This is a trustworthy saying, worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.
I. THE TRUTH AND CERTAINTY OF THE GOSPEL REVELATION. "Faithful is the Word, and worthy of all acceptation." Five times does this phrase occur in the pastoral Epistles. It was a sort of formula or watchword of the early Christian Churches.
1. The doctrine of salvation is entitled to all credit. It is certain that Christ came to save sinners.
2. It is to be received by all sorts of people, with heartiness and gladness, as a doctrine suitable to the necessities of all men. With what zeal it ought, therefore, to be set before men!
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE GOSPEL REVELATION. "That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief."
1. This language implies Christ's pre-existence. He left the glory which he had with the Father before the world was (John 16:28).
2. It implies that he came voluntarily of his own free will. It is true that God's love is manifest in the sending of Jesus, but Christ's love is equally manifest in his advent. It was necessary that he should come into the world, because he could not otherwise suffer and die in our stead. The fact that he came as man in the fullness of time implies that the mere forth-putting of spiritual power from heaven did not suffice. A man's work had to be done that God's mercy might reach us.
3. It suggests the true design of his coming. "To save sinners."
(1) This implies the revelation of God's will to man.
(2) The impetration of salvation through Christ's suffering and obedience.
(3) The application of the salvation to the objects of it.
(4) That sinners need salvation, and are lost without it.
(5) That the greatest sinners have no right to despair of salvation - "of whom I am chief."
(a) The apostle speaks of himself in the present tense, not in the past, for he still feels himself to be but a believing sinner.
(b) The language recalls his frequent allusions to his persecutions of the Church of God. God had forgiven him, but he could never forgive himself. He places himself in the very front rank of transgressors because of his share in the devastation of the Church.
(c) The language implies his deep humility. It was an element in his spiritual greatness that he had such a sense of his own sin. He calls himself elsewhere "less than the least of all saints" (Ephesians 3:8).
(d) It is well to be mindful of our sin in a way of godly sorrow, as a means of keeping us humble and thankful for the rich grace of the gospel dispensed to us. - T.C.
This is a faithful saying.I. THE MISSION OF THE SON OF GOD is here set forth — He "came into the world." This expression would be an extravagance if it referred only to ordinary human parentage. The pre-existence of our Lord in a higher state was unquestionably an accepted axiom among the early Christians, a commonplace of primitive Christian belief; and we, believing in His deity, offer Him our lowly adoration as well as our thanks and love.
II. THE PURPOSE OF HIS MISSION could not be set forth more clearly and concisely than in the words, He came "to save sinners." His object was not to become the temporal king of the Jewish people, nor yet to give the light of scientific, or philosophical, or even ethical knowledge to the Gentiles; but to redeem men from the condemnation of the law, and to deliver them from their sins. To reverence Him as a kingly man, or to honour Him as a great teacher only, is but an imperfect acknowledgment of His claims.
III. THE EXEMPLIFICATION OF THIS PURPOSE, given by Paul, is drawn from his own experience. He says, respecting himself, of sinners, "I am chief." The word "sinners" is the same as occurs in the ninth verse, where it denotes those for whom the law was a necessity, for rebuke and restraint. Whom the law came to condemn, Jesus came to save. When, under the influence of chloroform, some critical operation is performed, and the patient wakes up to find that it is over, a great feeling of thankfulness rises up in his breast at the whisper, "thank God it has been successful," for he knows that life is saved; but he would feel still more thankful if he knew what the skilful surgeon does, that there was only a fractional part of an inch in this direction or in that between him and death. Paul knew better than we do what he had been saved from here and hereafter, and his intensity of feeling about sin was an element in his spiritual greatness. May God give us also humbling views of ourselves and adoring thoughts of Him who has saved us! Conclusion: The truth that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, is "worthy of all acceptation." "It is a faithful saying," worthy of implicit credence, of absolute reliance, for it will not give way though you lean the whole weight of your soul's salvation on it. It is worthy of acceptance by all men. And it is worthy of every kind of acceptation; worthy of being embraced by every faculty of mind, and heart, and will. You may understand it as a theological doctrine, but that is not enough; you may love it as a familiar pleasant-sounding phrase, but that is not enough. It deserves the homage of your entire nature.
(A. Rowland, LL. B.)
II. WHAT IS THE LIGHT IN WHICH MANKIND OUGHT TO REGARD THIS SAYING? First, as "a true saying"; and then, as "worthy of all acceptation." Let it be remarked, then, that those whom it pleased God to employ in order to propagate this saying, in the first instance, always affirmed that it was true. Besides, the God of essential and eternal truth has been pleased to affix His broad seal to this saying. He could not give His seal to a lie. How is this? Why, He enabled those men to perform miracles in order to attest it. How do you prove, inquired another, that what you declare is true? Bring hither yon leper, excluded from all intercourse with his fellow beings, standing afar off, bring "him" hither to me, and in the name of this Jesus, and to prove that He "came into the world to save sinnners, I pronounce the word, and his leprosy shall immediately depart from him!" And it was so! The saying again is pronounced and the question is repeated. Bring hither the dead body, says an apostle, you are about to cast it forth into the tomb; but no, bring it hither; I pronounce the word, and that dead body shall start into life! And it was so! There is another way, however, in which the truth of this saying is to be ascertained, and it is, of all others, the most satisfactory and consoling. It is in the way of experiment, bringing this truth to trial, to the test. How is this? Why, here is a man, and I have now present in my mind's eye a case which, I suppose, twenty years ago actually occurred — here is a man who in early youth begins to think it would be to his credit to begin to evince independency of mind, to throw off all the fetters of education and early impressions, and to think for himself. He associates with those who speak with great disrespect of this Divine volume, who begin to sneer, or have been in the habit of sneering, at all serious religion and serious Christians: by and by he begins to imbibe their spirit, and to acquaint himself with all the objections urged against revealed religion; by and by he begins also to sneer and laugh at the Bible, he casts off fear and plunges headlong into infidelity; he is then, perhaps, admired as a man of liberal mind, of genius, and of intelligence; and the individual I refer to was a man of fine understanding and cultivated mind; but by and by disease marked him out as its victim, he saw some of his companions in infidelity die; not one of them died comfortably — some of them died most awfully; he began to consider with himself, Whither, after all, am I going? I never disbelieved the Being of a God; but then, although I have always regarded Him as a good and benevolent Being, have I acted as I should, as a creature — as a dependent being, sustained by His power and bounty? Have I always revered and loved and served Him as I ought? This I have not done! What have I done? I go to my natural religion, as it is sometimes called; I study moral virtue, I endeavour to do good, and thus endeavour to recommend myself to this benevolent Being. But in natural religion he finds no relief for a troubled mind, no balm for a guilty conscience. What, thought he, shall I do? I will have recourse once more to the Bible, I shall begin to read it seriously. He did read it, the more he read it the deeper was the impression on his mind, that this is no human fabrication, in this book surely God has spoken: he read, and on every page he saw something of this Saviour and about this salvation. The thought flashed upon his mind, and he exclaimed, Oh, that this were but true! Oh, that I could believe this! I should find relief immediately: here is a system adapted to my condition. Oh, if it were but true, that "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners," make an atonement for sin, and procure salvation for me! Here is a System that suits my case and provides for my necessities! Oh, that it were true! At last he resolved to make the experiment: he read this book, and sincerely prayed to God to teach him what is truth. I believe he read this very text, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Is this the saying, and is this Jesus the Saviour of sinners? Oh, help me, he prayed, to believe this, teach me to believe this, I desire to believe this, I would believe this! Lord, I believe this — help Thou my unbelief! I venture my soul on this Saviour — I cast myself on this atoning sacrifice. What happened? "His chains fell off — his heart was free!" His load of guilt was removed, his misery was banished; icy and peace and love unspeakable sprang up in his heart, and his soul began to exult, disburthened of its load. Not many days had elapsed before he met one of his old companions, who had grown gray in infidelity. What is this, he inquired, that I hear of you? I hear you have become a Christian! How do you know that there is a word of truth in the whole affair? How do you know that such a being as Jesus ever existed? Know! was the reply, know! I know it by an argument of which you never were the master, I know it by a process to which you are a total stranger, I know it is true that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," for Jesus Christ has saved me! Well, then, but it is not only "a true saying" and worthy merely of all attention, examination, and observation, commending itself to the approbation of every well-regulated mind, but it is also "worthy of all acceptation." It is worthy of acceptation because of its truth; if not true, it could have no just claim upon — it would be unworthy our acceptation. It is worthy of acceptation, again, because it is so vitally interesting. A thing may be true and yet not interesting to me; but here is a saying which is proved to be true, and which is surpassingly interesting to all the children of men. What so worthy the acceptance of the diseased man, as some sovereign specific which shall not only remove the malady but restore to health and vigour his emaciated frame? The saying has been accepted by the great, the wise, and the good, in different countries and ages of the Church; yes, and some of the greatest and wisest of men that ever lived, of learning, too, various and profound, have received this saying — have stedfastly believed its truth and realized its power. And who art thou who art giving thyself credit for having superior lights and superior intellects? But not only is this saying worthy of acceptance, but "of all acceptation" — of the acceptance of all. If, in the next place, any portion of our race in any part of our world, could be found, who were absolutely and irrevocably excluded from all interest and benefit in this saying, I honestly confess to you, that I see not how such a portion of our race could regard this saying as worthy their acceptation. That is not, that cannot be worthy my acceptance, in which I cannot, by any possibility, have any interest. And not only is this worthy the acceptation of all, but of the highest acceptation of all. As though the apostle had said, This is no ordinary saying; it is a message from the throne — a message of mercy from the throne; oh, hail it, welcome it, receive it as coming from the throne, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners! " And having thus realized the truth and power of this saying ourselves, let us do all that we can to circulate it — let us always speak well of this Jesus, and endeavour to recommend the Saviour to all our fellow creatures.
