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“How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” Psalm 139:17

It is marvelous that God should think of us as He does.  That, infinitely great and holy – all worlds, all beings, all events occupying His mind – He should yet have individual thoughts of us, those thoughts not mere passing glances of the mind, but involving pre-determination and pre-arrangement of each event, circumstance, and step of our personal history, trivial though it be as a hair falling from the head – is a truth too mighty to grasp were it not too precious to refuse and too divine to disbelieve.  You have, doubtless, beloved, often appeared in your own view so obscure and insignificant a being – a mere cipher in the great sum of human existence, a single drop in the vast ocean of human life – as to be almost at an infinite remove from God’s notice.

You could not, indeed, relieve yourself from the conviction of individual responsibility, nor stifle the reflection that for each transaction of the pre­sent life the future holds you accountable; yet that, isolated and solitary, perchance, poor and mean, as you may be, God, the great, the holy Lord God should think of you, notice you, regard you, set His heart upon you – that His thoughts, more precious than the ocean’s gems and more nume­rous than the sands which belt it, should cluster around you, clinging to you with a grasp so fervent and intense as to lift you to the distinc­tion and privilege of a being in whom, the Divine regard were solely and supremely absorbed—is a truth distancing all conception and well-nigh overwhelming you with its mightiness.  And yet so it is!  Each child of God dwells in His heart and engages His mind as though he were the sole occupant of this boundless universe – a tiny in­sect swimming in the ocean of infinity.

Such is the truth to which the psalmist gives utterance in a burst of devout, impassioned feeling, “How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God!  How great is the sum of them!”   “Unto me!” Here is faith attracting to, and concentrating upon, its individual self all the precious thoughts Jehovah has of His people.  Oh, there is not a thought of His wisdom, nor a thought of His love, nor a thought of His power, nor a thought of His grace which does not entwine itself with the being, and blend itself with the salvation of each child of His adoption.

The subject now engaging our meditation is – the preciousness of God’s thoughts – and may the theme lay low all high, towering, sinful thoughts of ourselves, and inspire and raise our holy, grateful, adoring thoughts of Him – His glory, beauty, and love – until with a depth of adoration and an intensity of affection worthy the theme our hearts respond, “How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God!  How great is the sum of them!”  Let us first contemplate a few characteristics of God’s precious thoughts of His saints.

God’s thoughts of His people are infinite. Believers deal too little with the infinitude of God.  Hence the tendency to “limit the Holy One of Israel.”  Thus, too, it is, that our confidence in God is so hesitating, our views of His power so dwarfish, our love so defective, and our requests and expectations so contracted.  “I am a great King, saith the Lord God.”  All His thoughts are vast, infinite, worthy of His greatness.  His electing thought of us was a great thought; His thought of redeeming us was a great thought; His thought of making us divine by the regenera­tion of the Holy Ghost is a great thought; His thought of bringing us to glory to enjoy Him fully and forever is a great thought.  All these thoughts of God are as great as they are precious, and as precious as they are great.  O child of God!  Think not lightly of the thoughts God has of thee – they are so vast, nothing can exceed; so precious, nothing can equal them.  The thoughts of an Infinite Mind encircle and enfold thee more closely and fondly than the ivy clasps the elm or the mother her new-born infant.  Whether they appear clad in darkness, or robed in light, they are equally the great and precious thoughts of thy covenant God and Father.  “How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God!  How great is the sum of them!”

God’s thoughts of His people are hidden. The thoughts of the Invisible One, they must necessarily be so.  It is His glory to conceal until it becomes His wisdom and love to reveal them.  Treasured up in the Divine Mind, they repose in profound mystery until each circum­stance in our daily life unfolds and makes them known, then we learn how real and how precious God’s thoughts of us are.  There is not a moment, beloved of God, that the Lord is not thinking of you; nor is there a moment that He is not, in some form or other, embodying those thoughts in His gracious and providential dealings with you.  His wisdom withholds and His love veils them until the event transpires that gives them utterance and form.  Therefore, when God is silent, let us be still; when He speaks, let us hearken.

Hidden to us though His precious thoughts are, they are all known to Him.  “I know the thoughts I think towards you, saith the Lord; thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”  Attempt not, there­fore, to fathom the Divine Mind or to penetrate the thoughts that are hidden there.  Know thou that they are thoughts of everlasting love, thoughts of assured peace, and let this bring your heart into silent, patient waiting until all these thoughts shall stand unveiled in His wise, loving, and holy dispensations, here, and in heaven’s own light hereafter.  Enough is revealed by Christ to satisfy you that God’s thoughts of you are thoughts of reconciliation – that there exists not in the Divine Mind a solitary thought adverse to your well-being.  Jesus, our Friend, reposes in His people the same confidence His Father has reposed in Him.  “All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” Jesus is the expression and embodiment of our Father’s mind.  Jesus is God thinking, God loving, God working, God redeem­ing.  “He that bath seen me hath seen the Father.”  Be not, then, troubled in mind at the dark and mysterious in your path.  God is deal­ing well with you.  By His light, you shall walk through darkness.  Confiding in the wise and lov­ing, though concealed, thoughts of your heavenly Father, your trustful heart can respond, as those thoughts gradually unfold, “How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God!”

