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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
1 Timothy 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 5

DISCOURSE: 2220

CHARITY THE TRUE SCOPE OF THE GOSPEL

1 Timothy 1:5. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good, conscience, and of faith unfeigned.

THE Gospel of Christ is thought by many to be a source of evil: and certain it is, that evils have not unfrequently followed in its train. But we must distinguish between two things, which are very often confounded; namely, the cause of evil, and the occasion of evil. There is not any blessing which divine Providence has bestowed upon us, which may not be an occasion of evil, if it be not used in the manner, and for the ends for which it was intended. Our corporeal and mental faculties may be all abused, for the production of evil; and all the fruits of the earth may be made subservient to the gratification of inordinate desire. This has happened in relation to the Gospel. Even in the primitive Churches, some, instead of delivering their divine message with the simplicity that became them, made it, in many instances, an occasion of promulgating their own vain and superstitious notions; thus administering to strife and contention, where they should have laboured only for the edification of souls in faith and love. St. Paul, in order to correct this, directed Timothy to protest against it, as an abuse of the Gospel; and to make it appear, that the Gospel was in no respect to be blamed for these evils; since, in its own nature, it tended only to love: “The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.”

From these words I shall take occasion to shew,

I. What is the true scope of the Gospel, as contrasted with the use too often made of it—

The use too often made of it has been, to spread disputation and division—

[To such a degree did this evil obtain at Ephesus, that St. Paul, when going into Macedonia, was constrained to deprive himself of the comfort of Timothy’s society, in order that he, by abiding still at Ephesus, might charge the teachers to confine themselves to the great truths of the Gospel, instead of “giving heed to fables and endless genealogies,” as they were wont to do; “whereby they ministered to vain questions, rather than to godly edifying [Note: ver. 3, 4.].” This lamentable evil prevailed also at Colosse; and, more or less, in all the Churches. Jewish converts would insist upon some favourite observances of their law, which was now abrogated and annulled: and the Gentile converts strove to blend with the Gospel the notions of their philosophers: so that the Apostle was constrained to guard the people against both the one and the other; bidding them to “beware, lest any man should spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ [Note: Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:16-19.].”

In every subsequent age, the Church has been torn and rent with heresies of different kinds; so that, in fact, the history of the Church contains rather a record of successive contentions between different parties in it, than any account of practical and experimental piety. The smallest knowledge of ecclesiastical history will suffice to convince us of this deplorable fact.

And what is the state of things at this day? Is there any thing like unity in the Church of Christ? The seamless garb of our adorable Saviour is rent into a thousand pieces. On all the leading subjects of doctrine and of discipline, there is in the Church, not merely a diversity of sentiment, but a violent hostility; whole Churches anathematizing each other, and individuals ready to “bite and devour one another” as enemies to the public weal. Nor is this acrimony confined to those who differ on fundamental points, as Papists and Protestants: it obtains equally amongst those who are agreed in professing the reformed religion; and sets at a distance from each other the Calvinist and Arminian, the Churchman and Dissenter, as if there were no common bond of union for them in Christ Jesus. This is cast in our teeth by the Papist, from whom we have separated: and it lays a stumbling-block before the Jew; who, with some shadow of justice, says to us, “Call not on me to embrace your religion, till you are yourselves agreed what that religion is.”]

But the proper end of the Gospel is charity—

[“The commandment” of which the text speaks, is, by some, supposed to mean the law; and, by others, the particular injunction given by St. Paul to Timothy. But its connexion with “the pure heart, and good conscience, and unfeigned faith,” from which “the charity, which is its end,” proceeds, clearly shews, in my judgment, that it must be understood of the Gospel [Note: The use of the expression ἵνα παραγγείλῃςin ver. 3. by no means determines the import of τῆς παραγγελίας in ver. 5: such a change in the use of the same word being quite common with St. Paul.].

Now the end of the Gospel is love; its chief object being to bring man back again to the state in which he was originally formed, and to renew him after the image of God, whose name and nature is love [Note: 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16.]. Fallen man possesses it not: he is by nature altogether selfish; and whatever stands in the way of self-gratification and self-advancement, he hates. Hence man universally opposes his fellow-man, as soon as ever a prospect opens to him of promoting his own interests, though at the expense of his neighbour’s welfare. In nations, whether civilized or uncivilized, this universally appears. The same is found in rival societies; yea, to such a degree does this malignant spirit operate, that it is a miracle if even a single family be found altogether united in love. But these malignant passions are mortified and subdued by the Gospel; according to that prediction of the Prophet Isaiah: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them [Note: Isaiah 11:6-9.].” In confirmation of this truth, we need only look to the day of Pentecost, and see what a change was wrought on the most malignant characters that ever disgraced our fallen nature: three thousand of them, who had but a few hours before concurred in shedding the Saviour’s blood, became all of one heart and one mind, and gladly surrendered all that they possessed, with a view to the welfare of the whole body [Note: Acts 2:44-45.]. Not that the Gospel will prevent all difference of sentiment amongst men; for, constituted as the human mind is, and different as are the degrees of man’s information upon different subjects, it is not possible that all men should have precisely the same views, even of any subject, and much less of all; but it will induce a mutual forbearance, in reference to things that are dubious and non-essential; and will form all the variously-constructed members into one harmonious and compact body [Note: Ephesians 4:15-16.]. And unless it have this effect, it leaves us without any hope of its ultimate and eternal blessings [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.].]

It is of great importance, however, to be informed,

II. When that end may be said to be truly and properly attained—

The love here spoken of is not that which exists in the bosom of the natural man; nor is it that which is engendered by a party-spirit: it is a love formed by the Gospel, through the instrumentality of “a pure heart, and a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” Such is the account given of it in the text; and it is of importance to observe the order in which these words are introduced. “a pure heart” is first mentioned, as being the proximate cause of love: in the production of which, “a good conscience” operates as a more remote cause; whilst its primary cause, which sets the others in motion, is, “an unfeigned faith.”

These are the immediate effects of the Gospel—

[The Gospel, bringing home conviction to the soul, creates there “an unfeigned faith,” without which no one of its truths can be received aright. The faith that is insincere, like that of Simon Magus [Note: Acts 8:13; Acts 8:18-20.], will soon betray its worthlessness; nor can it ever prevail for the subjugation of our selfish propensities. But when the Gospel leads us to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ in all his offices, and to look for salvation through him alone, then it will bring with it “a good conscience,” purged from all sense of guilt, and filled with a peace that passeth all understanding. Thence will flow a purification of the heart from every thing that is “earthly, sensual, or devilish,” and a transformation of the soul into the Divine image. Only let a man so embrace “the promises” as to obtain peace with God, and he will instantly begin to “cleanse himself from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].” Having a good hope that he is “accepted in Christ,” he will labour to purify himself, even as Christ is pure [Note: 1 John 3:3.].”]

Then, through the combined influence of these, it works its destined end—

[The soul is, by nature, narrow and contracted: its desires both originate in self, and end in self. Self is its centre and circumference. The natural man will indeed assume, on many occasions, an appearance of generosity; but, of the “charity that suffereth long, and is kind; that envieth not; that vaunteth not itself; that doth not behave itself unseemly; that seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil: rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; that beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.];” of that charity, I say, he knows nothing. But the Gospel expands the soul; filling it with a sense of the Saviour’s love, and stirring it up to a holy imitation of it; and bringing home to it, with irresistible force, this blessed truth, “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another [Note: 1 John 4:10-11.].” Thus, at the same time that it disposes the soul for love, it also forms love in the soul. It brings men into the closest union with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with each other in him, so as to make of all “one body in Christ.” All look to him as their common head; and all regard each other as members of the same mystical body; and, in consequence of that union, are penetrated with a love that is reciprocal and universal. The degree of affection that is experienced by them is unknown in the whole world besides. The union, that from thenceforth subsists between them, is so close, that nothing short of the union between Almighty God and his only dear Son can adequately describe it. This is what the Lord Jesus Christ himself has affirmed: “I pray for them, that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may all be one in us. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given them, that they all may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one [Note: John 17:21-23].”

