Brothers, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness…
I. CHRISTIAN WAY OF TREATING A FALLEN BROTHER.
1. It is our duty to restore him. "Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted." This subject arises out of the warning against vain-glory at the close of the last chapter. When a vain-glorious spirit possesses a society, some provoke as superiors, and others are filled with envy as inferiors. Vainglory is usually connected with such external things as rank and wealth. The apostle here supposes it carried beyond these, carried even (that seems to be the force of the word) into the inner sphere of character. He supposes some one connected with the society (presumably the Christian society) falling into sin. He describes him as overtaken in some trespass. The language defines without excusing. It indicates that the trespass was solitary or occasional, and not habitual. If it had been habitual, then he was not entitled to a place in the society, and the proper course toward him would have been excommunication. But the trespass was not to be regarded as a fair representation of his character as a whole. He was overtaken in it, before he rightly considered what he was doing. That by no means relieved him from blame. It showed a want of steadiness in his Christian course. It showed a want of reliance on the Divine supports. It showed carelessness in the use of appointed means. It could be said to him, "Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, when he led thee by the way?" In such a case, then, how was he to be dealt with by the spiritual, i.e. not those who remained true to Paul and his doctrine, nor those who were strong, but those who, according to the Christian idea, desired to be led by the Spirit, to express the mind of the Spirit, i.e. in the specified circumstances. It is the teaching of the apostle that we are to restore a fallen brother. It is to be our object that he should be brought to a right state of mind. That he should trespass and not be sorry for it would be neither for his good nor for the good of the society. A fallen brother having evinced sorrow, we are to receive him back into the place which he formerly occupied, even as we believe that Christ, from his treatment of sinners when on earth, receives him back. We are to restore him in the spirit of meekness, i.e. in the spirit which, while characterized by faithfulness, is chiefly characterized by meekness. There is to be the absence of self-exaltation. We are not to triumph over a brother, as though his fall added to our importance. There is to be the absence of that harshness which accompanies self-exaltation. We are not to wish to give him a sense of his inferiority to us in respect of his fall, nor are we to wish that he should be filled with sorrow or kept back in any way more than the ends of holiness require. We are not to break the bruised reed, nor to quench the smoking flax. The ground on which we are to restore him is of the strongest nature, and, to bring it home with more power, there is a singling out of the reader, "Looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Thou art to look to thyself as not beyond trial. Thou art to look to thyself as having elements of weakness in thy flesh; and therefore liable to be tempted, and, when tempted, to fall. Nay, thou art to think of thyself as having in the past been tempted and having fallen before temptation. It has been said that, when looking on an offending brother, we may reflect with ourselves - We either are, or have been, or may be all that he is. If we have not sinned in the same form, yet have we sinned in a form which may be as heinous before God. We are to regard the fall of a brother only as a call to self-humiliation and tender dealing.
2. This is to fulfil the law of Christ. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." Mutual dependence is a law of the universe. As the philosophic poet has it, "All are but parts of one stupendous whole.' Nothing stands alone; each depends on all. Look at the innumerable worlds that inhabit space. God might have held each world in its place separately and out of relation to every other world. But he has chosen to hold all worlds together as a universe, or one vast world, by a law according to which all worlds and all particles of matter also attract one another in a certain proportion to mass and distance. The material world is one vast inter-dependency, so finely balanced that a modification of a part would necessarily be the modification of the whole; while the aberration of a large mass might be the destruction of the whole. The apostle points out the same thing in the human body. "The eye cannot say unto the head, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you." As in the human body, so it is in human society. The greatest happiness of individuals is not to be attained by each being his own servant, but by there being division of labour and each being as much as possible the servant of all. The greatest happiness of nations is not to be attained by each keeping within its own resources; but by each developing its own resources to the utmost, and exchanging them for those of other nations. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that Christ, in founding a society, lays down this law of dependence for its regulation. Indeed, he has to enact no new law, but only to give a higher sanction and application to an existing law. He finds men already dependent on one another, all the more by the entrance of sin, and he takes advantage of this for the training of his people. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." It is implied that there are certain burdens which one Christian can bear for another, and which that other can bear for him, and which can in this way be lightened for them both.
