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.” I Timothy 1:15
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. And, indeed, when such are converted, they wonder themselves that God did not draw His sword out, and pierce their bowels, or shoot one of His arrows into their hearts all this while [Psalm 64:7]. But God, by such a forbearance; shews Himself to be God indeed, and something in this act infinitely above such a weak creature as man is: ‘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. When God had reckoned up their sins before, and they might have expected the sentence after the reading the charge, God tells them, He would not destroy them, He would not execute them, because He was God [Malachi 3:6]. If He were not a God, He could not keep Himself from pouring out a just vengeance upon them. 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 [Psalm 86:13-17], 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,’ Rom. 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. And the greater number of sins, and great sins are passed, the more trophies there are erected to God’s longsuffering; the reason (editors note: one of the reasons) why the grace of the gospel appeared so late in the world, was to testify (to) God’s patience.
Our apostle takes notice of this long-suffering towards himself in bearing with such a persecutor. ‘Howbeit, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him,’I Timothy 1:16. This was Christ’s end in letting him run so far, that He might shew 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; for a type: a type is but a shadow in respect of the substance. To shew, that all the ages of the world should not waste that patience, whereof He had then manifested but a pattern [of].
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 (John 2), as a sample of what power He had, was less than those miracles which succeeded [came after the first]; and the first miracle God wrought in Egypt, in turning Aaron’s rod into a serpent (Exodus 7), 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 [no more] being.
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 Thess. 1:10. What, has not Christ glory enough in heaven with His Father? Will He come on purpose to seek glory from such worthless creatures as His saints are? What is that which glorifies Christ in them? It is the gracious work He has wrought in them. For the word is, to be inglorified in His saints, i.e. by something within them; for which they glorify Christ actively and objectively. As the creatures glorify the wisdom and power of God, by affording matter to men to do so, so does the work of God in saints afford matter of praise to angels, and admiration to devils. The apostle useth two words: glorified, that is, the work of angels and saints, who shall sing out His praises for it, as a prince, after a great conquest, receives the congratulations of all His nobility; admired, that the very devil and damned shall do; for, though their malice and condition will not suffer them to praise Him, yet, His inexpressible love in making such black insides so beautiful, shall astonish them.
In this sense those things under the earth shall bow down to that name of Jesus, a Saviour; a name which God gave Him at first: ‘Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,’ Philip. 2:9. And upon His exaltation did confirm, Heb. 5:9, when He was made perfect, i.e. exalted, ‘He became the author of eternal salvation’, and had the power of saving, as well as the name conferred upon Him. They shall confess that He is Lord, Philip. 2:11, … when He prevailed over all the opposition which those great sinners made against Him.
The whole trial of the saints, and the sentence of their blessedness, shall be finished before that of the damned, Mat. 25. That the whole scene of His love, and the wonders of the work of faith being laid open, might strike them with a vast amazement. And that this is the design of Christ, to be thus glorified in His grace and power, appears by the apostle’s prayer, 2 Thess. 1:11,12, that the Thessalonians might be in the number of those Christ should be thus glorified in. Therefore he prays, that God would ‘fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness,’ i.e. that grace He so pleased and delighted to manifest, and carry on the work of faith with power; ‘that the name of Christ might be glorified in them,’ as well as in the rest of His saints. Ordinary conversion is an act of grace; Barnabas so interprets it, Acts 11:21, 23, when a great number believed; what abundance of grace then is expended in converting a company of extraordinary sinners!
It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence, Prov. 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…
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. He lets some sinners run mightily upon His score [run up sin debts mightily], to manifest that though they are beggared [made like a beggar by their sins] yet His grace is not; that though they have spent all their stock upon their swinish [filthy] lusts, yet they have not drained His treasures; no more than the sun is emptied of its strength by exhaling the ill vapours of so many dunghills. This was His design in giving the moral law, finis operas [purpose of the action]; that is, the event of the law was to increase the sin; but finis operantis [His purpose], was thereby to glorify His grace; ‘Moreover, the law entered, that the offence might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,’ Rom. 5:20. When the law of nature was out of print, and so blurred that it could scarce be read [obscured by man’s own sin and therefore: Romans 1:20], God brings the moral law (the counterpart of the law of nature) in a new edition into the world; and thereby sin hath new aggravations, as being rebellion against a clearer light, a swelling and breaking over this mighty bank of the law laid in its way. But this was serviceable to the fulness of his grace, which had more abundant matter hereby to work upon, and a larger field to sow its inexhaustible seed in, it did superabound. 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 Pet. 1:3, which, according to His abundant mercy, according to His much mercy. But it was overflowing, exceeding abundant, more than full grace, to make such deformed creatures new creatures, verce 14 of this chapter.
