What is the Meaning of James 5.19-20

Saving From Death”

James 5:19-20

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 5.19-20

James 5. For the final time, I invite you to the book of James chapter 5. The Fort McMurrary fire is still on our hearts. I’d like to share a little about the fire and the first responders who have fought.

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As of yesterday, the fire has destroyed 1.25 million acres. To put that in comparison, the Slave Lake fire was just 12,000 acres. They say the Fort Mac fire could become the costliest disaster in Canadian history.

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An eyewitness said … “It’s like Armageddon here. There’s nobody on the road, nothing. Absolutely nobody.” Another witness … “Cars are burnt. There are people on the side of the road with crying babies, broken cars, and no gas and no food and it’s just like it’s in a movie, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”

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On May 7th, it was reported that there were 120 RCMP officers in Fort McMurray going door to door. They were finding people who are unable and unwilling to flee the flames. On that Friday, officers found a family of five and that evening they found an elderly man, who simply wasn’t able to flee.

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They have also found people who are refusing to leave, but haven’t revealed how many. One article said that police don’t have the authority to remove them unless they pose a threat to public safety.

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We can praise God for these first responders who are risking their lives to save souls from death. You begin to wonder what would posses people to refuse to leave this city of Destruction.

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It reminds me of another city of Destruction in the Christian allegory Pilgrim’s progress. In John Bunyan’s classic, there is a discussion between Christian and Faithful. The city of destruction is a picture of someone who is in his sin, lost, on his way to hell.

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Christian says to Faithful… “My honored and well-beloved brother, Faithful, I am glad that we can walk as companions in this so pleasant a path.”

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Then he asks … “How long did you stay in the City of Destruction before you set out after me on your pilgrimage?”

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Faithful says: Until I could stay no longer; for there was a lot of discussion after you left that our city would be burned down to the ground with fire from heaven.

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Christian: What! Did all your neighbors talk like that?

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Faithful: Yes, it was for a while in everybody’s mouth.

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Christian: What! And was there nobody else but you to come out to escape the danger?

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Faithful: There was a lot of talk about it, but I do not think they firmly believed it. But I believed, and do still, that the end of our city will be with fire and brimstone from above; and therefore I have made my escape.

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Like those few Fort Mcmurray residents who refused to leave, Faithful’s neighbor’s refused to leave the City of Destruction. What would possess them to do that? In both cases, obviously, it’s a love for that city or something in that city.

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The vast majority of humanity is unwilling to leave the City of Destruction. They are unwilling to leave their own sinful condition. Why? Because they love something in their own city, some sin, or their own life, and they don’t want to bring their lives under the authority of God.

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Evangelist, in John Bunyan’s allegory, was one who saved souls from death; he rescued Christian from the city of Destruction.

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What those RCMP officers did is an illustration of what we are to do with those who err from the faith. Attempt to rescue them. This is James’ point in James 5:19-20…

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James 5:19–20 19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

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But our problem is, we let people stray. We see a Christian straying from the truth in doctrine or practice and we let him go. It’s too hard. Too dirty, we might offend them. Plus, they are responsible for them, not me.

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No … we are the church. We are called upon in this passage to turn straying Christians from the error of their ways. The church is a hospital. We are to help those who are spiritually sick. And that was James’ point last time.

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Someone who seems spiritually sick or weary may actually be in danger of apostasy. He needs to repent and he needs you to help him.

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  1. Apostasy is Possible

    Apostasy is a deliberate turning from the truth, a rejection of the gospel after having once professed it. Apostasy is possible …

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    1. Who James is speaking to

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      James says in verse 19, “my brethren, if any among you strays from the truth.”

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      James is speaking to those who profess Christ…he’s speaking to the Christian assembly. “My brethren,” he says … “if any among you” … So James is addressing those who make a profession of faith in Christ and they are participating in the Christian community. By using “my brethren” James isn’t claiming that everyone who’s reading his letter is actually saved. He doesn’t have that perfect insight into people’s hearts.

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    2. Meaning of stray: wander, apostasy

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      And people who call themselves Christians may stray from the truth, James says. They may wander.

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      ILL: This word “strays” is the same word used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint, to describe what the Israelites were doing in the wilderness after the Exodus. The wilderness wanderings.

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      And so James pictures some of those called Christians as wandering away from the truth, cut loose from Christ who Himself is the truth.