This, then, may suffice to shew us, not only what the true end of the Gospel is, but when that end may be said to be truly and properly attained: for it never is truly wrought in us, till we are brought into this union with each other in Christ, and are made to exercise the dispositions which must necessarily result from it.

That I may not be thought to have insisted too strongly on this matter, let me confirm it from the express declaration of an inspired Apostle; a declaration in which not only the same truth is maintained, but the very same process is accurately described. St. Peter, speaking to his believing brethren throughout all the world, says, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently [Note: 1 Peter 1:22.].”]

Let me now address a few words to you on the subject of the Gospel,

1. In reference to its primary operations—

[The peculiar process here described is not alike visible in all: in some it advances rapidly; in others with a more tardy step. But it must be found in all.

Brethren, see to it, that “your faith” in the Gospel be “unfeigned.” It must be such a faith as brings you, in penitential sorrow and utter self-renunciation, to the foot of the Cross; and causes you to “live altogether by faith in the Son of God, as having loved you, and given himself for you [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” See to it, also, that you obtain “a good conscience.” There must not be a day or an hour in which you do not apply “the blood of sprinkling” to your souls: for it is by that only that “your conscience can be purged from dead works to serve the living God [Note: Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 12:24.].” Take care, too, that your heart be purified from all “earthly, sensual, and devilish” affections. No evil whatever must be harboured in your bosom. The whole of your life must be occupied in “putting off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and in putting on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:22-24.].” These things are absolutely indispensable: and if the Gospel produce them not in your souls, it is in vain for you to expect any blessing from it in the world to come — — —]

2. In reference to its ultimate effect—

[Never forget what is the great scope and end of all: it is not to save your soul from destruction, but to save your soul from sin. Heaven is a region of love; and no man could be happy there who has not been previously “rendered meet for it” in this world. He would be out of his element: he would have no delight in God himself, nor any sympathy with those who were around his throne. Away, then, with selfishness, and apathy, and party-spirit; and begin to realize a heaven upon earth. This is the way to fulfil the law [Note: Galatians 5:14.]; this is the way to adorn the Gospel [Note: Galatians 5:6.]; this is the way to answer all God’s purposes of love towards you. Remember this, then, I pray you. And as I am “charged of God to teach no other doctrine among you [Note: ver. 3.],” so I must charge you, in the name of God, to receive no other amongst yourselves. You will find persons without number ready to obtrude upon you some matters of doubtful disputation; yea, and within your own bosoms you will find much to contend with that is contrary to love. But set the Lord Jesus Christ before you. See how love burned in his bosom, till “his zeal had even consumed him,” and till he had surrendered his life upon the cross [Note: John 13:1. Ephesians 5:2.]. So grow ye up into him in all things: and as ye have been taught of God to “love one another, see that ye increase more and more [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10.].”]


Verse 8

DISCOURSE: 2221

THE LAW GOOD, IF USED ARIGHT

1 Timothy 1:8. We know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.

TO live under the government of laws that are wisely enacted and well administered, is a blessing of no ordinary kind. But the best of laws, if perverted to ends which were never contemplated by the legislature, may be made sources and instruments of the most grievous oppression. In like manner, even the law of God itself may be abused, and, through the perversion of it, be made injurious to the souls of men. Of this there is abundant evidence in the passage before us; where we find persons turning the Scriptures into an occasion of dispute; and occupying themselves with subjects which ministered to “vain jangling,” rather than to “edification in the faith of Christ [Note: ver. 4, 6.].” This, however, afforded no just objection to the law itself; for that was good, and “must ever be good, if only it be used lawfully,” according to the ends for which it was given.

In confirming the Apostle’s assertion, I shall consider it,

I. In reference to the law which belonged exclusively to the Jewish people—

The Jewish dispensation itself was good, as being well adapted to the persons to whom it was given, and for the purposes for which it was established. God intended to keep the posterity of Abraham a separate and distinct people; and, in due time, to bring forth from them, and in the midst of them, the promised Messiah. For this end were ordinances given to them; even such ordinances, as, if observed, must prevent them from ever becoming blended with the other nations of the earth. Still, if this dispensation were regarded as of universal and perpetual obligation, its excellence would wholly disappear.

But, to speak more particularly of the whole Ceremonial Law, which formed the great line of distinction between them and others; this was good:

It was good, I say, if used lawfully—

[The ceremonial law was intended to shadow forth the mysteries of the Gospel, the privileges of the Gospel, the duties of the Gospel; and thereby to prepare men for the Gospel itself.

Does the Gospel hold forth to us the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his substitution in the place of sinful man, and the reconciliation effected between God and man by the blood of his cross? Does it declare, that, by the operation of the Spirit of God upon the soul of man, the most polluted of sinners may be sanctified and saved? All this was shadowed forth by the special presence of the Deity in the most holy place; by the sacrifices offered upon the altar; by their blood sprinkled upon the mercy-seat; and by all the various lustrations and sprinklings which were appointed for the cleansing of the offerers, and of every thing connected with them. Even the offices of Christ were distinctly marked: as the Sacrifice, he bled, whilst, as the great High Priest, he offered up himself; and with his own blood he entered within the vail, there to offer up continual intercession in behalf of those for whom he died. The more this subject is prosecuted, the more excellent will that law appear, which so minutely exhibited every part of this mysterious dispensation — — —

The privileges too, that are enjoyed by means of the Gospel, are no less clearly marked. For here we see the offender transferring to his victim all his guilt; and liberated from the judgments to which, on account of his transgressions, he had been exposed. Whatever his offence had been, we see him bringing an appropriate offering, which God had promised to accept; and not only receiving a personal absolution on every different occasion, but annually, on the great day of atonement, having the pardon sealed on his soul, in common with every other offender in the whole nation.

Nor was he less instructed in the path of duty by this law which God had given him. The whole life of faith and holiness was here held forth to him. He was taught to approach his God on all occasions through a Mediator; to trust altogether to the blood of the sacrifice that was offered for him; and to expect the renovation of his soul through those very ordinances by which he was reconciled to God. The water which was sprinkled on him, in conjunction with the blood, taught him, that sanctification must be sought no less than pardon, and that those who obtained remission of their sins must henceforth walk in newness of life.]

Yet, if used unlawfully, its goodness was destroyed—

[Many there were who relied upon the outward act which had been prescribed, instead of looking, through the act, to Him whom it shadowed forth: many also put the observance of their ceremonies in the place of morality itself; laying a great stress on some trifling matter, whilst they disregarded the weightier and indispensable duties of “judgment, mercy, and faith [Note: Matthew 23:23.].” Now, this was an abuse of the law, which was never intended for such ends as these. For “how could the blood of bulls and of goats ever take away sin?” or how could sacrifice ever be accepted in the place of mercy [Note: Matthew 12:7.]? To make such an use of the law as this, was to “frustrate the grace of God, and to make the very death of Christ himself in vain [Note: Galatians 2:21.].” Hence God himself, when he found how the law was perverted, spake of it in the most contemptuous terms [Note: Isaiah 66:3.]. St. Paul also represents it as consisting of “weak and beggarly elements [Note: Galatians 4:9.],” and as “disannulled on account of the weakness and unprofitableness thereof [Note: Hebrews 7:18.].”]

