We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.…
1. In the grouping of nature dissimilar things are brought together, and by serving each other's wants and furnishing the complement to each other's beauty, present a whole more perfect than the sum of all the parts. The several kingdoms of nature are not like our political empires, enclosed with jealous boundaries. They form an indissoluble economy; the mineral sub-doing itself with a basis for the organic, the vegetable supporting the animal, the vital culminating in the spiritual; weak things clinging to the strong, as moss to the oak's trunk, and the insect to its leaf; death acting as the purveyor of life and life playing the sexton to death. Mutual service in endless gradation is clearly the world's great law.
2. In the natural grouping of human life the same rule is found. A family is a combination of opposites; the woman depending on the man, whose very strength, however, exists only by her weakness; the child hanging on the parent, whose power were no blessing were it not compelled to stoop in gentleness; the brother protecting the sister, whose affections would have but half their wealth, were they not brought to lean upon him in trustful pride; and even among seeming equals, the impetuous quieted by the thoughtful, and the timid finding shelter with the brave.
3. This principle distinguishes natural society from artificial association. The assortment of civilisation unites all elements that are alike and separates the unlike. Instead of throwing men into harmonious groups it analyses them into distinct classes. Life is passed in the presence not of unequals but of equals. Only those who of the same sect, rank, or party and are found in the same society. Not that this is entirely evil. To live among our equals teaches self-reliance and self-restraint, and enforces a respect for other's rights, and a vigilant guardianship of our own. But while it invigorates the energies of purpose it is apt to blight the higher graces of the mind; and in confirming the moralities of the will to impair the devoutness of the affections. A man among his equals is like a schoolboy at his play, whose eager voice, disputatious claim, defiance of wrong, and derision of the feeble, betray that self-will is wide awake and pity lulled to sleep. But see the same child in his home, and the deferential look, the hand of generous help, show how with beings above and beneath him he can forget himself in gentle thoughts and quiet reference. And so it is with us all. The world is not given to us as a playground or a school alone, where we may learn to fight our way upon our own level; but as a domestic system, surrounding us with weaker souls for our hand to succour, and stronger ones for our hearts to serve.
4. The faith of Christ throws together the unlike ingredients which civilisation had sifted out from one another. Every true Church represents the unity which the world had dissolved. The moment a man becomes a disciple his exclusive self-reliance vanishes. He trusts another than himself; he loves a better spirit than his own; and while living in what is human aspires to what is Divine. And in this new opening of a world above him a fresh light comes down upon the world beneath him. Aspiration and pity rush into his heart from opposite directions. If there were no ranks of souls within our view; if all were upon a platform of republican equality, no royalty of goodness and no slavery of sin; if nothing great subdued us to allegiance, and nothing sad and shameful roused us to compassion, I believe that all Divine truth would remain inaccessible and our existence be reduced to that of intelligent and amiable animals.
5. A great Roman poet and philosopher was fond of defining religion as a reverence for inferior beings: and if this does not express its nature it designates one of its effects. True there could be no reverence for lower natures were there not to begin with the recognition of a Supreme Mind; but from that moment we certainly look on all beneath with a different eye. It becomes an object, not of pity and protection only, but of sacred respect; and our sympathy, which had been that of a humane fellow-creature, is converted into the deferential help of a devout worker of God's will. And so the loving service of the weak and wanting is an essential part of the discipline of the Christian life. Some habitual association with the poor, the dependent, the sorrowful, is an indispensable source of the highest elements of character. If we are faithful to the obligations which such contact with infirmity must bring, it will make us descend into healthful depths of sorrowful affection which else we should never reach. Yea, and if we are unfaithful to our trust; if sorrows fall on some poor dependent charge, from which it was our broken purpose to shield his head, still it is good that we have known him. Had we hurt a superior, we should have expected punishment; had we offended an equal, we should have looked for his displeasure; and these things once endured the crisis would have been past. But to have injured the weak, who must be dumb before us, and look up with only the lines of grief which we have traced, this strikes an awful anguish into our hearts. For the weak, the child, the outcast, they that have none to help them, raise up an Infinite Protector on their side, and by their very wretchedness sustain the faith of justice ever on the throne.
(J. Martineau, LL.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.