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* Built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being
the chief corner-stone."
BY THE REV. B.P. PRATTEN, B.A.
"Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep." —Rom. xii. 15. The thing here enjoined is sympathy. We commonly apply that word only to the matter contained in the second clause--"
with them that weep.” This may be because we see, or think we do, more evil in the human lot than good; or because we are apt unthankfully to take the good of life, whether coming to ourselves or others, as matter of course, so that our attention is aroused only when calamity supervenes ; or, not in probably, because in our selfishness we find it harder to rejoice in, another's good than to feel distressed when he suffers. However this may be, the word properly comprises both parts of the text. Sympathy is both rejoicing with those that rejoice and weeping with those that weep.
It would be easy to show, if this were any part of our present object, what a valuable element of life this is. Were there no other evidence that a Beneficent Will has been concerned in the constitution of our minds and of the world we live in, this alone would suffice to declare it. Were the course of human life far more fraught with the elements of sadness than it is, and if we had no power by means of sympathy. to enhance the pleasures we receive, yet the influence of sympathy to lessen our sorrows would point it out as one of God's kindest gifts to man. But for it, how dark would life inevitably be! Beneath its gentle action, how many a sufferer has felt, not only that a counterpoise was found for his trouble, but that the gain to his happiness was such as to make it positively "good for him to be afflicted.”
But it is not to this ordinary action and this lower sphere of sympathy that attention is now invited, but to what may be called religious sympathy. There surely is such a thing. If it is possible to feel such an interest in the common joys and sorrows of others as to make them our own, it is certainly possible, and in a proportionately higher degree, to be in sympathy with their religious joys and sorrows-their losses and gains, their conflicts and victories, in the most momentous department of human experience. To this, moreover, there is reason to think the text in great part refers.
I. I would explain, with some distinctness, what this religious sympathy is. It is not the same thing as sympathy with religion itself. Perhaps, indeed, it is only by an improper use of the word that we can be said to sympathize with any other than a person. But, allowing that we may do so, it is not sympathy with religion in its relation to ourselves that is meant, but to others ; not as a thing for us to accept, but as something to be diffused among men.
have an intellectual, or even a moral, sympathy with religious truth, without having that religious sympathy which is fitly enjoined in words like the text.
Nor is it sympathy with the accompaniments of religion thus considered—with the arrangements or incidents which represent religion, so to speak, as a thing to be diffused. It has no necessary connection with
any interest we may feel in the places dedicated to religion, or the operations carried on in them—the decency of the worship, the impressiveness of the instruction, the quality or size of the audience. A sympathy with the art of painting is not possessed by the man who only feels 1.11 interest, however keen, in the chemistry of the colours or the construction of the frames. There is a subtle element, which no hand can touch and no eye discern, pervading the art ; and only he who has a mind in sympathy with that is the man for whom we are asking. So with our present subject. It is not the things that accompany religion, or that represent it, or even which are the instruments by which it works, that are the objects of a true religious sympathy. It is something much deeper than that, and unhappily a much rarer thing. It supposes a neart in sympathy with the purpose itself, from which all the rest derives whatever meaning it has.
Nor, again, is the thing we speak of necessarily an interest in the spread of religion. We may be conscious of much pleasure when we hear that the Gospel is making converts, and yet may have little, if any, sympathy with the conversions themselves. Perhaps the success occurs at a distance
, in some missionary field, as we speak, and much gratified are we at the news. But this may be only, or in great part, because the imagination is excited
. Che very distance lends enchantment. We are fascinated by the vision of men, the like of whom we have never seen, the tones of whose speech are strange to us, whose novel customs have a romantic interest to our minds, whose very barbarism invests them with charms, flocking into the Church of Christ. And this, even if we are not, moreover, influenced by the undignified thought that it is our enterprise which has proved so successful, and perhaps ours in distinction from rival ones, which have comparatively failed. Where there is a genuine sympathy with missionary work, there will assuredly be, to name only one test, sympathy with the men who do it. But how often is this lacking! They are regarded, not as doing what we would gladly do, if we might-else, we could not but track their steps with a lively interest; but rather as persons whom we have paid to do work which we have discovered God expects to be done, but for which we have ourselves little or no inclination. Few, probably, among those who claim to feel an interest in the missionary's work are found to rejoice in his joy and to weep responsively to his tears. What they feel, therefore, is not a strictly religious sympathy.
Or, perhaps, the success occurs at home. We experience a certain. gratification in seeing the Lord's table furnished with a succession of new guests ; and yet there may still be wanting the true element of religious sympathy, When success of this apparent kind is withheld, the most unspiritual of church-members can lament its absence--and perhaps all the more because he is unspiritual. He is mortified to find that there is so little scope
for glorying in appearance”—the only thing in which he is apt to glory. And when the indications of success are afforded, he is gladdened because the reproach of his tribe in Israel is once more rolled away. He is delivered again from the necessity of looking within, and gazing on his own unhappy barrenness. He can lose all uneasy thoughts about himself, in the flattering prosperity by which he sees himself surrounded in the case of others.
These are some of the things which are not to be confounded with religious sympathy. They may be indications of it; but they so often are not, that we must look elsewhere if we would discover it without danger of mistake. Let us observe, then, that it is a sympathy with the religious experience of individuals.
In this, it will be perceived, there are two elements. 1. It has relation to individual persons. All true sympathy is of this nature. The man who could weep in looking upon a battle-field, but who in walking over it should disregard the appeals for help made to him by one and another of the wounded, would not be a sympathizing man.
His tears would flow from some other source than feeling for the suffering. They might be tears of sentiment, tears of romance, but not tears of sympathy. And in whatever way a person may show his interest in the religious condition of masses of men, the true criterion of his having a real religious sympathy with them will be found in the interest he shows in individuals. Every multitude is up
of units. There is no such thing as a multitude in nature. It is only the creation of our minds—our idea of aggregated units. All true sympathy with men will individualize them. We do not feel for the world, or for our own country or neighbourhood, as religious men should do, unless we feel for the one or the two who are cast by the Providence of God in o'lt more immediate path.
2. And while it is an individualizing, it is a distinctly religious interest that is experienced. It is not a vulgar curiosity to know our neighbour's thoughts, much less to know his “views,” as we are accustomed to call them. The interest centres in him as bearing a profound relation to God, and Christ, and holiness, and endless duration. It is the conflicts and victories, the advance and decline, the commencement and progress, of the religious life in his soul, which elicit our sympathy. And if we have this, we shall watch with a tender solicitude the indications of his religious state, and especially at the outset. It is with sympathy here as in the ordinary manifestations of it. When the life of another is endangered or suspended, with what interest do we bend over him, and note every sign that the vital element is not extinct -that it is, perhaps, reviving—that it has at length regained a force which Warrants our leaving it to itself ! So will it be wherever we have a true religious sympathy with those about us. We shall feel with them, and watch over them, and ever wait to give them the helping hand