|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
5:19,20 It is no mark of a wise or holy man, to boast of being free from error, or to refuse to acknowledge an error. And there is some doctrinal mistake at the bottom of every practical mistake. There is no one habitually bad, but upon some bad principle. This is conversion; to turn a sinner from the error of his ways, not merely from one party to another, or from one notion and way of thinking to another. There is no way effectually and finally to hide sin, but forsaking it. Many sins are hindered in the party converted; many also may be so in others whom he may influence. The salvation of one soul is of infinitely greater importance than preserving the lives of multitudes, or promoting the welfare of a whole people. Let us in our several stations keep these things in mind, sparing no pains in God's service, and the event will prove that our labour is not in vain in the Lord. For six thousand years He has been multiplying pardons, and yet his free grace is not tired nor grown weary. Certainly Divine mercy is an ocean that is ever full and ever flowing. May the Lord give us a part in this abundant mercy, through the blood of Christ, and the sanctification of the Spirit.
Verse 20. - Let him know. So א, A, K, L, Latt., Syriac, B has γινώσκετε, "know ye." After ψυχὴν, א, A, and Vulgate add αὐτοῦ. B has it after θανάτου. And shall cover a multitude of sins (καλύψει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν). The same expression occurs in 1 Peter 4:8, "Charity covereth a multitude of sins." It is founded on Proverbs 10:12, תְּכַסֶּה אַהֲבָה וְעַל כָּל־פְשָׁעִים, "Love covereth all sins," where the LXX. goes entirely astray: Πάντας δὲ τοὺς μὴ φιλονεικοῦντας καλύπτει φιλία: but cf. Psalm 31:1; Psalm 84:3, in the LXX. It is difficult to believe that St. Peter and St. James independently hit upon the rendering πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν for the Hebrew כָּל־פְּשָׂעִים, as there was nothing to suggest it, the LXX. never rendering כֹּל by πλῆθος. Probably the one was consciously or unconsciously influenced by the other. The striking position which the words occupy here, as those with which the Epistle closes, would make them linger in the memory; and there is nothing to militate against the conclusion, which appeared probable on the occasion of previous coincidences between the two writers, that St. James is the earlier of the two (comp. on James 4:6). The expression used by the apostle leaves it undetermined whose sins are thus "covered," whether
(1) those of the man who is "converted from the error of his way," or
(2) those of the man who wins him back, and through this good action obtains, by the grace of God, pardon for his own "multitude of sins." It has been well noticed that "there is a studied generality in the form of the teaching which seems to emphasize the wide blessedness of love. In the very act of seeking to convert one for whom we care we must turn to God ourselves, and in covering the past sins of another our own also are covered. In such an act love reaches its highest point, and that love includes the faith in God which is the condition of forgiveness" (Plumptre). The Epistle ends abruptly, with no salutation and no doxology. In this it stands almost by itself in the New Testament; the First Epistle of St. John alone approaching it in the abruptness of its conclusion.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Let him know,.... And observe it for his encouragement:
that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way; who is the instrument of restoring a backsliding professor, for such an one is meant by a sinner, and not a profane person; or of turning a poor bewildered believer, who is got out of the way of truth and holiness, into the right way again; or of convincing him of the error of his way, whether it be in point of doctrine, or of duty; and so of bringing him to the fold of Christ again, from whence he has strayed:
shall save a soul from death; not efficiently, but instrumentally, as in 1 Timothy 4:16 for otherwise Christ is the only Saviour; and he will be the means of saving "a soul", which is of more worth than a world; and that from death, the second death which lies in the separation of the soul from God, and in a sense of his wrath; which apostasy threatens with, and leads unto, if grace prevents not. The Alexandrian copy and others, and the Vulgate Latin version read, "his soul"; but the common reading is more emphatic; the Syriac and Arabic versions render it, "his own soul"; and the Ethiopic version, "himself", as respecting him that is the instrument of the conversion of the other, and not the person converted:
and shall hide a multitude of sins; either "his own", as the same versions read; and then the sense is, he shall be blessed with a discovery and application of the forgiveness of all his sins, though they have been many and great; or rather the sins of the person converted. Sin is only covered by the blood and righteousness of Christ; and thereby it is so covered, as not to be seen by the eye of vindictive justice and in such manner as that the persons of those who are covered therewith are all fair, without fault and unreproveable in the sight of God; and though their sins are many, even a multitude, they are blotted out as a thick cloud, and are abundantly pardoned; yea, all their sins are covered, be they ever so many, for God forgives all trespasses, for Christ's sake; and the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin, and his righteousness justifies from all: and whoever is an instrument of bringing a backslider to a sense of the evil of his ways, and to true repentance for the same; as he, upon such repentance, has his iniquities caused to pass from him, or, in other words, to be covered, as from the sight of God, so from his own; he may be said to be the instrument of this also.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
20. Let him—the converted.
know—for his comfort, and the encouragement of others to do likewise.
shall save—future. The salvation of the one so converted shall be manifested hereafter.
shall hide a multitude of sins—not his own, but the sins of the converted. The Greek verb in the middle voice requires this. Pr 10:12 refers to charity "covering" the sins of others before men; James to one's effecting by the conversion of another that that other's sins be covered before God, namely, with Christ's atonement. He effects this by making the convert partaker in the Christian covenant for the remission of all sins. Though this hiding of sins was included in the previous "shall save," James expresses it to mark in detail the greatness of the blessing conferred on the penitent through the converter's instrumentality, and to incite others to the same good deed.
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