(R. Newton, D. D.)I. CHRIST JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS.
1. Jesus Christ was somewhere in existence before He was seen here. He "came into the world." Think of a new planet or star just created in our system and shining forth. We should never say, it is come here; we should say this of a planet or star that had travelled into our system from some distant region. And it was from a region distant indeed that Christ came here, from a heavenly one; and the place He held in that region, was the most distant and the highest. He was not an angel in heaven; He was the everlasting God. He came from the very summit, the lofty throne, of heaven to save us.
2. There are lost sinners in our world, whom it was needful for Christ to come into our world to save. Every man that breathes in our world is a sinner. And every sinner everywhere is necessarily a lost sinner. This is the nature of sin, it ruins whomsoever it touches; ruins him fatally and irrecoverably; in Scripture language, it destroys him. And on this property of sin, the ruinous nature of it, is grounded partly the necessity of Christ's interposition in our behalf. We say that His coming from His throne to save us, shows the greatness of His love to us, and so it does; but it shows as plainly the greatness of our misery.
3. And when Christ came into the world to save sinners, He came determined to save them. He knew He could do so, otherwise He would not have come. We do not go to the frozen regions of the north to gather there the flowers and fruits of sunny climes. We never think of going into vaults and charnel houses to raise the dead. Nor would our blessed Lord have come into the world for our salvation, had He not felt as He came, that He could work out salvation for us.
II. The description St. Paul gives us here of the truth he states. He calls it a "saying," "a faithful saying," and one "worthy of all acceptation."
1. It is a saying. And who says it? God Himself, Christ Himself. He might have come into our world, and never have told us that He had come here, or why He had come. And it is not God or Christ only, who says this. The prophets declared it before it took place: the glorious company of the apostles said it afterwards; the noble army of martyrs died rather than not say it; the holy Church throughout all the world has in every age acknowledged it; and as for the Church above, it says this oftener, perhaps, than it says anything else, and loves to say it better. Heaven often resounds with this saying and other sayings like it.
2. And this is a faithful saying, a true one. It is not only said, but it ought to be said, for it is true as truth itself. He had what St. John calls a testimony or witness of this truth within himself. He knew it, just as we know at this moment that our hearts are beating, and our pulses going, and that we are living and breathing men. He had experience of the fact. And valuable as are the many outward testimonies we have to the truth of the gospel, and convincing as they are to a sound, unbiassed judgment, they are all nothing in comparison with this
3. This saying too, we are told, is worthy of all acceptation. The words will admit of two interpretations. It is, first, as our com-reunion service renders the passage, "Worthy to be received of all men." Few sayings are so. Many things which we hear are worth no man's attention. They are either false or trifling; they are better not listened to. And others have only a limited interest. They may be worthy of one man's notice, but not another man's, for they do not concern him. This saying, however, concerns every man, and concerns him deeply. O how eagerly will some of us listen to some things I the news of the day perhaps, the scandal of our neighbourhood, and the trifling occurrences that fill up the trifling lives of our fellow-men! — things, it may be, in which we have little more interest than the inhabitants of some distant planet; but this saying, to which sometimes we have scarcely an ear to give, involves in it the highest interests of us all. This saying is worthy also of the utmost reception we can give it, the most entire and cordial acceptance. Some things that we hear are worth putting into our memories but not into our hearts; they are dry matters of fact. But here is something worthy of our memories and hearts also; worthy of being attended to, worthy of being remembered, worthy of being thought on and studied, worthy of being delighted in, worthy of being laid hold of by our whole heart and mind — in this sense, "worthy of all acceptation." A feeble or cold reception of this saying is no reception at all of it. Where the gospel saves the soul, the heart first opens itself to receive it, and when it is in the heart, the heart feels it to be its treasure and its joy.
III. THE VIEW WHICH THE APOSTLE TAKES OF HIMSELF WHILE CONTEMPLATING THIS TRUTH. Of the sinners, he says, whom Christ Jesus came into the world to save, "I am chief."
(C. Bradley, M. A.)I. It is worthy of all acceptation BECAUSE IT IS THE FULL DEVELOPMENT OF THE THEME WITH WHICH REVELATION IS CHARGED; it lies not only in the track, but it is the full outcome of all that God has been aiming at in all His providential guidance and government of men, from the first days of the creation to the hour when the "Child was born, the Son was given," whom He had from of old promised to the world. From the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of the Apocalypse, the main thread in the Scripture is this work, the saving of sinners. And if we study it we shall find that it is the vital core of all the great movements of human society. The Bible opens with the statement that the great burden of man's existence here is sin, and that the great need of man's being is salvation. The inner meaning of it is true for all time, and is the key, I believe the Divine key, to human history. The theme there is sin, wilful, conscious, guilty transgression, revealed as the root of all man's infirmity, degradation, and misery.
II. It is worthy of all acceptation, FOR IT ALONE EXPLAINS AND JUSTIFIES THE WHOLE COURSE OF HUMAN HISTORY. This life of ours is altogether too sad, too burdensome, too dark a thing to be suffered to live on, if there be no great hope for the future to lighten it. The world is very beautiful and glorious, you may say; it is a happy thing to be born with faculties finely touched like ours into a world like this. Yes, unspeakably beautiful and glorious is this earth of ours, and our life here might well be a paradise of pure delights. But sin poisons all. Despite of all the beauty, all the joy, the great masterpieces of human thought and utterance are in the minor key. Sadness is the dominant tone in all our literature, sorrow is the staple experience of mankind. I say frankly, that if I were compelled to look at life and the world, cut off from all the comfort and hope which streams down upon us through the Christian faith, I should be sorely tempted to the conclusions of the pessimist philosophy, that there has been some terrible blundering in the constitution of the world. But set in the heart of it all Christ's mission to save, and the darkness lights up in a moment. This dread experience of sin becomes through grace a stage in an unending progress. This school of our discipline, this house of our bondage, this field of our conflict, is but a stage of development, a step of progress, and all its deepest experiences have relation to blessed and glorious issues in eternity.
III. It is worthy of all acceptation, FOR IT IS ESSENTIAL TO THE DIGNITY AND THE WORTH OF LIFE. Is life worth the living? Yes, a thousand times yes, if it is the life of a forgiven man in a redeemed world. What man needs is not to forget sin, to make light of it, to shut out the world of spiritual terrors which it unveils. It will not be shut out. What man needs is free loving and righteous forgiveness — forgiveness which is not a weak winking at transgression, or an idle peace, peace where there is no peace, but a forgiveness resting on an atonement which reveals righteousness, magnifies law, and satisfies the deepest convictions of man's righteous conscience on the one hand, and the holy heart of God on the other. This horrible doctrine of the absolute indelibility of transgression has been the cause of untold anguish through all the ages of human history. Sin must fruit in sorrow, and forgiveness cannot annul the act of sin, or obliterate its issues. But there is an infinite difference between the experience of the man who is working out the penalty of sin, with the sense that behind the sorrow there is the vindictive hand of the law-giver, who will exact the uttermost farthing of retribution, and that of the Christian, who knows that behind all that he endures, and is entirely reconciled to enduring, is the eye and the hand of the Almighty Father of his spirit; an eye which watches his struggles and sorrows with the tenderest compassion, a hand which is guiding and ruling all the discipline to blessed and glorious issues in eternity. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation; for through it, "where sin abounded grace doth much more abound; that, as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord."
IV. It is worthy of all acceptation, because, while it lends dignity and worth to life, IT ALONE LENDS HOPE TO IMMORTALITY. An essential part of the benign work of love is the reconciliation of man with law. Forgiveness is a blessed fact, unspeakably blessed, but chiefly as the means of realizing a still more blessed fact — purification. On that absolutely the well-being and the bliss of the soul rests in eternity. And what is the cry of all the nobler heathen faiths? Deliverance from self. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, because it is charged for man with the promise of eternal life; not eternal existence under these dread and soul-crushing conditions, but eternal life, free, pure, noble, blessed life, finding its spring of perennial joy and fruitfulness in the sunlight of the face of God. The salvation which is by Christ Jesus offers to man not only pardon and peace, but renewing, restoration; a new heart, a new life, a new power, a new supreme attraction, drawing man ever by its sweet but resistless constraints into closest and holiest fellowship with the life of God through eternity. And this is Christianity.
(J. B. Brown, B. A.)
(J. B. Brown, B. A.)
I. THE GOSPEL. It means good news. Here is a man ill; the word that tells him how he may be cured of his disease is gospel — good news. It claims to be the best news. Such is our text, and that because it tells
I. EVEN A SUPERFICIAL GLANCE AT OUR LORD'S MISSION SUFFICES TO SHOW THAT HIS WORK WAS FOR THE SINFUL.
1. For the descent of the Son of God into this world as a Saviour implied that men needed to be delivered from a great evil by a Divine hand. You would never have seen a Saviour if there had not been a fall. Eden's withering was a necessary preface to Gethsemane's groaning.
2. If we give a glance at the covenant under which our Lord came, we soon perceive that its bearing is towards guilty men. If there had been no sins and iniquities, and no unrighteousness, then there had been no need of the covenant of grace, of which Christ is the messenger and the ambassador.
