1 Timothy 1:1621 March 1773
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.
When Moses has related the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, he adds, It is a night much to be observed, and they were accordingly directed to keep it in solemn remembrance. Much to be observed and remembered likewise is the time where it can be clearly known, of the Lord’s appearance to deliver his people from Satan’s bondage. I say when it can be known, for many are brought in so gradual a way, that they cannot distinctly mark the beginning. Others can certainly tell when he signally appeared in their behalf. The return of this day has I believe never been wholly forgotten by me, for twenty-five years past, though I have never thought of it with a thousandth part of thankfulness and sensibility which it demands. It is the day when the Lord sent from high and saved me from sinking in the deep water. It is the first time since I came to Olney that it happened on a Sunday, and as the Lord has been pleased (which is rather more than I could have hoped for two or three days since) to enable me to stand before you this afternoon, I would hope he will graciously fulfil my text amongst us at this time. And that I shall not speak of such an amazing instance of his mercy, and stand up as a pattern of his longsuffering before you in vain.
My manner of life till that period and the dreadful extremity to which I was then brought is pretty well known. Surely there never was one to whom a part of the Apostle’s words were more applicable than myself. I was indeed a persecutor, a blasphemer and injurious, but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. O to say from my heart, I thank Christ Jesus my Lord.
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.
1. 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.
2. The whole power and authority is here ascribed to Jesus Christ. Though as Mediator he was the Father’s servant, he has life in himself and gives it to whom he pleases. It is he with whom we have to do. Too many in their views of attaining mercy, think little or nothing of Jesus Christ. But may we all take note that he is upon the throne and keeps the keys of life and death, of heaven and hell.
3. If we enquire what is the will and pleasure of this great and only Potentate, we are told it is to show forth all longsuffering and grace. Having wrought our salvation by himself he bestows it freely. So his promises run: Whosoever will – him that cometh I will in no wise cast out.
4. Because we are slow of heart to believe he confirms his words by examples. You that think yourself not good enough to believe, or that your sins have shut you out from hope of mercy, think of Paul. Had you seen him when he was approaching Damascus, could you have thought him likely to be a vessel of mercy? Yet how suddenly changed, how freely accepted and pardoned.
5. Lest we should think such cases peculiar to the first preaching of the Gospel he still affords such instances. Permit me to speak of myself. I had cast off all fear of God and man, and being left to my own evil heart and the power of Satan, was seated in the chair of the scorner before I was twenty years of age. Not only slighted the Gospel, but treated it as a fable – was hardened beyond the sense of conviction, and like Ahab sold myself to work wickedness. In this state of mind and practice, I was overtaken by that terrible storm, all hope of being saved quite gone, and I had not the least probability of surviving one quarter of an hour, but I obtained mercy, and it was not to me only but to some of you. The Lord thought of you then and preserved me alive that I might be a witness for him at Olney. Indeed you may receive me as an unsuspected witness. I speak not from books but experience:
5.1 of the folly of self-righteousness
Before I became so exceedingly wicked, I laboured long to obtain salvation by the works of the law. I read the Scripture much, got much of it by heart, spent many hours in a day in what I called meditation and prayer, abstained from many sins which had hurt my conscience, but all the while sin and self reigned in my heart, and though I named the name of Christ I knew no more of him that a heathen. Satan seeing me thus building upon the sand, suffered me to go on a good while for he knew he could presently shake it all down. And so it proved – so it will always be with self-righteousness.
5.2 of the evil of sin
I cannot doubt but when I speak of the little satisfaction that sinners find in their evil ways, I describe what passes in some of your hearts because I speak from my own. I boasted of liberty, I pretended to pity the poor precise creatures that minded religion, I forced my face to wear a smile, and stifled arguments with a jest, when at the same time me heart was full of madness, rage and misery and I would gladly have changed conditions with a dog or a toad. My life was often insupportable, and nothing but the Lord’s secret over-ruling power could have kept me from destroying myself. I cannot doubt but it is thus with many who would fain be thought happy by others.
5.3 of the vanity of all excuses
Some may perhaps charge their ruin, possibly their sins, upon the decrees of God. But when you have eternity as full in your view as I then had, your mouth will be stopped as mine then was. I saw I had destroyed myself, and thought it next to impossible that I could escape damnation, if the Lord was wise and just and able to punish.
5.4 But he enabled me to hope against hope
He saved me from the sea by a miracle of providence, and from hell by a miracle of grace, that he might show in me a pattern of his longsuffering. Once a rebel – now a messenger. I come in Christ’s name, as though he did beseech you by me – be ye reconciled to God. You must either bend or break before him. And if you will not hear, I must at the great day of his appearance be a witness against you.
transcribed from John Newton’s Sermon Notebook No. 39 Lambeth Palace Library MS 2940