RERUN – The Emotional Jesus

Benjamin B. Warfield (1851–1921) was professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921. Some consider him to be the last of the great Princeton theologians before the split in 1929 that formed Westminster Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His essay, The Emotional Life of Our Lord, was first published in 1912. Beginning today we will spend most of this week walking through his essay together. We will let Warfield’s brilliant, Bible-saturated mind counsel us on an important topic by focusing on how some emotions were displayed by Jesus’s sinless humanity. Admittedly, there are some very difficult portions of his essay (I am a slow reader and sometimes found it necessary to read the same sentence multiple times).

A Variety of Emotions – Warfield begins his essay by confessing the difficulty of the subject matter he has embarked upon. “It belongs to the truth of our Lord’s humanity that he was subject to all sinless human emotions. In the accounts which the Evangelists give us of the crowded activities which filled the few years of his ministry, the play of a great variety of emotions is depicted. It has nevertheless not proved easy to form a universally acceptable conception of our Lord’s emotional life.” This difficulty, he says, is owed to the mystery of the Incarnation, specifically with “how far there may be attributed to a perfect human nature movements known to us only as passions of sinful beings.”

Two Opposite Tendencies – The difficulty of knowing just how much of our understanding of human emotion should be imposed upon Jesus has resulted in what Warfield calls “two opposite tendencies.” One extreme is that of the stoical approach which envisions the moral perfection of emotion being always displayed as what we may today term “flat.” The second extreme is the tendency to attribute to Jesus every human passion in its fullness. Balance is what Warfield calls for when he writes, “There is a tendency in the interest of the dignity of his person to minimize, and there is a tendency in the interest of the completeness of his humanity to magnify, his affectional movements.”

Not Necessarily Always Applicable to Us – One word of caution for us to remember is that though Jesus is fully like us in His humanity, except for sin, we are not fully like Him. Because Christ is not only fully human, but also fully divine, Warfield makes clear, “It cannot be assumed beforehand, indeed, that all the emotions attributed to Jesus in the Evangelical narratives are intended to be ascribed distinctively to his human soul.” However, if we want to explore what righteous expressions of emotion look like then there is nowhere else to turn than to the life of our blessed Savior.

COMPASSION is the first, most prominent emotion of Jesus. “The emotion which we should naturally expect to find most frequently attributed to that Jesus whose whole life was a mission of mercy, and whose ministry was so marked by deeds of benevolence that it was summed up in the memory of his followers as a going through the land ‘doing good’ (Acts 10:38), is no doubt ‘compassion.’ In point of fact, this is the emotion which is most frequently attributed to him.” Let me summarize, in list form, the qualities of Christ’s compassion as pointed out in Warfield’s essay.

  1. The compassion of Christ is “the internal movement of pity which is emphasized when our Lord is said to be ‘moved with compassion.’”
  2. The compassion of Christ flows from genuine concern for others. It is “aroused…by the sight of individual distress” (Mk 1:41; Matt 20:34; Lk 7:13, and others).
  3. The compassion of Christ is pity that goes beyond merely feeling sorry for those with physical disabilities. Jesus demonstrated great compassion toward those with physical disabilities; however, “It was not merely the physical ills of life…want and disease and death—which called out our Lord’s compassion. These ills were rather looked upon by him as themselves rooted in spiritual destitution. And it was this spiritual destitution which most deeply moved his pity.” Warfield then links Mark 6:34 with Matthew 14:14 and declares, “We must put the two passages together to get a complete account: their fatal ignorance of spiritual things, their evil case under the dominion of Satan in all the effects of his terrible tyranny, are alike the object of our Lord’s compassion.”
  4. To say the same thing another way, the compassion of Christ sees the deepest human need—the need of the soul—and that “awakens our Lord’s pity and moved him to provide the remedy.”
  5. The compassion of Christ commonly produced tears. Jesus was truly sympathetic. He was not afraid of compassion’s “manifestation in tears and sighs. The tears…wet his cheeks.” In reference to John 11:35 (Jesus’s weeping at the tomb of Lazarus), Warfield explains that these were “tears of sympathy. Even more clearly, his own unrestrained wailing over Jerusalem and its stubborn unbelief was the expression of the most poignant pity…(Luke 19:41)…The sight of suffering drew tears from his eyes; obstinate unbelief convulsed him with uncontrollable grief.”

To read other posts in this series on Jesus and emotions, click on the “Emotions” category link below, or see the Biblical Counseling Coalition site where my whole series on the emotions of Jesus was republished.

You can download a free PDF of Warfield’s essay here at

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