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The Note Of Pity

In the chapter just concluded we have tried to lay down that one
essential of the preacher's message is the note of sternness, that the
preacher is, on God's behalf, the accuser of his hearers, charging them
before the bar of conscience, declaring to the soul its state and
condition, pronouncing, also, the punishment which must follow
persistent rebellion against God. It becomes us immediately to say
something as to another note which must be heard in unison with this of
sternness, and that is the note of pity. It is time to insist upon
this. Only that man can declare the terrors of the law who knows
something of the spirit of the prophet who cried, "Oh, that my head
were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day
and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!" Only he can cry
out against Jerusalem who, when he beholds the city, weeps over it as
he sees its crime and shame and notes the tempest gathering to burst
over its "cloud-capp'd towers, its solemn temples, its airy palaces."
The preacher, like his Lord, must be "a man of sorrows and acquainted
with grief." It must be true of him that for "the hurt of the
daughter of My people was He stricken." His heart must have bled for
the tragedy of the world!

And into the delivery of the message this pity must find its way and
have expression, if not always in word, certainly in tone. In tone, we
say, for the tone of the preacher's utterance is almost, if not quite,
as important as its words. Lacking the accent of pity, the accusations
of the preacher will degenerate into scolding, and of all scolds the
pulpit scold is the most objectionable. Without a pitiful heart his
exposure of human nature will become mere fault-finding, and a
fault-finding ministry is a ministry of desolation. Again, without a
pitiful heart the preacher's utterance of the divine judgment will be
but more or less terrifying threats, and the pulpit is not set up to
threaten but to pronounce. We have heard preaching of this order. "I
am not at all well to-night," said a clergyman of whom we once read,
"and I shall give it 'em hot." Men are sometimes reminded of their
sins, not out of a sense of duty borne in upon a reluctant spirit, but
because the wind happens to be in the east, or the preacher's nerves
are badly out of order. The Church is told of her coldness, her
indolence and unfaithfulness, her narrowness, bigotry and greed, not
because, after a struggle to win permission to tell a more flattering
tale, the preacher comes forth under a divine compulsion to "cry aloud
and spare not," but because his digestion is upset, or his temporal
concerns are awry, or even because his personal ambitions have been
disappointed and himself unappreciated. There is such a thing as
bad-tempered, ill-natured preaching, in which the weapons of the Bible
armoury are borrowed for the expression of the preacher's chagrin and
spite. In a literal sense every word he speaks may be true, but the
spirit of the message destroys all possible good effects and turns the
word of God into an angry snarl. It might, therefore, be well to
decide to preach along lines of accusation, exposure, judgment or
warning only on those days when the heart is happiest, when life goes
well and the cheek of health glows with its brightest bloom. Perhaps
the resolution might take such a form as this:--Resolved: Never to
preach a hard sermon when I feel like doing so.

All this is no fancy picture, and the peril indicated is not imaginary
but real. The story of Jonah is left to all time for the warning of
the preacher. Seated yonder in his booth, biting his nails in
vexation, he is the type of the preacher whose righteous indignation,
because of its lack of that element of unselfishness, and that spirit
of pity by which moral anger should always be qualified, becomes simply
grim and merciless wrath. "Doest thou well to be angry?" the eternal
voice asks of him and of all who follow in his prophetic line. It was
not thus that Jesus looked upon the multitude. They despised Him--many
of them. That He knew. They accused and slandered Him one to another
and in their own secret hearts. Some of them said He was a glutton and
a wine-bibber, others that He had a devil, others, again, that He was
the friend of publicans and sinners. They ate His bread, accepted His
healing kindness, and all the time were making ready to cry, "Not this
man, but Barabbas," when opportunity should arise. All this He
understood, but "when He saw the multitudes He was moved with
compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad as
sheep having no shepherd."

"All His words are music,
Though they make me weep,
Infinitely tender,
Infinitely deep."

