Let’s read James 5:19-20: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (NKJV).

James had been speaking earlier (in verses 14-15) of the elders of the church coming to a brother’s side to help restore him to both physical and spiritual health. In our passage an appeal is made to individual believers to be on the lookout for a brother (or sister) who has wandered from the path of truth. If we do see one that erred in either doctrine or behavior, we should do what we can to restore them back to spiritual health. The apostle Paul speaks of this also in Galatians 6:1: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” The work of restoring a “sinning saint” is truly the Lord’s work. David confirms this in Psalm 23:3, “He restores my soul; He leads in me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Yet the Lord can and does use us in this blessed work of restoration. Of course, the restoration we’re speaking of is restoration to fellowship with God and fellowship with fellow-believers.

Besides using us to recover a brother, the Lord also credits us by saying, “let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” Again, these verses are speaking of a true believer, yet here he is called a “sinner” because he is behaving like an “unsaved sinner.” If he were to continue in his sin, he would come under the chastening Hand of God with “physical death” being the ultimate form of God’s chastening. We see an example of this in the church at Corinth where some believers were eating the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner and because of this some were being taken Home to heaven prematurely. We read in 1st Corinthians 11:30-32: “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep (are dying). For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” If we are successful in restoring that brother before he reaches that point, we will save him from that final act of God’s discipline, and he can then go on to live a righteous life to the glory of God. Our verse ends by adding that we also “cover a multitude of sins.” What does this mean? It would surely include the thought that once his sins are confessed before God in true repentance, they are “forgiven and forgotten” by God the Father. He has promised the erring saint in 1st John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It may also be referring to “our forgiveness” of him. Mr. William MacDonald puts it this way, “Also they are forgiven by fellow believers and veiled from the gaze of the outside world.” If the local church has to discipline an erring brother (or sister), or if God takes them home due to their sin, the world will surely take notice. But if the backslidden saint is restored before discipline takes place, we will indeed “cover a multitude of sins” and the world will never know about it. (240.3) (DO)