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[Bear in mind to whom these privileges belong : they belong exclusively to “ the righteous man.” The ungodly and the hypocrite have no part in them. Seek then to attain the character of the righteous: seek it by faith in the Lord Jesus; “ by whose obedience you shall be made righteous," and by whose all-powerful grace you shall “ be renewed after the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness." Then shall all these blessings be yours. You shall be a people near unto Godb:” yea, you shall “ have power with God, and shall prevaili" in all your supplications : even for others you shall prevail to a great extent, but for yourselves you shall obtain all the blessings both of grace and glory.] f Rev. v. 19.
& Eph. iv. 24. h Ps. cxlviii. 14.
i Hos. xi. 4.
MMCCCLXXVIII. CONVERSION OF A SINNER A GREAT BENEFIT. Jam. v. 19, 20. 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 death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
IN the apostolic age, the power of working miracles was vouchsafed to many; and was much coveted, not only on account of the benefit which it enabled its possessor to impart, but on account of the honour which it brought to him that exercised it. That power has long since been withdrawn, it being no longer necessary for the support and credit of the Christian cause. Nor need we regret its discontinuance; since there is yet communicated to every true Christian a power of infinitely greater value; namely, a power to instruct and save the souls of
We cannot any longer by the prayer of faith save the sick, and raise him up from the bed of sickness, and remove the judgments that have been inflicted on him on account of his sinsa: but by instructing a sinner, and turning him from the error of his sins, we can now, no less than in the apostolic age, save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins. The miraculous power was in the hands of
a ver. 14, 15.
few, even of “ the elders of the Church ;" but this spiritual power, as my text intimates, is common to all, and is to be exercised by all.
From hence we see,
There are still, as formerly, many, who, whilst they are called Christians, do materially err from the truth”
[No one can read this epistle without seeing that very awful errors obtained in the Church, both in relation to faith and practice: and no one can know any thing of the Christian world, and not know, that Christianity amongst them is little more than a name. The very way of salvation, simple as it is, is very little understood. There is scarcely any one who is not expecting to be saved in whole, or in part, by some works of his own. The generality imagine that their repentance and reformation are to recommend them to God: and even those who acknowledge their obligations to the Lord Jesus Christ for what he has done and suffered for them, yet hope to obtain an interest in Him by their good works, or acceptance on account of their works through him. The simple life of faith is but little known: and frequently but little experienced, even where in terms the necessity of it is acknowledged. The same may
be said of men's practice also. Look at the life and conduct of the whole Christian world, and say, what resemblance you see in it to the life of Christ. Christians are said to be "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men." But what more would you learn of the mind and will of Christ, from what you see in the Christian world, than from what you might find in the better sort of heathens? In the Lord Jesus Christ there was an entire superiority to the world: but in his professed followers you see an entire subjection to it. In the Lord Jesus Christ you find that "it was his meat and drink to do the will of his heavenly Father:" but in his professed followers you will see no such effort, no such determination to serve and honour God. Let all of you, who are here present, look at their own principles, and their own practice, and see whether they are founded altogether upon God's revealed will, and altogether conformed to the pattern set before them in the Scriptures. The more candidly these matters be inquired into, the more clearly will you see, that the great mass of nominal Christians are “ erring from the truth,” and need to “be converted from the error of their ways."]
Towards these our duty is to use all possible means for their conversion
(We are not all called to take upon us the ministerial office : but we all in our respective circles should exert ourselves for the edification of those around us. No man is at liberty “to put his light under a bed, or under a bushel:" no man is at liberty to ask, “Am I my brother's keeper ?” Would any man, who should see a house on fire, be justified in saying, • It is no concern of mine?' or, if the inhabitants were burnt to death through his unconcern, would there be a creature upon earth that would not execrate him for his inhumanity? Much more therefore, if we see immortal souls “ erring from the truth,” and hastening to destruction, should we be inexcusable, if we neglected to warn them of their danger, and to shew them how their souls might be saved alive. We should warn those who are living in a wilful neglect of God: we should declare to them their guilt and danger: we should set before them what the Scriptures have spoken respecting “the death of the soul," and should entreat them to “Hee from the wrath to come." In particular, we should, as far as our capacity admits of it, open to thein "the truth as it is in Jesus.” We should make known to them the wonders of redeeming love: we should set the Lord Jesus Christ before them in all his endearing qualities; and shew them how “able, and willing, he is to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him.” We should encourage them to believe in him; and, by the holy violence of argument and entreaty, should "compel them" to accept his gracious invitations, and to sit down as guests at the marriage supper of the Lamb. In a word, we should do our utmost to enlighten, convert, and save their souls.]
