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"If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death,
he shall ask and he shall give him life for them that sin not
unto death. There is a sin unto death. I do not
say that he shall pray for it."—I John 5:16 .
HERE the Apostle wishes us to understand that if we see a Brother who is overtaken in a fault and getting into difficulty which may lead to coldness and estrangement from the Lord, we should pray for such a one; we should ask the Lord's blessing upon him; we should, as a member of the Body, do all in our power for his assistance. If in the human body one hand becomes wounded or bruised, the other goes to its relief to allay the suffering and restore the member. It would care for and express sympathy for the wounded hand. So we, as members of the Body of Christ, are privileged to pray for one another; to pray for all those who we have reason to believe are fellow-members in the Body.
This is different from praying for the world—asking God to accept and beget of his Spirit those who are not in the proper condition. We are satisfied that God has accepted the one class and that in going away from him they are doing violence to the principles of righteousness, and to their covenant and, therefore, are correspondingly going against his will. We may very properly ask guidance for them and wisdom for ourselves that we may speak and act aright. The Divine intention in suggesting that we should pray for one in this attitude, might be that it would aid in developing our sympathy for the various members of the Body and thus help us to scrutinize ourselves that we might be more sympathetic towards one another and have the greater care for one another's interests.
Concerning that portion of the text which says, "He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death," in what sense or to what degree the Lord permits us to be advocates one for another is not clear; but our advocacy of each other would seemingly be offered more particularly to the Head of the Body than to the Father. But even if it be supposed that our advocacy of the case of a brother would be heard by the Father directly, it would still not seem to be due in any sense to worthiness on our part; but because of our standing in the Body of Christ God has arranged a method by which he is pleased to exercise an interest in the various members of the Body in harmony with prayer for such members. We might then ask, what would be the result if there were no members present to pray for a disaffected brother? Would God allow him to go down into the Second Death because [R4625 : page 186] no one living in that neighborhood knew about his case? The answer is that the Lord himself is the Head of the Body and quite probably if there were no other members who would be in the attitude of intercession and sympathy, the great Head of the Body would find some means of advocating the interests of the disaffected member. It could not be that the Lord would allow any member of his Body to perish simply for lack of our attention or prayers.
We might include in this general thought the "Great Company" and the manner in which the Lord deals with them. They are really out of the way so far as the high [R4626 : page 186] calling is concerned, but the great Advocate has endorsed their case, therefore he will not suffer them to be condemned with the world, but instead, will provide chastening experiences which will, if rightly received, be helpful to them and ultimately bring them off conquerors.
The Apostle brings before our attention, in speaking of one who had committed a serious trespass, that the Church should have judged him; that he should have been brought before the Church and been reproved for his course. Since the Church had failed to do its duty, the Apostle, being absent in person, but present in spirit, as one of them, had judged this individual and "delivered him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." This saving of the spirit in the day of the Lord Jesus, as apparently relating to the Great Company, would seem to correspond with the expression in the text that the Lord would "give him life," would preserve his life. The thought then is that if he were in danger of going down into the Second Death the faithful prayer would lead to such a recovery of the individual as would bring him to the place where he would have the proper view of matters, and in that sense of the word would bring him back to the "life" standing, because life can be lost only by willfully and intentionally disobeying the Divine arrangements. If, therefore, the person has not willingly and deliberately betrayed his trust, and gone back on the blood of the Covenant wherewith he was once sanctified, there is always a possibility of recovering such a one to a proper view. If his heart is right, a proper view of the situation would be sufficient for him. The Lord will always be willing to help all such and we may reasonably suppose that he would render this aid whether we pray for it or not. If we neglect our interest in and care over the fellow-members, it is our loss; the Head would not neglect his interest and care over them; but all such as might be going in the direction of the Second Death would be recoverable only up to the point where their hearts go wrong.
Now we come to the latter part of the verse, "There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he should pray for it." We are to understand that this sin unto death is something that is very specific. It is a matter of willfulness and is a turning again to the beggarly elements of the world from which we were once recovered, from which we once escaped. And what are the beggarly elements of the world? Some might suppose that the beggarly elements of the world are murder, robbery, etc. We answer, Yes. Are we to expect, then, that a Christian would turn to robbery and murder? And would this be a sign of his having lost the Lord's Spirit—not merely that he is losing it, but that he has lost it, that he is dead? We answer, Yes. And how would it manifest itself? We answer, our Lord gives a more refined definition of murder. To be angry with a brother without just cause—to have hatred, envy, malice, strife; these are the works of the flesh and the devil. Whoever has these—that is to say, whoever is actuated by these, not merely in a moment of impulse and through some oversight in the care of his tongue, as mentioned in an illustration recently, but whoever deliberately and repeatedly manifests these as his own spirit and thought, has certainly lost the Spirit of the Lord, if he ever had it, if he had not been merely glossed over with an outward veneer of meekness, gentleness, patience, long suffering, brotherly kindness and love. His loss of these qualities and his taking on of the vicious qualities, backbiting, slander, anger, malice, strife, etc., would indicate that he had lost the Spirit of the Lord. It would signify that he is not dying, but that he is dead.—Jude 12.
