The Apostle Paul As A Pattern Convert – part 2
Howbeit 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. (1 Timothy 1:16)
II. PAUL’S FOREMOST POSITION AS A SINNER DID NOT PREVENT HIS BECOMING FOREMOST IN GRACE, AND HEREIN AGAIN HE IS A PATTERN TO US.
Foremost in sin, he became also foremost in service. Saul of Tarsus was a blasphemer, and he is to be commended because he has not recorded any of those blasphemies. We can never object to converted burglars and chimney-sweepers, of whom we hear so much, telling the story of their conversion; but when they go into dirty details, they had better hold their tongues. The apostle Paul tells us that he was a blasphemer, but he never repeats one of the blasphemies. We invent enough evil in our own hearts without being told of other men’s stale profanities. If, however, any of you are so curious as to want to know what kind of blasphemies Paul could utter, you have only to converse with a converted Jew, and he will tell you what horrible words some of his nation will speak against our Lord. I have no doubt that Paul in his evil state thought as wickedly of Christ as he could – considered him to be an imposter, called him so, and added many an opprobrious epithet. He does not say of himself that he was an unbeliever and an objector, but he says that he was a blasphemer, which is a very strong word, but not too strong, for the apostle never went beyond the truth. He was a downright, thorough-going blasphemer, who also caused others to blaspheme. Will these lines meet the eye of a profane person who feels the greatness of his sin? May God grant that he may be encouraged to seek mercy as Saul of Tarsus did, for “all manner of sin and blasphemy” does he forgive unto men.
From blasphemy, which was the sin of the lips, Saul proceeded to persecution, which is a sin of the hands. Hating Christ, he hated his people, too. He was delighted to give his vote for the death of Stephen, and he took care of the clothes of those who stoned that martyr. He haled men and women to prison, and compelled them to blaspheme. When he had haunted all Judea as closely as he could, he obtained letters to go to Damascus, that he might do the same in that place. His prey had been compelled to quit Jerusalem and fly to more remote places, but “being exceeding mad against them, he persecuted them unto strange cities.” He was foremost in blasphemy and persecution. Will a persecutor read or hear these words? If so, may he be led to see that even for him pardon is possible. Jesus, who said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” is still an intercessor for the most violent of his enemies.
He adds, next, that he was injurious, which, I think, Bengel considers to mean that he was a despiser: t hat eminent critic says blasphemy was his sin towards God, persecution was his sin towards the church, and despising was his sin in his own heart. He was injurious – that is, he did all he could to damage the cause of Christ, and he thereby injured himself. He kicked against the pricks and injured his own conscience. He was so determined against Christ that he counted no cost too great by which he might hinder the spread of the faith, and he did hinder it terribly. He was a ringleader in resisting the Spirit of God which was then working with the church of Christ. He was foremost in opposition to the cross of Christ.
Now, notice that he was saved as a pattern, which is to show you that if you also have been foremost in sin, you also may obtain mercy, as Paul did: and to show you yet again that if you have not been foremost, the grace of God, which is able to save the chief of sinners, can assuredly save those who are of less degree. If the bridge of grace will carry the elephant, it will certainly carry the mouse. If the mercy of God could bear with the hugest sinners, it can have patience with you. If a gate is wide enough for a giant to pass through, any ordinary-sized mortal will find space enough. Despair’s head is cut off and stuck on a pole by the salvation of “the chief of sinners.” No man can now say that he is too great a sinner to be saved, because the chief of sinners was saved over eighteen hundred years ago. If the ringleader, the chief of the gang, has been washed in the precious blood, and is now in heaven, why not I? Why not you?
After the apostle Paul was saved, he became a foremost saint. The Lord did not allot him a second-class place in the church. He had been the leading sinner, but his Lord did not, therefore, say, “I save you, but I shall always remember your wickedness to your disadvantage.” Not so: he counted him faithful, putting him into the ministry and into the apostleship, so that he was not a whit behind the very chief of the apostles. Brother, there is no reason why, if you have gone very far in sin, you should not go equally far in usefulness. On the contrary, there is a reason why you should do so, for it is a rule of grace that to whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much, and much love leads to much service.
