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1 Timothy 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ.
The apostle’s claim to authority
The beginning of this Epistle is so formal and solemn that it is evidently intended to give a tone of authority to all that follows.
I. His office as being that of “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” He often laid stress upon his apostleship, and not with out good reason, for if it had not been recognized he would have been powerless to mould the Churches, which by God’s blessing he had been enabled to form. Apostles are still wanted by the world, and Christians ought not to speak either with faltering voice or with apologetic tone. The confidence of the Church must be strengthened before the world will submit to its teaching.
II. St. Paul refers here not only to his office as “an apostle of Jesus Christ,” but also to the basis on which his appointment rested--namely, “the commandment of God our Saviour.” Nothing could give a man more courage than belief in such a Divine call. It sustained that noble hero, General Gordon, amidst difficulties and perils which made his life an epic poem; indeed, in all ages the men who have had that belief have dared and done the mightiest deeds. Turn over the pages of history, and you will see that the invincible Ironsides--the dauntless pilgrim founders of the new world--the noblest evangelists and fathers of the early Churches, were all victorious because each said to himself, “I am here by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope.” And going back farther still in a Church history, we see Jeremiah standing amidst his persecutors like a brazen wall and a defenced city; Daniel defying the wrath of the king, without a sign of brag gadocio, or of any seeming consciousness of his nobility; and Elijah opposing the court, the hierarchy, and the fanatical people--without a tremor, because he looked beyond them all, and spoke of “the Lord God of Israel, before whom I stand.”
III. Here we may encourage ourselves, as Paul did, by remembering the giver of this office and work. The expression “God, our Saviour” is frequent in the pastoral epistles, but is only met with elsewhere in Jude’s doxology, and in Mary’s Magnificat. Probably Paul used it here with a special view to certain false teaching which was springing up in the Christian Church at this period. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
God commanding human life
Many men wreck their lives by determinedly carrying out their own plans without reference to the plans of God. In an army every part, every brigade and regiment, must wait the commander’s orders. If any battalion moves independently, though ever so heroically, it not only confuses the whole plan of battle, but brings disaster to itself as well in the end. So each individual must always wait for God’s command to move. Keep your eye on the pillar of cloud and fire that leads. Never lag behind, but be sure you never run ahead. You can make the clock strike before the hour by putting your own hands to it, but it will strike wrong. You can hurry the unfolding of God’s providence, but you will only mar the Divine plan unless you wait for Him. You can tear the rosebud open before the time when it would naturally open, but you destroy the beauty of the rose. So we spoil many a gift or blessing which God is preparing for us by our own eager haste. He would weave all our lives into patterns of loveliness. He has a perfect plan for each. It is only when we refuse to work according to His plan that we mar the web. Stop meddling with threads of your life as they come from the Lord’s hands. Every time you interfere you make a flaw. Keep your hands off, and let God weave as He pleases. Do you think you know better than He does what your life ought to be? (The Presbyterian.)
The minister’s authority should be as much regarded as his sufficiency
Two things are considerable in a minister: his sufficiency and his authority. The people listen much to his sufficiency, but take little heed to his authority; and therefore come they to church rather to judge than to be judged, forgetting that many may be as skilful but none can be so powerful in binding and loosing as is the minister. A judge or a justice of peace may have less law in him than a private man, but be hath much more power, and they that appear before him regard his acts according to his power: so should it be in the Church. But men fear the magistrates that are under earthly kings, because the pains which they inflict are corporal; our hands, our feet, feel their manacles and fetters. And did but our souls as truly feel, as indeed they should, the pastor’s binding and loosing of them, we would make more account of those offices than we do. And it were good we did so, for they so bind as that they can loose again; but if we neglect them, when our Lord and Master cometh He will command all contemners so to be bound hand and foot that they shall never be loosed again. (J. Spencer.)
In the Word of God we find many brief but precious sentences, the introduction of which appears to be incidental. I do not say accidental, but incidental. They stand upon these sacred pages, beautiful as the dew-drops on the flowers, and as the rain-drop on the leaf; while they are as useful for the purposes of our spiritual life, as are essences to the chemist, and to the medical practitioner, and to others, in cases where bulk involves inconvenience and difficulty. Such a sentence you find in the words we have read, which are the inscription of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. I refer to the words, “Lord Jesus Christ our hope.” These words are not necessary to the inscription; they are no part of the general course of remark. Three names are here given to one being, and they express three things--rank, service, and qualification. The Lord, the Lord Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ--the “Lord Jesus Christ our hope.” Hope, as you know, is a complex emotion, constitutional, universal, and most powerful, and a compound emotion which is most fully brought forth in Christian experience. We desire you to look at the Lord Jesus Christ as the Author of hope, that by thus looking to Him, your own hope may be strengthened. But why is hope within you so weak? Is the Lord Jesus Christ your hope? Then your hope should answer to His character, and to His attributes, and to His resources, and to His throne. If you are in a tiny boat upon a stormy sea, you rock with the billows; but if you stand upon the firm rock which guards the sea-shore, although tempests may be raging, you stand firmly with that rock. Now, if you base your hope upon self; if you rest it upon any creature; if you are trying to root it and ground it in circumstances; you will find that your hope will be feeble and mutable. If, on the other hand, it be grounded in Christ, it ought to be strong enough to answer the purpose of an anchor to your soul in any storm, however long or fierce the storms and tempests may be which play around you.
I. The Lord Jesus Christ gives his disciples new objects of hope. You all know well what hope is--that it consists of desire and expectation. Jesus Christ puts good things before His followers, things that awaken desire, and that call forth expectation. His followers look for these things, and they long for them; and in looking and longing for them, they hope. The Saviour puts new objects of hope before His followers. These are such as the following of the consummation of their salvation. And, passing from things great to things comparatively small, we may mention another new object of hope: the supply of the disciple’s temporal need by his Father in heaven. Some men are reckless about the future--I mean this low, earthly, temporal future. Now, to the reckless and to the fearful; to the self-dependent, and to the sinfully dependent upon others; our Lord Jesus Christ saith, “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things”; so that the expectation of supply--supply of daily bread to life’s last hour, is built upon the loving and watchful care of our Father in heaven. Here again is a new object of hope. Connected with these new objects are others, such as everlasting life in heaven--life eternal in our Father’s house, holy, happy, godly, celestial life. And besides this, the establishment of Christ’s own kingdom on this earth, and the setting up of His kingdom in the new earth, which, by-and-by, He will create. You, therefore, see that these new objects of hope are numerous and great and benevolent and godly.
II. Jesus Christ also lays new foundations for old hopes. Before our discipleship to Jesus Christ, if our hope was for temporal good, then the hope was built upon money, skill, energy, prudence, wisdom, the treasures of our own information, the confidence of our fellow-men in us, our ability to commend ourselves to the good feelings and to the judgment of our fellow-men. But in the case of the Christian, as we have already shown you, the hope, even of temporal good, is built upon the Father’s care of us and love for us. Before our discipleship, we were wont to say, “I am rich, I shall have need of nothing,” but Christ hath taught us to sing, “Jehovah is our Shepherd, we shall not want.” Now, here is a new foundation for an old hope; and what say you about the foundations as they appear contrasted? Do you not agree with me, that the one is miserably loose and shifting sand, and that the other is the rock of ages that can never, never be moved? Or if, before discipleship to Christ, we hoped for salvation, for the forgiveness of our sins, and for eternal life, then the basis of that hope has been changed likewise. We used to boast, “I have never done any harm to anybody”; or we said, “I have always attended a place of worship”; or we said, “God is merciful, and I have never done much harm to anybody, and I am quite sure He will forgive.” Now, the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, as we have shown you, hopes first and supremely for the consummation of his salvation; but what about the foundation? Hear the disciple now, “What things were gain to me, those I count but loss for Christ, I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” The Lord Jesus Christ our hope; He gives us new objects of hope, and He lays new foundations for our old hopes. And yet more--
III. Our Lord Jesus Christ constitutes Himself the secure foundation of all lawful hopes, whether they be old, or whether they be new. The Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation. His sacrifices and His mediation open the windows of heaven for us, and the door of heaven to us. Look at this sacrifice and mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ as the basis Of hope. Further, the government of our Lord Jesus Christ secures our possession of all that He ordains for us. The “government is upon His shoulder.” All power is given unto Him both in heaven and on earth. All that He means to work out for you will be thoroughly and perfectly wrought out; and it is one of our great mercies, that Christ will not work out our foolish and sometimes wicked schemes and plans, which, if they were wrought out, would ruin us. His government secures our possession of all that He ordains for us. Jesus Christ’s love keeps Him ever awake toward our welfare. We often talk of the love of a mother as watchful. Her love is her eye; she sees by her heart; affection is her power of observation nobody can see, with respect to her children, what she sees, just because her power of love is a second sight.
IV. The Lord Jesus Christ is Himself an object of hope. He has promised to come again; and those who love Him look for Him. Now, think for one moment; what is the master hope in your soul? What do you long for most eagerly? I have read in my Bible, in this glorious New Testament, of men “having no hope,” that is--no good hope, no hope worth having, no hope worth retaining, no hope that will not make ashamed. Is that your ease? There are hopes in your soul; for objects of hope are ever appealing to, and calling out, desire and expectation, and these hopes are the sources, or the occasions, of joy. Well, do tell me a little about them. Are these hopes worth cherishing? (S. Martin.)
Christ our hope
Of all the ingredients that sweeten the cup of human life, there is none more rich or powerful than hope. Its absence embitters the sweetest lot; its presence alleviates the deepest woe. Surround me with all the joys which memory can awaken or possession bestow--without hope it is not enough. But though you strip me of all the joys the past or the present can confer, if the morrow shineth bright with hope, I am glad amid my woe. Of all the busy motives that stir this teeming earth, hope is the busiest. Is it so in regard to the pleasures and possessions of time?--how much more should it be in regard to eternity? How should, how can that man be happy amid the brightest joys of time, who sees his little span of life shelving down precipitously into the dark, dreary, desolate abyss of nothingness or into a more dreadful eternity of woe? and how should, how can that man be greatly saddened by the ills of time, who sees a blissful eternity fast drawing nigh? Thus then we realize the value of hope as a source of happiness. It gladdens the pilgrimage of earth, it irradiates the dark horizon of death, and provides for the eternity beyond.
I. What is the foundation of our hope? Most men live in hope of happiness beyond the grave. Few men, I suppose, are altogether destitute of it. But when we ask for a reason for the hope that is in them, how often do we find it a dream and a delusion and a lie! Some, acknowledging their sins, trust that by their prayers and penitence and performances they can atone for bygone sin, and others who, confessing the worthlessness of all they can do, throw themselves on the general mercy of God. In none of these do we recognize the foundation on which our hope is resting. And what then have we seen in the work or person of Christ to awaken hope? We reply--1, Looking back on the past work of Christ we find a sufficient remedy for the guilt of sin.
2. Looking at His present work, we find a remedy for our pollution. He purifies His people as well as pardons them. He regenerates and renews them by His Spirit, as well as redeems them by His blood. He reconciles them to the holiness as well as to the justice of God.
3. How is the strength of this foundation proved when, turning from the work to the Workman, we contemplate the surpassing excellencies of His Person! Who is this that undertaketh to provide pardon for the guiltiest, and purifying for the most polluted? It is “the Lord”--the Lord of Glory--the only-begotten of the Father--the eternal Son of God. What virtue, then, in His atoning death I what prevalence in His prayer! what power in His hand to purify! It is “Jesus,” the Son of Mary, an Elder Brother, partaker of flesh and blood, made in all things like unto His brethren, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with our griefs. How true and real, then, were the sufferings which He endured when He died for men, and how tender are His sympathies as now He pleads for or with us--“a High Priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities”! Once again, this is the “Christ”--anointed by God, commissioned for this very work. He does not stand alone; the Father sent Him.
II. But now, in the second place, some may ask, where is this warrant of our hope? Who are you, or what have you done more than others, that you should thus confidingly draw near to Jesus? The warrant of His holy Word--yes; with unfaltering voice we proclaim aloud that Christ speaking to us in the Word was, and is, the sure and only warrant of our hope.
III. But again, in the third place, we have learned to say, The Lord Jesus Christ accepted, appropriated, built upon by us, is the substance of our hope. Received and rested on He became our Saviour.
IV. But then, in the fourth place, we learned to say that Christ in us, Christ found and dwelling in us is the evidence, the assurance, of our hope. “I live,” said Paul--“I live”: there was no uncertainty here, no dim or doubtful hope, but all the certainty of conscious life--“I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” “The Lord Jesus Christ is my hope,” the principle of life in me. As the sap of the root dwells in every branch and leaflet, imparting life and verdure; as the volition of the head lives in every member, guiding all its actions; as a master dwells in his own house, controlling all its arrangements, so Christ dwelleth in His people by His Holy Spirit, quickening, controlling, guiding them, conforming them to His own likeness. Well then may the Christian say, “Christ in me is the hope of glory.” This is indeed a step in advance in the Christian’s life! It is more than salvation provided, however fully; it is more than salvation offered, however freely; it is more than salvation accepted, however surely. It is salvation in possession.
V. But now, when thus we have considered the security of the Christian’s hope as contrasted with the false hopes of the world, let us consider the brightness of this hope. It is not only sure, but glorious, transcending all else that men have ever pictured for themselves. For what does the Christian hope? I know not what I shall be, but when He shall appear, I shall be like Him. I am called to “the obtaining of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is our destiny. We are “predestinated to be conformed to His image.” Say, then, how dazzling is the glory of the Christian’s hope! Jesus stands revealed not only as our Saviour, but as Himself the pattern of our salvation. Where He is, there we hope to be. What He is, that we hope to be. What He has, we hope to have.
VI. But now, in the last place, it may be asked, when shall this hope pass into possession? Bright as the salvation of which I have spoken may be, it is not yet fulfilled, it is only hoped for. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. Till fulfilled, it is fragmentary and incomplete. What, then, it may be asked, is the period when hope shall pass into full possession? An earnest and foretaste we have in this life, yea, unspeakable joy when our sins are forgiven and our hearts are purified. An amazing increase we shall have at the hour of death, when our disencumbered spirits shall break away and be with Jesus. To those, then, who now ask us, as we live on earth, Is your joy complete? is your hope fulfilled? we answer, Not yet; not even when our sins are pardoned and our hearts are purified; not even when at a communion table we hold fellowship with our present Lord. The Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the climax of our hope. When He appears in glory, but not till then, shall we appear with Him, our joy completed and all our hope fulfilled. (W. Grant.)
1 Timothy 1:2
Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith.
A friend talked solid doctrine to a man who said, “I am a father in Israel. I have been a child of God now, so many years; I have had such a deep experience that I am a father in Israel.” My friend said to him, “How many children have you?” “Well,” he answered, “I do not know.” “How many have you brought to Christ? How many have been converted by you?” “Well, I do not know that any have.” “Then don’t you call yourself a father until you have got some children.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The relations of Paul and Timothy
To understand this relationship think first of--
I. Timothy’s conversion. He had been prayerfully taught in the Jewish faith by his mother and grandmother, and was therefore, with them, prepared to receive the gospel.
II. Timothy’s setting apart for special work did not take place until seven years after this. God does not call us to high service until we have proved our fidelity in what is lower.
III. Now and then we get a glimpse at Timothy’s happy companionship with Paul, which was never afterwards broken for any length of time, and which was the more remarkable because of the difference between the ages of the two men. But it is good for the aged to keep the heart young by their association with youth; and it is even better for those who are in the spring-time of their life to yield reverence and love, and considerate kindness, to those who are older and more experienced than themselves; indeed it is an ill sign when there is resentment of home authority, repudiation of responsibility to the aged, and a wish to have only the companionship of those who live for the pleasures of this life. Conclusion: Those of us who, like Timothy, are teachers of others, may learn from the reception of this letter that we need continuous instruction in order to accomplish our ministry. It is not enough that we should begin our work with memories stored with truths, and with hearts consecrated to the Master’s service. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
The relation between older and younger workers
Few relations between men are more interesting than that of a man, who has for years been doing a work, with some younger man, to whom the work is to be given over to finish or to carry on. That work is to pass through new developments, and new circumstances which the man who is passing away may not be able to comprehend. But if there is true generosity in the mind of the older man, he always rejoices that the work is to go on after he has passed away. The older gives to the younger promises and opportunities. All that the older man has done is not going to perish with him. His work projects itself into the future. It is not stopped short by the wall of his own death. The younger man, looking back on the experience of the older teacher, which seems to have lasted longer than it really has lasted, gets some sort of background for his own work. That work is not something which he has started, thought out for himself. The older man gives to the younger a sense of a long-continued past; the younger gives to the older a sense of a long-continued future. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
In the relation of St. Paul to Timothy we have one of those beautiful friendships between an older and a younger man which are commonly so helpful to both. It is in such cases, rather than where the friends are equals in age, that each can be the real complement of the other. Each by his abundance can supply the other’s want, whereas men of equal age would have common wants and common supplies. In this respect the friendship between St. Paul and Timothy reminds us of that between St. Peter and St. John. In each ease the friend who took the lead was much older than the other; and (what is less in harmony with ordinary experience) in each case it was the older friend who had the impulse and the enthusiasm, the younger who had the reflectiveness and the reserve. These latter qualities are perhaps less marked in St. Timothy than in St. John, but nevertheless they are there, and they are among the leading traits of his character. St. Paul leans on him while he guides him, and relies upon his thoughtfulness and circumspection in cases requiring firmness, delicacy and tact. Of the affection with which he regarded Timothy we have evidence in the whole tone of the two letters to him. In the sphere of faith Timothy is his “own true child” (not merely adopted, still less supposititious), and his “beloved child.” (A. Plummer, D. D.)
Grace, mercy, and peace.
Grace, mercy, and peace
There is always some interest in the first or the last of anything--an interest in proportion to the importance of that which is begun or ended, A birth or a death, each creates a sensation peculiar to itself, distinct from any other event; they are the beginning and the ending of that most solemn mystery, life. Viewed in the light of eternity, there is something peculiarly altering in the first or the last act of a Christian ministry. This text presents in summary the leading doctrines of the gospel--“Grace, mercy, and peace”--grace as the origin, mercy as the development, and peace as the result of man’s salvation.
I. There is, then, first of all, the grace that originates. Grace is the Alpha of all salvation. It is grace in the eternal counsel, grace in the Divine election, grace in the heavenly calling, grace in the individual conversion, grace in every gift of the Holy Ghost, grace in the conviction of sin that realizes its danger, in the godly repentance that mourns over it. It is grace that transplants the flower from the wilderness into the garden of the Lord, waters it with the clews of heaven, and makes it bud and bloom, and so shed its sweetness all around, that even in decay and death its scent survives imperishable. It is grace that gives the lowly man his humility, the loving man his kindly affections, the benevolent man his charity, the zealous man his ardour, the young Christian his spiritual strength, the old Christian his experience, the suffering Christian his patience, and the dying Christian his support. Thus the first practical inquiry, that enables us to ascertain our own state before God, is, Have we realized the truth, not as a mere point in theology, but as a point in personal feeling, that “in me, that is, in my flesh,” in my natural character or capacity, “dwelleth no good thing” that without Christ we are nothing, can do nothing?
II. There is, secondly, the mercy that developes the counsel of redemption. As grace is something that is given as a gratuity, that is neither merited, nor purchased, nor obtainable by other means, nor deserved, nor even desired, so mercy involves an absolute demerit--not merely a negation, but a disqualifying clause. Grace might be applicable to an order of beings to which mercy was not applicable. I say, mercy involves an absolute demerit. A judgment incurred, but respited--a forbearing stroke, where the blow was not only merited but provoked and challenged! Hence it is described by the terms, “the longsuffering of God,” “the forbearance of God.” And yet the word mercy still implies a victim. If no penalty of an earthly law, for instance, were ever inflicted upon any man, as was the case with some of our own laws till of late years, the suspension of such a law would be no mercy to any man, it would be practically disannulled, and the idea of mercy under such a statute would merge into repeal. It is when some men actually suffer the penalty from which others are exempted by the interposition of the sovereign, that the mercy is said to be shown to those who are exempted. When a criminal sees another man suffering the death to which his guilt had condemned himself, he understands then the royal prerogative of mercy. It is so with the sinner. Mercy is the great development of the love of God. It is not the exercise of a Divine attribute, which, like His power or wisdom, cost the Father nothing. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that all who believe in Him should not perish.” This was the Father’s sacrifice, of which Abraham’s was the figure, just as Isaac’s self-submission was a type of the Son’s. An act of mercy costs earthly princes nothing beyond the word pardon; ii cost the King of kings the immolation of His Son, “whom He had appointed Heir of all things.” Who is to wonder, then, at the magnificent things Which are said in Scripture about the mercy of God? Mercy gave birth to the “Man of sorrows”; mercy clothed the Heir of heaven in coarse Galilean raiment, as a poor man among the poor; mercy made Him toil, and hunger, and thirst, and travail, and suffer, and die; mercy rose with Him from the grave; mercy speaks by Him from the seat of intercession, and promises to come again in glory, to gather His elect, and to establish His kingdom. Mercy is the main element, the uniform ingredient, in every act of grace, It was mercy that fixed our own native lot in a land of light, and Christian ordinances, and social privileges, instead of among howling savages, with minds as dark and bare as their disfigured bodies; it was mercy that provided some of us with the goodly heritage of pious parents, however little we may have profited by their example and prayers; it was mercy, if our hearts were reached at last, if we turned to “flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold upon eternal life.” It is mercy still, O Lord, that we are living this day to praise Thee, that health, reason, strength, apprehension, and multiplied opportunities, and means of grace, and channels of good works by which we shall glorify Thee, and benefit ourselves and others, are yet spared to us. It is mercy, in short, that meets us in the hour of sorrow, and whispers consolation. Hence the next practical test of our condition in the sight of God is--Have we felt our need of mercy? Have we realized our lost, wretched, forlorn condition without a Mediator?
III. Thus mercy, joining hands with grace, like the outstretched wings of the cherubim that met over the ark, crown and complete God’s covenant with His people; and finally they publish “peace”--peace between them. This was our closing proposition. The seal and consummation of the plan of redemption is peace. Have you remarked, that the angels singing from heaven called it “peace on earth”? that is, peace here, peace now; not simply that poetical peace in the grave, of which some men sing, or the peace in heaven to which the believer aspires, but something that he has in his heart at once; and that is called by the angels “peace on earth”--peace at once, peace with all men, peace with ourselves. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; the end of that man is peace.” The external incidents of life no longer break the calm of the full assurance of faith, or hope, or understanding, in the life of the believer; but “when a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh his enemies to be at peace with him.” “The God of peace beats down Satan under your feet shortly.” The Son of peace is an abiding and delightful guest in your dwellings; your vision of peace is not like Jerusalem’s, hidden from your eyes, but fixes a distinct, lofty, lovely impression upon your minds--like an horizon that seems to fence in and shield us with the clouds of heaven, yet opens heaven itself to the far-seeing gaze of faith. The world in its own way is seeking for this peace; amid all its pleasures and cunning variations of pleasure and amusement it is seeking, over the wreck of every present enjoyment, the peace which it hopes to find in the future. It is seeking it where the poor disconsolate Elisha sought his master--in the wilderness, instead of looking up to heaven where he was gone. And hence the search is vain; men do not find it. (J. B. Owen, M. A.)
A Christian salutation
The salutation which Paul gives to his own son in the faith is an exquisite example of what a Christian greeting should be. It is no idle compliment, but an earnest prayer.
I. The manifestation of divine love desired on Timothy’s behalf is threefold, consisting of “grace, mercy, and peace,” for the sympathetic mind of Paul analyzed and displayed it, much as a prism will catch a ray of sunshine, and reveal more clearly the wonderful beauty that is latent in it.
1. Grace is the free favour of God, pouring itself forth upon the soul which is yearning for it, and filling it with gladness and praise. So that a prayer for God’s “grace” to be with us is really a prayer that our sins and doubts may be dispersed; for as with nature’s sunlight, it is not any alteration in the sun, but a change in the earth’s atmosphere, or in the earth’s attitude towards the sun, that brings brightness in the place of gloom, daylight in the stead of darkness.
2. The association of the idea of mercy with grace is striking, and is peculiar to these Epistles to Timothy and to the Second Epistle of John. But it was characteristic of Paul, who was profoundly conscious of his own need of “mercy,” to pray for it on behalf of his comrade, who was engaged in similar work. It is not to the erring Galatians nor to the backsliding Corinthians, but to this honoured servant of the Christian Church, that he prays for God’s “mercy” to be evermore extended; for from his own experience he knew how much that mercy is needed by those who are sensible that their character comes far short of their ideal, and that their work for Christ is marred by their faults and follies. We may occupy the highest position in the Church, yet instead of being thereby exalted above the need of mercy, we must the more humbly cast ourselves upon it. Nothing but the realization of the Divine forbearance will embolden us to continue in spiritual service, which is awful in its responsibilities, and likely to be ill done by us through our sinfulness and ignorance. The noblest saint falls back in life and death on Divine mercy as his one and only hope.
3. Peace flows from the “grace” and “mercy” of God. It is a sense of reconciliation with Him--of rest in Him, which will give calmness in hours of trouble and peril, and will spread a sacred and happy influence over those around us. As good Bishop Patrick says, “Peace is the proper result of the Christian temper. It is the great kindness which our religion doth us, that it brings us to a settledness of mind and a consistency within ourselves.”
II. The source of these blessings is pointed out in the assurance that they flow from “God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.”
1. If God is our Father we may surely expect such blessings, for they are just what in our lower sphere we fathers (whose fatherhood is but a broken reflection of His) would gladly give our children. We are not happy unless they are living in our “favour”; we are eager to show them “mercy” directly and whenever they come to us in penitential grief; and if there is one blessing we desire for them above others, it is that their minds may be at “peace.”
2. But grace, mercy, and peace, can only come to us through Jesus Christ our Lord, because we are undeserving and sinful. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
The price of peace
The other day I was preaching in my own church upon this subject. I said that if a man wanted to have peace with God, he must be prepared to put away his sin. After the sermon a wealthy gentleman, a member of my own congregation, came up to me and said, “You have broken me down to-day. For the last two or three months i have not been able to sleep. You know I have retired from business, but the fact of the matter is, I have been gambling on the Stock Exchange, though people did not know it. Whenever the funds go down I begin to tremble. Although I believe I gave my heart to God some years ago, I have been trying to serve two masters--gambling for money, and at the same time pretending to serve God. Now, I have made up my mind that I must destroy this sin. It will cost me £4,000, but I am determined to make a clean sweep of it altogether.” The gentleman added, “I think peace of mind is cheap at £4,000”; and I think so too. (A. E. Stuart.)
1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus.
Our translators have supplied two words at the close of the fourth verse, in order to complete the sentence which the apostle left unfinished; but it would have been better had they inserted them earlier, for the meaning is more clear if we read, “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus when I went into Macedonia, so I beseech thee now to remain there.” It is an example of the way in which Paul’s living thoughts leaped ahead of the words which might have clothed them.
I. The period to which he refers in the phrase, “when I went into Macedonia,” cannot be certainly fixed. There was, indeed, one occasion mentioned in Acts 20:1, when, in consequence of the peril in which he was placed through the uproar raised by Demetrius, he did leave Ephesus for Macedonia; but in the chapter preceding that narrative we read that he had already sent Timothy and Erastus thither; and we know that he joined them there, because in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, written thence, he mentions Timothy as being then with him.
II. The mode of address to Timothy demands a word or two. “I besought thee”--not I commanded thee. No doubt this is expressive of the gentleness and affection with which Timothy was regarded, but it is also an indication of the kind of authority which was exercised by the apostles over their fellow-workers. There was nothing dictatorial about it, nothing of the military discipline which is so popular and effective in an aggressive section of the Church in our day. Influence then was that of character; authority was the outcome of inspiration; and even the chosen twelve were better pleased to rule by love than fear. It must be admitted this may give rise to abuses and perils.
III. The purport of Paul’s entreaty was that Timothy should check the progress of false doctrine in the Ephesian Church. There was a ferment going on in the minds of men at that time, such as usually accompanies or follows a great religious movement. False notions of God, and of His law, arising from an imperfectly understood Judaism, combined with a speculative heathen philosophy, were threatening to destroy the simplicity of the gospel A sort of cabalistic system was being constituted in the Church, by an incongruous mixture of Jewish fancies with heathen speculations, and this threatened disaster--just as the ivy, climbing slowly but surely, thrusts in a root here and a tendril there, till the once strong wall has every stone loosened, and in the storm it falls.
IV. The reason given for opposing such teaching is, that it “ministered questions rather than godly edifying.” The Revised Version adopts another reading, and rightly so. The meaning is, that these questionings did not subserve God’s “dispensation “mills specific plan for admission to His kingdom, His method of salvation unfolded in the Gospel; for that dispensation consists “in faith.” And as a matter of experience we know that questions which merely excite the fancy, or even the intellect, tend to make the objects of faith distasteful. For example, a course of sensational novel reading, which peoples the mind with unrealities, does extrude earnest thoughts on spiritual realities. And this which is true of the rites of the Church is equally true of its organizations, and we have constantly to be on our guard lest the occupation of the mind with the details of Church work should divert us from the cultivation of personal Christian life. But the apostle here condemns chiefly the unhealthy practice of giving prominence to unimportant questions, whether it be in the sphere of philosophy or of religion. When a settler has to grow his own corn to provide himself with daily bread, he will let speculation on the strata beneath the surface wait till he has found time to sow and to reap. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
The doctrine condemned in the Pastoral Epistles a Jewish form of Gnosticism: the Gnostic’s problem
It is of more importance to inquire what was the nature of the “different doctrine” which Timothy was to endeavour to counteract. And on this point we are not left in serious doubt. There are various expressions used respecting it in these two letters to Timothy which seem to point to two factors in the heterodoxy about which St. Paul is anxious.
1. The heresy is Jewish in character. Its promoters “desire to be teachers of the Law” (1 Timothy 1:7). Some of them are “they of the circumcision” (Titus 1:10). It consists in “Jewish fables” (Titus 1:14). The questions which it raises are “fightings about the Law” (Titus 3:9).
2. Its Gnostic character is also indicated. We are told both in the text and in the Epistle to Titus (Titus 1:14; Titus 3:9) that it deals in “fables and genealogies.” It is, “empty talking” (verse 6), “disputes of words” (1 Timothy 6:4), and “profane babblings (1 Timothy 6:20). It teaches an unscriptural and unnatural asceticism (1 Timothy 4:3; 1 Timothy 4:8). It is “Gnosis falsely so called” (1 Timothy 6:20). A heresy containing these two elements, Judaism and Gnosticism, meets us both before and after the period covered by the Pastoral Epistles: before in the Epistle to the Colossians; afterwards in the Epistles of Ignatius. The evidence gathered from these three sources is entirely in harmony with what we learn elsewhere--that the earliest forms of Christian Gnosticism were Jewish in character. It will be observed that this is indirect confirmation of the genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles. The Gnosticism condemned in them is Jewish; and any form of Gnosticism that was in existence in St. Paul’s time would almost certainly be Jewish. Professor Godet has pointed out how entirely the relation of Judaism to Christianity which is implied in these Epistles, fits in with their being the last group of epistles written by St. Paul. At first, Judaism was entirely outside the Church, opposing and blaspheming. Then it entered the Church and tried to make the Church Jewish, by foisting the Mosaic Law upon it. Lastly, it becomes s, fantastic heresy inside the Church, and sinks into profane frivolity. “Pretended revelations are given as to the names and genealogies of angels; absurd ascetic rules are laid down as counsels of perfection, while daring immorality defaces the actual life.” This is the phase which is confronted in the Pastoral Epistles: and St. Paul meets it with a simple appeal to faith and morality. It is quite possible that the “fables,” or “myths,” and “genealogies” ought to be transferred from the Gnostic to the Jewish side of the account. And thus Chrysostom interprets the passage. “By fables he does not mean the Law; far from it; but inventions and forgeries, and counterfeit doctrines. For, it seems, the Jews wasted their whole discourse on these unprofitable points. They numbered up their fathers and grandfathers, that they might have the reputation of historical knowledge and research.” The “fables” then, may be understood to be those numerous legends which the Jews added to the Old Testament, specimens of which abound in the Talmud. But similar myths abound in Gnostic systems, and therefore “fables” may represent both elements of the heterodox teaching. So also with the “endless genealogies.” These cannot well refer to the genealogies in Genesis, for they are not endless, each of them being arranged in tens. But it is quite possible that Jewish speculations about the genealogies of angels may be meant. Such things, being purely imaginary, would be endless. Or the Gnostic doctrine of emanations, in its earlier and cruder forms, may be intended. By genealogies in this sense early thinkers, especially in the East, tried to bridge the chasm between the infinite and the finite, between God and creation. In various systems it is assumed that matter is inherently evil. The material universe has been from the beginning not “very good” but very bad. How then can it be believed that the Supreme Being, infinite in goodness, would create such a thing? This is incredible: the world must be the creature of some inferior and perhaps evil being. But when this was conceded, the distance between this inferior power and the supreme God still remained to be bridged. This, it was supposed, might be done by an indefinite number of generations, each lower in dignity than the preceding one, until at last a being capable of creating the universe was found. From the Supreme God emanated an inferior deity, and from this lower power a third still more inferior; and so on until the Creator of the world was reached. These ideas are found in the Jewish philosopher Philo; and it is to these that St. Paul probably alludes in the “endless genealogies which minister questionings rather than a dispensation of God.” (A. Plummer, D. D.)
St. Paul condemns such speculations on four grounds.
1. They are fables, myths, mere imaginings of the human intellect in its attempt to account for the origin of the world and the origin of evil.
2. They are endless and interminable. From the nature of things there is no limit to mere guesswork of this kind. Every new speculator may invent a fresh genealogy of emanations in his theory of creation and may make it any length that he pleases. If hypotheses need never be verified--need not even be capable of verification--one may go on constructing them ad infinitum.