That we may the more readily engage in this duty, let us consider, II. Our encouragement to perform it
We may doubtless find much of our labour to be in vain. But, if in any single instance we succeed, 1. We shall “ save a soul from death”—
[Unconverted sinners, whatever they may imagine, are hastening to death: for the "wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;" and the soul that sinneth, it shall die. And let not any one imagine, that this death consists in a mere annihilation : no; the soul, as to its existence, shall never die: but it will endure a misery of which we can form no conception, a torment in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, which is called in Scripture “ the second death." From this however, if we are made the happy instruments of converting a soul to God, we deliver it. What a wonderful thought is this! to deliver a soul from
“everlasting burnings !" If we laboured throughout our whole lives, and succeeded but in one instance to accomplish our desire, how richly should we be recompensed! What if the great mass of those whose welfare we had sought, had derided us as weak enthusiasts? the thought of saving one soul from everlasting perdition would compensate all the obloquy that ever could be cast upon us. The truth is, we can form no idea what it must be to spend eternity in weeping and wailing and gnashing our teeth in the regions of despair, and under the wrath of an offended God. But, if we could form any conception of it, we should need no other inducement to labour day and night in endeavours to guide men into the way
of truth, and to save their souls alive.] 2. We shall hide a multitude of sins
[Who can ever count the sins of an unconverted soul ? Yet shall they all be hidden, hidden from the sight of Almighty God, "out of the book of whose remembrance they shall be blotted,” and from before whose face they shall pass away " as a morning cloud :” yea, God himself will “cast them behind his back into the very depths of the sea,” and “ will remember them against the sinner no more." Hear the declaration of God upon this subject : “ The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found : for I will pardon them whom I reserveb."
Now consider this : consider an immortal soul laden with iniquities more numerous and weighty than the sands upon the sea-shore ; and liberated from its burthen through your offices of love! Methinks, the most distant hope of conferring such a benefit is enough to turn you all into heralds and ambassadors of the Most High God. Yet let me not be misunderstood. It is not to the office of public instructors that I would call you; for that should be undertaken by none but those who are called to it by God himself: but to the office of private instructors, I would invite you; and would urge you with all importunity to engage in it: for it is not of ministers that the Apostle speaks in my text, but of private Christians; every one of whom he encourages to engage in this labour of love, saying, “ LET HIM KNOW, whoever he be that converts a sinner from the error of his ways, LET HIM KNOW, that he saves a soul from death, and hides a multitude of sins."] See then, beloved, 1. What is the true end of the ministry
[The whole world is out of course : all are erring from the fold of Christ, and wandering like sheep that know not
b Jer. 1. 20.
how or whither to return. That they may not irremediably perish, God has appointed ministers, to go forth, as under shepherds, to search out the wandering sheep, and to bring them back to his fold. This is the one object of our lives; to shew you how far
“ have erred from the truth;" to convert you from the error of your ways; and thus eventually to save your souls. In our execution of this office we perhaps appear to some to be uncharitable and harsh. But if we do believe that death, even the death of your immortal souls, will be the end of your wanderings, does it not become us lift up our voice like a trumpet, and to shew to the house of Israel their sins" with all fidelity ? Suppose a person taking the soundings of a ship in full sail, were to find, on a sudden, that the ship were running upon rocks or shoals, and would speedily, if the helm were not instantly turned, be irremediably lost; would he not feel it his duty to apprise the pilot of his danger? or would the passengers, whose lives were in such imminent peril, be offended with him, if he spake as one who believed what he said, and as one who had the safety of the crew at heart? Methinks, if there were somewhat of vehemence in his words and manner, all would readily excuse it; and not excuse it only, but applaud it also, as the proper effect of fidelity and love. Then consider us as placed in that situation by Almighty God. You are all embarked on board the vessel, and we are appointed by God to take the soundings: and we do declare unto you, that, unless your course be changed, you must inevitably and eternally perish. If you doubt it, take the line in your own hands, and examine the chart by which you are to steer.
We do not wish
to take our word, but to see and judge for yourselves: and, if our testimony be true according to the written word, then be thankful for our labours; and, instead of being offended at our fidelity, adore your God, who has appoined us " to watch for your souls," and has connected our welfare with yours: for it is only by a faithful discharge of our duty to you that "we can save ourselves, or them that hear uso."]
2. What should be your view in attending on the ordinances of the Gospel
[You should not come to be amused, but to be instructed and edified. You should come desirous of knowing wherein you have erred, and how you may get safely into the way of truth. Your minds should be open to conviction. You should be aware of the danger of self-deception. You should beg of God to instruct his ministers how to speak most to your edification; and should entreat him to accompany the word
c 1 Tim. iv. 16.