Octavius Winslow on the Sympathy of Christ

Sunset at the ocean

Christ’s heart overflows with sympathy for his people as they experience weakness, grief, trials, and temptations. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us:

[W]e do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Octavius Winslow, a 19th-century English Baptist preacher, turns his attention to this topic in his 1862 work The Sympathy of Christ. He gives the following description of sympathy in the book’s preface.

[T]he noblest and most powerful form of sympathy is not merely the responsive tear, the echoed sigh, the answering look—it is the embodiment of the sentiment in actual help. It identifies itself with the object of its commiseration so personally and so closely as to realize the apostle’s beautiful idea of true sympathy—“Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them; and those who suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”

Winslow then goes on to connect this description with our Lord.

This was preeminently the character of Christ’s compassion when on earth. He was willing Himself to wear the chain He came to loose, to share the sorrow He came to soothe; and the remembrance that He was likewise “in the body” constantly forced itself upon His mind, imparting to His deep sensibility and tender compassion the power and the luster of an actual and personal participation in the calamities He repaired, the needs He met, and the griefs He assuaged. Thus, from His practical sympathy, who is the Great Teacher of the Church, and the “Consolation of Israel,” may we derive lessons of holy instruction, and streams of the richest comfort.

In a chapter titled “The Tears of Christ,” Winslow reflects on the comfort and encouragement believers ought to draw from Christ’s sympathy for his people.

There exists no sympathy so real, so intelligent, so deep, so tender, so sanctifying as Christ’s. And if your heavenly Father has seen it wise and good to remove from you the spring of human pity, it is but that He may draw you closer beneath the wing of the God-man’s compassion, presence, and love. O child of sorrow! will not this suffice, that you possess Christ’s sympathy, immeasurable and exhaustless as the ocean, exquisite and changeless as His being? Yield your heart to this rich compassion, and then, “though you have laid among the pots, yet shall you be as the wings of a dove covered with silver and her feathers with yellow gold.”

Child of God, are you sorrowful? Lonely? Weary? Turn to Jesus. Find help and healing in the ocean of his sympathy.

But don’t stop there. We must not only experience Christ’s sympathy but imitate it. Winslow remarks,

Learn a lesson from the practical sympathy of Jesus. Compassion is as luxurious an emotion of our nature, as it is manly and graceful in him who shows it. “To him that is afflicted pity should be showed from his friend.” What a sacred privilege to imitate Him “who went about doing good!” To visit the widow and the fatherless in their distress, the prisoner in his dungeon, the bereaved in their grief, the sick in their solitude, the poor in their need, the fallen in their self-reproach; in a word, to be an angel of comfort to some child of woe from whose bosom hope has fled—this, oh! this is sympathy.

In a day in which many family members, friends, and neighbors are hurting, may we point them to the sympathetic Savior with both our words and our deeds.