Let us further consider our text,

II. In reference to the law; which, though given by God himself to the Jews, belongs equally to the whole world—

It is of the Moral Law that the Apostle principally speaks in my text: for it was that law which forbad all the different kinds of immorality which he proceeds to specify [Note: ver. 9, 10.]. And this law was not, so to speak, “made for the righteous,” but, as all human laws are, for the prevention of evil: and hence, with the exception of the fourth commandment, the whole Decalogue consists of prohibitions, rather than commands; and tells us rather what we are not to do, than what we are to do.

Now this law also is good, if used lawfully—

[It is good, in that it restrains us from the commission of evil, whether towards God or man. It is good, also, in that it shews how much sin has abounded in the world, and what reason we all have to humble ourselves on account of it. It is good, in that it points out to us the necessity of a Saviour, and leads us to welcome that Saviour to our hearts. Still further it is good, in that it directs us how to walk and to please God, when we have obtained mercy with him through his dear Son. These are the proper uses for which it was designed: and, when improved for these ends, we may well account it “dearer to us than thousands of silver and gold [Note: Psalms 119:72.]” — — —]

But, if perverted, even this also ceases to be good—

[True, in itself it is, and ever must be, “holy, and just, and good [Note: Romans 7:12.]:” but, in its use, it proves an occasion of death to many souls. Many there are who seek to establish a righteousness for themselves, by their obedience to it. But to fallen man it never could answer any such end as this: and to attempt to make any such use of it, to set aside the whole Gospel, and to make void all that Christ has done and suffered for us, in this very way it proved fatal to millions amongst the Jews [Note: Romans 9:31-32.], and still becomes an occasion of death to millions amongst ourselves [Note: Galatians 5:4.]. If we will follow it as “a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ,” it will prove an inestimable blessing to our souls: but if we will set it up against Christ, and found our hopes of salvation on our obedience to it, we shall despoil it of its true excellence, and make it only a stumbling-block to our eternal ruin.]

Having thus explained the Apostle’s assertion, I will now endeavour to point out the proper bearings of it, in a few reflections.

1. How inexpedient is it for novices to dogmatize in matters of religion!

[It was in a way of reproof to such persons, that the Apostle uttered the words before us. There were some who “desired to be teachers of the law, whilst yet they understood not what they said, nor whereof they affirmed [Note: ver. 7.].” Now, such persons there are in the Church at all times: and, in fact, there are no persons more dogmatical than those who have espoused some favourite theory of religion; nor is there any subject whatever on which men express greater confidence than this. And what is the consequence? They are given to “vain jangling;” and all their conversation is on subjects which, when so treated, can never administer to “godly edifying.” Earnestly would I entreat all persons, and especially those who are but novices in religion, to remember, that they have yet much to learn; and that they need to be well instructed themselves, before they presume to make their own sentiments a standard for all around them.]

2. How absurd is it to condemn religion for the faults of those who profess it!

[The persons whom the Apostle reproved, had abused the law. But did the Apostle account the law itself responsible for them? No: he said, and said with confidence, “We know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully:” and, if he use it unlawfully, it is he, and not the law, that is to be blamed. So, then, do I say in relation to religion itself. I will grant, that, amongst those who profess it, there are still many who are full of pride, and conceit, and uncharitableness, and a thousand other evils, just as there were in the Apostle’s days. But must religion itself therefore be condemned? As well might you condemn religion for Judas’ sake. Learn to judge righteous judgment. You do not condemn reason, because some pervert it in support of error, and assume to themselves the title of rational Christians: neither, then, should you think the less favourably of religion, because some, under its sacred guise, indulge unholy and injurious dispositions. If, indeed, it generated, or even sanctioned, any thing that was unholy, it might well be an object of reproach: but if it inculcate only what is good, then let it have the praise that is due unto it, and those who violate it bear the blame of their own ungodliness.]

3. How necessary is it to distinguish justly between the use, and the abuse, of that which is in itself good!

[The world is good, to one who makes the proper use of it: and therefore we are told to “use the world as not abusing it.” So the law is good, and the Gospel also, if used lawfully; and, as I have said, neither of them is to be condemned on account of the faults or follies of those who profess a regard for them. But you will ask, perhaps, What is the legitimate use of the Law? and what of the Gospel? I answer, The Law must be used evangelically; and the Gospel practically. Then will they subserve the best of purposes, and be instrumental in effecting all for which they have been given. But if the Gospel be not kept in view whilst we pay attention to the Law, we shall never attain the liberty of God’s children, nor ever possess the kingdom which he has prepared for us. So also, if we separate holiness from the Gospel, we shall lose all the benefits which the Gospel is intended to convey: for God has expressly ordained, “that without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”]

4. How desirable is it to make a just improvement of every word of God!

[As the law is capable of a right use, so is every word of God. We are not to take one part of the inspired volume, and to leave another; not to embrace one doctrine because it is agreeable to our minds, and to reject another because it offends our prejudices. Earnestly would I guard you against that. The law bids you, “Do, and live:” the Gospel says, “Believe, and be saved.” Set them in opposition to each other, and you will fall into a fatal error: but take the one in subserviency to the other, and all will be well. So would I say respecting many other points, which have been made grounds of controversy and contention for hundreds of years. Only let the different declarations of Scripture find their proper place, and be improved to their proper end, and numberless difficulties will vanish; and the whole system of divine truth will be found harmonious, even as the stars which move in their orbits. To a superficial observer, the various truths may appear to clash; but to one that is conversant with the design of God in them, they will all be found to promote his glory, and to advance the welfare of those who, with childlike humility, embrace them. I mean not to say that you are to take any thing without examination: for you are to “prove all things, and then hold fast that which is good.” But look for the practical use of every thing that the Scriptures contain, and then will you derive benefit from all, and have reason to bless your God for all.]


Verse 11

DISCOURSE: 2225

THE EXCELLENCY AND GLORY OF THE GOSPEL

1 Timothy 1:11. The glorious Gospel of the blessed God.

Ephesians 3:18-19. Be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

FROM no part of Holy Writ do we obtain a deeper insight into the great mysteries of the Gospel, than from the prayers of the Apostle Paul. He there embodied, as it were, all his views of divine truth, and poured forth his soul to God in terms altogether out of the reach of an uninspired mind; in terms so vast, so grand, so comprehensive, that, with the utmost stretch of our imagination, we find it exceeding difficult to grasp the thoughts contained in them.

I will not detain you with any comment on this prayer, because the subject which I have to bring before you is of itself sufficient to occupy all the time that can reasonably be devoted to one discourse. I have omitted the former part of this prayer, because it is the latter part alone that is applicable to the subject before us, or proper to be brought forward as introductory to this discourse. But to that part I would wish to draw your more particular attention; because, in praying for the Ephesians, that they might “be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, and by comprehending it be filled with all the fulness of God,” he not only adverts to the subject which I am about to bring before you, but declares that “all saints in the universe ought in some good measure to comprehend it.” It is obvious, on the most superficial view of these words, that the Apostle saw a glory and excellency in the Gospel, beyond what it was in the power of language to express, or of any finite imagination fully to comprehend; and that he regarded a discovery of that excellency as the appointed means of accomplishing in men the whole work of divine grace, and of ultimately filling them with all the fulness of God. Hence it will be seen how appropriate these words are to our present subject; wherein I am to set before you, as God shall enable me, the Gospel of Christ, in all its excellency and in all its glory.