(1) Burden of want. We mean the burden of poverty which is commonly called want, being most palpably, though not most really, so. For we have all to be supplied with our daily bread, and, while some are rich or comparatively rich, i.e. to say, have more than they need, others are poor or comparatively poor, i.e. to say, have less than they need. God might have ordained all to be rich and none to be poor in the Church. But he has, on the contrary, ordained some to be rich and others to be poor, i.e. to say, he has made a dependence of the poor on the rich. "The poor," says the Lawgiver here, "ye have always with you." And we look forward to no golden era of science when there shall be no poor in our Churches. Certain it is that many are poor by circumstances over which they have had no control. And, while trade is not conducted on thoroughly Christian principles, which it will never be while there is sin and selfishness in the heart of man, there will always be circumstances bearing hard on some of our Church members. Now, we are to consider the care of the Christian poor. Having little coming in and perhaps many mouths to fill, they have a real burden on their minds, a burden which we would not choose to bear for ourselves. And the law of Christ is that we are to bear this burden for our fellow-members, those of us who are in a position to do it - bear it as we would have them to do it for us in like circumstances. Why are we not in their position and they not in ours? why have we more than enough and the less than enough? is it not of favour, and of favour that we may minister to their necessity? And we should minister to their necessity were it only for our own good, to counteract that greed which is apt to grow insidiously upon men who are prospering. And for this reason it were, perhaps, to be wished that there were more poor in some of our Churches, that there might be a greater flow of Christian charity. We are to bear this burden for them, as those who have the same heavenly bread to eat of. A little sacrifice on our part may do much to lighten their burdens and cheer their hearts. And we should be quick to know where we can do good in this way. If there are not always those who are in clamant need, there are always those whose struggle for subsistence might well be made easier, whose difficulties might well be made fewer, and whose comforts might well be added to. As to the way in which we are to do it, we are to do it with discrimination, as good stewards of what we have been entrusted with for others. We are to do it as though it were a luxury to ourselves, and not as though we were conferring an obligation. We may do it secretly when it is no object to manifest personal kindness. We are always to do it with reverence. For, if there is anything in our bearing calculated to destroy the self-respect of the recipient, when he is taken at a disadvantage, then we may be removing one burden, but we are at the same time laying another upon him which it will be more difficult for him to bear. When we give help to any one we should be very studious to make him feel that he is our equal in being a man, and, in the case before us, a Christian.
(2) Burden of affliction. We mean the burden of sickness or bereavement. For we are all mortal. "Death has set his mark and seal" on our bodies. We are all liable to sickness and decay. And, when we come within the precincts of the Church, we do not leave our ills behind us. But here, of this one and of that one it is said, "He is sick." Now, we are to consider the case of the afflicted members of the Church. They have a burden to bear. When of those beloved one after another is laid in the grave, the burden of mortality presses heavily enough upon them. "What could be heavier?" they seem to say through their tears. When, by a succession of premonitory symptoms, they are made aware that their own health is failing, the burden seems to press yet more heavily. It is something more to feel for themselves as if life were slipping out of their grasp. When, at last, they are prostrated upon the bed of sickness and are withdrawn, perhaps for ever, from the wonted scene, from the sanctuary, from the sphere of usefulness, the burden seems to be weighted as with lead, and there is a multitude of thoughts within them. Now, Christ has appointed for such; and his law laid upon fellow-members is, "Bear ye this burden for them." We are to bear this burden for them; for we may yet be in their case, and we should like the same office to be performed for us. We are to bear this burden for them; for so closely are we related to them, that it is as though part of ourselves were suffering. If we have a fine spiritual organism, then, what a fellow-Christian suffers will, as it were, vibrate through us. We are to bear this burden in the way of sympathy. We may show our sympathy by a visit to the sick-bed, by a kind inquiry, by a kind office, by a kind expression, by a kind look. We are to be studious to show that we are not wholly taken up with ourselves, but have a place and a tender feeling for them. For, oh, when life is ebbing, it is hard to think that they are forsaken; while it is cheering to think that there are around them messengers of Christ, each, as it were, conveying to them a portion of the Master's sympathy. It is a great accomplishment to be able to administer consolation.
"The noblest art
Is his, who skills of comfort best;
Whom by the softest step and gentlest tone
Enfeebled spirits own,
And love to raise the languid eye,
When like an angel's wing, they feel him fleeting by;
Feel only, for in silence gently gliding
Fain would he shun both ear and sight." We should cultivate this Divine art, that we may become proficients in it. We should seek each to be a Barnabas, a son of consolation, especially to the Lord's afflicted ones. It is a fine spectacle to see a pilgrim bearing the burden of a fellow-pilgrim who may be nearing his journey's end. May the Lord, by his grace, break our hearts, so that we shall feel, as with his own fineness of feeling, for every sick Lazarus in our midst!
