Remarks on James 5:19,20. “If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
Our brother T.S. Hatton, of Indiana, has requested an expression of our views on this text, especially on, “What death is spoken of?” The epistle of James, like those of all the other apostles, was addressed to the saints, recognized as “brethren,” and exposed to “diverse temptations,” into which when they should fall, they are admonished to count it all joy, from the consideration that the trial of their faith by such exposure to temptations, worketh patience. And in this text, the Holy Ghost, speaking by this apostle, very explicitly identifies the subjects to whom the words are spoken. “Brethren, if any of you do err.” By no fair or logical construction can these words be applied to any but the saints of God. That those who are indisputably the saints of God, and brethren of the apostles, born of the same spiritual parentage, called by the same grace, and heirs of the same most glorious immortality, are liable to err from the truth, and commit sin by so doing, is by this text established beyond successful controversy. The relative duty enjoined on all this peculiar brotherhood, to labor to convert from the error of his way any one who has thus erred, and to restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering their own liability also to err, and to require in turn the same faithful and fraternal service, is also very clearly inferred, from the encouraging assurance that they shall thereby save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins. Let us examine the subject.
“Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth.” To err is to be wrong, either in judgment or in practice; and as none of the saints while here in the flesh are infallible, they may and sometimes do conceive erroneous views, and are betrayed into forbidden practices. To err from the truth is to be allured or drawn into error, either in faith or practice. The truth as it is in Jesus is the standard of righteousness, and all who have received the love of the truth that they may be saved are required to walk in the truth; to all others “God shall send strong delusion, that they may believe a lie.” II Thessalonians.2: 11. In the mighty delusion, predicted expressly by the Spirit, that shall prevail in the latter times, many shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. And as we are told that they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. None can depart from the faith who have never adhered to it; nor can any turn away from the truth who have never been recognized as walking in it. It, therefore, must mean such as have, at least professed the faith, and held the truth. Christ is the Truth; any departure therefore from him, or from his laws, or footsteps, under false impressions, allurements, or seductions, is to err from the truth. The gospel is Christ, and therefore is truth, and any departure, or divergence from the gospel, in its doctrine, order or ordinances, is to err from the truth. The Scriptures are truth, and the New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is especially given as the man of our counsel, standard of our faith, and rule of our practice as Christians, is the truth; to recede or diverge from that standard, from whatever motives, or under whatever impressions, is to err from the truth.
Again, the Spirit of truth which the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him, is given as a Comforter to the saints, and shall lead them into all truth, by taking of the things of Jesus and shewing them to the saints, is also truth; the saints are therefore required to try the spirits, [which they meet with, and which may exert an influence over them] whether they be of God; for if the spirit by which we are actuated be of God, it is the spirit of truth; to depart from its holy and gentle control is to err from the truth. The saints do not always realize what manner of spirit may be holding an influence over them. If they wish to call down fire, or thunderbolts of wrath upon their enemies, however much or justly provoked, the spirit that stirs up their ire is not that spirit of truth which teaches us to pity and pray for such as persecute and despite-fully use us. To depart from the spirit of Christ is to err from the truth, and to sin, not against a law that we are redeemed from and are no longer under, but against the law of Christ which we are under. Sin is a transgression of the law; and where there is no law there is no transgression, no sin. Being dead to the law by the body of Christ, and brought by newness of life under law to Christ, his love shed abroad in us brings us within the range of his jurisdiction as our Prince and Savior; for his precepts are all restricted to such as love him. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” His commandments are unto and upon all who love him; and if we depart from or disobey them, we err from the truth. Whatever may be the plausibility or sincerely entertained pretext or motive, if we feel unworthy to obey him, or neglect his mandates hoping for greater light or liberty, or if we believe some other thing, or some other way will please him fully as well, and perhaps better than a strict conformity to the precise precept or example he has given, still, from whatever may be the influence, motive or design, we err from the truth, and the nature of the error is the same, and calls for the faithful and brotherly watchcare and labor of our fellow members of the church of God.
“And one convert him.” In obedience to the apostolic instruction and command. If a brother be overtaken in a fault, ye that are spiritual restore such an one, in the spirit of meekness. The conversion here is a reclamation, convincing him that he is in error, and by faithful admonition and instruction restore him to the right way; as Paul labored with the Galatian churches when they had erred from the truth, and with the church at Corinth, and as Priscilla and Aquilla converted Apollos from the error of his way. Jesus says, “If thy brother hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” To convert is to change. But it is God alone who can quicken dead sinners, and give them life and brotherhood with the saints; but James is explicit in telling us that the conversion of which he speaks is a conversion “from the error of his way.” And he whose faithful labors shall be, by the blessing of God, successful in thus reclaiming an erring brother, “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner [for as we are commanded to walk in the truth, by the law of Christ, to err from the truth is a transgression of the law that the saints are under, and transgression is sin, and he who commits the transgression is a sinner against whatever law he transgressesl from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death.” That is, he shall save that soul, or brother, or person, as these words in this connection are used interchangeably as meaning the same. In the preceding verse the erring offender is called a brother, “Brethren, if any of you do err;” and in this verse he is called a sinner and a soul. But that sinner or that soul is a brother who has erred from the truth.