In prosecution of this great object, I will endeavour to exhibit the Gospel, as honouring God’s law; as glorifying his perfections: and as laying a foundation for greater happiness, both to men and angels, than either of them could ever have enjoyed, if man had never fallen.

First, I am to set it forth as honouring God’s law.

This is a point of view in which it deserves the most attentive consideration. For, if we proclaim a free and full salvation, and that simply by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we immediately appear to men to set aside the law. And more particularly, when we state, that the law cannot justify any man—that it is not to be observed with any view to obtain justification by it—that we must not so much as lean to it in the slightest degree—and that the placing of the smallest dependence upon it will invalidate the whole Gospel—we are supposed to be downright Antinomians in principle, whatever we may be in practice; and our doctrines are represented as quite dangerous to the community. Now, it must be remembered, that St. Paul’s own statements were, in the judgment of many, obnoxious to this very reproach; and that he was, therefore, constrained to vindicate them from this charge: “Do we, then, make void the law through faith? God forbid,” says he: “yea, we establish the law [Note: Romans 3:31.].”

The law, you will remember, requires perfect obedience to all its commandments, and denounces a curse against every one who shall violate even the least of them in the smallest possible degree. Now, it is manifest that we have broken them in ten thousand instances, and are consequently obnoxious to its heaviest judgments: and yet we say to those who believe in Christ, that they have nothing to fear; for that “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Here, then, we seem to set aside the law altogether, both in its commanding and condemning power. But the truth is, that we establish the law in both respects: for the Gospel declares, that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of heaven and earth, was “made of a woman, made under the law,” on purpose that, in his own person, he might fulfil the law which we had broken, and endure the penalties which we had incurred; that so not a jot or tittle should pass from the law, till the whole of it, in every possible view, should be fulfilled. This work he both undertook and executed. He obeyed the law, in its utmost possible extent; and he endured the wrath due to the sins of the whole world. Now, consider how greatly the law was honoured by this. It would have been honoured, if all mankind had obeyed it: and it would also have been honoured, if they had all been consigned over to the punishment they had merited by their disobedience. In either case, its authority would have been displayed and vindicated. But when the Lawgiver himself, the Mighty God, becomes a man, and puts himself under its authority, and obeys all its precepts, and suffers all its penalties, and does this on purpose that the law may be honoured, and that the salvation of man may be rendered compatible with its demands, this puts an honour upon the law which it would never have obtained by any other means, and must for ever render it glorious in the eyes of the whole intelligent creation.

But it is not in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, as our Head and Representative, that the law is honoured: the Gospel engages that every sinner who is interested in its provisions shall himself also honour the law in his own person. For every one, at the time that he comes to Christ for mercy, must acknowledge, that he is justly condemned by the law; and that, if, for his transgressions of the law, he be cast into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, it will be no more than his just desert. And this must he acknowledge, not in mere words only, that carry not the heart along with them: no; he must feel that he is actually in danger of this very punishment; and that nothing but a most wonderful act of mercy can ever deliver him from it. He must go to God, as one that sees this very punishment awaiting him; and must, from his inmost soul, cry out with Peter, when sinking in the waves, “Save, Lord, or I perish!” Moreover, in his supplications for mercy, he must plead the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ in his behalf. He must not even desire that the authority of the law should be made void; no, not even for the salvation of his soul: he must found all his hopes on the honour done to the law by the sufferings of Christ; and must desire, that those sufferings may be put to his account, as if he himself had endured them: nor is his own mind to be satisfied with any thing which does not satisfy the law, and put honour upon the law. Nor is this all: for he must acknowledge, that without a righteousness commensurate with the utmost demands of the law, he never can be, nor ever ought to be, accepted of his God. He must deeply lament his utter inability to keep the law in this manner; and must renounce all hope in himself; assured, that nothing but perfect obedience can ever be received by God, or be acknowledged by him as honouring his law. A man rightly instructed would deem it an insult to the law to desire that his partial and worthless performances should be regarded as answering its demands: and, in this view, renouncing all hope in himself and his own works, he will plead the obedience which his incarnate God has paid to the law, and trust in that alone for righteousness and salvation. He will not even wish for acceptance with God on any other terms than those of having rendered, either in himself or in his divine Surety, a perfect obedience to the law: in a word, he will regard the Lord Jesus Christ as “the end of the law for righteousness to the believing soul [Note: Romans 10:4.],” and trust in him altogether under that character, “The Lord our Righteousness [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.].” Thus you perceive that the Gospel provides for the honour of the law, not only in shewing that it has been honoured by the obedience and sufferings of our incarnate God, but in requiring every sinner in the universe to honour it in his own person, by founding all his hopes on that very mediation by which the law has been so greatly honoured.

Nor have we yet attained a full view of this part of our subject: for the Gospel yet further requires, that all who in this way have found acceptance with God shall endeavour to honour the law by their own obedience to it in every respect. True, indeed, the believer feels that he cannot perfectly obey it: he feels too that he can never, by his best attempts to obey it, recommend himself to God, so as to obtain a justifying righteousness before him: yet he regards the law as “holy, and just, and good;” and endeavours to fulfil it, as much as if he were to be saved altogether by his obedience to it. “The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, teaches him this: it teaches him, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, he should live soberly, and righteously, and godly, in this present world [Note: Titus 2:11-12.].” Whilst, therefore, he embraces the promises of the Gospel as the one ground of his hope, he will make use of those promises as an incentive to “cleanse himself from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].”

Now, this effect of the Gospel is not produced only in a few particular instances; it is universal: nor is there so much as one sinner that ever finds acceptance through Christ, without having this experience realized in his soul. If any person under heaven profess to have obtained salvation through Christ without having this humiliation under a sense of sin—this conviction of his lost estate—this acquiescence in the justice of God as consigning him over to perdition—this consciousness of his inability to repair his breaches of the law—this persuasion that the law ought to be honoured both in its commanding and condemning power—this hope in Christ, as having so honoured it in both respects—this utter renunciation of every other hope—and, in addition to it all, this desire to obey the law, and this determination to honour it in every possible way—I say, if any person without this, as the deep and abiding experience of his soul, should profess an expectation of salvation by Christ, we should not hesitate to say of him, what the Apostle said of the self-deceiving Jews, that, however he may be “seeking after righteousness, he neither has attained it,” nor ever will attain it, in the way in which he is proceeding [Note: Romans 9:31.]: he is yet a stranger to the law, and the glory of the Gospel is yet hid from his eyes. He has yet to learn, that, as the Gospel honours the law, so every one that is saved by the Gospel does, and must, in every possible way, and to the utmost extent of his power, contribute to this good work of “magnifying and making honourable the law of God [Note: Isaiah 42:21.].”

The next point of view in which the excellency of the Gospel is to be shewn, is, that it glorifies all the perfections of the Deity.

That there was a difficulty in making the salvation of man to consist with the honour of the Divine perfections, was mentioned in a former discourse; wherein were shewn the wisdom of God in contriving a way, the power of God in effecting it, and the grace of God in accommodating it to all the wants and necessities of fallen man. My present point will lead me to shew, not merely that this consistency is secured, but that all the perfections of God are more glorified in this way than they could have been in any other. For instance, suppose that man, with all his descendants, had been consigned to misery: the justice of God would have appeared; and his truth also would have been seen: but it would not have been known that there existed in the Deity any such attribute as mercy; or that, if it did exist in him, it could ever find a fit scope for exercise: since the exercise of it must, of necessity, involve in it some remission of the rights of justice, and some encroachment on the honour of the law. On the other hand, if free and full remission of sins had been granted unto man, it would not have been seen how such an act of grace could consist with the rights of justice and holiness and truth. But, in the method of salvation which the Gospel reveals, not only are these perfections reconciled with each other, but all of them are exceedingly enhanced and glorified.

