THE ARGUMENT BASED ON JAMES 5:20
James 5:19-20 says, "My brothers, if any one among you is led astray from the truth and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save that one’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." Some people also infer from these two verses that a saved person can perish. To them, in verse 19 we have the brother. Then in verse 20, we have the sinner. To them, verse 19 says to turn a brother back, and verse 20 says that in turning back the brother, the soul is saved from death. This would mean that some brothers need to turn back, and some need to have their souls saved from death. Would this not say plainly that a brother can lose his salvation?
In order to understand these two verses, there are a few things here that we have to pay attention to. First, James 5:19 and 20 are like a lone mountain. They are not connected to the preceding verses, and they have nothing to follow. All the other Epistles in the Bible have greetings and benedictions. James is the only book that ends this way. Verses 17 and 18 speak of prayer. All of a sudden these few words seem to break in from nowhere. This is a very peculiar thing.
Second, from chapter one until the end, the book of James is on practical love among the brothers and sisters. Because of love, there is the mercy, the care, and the concern for the brothers. This is what the book of James shows us. From 1:1 to 5:18, there is a continuous line, a definite goal, and a subject. Verses 19 and 20, however, seem to drop down from nowhere. One can say that 1:1 to 5:18 are very organized. But we do not know where these two final verses come from.
Third, in principle, since James 1 through 5 speaks of love expressed in one’s conduct, verses 19 and 20 should not deviate from this point. They should also tell us what we should or should not do when we love the brothers. If a sinner continues in the error of his way, and you save him in love, you are saving a soul from death. In addition, you will also cover a multitude of sins. All readers of the Bible know that what covers a multitude of sins is love (1 Pet. 4:8). The many sins spoken of here do not refer to sins before God. They refer to the sins before man. If you turn a sinner from the error of his way, God will no longer remember his sins and will cast them into the deep sea. All his sins will be under the blood. Now what about us? Suppose Brother Yuan was a very evil man before he became a Christian. His past history is very black and unseemly. I know his past history and stories of his past. I could lay them out and expose them. But if I expose his sins of the past, I am acting contrary to God’s will. God has cast his sins into the sea. After we are saved, God does not mention our past sins any longer. When I see a brother, I have to cover his past because among us God has covered our past sins.
Verse 20 is on the matter of principle, and verse 19 is on the matter of example. In other words, verse 20 is the formula, the law, and the principle of action, whereas verse 19 is the case study and the individual incident. Verse 20 says that if anyone turns a person, he will not die and his sins will be covered before God and before men. Verse 19 shows us what happens when one brother among us is led astray from the truth or has erred in his way. We have to turn him back. The exhortation in verse 19 is based upon the principle in verse 20. If you see a brother in the church led astray from the truth, you have to recover him. When a sinner is turned, his soul will not die and his many sins will be covered. This being the case, how much more should we do the same on behalf of a brother? What James was saying here was that we should do unto the brothers as one would do unto the sinners. James is telling us here that a Christian should treat his brothers and sisters with love and should recover them. This portion is not speaking of a brother perishing.
(Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), Chapter 18, by Watchman Nee)