"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
If I were to ask you, my friends, why you were met together here to- day, you would tell me, I suppose, that you were come to church as members of a benefit club; and quite right you are in coming here as such, and God grant that we may meet together here on this same errand many more Whit-mondays. But this would be no answer to my question; I wish to know why you come to church to-day sooner than to any other place? what has the church to do with the benefit club? Now this is a question which I do not think all of you could answer very readily, and therefore I wish to make you, especially the younger members of the club, think a little seriously about the meaning of your coming here to-day. You will be none the less cheerful this evening for having had some deep and godly thoughts in your heads this morning.
Now these benefit clubs are also called provident societies, and a very good name for them. You become members of them, because you are prudent, or provident, that is, because you are careful, and look forward to a rainy day. But why does not each of you lay up his savings for himself, instead of putting them into a common purse, and so forming a club? Because you have found out, what every one else in the world, but madmen, ought to have found out, that two are better than one; that if a great many men join together in any matter, they are a great deal stronger when working together, than if they each worked just as hard, but each by himself; that the way to be safe is not to stand each of you alone, but to help each other; in short, that there is no getting on without bearing one another's burdens.
Now this plan of bearing one another's burdens is not only good in benefit clubs--it is good in families, in parishes, in nations, in the church of God, which is the elect of all mankind. Unless men hold together, and help each other, there is no safety for them.
Let us consider what there is bearing on this matter of prudence, that makes one of the greatest differences between a man and a brute beast. It is not that the man is prudent, and the beast is not. Many beasts have forethought enough; the very sleepmouse hoards up acorns against the winter; a fox will hide the game he cannot eat. No, the great difference between man and beast is, that the beast has forethought only for himself, but the man has forethought for others also; beasts have not reason enough to bear each others' burdens, as men have. And what is it that makes us call the ant and the bee the wisest of animals, except that they do, in some degree, behave like men, in helping one another, and having some sort of family feeling, and society, and government among them, by which they can help bear each other's burdens? So that we all confess, by calling them wise, how wise it is to help each other. Consider a family, again. In order that a family may be happy and prosperous, all the members of it must bear each other's burdens. If the father only thought of himself, and the mother of herself, and each of the children did nothing but take care of themselves, would not that family come to misery and ruin? But if they all helped each other-- all thought of each other more than of themselves--all were ready to give up their own comfort to make each other comfortable, that family would be peaceful and prosperous, and would be doing a great deal towards fulfilling the law of Christ.
It is just the same in a parish. If the rich help and defend the poor, and the poor respect and love the rich, and are ready to serve them as far as they can,--in short, if all ranks bear each other's burdens, that parish is a happy one, and if they do not, it is a miserable one.
Just the same with a nation. If the king only cares about making himself strong, and the noblemen and gentlemen about their rank and riches, and the poor people, again, only care for themselves, and are trying to pull down the rich, and so get what they can for themselves,--if a country is in this state, what can be more wretched? Neither a house, nor a country, divided against itself, can ever stand. But if the king and the nobles give their whole minds to making good laws, and seeing justice done to all, and workmen fairly paid, and if the poor, in their turns, are loyal, and ready to fight and work for their king and their nobles, then will not that country be a happy and a great country? Surely it will, because its people, instead of caring every man for himself only, help each other and bear one another's burdens.
And just in the same way with Christ's Church, with the company of true Christian men. If the clergymen thought only of themselves, and neglected the people, and forgot to labour among them, and pray for them, and preach to them; and if the people each cared for himself, and never prayed to God to give them a spirit of love and charity, and never helped their neighbours, or did unto others as they wished to be done by; and above all, if Christ, our Head, left His Church, and cared no more about us, what would become of Christ's Church? What would happen to the whole race of sinful man, but misery in this world, and ruin in the next? But if the people love and help each other, and obey their ministers, and pray for them; and if the ministers labour earnestly after the souls and bodies of their people; and Christ in heaven helps both minister and people with His Spirit, and His providence and protection; in short, if all in the whole Church bear each other's burdens, then Christ's Church will stand, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Thus you see that this text of bearing one another's burdens is no new or strange commandment, but the very state in which every man is meant to live, both in his family, his parish, his country, and his Church--all his life helping others, and being helped by them in turn. And because families and nations, and the Church of Christ above all, are good, and holy, and beautiful, therefore any society which is formed upon the same plan--I mean of helping each other-- must be good also. And, therefore, benefit societies are right and reasonable things, and among all the good which they do they do this one great good, that they teach men to remember that there is no use trying to stand alone, but that the way to be safe and happy is to bear each other's burdens.