We approach now that part of our subject on which brother Hatton desires us to be more particular. “Shall save a soul from death.” What death? Not from the perdition of the ungodly, which is called the second death, and from which our Lord Jesus Christ has obtained for all his people “eternal redemption,” for his blood cleanseth us from all guilt, and his blood can never lose its power. None can pluck them out of his hands; for they are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed at the last time, and Jesus has pledged his sacred word that he will raise them up at the last day. The text cannot be construed so as to contradict the express declaration of Christ, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” Nor does it mean that they shall be put to death after the manner of Moses, by stoning, or in any other way to be literally deprived of their natural life. But the death from which they shall be saved, is that of which Paul testifies, as a consequence of erring from the truth. “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” Romans 8:6 & 13. That vitality by which the saints are quickened is life; it is born of an incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever; but that which is born of the flesh, is that on which death hath passed, and that cannot inherit the kingdom of God. I Corinthians 15:50. “But if Christ be in you, the body is dead, because of sin; but the Spirit is life, because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10. “Knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; [for we walk by faith, not by sight]. We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” II Corinthians 5:6-8. These Scriptures clearly, to our mind, point out what death we enter into when we depart from Christ who is our life, and walk after the flesh, and are at home in the body, and walking by sight, and looking on the things which are seen, and which are carnal, and being turned away from the visions of faith which looks on things which are not seen, and which are eternal. And in this sense, how many of us have so far out-traveled Paul, that we can in truth say, we do not, like him, die daily? Here are to be seen and contrasted flesh and spirit, the one born of the flesh, the other born of God; one of corruptible, the other of incorruptible seed that liveth and abideth forever. On the one, death has passed, the other is immortality. One is darkness, the other is light in the Lord. One is natural, sensual, carnal; the other is spiritual, pure and incorruptible. One is death; the other is life, joy and peace. We cannot err from the truth without sowing to the flesh, and in sowing to the flesh, we shall of the flesh reap corruption.
When, instead of trusting in God and walking by faith, we appeal to our own carnal minds, and walk in the sight of our own natural understanding, we are sure to find that way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Death in the true sense of these Scriptures. Death to our spiritual comforts, in holy communion with God, and enjoyment of the things of the Spirit of God. It is a great error then for a child of God to walk after the flesh, think his own thoughts, and speak his own words, and rely upon his own understanding; and if any who are spiritual, that is who are being led by the Spirit, shall convert an erring brother from the error of his ways, he shall save his brother from that delusion and error, that is so certain, if persisted in, to plunge him in darkness, barrenness, depression and death.
But we presume the apostle James had some allusion to the types and figures of the old legal dispensation. He writes to the brethren whom he recognizes as the “twelve tribes,” showing that he takes the ancient tribes of Jacob, as figurative of the spiritual tribes over which the apostles preside in judgment, on twelve thrones. The circumcision which worship God in spirit, rejoicing in Christ Jesus, and having no confidence in the flesh. The covenant of works under which the carnal tribes served, consigned the soul that sinned to death. Whether put literally to death, or only separated by uncleanness from the congregation of the Lord, they were dead to the congregation of Israel until purged or purified by blood, or until an atonement was made for them. So the order of the church of Christ was typified, in which unruly or disorderly members are put away from the communion and fellowship of the church, until they be converted from the error of their way. How many who once walked in fellowship with the churches, have thus been expelled from their privileges in the church, and to the church have become as dead as they were before they made a profession of discipleship? Eyes have been, by a faithful enforcement of the discipline of the church, plucked out, and cast away from the body; right hands, or feet have been cut off, where the law of Christ has required, that the body, the church, might enter into life, rather than by unlawfully retaining disaffected members, be cast into hell; that is into confusion, darkness, disorder, rebellion and destruction. It is in this definition of death that we understand the apostle John to speak of a sin that is unto death, which he does not say it shall be prayed for. I John 5:16. There were some false brethren in Paul’s time, who came in privately to spy out the liberty of the saints; to whom he says, We give place by subjection, no, not for an hour. Galatians 2:4,5. In this sense too, the brother who converts his erring brother, may know that he has saved his brother from expulsion from the fellowship of the saints, so that his place and privileges are retained in the church.
“And shall hide a multitude of sins.” When a brother is being allured or drawn into error, in doctrine or practice, if seasonably reclaimed, and thoroughly converted from the error of his way, it requires not to be mentioned to even the church, or to any who do not already know it. “Thou hast gained thy brother.” But if the erring brother persists in the wrongs, others must know of it; one or two are to assist, and if unsuccessful, it must be told to the church. And if he refuse to hear the church, he must be put away; for the authority which Christ has invested in his church must be respected, acknowledged and submitted to, or the offender must be excluded from fellowship. But if any one of those obstinate offenders can be reclaimed, he is saved alive, and in standing, and his disorder is to be forgotten, or not made public.
May 15, 1869.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 419 – 425