That I may keep as clear as possible of my former subject, I will now confine myself to three of the Divine attributes—justice, mercy, and truth; and shew how a tenfold lustre is reflected upon them in the Gospel salvation, beyond what could ever have beamed forth in any other way.

Justice, as I have said, would have been seen in the condemnation of the human race. But what shall we say of it as exhibited in the Gospel? Behold, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “God over all,” puts himself in the place of sinful man, and undertakes to endure for man all that the sins of the whole world had merited. But what will justice say, when it finds our sins transferred to him? Will it venture to seize on him? Will it exact the debt of him? Will it draw forth the sword against him, who is “Jehovah’s Fellow [Note: Zechariah 13:7.]?” Methinks the sword, stretched out, would fall from the hand of justice, and refuse to execute its appointed work. But, no: sin is found on our incarnate God. True, it is in him only by imputation: yet, being imputed to him, he must be made answerable for it [Note: Isaiah 53:7. Bishop Lowth’s Translation.], and must himself endure all that it has merited at the hands of God. Behold, then, for the honour of God’s justice, the cup is put into the hands of our blessed Lord: and the very dregs of the cup of bitterness are given him to drink: nor is he released from his sufferings, till he can say, “It is finished.” Contemplate, now, this mysterious fact; the God of heaven and earth becoming man, and, by his own obedience unto death, satisfying the demands of law and justice, in order that God, through his vicarious sufferings, may “be just, and yet the justifier of them that believe in Christ [Note: Romans 3:20.].” But could justice be satisfied with nothing less? Would it accept of nothing less? Would it not consent to the salvation of a human being on any other terms than these? Behold, then, I say, how exalted is its character! how inalienable its rights! how inexorable its demands! Truly, in all that it inflicts, either on men or angels, it is not so glorified, as it is in this stupendous mystery.

Next, let us take a view of the same subject in reference to mercy. This Divine attribute would doubtless have been displayed, if man, by a mere sovereign act of grace, had been pardoned. But it did not seem good to the Deity that mercy should so triumph over all his other attributes. It shall indeed be brought forth to light, and have full scope for operation; but its actings shall be such only as shall consist with the honour of every other attribute. But what way shall be devised for this? Divine wisdom, as I have before shewn, contrived a way, wherein God might be at the same time “a just God and a Saviour [Note: Isaiah 45:21.].” The plan proposed was, that God’s only dear Son should be substituted in the place of sinners. But shall mercy be exercised at such an expense as this? Better were it that all its gracious purposes should be abandoned, than that Almighty God should stoop to such a condescension as this. What! that mercy shall be shewn towards a number of rebellious worms—of creatures that can never contribute any thing to the happiness or honour of their God—of creatures, millions of whom, if necessary for God’s honour, could be created in an instant, in the room of those that should perish; that mercy, I say, might be shewn to these, shall the God of heaven divest himself of his glory? shall the Creator of the universe become a man? shall he have the sins of a rebellious world laid on him? shall he become a victim, and be offered upon the altar of divine justice—that man, worthless man, may be spared? Surely mercy can never require this: it will be content to lie hid in the bosom of the Deity to all eternity, rather than that such a sacrifice should be made for its honour. But no; mercy cannot be so restrained: it pants for an opportunity of pouring forth its benefits into the souls of men. Its bowels are so moved at the sight of a perishing world, that it will not, it cannot, rest. Every thing but God’s honour shall give way to it: and now that that can be secured, no price shall be too great for its descent from heaven to bless our ruined race. Go now to Bethlehem, and see in the manger that new-born infant, your incarnate God, “God manifest in the flesh.” Who sent him thither? Who brought him from his throne of glory, into this world of sin and misery? It was mercy, struggling in the bosom of Almighty God, and prevailing for its own development in this mysterious way. Go again to Gethsemane and Calvary: behold that innocent sufferer: see him prostrate on the ground, bathed in a bloody sweat! see him hanging on the cross, agonizing under a load of his creatures’s guilt, crying in the depths of dereliction, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and expiring under the wrath of Almighty God, the wrath due to him as the Surety and Substitute of a guilty world! Who has brought him to this state? ’Twas mercy: mercy would not rest: it would break forth: rather than not exercise itself towards mankind, it would transfer to God himself the penalty due to them, and write in the blood of an incarnate God the pardon it designed for sinful man. Say, now, whether mercy be not glorified in this astonishing mystery, which the Gospel has so fully revealed?

And truth, also, has derived to itself no less a measure of glory from this stupendous mystery. God had said, “In the day that thou eatest of the forbidden fruit, thou shalt surely die.” When, therefore, man had eaten, what remained but that the threatened penalty should be inflicted on him? The word had gone forth: it could not be revoked: nor could its sentence he reversed, consistently with the sacred rights of truth. What then shall be done? If the sentence is executed on man, the veracity of God is displayed and honoured: but how can man be spared, and truth be kept inviolate? The suggestions of wisdom being approved, and the substitution of God’s only-begotten Son in the sinner’s place admitted, truth willingly accepts the proposal, gladly transfers the penalty, and joyfully inflicts on the victim the sentence due to the offender [Note: Isaiah 53:10.]:—and thus is consummated that mystery which none but God could ever have devised, “Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other [Note: Psalms 85:10.].” Thus are not only the different perfections of God made to harmonize in the salvation of man; but justice is exercised in a way of mercy, and mercy is exercised in a way of justice; and both of them, in a way of holiness and truth.

But the glory and excellency of the Gospel yet further appear, in that the Gospel, as I observed in the third place, lays a foundation for greater happiness, both to men and angels, than either of them could ever have enjoyed, if man. had never fallen.

The felicity of angels doubtless is great; as would that of men also have been, if man had never fallen. But, from the Gospel, both the one and the other derive a vast accession to their happiness, beyond all that they would otherwise ever have possessed. In reference to angels, I may say, that if in no other respect they were benefited by the Gospel, they would derive an immense advantage from it, in that, from seeing how great a sacrifice was necessary to restore man to happiness, they must of necessity form a higher estimate of the happiness that has been freely conferred on them: and, in proportion to the sense which they feel of the obligations conferred upon them, must their love to God be augmented, and their felicity advanced.

But, independent of this consideration, I doubt not but they have received by the Gospel a vast accession to their bliss.

