22 MARCH (PREACHED 21 MARCH 1773)
The chief sinner
‘Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.’ 1 Timothy 1:16
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING: 3 John 1–14
The Lord in showing mercy to Paul had a farther view than to himself. He designed him to stand as a pattern how he would deal with others. Had all the apostles and ministers been like Nathaniel, they might have preached the gospel, but could not have been such striking instances of its power, as Paul and those who, like him, have been stopped and changed in the height of open rebellion.
The words in me first should rather be in me the chief—the expression is the same as in the former verse—a pattern of patience to sinners should be taken from a chief sinner. But how is it he says, I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly? It should seem then that he was not the chief—his ignorance and unbelief were some excuse. But surely the Apostle could not mean to lessen his faults—this ignorance was wilful, his unbelief obstinacy, he had means of being informed. It can only mean that he did not act against the conviction of his conscience that Jesus was the Christ. This makes a great difference between common sinners and apostates; those who have felt the power of the Word of God, and afterwards absolutely renounce the gospel are in a deplorable condition indeed. This Paul who is a pattern of longsuffering to others, tells us that it is impossible to renew them to repentance. Ignorance and unbelief when the means of grace are afforded is an aggravation of sin rather [than] an excuse. However, the case of Paul is left to assure us that the state of such is not yet desperate. I likewise sinned with a high hand and against great advantages and warnings, yet I stand here this day to tell other sinners there is forgiveness with him.
FOR MEDITATION: How wonderful the mercy I then received, how wonderful the mercies that led to it. What rich various accumulated mercies have followed it. And yet, alas, what a poor unprofitable servant I am still. O Lord, poor as I am, I am thine; thou hast chosen, called, accepted me and made me willing and desirous to devote myself to thee. Confirm thine own good work and keep me near to thyself. Diary, 21 March 1773
SERMON: 1 TIMOTHY 1:16 [2/4]