Family Devotions, 1 John 5:13 and The Cottar’s Saturday Night

This entry originally appeared on The Call with Mike Milton. Visit there for more thoughts, reflections and resources.

\    he following letter is one that I wrote to my family following last night’s devotions, in which we studied 1 John. Our questions about one verse prompted us to continue our studies. I want to open the door to our home and our lives for just a bit to draw our attention to family devotions.

My dear wife and son –

I did some research this morning on the passage that we read last night.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him. If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death (1 John 5:13 ESV).

Admittedly that verse about the “sin that leads unto death” needs special attention. We talked about it last night and I think were led by the Spirit to understand it well. But I tried to give it some more attention this morning in personal devotions (wonderful how our family devotions and my own personal devotions have so often merged). Here is what John Calvin wrote about this:

“…we ought not rashly to conclude that any one has brought on himself the judgment of eternal death; on the contrary, love should dispose us to hope well. But if the impiety of some appear to us not otherwise than hopeless, as though the Lord pointed it out by the finger, we ought not to contend with the just judgment of God, or seek to be more merciful than he is” (John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of John, “5:13,” Accordance Bible Software, 2008).

Matthew Henry (how I love that old Puritan Presbyterian) wrote:

“We should pray for others, as well as for ourselves, beseeching the Lord to pardon and recover the fallen, as well as to relieve the tempted and afflicted. And let us be truly thankful that no sin, of which any one truly repents, is unto death” (Matthew Henry, Commentary [Condensed], Accordance, 2008).

So we see that while there are such sins that lead to death, we are to pray for others no matter their condition until at last death itself becomes God’s judgment. Then, seeing His judgment, we have no other prayers other than to commend him to the justice and wisdom of God.

I wanted to clear this up for us so that we leave the passage (and the book of 1 John) in good shape, so to speak. It is a hard passage but it is an important passage, for its truth teaches us:

• Our understanding of the seriousness of sin and how we ought to run frequently to our Lord for mercy and cleansing of our daily failings before Him, and plead the blood of Jesus;

• The severe judgment of God and how this ought to work a godly fear in our hearts lest we fall into discipline or even judgment under the living God;

• The right objects of our prayers: how we should and should not pray;

• The mercy of God that reaches to the worst sinner and how we should never give up on the most vile offender.

I write to you because I think that our devotions are as important as a Sunday School class or preparing for a sermon. I am dealing with your souls so intertwined with my own, my very own “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.”

I often think of our devotional times as the power that Burns of Scotland wrote about in “The Cottar’s Saturday Night.” There in that simple cottage, in the darkness of that valley in the towering Highlands, a simple light in the cottage revealed a power that not only forged but also held together the greatest empire on earth.

Here are lines that I have cherished and share them with you, who with me, have tasted of the beauties of our family devotions these many years:

The chearfu’ Supper done, wi’ serious face, hey, round the ingle, form a circle wide; The Sire turns o’er, wi’ patriarchal grace,

The big ha’-Bible, ance his Father’s pride:

His bonnet rev’rently is laid aside,

His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare;

Those strains that once did sweet in ZION glide,

He wales a portion with judicious care;

‘And let us worship GOD!’ he says with solemn air.

They chant their artless notes in simple guise,

They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim:

Perhaps Dundee’s wild-warbling measures rise,
Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name;
Or noble Elgin beets the heaven-ward flame,

Compar’d with these, Italian trills are tame;

The tickl’d ears no heart-felt raptures raise;
Nae unison hae they, with our CREATOR’S praise.
The priest-like Father reads the sacred page,
Then kneeling down to HEAVEN’S ETERNAL KING,
The Saint, the Father, and the Husband prays:

Hope ‘springs exulting on triumphant wing,’
That thus they all shall meet in future days:
There, ever bask in uncreated rays,
No more to sigh, or shed the bitter tear,

Together hymning their CREATOR’S praise,

In such society, yet still more dear;

While circling Time moves round in an eternal sphere.

From scenes like these, old SCOTIA’S grandeur springs,

That makes her lov’d at home, rever’d abroad…

Oh may the light never go out in our cottage!

I love you both so much –

Your Happy Husband, Your Blessed Father

And now, dear reader, though our family is far from perfect, there is yet a Light that shines…and I who have received strength from that Light in troubled times commend that Light to you. And that Light is the life of Jesus our Lord who comes into our hearts, our family, our home, just as He will do for all who turn humbly to Him.


About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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