What man was more clear in his knowledge of doctrine that Paul? What man more earnest in the defense of truth? What man more self-sacrificing? What man more heroic? The name of Paul in the Christian church stands in some respects the very next to the Lord Jesus. Turn to the New Testament and see how large a space is occupied by the Holy Spirit speaking through his servant Paul; and then look over Christendom and see how greatly the man’s influence is still felt, and must be felt till his Master shall come. Oh! Great sinner, if thou art even now ready to scoff at Christ, my prayer is that he may strike thee down at this very moment, and turn thee into one of his children, and make thee to be just as ardent for the truth as thou art now earnest against it, as desperately set on good as now thou art on evil. none make such might Christians and such fervent preachers as those who are lifted up from the lowest depths of sin and washed and purified through the blood of Jesus Christ. may grace do this with thee, my dear friend, whoever thou mayest be.
Thus we gather from our text that the Lord showed mercy to Paul, that in him foremost it might be seen that prominence in sin is no barrier to eminence in grace, but the very reverse. Now I come to where the stress of the text lies.
III. PAUL’S CASE WAS A PATTERN OF OTHER CONVERSIONS AS AN INSTANCE OF LONG-SUFFERING.
“That in me foremost Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering for a cartoon or pattern to them which should hereafter believe.” Thoughtfully observe the great long-suffering of God to the apostle Paul: he says, “He showed forth all long-suffering.” Not only all the long-suffering of God that ever was shown to anybody else, but all that could be supposed to exist – all long-suffering.
Al its depth is found in me,”
As if he had gone to the utmost stretch of his tether in sin, and the Lord also had strained his long-suffering to its utmost.
That long-suffering was seen first in sparing his life when he was rushing headlong in sin, breathing out threatenings, foaming at the mouth with denunciations of the Nazarene and his people. If the Lord had but lifted his finger, Saul would have been crushed like a moth, but almighty wrath forbore, and the rebel lived on. Nor was this all; after all his sin, the Lord allowed mercy to be possible to him. He blasphemed and persecuted, at a red-hot rate; and is it not a marvel that the Lord did not say, “Now, at last, you have gone beyond all bearing, and you shall die like Herod, eaten of worms”? It would not have been at all wonderful if God had so sentenced him; but he allowed him to live within the reach of mercy, and, better still, he in due time actually sent the gospel to him, and laid it home to his heart. In the very midst of his rebellion the Lord saved him. He had not prayed to be converted, far from it; no doubt he had that very day along the road to Damascus profaned the Savior’s name, and yet mighty mercy burst in and saved him purely by its own spontaneous native energy. Oh mighty grace, free grace victorious grace! This was long-suffering indeed!
When divine mercy had called the apostle Paul, it swept all his sin away, every particle of it, his blood shedding and his blasphemy, all at once, so that never man was more assured of his own perfect cleansing than was the apostle. “There is therefore now,” saith he, “no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” You know how clear he was about that; and he spoke out of his own experience. Long-suffering had washed all his sins away. Then that long-suffering reaching from the depths of sin lifted him right up to the apostleship, so that he began to prove God’s long-suffering in its heights of favor. What a privilege it must have been to him to be permitted to preach the gospel. I should think sometimes when he was preaching most earnestly, he would half stop himself and say, “Paul, is this you?” When he went down to Tarsus especially he must have been surprised at himself and at the mighty mercy of God. He preached the faith which once he had destroyed. He must have said many a time after a sermon, when he went home to his bed-chamber, “Marvel of marvels! Wonder of wonders, that I who once could curse have now been made to preach, that I, who was full of threatening and even breathed out slaughter, should now be so inspired by the Spirit of God that I weep at the very sound of Jesus’s name, and count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Oh! Brothers and sisters, you do not measure long-suffering except you take it in all its length from one end to the other, and see God in mercy not remembering his servant’s sin, but lifting him into eminent service in his church. Now, this was for a pattern, to show you that he will show forth the same long-suffering to those who believe. If you have been a swearer, he will cleanse your blackened mouth, and put his praises into it. Have you had a black, cruel heart, full of enmity to Jesus? He will remove it, and give you a new heart and a right spirit. Have you dived into all sorts of sins? Are they so shameful that you dare not think of them? Think of the precious blood which removes every stain. Are your sins so many that you could not count them? Do you feel as if you were almost damned already in the very memory of your life? I do not wonder at it, but he is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him. You have not gone farther than Saul had gone, and therefore all long-suffering can come to you, and there are great possibilities of future holiness and usefulness before you. Even though you may have been a street-walker or a thief, yet if the grace of God cleanses you, it can make something wonderful out of you: full many a lustrous jewel of Immanuel’s crown has been taken from the dunghill. You are a rough block of stone, but Jesus can fashion and polish you, and set you as a pillar in his temple.
