Almost forty years ago I knew a preacher whose brilliant mind, apparent soundness in the faith and insight into God’s word was a joy and inspiration to me. Then for reasons unknown to me, he departed from the faith. My last memory of him was as he stood bearded and unkempt, looking about half drunk. I had wept and prayed about him as I tried to find a way to reach him. Then I stopped after about ten years.

My problem may have been threefold. It is probable that I really did not care enough. In my arrogance or pride, I may have thought, like Peter, “Though all may forsake thee, I never will” and looked upon my brother with contempt, thinking myself to be so far beyond his spiritual or intellectual problems that I could not bother with him.

Second, it may be that I had a theological problem. I knew the Bible said in Hebrews 6:4-6, “For as touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” I knew that 1 John5:16says, “There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” I may have misunderstood the meaning of these passages.

Third, a related problem may have been that even if I understood the meaning of the passages, I may have misapplied them. I may have assumed he was in that category and was therefore hopelessly lost. Many of us may do that with various passages. We think we understand the passage, “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth — or maketh a lie” (Revelation21:27). I may hear a person say to one person, “I feel pretty good” and to another a few minutes later, “I do not feel very well.” I conclude that he has lied, and therefore that I have the right to consign him to hell.

The truth is, I am not in the consigning business, and I need to know that I may easily misapply a passage to a particular situation. There may be many other reasons I gave up praying for the man, but when he returned to the fold after 40 years, I had to humbly face the fact that I had not properly practiced what I preach.

I preach that one should never give up hope. I gave up hope. I preach that one should not assume he has the facts straight, and act on his assumptions rather than the facts. I acted on my assumptions. I preach, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Probably I judged in the sense that I assumed I knew far more about motive, purpose, attitude and ultimate condition than I actually did.

In any case, I stopped forty years too soon. It is possible that many others did not. God did not, at any rate. Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not (Galatians 6:9). Let us “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians5:17). Let us “Love one another from a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter1:22). Let us obey Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

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