We not only believe that God foreknows all things, but that He does not and cannot foreknow without foreordaining. For not only is God’s omniscience all-comprehensive and all embracing, but so is His foreordination. He foreordains whatsoever comes to pass (Acts 4:27f). Therefore it is impossible that He know beforehand anything that has not been already foreordained. There is nothing that can be the object of divine prescience but that which has been preordained. God cannot know, for example, that an event shall occur which He has not ordained to occur. We therefore conclude that God not only foreknew the Fall, but that He foreordained it, and that it was but an incident in the great plan of His eternal purpose according to which He would glorify himself in a glorified people. His primal thought within the divine decree was eternally to tabernacle with the glorified sons of men. To effect this, He planned in His inscrutable wisdom to bring it to pass through the Fall ordained and through a people predestinated. The decree of God, then, saw His people perfect and holy before it saw them fallen and redeemed (Eph. 1:3-7). He would bring many sons to glory through the Fall and from the ruins of it.
Man, by nature, therefore, is in a very desperate case (Jer. 17:9). The Fall has left him not merely “very far gone from original righteousness,” as the expression goes in the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, but “wholly gone from original righteousness,” i.e., dead in sins, prone to hate God, wholly incapable of doing any good, and prone to all wickedness. He is then in great need of a Savior to cleanse his soul from the damning defilement of sin. But even after sin is washed away in the only fountain for cleansing, the blood of the Redeemer, man needs an Almighty Friend, for he traverses a land of dire dangers, troubles and sorrows. The world is, as never before, dark with sicknesses, diseases, poverty, friendlessness, hopelessness, desertion, treachery, enmity, and the last enemy, death. Man needs a Redeemer-Friend who can save him and sympathize with him through all these evils. Scripture is quite abundant in references to such a Friend, which richly turn on the theme of the Compassion of Christ. Consulting your concordance, you find that “when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd (Matt. 9:36).” An insight into His heart is had here. Then “Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick (Matt. 14:14).” Matthew in the one place shows His concern for the welfare of men’s souls; here for the comfort of their bodies. This is further evident in, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they . . . have nothing to eat; and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way (Matt. 15:32).” Healing two blind beggars, “Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes (Matt. 20:34).” Nor did He shrink from the leper, but “moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, ‘I will: be thou clean (Mark 1:41).'” He also sympathized with the bereaved, for seeing the sorrowing widow of Nain, “He had compassion on her, and said unto her, ‘Weep not (Luke 7:13).'” Indeed, “the Lord is gracious and full of compassion (Ps. 145:8).” We can sing, “He is a kind, compassionate Friend!”
It would be true, too, if we sang, “Jesus knows all about our struggles!” For in every crucible He himself has suffered. “In all their afflictions He was afflicted.” If a thorn ever gave you pain, recall that it once pierced His head. If trouble or difficulty strews your path, you will detect along the way His hand marks and footprints. The path of sorrow is stained with the blood-spattered footsteps of the Man of Sorrows. Where you are very conscious of your sin, remember, He knew sin, not His own, but ours laid on Him (Is. 53:6). Where you suffer almost unbearable slander, He was called a drunkard and a madman. Our sufferings are hardly worth a thought compared to His. He suffered hellish agonies when He descended into hell at Gethsemane and Golgotha. He drank the cup of eternal woe.
Will He have compassion on us? It is well-known that He “is kind to the unthankful and evil” and “can have compassion on, the Ignorant, and on them that are out of the way.” Certainly unkind, unthankful, evil, ignorant and out of the way exactly describes us by nature. We have such a merciful and faithful High Priest. We have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but one who can have compassion. The old covenant priest had to be a compassionate man. What sort of man was he? The writer likes to think he was a man like his maternal grandfather—a strong, fatherly man, with face and mien inspiring confidence, tender, understanding, sympathetic; never high and mighty. There was love in his eye, a smile on his face. He was natural. He was real. When we wanted to see him, he was visible. When we wanted to talk with him, he was gentle. He never treated us as though we were stupid. When we were stupid, he was not impatient. He knew how to deal with weak and erring children. The world regarded him as “a holy man.” He would have been the first to deny it. He was what he was because he had seen and felt a great deal of sin, and experienced a great deal of mercy and divine love. He was the kind of man whose wisdom gave you what you felt you needed, so that you could leave him, without revealing your problem, in a feeling of peace; yet you were drawn to speak out, tell him, and unburden your heart before him for the good that came from the intimate contact with him. That is the kind of high priest we could have wished for, had we lived in old Israel. Yet we would not idolize a man, for our great High Priest is incomparably better.