And the absence of this undertone of pity from the message of the
preacher always destroys the effect of his warnings and causes the
hearer to be less afraid than angry, as is always the case when men are
captiously scolded and found fault with and threatened. On the other
hand, its presence gives power and penetration to the terrors borne
upon its breath. It is instinctively felt that the hard words of the
preacher are spoken as by one who weeps before he speaks. He does but
speak because he must, because it would be cruellest cruelty to be
silent. "For Zion's sake I will not hold my peace." "Zion's
sake"--here, then, is the motive of all this unfolding of the secret
history of the hearer's heart and life. From very pity this man cannot
speak of health when he sees the canker in the rose which blooms upon
the cheek, when he perceives that, despite the appearance of strength
and vigour, "the whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint." He has
not told us pleasant things to-day, though we would have liked to hear
them, and he would have been glad to tell them, because he is too
deeply concerned for us to prophesy golden groves at the end of a
journey whose every footstep is taken upon the broad road leading to
destruction. With meekness can we receive the reproofs of a parent
knowing that, however hard his word, his heart is tender. "Whom He
loveth He chasteneth," was written of the Lord. When it can be written
of the Lord's ambassador, then again it will be true that although "no
chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous," yet will
it yield "the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are
exercised thereby." Let us take it, then, that pity is an essential of
the preacher's message, and must make its presence felt, if not in
word, at least in accent, or tone, or atmosphere. Is it too late in
the argument to ask what this pity really and truly is?

In Theodore Hunger's volume, "The Freedom of Faith," a book which will
be found in many of our libraries, there is a chapter on the pity of
Jesus Christ which would probably repay us for another perusal. Very
powerfully the author maintains that pity is a deeper and sublimer
passion than love. In "The Alchemist," Balzac, depicting an ideally
perfect affection makes the object of it deformed, indicating that love
has not attained its highest height until it has become pity. Thus the
mother's love for her child is never so noble as when expressed in
ministering to its sickness. How near to the little one does she come
in those painful, anxious hours when, perchance, all the reward her
love seems like to bring is the blighting of her dearest hopes. She
loves her child in health, but that love is rewarded with joy; she
loves it as it triumphs in its little tasks of intellect, but that love
is rewarded with pride; its moral achievements awaken her admiration;
its spiritual victories arouse her gratitude, and in admiration and
gratitude, love has compensation; but none of these emotions so carry
over her soul into fellowship with the soul of that dear one, none
bring her into a touch so close, or give such gentleness to the
fingers, such softness and tenderness to the voice as does pity, "when
pain and sickness wring the brow." And what of the parental feeling
for that other child--the child, we mean, whose name no one speaks in
her ear, who has gone out from the family circle, who is away in the
far country, wasting his substance in riotous living; who, indeed,
has wasted it, and who is now feeding the swine of the stranger, and
longing to fill his belly with the husks that the swine do eat?
Behold, now, the father standing upon the threshold shading his eyes as
longingly he gazes along the road which climbs the distant hill. A
world of trouble is in his eyes. "Yonder young fool who has wandered
away is not worth a single sigh of this grand old man," we say. "He is
reaping as he has sown," we moralise. Time was when this youth went
brightly to and fro in the homestead, when innocence sat throned upon
his forehead, when truth shone brightly from his eyes, when purity and
modesty mantled with blushes his boyish cheek. The old man loved him
then. But this watching from the threshold, this long, long tearful
look down the road winding away to the land of profligacy and shame,
these are the glories of his love. Here is pity. This is affection
glowing in its fairest flower, its most precious fruit. Before us is a
dim adumbration of the pity of God, the highest manifestation of His
love for man. Similarly the pity of man for man is the highest
manifestation of our love one for another. It is by pity, and by pity
only, that humanity can be brought into true unity. It is by pity that
the preacher comes into oneness with his congregation. There is a
sense in which he comes nearer to his hearers through their sufferings
and their sins than through their joys and their virtues, for suffering
and sin give occasion for compassion. Only let the man in the pulpit
feel this emotion toward the man in the pew; only let the tragedy of
his wrong-doing, the poverty of his soul resultant from his neglect of
higher things, the awful fact that he is without God and hope in the
world come home to the preacher's heart; only let the shadow of this
man's fate cast its darkness upon the preacher's soul and oh! how
precious does that man become, sinner though he be. Let the man in the
pew but feel that the heart of the man in the pulpit is almost breaking
for the longing it has toward him and how differently will he receive
the reproof that man may bring; with what new reverence will he attend
to the solemn warning he may utter. At last a brother seeks his soul!