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      James also pictures the sinner, verse 20, in the error of his way and he’s in need of turning back. And the danger of this is death, spiritual death.

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      ARG: we know it’s spiritual death because James taught us last time about praying with and for spiritually weak and weary people in the church.

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      Some of been persecuted.

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      And James wants us to know in verses 19-20 that if you meet with a Christian who is tempted to turn away from the truth in that situation, you’re ministry is no small matter.

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      So clearly this is spiritual death. Children who grow up in the church, men and women who have professed Christ, may be in danger of apostasy … they may be in danger of actively, consciously turning from the glorious gospel of Christ.

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      Could you imagine yourself one day actually turning from Christ? If you can, please get some help. This happened one day when Christ was still on earth. Their were hundreds of disciples following Jesus and that day in John 6:53 … Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.”

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      And it was too hard of a saying for them and they got up and all left him. And Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”

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      What if Peter said, “Yes…it’s too hard for me, too.” But no, he said, “Where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life.”

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      Jesus, who Himself is the truth, died to take upon Himself the wrath of God for all the sins of the world and He was raised from the dead. That’s the good news, the gospel, the truth. And Christ receives all who commit themselves to Him. A simple trust and repentance.

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      Having once professed this truth and to turn away from Him is apostasy. But if someone effectively does turn from the truth, apostatizes, it shows this…he was never saved in the first place.

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      Apostates were never saved to begin with

      Otherwise, what do you make of the tares, the fake wheat, among the wheat in Matthew 13? In God’s kingdom, there are tares, fake Christians, sown among the true that will one day be burned. They left because they were never truly wheat.

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      Matthew 7, many will say on that day, “Lord, Lord.” And they will quote to Jesus all of the works that they performed in his name. But Jesus will say that he never knew them, “depart from me you who practice lawlessness.” Even though they were participating in the church, they were never saved. Their fruits in their life would reveal upon closer examination that they had never been truly converted.

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      Apostates were never saved to begin with.

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      You remember the parable of the soils. The rocky soil … Jesus says this individual actually believed for a while and in time of testing, fell away. They received the word with joy but did not have … here it is … they did not have a firm root and so they did not produce fruit. And if as Jesus says, “you shall know them by their fruits,” this individual was never saved.

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      More explicitly, 1 John 2:19 shows this. You can turn there if you like. 1 John 2:19 … This is more explicit that apostates were never really saved.

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      1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

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      If these individuals who hold to false teaching go out from us, were they ever really “of us” or were they ever really “a part of us?” No. They were never truly saved. If they were, they would have remained.

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      This is why the preacher in the book of Hebrews says Hebrews 3:12–14 12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, [if…only…if] we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” If you don’t hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end … what if you renounce Christ and His gospel, then you were never a partaker in the first place.

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      Apostates fail to keep the faith and good conscience. They rejected it and suffer shipwreck in regard to their faith. Some have fallen away from the faith because they have paid attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons and deliberately turned away their ears from the truth have turned aside to myths.

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    3. How one strays: doctrinally, morally

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      And so the apostate strays doctrinally. I don’t know if you know this, but even pastors have been known to be apostates…

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      ILL: [1]Rick, a campus minister for the United Church of Christ, perhaps the most liberal Protestant denomination, was an agnostic in college and seems to have lost all belief by the time he graduated from seminary. He chose ordination in the UCC because it required “no forced doctrine.” Even as he graduated from seminary, he knew, “I’m not going to make it in a conventional church.” He knew he could not go into a church and teach his own theological views, based on Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann. He did not believe in the doctrinal content of the Christian faith from the beginning of his ministry. “I did not believe the traditional things even then.”

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      He does not believe “all this creedal stuff” about the incarnation of Christ or the need for salvation, but he remained in the ministry because, “These are my people, this is the context in which I work, these are the people that I know.” In the pulpit, his mode is to talk as if he does believe, because “as long as … you are talking about God and Jesus and the Bible, that’s what they want to hear. You’re just phrasing it in a way that makes sense to [them] … but language is ambiguous and can be heard in different ways.”

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      Sometimes the reason for apostasy is doctrinal like that… but sometimes it’s moral…

      Take Demas … 2 Timothy 4:10 10 for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…

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      Some people leave the faith or apathetically leave the church because of gender roles, God’s commands that sex only be in a heterosexual marriage…some leave the church because they became too busy for church …translation, “having loved this present world!”

