The Epistle of James
This is the concluding article of Earl Miller’s exposition of the Epistle of James. We have enjoyed this practical ministry. What a challenge to personal piety!
Does Sin Cause Sickness?
Sickness has caused much apprehension among some people because they feel that they are suffering because of personal sins they have committed. This is not true! We are living in mortal bodies which are subject to death. A body that is subject to death is also subject to sickness. As a general rule sickness is not caused by personal sins, but there are exceptions to any rule, and the same holds true of this one. There is Syphilus, which is caused by the sin of immorality, and lung cancer is caused by smoking cigarettes, etcetera. So there are some sicknesses caused by personal sin, but those suffering from them know they are to blame. Other than that, don’t blame yourself for sickness you suffer.
After having given instructions covering the sick, James begins with the confession of sins. He says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” The words “faults” should be “sins” for it is the same word that is otherwise translated sins.
The elders are not mentioned here, so the confession of sins does not necessarily need to be made to the elders. It says, “one to another.” There is no designation made as to who the other is. It was just a private confession of sins to one another.
But this simple private confession of sins was rather early shifted to the public meeting of Christians. Thus, the public meeting became the place where penitents confessed their sins. This custom continued until A.D. 250 when, for the sake of convenience and to prevent embarrassment, an outstandingly spiritual elder was designated to hear the confessions of the penitents. This was practised by the Novatians and continued for about 140 years. It was discontinued in A.D. 391 because of a case of gross immorality between the confessor and the confessee. Then in A.D. 450, Pope Leo I in a circular forbade public confession, and reinstituted the confession to a priest who had the right to prescribe penance and to forgive the sin. But confession was still on a voluntary. basis, and continued so for a long time. But in A.D. 1215 Pope Innocent III decreed that every member of the church should make confession at least once a year. Forty-five years later, A.D. 1260, confession was made a sacrament of the church. But it was not until A.D. 1642 that confession was introduced in full form as it is to this day in the Roman Catholic Church. Thus for the first 250 years of church history, the church was free from an appointed confessor to hear the confessions of the penitents. It took another 1390 years for the confessional to become established as it is today. The history of the confessional is a sad departure from the written Word of God. Beginning only as a convenience, it developed through 13 centuries into the full-fledged confessional as it is practised today.
“The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth (accomplishes) much.” Praying one for another with the confession of sins accomplishes a great deal. The sick may be healed by it. James emphasizes the fact by referring to Elijah, who was a man of like nature as we are. He prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it did not rain for three and one half years. Then he prayed earnestly that it might rain, and it did rain. Since this was true of Elijah, it can be just as true of any man in any age.
The Epistle ends with these words, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know that he who converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” There is always danger of one straying or erring from the truth. When this happens, it is the duty of another spiritual brother to restore such an one. If he succeeds in turning him back, he will not only have saved a soul from death, but will also have covered a multitude of sins.