(3) Burden of spiritual need. We mean the burden connected with our living the Christian life. For we have all our spiritual difficulties. We find it hard, with our natural weakness, to live up to the Christian standard. As Christians, we all need encouragement. Now, the ordinance of Christ is that we are to bear this burden for one another. We are to assist one another against the evil of our hearts, against the temptations of life. For this purpose we are constituted into a society, and not left each to live the Christian life apart by ourselves. As members of the same Christian society, we are to be interested not least in one another's highest welfare. It is very encore aging to think that there are persons interested in us as spiritual beings, who have passed through similar experiences themselves, and who are, therefore, anxious to do us all the good that lies in their power. While very sad must it be to be possessed with such a thought as that which possessed the psalmist - we have all felt a little of it in certain moods - "I looked on my right hand and beheld, but there was no one that would know me, refuge failed me, no man cared for my soul." The burden to which we are specially referred in the context is the burden of trespass with which a brother is weighted. Of all burdens, the only intolerable burden is sin. Far more than the burden which a fellowman may lay upon us, or than what God may see fit to lay upon us, is what we lay upon ourselves when we incur guilt. Of all positions in which human beings may be placed, the worst is that of impenitence, of insensibility to sin. Next to that is when we have been awakened and have afterward been overtaken in a trespass. When there is want of sensibility as to the evil of what we have done, that is an aggravating circumstance. Now, we are to feel burdened with the burden of our brother's trespass. We are to feel vexed and saddened that he has fallen, even as though we had fallen ourselves. We are not to feel for him as though he had been simply unfortunate, but we are to feel for him as placed in the grievous position of having sinned against God. Our sympathy is not to amount to tolerating sin in him. Neither can it avail to relieve him from his guilt. But it may avail to increase his sensibility to sin, and to encourage the desire in him to be delivered from his awful position. The apostle's teaching, in keeping with Galatians 5:14, is that the bearing of one another's burdens gives completeness to our filling up of the Law.
II. VAIN-GLORIOUS WAY OF TREATING A FALLEN BROTHER.
1. The root of the evil. "For if a man thinketh himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." It is true that he who triumphs over a brother in his fall injures him, by discouraging him from coming back to the paths of rectitude. But the apostle goes to the root of the matter when he says that he practises deception on himself. He thinks himself to be something when he is nothing. That is true of the vain-glorious man. That in respect of which he raises himself above his neighbour is unreal, or he is in the way of making it unreal by the spirit in which he regards it. And thus in the false importance he attaches to himself he is prevented from being sympathetic, He does not bear his neighbour's burden, because he does not feel his own.
2. Corrective. "But let each man prove his own work, and then shall he have his glorying in regard of himself alone, and not of his neighbour." Let him apply the proper tests. Let him not compare himself, especially with one with whom he thinks he can compare favourably. But let him compare himself with the Bible standard. Let him compare himself with the example of Christ. Let him apply the test of humility, "God resisteth the proud, but he giveth grace to the humble." Let him apply the test of brotherly love, "We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren." The result of this self-examination will be to bring us to reality. If we have the root of the matter in us, then we shall be able to discover the working of Divine grace in us. And if there is also evil discovered, then that, being reason for our being humbled before God, will lead to ore' having more reality. And then, through self-examination, shall we have matter for glorying in regard of ourselves alone, and not of our neighbour.
3. Reason for self-examination. "For each man shall bear his own burden." It was said in the second verse, "Bear ye one another's burdens." Here it is added, with sufficient nearness to be paradoxical, "For each man shall bear his own burden." The first representation was that of standing beside a brother, holding up his burden for him. The representation here is that of each man standing solitarily by himself, bearing his own burden. Strong but not very conclusive assertions are made that this is not the burden of responsibility. The burden to which reference was made at the beginning of the paragraph was the burden of trespass. This we are to share with a brother. Then comes in the thought of such self-deception as prevents us sharing it sympathetically with him. Following upon that is an exhortation to apply proper tests to our conduct as a whole, the result being that, if we have the root of the matter in us, we shall have matter for glorying in regard of ourselves alone, and not in regard of our neighbour. And then the apostle seems to add that we have immediately to stand before God, each with his own burden. It is true that the burden includes the burden of trespasses. And it is true that the fact that we have trespasses should make us sympathetic. But that which weights the burden of our conduct as a whole, and which should make us tender to each other, is that we have immediately to render our account to God. The thought then is - We are to feel for our brother, who in his trespass has a heavy and incommunicable load of responsibility; for in our own trespasses we have a load of responsibility that is heavy and incommunicable too.
