It's been a while since I last posted something from Dr. Luther's lectures on Galatians, but this passage of his (on Galatians 6:1) really struck me this morning. It convicts me and instructs me in a way that I find quite helpful, not only as a pastor, but as a father and as a Christian. So I commend it, gently, to my brothers in Christ and in office.
"Let those to whom the charge and care of consciences has been committed learn from this command of Paul how to deal with the lapsed (Galatians 6:1). 'Brethren,' he says, 'if a man is overtaken, do not embitter or sadden him even more; do not reject or condemn him. But correct, refresh, and renew him; and by your meekness repair that about him which has perished through the devil’s deception or through the weakness of his flesh.' For the kingdom into which you have been called is not a kingdom of fear and sadness; it is a kingdom of confidence and happiness. If you see some brother in terror because of a sin of which he has been guilty, run to him, and extend your hand to him in his fallen state. Comfort him with sweet words and embrace him in your motherly arms. The obdurate and stubborn, who fearlessly and smugly persist and continue in their sins, you should rebuke sharply. But those who are overtaken in a trespass and sorrow and grieve over their fall should be encouraged and instructed by you who are spiritual. And this should be done in a spirit of gentleness, not of zeal for righteousness or cruelty, as some confessors did, who, when they should have refreshed thirsty hearts with some sweet comfort, gave them gall and vinegar to drink, just as the Jews did to Christ on the cross (Matt. 27:34).
"On the basis of this we can well understand that the forgiveness of sins should not prevail in the area of doctrine, as the Sacramentarians maintain, but in the area of life and of our works. Here let no one condemn another. Let him not rebuke him furiously or harshly, as Ezekiel says of the shepherds of Israel that 'with force and harshness they have ruled the flock of God' (Ezek. 34:4). But let one brother comfort another lapsed brother in a gentle spirit. And let the lapsed one, in turn, hear the word of him who is comforting him, and let him believe it. For God does not want to reject, but to 'raise up all who are bowed down,' as the Psalm says (145:14); for He has paid a greater price for them than we have, namely, His own life and blood. Therefore we, too, should come to their aid, heal and help them with the utmost gentleness. Thus we do not deny forgiveness to the Sacramentarians or other founders or wicked sects; but we sincerely forgive their insults and blasphemies against Christ, and we shall never again mention the injuries they have inflicted upon us, on the condition that they repent, forsake the wicked doctrine with which they have disturbed the churches of Christ, and walk in an orderly way together with us. But if they persist in their error and violate good order, it is useless for them to demand the forgiveness of sins from us.
"'Look to yourself, lest you, too, be tempted' (Gal. 6:1). This is a rather serious warning. Its purpose is to put down the harshness and cruelty of those who do not cheer and restore the lapsed. 'There is no sin,' says Augustine, 'that one man has committed that another man could not commit.' We are living on a slippery place; therefore if we become proud and forsake good order, it will be easier for us to fall than to stand. Therefore the man spoke rightly in The Lives of the Fathers when the report was brought to him that one of the brothers had fallen into fornication. 'Yesterday it was he,' he said, 'and today it could be I.' Paul adds this serious warning to keep pastors from being harsh and unkind toward the fallen and to keep them from measuring their own holiness by comparison with the sins of others, as the Pharisees did (Luke 18:11)" (Lectures on Galatians, Luther’s Works, Volume 27, CPH 1963).