Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
The apostle here goes even beyond what he has laid down in another very large and comprehensive precept, "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep." He requires something more than sympathy — more at least than sympathy as commonly understood, though not perhaps more than sympathy in its strict literal import. One man is generally said to sympathize with another, who is pained, when and because that other is pained; and sympathy, as thus understood, is little more than pity or commiseration. But to suffer with another — which is actually to sympathize — this goes much beyond the weeping with another. It is the making the griefs of that other mine own; so that the blow is on me as well as on him, and the wound is in my heart as well as in his. The members of one family accurately sympathize, or suffer together, when death has come in, and snatched one from their circle. The loss is a common loss, affecting all equally, and the sorrow of each is literally the sorrow of every other. A Christian friend or minister may visit the disconsolate household, animated by the kindliest feelings, and sincerely desirous to afford them a measure of consolation, through the manifest interest which he takes in their grief; and he may succeed; for exhibitions of kindliness have the great faculty of going like balm to the heart. The tears which friendship sheds in our woe, possess the wonderful property of staunching our own. But nevertheless, this comforting visitor may rather feel for than with the afflicted. They have lost a brother or a sister, but he does not necessarily feel as though he had lost a brother or a sister. The blow has made them orphans, but he does not necessarily feel as though it had made him an orphan. And thus, whilst he may literally and thoroughly obey the injunction which requires of him that he "weep with them that weep," he may yet be far off from that actual sympathy — that suffering with them that suffer — which is described in the text; where you are not only enjoined to commiserate with the oppressed, but so to put yourselves into their position as to bear their burdens. And yet it is evident that so far as Christianity succeeds in restoring the brotherhood which sin has infringed, it will substitute sympathy thus strictly understood, for that which in our present broken state has usurped the definition. It is only needful that I come to regard any one of you as a brother; and when he loses a kinsman, I shall lose a kinsman. I shall not merely be sorry for his bereavement, but I shall feel that the bereavement is my own. So far as two families can be made one, the sorrows of either are the sorrows of both; and if there were but one vast family on the face of the earth, whatsoever afflicted the individual would afflict the mass... Who can tell us what Christian philanthropy would be, if the law of membership were felt and obeyed. You ought — this is what St. Paul seems to enjoin and exhort in the text — you ought to remember the imprisoned and burdened, not merely as being your fellow creatures, but rather as being, in a certain sense, yourselves. What a motive to exertion on their behalf! How earnest, how unremitting, would be that exertion, if that motive were indeed in full force. You tell me, for instance, of unfortunate captives who have fallen into the hands of cruel taskmasters. They are shut out from the cheerful light of day; they eat their bread in bitterness of soul, and almost long for death; and you say to me, Remember them, Remember them! Why, you have told me of myself! It is my own captivity which you have described; it is the clanking of my own chains which you have made me hear; and I must struggle for their emancipation, that my limbs may be free, and that I may breathe the fresh air of heaven. O Christians 1 what would be your benevolence, if you felt that they were your own members which you were invited to succour? And it is quite evident from the text, that nothing less is expected of you as professed disciples of Christ. The apostle introduces the principle of membership, just as he might the simplest and most elementary of truths. He is not proposing any rule or standard to which men were unaccustomed, but, on the contrary, one which, as being generally acknowledged, needed only to be indicated by a passing remark. And yet it is possible enough, that the doctrine which we have now endeavoured to lay down, will appear to many of you to have the air of a new and far-fetched speculation. "Give us," you are ready to say, "pictures or descriptions of distress; expatiate upon the miseries by which numbers are oppressed; and move our feelings by a touching tale of human grief; but as to wishing us to make the wretchedness our own — that we should labour for its alleviation, just as though it were pressing upon ourselves — that is altogether beyond nature, and its possibility is but the fiction of an exaggerated theology!" Beyond nature, we confess it; but not beyond grace. The Christian is not to be content until, in relieving the distressed, he can feel that he acts upon the great principle of membership. It must not be enough for him that his heart yearns at the tale of calamity, and that he is ready to employ his money and his time in lightening the pressure of which he has been told; he must see to it that he have part in the bearing, as well as in the relieving of the calamity.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.