Brothers, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;…
I. Here is a great principle involved — a very important one — that of INSTRUMENTALITY.
1. Instrumentality is not necessary with God. God can if He pleases cast the instrument aside. The mighty Maker of the world who used no angels to beat out the great mass of nature and fashion it into a round globe, He who without hammer or anvil fashioned this glorious world, can if He pleases speak, and it is done, command and it shall stand fast. He needs not instruments, though He uses them.
2. Instrumentality is very honourable to God, and not dishonourable. Suppose a workman has power and skill with his hands alone to fashion a certain article; but you put into his hands the worst of tools you can find; you know he can do it well with his hands, but these tools are so badly made that they will be the greatest impediment that you could lay in his way. Well now, I say, if a man with these bad instruments, or these poor tools — things without edges — that are broken, that are weak and frail, is able to make some beauteous fabric, he has more credit from the use of those tools than he would have had if he had done it simply with his hands, because the tools, so far from being an advantage were a disadvantage to him; so far from being a help, are on my supposition, even a detriment to him in his work. So God uses instruments to set forth His own glory, and to exalt Himself.
3. Usually God does employ instruments. I have heard of some — I remember them now — who were called like Saul, at once from heaven. We can remember the history of the brother who in the darkness of the night was called to know the Saviour by what he believed to be a vision from heaven, or some effect on his imagination. On one side he saw a black tablet of his guilt, and his soul was delighted to see Christ cast a white tablet over it; and he thought he heard a voice that said, "I am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." There was a man converted almost without instrumentality; but you do not meet with such a case often. Most persons have been convinced by the pious conversation of sisters, by the holy example of mothers, by the minister, by the Sabbath-school, or by the reading of tracts or perusing Scripture.
4. If God sees fit to make use of any of us for the conversion of others, we must not therefore be too sure that we are converted ourselves. It is a most solemn thought that God makes use of ungodly men as instruments for the conversion of sinners. Grace is not spoiled by the rotten wooden spouts it runs through. God did once speak by an ass to Balaam, but that did not spoil His words. So He speaks, not simply by an ass, which He often does, but by something worse than that. He can fill the mouth of ravens with food for an Elijah, and yet the raven is a raven still.
5. If God in His mercy does not make us useful to the conversion of sinners, we are not therefore to say we are sure we are not the children of God. If I testify to them the truth of God and they reject His gospel; if I faithfully preach His truth, and they scorn it, my ministry is not therefore void. It has not returned to God void, for even in the punishment of those rebels He will be glorified, even in their destruction He will get Himself honour, and if He cannot get praise from their songs, He will at last get honour from their condemnation.
6. God, by using us as instruments, confers upon us the highest honour which men can receive.
II. THE GENERAL FACT. The choicest happiness which mortal breast can know is the happiness of benevolence — of doing good to our fellow-creatures. To save a body from death is that which gives us almost heaven on earth. Those monks on Mount St. Bernard, surely, must feel happiness when they rescue men from death. The dog comes to the door, and they know what it means: he has discovered some poor weary traveller who has lain him down to sleep in the snow, and is dying from cold and exhaustion. Up rise the monks from their cheerful fire, intent to act the good Samaritan to the lost one. At last they see him; they speak to him; but he answers not. They try to discover if there is breath in his body, and they think he is dead. They take him up, give him remedies; and hastening to their hostel, they lay him by the fire, and warm and chafe him, looking into his face with kindly anxiety, as much as to say, Poor creature! art thou dead? When, at last, they perceive some hearings of the lungs, what joy in the breasts of those brethren, as they say, "His life is not extinct!" Methinks if there could be happiness on earth, it would be the privilege to help to chafe one hand of that poor, almost dying man, and be the means of bringing him to life again. Or suppose another case. A house is in flames, and in it is a woman with her children, who cannot by any means escape. In vain she attempts to come downstairs; the flames prevent her. She has lost all presence of mind and knows not how to act. The strong man comes, and says, "Make way! make way! I must save that woman!" And, cooled by the genial streams of benevolence, he marches through the fire. Though scorched and almost stifled, he gropes his way. He ascends one staircase, then another; and though the stairs totter, he places the woman beneath his arm, takes the child on his shoulder, and down he comes, twice a giant, having more might than he ever possessed before. He has jeopardised his life, and perhaps an arm may be disabled, or a limb taken away, or a sense lost, or an injury irretrievably done to his body; yet he claps his hands, and says, "I have saved lives from death!" The crowd in the street hail him as a man who has been the deliverer of his fellow-creatures, honouring him more than the monarch who has stormed a city, sacked a town, and murdered myriads. But, ah! the body which was saved from death to-day may die to-morrow. Not so the soul that is saved from death: it is saved everlastingly. It is saved beyond the fear of destruction. And if there be joy in the breast of a benevolent man when he saves a body from death, how much more blessed must he be when he is made the means in the hand of God of saving "a soul from death, and hiding a multitude of sins." A single word spoken may be more the means of conversion than a whole sermon. God often blesses a short, pithy expression from a friend, more than a long discourse by a minister. There was once in a village, where there had been a revival in religion, a man who was a confirmed infidel. Notwithstanding all the efforts of the minister and many Christian people, he had resisted all attempts, and appeared to be more and more confirmed in his sin. At length the people held a prayer-meeting, specially to intercede for his soul. Afterwards God put it into the heart of one of the elders of the church to spend a night in prayer in behalf of the poor infidel. In the morning the elder rose from his knees, saddled his horse, and rode down to the man's smithy. He meant to say a great deal to him, but he simply went up to him, took him by the hand, and all he could say was, "Oh, sir! I am deeply concerned for your salvation. I am deeply concerned for your salvation. I have been wrestling with my God all this night for your salvation." He could say no more, his heart was too full. He then mounted on his horse and rode away again. Down went the blacksmith's hammer, and he went immediately to see his wife. She said, "What is the matter with you?" "Matter enough," said the man, "I have been attacked with a new argument this time. There is Elder B. has been here this morning; and he said, 'I am concerned about your salvation.' Why, now if he is concerned about my salvation, it is a strange thing that I am not concerned about it." The man's heart was clean captured by that kind word from the elder; he took his own horse and rode to the elder's house. When he arrived there the elder was in his parlour, still in prayer; and they kneeled down together. God gave him a contrite spirit and a broken heart, and brought that poor sinner to the feet of the Saviour. There was "a soul saved from death, and a multitude of sins covered."