Brother, do not despair. See what Saul was and what Paul became, and learn what you may be. though you deserve the depths of hell, yet up to the heights of heaven grace can lift you. Though now you feel as if the fiends of the pit would be fit companions for such a lost spirit as yourself, yet believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall one day walk among the angels as pure and white as they. Paul’s experience of long-suffering grace was meant to be a pattern of what God will do for you.
There did grace much more abound.
Thus has Satan been confounded,
And his own discomfit found.
Christ has triumph’d!
Spread the glorious news around.
Sin is strong, but grace is stronger;
Christ than Satan more supreme;
Yield, oh, yield to sin no longer,
Turn to Jesus, yield to him -
He has triumph’d!
Sinners, henceforth him esteem.”
IV. THE MODE OF PAUL’S CONVERSION WAS ALSO MEANT TO BE A PATTERN, and with this I shall finish. I do not say that we may expect to receive the miraculous revelation which was given to the apostle Paul, but yet it is a sketch upon which any conversion can be painted. The filling up is not the same in any two cases, but the outline sketch. Paul’s conversion would serve for an outline sketch of the conversion of any one of us. How was that conversion wrought? Well, it is clear that there was nothing at all in Paul to contribute to his salvation. You might have sifted him in a sieve, without finding anything upon which you could rest a hope that he would be converted to the faith of Jesus. His natural bent, his early training, his whole surroundings, and his life’s pursuits, all fettered him to Judaism, and made it most unlikely that he would ever become a Christian. The first elder of the church that ever talked about divine things could hardly believe in his conversion. “Lord,” said he, “I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints in Jerusalem.” He could hardly think it possible that the ravening wolf should have changed into a lamb. Nothing favorable to faith in Jesus could have been found in Saul; the soil of his heart was very rocky, the plowshare could not touch it, and the good seed found no roothold. Yet the Lord converted Saul, and he can do the like by other sinners, but it must be a work of pure grace and of divine power, for there is not in any man’s fallen nature a holy spot of the size of a pin’s point on which grace can light. Transforming grace can find no natural lodgment in our hearts, it must create its own soil; and, blessed be God, it can do it, for with God all things are possible. Nature contributes noting to grace, and yet grace wins the day. Humbled soul, let this cheer thee. Though there is nothing good in thee, yet grace can work wonders, and save thee by its own might.
Paul’s conversion was an instance of divine power, and of that alone, and so is every true conversion. If your conversion is an instance of the preacher’s power, you need to be converted again; if your salvation is the result of your own power, it is a miserable deception, from which may you be delivered. Every man who is saved must be operated upon by the might of God the Holy Spirit: every jot and tittle of true regeneration is the Spirit’s work. As for our strength, it warreth against salvation rather than for it. Blessed is that promise, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” Conversion is as much a work of God’s omnipotence as the resurrection; and as the dead do not raise themselves, so neither do men convert themselves.
But Saul was changed immediately. His conversion was once done, and done at once. There was a little interval before he found peace, but even during those three days he was a changed man, though he was in sadness. He was under the power of Satan at one moment, and in the next he was under the reign of grace. This is also true in every conversion. However gradual the breaking of the day, there is a time when the sun is below the horizon, and a moment when he is no longer so. You may not know the exact time in which you passed from death to life, but there was such a time, if you are indeed a believer. A man may not know how old he is, but there was a moment in which he was born. In every conversion there is a distinct change from darkness to light, from death to life, just as certainly as there was in Paul’s. And what a delightful hope does the rapidity of regeneration present to us! It is by no long and laborious process that we escape from sin. We are not compelled to remain in sin for a single moment. Grace brings instantaneous liberty to those who sit in bondage. He who trusts Jesus is saved on the spot. Why, then, abide in death? Why not lift up your eyes to immediate life and light?