3. As a natural consequence of this (αἵτινες) they minister questionings and nothing better. It is all barren speculation and fruitless controversy. Where any one may assert without proof, any one else may contradict with out proof; and nothing comes of this see-saw of affirmation and negation.
4. Lastly, these vain imaginings are a different doctrine. They are not only empty but untrue, and are a hindrance to the truth, they occupy the ground which ought to be filled with the dispensation of God which is in faith. Human minds are limited in their capacity, and, even if these empty hypotheses were innocent, minds that were filled With them would have little room left for the truth. But they are not innocent: and those who are attracted by them become disaffected towards the truth. The history of the next hundred and fifty years amply justifies the anxiety and severity of St. Paul. The germs of Gnostic error, which were in the air when Christianty was first preached, fructified with amazing rapidity. It would be hard to find a parallel in the history of philosophy to the speed with which Gnostic views spread in and around Christendom between a.d. 70 and 220. Throughout the Christian world, and especially in intellectual centres such as Ephesus, Alexandria, and Rome, there was perhaps not a single educated congregation which did not contain persons who were infected with some form of Gnosticism. Jerome’s famous hyperbole respecting Arianism might be transferred to this earlier form of error, perhaps the most perilous that the Church has ever known: “The whole world groaned and was amazed to find itself Gnostic.” However severely we may con demn these speculations, we cannot but sympathize with the perplexities which produced them. The origin of the universe, and still more the origin of evil, to this day remain unsolved problems. No one in this life is ever likely to reach a complete solution of either. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
1 Timothy 1:4
Neither give heed to fables.
Old doctrines enduring
At Cudham, in Kent, is an old church. Walking round it on one occasion, I observed a portion of the roof falling to decay and needing to be propped up with a timber stay. On closer investigation, however, I discovered that the decaying portion was none of the old structure, but a modern addition. We need not fear for the ancient fabric of Christian truth. The new-fangled doctrines will fall to the ground, while the old gospel “endureth for ever.” (J. Halsey.)
Modern gospels false
The very commendations which some people give of the so-called gospel they preach arouse our suspicion. When we hear of its recent and human origin, we at once begin to doubt its validity. We are reminded of the boy who went into a shop to change a sovereign. “Are you sure it is a good one?” asked the man behind the counter. “Oh, yes, quite sure, sir; for I seed father make it this morning.” We do not believe in a gospel which was coined but this morning. We preach a gospel which was minted in heaven, which bears the image and superscription of Christ, which has the ring of true metal, and which will pass current in all the dominions of the King. (C. W. Townsend.)
Self-made gospels useless
When some men come to die, the religion which they have themselves thought out and invented will yield them no more confidence than the religion of the Roman Catholic sculptor who, on his death-bed, was visited by his priest. The priest said, “You are now departing out of this life!” and, holding up a beautiful crucifix, he cried, “Behold your God, who died for you.’“ “Alas!” said the sculptor, “I made it.” There was no comfort for him in the work of his own hands; and there will be no comfort in a religion of one’s own devising. That which was created in the brain cannot yield comfort to the heart. The man will sorrowfully say, “Yes, it is my own idea; but what does God say?” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
In reviewing some of the questions: which occupied my attention at an early period, I have seen reason to bless God for preserving me at a time when my judgment was very immature. When I have seen the zeal which has been expended in maintaining some such peculiarities, I have thought it a pity. Bunyan would have called them “nuts which spoil the children’s teeth.” They have appeared to me as a sort of spiritual narcotics, which, when a man once gets a taste for them, he will prefer to the most wholesome food. A man who chews opium, or tobacco, may prefer it to the most wholesome food, and may derive from it pleasure, and even vigour for a time; but his pale countenance and debilitated constitution will soon bear witness to the folly of “spending his money for that which is not bread.” (A. Fuller.)
Unprofitable disputes to be avoided
Avoid disputes about lesser truths, and a religion that lies only in opinions. They are usually least acquainted with a heavenly life, who are violent disputers about the circumstantials of religion. He whose religion is all in his opinions, will be most frequently and zealously speaking his opinions; and he whose religion lies in his knowledge and love of God and Christ, will be most delightfully speaking of that happy time when he shall enjoy them. He is a rare and precious Christian who is skilful to improve well-known truths. Therefore let me advise you, who aspire after a heavenly life, not to spend too much of your thoughts, your time, your zeal, or your speech upon disputes that tess concern your souls; but when hypocrites are feeding on husks and shells, do you feed on the joys above. I would have the chief truths to be chiefly studied, and none to cast out your thoughts of eternity. (Richard Baxter.)
The groundwork of Christianity
In his confidential letter to Timothy, he struck very hard blows, and more nearly in language of contempt than I remember his using in any other of his writings. He made a distinction in this way: he warned against that method of teaching which led to discussions, questions, janglings, disputes, envyings, and urged Timothy to pursue that line of teaching which had in it the power of building men up, of edifying them--this being the architectural word for building. Those doctrines which tended to educate men in a noble manhood he told him to preach; but those other doctrines which resulted not in the change of men’s dispositions, but in debates and questionings, he counselled him to avoid. That which tends to develop right sentiments he declares to be gospel teaching and preaching, whereas that which tends to develop nice distinctions, nice arguments, nice points of orthodoxy, and to make men think that they know ever so much, so that they are proud of their knowledge, though they are fools all the time, is false teaching and preaching. And here we have the foundation on which men should be united. Unity is not to exist in governments, ordinances, and doctrines, but in things that pertain to godliness of life. It is said, “If a man is sincere his convictions do not make any difference.” Don’t they? A man says to you, “I saw you break into a bank.” “Oh, no,” you say, “That is only a joke.” “Yes I did. And not only that, I saw you pick a man’s pocket.” He sticks to it that he saw you do these things; and the more sincere he is the worse it is for you. Do not you think it makes any difference what a man’s convictions are when he is talking about you? You demand that a man shall think right when he talks about you, and your wife, and your daughter, and your credit, and your interests. Everybody holds in regard to certain technical speculative ideas which lie outside of positive knowledge, that men should believe right. In the great realm of which we are speaking, and in reference to things which relate to manhood and character, everybody holds that right believing is essential. We hold every man responsible for his beliefs so far as his conduct is affected by them: not for his speculative beliefs, but for those of his beliefs which pertain to human life in the family, in business, and in government. Of the great laws to which men are accountable, spiritual laws are the highest, civil laws are next, social laws are next, and physical laws are next; and belief in the existence of these laws is important. A belief that men are accountable to them, and that obedience to them brings happiness, while disobedience to them brings unhappiness, is also important. You may leave out men’s beliefs in regard to certain philosophical views of responsibility, and that which is woven in the loom of apprehension may be scattered, and no harm may result; but the great fact remains that men are accountable to those laws; and every man stands on that. Men are accountable; and if they do right they are rewardable; but if they do wrong they are punishable; and the greatest danger would result from teaching that it made no difference what men thought and did. It would be a fatal blow at morality. It would reduce man to the level of the animal, that acts according to instinct and not according to reason. There could be no greater mistake than that. While there may exist differences of opinion in regard to minor points connected with this fact, it is all-important that men should recognize the fact itself, that under the Divine government, and under the laws that belong to that government, men are held accountable for their conduct, for their feelings, and for their thoughts in life. Men are also in agreement with regard to the ideal of character--that is, in regard to the architectural plan, which is laid down in the New Testament for godliness, or true Christian manhood. They believe that the New Testament requires that the whole man shall be shaped and educated into a perfect obedience to all the laws of his condition here and hereafter. They believe that the body must be wholesome in a perfect Christian man. They believe that where there is a perfect Christian manhood, the intellect must be healthy and regulated. They believe that a man’s disposition must be perfectly developed and harmonized before he can be a ripe Christian man. We hear a great deal about the way being obscure, so that one cannot tell what the truth is. Men complain that if you go to one church they tell you one thing, if you go to another church they tell you another thing, and if you go to another church they tell you still another thing. It is true that churches differ on various minor points; but they agree on great essential points. In those things in which they are at agreement, they are like the body of a shawl; and in those things in which they differ they are like the fringe of that shawl. The body of the shawl is solid; and there is division only in the fringe. It is the outer edge of truth about which men quarrel more than about anything else. In regard to the great central truths there is substantial unity. A man might better go into a desert in a sand-storm, or he might better put his glass into a blinding mist, in the hope of getting a view of the stars, than attempt to come to an understanding of the interior nature of the Divine life and government, by means of philosophical thought or discussion. That is a subject about which there is no controversy. It is here that the Christian world agree. About the ineffable love of God, about His inconceivable excellence, about His wondrous goodness and mercy, men are all agreed. Secondly, what is called “orthodoxy” in each sect falls, for the most part, into that category about which men differ, and may differ; as also do what are called “fundamental doctrines.” Fundamental to what? That is the question. The doctrines which are fundamental to right living, to reverence and love toward God, and to love and self-sacrifice toward man; the doctrines, in other words, which are necessary to build up godliness in each particular man--about those doctrines there is no variation of belief. They are fundamental to conduct, fundamental to character, fundamental to duty; and about them men do not squabble. But what is fundamental to Calvinism in another thing. “Fore-ordination” is necessary to Calvinism; but it is not necessary to higher piety. Being “irresistibly called by efficacious grace” is essential to the Calvinistic scheme; but it is not necessary to true Christianity. Though such things as these may be fundamental to the forms, and ceremonies, and rituals, and usages, and governments of Churches, they are not fundamental to piety in its highest sense. I do not say that these outward elements have no value: that is not the point; I say that whatever their value may be, no man has any right, in the face of Christendom, to call them fundamental to Christianity when they are only fundamental to a side-issue--to something on either side of which a man may stand in his belief, and yet be a Christian and go to heaven. (H. W. Beecher.)
1 Timothy 1:5-7
Now the end of the commandment is charity.
The end of the commandment
These verses are occupied with a description of what God’s dispensation was meant to produce, and indicate how it came to pass that many failed of it. “The commandment” or charge which Timothy had received had this as its end or purpose--the promotion of “love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” By love is meant the right relation of the whole nature both to God and to man; for love to man is in the highest sense a consequent of love to God.
I. Three conditions Of this love are specified.
1. A pure heart. This is essential to any vision of God. Unless we are purified our affections will naturally fasten upon selfish objects, or even upon those which are evil.
2. A good conscience is often insisted upon in Scripture as one of the inestimable blessings enjoyed by God’s children. Conscience is the activity of consciousness towards the ethical aspect of things. But conscience is “good” if it is healed and purged by the Saviour’s touch; if, instead of condemning us, it gives us confidence towards God; if it is reliable and unbiassed in its decision on all questions brought before its tribunal; and if it not only directs the will, but spurs it into instant activity.
3. Faith unfeigned is the third condition of God-accepted love. Though mentioned last, “faith” is the germ grace--the seed principle. To us fallen men there is no way to a “good conscience” and a “pure heart” but that of “faith” in Jesus Christ--that faculty which, laying hold of Him the Mediator, brings us into fellowship with God and all unseen realities. The apostle now turns from the conditions of love to--
II. Its counterfeits, exhibited in those who, professing to aim at it, miss their mark and swerve aside to “vain janglings”--that is, to empty talking and disputation. Too often the Church has had members who have been destitute of moral and spiritual perceptivity, but have made themselves at home in speculations and controversies. And the worst tempers are to be found among the members of the more talkative and disputatious sects. Paul heartily abhorred “vain babbling”--talk on religious subjects which was sometimes made a substitute for holy living; and in the Epistle to Titus, as well as here, some sharp sternwords are uttered against it. False teaching is not to be lightly regarded or easily welcomed, as if it could have no evil effect on moral and spiritual life. For example, the philosophy of materialism, which represents our thoughts and affections as nothing but the emanations of movements in our physical bodies and brains, is ultimately destructive of moral responsibility and of belief in a coming immortality. “Continue thou in the things wherein thou hast been taught.” Do not foolishly give up the faith which was associated with all that was sacred in your childhood. Remember that there is a sphere of existence outside the range of your senses, beyond the proof of your reason, of which you know nothing unless you accept the glimpses given of it in this Divine revelation. Beware lest, like these Ephesian heretics, you swerve from the faith, having turned aside unto vain jangling. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
The use and the abuse of the gospel
I. The use of it. What is the use of it? First: The production of love in the soul. “The end of the commandment is charity.” Secondly: The production of purity in the soul. “A pure heart.” Thirdly: The production of a sound moral sense in the soul. “A good conscience.” Fourthly: The production of a genuine confidence in the soul. “Faith unfeigned.”
II. The abuse of it. “Some,” says the apostle, “having swerved have turned aside,” i.e., have missed the mark. The apostle mentions some out of the many great abuses of the gospel. Their talk was “jangling.” Miserable discussions about forms, ceremonies, traditions, etc., etc. How much in all ages has there been of this in connection with the gospel. What miserable jargon, what jejeune gabbling. Their talk was--
(1) Vain--vain, in the sense of emptiness and unsatisfactoriness. It had no substance of truth in it, and therefore nothing in it to satisfy either the intellect or the heart.
(2) Ambitious. “Desiring to be teachers of the law.” In how many thousands in Christendom does the gospel awaken little more than the ambition to be teachers? All it does for them is to strike into their hearts a desire to talk about it, mainly for the purpose of self-parade. Perhaps there is no greater abuse of the gospel than a certain kind of pulpiteering.
(3) Ignorant. “Understanding neither what they say nor whereof they affirm.” As a rule, the men who are most anxious to preach are the most ignorant. (The Homilist.)
The importance of heart love
John Wesley wrote to a student, “Beware that you are not swallowed up in books. An ounce of love to God is worth a pound of transient knowledge. What is the real value of a thing, but the price it will bear in eternity? Let no study swallow up or entrench upon the hours of private prayer. Nothing is of so much importance as this, for it is not the possession of gifts, but of grace, nor of sound knowledge and orthodox faith, so much as the principle of holy love and the practice of Christian precepts, which distinguish the heir of glory from the child of perdition.” Charity and almsgiving:--The word “charity” is confined, in common acceptation, to two meanings, neither of which gives a just idea to a general reader of its original and scriptural meaning. It is, first, applied to modes of thinking or speaking respecting things and persons; and in this sense is often grievously misemployed by the insincere and the worldly; and, secondly, charity to the poor is used as another term for almsgiving. Either of these methods of employing the term is a corruption of this large and noble word, and an instance how the depravity of our nature has a tendency to spoil every thing it touches. Indifferent to the rules and practices of a holy life, some call that charity which glosses over gross vice and ruinous error; and others, under a total indifference to the meaning of the text--“Charity covereth (or hideth) many sins,” hope to compound for a sinful life by contributing, as they think, largely of their own substance to the poor of their neighbourhood or to some charitable institution. That neither of these apparent results is really the fruit of Christian charity is too often evident, from the change induced by some slight provocation, which immediately quickens us into a vivid perception of wrong; what appeared charity is then seen to have been indifference either to truth or to holiness. But charity, in its real and scriptural sense, has a far more enlarged signification. It is a love to God, which is thence reflected upon all the creatures of God. It embraces cheerful devotedness and submissiveness to His will, founded on a faith in His declarations, a trust in His righteousness, an awful estimate of His character and counsels; and thence issues forth in sentiments of kindness, compassion, and good will, to all with whom we have a direct or distant intercourse. Patient under wrong, candid in its constructions in the world, slow to wrath, easy to forgive; it cheerfully sacrifices self, whenever such sacrifice can promote the Saviour’s glory, or the temporal and moral welfare of mankind. It is evident, therefore, that whatever goes by the name of charity, is unworthy of that name, unless it be the fruit of that devotion of the affections, to which that name is confined in Scripture. Hence, almsgiving is no charity, unless it proceed from love. And since “the end of the commandment is charity”; since He who was rich and for our sakes became poor, has left us His example as well as His command; since in that world of rest, which lies all but exposed before the Christian’s gaze, the heavenly Canaan--there will be no sorrows, no ignorance, no distress, no dangers, no toils, no death--let us esteem it no mean privilege, that now living in a world of varied grief and suffering, we have at once the means and the opportunity to imitate Christ--and while we have the time, “let us do good to all men.” (C. Lane, M. A.)
A good conscience.--
A good conscience
Every man has a conscience. As without the physical senses I could never feel my connection with this material system--the green earth beneath my feet and the blue heavens that encircle me would be nothing without them; so, without this conscience, this moral sense, I could have no idea either of moral government or God. Had you no conscience, I might as well endeavour to give to one that is born blind and deaf the idea of beauty and sweet sounds, as to give to you the idea of duty and God. What is a good conscience? Three things are necessary to it.
I. It must live. There are two classes of dead consciences. First: Those that have never been quickened. Conscience is in the breast of all in the first stages of childhood: but it is there as a germ unquickened by the sunbeam of intelligence, it is there as the optic nerve on which no light has fallen, it is dead. Secondly: Those which have been quickened but are now dead.
II. It must rule. There are consciences with some vitality in them, but no royalty; they are enslaved. They are found sometimes in subjection to--
(1) Animalism. They are “carnally sold under sin.”
(2) Worldliness. Worldly interests govern them.
(3) Superstition. No conscience is good in this state.
Conscience is the imperial faculty in the human soul; it is not only self-inspecting, self-judging, but should be self-ruling.
III. It must rule by the will of God. If it rule--and it often does--by a worldly expediency, a conventional morality, or a corrupt religion, it is a bad conscience. It must rule by the will of God, it must have no other standard. A good conscience is essential to every man’s spiritual growth, power, peace, and usefulness. Without a good conscience what is he? A moral wreck tossed on the billows of passion and circumstances. (The Homilist.)
A good conscience
Oh, for a good conscience, to meet the terrors of that day without apprehension! But to have it then, we must possess it now. What is a good conscience? Its importance and necessity.
I. Three things are essential to a good conscience.
(1) I say, first, the conscience must be enlightened. In itself it is not an infallible guide. Its province is not to teach men truth, not to correct erroneous principles, but simply to show a man when his conduct is, or is not, at variance with his knowledge and convictions of what is right. That knowledge must be obtained elsewhere; and then conscience will dictate the course of rectitude and consistency. If the judgment be under the influence of false principles, the conclusions of conscience will also be false. Some of the vilest things that have ever been done in this world have been done in its name and under its authority. It is evident, therefore, that a conscience, to be rightly directed, must have light; so far as it is instructed it invariably conducts a man in the right way. Therefore, seek illumination. Be concerned to have correct principles, and labour after proper views of Divine truth; for if the clouds of ignorance and error hang over the mind, not the greatest firmness of character, not the utmost integrity of purpose, no, not even the most decided sincerity of conviction, can preserve the vessel of the soul from pursuing a false track till, finally driven upon the quick-sands or dashing against the rocks, it makes shipwreck of faith and of good conscience, and thus through ignorance is for ever cast away. From this cause arise the calmness and complacency of the unconverted sinner. He is in darkness: he is the victim of false judgments, false views of the character of God, false views of the claims of His most holy law, false views of the true nature and enormity of sin, false hopes and schemes of salvation.
(2) A conscience, when it has been thus enlightened, requires to be appeased. A conscience that is only enlightened is a torment, an accuser; the greatest enemy of the soul’s peace; a fire in the veins, the bones, the marrow; a worm that gnaws with insatiable cruelty. Such was the state of Cain when he had lifted up his arm against his brother Abel. “His innocent and injured shade seemed to pursue him.” Such, too, was the case of Herod, who had been betrayed in an unguarded moment into the murder of John the Baptist. Such was the state of Belshazzar, at a time when he was surrounded with all his pomp and power, and everything yielded to his authority. Are any of you in this condition? Behold here, in the gospel, your remedy; here, in the sacrifice of God’s dear Son, the spotless victim, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Carry your broken spirit, then, to the feet of Jesus. If His precious blood distil upon it, every gaping wound will heal.
(3) But conscience may be appeased on false grounds. Various devices are employed to pacify it when awakened, but it is “a good conscience” only when appeased in a way of sanctification. There remains, however, one question which deserves our serious consideration before we quit this branch of the subject. May not a worldly man possess a good conscience without vital religion, and to what extent? Here we must distinguish between the duties of the first and those of the second table. In so doing we shall distinguish between a conscience void of offence toward God and a conscience void of offence toward men. He who has been thus just to man has not satisfied the claims of God. Before the All-seeing Eye he stands convicted of imperfection and transgression in every thought, word, and deed. A conscience void of offence toward men has crowned him with moral glory while he lived; a conscience not void of offence toward God will cover him with eternal confusion when he stands before the great tribunal! Thus we reach a momentous and an inevitable conclusion. Every man is a sinner against God by the decision of Scripture, and in most cases by his own confession. Therefore, first let every man seek to comprehend and feel the extent of his guilt and the magnitude of his transgressions.
II. We shall point out the importance and necessity of a good conscience.
1. And here let me remind you that this judge is enthroned in you by God Himself and cannot be east down. It may be kept in ignorance, it may be bribed, it may be lulled to sleep, but there it is, not to be dispossessed of its rightful authority. It cannot be extinguished either by fraud or by force. Since, then, you cannot help entertaining this inmate because God has erected its tribunal, there remains but one remedy, to bow to its decisions. To fight against it will be but to beat the air. If we have true wisdom we shall be concerned to make a friend of a companion that we cannot shake off, and whose decisions, for or against us, will be confirmed at the last day.
2. Consider, again, how great and how solid is the peace which a good conscience is capable of conveying to the soul. It is an inestimable treasure, a constant and an unchangeable witness to our sincerity. There may be disquietudes without, there may be pains of body, there may be assaults and temptations, there may be losses, afflictions, and persecutions, but, amidst the wildest storms, it maintains inward serenity. Let self-convicted sinners tremble in proportion as they draw near to the throne of an offended God: the accepted Christian can defy death, and enter eternity with unextinguished joy.
3. Consider what strength and spirit a good conscience imparts through all the journey of life. Without it the hands become weak in duty, the feet weary in travel, and the heart is languid and depressed in religious engagements. You cannot approach the mercy-seat with confidence, for, while you do not approve yourselves, what hope can you have of acceptance with God? He can find no comfort or satisfaction in the world, and yet he is shut out from the comfort of religion. Present things have no relish, and yet he dares not appropriate the future. Give me an unclouded conscience; let it bear me witness in the Holy Ghost: then I shall stand upright in the presence of the enemy. My arm will be strong to wield the sword of the Spirit. There will be an inward vigour and elasticity that shall rise in proportion to opposition.
4. Consider that subjection to the dictates and decisions of conscience anticipates and prevents an adverse verdict in the great day. “If we would judge ourselves,” says the apostle, “we should not be judged of God”; that is, not so judged as to be condemned.
We shall close this important subject with a few words of practical application.
1. In the first place, to the true Christian who is deeply concerned to keep a good conscience, we would offer the following directions. Be anxiously vigilant against all evil, and watchful as to all opportunities of good. The conscience of a saint is like the eye of the body, extremely sensitive, requiring to be guarded with most jealous care. The least mote that enters into it makes it smart and agonize. Remember, believer, that your sins are, in some points of view, worse than those of all other men. They are committed against greater light and knowledge. Let it be your constant concern to live and act as under the eye of your great Master, to whom all things are naked and open, before whom the heart is anatomized as it were, and all its secrets are perfectly known. Realize the presence of Christ with you, and carry it into all the engagements of life, striving to do nothing which you would not be willing that He should behold. Be diligent and habitual in the work of self-examination, without which it is certain that no one can be satisfied as to the reality of his condition. What a shame it is to some men, that they know everything but their own hearts and characters! (D. Katterns.)
Importance of a good conscience
A good minister, whom we will not name, while sitting at the dinner table with his family, had these words said to him by his son, a lad of eleven years; “Father, I have been thinking, if I could have one single wish of mine, what I would choose.” “To give you a better chance,” said the father, “suppose the allowance be increased to three wishes; what would they be? Be careful, Charley!” He made his choice, thoughtfully; first, of a good character; second, of good health; and third, of a good education. His father suggested to him that fame, power, riches, and various other things, are held in general esteem among mankind. “I have thought of all that,” said he, “but if I have a good conscience, and good health, and a good education, I shall be able to earn all the money that will be of any use to me, and everything else will come along in its right place.” A wise decision, indeed, for a lad of that age. (S. S. Chronicle.)
And of faith unfeigned.--
An agnostic (or infidel), being present one day in a circle of refined people, was surprised when told that a certain lady, noted for her intelligence and her boldness and originality of thought, was a firm believer in the sacred Scriptures. He ventured to ask her at the first possible opportunity, “Do you believe the Bible?” “Most certainly I do,” was her instant and unhesitating reply. “Why do you believe in it?” he queried again. “Because,” she confidently added, “I am acquainted with the Author.” Poor souls, that know not God in Christ as their Saviour, think, like the leaders of our nineteenth century philosophical infidelity, that He is “unknowable,” and so reject His Word. But true believers have a blessed acquaintance with both.
1 Timothy 1:8-10
The law is good, if a man use it lawfully.
The purpose of the law
The value of God’s gifts largely depends upon the use we make of them. There are powers within our reach which may with equal ease destroy our welfare or increase it. Every reader of the Epistles, every student of Pharisaic teaching, and every one who understands the work of the Judaisers, is aware that even the Mosaic law was grossly abused. The law is good if a man use it lawfully. The apostle next endeavoured to explain more fully the purpose of the law, and his explanation may be summed up under three heads:--
I. The law was not meant as an inspiration. “The law is not made for a righteous man.” The statement is true, whether you think of a man “righteous” by nature or by grace. Those edicts and prohibitions were not intended for one who was eagerly inclined to obey their spirit. Such a revelation of God’s will would not have been needed if Adam had continued in his righteousness, for things forbidden with pains and penalties after his fall were not at first attractive to him. If you walk through a private garden with the children of its owner, as one of themselves, you do not see anywhere the unsightly notice-boards, which are necessary in a place open to the public, asking you to move in this direction or in that, and to avoid trespassing hither or thither. Amongst the children, and as one of them, you are consciously above the need of such laws as those. Restrictions and warnings are always meant for those inclined to break them. Another example might be drawn from society. The laws on our statute books, the police who tramp through our streets, the vast organization represented by prisons and courts, by judges and magistrates, would no longer be necessary, and would never have been called into existence, if every man loved his neighbour even as himself. It is those who are disobedient in nature who make law a necessary institution. Similarly in the home. When your first child comes as a gleam of sunshine into your home, you parents do not begin to make a theoretical code of restrictions; but when the children grow older, and there are conflicts of will between them, and the household is likely to he disorderly by their thoughtlessness and faults, you begin to say, “You must not do this or that; it is to be from this time forward forbidden.” But as the years roll on and good habits are formed by the young people, and from the love they bear you they instinctively know what you wish and readily do it, even these wise rules practically fall into desuetude. Because they are ruled by a right spirit they are set free from law. This leads to our second assertion, namely, that the law which was not meant for an inspiration was--
II. Intended for the restraint of the disobedient. A law less man is everywhere the least free. Carried hither and thither by his ungoverned passions; swayed now this way, now that, by his inexcusable carelessness and neglect, he nevertheless finds himself perpetually clashing against a will mightier than his own. Sometimes it is the law of his country which seizes him by the throat and holds him in restraint. Sometimes it is disease, the direct result of his own sin, which falls like a curse upon himself, and even upon his children. Some times it is conscience which protests and rebukes, until his whole life is made miserable. And these are but premonitions of what is coming when the Judge of all the earth will appear to give every man according to his works, and the thunders of outraged law will supersede the gentle voice of Christ’s gospel. Terrible is the list of offences against human relationships which follows; though the first of the phrases in our version is at once too strong and too narrow. “Murderers of fathers” should be “smiters of fathers and smiters of mothers.” The allusion may be to such crimes in the literal sense of the word, of which now and again we are horrified to hear, and which are commonest with those who are under the influence of drink--the cause of innumerable crimes! Or it may refer with equal force to those who smite their parents with the tongue, loading them with scorn and reproach, instead of encircling them with considerate love. “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother, and let all the people say Amen.” “Man-slayers”--those who, by their exactions and oppressions, indirectly destroy the lives of men--as well as murderers, who are regarded as the pariahs of society. “Whoremongers and they that defile themselves with mankind,” are terms which are meant to include all transgressors of the seventh commandment, a law which our Lord Jesus so broadened out in its application as even to include indulgence in lustful thought. “Liars and perjured persons” are forms of that false witness against one’s neighbour which the ninth commandment so strongly condemns; and nothing is clearer as an evidence of the rule of Christ’s spirit than the transparent truthfulness of character, which wins the admiration of the world, and suns itself in the favour of God. This list is formidable enough, and the fact that the apostle does not confine himself to the phraseology of the Mosaic decalogue, is a sign that we do not evade the penalties of the law by keeping its letter.
III. The apostle asserts that the purpose of the law is amongst the things revealed in the gospel of the blessed God, The “sound doctrine” he mentions is the teaching of our Lord and His apostles; which, as the phrase denotes, was thoroughly “sound” or wholesome, especially as opposed to the weak and distempered doctrines propounded by the false teachers whom Timothy had to oppose. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
The use of the law
It would appear from this text that there is a way in which the law may be used lawfully, or rightly, from which we infer that there is also a way in which it may be used unlawfully, or unrightly--it may be put to a right use or to a wrong one. And there is a real distinction between this right and this wrong use of the law, which, if steadily kept in view, would be perfect safeguard, both against the error of legality and the equally pernicious one of Antinomianism. First, then, we use the law unlawfully when we try to make out a legal right to the kingdom of heaven. There are two ways in which one may proceed who purposes to make out his right by his obedience to the law. If he have a sufficiently high conception of the standard, then he is paralyzed, and sidles into despair because of the discoveries that he is making of his exceeding distance and deficiency from that standard; and thus he is haunted at all times by a sense of his great insufficiency, and he never can attain to anything like solid peace. But there is another way--he may bring down the law to the standard of his own obedience, and may bring his conscience and conduct into terms of very comfortable equality with one another. But this is what the Bible calls a peace which is no peace. The ruin of the soul comes out in either way of the enterprise.
2. Having said this much on the wrong use of the law, I have only time in this discourse to instance one right use of it. When we compare our conduct with its commandments, we cannot fail, in our deficiency and in our distance, to be convinced of sin. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The use of the law
Observe, then, of the law of God, that it has another and distinct object from that of holding out a method by which men acquire a right to its promised rewards, even that of holding out a method by which they acquire a rightness of character for the exercise of its fruits. The legal right is one thing; the moral rightness which obedience confers is another. For the former object the law must now become useless, and having fallen short of perfect obedience in ourselves, we must now found our whole right only in the righteousness of Christ. For the latter object, the law still contains all the use and all the importance which it ever had. It is that tablet on which are inscribed the virtues of the Godhead; and we, by copying these into the tablet of our own character, are restored to the likeness of God. We utterly mistake the design and economy of that gospel, if we think that while the first function of the law has been superseded under the New Testament dispensation, the second has been superseded also. Obedience for a legal right is everywhere denounced as a presumptuous enterprise; obedience for a personal righteousness is everywhere said to be an enterprise, the prosecution of which forms the main business of every disciple, and the full achievement of which is the prize of his high calling. For the one end the law has altogether lost its efficacy; and we, in order to substantiate its claim, must seek to be justified only by the righteousness of Christ. Let me now, then, expound more particularly the uses to which our observance of the law may be turned, in giving us not a right to heaven, but the indispensable character without which heaven never will be entered by us. If, after having laid hold of the righteousness of Christ, as your alone meritorious plea for the kingdom of heaven, you look to the law as in fact a transcript of the image of the Godhead, and by your assiduous keeping of this law, endeavour more and more to become like to God in Christ, this is the legitimate and proper use of the law, and by making this use you use it lawfully. You must not discard the law as being a thing that has no place in the system of the gospel The great end of the gospel is to work in you a life and law of God, and by impressing the traits of that law on your character, to make you more and more like the Lawgiver, and fit you for His companionship. Therefore, although you discard the law in one capacity, that is not to say that you are to discard it altogether; for there remains this other capacity--the law is that to which you must conform yourselves in order to render you meet for the inheritance of the saints. We see, then, that though this obedience of ours to the law of God never can make out for us a judicial right for heaven, yet that this obedience, and this alone makes out our personal meetness for heaven. We can separate, in idea, the judicial from the personal meetness for heaven, and while we lay an entire stress on the former we also count the latter indispensable. Now, what helps us to do this is the arbitrary connexion which obtains between a punishment and a crime in civil society. I trust you see the relation of this to our present subject. One part of the law of God is that we should be forbearing and forgiving one with another. The circumstance which leads us to transgress that law is just the natural heat and violence of our temper. Suppose a man set out on the enterprise of seeking to establish a right to heaven by his obedience to the law, then it is his duty to restrain all the outbreakings of a furious temper, but he sees he never can succeed in making out the right by his obedience to the law, and, transgressing in one particular, he has failed in all. Now, some thinking that they have discarded the law, in as far as its power to obtain for them a right to heaven is concerned, and that in discarding it they have gone to Christ, are apt to think they are quit of the law altogether. But we say they are not because there still remains another end--another important capacity in which they are still to use the law even after they have united themselves to Christ. What is this capacity? and of what use is the law after this step has been taken? Here is the use of the law. All that you have gotten by your faith in Christ is a right to the kingdom of heaven. But the kingdom of heaven is peace and righteousness and joy. The kingdom of heaven is within you, and the essential joy of heaven is that joy which springs from the exercise of good, and kind, and virtuous affections. You have obtained a right of entering heaven and a release from the punishment of hell. But if the temper which prompted you to those transgressions of the law still remains within you, then the essential misery of hell remains within you. You are still exposed to all the misery that is incurred by the exercise of furious and malignant passions. You must have a rightness of character--you must get quit of all those immoral, vile, and wretched things which by nature adhere to you, and your salvation is begun here by a gradual process of deliverance from the wickedness of your hearts and lives, and which, perfected, renders you meet for the inheritance of the saints; so that this use of the law is an indispensable thing, although the law has failed, or rather you have failed, in making out your right to heaven by your obedience to its precepts. If a believer could be delivered from the fear of hell and were to remain in character and effect just what he was, a portion of the misery of hell would still adhere to him. His mind, in respect of all these painful sensations, may be as unrelenting as ever. The man that has this unsanctified feeling in his heart carries hell about with him. In respect of the material ingredients of torture, it is conceivable that he may be saved by being justified, but in respect of the moral ingredients to be saved he must be sanctified. Therefore we see that though the law is of no use, it is just by obeying this law that you make out your sanctification, and the one is just as indispensable as the other. The thing I want is that you will not put asunder what God has joined. It is not enough, then, to obtain a mere translation from what is locally hell to what is locally heaven. There must be an act of transformation from one character to another. Or, if faith is to save them, they must be sanctified by faith; and if it is not by the law that they are to obtain their right of entering into heaven, most assuredly it is by their obedience to the law that they have obtained that heaven shall be to them a place of enjoyment, for without it heaven itself would be turned into a hell. And without going for illustration to the outcasts of exile and imprisonment, the very same thing may be exemplified in the bosom of families. It is not necessary that pain be inflicted on bodies by acts of violence in order to make it a wretched family. It is enough that pain be made to rankle within every heart; from the elements of suspicion, hatred, and disgust, an abode of enjoyment may be turned into an abode of the intensest misery. Having thus endeavoured to make palpable to you that the hell of the New Testament consists mainly in the wretchedness which attaches naturally and necessarily to character, let me touch on the opposite and more pleasing side of the picture--the heaven of the New Testament, as consisting mainly in the happiness which attaches naturally and necessarily to character. I have no idea of a man carrying in life with him the security that he is a justified person, and at the same time a bad member of society, making his whole family miserable. If he perseveringly and presumptuously go on with his disobedience to the law, that man is not in the way of salvation at all. Were it real, the first doing of faith in Christ would be to work love in his heart. It would show itself in all sorts of ways in the walk and conversation. But the main happiness of heaven is just the happiness that springs from righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. And though you have the right of entering there if you have not these things you have no heaven at all. If your life has in it the character of hell, taking you out of one place and putting you into another will not make you happy. The kingdom of God is not in you. To enjoy a brilliant and picturesque heaven a man must be endowed with a seeing eye; to enjoy a musical heaven he must be endowed with a hearing ear; to enjoy an intellectual heaven he must be endowed with a clear and able understanding; and to enjoy the actual heaven of the New Testament into which all who are meet on earth are soon to be transported, he must be endowed with a moral heart. So that the very essence of salvation shall consist in the personal salvation by which man is rendered capable of being a happy and congenial inmate of heaven. This might be made obvious to you in the lessons of your own experience with man--the connection between the character and the happiness of man. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The lawful and unlawful use of law
He does not, like a vehement polemic, say Jewish ceremonies and rules are all worthless, nor some ceremonies are worthless, and others essential; but he says the root of the whole matter is charity. If you turn aside from this all is lost, here at once the controversy closes. So far as any rule fosters the spirit of love, that is, is used lawfully, it is wise, and has a use. So far as it does not, it is chaff. So far as it hinders it, it is poison.
