by Thomas Brooks
Now there are eleven duties that strong saints are to perform to those who are weak.
And the first is this.
[1.] Those who are strong ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak.
Romans 15:1, "We then who are strong," says the apostle, "ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." The word that is rendered to bear signifies to bear as pillars do bear the weight and burden of the house; to bear as porters do bear their burdens, or as the bones do bear the flesh, or rather as parents bear their babes in their arms.
"Bear the infirmities." Mark, he does not say the enormities—but the infirmities; he does not say the wickedness—but the weakness. The strong ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak. The Lord bears with the weakness of his children. Peter is weak, and sinful through weakness; he will not let the Lord Jesus wash his feet, John 13; but the Lord Jesus knowing that this was from weakness, and not from wickedness, he passes it over, and notwithstanding his unkind refusal, he washes his feet. Thomas is very weak: "I will not believe," says he, "except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side," John 20:25. Now this Christ bears with much tenderness and sweetness, as you may see in ver. 27, "Then said he to Thomas, Reach hither your fingers, and behold my hands, and reach hither your hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless—but believing." The Lord Jesus does, as it were, open his wounds afresh; he overlooks his weakness. Well, says he, seeing it is so that you will not believe, I will rather bleed afresh than you shall die in your unbelief.
So the three disciples whom Christ had singled out to watch with him one hour, Mat. 26, they showed a great deal of weakness to be sleeping, when their Lord was a-sorrowing; to be snorting when their Savior was sighing, etc. Yet Christ bears this, and reacts sweetly towards them, and excuses their weakness: ver. 41, "The spirit is willing—but the flesh is weak." Oh how sweetly does the Lord behave! Every new man is two men; he has a contrary principle in him, the flesh and the spirit. The spirit, the noble part, is willing—but the flesh, the ignoble part, is weak and wayward.
Now shall the Lord thus bear with his weak ones, and shall not strong saints bear also? Remember, strong Christians, there was a day when you were as weak as others, as apt to fall as others, as easily conquered as others; and if then the Lord behaved sweetly towards you, let the same spirit be in you towards those who are weak. It will be no grief of heart to you, if in this you act like your Lord and Savior.
If you do not bear with the infirmities of the weak, who shall? who will? This wicked world cannot, nor will not. The world will make them transgressors for a word, and watch for their halting; and therefore you had need to bear with them so much the more, Isaiah 29:21, Jer. 20:10. The world's cruelty should stir up your compassions.
[2.] Secondly, As it is your duty to bear with them, so it is your duty to receive them into communion with you.
Romans 14:1, "Receive him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." That is, him who is not thoroughly persuaded of all things pertaining to Christian liberty, about things indifferent. He does not say, "Those who have no faith receive." For there is no rule for the saints or churches to receive them into communion, who have no faith, who have no fellowship with the Father and the Son. But "Receive him whose faith is weak."
The word that is here rendered receive, signifies to receive into our bosom with charitable affection. The Greek word signifies three things.
(1.) It signifies to receive weak saints into our heart; to receive them with the greatest tenderness, affection, pity, and compassion that possibly can be. So the same Greek word is used in the Epistle of Philemon, ver. 12, where Paul entreats Philemon "to receive Onesimus who is my very heart." The word there is the same word with this in the text. So must the strong receive the weak, even as their own heart; receive them with the greatest affection, with the greatest compassion that possibly can be.
(2.) The word signifies patiently to bear with the weak when they are received; and not to take them into your bosom, into your communion one day and cast them out the next—but patiently to bear with them, as well as affectionately to receive them.
It was the heathen prince Xerxes, who crowned his steersman in the morning—and beheaded him in the evening of the same day, etc.
(3.) The word signifies by fatherly instruction to seek to restore him. It is not the will of Christ that weak saints should be rejected, or that the door of entrance should be shut against them, until they are stronger, or until they have attained to such heights and such perfections of grace and divine enjoyments of God as others have attained. Remember this, as the weakest faith, if true, gives the soul a right to all that internal and eternal worth that is in Christ: so the weakest faith, if true, gives a man a real right unto all the external privileges and favors that come by Christ. In Romans 15:7, "Therefore receive one another—as Christ also received us to the glory of God." This is the standing rule for all the saints and churches in the world to go by. It is not their wills—but these two scriptures last cited, which are the standing rules by which all the churches on earth are to go by, in the admission of members.
"Those who are weak in the faith" are to be received by you, because the Lord Jesus has received them. Christ does not receive the strong—and cast off the weak. No; the Lord Jesus gathers the weak into his bosom, and tenderly dandles them upon his knee. He receives the weak—as well as the strong; therefore says the apostle, "As the Lord has received them—so do you."
