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Bear One Another’s Burdens

 6

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.


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1. Brethren, if a man be overtaken in any fault 9494     “In the original it is ἔν τινι παραπτώματι, ‘in any fault.’ The expression is general, though it seems to refer to those works of the flesh of which he had made mention in the 19th and following verses of the foregoing chapter. ‘If in any of these faults any person should happen to be overtaken;’ the last word seems to denote somewhat of a surprise, by which a man might be drawn into a sin, without any previous deliberate purpose or design; a sin committed through some extraordinary and sudden temptation. The last words of the verse, ‘lest thou also be tempted,’ seem plainly to intimate that this was the apostle’s meaning.” — Chandler. Ambition is a serious and alarming evil. But hardly less injury is frequently done by unseasonable and excessive severity, which, under the plausible name of zeal, springs in many instances from pride, and from dislike and contempt of the brethren. Most men seize on the faults of brethren as an occasion of insulting them, and of using reproachful and cruel language. Were the pleasure they take in upbraiding equalled by their desire to produce amendment, they would act in a different manner. Reproof, and often sharp and severe reproof, must be administered to offenders. But while we must not shrink from a faithful testimony against sin, neither must we omit to mix oil with the vinegar.

We are here taught to correct the faults of brethren in a mild manner, and to consider no rebukes as partaking a religious and Christian character which do not breathe the spirit of meekness. To gain this object, he explains the design of pious reproofs, which is, to restore him who is fallen, to place him in his former condition. That design will never be accomplished by violence, or by a disposition to accuse, or by fierceness of manner or language; and consequently, we must display a gentle and meek spirit, if we intend to heal our brother. And lest any man should satisfy himself with assuming the outward form, he demands the spirit of meekness; for no man is prepared for chastising a brother till he has succeeded in acquiring a gentle spirit. 9595     “I observe an agreement in a somewhat peculiar rule of Christian conduct, as laid down in this epistle, and as exemplified in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. It is not the repetition of the same general precept, which would have been a coincidence of little value; but it is the general precept in one place, and the application of that precept to an actual occurrence in the other. (See 2 Corinthians 2:6-8.) I have little doubt but that it was the same mind which dictated these two passages.” Paley’s Horae Paulinae.

Another argument for gentleness in correcting brethren is contained in the expression, “if a man be overtaken.” If he has been carried away through want of consideration, or through the cunning arts of a deceiver, it would be cruel to treat such a man with harshness. Now, we know that the devil is always lying in wait, and has a thousand ways of leading us astray. When we perceive a brother to have transgressed, let us consider that he has fallen into the snares of Satan; let us be moved with compassion, and prepare our minds to exercise forgiveness. But offenses and falls of this description must undoubtedly be distinguished from deep seated crimes, accompanied by deliberate and obstinate disregard of the authority of God. Such a display of wicked and perverse disobedience to God must be visited with greater severity, for what advantage would be gained by gentle treatment? The particle if also, (ἐὰν καὶ,) implies that not only the weak who have been tempted, but those who have yielded to temptation, shall receive forbearance.

Ye who are spiritual. This is not spoken in irony; for, however spiritual they might be, still they were not wholly filled with the Spirit. It belongs to such persons to raise up the fallen. To what better purpose can their superior attainments be applied than to promote the salvation of the brethren? The more eminently any man is endowed with Divine grace, the more strongly is he bound to consult the edification of those who have been less favored. But such is our folly, that in our best duties we are apt to fail, and therefore need the exhortation which the apostle gives to guard against the influence of carnal views.

Considering thyself. It is not without reason that the apostle passes from the plural to the singular number. He gives weight to his admonition, when he addresses each person individually, and bids him look carefully into himself. “Whoever thou art that takest upon thee the office of reproving others, look to thyself.” Nothing is more difficult than to bring us to acknowledge or examine our own weakness. Whatever may be our acuteness in detecting the faults of others, we do not see, as the saying is, “the wallet that hangs behind our own back;” 9696     Catullus. and therefore, to arouse us to greater activity, he employs the singular number.

These words may admit of two senses. As we acknowledge that we are liable to sin, we more willingly grant that forgiveness to others which, in our turn, we expect will be extended to us. Some interpret them in this manner: “Thou who art a sinner, and needest the compassion of thy brethren, oughtest not to show thyself fierce and implacable to others.” 9797     “Even in those who do not need forbearance, nothing is more becoming than gentleness; and I reckon him to be the best and most blameless man who pardons others, as if he were daily sinning, and yet abstains from sin, as if he pardoned nobody.” — Plin. Ep. But I would rather choose to expound them as a warning given by Paul, that, in correcting others, we should not ourselves commit sin. There is a danger here which deserves our most careful attention, and against which it is difficult to guard; for nothing is more easy than to exceed the proper limits. The word tempt, however, may very properly be taken in this passage as extended to the whole life. Whenever we have occasion to pronounce censure, let us begin with ourselves, and, remembering our own weakness, let us be indulgent to others.




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