I. The unlawful use. Define law. By law, Paul almost always means not the Mosaic law, but law in its essence and principle, that is, constraint. This chiefly in two forms expresses itself--first, a custom; second, a maxim. As examples of custom we might give circumcision, or the Sabbath, or sacrifice, or fasting. Law said, thou shalt do these things; and taw, as mere law, constrained them. Or again, law may express itself in maxims and rules. Principle is one thing, and maxim is another. A principle requires liberality, a maxim says one-tenth. A principle says, “A merciful man is merciful to his beast,” leaves mercy to the heart, and does not define how; a maxim says, thou shalt not muzzle the ex that treadeth out thy corn. A principle says, forgive; a maxim defines “seven times”; and thus the whole law falls into two divisions. The ceremonial law, which constrains life by customs. The moral law, which guides life by rules and maxims. Now it is an illegitimate use of law:
1. To expect by obedience to it to make out a title to salvation. By the deeds of the law shall no man living be justified. Salvation is by faith: a state of heart right with God; faith is the spring of holiness--a well of life. Salvation is not the having committed a certain number of good acts. Salvation is God’s Spirit in us, leading to good. Destruction is the selfish spirit in us, leading to wrong. For a plain reason then, obedience to law cannot save because it is merely the performance of a certain number of acts which may be done by habit, from fear, from compulsion. Obedience remains still imperfect. A man may have obeyed the rule, and kept the maxim, and yet not be perfect. “All these commandments have I kept from my youth up.” “Yet lackest thou one thing.” The law he had kept. The spirit of obedience in its high form of sacrifice he had net.
2. To use it superstitiously. It is plain that this was the use made of it by the Ephesian teachers (1 Timothy 1:4). It seemed to them that law was pleasing to God as restraint. Then unnatural restraints came to be imposed--on the appetites, fasting; on the affections, celibacy. This is what Paul condemns (1 Timothy 4:8). “Bodily exercise profiteth little.” And again, this superstition showed itself in a false reverence--wondrous stories respecting angels--respecting the eternal genealogy of Christ--awful thoughts about spirits. The apostle calls all these, very unceremoniously, “endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1:4), and “old wives’ fables” (1 Timothy 4:7). The question at issue is, wherein true reverence consists: according to them, in the multiplicity of the objects of reverence; according to St. Paul, in the character of the object revered.
3. To use it as if the letter of it were sacred. The law commanded none to eat the shewbread except the priests. David ate it in hunger. If Abimelech had scrupled to give it, he would have used the law unlawfully. The law commanded no manner of work. The apostles in hunger rubbed the ears of corn. The Pharisees used the law unlawfully in forbidding that.
II. The lawful use of law.
1. As a restraint to keep outward evil in check … “The law was made for sinners and profane.”… Illustrate this by reference to capital punishment. No sane man believes that punishment by death will make a nation’s heart right, or that the sight of an execution can soften or ameliorate. Punishment does not work in that way. The law commanding a blasphemer to be stoned could not teach one Israelite love to God, but it could save the streets of Israel from scandalous ribaldry. And therefore clearly understand, law is a mere check to bad men: it does not improve them; it often makes them worse; it cannot sanctify them. God never intended that it should. Hence we see for what reason the apostle insisted on the use of the law for Christians. Law never can be abrogated. Strict rules are needed exactly in proportion as we want the power or the will to rule ourselves. It is not because the gospel has come that we are free from the law, but because, and only so far as, we are in a gospel state. “It is for a righteous man” that the law is not made, and thus we see the true nature of Christian liberty.
2. As a primer is used by a child to acquire by degrees, principles and a spirit. This is the use attributed to it in verse 5. “The end of the commandment is charity.” Compare with this two other passages--“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness,” and “love is the fulfilling of the law.” “Perfect love casteth out fear.” In every law there is a spirit, in every maxim a principle; and the law and the maxim are laid down for the sake of conserving the spirit and the principle which they enshrine. Distinguish, however. In point of time, law is first--in point of importance, the Spirit. In point of time charity is the “end” of the commandment--in point of importance, first and foremost. The first thing a boy has to do is to learn implicit obedience to rules. The first thing in importance for a man to learn is to sever himself from maxims, rules, laws. Why? That he may become an Antinomian, or Latitudinarian? No. He is severed from submission to the maxim because he has got allegiance to” the principle. He is free from the rule and the law because he has got the Spirit written in his heart. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The moral teaching of the Gnostics: its modern counterpart
The speculations of the Gnostics in their attempts to explain the origin of the universe and the origin of evil, were wild and unprofitable enough; and in some respects involved a fundamental contradiction of the plain statements of Scripture. But it was not so much their metaphysical as their moral teaching which seemed so perilous to St. Paul. Their “endless genealogies” might have been left to fall with their own dead weight, so dull and uninteresting were they. But it is impossible to keep one’s philosophy in one compartment in one’s mind, and one’s religion and morality quite separate from it in another. However unpractical metaphysical speculations may appear, it is beyond question that the views which we hold respecting such things may have momentous influence upon our life. It was so with the early Gnostics, whom St. Paul urges Timothy to keep in check. “The sound doctrine” has its fruit in a healthy, moral life, as surely as the “different doctrine” leads to spiritual pride and lawless sensuality. The belief that Matter and everything material is inherently evil, involved necessarily a contempt for the human body. This body was a vile thing; and it was a dire calamity to the human mind to be joined to such a mass of evil. From this premise various conclusions, some doctrinal and some ethical, were drawn. On the doctrinal side it was urged that the resurrection of the body was incredible. Equally incredible was the doctrine of the Incarnation. How could the Divine Word consent to be united with so evil a thing as a material frame? On the ethical side the tenet that the human body is utterly evil produced two opposite errors--Asceticism and Antinomian sensuality. And both of these are aimed at in these Epistles. If the enlightenment of the soul is everything, and the body is utterly worthless, then this vile clog to the movement of the soul must be beaten under and crushed, in order that the higher nature may rise to higher things. The body must be denied all indulgence, in order that it may be starved into submission (1 Timothy 4:3). On the other hand, if enlightenment is everything and the body is worthless, then every kind of experience, no matter how shameless, is of value, in order to enlarge knowledge. Nothing that a man can do can make his body more vile than it is by nature, and the soul of the enlightened is incapable of pollution. Gold still remains gold, however often it is plunged in the mire. The words of the three verses taken as a text, look as if St. Paul was aiming at an evil of this kind. These Judaizing Gnostics “desired to be teachers of the Law.” They wished to enforce the Mosaic Law, or rather their fantastic interpretations of it, upon Christians. They insisted upon its excellence, and would not allow that it has been in many respects superseded. “We know quite well,” says the apostle, “and readily admit, that the Mosaic Law is an excellent thing; provided that those who undertake to expound it make a legitimate use of it. They must remember that, just as law in general is not made for those whose own good principles keep them in the right, so also the restrictions of the Mosaic Law are not meant for Christians who obey the Divine will in the free spirit of the gospel.” Legal restrictions are intended to control those who will not control themselves; in short, for the very men who by their strangest doctrines are endeavouring to curtail the liberties of others. In a word, the very persons who in their teaching were endeavouring to burden men with the ceremonial ordinances, which had been done away in Christ, were in their own lives violating the moral laws to which Christ had given a new sanction. They tried to keep alive, in new and strange forms, what had been provisional and was now obsolete, while they trampled under foot what was eternal and Divine. “If there be any other thing contrary to the sound doctrine.” In these words St. Paul sums up all the forms of transgression not specified in his catalogue. The sound, healthy teaching of the gospel is opposed to the morbid and corrupt teaching of the Gnostics, who are sickly in their speculations (1 Timothy 6:4), and whose word is like an eating sore (2 Timothy 2:17). Of course healthy teaching is also health-giving, and corrupt teaching is corrupting; but it is the primary and not the derived quality that is stated here. It is the healthiness of the doctrine in itself, and its freedom from what is diseased or distorted, that is insisted upon. Its wholesome character is a consequence of this. The extravagant theories of the Gnostics to account for the origin of the universe and the origin of evil are gone and are past recall. It would be impossible to induce people to believe them, and only a comparatively small number of students ever even read them. But the heresy that knowledge is more important than conduct, that brilliant intellectual gifts render a man superior to the moral law, and that much of the moral law itself is the tyrannical bondage of an obsolete tradition, is as dangerous as ever it was. It is openly preached and frequently acted upon. The great Florentine artist, Benvenuto Cellini, tells us in his autobiography that when Pope Paul
III. expressed his willingness to forgive him an outrageous murder committed in the streets of Rome, one of the gentlemen at the Papal Court ventured to remonstrate with the Pope for condoning so heinous a crime. “You do not understand the matter as well as I do,” replied Paul III.: “I would have you to know that men like Benvenuto, unique in their profession, are not bound by the laws.” Cellini is a braggart, and it is possible that in this particular he is romancing. But, even if the story is his invention, he merely attributes to the Pope the sentiments which he cherished himself, and upon which (as experience taught him) other people acted. Over and over again his murderous violence was overlooked by those in authority, because they admired and wished to make use of his genius as an artist. “Ability before honesty” was a common creed in the sixteenth century, and it is abundantly prevalent in our own. The most notorious scandals in a man’s private life are condoned if only he is recognized as having talent. It is the old Gnostic error in a modem and sometimes agnostic form. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
The right use of the Divine law
When we look around us, we see that God governs all by established rules. His government enters into all the minutiae of providence. But when we leave this government, where we ought to leave it, in the hands of almighty wisdom and power, and ascend to the spiritual world, there we find the great difference there is between created and uncreated, between the imperfection of man and the perfection of God. Let us consider--
I. The infinite perfection of the law of God. “The law,” says the apostle, “is holy; and the commandment holy, just, and good”; and why? because God Himself “is holy, just, and good.”
1. To understand the perfection of this law we must consider also the relation subsisting between the Governor and the governed. They are all dependent for everything, both new and for ever, upon Him. No man upon earth has a right to legislate, but as the representative of God Himself. Why is a father a legislator in his own family? because he is a father? No; but because God has invested him with that right. Moreover, legislation is not a something arbitrary in the Deity; His legislation flows from His own essential perfection. It must be what it is, it cannot be otherwise.
2. Consider the law of God as to its commandments. It requires, in the first place, supreme love to God; involving the exercise of all the affections of the heart. The commands of this law require, also, fraternal love.
3. Consider the law of God as to its curse. In this respect, also, it will appear to be “just and good.” Does it seem unkind? No; for it throws the sinner no farther from God than he throws himself.
4. The law of God, then, is immutable and eternal. The law of God must necessarily relate to every inhabitant of heaven, of earth, of hell.
5. Consider the law of God under the Adamic covenant. It connected life with obedience, death with disobedience.
6. Consider the law of God under the Mosaic dispensation.
II. The uses of the law of God. “The law is good, if a man use it lawfully.”
1. The law is abused and insulted by transgression. What is said of wisdom may be said of this law; “he that sinneth against Me wrongeth his own soul.”
2. The law is insulted and abused when men endeavour to justify them selves by it. This must arise, first, from ignorance of themselves; and, secondly, from ignorance of the law of God. Paul says of the Jews, “they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they, being ignorant of God’s righteous ness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” The whole ceremonial law taught men that they were to be justified by another--that sin was to be atoned for.
3. And the law is insulted and abused whenever men endeavour to justify themselves, in the least degree, by it.
4. And not only is the law insulted and abused when men reject the law, but also when they reject the remedy for their disobedience. The rejection of the gospel is the greatest and most dreadful act of disobedience to the law. It is an insult offered to the government of God, and a wanton rejection of His goodness.
But what are the uses of the law?
1. We should view it as fulfilled by Jesus Christ. But Christ died also for His brethren, that He might bring them to a state of perfect conformity to the law, and preserve them in that state for ever. The apostle speaks of being “under the law to Christ”; this is the state of the believer on earth, and this will be his state for ever.
2. To use the law aright, is to study it perfectly, and to see its beauty as it was exemplified in Christ.
3. To use the law aright is to connect it intimately with faith. There is a more intimate connection between faith and the law of God than we can possibly describe. By believing in Christ we honour the law as a covenant, in its commands, and its curse; and when we take it as a rule of life we honour it altogether.
4. The law is used and honoured as it should be, when we make it the guide of our dally conduct, when we aim to bring all our actions as near to the law of God as possible. (W. Howels.)
The right use of the law
The apostle speaks like one possessed of the full assurance of understanding, in the mystery of God and of Christ. “We know,” says he, “that the law is good:” we know it by Divine inspiration, by rational deduction, and also by experience. This may be applied to the ceremonial law, by which the Jews were distinguished from all other nations as God’s peculiar people. They were hereby directed how to worship God, and how they were to be saved. It was a shadow of good things to come, and afforded a typical representation of the blessings of the gospel. But it is the moral law which the apostle principally intends: and this is truly good in itself, whether we use it lawfully or not. It is a copy of the Divine will, a transcript of the Divine perfections. If we do not approve of this law, it is because we are ignorant of its nature and are at enmity against God. “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, just and good:” and “I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Psalms 119:28; Romans 7:12; Romans 7:22).
I. Notice some instances in which she divine law is used unlawfully.
1. In thinking that Christ’s obedience to it renders our obedience unnecessary.
2. When, instead of judging ourselves by the law, we take occasion from it to judge uncharitably of others, we use it unlawfully. Thus did the Pharisees: “This people who know not the law are cursed,” said they.
3. In depending upon the works of the law for justification before God, we make an improper use of the law; and that which is good in itself ceases to be good to us.
II. Consider what are the proper uses of the divine law. “The law is good, if a man use it lawfully.”
1. It serves as a glass or mirror, in which we may behold the majesty and purity of God, and the guilty and wretched state of man.
2. It acts as a restraint upon our lusts and corruptions. If it be asked, “Wherefore serveth the law?” The answer is, “It was added because of transgressions”; that is, to prevent them by curbing the unruly passions and appetites of men.
3. The law is properly used as a means of conviction. “By the law is the knowledge of sin,” and without it sin could not be fully known. “When the commandment came,” says Paul, “sin revived, and I died.”
4. It is a complete directory, or rule of conduct. One great end of the law ever was, and ever will be, to instruct us in our duty towards God, ourselves, and our neighbour. Like the pillar of fire which guided the Israelites through the wilderness, it is a light to our feet, and a lamp to our paths.
5. It serves as a criterion by which to judge of our experience, and whether we be the subjects of real grace. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
On the law
I. In the first place, then, we beg your attention to the character and requirements of God’s law.
1. This law, in the first place, is holy. It is the offspring of the mind of Deity, which is perfectly pure. It is the spotless transcript of God’s holiness. It is the faithful representation of His moral excellence and perfection.
2. It is not only holy, but it is just. It is the standard of right, and the infallible standard of right. In all that it claims, in all that it forbids, in all that it inculcates, it is perfectly just to God the Lawgiver, and perfectly just to man the subject of His laws.
3. Moreover, the law is good. It is a kind and merciful law. The motive which prompted the promulgation of it was a motive of benevolence.
4. I beg to remind you that it is a supreme law; universal in its obligations, and binding on the consciences of every rational, intelligent, and accountable being.
5. I must beg you to remark, in the fifth place, that the law is unchangeable; and for this plain reason, because it is perfectly holy, perfectly just, perfectly good. Whatever change there is wrought in the law, it must be either for the better, or for the worse. If the law be already perfect, it cannot be changed for the better; and that God should change His law for the worse, is an idea not for a moment to be admitted into any rational understanding.
6. Let me further observe that this law is also eternal; for the very reasons to which I have already adverted. It requires not only a personal obedience but a perfect obedience. We must not only obey in some things but in all things--“all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” This obedience, also, must be perpetual. It is not a man’s obeying the law to-day and violating it to-morrow, which will constitute the obedience which it requires: for “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.”
II. “Wherefore then serveth the law?” If such are its characters, and such are its requirements, and every living man must feel that he is utterly incapable of rendering that personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience which the law requires, “wherefore then serveth it?”
1. The law of God serves for instruction. It holds up to our view the standard of right and of wrong.
2. The law serves for conviction--conviction of sin: and this it does in three ways. First, it demonstrates to us the evil of sin in its direct contrariety to God’s nature and will. “I had not known sin”--I had not been acquainted with sin--“except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” But the law of God not only demonstrates what sin is, but it brings home a sense and a conviction of it, to the conscience of the sinner. Once more, the law serves for conviction, inasmuch as it utterly silences and stops the mouth of every transgressor, by showing him that he stands without excuse in the presence of the Lawgiver, on the ground of his manifold delinquencies and his innumerable breaches of this law. The law serves, in the third place, for condemnation. It will be the rule by which every sinner who perishes will be condemned at the last great day: for “the wages of sin is death.” Fourthly, the law serves to magnify the all-sufficiency and perfection of that justifying righteousness, which Christ, as the surety of His people, has supplied. In the fifth place, this law serves as a rule of life and a directory of conduct to all who are the subjects of God’s moral government. Some persons have adopted that most pernicious sentiment, that the law of God is not a rule of life to the believer. But I ask, why not? Cannot you easily conceive that the law of God may be annulled and abrogated in one view of it, and remain altogether in full force in another view of it? As a covenant, it is utterly taken out of the way; because it has been gloriously fulfilled in the person of the Surety. And therefore, now, by the deeds of the law no flesh living shall be justified.” But it would be indeed a strange and most anomalous thing, if God, in removing His law as a covenant, should have disannulled that law as the rule of life. I speak it with all reverence, this is a thing which God Himself could not do; and for this plain reason, that the law is just a transcript of His own pure and perfect mind; the law is just the revelation of His holy and unchangeable will; and unless He could destroy His own perfect mind, and unless He could alter His own immutable will, then His law must ever remain the rule of life and manners, not only to all His redeemed children, but to all intelligences in heaven and in earth.
III. Then, what is necessary in order that we may use the law lawfully?
1. We should daily appeal to it, as the standard of action, the rule of self-examination, and the instrument of penitential conviction.
2. In the next place, be it remarked, that when we habitually divorce ourselves from the law as a covenant, as a means of justification, and as a ground of hope, we use it lawfully.
3. We use this law lawfully, in the third place, when Christ becomes inexpressibly dear to our hearts, as having honoured and fulfilled the law, placed it in the position of its just authority and importance, and at the same time redeemed us from its curse and from its punishment.
4. We use the law lawfully when, conscious of our own weakness and incapacity to fulfil its requirements, we are earnest in prayer for the Spirit of grace to renew and sanctify our nature, and to strengthen us to a compliance with all the known will of God.
5. Again, the law is used lawfully when we make it our constant study, and aim, to exemplify is holy requirements--to show the law of God in our habitual walk, in our life, our spirit, our behaviour. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” (G. Clayton, M. A.)
The proper uses of the law
“The law is good,” says the apostle, “if a man use it lawfully.” Consequently there is an unlawful use of the law. What, then, is the lawful use of the law?
I. To show us our need of a saviour. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” And again, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.” Let us take but a cursory view of the various commandments, and we shall find that we have individually violated them all, and thus are verily guilty before God.
II. Observe, then, that in this case the law serves as a rule to regulate our behaviour. Like so many poles or beacons placed along a difficult navigation, or so many finger-posts erected along a road, the several commandments serve to indicate our course heavenward. If we wish to secure in the most effectual manner the fidelity of a son or a servant, we shall not proceed by a system of terror, but rather by one of authority, tempered by gentleness and kindness. Precisely such is the system adopted by the Father of mercies in the gospel. Seeking not the compulsory “eye-service” of the convict, but the cheerful and cordial obedience of an attached child, He employs a plan exquisitely suited to this desired end. He deals with us as creatures of reason and feeling. He knows that affection must be won, not forced; that men are not to be driven, but drawn into love. Accordingly the Christian, now that he is “justified by faith,” obeys the law immeasurably better than he ever did, or could do before.
1. For now he obeys it not merely in the letter, but in the spirit; not as of necessity, but willingly; not partially, but universally. He esteems God’s commandments concerning all things to be right.
2. And then he has now what he had not before, namely, the aid of the Holy Spirit working in him both to will and to do, and causing him, like water at the roots of a tree, to bring forth the fruits of righteousness to the Divine praise and glory. And now behold the necessary, the indissoluble connection between justification and sanctification. A person is justified through faith, which, uniting him to Christ, gives him an interest in His righteousness. Then this faith produces obedience by producing love. “Faith worketh by love.” It becomes a living principle in the heart, urging to the performance of all such good actions as God has prescribed; and therefore this is termed “the obedience of faith.” (J. E. Hull, B. A.)
The use of the law
I. We consider the institution, extent and application of the law. When God formed man upright in His own image, the moral law, which inculcates eternal, unchangeable truth and perfect goodness, was written in his heart. By the fall, the fair image of God’s purity was defaced, some faint lines of distinction only of right and wrong being left upon the natural conscience. When God was about to separate to Himself the people of Israel, with a view to preserve and perpetuate in the earth the knowledge of His character and will, He gave them the law from Sinai, not now inscribed on their hearts as before, but engraven on two tables of stone. Such was the institution of the law. We proceed to its extent and application. The moral law of the ten commandments is a complete summary of all human duty to God, to each other, and to themselves. We are not to limit the commandments to their literal meaning; otherwise a great part of our thoughts, and words, and even of our actions would be exempt from the notice and control of the law of God. It has the whole Word of God for its expositor, the regulation of the whole sphere of human principle and action for its object. “The law is spiritual.” It does not merely regard the outward action, it goes down into the heart and motives, and tries every thought, intention, and principle of the soul.
II. To consider how it is lawfully used.
1. We use it lawfully when we receive and respect it in its full extent, and in every part of it. There is hardly any man, however wicked, who does not feel something like reverence for some parts of God’s commands. A man will coolly break and profane the Sabbath who dares not curse and swear.
2. We use the law lawfully when we bring every part of our character, the inward as well as the outward man, to the test of its requirements. An action, though apparently agreeable to the law of God, if it originate in some base, selfish, unholy motive, is in His sight an act of disobedience, a positive sin. Jehu did an action which the law required, when he rooted idolatry out of the land; but it soon appeared that his object was not the glory of God, but his own distinction and advancement. Neither was Amaziah’s conduct better than splendid sin, “who did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart.”
3. We use the law lawfully when we seriously believe, and rally admit that it contains eternal and unalterable truth, that our holy God could not have given a law less holy, less extensive; that every being, in proportion as he is holy and fit for heaven, loves the law; that every transgression of it must expose us to Divine justice as guilty offenders; that the penalty of every sin is death eternal; and that till we seek mercy and forgiveness in His appointed way for each sin of our lives, the curse of the law, and the wrath of God abide upon us. All this must be true in the very nature of things.
III. This lawful use of the law answers good ends, produces. Happy effects upon us, whatever our state and character may be.
1. This lawful use of the law is good for the unconverted, whether a wicked or a self righteous man. When, under a serious and spiritual understanding of the law, he not only surveys his actions but enters with its light into the secret chambers of his heart, he discovers his true character in all its horrid deformities. He perceives that his heart has never felt the love of God, the principle of all true obedience. His best actions are now seen in their proper light, as needing the mercy, not claiming the reward of his holy God. He cannot be saved by works under the law, except he keep it perfectly. But if he could forget all his past sins, he finds that the law is so pure and extensive that he cannot keep it for a day. The more he tries the more he is condemned. In this awful state the gospel points his despairing eye to the Cross. “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” Thus “the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.” It drives us from Sinai to Calvary. It pulls down every false foundation of hope, that we may build on Christ alone, the rock of ages.
2. After the law has brought a penitent sinner to Christ for pardon, peace, and life, it is, if lawfully used, good and useful to him as a justified believer. He is called to be holy; and the practical part of the Word of God, which is a comment upon the law, shows him at large what is sinful and what is holy. It therefore becomes a light to his feet and a lamp to his paths. To be conformed to the law is to be conformed to the image of God, and to be capable of heavenly happiness with Him.
(1) Let me entreat you, if you regard your immortal souls, diligently to read, hear, and meditate upon the Word of God at large, which explains the law and will of God by precept, and illustrates them by example.
(2) Let your hearing and study of the Word of Life be ever accompanied with earnest humble prayer to God, for the powerful aid of His grace to give you a spiritual taste and judgment to dispel your ignorance, to guide you into all truth, and to fasten it with power on your hearts.
(3) In considering the* several parts of the law of God your object should be to comprehend its full bearing, extent, and meaning. In order to succeed you cannot take a better model than our Saviour’s view and explanation of a part of the law in His sermon on the mount. (J. Graham.)
Using the law
A Chinese correspondent of the New York “Christian Weekly” sends some instances of how Chinese preachers meet questions and preach, of which the following is one:--“Bishop Russell, of Ningpo, recently told us of a helper of his who was preaching on the Ten Commandments, when a man suddenly entered and walked rapidly forward to the desk. ‘What have you got there?’ he asked in a loud voice. The helper immediately replied, ‘I have a foot-rule of ten inches’ (the Chinese foot has ten inches, as the foot everywhere ought to have), ‘and if you will sit down I will measure your heart.’ And he proceeded with his ten-inch rule to show how ‘short’ his hearers were according to God’s measure.”
The law good
No doubt the law restrains us; but chains are not fetters, nor are all walls the gloomy precincts of a jail. It is a blessed chain by which the ship, now buried in the trough, and now rising on the top sea, rides at anchor, and outlives the storm. The condemned would give worlds to break his chain; but the sailor trembles lest his should snap; and when the gray morning breaks on the wild lee-shore, all strewn with wrecks and corpses, he blesses God for the good iron that stood the strain. The pale captive eyes his high prison-wall to curse the man who built it, and envies the little bird that perches upon its summit; but were you travelling some Alpine pass, where the narrow road, cut out of the face of the rock, hung over a frightful gorge, it is with other eyes you would lock on the wall that restrains your restive steed from backing into the gulf below. Such are the restraints God’s law imposes. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Applying the law
The Bishop of Moosonee, whose diocese is in the region of the Hudson’s Bay territory, and inhabited chiefly by Ojibbeway Indians and Esquimaux, said, “Let me take you in thought to a place a hundred miles distant from my own home in that country--a place called Rupert’s House. One morning I had before me a large congregation of Indians. I knew that among them there were four men who only a month or two before had murdered their fathers and mothers, and I intentionally placed those men directly in front of me. I called attention to the Ten Commandments. I read the Fourth Commandment and explained it, and I also read the sixth and explained it, and when I had done I put questions to the four men to whom I have just alluded. I said to the first, ‘Who killed his father?’ I said to the second, ‘Who killed his mother?’ I said to the third, ‘Who killed his mother-in-law?’ I said to the fourth, ‘Who killed his father?’ And each of those men replied without blushing, ‘It was I who did it.’ Of what crime were those poor murdered people guilty? They were guilty of a crime of which we may any of us be guilty, and of which some of us here already begin to be guilty--the crime of growing old. Accordingly the old father and mother were told that they had lived long enough and that it was time for them to die, and the bow-string was speedily placed round their necks, and with one son pulling at one end, and another son or perhaps a daughter at the other, the poor old people were deprived of life, and then hastily flung into a grave. Happily this state of things has now passed away.”
Design of the law
An American gentleman said to a friend, “I wish you would come down to my garden and taste my apples.” He asked him about a dozen times, but the friend did not come, and at last the fruit-grower said, “I suppose you think my apples are good for nothing, so you won’t come and try them.” “Well, to tell the truth,” said the friend, “I have tasted them. As I went along the road I picked up one that fell over the wall, and I never tasted anything so sour in all my life; and I do not particularly wish to have any more of your fruit.” “Oh,” said the owner of the garden, “I thought it must be so! Those apples around the outside are for the special benefit of the boys. I went fifty miles to select the sourest sorts to plant all around the orchard, so the boys might give them up as not worth stealing; but if you will come inside you will find that we grow a very different quality there, sweet as honey.” Now you will find that on the outskirts of religion there are a number of “Thou shalt nots,” and “Thou shalts,” and convictions and alarms; hut these are only the bitter fruits with which this wondrous Eden is guarded from thievish hypocrites. If you can pass by the exterior bitters, and give yourself up to Christ and live for Him, your peace shall be like the waves of the sea. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
is not a thing separate from its purpose. It is not spoken from heaven merely for the sake of informing men’s minds. Is not this the heresy pervading Christian teaching; that Christian teachers have thought of doctrine as something given them that they might exercise their minds upon it, rather than as something which came to them in order that what God supremely loves--a holy life--might be built up? The one great thing which has perverted man’s study of the Christian gospels is, that men have dared to forget that the gospel came to a world of sinners that they might be reclaimed from the paths of sin and brought to righteousness again. Wonderfully few are the mistakes which men make when they read the Bible as the law of life. Wonderfully few are the men able to read the Bible rightly when they fasten their eyes on it for speculation. The soul which goes to the Bible to get the thing for which it was given, gets the thing it goes for. The soul laying hold on the heart of the New Testament finds what was in the heart of God. It is expressed by St. Paul in the phrase, “the will of God, even your sanctification.” It is certainly easy to find in the New Testament the truth of Jesus Christ. A man comes to the Bible and says, “Is not this strange and mysterious?” And he points to some marvellous proof he seems to have extorted from the plain text of the New Testament. He is using the Bible for that for which it was not given. He is sure to go wrong, and gather from it some strange doctrine, a fantasy which never was in the simple teaching of the Holy Spirit. Another man goes to the Bible hungering for a better life, desiring to escape from sin; weary of the barren sinfulness of this world he goes to the Bible for a picture of the kingdom of heaven; goes to the Bible to learn how this world can be made the habitation of the Holy God. That man can understand, not perhaps every truth there, for there are truths yet to be developed by certain exigencies of the world; but he will come away full of the learning which he at present needs. The New Testament will become to him a book of life. When St. Paul writes back from Europe to Asia, he bids Timothy teach the disciples that the law is to be used lawfully. He tells him and them the same lesson which we need. Let us go to our Bible for our Bible’s purpose, inspiration, and a law of life, and the idea of what God would have man to be, and the power to become what it is the purpose of our Father that we should become. This is the teaching of the First Epistle to Timothy. The fundamental thing which Paul said to Timothy was that he should send the Ephesians to the Bible for the Bible’s purpose. Always, spirituality is to go back to morality. The idea that man is to be wise with the wisdom of God is to refresh itself with the idea that man is to be good with the holiness of God. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
1 Timothy 1:11
According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.
The glorious gospel
The gospel is here characterized as glorious. It depends not for its glory on any incidental circumstances. In its essential elements it is the same for all lands and nations, conveying “glad tidings of great joy to all people.” The language of the text, with all other gloriousness, implies the glory of perpetuity. Indeed, what is here called “the glorious gospel” is elsewhere called “the everlasting gospel” (Revelation 14:6). Bringing these phrases together, we have “glory everlasting”; changeless amid changeful seasons. But having fully stated this evangelical commonness, let us now remark that the manner in which persons are brought into connection with the gospel varies. One is persuaded by the terror of the Lord, another is drawn by His mercy and constrained by His love. And every one who has tasted of the joys of salvation will find his estimate of them affected, not only by their intrinsic excellence, but by their particular adaptation and application to his individual exigencies and personal experience. Let us, then, in these words, transplant ourselves to Paul’s position. Let us contemplate what he speaks of from his own point of view.
