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ON THE SAVIOUR, AND HIS SALVATION.
1 Tim. i. 15.
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. Though the Apostle Paul has written largely and happily upon every branch of Christian doctrine and practice; and, with respect to his writings, as well as his preaching, could justly assert, " that he had not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God;" yet there are two points which seem to have been (if I may so speak) his favourite topics, which he most frequently repeats, most copiously insists on, and takes every occasion of introducing. The one is, to display the honours, power, and faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ; the other, to make known the great things God had done for his own soul. How his heart was filled and fired with the first of these, is evident from almost every chapter of his Epistles. When he speaks of that mystery of godliness, “God manifested in the flesh,” and the exceeding grace and love declared to a lost world, through him, the utmost powers of language fall short of
With a noble freedom he soars beyond the little bounds of criticism ; and, finding the most expressive words too weak and faint for his ideas, he forms and compounds new ones, heaps one hyperbole upon another; yet, after his most laboured essays to do justice to his subject, he often breaks off in a manner that shews he was far from being satisfied with all he could say.
This reflection is most obvious to those who can read him in the original: but no disadvantages of a translation can wholly confine that inimitable ardour with which he seems to pour his whole soul into his words, when he is speaking of his Lord and Saviour. And he who can read the first chapters of his Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Hebrews, the second to the Philippians, or many similar passages,
with indifference, must be, I say, not merely a person of small devotion, but of little taste and sensibility.
And how deeply his mind was impressed with the mercies he had received in his conversion and call, is equally conspicuous. He takes every occasion to aggrandize the goodness of God to himself; to exaggerate and deplore the guilt and misery of his former life, in which he once trusted; and to lament the small returns he was able to make for such blessings ; even when he could say, without boasting, that he had “ laboured more abundantly” than the most diligent and zealous of his fellow-servants.
A powerful abiding sense of these two points upon the Apostle's mind, have given rise to many sudden, lively, and beautiful digressions in the course of his writings. The context to the passage I have read is of this kind. Having incidentally spoken of the Gospel in the 11th verse, he is suddenly struck with the reflection of his own misery while ignorant of it, and the wonderful goodness of God, in affording him the knowledge of salvation, and honouring him, who was before a blasphemer, with a commission to publish the same glad tidings to others. This thought suspends his argument, and fills his heart and mouth with praise. And having acknowledged, that “ the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant ” to
wards himself, he subjoins the words of the text, for an encouragement to others; assuring us, that his case was not so peculiar, but that multitudes might be partakers with him in the same hope of mercy.
The words easily resolve into two parts:
First, A short, but comprehensive proposition, including the purport of the whole Gospel, “ that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
Secondly, A commendation of this doctrine in a two-fold respect “ as a faithful saying,” and as
worthy of all acceptation;" each of these illustrated by the instance of himself; when he adds, “ of whom I am chief.”
I. The Apostle well knew the different reception the Gospel would meet in the world; that many poor guilty souls, trembling under a sense of sin and unworthiness, would very hardly be persuaded, that such sinners as they could be saved at all. To these he recommends it as " a faithful saying," founded upon the immutable counsel, promise, and oath of God, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; sinners in general ; “ the chief of sinners;” such as he represents himself to have been. He knew, likewise, that many others, from a mistaken opinion of their own goodness, or a mistaken dependence on something of their own choosing, would be liable to undervalue this faithful saying. For the sake of these, he adds, “it is worthy of all acceptation.” None are so bad but the Gospel affords them a ground of hope: none are so good as to have any just ground of hope without it. There was a time when St. Paul could have made a fair profession of himself likewise: he could say, s circumcised on the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to the righteousness which is by the law, blameless;" Phil. ij. But he has been since taught to “count all things but loss for the excellency “ of the knowledge of Christ,” and is content to style himself the chief of sinners.
Having thus attempted to shew the design and meaning of the words, I propose, something more at large, to unfold the proposition, and point out some of those important and extensive truths it contains. I say, some of them; for it is not possible that either men or angels can fully sound the depth of this one sentence,“ “ that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” I shall afterwards infer, and enforce the other part of the text, that it is indeed “a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.' And may He, who came into the world to procure salvation for sinners, and is now exalted on high to bestow it, accompany the whole with his promised blessing.
The tenor of the proposition readily suggests three inquiries. First, Who this person is, here spoken of, Jesus Christ? Second, What is meant by the salvation he is said to have undertaken? Third, By what means he effected it ?
Let us, first, speak of this gracious, this wonderful person, Jesus Christ. We already bear his name as professed Christians; and we speak of him as our Master, and our Lord : and so far we say well. But, as he has told us, many will call him Lord at the great day, to whom he will profess, “I never knew
you are; depart;" so it is to be feared there are many now, that outwardly acknowledge him, who neither know whence he is nor who he is. Though we have Moses and the prophets, the apostles and evangelists, continually with us; though it is the immediate aim and intent of all their writings, in every history, promise, prophecy, type, ceremony, and law, to set Him before our eyes; and though there is hardly an image in the material creation but is adopted by the Scriptures to shadow forth his excellency; ignorance of Jesus Christ, and what he has done for his people, is the great cause that religion appears so low and contemptible to some, and is found so tedious and burdensome by others. Let us therefore attend to the record God has given of his Son; for I propose in this article to say little of my own, but to lay before you the express, powerful, indubitable testimony of holy Scripture.
And here we are taught, first, That Jesus Christ is God. The first words of St. John's Gospel are full to this point: “In the beginning” (that is, at the commencement of time and things, when as yet nothing else existed,) “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” To prevent a possibility of mistake, and to confirm the eternity of this Divine Word in the strongest manner, it is immediately added, “the same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him.” And lest this likewise should be either contested or misunderstood, it is guarded by an universal negative, “ without him was not any thing made that was made.” Further, to prevent, if possible, the surmise, that, in these glorious words, the Eternal Word acted with a deputed power only, the Apostle subjoins,
« In him was life,” life essentially ; and from him, as the fountain, life and light proceeded to his creatures: “ In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” To this agrees the declaration of St. Paul: " For by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible,