We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.…
The text is a curt statement of one of those revolutionary principles which lean back upon the example and teaching of Christ. No rule of living is more familiar than that we must be ready to deny ourselves in a lesser to gain some greater good. But the rule of the text, in many quarters, came upon the world as an utter novelty. In some languages the very word "unselfishness" is wanting, and philanthropy in its deeper channels is unknown, even among the most cultivated classes who know not Christ.
I. THIS IS NOT LAW IN THE BRUTE CREATION.
1. Beneath man all life is engaged in a fierce struggle for existence. Each is bent on his own profit. The strong look out for themselves. The weak go to the wall. If the fittest do not always survive, the most cunning and the strongest do. The infirm are preyed upon or left mercilessly to perish.
2. An exception is found in the generous instinct of motherhood, but for which most animal races would become extinct. Another exception is afforded by the domestic animals. The dog will risk his life in his master's service, and die of a broken heart when he is dead. But once left to roam, these animals also seem to abandon themselves to the brute principle of utter selfishness.
II. THE LAW OF THE BRUTE CREATION PREDOMINATES LARGELY AMONG MEN WHERE THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL IS NOT FELT.
1. Human life is also a struggle for existence. Man, too, like the brute, is forced to be continually at work to keep off hunger, disease, and death. In the rush for fame and success the strong trample upon the feeling of the weak and increase their own strength by preying upon their infirmities.
2. Out of this root have come all despotisms, servitudes, and inhumanities. It is the human way to enforce the brutal principle of surviving by the sufferings and humiliations of the weak. Wars have for the most part grown out of the determination to exalt one's self by the losses of another. If a nation was weak, a stronger one would do in about the same way what the fierce king of the forest does with the passing gazelle. All slavery was for the most part in the first instance the outcome of the principle which the text tears to shreds. It is not so long ago that tortures were applied to the weak on rack and in cell, which could yield no profit except to the morbid appetite of the strong.
3. The spirit is not extinct. The refinement of the methods by which strength makes merchandise of the weaknesses of the infirm may cover up the brutality of the instinct, but does not change it.
III. THE GOSPEL HAS ANNOUNCED ANOTHER LAW OF LIFE FOR MAN. Here love and not force is supreme. Here no man liveth unto himself.
1. The struggle for self-existence goes on. The effort to survive is pressed. "Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure." "Work out your own salvation." "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence," etc. The obligation to help ourselves loses none of its emphasis. But with self-care is coupled concern for others, and those two draw the chariot of a regenerated life to the highest attainment and to the approval of God. The Christian law summons each to afford to others the most opportunity for the development of their faculties.
2. The world utters often a motto which is good as far as it goes. It is a great advance upon brutehood — "Live and let live." But behind this half-truth selfishness may hide itself. "Live and help others to live" is the motto of the gospel. "Look out for Number One" is a favourite maxim of the street, which, pushed alone, is the brutal principle in full sway. "Do good unto all men" is a maxim coming from a different atmosphere.
3. A chief test of Christian civilisation is the consideration with which the strong regard the infirmities of the weak. The home for the aged, the hospital, the refuge, etc., are the glory of our civilisation, as the brothels, the gambling dens, the saloons, etc., are its disgrace, but not its despair; for so long as the Cross lifts high its spectacle of mercy, the principle that the "strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak" will go among men like a stream of waters, pure as crystal. Our literature bears witness to the infusion of this human principle. The "Song of the Shirt" has a large circle of sympathetic readers. Lowell's "Sir Launfal" and a thousand other poems have their interest from the Christly spirit of regard for the weaknesses of others which they magnify. We read, as indicative of a great heart, the incident of Luther, who, instead of joining in the chase, caught the hunted hare and hid it under his cloak, because the chase reminded him of the way in which Satan hunts for souls. And we step aside from his widely known deeds to the incident in Mr. Lincoln's life when, on his way with other lawyers to the court, he stopped to replace two young birds who had been blown out of their nest, saying, "I could not have slept if I had not restored those little birds to their mother." It was a most noble thing, when Naples was suffering from the ravages of cholera, for King Humbert to turn aside from the races, where he had made appointment to be, and to hasten to the relief of his people. For the motto, "The fittest survive," the gospel substitutes the watchword, "The lost must be saved."
IV. IN CHRIST WE HAVE THE FULL EMBODIMENT OF THE LOFTY RULE. Who had better right to please Himself than the Son of God? But of Him it is said, "Even Christ pleased not Himself." He humbled Himself unto the death of the Cross, that He might bear our griefs and carry our sorrows.
(P. S. Schaff, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.