His is not the compassion of a stranger, of one unrelated to us, but that of Friend (Prov. 18:24), Brother (Heb. 2:12), Husband (II Cor. 11:2), and Father (Is. 9:6). He knows all about our struggles by experience. He has suffered the same trials as we. He has experienced weariness (John 4:6), hunger (Matt. 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), and poverty (II Cor. 8:9). He knows what it was to have nowhere to lay His head (Matt. 8:20), to lack sympathetic friends (Matt. 26:40) and to be attacked by the horrible suggestions of the devil. He was perfectly, supremely qualified to show compassion.
Beautifully does C.H. Spurgeon enlarge on the compassion of Christ. “Those who came to the high priest of old, were not often of the rough sort. Those who wished to have fellowship with God through the high priest in the tabernacle or the temple, were generally the timid ones of the people. Remember how she who came when Eli was high priest was a woman of a sorrowful spirit’; and the high priests had to deal with many such. The sons and daughters of affliction were those who mostly sought the divine oracle, and desired to have communion with God; hence the high priest needed not only to be a man, but a man of tender and gentle spirit. It was necessary that he should be one with whom those with broken hearts, and those who were groaning under a sense of sin, would like to speak. They would dread an austere man, and would, probably, in many cases, have kept away from him altogether. Now, the mercy for us is, that our great High Priest is willing to receive the sinful and the suffering, the tired and the tempted; He delights in those that are as bruised reeds and smoking flax; for thus He is able to display his sacred qualification. He ‘can have compassion.’ It is His nature to sympathize with the aching heart but He cannot be compassionate to those who have no suffering, and no need. The heart of compassion seeks misery, looks for sorrow, and is drawn towards despondency; for there it can exercise its gracious mission to the full (Treas. of N.T., IV, 61).”
Christ risen and ascended has still the same compassion He showed in His earthly ministry. Is He not “the same yesterday, and today, and forever?” He had never thrown bread and meat to hungry people as we throw a bone to a dog. He seated them comfortably on the greensward, then He blessed the food and had it distributed in a quiet, orderly way, in multiplied abundance. Being compassionate, He suffers together with His people in their miseries. This is indicated in, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” Saul had pinched the toes, but the head complained. So also now He lovingly and tenderly ministers to His people. He abounds towards them in wisdom and prudence. He yearns over His people with longsuffering. Though ascended on high, His heart is here below. For when a suffering saint groans, He hears the groan. When the deep desire of the saint cannot be expressed by any vocal sound, when there are groanings which cannot be uttered, the heart only aching after Him, He feels the ache of the heart, He knows what it means. When you do not know how to pray as you ought, He interprets the attempt to pray. He has compassion on the ignorant. If you do not know what good you want or need, but only know that there is something you must have or die, He will give it to you. He will interpret the profound longings of your heart, which are beyond your own depth. (Has he not put eternity in man’s heart?) What you cannot read in yourself, He will trace and read for you. He will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly—no good thing, no good in heaven, not even the throne of God (see Rev. 3:21).
Another eminent man put it this way: “Remembering what He himself passed through down here, the Lord Jesus has a tender and continuing sympathy with His suffering members. He has a deep compassion for each of His tried saints, even when He does not see well to set them free at once from their pains. For not only has He their spiritual and ultimate good in view, but, what is yet more blessed, His affections never move Him to ignore the sovereign and all wise will of the Father. Then let not the deferring of the deliverance, the postponing of relief, cause any to call into question that love which passeth knowledge. Rather let us rest with calm confidence on that sure word, ‘His compassions fail not; they are new every morning (Lam. 3:22f).'” (A.W. Pink, “Studies in the Scriptures,” XI, 143).