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      So, if an apostate is one who rejects the truth, what is one who is saved?

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      That’s been James’ burden throughout this letter…you could go to James 1 and look at these with me…

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    Marks of true conversion in James

    For example in James 1:22, he told us prove yourselves to be doers of the word, not merely hearers only.

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    Prove it, in your life, that you are a true believer. A true believer will be doing that.

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    James 2:1…He focuses on the proper treatment of others … no favoritism and …verse 14 … the kind of faith that produces works…

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    James 3, not striving to be teachers, the tongue, heavenly vs. demonic wisdom

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    James 4 friendship with the world and the proper use of wealth…the marks of a genuine Christian will show progression in these areas.

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    2 Corinthians 13:5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!

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    It’s these things that will eventually show your true spiritual colors. Turn others from the error of their ways!

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    TRANS: Now that you can discern apostasy and true belief, James wants you to do something about it.

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  2. Successful Restoration
    1. Responsibility of all (“my brethren”)

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      This is a responsibility for all. Back to James 5:19–20 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

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      ILL: So, my brethren, someone must turn him back from the error of his way. Like the RCMP at the door step of those still in their homes … someone must turn them from the error of their ways, danger is ever present!

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      Or if someone is on the edge of the cliff about to fall in, you’d warn them to back away, to turn back.

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    2. The responsibility of all: Turn back, turn the sinner from error

      This is our responsibility. You are your brother’s keeper: Turn him back to the faith. To point him in the right direction. To expose the error of his way … expose the danger of the path … and the consequences of staying in that path.

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      Turn … turn them back!

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      How are you going to do that? 4 ways …

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      1. Requires getting to know people in the church and loving them

      Far from rejecting people who are doubting or who are sinning, we must care for them, get to know them, and love them!

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      Be someone that others feel comfortable sharing their intellectual struggles, skepticism, or moral failures.

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      Love them, don’t attack them. Care for them as someone sick in a hospital, don’t attack them like they are coming at you with a knife. Know them, understand them, and love them.

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      2. Addressing questions/issues

      To successfully turn sinners back from the error of their way, address people’s questions and issues. When they share their moral failures or reveal their true inner doubts about the faith, be okay with that. Take them seriously and thank them for being open and honest. And answer their questions even if you have to get back to them later.

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      Children in the home need to be challenged regarding their faith and morals. Is anyone in your home viewing pornography? This is a problem for women as well as men. Men, please take leadership on this in your homes. Is there teaching in your home about how to overcome sin issues? How to overcome social anxiety…if you think you’re the only one here who is struggling with that, you’re wrong…are you learning from the Scripture how to get over that problem? That can be a bring reason to leave the church!

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      Children need to be challenged about why Christianity is true. Do you believe Jesus is God’s Son? Yes … ok, why? Why are other worldviews false? Why isn’t Muhammed a true prophet of God? With children of a certain age, we need to be discussing these issues.

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      That’s one benefit why on Thursday nights now we are going through a little series on “Questions lost people ask…” how do you talk to people who believe in evolution or … or how can God be loving when there is so much evil in the world? We must be prepared to answer these kinds of questions. These are very good questions and they don’t just come from lost people!

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      3. Confront them about their sin/doctrinal deviance

      Once you have addressed the questions you may need to challenge them or confront them about their sin or about their doctrinal deviance.

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      Doctrinally, teach the truth from the Bible. God sent His Son to redeem humanity. Or this lifestyle is sinful against God, you must turn back, repent, and receive forgiveness. You must!

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      Appeal to them. But fourth way for the church to turn sinners back from the error of their way …

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      4. If they aren’t willing to repent, loving church discipline.

      If they are a member of this church, … By the way, will be speaking of church membership in future messages. But if they are a member of this church, we practice loving church discipline according to Matthew 18 and other passages. And you may not even know that you are being disciplined. But we take very seriously your life in Christ’s body and this local representation of it.

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    3. Benefits of doing so

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      If you have the opportunity of turning a sinner from the error of their way, and appealing to someone to repent of their doctrinal or moral deviance, James wants you to know 2 things…

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      1. verse 20, you will save his soul from death

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      2. you will cover a multitude of sins.

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      You are hereby encouraged to take action… As you talk to a sinner going down a disastrous path, you have the wonderful opportunity of saving him from spiritual death and covering many sins.

