The Apostle Paul As A Pattern Convert – part 1
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)
It is a vulgar error that the conversion of the apostle Paul was an uncommon and exceptional event, and that we cannot expect men to be saved now-a-days after the same fashion. It is said that the incident was an exception to all rules, a wonder altogether by itself. Now, my text is a flat contradiction to that notion, for it assures us that, instead of the apostle as a receiver of the long-suffering and mercy of God being at all an exception to the rule, he was a model convert, and is to be regarded as a type and pattern of God’s grace in other believers. The apostle’s language in the text, “for a pattern,” may mean that he was what printers call a first proof, an early impression from the engraving, a specimen of those to follow. He was the typical instance of divine long-suffering, the model after which others are fashioned. To use a metaphor from the artist’s studio, Paul was the ideal sketch of a convert, an outline of the work of Jesus on mankind, a cartoon of divine long-suffering. Just as artists make sketches in charcoal as the basis of their work, which outlines they paint out as the picture proceeds, so did the Lord in the apostle’s case make, as it were, a cartoon or outline sketch of his usual work of grace. That outline in the case of each future believer he works out with infinite variety of skill, and produces the individual Christian, but the guiding lines are really there. All conversions are in a high degree similar to this pattern conversion. The transformation of persecuting Saul of Tarsus into the apostle Paul is a typical instance of the work of grace in the heart.
We will have no other preface, but proceed at once to two or three considerations. The first is that:
I. IN THE CONVERSION OF PAUL THE LORD HAD AN EYE TO OTHERS, AND IN THIS PAUL IS A PATTERN.
In every case the individual is saved, not for himself alone, but with a view to the good of others. Those who think the doctrine of election to be harsh should not deny it, for it is Scriptural; but they may to their own minds soften some of its hardness by remembering that elect men bear a marked connection with the race. The Jews, as an elect people, were chose in order to preserve the oracles of God for all nations and for all times. Men personally elected unto eternal life by divine grace are also elected that they may become chosen vessels to bear the name of Jesus unto others. While our Lord is said to be the Savior specially to them that believe, he is also called the Savior of all men; and while he has a special eye to the good of the one person whom he has chosen, yet through that person he has designs of love to others, perhaps even to thousands yet unborn.
The apostle Paul says, “I obtained mercy, that in me foremost Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe.” Now, I think I see very clearly that Paul’s conversion had an immediate relation to the conversion of many others. It had a tendency, had it not, to excite an interest in the minds of his brother Pharisees? Men of his class, men of culture, who were equally at home with the Greek philosophers and with the Jewish rabbis, men of influence, men of rank, would be sure to inquire, “What is this new religion which has fascinated Saul of Tarsus? That zealot for Judaism has now become a zealot for Christianity: what can there be in it?” I say that the natural tendency of his conversion was to awaken inquiry and thought, and so to lead others of his rank to become believers. And, my dear friend, if you have been saved, you ought to regard it as a token of God’s mercy to your class. If you are a working man, let your salvation be a blessing to the men with whom you labor. If you are a person of rank and station, consider that God intends to bless you to some with whom you are on familiar terms. If you are young, hope that God will bless the youth around you, and if you have come to older years, hope that your conversion, even at the eleventh hour, may be the mans of encouraging other aged pilgrims to seek and find rest unto their souls. The Lord, by calling one out of any society of men, finds for himself a recruiting officer, who will enlist his fellows beneath the banner of the cross. May not this fact encourage some seeking soul to hope that the Lord may save him, though he be the only thoughtful person in all his family, and then make him to be the means of salvation to all his kindred.
We notice that the apostle Paul often used the narrative of his conversion as an encouragement to others. He was not ashamed to tell his own life-story. Eminent soul-winners, such as Whitefield and Bunyan, frequently pleaded God’s mercy to themselves as an argument with their fellow-men. Though great preachers of another school, such as Robert Hall and Chalmers, do not mention themselves at all, and I can admire their abstinence, yet I am persuaded that if some of us were to follow their example, we should be throwing away one of the most powerful weapons of our warfare. What can be more affecting, more convincing, more overwhelming than the story of divine grace told by the very man who has experienced it? It is better than a score of tales of converted Africans, and infinitely more likely to win men’s hearts than the most elaborate essays upon moral excellence. Again and again, Paul gave a long narrative of his conversion, for he felt it to be one of the most telling things that he could relate.
Whether he stood before Felix or Agrippa, this was his plea for the gospel. All through his epistles there are continual mentions of the grace of God towards himself, and we may be sure that the apostle did right thus to argue from his own case: it is fair and forcible reasoning, and ought by no means to be left unused because of a selfish dread of being called egotistical. God intends that we should use our conversion as an encouragement to others, and say to them, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul.” We point to our own forgiveness and say, “Do but trust in the living Redeemer, and you shall find, as we have done, that Jesus blotteth out the transgressions of believers.”
