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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, January 6, 2008

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life…” (I John 5:16).

The great Bible commentator Matthew Henry said of our text,

We ought to pray for others…for our brethren of mankind, that they may be enlightened, converted, and saved…But there is a sin unto death…Final impenitence and unbelief are infallibly to death eternal…A blaspheming of the Spirit of God…and a total apostasy from the light and convictive evidence of the truth of the Christian religion. These are the sins involving… everlasting death (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996 reprint, volume 6, p. 884).

That is, we are not to continue praying for those who deliberately commit the unpardonable sin and are given up by God (Dr. Hymers' note). 

I believe, with Matthew Henry, that the “brother” here is “our brethren of mankind,” that is, those we are close to because they are unconverted relations and old friends who remain unconverted – not to brothers in the faith. The text gives us a wonderful promise. When you see a lost family member, or old friend sin, your prayers can bring him life.

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life…” (I John 5:16).

How often I have seen this promise fulfilled by our prayer-answering God.

When I was a young man studying at Los Angeles City College, I worked hard teaching children at the First Chinese Baptist Church. One of them was a boy named Johnson Lee, who was one of my students. I prayed hard for that boy to be saved. One day I went to visit him at his father’s grocery store, after he had missed Sunday School. His burly Chinese father met me at the door of his store and said with an angry voice, “What do you want?” I told him I wanted to see his little boy about coming back to church on Sunday. The man grabbed a broom. His face filled with rage, he raised that broom over his head and began swinging at me. He barely missed hitting me over the head! Needless to say, I ran away as fast as I could! But I continued to pray for Johnson, and soon he came back to church. A few months later Johnson was converted. As the years went by, Johnson grew to be a fine Christian man. But through the years I continued to pray from time to time for his angry old Buddhist father, who was against his son becoming a Christian.

The years went by and I lost contact with Johnson. But then one day I phoned him and we had a good talk. I learned that Johnson had become a leader in his church. Not only that, he had led his angry old Buddhist father to Christ! How surprised and delighted I was to find that this old man was now a Christian, and was an usher in the church his son attended. When the old man passed away a few years later I knew he had become a Christian because his son and I had prayed for him for many years. Our text came forcefully to my mind,

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life…” (I John 5:16).

God answers prayers – and sinners are converted through our prayers. The case of Johnson’s father is a remarkable proof of that great truth in Scripture.

A few weeks ago I received a Christmas card from Johnson (now known as J. K. Lee). Johnson and his wife Bev sent me two photographs. One of the photos was the two of them, Johnson and Beverly Lee, standing in a beautiful garden in Austria where they went on vacation last year. The other photo was of Johnson’s wife Beverly surrounded by their eight little grandchildren, all of them, I suppose, less than twelve years old. Beverly’s face looks so happy, and her eight grandchildren crowded around her are such beautiful and handsome children, smiling into the camera. Tears ran down my cheeks as I looked at those photos. I was reminded that Johnson and his father were saved by intercessory prayer, and that those eight lovely grandchildren might never have been born if I, as a young college student, had not prayed for the conversion of Johnson and his father so hard, after the old man chased me out of his store with a broom long ago, in the 1960s. Again, our text came to my mind,

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life…” (I John 5:16).

God answers prayers – and sinners are converted through our prayers. This case is a remarkable instance of the great truth in our text.

Another case comes to mind. When I was attending Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, just north of San Francisco, the young man who lived in the dorm room next to mine was from Korea. He had come to study in an esteemed American seminary. But the school was very liberal then, and Chang Sun Moon became confused by the liberal theologians Barth, Brunner, and particularly by Dr. Paul Tillich, who, his wife later said, was "an atheist." The horrible blasphemy and unbelief of these terrible “theologians” had poisoned Moon’s mind. I spoke with him many times, often late into the night, about the heresies he had been taught to believe. I felt so weak. He was a doctoral student, much smarter than me. Finally I gave up trying to answer his liberal questions. I knew I had no power of my own to change his mind. At last, one night, I simply said, “I will pray for you to be converted.” He laughed at me and said, “That will never happen.” But I made him promise me that if he should ever be converted that he would find me and tell me about it. He laughed again and said, “That will never happen. But if it does, and I know it won’t, I promise to get in touch with you.” So I did not see him again for several months. He moved out of the dormitory and I lost contact with him. But I continued to pray for his conversion each day.

It was very late at night, several months afterwards, that I heard a gentle tapping on the door of my room in the dormitory. I opened the door and there stood Moon with tears running down his cheeks. He fell on his knees weeping and said, “Brother Hymers, thank you for praying for me all these months. Deep down in my heart I knew you were right. I knew I wasn’t saved. I knew I didn't believe the Bible like my mother did. Over the last few months I became so troubled about my soul that I could not sleep. One night I stretched out on the floor and said, ‘Oh, God, if Brother Hymers is right, I am lost. Oh, God, I know he is right and I am wrong. God save me for Jesus’ sake!’” He got up from that floor a converted man. He married a fine Korean Christian girl. I attended their wedding. The last I heard he is preaching the Gospel of Christ in Korea! Again our text came to my mind,

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life…” (I John 5:16).