Unchangeableness is another characteristic of God’s thoughts of His people. This is self-evi­dent since they are the thoughts of the Unchange­able One.  Change implies imperfection.  God is a perfect Being, consequently He cannot change.  “I the Lord change not.”  With Him is “no variableness, neither the shadow of a turning.”  He may vary His providences, multiply His dis­pensations, and shift the ever-moving scene of human life, but – “His eternal thoughts move on, His undisturbed affairs.”  How precious is this truth to the child of God!

Human thoughts change; mind itself fails and with it fades from memory countenances that were familiar, and names that were fond and scenes that were sacred.  Human thoughts that cluster and cling so warmly and closely around us today, ere many weeks are past, attracted by new objects of interest, or absorbed by new engagements of time, have fled and gone, and we are alone and forgotten.  But there is ONE whose thoughts of us never change, whose mind never ceases for a moment to think of us.  “O Israel, thou shalt not be for­gotten of me,” is His own loving declaration.  Directing us to a mother—the last earthly home of human tenderness, sympathy, and love – He tells us, “She may forget, yet will not I.”  Beloved, whatever fluctuation you find in human thought or change in human affection, God’s thoughts of love, and care, and faithfulness, are changeless.  Have they ever darted into your heart like solar beams, causing that heart to sing for joy?  Then, though in darkness, loneliness, and sorrow you are led to exclaim, “Hath the Lord forgotten to be gracious?”  God still bears you in His thoughts and on His heart.  Relatives may forget, friends may forget, the saints may forget, but thy God never can.  He thinks of you at this moment as lovingly, as carefully, as from all eternity.  Once in the thoughts of thy covenant God, thou art in those thoughts for ever.

Be not cast down, then, if God appears to forget you. “My way is hid from the Lord,” says the desponding Church.  “No,” says God, “I have engraved thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”  Amidst all your mental wanderings, your fickle, faint thoughts of Him, He still re­members you.  In the multitude of your anxious and perplexed thoughts within you, awakened by a sense of your ungrateful oblivion of God, or by His trying and mysterious dealings, let this com­fort delight your soul, that He never forgets you!

Edited from The Precious Things of God, originally published in 1860; currently in reprint through Soli Deo Gloria.

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“In all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest.”—Hebrews 2:17

It was a noble sentiment of Terence, the utterance of which electrified the Roman senate, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto;” “I am a MAN, and nothing that is human is foreign to me.” With what higher sublimity and profounder emphasis of meaning might our adorable Lord —the Divine Man— have pronounced these memorable words His whole life was a living, luminous illustration of the thought. He was the highest type of humanity. Essential God, He was not the less, but all the more, perfect man. He owned to all the sympathies of manhood. Descending from a pre-existent state of glory, He made His advent to our nature, assuming everything that was essentially human, while relinquishing nothing that was essentially divine. He was intent upon being man, because He was intent upon redeeming man, and “very man of very man” He was. With that one joy set before Him—the joy of saving the lost—and oh, who can sound its depth? — No stoop, no humiliation, no suffering, should deter Him. His first step was to descend to the nature which He was to ransom and exalt. Around the solar rays of His Godhead, He cast the darkling vesture of our manhood, shading and softening, not extinguishing or lessening, the glory of His divinity.

In that marvelous, that fathomless descent to our nature, there was one exception we must ever, in our study of this subject, keep in view. He assumed all that was human but the accident of sin. He knew no sin.” The drapery of “flesh” which hung in such ample and graceful folds around His hidden and superior nature was morally untainted and untinted by transgression. Its entire texture, woof and web, was as essentially pure and undefiled as the divine and ineffable glory it sought in vain to conceal. Let it be remembered that sin, as we have just remarked, is an accident of, and not a property essential to, our nature. It was not necessary, nay; it was not possible, that in creating man God should create him sinful. SIN is a foreign and alien element, not originally entering into the formation of Adam, but exported from some dark and unknown clime into our humanity, since God first created it in His own holy and ineffable image, and then pronounced it very good. So far, indeed, from sin being a necessary and original element of our humanity, we became less human when we became less holy. In proportion as we recede from the prototype of our creation, we descend in the scale of God’s workmanship, and sink the rational in the animal. Sin, despoiling our lower nature, reduces us to a level with the brute creation, from whom God bids us learn: “Ask the beasts, and they shall teach thee!” (Job 12:7.) Are not all our faculties and powers paralyzed and prostrated by the Fall? Have we not lost those fine and noble instincts, those traits of beauty, sensibility, and power, which, though human, once looked so divine? Is not our humanity materially changed and essentially deteriorated by sin? Most undoubtedly we are less human because we are more sinful. We think the less profoundly— reason the less accurately—feel the less intensely —act the less vigorously—and achieve the less nobly, because we were shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin. This train of thought will serve to place in a clearer and more impressive light the great and precious truth it is intended to illustrate.

