Admonition to forgiveness and loving intercession:
v. 16. 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.
v. 17. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
v. 18. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
v. 19. Brethren, if any one of you do err from the truth and one convert him,
v. 20. let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
The forgiveness of sins mentioned at the close of the last paragraph now causes the apostle to add a general admonition: Confess, then, your sins toward one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed. There is not a word here concerning the exclusive right of elders or priests to forgive sins, the statement, on the contrary, being very general. All Christians, in their daily intercourse with one another, have abundant occasion to practice the love which is here spoken of. If anyone has harmed his brother by word or deed, he should frankly seek the forgiveness of the person wronged. At the same time intercessory prayer is urged; for the efficacy of such prayer, especially in cases of spiritual need, is so strongly established in Scriptures that its neglect is a matter of deep regret at the present time.
This point is emphasized with great force by the writer: A great power has the prayer of a righteous man in its efficacy: Elijah was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed a prayer that it should not rain, and it did not rain on the earth three years and six months; and he prayed again, and the heaven yielded rain, and the earth blossomed forth (and produced) her fruit. The apostle urges the believers to-be more instant in prayer, first, by a general statement of fact. If the prayer of the righteous is made with full trust in its efficacy, and therefore brought to the Throne of Grace with all energy, then it has a power beyond the experience of the average Christian in our days. This the apostle proceeds to show from the example of Elijah. Although this prophet of the Lord was a man with the same mental make-up, with the same inclinations and passions which we find in ourselves, yet his first prayer closed the heavens for a total of three years and six months, 1Ki_17:1; Luk_4:25, while his subsequent prayer opened the heavens that had been closed for so long a time, causing a great rain to come down, 1Ki_18:42, and restoring the soil to such a condition that it could bring forth plants to blossom and to yield fruit. Only few men have learned this lesson of the need and the power of earnest prayer, among them Martin Luther; but the example is still there and urges emulation.
In concluding, the apostle speaks of a special deed of kindness which should be practiced by all Christians, and with far greater liberality than is done at the present time: My brethren, if any one among you should err from the truth, and one should convert him, let him know that he who converts a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins. It will happen, time and again, and in spite of all vigilance, that some brother or sister will stray from the accepted truth, from the Word of Salvation. The world is full of temptations, and our own nature is only too weak in resisting evil. If this is the case, however, and one of the other brethren or sisters undertakes to bring back the erring one to the right path, then the thought should encourage such a one during the entire transaction that his action will, by the grace of God, result in saving a soul from death, from spiritual and eternal death. In that event, also, all the sins that were committed by the erring brother will be covered over and forgotten for the sake of the salvation of Christ which was won for just such sinners. Surely this consideration should make all Christians willing not only to exert the utmost vigilance over their own conduct, but to watch also with the brother and sister that may be inclined to stumble and fall. Above all, such charity and patience should rule in the Christian congregation as has its example in the love of the Savior.
The apostle addresses various admonitions to his readers in view of the nearness of Judgment Day, warning the rich to have the proper regard for the rights of their employees, urging all to show patient endurance in afflictions, distinguishing between the improper and the proper use of God's name, and admonishing all Christians to practice forgiveness and loving intercession.