Brothers, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;…
These are the last words of the Epistle. From the abrupt nature of its conclusion, and from the absence of the ordinary salutation and doxology, some have supposed that the original intention was to write at greater length, but at this part of the Epistle the apostle was surprised by the tumultuous Jews, and suddenly hurried off to martyrdom. If this supposition be true, how solemnly the words stand as the last of a wise and generous spirit! With what worthier words than these parting counsels would any one wish to die? In any case, whether this supposition is true or not, there is very much instruction and encouragement couched in them which will repay our careful study.
I. THERE IS INDIVIDUAL DANGER; THE POSSIBILITY OF ERRING FROM THE TRUTH. This danger may be either intellectual or moral; either the darkening of the understanding, or the corruption of the heart. The allusion, evidently, is to one who, having known the truth, had departed from its safe and pleasant paths, and had come under the entanglements, either of erroneous notions, or of vicious life. And this twofold danger is in existence still.
1. There is nowadays, I need not remind you, a danger of intellectual error. If, when the apostle wrote — in the very childhood, so to speak, of Christianity — the tares sown by the enemy were so rank in their luxuriant growth that there were some who denied the divinity of Jesus, and some who allied impurity to devotion, and some who dreamed that they had had a release from the obligations to personal obedience — surely the danger of intellectual error is not the less imminent now, when every man deems himself inspired, and has some form or theory of his own. And, when we consider the almost inevitable connection between faith and practice, we cannot loin in the sentiments of those who deem it a matter of indifference as to that may be the peculiarities of creed. We cannot forget that because of his opinion the Moslem enters upon fierce wars of extermination, and that because of his opinion the Hindoo, personally merciful, defends infanticide, and mourns that widows are no longer burned nor captives immolated, as over some lost privilege. We cannot forget that in the Japanese, who, amid barbarous rites, hold festival to uproot the cross; and the Thugs, who strangle from principle, and whose great merit is in the multiplication of murders, the opinions prompt the deed. There are some among the teachers of religion who denounce creeds and denominations almost as vehemently as they denounce infidelity and sin, and whose special mission appears to be to advocate the extinction, not only of the middle walls of partition, but of those old and venerable landmarks which guard the poor man's heritage. It is a dangerous thing, believe me, to loose off from safe anchorage on matters of Christian belief, or of Christian communion, or of Divine fellowship. Search the Scriptures for yourselves, only take care that you come to the investigation stripped of pride, prejudice, and preconceived hostility — with your spirits softened into a docile trust, with your hearts humbled to the obedience of the truth, and, above all, with fervency of prayer for the guidance of the good Spirit from on high, and that Spirit shall be given to the man that shall inquire, and you shall know of the truth or doctrine whether it be of God.
2. There is danger, not only of intellectual, but of moral error. This is, I need not remind you, more imminent and more disastrous than the other. It is quite possible to hold erroneous opinions in connection with a large charity. Wood, hay, and stubble are sometimes built of as clumsy materials on the true foundation; but where the danger is not intellectual, but moral, there is, of necessity, present alienation from God, and the prospect of perpetual exile from the glory of His power. Heresy is not a trifling thing; it is to be resisted and deplored; but the deadliest heresy is sin.
II. I turn now from the platform of individual danger to that of INDIVIDUAL EFFORT. "If any of you err from the truth, and one convert him." "If one convert him." There is here a distinct recognition of the influence of mind over mind, that principle of dependence and of oversight which is involved in our mutual relationship as members of one family. The minister ever his flock, the parent over his children, the master over his scholars, the scholars reflecting again upon the master, the servant upon the employer, and the employer upon the servant — all are exerting an influence. They cannot help it, and they cannot cease from it; it is the absolute and irrevocable law of their being. "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth and one convert him" — that is, one among themselves, not separated to the holy ministry, but one of his companions; one who is engaged in the same avocations; one who does not preach in the pulpit, but who preaches in the life. It is the persuasiveness of Christian influence that is meant, rather than a public appeal; it is the duty of the individual believer, rather than the duty of the public minister of the truth. There is not a single member of a single Church in the world that is exempt from this service. All are summoned to the labour, and all -oh, infinite condescension! — may be co-workers together with God. "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him." Oh, look at that! "If one convert him." Not the associated force; not the single army; not the phalanx; not even the regiment; but one solitary soldier — if one convert him. See the mighty results of single-handed labour! Some one has said they are minorities of ones that do all the great works of mankind; and it is amazing how large a result will follow from one man's simple, earnest, unostentatious, prayerful labour. Your sphere is narrow, you say; your influence is small; you feel as if you can do nothing for Christ. Don't now, don't any one of you begin to undervalue your own powers. One acorn is a very insignificant thing; but that majestic oak is its development of strength. One little rippling wavelet makes no account, but it is carried to the spring-tide, and the spring-tide were not perfect without it. One rain-drop is hardly noticed as it falls, but it is enough for one rose-bud's life to make it blow. There is not one of you, however small and scanty and narrow your influence, who may not, by patient and prayerful toil, become wise winners of souls. Brethren, I charge you examine yourselves in this matter. Have you done your duty? Let there now be born in the heart of each of you a purpose for God.
(W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;