A Priceless Gem in a Golden Setting

A Sunday Evening Address

"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" (1 Timothy 1:15).

There could be no simpler statement of the gospel than that, and for that reason I have chosen it as my text tonight.

A Priceless Gem

A priceless gem in a golden setting. I will speak of the gem first. It is this saying: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." We are all familiar with it, yet I proclaim it afresh. I would speak of it as though it were the first time you were hearing it, as though never before had you heard the good news that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

There are many Christians here; your hearts ought to thrill to this word. It was written by a great servant of the Lord to his own son in the gospel, and these two found a wonderful communion in it, for "the exceeding abundant grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" and the love of God had been displayed in the fact that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am sure that as Paul wrote these words his heart was profoundly moved, for the coming of Christ into the world meant so much to him. It had saved him, blest him, changed him, and filled him with a lifelong gratitude to his Lord.

It is not surprising that this saying should find a place in this letter of instruction to a young servant of Christ, for the fact that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners gives the impulse to all true service, and it must lie at the basis of all sound and effectual preaching. Paul did not want Timothy to forget it, he could not forget it himself — no preacher should forget it. The man who does not rejoice in it and preach it has very little to say that is worth listening to, and I should advise you, my hearers, to give him scant attention.

This saying is a most fitting one for this company, for there are sinners here, the very sinners whom Christ Jesus came into the world to save. Indeed, the text would suit every sort of congregation that you could gather, whether poor or rich, illiterate or learned, high or low, for all have sinned. How universal is its appeal! It is God's message to all. We may carry it from pole to pole, through every clime and to men of every colour and creed, and everywhere it ought to command the deepest interest, for there is no man that sinneth not, and every sinner needs a Saviour.

I propose to divide the saying into, three parts:
(1) The One who came — CHRIST JESUS CAME.
(2) The place into which He came — INTO THE WORLD.
(3) The object of His coming — TO SAVE SINNERS.

The One Who Came

We must begin with the One who came, for apart from Him there is no gospel for men, no Saviour for sinners. It was Christ Jesus who came. But who is He? The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to this. When John was moved by the Holy Ghost to write of Him he scorned and discarded all introductions and preambles and made haste to get at once to his great subject, as he declared, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made … and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." He is God, the Creator, eternal in being, almighty in power, infinite in wisdom, and He came into the world to save sinners. Of old, when the corrupt and guilty cities of the plain were to be judged and destroyed, two angels were sent to do it; and when rebellious men were to be rebuked for their iniquities, the Word was sent by holy prophets. But now the time had come, not for judgment, nor for rebuke, but for salvation; and neither angels nor prophets were equal to this great work. For this the Word must become flesh, the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father must become man. The day of salvation could not dawn until He appeared, but when Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners the light of that glorious day began to shine for all.

How wonderful it is! He was Jehovah who gave the Law at Sinai, and since that Law had been flouted and broken He might have come with flaming fire taking vengeance, but He did not.

"He did not come to judge the world,
  He did not come to blame,
He did not only come to seek,
  It was to save He came:
And when we call Him Saviour,
Then we call Him by His Name."

To save sinners He had to come down to them. Since they were men He had to become a man, though in Him there was no sin, as all Scripture shows. He was as holy as a man on earth as He was in His eternal Godhead — just as sinless when He walked the filthy streets of those Eastern cities as He was when He sat upon His throne and created the angels. He is God, infinitely holy; He is man, spotless and pure. A holy mystery is this! A mystery beyond the range of the human mind, but not beyond the reach of faith.

"'Tis darkness to the intellect,
But sunshine to the heart."

We may rejoice and exult in the angel's message to the shepherds of Bethlehem when he said, "To you is born a Saviour," and with them we may bow in wonder and worship beside the manger in which was cradled Christ the Lord.

The Place Into Which He Came

Christ Jesus came into the world. It was the only way, but the world did not welcome Him when He came. There was no room for Him in the habitations of men: a stable was His shelter and a manger His bed at His birth. Nor did His great compassion for men and His gentle words and tender mercies change the world's thoughts about Him, the more it saw of Him the more it hated Him. It could not endure Him. It cried, "Away with Him," and spat in His face and crucified Him. Such was the world into which He came.