Thus benefit societies are patterns of Christ's Church. But now, my friends, there is another point for each of you to consider, which is this--the benefit club is a good thing, but are you a good member of the club? Do you do your duty, each of you, in the club as Christian men should?
I do not ask whether you pay your subscriptions regularly or not-- that is quite right and necessary, but there is something more than that wanted to make a club go on rightly. Mere paying and receiving money will never keep men together any more than any other outward business. A man may pay his club-money regularly and yet not be a really good member. And how is this? You remember that I tried to shew you that a family, and a nation, and a church, all were kept together by the same principle of bearing one another's burdens, just as a benefit club is. Now, what makes a man a good member of Christ's Church,--a good Christian, in short? A man may pay his tithes to the rector, and his church-rates to repair God's house, and his poor-rates to maintain God's poor, all very regularly, and yet be a very bad member of Christ's Church. These payments are all right and good; but they are but the outside, the letter of what God requires of him. What is wanted is, to serve God in the SPIRIT, to have the spirit--THE WILL, of a Christian in him; that is, to do all these things for GOD'S sake--not of constraint, but willingly--"not grudgingly, for God loveth a cheerful giver." No! If a man is a really good member of Christ's Church, he lives a life of faith in Jesus Christ, and of thankfulness to Him for His infinite love and mercy in coming down to die for us, and thus the love of God and man is shed abroad in his heart by God's Spirit, which is given to him. Therefore, that man thinks it an honour to pay church-rates, and so help towards keeping God's house in repair and neatness. He pays his tithes cheerfully, because he loves God's ministers, and feels their use and worth to him. He pays his poor-rates with a willing mind, for the sake of that God who has said, "that he who gives to the poor lends to the Lord." And so he obeys not only the letter but the spirit of the law.
But the man does more than this. Besides obeying not only the letter but the spirit of the law, he helps his brethren in a thousand other ways. He shews, in short, by every action that he believes in God and loves his neighbour.
And why should it not be just the same in a benefit club? There the good member is NOT the man who pays his money merely to have a claim for relief when he himself is sick, and yet grudges every farthing that goes to help other members. That man is not a good member. He has come into the club merely to take care of himself, and not to bear others' burdens. He may obey the letter of the club-rules by paying in his subscriptions and by granting relief to sick members, but he does not obey the spirit of them. If he did, he would be glad to bear his sick neighbour's burden with so little trouble to himself. He would, therefore, grant club relief willingly and cheerfully when it was wanted,--ay, he would thank God that he had an opportunity of helping his neighbours. He would feel that all the members of the society were his brothers in a double sense; first, because they had joined with him to help and support each other in the society; and, next, that they were his brothers in Christ, who had been baptised into the same Church of God with himself. And he would, therefore, delight in supporting them in their sickness, and honouring them when they died, and in helping their widows and orphans in their affliction; in short, in bearing his neighbour's burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ. And do you not see, that if any of you subscribe to this benefit society in such a spirit as this, that they are the men to give an answer to the question I asked at first, "Why are you all here at church to- day?" They come here for the same reason that you all ought to come, to thank God for having kept them well, and out of the want of relief for the past year, and to thank Him, too, for having enabled them to bear their sick neighbours' burdens. And they come, also, to pray to God to keep them well and strong for the year to come, and to raise up those members who are in sickness and distress, that they may all worship God here together another year, as a company of faithful friends, helping each other on through this life, and all on the way to the same heavenly home, where there will be no more poverty, nor sorrow, nor sickness, nor death, and God shall wipe away tears from all widows and orphans' eyes.
And now, my friends, I have tried to put some new and true thoughts into your head about your club and your business in this church to- day. And I pray, God grant that you may remember them, and think of this whole matter as a much more solemn and holy one than you ever did before.