By Irvin Himmel
Unlike other epistles which develop a central theme, the letter written by James covers a variety of subjects. The following statements bring the letter to a rather abrupt close:
“Brethren, 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 depth, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
Truth Is The Standard of Right
The above quotation from Jas. 5:19, 20 acknowledges that truth is our standard. Notice four facts about this truth:
(1) Jesus is its author. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). What Moses taught was true, being from God, but Jesus is the source of the system of truth by which we receive the provisions of God’s grace.
(2) It frees and sanctifies. Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8: 32). Our Lord, the embodiment of divine truth, prayed on behalf of His followers in this manner: “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
(3) The apostles were guided into all of it. In John 16:12-14, Jesus promised the apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit, and He assured them that the Spirit would guide them “into all truth.” Peter afterward affirmed that he and the other apostles had been given “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). Since all truth was revealed through the apostles, that left nothing in the way of new truth to come later through Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen G. White, or Charles T. Russell and his successors of Watch Tower fame.
(4) It imparts life. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (Jas. 1:18).
We cannot go to the law of Moses to learn the truth of which Jesus is the author. Nor do we find that truth in human creeds, the decrees of Popes, the traditions of the fathers, or by doing whatever seems right in our own eyes.
It Is Possible To Err From The Truth
James was concerned about brethren who “err from the truth.” God does not hold men to the truth by some irresistible compulsion (Read 2 Pet. 1:10). In various ways people stray from the truth.
(1) By turning their ears from the truth. Paul warned that men would gather about them teachers who would scratch their itching ears, “And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3, 4).
(2) By failing to see the value of the truth. One may walk according to the truth for a time, then decide to leave the truth because he sees no real value in it. What we believe does make a difference. For example, one who believes there are apes in his family tree may begin acting like an ape.
(3) By deception. “But evil men and seducers shall Wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Peter warned of men who wrest the scriptures, cautioning his readers not to be led away with the error of the wicked (2 Pet, 3:16,17).
(4) By neglect. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation . , .?” (Heb. 2:3). “Take heed, brethren,, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).
(5) By falling into sin. Some men and women never renounce the gospel in theory, but in practice they abandon the truth. Many have fallen into sin and are now wallowing in it.
Sinners Need To Be Converted
There are two classes of sinners: aliens (people who have never entered into covenant relationship with God) and erring brethren. James was addressing brethren in our text. “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him . . . he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul . . . .”
The faithful have an obligation to the erring. Some who have erred will resent our admonitions, but others will profit by them. Our manner of approach is important (Gal. 6:1,2).
We often show eagerness to save our health, our reputation, our business, funds for old age, etc. Everyone’s first concern should be the saving of the soul. Jesus taught that the soul is more valuable than all the world (Matt. 16:26).
Death-eternal separation from God-is the penalty for sin. “For the wages of sin is death. . .” (Rom. 6:23). Some try to make sickness, or mental anguish, or possibly physical death the only punishment for sin. Others suppose that annihilation is the penalty. The Bible describes the punishment for sin as one’s being “cast into the lake of fire” which is “the second death” (Rev. 20:14, 15; 21:8). To save a soul from this terrible penalty is the great object of the statements of our text.
Truth Magazine XXI: 4, p. 60
January 27, 1977