I think it will readily be acknowledged, that the happiness of the angelic hosts is derived chiefly, if not entirely, from beholding the glory of their God. From the first instant of their creation, they must therefore have been inconceivably blessed; because, without intermission, they have been basking, as it were, in the beams of divine glory. But, when some intimation was given of the Divine purpose to restore to happiness our fallen race, what astonishment must have seized the whole heavenly choir! They had seen millions of their own species consigned to misery, and hell itself created for their sad abode: and, when man had fallen, they could expect nothing, but that those who were partners in transgression should also be fellow-heirs of the doom assigned to it. But, when they saw that a purpose existed in the Divine mind to pardon man, an entire new view of the Deity must have struck their minds, and filled them with wonder and admiration. From that moment, the great mystery of redemption has been gradually unfolding to mankind: and by every discovery made to the Church, the angels themselves have gained a deeper insight into it. They were represented, under the Mosaic dispensation, by the two cherubim who covered the ark. Those were formed in a bending posture, looking down into the ark, as if desirous of discovering more fully the wonders contained in that typical emblematic ordinance [Note: Exodus 25:20.]. St. Peter assures us of this; when, speaking of the prophecies relating to the sufferings and glory of our Lord, he says, “Which things the angels desire to look into [Note: 1 Peter 1:12.].” The very word he uses [Note: παρακύψαι.] refers to their bending posture, which I have before mentioned. And that they are brought to more enlarged views of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ, by the revelation of it which is given to us, is expressly asserted by St. Paul; who says, that “God would have all men see what was the fellowship of the mystery which, from the beginning of the world, had been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God [Note: Ephesians 3:9-10.]. Hence we find that, at the incarnation of our Lord, a new song commenced in heaven: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men [Note: Luke 2:13-14.].” From that hour have they been contemplating all the wonders of his love: and still are they beholding the radiance of his glory, and of the glory of God beaming forth from his face; and from every discovery of the divine perfections they receive a still further augmentation of their bliss. Till the foregoing method of reconciling and glorifying the divine perfections had been revealed to us, the angels could have had no more conception of it than we. They had seen in the works of creation, and had experienced in their own bosoms, a marvellous display of the wisdom and goodness and power and love of Almighty God: but they could never have conceived the least idea of them, as they are exhibited in the gift of his only begotten Son to die for man. All this they learn from the Gospel only: and, consequently, the Gospel, which has contributed so greatly to their happiness, has, on that very account, an excellency of glory deserving of the highest admiration.

And how is the happiness of man also advanced by this great salvation? Doubtless, as I have said before, he would have been happy, if he had never fallen. But what is his happiness in glory now! What views must he have of the divine perfections! What a sense must he feel of “the love of Christ, the breadth and length, and depth and height, of which are utterly incomprehensible!” If, as beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, man is on a par with angels, in this respect he is elevated far above them, in that he can say, in reference to the whole work of Christ, ‘All this was done for me.’ When he beholds the Lord Jesus Christ in his human nature, he must say, ‘My God assumed that nature for me.’ When he sees Christ “upon his throne, as a Lamb that has been slain,” and surveys the wounds once inflicted on his hands and side, he must say, ‘Those wounds were endured for me.’ When he contemplates all the glory and felicity of heaven, he must say, ‘This throne was bought for me; this crown for me; this inheritance for me; yes, and bought too with the blood of my incarnate God!’ Every smile of God the Father must be endeared to him, by the thought, that it was purchased for him by the agonies of God the Son, and secured to him by the agency of God the Spirit. Truly, this realizing sense of an interest in all the wonders of redemption must augment the felicity of the saints far beyond that of the angels themselves: and accordingly we find, that the saints are nearer to the throne of God than the angels themselves. “The saints stand round about the throne; and the angels stand round about the saints [Note: Revelation 7:9-11.].” We find, too, that the saints lead the chorus, with an exulting acknowledgment of their own interest in Christ; saying, “Thou art worthy: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests.” But all that the angels can do, is to join in the acknowledgment that Christ is worthy: not one word can they add about their own interest in his work: all that they can say is, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing:” therefore, “Blessing and honour and glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever [Note: Revelation 5:9-13.].”

Say now, Whether there be not a glory and excellency in the Gospel, not only beyond any thing which is generally contemplated, but far beyond what any finite capacity can ever fully comprehend? Yet, how is it regarded amongst us? Does it in any degree corresponding with its importance, occupy our minds as Christians, and our ministrations as ambassadors of Christ? On the contrary, is it not rather viewed with suspicion, and in too many instances loaded with contempt? But would it be so treated, if it were properly understood? See what effects are ascribed to it, and what blessings a just comprehension of this mysterious subject is calculated to impart. In my text it is said, that a view of this sublime mystery will “fill us with all the fulness of God.” And what can be meant by this? Can it be supposed that a creature should ever resemble God in his natural perfections? No: but in his moral perfections we both may and must resemble him, if ever we would behold the face of God in peace. Nay more; we must not only partake of his moral perfections, but must have them all united and harmonizing in us, even as they unite and harmonize in God himself, and in this stupendous mystery, which has emanated from him. For instance; whilst justice, and mercy, and truth, and love, find in us, on all occasions, their appropriate operations, we must be careful that the opposite graces of faith and fear, humility and confidence, meekness and fortitude, contrition and joy, have full scope, not only for occasional, but for constant and harmonious exercise. In a word, we should resemble “God, who is light” itself [Note: 1 John 1:5.]. In light, you know, there is an assemblage of widely-different rays; some of which, if taken separately, might be thought to approximate rather to darkness than to light. But if the more brilliant rays were taken alone, though they might produce a glare, they would never make light. It is the union of all, in their due proportion, and in simultaneous motion, that constitutes light: and then only, when all the different graces are in simultaneous exercise, each softening and tempering its opposite, then only, I say, do we properly resemble God.

But how shall this character be formed in us? How shall we “be filled thus with all the fulness of our God?” Can it be effected by philosophy, or by the operation of any natural principles? Can any thing but the Gospel of Christ effect it? No; nothing under heaven ever did, or ever can, form this character, but an overwhelming sense of the love of Christ in dying for us: and it is on this account that I have endeavoured to bring this great subject before you. And, O, that it might have a suitable operation upon your souls! Verily, it should fill the soul: it should produce in us somewhat of the effect which it is at this very moment producing in heaven. Behold both saints and angels, all of them prostrate on their face before the throne of God [Note: Revelation 5:8; Revelation 7:11.]. And wherefore is it that those happy spirits are in such a posture as this? they are all, without exception, overwhelmed with admiring and adoring views of God and of the Lamb. And should not such be the prostration of our souls also, under a sense of the incomprehensible love of Christ, as revealed in the Gospel? Behold the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision: each of them had six wings; with two of them covering his face, as unworthy to behold the Deity, and with two his feet, as unworthy to serve him; and with the remaining two flying through the vast expanse of heaven, to fulfil their Maker’s will [Note: Isaiah 6:2.]. Now this is the use that we also should make of our powers: humiliation and contrition should be united with zeal, throughout our whole deportment: and if we so employ our powers, we may be sure that our progress in the divine life will be advanced, rather than impeded, by these holy self-abasing exercises. In truth, if with David we desire that “the beauty of the Lord our God may be upon us [Note: Psalms 90:17.],” it is by this assemblage of graces, so qualified and so tempered, that we must attain the desired blessing.

And now let me entreat, that all, who have heard the subjects which have been discussed, will bear in mind their true scope and intent. Let our aim be high: let our desires be enlarged: let none of us be satisfied with low attainments in religion: let us be content with nothing less than being “filled with all the fulness of God.” Let us take our incarnate God himself for our pattern: for we are expressly told, that “he has set us an example, that we should follow his steps [Note: 1 Peter 2:21.].” “Let the same mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus [Note: Philippians 2:5.],” that so “Christ himself may be formed in us [Note: Galatians 4:19.].” You have seen what self-denial he exercised for us: what then, I would ask, should we not be ready either to do or to suffer for him? Should there be any bounds to our gratitude and zeal and love? Truly, if we be not brought to a sense of his love, and a corresponding devotedness of heart to him, I shall have spoken in vain, or rather worse than in vain: for “the word, which should have been a savour of life to our salvation, will only prove a savour of death,” to our heavier condemnation [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.]. But I trust you will not suffer the subject to pass from your minds with the occasion that has brought it before you; but that you will seek to experience it, in all its sanctifying and saving efficacy. Let “the love of Christ” be contemplated by you, till it has “constrained you to live altogether unto him:” and never cease to “behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, till you are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].”

