Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Whatever makes right living, according to the law of God, difficult to a sincere man — that is a burden. It may be in his mental constitution; it may be in his bodily health; it may be in the habits of his education; it may be in his relation to worldly affairs; it may be in his domestic circumstances; it may be in his peculiar liabilities to temptation and sin. It includes the whole catalogue of conditions, and influences, and causes, that weigh men down, and hinder them, when they are endeavouring sincerely to live lives of rectitude. What is the meaning, then, of Bearing? It is, generally, such a course of conduct towards our fellow-men, as shall enable them more easily to carry and manage their infirmities and troubles. It is a spirit of compassion and hopefulness excited in view of men's failures and moral obliquities, rather than a spirit of fault-finding and criticism.
(1) This teaching forbids all moral indifference to others. You have no right to be unconcerned, whether men act rightly or wrongly — whether they are good or bad, That spirit which says: "I will take care of my own self, and let other men take care of themselves," is of the devil. The spirit of God is this: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of another." That spirit which says of a man's conduct: "Oh, it is his own look-out, not mine," is un-Christian. It is his own look-out; but it is yours, too. And no man has a right to call himself a Christian, who, living among men, finds that the only thing he cares for is himself — that the only things that affect his mind are moral considerations of his own purity and his own enjoyment.
(2) This Divine command also forbids the spirit of hard judging. It forbids severity and unnecessary blaming. If a man does not believe, when he has done wrong, that he is in the wrong, it is perfectly right for us to apply the rule of judgment to his case, and convince him of his error; but we are not to be stern, nor harsh, nor severe, but gentle, sympathizing, and all-loving and helpful.
(3) The text pointedly excludes all manner of pleasure in the wrong-doing of other men.
2. Positively. We are commanded to sympathize with men though sinful; and to have patience with them on account of their sins. We make up our minds to treat babes tenderly, because they are babes. We treat sick people with greater forbearance than we do the sound and healthy. We put ourselves out of the way for the sake of those that are blind and deaf. By as much as men are defrauded of any sense, or weakened in any power, we afford them protection. By as much as men are physically unfortunate, we have learned how to show them consideration and kindness. The same spirit must be enlarged in our treatment of men in respect to their interior state. We must expand this same rule of judgment, and apply it to men's characters.If a man's understanding is darkened, and his conscience is perverted, we are to judge him accordingly.
1. Of course this passage inculcates the largest spirit of sympathy towards all men in trouble. If any trouble befalls those within the circuit of our affections, we need no exhortation on this point. Nature teaches us to bear the burdens of those we love. But this spirit should go out, quickened by the spirit of Christianity, beyond our own household. Every human being brought to our hands in trouble is a messenger of God. His trouble is a letter of introduction, his nature is a declaration of brotherhood, and his destiny links him to us with an irrefragable chain!
2. This sympathy and helpfulness should not be confined to troubles of "bereavement" — to trouble occasioned by "disasters," so-called; but should include all the affairs of life. And the lowest should be helped first, and the most needy should be helped most.
3. But I go further: for these are things more frequently preached, and more obvious to your understanding. I remark, therefore, in the third place, that the spirit of our text requires that, in judging of men, and dealing with them, we should recognize the constitutional differences of mind which exist among them, and should not seek to compel all minds as if they were like our own. When, therefore, you go to a man, as a Christian and a benefactor, to bear his burdens, you must take into consideration what his nature and circumstances have been. If he has sunk low in the scale of being, you must ask, "How came he here? Has he not been subjected to a power of down-pulling, such as I can scarcely form any conception of?" I think the bitterest reprehensions of evil which we hear, would be spared, if men would only reflect upon these things.
4. We need only to vary this thought a little to make it apply to our requisitions in social intercourse. Much domestic unhappiness comes from the fact that people do not know, or do not enough recognize, the peculiarities of each other's natures. They expect impossible things of each other. If a flaming, demonstrative nature, and a cool, undemonstrative nature, come together, neither of them understanding or making allowance for the peculiarities of the other, there can scarcely fail of being unhappiness.