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      Saving a soul from death: how satisfying it must be for the first responders in Fort McMurray to know that they have done all that they could to deliver people from death.

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      How satisfying as well it must’ve been for Paul to be able to say, “I am free from the blood of all men.” He had done his best to preach God’s word and deliver sinners from death.

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      If you turn that sinner away from his error, …secondly

      You covered a multitude of sins: You’ve played a role in God’s forgiving their sins. If they repent, God forgives them. What a joy!

Psalm 32:1 1 How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 5.19-20

James is motivating us. Take this word from God and use it in the life of the church. Use it to call sinners to repentance to rescue them from slavery to sin. Do that! Get motivated and do it, use James’ epistle here to do that.

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ILL: In the evenings, Haddie and I are reading a book by Dave Jackson called, “Listen to the Whipoorwill” about the life of Harriet Tubman.

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It’s a story set during the underground Railroad days in Maryland in the 1800’s. Harriet Tubman was born into slavery. She escaped slavery and would make some thirteen missions to rescue around seventy enslaved families and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to Canada.

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During that time in Maryland, slave masters would hear whispers about a man named Moses who was running off with the slaves. At first they refused to believe in him, because the stories were so fantastic and unbelievable. But they watched for him and offered rewards for his capture. But they never saw him.

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When they heard rumors that he was in the neighborhood, the woods were searched, the roads were watched. But then days afterwards, a large number of slaves would be gone from the plantations. The only evidence of this supposed Moses was the sound of the bird, the whippoorwill… Though it was the wrong season for the whippoorwill.

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Rosebud, 13 years old, is the main character of the story and she’s fictional, but her story would have been typical of that era.

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Her and her family are enslaved. Terribly enslaved. Worked to the bone for no pay, beaten for slight disobedience, no chance for a changed life … though it seemed.

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Rosebud’s brother, Isaac, attempted to runaway and was captured, beaten, and sold to another slave owner. Rosebud and her mother and father … separated from her brother.

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Then, her mom dies in childbirth along with the child, Matthew. Her dad would soon be rescued by this mysterious Moses…and her dad promised to come back for her, but it has been months!

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Jackson writes, “Loneliness seemed to burst inside Rosebud. If only baby Matthew had lived! How she would have loved to help take care of a new little brother, carting him around on her hip, letting him suck a piece of pork rind when his teeth came in. If only her mammy hadn’t died! Now she had no one to sing the sweet Jesus songs at night, or tell her Bible stories, or just be there with her comforting presence. If only Isaac hadn’t been sold down South…! Now she had no friend to catch crawdads in the creek with, or show her how to creep through the woods without frightening the woodland animals. She didn’t even have the comfort of her memories, because thinking about Isaac brought looming fears of what his life might be like. If only Pappy hadn’t left her! Now she was alone . . . so alone, with no one who really loved her or cared about her.

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Using the blanket roll as a pillow, Rosebud fell asleep. But she awoke with a start. What had awakened her? She listened. But all she heard was Phoebe’s steady breathing and an occasional snore. Then suddenly she heard it. Whip-poor-will . . . Silence. Then, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will. Rosebud’s heart seemed to beat in her throat. One time, then two times together. That was it! The code! She scrambled to her feet and grabbed the bedroll she’d been using for a pillow. Creeping over to the fireplace, she felt around until she found last night’s pan of cold corn bread and smoked fish, rolled them in one of her mother’s old bandanas, and tucked it in her belt. She listened. All was silent. Had she heard right? What if it wasn’t Pappy after all? What if it was just an old whippoorwill grubbing for insects . . . ? Whip-poor-will . . . Silence.Whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will. There it was again! Now she had no doubts. Holding her breath, she quietly opened the cabin door and slipped into the night….

….She’s rescued! Oh the joy, oh the freedom…no more slavery, no more beatings, no more…all is gone, all the bad is past, there is hope for the future!

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How much more if you have the joy of talking to some sinner about the slavery of his sin! And you sound the call “Turn back…oh sinner, turn back from the error of your way! Come and follow Jesus.” And he’s rescued from certain danger … What joy shall be yours to be used of God in an eternal way, to rescue them from slavery to sin. Turn sinners back from the error of their way. Number 570.

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Go to James Main Page

Go To New Testament Books

Go To BibleTrove Home Page

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  1. http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/03/18/clergy-who-dont-believe-the-scandal-of-apostate-pastors/

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