3. Whenever we hear the mission of Christ spoken of it is described as one of mercy and of grace. In the redemption which is in Christ Jesus it is always the mercy of God that is extolled — according to His mercy He saved us.
4. The fact is, when we begin to study the gospel of the grace of God we see that it turns its face always towards sin, even as a physician looks towards disease, or as charity looks towards distress.
5. The gospel representations of itself usually look sinner-ward. The great king who makes a feast finds not a guest to sit at the table among those who were naturally expected to come, but from the highways and hedges men are compelled to come in.
6. And ye know that the gospel has always found its greatest trophies amongst the most sinful: it enlists its best soldiers not only from amongst the guilty, but from amongst the most guilty.
II. THE MORE CLOSELY WE LOOK THE MORE CLEAR THIS FACT BECOMES, for the work of salvation was certainly not performed for any one of us who are saved on account of any goodness in us.
1. All the gifts which Jesus Christ came to give, or at least most of them, imply that there is sin. What is His first gift but pardon? How can He pardon a man who has not transgressed?
2. Our Lord Jesus Christ came girded also with Divine power. He says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me." To what end was He girded with Divine power unless it be because sin had taken all power and strength from man?
3. I will not omit to say that the great deeds of our Lord, if you look at them carefully, all bear upon sinners. Jesus lives; it is that He may seek and save that which is lost. Jesus dies; it is that He may make a propitiation for the sins of guilty men. Jesus rises; He rises again for our justification, and, as I have shown, we should not want justification unless we had been naturally guilty. Jesus ascends on high, and He receives gifts for men; but note that special word, "Yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God may dwell among them."
4. And all the gifts and blessings that Jesus Christ has brought to us derive much of their radiance from their bearing upon sinners. It is in Christ Jesus that we are elect, and to my mind the glory of electing love lies in this, that it pitched upon such undeserving objects.
III. Now it is evident that IT IS OUR WISDOM TO ACCEPT THE SITUATION.
IV. THIS DOCTRINE HAS A GREAT SANCTIFYING INFLUENCE.
1. Its first operation in that direction is this: when the Holy Spirit brings the truth of free pardon home to a man it completely changes his thoughts concerning God. "What," says he, "has God freely forgiven me all my offences for Christ's sake? And does He love me notwithstanding all my sin?"
2. Moreover, this grand truth does more than turn a man, it in spires, melts, enlivens, and inflames him. This is a truth which stirs the deeps of the heart, and fills the man with lively emotions.
3. Besides, this truth when it enters the heart deals a deadly blow at the man's self-conceit.
4. Moreover, where this truth is received there is sure to spring up in the soul a sense of gratitude.
5. And I think you will all see that free forgiveness to sinners is very conducive towards one part of a true character, namely, readiness to forgive others.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. Here is a WONDERFUL saying. It was but thirty years since the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ had been preached, yet these words had become a saying, a blessed proverb. It summed up briefly and yet fully the source and purpose of the gospel — its height and depth, its length and breadth. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Look into it. No such wonderful saying was ever heard in the world before or since. The Jew was willing to believe that the God of Israel could admit into His high presence the holy men to whom He had entrusted some great enterprise, and who had proved themselves worthy of such an exceeding honour. Abraham, Moses, Elijah — for such men God might come in all the majesty of His splendour and commune with them. The Greeks believed that for the gifted and the great, for splendid heroes who had wrought prodigies of valour on the battle-fields or in the games, the gods might stoop to give some token of their favour and protection. That was familiar enough. But that God should care so much for men who had slighted Him, and forgotten Him, and insulted Him, and rebelled against Him! That God should care for coarse, low, ignorant people, whom it was a disgrace to notice, and who were incapable of any goodness! This was ridiculous, worse than merely incredible. To the Greeks such an idea was a folly, to the Jews it was an offence. Yet still more wonderful was the saying — that God, the God of Glory, should come down as a man, should become one of us and one with us, taking upon Himself not only our nature, but our curse — the awful load of the world's sin; and that He should bear for us all shame and agony!
II. Experience has proved it a FAITHFUL saying. The early disciples passed from one to another, setting their seal to its truth, until it came to be supported by a host of witnesses. And since St. Paul wrote that, the great cloud of witnesses has ever been growing. There is nothing in the world to-day that has such testimonies to commend it as this gospel of our salvation. I call up the memory of saintly men and women in my own little native town, dear old souls, many of them poor, but with such purity in their faces, such love in their hearts, such peace in their lives. With others life was a hot and fevered unrest, but about these there was an atmosphere of holy calm. What was it that made them so bright, so happy, so hopeful, that kings might well have envied them? They are ready with the reason — "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Go to-day whither you will, north or south, east or west, and find the homes that are happiest, the lives that are sweetest, the souls that are sunniest, the hearts and hands that are most eager and most earnest in helping others — you shall find it amongst those who set their seal to this as true — "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Come yet again and stand by the deathbed; that rends the veil from all pretences. I see the face pinched and pale with sickness, yet is it lit up with a brightness as if the eyes did look within the veil. Fear is gone, and all is peace. Bend and listen as the lips are parted for their last utterance. "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." My brother, this gospel is no fancy of fanatics; no delusion of the dark ages. Nothing in this world comes to us so hallowed and so commended. Can I find another Christ Jesus? Can I find another salvation which comes with such evidence of its faithfulness as this? Surely it is worth my accepting. I will take for my own that Saviour who has come into the world to save sinners. If this is a faithful saying, then are there three things that do greatly concern us every one.
1. If Jesus Christ has come into the world to save us, then we must be in great danger. Whatever is the use of trying to save a man if he is not in any peril!
2. If this be a faithful saying that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, then surely none but Jesus Christ can save me. My struggles and resolutions cannot avail, or Christ need not have come.
3. If this be a faithful saying that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, then He has come to save me. If He has come to save sinners He means people who have sinned — real sinners — not good people who call themselves sinners be cause it sounds humble. The desperate cases are those which my Lord ever seeks first of all. Luther tells us, once upon a time the devil said to him, "Master Luther, thou art a great sinner, and thou wilt be damned." "Stop, stop," I said, "one thing at a time. I am a great sinner, it is true — though thou hast no right to say so. I confess it. What next? Therefore thou shalt be damned," quoth he. "That is not good reasoning," said I "It is true that I am a great sinner — but it is written, 'Christ Jesus came to save sinners': therefore I shall be saved! Now go thy way. So did I cut off the devil with his own sword, and he went away sorrowing, because he could not cast me down by calling me a sinner."
(M. G. Pearse.)
to Damascus, brushing the dust from his cloak, and wiping the perspiration from his excited brow, and then swinging out his hands towards all ages as he cries, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." In my church in Brooklyn, at the close of the service one day, a man came from the back part of the house and sat down near the pulpit. I saw him waiting, so I came down at the close of the service, and asked him if he would not go in amongst those making inquiry for their souls. He said, "No, sir; you cannot do me any good. I came from the Far West, but you cannot do me any good. The gospel is not for me — I am a victim of strong drink." He said, "I won't tell you my name; you know it. I rose to be one of the first men of my State. I have a beautiful wife and beautiful children, but am bringing them all to ruin. I thought if I came here I could be saved; but find I can't. Yesterday I was coming down on the Hudson River train. There was a man sitting beside me with a flask of strong drink. He asked me if I would have some of it. I said 'No'; but, oh, how I wanted it! The arid tongue of the liquor seemed thrusting itself from the side of the cork, and I felt I must fly from that presence. I went to the platform of the train and thought I would jump off; but we were going at the rate of forty miles an hour, and I came back. That thirst is on me, and you cannot do me any good." I said, "You do not know the grace of God. Come in here, and we will pray for you." We prayed for him, and I then went to the drug store, and said to the doctor, "Can you give this man anything to help him to destroy that thirst?" Well, the physician put up a bottle to help him. I said, "Give him a little more," and he put up another bottle. I then said to the man, "Put your trust in God, and when this paroxysm comes on take your medicine." He passed away from me into Boston, and was gone from me some weeks, when I got a letter enclosing the small amount of money I had paid for the medicine, and saying, "Thank God, Mr. Talmage, I have got cured, and the fear of the thirst is put off, and I have not taken any of the medicine. I am preaching every night on righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, in one of our large halls, and I send you two papers to show how the Lord is blessing me." I have heard from him since, and the Lord has seen him through, and will see him through. Oh, the grace of God! Try! Try it!
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
(W. Riddell.)The British Workman was made to the London City Mission, a portion of which was allotted for my district. Some time after distributing my share of that grant in my district, I visited a man who was very ill. After some conversation, I said, 'Well, my friend, the best news that any one can ever bring you is contained in this text from the Bible, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."' His face was immediately lit up with a smile, and raising himself in the bed, he pointed to the patched window and said, "Oh, sir, I know that already. Look there: that's a piece of the paper you once gave me. My wife tore it up, and mended the window with just that piece of it that has that text on it. And since I've laid here, day after day, I've read it over and over till I've got it off by heart." The City Missionary adds: "I believe the Holy Spirit made that text on the patched window a blessing to the man's soul." Of whom I am chief. —I. The salvation of sinners was the main design of Christ's coming into the world.
II. God often makes the chiefest sinners objects of His choicest mercy. For the last, that God doth so, observe —
1. God hath formerly made invitations to such. See what a black generation they were (Isaiah 50.) by the scroll of their sins. They were rebels, and rebels against Him that had nursed them: "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me" (ver. 2). He comes to charge them "laden with iniquity" (ver. 4). They had been incorrigible under judgments. "Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more " (ver. 5).
