Previous article in this series: May 1, 2011, p. 355.
We are to bear one another’s burdens by restoring the burdened soul to Jesus Christ. He alone can relieve burdened souls of their burden, for it is only His righteousness that answers to their need. Nothing less will satisfy their conscience! The burden-bearer must therefore restore them to Jesus Christ.
Not as if our brother has sinned himself out of justification, and Jesus needs us to help him make a choice that will put him back into God’s favor again. No indeed, Jesus declares: “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish, and no man shall be able to pluck them out of my hand” ( John 10:28). Rather, our brother needs to be restored to the conscious awareness and healing comfort of sins completely forgiven, of his complete acceptance, and of God’s healing love to be shed abroad in his heart. He needs the cleansing of his conscience in the blood of Jesus Christ—and to have all the benefits that flow from his justification, adoption, and sanctification flood back into his heart to heal and comfort him. He needs to be so healed that he can experience forgiveness and take up his life again in joyful service of the Father, who smiles on him from heaven!
That restoration of our brethren to the assurance of God’s love and favor in Christ must be our objective, our aim, as burden-bearers.
But that may take some time and involve many conflicts. Satan would have our brother believe that he has sinned without remedy, and that his life and usefulness is ruined. Our brother may also face doubts and fears. He may not be able, immediately, to see, receive, and rest upon the promises of God in Christ to the brokenhearted and contrite of spirit. The burdened soul can walk in darkness for a time before God restores to him the comfort of his justification. He will need friends who understand what is happening!
This is where we fit in as burden-bearers. We are to be supporters of the souls of our brethren under their burdens. And we are to seek to lighten that burden and eventually to see it removed altogether. Christ’s saints depend upon such support while they are being restored fully to their comfort and peace in Him. The person who has experienced the humbling release of justification by faith alone is the living means Christ has prepared by His Spirit and grace!
How can we be bearers of one another’s burdens? Paul addressed that question when he was advising the Corinthians how to minister to the man who repented of the sin of incest. He wrote “…forgive and comfort him…. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him” (II Cor. 2:7-8).
We are to seek out our burdened brother and confirm our love toward him—in Christ (II Cor. 2:8). That is the way he must experience God’s steadfast, eternal, unchanging, redemptive love—a love that is based, not on his own works, but on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. It must shine into his life through us, the forgiven body of Christ! We must be willing and able to get down alongside our broken and repentant brother, assuring him of our unconditional love in Christ. We must model that love to him. It should shine into his life in very real and practical ways. It should seek him out—and not leave him isolated and fearful. It should reassure him that our love in Christ has not been destroyed by his foolishness and sin—for that is what he fears. It should assure him that he need not flee to hide, or close off his life to protect himself from more pain. We can seek him out in his need and say to him: “I—love—you—still.”
Behind that love is the expression of what God did for us! It was not that we first loved God, but that He first loved us! His love wasn’t earned—and can’t be earned! His love is freely given for Christ’s sake! This is very important and of great support to the burdened soul. For in that love of the body of Christ, the love of Christ Himself is breaking into the burdened believer’s life! It is a ray of light, a glimmer of hope! It is a lifeline that can be grasped! In this way, we are able to put our shoulder under the burden and give our brethren some relief and encouragement to return to Jesus Christ, who is the personification and perfection of that grace He is feeling through us.
Further, that love has some very important things to say to the brethren, as it puts its shoulder under the burden (II Cor. 2:7): “You ought to forgive and comfort him, lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.”
Love extends the assurance of forgiveness. The brother needs to know that, in the way of confession, he will not be dangled on the end of an indefinite probation. He needs to know that his brothers will not be taking turns exacting a penance from him before he can earn his way back into their favor. He needs to know that he can start again, having turned from his sin, in the grace of God and with our forgiveness. And, more important still, love will seek to comfort our brother by helping him to hear and receive the word of God’s forgiveness in the gospel. That is a word to us as broken and contrite sinners. A word that only faith receives! A word that leads us, in the reality of our struggle, to open our hearts wide to drink in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ to wash our conscience clean! A word of justification that, once declared by God in the depths of our soul, will heal us in ways that we cannot describe— it has to be experienced. (Cf. Psalm 32:6-7.)
We must bring in our hearts, in our way of approach, in our demeanor, in our words and actions, the spirit and gospel of Jesus Christ, who will never break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax. As “burden-bearers” we must bring Christ the great burden-bearer into the life of our brother—and our brother to Him!
We should bend every effort to be a suitable instrument, and to find suitable words that so address our brother’s particular struggle, that he can really see how Jesus Christ and His finished work and righteousness are perfectly suited to answer his every need. We should be seeking to lead him to Jesus Christ, who will bind up his wounds and restore to him the joy of salvation.
In this context we can pray for and with our brother! Help and encourage him to come boldly to the throne of grace to find grace and mercy to help him in his time of need. And when he cannot do that, to be there to do it with and for him. And to remind him of God’s faithfulness. Remind him of our Father, who pities His children, knows their frame, and remembers they are dust (Ps. 103:13); of the Lord Jesus, whoever lives to make intercession, as the one who is touched by the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15); and of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who helps our infirmities when we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, and makes intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered (Rom. 8:26). Yes, to help him see that God has made every provision for his present situation and needs, in order that we might encourage him to wait patiently on the Lord.
And if he struggles for a time, as he may well do, we can continue patiently to bring the gospel of grace, which shows how he is being supported, even in his darkest hours, by the continual intercession of Jesus Christ, whoever lives to make intercession for him; who presents His own perfect righteousness to God on his behalf; and maintains him in the love, favor, and blessing of his heavenly Father. And we can lead him into the Psalms—the expounding of true Christian experience—to pour out his heart in the trusting cry of faith, encouraged in the knowledge that in due time God will restore him to the joy of salvation.
Ah, surely the aim of burden-bearing is to lead burdened souls to Christ, and to support them under their sorrow till they are able to roll off their burden onto Jesus, the great burden-bearer. We can patiently, and with the most practical application to the particular sin that is involved, encourage and help our brother roll off his burden onto Christ.
Come, the burden-bearer will be saying as he reaches out to help us bear our burden, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved” (Ps. 55:22).
How we need such a friend, and to be such a friend to others in the Lord! People who will be there through thick and thin and will help us deliver our burdens into the mighty hands of “Jesus”—Jehovah Salvation—and have our innermost wounds healed by His grace and righteousness.
Brethren, may the congregation of sinning saints of which you are a member be a gathering of such people!
Such is the congregation to which the great Physician of souls can gather His brokenhearted ones to be healed.
Such a fellowship will truly hate sin and strive for gospel obedience. For it is filled with the Spirit of Christ!