I. The apostle may thus have spoken in relation to the messiah. As a Jew, Paul had longed for Christ. This was the grand promise made to the fathers; the seed of the woman was to bruise the serpent’s head; in Abraham and his seed should all families of the earth be blessed; Shiloh should come, and to him should the gathering of the people be. Other nations glory in their founders, and look back. The Jews expected a Deliverer, and looked forward. And hence Christ, when He came and was recognized, gratified a peculiar, earnest, and ever-growing anticipation. The Lord whom they looked for came to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant whom they delighted in. It is true that Paul, in the first instance, was disappointed in Jesus--bitterly disappointed. But that disappointment enhanced, by contrast, his delight, when he came after all to perceive that this was indeed the Hope of Israel. He had abhorred the Christians for neglecting the Aaronic ritual. And what an exposition of their conduct was now before him!--that the rites had been exchanged by them for the reality; that the sacrifices were but shadows, and found their substance in Christ; and that the Mosaic ordinances received the utmost honour in being so fulfilled--in being done away by the accomplishment and verification of all their foreshadowings. In one aspect the revelation was appalling. The stupendousness of the remedy gave Paul impressions which he had never had before of the dreadfulness of the evil, compelling him to reason that “if one died for all, then were all dead.” Ruined must that state have been which called for such redemption. Paul stood aghast--sank aghast--at these thoughts. He had supposed himself, as touching the righteousness which is of the law, to be blameless. But under the teaching of the Cross, sin--that is the sense of sin--revived and expanded into such gigantic dimensions, that, at the thought of it, he died: all life of self expired within him; all personal merit paled and perished in a sense of penal desert. And what was now his relief? What was now his refuge? That very Cross which had previously so shocked him. Thus the grandeur of the remedy exposed to him the evil of sin; and the evil of sin commended reactively the gloriousness of the gospel. Surely when redemption exposes the evil of rebellion--when the bitterness of the curse is evolved by contrast with curative blessing--when blackness of darkness is discerned only afar off, and as rendered visible by light streaming from heaven and guiding us to its portals, we may well hear such instruction, and hail in it the “Glorious gospel of the blessed God!”
II. Paul might characterize the gospel as glorious, viewing it in relation to the gift of the spirit. Palestine had had its prophets; and wondrous characters had these teachers been. These prophets might be persecuted while they lived, but monuments were soon erected to them when they died. Hence the disappearance of prophets was more deprecated than their severest reprimands, and lamentation found its climax in saying,” We see not our signs, there is no more any prophet, neither is there among us any that knoweth how long” (Psalms 74:9). The ancient seers were never numerous. Two or three distinguished a period. But now there is a whole company of apostles, and inspiration is not limited to them. God pours His spirit on all flesh, and sons and daughters prophesy in multitudes. Nor does the privilege terminate with preternatural qualifications. These accompany and promote transforming influences far more precious. “According to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” Now was the fulfilment of the promise: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah … I will put My law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts, and will be their God and they shall be My people.” “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ, Jesus,” Paul says, “hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” The apostles exemplified such renewing power. They manifested a spiritual-mindedness before which all grovelling sordidness might well be confounded, and, as ashamed, hide its head. Quit a partial and suspicious discipleship! rise to the heights of a high calling! and still multiply achievements, and still heighten attainments, tilt your religious profession bear its own proof, and all your aims, and aspirations, and efforts, beam with the glory of the gospel of the blessed God.
III. Paul may be supposed to have used the language of the text in relation to a favored people and a promised land. Paul had anenthusiastic patriotism. Even self-love seemed feeble when vying with love to his people (Romans 9:1-3). With such fervency of affection for his countrymen, Paul beheld and deplored their imperilled condition. The Roman tyranny was becoming every year more intolerable, and defeated insurrections only riveted and aggravated its domination. To what would these things grow? The question was inevitable and ominous; and, whatever desire might answer, probability, verging on certainty, pointed to the extinction of the Jewish name and nation. What was his joy, then, when an occasion of dismay became a source of solace, when spiritual illumination pointed beyond impending ruin to eventual recovery, and foretold the time when all Israel should be saved. Yet another and more cheering aspect of the case now burst upon his contemplation. The promise, that in Abraham and his seed should all families of the earth be blessed, was apprehended by him in its vastness. His survey, restricted before to the literal Israel, suddenly compassed the world, and embraced in all nations the true Israel of God. (D. King, LL. D.)
The beatific God: the gospel a transcript of the character of God
The only security at any time either for sound doctrine or earnest moral practice is the gospel. The fallacy with which the apostle contended is found operating in every time. Many would apparently make a divorce in their own minds between the moralities of every day life and the gospel--between works and faith. Because man is an intelligent being and must have a clear notion of what he is doing, if he is to act worthy of his nature, his conduct must be regulated by principle, and especially his moral conduct by a clear understanding of God’s will. What, then, is the will of God? It is the system of truth revealed in the Scriptures; in other words, it is orthodoxy. Of course there must be an orthodoxy, or system of right doctrine.
I. God is blessed in Himself, and therefore He has given a gospel to man. The epithet blessed, as applied to God, is one of singular grandeur and felicity. In the highest and richest sense of the word, God is the happy or beatific God. God is blessed in Himself, blessed in the manifestation of Himself, and blessed in the communication to others of His own blessedness.
1. God is blessed in Himself. This is a necessity of His being. To be God is to be infinitely happy; for God is just, good; and to be good is to be blessed. To say that a being is good is to say that he is happy. The purity or holiness of God is one of the fountain-heads of His blessedness. Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” A pure heart is a well-spring of blessedness; it is a bower of fragrance, and an abode of spiritual beauty. It is a bright sky in which the thoughts sing to each other as birds in the sunny air; it is a home of the Holy Ghost. What, then, must be the blessedness of God! He is the holy heart of the universe; the light of light. God is happy because He is perfect. We have never known what it is to be perfect. From first to last in this life we are imperfect, and it is a painful thing to be imperfect. Not only to be so, but to know it--to have the clear consciousness that we carry imperfection within us; to feel that there is a discord at the very centre of our life--that surely is a sharp thorn in the heart. To have come to the vision of an ideal life, which we recognize to be our true and proper life, and love as such, while at the same time we are in bondage to a variety of mean restrictions; this is the cause of unhappiness and unrest. But God is the all-perfect One--harmonious, complete, self-sufficient, and therefore He is the blessed God. God is happy because He is almighty. Our weakness is to us a constant source of pain. We think we should be happy if only we had strength for every emergency, and if the arm could always fully second the will. But we live and die with the sorrowful conviction that, however splendid our projects, our performances are mean. With God, however, there is nothing of this. Above all, God is happy because He is the God of Love. The living essence of the God head has a name, and that name is Love. This is the one supreme joy of the universe; that great affinity, that beautiful spiritual attraction, which draws all souls together in peace and concord, by drawing them unto God. God is love, and therefore He is happy. This is the reason why God might not, and did not keep His blessedness to Himself. Although He was infinitely blessed in Himself in eternity, before angel, or world, or man appeared, He did not remain the sole possessor of this immense, this uncreated felicity. He decreed to unfold the hidden wealth of eternity; to manifest Himself, and to bring forth an image of Himself, in the form of an intelligent and moral being, who should be able to reflect His glory and to share His blessedness. Hence creation; hence the manifested wonders of providence in time; and hence eternal redemption. And so, having looked for a little at the self-possessed, inherent blessedness of God, let us now glance at--
2. God is blessed in the manifestation of Himself. All true work is a pleasure. It is a joy to produce anything. The exercise of power, the facility to act, the creation of a thought, the production of a work of art--each of these manifestations gives pleasure to the person who puts its forth. A child has pleasure in the gradual awakening of its nature, and the first exercise of its faculties. It delights in the discovery and manifestation of its powers, one by one. It delights to be able to walk and to speak. A school-boy, who is a true student, has pleasure first in mastering a problem, and, after that, in exhibiting his mastery over one domain of knowledge after another. A young artizan has pride in the performance of his first piece of independent work, and in earning his first wage. He feels that he is of some worth to the world. In the higher walks of human effort--in the productions of art and literature, the true artist has a pure joy. As the poem, or the picture, or the statue is slowly elaborated, the artist is bringing forth into palpability the fair image that has hitherto dwelt in the ideal world of the soul. There is a blessedness in the manifestation of one’s true self. Let these faint analogies remind us of the blessedness of God in the forth putting of His power. He is the Creator, the Supreme Worker, the one Original Producer. He has brought forth the universe. The universe is God’s work. And what a work is that! So vast, so beautiful, so profound! Because God is God it must be a joy to Him to bring forth angels, and worlds, and men; and the proof that God rejoiced in His own creation is to be found in the fact that He Himself blessed it, and called it very good.
3. God is blessed in the communication to others of His own blessedness. He who works a work merely that he may delight himself therewith, even although that work is beautiful and good, has not reached the highest blessedness. This consists in making others blessed. He who lives for himself alone can never know what the highest blessedness is. To seek to shut up happiness in one’s own heart is to embitter and destroy it altogether; for selfishness and blessedness can never keep company. Men are unhappy just in proportion as they are selfish; and consequently God is blessed because He is absolutely unselfish. Even in eternity God was not alone in His blessedness; for there are three persons in the adorable Godhead, and from eternity there was fellowship in God, and the high interchange of love. The Gospel was an eternal purpose of God. Yea, how marvellous it is that sin has become the very occasion in connection with which God has revealed the wonders of His grace, and given the highest manifestation of His own happiness and glory. The highest joy of God is the joy of saving souls, It is a blessed thing to communicate happiness to the unfallen, and preserve them in their felicity; but it is more blessed to give joy to the miserable, and open up a way by which the wretched and the impure may return to the very bosom of God. And since these are the tidings; since this is the message of gladness that the gospel brings to every man, how fitly may it be styled the glorious gospel of the blessed God!
II. God has given a glorious gospel to man, and therefore man should bless God. In the verse from which the text is taken the apostle speaks of the gospel as something committed to his trust. Notice here some of the particulars in respect of which the epithet “glorious” may be applied to the gospel. The gospel is glorious in its own character; in its authorship; in its unfoldings; and in its everlasting issues.
1. It is glorious in its own character. It is the Almighty God proclaiming an amnesty to sinful men. Surely that is a great fact in the history of this universe. What can exceed in glory such a proclamation?
2. The gospel is glorious in its authorship. Everything God has made is glorious in having Him as its author. Throughout the whole of God’s workings, everything speaks of His glory.
3. The gospel is glorious in its unfolding. All the other manifestations of God in creation and providence are but introductory and preparatory to this. Creation is but the scaffolding, and providence but the great stairway leading to the gospel.
4. The gospel is glorious in its eternal issues. It is through it alone that we come into the possession of eternal life. What, then, is our response? It is for us to reflect in some measure this glory. It is for us, in turn, to bless the blessed God. We do so, first of all, by believing the gospel--by listening to this message, and accepting it as the truth of God. Can there be anything more awful than for a human being to reject such a gospel? And yet this can be done--this is done every day. What is worthy of the entire and unreserved homage of our being, if the glorious gospel of the blessed God is not worthy of it?
In conclusion, there are four warnings that come sounding out to us from this text, to which we would do well to take heed.
1. Beware of ignoring the gospel. This is what many are doing at the present time. They quietly and complacently set it aside.
2. Beware of caricaturing the gospel. It is a caricature of the gospel to represent God as sitting merely on a throne of justice, manifesting only the sternness and severity of the law, and insisting on the law being satisfied at whatever price, and with whatever results. But the gospel has been so caricatured. Its enemies have said that it is a wrathful and vindictive system.
3. Beware of undervaluing the gospel. There are some who regard Christianity as a form of natural religion.
4. Beware of finally rejecting the gospel. (F. Ferguson.)
The glorious gospel
The gospel!--“the glorious gospel!” whence did it come? Its birth-place was the bosom of God. What its end and aim? To save a world of souls. Whence does it rescue? From the fellowship and destinies of hell. Whither does it lead? Back to its birth-place--to heaven--to God. The single inquiry into the reason and propriety of the epithet here bestowed upon the gospel--“the glorious gospel.” Let this then be our point, to prove that the gospel is a “glorious” scheme--a “glorious gospel.” “The glorious gospel!” What is it to be “glorious”? Need I define this to you?--need I tell you what it is to be physically, what it is to be morally “glorious”? Who can need that I define to him the term “glorious,” as applied to natural things, that has seen the bright orb of heaven shedding abroad his noon-day splendour? Who that has gazed upon the mighty sea, as it careered along, so bold, so free, so wild, gilded but untamed by that bright orb’s beams? Or who so lost, I say, not to religion, but to all sense of moral beauty and grandeur, as to see no glory, no dignity, no greatness, in virtue? And the “gospel” is “glorious!” Why? It is “glorious,” I observe--
I. In its author. Think you that even the most presumptuous hope would have whispered, that perhaps the very Being whom he had offended would Himself bear the penalty, that his Judge would perhaps be his Saviour, that grace should flow to him and his race through the blood-shedding of the only begotten Son of God, the Son in the bosom of the Father--God Himself? No; the brain of man devised not the “glorious gospel”--the heart of man conceived it not!
II. The gospel was “glorious” in its mediator. Now this notion that such a free pardon, such a remission of the penalty of guilt, would have been a “glorious” act on God’s part, is derived from human analogy, but so far from being a “glorious” act, it would have sullied the brightness of God’s glory for ever, for He would have denied Himself, would have appeared before His creation as a Being uttering threatenings which He had no final and real intention of executing. Mercy might have been magnified, but to a woful disparagement of justice and holiness and truth. But “Jesus” is “the Mediator of the new Covenant”--He who is “so much better than the angels”--the Creator and “heir of all things”--the “Beloved Son”--the “very and eternal God!” How “glorious” a gospel flowing through such a mediation! how great the price of its salvation!
III. The gospel is “glorious” in its objects and results. It is the gospel of salvation, a “gospel of peace,” It finds God and man at variance--God offended, man lost. How “glorious” then the object of the gospel--to reconcile God and man--to offer salvation, not to the Jew only, but to all the world--to utter a cry free as the air we breathe: “Ho, every one that thirsteth!” But how “glorious” its results! And these, in all their eternal fulness, who shall tell? But how “glorious” now!--how “glorious” Christ Jesus in the heart, “the hope of glory!”--how “glorious” to see “the Ethiopian change his skin, and the leopard his spots!”--to see the “blasphemer,” the “persecutor, and injurious,” preach “the faith which once he destroyed!”--how glorious to hear the savage gaoler cry: “What must I do to be saved?” But time shall one day be no longer, and shall the gospel glory be entombed in the grave of time? Bather shall its glorious results then truly begin.
IV. The gospel is “glorious” as contrasted with the law. See, then, the glory of the gospel as a scheme of salvation for man, when contrasted with the law. See the law demanding (and that justly) what man cannot render--hear it, as the penalty of non-fulfilment and disobedience, proceed to call for vengeance, the death of the transgressor. See the gospel not only not refusing to recognize man’s need, and frailty, as a lost sinner, but taking man up at this very point, the pinching point of his need, that he is a lost sinner. The very object, then, of the gospel is to vindicate God’s law, and yet save the transgressor of that law, to exhibit a God all-just as a God all-merciful. But the gospel is more “glorious” yet! for as its only source was the grace of God, as God only “gave His only begotten Son” up to the death, because “He so loved the world,” so from first to last is the gospel one of grace, and grace alone. But the gospel is more “glorious” yet! The law, we saw, had no pardon to bestow, no righteousness to give, still less could it restore the fallen nature, renew the alienated heart, or rectify the perverted and biassed will. It could not purify the springs of action. No law does this. But the Spirit of Christ to sanctify, no less than the righteousness of Christ, and the blood-shedding of Christ to justify, is the gift of the gospel. Such is the gospel--so “glorious “ to God, so “glorious” to man. (J. C. Miller, M. A.)
The glory of the gospel
I. It is “the glorious gospel” because it is a system of eternal truth, in which the moral perfections of the Godhead are most transcendently displayed.
1. Now, in reference to this “glorious gospel,” we say, that in it all the perfections of the Divine nature a strikingly displayed.
2. But in this “glorious gospel” there is, besides the exhibition of all the perfections of the Godhead, the most striking development of them. For though all the attributes of the Godhead are infinite, yet their manifestation may be varied in an endless diversity of degrees and forms: but in this “glorious gospel” there is the most striking display of the whole. Is love an attribute of the Divine nature? Is justice an attribute of Divine nature? Where do we see it displayed so effectually as in “the glorious gospel of the blessed God”? Is wisdom an attribute of the Divine nature? Where have we such a display of it as in “the glorious gospel of the blessed God”?
3. We must, however, advance a step further: here is the most harmonious exhibition of the perfections of the Godhead.
II. It is “the glorious Gospel of the blessed God,” because it is admirably adapted to the moral and spiritual necessities of man. Those necessities are vast and varied; but there is no want that it cannot supply, no guilt that it cannot pardon, no depth of misery that it cannot explore.
1. But when we say that this gospel is adapted to man as an ignorant being, I would remind you that it is so, not merely as adapted to convey to him the truth he should understand, but, by a light directed to the understanding and to the heart, first to instruct the judgment, and then to renovate the soul. There is all the difference in the world between mere intellectual and spiritual light; between that knowledge that may he obtained by the unaided efforts of the human mind, and that which is to be acquired by the teaching of the Spirit of God. The one is as different from the other as the mere picture of a country as it is painted on a map is from the country itself, where, with its hills and dales, and rivers, it stretches itself before your view.
2. It is adapted likewise to man as a guilty being.
3. This gospel is still further adapted to man as a polluted being.
4. It is “the glorious gospel” because it is adapted to man, as a miserable being. Misery and guilt are linked to each other in an unbroken chain; and no man can be the voluntary slave of sin, without, in a proportionate degree, being the victim of wretchedness.
5. This gospel is adapted to man as an immortal being.
6. It is so, in the last place, because it is adapted to man as an impotent being.
III. It is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God,” because it is designed to achieve ultimately the most important blessings to the world at large.
IV. I must now come to the concluding part of the subject, to deduce such remarks as its nature will suggest. First, I remind you both of the privileges and the obligations with which you are invested who possess this gospel. Secondly, we infer from this subject how pitiable must be the condition of those inhabitants of the earth to whom this gospel has never been sent! (T. Adkins)
The glorious gospel
It seems, as a revelation, so to eclipse every other, that earth with all its wonders grows dim by its side, and the firmament with all its hosts is no longer effulgent with Deity. And this is, we think, what St. Paul in our text designs to assert of the gospel. He speaks as though the carrying that gospel to a land were the furnishing such a revelation of God as must necessarily, even if it did not overcome the unbelief in man, redound immeasurably to the glory of its Author. He will not allow that it could at all depend on the reception which the gospel might meet, whether or not God would be glorified by its publication. Why should it? Suppose that it were to please the Almighty to give some new and striking exhibition of His existence and His majesty to a people that had been indifferent to those previously and uniformly furnished; suppose that on a sudden the vault of heaven were to be spangled with fresh characters, the handwriting of the everliving God, and far outshining in their burning beauty the already magnificent tracery of a thousand constellations; would not God have splendidly shown forth His being and His power--would He not have given such demonstrations of His greatness as must vastly contribute to His own glory, even if the people for whose sake the overspread canopy had been thus gorgeously decked, were to close their eyes against the glittering evidence, or to hearken to infidel philosophers, who should resolve into natural causes, or explain by their boastful astronomy, the mighty phenomenon which announced the immediate agency of the Creator? God is sublimely independent of man; and if He have made a discovery of Himself--His nature--His perfections--He can contemplate that discovery with ineffable complacency, however it may be regarded by His creatures. He does not wait their admiration in order to be assured of its beauty; He does not require their approval, to be confirmed in His delight. We read, that when God rested from the work of this creation, He “saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” He surveyed His own work with unspeakable pleasure; He saw and He knew it to be glorious; and if no anthem of lofty gratulation had ascended to His throne from intelligent creatures, He would have reposed, in majestic contentment, on those vast performances, and have felt Himself so praised in His deeds, that neither angels nor men could break the chorus. And why should not we hold the same in regard of the gospel? Why, if this gospel be an incomparably more brilliant and comprehensible revelation of Himself than could have been made by His coming forth from His inaccessible solitude with a fresh retinue of suns and systems--why should not God regard its publication with ineffable complacency, whether men hear, or whether they forbear? Are we to hold it to be in the power of such creatures as ourselves to prevent, by our infidelity, the accruing of any glory to God, from that into which He may be said to have gathered Himself--which is nothing less than a focus, in which all the Divine attributes meet, or from which they diverge, to irradiate the universe? Oh I we are not thus mighty in evil. We may shut our eyes to a manifestation of God, but this is the utmost that we have in our power. We cannot obscure that manifestation; we cannot despoil it of one atom of its beauty; we cannot make it a jot less worthy or expressive of Godhead. And therefore may it well be supposed, that God would regard the ambassadors of His Son--those who with the cross in their hand hastened to publish to the ignorant the tidings of redemption--as more really and more emphatically the revealers of Himself than all those worlds, gorgeously apparelled, with which His creative skill had peopled infinite space. We may well understand, that as these apostles went from shore to shore, making proclamation, wherever they stood, of the mystery of “God made manifest in the flesh,” they would be viewed by Him whose commission they bore as finer witnesses to the stupendous, and the awful, and the majestic, and the beautiful properties of His nature, than stars as they marched in their brightness, or angels as they moved in their purity. Who, then, can be surprised at the lofty tone which has been assumed by St. Paul, when speaking of the gospel committed to his trust? But now let us go on to speak of the two separate cases, in order to show you, with greater precision, how this character of the gospel holds good in regard equally with those who are saved and of those who are lost. Is the gospel, indeed, ever detrimental to the hearer? and if detrimental, can it still be styled “glorious”? Yes, the gospel may prove injurious to the hearer, but it cannot prove otherwise than glorious to its Author. You are not to think that the gospel can be a neutral thing, operating neither for good nor for evil. There is a self-propagating power in all kinds of evil; and every resistance to God’s Spirit, operating through the instrumentality of the Word, makes resistance easier, and facilitates for the future the hearing without obeying. So that preaching, where it produces no salutary effect, unavoidably hardens the hearer. But if it be admitted that in various ways men may be actually injured by the gospel, making it the occasion of their own aggravated condemnation, what have we to say to such a result being in any sense or degree glorious to God? But we are to blame in confining our thoughts to the ends in which man has an immediate concern, in place of extending them to those in which God Himself may be personally interested. We forget that God has to make provision for the thorough vindication of all His attributes, when He shall bring the human race into judgment, and allot to the several individuals a portion for eternity. We forget that in all His dealings it must be His own honour to which He has the closest respect, and that this honour may require the appointment and continuance of means of grace, even where those means, in place of effecting conversion, are sure to do nothing but increase condemnation. For the great point, so far as we can judge, which will have to be made out in respect of every man who perishes hereafter, is the inexcusableness of that man--his being nothing less than his own wilful destroyer; and the making out this, in regard of those condemned for neglecting the salvation provided by Christ, will require that it be abundantly proved that this salvation was offered, yea, pressed on their acceptance. Think ye that the minister of Christ has nothing to do but to confirm the righteous in their faith, and rouse the careless to repentance? Indeed it is at these that he is avowedly labouring, but in acting upon man he is acting for God. He may seem to you to labour in vain, just because those to whom he speaks forsake not their iniquities; but it is not in vain. He preaches for the day of judgment; he preaches as an evidence of God’s forbearance, as a witness against the impenitent--an evidence and a witness which shall be called forth and displayed when the trumpet hath sounded, and the Judge is on His throne. And St. Paul knew, and felt this. He knew, and he felt, that when He preached Christ to a people, he was making that people without excuse if they persisted in iniquity, and therefore providing that God should be “glorious “ in dealing with them in vengeance. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The gospel of the glory of the happy God
Two remarks of an expository character will prepare the way for our consideration of this text. The first is that the proper rendering is that which is given in the Revised Version--“the gospel of the glory,” not the “glorious gospel.” The apostle is not telling us what kind of thing the gospel is, but what it is about. He is dealing not with its quality but with its contents. It is a gospel which reveals, has to do with, is the manifestation of, the glory of God. Then the other remark is with reference to the meaning of the word “blessed.” There are two Greek words which are both translated “blessed” in the New Testament. One of them, the more common, literally means “well spoken of,” and points to the action of praise or benediction; describes what a man is when men speak well of him, or what God is when men praise and magnify His name. But the other word, which is used here, and is only applied to God once more in Scripture, has no reference to the human attribution of blessing and praise to Him, but describes Him altogether apart from what men say of Him, as what He is in Himself, the “blessed,” or, as we might almost say, the “happy” God.
I. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the glory of God. The theme, or contents, or the purpose of the whole gospel, is to set forth and make manifest to men the glory of God. Now what do we mean by “the glory”? I think, perhaps, that question may be most simply answered by remembering the definite meaning of the word in the Old Testament. There it designates, usually, that supernatural and lustrous light which dwelt between the cherubim, the symbol of the presence and of the self-manifestation of God. So that we may say, in brief, that the glory of God is the sum-total of the light that streams from His self-revelation, considered as being the object of adoration and praise by a world that gazes upon Him. And if this be the notion of the glory of God, is it not a startling contrast which is suggested between the apparent contents and the real substance of that gospel? Suppose a man, for instance, who had no previous knowledge of Christianity, being told that in it he would find the highest revelation of the glory of God. He comes to the Book, and finds that the very heart of it is not about God, but about man; that this revelation of the glory of God is the biography of a man: and more than that, that the larger portion of that biography is the story of the humiliations, and the sufferings, and the death of the man. Would it not strike him as a strange paradox that the history of a man’s life was the shining apex of all revelations of the glory of God? And that involves two or three considerations on which I dwell briefly. One of them is this: Christ, then, is the self-revelation of God. If, when we deal with the story of His life and death, we are dealing simply with the biography of a man, however pure, lofty, inspired he may be, then I ask what sort of connection there is between that biography which the four Gospels give us, and what my text says is the substance of the gospel? Brethren! to deliver my text and a hundred other passages of Scripture from the charge of being extravagant nonsense and clear, illogical non sequiturs, you must believe that in the Man Christ Jesus “we behold His glory--the glory of the only begotten of the Father.” And then, still further, my text suggests that this self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the very climax and highest point of all God’s revelations to men. I believe that the law of humanity, for ever, in heaven as on earth, is this, the Son is the Revealer of God; and that no loftier--yea, at bottom, no other communication of the Divine nature can be made to man than is made in Jesus Christ. But be that as it may, let me urge upon you this thought, that in that wondrous story of the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ the very high-water mark of Divine self-communication has been touched and reached. All the energies of the Divine nature are embodied there. The “riches, both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God,” are in the Cross and Passion of our Saviour. Or, to put it into other words, and avail oneself of an illustration, we know the old story of the queen who, for the love of an unworthy human heart, dissolved pearls in the cup and gave them to him to drink. We may say that God comes to us, and for the love of us, reprobate and unworthy, has melted all the jewels of His nature into that cup of blessing which He offers, to us, saying: “Drink ye all of it.” And my text implies, still further, that the true living, flashing centre of the glory of God is the love of God. Christendom is more than half heathen yet, and it betrays its heathenism not least in its vulgar conceptions of the Divine nature and its glory. The majestic attributes which separate God from man, and make Him unlike His creatures, are the ones which people toe often fancy belong to the glorious side of His character. Of power that weak Man hanging on the cross is a strange embodiment; but if we learn that there is something more godlike in God than power, then we can say, as we look upon Jesus Christ: “Lo I this is our God. We have waited for Him, and He will save us.” Not in the wisdom that knows no growth, not in the knowledge which has no border-land of ignorance ringing it round about, not in the unwearied might of His arm, not in the exhaustless energy of His being, not in the unslumbering watchfulness of His all-seeing eye, not in that awful Presence wheresoever creatures are, not in any or in all of these lies the glory of God, but in His love. These are the fringes of the brightness; this is the central blaze. The gospel is the gospel of the glory of God, because it is all summed up in the one word--“God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son.”
II. The revelation of God in Christ is the blessedness of God. And so I would say, the philosopher’s God may be all-sufficient and unemotional, the Bible’s God “delighteth in mercy,” rejoiceth in His gifts, and is glad when men accept them. But there is a great deal more than that here, if not in the word itself, at least in its connection, which connection seems to suggest that howsoever the Divine nature must be supposed to be blessed in its own absolute and boundless perfectness, an element in the blessedness of God Himself arises from His self-communication through the gospel to the world. All love delights in imparting. Why should not God’s? He created a universe because He delights in His works and in having creatures on whom He can lavish Himself. The blessed God is blessed because He is God. But He is blessed too because He is the loving and therefore the giving God.
III. The revelation of God in Christ is good news for us all. It means this: here are we like men shut up in a beleaguered city, hopeless, helpless, with no power to break out or to raise the siege; provisions failing, death certain. Some of you older men and women remember how that was the case in that awful siege of Paris, in the Franco-German War, and what expedients were adopted in order to get some communication from without. And here to us, prisoned, comes, as it did to them, a despatch borne under a Dove’s wing, and the message is this: God is love; and that you may know that He is, He has sent you His Son who died on the cross, the sacrifice for a world’s sin. Believe it and trust it, and all your transgressions will pass away. Is not that good news? Is it not the good news that you need--the news of a Father, of pardon, of hope, of love, of strength, of heaven? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The gospel, glad tidings
Show what the gospel of Christ is, by illustrating the description given of it in our text.
1. The gospel of Christ is “tidings.” This is the most simple and proper conception we can form of it. It is not an abstract truth, it is not a merely speculative proposition, it is not an abstruse system of philosophy or ethics, which reason might have discovered or formed; but it is simply tidings, a message, a report, as the prophet styles it, announcing to us important intelligence, intelligence of a connected succession of facts; of facts which reason could never have discovered; intelligence of what was devised in the counsels of eternity for the redemption of our ruined race, of what has since been done in time to effect it, and of what will be done hereafter for its full completion when time shall be no more. It is true, that, in addition to these tidings, the gospel of Christ contains a system of doctrines, of precepts and of motives; but it is no less true, that all these doctrines, precepts and motives are founded upon the facts, communicated by those tidings in which the gospel essentially consists; and that to their connection with these facts, they owe all their influence and importance. Perfectly agreeable to this representation, is the account given us of the primitive preachers, and their mode of preaching the gospel. They acted like men who felt that they were sent, not so much to dispute and argue, as to proclaim tidings, to bear testimony to facts.
2. The tidings which constitute the gospel of Christ are glad tidings; tidings which are designed and perfectly adapted to excite joy and gladness in all who receive them. That they are so, is abundantly evident from the nature of the intelligence which they communicate. They are tidings of an all-sufficient Saviour for the self-destroyed. And must I prove that these are glad tidings? Does the sun shine? are circles round? is happiness desirable? is pain disagreeable? And is it not equally evident, that the tidings we are describing are glad tidings of great joy. But it may in some cases be necessary to prove even self-evident truths. To the blind it may be necessary to prove that the sun shines. And in a spiritual sense we are blind. We need arguments to convince us, that the Sun of righteousness is a bright and glorious luminary; that the tidings of His rising upon a dark world are joyful tidings. Such arguments it is easy to adduce, arguments sufficient to produce conviction even in the blind. If you wish for such arguments, go and seek them among the heathen, who never heard of the gospel of Christ. See those dark places of the earth, filled not only with the habitations, but with the temples of lust and cruelty. Enter into conversation with the inhabitants of these gloomy regions. Ask them who made the world; they cannot tell. Who created themselves? they know not. Ask them where happiness is to be found, they scarcely know its name. Ask for what purpose they were created, they are at a loss for a reply. They know neither whence they came, nor whither they are to go. View them in the night of affliction. No star of Bethlehem, with mild lustre, cheers or softens its gloom. If this be not sufficient, if you still doubt, go and contemplate the effect which these tidings have produced wherever they have been believed. We judge of the nature of a cause by the effects which it produces, and, therefore, if the reception of the gospel has always occasioned joy and gladness, we may justly infer that it is glad tidings. And has it not done this? What supported our trembling first parents, when sinking under the weight of their maker’s curse, and contemplating with shuddering horrors the bottomless abyss into which they had plunged themselves and their wretched offspring? What enabled Enoch to walk with God? Here the well-spring of salvation was first opened to the view of mortals; here the waters of life, which now flow broad and deep as a river, first bubbled up in the sandy desert; and thousands now in heaven stooped and drank and live for ever, tasting the joys of heaven on earth. Then pause and say, whether the tidings which excite all this joy are not glad tidings? Have patriarchs and prophets been deceived? Were the apostles and primitive Christians mad? Are the angels of light infatuated or blind? Is the all-wise God in an error? Does He call upon all His creatures to rejoice, when no cause of joy exists? You must either assert this, or acknowledge that the gospel of Christ is glad tidings of great joy.
3. The gospel is not only glad tidings, but glorious glad tidings. That it is so, is asserted in other passages, as well as in our text. St. Paul, contrasting the gospel and the law, with a view to show the superiority of the former, observes that if the ministration of death was glorious, the ministration of the Spirit must be still more glorious; for if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. Glory is the display of excellence, or perfection. That the gospel contains a grand display of the moral excellences and perfections of Jehovah, will be denied by none but the spiritually blind, who are ignorant of its nature. If any doubt respecting the character of the gospel still exists in your minds, it must surely vanish when you recollect that it is--
4. The gospel of God, of the blessed God. What that is not glorious can proceed from the God of glory? What that is not calculated to give joy to all holy beings, can proceed from the God of happiness and peace?