2. God hath given examples of it in Scripture. Manasseh is an eminent example of this doctrine. His story (2 Chronicles 23.) represents him as a black devil, if all the aggravations of his sins be considered.(1) It was against knowledge. He had a pious education under a religious father. An education usually leaves some tinctures and impressions of religion.(2) His place and station: a king. Sins of kings are like their robes, more scarlet and crimson than the sins of a peasant. Their example usually, infects their subjects.(3) Restoration of idolatry.(4) Affronting God to His very face. He sets up his idols, as it were, to nose God, and built altars in the house of the Lord, and in the two courts of His temple, whereof God had said He would have His name there for ever (vers. 4, 5, 7).(5) Murder. Perhaps of his children, which he caused to pass through the fire as an offering to his idol (ver. 6); it may be it was only for purification. "Moreover, Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he filled Jerusalem with blood from one end to the other" (2 Kings 21:16).(6) Covenant with the devil. He used enchantments and witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit (ver. 6).(7) His other men's sins. He did not only lead the people by his example, but compelled them by his commands: "So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen God had rooted out" (2 Chronicles 23. 9), to make room for them. Hereby he contracted the guilt of the whole nation upon himself.(8) Obstinacy against admonitions: "God spake to him and his people, but they would not hearken, or alter their course" (2 Kings 21:10).(9) Continuance in it. He ascended the throne young, at twelve years old (ver. 1). It is uncertain how long he continued in this sin.
3. It was Christ's employment in the world to court and gain such kind of creatures. The first thing He did, while in the manger, was to snatch some of the devil's prophets out of his service, and take them into His own (Matthew 2:1), some of the Magi, who were astrologers and idolaters. To call sinners to repentance, was the errand of His coming. And He usually delighted to choose such that had not the least pretence to merit (Mark 2:17): Matthew, a publican; Zaccheus, an extortioner, store of that generation of men and harlots, and very little company besides. He chose His attendants out of the devil's rabble; and He was more Jesus, a Saviour, among this sort of trash, than among all other sorts of people, for all His design was to get clients out of hell itself. What was that woman that He must needs go out of His way to convert? A harlot (John 4:18), an idolater; for the Samaritans had a mixed worship, a linsey-woolsey religion, and, upon that account, were hateful to the Jews. What was that Canaanitish woman who had so powerful a faith infused? One sprung of a cursed stock, hateful to God, rooted out of the pleasant land, a dog, not a child; she comes a dog, but returns a child.
4. The commission Christ gave to His apostles was to this purpose. He bids them proclaim the promise free to all: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). All the world; every creature. He put no difference between men in this respect, though you meet with them in the likeness of beasts and devils, never so wicked, never so abominable. This commission is set out by the parable of a king commanding his servants to fetch the maimed, halt, and blind, with their wounds, sores, and infirmities about them (Luke 14:21, 23).
5. The practice of the Spirit after Christ's ascension to lay hold of such persons.(1) Some out of the worst families in the world; one out of Herod's (Acts 13:1), "Now there were in the Church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers, as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul." It is likely to this intent the Holy Ghost takes particular notice of the place of Manaen's education, when the families where the rest named with him were bred up are not mentioned. Some rude and rough stones were taken out of Nero's palace. Yet some of this monster's servants became saints (Philippians 4:22): "All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household." To hear of saints in Nero's family is as great a prodigy as to hear of saints in hell.(2) Some of the worst vices. The Ephesians were as bad as any, such that Paul calls darkness itself (Ephesians 5:8). Great idolaters. The temple of Diana, adored and resorted to by all Asia and the whole world, was in that city (Acts 19:27). Take a view of another corporation, of Corinth, of as filthy persons as ever you heard of, "such were some of you" (1 Corinthians 6:11). Well, then, how many flinty rocks has God dissolved into a stream of tears I Great sins are made preparations by God to some men's conversion; not in their own nature (that is impossible), but by the wise disposal of God, which Mr. Burgess illustrates thus: as a child whose coat is but a little dirty has it not presently washed; but when he comes to fall over head and ears in the mire, it is taken off, and washed immediately. So when a wicked man falls into some grievous sin, which his conscience frowns upon him and lashes him for, he looks out for a shelter, which in all his peaceable wickedness he never did.
III. Why God chooses the greatest sinners, and lets His elect run on so far in sin before He turns them.
1. There is a passive disposition in the greatest sinners, more than in moral or superstitious men, to see their need; because they have not any self-righteousness to boast of. This self-righteous temper is like an external heat got into a body, which produceth an hectic fever, and is not easily perceived till it be incurable; and naturally it is a harder matter to part with self-righteousness than to part with gross sins, for that is more deeply rooted upon the stock of self-love, a principle which departs not from us without our very nature; it hath more arguments to plead for it, it hath a natural conscience, a patron of it; whereas a great sinner stands speechless at reproofs, and a faithful monitor has a good second and correspondent of natural conscience within a man's own breast. Just as travellers that have loitered away their time in an alehouse, being sensible how the darkness of the night creeps upon them, spur on, and outstrip those that were many miles on their way, and get to their stage before them; so these publicans and harlots, which were at a great distance from heaven, arrived there before those, who like the young man, were not far off from it. As metals of the noblest substance are hardest to be polished, so men of the most generous, natural, and moral endowments are with more difficulty argued into a state of Christianity than those of more drossy conversations.
2. To show the insufficiency of nature to such a work as conversion is, that men may not fall down and idolize their own wit and power. Two things are certain in nature:(1) Natural inclinations never change, but by some superior virtue. A loadstone will not cease to draw iron while that attractive quality remains in it. The wolf can never love the lamb, nor the lamb the wolf; nothing but must act suitably to its nature; water cannot but moisten, fire cannot but burn; so likewise the corrupt nature of man, being possessed with an invincible contrariety and enmity to God, will never suffer him to comply with God. And the inclinations of a sinner to sin being more strengthened by the frequency of sinful acts, have as great a power over him, and as natural to him, as any qualities are to natural agents; and being stronger than any sympathies in the world, cannot by a man's own power, or the power of any other nature equal to it, be turned into a contrary channel.(2) Nothing can act beyond its own principle and nature. Nothing in the world can raise itself to a higher rank of being than that which nature hath placed it in. A spark cannot make itself a star, though it mount a little up to heaven; nor a plant endue itself with sense, nor a beast adorn itself with reason, nor a man make himself an angel. It is Christ's conclusion, "How can you, being evil, speak good things?" (Matthew 12:33, 34). Not so much as the buds and blossoms of words, much less the fruit of actions. They can no more change their natures than a viper can cashier his poison. Now, though this I have said be true, yet there is nothing man does more affect in the world than a self-sufficiency and an independency upon any other power but his own. This temper is as much riveted in his nature as any other false principle whatsoever; for man does derive it from his first parents, as the prime legacy bequeathed to his nature. If a putrefied rotten carcase should be brought to life, it could never be thought that it inspired itself with that active principle. God lets men run on so far in sin, that they do unman themselves, that he may proclaim to all the world that we are unable to do anything of ourselves at first towards our recovery without a superior principle. The evidence of which will appear if we consider —
1. Man's subjection under sin. He is "sold under sin" (Romans 7:14), and brought into captivity to "the law of sin " (ver. 23); law of sin, that sin seems to have a legal authority over him; and man is not only a slave to one sin, but divers(Titus 1:3), "serving divers lusts."
2. Man's affection to them. Pie doth not only serve them, but he serves them, and every one of them, with delight and pleasure (Titus 3:3). They were all pleasures as well as lusts, friends as well as lords. Will any man leave his voluptuousness, and such sins that please and flatter his flesh? No piece of dirty muddy clay can form itself into a neat and handsome vessel; no plain piece of timber can fit itself for the building, much less a crooked one; nor a man that is born blind give himself eyes.
IV. God's regard for His own glory.
1. The glory of His patience. We wonder, when we see a notorious sinner, how God can let His thunders still lie by Him, and His sword rust in His sheath. "I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God, and not man" (Hosea 11:9). If a man did inherit all the meekness of all the angels and all the men that ever were in the world, he could not be able to bear with patience the extravagances and injuries done in the world the space of one day; for none but a God, i.e., one infinitely longsuffering, can bear with them. Not a sin passed in the world before the coming of Christ in the flesh but was a commendatory letter of God's forbearance, "To declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God" (Romans 3:25). And not a sin passed before the coming of Christ into the soul but gives the same testimony, and bears the same record. "Howbeit, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him" (ver. 16). This was Christ's end in letting him run so far, that He might show forth not a few mites, grains, or ounces of patience, but all longsuffering, longsuffering without measure, or weight, by wholesale; and this as a pattern to all ages of the world; ὑποτύπωσιυ, for a type: a type is but a shadow in respect of the substance. To show that all the ages of the world should not waste that patience, whereof He had then manifested but a pattern. A pattern, we know, is less than the whole piece of cloth from whence it is cut; and as an essay is but a short taste of a man's skill, and doth not discover all his art, as the first miracle Christ wrought, of turning water into wine, as a sample of what power He had, was less than those miracles which succeeded; and the first miracle God wrought in Egypt, in turning Aaron's rod into a serpent, was but a sample of His power which would produce greater wonders; so this patience to Paul was but a little essay of His meekness, a little patience cut off from the whole piece, which should always be dealing out to some sinners or other, and would never be cut wholly out till the world had left being. This sample or pattern was but of the extent of a few years; for Paul was but young, the Scripture terms him a young man (Acts 7:58), about thirty-six years of age, yet he calls it all longsuffering. Ah, Paul! some since have experienced more of this patience; in some it has reached not only to thirty, but forty, fifty, or sixty years.
