its possessor. There is a kind of sympathy which exists only to palliate sin,—to excuse it on grounds of environment, antecedents, and other causes. Such sympathy rarely does good, and generally leaves the sinner where it finds him. Christ’s sympathy was no such exotic, beautiful to look at, too delicate to use. With Him feeling led to this: ‘He went about doing good’ ( Acts 10:38). With Him sympathy expressed itself in this: ‘grace to help in time of need’ ( Hebrews 4:16).

( f ) It was consistent with sinlessness .—There is an idea that it is necessary to have experienced a state of mind to be able to enter into it with proper sympathy, and that it is necessary for us to obtain experimental proof of the power of sin in order to sympathize with those who are under its sway. This was not so with Christ. He could sympathize with the sinner, because He knew what it was to be tempted. He had all the natural appetites of mind and body. ‘He suffered being tempted’ ( Hebrews 2:18). Yet He exhibited a sinless nature by a perfect subjugation of the desire to sin to the will to do right. And the sympathy of Christ is valuable in disproving the fallacy that only the guilty can sympathize with the guilty. ‘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 ’ ( Hebrews 4:15). See, further, art. Pity.

Literature.—F. W. Robertson, Serm , i. 99; A. B. Bruce, Gal. Gospel , 128; R. W. Dale, Jew. Temple and Chr. Church , 88, Laws of Christ for Common Life , 123; Seeley, Ecce Homo , chs. xix. xx.; B. Jowett, College Serm. 148; ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] v. (1894) 156, x. (1899) 360.

T. Allen Moxon.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): ( n.) An agreement of affections or inclinations, or a conformity of natural temperament, which causes persons to be pleased, or in accord, with one another; as, there is perfect sympathy between them.

(2): ( n.) Feeling corresponding to that which another feels; the quality of being affected by the affection of another, with feelings correspondent in kind, if not in degree; fellow-feeling.

(3): ( n.) The influence of a certain psychological state in one person in producing a like state in another.

(4): ( n.) Kindness of feeling toward one who suffers; pity; commiseration; compassion.

(5): ( n.) That relation which exists between different persons by which one of them produces in the others a state or condition like that of himself. This is shown in the tendency to yawn which a person often feels on seeing another yawn, or the strong inclination to become hysteric experienced by many women on seeing another person suffering with hysteria.

(6): ( n.) A tendency of inanimate things to unite, or to act on each other; as, the sympathy between the loadstone and iron.

(7): ( n.) Similarity of function, use office, or the like.

(8): ( n.) The reciprocal influence exercised by the various organs or parts of the body on one another, as manifested in the transmission of a disease by unknown means from one organ to another quite remote, or in the influence exerted by a diseased condition of one part on another part or organ, as in the vomiting produced by a tumor of the brain.

(9): ( n.) The reciprocal influence exercised by organs or parts on one another, as shown in the effects of a diseased condition of one part on another part or organ, as in the vomiting produced by a tumor of the brain.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [3]

( Συμπάθεια , Fellow-Feeling ) is the quality of being affected by another's affection. It was originally used, like pity and compassion, to signify our fellow-feeling with the sorrows of others, but now it is used to denote our fellow-feeling with any passion whatever. Sympathy with sorrow or suffering is compassion, with joy or prosperity is congratulation.