Paul’s conversion was an encouragement to him all his life long to have hope for others. Have you ever read the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans? Well, the man who penned those terrible verses might very naturally have written at the end of them, “can these monsters be reclaimed? It can be of no avail whatever to preach the gospel to people so sunken in vice.” That one chapter gives as daring an outline as delicacy would permit of the nameless, shameful vices into which the heathen world had plunged, and yet, after all, Paul went forth to declare the gospel to that filthy and corrupt generation, believing that God meant to save a people out of it. Surely one element of his hope for humanity must have been found in the fact of his own salvation; he considered himself to be in some respects as bad as the heathen, and in other respects even worse: he calls himself the foremost of sinners (that is the word); and he speaks of God having saved him foremost, that in him he might show forth all long-suffering. Paul never doubted the possibility of the conversion of a person however infamous, after he had himself been converted. This strengthened him in battling with the fiercest opponents – he who overcame such a wild beast as I was, can also tame others and bring them into willing captivity to his love.
There was yet another relation between Paul’s conversion and the salvation of others, and it was this: It served as an impulse, driving him forward in his life-work of bringing sinners to Christ. “I obtained mercy,” said he, “and that same voice which spake peace to me said, I have made thee a chosen vessel unto me to bear my name among the Gentiles.” And he did bear it, my brethren. Going into regions beyond that, he might not build on another man’s foundation, he became a master builder for the church of God. How indefatigably did he labor! With what vehemence did he pray! With what energy did he preach! Slander and contempt he bore with the utmost patience. Scourging or stoning had no terrors for him. Imprisonment, yea death itself, he defied; nothing could daunt him. Because the Lord had saved him, he felt that he must by all means save some. He could not be quiet. Divine love was in him like a fire, and if he had been silent, he would ere long have had to cry with the prophet of old, “I am weary with restraining.” He is the man who said, “Necessity is laid upon me, yea woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” The apostle Paul, the extraordinary sinner, was saved that he might be full of extraordinary zeal and bring multitudes to external life. Well could he say:
To seek the wandering souls of men;
With cries, entreaties, tears to save,
To snatch them from the fiery wave.
My life, my blood, I here present,
If for thy truth they may be spent;
Fulfill they sovereign counsel, Lord!
Thy will be done, they name adored!”
Now, I will pause here a minute to put a question. You profess to be converted, my dear friend. What relation has your conversion already had to other people? It ought to have a very apparent one. Has it had such? Mr. Whitefield said that when his hear was renewed, his first desire was that his companions with whom he had previously wasted his time might be brought to Christ. It was natural and commendable that he should begin with them. Remember how one of the apostles, when he discovered the Savior, went immediately to tell his brother. It is most fitting that young people should spend their first religious enthusiasm upon their brothers and sisters. As to converted parents, their first responsibility is in reference to their sons and daughters. Upon each renewed man, his natural affinities, or the bonds of friendship, or the looser ties of neighborhood should begin to operate at once, and each one should feel, “No man liveth unto himself.”
If divine grace has kindled a fire in you, it is that your fellowmen may burn with the same flame. If the eternal fount has filled you with living water, it is that our of the midst of you should flow rivers of living water. You are blessed that you may bless; whom have you blessed yet? Let the question go round. Do not avoid it. This is the best return that you can make to God, that when he saveth you, you should seek to be the instruments in his hands of saving others. What have you done yet? Did you ever speak with a friend who shares your pew? He has been sitting there for a long time, and may, perhaps, be an unconverted person; have you pointed him to the Lamb of God? Have you ever spoken to your servants about their souls? Have you yet broken the ice sufficiently to speak to your own sister, or your own brother? Do being, dear friend.
You cannot tell what mysterious threads connect you with your fellowmen and their destiny. There was a cobbler once, as you now, in Northhamptonshire. Who could see any connection between him and the millions of India? But the love of God was in his bosom, and Carey could not rest till, at Serampore, he had commenced to translate the Word of God and preach to his fellowmen. We must not confine our thoughts to the few whom Carey brought to Christ, though to save one soul is worthy of a life of sacrifice, but Carey became the forerunner and leader of a missionary band which will never cease to labor till India bows before Immanuel. That man mysteriously drew, is drawing, and will draw India to the Lord Jesus Christ. Brother, you do not know what your power is. Awake and try it.
Did you never read this passage: “Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou has given him”? Now, the Lord has given to his Son power over all flesh, and with a part of that power Jesus clothes his servants. Through you, he will give eternal life to certain of his chosen; by you, and by no other means, will they be brought to himself. Look about you, regenerate man. Your life may be made sublime. Rouse yourself! Begin to think of what God may do by you! Calculate the possibilities which lie before you with the eternal God as your helper. Shake yourself from the dust and it shall yet be seen how grandly gracious God has been to hundreds of men by having converted you.
So far, then Paul’s salvation, because it had so clear a reference to others, was a pattern of all conversions. Now secondly: (Charles H. Spurgeon, The Apostle Paul as a Pattern Convert)
Related: Paul the Ready