Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pity, Standing Still


One of my favourite Gospel expositions is He Came to Serve: The Gospel of Mark by Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910)

It is as if a random opening at any page will yield a true gem of insight on the life and purpose of Jesus. Take for example, this morning, opening at Mark 7:33, 34:

"Let me remind you, too, that still more dangerous than the pity which
is not based upon, and corrected by, the look to heaven, is the pity
which does not issue in strenuous work. It is easy to excite people's
emotions; but it is perilous for both the operator and the subject,
unless they be excited through the understanding, and pass on the
impulse to the will and the practical powers. The surest way to
petrify a heart is to stimulate the feelings, and give them nothing to
do. They will never recover their original elasticity if they have
been wantonly drawn forth thus. Coldness, hypocrisy, spurious
sentimentalism, and a whole train of affectations and falsehoods
follow the steps of an emotional religion, which divorces itself from
active work.
Pity is meant to impel to help. Let us not be content
with painting sad and true pictures of men's woes,--of the gloomy
hopelessness of idolatry, for instance--but let us remember that every
time our compassion is stirred, and no action ensues, our hearts are
in some measure indurated, and the sincerity of our religion in some
degree impaired. White-robed Pity is meant to guide the strong powers
of practical help to their work. She is to them as eyes to go before
them and point their tasks. They are to her as hands to execute her
gentle will. Let us see to it that we rend them not apart; for idle
pity is unblessed and fruitless as a sigh cast into the fragrant air,
and unpitying work is more unblessed and fruitless still. Let us
remember, too, that Christlike and indispensable as Pity is, she is
second, and not first. Let us take heed that we preserve that order in
our own minds, and in our endeavours to stimulate one another. For if
we reverse it, we shall surely find the fountains of compassion drying
up long before the wide stretches of thirsty land are watered, and the
enterprises which we have sought to carry on by appealing to a
secondary motive, languishing when there is most need for vigour. Here
is the true sequence which must be observed in our missionary and
evangelistic work, 'Looking up to heaven, He sighed.'

Dear brethren! must we not all acknowledge woeful failures in this
regard? How much of our service, our giving, our preaching, our
planning, has been carried on without one thought of the ills and
godlessness we profess to be seeking to cure! If some angel's touch
could annihilate all that portion of our activity, what gaps would be
left in all our subscription lists, our sermons, and our labours both
at home and abroad! Annihilate, do I say? It is done already. Such
work is nothing, and comes to nothing. 'Yea, it shall not be planted;
yea, it shall not be sown; and He shall also blow upon it, and it
shall wither.'

The hindrances to such abiding consciousness of and pity for the
world's woes run all down to the one tap-root of all sin, selfishness.
The remedies run all up to the common form of all goodness, the
self-absorbing communion with Jesus Christ. And besides that
mother-tincture of everything wrong, subsidiary impediments may be
found in the small amounts of time and effort which any of us give to
bring the facts of the world's condition vividly before our minds. The
destruction of all emotion is the indolent acquiescence in general
statements which we are too lazy or busy to break up into individual
cases. To talk about hundreds of millions of idolaters leaves the
heart untouched. But take one soul out of all that mass, and try to
feel what his life is in its pitchy darkness, broken only by lurid
lights of fear and sickly gleams of hope, in its passions ungoverned
by love, its remorse uncalmed by pardon, its affections feeling like
the tendrils of some climbing plant for the stay they cannot find, and
in the cruel blackness that swallows it up irrevocably at last. Follow
it from the childhood that knows no discipline to the grave that knows
no waking, and will not the solitary instance come nearer our hearts
than the millions?

But however that may be, the sluggishness of our imaginations, the
very familiarity with the awful facts, our own feeble hold on Christ,
our absorption in personal interests, the incompleteness and
desultoriness of our communion with our Lord, do all concur with our
natural selfishness to make a sadly large proportion of our apparent
labours for God and men utterly cold and unfeeling, and therefore
utterly worthless. Has the benighted world ever caused us as much pain
as some trivial pecuniary loss has done? Have we ever felt the smart
of the gaping wounds through which our brothers' blood is pouring
forth as much as we do the tiniest scratch on our own fingers? Does it
sound to us like exaggerated rhetoric when a prophet breaks out, 'Oh
that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I
might weep night and day!' or when an Apostle in calmer tones
declares, 'I have great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart'?"

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