5. We are to have a nice and tender regard to the peculiar circumstances of men — their external conditions. The health of men, and its relation to their disposition, strength, fidelity, and efficiency, is seldom enough pondered. Still less is education taken into account,
6. We must guard against a judgment formed of men from the effect of their mind-action upon us, rather than from a consideration of their real moral character. A man may make you feel happy, and yet be a bad man. A man may leave you unhappy, and yet be a good man. Your sensations of pain or pleasure are not to measure your fellow-men's character. Selfishness may gild you like sunshine. Vanity may court you, and pride may patronize you. But so, too, conscience in a good man may leave you stirred up. Truth may put you to discontent.
7. The spirit of this teaching forbids us to employ our rights of pleasure in such a way as to harm men.
8. The spirit of this passage forbids that we should make the failings of other men a source of amusement to ourselves. To watch to see what is awkward in others; to search out the infirmities of men; to go out like a street-sweeper, or a universal scavenger, to collect the faults and failings of people; to carry these things about as if they were cherries or flowers; to throw them out of your bag or pouch, and make them an evening repast, or a noonday meal, or the amusement of a social hour, enlivened by unfeeling criticism, heartless jests, and cutting sarcasms; to take a man up as you would a chicken, and gnaw his flesh from his very bones, and then lay him down, saying with fiendish exultation, "There is his skeleton," — this is devilish!Concluding remarks:
1. No man can fulfil the spirit of this Divine command, who does not dwell in the spirit of love. A momentary flush, kindled for the occasion, will not do. It must pervade all parts of the heart. It must have long dwelt with you, until your habits of thought, your instinctive judgments, the expression of your face, the outlook of your eyes, and your very tones, gestures, and attitudes, are animated with it — yea, till it is the spontaneous and inevitable outburst of life in you. Then you will be able to look at men in the right way. When you have this abiding spirit of love, so that all your faculties live in it, and have been drilled in it, then, no matter how large a duty seems to be, your performance of it will be just as easy.
2. When men are so pervaded, it is not hard, but easy, for them to bear other men's burdens — to be unselfish and unselfishly benevolent. When we speak of things being easy in Christian life, we always imply the presence in the soul of true love. Take an old gambler — or a young one, it makes no difference which; for they are both alike. With him cheating is inevitable. Gambling and cheating are only interchangeable terms. No man gambles that does not cheat. After such a man has gone through years and years and years, practising his various tricks and sleights of dexterity, if you talk in his presence of a man being honest, he will laugh at you. He will not believe that a man can be honest; or, if he does believe it, he will say to himself, "What a power a man must require to enable him to be honest. Why, there was a man who was so situated that he could have possessed himself of a hundred thousand dollars, by just signing his name, and he did not do it I He must have had an almost omnipotent power, or he could not have resisted that temptation." And if you go to the man who did that thing, and ask him if he did not find it hard to refuse the money, he will say, "It would have required omnipotence to make me take it. I could not do such a thing. I could not live with myself after committing a deed like that." Why? Because he has been trained to the very heroism of honesty. It is as inevitable for him to be honest as it was for the other man to be dishonest. It is not hard for a really refined man to be refined. It is the easiest thing he can do. If a man's heart is pervaded by Christian love, it is not hard for him to perform the deeds and works of Christian love. And Christian graces, as set forth in the New Testament, imply this atmosphere of love in the soul. If you read gardening books, they direct you how to raise flowers and plants; but it is not necessary for you to read to find out that certain plants require a certain kind of climate. The nature of each plant implies the particular kind of climate which is adapted to its growth. You do not need to be told that a warm climate is indispensable to the production of pomegranate and olive-trees. Now when God says "Christian graces," he means climate also; and love is that climate. And when a man possesses the spirit of Christian love, it is not hard for him to live the life of a Christian.
3. When we are addicted to this love, we every day become more and more like God.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.