I have told you many times about the miraculous conversion of my mother at the age of 80 in answer to prayer. But now I will tell you about my uncle, Robert Porter Elliott. Night before last I dreamed about him for a long time in the dark hours of the night. In that dream, he seemed to say, “Robert, don’t forget to tell the people in your church about me.” I believe God may well have sent that dream to remind me to tell you the true story of Robert Porter Elliott, my mother’s sister’s husband, my uncle by marriage.

Porter was a tough as nails soldier in World War II. He was a U.S. soldier in London during the Battle of Britain, with bombs raining down at the city every night. Later he fought hand-to-hand in the Korean War as well. He came home from those two wars as a hard-hearted atheist, a chain-smoking unbeliever who had given up on life. I was afraid of him as a little boy. He reminded me of the angry ex-soldier played by Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, almost as cynical and hard-boiled as Bogart in some of his toughest gangster roles. He never laughed. He hardly ever spoke. He sat in a corner reading war novels and never looked at me. I can’t remember him saying a single word to me as a child. As I said, I was deeply afraid of this hard-as-nails old soldier whose heart and life had been crushed by the hand-to-hand combat, death, and misery he had experienced in two terrible wars.

Then one day my mother brought him and his wife to church. He sat at the back of the room and stared sullenly at the floor. He rushed out of the building without speaking to me after I preached. He was a hard case if there ever was one! I was greatly surprised when he came back with Mother and his wife the next Sunday, and the next, and the next. Finally his wife stopped coming, and so did my unsaved mother – for a time. I was praying hard for him. I thought I would never see him again at church.

But the very next Sunday, there he was – with an old Bible in his hand that he got during the war. There were no more chairs that morning – we were packed out when Uncle Porter came in a few minutes late. But he sat at the back of the room on the floor as I preached. Suddenly I looked up at him at the back of the room. He was leaning forward, listening to my sermon, and he was looking me directly in the eyes. I had never seen him look at me directly, or ever speak more than a gruff word or two before. But he kept his eyes on me throughout that sermon. He left quickly afterwards and I had no chance to speak to him in the rush of things. But the following Sunday there he was again! And he was still looking at me, with a strange, soft expression on his face I had never seen before in my entire life. After the service, he came over to me and said in his plain soldier-like voice, “Robert, you’ve got something I want.” I was literally blown away! To make a long story short, he was soon converted and I baptized him. After that he threw away all his books on war and his many detective stories and murder mysteries. And he asked me to loan him Christian books. He was a great reader, as many of those old World War II soldiers were. They had nothing to do in the Army barracks but smoke cigarettes and read blood-curdling books on war and murder. But now he pushed those books away and borrowed armload after armload of Christian books which he now read with great fascination and delight. He read several books by A. W. Tozer. He read books by C. S. Lewis. He read books of sermons and Bible commentaries. I had a hard time supplying him with enough Christian literature. He read the lives of the great missionaries, and a book on Christian history. He read books by Dr. John R. Rice, and he read Hal Lindsey’s famous The Late, Great Planet Earth. He also read the Bible straight through. He crammed more Christian literature into his brain in a few months than most Christians do in their entire lives. He never missed a service. He began to tithe. He passed out tracts.

Then he died suddenly from a massive heart attack at only 56 years old. I preached his funeral. I had come to love him and admire him as a man of God in those few months after his conversion.

I seldom dream about my other uncles, who were blood relatives. But Robert Porter Elliott, my uncle by marriage to my mother’s sister, often comes to me in my dreams. I thank God that I prayed for him. I will see him someday in Heaven. There is no doubt about it, for he was most certainly a born again Christian, washed clean from sin by the precious Blood of Christ. When I think of Porter Elliott, I am always reminded of our text,

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life…” (I John 5:16).

Now, tonight, there are many of you here with lost relatives and friends. Their cases seem hopeless. You may be afraid God will not answer you if you pray for them. But I tell you by experience that our text is true! It is a great promise in the Word of God. Memorize it. Claim it. Ask God to do what He says in that verse. That is faith! And you will soon be surprised to find that God keeps His promises, and if you ask Him in prayer, and don’t stop, you will see the powerful hand of Almighty God draw them to the Saviour for cleansing in His precious Blood.

And if you are here at this service, remember we are praying for you in this way. And we believe that God will answer us soon – and you too will trust Christ by faith and be born again. Nothing is too hard for the living God! Your eyes will be opened. You will see with horror the sin on your record. You will turn from sin as a man turns from a poisonous snake. And you will fall into the loving arms of Jesus – and be saved by Him for all time, and for all eternity, for,

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life…” (I John 5:16).

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: I John 5:13-17. Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Only Believe” (by Paul Rader, 1878-1938).