II. consider its human administration. It was committed, says the apostle, to my trust. But why? I answer, the gospel was no more designed to remain locked up in the breast of its author, than the rays of light were intended to remain in the body of the sun. In condescension to our weakness, therefore, God has been pleased to commit the gospel to individuals selected from our ruined race; individuals, who, having experienced its life-giving and beatifying power, are prepared to recommend it to their perishing fellow sinners. Of these individuals, the first to whom it was committed were the apostles; it was committed to them as a proclamation is committed by earthly princes to their heralds, not to be retained, but communicated. (E. Payson.)
The glorious gospel
I. The manifestation which the gospel gives of the glory of God. There are many sources whence we may derive some faint glimpses of the Divine glory. We may see it in the world around us, wherever we cast our eyes. This, then, we take it, is the glory of God; the revelation of His mercy and grace to sinful man. And this revelation is only to be found fully developed in “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” Here we see the attributes of Deity brought out with surpassing and undimmed lustre. Do we speak of Deity as the only wise God? We see this attribute also strikingly brought out in “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” Wisdom consists in the employment of the best means for the best ends; and although evident traces of this attribute are scattered all around us in the fitness of things to the manifest design contemplated, it is in the gospel alone that we discover the mightiest effort of Divine wisdom.
II. The comprehensiveness of its blessings. In this point of view, also, we shall see significantly brought out the truth of the text, that it is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” The blessings of the gospel are calculated to meet all the wants and longings of man as a pilgrim destined for eternity. Here knowledge is offered, which, while it is worthy of the highest intellect to expend its gifted powers in boundless research, is also adapted to the meanest capacity; here is knowledge far superior to any that the philosophers of Greece ever taught, or the proud sons of Rome ever knew; here is knowledge which can penetrate with its illuminating influences the innermost darkness of the understanding, refine the affections, purify the heart, and regulate the life of man in his upward aspirations for heaven. Do you feel yourselves guilty before God? In the gospel you may learn the way to obtain redemption through the blood of Christ, even the forgiveness of sins. But more than this: the gospel offers the cleansing and renewing influences of the sanctifying spirit. It belongs to the glorious gospel alone to afford substantial and enduring joy.
III. The magnitude of its triumphs. The triumphs of the gospel were soon made manifest, even in the earliest days of Christianity.
IV. The simplicity of its requirements. Now the grand scheme of the gospel presents us with many things inscrutable to our understandings, which things, like the angels, we “desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12); but what affects us much more than all is, the simplicity of the means by which the most mighty and blessed results are accomplished. In this simplicity of arrangement, so available by all, the glory of the gospel shines conspicuously and pre-eminently forth. Herein we discover the master-wisdom of the great Contriver, and are led to ascribe “glory to God in the highest.” (W. J. Brock, B. A.)
The happiness of God
I. I will consider what we are to understand by the blessedness or happiness of God, and what are the essential ingredients of it.
1. Perfect knowledge, to understand what it is that constitutes happiness, and to know when one is really possessed of it. For as he is not happy, who is so only in imagination or a dream, without any real foundation in the thing; for he may be pleased with his condition, and yet be far enough from being truly happy: so, on the other hand, he that has all other necessary ingredients of happiness, and only wants this, that he doth not think himself so, cannot be happy.
2. To perfect happiness is likewise required a full power to do whatever conduceth to happiness, and likewise to check and control whatever would be a hindrance and disturbance to it; and therefore no being is as happy as it can be, that is not all-sufficient, and hath not within its power and reach whatever is necessary to a happy condition, and necessary to secure and continue that happiness against all attempts and accidents whatsoever.
3. There is wisdom also required to direct this power, and manage it in such a manner, as it may effectually conduce to this end; and this is very different from mere power abstractedly considered; for one may have all the materials of happiness, and yet want the wisdom and skill to put them so together, as to frame a happy condition out of them; and he is not happy, who doth not thoroughly understand the proper method and means of compassing and securing his own happiness.
4. Another most considerable and essential ingredient of happiness is goodness; without which, as there can be no true majesty and greatness, so neither can there be any felicity or happiness.
5. Perfect happiness doth imply the exercise of all other virtues, which are suitable to so perfect a Being, upon all proper and fitting occasions; that is, that so perfect a Being do nothing that is contrary to or unbecoming His holiness and righteousness, His truth and faithfulness, which are essential to a perfect Being.
6. Perfect happiness implies in it the settled and secure possession of all those excellences and perfections; for if any, of these were liable to fail, or be diminished, so much would be taken off from perfect and complete happiness.
7. In the last place, infinite contentment and satisfaction, pleasure and delight, which is the very essence of happiness.
II. I propose, to show, that this attribute of perfection doth belong to God, and that the divine nature is perfectly blessed and happy; and this is so universal an acknowledgment of natural light, that it would be a very superfluous and impertinent work to trouble you with particular citations of heathen authors to this purpose; nothing being more frequent in them than to call the Deity, “the most happy and most perfect Being,” and therefore happy, because felicity doth naturally result from perfection. It shall suffice to take notice of these two things out of heathen writers, to my present purpose.
1. That they accounted happiness so essential to the notion of a God, that this was one of the ways which they took to find out what properties were fit to attribute to God, and what not; to consider, what things are consistent with happiness, or inconsistent with it.
2. Whatever differences there were among the philosophers concerning the perfections of the Divine nature, they all agreed in the perfect felicity of it; even Epicurus himself, who so boldly attempted to strip the Divine nature of most of its perfections, by denying that God either made or governed the world; whereby he took away at once His being the first cause and original of all things, and His goodness likewise, and wisdom, and power, and justice, or, at least, made all these useless, by taking away all occasion and opportunity for the exercise of them; yet this man does frequently own, and profess to believe, the happiness of the Divine nature. For thus Lucretius, the great disciple of Epicurus, describes his opinion of the Divine nature:--“It is necessary that the Divine nature should be happy, and therefore altogether unconcerned in our affairs; free from all grief and danger, sufficient for itself, and standing in need of nobody, neither pleased with our good actions, nor provoked by our faults.” This was c very false notion both of God and happiness, to imagine that the care of the world should be a pain and disturbance to infinite knowledge, and power, and goodness.
III. How far creatures are capable of happiness, and by what ways and means they may be made partakers of it. As we are creatures of a finite power, and limited understandings, and a mutable nature, we do necessarily want many of those perfections, which are the cause and ingredients of a perfect happiness. We are far from being sufficient for our own happiness; we are neither so of ourselves, nor can we make ourselves so by our own power; for neither are we wise enough for our own satisfaction. All the happiness that we are capable of is, by communication from Him, who is the original and fountain of it. So that, though our happiness depend upon another, yet if we be careful to qualify ourselves for it (and God is always ready to assist us by His grace to this purpose), it is really and in effect in our own power; and we are every whir as safe and happy in God’s care and protection of us, as if we were sufficient for ourselves. But to what purpose, may some say, is this long description and discourse of happiness? How are we the wiser and the better for it? I answer, very much, in several respects.
1. This plainly shews us that atheism is a very melancholy and mischievous thing; it would take away the fountain of happiness, and the only perfect pattern of it.
2. If the Divine nature be so infinitely and completely happy, this is a very great confirmation of our faith and hope concerning the happiness of another life, which the Scripture describes to us, by the sight and enjoyment of God. So that the goodness of God is the great foundation of all our hopes, and the firmest ground of our assurance of a blessed immortality.
3. From what hath been said concerning the happiness of the Divine nature, we may learn wherein our happiness must consist; namely, in the image and in the favour of God: in the favour of God, as the cause of our happiness; and in the image of God, as a necessary inward disposition and qualification for it. All men naturally desire happiness, and seek after it, and are, as they think, travelling towards it, but generally they mistake their way. In a word, if ever we would be happy we must be like “the blessed God,” we must be holy, and merciful, and good, and just, as He is, and then we are secure of His favour; “the righteous Lord loveth righteousness, and His countenance will behold the upright.” (Archbishop Tillotson.)
The happiness of the eternal mind
The word here translated blessed is the same that occurs in the beautitudes, signifying happy, and is to be distinguished from another word, also translated blessed, but signifying to be blessed or adored. This phrase “ the happy God” stands out in bright contrast with the dark dream of Asia, that there were two gods--one good, one evil--Ormuzd and Ahriman, against which Jewish religion had witnessed from the beginning. The Jewish faith was distinguished from all other ancient beliefs by maintaining the unity and blessedness of the King Eternal, and by asserting the recent origin, the reptile quality, and the final destiny of evil.
I. Let us, then, observe that our own souls, in their profoundest instincts, compel the belief in the happiness of the eternal mind. Our minds revolt at once at the idea of a miserable everlasting cause. We cannot steadily conceive of an everlasting and boundless power otherwise than as resting on its own ocean depths in unfathomable bliss. We cannot even imagine it as suffering eternally, whether from weakness, or weariness, or pain, disappointment, or malignity, or through sympathy with everlasting misery of created beings. The necessity of indestructible being, which supports the eternal life, necessitates its blessed life. The very heathen, as in Homer, always speak and sing of “the happy gods.” If we are to follow in our thoughts the instincts of our own nature (and we have no other means of thinking of the boundless life), then it is blessed for ever. For life here--its product--in all its orderly states is identical with enjoyment. It is disorder alone which produces misery. Think of the life on this planet, from its lowest to its highest ranges, from the dance of animalculae seen in the magnified drop of water up to the pleasures of the highest races that frequent the atmosphere, the land, the ocean. To breathe the pure air, to drink in the pleasant sunlight, to seek for and enjoy each its proper food, is the law of life, for if their life is short they have no sense of its shortness, and while it lasts it supplies the pleasures of motion, of rest, of vision, of action, and of love. For mankind there opens a new world of delights. Words fall us to describe the heights and depths of human enjoyment. What must that blessed existence be as a life of thought! To us thought is one of the chief and steadiest sources of enjoyment even amidst all our darkness, and deficiency of light, and baffled inquiries, and unsatisfied longings for intelligence. But what must be the delights of that infinite intellect, the energy, the reach, and the force of that Spirit, whence have sprung all the worlds, all the sciences, and all the minds in the universe. What must be that life of inexhaustible power in design, radiant within all the archetypes of beauty in form and colour, the mind in which have dwelt for eternity the patterns of all loveliness in earth and heaven; in which have bloomed the floral splendours of all the worlds; all the lovelinesses of figure, and form, and face, and scenery in earth, and sky, and air, and in the heaven of heavens? What, again, must be that life of creative energy from whose eternal love of life-giving have sprung all the delights of parental and life-giving love through the creation? What ideas can man form of the intrinsic and eternal blessedness of God before and apart from the creation? In that past creationless eternity, the Son, we are told, “was in the bosom of the Father”; He “had a glory with the Father or ever the world was.” And in Him were gathered up all the thoughts and purposes of God as to creation, moral government, and redemption (John 17:5-24). This gives a ledge of solid ground for one further step upward in our thought. In the past eternity the self-existing wisdom and power revolved the whole infinite future of His manifestation to an everlasting universe, including the redemption of man, the incarnation of the Word; and this eternal counsel of love was the outcome of the holy and loving blessedness of the Sun of spirits. For God is love. He was never alone in eternity.
II. Let this same temper appear in our worship. Let us “sing unto the Lord.” (E. White.)
The glorious gospel
I. The import of the gospel as here conveyed. You are all doubtless aware that the true meaning of the word gospel is glad tidings, or good news. The gospel tells us of the grace and love of the Father, of the condescension and sacrifice of the Son, and of the mission and influence of the Holy Ghost. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” etc. This is good news for all men, and this is the gospel. We all like to hear glad tidings. The intelligence of the relief of Lucknow and the salvation of our countrywomen and children sent a thrill of joy and gratitude throughout the country--it was good news. But no tidings ever proclaimed to men can equal in sublimity, and joyousness, and importance, the good news of the gospel.
1. The gospel is good tidings to man as a rational and intelligent being. The possession of a thinking soul is the distinction and glory of man, and knowledge is necessary for the welfare of his soul. The desire for knowledge under various modifications is one of the natural desires of the human heart. Nowhere is there such a treasury of the highest knowledge for man as in the gospel of Jesus Christ. On the loftiest and most important themes it yields the surest information--the only information which can fill and satisfy the human soul; throwing the purest light on the pilgrimage of man; unfolding his dignity, his duty, and his danger; dispelling doubts, dissipating darkness, and offering certainty on questions about which men have perplexed themselves in vain.
2. Further, the gospel is good news to man as a moral and sinful being. Man is a moral being, and everywhere gives evidence of the possession of a moral nature. In all countries, amongst all peoples there are moral judgments, distinctions between right and wrong, or between what it believed to be right and wrong. The presence of conscience is universal. It is a sad and solemn truth that man is a sinner, and that he is guilty. But the gospel brings good news to him. It tells him of a Divine provision by which he may be pardoned and saved. It tells him of a sacrifice which has been offered for sin--a sacrifice of boundless value, which has met all the requirements of righteousness, and laid the foundation for mercy. How glorious the news for a guilty soul! And this is not all. Man, as a sinner, is not only guilty, but polluted, more or less, under the power of sin. How shall he be purified from this pollution, rescued from this dominion? The same gospel that tells him of pardon, tells him also of purity. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” And further--
3. It is good news to man as a social and a suffering being. Man’s life here is, more or less, in company with others, a pilgrimage of sorrow. He is born to trouble. And perhaps sometimes you are perplexed, and strange thoughts come into your mind, so that you call the proud happy, and the wealthy blessed, and wonder what kind of a Being it is that governs the world with such apparent inequality. Is this world left to chance, or left to the sport of fiends? The gospel comes to our relief, and tells us that an Almighty Father governs all; that He numbers the very hairs of our heads, and that not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without His permission. It tell us that now we are in a state of probation and discipline, and provides the richest consolation, with the assurance that God is too wise to err, and too good to be unkind.
4. The gospel is glad tidings to man as a dying and immortal being--dying, and yet immortal. Yes, both. It is the gospel only,--not philosophy, not reason, not infidelity, not atheism,--but the gospel of Christ alone that can teach us to say and sing, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?”
II. The character of the Gospel as here given. It is glorious--“the glorious gospel.” Few descriptive terms are more commonly used, and yet, perhaps, none more difficult of exact definition than “glorious.” There are many kinds of glory recognized and spoken of in the world, and many things called glorious. There is regal glory, military glory, political glory, intellectual glory. We speak of a glorious day, a glorious scene, a glorious achievement, a glorious victory. It is expressive of lustre, excellence, and beauty. Glory belongs to God; and that which belongs to Him or comes from Him is alone truly glorious. Nowhere has the word so fitting and true an application as in reference to the gospel of God. It is the expression to us of the supremacy, greatness, and moral excellence and perfection of the Almighty Father, and is especially glorious in two respects: as a revelation, and as a remedy.
1. The gospel is glorious as a revelation. It makes known to us, what we nowhere else can learn, the loftiest truths connected with the character of God, and with our relationship to Him. It is the highest revelation of God, and of His law, of His government, and grace. Nature speaks of Him, and providence speaks of Him, but it is the gospel only that fully unfolds His moral character--reveals His grace. There, too, we see--as nowhere else can be seen--the value of man’s soul, the terrible act of sin, the majesty of moral law, and the glory that may yet be ours. By the revelation of such momentous truths, the gospel may well be designated “glorious.” But it is not only in the truths revealed, but in the manner and mode of the revelation that the gospel is especially glorious. “God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” It is not a mere proclamation from heaven, nor a Divine theory, nor a set of holy doctrines, but a revelation of facts--facts the most wonderful and glorious in the world’s history. It is this especially that constitutes the distinction and grandeur of the gospel. “Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifested in the flesh.” The full and final revelation is in Jesus Christ, in what He was, and what He did. To rest on His love, to trust His righteousness, to look up into His radiant countenance, is to see the glory of the gospel.
2. The gospel is glorious as a remedy. It is a remedy, perfect and sufficient for human care and crime, for sin, and wretchedness, and death. We have seen that something is wrong with humanity; for there is everywhere the consciousness of evil and guilt. The gospel of God meets that which is wrong and sets it right. It is a perfect remedy, never-failing if fairly tried. In its universality, its adaptation and its efficacy, we see its glory. That gospel is, indeed, a glorious remedy for all, good news to the thoughtless, the outcast, the prodigal, the penitent. It contains within itself the test of its truth, its adaptation, and its power. Try it.
III. The design of the Gospel is here inferred. It is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” The word that is rendered blessed, might perhaps be more familiarly rendered happy, for that is its meaning. The good news about Jesus as the Saviour, and the Friend of sinners, is from the blessed, the happy God. God is infinitely happy; nothing can disturb His serenity, or interfere with His enjoyment, or hinder His pleasure. But happiness is eminently diffusive. A cheerful, happy man will soon make his presence felt in any company; if we may so say, he cannot help it; his influence will be from the outgoing of his own nature. Thus the gospel is to us the expression of God’s blessedness, and His provision for the happiness of His sinful creatures. We learn, then, that its design in reference to men is to make them happy--truly, eternally happy. Oh! that they would believe this and turn to the gospel of God as to the fountain and means of solid, durable enjoyment. Happiness, true, abiding happiness, can only be found in the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Would you then be happy, happy in your souls, and in your homes, in your daily toil, and duty, happy even when you have to pass through scenes of sorrow, and when the shades of death fall upon you? Accept the good news of the gospel. No intelligence can affect you, except it is believed. The best earthly tidings will neither sadden nor elevate if you do not credit them. So every man must receive God’s message, and believe the gospel for himself if he would feel its preciousness, and realize its power. (J. Spence, D. D.)
The preeminent glory of the gospel
I had a great affection for Algernon Wells, and I now distinctly call to mind that blended pathos and humour which gave an exquisite charm to his unaffected manly character. He had, like Thomas Aquinas, “the gift of tears,” and was apt to weep on public occasions when his heart was touched, or his carefully finished plans were interrupted; but he had a fund of humour in conversation, and could pour forth sunny smiles and hearty, healthy laughs, such as I do not think often irradiated and warmed the countenance of the angelic doctor. His death was like his life, full of faith and love and joy; and when his end was drawing nearer than he apprehended, he said to Dr. Burder: “My dear friend, if it please God, I hope to be able to preach as I have never yet done. Not that I reproach myself with having concealed or forgotten it. No, but more than ever I would fain speak of it as I have thought and felt here. I would make it the first thing, the pre-eminent. All gathered knowledge, all history, all poetry, all pleasant thoughts and happy things--all that I have, and am, and know, and think, shall range round and illustrate, but be subordinate to this the glorious gospel! The more I think of it in my long and quiet ponderings, the more precious and needful it becomes to me!” (J. Stoughton, D. D.)
1 Timothy 1:12
Putting me into the ministry.
The summons to service
I. It was a sign of divine Grace. In God’s abounding grace he found himself not only forgiven, but summoned to service; “made a chosen vessel” to bear God’s treasure unto the Gentiles. He never ceased to be filled with wonder, that the Lord had “counted him faithful,” or esteemed him to be worthy of trust; and his highest ambition was to respond to this gracious confidence. For that is one of the best results of being trusted--it develops a sense of responsibility, and appeals to all that is noblest in the nature. Trust your child with some important message, or duty, and he will be more careful over it than over what is trivial. The apostle was put in trust of the gospel; in other words, he was commissioned to make known God’s way of salvation through Christ, and upon him largely rested the responsibility of winning men to God, and then combining them in Christian communities. A higher work could not be sought for than this, and no ambition is more sacred and divine than that which prompts one to pray for it. He speaks expressly of “the ministry”--“the service,” as the Revised Version has it--which might vary in form, but had as its essence the doing of something for Jesus Christ. And those who have any experience of this service feel that they need the superabounding grace of God to guide and sustain them in the work to which they have been Divinely called. The oil from the olive tree must flow to the golden candlestick, or the light will die out. The well must be fed from heaven, indirectly through many a hidden channel, or it will soon be exhausted. And of Christ Jesus we may say, “All my springs are in Thee.” In the law we find restraint, in the Christ we find inspiration.
II. But lest it should be thought that there was any natural innate worthiness of such a trust on Paul’s part, he goes on to show that this summons to service came to one who was utterly undeserving.
1. It was like Paul, and therefore another indication of the authenticity of this Epistle, to call prominent attention to what he had been before his conversion. Like David he could say, “My sin is ever before me.” The remembrance of past sin with Paul was not a source of sorrow only, but it was a source of thanksgiving. It was something like one of those wonderful clouds we see at sunset. At first it looms ominously on the horizon, as if the blackness of darkness were resting on the distant hill, but at last the sunlight streams forth, the edges of the cloud become dazzlingly bright, and soon the whole is suffused with purple, and crimson, and gold; the dark cloud is glorified, and we feel the evening would have lost half its beauty if the cloud had not been there. Paul’s description of his previous career is painted in colours black enough. Let the thought of that infinite love lead you to repentance, lest you be found at last not only to have disobeyed Divine law, but to have rejected Divine mercy.
2. It was not with a desire to lessen the enormity of his guilt that he adds, “I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” Paul was a persecutor, not because he was indifferent to the claims of God, but because in his ignorance he thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus.
III. Finally, it is evident that Divine grace which gave the call and forgave the sinner, had as its signs in the heart of the convert--“faith and love.” “The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant, with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus”--that is, they found their sphere of action in Christ. It was not merely that the former persecutor was led to see the transcendent excellence of Jesus, but such faith in Him, such love towards Him were aroused in his heart, that the persecutor became the apostle, who said, “The love of Christ constraineth us.” (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Ministers thankful for their office
I. Christ furnishes men for the ministry. This Paul more than intimates in the words of the text. And everywhere in the New Testament, ministers are represented as the servants and ambassadors of Christ, and as his peculiar, ascension gifts to the Church. Hence we may justly consider Christ as forming and qualifying, as well as authorizing, all His own ministers, in every age of the Church. Thus a good capacity, a good education, and a good heart, are the noble qualifications which Christ bestows upon those whom He raises up, and employs in the sacred work of the gospel ministry.
II. Reasons why the ministers of Christ are thankful for their office.
1. The ministerial office bears a favourable aspect upon a life of religion and vital piety. His duty carries him among lively Christians, among mourning saints and distressed sinners; where the beauties of religion, the worth of souls, and the presence of God, serve to solemnize his mind and to warm his heart with devout and heavenly affections. Besides all this, the peculiar difficulties which attend his office yield him a fair opportunity of improving his mind in some of the most amiable of the Christian graces.
2. The ministers of Christ are thankful for their office because it gives them peculiar advantages to enrich their minds with useful and Divine knowledge. A man might be as great a metaphysician as Locke, as great a philosopher as Newton, as great a naturalist as Solomon, and yet, in point of the noblest knowledge, fall far below the apostle Paul, who understood the deep things of Divine revelation, which alone can explain all the works and ways of the Supreme Being. His business therefore requires him to extend his researches to matters of a higher nature, and of more importance, than those which employ the attention of the sons of science; and so affords him a happy opportunity of feeding his mind with the same glorious truths which angels now desire to look into, and which all holy beings will for ever contemplate, with growing ardour and delight. And this is a good reason why he should be thankful for his office.
3. A greater reason is, that it opens before him the largest sphere of usefulness. It belongs to his office to strengthen the cords of civil society, by condemning vice, by inculcating virtue, and by enforcing the righteous laws of man from the Word of God and the motives of eternity. And it is a part of his duty to attend to the rising hopes of his flock, and instil into their young and tender minds the first principles of virtue and wisdom; which lay the broadest foundation for peace and harmony among families, among societies and larger communities. But his widest sphere of usefulness lies in that Divine authority with which he is invested, to bear the messages of God to men, and teach them those great and important truths by which they may become wise to salvation. By virtue of this authority Paul become so extensively useful in the first age of Christianity.
4. Their work is of such a nature as to carry its own present and future reward with it. The ministers of Christ receive no inconsiderable reward as they go along, before their labours and their lives are ended.
1. The office of the ministry is the most desirable office in the world. “This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”
2. The ministerial office needs no foreign aid to recommend itself to those who are qualified for it. Some are ready to apprehend that the ministry would soon become vacant if it should once unhappily lose the protection and support of the civil power.
3. The ministerial office is no burden to the people. One, who calls himself a moral philosopher, undertakes to prove in the face of stubborn fact, that the people of Israel were utterly unable to support their expensive priesthood. And many, at this day, seem to have the same opinion concerning the ministers of Christ.
4. The ministers of the gospel ought to give themselves wholly to the duties of their office.
5. The ministers of the gospel should cheerfully submit to that state of self denial, in which the nature of their office requires them to live.
6. Christ has laid His ministers under the most endearing obligations to be faithful in their office.
7. It is a privilege to hear, as well as to preach the gospel. It is a privilege of the Gentiles to hear Paul, as well as a privilege of Paul to preach to the Gentiles. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The attractions of the Christian ministry
It was a wise proverb that the king of Israel quoted to a boastful Syrian invader, when he said, “Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.” Our text is not the boastful exultation of an untried soldier, but rather the calm, joyful expression of the gratitude of a veteran. He had faced the angry eyes of those who at Damascus regarded him as a heretic, because he had seen more light than they. The estimate which a man of such experiences puts upon his vocation, after a trial covering about thirty years, is worthy of careful consideration. Paul was thankful for the privilege of these thirty years in the ministry of God’s dear Son. Let us consider some of the attractions of the Christian ministry. It is not forgotten that earnest, scholarly and religious men are needed in all the ministries of human life. We may, perhaps, best set forth our theme by an examination of the grounds of our satisfaction and joy in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
I. The characteristics of the gospel. Paul had zeal and joy in his work because he knew he was presenting a religion which is the outcome of--
1. A Divine revelation. God has spoken. Paul went forth, not with a Bible, but with the Word of God.
2. A system of Divine power: not a philosophy, a guess, a theory to be entertained; but a life, a present working of a Divine energy in the soul.
3. The remedial character of the gospel gives zeal and joy to those who preach it.
4. The historic connections of Christianity have given and now give impulse to zeal and joy to those who are set for its defence. This thing was not done in a corner. Christianity is no beggar in the world of thought, asking for recognition, but a system rooted firmly in the soil of human history, and bearing fruits of which its adherents need never speak with hesitation.
5. Its power to satisfy the wants of the human soul.
II. The attractions of the work itself.
1. Our contact with good men. In religious and charitable work, much of our time is spent in contact and converse with the excellent of the earth.
2. The affectionate regard in which we are held by our people.
3. The opportunity afforded for the growth of character.
4. The opportunities afforded in the ministry for the cultivation of scholarship.
III. The crown set before us. The work of the Christian ministry is not completed on earth. Allow me to conclude with a few words of fraternal exhortation as to the claims of this work and the kind of men that are required in it. And need I say that, first of all, men are wanted of an unworldly spirit. The spirit that was in Agassiz when he said, “I have no time to make money,” is that needed in the ministry of reconciliation. Again, the ministry needed calls for men of good common sense, and a good stock of it. Finally, the times demand in the Christian ministry men of solid learning. (T. F. Burnham.)
1 Timothy 1:13
Who was before a blasphemer.
I was before
Note here, before we come to the special purpose we have in view, that godly men never think or speak lightly of their sins. When they know that they are forgiven, they repent of their iniquities even more heartily than before. You have probably read biographies of John Bunyan, in which the biographer says that Bunyan laboured under a morbid conscientiousness, and accused himself of a degree of sin of which he was not guilty. Exactly so, in the view of the biographer, but not so in the view of John Bunyan, who, startled into sensitiveness of conscience, could not find words strong enough to express all his reprobation of himself. Job said once, “ I abhor myself.”
I. If we think of what we were, it will excite in us adoring gratitude. Paul was full of gratitude, for he thanked Christ Jesus that He counted him faithful, putting him into the ministry.
II. A sense of what we were should sustain in us very deep humility. 1 Corinthians 15:9. I have heard of a good man in Germany who used to rescue poor, destitute boys from the streets, and he always had them photographed in their rags and filth, just as he found them; and then, in years afterwards, when they were clothed and washed and educated, and their characters began to develop, if they grew proud he would show them what they were, and try to teach them what they would have been likely to be if it had not been for his charity. If you are inclined to lift up your head, and boast what a great man you are now, just look at the likeness of what you were before the Lord made you a new creature in Christ Jesus. Oh I who can tell what that likeness would have been but for the interpositions of Divine grace?
III. The remembrance of our former condition should renew in us genuine repentance. When you leave off repenting, you have left off living.
IV. The retrospect of our past lives should kindle in us fervent love to the Lord who has redeemed us. I think there is nothing better than to retain a vivid sense of conversion in order to retain a vivid sense of love. Do not be afraid of loving Christ too much. Oh for more love arising out of a deep, intense sense of what we once were, and of the change which Christ has wrought in us!
V. Remembering what we were, ardent zeal should be aroused in us. Look at Paul. He says, “I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.” What then? Why, now that he has become a follower of Christ, he cannot do too much. He put many saints in prison; now he goes into many prisons himself. I remember one who lived four or five miles away from a place of worship, who used to say, “You old legs, it is no use being tired; for you have got to carry me. You used to take me to the place of amusement when I served the devil, and you shall carry me now to the house of God, that I may worship and serve Him.” When sometimes he had an uneasy seat, he used to say, “It is no use grumbling, old bones, you will have to sit here, or else you will have to stand. Years ago you put up with all kinds of inconveniences when I went to the theatre, or some other evil place, when I served Satan; and you must be content to do the same now for a better Master and a nobler service.” I think some of us might take a lesson from that old man, and say to ourselves, “ Come, covetousness, you are not going to hinder me from serving the Lord. I used to be liberal to the devil, and I do not intend now to be stingy to God.”
VI. If we remember what we were, and how grace has changed us, it ought to make us “very hopeful about other people. VII. What God has done for us should confirm our confidence for ourselves--our confidence, not in ourselves, but in God, who will perfect that which He has begun in us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The memory of forgiven sins
God’s forgiveness is full, free, and thorough. Yet, forgiving, He does not forget. God remembers forgiven sins, but He does not, will not, remember them against us. We should remember them.
I. The memory of forgiven sins is favourable to humility. Spiritual pride is a sin to which the eminently holy, gifted, and useful Christian is peculiarly liable. Let the first remember how he formerly defiled himself; the second, to what unworthy objects he directed his noble faculties; the third, that his pardoned sins may be--probably are--working fatal mischief in the world; and where is there room for pride? How much reason for self-abasement? Why did Paul describe himself as “less than the least of all saints”?
II. The memory of forgiven sins is conducive to watchfulness. Forgiveness has not destroyed our liability to sin. Forgiven sins have left weak places in our souls. He who keeps in view those remitted sins which had the strongest hold on his nature, will vigilantly watch against the return of “the unclean spirit.”
III. The memory of forgiven sins is productive of compassion. We pity sinners. The unforgiven are the unforgiving, the unmerciful and stony hearted.
IV. The memory of forgiven sins awakens gratitude. We are in danger of forgetting “all” the Lord’s “benefits,” but we cannot if we remember our sins. (The Homilist.)
Transformation of the vilest
Mr. Ruskin, in his “Modern Painters,” tells that the black mud or slime from a footpath in the out skirts of a manufacturing town--the absolute type of impurity--is composed of four elements--clay, mixed with soot, a little sand, and water. These four may be separated each from the other. The clay particles, left to follow their own instinct of unity, become a clear, hard substance, so set that it can deal with light in a wonderful way, and gather out of it the loveliest blue rays only, refusing the rest. We call it then a “sapphire.” The sand arranges itself in mysterious, infinitely fine parallel lines, which reflect the blue, green, purple, and red rays in the greatest beauty. We call it then an “opal.” The soot becomes the hardest thing in the world, and for the blackness it had obtains the power of reflecting all the rays of the sun at once in the vividest blaze that any solid thing can shoot. We call it then a “diamond.” Last of all, the water becomes a dew-drop, and a crystalline star of snow. Thus God can and does transform the vilest sinners into pure and shining jewels, fit for His home in heaven.
A wonderful change
The following is one of many well-authenticated cases of converted infidels given in the Anti-Infidel:--Walking along a street in the “second city of the empire” a few days ago, I saluted a middle-aged man dressed in the semi-clerical garb of a mission preacher, and I rather surprised a friend who was with me by telling him that he who had just passed us was a converted infidel. The story of his being “brought back,” as I heard it from his own lips, may not be uninteresting. Mr. B.
then, was at one time an avowed atheist, a professed and prominent infidel. He possesses a fine intellect; but, alas! he devoted his talent to the wicked purpose of “proving” the non-existence of the Divine Giver thereof. One evening a mock debate was held among his athiest associates, in which Mr. B. assumed the part of a Christian, and towards the close of the discussion said to his opponent, in solemn tones, Now, my young friend, when you go home, take and read your Bible for the truth of what I have stated, and pray for help and guidance, This was considered to be a rich bit of sarcasm, and made a “great hit.” Some time after, Mr. B. was accosted by the same young man, who, to his surprise, asked him in real earnestness, “My friend, how about your soul?” “Oh, don’t bother me with such stuff,” replied Mr. B., impatiently. “Do you remember that debate we had?” said the young man. “Well, I took the advice you gave me then; I studied the Scripture, I prayed over it, and I have found peace; and, oh! my friend, you cannot do better than take your own advice. You gave it then to ridicule the cause you were supposed to be upholding. Now, I beg of you to think of it seriously, and it will really do you good. Mr. B.--did take his own advice, with the result that he saw the error of his ways, embraced Christianity, and has been for years zealously preaching that doctrine which he formerly reviled.
1 Timothy 1:14
And the grace of our Lord.