And now, having closed my subject, I humbly “commend you all to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified [Note: Acts 20:32.].”


Verse 15

DISCOURSE: 2226

CHRIST CAME TO SAVE SINNERS

1 Timothy 1:15. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

IT is said of the Athenians that “they spent their time in nothing else but in telling or hearing some new thing.” This, to say the least, was a very unprofitable way of employing their precious hours: for of the reports that are most industriously circulated, many are false, many doubtful, many frivolous; and of those that are true and important, the far greater part do not properly concern us. But there is one report that has spread far and wide, in which we are all deeply interested; the particulars of which, together with the general character of the report itself, it is our intention to lay before you.

I. The report itself—

In general the report is, that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” But because of its singular importance, it will be proper that we enter into particulars, and tell you distinctly,

1. Who Jesus Christ was—

[He was a man in every respect like ourselves, sin only excepted. But he was God also: he was the only-begotten Son of God, “God of God, light of light, very God of very God.” To declare fully who he was, is beyond the power of any finite being: since “none knoweth the Son but the Father [Note: Matthew 11:27.]:” yet we know infallibly from Scripture that he was the eternal [Note: Micah 5:2. with John 17:5.], immutable Jehovah [Note: Hebrews 13:8.], God manifest in the flesh [Note: 1 Timothy 3:16.], God over all, blessed for ever [Note: Romans 9:5.].]

2. How he came into the world—

[He was born like other men; but he was not begotten in the way of ordinary generation. He was formed by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of a pure virgin, that he might partake of our nature without inheriting our corruption [Note: Luke 1:35.]. He was born under circumstances of peculiar meanness: his life also was spent in poverty and disgrace: and his death was the most cruel and ignominious that could be inflicted on him. But he foreknew from the beginning all that he should suffer, and yet voluntarily took upon him our nature, that he might both do and suffer all that was appointed of the Father.]

3. For what end he came into the world—

[Never was there such an errand before, or since. His own creatures had ruined themselves; and he came to save them. Though it was his law that they transgressed, and his authority that they despised, and his yoke that they cast off; yea, though he was the one great object of their contempt and abhorrence, he came to save them. Though he knew that they would murder him as soon as ever he should put himself into their power, yet he came to save them; to save the vilest of them, not excepting those who unrighteously condemned him, or insultingly mocked him, or cruelly pierced him with the nails and spear. When there was no alternative but either that they must perish, or he come down from heaven to suffer in their stead, down he came upon the wings of love, and “saved them from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for them [Note: Galatians 3:13.].” He suffered that they might go free; and died, that they might live for ever.]

That this is “not a cunningly-devised fable,” will appear, if we consider what is said in the text respecting,

II. The character of this report—

St. Paul, who had examined it thoroughly, declares that it is,

1. Worthy of credit—

[So strange a report as this ought on no account to be believed, unless it can be proved beyond a possibility of doubt. Credulity in a concern that so deeply involves the honour of God and the welfare of all the human race, would be criminal in the highest degree. But we need be under no apprehensions respecting the truth of this report. “It is a faithful saying:” it is attested by the accomplishment of prophecies the most numerous, the most minute, the most opposite and irreconcileable; of prophecies, which no human wisdom could hare devised, no human power could accomplish. It has been credited by thousands who were at first most adverse to it: it has always appeared with more convincing evidence in proportion as it has been scrutinized and examined: and multitudes have propagated it at the peril of their lives, and sealed the truth of it with their blood. There is no species of evidence wanting to confirm it: so that it is impossible to doubt of its truth, if only we inquire into it with diligence and candour.]

2. Worthy of acceptation—

[There are many reports that are true, which yet are unworthy of any serious concern. But this is so universally interesting, and withal so precious, that it is worthy to be received by all mankind with the liveliest joy and exultation. If it be considered only as affecting the present happiness of men, there is no other report deserving of the smallest attention in comparison of this. None but God can tell, how many myriads of souls it has delivered from the deepest distress and anguish, and filled with peace and joy unspeakable. In truth, there is no solid comfort upon earth but what arises from the belief of these joyful tidings. But if we extend our views to the eternal felicity which the crediting of this report has occasioned; if we look at the myriads of saints that are already around the throne of God, and consider what numbers are continually adding to them from this lower world, and what an innumerable host there will be at the last day, that will have been rescued from hell, and exalted to glory solely through their crediting of this report, surely we shall say it is “worthy of all acceptation,” worthy, not merely to be credited, but to be entertained in our hearts with the devoutest gratitude and thanksgiving.]

We shall conclude with recommending “this saying” to the attention of,

1. Those who have lived in a wilful course of sin—

[You cannot but have some secret apprehension that “your end will be according to your ways,” How acceptable then ought these tidings to be to you! Do not despise them. Do not aggravate your eternal condemnation by rejecting them; neither put them from you, as though they were too good to be true: for Christ came to save even the very “chief of sinners;” and you, if you will believe on him, shall experience his salvation.]

2. Those who have been more exemplary in their lives—

Do not imagine that you are able to save yourselves: if you have not been such profligate sinners as others, still you are “sinners,” and must be saved by Jesus Christ, or not at all. You are but too apt to overlook all that Christ has done and suffered for you, under an idea that your moral and religious duties will conciliate the Divine favour: and hence it too often happens, that, while “publicans and harlots enter into his kingdom, persons of your description exclude themselves from it. But know, that “there is salvation in no other:” Christ is, and must be, your only refuge, and your only hope [Note: Acts 4:12.].]

3. Those who have already received it into their hearts—

[Doubtless this report has already been a source of joy and consolation to you. But you cannot even conceive how rich a source of blessings it will be, if only you continue to reflect upon it. In it are contained “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge [Note: Colossians 2:3.]:” it has a height, and depth, and length, and breadth, that no finite being can comprehend [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.], and that through eternal ages will afford incessant and increasing cause for wonder and adoration. Let this report then be your meditation day and night, and while we, as God’s ambassadors, endeavour to propagate it with our lips, do you endeavour to recommend and confirm it by your lives.]


Verse 16

DISCOURSE: 2227

PAUL’S CONVERSION

1 Timothy 1:16. For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

THE first question that should occur to our minds, is this, Have I obtained mercy? If a favourable answer can be returned to that, we should inquire, In what manner, and for what ends, mercy has been shewn us? There can be no doubt, but that if persons who are converted to God would frequently look back upon the state in which they were previous to their conversion, they would find the retrospect attended with the most beneficial consequences. Their recollection would furnish them with innumerable facts, which would tend to humble them in the dust, and to excite adoring thoughts of that grace which has so distinguished them. St. Paul appears to have taken peculiar pleasure in this exercise of mind. He embraces every opportunity to speak of his former hostility to Christ, in order to exalt to the uttermost the honour of that God, by whom he had been elected, redeemed, and sanctified. In the preceding verses he had expatiated on this painful subject: and now he improves it for the benefit of others.