2. Grace. It is partly for the admiration of this grace that God intends the day of judgment. It is a strange place: "When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe in that day" (2 Thessalonians 1:10). It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence (Proverbs 19:11), i.e. it is a manifestation of a property which is an honour to him to be known to have. If it be thus an honour to pass by an offence simply, then the greater the offence is, and the more the offences are which he passeth by, the greater must the glory needs be, because it is a manifestation of such a quality in greater strength and vigour. So it must argue a more exceeding grace in God to remit many and great sins in man, than to forgive only some few and lesser offences.(1) Fulness of His grace. He shews hereby that there is more grace in Him than there can be sin in us or the whole world. That grace should rise in its tide higher than sin, and bear it down before it, just as the rolling tide of the sea riseth higher than the streams of the river, and beats them back with all their mud and filth. It was mercy in God to create us; it is abundant mercy to make any new creatures, after they had forfeited their happiness (1 Peter 1:3).(2) Freeness of grace. None can entertain an imagination that Christ should be a debtor to sin, unless in vengeance, much less a debtor to the worst of sinners. But if Christ should only take persons of moral and natural excellencies, men might suspect that Christ were some way or other engaged to them, and that the gift of salvation were limited to the endowments of nature, and the good exercise and use of a man's own will. Therefore it is frequently God's method in Scripture, just before the offer of pardon, to sum up the sinner's debts, with their aggravations; to convince them of their insolvency to satisfy so large a score, and also to manifest the freeness and vastness of His grace (Isaiah 43:22-24). It is so free, that the mercy we abuse, the Name we have profaned, the Name of which we have deserved wrath, opens its mouth with pleas for us (Ezekiel 36:21). Not for their sakes. It should be wholly free; for He repeats their profaning of His name four times. This name He would sanctify, i.e., glorify. How? In cleansing them from their filthiness (ver. 25). His name, while it pleads for them, mentions their demerits, that grace might appear to be grace indeed, and triumph in its own freeness.(3) Extent of His grace. The mercy of God is called His riches, and exceeding riches of grace. He pardons iniquities for His name's sake; and who can spell all the letters of His name, and turn over all the leaves in the book of mercy? Who shall say to His grace, as He does to the sea, Hitherto shalt thou go, and no further? His exchequer is never empty; "Keeps mercy for thousands" (Exodus 34:7), in a readiness to deal it upon thousand millions of sins as well as millions of persons. He hath a cleansing virtue and a pardoning grace for all iniquities and transgressions (Jeremiah 33:8).(4) Compassion of His grace. The formal nature of mercy is tenderness, and the natural effect of it is relief. The more miserable the object, the more compassionate human mercy is, and the more forward to assist. Now that mercy which in man is a quality in God is a nature. How would the infinite tenderness of His nature be discovered, if there were no objects to draw it forth? Now the greater the disease, the greater is that compassion discovered to be wherewith God is so fully stored.(5) Sincerity anal pleasure of His grace. Ordinary pardon proceeds from His delight in mercy; "Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage. He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy" (Micah 7:18). If He were not sincere, He would never change the heart of an enemy, and shew kindness to him in the very act of enmity; for the first act of grace upon us is quite against our wills. It is so much His delight, that it is called by the very name of His glory; "The glory of the Lord shall follow thee" (Isaiah 58:8): i.e. the mercy of the Lord shall follow them at the very heels. Christ does not care for staying where He has not opportunities to do great cures, suitable to the vastness of His power (Mark 6:5).
3. Power. The Scriptures make conversion a most wonderful work, and resemble it to creation, and the resurrection of Christ from the dead, etc. What vast power must that be that can change a black cloud into a glorious sun? This and more doth God do in conversion. He doth not only take smooth pieces of the softest matter, but the ruggedest timber full of knots, to plane and show both His strength and art upon.
4. Wisdom. A new creature is a curious piece of Divine art, fashioned by God's wisdom to set for the praise of the framer, as a poem is, by a man's reason and fancy, to publish the wit and parts of the composer. It is a great skill of an artificer, with a mixture of a few sands and ashes, by his breath to blow up such a clear and diaphanous body as glass, and frame several vessels of it for several uses. It is not barely his breath that does it, for other men have breath as well as he; but it is breath managed by art. And is it not a marvellous skill in God to make a miry soul so pure and crystalline on a sudden, to endue an irrational creature with a Divine nature, and by a powerful word to frame so beautiful a model as a new creature is! The more intricate and knotty any business is, the more eminent is a man's ability in effecting it. This wisdom appears —(1) In the subjects He chooseth. We will go no further than the example in our text. Our apostle seems to be a man full of heat and zeal. I say, to turn these affections and excellencies to run in a heavenly channel, and to guide this natural passion and heat for the service and advancement of that interest which before he endeavoured to destroy, and for the propagation of that gospel which before he persecuted, is an effect of a wonderful wisdom; as it is a rider's skill to order the mettle of a headstrong horse for his own use to carry him on his journey.(2) This wisdom appears in the time. As man's wisdom consists as well in timing his actions as contriving the models of them, so doth God's. He lays hold of the fittest opportunities to bring His wonderful providences upon the stage. His timing of His grace was excellent in the conversion of Paul.(a) In respect of Himself. There could not be a fitter time to glorify His grace than when Paul was almost got to the length of his chain; almost to the sin against the Holy Ghost. Christ suffered him to run to the brink of hell before He laid hold upon him.(b) In respect of others. Behold the nature of this lion changed, just as he was going to fasten upon his prey. And was it not a fit time, when the devil hoped to rout the Christians by him, when the high priests assured themselves success from this man's passionate zeal, when the Church travailed with throws of fear of him?(3) This wisdom appears to keep up the credit of Christ's death. The great excellence of Christ's sacrifice, wherein it transcends the sacrifices under the law, is because it perfectly makes an atonement for all sins; it first satisfies God, and then calms the conscience, which they could not do (Hebrews 10:1, 2), for there was a conscience of sin after their sacrifices. Not a light, but a great transgression. Now, if Christ's death be not satisfactory for great debts, Christ must be too weak to perform what God intended by Him, and so infinite wisdom was frustrate of its intention, which cannot, nor ought not, to be imagined. Now, therefore, God takes the greatest sinners, to show —(a) First, the value of this sacrifice. If God should only entertain men of a lighter guilt, Christ's death would be suspected to be too low a ransom for monstrous enormities.(b) The virtue of this sacrifice. He is a "priest for ever" (Hebrews 7:17); and therefore the virtue as well as the value of His sacrifice remains for ever: He hath "obtained an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12), i.e., a redemption of an eternal efficacy. And those who were stung all over, as well as those who are bitten but in one part, may, by a believing look upon Him, draw virtue from Him as diffusive as their sin. Now the new conversion of men of extraordinary guilt proclaims to the world, that the fountain of His blood is inexhaustible; that the virtue of it is not spent and drained, though so much hath been drawn out of it for these five thousand years and upwards, for the cleansing of sins past before His coming, and sins since His death.(4) For the fruitfulness of this grace in the converts themselves. The most rugged souls prove most eminent in grace upon their conversion, as the most orient diamonds in India, which are naturally more rough, are most sparkling when cut and smoothed.
V. The fruits of converting grace, etc.
1. A sense of the sovereignty of grace in conversion, will first increase thankfulness. Converts only are fit to shew forth the praises of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). But suppose a man had been all his lifetime like a mole under ground, and had never seen so much as the light of a candle, and had a view of that weak light at a distance, how would he admire it, when he compares it with his former darkness? But if he should be brought further, to behold the moon with her train of stars, his amazement would increase with the light. But let this person behold the sun, be touched with its warm beams, and enjoy the pleasure of seeing those rarities which the sun discovers, he will bless himself, adore it, and embrace that person who led him to enjoy such a benefit. And the blackness of that darkness he sat in before, will endear the present splendour to him, swell up such a spring-tide of astonishment, as that there shall be no more spirit in him. God lets men sit long in the shadow of death, and run to the utmost of sin, before He stops them, that their danger may enhance their deliverance.
2. Love and affection. The fire of grace cannot be stifled, but will break out in glory to God. God permits a man's sin to abound, that His love after pardon may abound too (Luke 7:47).
3. Service and obedience. Such will endeavour to redeem the time, because their former days have been so evil, and recover those advantages of service which they lost by a course of sin. They will labour that the largeness of their sin may be answered by an extension of their zeal.
4. Humility and self-emptiness. As no apostle was so God-magnifying, so none was so self-vilifying as Paul. Though he was the greatest apostle, yet he accounts himself less than the least of all saints (Ephesians 3:8).
5. Bewailing of sin, and self-abhorrence for it.
6. Faith and dependence.(1) At present, in the instant of the first act of faith. Great sins make us appear in the court of jurisdiction, with a naked faith, when we have nothing to merit it, but much to deserve the contrary (Romans 4:5). The more ungodly, the more elevated is that faith which lays hold on God.(2) In following occasions. Pardoning such great sins, and converting such great sinners, is the best credential letter Christ brings with Him from heaven. Men naturally would scarce believe for His own sake, but for His work's sake they would, because they are more led by sense than faith. For every great conversion is as a sea-mark to guide others into a safe harbour. As when a physician comes into a house where many are sick, and cures one that is desperate, it is an encouragement to the rest to rely upon his skill. If men believe not in Christ after the sight of such standing miracles, it is an aggravation of their impenitence, as much as any miracle Christ wrought upon the earth was of the Jew's obstinacy, and does put as black a dye upon it "Ye, when you had seen it, repented not afterward, that you might believe Him" (Matthew 21:32). Further, such conversions evidence that God's commands are practicable, that His yoke is not burdensome.