For another result of pity will be that the Gospel of reconciliation
will be preached indeed. If from the compulsion of compassion the
preacher declared the terrors of the law, from the same divine concern
he will glory to declare the way of return, the counsel and invitation
of mercy. Even as none but a pitiful man can declare the words of the
law so only a pitiful man can declare the provisions and conditions of
the Cross. If the words of the Law, without pity are mere scolding and
fault-finding and threatening, the words of the Gospel without pity
must be cold, perfunctory and lifeless. Calvary was the expression of
infinite compassion. In its own spirit alone can its message be set
forth. You may preach even the justice of God in such a way as to make
His judgments seem full of the kindest intention to the heart. On the
other hand, you may preach the sacrifice of love in such a manner as to
make the story hard as judgment thunders. You may throw a pardon at a
man in such a fashion as to make the forgiveness it expresses more
bitter than a curse.

But how are we so to abound in pity as to be able, at all times, to
fill our message with its gracious influence, for pity is not always
easy, in which fact is one element of its high nobility? The sins of
men, their vices with their results in life and character, often make
it hard to pity them. A horrible thing is sin, and so horrible its
effects that it seems, at times, almost impossible to look upon those
in whom these effects are evident with any emotions save those of
loathing and disgust. It was no very natural thing for Jonah to look
with any sort of tenderness on that great, debauched, besotted Nineveh,
reeking in its vileness, foul with the accumulated moral filth of many
generations. Out of a man's own righteousness, too, his jealousy for
God and his reverence for goodness, there may grow a certain hardness
and, from very loyalty to God, it may not be easy to look with
compassionate eyes upon the transgressor. We cannot but remember that
every blessed purpose of the Kingdom is delayed by sin. By this black
impediment every golden dream of devout saints, of moral and spiritual
reformers is held back from happy fulfilment. It is difficult, indeed,
to feel pitiful when the heart for Christ's sake is longing to behold
the glories He died to bring to pass and sees those glories thus
wantonly postponed. Yes, the note of pity is often hard to strike.
The more we think of all that is involved the more emphasis we throw
into the question--how has it to be done?

The truth is that pity for such a service needs to be earnestly and
constantly cultivated. It only follows as the result of spiritual
processes in the preacher's own soul. It is not the mere outflowing of
a natural kindliness of disposition, of inborn good nature. It is more
than mere sloppy sentimentality. That kind of pity, if you may call
it by such a name, never tells the truth excepting when it is pleasant,
never preaches a sermon of rebuke, never reasons concerning "judgment
to come." There is no such word as Hell in its vocabulary; there is no
accusation in its programme. The pity we mean blazes up into moral
anger, smites and wounds, and compassionates the while. This pity
requires cultivation. Quoting an old phrase, "it never grew in
Nature's garden." An understanding of men is absolutely essential to
attainment herein. Some one has said that "if we knew all we would
pity all." God does know all and does pity all. The compassion of
Jesus was aided by His knowledge of the multitude; so must ours be. It
is a terrible story--this story of transgression--but those who know it
best water it with tears. Nothing is served by closing our eyes to
facts, though the temptation is great to exercise the mistaken charity
of declining to know. Is there no danger of a cowardly refusal of
vision, of making the fellowship of saints a hiding place whither we
can escape from the sights and shames of the world? Are we quite
guiltless of seeking in the Christian Society a forgetfulness of the
things that wither and blast human souls without? Do none of us make
of the Church "a little garden walled around," where the sound of
crying and of cursing breaks not upon our peace as we dream our happy
dreams? We are sent to look steadfastly upon the sore, to behold and
analyse the very truth, for it is in the measure in which our souls are
pierced that we compassionate.