Christ, as we have remarked, was the most perfect type of our humanity. Essentially and entirely free from sin, He was the purest and most exalted specimen of man. The difference between the original formation of His inferior nature and ours is strikingly suggestive. His human body was not, as Adam’s, framed of the dust of the ground, but proceeded from ours by the miraculous power of the Holy Ghost; so that, while partaking of all the natural properties of the human, it likewise partook of all the essential sanctity of the divine. He was that “holy thing” that knew not and could not sin—” the holy child Jesus.” The thoughtful reader will at once perceive the object of which these remarks have pointed.

We are about to unfold in these pages the perfect HUMAN SYMPATHY of Christ with man. And in order that the fact may have all the force of which it is capable, we have sought to present it in the light of its perfect sinlessness, seeing that, as our humanity becomes freed from the brutalizing influence of sin, its emotional feelings, its sensibilities, and sympathies become all the more unselfish, intense, and exquisite; so that we are prepared to find in our Lord Jesus Christ a sympathy with our sorrows and infirmities such as it would be impossible to find in any other being. Every Christian grace in the believer has its opposite, every human virtue its foil. If we have faith in God, it is assailed by unbelief. If we love the creature, our affection glides into idolatry. If benevolent, we are exposed to prodigality. But not thus was it with Christ. Every divine grace, and each human excellence, dwelt in Him pure, simple, and unmixed. He could love, without adoration; confide, without suspicion; be cheerful, without levity; be humble, without meanness; be mild, yet not timid; be firm, yet not tyrannical; secret, yet not crafty; generous, without waste; and tender, compassionate, and sympathizing, without the slightest approach to weakness or unmanliness. And all this because —”He knew no sin!”

Now, the emotional—an essential element of our humanity—belonged to Christ, as we have remarked, in its purest and most intense form. Our nature is essentially and highly sympathetic. The curious and delicate network of nerve which transmits from the sensorium to the extremity of the body each thrill of pleasure or of pain, is not more electrical in its influence than is this sympathetic principle of our humanity. Its relation to the intellectual part of our nature is intimate and reciprocal. Not less independent are they of each other, than both are dependent upon God. The history of our race supplies many illustrious evidences of the union of the loftiest intellectual powers with the finest sensibility. There is no necessity whatever why the mind should not act in perfect union with the heart: why we should be less reflective because intensely feeling.

No fact will be more vividly brought before the mind of the reader, as we proceed, than the personality of our Lord—a truth but imperfectly realized, and yet of surpassing interest and preciousness. Each emotion of His nature, as it passes before the eye, will bring us into the closest contact with Christ as a distinct and real person. There are teachers who speak of Christ as a traditional and historical being, and yet others as a visionary or ideal being, —a mode of instruction well calculated to transport the learner far into the mysteries of cloudland. It may be true to a certain extent that our Lord is a historical being, for His whole life is history, and history teaching by the purest, loftiest example, which has been defined the truest philosophy. His gospel has supplied the world with truth, His life with history, and His character with a living model of every divine perfection and human excellence. But our nature craves for more than this. We want fellowship, not with a sentiment, not with a tradition, nor with an ideality, but with a real, living, personal being. We seek communion with, and sympathy from, a Savior in alliance with our veritable nature, endowed with real, deep, holy sensibility, and disciplined by personal sorrow like our own.

We must know Jesus as once tabernacling in the flesh, and dwelling among men as man, — hallowing earthly spots with His presence—entering the dwellings of men—sitting with them at their tables—noticing and blessing their children—mingling in the scenes of domestic life—smiling upon our loves—sanctioning our marriage-feasts—healing our diseases—pitying our infirmities— weeping at our tombs—consecrating our loneliness and solitude; in a word, unveiling a bosom the perfect reflection of our own in all but its sinfulness. Oh, it is this fact of our Lord’s personality that brings Him so near to us, blends Him so closely with our individual history, and which imparts to His presence and sympathy a reality and preciousness so inexpressibly great and endearing. Read in the clear, steady light of this fact, what meaning and what beauty appear in these inspired declarations concerning Him: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same.” “Verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.” “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” “In that He himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted.” “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.”

Such, my reader, is Christ, and such His sympathy with you! And in all the circumstances of your Christian life, it is an instructive and consolatory thought, that your humanity is represented in heaven by the Head of all creation; that the Lord Jesus—the “first-born among many brethren”—is still clad in our nature, and occupies the central throne in glory, exalted “far above all principality and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in. that which is to come.” From that elevation of dignity, glory, and power, encircling spirits hymning His high praise, there flows down to you a continuous stream of sympathy, grace, and succor, meeting your every circumstance, supplying your every want, soothing your every grief, and shedding the soft and cheering luster of a personal presence on your homeward path to glory. And although we no more “know Christ after the flesh,” yet, dealing by faith with His personality, we may realize that we possess a Friend, a Brother, and a Redeemer, in whom are mysteriously yet truly united—the sympathetic nature of man, with the infinite mind of God.

From The Sympathy of Christ.

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