The Saviour’s grace in its freeness and effects
I. Consider the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was this that led Him to remember you in your low estate; to interpose on your behalf; to assume your nature, and to give His life a ransom for many. “Surely He hath borne our grief and carried our sorrow.” “Behold, how He loved him!” said the spectators around the grave of Lazarus, when they saw only His tears. Behold, how He loved them! was surely the exclamation of angels, when, at His cross, they beheld His blood. For was He compelled to submit to this undertaking? No. Did we deserve it? “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” In the application, as well as the procuring of our salvation, the grace of the Lord Jesus appears. Means were used; but they derived all their efficacy, and their very being, from Him. But whence sprang this desire? From conviction. What produced this conviction? Reflection. And what produced this reflection? A train of events. And what are events? Providence. And what is Providence? God in action; and God, acting for the welfare of the unworthy, is grace. The progress is equally from the same source. He who quickens us, when dead in trespasses and sins, renews us day by day; and enables us to hold on our way, and wax stronger and stronger. As this laid the foundation, so it will raise the superstructure; and He shall bring forth the top-stone thereof, with shoutings, crying, “Grace, grace unto it!” But, though all are saved by this grace, some individuals seem to be, in a peculiar manner, the trophies of it; and, were it necessary, we could make, even from the records of Scripture, a marvellous selection of instances. Manasseh; the dying thief; the murderers of the Son of God; the Corinthian converts.
II. This grace is eminently displayed in the conversion of Paul: “And the grace of our Lord,” says he, “was exceeding abundant.” Never did His heart pity a more undeserving wretch, or His hand undertake a more desperate case. Perhaps, you say, this made the apostle so humble. It did. But humility is not ignorance and folly. Christians are often ridiculed for speaking of themselves in depreciating terms: especially when they call themselves the vilest of the vile, or the chief of sinners. It is admitted and lamented that such language may be insufferable affectation, and is sometimes used by persons who give ample evidence of their not believing it. When show is a substitute for reality, it is generally excessive.
III. This grace is always productive of suitable influences and effects. “In faith and love,” says the apostle, “which are in Christ Jesus.”
1. Divine grace produces faith. Faith is the belief of the gospel; a firm and lively persuasion of the truth of the record that God has given of His Son, accompanied with acquiescence, dependence, and application. It will lead me to have recourse to Him for all I want.
2. Divine grace will equally produce love. To whom? To the Saviour Himself; His name, His word, His day, His service, His ways.
3. Divine grace will produce both these in the same subjects. Faith, according to the apostle’s order of statement, goes before love’; for faith precedes everything in religion--it is an original principle; it is the spring from which flow all the streams of pious temper and practice; it is the root from which grow all the fruits of Christian obedience and affection. But love follows after faith. We are told that “faith worketh by love.” And how should it be otherwise? Is it possible for me to believe the compassions of the Saviour, and to realize as my own the blessings of His death, and not feel my heart affected? and my gratitude constraining me to embrace Him, and my fellow-Christians, and my fellow-creatures, for His sake? By the latter of these, therefore, you are to evince the reality and genuineness of the former. The subject admonishes Christians. It calls upon you, like Paul, to review the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember where you were, and what you were, when He said unto you, “Live!” Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. This will prove the destruction of pride and ingratitude. (W. Jay.)
The exceeding abundant grace of God
It is the most difficult thing in the world for a man to speak in a becoming and consistent manner concerning himself. He speaks of himself very humbly and penitently: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” He speaks also most encouragingly to others: “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first,” or in me principally, “Jesus Christ might show forth all long suffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.”
I. The grace of God as the only source of hope and salvation to guilty and apostate man.
1. The very terms of this proposition suppose that man is in a guilty and apostate state. The effectuation of that great scheme into which the angels desired to look, the contrivance of infinite mercy, is of grace: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich.” The application of the Divine contrivance for man’s recovery is of grace. The Holy Spirit, the third person in the glorious Trinity, stands engaged in the economy and covenant of mercy, to “take of the things of Christ, and show them unto us.” The completion of this great and glorious work is of grace. Were we to trace the whole process from the commencement to the perfection of it, it would be seen that in every step the grace of God is manifested to be “exceeding abundant.” Now, do consider that this is the only source of hope and salvation for guilty man. Tell me of any other if you are able. Will you talk to me of penances, and pilgrimages, and bodily austerities?
II. In the circumstances attendant upon the conversion and salvation of the apostle paul, this grace was “exceeding abundant.”
1. This will appear, in the first place, if you consider his previous character. He was, before, an impious blasphemer, a treacherous persecutor, an injurious reviler. What does this prove? That where a man is not chargeable with gross immoralities, yet the sins of the mind, the intellect, the temper and disposition of the heart, may stand out in the sight of God in the most odious, the most culpable, and in the most guilty form.
2. In the second place, the grace of God was exceeding abundant towards this apostle, if you consider the period of time at which he thus became the subject of renewing and converting mercy. It was at the very moment when, with impetuous fury, he was proceeding to Damascus under the authority of the high priest to make havoc of the Church of God.
3. In the third place, the exceeding abundant grace of God was conspicuously manifest in the completeness of the change which was produced on his condition and character. It was a very remarkable change, because Paul the disciple presents a contrast so direct, so strong, and so striking, to Saul of Tarsus. Once more, the grace of God was exceeding abundant toward him if you consider the subsequent employment to which he was appointed, the eminent qualifications with which he was endowed, and the great success which attended him in his apostolic career.
III. The character to which the grace of God will always form those who are the subjects of it. “With faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” The two grand characteristics of the apostle antecedently to his conversion, were his unbelief and his malignity. Now the character to which he was wrought by the operation of Divine grace on his heart, exhibits an entire contrast to these two characteristic qualities; for you find in him faith taking the place of unbelief, and love taking the place of malevolence; he becomes an entirely changed man, the principles of his whole conduct are completely altered. In closing this subject--
1. It offers hope to the most hopeless; I say hope to the most hopeless, because we have discovered that the grace of God is the spring and the source of man’s salvation.
2. Let us examine, pointedly and “seriously, whether we know anything of the grace of God which we have seen exemplified in so remarkable and transcendent a degree in the conversion of the apostle Paul. Has this grace reached your heart?
3. What gratitude do we owe for the manifestation of this grace, for the revelation of it to our sinful world? If the sun could be extinguished and blotted out from yonder heavens, it would be a less calamity inflicted on the natural world than if the doctrines of grace were banished from the Christian system. Let us close, therefore, by considering the animating and exhilarating prospect which the grace of God opens beyond the grave. (G. Clayton.)
Grace and its fruits are, you perceive, the two themes of the apostle’s thankfulness, as they should be the two great themes of our thankfulness.
I. Consider, in the first place, the grace of our Lord, which was “exceeding abundant.” If there was one theme on which Paul dwelt oftener, and lingered longer than others, it was this theme of Divine grace. He took pleasure in giving it prominence, and securing for it attention. It was with him a great central truth, from which other truths radiated, and towards which they again converged. It was a seminal truth, a seed out of which other truths sprang and grew. It was a foundation truth, on which he continued to build a structure of strength and holiness and beauty. In this respect, all saints are very much alike. “By grace are ye saved.” Grace is one form of Divine love. I say one form, because there are others. God loves Himself. He loves His perfect works--the high intelligencies that surround His throne. But this is a love of complacency. Grace is pity--it is love unconstrained by any governmental necessities--unmerited by any moral qualifications. It is worthy of notice that Paul characterizes the grace of God to himself as “exceeding abundant.” He adds one term to another for the purpose of expressing his sense of its freeness and fulness. This is a proper way of speaking. Nothing but grace, nothing but “exceeding abundant” grace, could have moved God to give His only begotten Son for the forgiveness of sins; nothing less than grace, “exceeding abundant” grace, could have converted and saved Isaac the son of faithful Abraham, and Samuel, for whom the devout Hannah prayed, and Solomon, brought up in the house of the man after God’s own heart, and Timothy, who had known the Scriptures from a child. However great our religious advantages, or excellent our character, or refined and elevated our tastes, the heart by nature is corrupt, and the life is bad, and nothing short of “exceeding abundant” grace can purify the former and rectify the latter. After all it comes to this, that every Christian finds in his own conversion the most illustrious manifestation of the grace of God. There is another peculiarity in Paul’s language which we must not overlook. He speaks of the grace shown in his salvation as “the grace of our Lord.” By our Lord he evidently means the Lord Jesus Christ. Elsewhere he attributes his salvation to the Father; he recognizes, also, the sovereign agency of the Holy Spirit; here he refers, in an especial manner, as in other places, to our Lord Jesus Christ. He calls himself “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ;” he says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” It was Christ who sent him to preach the gospel; and when in prison he was “the prisoner of Jesus Christ”; he could do all things through Christ, who strengthened him; he could say, with truth, “I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” “For me to live is Christ.” What a comment all this is on his saying to the Corinthians, “For I am determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” The grace of our Lord, towards us and in us, has been “exceeding abundant.”
II. Now, let us consider the fruits of grace, of which Paul speaks--“Faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” These two elements of Christian character are put, if you will look at the chapter, in opposition to the apostle’s previous character. Speaking of himself, in the preceding verse, he says, “I, who was before a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious, did it ignorantly in unbelief,” but now, instead of unbelief and blasphemy there is simple, yet strong faith, and instead of persecution and injury, there is ardent, self-denying love. Look at the reality and strength of the faith! It overturned all the prejudices of the mind fortified by parental example and early education. It made him bold as a lion in the advocacy of the Redeemer’s cause, before the philosophers and monarchs of the age. How ardent and consuming was this man’s love. His love to Christ led him to renounce friends and fame; it burned out the old enmity of his heart against Jesus, and filled him with a consuming zeal. It prompted him to undertake the most arduous labours, it enabled him to endure hardships by sea and land, and to brave persecution by his countrymen. It was the great secret of his life and labours. “What mean ye to weep and to break my heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And to this supreme love to Jesus Christ, there was united a warm affection for His followers, a tender compassion for all mankind. He loved and enkindled love. Such were the fruits of a Divine grace in the apostle Paul, and just in proportion as that grace is in our hearts, will these fruits appear in us. Like causes produce like effects. Let us try ourselves to see whether or not we are partakers of the grace of God in truth. Observe, for a moment, the order in which the apostle places these Christian virtues--faith and love. Faith first, love second. We find this order in other parts of his writings; they are not by chance here--“Faith which worketh by love.” “Let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love.” You see how natural this order is. The sinner has, first, a believing apprehension of Christ. There can be no real love to Christ, or love to men for His sake, without faith in Him. You may admire His character, but you cannot feel that personal obligation and attachment which He demands. Burke could appreciate to some extent the philanthropic career of Howard; Pollock and Cowper could sing his praises; but how vastly different from their emotions towards the great philanthropist, was the love cherished by the prisoners whose lot he alleviated, and the distressed whose sorrows he removed. Remember this also--If you profess faith, you will show it by love. “Faith which worketh by love.” If you desire to know whether you believe in Christ, ascertain this by asking whether you love Christ. Paul mentions only faith and love as the fruits of Divine grace in Him. Not that these were the only fruits produced, but because these are the chief, and where these are found all the others will surely be found with them. The Christian virtues hang together like grapes in clusters. Where you find faith and love you will find also obedience, patience, purity, meekness, and everything that is excellent and of good report. (W. Walters.)
1 Timothy 1:15
This is a faithful saying.
The gospel in a sentence
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.)
The object of Christ’s coming into the world
The person of the Saviour is to be considered; and “what think ye of Christ?” In the text, it is true, He is described by terms especially significant of His mediatorial character and work--He is called “Christ,”--a title of office, significant of the proper designation of the world’s Redeemer by the Father, to the distinct and essential offices of Prophet, Priest, and King--the Anointed, the Great Teacher; and who teacheth like Him? the anointed High Priest and the great High Priest who hath offered Himself a sacrifice, once for all, in His own body on the tree--and the anointed King in Zion who sits upon His throne, who rules in the midst of the earth--rules for the subjugation of His enemies, and for the protection of His friends! His advent into our world is here announced. “He came”--but the very language supposes His pre-existence--He necessarily was before He “came” into the world--yes, pre-existing with the Divine Father from everlasting; for “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He came into our world after He had been promised, in the earlier periods of time, to the patriarchs--and this promise they saw, and this promise they believed, and this promise they embraced, and they died in the faith of the Redeemer that should come. He curse into the world after He had been shadowed forth by the various types and symbols which marked the Mosaic Institute; and at last, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law,” to redeem them that were under the law. “Christ Jesus came into the world.” And what a world, my friends! Not a world prepared to greet and hail Him as its Lord--not a world prepared to receive and welcome Him, no! a world of rebels, a world of sinners--a fallen world, a guilty, perishing world, a world that was going down to ruin; and to ruin it inevitably would have gone, had it not been for the intervention of this high, this almighty Deliverer! What, then, was His errand in coming into our world? When God becomes incarnate there must be some mighty object to achieve--there must be some great end to accomplish to justify such an interposition. To this inquiry the text furnishes the answer, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This was the great object. He came to procure salvation for us--He came that He might bestow salvation upon us--the former in order to the latter. Still, however, though our sin is atoned and salvation procured, an unapplied remedy, you know, is of no service. It is not enough that the ransom has been paid; we must be liberated and share the blessings of freedom. If it be true that Christ has come to procure salvation for us, by His meritorious obedience unto death, then is it equally necessary that He should be exalted to bestow it. He saves from the power of sin by the power of grace richly communicated to the heart of the believer--a power that overturns the power of sin! Yes; and “sin shall not have dominion over you,” says the apostle; “for ye are not under the law but under grace.” He saves from all the condemnation and defilement of sin, by the cleansing virtues of His blood, by the healing power of His grace. Still, however, the salvation of Jesus Christ is not merely a negative thing--it consists not merely in deliverance from the guilt and positive evils to which, by sin, we are exposed. He walks in the light of God’s countenance, he derives comfort from the great Fountain of all Consolation; now it is that the Word of God is the rule, now it is that the love of God is the principle, now it is that the glory of God is the grand end of all his actions! But then, we have to leave this world--this is not our home; here we have no continuing place of abode; and we want not only saving while we live, but when we die. The salvation of Jesus is commensurate with all our necessities, it is adequate to all our demands, it contains all that our circumstances require; and He who saves us in life will not abandon us in death! Welt do I remember--never, while memory holds her seat, shall I forget--what was spoken to me by the late Mr. Robert Spence, of York. Passing through that city, I had once an opportunity of calling upon that excellent man, who had himself been a preacher of righteousness for more than half a century; and said he, “I thought, ere now, that I would have been at the end of my journey--that ere now I should have arrived at my Father’s house; but it has pleased the Heavenly Grace to spare me a little longer, and I feel considerably stronger than I was. But when I came into this room and happened to pass that glass, I caught a sight of myself--I was struck,” said the venerable man; “I thought what a little, old, infirm creature I had become--a mere remnant of myself; but instantly,” continued he, “I lifted up my heart to the Lord, and I was favoured with such a manifestation of His grace and love that, though alone”--but he was not alone, for God was with him--“I said, ‘Well, welcome, old man! welcome, infirmity! welcome, death! and welcome, heaven!’“ Yes; and the religion of Jesus can make him rejoice in the midst of affliction, and welcome infirmity, welcome old age, and welcome death; because death, to the Christian, is but the gate of life. Then, though the body go down to mingle with the clods of the valley, the ransomed spirit wings its etherial flight to the regions of eternal day! The body, too, is to be saved! One said to me lately, “Oh, never mind the body!” but Jesus Christ remembers the body. He is the Saviour of the body as well as of the soul; and we look for Him in this way we look for Him that He may “change our vile bodies and fashion them like to His own glorious body, according to the working of that mighty power whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.”
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.)
The faithful saying
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.)
Worthy of all acceleration
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.)
The world small for so great a transaction as redemption
It seems a little place, this world of ours, to be the scene of such transcendent transactions. But size, as we measure it, counts for nothing on high; as far as we can see, it is the method of God every where to work from what man calls insignificant centres over vast areas of life. It is emphatically thus in history. England is but a little country, Greece was less, Judea least of all; and yet from these intense radiating centres influences have streamed forth which will be fruitful of high results throughout eternity. The cultivated homes of men are but little oases in the midst of desert and ocean spaces, of vast extent and dreary monotony; fruitless and useless in our weak judgment; though we are now beginning to see that they are essential to the high development of the limited regions which can nourish the noblest forms of life. Who shall tell what is to grow out of the transactions of which this little, but most highly developed and glorious, earth has been the theatre, to the great universe and the kingdom of heaven in eternity? (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The gospel and its recommendation
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 about three things--
1. It tells of a divinely-appointed Saviour. It tells of “Christ Jesus,” and there is gospel in the very name. I thank God for that name. I have sometimes ventured to compare it to what we are all familiar with--the sign-board above a shop-door, telling what is to be got there; or the name on the door of a lawyer or physician, telling what men may expect there. A sick man sees the doctor’s name on his door, and applies to him without hesitation. He says, “The man is a physician, a doctor; that is his profession; he is there for the very purpose of receiving and curing the sick and dying, and I have a claim on his services which he cannot, dare not, refuse.” And so here is One who has His name, as it were, on His door; His profession, His business described in His very name--“Jesus.” It tells His occupation--the Saviour. But He is also spoken of as the “Christ,” that is, the Anointed One. Let us go back to the olden times again. There is one who has been guilty of some sin, which lies heavy on his conscience and heart. He takes the prescribed offering, a lamb, and goes with it to the priest, that that lamb may suffer and die for him, as his sacrifice, his substitute; and when its blood is shed, his sin is atoned for and put away. But the question comes up, “Is He a right priest? Has He a Divine commission?” Yes; because He is “anointed,” the holy oil was poured on Him, setting Him apart to the holy office; and as He is an anointed priest, there is no cause to fear. Or take another case: a crime has been committed, and the offender is sent to the king, who alone can give pardon for such an offence. The pardon is given; the man hears it from the king’s own lips. But here, too, the doubt arises, “Has He a right to give it? Is He commissioned to grant a pardon? Is He the real king? Will the pardon stand?” Yes; because the holy anointing oil was poured on Him, which marks Him out as me God-anointed king. And like other great official persons, He carries His credentials with Him.
2. It tells of the mission and work of Christ. By His “mission,” I mean His being “sent,” His coming on His great errand of mercy and love. “Christ Jesus came into the world.” What a word of wonder is this! I have been in one of our Highland cottages, and have had the place pointed out where our Queen has sat. There is a sacredness about the spot that can hardly be told, so that you scarcely wonder that some of our humble Scottish peasants have said, “None shall ever sit on that seat again!” You can fancy the mingled pride and enthusiasm with which they tell of the condescension of the greatest sovereign in the world visiting their lowly dwellings.
She came into this humble cottage of mine! “And yet what was that to this--Christ Jesus came into the world”? There is a lazar-house for the reception of lepers in all the stages of their dreadful disease. No man who enters comes out but for burial. One of these good, devoted men, the Moravian Brethren, has his heart filled with compassion for the sufferers, and with the desire to point them to Christ and to heaven; and knowing that he bids a life-long farewell to all outside, he cheerfully enters, and the door closes, shutting him up in a kind of living grave. You say, What a marvel of love and pity! And yet, what are all these as compared with this--“Christ Jesus came into the world”? And then, in regard to the work which He came into the world to do, notice the words--“to save sinners!” Most wonderful of all! Strangers, enemies, rebels--these are some of the descriptions that you have in the Word of God of those whom He came to save.
3. It tells of the objects of His care and love. I have spoken of these, in the general, as “sinners.” We now get a step further forward--“sinners of whom I am chief,” or “first.”
II. Having spoken of the gospel itself, I ask your attention now to its recommendation: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.”
1. It is true. The great drawback about many things that are very attractive is that they are not true. You have met with some entertaining volume. It interests you deeply, and lays thorough hold of your heart. You would rather lose a meal, or an afternoon’s play, or an hour’s sleep, than lay aside your book. And as you finish the reading of it, with the tear in your eye, and your young heart beating quick, you say, “That is a fine story, a wonderful story. I have seldom read anything like it.” Ay, but do you know it is not true; it is just “made up”; it is all unreal. Sometimes you have pleasant dreams; you are happy as can be; you have gained some object on which your hearts have long been set; but you suddenly wake up, and it is but an empty dream. Friends who have come home from India have told us, that when passing through the desert, they have seen the “mirage,” with its grassy slopes and graceful trees casting their shadow on the lake beside which they seem to be growing, most beautiful to the eye; but it is only a vision, and in a moment vanishes out of sight. But I have this to say in favour of the wondrous gospel story, that it is true. I wonder if you ever got the length of doubting it? There is an old man who is often to be found in his humble cottage, with his large family Bible spread out before him, always open at the 14th chapter of John. A youth, who is a frequent visitor, coming in to ask for him, says, “I wonder why you are so often reading these words, when you know them all by heart; I should be for reading what I did not know.” “Well, master,” is the old man’s reply, “you are right enough, I dare say; but it seems to do me good to get a look at the real words; it helps an old man’s faith, for when I see them, I say, There they be, and I cannot doubt them. You see the thought of a mansion in heaven for an old sinner like me, and my Lord going before to prepare it, and coming back to take me to it--why, it is all so wonderful, that if I could not get a look at the words sometimes, I am afraid I should be just doubting again.”
2. It is trustworthy. Paul tells here that he has tried it, he has made the experiment, and can now recommend it from personal experience. I fear to trust myself on such a slender support, and gaze with dismay upon the abyss below. I look for another way, but there is none. At length I hear a voice from the other side saying, “The plank bears; I have tried it; I have crossed it; it will bear you; plant your foot firmly on it, and you will get safely across.” I look across, and see a man larger and heavier than myself; and when I see him, I pluck up heart, plant my foot on the plank, and cross in safety; and once I am over, I too can testify, The plank bears; I can say, It is trustworthy; I can give others the benefit of my experience: “It has saved me, and now I can recommend it to you.”
3. It is all-important. It is worthy of all acceptation, and therefore of all attention. It is no trifling matter.
4. It is welcome-worthy. It is spoken of here as being “worthy of all acceptation.” “Oh, that dreary gospel,” I think I hear some one saying, “I suppose we must needs have to do with it, or we cannot be saved. It is very much like a medicine. I am ill, I must take it, or I shall not recover, but it is bitter and repulsive.” Not so, says Paul; this gospel is “worthy of all welcome.” I might compare it to those letters from beloved friends, which the arrival of the mail from some distant country brings to us. (J. H. Wilson, M. A.)
For whom is the gospel meant
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.)
A faithful saying
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.)
Christ’s power to save
I seem to see Saul rising on that road 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.)
The mission of Christ to the worst
All the great hereditary and historical religions of mankind, both of the East and the West, are religions designed for morally respect able people, for men who, in their own opinion, are good and deserving persons, or are earning merit and future bliss by trying to become so. That was and is the essence of Bhuddism, of Brahminism, of Laoutsaism, of Islam, and of the natural, philosophical religions of Europe and America. They are the religions of men who “are going about,” like the Jews of the first century--the Jews of corrupted Judaism, “to establish their own righteousness” and title to immortal life, or to Nirvana. The genuine Christianity, taught by the Lord Jesus, the Christ of God, the one genuine message of the Eternal Creator to the human race, is the one and only religion proposed to, and pressed upon, the wicked. It is sent forth over all the world, as salvation for the lost, as complete and immediate salvation. (E. White.)
The sinner’s door
When I began my ministry in Dundee, I had the privilege of meeting many of those who were blessed under the preaching of the sainted Murray M’Cheyne, I was told of one case of conversion which is rather peculiar. The person was much troubled, his mind was filled with gloomy darkness, and he had no peace nor rest. One day, as M’Cheyne was preaching to Christians, not to those outside of Christ’s fold, the man got peace. After the service he went round to the vestry to see the minister, who did not need to inquire if the visitor had got peace, it shone in his face; so he simply asked, “How did you get it?” He answered, “All the time I’ve been trying to enter in at the saints’ door, but while you were speaking I saw my mistake, and entered in at the sinners’ door.” It is the only way; you need not come to God as a saint, or a pretty good sort of a person, but simply as a sinner, wanting and needing salvation. (W. Riddell.)
A gospel text
Mr. William White, one of the London City Missionaries, relates the following interesting fact: “Some years ago, through the kindness of the late Joseph Sturge, Esq., of Birmingham, a large grant of copies of 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.--
The chief sinners objects of the choicest mercy
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 50:1-11.) 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” (Isaiah 1:2). He comes to charge them “laden with iniquity” (verse 4). They had been incorrigible under judgments. "Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more" (Isaiah 1:5).
2. God hath given examples of it in Scripture. Manasseh is an eminent example of this doctrine. His story (2 Chronicles 23:1-21.) 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 (verses 4, 5, 7).
(5) Murder. Perhaps of his children, which he caused to pass through the fire as an offering to his idol (verse 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 (2 Kings 21:6).
(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 (verse 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; Luke 14:23).
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 “ (verse 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” (verse 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 (verse 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 shouldst do as men ready to perish in the waters, catch hold of that which is next them, though it be the dearest friend they have; and there is none nearer to thee than Christ, nor any such a friend; catch hold therefore of Him.
5. The greatness of thy sin is a ground for a plea. Turn thy sins into arguments, as David doth, “for it is great” (Psalms 25:11). If thy disease were not so great, Christ’s glory would not be so illustrious. Pardon of such sins enhanceth the mercy and skill of thy Saviour. Plead therefore--
1. The infiniteness of God’s mercy. It is strange if thy debts should be so great, that the exchequer of the King of kings cannot discharge them. Hast Thou not said that Thou art He “that blots out transgressions for Thy own sake”? (Isaiah 43:25); that Thou dost “blot out iniquities like a thick cloud”? (Isaiah 44:22). Is there any cloud so thick as to master the melting power of the sun; and shall ever a cloud of sin be so thick as to master the power of Thy mercy? Has not Thy mercy as much strength and eloquence to plead for me, as Thy justice has to declaim against me? Is Thy justice better armed with reason than Thy kindness with compassions? Have Thy compassions no eloquence? Oh, who can resist their pleasing rhetoric?
2. Christ’s, and God’s intent in His coming, was to discharge great sins. He was called Jesus, a Saviour, because He was to save His people from their sins. And do you think some of His people’s sins were not as great as any men’s sins in the world?
3. Christ’s death was a satisfaction for the greatest sins, for God could not accept any satisfaction, but what was infinite. “One sacrifice for sins for ever,” etc. (Hebrews 10:12); not one sin, but sins; not little sins, but sins without exception. Let thy objections be what they will, Christ shall be my advocate to answer for me.
4. Christ is able to take away great sins. Did He ever let any one that came to Him with a great infirmity, go back without a cure, and dishonour Himself so much, as that it should be said, it was a distemper too great far the power of Jesus to remedy? And why should there be any sin that He cannot pardon? But, may the soul say, I do not question His power, but His will. Therefore--
5. Christ’s nature leads Him to show mercy to the greatest sinners.
6. Christ was exalted by God upon this very account (Hebrews 7:25).
7. Christ is entrusted by God to give out His grace to great sinners. Christ is God’s Lord-almoner, for the dispensing redemption, and the riches of His grace.
Fourthly, the caution which this subject suggests.
1. Think not thy sins are pardoned because they are not so great as those God has pardoned in others. A few small sands may sink a ship as well as a great rock. Thy sins may be pardoned though as great as others, but then you must have equal qualifications with them. They had great sins, so hast thou; but have you as great a hatred and loathing of sin as they had?
2. Let not this doctrine encourage any person to go on in sin.
God never intended mercy as a sanctuary to protect sin.
1. It is disingenuous to do so. Great love requires great duties, not great sins. Freeness of grace should make us increase holiness in a more cheerful manner.
2. It is foolish so to do. Would any man be so simple as to set his house on fire because he has a great river running by his door, from whence he may have water to quench it; or wound himself, because there is an excellent plaster which has cured several?
3. It is dangerous to do so. If thou losest the present time, thou art in danger to lose eternity. There are many in hell never sinned at such a presumptuous rate. He is merciful to the penitent, but He will not be unfaithful to His threatenings. (S. Charnock.)
The pattern convert; or, the chief sinner saved
I. 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.)
The chief of sinners
It was a characteristic of the religion of Paul, that it was eminently personal and practical. The idea, therefore, to which we direct your attention is this: That true religion, and great experience in it, cause the believer to regard himself peculiarly a sinner. We have several considerations to prove this.
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.)
The chief of sinners
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.)
The chief of sinners
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.)
Fourth Sunday after Trinity
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.)
Let us begin by thinking what St. Paul could possibly mean by calling himself “the chief of sinners.” We know very well that he did not mean, that, either before his conversion or since, his life had been anything but most decorous and respectable. “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God unto this day.” And, in writing to friends, he could describe himself in those early years before his conversion, as “touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless.” It is equally certain that he did not mean that his life had ever been careless, and thoughtless, and worldly. He speaks of himself in one of his Epistles as “profiting,” that is, making progress, “in the Jews’ religion above many my equals,” that is, my cotemporaries. He had also been a very religious man; religious after a wrong pattern of religion, it is true, but still thoroughly and ardently religious after the common type and pattern of the day. And yet this man of blameless life and strict religion, writing quietly in advancing years to a favourite friend and pupil, can speak of himself as the “chief of sinners.” What can he mean by such language? One thing is already quite clear. St. Paul must have thought of sin in a way very different from that in which most of us are in the habit of thinking of it. To us, the “chief of sinners” would be a man of utterly profligate and vicious life, who had broken the commandments of God in the most reckless and high-handed way. And so little does our notion of “the chief of sinners” agree with what we know about St. Paul, that, when he calls himself so, while we admire his humility, we barely give him credit for sincerity. He can scarcely have meant it, we think. But I am sure we shall make a great mistake, if we resolve that “I am chief” of our text into a passing pang of pain, shot into his mind by the sudden recollection of those old days, when, as the historian says, “he made havoc of the Church,” and “breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” None of us would dream of denying the fact of our sinfulness. That we are sinners we all confess. But the confession is often a very hollow one; means very little; means often only this--that we know we are not perfect, but we believe we are not worse than most people, and are a good deal better than some, and may reasonably expect to do well enough at the last. That St. Paul should speak of himself as the “chief of sinners,” seems to persons, who are thinking thus of sin and meaning no more than this by their confession of sinfulness, only an outrageous extravagance of language--a temporary fit of morbid self-reproach. We may be quite sure of this, that so long as we go on comparing ourselves with other people, and judging other people, we shall never come to any real sense of sin, or to any true penitence for it, or to any heartfelt desire for its forgiveness. Such comparison of ourselves with others is utterly false and misleading. Neither must we rest satisfied with judging ourselves by any external standard or rule of life, whether it be the law of God, or the law and custom and fashion of the society of which we are members. We may be models of propriety; exemplary in every department of conduct and life. And yet that may be true of us, which Jesus said was true of the religious world of His own day: “This people honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me.” For indeed, this terrible matter of sin goes far deeper than outward conduct. Outward conduct may reveal the depths of sin within, may reveal them to the man himself, as well as to the world around. But no outward conduct is a measure of sin. Judged by outward conduct one would have said of St. Paul, that he was as near perfection as a man could be. At this point of our inquiry we must try to get nearer, if we can, to St. Paul’s experience. The recollection of those old persecuting days was lying very heavily on his conscience, when he wrote the words of our text; not heavily in the sense of making his forgiveness doubtful, but heavily in the sense of revealing the possibilities of sin within. When he came to himself in the moment of his conversion, the fact that he had been a persecutor of the disciples of Christ, fancying all the while that he was doing God’s service, must have made the first rude breach in the self-righteousness of Saul the Pharisee. Time and thought would only enlarge that breach and make it more practicable. If he had deceived himself so grossly once, fancying that to be right and virtuous which was so manifestly wrong and wicked, why not again? It is often such a rude shock as this to vanity and self-confidence that marks an epoch in a man’s spiritual life, awakening, and ultimately transforming him. In this way it is that “men may,” and often do, “rise by stepping-stones of their dead selves to higher things.” We must learn humility. We must learn the bitter lesson of self-distrust. No true progress is possible until this lesson has been learned. Along with this experience--perhaps as part of it--there went another. It was part of the sorrow and humiliation of Saul’s conversion, that it revealed to him the painful fact, that his life and work had been set hitherto in a wrong direction; that he must break with 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.)
1 Timothy 1:16
Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy.
Praise for salvation
The narration of personal experience may be very helpful to those who are wanting instruction or sympathy. Men are better able to grasp truth in the concrete than in the abstract. To see a sinner saved from sin is more helpful than to read of salvation. No one recognized this more clearly, or acted on it more wisely, than Paul; and some of the most instructive parts of his Epistles are those in which he recounts his own religious experience. We may similarly help others, especially our own children, and those who are within the sacred circle of friendship; but the narration of experience may be as harmful as beneficial, if it becomes frequent or formal. There is danger of egotism, till our own personality covers the whole horizon of our thought. There is risk of affected singularity, as if we wished to be distinguished from others and considered superior to them. Referring to himself he says--
I. That salvation came to one most undeserving. “Chief of sinners though I am,” he exclaims, “I obtained mercy,” “that in me,” in the very depths of my nature, in my whole future destiny, Jesus Christ might “show forth all long-suffering.”
II. That his conversion was a pattern for all the future.
III. That such conversion should express itself in praise to God is evident from the noble doxology which follows--“Now unto the King eternal, immortal, incorruptible, invisible, the only (wise) God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Paul was always ready for a song of praise, and could sing as heartily in prison at Philippi as at the prayer-meeting beside its river. It is not often that God is spoken of as “King,” and the expression rendered by our translators “the King eternal,” but more correctly in the margin of the Revised Version “King of the Ages,” is quite peculiar to this verse. What a helpful assurance this is that our God, our Saviour, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the supreme Lord of all the successive ages which stretch from the forgotten past into the infinite future; that He controls all stages of development in the natural realm, in the creation and dissolution of worlds, and in the kingdom of grace! (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Saul of Tarsus obtaining mercy
I. Let us consider this mercy in reference to himself.
1. In the first place, the mercy which he obtained pardoned all his sins. His sins, numerous and aggravated as they were, instead of being visited with deserved punishment, were all forgiven. The hand of mercy blotted out his iniquities as a cloud, and his transgressions as a thick cloud, so that in his own condition the promise of God to the penitent was fulfilled, “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” How complete and efficacious is the pardon which the penitent transgressor never fails to receive when he confesses his iniquities and cries, “Lord, save me, or I perish”!
