Brothers, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;…
I. Inquire into THE TRUE IDEA OF A SINNER.
1. A sinner is, essentially, a moral agent, tie must be the responsible author of his own acts, in such a sense that he is not compelled irresistibly to act one way or another, otherwise than according to his own free choice. He must also have intellect, so that he can understand his own relations and apprehend his moral responsibilities. He must also have sensibility, so that he can be moved to action — so that there can be inducement to voluntary activity, and also a capacity to appropriate the motives for right of wrong action.
2. He is a selfish moral agent devoted to his own interests, making himself his own supreme end of action.
3. We have here the true idea of sin. It is, in an important sense, error. It is not a mere mistake, for mistakes are made through ignorance or incapacity. Nor is it a mere defect of constitution, attributable to its author. But it is an "error in his ways." It is missing the mark in his voluntary course of conduct. It is a voluntary .divergence from the line of duty.
II. WHAT IS CONVERSION? What is it to "convert the sinner from the error of his ways"? It is changing the great moral end of action. It supplants selfishness and substitutes benevolence in its stead.
III. IN WHAT SENSE DOES MAN CONVERT A SINNER? Our text reads — "If any of you do err from the truth and one convert him" — implying that man may convert a sinner. But in what sense can this be said and done? I answer, the change must of necessity be a voluntary one — not a change in the essence of the soul, nor in the essence of the body — not any change in the created constitutional faculties; but a change which the mind itself, acting under various influences, makes as to its own voluntary end of action. It is an intelligent change — the mind, acting intelligently and freely, changes its moral course, and does it for perceived reasons. Even God cannot convert a sinner without his own consent. He cannot, for the simple reason that the thing involves a contradiction. The being converted implies his own consent — else it is no conversion at all. God converts men, therefore, only as He persuades them to turn from the error of their selfish ways to the rightness of benevolent ways. So, also, man can convert a sinner only in the sense of presenting the reasons that induce the voluntary change and thus persuading him to repent. If he can do this, then he converts a sinner from the error of his ways. But the Bible informs us that man alone never does or can convert a sinner. It holds, however, that when man acts humbly, depending on God, God works with him and by him. Men are "labourers together with God." They present reasons and God enforces those reasons on the mind.
IV. WE MUST NEXT INQUIRE INTO THE KIND OF DEATH OF WHICH THE TEXT SPEAKS. "Shall save a soul from death."
1. By the death of the soul is sometimes meant spiritual death — a state in which the mind is not influenced by truth as it should be. The man is under the dominion of sin and repels the influence of truth.
2. Or the death of the soul may be eternal death — the utter loss of the soul and its final ruin. To be always a sinner is awful enough — is a death of fearful horror; but how terribly augmented is even this when you conceive of it as heightened by everlasting punishment, far away "from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power!"
V. We can now consider THE IMPORTANCE OF SAVING A SOUL FROM DEATH. Our text says, he who converts a sinner saves a soul from death. Consequently he saves him from all the misery he else must have endured. So much misery is saved. And this amount is greater in the case of each sinner saved than all that has been experienced in our entire world up to this hour. Yet farther. The amount of suffering thus saved is greater not only than all that ever has been, but than all that ever will be endured in this world. Nay, more, the amount thus saved is greater than the created universe ever can endure in any finite duration. Aye, it is even greater, myriads of times greater, than all finite minds can ever conceive. But let us look at still another view of the case. He who converts a sinner not only saves more misery, but confers more happiness than all the world has yet enjoyed, or even all the created universe. You have converted a sinner, have you? Indeed! Then think what has been gained! Does any one ask, What then? Let the facts of the case give the answer. The time will come when he will say, In my experience of God and Divine things, 1 have enjoyed more than all the created universe had done up to the general judgment — more than the aggregate happiness of all creatures, during the whole duration of our world; and yet my happiness is only just begun! Onward, still onward — onward for ever rolls the deep tide of my blessedness, and evermore increasing! If these things be true, then —
1. Converting sinners is the work of the Christian life. It is the great work to which we, as Christians, are especially appointed. Who can doubt this?
2. It is the great work of life because its importance demands that it should be. It is so much beyond any other work in importance that it cannot be rationally regarded as anything other or less than the great work of life.
3. It can be made the great work of life, because Jesus Christ has made provision for it. His atonement covers the human race and lays the foundation so broad that whosoever will may come. The promise of His Spirit to aid each Christian in this work is equally broad, and was designed to open the way for each one to become a labourer together with God in this work of saving souls.
4. Benevolence can never stop short of it. Where so much good can be done and so much misery can be prevented, how is it possible that benevolence can fail to do its utmost?
5. Living to save others is the condition of saving ourselves. No man is truly converted who does not live to save others. Every truly converted man turns item selfishness to benevolence, and benevolence surely leads him to do all he can to save the souls of his fellow-man. This is the changeless law of benevolent action.
6. The self-deceived are always to be distinguished by this peculiarity — they live to save themselves. This is the chief end of all their religion. All their religious efforts and activities tend toward this sole object. If they can secure their own conversion so as to be pretty sure of it, they are satisfied. Sometimes the ties of natural sympathy embrace those who are especially near to them; but selfishness goes commonly no further, except as a good name may prompt them on.
7. Some persons take no pains to convert sinners, but act as if this were a matter of no consequence whatever. They do not labour to persuade men to be reconciled to God.
(C. G. Finney.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;