In discoursing on his words, we shall notice,

I. The circumstances under which the Apostle obtained mercy—

If St. Paul had more to boast of than any, on account of his birth, his education, his strictness, and his zeal, he had also more to be humbled for than almost any other person. For consider,

1. His ignorance of himself—

[He had been educated under the most celebrated teacher of his day, Gamaliel; and had made a proficiency beyond any of his age. Yet, skilled as he was in Rabbinical learning, he was wholly ignorant of his own state and character. He knew not that he was a condemned sinner, He knew not the spirituality and extent of the law. He had no idea, that it required perfect unsinning obedience, and consigned men over to perdition for one single offence, whether in thought, word, or deed. Through his ignorance of the law, he imagined himself to be “alive,” and entitled to everlasting life [Note: Romans 7:9.]. He moreover judged that he was practising all the moral duties, while he was destitute of almost every just sentiment, or proper feeling. Instead of being humbled as a sinner in dust and ashes, he was lifted up with pride and self-conceit. Instead of being animated with love, and pity, and compassion, he was inflamed with a fiery and wrathful zeal. “He knew not at all what spirit he was of.” In short, he was the very reverse of what he afterwards became.]

2. His enmity against Christ—

[He might have had many opportunities of seeing and hearing Christ, on a supposition he bad chosen to embrace them. But, like proud and ignorant bigots of later ages, he would not condescend to hear one who was so generally despised. He probably believed all the scandalous reports that were circulated respecting Jesus, and therefore thought him unworthy of his attention. From the prophecies indeed he could not but know that the promised Messiah was to appear about that time: but having imbibed the prejudices of his countrymen respecting a temporal Messiah, he concluded that Jesus was an impostor; and no doubt rejoiced when the influence of that deceiver (as he thought him) was terminated by his death. But when the doctrines of the Gospel were propagated with such success by the Apostles, then his disappointment appeared, and he broke forth into the fiercest rage against Christ. He determined to extirpate his followers, and to blot out, if possible, the very remembrance of his name. Such was his opinion of Christ, that “he thought he ought to do every thing in his power contrary to his name [Note: Acts 26:9.],” and adverse to his cause. Nor can we doubt, but that if Jesus had put himself again in the power of the Jews, Paul would have been among the first to apprehend and destroy him. None would have been found more ready than he to nail him to the cross, or to pierce his heart with the spear.]

3. His cruelty to his fellow-creatures—

[He was present at the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen. He heard the discourse of that holy man; he saw “his face shining like the face of an angel:” he heard him with his dying breath praying for his murderers; but was unconvinced, unrelenting, unmoved. One would have thought that a young man (whose feelings are quick), and a man pretending to morality, should have felt some pity towards one, whose whole appearance was so devout and holy: and that, when the first stone made the blood to gush out, he should have turned away with disgust and horror. But no such effect was produced on him. On the contrary, he feasted his eyes with this bloody spectacle; and testified his consent to the murderous deed, by holding the garments of the murderers, and giving in his looks very evident tokens of his approbation [Note: Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1; Acts 22:19-20.]. Having thus tasted of human blood, he thirsted for it, and, like a blood-hound, would be satisfied with nothing else. He volunteered his services in hunting down the victims of his rage [Note: Acts 9:2.]. He obtained authority from the chief priests; and in the exercise of it, not only drove the Christians from Jerusalem, but followed them to foreign cities, where he had no jurisdiction [Note: Acts 26:10-11.]. He shewed no pity even to helpless females; but dragged all, men and women, to prison [Note: Acts 8:3; Acts 22:4-5.], and gave his voice against them that they should be put to death [Note: Acts 26:10.]. He suffered none to escape, on any other condition than that of blaspheming the name of Jesus [Note: Acts 26:11.]; and thus, while he inflicted on some the pains of martyrdom, he consigned others over to the damnation of hell. From his own description of himself, he more resembled an incarnate fiend than a human being [Note: Acts 9:1. Galatians 1:13 and 1 Timothy 1:13.].]

So strange were the circumstances under which this fiery bigot obtained mercy, that we are peculiarly concerned to inquire into,

II. The ends for which mercy was vouchsafed to him—

Doubtless many blessed ends were answered. But, without attempting to enumerate them, we shall notice those only that are specified in the text. It was,

1. For “the manifesting of Christ’s patience and long-suffering”—

[The long-suffering of Christ appears in the forbearance he exercises towards mankind at large. It was eminently conspicuous in his conduct towards the antediluvian world, whose wickedness he endured for the space of a hundred and twenty years [Note: 1 Peter 3:20.]. It was wonderfully displayed also in not executing the most signal vengeance on his cruel adversary, and setting him forth as a distinguished monument of his wrath and indignation. But how truly wonderful does it appear, when we see him stopping this blood-thirsty persecutor in the midst of his career, and revealing his pardoning love and mercy to his soul! To take such a viper to his bosom! to make such a creature “an elect vessel,” an eminent saint, a distinguished Apostle! to exalt such an one to the most honourable service on earth, and the highest throne in glory! how does this love surpass all knowledge and all conception! How is Jesus now glorified in him! and how must he be admired in him for ever, both in the Church militant, and the Church triumphant [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:10.]!

This then was one principal end of so marvellous a conversion, namely, that the exceeding riches of the Redeemer’s grace might be displayed before the whole universe, both in time and eternity.]

2. For the encouraging of sinners to believe in him—

[It is not uncommon for persons to apprehend themselves so vile that they cannot be forgiven. But our blessed Lord has given a most effectual antidote to this in the conversion of Paul. It is not without reason that Paul repeatedly styles himself “the chief of sinners [Note: ἐμοὶ πρώτῳ should have been so translated in the text, as it is in the verse before it.]:” and he expressly tells us, that he was designed to be a “pattern to all who should hereafter believe on Jesus.” Our adorable Saviour points, as it were, to him, and says; ‘See, thou tempted soul, if thou art as blind as that infuriated bigot, I can make “the scales to fall from thine eyes [Note: Acts 9:18.]:” if thine enmity against me be as rooted as his, I can slay it: if thou possessest all that is malignant and diabolical, I can change thee: there is nothing too great for me to do, nothing too good for me to give, even to the chief of sinners. I am the same gracious and almighty Saviour that I was in the day that I converted him; and I am able and willing to do the very same things for thee. Thou seest how freely I bestowed my grace on him. If wrath and malice, and murder and blasphemy, could entitle him to my favour, then certainly he had as good a title as man could have: but if these things rather entitled him to a distinguished place in hell, then thou seest how free and sovereign my grace is; and hast a proof, that “where sin has abounded, grace can, and shall, much more abound [Note: Romans 5:20.].” ’

Who, after beholding this pattern, can despond? Who will put away mercy from him under the idea that he is unworthy of it? Who will be afraid to come to Jesus, because he has no good work to bring as a price of his favour? None that reflect on the salvation of Paul, can ever doubt either the freeness of Christ’s offers, or the sufficiency of his grace.]

There are two things which, on account of their singular importance, we will further endeavour to impress upon your minds:

1. No good that can be possessed will supersede our need of mercy—

[Paul, as has been hinted at before, bad much to boast of [Note: Philippians 3:4-6.]: but, notwithstanding all his learning, and strictness, and zeal, he had perished for ever, if he had not “obtained mercy.” Let all consider this; and, renouncing all dependence on themselves, trust in Christ alone, and seek “life everlasting” solely “by believing in him” — — —]

2. No evil that can have been committed, shall exclude us from mercy, if we believe on Christ—

[This is the grand scope of the text, and of the discourse upon it. But it never can be repeated too often, or impressed too earnestly on the heart and conscience. It is uniformly attested by all the inspired writers [Note: Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 55:7 and Acts 13:39.]. May God help us to believe the record; and cause us all to experience its truth! If our guilt have been as extraordinary as Paul’s, it may, for ought we know, have been permitted, on purpose that, like him, we may be extraordinary monuments of grace. At all events, we may urge it as a plea with God, that he will be transcendently glorified in our salvation [Note: Psalms 25:11.].]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/1-timothy-1.html. 1832.

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