2. The mercy which he obtained renewed and sanctified his heart and character. By this Divine and sanctifying illumination an entire change was effected in his sentiments, and feelings, and character; and though no new faculties were imparted to his mind, yet the original faculties of his mind received a new impulse and direction. His mind acquired new associations of ideas; new trains of thought and feeling; new views of himself, and of Christ, and of religion in general; so that he began to love what he once hated, and to hate what he once loved, and to declare, as the result of his own experience, “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” How warm and constant was his love to Christ, whose mercy he had obtained! “Many waters could not quench it, neither could the floods drown it.” With what tender and earnest compassion did his spirit yearn over those who wilfully rejected the mercy which he had obtained, and which, in his estimation, was infinitely valuable! “Of whom,” says he, “I have told you often, and I now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction.” How entirely was he devoted to the work in which he was engaged! What steady and unflinching fortitude and magnanimity he manifested, in the midst of all the afflictions and persecutions he endured! “None of these things move me,” said he. And yet what deep humility was associated with all his holy excellencies, and his abundant usefulness! He was “not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.”
II. Consider this same mercy in reference to Jesus Christ. For He was its source and giver, and by Him was this apostle constituted a “vessel of mercy, and a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use.” And if such a character as Paul’s was formed by Christ, what, think you, must be His own character? If Paul was the workmanship of Christ, what, think you, must be the skill, and purity, and power of the heavenly Architect? There was much in the character of Paul that was great, and much in it that was glorious; but every attribute of his greatness and every beam of his glory was derived from Christ.
1. In the first place, the mercy which Jesus Christ exercised towards him was long-suffering mercy. “In me,” says he, “Jesus Christ hath showed forth all long-suffering.” And in him it was indeed shown most evidently and extensively. Why did not flames from heaven descend, and consume him to ashes? Why?--for the same reason that they have not yet fallen upon you. “Because He is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
2. The mercy which Jesus Christ exercised towards him was sovereign mercy. And so far was he from even expecting it, that his thoughts and affections were fully occupied in anticipating the havoc which he intended to make in the church at Damascus. Such was his character up to the very moment when the persecuted Saviour met him in the way. And yet, though he neither deserved this mercy nor desired it, nor expected it, he most abundantly obtained it, with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. No reason, I apprehend, can be assigned, by us at least, why he should be converted at all, or why his conversion should take place at that time, and under those circumstances, except “the good pleasure” of the Saviour’s will. “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight.”
3. The mercy which Jesus Christ exercised towards him was efficacious mercy; for it came to him, “not in word only, but in power.” If ever any case of depravity and crime appeared to be invincible and desperate, this was the case.
III. Consider this mercy in reference to ourselves and to sinners in general. The apostle further says in our text, that the mercy which he obtained at his conversion was intended to render him “a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Christ to life everlasting.”
1. In the first place, this pattern shows us that the conversion and salvation of a sinner’s soul is effected by Divine mercy. Yes, throughout the whole work of man’s redemption by the incarnation and sufferings of Christ, and throughout the pardon, and sanctification and spiritual progress of every saved sinner, mercy, sweet mercy reigns. Mercy determined on our salvation in the ages of eternity, and provided a Saviour for us in the fulness of time. Mercy arrests the sinner in his course, and enlightens his mind, and softens his heart and teaches him to pray, and enables him to be faithful even unto death. And mercy opens for him the gates of the celestial city, and conducts him to the throne, and places on his head the crown of everlasting life.
2. In the second place, this pattern shows us the ability and willingness of Christ to show mercy to the greatest sinners, who repent and believe His gospel.
3. This pattern shews what a believer may become through the Saviour’s mercy.(J. Alexander.)
The character and conversion of Saul of Tarsus
Judgment and mercy are to be our songs in the house of our pilgrimage; and judgment and mercy are the chief subjects of God’s Word. In one page of that Word we read of God’s destroying the world with a deluge--in the other, of saving Noah and eight persons in the ark. In one page we read of His giving up the nations of the earth to the basest idolatry--in the other, of His calling Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, and bidding him separate himself in mercy from them. In one page we read of His destroying the cities of the plain, and the inhabitants with them--in the other, of His rescuing Lot and his family lest he should be devoured in the coming devastation. God’s wisdom and love are surprisingly manifest in these portions of Holy Writ, and in thus setting before us judgment and mercy. Some are monuments of His wrath, to alarm, arouse, and convict the impenitent, hardened, and profligate sinner; while others are monuments of His grace, His free mercy, and His sovereign love, to, show how boundless it is in its extent, and to animate penitent sinners to come to the same source from whence these individuals obtained so large a share. The apostle tells us that his conversion was “a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on Christ to life everlasting.” Is there any one supposing that his sins are too peculiar and too aggravated to find mercy? I call upon him now to look at the peculiar case presented, at the specimen of the divine workmanship here brought to his view. It is to be held up as “a pattern,” to show the vast and boundless extent of the grace of God in the conversion of the sinner, and the plenitude of the mercy of Christ in its extending to the utmost bounds of a sinner’s guilt. Those of us who have believed through grace, ought to find our minds refreshed by looking at these patterns which God has set up in His Word.
I. The sinfulness of saul’s life before his conversion.
1. He was a horrid blasphemer. “I verily thought,” he says, “that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth; which things I also did in Jerusalem.” His name was like poison to his very soul; he never spoke of Him but with the most daring impiety; he would never examine the evidences of His mission, never look to the prophecies of olden time, never examine the types which the prophets represent and set forth of the great Messiah who was hereafter to come: but he took it for granted that He was an impostor, and he treated Him as such. He was a man of great learning, and he turned all his learning to despise his Saviour. He insulted Him and His disciples, and as far as lay in him he was determined that the name of Christ should never be known in the world, but as a name of execration fit only for the mouths of swearers and blasphemers. This was his determination.
2. He was a furious persecutor as well as a blasphemer. Whoever professed the name of Jesus Christ was the object of his inveterate rage. But let us trace the gross features in his character as a persecutor, in order to discover the strength of his enmity to Jesus Christ and His disciples.
(1) He tells us that he was “exceedingly mad against them.” And in Acts 9:1, there is a peculiar phrase used: “Saul yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter.” You have seen a man in a great passion; the passion affects his breathing, so that he breathes out his words; he cannot utter them with that coolness, and conciseness, and readiness, which he does when he is quite free from passion; but he breathes them out; it seems to affect all his powers. This is the exact metaphor used in the words of the passage: “breathing out.” He was “exceedingly mad against them”: not only angry, but mad; and not only mad, but exceedingly mad.
(2) He threatened them with “slaughter.” His tongue was a servant which he employed in the devil’s service to a vast extent; he used the most desperate threats to these poor individuals, these lamb-like persons, of confiscation, of imprisonment, and even of slaughter.
(3) He “compelled them to blaspheme.” And methinks this is the cream of his defilement, that he was not content to be an infidel himself, that he was not content to degrade Christ himself, but he made this the price of being let loose from his grasp, that they should deny Christ, that they should forswear Christ, that they should give up Christ, and that they should sever themselves for ever from Christ.
(4) He “haled men and women to prison”: not only men but women. Their sex might have excused them and pleaded for pity; but that was nothing to him; women were no more regarded than men: his bowels were shut against the mother with the child at her bosom; she might plead them--it was of no use.
(5) Look at another point of his character: “many of the saints did he shut up in prison”; not one family, but many, numbers; all within his own reach or power--he not only took them before the magistrates, but “shut them up in prison.” And mark what he also tells us in Acts 26:1-32; he was not content with his rage exerting itself in Jerusalem, but he persecuted them “even unto strange cities.” He extended this madness of persecution not only to Jerusalem and its suburbs, but to strange cities, cities that he had no connection with, and among whose inhabitants he had no need to go; only if there was a saint there, if there was one who named the name of Jesus there, that would bring him to that city.
(6) He “caused them to be put to death,” and triumphed over them in their sufferings. Acts 26:10. This was the character of Saul previous to his conversion. I do not know whether there is a persecutor present; of course I could not suppose that there is such a persecutor as Saul was. God be thanked that in happy Britain the government of the country would not allow it, or else the spirit, in numbers, is the same. But I refer to that man whose wife has just begun to be serious; he does not take a razor and cut her throat; he does not shoot her with a pistol; he does not drag her before a magistrate; but everything that can embitter her life, everything that can cross and aggravate her temper--this he does; and in this manner he persecutes her because she prays for him, because she loves Christ, and serves Him, and delights in His service. Art thou here, O man? Look at the spirit of the individual whom I present before you this evening, and see yourself, and hate yourself while you look at it.
3. He was not only a furious persecutor, but he was an injurious neighbour. He himself tells us this: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious “: that is, he never did any real good; that is, he never sought God’s glory, or his fellow creatures’ true happiness: he would not only not enter in himself, but he would not let others enter in. How many widows did this man make! How many orphans did he make! How many hearts did he break! How much poverty did he occasion!
4. There was another point in his character: he was a proud Pharisee. This may appear light to some, but this was the crown of his character, this is the greatness of his guilt; this is (if I may use the expression) his scarlet and his crimson sin--that he went about to set up and establish his own righteousness, not submitting himself to the righteousness of God. “Publicans and harlots,” says our Saviour, “enter into the kingdom of heaven before them.” Now there are many individuals who are similar to Saul. We hear numbers say, “I am not a liar; I am not a drunkard; I pay my way; I live respectably in the world, and endeavour to train up my children respectably; and if I don’t go to heaven, who ought to go?” And where is Christ, and where is the Saviour of sinners? “Yes, but then,” you say, “I know I have done wrong in many things; we are all guilty in some respects: but then I have never been a great sinner, and I do hope that if I do as well as I can, the Lord Jesus Christ will help me, and give me some of His merit that I may die in peace.” Now this, though not uttered in such plain and direct language, is often implied, and is the meaning of thousands of sinners.
II. The free grace of Christ exhibited in his conversion. Perceive how his conversion was effected by Christ. Imagine yourselves in Jerusalem a few minutes, and see Saul just as he is setting out on his journey to Damascus, for the sake of persecuting the poor saints in that city. See him mount his horse; see the numbers around him--what a splendid guard the man has. Look at the Sanhedrim, the chief priests and the great men of his nation coming to him, shaking hands with him, and saying, “God speed your way, and give you the success of your mission”: look how the people are congratulating him all around. See the poor saints trembling. “Now,” they say, “I fear for the safety of my sister, who has gone to Damascus. Now is my dear friend who lives in that city about to be butchered by this furious tyrant.” See the people all running to John Mark’s house, to engage in prayer, and bring down the blessing of heaven, that this man be stopped in his persecution; and going home to write letters, to prevent, if possible, the danger to which some of their friends and relations will be subject by this man’s arrival. Never man thought himself more secure; never man thought he was going on a more virtuous embassy; and he had pretty nearly reached Damascus, he was within sight of the gates; and just as he was going forward, and some of the saints perhaps looking out of the windows, seeing him advancing, and trembling for fear of his entry--just as he approached the gate, the Lord Jesus Christ opened a window in heaven, and let one single ray of His glory fall down from heaven upon him. This was the manner of his conversion; now let us see what effect did his conversion produce? What effect did it produce on the spot? It turned proud Saul into humble Paul: he that was raging with madness against the disciples, was now trembling and astonished for himself. See what it did for him the three days afterwards. The light that came from heaven had taken away his natural sight, but how it had illuminated his mind. How great his anguish now he saw his past life! Oh, the grace that could soften such a heart, melt such a mind! But see what his conversion did for him in after days. And here mark, there was not only grace to make him a Christian, but there was grace to make him a minister: he was not only taken from the world as the Church are, but he was taken from the Church as Aaron was, and made a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. And now let us see him in his ministry. What was the subject of it? “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” And he went and preached boldly before kings, and rulers, and magistrates, and assemblies of different classes, the glories of his Saviour, and the triumphs of His grace. Oh, the labours of this man! Oh, the prayers of this man! Oh, the zeal of this man! Oh, the melting pity of this man over lost souls! Oh, the subjugating power of Divine grace, and the influence of Divine love!
III. The design of christ in his conversion. I know not which to admire most, the sovereignty and grace of Christ in converting him, or the sovereignty and grace of Christ in exhibiting his conversion as a pattern to others, as an example from which they might take encouragement as long as time should last.
1. Here is the pattern of the infinite merit of Christ’s death. The atonement of Christ reaches back to the first sin, and extends itself to the last: “He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” “He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him.”
2. The unquestionable willingness of Christ’s heart.
3. You here see the great design of Christ’s gospel. Why is the gospel published? This is the pattern. To show you the great design of Christ’s gospel--that is to encourage the souls of sinners to come to Him and be saved.
4. Again: look here and see the pattern of the renovating power of Christ’s grace. Oh, how it changes the hearts and lives of sinners! In one of my village stations, a little time ago, I looked in at a cottage, and inquired of a poor woman there how things were going with herself and family. She said, “Oh, sir, I have more reason to bless God for the gospel than I can tell you. When we first came to this cottage, both my husband and myself were drunkards, our children were but barely clothed, and everything we had in the world was marked by the extremest poverty and misery; but now, instead of that, the Lord laid hold of my husband’s heart first, then He was pleased to convert me by the preaching at the place of worship; and now the children are blessed, and I am blessed, and we are all happy together.” And now you will see her one of the most respectable women in the village, with a little money in the savings’ bank: on the Sunday all the children are catechised, and the husband delights to read and pray with his wife and children. Is not this an exhibition of the renovating power of Christ’s grace? And this is not a solitary instance: you yourselves know instances like this in the neighbourhoods wherein you reside, where Christ’s renovating power has been manifested. You are to look at this for a pattern if you are ever downcast for any individual. Here see what the power of Christ’s grace can do. In the first place, corruption has a power over the individual, and makes him a blasphemer, a persecutor, injurious, and a Pharisee: and now the grace that has renovated his heart makes him a humble seeker of the Saviour, a zealous disciple of Christ, an anxious neighbour, desirous of the good of others, and pondering the way to heaven, and walking in it. (J. Sherman.)
Salvation for the chief of sinners
I. The fact which is here asserted by St. Paul. “I obtained mercy.”
II. The use which St. Paul makes of this great fact in his history. St. Paul speaks here of his conversion, not only in its reference to himself, but also in its reference to others. Perhaps more than any person that ever lived St. Paul lived for others; perhaps more than any person that ever lived St. Paul was the most useful to others. It was a great fact for himself; it brought Salvation to his soul, and he rejoiced in God for it. But it was a great fact for the world. Two things are especially, I think, to be noted in St. Paul’s conversion. The one is its distinctness--it was a very marked conversion. His life was very decided before it and very decided after it. He was a prominent character, a well-known man, and it was a very distinct and a very decided conversion; but it is not upon that which he dwells in our text. There was another thing to be noted about the conversion of St. Paul, that it afforded a very wonderful exhibition and illustration of the long-suffering of Jesus Christ. The other apostles had been called by the Lord Jesus-Christ to serve and follow Him from a life of innocence, comparatively speaking, at all events from a life that was void of any opposition to Him. (E. Bayley, M. A.)
Paul an example of mercy
I. The improbability of Paul’s obtaining mercy. “Howbeit, I obtained mercy.”
II. The mercy which, notwithstanding the improbability of the case, Paul did receive.
1. It was sovereign in its source. Whence did it spring? Through what medium did it flow? Human merit could have nothing to do in the gift of mercy to the chief of sinners. Mercy always excludes merit, and most evidently so in the instance before us.
2. It was great in its degree. We estimate the greatness of mercy by the guilt of the offender, and by the effects it produces.
3. It was boundless in its blessings. Hear the elevated sentiment of this apostle, writing to the Ephesians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ”; blessings of the best kind; blessings adapted to the nature and necessities of the soul; blessings that are from heaven, that lead to heaven, that bring us into intimate connection with heavenly realities, and that are durable as their eternal enjoyment. It is the observation of a late author, Though God is sovereign in the bestowment of mercy, He is not niggardly. He goes beyond the humbled sinner’s highest expectation. Where he looked for a single drop, there descends the copious shower. Where he hoped to receive the alms of one mite, he finds the collected treasures of a thousand ages, the great mountain of solid gold.
III. The DESIGN of its bestowment.
1. It was to illustrate Divine long-suffering.
2. It was to promote human encouragement. We here behold its majesty, its energy, and its triumph. (T. Kidd.)
On patterns in religion
Some men speak only of a salvation which they have heard of from others. Some teach others a salvation which they have experienced themselves. Paul was the chief of these. This personal element runs through all his writings. The stream of his teaching sprang at first, and still springs, from the fountain depths of his own soul, and it was, therefore, a living stream, like the river in Ezekiel’s prophecy, which deepened as it flowed and healed wherever its waters descended. God had fulfilled to him the words, “The water that I shall give him shall be within him a fountain of water springing up to everlasting life.” The point which comes before us to-day is this--his salvation ended not in himself, it was a pattern to encourage all other sinners to trust in the like forgiving mercy. We are very dependent on fashions and patterns in all parts of our life, to assist our labours, to stimulate our energies, to encourage our hopes. Examples act upon us more powerfully than arguments. Happy the Church which can say to all around, not only “Believe the Gospel,” but “See what it has done for us!--that it has given us peace with God, a new and nobler life within, of thought, of design, of love, of hope, of action. Come with us, and we will do you good.” The best recommendation of a remedy, and of teaching, is its visible effect on ourselves. Let us see, by looking more closely into the history of St. Paul, how remarkably he was a typical pattern of salvation by Christ in all its stages and developments from first to last.
I. In his call. This was a supernatural and gracious work of God, brought about by an act above and beyond all ordinary moral laws. The act of placing saving truth before us as a heavenly vision is always the act of God alone, in His providence and grace. It is the result of a purpose of God, a call. Men do not discover truth savingly by mere study or experiment, as they find out the secrets of nature. Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. It is the Spirit who says to Philip on behalf of the Treasurer, “Draw nigh to this chariot,” and opens to him the book of Esaias the prophet. If you have been visited with a view of the reality of Jesus Christ as your Saviour, this has been the act of God. “Of Him are all things.” So it was with Saul of Tarsus.
II. Paul’s life is a pattern of arbitrary and sovereign selection to special spiritual advantages and special appointments--the result of an everlasting purpose of God. He is a chosen vessel to Me to bear My name before kings and peoples--a splendidly embossed golden vase in which sweet odours of truth shall be burned before all nations. The world is full of such special and individual destinations that can be traced to no other source than the special will of God. Thus, too, some nations, as Israel of old, and now the Saxon race. Yet this Divine predestination is quite consistent with man’s ultimate freedom. The predestinations of God do not enslave, but liberate and energize the will of man. “He worketh in us--to will.” The will is ours, the inspiration is God’s. “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” But the special vocations of God’s servants are not for their own private and personal behoof. They look toward the profit of many, that they may be saved. If Paul is the chosen vessel, it is that he may “preach the Gospel to every creature.” “To make all men see the fellowship of the mystery.”
III. St. Paul was a pattern in his pardon. “In him first Jesus Christ showed forth all long-suffering,” to encourage others, though vile as he, to wash in the same life-giving fountain. We need other and nearer patterns. And they abound around us. Would that some whose experience is large and exact, and who have seen into the secret of the salvation of many different kinds of souls, would write for us a variety of biographies to serve as encouraging patterns, suited to modern contemporary society. It seems useless to tell the modern young man, whose form of alienation from God, his heavenly Father, is not that of a cruel persecutor, that he may take courage to trust in the mercy of God from the example of St. Paul. It does not touch him. A pattern of modem spiritual life that sprang out of a modern callousness and love of trifling amusements, just like his own, is what he requires. Tell them of such “patterns” as these, and they prove very helpful. God reveals Himself in many ways in nature, and Christ reveals Himself in many ways in the spiritual providence--not by books only, much less by sermons only--but by lives, somewhat akin to our own, and likely to move and touch and animate us by their example in kindred spheres of action. And so with women, and young women. The “patterns” which are likely to affect them, in a way to draw them to Christ, in closer love, are not those set before us in “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,” where men had to burn at Smithfield for denying transubstantiation, at the behests of Mary Tudor and her bishops. They must be drawn from nearer home and from our own day. And such “patterns” of loving and noble lives, inspired with tender compassion, and industrious obedience, and diligent zeal in home duties are so numerous nowadays that a girl must live in a very heathenish circle if she knows of none which can help her to serve her Saviour. Let us not be so blind as to see no transfigurations of character except in the dead. There are around us not a few who shine already in the garments of immortality; who can be depended on for truth, for gentleness, for industry, for serious tenderness, and for active sympathy; and whose uplifted faces already gleam with the reflected light of that city of the living God to which they are moving upwards. But when all is said of the helpfulness of patterns of salvation in aiding us to believe and love the Lord, it remains true that earthly lives are but patterns of things in the heavens, and not “the very image of the things.” They serve but as the shadows of the heavenly realities. They are but prophecies of a more glorious dawn. For the end is not yet, and when that which is perfect is come, that which is imperfect shall be done away. “Then shall I be satisfied when I wake up in Thy likeness.” (E. White.)
Paul’s conversion a pattern
I. In the conversion of Paul the Lord had an eye to others, The fact of his conversion and the mode of it--
1. Would tend to interest and convince other Pharisees and Jews.
2. Would be used by himself in his preaching as an argument to convert and encourage others.
3. Would encourage Paul as a preacher to hope for others.
4. Would become a powerful argument with him for seeking others.
5. Would, long after Paul’s death, remain on record to be the means of bringing many to Jesus.
II. In his entire life Paul speaks to others.
1. In sin. His conversion proves that Jesus receives great sinners.
2. In grace. He proved the power of God to sanctify and preserve.
III. In his whole case he presents a cartoon of others.
1. As to God’s longsuffering to him. In his case longsuffering was carried to its highest pitch. Longsuffering so great that all the patience of God seemed to be revealed in his one instance. Longsuffering which displayed itself in many ways, so as to let him live when persecuting saints; to allow him the possibility of pardon; to call him effectually by grace; to give him fulness of personal blessing; to put him into the ministry and send him to the Gentiles; to keep and support him even unto the end.
2. As to the mode of his conversion. He was saved remarkably, but others will be seen to be saved in like manner if we look below the surface of things. Saved without previous preparation on his own part; saved at once out of darkness and death; saved by Divine power alone; saved by faith wrought in him by God’s own Spirit; saved distinctly, and beyond all doubt. Are we not also saved in precisely the same way? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Divine mercy unlimited
John Newton, speaking of the sudden death of Robinson, of Cambridge, in the house of Dr. Priestly, said: “I think Dr. Priestly is out of the reach of human conviction; but the Lord can convince him. And who can tell but this unexpected stroke may make some salutary impression upon his mind? I can set no limits to the mercy or the power of our Lord, and therefore I continue to pray for him. I am persuaded he is not farther from the truth now than I was once.” (S. Charnock.)
Encouragement from the case of St. Paul
I have heard it said of the elephant, that sometimes before he crosses a bridge he puts his trunk, and perhaps one foot, upon it; he wants to know if it is quite safe, for he is not going to trust his bulky body to things that were built only for horses and men. Well, after he has tried it, if he finds it strong enough, away he goes, and his great carcase is carried right across the stream. Now, suppose you and I sat on the other side, and said we were afraid the bridge would not bear us! Why, how absurd our unbelief would be. So when you see a great elephantine sinner, like the apostle Paul, go lumbering over the bridge of mercy, and not a timber creaks, and the bridge does not even strain under the load, why, then methinks, you may come rushing in a crowd, and say, “It will bear us if it will bear him; it will carry us across, if it can take the chief of sinners to heaven!” ( C. H. Spurgeon.)
John Newton’s conversion
I have never doubted the power of God to convert the heathen world since He converted me. (J. Newton.)
An encouraging reflection
It is no small encouragement to a sick man, to hear of some that have been cured of the same disease as his own, and that in a higher degree of prevalence. (J. Flavel.)
1 Timothy 1:17
Now unto the King eternal
The King of the Ages
“The King eternal,” or, literally, as in the margin of the Revised Version, “The King of the Ages,” words which do not simply tell us something about the King, but also give us some account of His rule; and put into the hands of Faith a key to the highest positions of modern thought and science.
For in all their realms--of matter, mind, and spirit--there is one common element, viz., Law. Whether we look around us, or within, order and rule are being ever more clearly and universally demonstrated. But the Christian attitude is becoming more candid; and now accepts, or is learning to accept the truth of a widespread reign of law with less of fear than of gratitude. For is not this state of order and harmony just what we should expect in His working whose Being is the perfect harmony? For while we know this as an age of Law, and are sometimes perplexed by its inexorableness, the thoughtful mind asks: “Have all the ages been as ordered? In the world of spirit and of matter have there not been whole epochs of distraction and ravage by undisciplined forces? For example, does not the earth on which we tread, bear in her very structure the record of ages of confusion and chaos, darkness and death? when lawlessness, not law, seemed to rule? when, so far as we can judge, there was no guiding thought, no ruling hand? In fact, does not the same defiance of law meet us today in the earthquake? Is law universal or only widespread?” But the deeper readings of science assure us that it is not only the quiet processes which gladden the eye and heart that have their ordered course. The silent and regular development through blade and ear to the full corn, is not more determined and invariable than is the dread convulsion that entombs its thousands; and it was through the exercise of unyielding law that that strife was wrought which has made the structure of our earth what we find it. This decided every event and ordered all the disorder of those ages of seeming unrule. And shall we not take the comfort the spiritual reading of this truth can give? For it is not only in the world of matter such a record of strife and confusion is written. In the brief history of our race there is the same tale in human characters. What is the meaning of such scenes as the French Revolution, for example? Are they the rough sport of unruled passion? Is there nothing determining their methods or moulding their results? What if that struggle and ruin, decay and destruction were the working and manifestation of a Divine health and order, casting away that which it could not assimilate and arrange? the removing of those things which could be shaken that those things which could not be shaken might remain? And these words, which speak of a “King” of the Ages, tell us why. They point to its source--to One who makes and administers that law, who is in and yet above it. But the faith of a Divine rule of each separate age is not enough. The heart of man craves something more than even such a confidence. There is inwrought into our very being a longing for Unity; and the words we are now considering justify this instinct, and pledge its fulfilment. For we are assured that, if He is “King of the Ages” in any adequate sense, they are bound together by the strong band of His will, which gives to them its own oneness and intimacy. They are no longer isolated units, but parts of a whole; and it is as a whole and not simply as units they are subjected. As the successive points of a circle stand in harmonious relation, not only to their common centre, hut through this to each other; so the ages, which make one mighty cycle, having but one Lord and one law, stand related amongst themselves with an inner harmony as deep and true as their hearts. And not only so. There is more than this close relation and perfect agreement between the ages. If this were all it would leave unfulfilled another instinctive craving of the heart--that of Progress and Consummation. But these words which speak of the “King of the Ages” tell us there is one supreme will and word which they obey--one harmonious thought, which being the King’s thought, must be a growing and deepening one. There is but little appearance of all this at times. Judging only of the part we see--that displayed on the earth and amidst ourselves--is not the show of things rather that of age at war with age? A backward movement, in which much that has been hardly won through centuries is easily lost in a moment? But it is only as the flow of the tide rolling inland, which surely advances, though seeming to recede; receding but to rally its forces and sweep onward to larger conquests. One perfect plan is being achieved, in many times and many ways indeed; yet in all, and through all, God is ever fulfilling Himself. Let us not, then, be troubled as though the issue is or could be uncertain, or the plan be marred. Trust--not only for the ages gone and the ages to come; but what is harder, for the age that now is. The “King of the Ages” is Himself invisible; He is not, therefore, less King. Nor is His kingdom less real because its presence is silent and unsuspected. For there are latent glories in this rule of the “King of the Ages”; a glorious mystery which was hidden from the ages and generations until the “fulness of the time,” when the “Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst men,” whose humanity He thus united with Deity, that He might reconcile man, and in man, all creation unto God. (A. A. Dauncey.)
Queen Elizabeth was once seized with a violent illness, accompanied with high fever. The Privy Council was hastily summoned from London, and in the ante-chamber of the room where she was believed to be dying, they sat with blank faces, discussing who was to be her successor. In the morning the worst symptoms abated, and in a few days she was convalescent. Our Monarch can have no successor. He is “alive for evermore,” and of His kingdom there can be no end. (H. O. Mackey.)
1 Timothy 1:18
This charge I commit unto thee.
Timothy’s charge and warning
The “charge” to which Paul alludes does not refer to what he said in the third and fifth verses, but points on to what follows--to that good warfare which Timothy was summoned to undertake against evil.
I. The chance, of which Timothy was reminded--
1. Had been indicated by inspired prophets in the Church. Very significantly Paul says these prophecies “went before on thee”; that is, they were not only uttered upon, or over him, but they went forth “before” him in his future course, revealing it and inspiring him to follow it--just as the consciousness of having a courier in front would direct and encourage the traveller. Hence Paul adds that “by them,” or in them, Timothy might wage a “good warfare”; he was to feel like one clothed and armed in those prophetic hopes, in those believing prayers. And do not we know something of this? No man has ever done great work in the world unless he has a deep moral conviction that he is predestined to do it; and this was never exemplified better than in General Gordon, who, in more than one campaign, felt that he was invincible and resistless till his work was done. And in our lowlier spheres we should be the more watchful, earnest, and hopeful, because others have had great hopes about us, and because we have been set apart to be God’s servants by many an act of dedication. It is a great thing to have prophecies going before us, and the prayers of dear ones encircling us so that in them we may war a good warfare.
2. For this charge involved conflict.
3. And for success in this warfare “faith and a good conscience” are essential. “Faith,” without a” good conscience,” is like a garrison summoned to defend one gate of the fortress, while a traitor is opening the other gate to relentless foes. This leads the apostle to give Timothy--
II. The warning which is contained in the last two verses.
1. He speaks of some who had put away a good conscience, stifling its voice and thrusting it from them, with this result, that they had made shipwreck of faith. And this experience has often repeated itself in the history of the Church. Balaam put away a “good conscience” when he paltered with his convictions to his soul’s undoing. Saul, the king, did so when he disobeyed the distinct command of God, until he was no longer able to hear the Divine voice and resorted to the witch of Endor. Judas Iscariot did so when he resisted the promptings of the Holy Spirit and betrayed his Lord and Master; and in each case the sacrifice of conscience brought about “the shipwreck of faith.” May God keep us undefiled, that we may never make shipwreck of faith!
2. Examples of this are pointed out to Timothy: “Hymenaeus and Alexander.” The latter was a very common name, so that we cannot confidently identify this man with “Alexander, the coppersmith,” who, Paul declares, in the Second Epistle, did him much evil; but Hymeneus was so uncommon a name that we may be sure it was he of whom the apostle says, in the Second Epistle, that he and Philetus were in grievous error, denying the doctrine of the resurrection, and declaring that it was past already. A blunted conscience evidently accompanied a darkened mind.
3. Paul did what he could to save and “warn them, saying of them,” Whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” A difficult passage, chiefly because we know so little of apostolic modes of Church discipline. It certainly did not mean that they were given over to perdition, for the object of the punishment was their salvation, “that they might learn not to blaspheme,” that is, not to misrepresent and calumniate the truth of God. Here, as well as elsewhere, Satan is spoken of not as an independent hostile power, but as one who is allowed to work evil for a given purpose, which is often beyond the range of men to discover. Thus Job was left in the power of the adversary for a season; and similarly, the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” Paul himself speaks of the “thorn in the flesh” as being “the messenger of Satan to buffet” him. And when in the light of these passages we read this solemn declaration and couple it with 1 Corinthians 5:5, where Paul says of the incestuous offender, “With the power of the Lord Jesus Christ to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the Spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” we come to the conclusion that the apostles were gifted with, and sometimes used, the solemn power of inflicting disease on the body, in order to awaken in the offender, or in others, convictions of sin and longings for salvation. In the terrible cases of Ananias and Elymas, we see evidences of a power to punish given to those who could heal diseases and cast out devils, a power which no doubt was demanded by the exigencies of the Church, and certainly died with the apostles, who could not transmit it. But underlying its exercise was a principle of Divine discipline, which is applicable in every age; for there is no loss we sustain, no affliction we suffer, but may work for our spiritual welfare, warning us against evil, and stimulating us to holier endeavour and more earnest prayer. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
War a good warfare.--
A good warfare
I. War, therefore, is inevitable. You must fight or fly; be the victor or the vanquished. Nay, if you mean to make sure your own salvation, and please Him who hath called you to be a soldier, there is not even that alternative. You are surrounded with foes you cannot shun. Flight would be ruin. The conflict cannot be avoided. Every step will be contested. Yet be not discouraged. The more strenuous the struggle, the more glorious the achievement. Your aid is omnipotent, your resources are infinite, and you “war a good warfare.” Few, indeed, of the warfares waged by the powers of this world are worthy of the means employed and the men sacrificed to win them. But the Christian soldier “wars a good warfare.”; emphatically, pre-eminently” and peculiarly good; good in all its agencies, its aspects, and its issues.
II. Have we not a good cause? Did the Israelites glory in a good cause, contending for the Land of Promise? the Crusaders, marching to the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre? your forefathers, asserting with the sword their independence of Great Britain? But the Christian cause is the purest and noblest that ever kindled the enthusiasm of a people or won the admiration of the world. It is identified with all that is important in truth, beautiful in virtue, sublime in charity, or glorious in hope. It is the cause that marshals the cherubim, and stirs the deep vengeance of hell; that brought Jehovah from the throne of the universe to the manger. We fight, not to desolate provinces and degrade princes, but to convert earth into a paradise and enthrone humanity with its Redeemer. No wrongs have we to avenge, no malice to gratify, nor cruel thirst for blood.