1. First, the doctrine manifests the power of the gospel. God gains a reputation to the gospel and the power of Christianity, that can in a moment change persons from beasts to men, from serpents to saints.
2. Groundlessness of despair. Despair not of others, when thou dost reflect upon thy own crimes, and considerest that God never dealt with a baser heart in the world than thine was. Comfort of this subject: If God has made thee of a great sinner the object of His mercy, thou mayest be assured of —(1) Continuance of His love. He pardoned thee when thou hadst an enemy, will He leave thee now thou art His friend?(2) Supplies of His grace. Thou hadst a rich present of His grace sent thee when thou couldst not pray for it, and will He not much more give thee whatsoever is needful when thou tallest upon Him? A wise builder does not begin a work when he is not able to finish it. God considered, before He began with thee, what charge thou wouldst stand him in, both of merit in Christ and grace in thee; so that the grace He hath given thee is not only a mercy to thee, but an obligation on Himself since His credit is engaged to complete it.(3) Strength against corruptions. Can molehills stand against him who has levelled mountains? Can a few clouds withstand the melting force of the sun, which has dissolved those black mists that overspread the face of the heavens? No more can the remainders of thy corruption bear head against His power, which has thrown down the great hills of the sins of thy natural condition, and has dissolved the thick fogs of thy unregeneraey.
1. To those that God hath dealt so with.(1) Glorify God for His grace.(2) Admiration is all the glory you can give to God for His grace, seeing you can add nothing to His essential glory.
2. Often call to mind thy former sin. It hath been the custom of the saints of God formerly. When Matthew reckons up the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:3) whereof he was one, he remembers his former state, "Matthew the publican"; but none of the other evangelists call him so in that enumeration.(1) It makes us more humble. Thoughts of pride cannot lodge in us, when the remembrance of our rags, bolts, and fetters is frequently renewed.(2) It will make us thankful. Sense of misery heightens our obligation to mercy. Men at sea are most thankful for deliverance when they consider the danger of the foregoing storm. A long night makes a clear morning more welcome.(3) It will make thee more active in the exercise of that grace which is contrary to thy former sin.(4) It will be a preservative against falling into the same sin again. The second branch of exhortation is to those that are in a doubting con dition. The main objection such make is the greatness of sin. Oh, there was never such a great sinner in the world as I am! But —
1. Art thou indeed the greatest sinner? I can hardly believe it. Didst thou ever sin after the rate that Paul did? or wert thou ever possessed with such a fury?
2. Suppose thou art the greatest, is thy staying from Christ the way to make all thy sins less? Art thou so rich as to pay this great debt out of thy own revenue? or hast thou any hopes of another surety?
3. Are thy sins the greatest? Is not the staying from Christ a making them greater? Does not God command thee to come to Christ? and is not thy delay a greater act of disobedience than the complaint of thy sinfulness can be of humility?
4. Were thy sins less than they are, thou mightest not so easily believe in Christ, as now thou mayest. Great sins and a bad heart felt and bewailed, is rather an advantage; as hunger is an incentive to a man to seek for meat. If men had clean hearts, it is like they would dispose of them otherwise, and rather think Christ should come to them. Men's poverty should rather make them more importunate than more modest. If, therefore, thou art afraid of drowning under these mighty floods which roll upon thee, methinks thou shouldsI. THIS PATTERN CONVERT HAD BEEN THE CHIEF OF SINNERS.
1. He had displayed invincible zeal in opposing the gospel. He believed in the Jewish religion, and he hated and persecuted the cause of Christ. He executed his mission in right earnest. He ever felt that no arm but the Almighty arm could have reached and delivered him from this terrible depth of ruin.
2. He had been an excessively proud man. Saul of Tarsus possessed a haughty spirit. His unconquerable love to the law arose from the pride and arrogance of his unregenerate heart.
3. His mental power, too, aided him in his work. He was a scholar of no ordinary character, blended with natural energy and grasp of intellect.
II. THE SALVATION OF THIS PATTERN CONVERT ILLUSTRATES THE MEDIATORIAL STRENGTH OF CHRIST. The chief of sinners has been saved.
1. The salvation of Paul is an evidence of the sufficiency of the atonement.
2. The salvation of Paul is a proof of the efficacy of victorious grace.
3. The salvation of Paul proves the worth of intercession. Who first arrested the man on his way to Damascus? Christ — He pleaded with the persecutor and conquered him by love.
4. The salvation of Paul exhibits Divine patience. "That in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering " — patience.
III. THIS PATTERN CONVERT PROCLAIMS THE SAVIOUR IN THE GOSPEL AS WORTHY OF ALL ACCEPTATION. Why?
1. Because He is the revelation of the highest intelligence to man's reason. He is the manifold wisdom of God — "God manifest in the flesh." Reason could trace out the handiwork of God in every star that glitters in the heavens, but in Christ it sees God in human form. No such revelation of God was ever made before the incarnation as the one which we possess. Sir Isaac Newton revealed the great law that binds atom to atom, and all to its mighty centre; and angels have made glorious revelations; but in Christ we see God interested in, and saving His enemies.
2. He is the only antidote for sin.
3. He alone reveals the hope of immortality. Christ meets the highest aspirations of our nature by His resurrection and ascension; He has drawn aside the veil of futurity and "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers."
4. This revelation is based in truth. Other books contain pretended revelations, but they have no foundation in truth. The Koran, to wit: the gospel however is "a faithful," a true "saying." Prophecy, miracle and history, as well as its own almighty efficacy, prove that it is true.
(J. H. Hill.)
I. THE VIEW WHICH A BELIEVER HAS OF HIS OWN HEART IS MORE MINUTE, AND MORE EXTENSIVE ALSO, THAN ANY VIEW HE CAN TAKE OF ANOTHER'S. He cannot draw upon another's memory as he can upon his own. His quickened recollections furnish him with many a dark chapter, as his mind roves back upon forgotten years; and there is a vividness and freshness in the recollection of what a sinner he has been, which throws over his own experience an aspect of peculiarity, he can number his own sins as he cannot another's. He can recollect the smallness of temptation, and the tender, and touching, and terrible motives which would have restrained him from his sins if he would only have felt them. Conscience, with an eye of fire, will look into his soul, and the aggravations of sin, which arose from a thousand circumstances of his condition and God's forbearance toward him, will seem to invest his sinfulness with a criminality and an abomination beyond anything that he will dare to attribute to other people.
II. VERY MUCH IN PROPORTION TO THE EXTENT OF A BELIEVER'S GRACIOUS ATTAINMENTS IS PURE CONSCIENCE BROUGHT INTO EXERCISE. We mean by this pure con science an exercise of that faculty as such, in its own nature and for its own ends, not mingled with other affections. And one great difference betwixt the convictions of a believer and the convictions of an unbeliever consists simply in this; the different impressions they have of the mere wrong of sin. A believer sees that wrong as an unbeliever does not. In sin itself he sees an evil which an unbeliever does not.
III. THE RULE OF CONSCIENCE IS NOT A THING WELL UNDERSTOOD BY AN UNCONVERTED SINNER IN HIS ORDINARY FRAME OF MIND. The deceptions of sin have been flung over it. But when the Holy Spirit justly convicted him, he saw sin in him self that he never saw before, and hope died within him. He discovered what God's law meant and where it applied. Law reigns; and now, better and better under stood, sharper than any two-edged sword, a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; it is no wonder that every just conception of God's law should tend to make the grace-enlightened believer conceive of himself as the chief of sinners. He sees that that code of spiritual purity has strange applications to his erring soul. His very spirit cannot hide from it for a single moment. It pursues the soul every where.
IV. THE RELIGIOUS ATTEMPTS OF A BELIEVER CONSTITUTE ANOTHER CONSIDERATION. They have been many, and he is fully conscious that they have sometimes been sincere and earnest; but oh! how often have they been baffled! What vain purposes! How little his strength! How many sinful desires! He utters the deep-toned cry, Chief of sinners! Chief of sinners!
V. THROUGHOUT ALL THE SUCCESSFUL ATTAINMENTS OF GRACE, A BELIEVER IS INVARIABLY BECOMING BETTER ACQUAINTED WITH GOD. The knowledge he has of the Divine character constitutes one of the most efficacious aids and impressive influences. The better he knows God the better he knows himself; and while his knowledge of God increases both his reverence and his attachment, his knowledge of himself fills him with humiliation and shame. Sin appears worse and worse to him as he knows God better.
VI. A CHRISTIAN, ESPECIALLY AMID HIS ATTAINMENTS IN GRACE, IS A CREATURE OF NO LITTLE REFLECTION. His knowledge increases, especially his knowledge of himself; and amid reflections and increasing knowledge in Divine things, again and again he is surprised and disappointed in a most painful and humiliating manner. Sometimes he is astounded, and disheartened, and driven to prayer by a wave of despondency that rolls over his soul. His reflection discovers sin as he did not expect, discovers it wherein he had little suspicion of its existence. He finds the imperfection of his repentance, that his very repentance (according to the graphic description of the apostle) needs to be repented of.