Going back to the illustration of the dog, which we used in a previous issue, we see a difference between this condition of willfulness and the one in which the New Creature might be temporarily overtaken in a fault and his "dog," so to speak, break loose and bite some one. The "dog" would get a whipping, and apologies would be made to the person injured and things made good so far as possible. The one who approves of his dog's going out and biting his brethren or neighbors has evidently lost the Spirit of Christ which he once had.
Now, should we pray for such? The Apostle says, "I do not say that you should agonize for these." No; it would evidently be worse than a waste of time for Christians to pray and agonize and labor for such. There are plenty of more hopeful cases. If you had some trees in your yard, and you should see one looking a little withered or sickly, you might dig around it, fertilize it, water it, etc., but if, upon examination, you found it dead down at the roots, you would say, no need to use more fertilizer for it. So with this matter of prayer and laboring with those who have lost the Spirit of Christ and have developed, instead, a vicious spirit of the Adversary; it is worse than a waste of time to have anything more to do with them.
We might ask: What would be the best evidence to one's self that he had not committed the "sin unto death"? We occasionally come across people who believe that they have committed the "sin unto death" and usually they are in a very distressed condition of mind. We cannot say to these positively that the mere fact that they are distressed in mind is a proof that they have not committed "the sin unto death" in view of the typical lesson of Esau, "that profane person who sold his birthright," and of whom we read that he sought it earnestly and with tears, but did not recover it. Similarly, in view of the case of Judas Iscariot: his penitence for having betrayed the Lord, and his return of the money and hanging himself as an evidence of his deep remorse. What, then, shall we say to such?
In our own experience with these it has generally been the case that those who thought they had committed "the sin unto death," had really done nothing of the kind, so far as our judgment goes. Our method, therefore, is to try to show them that what they did was not done willfully or intelligently against God and his will. We ask: "Did you mean to do thus and so?" After catechising them along the course that seemed to them to constitute "the sin unto death" one will usually succeed in showing them that nothing that they have done was willfully, intentionally, knowingly done, and that the fact that they regret it and that the attitude of their heart and their intentions now is still in accord with the Lord, shows that the Adversary is merely endeavoring to [R4626 : page 187] shake their faith and confidence and to turn them aside.
We consider that a good method of dealing further with such persons is to say, "Now, if you have lost the Lord's Spirit, you will be loveless towards those of his people with whom you come in contact, and if you still have his Spirit you will not be harsh and implacable, but desirous of serving them. You will be kind, gentle, long suffering and thus manifest that you still have the Spirit of Christ. If you have the Spirit of Christ, that is a sign that you are his. If you are without this special mark of the Lord's Spirit it is an evidence that you are not one of his."
In some cases that we have known, the conditions seemed to imply that the persons had really lost the Lord's Spirit, for they confessed to special hardness of heart, no love, no sympathy, only bitter feeling. We could say but very little more to such, but merely advise them to try to take a different view of the matter and to progress to a better condition. We have suggested that perhaps they were physically impaired, or in some melancholy condition of mind, of which the Lord would not take note as being their real spirit or intention, and there we were obliged to leave it.
We have been asked if we understand Esau to be a type of the Second Death class or of the Great Company. It is probable that Esau was not a type of those that go into the Second Death. He is spoken of as profane—that is, not spiritual, and the Apostle seems to use him as representing the natural man. In his outward appearance of hairiness, etc., the animal man, apparently, was pictured. The Lord through the Apostle may merely have been designing to show that though the natural Jew was offered these wonderful privileges of the spiritual things he would prefer the natural things. We know that the Apostle likens the whole Jewish nation to Esau "who sold his birthright," and yet the same Apostle proceeds to tell us that this whole Jewish nation will by and by be recovered and come into special blessings under the New Covenant. We may presume that these were not worthy of the spiritual blessings, and that this is the reason they were looked upon as of the Esau class and not of the class who get the spiritual blessings. They preferred the earthly, so we believe there will be earthly blessings for them in due time. If, when the earthly blessings of the Millennium are offered to this Esau class, they will not profit by the lessons and disciplinings and come to a right spirit, they will be destroyed; but if they do respond to the Lord's providences and the chastenings of the Lord in the Millennial Kingdom, they will gradually rise and lose their bestiality; their stony heart will be taken away, and instead they will receive a "heart of flesh."