2. Again, you may be the means of conversion by a letter you may write. There is your brother. He is careless and hardened. Sister, sit down and write a letter to him: when he receives it, he will perhaps smile, but he will say, "Ah, well! it is Betsy's letter after all!" And that will have some power. I knew a gentleman whose dear sister used often to write to him concerning his soul. "I used," said he, "to stand with my back up against a lamp-post, with a cigar in my mouth, perhaps at two o'clock in the morning, to read her letter. I always read them; and I have," said he, "wept floods of tears after reading my sister's letters. Though I still kept on in the error of my ways, they always checked me; they always seemed a hand pulling me away from sin; a voice crying out, 'Come back! Come back!'" And at last a letter from her, in coujunction with a solemn providence, was the means of breaking his heart, and he sought salvation through a Saviour.
3. Again. How many have been converted by the example of true Christians. An infidel will use arguments to disprove the Bible, if you set it before him; but, if you do to others as you would that they should do to you, if you give of your bread to the poor and dispense to the needy, living like Christ, speaking words of kindness and love, and living honestly and uprightly in the world, he will say, "Well, I thought the Bible was all hypocrisy; but I cannot think so now, because there is Mr. So-and-so — see how he lives. I could believe my infidelity if it were not for him. The Bible certainly has an effect upon his life, and, therefore, I must believe it."
4. And then, how many souls may be converted by what some men are privileged to write and print. I value books for the good they may do to men's souls. Much as I respect the genius of Pope, or Dryden, or Burns, give me the simple lines of Cowper, that God has owned in bringings souls to Him. Oh I to think that we may write and print books which shall reach poor sinners' hearts.
5. But, after all, preaching is the ordained means for the salvation of sinners, and by this ten times as many are brought to the Saviour as by any other. Ah! my friends, to have been the means of saving souls from death by preaching — what an honour!" Oh! men and women, how can ye better spend your time and wealth than in the cause of the Redeemer? What holier enterprise can ye engage in than this sacred one of saving souls from death, and hiding a multitude of sins. This is a wealth that ye can take with you — the wealth that has been acquired under God, by having saved souls from death, and covered a multitude of sins.
III. THE APPLICATION. It is this: that he who is the means of the conversion of a sinner does, under God, "save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins"; but particular attention ought to be paid to backsliders; for in bringing backsliders into the Church there is as much honour to God as in bringing in sinners. "Brethren, if any one of you do err from the truth, and one convert him." Alas! the poor backslider is often the most forgotten. A member of the Church has disgraced his profession; the Church excommunicated him, and he was accounted "a heathen man and a publican." I know of men of good standing in the gospel ministry, who ten years ago fell into sin; and that is thrown in our teeth to this very day. Do you speak of them you are at once informed, "Why, ten years ago they did so-and-so." Christian men ought to be ashamed of themselves for taking notice of such things so long afterwards. True, we may use more caution in our dealings: but to reproach a fallen brother for what he did so long ago is contrary to the spirit of John, who went after Peter, three days after he had denied his Master with oaths and curses. Recollect you would have been a backslider too if it were not for the grace of God. I advise you, whenever you see professors living in sin to be very shy of them; but if after a time you see any sign of repentance, or if you do not, go and seek out the lost sheep of the house of Israel; for remember, that if one of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him remember that "he who converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." "Backsliders, who your misery feel," I will come after you one moment. Poor backslider, thou wast once a Christian. Dost thou hope thou wast? "No," sayest thou, "I believe I deceived myself and others; I was no child of God." Well, if thou didst, let me tell thee, that if thou wilt acknowledge that, God will forgive thee. Come thou, then, to His feet; cast thyself on His mercy; and though thou didst once enter His camp as a spy, He will not hang thee up for it, but will be glad to get thee anyhow as a trophy of mercy. But if thou wast a child of God, and canst say, honestly, "I know I did love Him, and He loved me," I tell thee He loves thee still. If thou hast gone ever so far astray, thou art as much His child as ever. Though thou hast run away from thy Father, come back, come back, He is thy Father still.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;