VII. THAT PROCESS OF SANCTIFICATION CARRIED ON IN A BELIEVER'S HEART BY THE OMNIPOTENT POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS VERY MUCH CARRIED ON THROUGH THE INFLUENCE OF TWO SPIRITUAL OPERATIONS "first, the discovery of sin, and second, faith in the Redeemer of sinners to procure pardon and justification unto life eternal. There is the combined influence of compulsion and attraction; of violence and persuasion. The believer is driven off from himself at the same moment he is drawn toward God. But this process and these affections are some times interrupted. His soul wanders from God. And that it should ever wander seems to him one of the strangest anomalies in the universe! The conclusions from this subject are worthy of remembrance.
1. Never despair. There is mercy for the chief of sinners.
2. Never seek hope, consolation, or any comfort or encouragement to your soul by diminished ideas of sin.
3. Never judge of your Christian condition by the smallness of your humiliating convictions. Rather judge of it by the magnitude of them.
4. Never allow pride to have any place in your religion. Self-complacency all rests on ignorance and deception.
5. Never imagine that a deep sense of sin and all the humiliating ideas that grow out of it, are things of unhappiness and gloom. Quite the contrary. They are matters of peace and joy to a believer.
(J. S. Spencer, D. D.)I. I have TO TRY AND HUNT OUT THE CHIEF OF SINNERS. Now who are they? They come under various characters, and may be classified in different lists.
1. We will begin with those who directly oppose themselves to God and to His Christ. These are chief among sinners. Paul did join their ranks.
2. And here I ought to put down those who hold views derogatory of the Deity and the person of Christ.
3. Another group of princes and peers in the realm of evil may be described as those who attack Christ's people, and who seek to pervert them from the right way.
4. There is another group whom you will all allow to be of the chief of sinners — those who have sinned foully in the world's esteem; violating the instincts of nature, and outraging the common sense of morality and decency.
5. And surely I may find another class of the chief of sinners among those who have become not only adepts themselves, but the tutors to others in the school of evil.
6. In this section we include those who have had much light, and yet have sinned against it; who have been taught better, who have had a knowledge of the way of truth, and yet have turned aside to crooked paths.
7. There are those, too, who sit under an earnest ministry, and yet go on in sin — they surely belong to the class of chief sinners.
8. Drawing the bow at a venture, there is another class I would single out, those who are gifted from their childhood with a tender conscience.
9. Yet again; if you have had warning in sickness, and especially if on your sick bed you have vowed unto the Lord that you would turn to Him, then you that are covenant-breakers, you that violate vows made to the Most High, you must also be put among the first and foremost of transgressors.
II. WHY THOSE WHO ARE PROVERBIALLY THE CHIEF OF SINNERS ARE VERY FREQUENTLY SAVED.
1. One reason is to illustrate Divine sovereignty.
2. Another reason is, that He may show His great power. Oh! how hell is made angry when some great champion falls! When their Goliaths are brought down, how the Philistines take to their heels! How heaven rings with songs when some chief of sinners becomes a trophy of the Divine power!
3. And next, how it shows His grace!
4. Again; great sinners are very frequently called by God for the purpose of attracting others.
5. And then, the saving of the chief of sinners is useful, because, when they are saved they generally make the most fiery zealots against sin. Have we not a proverb that "The burnt child dreads the fire"? I noticed my host, on one preaching excursion, particularly anxious about my candle. Now, as everybody ought to know how careful I am, I was a little surprised, and I put the question to him why he should be so wonderfully particular. "I had my house burnt down once, sir," said he. That explained it all. No man so much afraid of fire as he, and they who have been in sin, and know the mischief of it, protest against it the most loudly. They can speak experimentally. Oh! what revenge there seems to be in the apostle's heart against his sin!
6. And then, again, they always make the most zealous saints.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. WHY, THEN, DID ST. PAUL CALL HIMSELF THE CHIEF OF SINNERS? It is a startling designation, and the more you think of it the more startling you will feel it to be. It is a mere truism to say that the success of a religion depends to a large extent upon the personal veracity and goodness of its founders. Now, St. Paul was practically the founder of Christianity over a large area of the heathen world. It was he who had told them almost everything they knew of Christ. It was his version of Christ's teaching, his view of the meaning and scope of His work, with which they were most, if not exclusively familiar. And he frequently declared that he himself was the style of man a Christian ought to be. "Be ye followers of me," he said, "as I also am of Christ." How, then, were they to understand him when he asserted himself to be the chief of sinners? It can hardly be denied that had such a confession escaped from the lips of any but a Christian apostle it would have produced a very perplexing, if not a thoroughly suspicious impression. Would any of the great heathen philosophers, or any one who aspired to found a religion, have ventured to terminate his career by an assertion of his own incomparable sinfulness? And if he had, would it not have discredited his mission or been considered too absurd to be serious? But it was not so with St. Paul's confession. It gave no uneasiness to his most sensitive converts, no occasion for reproach to his most implacable foes. Does not this prove that Christianity had a way of dealing with sin peculiar to itself, and produced a type of character absolutely unique? But assuming that St. Paul used the words seriously, i.e., without any intentional exaggeration, what did he really mean? We are very apt to entertain defective and partial conceptions of sin. Many virtually restrict it to those modes of its expression which they themselves have experienced. They are troubled by some particular evil which natural inclination, or continued indulgence, has invested with special power. It may be the lust of avarice, or an envious and angry passion, or an unholy and impure desire. But whatever it may be, it is the sin which engages the attention and alarms the conscience of the man whets it attacks;. and if he be a Christian it is the sin which he struggles against, and whose very touch fills him with a self-reproach almost too heavy to be borne. It is very natural that any one in this condition should come to conceive of sin as almost identified with his peculiar temptation. It is the sin he thinks about when any reference is made to the subject. And it is entire deliverance from its defilement that constitutes his highest idea of happiness. Was it, then, because St. Paul was pressed by some special thorn of this kind that he called himself the chief of sinners? We can hardly think so, if we remember the language and style of his Epistles. There is scarcely a sin which he does not mention and tell us something about. He points out wherein the enormity of certain transgressions consists. He shows us the disposition and temper out of which others are likely to spring, and how to resist or baffle their attacks. He draws up exhaustive catalogues of offences, for the purpose of reminding us that not one of them, however much it might be tolerated in heathen society, is consistent with citizenship in the kingdom of God. But if the apostle was not likely to exaggerate in this particular way, was it not possible he might do so in another? There are not a few who know the many shapes which evil may assume, but who know them theoretically, rather than practically. The world they know is a world of respectability, and perhaps of high moral principle. But they do not know the outer circles of our social life, the broad zone of lawlessness that surrounds the region of decency. And you feel accordingly that the conceptions of evil which such people have are necessarily defective. They may be filled with an intense conviction of the guilt of the sins they know, but their knowledge does not go far. And their self-accusations, when they are expressed, strike you, for this reason, as being unreal. They have an air of extravagance, unperceived by those who utter them, but quite discernible by anybody else. Was St. Paul, then, a person of this sort? Was it ignorance of life, or of human nature, that made him place himself first in the catalogue of sinners? It can hardly have been this, either, for he lived at a time when the world was at its worst, and very few men of his day had seen so much of it as he. He had known the chief priests and rabbis of Jerusalem, and the philosophers of the Grecian schools. He had traversed the rougher districts of heathendom, where passion gave itself vent in coarse and brutal fashion. He had beat about the slums of the largest cities, and lain in the common prisons with the scum and offscouring of the earth. You may depend upon it that the man who had written the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and had lived in Rome two years during the reign of Nero, a reign when all kinds of devilry literally ran riot — knew perfectly well what he was about when he declared himself the chief of sinners. The truth is that St. Paul had a very rare and exceptional insight into his own heart, and also into the nature of sin. There was no part of him allowed to be at rest, no reserve of energy which lay idle, and which might have developed, had it roused itself up, an unsuspected weakness or liability to excess. The whole force of the man went into his work. He was always on the stretch, always expending every particle of strength in following after the one aim of his efforts. Hence he felt himself all through. Every weak place betrayed its weakness. Every temptation to swerve from his path pierced him like an arrow. Every sluggish or selfish impulse acted like a drag upon his eager limbs. The very ardour of his devotion, the keenness of his pursuit, made the least hindrance an unspeakable pain. But not only so, he saw it with an eye that penetrated farther into its depths than that of any other has done. He detected the fearful possibilities of ruin that lie wrapped in its every germ. He knew the pervasive power that enables it to infect the whole nature of a man, if it once be suffered to escape from restraint. He knew how terrible were the passions that once strove in his own heart, and still slumbered there. And above all his bright vision of the holiness of God, his sublime conception of Christ's purity threw a white light that beat upon his sin and exposed its every line, and feature, and movement. He saw it so distinctly and plainly that other men's sins were hazy and vague, and dwelt in the region of comparative shadow.