(1) It is a burden which cannot be refused or laid down at pleasure. By a mere wish we cannot be irresponsible. We are, in this respect, as clay in the hands of the potter. We have not the choice of our own existence or of our non-existence. All that pertains to our coming into existence, and to our constitution, has been ordained by a sovereign God, who for good and wise ends has made us, and has made us responsible. Now, what does God require of us? It is, in New Testament language, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Apart from the graciousness of this, there is its imperativeness. We have not been consulted as to the making of this command; but it has been imposed in virtue of God's sovereign prerogative to lay commands on us. Is there any question as to the desirability of salvation? It is enough that God wishes to see us saved. Is there any objection to the particular way of being saved? It is enough to say that this is God's way. Having appointed it, there is no question of preference, but simply of obedience. Is there any discretion as to time? ]t is said, "Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation." If God says now, then it is at our peril if we delay for an hour. It is well to have the command laid upon us in all its imperativeness, that we may feel driven, as by weight of authority, to Christ for salvation. There is responsibility connected with our whole life. We have not really the disposal of anything, apart from God's way of disposing of it. God's will must rule our disposal of our time, of our talents, of our property.
(2) It is a burden which we cannot devolve upon another. This is its incommunicableness, which weights it so much. We must act for ourselves in the matter of our salvation. If we wait until others save us we shall never be saved at all. They may give us their sympathy, and by their prayers and appeals influence us; but they cannot act in our soul's stead, and accept of Christ for us. Why have we been so nobly gifted? Is it not that we may act for ourselves, and not need to hold on to another? We are to act out our convictions of what is right, as those that will have to stand before the judgment-seat and give an account of all our acts. And surely we can never see our way as responsible beings to reject salvation. It will be found that all among whom our lot is cast will not be on the side of our best interests. There will be some who would lead us to ruin, as though our souls were only to be played with. But if others choose to go to ruin, that is no reason why we should go with them. And yet it is to be feared that many ruin their souls merely to please or not to displease their friend. But no one can be excused for this. For what is that but thinking more of our friend than el God? It is at our peril if we can be influenced by a fellow-man when he asks us to sin, and not be influenced by God when he asks us to be saved. If those who seek to lead us away could take our responsibility and relieve us from the consequences of our acts, then we might have some inducement to go with them. But that is what none of them can do, be he ever so great. "Wherefore should I fear [i.e. to say, slavishly] when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about? They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him (for the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth [i.e. there is a time when it ceaseth] for ever), that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption." If no one, however great, can do this, then we must act for ourselves and refuse to be influenced for evil. Oh that men, when asked to take a wrong step, would only consider before God how they are alone as responsible beings, standing or falling by themselves ]
(3) It is a burden which we are always free to bear. We mean all who have the use of reason. We can never be forced to sin. If we could be forced, then sin would be no more sin. We sometimes hear of one being a martyr to circumstances. That is not altogether true. What God requires of us varies, indeed, according to circumstances. And there are those who have been placed under great disadvantages compared with others. But, however badly placed we have been, we cannot say that we have been necessitated to refuse salvation. With the offer of Christ in the gospel we have the power of rising above circumstances. Whatever the difficulties in our way, let Christ be glorified in our triumphing over them. At the last day it will be no valid excuse that our difficulties were great. The testing question will be - Could we have surmounted them? did we ever sincerely try to surmount them? If Christ shall ask if we tried his strength, what shall we be able to answer? Let us not lay the blame upon circumstances; let us lay the blame on our own evil hearts.
(4) It is a burden which may be borne lightly or irksomely. One bears the burden of daily toil with alight cheerful heart; another with a heavy heart. So is it with the burden of responsibility. We have reason to thank God that it can be borne lightly. Christ took over our heavy responsibilities. That was, not each bearing his own burden, but One bearing the burden of all. He has taken the weight of guilt out of our burden, and by his grace he can make us move freely in the groove of his purpose. There is resting upon every square inch of our bodies a weight of atmosphere equal to fifteen pounds; and yet it does not oppress us. We move freely under all that weight; we never think of it being there. With as little feeling of oppression do we bear, in Christ, the burden of our responsibilty. But if we stand out of relation to Christ, then it is as though we had two or three atmospheres upon us which would crush us. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.