But the greatest school for the learning of pitifulness is yonder at
the feet of Jesus. In His company hearts grow hard to sin and tender
to sinners. "Is there any sorrow like unto My sorrow?" He cries, and
we know that His sorrow was not for Himself, but for those who spurned
Him. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," He prays,
and, lo! the cry is for His very murderers, and the music of it melts
our spirit toward the transgressor while the transgression becomes more
hateful in our eyes. Where do you abhor sin as you abhor it upon the
slopes of Calvary? Where do you pity sinners as you pity them there?
There is the fountain of judgment. There is the fountain of

Yes, the greatest school of pitifulness is in the presence of Christ.
From Him, in Temple court and city street, on mountain brow and
sea-shore, in the wilderness and in the domestic circle of Bethany, the
preacher catches that new tone which shall give his accusation
commendation and power. But there is another teacher, still, who will
greatly help to fix the lesson in his heart if only he be heard. That
teacher is Memory. Memory is always waiting to whisper in the
preacher's ear. "And such were some of you," writes St. Paul to the
Corinthians, "but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are
justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God."
Ah! the preacher, himself is but a sinner saved by grace. There was a
time when he, also, was in the far country, when he, also, was a
rebel against law and love, when even he was "lost already." Can he
forget those days of darkness and of shame? Can he forget how the
warning ambassador of his hitherto despised Redeemer came to him?
Can he forget the mire and the clay and the horrible pit from which a
strong hand brought him forth? Let him "think on these things" as he
looks upon his congregation, as he rebukes their contumacy. Let him
remember that he has come into the pulpit only by the steps of mercy,
by the long-suffering grace of a sin-pardoning God.

Here, then, is an essential part of the preacher's training--the
training of his own heart to tenderness. If he fail in giving
attention to this, all other education will be worse than fruitless.
The age needs the pitiful Church. The age and the Church need the
pitiful ministry. This is not to say that men look to the pulpit for
nothing but softly spoken indulgences. Conscience has taught them that
the message should hurt where hurt is salutary. They will not
recognise as kindness the withholding, or the dilution of any truth.
On the other hand they give to the motive of the preacher who does
these things a less flattering name. They will say--have we not heard
the criticism?--that the preacher is afraid to be faithful, afraid to
offend for reasons that are selfish and cowardly. The offence of
unwelcome truth is covered when that truth is watered by a preacher's

So let us preach--declaring "the whole counsel" concerning sin for
pity's sake, preaching the whole truth concerning salvation too.
Something is in our mind to ask concerning our presentation of this
last-named portion of our message:--Are we always quite faithful as to
what we call the conditions of salvation? In the presentation of these
conditions great skill and great care are required. It is so easy to
under--or over--emphasise, so easy, out of jealousy for God, to make
the way too hard or, out of a desire to win men, to make it too easy.
Perhaps in the latter possibility lies, in our time, the greater
danger. Do we always ask for penitence as unmistakably as we ought?
There should be repentance "toward God" as well as "faith in our Lord
Jesus Christ." We may at least suggest the question:--Whether we do
not sometimes call for the latter, saying too little of the former.
Again, in calling for faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, is it not easy to
appear to demand a mere belief in historic facts when what is required
is the trustful surrender of the soul to the Redeemer? We have seen
fifty people hold up their hands, at the request of a preacher, to
signify their turning to God, and we have noted that no outward sign of
deep emotion accompanied the act. We have watched a multitude pass
through an inquiry room where, though inquirers were many, tears were
few. That "there are diversities of operations" we know. "Old times
are changed, old manners gone." All this we admit, and, perhaps, we
should not demand to see again such things as Time has cast behind him.
But, oh! those were great days when the returning rebel smote upon his
breast and would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, as with
sobs and groans, he cried, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." Those
were glorious scenes when, in one and the same hour, he broke for ever
with old habits, old companionships, old loves and, with eyes still
streaming went forth exclaiming, "'Tis done, the great transaction's

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