III. And have we an unworthy captain? What Hebrew warrior did not glory in his Joshua or his David? What mediaeval crusader did not proudly follow his Richard, his Philip, or his Bertrand? What Frenchman did not rejoice in the name of Napoleon, what Englishman in the name of Wellington, what American in the name of Washington? Who of all the myriads that took part in your late civil conflict, was not ready to cheer for Grant or Lee, for Sherman or Jackson? But “who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in His apparel, travelling in the greatness of His strength?” “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” It is the Captain of the Lord’s host, the champion of our redemption. He comes to avenge us of our enemies, and lead our captivity captive. What are the qualities most desirable in a military leader? In the highest perfection, they are all found in Christ. Is it wisdom? He is the embodied wisdom of God. Experience? Ever since the original revolt in heaven He has been battling with the hosts of hell. Valour? Single-handed and alone He went forth to meet the Prince of darkness with all his dire array. Success? He foiled the cunning foe in the wilderness of Judaea, and triumphed over his embattled myriads upon the cross. Kindness? Once He died to save His enemies, and now He wears the name of every follower punctured with a spear upon His heart. Ability to reward? The thrones of heaven are His, and a kingdom such as earth never knew He promises hereafter to every conqueror. Such a Captain, who would not joyfully follow?
IV. And what say you of our armoir? Our panoply is ample and impenetrable, and our weapons are effective because they are Divine.
V. And what think you of our supplies? “Who goeth a warfare at his own charges?” “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” What a measure is that, and what a medium of communication! “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think.” “They who trust in the Lord shall not want any good thing.” Our Divine commissariat is furnished with all that we can possibly require in any emergency of the campaign.
VI. And how like you our defences? “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake at the swelling thereof.”
VII. And have you not seen the array of our allies? “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.” “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even many thousands of angels; the Lord is in the midst of them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.” “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” See them leading righteous Lot and his family forth from Sodom, before the fire-tempest descends upon the doomed city. See them deploying from the host of God to meet Jacob, returning from Padan Aram, about to encounter the formidable bands of his offended brother. See them, with their flashing cavalry and flaming artillery, covering all the mountain round about Elisha, and delivering a whole army into the hands of a single man. If heaven could spare so splendid an escort for the patriarch, so glorious a body-guard for the prophet, what millions on millions incalculable must be engaged on behalf of the whole Church militant in the wilderness! And if one angel could slay all the first-born of Egypt in a night, or destroy seventy thousand men of Israel at a stroke, or stiffen in death a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian soldiers with a blast of his breath, what have we to fear, around whom encamp myriads of celestial warriors? What power of hell shall scatter the cohorts of heaven?
VII. And who ever had better comrades? They are called, and chosen, and faithful. Like Saul and Jonathan, they are stronger than lions and swifter than eagles. Like the intrepid son of Jesse, they can run through a troop and leap over a wall. One can chase a thousand, and two can put ten thousand to flight. The saints of all ages form but “one army of the living God,” and the militant rear hold fellowship with the victorious van.
IX. And who ever fought with greater success? What power has prevailed against the Lord’s redeemed? Their interest is His; and to defeat them were to defeat Omnipotence.
X. And who ever won so rich a reward? Where centres the ambition of earthly heroism? In the victor’s palm, the monarch’s crown, the empty plaudits of the multitude, “a fancied life in others’ breath,” a name on the scroll of history, a niche in the temple of fame, a monumental column in the Capitol, a memory embalmed in the nation’s heart, a tuneful immortality in the songs of ages. But your reward is “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (J. Cross, D. D.)
1 Timothy 1:19
Holding faith, and a good conscience.
Faith and a good conscience
I. What they are:--
1. Faith. The term is in the Scriptures applied both to the revealed truth which a disciple believes, and to his act in believing it. Faith is objective, or subjective. It is at one time the truth which you grasp, and at another time your grasp of the truth. Both in the Scriptures and in their own nature these two are closely interwoven together. It is impossible everywhere to preserve and mark the distinction between the light that I look on, and my looking on that light. True, my looking on it does not create the light, but it makes the light mine. Unless I look on it, the light is nothing to me. If I am blind, it is the same to me as if there had not been light. In some such way are faith and the faith connected and combined. It is quite true that the gospel remains, although I should reject it: my unbelief cannot make God’s promise of none effect. Yet my unbelief makes the gospel nothing to me--the same to me as if it had not been. The faith stands in heaven, although faith be wanting on earth; but if faith is wanting, the faith does not save the lost: as the sun continues his course through the sky although I were blind; but my blindness blots out the sun for me.
2. A good conscience. It is not necessary to explain what conscience is: my readers know what it is better than I can tell. Here the principal question is, Whether does the epithet “good” refer to the conscience that gives the testimony, or to the testimony that the conscience gives. The term “good” here belongs net to the testifier, but to the testimony. In one sense that might be called a good conscience, that tells the truth even though the truth torment you. When the conscience, like an ambassador from God in a man’s breast, refuses to be silent in the presence of sin, and disturbs the pleasure of the guilty by uttering warnings of doom, that conscience is good, in the sense of being watchful and useful; but it is not the good conscience of this text, and of ordinary language. Both here, and in common conversation, a good conscience is a conscience that does not accuse and disturb. It is the same as peace of conscience. It is no doubt true that in an evil world, and through the deceitfulness of an evil heart, the conscience may sometimes be so drugged or seared that it may leave the soul undisturbed, although the soul is steeped in sin. It sometimes says “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked”; but the conscience sometimes contradicts God, and says that there is peace to the wicked. This is, however, an abnormal state of things; as when an ambassador at a foreign court turns traitor to the king who commissioned him, and refuses to deliver his lord’s commands to the court where he has been accredited. The conscience in man is intended to be God’s witness, and to speak to the man all the truth. Taking conscience, not as twisted and seared by sin, but as constituted by God in the conception and creation of humanity, then a good conscience is peace of conscience. You have and hold a good conscience when that present representative of God in your bosom does not charge you with sin. By the light of Scripture we know that, as matters go among the fallen, a good conscience, if real and lawfully attained, implies these two things:--
(1) The application of the blood of sprinkling for the pardon of sin; and
(2) Actual abstinence from known sin in the life through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. A good conscience--if it is not a cheat--implies a righteousness on you and a righteousness in you. Pardon and renewing combine to constitute, under the gospel, a good conscience. What God hath joined, let not man put asunder. The conscience is good when it truly testifies that God is at peace with you, and you are at peace with God.
II. Their relations:--The text consists of two parts. The first is a command, the second is an example. The example, as is usual both in human teaching and Divine, is adduced for the purpose of enforcing the precept. Doubtless, Paul could have called up from his own experience many examples to show how good it is to hold both faith and a good conscience; but it suited his purpose better, in this instance, to adduce an example which shows the dread consequence of attempting to separate them. In point of fact, an example of these two rent asunder is more effective in proving the necessity of their union than a hundred examples in which the union remains intact. Thus, if proof were necessary, to divide a living child in two with Solomon’s sword would constitute more vivid evidence that in a human being the left side is necessary to the life of the right, and the right to the life of the left, than the sight of a hundred unharmed children. When one side is wrenched off, the other side also dies: this is shorter and surer proof that the two are mutually necessary to each other’s existence than a hundred examples of positive, perfect life. Besides, it is easier to find a foundation for a negative than for a positive example. In buoying a channel, they cannot well set up a mark where the ship ought to go; they set up a beacon on the sunken rock which the ship ought to avoid. Here a question of the deepest interest crosses our path and claims our regard. Granted that faith and a good conscience are linked so intimately together that the one cannot live without its consort, what is the specific character of the relation? Whether of these two is first in nature as cause, and whether follows as effect? Looking to the form of expression in the text, which is exact and definite, we find that in the case adduced it was not the dissolution of faith that destroyed the good conscience, but the failing of the good conscience that destroyed faith. These men put away the good conscience; then and therefore, they lost the faith. What then? As the continued possession of the faith depended on maintaining the good conscience, is it through prior possession of a good conscience that one may attain faith? No. The converse is the truth, fully and clearly taught in the Scriptures. You do not reach faith through a good conscience, but a good conscience through faith. A good conscience grows on faith, like fruit on a tree, not faith on a good conscience. A good conscience in both its aspects, as already explained, is the fruit of faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God, either by the righteousness of Christ in justifying, or the new obedience in sanctifying. Now this specific relation is not reciprocal. The good conscience does not produce faith, as faith produces a good conscience. What then? If faith goes first as the cause, and a good conscience follows as the fruit, the good conscience obviously cannot subsist without faith; but may faith subsist without a good conscience? No. As to production at first, the relation is not reciprocal; but as to maintenance it is. We cannot say, as a good conscience springs from faith, faith also springs from a good conscience; but we can say, as the want of faith makes a good conscience impossible, so, also, the loss of a good conscience is fatal to faith. Some species of trees retain life in the roots although the head and stem are cut away. A young tree may spring from the old stump, and grow to maturity. But other species, such as the pine, will not thus spring a second time. When the mature tree is cut off, although the root, with a portion of the stem, is left, the tree does not revive. The root dies when the head is severed. There is an interesting analogy between a pine-tree and the pair which are joined in the text. It is not the tree’s towering head that produces the root; the root produces the towering head. We can, therefore, safely say, If the root is killed, the head cannot live; but we may also say, If the head is severed, the root will die. Precisely such is the relation between faith and a good conscience. Faith is the producing, sustaining root, and a good conscience the stem that it sustains. Consequently, cut off faith, and a good conscience falls to the ground. Yes, this is the truth; but it is not the whole truth. We can also say, Destroy the good conscience, and faith cannot stand. Thus in one way only may the good conscience be obtained; but in either of two ways both may be lost. Let faith fail, and the good conscience goes with it; let the good conscience be polluted, and the faith itself gives way. In the first place, then, speculative error undermines practical righteousness. As belief of the truth purifies the heart and rectifies the conduct, so a false belief leads the life astray. The backsliding begins more frequently on the side of conduct than on the side of opinion: the good conscience is lost in most cases, not by adopting a heretical creed, but by indulging in the pleasures of sin. The conscience is more exposed in the battle of life than the intellect. And it is on the weak point that a skilful adversary will concentrate his attack. While the calamity is substantially in all cases the same, the faith may be shipwrecked in any of three distinct forms,--a dead faith, an erroneous faith, and no faith. In the first a form of sound words remains, but they are a dead letter; in the second, false views of Christ and His work are entertained; and in the third, the backslider sits down in the chair of the scorner, and says, No God, with his lips as well as in his heart. Among ourselves, perhaps a dead faith is the most common form of soul shipwreck. Faith and covetousness, faith and any impurity, cannot dwell together in the same breast. These cannot be in the same room with living faith. As well might you expect fire and water to agree. I knew a young man once who became what was called a Socialist. He attained a great degree of boldness in the profession of ungodliness. No God, or no God that cares for me, was his short, cold creed.:But I knew him and his communications before he had made shipwreck concerning faith. The second table of the law had, by indulgence of sinful pleasure, been rusted cut of his heart before the first table was discarded from his creed. He had cruelly dishonoured his father and his mother before he learned to blaspheme God. It cannot be comfortable to a young man in his strength to come day by day to open his heart to God, if day by day he is deliberately disowning and dishonouring his parents in the weakness of their age. The dishonourer of his parents finds it necessary to his own comfort to cast off God. This man put away his good conscience, and therefore his faith was wrecked. I knew another, who had in youth made higher attainments, and who, on that account, made a more terrible fall. He had experienced religious impressions, and taken a side with the disciples of Christ. I lost sight of him for some years. When I met him again, I was surprised to find that he had neither modesty before men nor reverence before God. He was free and easy. He announced plainly that he did not now believe in the terrors spiritual that had frightened him in his youth. I made another discovery at the same time regarding him. He had deceived, ruined, and deserted one whom he falsely pretended to love. Through vile and cruel affections he had put his good conscience away; and, to pacify an evil conscience, he had denied the faith. The belief of the truth and the practice of wickedness could not dwell together in the same breast. The torment caused by their conflict could not be endured. He must be rid of one of the two. Unwilling to part with his sin at the command of his faith, he parted with his faith at the command of his sin. But though the shipwreck of faith is often, it is not always, the issue of the struggle. When the conscience of one who tried to be Christ’s disciple is defiled by admitted, indulged sin, the struggle inevitably, immediately begins. The Spirit striveth against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit. The sin often casts out the faith; but the faith also often casts out the sin. The outcome is often, through grace, the discomfiture of the adversary. “Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory.” “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand.” (W. Arnot.)
A good conscience
I. A good conscience. This expression may be used in more ways than one.
1. A clean or pure conscience is a “good conscience.” Keep your conscience pure. Do not sully it. Every wrong thing you say or do leaves a stain on your conscience--just like a black mark on a white piece of cloth or a sheet; of paper, and your great concern should be, not to have your conscience thus made black and foul. This applies alike to those who are Christians, and to those who are not. The best conscience has stains enough, and, as we shall see, needs to be cleansed. But in so far as your decision as to any action or course of conduct is concerned, it is of the last importance to keep your conscience clean. I need not say that this is not easy. It requires a constant effort--ay, a constant fight. Paul knew what this was. Good man as he was, he required to be ever on the watch to keep his conscience pure.
2. A cleansed and pacified conscience is a “good conscience.” Perhaps some of you say, “Alas, what you have said about the pure conscience is of little concern to me. At least, it can only be a thing of the future to me. What about the past? My conscience troubles me. It is defiled.” Now it is here that the gospel comes in, with the good news of cleansing for the conscience. It not only tells of provision of grace and strength in the Lord Jesus, to enable us keep the conscience clean, and do what it bids. It does more. It tells of pardon for sin, through the blood of Christ, who, by taking the guilt of sin upon Himself, and dying in the sinner’s stead, removes the guilt, washes out the stains, and so brings back peace to the conscience. There is no conscience that does not need this cleansing, that does not need it again and again, whether the conscience is troubled about the sin or not. I have heard of an Indian having a dollar which did not belong to him. Pointing to his breast, he said, “I got a good man and bad man here, and the good man say, the dollar is not mine; I must return it to the owner”; and so he did. He could not have got the “good conscience” otherwise,
3. A tender conscience is a good conscience. This comes pretty near my first gremark, instead of second, because it seems to come in most suitably after speaking of the cleansed and pacified conscience. If I can get peace for my conscience by going to the blood of Christ, does it matter very much my sinning again? Ah, yes. I heard the other day of a man having a “strong conscience.” That is to say, he could go a great length and do very questionable things without his conscience being troubled. Perhaps in order to create a laugh, or to be thought clever, and make himself “good company,” as it is called, he might exaggerate or go beyond the exact and literal truth, without it disturbing his conscience much. Now, that is not a tender conscience. Old Humphrey, speaking of such a one, says that he puts too much red in the brush! All such things should be avoided. It is very important to cultivate tenderness of conscience. Even if a thing is not altogether wrong or bad, if it has a doubtful look about it, it should not be done. There are some pieces of machinery which the smallest pin would damage or stop. Take a watch and let a grain of sand get into it, and all would go wrong. Let a grain of sand get into your eye, and you know what comes of it. Now, your conscience should, in this respect, just be like the watch--should just be like your eye--the least thing of wrong should be feared, and felt, and avoided; and if it does get in, there should be no rest till it is out.
II. What it leads to. What is the effect of having a good or evil conscience?
1. A good conscience leads to happiness and peace; an evil conscience to misery and despair.
2. A good conscience inspires with courage, independence, and fearlessness; an evil conscience fills with cowardice and shame. (J. H. Wilson, M. A.)
Wrecked through losing a good conscience
I had a friend who started in commercial life, and as a book merchant, with a high resolve. He said, “In my store there shall be no books that I would not have my family read.” Time passed on, and one day I went into his store and found some iniquitous books on the shelf, and I said to him, “How is it possible that you can consent to sell such books as these?” “Oh,” he replied, “I have got over those puritanical notions. A man cannot do business in this day unless he does it in the way other people do it.” To make a long story short, he lost his hope of heaven, and in a little while he lost his morality, and then he went into a mad-house. In ether words, when a man casts off God, God casts him off. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Faith the cabinet of conscience
If faith be a precious pearl, a good conscience is the cabinet that contains it. This heavenly manna must be laid up in a heavenly pot. (T. Seeker.)
A good conscience
We have compared conscience to the eye of the soul. We may also compare it to the window of the soul A window is of use for letting light into a room; and also for looking through that you may see what is outside of the window. But if you want a good, correct view of the things that you are looking at through a window, what sort of glass is it necessary to have in the window? Clear glass. Suppose that the glass in the window, instead of being clear glass, is stained glass; one pane red, another blue, another yellow, and another green. When you look through the red glass, what colour will the things be that you are looking at? Red. And so when you look through the blue glass, all things will be blue. They will be yellow when you look through yellow glass, and green when you look through the pane of that colour. But suppose you have thick heavy shutters to the window, and keep them closed, can you see anything through the window then? No. And can you see anything in the room when the shutters are closed? No. It will be all dark. And conscience is just like a window in this respect. You must keep the shutters open, and the windows clean, so that plenty of pure light can get in, if you want to see things properly. God’s blessed Word, the Bible, gives just the kind of light we need to have a good conscience. (J. H. Wilson, M. A.)
Good conscience a man’s longest friend
It is a witty parable which one of the fathers hath of a man who had three friends, two whereof he loved entirely, the third but indifferently. This man, being called in question for his life, sought help of his friends. The first would bear him company some part of his way; the second would lend him some money for his journey; and that was all they would or could do for him; but the third, whom he least respected, and from whom he least expected, would go all the way, and abide all the while with him--yea, he would appear with him, and plead for him. This man is every one of us, and our three friends are the flesh and the world and our own conscience. Now, when death shall summon us to judgment, what can our friends after the flesh do for us? They will bring us some part of the way, to the grave, and further they cannot. And of all the worldly goods which we possess, what shall we have? What will they afford us? Only a shroud and a coffin, or a tomb at the most. But maintain a good conscience, that will live and die with us, or rather, live when we are dead; and when we rise again, it will appear with us at God’s tribunal; and when neither friends nor a full purse can do us any good, then a good conscience will stick close to us. (J. Spencer.)
Have made shipwreck.
I. The nature of such shipwrecks. We shall confine our meditations to the special aspects of this subject as they are here presented; “concerning faith have made shipwreck.” But when has a man made shipwreck concerning faith?
1. When he has lost his hold of spiritual truth. We know but little of these men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, but what we do know shows us that they had lost their grasp of Divine and apostolic teaching. Hence we read respecting Hymenaeus in the second chapter of the Second Epistle to Timothy, “And their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some.” Here we see then departure from “the truth”; also that such departure, in Paul’s conception, was shipwreck. We read of Alexander in the fourth chapter of the Second Epistle. “Alexander, the copper-smith, did me much evil; of whom be thou aware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words,” or the gospel which Paul preached. These men then had made “shipwreck concerning faith.” They had lost their faith in the truth as embodied in Christ: and in the resurrection as taught by Him and His apostles. But such “shipwrecks concerning faith” occur in the quieter and less keenly intellectual spheres of human life. The freshness of spiritual life is lost amidst life’s cares, temptations, and prosperity, and with the freshness of the spiritual life there goes the beautiful and childlike grasp of faith. Let me ask you, what scepticism has to give you better than the truth, which you have already received from the lips of Christ.
2. Ship wreck is made concerning faith when men and women lose their faith in the nobleness of human destiny, and in the importance and possibility of attaining it.
3. A man has made shipwreck concerning faith when he loses those elements of character which are the results of faith. “They that will be rich fall into temptation and snares; for the love of money is the root of all evil.”
II. The causes of such moral shipwrecks,
1. Trifling with conscience, or the severing of a good conscience from faith. This is clearly the thought of the apostle in these words. “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which, some having put away concerning faith, have made shipwreck.” “A good conscience,” says Dr. Fairbairn, “is here faith’s necessary handmaid,” and is as essential as a living faith; indeed, is its necessary fruit. But there are men who sever the two. They imagine that a mere intellectual holding of the truth is enough; that it is not essential that it should influence the life. Such were the views of Hymenaeus and Alexander. They made shipwreck by trifling at first with the instincts and enforcements of conscience. It was this trifling with sin which led to the overthrow of faith. Sometimes faith goes first, and the obligation to morality is subsequently relaxed. But the converse of this is also true.
2. Another cause of moral shipwrecks is, according to the apostle, “hurtful lusts.” There is, for instance, the lust after money. There is special reference to this here. “They that will be rich,” rich at any cost, social, mental, or spiritual. “Which some coveted after.” There is the lust after sinful pleasure. Pure pleasure is right enough but any pleasure indulged at the expense of conscience, any pleasure which soils the spiritual nature is altogether wrong. The pleasures of sinful gratification, of reading and amusements which appeal to the lowest passions, the bewitchment of drinking, are daily drowning men in destruction; leading to shipwrecks.
III. The consequences of these moral shipwrecks.
1. There is the shipwreck of happiness. “Pierced themselves through with many sorrows”--with pangs of remorse. And what hell can be worse than that?
2. This is consummated in final retribution and overthrow. “Drown men in destruction and perdition.” What these terrible words mean I cannot say. (R. A. Davies.)
Making shipwreck of the soul
I do not wonder that such an illustration should readily occur to the mind of Paul. He had not forgotten his terrible experience in the autumn of 62, just three years before. For fourteen weary days--the fierce Euroclydon blowing, and neither sun nor stars appearing--he had been tossed up and down on the angry sea of Adria, the vessel a mere plaything to the gale. Nor was this by any means his sole experience of the dangers of the deep. In writing two years earlier to the church at Corinth, he made mention of “perils of the sea” he had already encountered, and stated that “thrice he had suffered shipwreck.” As the first Christian missionary, he had made repeated voyages from Caesarea to Tarsus, and Antioch, and Cyprus, and various parts of Asia Minor, and had probably been eyewitness of many a sad maritime disaster. The records of Trinity House may inform us how many ships have been wrecked in one year, but, ah! where is the record that shall tell us how many souls have been lost? How many young men, for example, who left their peaceful, pious homes, perhaps a few years ago, and have been launched upon the open sea of city life with all its dangers and temptations, have, within the past few months, been caught by some fierce blast of vice or error, and hurled to moral and spiritual rain?
I. A FAIR START. This thought is suggested by St. Paul’s reference to the early promise which Timothy gave of a pious and useful life. When he speaks of “the prophecies that went before on him,” I understand him to allude not to inspired predictions, in the usual sense of the term, but to the hopes which had been cherished, and the anticipations which had been expressed, regarding him, even from his childhood. People who knew the lad, his character, his training, his environments, augured for him a bright and honourable career. They said, “That boy will turn out well. He will be a good man. He will make a mark on society. He will live to purpose.” And those “prophecies” were justified.
1. By the fact that he came of a good stock. What language can express the blessing that comes of a wise and godly upbringing! Many of us owe more than ever we can tell to the holy influences that gathered around us in our early days. Oh, with what tender and delightful associations is that paternal dwelling linked! Ay, and old grannie Lois, too, we remember how she would take down her spectacles from the chimney corner, and show us Bible-pictures that delighted our young minds, and then would urge us to give our lives to God. You came out of an admirable nest. The ship was launched from a first-rate building yard.
2. Those “prophecies” were justified in the case of young Timothy, by his thorough acquaintance with Holy Scripture. What is that we read in Paul’s Epistle to him (1 Timothy 3:15, Revised Version)? From a babe. It is the same Greek word which Luke uses when he says, “And they brought unto Jesus infants, that He would touch them.” As soon as he was capable of learning anything he was taught the Word of God. The first impressions his mind received were of religious truth. His mother, as a pious Hebrewess, regarded it as her main duty to her child, to make him acquainted with Holy Scripture. Such instruction may be expected to have a salutary influence on the whole future life. A boy who knows his Bible, and is well up in Scripture studies, starts life with great advantage. He gives promise of keeping on the right rails.
3. There was yet another thing that justified those early “prophecies” of a good career for Timothy. And this was the personal character of the lad. He was a well-disposed, quiet, thoughtful, serious youth. He never gave his mother any trouble. We read as much in the Acts of the Apostles, for it is there stated that “he was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.” It is a good sign of a young fellow, when, in the town or village where he was born and bred, every one is ready to speak well of him. Thus we have seen what is meant by a fair start in life. It is like a vessel gliding down the slip on the launching day, when, all the hammering ended, and gay bunting flying everywhere, and loud huzzas rending the air, she softly glides out on to the open main! Who, on such a day, would augur her lying a pitiful wreck on some foreign reef?
II. Now for the good equipment. It is thus described: “Holding faith and a good conscience.” Two very excellent and necessary things. Shall we call conscience the compass to direct the ship’s course, and faith the sails that are to impel her on her way? Well, no vessel that wants either of these things is fit to go to sea. Without the one, her path through the deep will be uncertain, and therefore dangerous; without the other, she will have no force to carry her forward. A man has a poor chance of a happy and successful voyage over the sea of life, if, in entering upon it, he lacks either a good conscience or a sound faith.
1. “A good conscience.” I take them in this order, because, generally, the whisper of conscience is heard even prior to the adoption of a definite faith. In matters of spiritual navigation, the compass is fixed before the canvas is set. Yours, sir, is a bad conscience, when, without upbraiding and making you miserable, it allows you to go into bad company, to frequent the haunts of dissipation, to profane the Lord’s day, to neglect His ordinances, to read unclean literature, and to satisfy yourself with all sorts of vain excuses. Yours is a drugged and evil conscience, William, when you can lie down to rest at night and sleep soundly, though you have offered no prayer to God, and have no reason to know that He is at peace with you. “A good conscience “is one that is tender, sensitive, and pure; like a sound compass, whose magnetism has not been injured, it will guide you aright. To be altogether safe and good, it must be under the direction of God’s truth; for the mere moralist may be scrupulously conscientious, and yet far from the standard which the gospel requires. But--
2. You want something more. If you are to be fully equipped, you must also have a sound and living faith. You will not come to much good without this. A compass is an admirable thing, but you will not secure much speed if that is all the ship is provided with; there must also be the unfurled canvas, which, filled with the breath of heaven, will give it energy and motion. A living faith must be based on a definite creed. You cannot be a believer unless there is something that you believe. There is an affectation very popular at the present day, to believe nothing. No, no. Take away a young man’s religion, and he is the easy prey of all manner of evil. If you want to destroy a man’s morals, rob him of his Bible. A brig fifteen hundred miles out from land, without one square yard of canvas, is better off than a young man who has no religion and no faith. A man’s very accomplishments have proved his ruin. Who will deny that decided genius has shipwrecked many a promising life? I have not a doubt that Burns, and Byron, and Shelley, and Goethe, and Paine, and Voltaire, that each of them, in the absence of a sustaining faith, suffered moral disaster just in proportion to his genius. If a ship is heavily freighted with costly treasures, all the more does it need to have its sails wellspread to the wind. Thus furnished with a good conscience and a true faith, you will sail the voyage of life in safety, and at last reach the everlasting haven. But stay, our text tells us--
III. Of a fatal disaster--a spiritual shipwreck. The apostle says that some persons--and he goes on to mention two instances, “Hymeneus and Alexander”--having put away a good conscience, and lost their faith, had become morally shipwrecked. Paul does not for a moment hint that Timothy would do so. Nay, as he indicates in his Second Epistle, he was sure he would not do so. He who had begun the good work in him, would carry it forward to perfection. The compass is thrown overboard; the sails are carried away; the vessel is shattered on the rocks. Nearly every man who goes wrong begins by tampering with conscience. So long as a young Christian keeps a good conscience, I am not much afraid of his lapsing into scepticism. Foolish men! they hoisted their mutinous flags, and thought to draw away after them the whole Christian fleet: and, lo! there they are, lying two pitiful wrecks, over which the wind moans its eternal dirge. This has been the history of hundreds and thousands since. (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
The great shipwreck
I. The sum of the Christian life. That is the whole, the union of all the parts. It has two chief parts: “faith and a good conscience.” Faith is an outgoing, grasping, clinging, leaning mood of the soul. The Christian is always “holding faith and a good conscience.” The word conscience means a fellow-knowledge--from con together, and science knowledge. And who is your fellow in this knowledge? The answer is--God. Conscience is the knowledge I have along with God. It makes me perfectly sure that its voice is the voice of God. God is thus in the conscience, judging all my actions. The heathen has his household god: yours is conscience. Conscience is very strong in the young. We knew perfectly what it was to hold a good conscience. And so did an Irish boy, whose master wished to lengthen a web that was short measure. He gave the boy the one end and took hold of the other himself. He then said, “Pull, Adam, pull!” But the boy stood still. “Pull, Adam!” he shouted again; but the boy said, “I can’t, sir.” “Why not?” the master asked. “My conscience will not allow me.” “You will never do for a linen manufacturer,” the master replied. That boy became the famous Rev. Dr. Adam Clarke, and persuaded many to hold faith and a good conscience. You must not think that it is easy to keep a good conscience. You do yourself the greatest injury when in youth you disobey conscience. When men put away a good conscience, oh what tortures they often endure, day and night, in after years! I wish now to show you how faith and a good conscience always go together. They are like the right and left sides of a living man; there can be no health or power when either is palsied. Or they are like the sisters Martha and Mary in the home Christ condescends to visit, only they unite their gifts without blaming each other. The Christian is thus kept right towards God and man, and does equal justice to both worlds. The old fathers used to say that the Book and the Breast agree, and that conscience is naturally Christian. Perhaps you would be pleased with an illustration of this truth from the old world. About five hundred years before Christ, a Greek poet showed the workings of an evil conscience. Agamemnon, prince of men, just returned from the wars of Troy, was murdered by his own wife. His son, Orestes, must avenge his death, and so slew his own mother. After that deed of blood all joy forsook the lighthearted, dashing prince. Guilt lay heavy upon his soul, and he felt that he was hated of the immortals. The Furies, with their snaky hair and cruel scourges, were upon him, and chased him night and day. But who are the Furies? You know them well: they are self-accusing thoughts, which the poet describes as heaven-sent avengers of sin. Byron knew them well, for he says--
“My solitude is solitude no more,
But peopled with the Furies.”
Orestes fled to the temple of Apollo, god of light, and kneeled at his altar, seeking guidance. While he knelt, the Furies slept on the altar steps. Is not that a beautiful idea? It is a sort of sermon teaching that the accusing conscience finds rest only in prayer to God. Apollo bid him go and give himself up to Divine justice, as represented by the sacred judges at Mars Hill in Athens. He did so, the Furies following him all the way. He owned his guilt before the judges, and declared himself ready to do whatever they recommended. In well-nigh such words as a Christian uses, they told him that he must have an atonement, and be cleansed by water and blood. Even they believed, in their own dim way, that “without shedding of blood is no remission.” He was so cleansed, and then even the Furies were satisfied, and ceased from troubling. And the smile of heaven again came to Orestes, and he walked in the land of the living, a forgiven and joyous man. Oh, how perfectly Christ meets all the felt needs of such an awakened conscience! Thus the Christian is a man of faith and of a good conscience; not of faith without conscience, nor of conscience without faith. He is no spiritual paralytic, powerless on the one side: he is no miserable, limping cripple, whose doing is shamefully shorter than his believing; but his soul moves like the successful runner, on equal feet. Our text likens the soul to a ship. Now, a ship sails best when it is kept even by not being overloaded on one side. And thus balanced between faith and a good conscience--between a deep sense of sin and a thorough trust in the Saviour--the good ship of heaven, with swelling sails, catches the favouring breeze, and heads for the “Fair Havens” above.
II. The ruin of the soul. The history of this ruin has three stages; for it begins with the conscience, then reaches faith, and ends in shipwreck--“which (good conscience) some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck.” Now your soul is an immortal ship in a dangerous sea. Conscience is the captain, reason the steersman, the Bible your chart, and your natural, appetites are the sturdy crew--good servants they, but the worst of masters. Only conscience can guide the vessel safely through the rocks and quicksands of temptation. But the crew sometimes mutiny and put conscience overboard, and then passion becomes the master and owner of the ship, and seizes the helm. “Conscience,” our text says, “which some having put away”--that is a phrase of violence. Only after a fierce struggle can conscience be put away. Unless the command be given again to the rightful captain, the ship drifts among the rocks, and the sea rushes in through the yawning bows, and ruin claims the whole for its own. The ruin of the soul begins with conscience, and usually with littles. Conscience is like the outer dyke in Holland, which the flood first assails. Little lies, hid under the cloak of outward decency, are like the little fox the Spartan boy hid under his dress till it gnawed into his very heart. Oppose the little beginnings of evil. When the conscience is wounded, faith decays and dies. A bad life is a marsh from which poisonous mists arise to becloud the mind. A bad heart forges notions to suit itself. Evidently Paul believes that our faith is shaken not so much by wrong arguing as by wrong living--Hymeneus and Alexander. Perhaps they grew too fond of wine, and fell upon mean tricks for hiding it; or they were very fond of money, and told lies to get it. And so they put overboard the troublesome captain, good conscience. Then they began to find fault with Paul’s preaching; this sermon was not plain, and that did them no good; he was too hard on people, and pushed matters too far. Very likely they gave some fine name to their doubting, and protested that they could not endure bigotry, and that they wished more sweetness and light. But their falling away went from bad to worse, till they became stark blasphemers, and had publicly to be cut off from the Church. When Paul was shipwrecked, the crew lightened the ship by casting overboard the tackle and the cargo. Should you be caught in any hurricane of temptation, part with everything rather than lose a good conscience. All the money in the world, all the honours and pleasures on earth, cannot make up for the loss of that. Pray that to the Christian faith you may add Christian honour. The putting away of a good conscience, unless repented of, ends in shipwreck. A shipwrecked soul--what a thought! But this dark passage is not so dark as it seems. Hymeneus and Alexander had been cut off from the Church that they might “learn not to blaspheme” (verse 20). The apostle would not despair even of these two blaspheming backsliders. He had a great hope that they would lay this warning to heart, and come again as penitents to the feet of Christ. Ours is a religion of hope, which teaches us not to despair of the greatest sinner, but to pray that even shipwrecked souls may be saved. (J. Wells.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Timothy 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30