Freeness of grace. None can entertain an imagination that Christ should be a debtor [owing something] 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 [beholden] 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 [which is not so, Ephesians 2:8,9]. But when He puts no difference between persons of the least and those of the greatest demerit, but affecting the foulest monsters of sin, as well as the fairest of nature’s children, He builds triumphal arches to his grace upon this rubbish, and makes men and angels admiringly gaze upon these infinitely free compassions, when He takes souls full of disease and misery into His arms [Romans 9:23,24]. For it is manifest hereby that the God and Lord of nature is no more bound to His servant (as touching the gift of salvation), when she carries it the most smoothly with Him [Ezekiel 33:12], than when she rebels against Him with the highest hand [Psalm 53:1, Acts 26:9-11]; and that Christ is at perfect liberty from any conditions but that of His own, viz. faith; and that He can and will embrace the dirt and mud, as well as the beauty and varnish of nature, if they believe with the like precious faith [which He has bestowed on them, “it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8].
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 [utter inability] to satisfy so large a score [debt], and also to manifest the freeness and vastness of His grace: ‘But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob, but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel; thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt-offering’, ‘but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities,’ Isa. 43:22-24. When He had told them how dirtily they had dealt with Him, and would have made Him a very slave to their corrupt humours [desirings]; at the conclusion, when they, nor no creature else, but would have expected fire-balls of wrath to be flung in their faces; and that God should have dipped his pen in gall, and have writ their mittimus [an order sent to command trial; Latin, “we send”] to hell, He dips it in honey, and crosses the debt; ‘I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins,’ verse 25. Could there be anything of merit here, when the criminal, instead of favour, could expect nothing but severity, there being nothing but demerit in him?
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; ‘But I had pity for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen whither they went,’ Ezek. 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 [mercy bestowed through no work or ‘deserving’ of the person], and triumph in its own freeness.
Extent of His grace. The mercy of God is called His riches, and exceeding riches of grace (Ephesians 2:7). Now as there is no end of His holiness, which is His honour, neither any limits set to His power, so there is no end of His grace, which is His wealth; no end of His mines; therefore the foulest and greatest sinners are the fittest for Christ to manifest the abundant riches of His graces upon; for it must needs argue a more vast estate to remit great debts, and many thousands of talents, than to forgive some fewer shillings or pence, than to pardon some smaller sins in men of a more unstained conversation (Luke 7:47, Hebrews 12:10). If it were not for turning and pardoning mountainous sinners, we should not know so much of God’s estate; we should not know how rich He were, or what He were worth. He pardons iniquities for His name’s sake (Isaiah 48:9); 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? (Job 38:11)
As the heavens are of a vast extension, which, like a great circle, encompass the earth, which lies in the middle like a little atom, in comparison of that vast body of air and ether (Isaiah 40:22), so are our sins to the extent of God’s mercy; ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts,’ Isa. 55:9. Men’s sins are innumerable, yet they are but ciphers to the vast sums of grace which are every day expended; because they are finite, but mercy is infinite; so that all sins in the world put together cannot be of so large an extent as mercy; because being every one of them finite, if all laid together, cannot amount to infinite.
The gospel is entitled ‘good-will to men;’ (Luke 2:14) to all sorts of men, with iniquities, transgressions, and sins of all sorts and sizes. God hath stores of mercy lying by Him. His exchequer is never empty ‘Keeping mercy for thousands,’ Exodus 34:7, in a readiness to deal it upon thousand millions of sins as well as millions of persons. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all that were before, have not wasted [emptied] it; and if God were to proclaim His name again (Exodus 33:19, Isaiah 12:4), it is the same still, for His name as well as His essence is unchangeable (Malachi 3:6). His grace is no more tied to one sin than it is to one person; He has mercy on whom He will (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:15), and His grace can pardon what sins He will; therefore He tells them, Isa. 55:7, that He would multiply pardons. He will have mercy to suit every sin of thine, and a salve for every sore. Though thy sin has its heights and depths, yet He will heap mercy upon mercy, till He makes it to overtop thy sin. He will be as good at His merciful arithmetic as thou hast been at thy sinful, if thou dost sincerely repent and reform [which He alone can give to you, 2 Timothy 2:25]. Though thou multiply thy sins by thousands, where repentance goes before, remission of sin follows without limitation [Hebrews 10:17,18]. When Christ gives the one, He is sure to second it with the other. Though aggravating circumstances be never so many, yet He will multiply His mercies as fast as thou canst the sins thou hast committed.
He hath a cleansing virtue and a pardoning grace for all iniquities and transgressions; “And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me,” Jer. 33:8. It is three times repeated, to shew that His mercy should be as large as their sin, though there was not a more sinful nation upon the earth than they were. His justifying and sanctifying grace should have as vast an extension, for He would both pardon and cleanse them. Why? Verse 9, that “…it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations of the earth…”
It is so great, that self-righteous persons murmur at it [against it, Numbers 14:27], that such swines should be preferred before them; as the eldest son was angry that his father should lavish out his kindness upon the prodigal more than upon himself, Luke 15:28.