Bucer rejected none in whom he saw aliquid Christi—anything of Christ—but gave them the right hand of fellowship. Such people and churches can never answer it to Christ—who keep the door of admission shut against souls truly gracious, though they are but weak in grace, though they have not attained to such a measure of light, or degrees of love, or to such perfections in holiness—as such and such have done. No; the standing rule is, "Him whom the Lord has received—receive."
If weak saints shall desire communion, and be willing to walk in the ways that Jesus Christ has appointed his saints to walk in, the churches ought to give them the right hand of fellowship. And that is the second duty that lies upon the strong, namely, that they are to receive the weak into communion and fellowship with them, and that with the greatest affection, love, and compassion, that possibly can be.
A third duty that lies upon strong saints to the weak is this:
[3.] They must look more upon their graces—than upon their weaknesses.
It is a sad thing when they shall borrow spectacles to behold their weak brethren's weaknesses, and refuse looking-glasses wherein they may see their weak brethren's graces. Saints who are strong ought to look more upon the virtues of weak saints than upon their miscarriages. When Christ saw but a little moral good in the young man, the text says that "He looked upon him, and loved him," Mark 10:12. And shall not we look upon a weak saint and love him, when we see the love of God and the image of God upon him. Shall moral virtue take the eye, and draw the love of Christ? And shall not supernatural grace in a weak Christian, take our eyes and draw our hearts? Shall we eye a little gold in much earth? And shall we not eye a little grace where there is much corruption? [If moral virtue could be seen with mortal eyes, it would soon draw all hearts to itself, says Plato. What, then, should grace do? the least grain of which is of more worth than all the moral virtues in the world.]
It is an unsufferable weakness, I had almost said, for people to allow their affections to run out only to such who are of their judgments; and to love, prize, and value people according as they suit their opinions—and not according to what of the image of God shines in them. But if this be not far from a gospel spirit, and from that God-like spirit which should be in saints, I know nothing. It speaks out much of Christ within, to own where Christ owns, and love where Christ loves, and embrace where Christ embraces, and to be one with everyone that is practically one with the Lord Jesus. Christ cannot but take it very unkindly at our hands—if we should disown any upon whom he has set his royal stamp. And I bless his grace that has drawn out my desires and endeavors to love, own, and honor the people of Christ, according to the appearances of Christ which I see in them. And, if I am not much mistaken, this is the highway to that joy, peace, and comfort—the lack of which makes a man's life a hell. God looks more on the bright side of the cloud, than he does on the dark—and so should we.
It was the honor of Vespasian that "he was more ready to conceal the vices of his friends, than their virtues." Surely there is much of God in that soul, that is upon a gospel account more careful and skillful to conceal the vices of weak saints, than their virtues. Many in these days do justly incur the censure which that sour philosopher passed upon grammarians, that "they were better acquainted with the evil of Ulysses, than with their own."
[4.] Fourthly, it is the duty of strong saints, in things indifferent—to deny themselves, to please the weak.
1 Cor. 8:13, "If what I eat is going to make another Christian sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don't want to make another Christian stumble." Strong saints must stand unchangeably resolved neither to give offence carelessly, nor to take offence causelessly. Says the apostle, I will not stand to dispute my Christian liberty—but will rather lay it down at my weak brother's feet, than I will by the use of it offend one for whom Christ has died. 1 Cor. 9:22, "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak. I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." That is, I condescended and went to the uttermost that I possibly could, without sin—to win and gain upon the weak; I displeased myself in things which were of an indifferent nature, to please them.
You ought not, O strong Christian, by the use of your Christian liberty, to put a stumbling-block before your weak brother. Romans 15:2, "We then who are strong, ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let everyone of us please his neighbor for his good to edification." He does not say, Let everyone of us please the lust of his neighbor—but let everyone of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. Let us in things of an indifferent nature so yield as to please our neighbor. There were some who thought that they might observe days; others thought they might not. Some thought they might eat meat; others thought they might only eat vegetables. Why, says the apostle, in these things which are of an indifferent nature, I will rather displease and deny myself, to profit my neighbor, than I will, by the use of my liberty, occasion my neighbor to offend. Ay, this is true Christian love indeed, for a man to cross himself to please his neighbor, so it may be for his soul's edification. But this heavenly love is driven almost out of the world, which causes men to dislike those things in others which they flatter in themselves.
A fifth duty incumbent upon strong saints is,
[5.] To support the weak.
1 Thes. 5:14, "Support the weak, be patient towards all men." Look, what the crutch is to the lame, and the beam of the house is to the ruinated house—that ought strong saints to be to the weak. Strong saints are to be crutches to the weak, they are to be, as it were, beams to bear up the weak. Strong saints are to set to their shoulder, to shore up the weak by their counsels, prayers, tears, and examples. Strong saints must not deal with the weak, as the herd of deer do with the wounded deer; they forsake it and push it away. Oh no! When a poor weak saint is wounded by a temptation, or by the power of some corruption, then those who are strong ought to support and support such a one, lest he be swallowed up in sorrow. When you who are strong see a weak saint staggering and reeling under a temptation or affliction, Oh, know it is then your duty to put both your hands underneath, to support him so that he faints not, that he miscarries not in such an hour. Isaiah 35:3, "Strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees." [Look, what the nurse is to the child, the oak to the ivy, the house to the vine; that should strong saints be to the weak, etc., 2 Cor. 2:7.]
"Strengthen the weak hands," that is, hands that hang down; "and confirm the feeble knees," that is, such knees that by reason of feebleness are ready to fall. Strengthen such, that is, encourage them, by casting in a promise, by casting in your experiences, or by casting in the experiences of other saints, that so they may be supported. It may be his case was once yours: if so, then tell him what promises did support you, what discoveries of God did uphold you; tell him what tastes, what sights, and what in-comes you had, and how bravely you did bear up, by the strength of his everlasting arms which were under you, etc.
A sixth duty that is incumbent upon strong saints is,
[6.] To take heed of making weak saints halt and go lame in a way of holiness, or of keeping them off from the ways of God, or of turning them out of the ways of God.
That is the meaning of that scripture, as I conceive, Luke 17:2. And of that, Mat. 18:10, "Beware that you don't despise a single one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven." You are apt to slight them because they are weak in grace and holiness, and so you are apt to cause them to halt; but take heed of this, they have glistening courtiers which attend them; therefore take heed that you do not offend them, for their angels, as so many champions, stand ready to right them and fight for them. A man were better offend and anger all the devils in hell, and all the witches in the world, than to anger and offend the least of Christ's little ones. If Cain despises Abel, God will arraign him for it: "Why is your countenance cast down?" Gen. 4:6. If Miriam does but mutter against Moses, God will spit in her face for it, Num. 12:14.
That is a very dreadful word, Mat. 18:6, "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." You make nothing of it—but says Christ, take heed, "for it would be better that a millstone," a huge millstone, as the Greek word signifies, such a one as only a donkey can turn about; (this kind of punishment the greatest malefactors among the Jews were put to in those days, says Jerome), "and cast into the middle of the sea;" so it is word for word in the Greek, the middle being deepest and furthest off from the shore, rendering his condition most miserable and irrecoverable.
[7.] Seventhly, It is the duty of strong saints to suit all things to the capacity of the weak.
To suit all their prayers and all their discourses to the capacity of the weak. Paul was good at this: "To the weak became I as weak." Paul was a man as strong in natural and acquired parts as any living, and he knew how to word it, and to carry it in as lofty strains, as any who breathed—yet who more plain in his preaching than Paul? It has many a time made my heart sad, to think how those men will answer it in the day of Christ—who affect lofty strains, high notions, and cloudy expressions—who make the plain things of the gospel dark and obscure.
Many preachers in our days are like Heraclitus, who was called "the dark doctor;" they affect sublime notions, obscure expressions, uncouth phrases, making plain truths difficult, and easy truths hard. "They darken counsel with words without knowledge," Job 38:2. Studied expressions and high notions in a sermon, are like Asahel's carcass in the pathway, which did only stop men and make them gaze—but did no ways profit them or better them. It is better to present truth in her native plainness, than to hang her ears with counterfeit pearls.
That is a remarkable scripture, 1 Cor. 3:1-2, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual—but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto you were not able to bear it, neither yet now are you able." The apostle did not soar aloft in the clouds, and express the mysteries of the gospel in such a dark obscure way as that poor creatures could not be able to understand the mind of God in it. No; but he suited all his discourses to their capacities; and so must you.
[8.] Eighthly, It is your duty to labor to strengthen weak saints against sin, and to draw them to holiness argumentatively.
When a strong saint comes to deal with one that is weak, and would strengthen him against sin, he must do it argumentatively; and when he would draw to holiness, he must do it argumentatively. 1 John 2:1-2, compared with chapter 1:7, 9, "My little children, these things I write unto you—that you sin not." What things were those he wrote? Mark, chapter 1:7, "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses from all sins." Here he fences them against sin, by one of the strongest and choicest arguments that the whole book of God affords, by an argument which is drawn from the soul's communion with God. And then in verse 9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father." Here the apostle labors to strengthen weak saints argumentatively, even by the strongest arguments that the whole book of God affords. So verses 12-13, "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you, for his name's sake," etc. So in verse 18, "Little children, it is the last times, and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time." So verse 28, "And now, little children, abide in him, that when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does righteousness is born of him." You see in all these scriptures how the apostle labors to strengthen weak saints in a way of holiness, and to fence them against ways of wickedness argumentatively, and so must you; this being the ready way to convince them, and to make a conquest upon them, etc.