II. WHY ST. PAUL APPENDED THIS REMARK ABOUT HIMSELF TO THE STATEMENT IN THE VERSE. The drift of the passage leads us to believe that he meant it to confirm the faithfulness of the saying. It was equivalent to putting his subscription at the foot of it, as one who endorsed it or attested its truth. In proof of the assertion that Christ Jesus had come into the world to save sinners, he appealed to his own case as specially to the point. There was no room for despair when he had found mercy. It would not do much to recommend the skill of a physician that you declared he had healed you of a most virulent disease, if it turned out, after all, that your ailment had existed chiefly in your own imagination, and been little more than a touch of hypochondria. I should say that the most desperate man is he who is neither careless, nor a profligate, nor a formalist, but one who, earnest and correct in conduct, is conscientiously attached to a false or defective creed, and bent enthusiastically on pushing its claims. Such a one, sustained by the proud consciousness of always having done what he considered his duty, and therefore troubled by no compunctions of conscience, free from every impure or unseemly indulgence, convinced that he is right in his opinions, and so far enamoured of their excellence, or filled with contempt for their rivals, that he finds the greatest satisfaction in urging them upon the world, is not likely to be easily turned from the course he pursues. The fact is he cannot conceive any reason for a change. So there is no opening by which you can approach him. Was not St. Paul very much such a character as this? Christ proved able to accomplish what, humanly speaking, seemed impossible. He saved the man who of all men in the world seemed the least likely, and the most difficult, to be saved. And St. Paul never could look back to his conversion but with feelings of the most reverent awe and adoring thankfulness.
III. THE STATEMENT ITSELF — THAT CHRIST JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS. Sinners were the object of His mission, and sinners without any distinction. Now, what He has promised is not merely to rescue us from some future danger, indeed has nothing to do with the future directly at all. "Christ saves us from sin," he says, "here and now, and my ease substantiates the statement." And if you should ask how this can be, since he has just told us, not simply that he was the chief of sinners before his conversion, but is so still, the answer is, that Christ does not save us by any magical or mechanical process. He does not entirely sever us from the past and its transgressions, though He does secure that they shall not involve us in the destruction which is their natural result. He leaves us to fight a hard battle with the root of sin that still survives in our nature. Having robbed it of its power of irreparable mischief, He enlists us in completing its extinction. He spoils it of its old fascination. He exposes its emptiness and folly. He counteracts its force by revealing attractions that lift us above the sphere of its influence. And our present actual superiority to its rule is won through the gradual emancipation and strengthening of our character. Surely it is a much more crushing defeat to what has brought such misery upon us that it should be despised and baffled by its former victims. St. Paul, then, could say that he was the chief of sinners, and yet appeal to himself as an illustration of Christ's power to save. Indeed, his very confession was itself an evidence of his redemption. It revealed a humility that implied the overthrow of pride and self-complacency, the very qualities in which the strength of sin resides. You are saved from its final triumph. Only see that you keep hold of the promise of mercy and of grace to help us in Jesus Christ. Let no onset of sin drive you from Him, no fresh development of its resources tempt you to distrust Him. You can only fight and overcome as you fall back on His word, and grasp the hope which it reveals.
(C. Moinet, M. A.)I. HOW ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND THIS LANGUAGE OF THE APOSTLE RESPECTING HIMSELF? You will, I hope, at once dismiss from your minds any thought that the apostle was exhibiting to his son Timothy what some would call a graceful humility. We ought to assure ourselves that no humility can be graceful, because none can be gracious, which has not its foundation in truth. Of all qualities, this is the one which it is most monstrous to counterfeit. He would speak of himself as he would of another man, honestly and simply. If it was the fact that he had laboured more abundantly than all the apostles, he did not shrink from announcing it. Neither must we say that St. Paul was led to give himself this title because he had a sudden and keen remembrance of his life when he was a persecutor of the faith. But he could not think himself — we know from the words which he uses when describing his previous history that he did not think himself — worse than other persecutors merely because he was more zealous than they were. He was certainly not the chief of sinners because be acted out a wrong conviction more vigorously than others did. Nor must we forget that the words, literally taken, do not warrant us in supposing that St. Paul referred wholly or chiefly to the past. If he says, "I am first, or chief," Timothy must have understood that he was not charging himself with the crimes of other days, but was expressing what was in his mind at the time he wrote. The law proved its justice by affixing to each palpable outrage and overt act its meet recompense of reward. St. Paul had been a zealot in enforcing the law; he had never brought himself within the range of one, even the mildest, of its formal censures. "But by the law," he says elsewhere, "comes the knowledge of sin." It prohibits offences; it awakens a man to perceive that there is in him a disposition to commit these offences. Here then St. Paul found himself "first." Yes, in a most awful sense, alone. He had no means of ascertaining how far other men had separated themselves from the righteous, loving mind of God. The law said, "Thou hast done it." And by degrees he found that the law was only echoing without what a Living Voice was saying to him within. The Spirit of God convinced him of sin. And since the more he knew of the attraction of the Divine magnet, the more he knew the strength of the inclination there was in him to wander from it, the more he attributed any right direction of his spirit to its influence — he could say, with no affectation, with the inmost sincerity, "Of sinners I am first. More of this love has been shown to me than to any I know; my resistance therefore has been greater than that of others. If the light has overpowered me, there has been a struggle with it, there is a struggle with it, which I dare not say is equally mighty and desperate in them." If this was the warrant for this mode of speech, you will not wonder that he should have used it with even more emphasis in the later days of his earthly pilgrimage, than in the earlier. You will think, perhaps, that St. Paul's large and intimate acquaintance with the moral abuses and corruptions that sprang up in the members of the different Churches which he had planted, may have diverted his mind from this contemplation, and may have proved that there was a wickedness about him which had never penetrated within him. But you must not fancy that he thought more gently of himself as he became acquainted with the party-spirit and sensuality of the Corinthians, or when he found the Galatians regarding him whom they had once loved with such a violent affection, as their enemy because he told them the truth. I rather suppose that he detected in himself all the evils which caused him such bitter pain in them, that he understood their heresies and carnality and suspicions by the seeds of the like which he found in his own heart; that he never condemned them without passing sentence upon tendencies which might at any moment start to life in him. I apprehend that in this way the more he did this — the more he understood his relation to his flock as their minister and priest — the more he perceived that he was the first among sinners. By such processes, he was, I conceive, trained to a real, not a mock humility.
II. THE WORDS, "CHRIST JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS," SOUND TO US LIKE A COMMONPLACE WHICH WE HEARD IN THE NURSERY. There was some strange hostility between his mind and the mind of a righteous Being, his Creator. Could they be reconciled? There was some bondage upon his will. Could it be set free? This experience, this demand, is met by the broad announcement: "One is come from that righteous Being with whom thou art at war, expressly to make peace. One is come to save sinners out of their sins." He might doubt long and ask earnestly whether news so good could be true. He must have a real emancipation, real peace with God. The claim of every one calling himself a Deliverer and Reconciler must endure the severest of all tests. Was He able to do that which none else had been able to do? Could He accomplish what the law and sacrifices, that he held to be most Divine, had not accomplished? No one could settle them for him. An archangel could not force him to accept the gospel merely on his authority. The poorest man might bring it with such evidence to his conscience that he could not but say, "It is true." And when he had said this, the repetition of the truth to which he had given his adhesion could never become a fiat or a stale one. Was this all? Was there no brighter light coming to him every moment from that heaven into which he believed the Son of God had ascended? no clearer and deeper insight into the effects of His coming to our world than had been vouchsafed here at first? Surely there was. It is contained in the plural, "sinners." His experience had been personal. He had known sin in himself. He had known deliverance in himself. But that sin consisted in separation from his fellows as well as from God. That deliverance consisted in reunion to his fellows as well as to God. Jesus Christ had saved him; but He had not come into the world to save him. There was not a man who had not the same needs as he had; there was not a man who had not the same Helper as he had.
(F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
his past, and begin all over again; that he had not only missed the mark, but had been aiming at a wrong one. Steadily did he set himself, nobly and courageously, to retrieve the past; to undo what he had done, and to do the very opposite. And again and again that old past rose up against him, to make the new course more difficult. In this way, I fancy — or in some such way as this (for who are we, that we should dare to gauge the experience of a Paul?) — he seems to have come to those deeper views of sin, with which his letters are pervaded. Our English word "sin" suggests little or nothing of itself to us; but the Greek equivalent, certainly, and, I think, the Hebrew also, have their meaning printed broadly and legibly upon them. To "sin" in those languages, is to miss the mark; to fall short of the mark; to go wide of the mark; to fail; to come short of the true standard. Now the moment we lay hold of this, as the deepest meaning and real essence of sin, that moment self-righteousness becomes impossible to us. There may be those here, who cannot bring the sense of sin home to their consciences with any keenness, so long as sin is regarded merely as "transgression of law"; so innocent and blameless have their lives been. But let them think of "sin" in this deeper, truer aspect, as missing the mark, failing to be that, which it is in us to be, and which God by His Spirit and His Providence is calling us to be, and who can hold out against the conviction, that he is in very truth a sinner, and a very grievous sinner, if not the very chief of sinners? And this sense of sin will become deeper, and this confession of sin will become more penitent and genuine, in proportion as we pass out of our natural darkness into the light of God, and begin to discern more clearly what our true standard is, and what our gifts and capacities are: what it is in us to be, and what God is seeking to make of us. The greater the gifts and capacities and endowments, the more keen will be the sense of failure and shortcoming. Such reflections as these, honestly pursued, cannot fail, to use St. Paul's expressive phrase, to "conclude us all under sin"; to bring the weight and pressure of a genuine sense of sin to bear upon us all. Now, however painful this may be, it is unquestionably the first step in the right direction. We cannot become what God would make us until we are made deeply and sincerely conscious of sin and infirmity, of unworthiness and unprofitableness. But we must not leave the subject so. St. Paul could never leave it so. His own personal confession of sin, deep and contrite as it is, is set in the midst of a burst of triumphant hope. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." Yes — "sinners of whom I am chief"; but then "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," and, therefore, to save me.
(D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)
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