Paul proved his regeneration by his faith. He believed unto eternal life. He tells us over and over again in his epistles that he was saved by faith, and not by works. So is it with every man; if saved at all, it is by simply believing in the Lord Jesus. Paul esteemed his own works to be less than nothing, and called them dross and dung, that he might win Christ, and so every converted man renounces his own works that he may be saved by grace alone. Whether he has been moral or immoral, whether he has lived an amiable and excellent life, or whether he has raked in the kennels of sin, every regenerate man has one only hope, and that is centered and fixed in Jesus alone. Faith in Jesus Christ is the mark of salvation, even as the heaving of the lungs or the coming of breath from the nostrils is the test of life. Faith is the grace which saves the soul, and its absence is a fatal sign. How does this fact affect you, dear friend? Hast thou faith or no?
The apostle Paul was very positively and evidently saved. You did not need to ask the question, Is that man a Christian or not? For the transformation was most apparent. If Saul of Tarsus had appeared as he used to be, and Paul the apostle could also have come in, and you could have seen the one man as two men, you would have thought them no relation to one another. Paul the apostle would have said that he was dead to Saul of Tarsus, and Saul of Tarsus would have gnashed his teeth at Paul the apostle. The change was evident to all who knew him, whether they sympathize in it or not. They could not mistake the remarkable difference which grace had made, for it was as great as when midnight brightens into noon. So it is when a man is truly saved: there is a change which those around him must perceive. Do not tell me that you can be a child at home and become a Christian, and yet your father and mother will not perceive a difference in you. They will be sure to see it. Would a leopard in a menagerie lose his spots and no one notice it? Would an Ethiopian be turned white and no one hear of it? You, masters and mistresses, will not go in and out amongst your servants and children without their perceiving a change in you if you are born again. At least, dear brother or sister, strive with all your might to let the change be very apparent in your language, in your actions, and in your whole conduct. Let your conversation be such as becometh the gospel of Christ, that men may see that you, as well as the apostle Paul, are decidedly changed by the renewal of your minds.
May all of us be the subjects of divine grace as Paul was: stopped in our mad career, blinded by the glory of the heavenly light, called by a mysterious voice, conscious of natural blindness, relieved of blinding scales, and made to see Jesus as one all in all. May we prove in our own persons how speedily conviction may melt into conversion, conversion into confession, and confession into consecration.
I have done when I have inquired, how far we are conformed to the pattern which God has set before us? I know we are like Paul as to our sin, for if we have neither blasphemed nor persecuted, yet have we sinned as far as we have had opportunity. We are also conformed to Paul’s pattern in the great long-suffering of God which we have experienced, and I am not sure that we cannot carry the parallel father: we have had much the same revelation that Paul received on the way to Damascus, for we, too, have learned that Jesus is the Christ. If any of us sin against Christ, it will not be because we do not know him to be the Son of God, for we all believe in his deity, because our Bibles tell us so. The pattern goes so far: I would that the grace of God would operate upon you, unconverted friend, and complete the picture, by giving you like faith with Paul. Then will you be saved, as Paul was. Then also you will love Christ above all things, as Paul did, and you will say, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” He rested upon what Christ had done in his death and resurrection, and he found pardon and eternal life at once, and became, therefore, a devoted Christian.
What sayest thou, dear friend? Art thou moved to follow Paul’s example? Does the Spirit of God prompt thee to trust Paul’s Savior, and give up every other ground of trust and rely upon him? Then do so and live. Does there seem to be a hand holding thee back, and dost thou hear an evil whisper saying, “Thou art too great a sinner”? Turn round and bid the fiend depart, for the text gives him the lie. “In me foremost hath Jesus Christ showed forth all long-suffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on his name.” God has saved Paul. Back, then, O devil! The Lord can save any man, and he can save me. Jesus Christ of Nazareth is mighty to save, and I will rely on him. If any poor heart shall reason thus, its logic will be sound and unanswerable. Mercy to one is an argument for mercy to another, for there is no difference, but the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
Now I have set the case before you, and I cannot do more; it remains with each individual to accept or refuse. one man can bring a horse to the trough, but a hundred cannot make him drink. There is the gospel; if you want it, take it, but if you will not have it, then I must discharge my soul by reminding you that even the gentle gospel – the gospel of love and mercy has nothing to say to you but this, “He that believeth not shall be damned.”
That slight the joys above;
What chains of vengeance must they feel
Who break the bonds of love.”
God grant that you may yield to mighty love, and find peace in Christ Jesus. (Charles H. Spurgeon, The Apostle Paul as a Pattern Convert)
Related: Paul the Ready