The ninth duty that lies upon strong saints is,
[9.] To cast a mantle over the infirmities of the weak.
Now there is a three-fold mantle that should be cast over the infirmities of the weak. There is a mantle of wisdom, a mantle of faithfulness, and a mantle of compassion, which is to be cast over all the infirmities of weak saints.
First, Strong saints are to cast a mantle of wisdom over the infirmities of weak saints. They are not to present their sins in that ugliness, and with such aggravations, as may terrify, as may sink, as may make a weak saint to despair, or may drive him from the mercy-seat, or as may keep him and Christ asunder, or as may unfit him for the discharge of pious duties. It is more a weakness than a virtue in strong Christians, when a weak saint is fallen, to aggravate his fall to the uttermost, and to present his sins in such a dreadful dress, as shall amaze him, etc. It often proves very prejudicial and dangerous to weak saints, when their infirmities are aggravated beyond Scripture grounds, and beyond what they are able to bear. He who shall lay the same strength to the rubbing of an glass dish, as he does to the rubbing of a pewter platter, instead of cleaning it, shall surely break it all to pieces. The application is easy, etc. [Parisiensis said sometimes concerning trifles: It is, said he, as if a man should see a fly or a flea on a man's forehead, and for that should presently take a hammer to knock him on the head to kill the fly.]
Secondly, There is a mantle of faithfulness which is to be cast over the infirmities of weak saints. A man should never reveal the infirmities of a weak saint, especially to such that have neither skill nor will to heal and bury them. The world will but blaspheme and blaze them abroad, to the dishonor of God, to the reproach of religion, and to the grief and scandal of the weak, etc. They will with Ham rather call upon others to scoff at them, than bring a mantle to cover them, etc. Ham was cursed because he revealed his father's nakedness to his brethren, when it was in his power to have covered it. He saw it, and might have drawn a curtain over it—but would not; and for this, by a spirit of prophecy, he was cursed by his father, Gen. 9:22. This age is full of such monsters, who rejoice to blaze abroad the infirmities of the saints, and these certainly justice has or will curse.
Thirdly, There is a mantle of compassion which must be cast over the weaknesses and infirmities of weak saints. When a weak man comes to see his sin, and the Lord gives him to lie down in the dust, and to take shame and confusion to himself, that he has dishonored God, and caused Christ to bleed afresh, and grieved the Spirit, etc.; oh now you must draw a covering, and cast a mantle of love and compassion over his soul, that he may not be swallowed up with sorrow. Now you must confirm your love to him, and carry it with as great tenderness and sweetness after his fall, as if he had never fallen. This the apostle presses, 2 Cor. 2:7, "Love," says the wise man, "covers all sin." Love's mantle is very large. Love claps a plaster upon every sore; love has two hands, and makes use of both, to hide the scars of weak saints.
Christ, O strong saints, casts the mantle of his righteousness over your weaknesses, and will not you cast the mantle of love over your brother's infirmities? [I have known a good old man, said Bernard, who, when he had heard of any that had committed some notorious offence, was accustomed to say with himself, He fell today—so may I tomorrow, etc.]
[10.] Tenthly, It is the duty of strong saints to sympathize with the weak; to rejoice with them when they rejoice, and to mourn with them when they mourn.
2 Cor. 11:29, "Who is weak, and I am weak? who is scandalized, offended—and I am not on fire, burn not?"
Thuanus reports of Lodovicus Marsacus, a knight of France, when he was led with other martyrs that were bound with cords, going to execution, and he for his dignity was not bound, he cried, Give me my chains too, let me be a knight of the same order.
It should be between a strong saint and a weak, as it is between two lute-strings, which are tuned one to another; no sooner one is struck—but the other trembles; no sooner should a weak saint be struck—but the strong should tremble. "Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them," Heb. 13:3.
The Romans punished one that was seen looking out at his window with a crown of roses on his head, in a time of public calamity; and will not God punish those who do not sympathize with Joseph in his afflictions? Surely he will. Amos 6:1-14.
[11.] Lastly, It is the duty of the strong to give to the weak the honor which is due unto them.
1 Peter 3:7: They have the same name, the same baptism, the same profession, the same faith, the same hope, the same Christ, the same promises, the same dignity, and the same glory with you; therefore speak honorably of them, and behave honorably towards them. Let not those be under your feet—whom Christ has laid near his heart, etc. And so much for this second doctrine, that all saints are not of an equal size and growth in grace and holiness.
From The Unsearchable Riches of Christ by Thomas Brooks