He knew well all that it would cost Him to come, He knew how men would treat Him when He did come. He was not taken by surprise when they despised and rejected Him, for He knew all men. The depth of their sinfulness, the hardness of their hearts, the blindness of their eyes was all known to Him. He knew that sin and Satan held them in an awful thrall, that they would prefer their corruption and sins to the choicest of heaven's blessing. He knew that coming into the world would mean for Him a life of sorrow and a death of shame, and knowing all He came. He came from the unsullied glory into this world that reeked with moral putrefaction. He came to be the light in the world's darkness. He came to declare the heart of God to men who did not know Him. He came into the world to save sinners.

If there had been any goodness in the heart of the world it would surely have been discovered and developed by the life of Jesus here. Never were such words spoken as He spoke, never were such works done. He stretched out His hands to the weary and laden, and invited them to come to Him for rest. He offered satisfaction and eternal life, and proclaimed in the ears of men that "God is love." In Him God was beseeching men to be reconciled to Him. It was all in vain, their ears were heavy and they would not hear. His heart was moved with compassion for their miseries, and He fed them when they were hungry, He healed them when they were sick, He blessed their children, He went about doing good; but the world was only moved to deeper hatred.

The world that treated Christ like that has not changed one bit, and the only hope for us is to be saved out of it. If you are still unsaved, my hearer, you belong to the world, you are part of it, sharing its sins now and soon to share its doom. You may say, "Preacher, do you not belong to the world?" No, thank God, I do not. I did once, but the great Saviour of sinners has redeemed me by His own blood, and I belong to Him now, and He has said of all who believe on Him through the gospel, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." The man who believes the gospel belongs to Christ and to heaven; the one who rejects it, or neglects its entreaties, belongs to the world that spat in the face of Jesus and nailed Him to a cross. On one side or the other each one of us stands tonight.

Such was the world into which He came, such were the men to whom He appealed. Nothing could be clearer than the solemn truth that in men dwells no good thing, that it is not a reformer or a teacher or a guide that they need, but a Saviour who is able and willing to save sinners, and this brings me to the third division of our saying.

The Object of His Coming

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. If they could have saved themselves He would not have come to do it. If men could have saved themselves God would have let them do it, and when they had accomplished the great work He would have put the crowns upon their brows and said, "Well done!" But no sinner can save himself, much less can he ransom his brother from sin's slavery.

A Saviour was needed and there is only one Saviour. "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name given among men whereby we must be saved." It is strange that sinful men do not feel their need of Jesus; it is strange that some refuse to own it. I talked to one of these, a doctor in Melbourne. He told me that he had loved the Lord his God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself. I expressed my astonishment, and told him that he was the only man I had ever met who dared to make such a claim. "You have no gospel, Doctor, and since you are not a sinner you do not need one," I said. "Oh yes," he said, "I have; my gospel is, Be true to the god within you, and all will come right in the end." I replied, "Sometimes I go into the slums and talk to those who are down and out, to the drunkards and the degraded. I have a gospel that I carry to them; it is, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Would you advise me to throw over my gospel and carry yours to that sort of folk instead?" He coloured a little as he answered, "No, I think your gospel will suit such people better than mine." "Doctor," I said, "listen to this. God says, 'There is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.' The drunkard in the slums, and the doctor in his surgery, are alike sinful in the sight of God. They both need a Saviour, and Christ Jesus came into the world to save both." Is not this good news to every one of you? Surely no word that you can hear can give you greater joy than this, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners! You may say, "Why, Lord, that means me; I am a sinner, and if Thou didst come to save sinners, then Thou didst come to save me."

But think of what it cost Him! To show to the full His love to guilty men He had to die. His works and words and His holy life were wonderful, but they could not take the sting out of death for us, they could not deliver us from Satan's power, or save us from the just judgment that our sins deserved. To do this He had to die for us, for without the shedding of blood there is no remission. Hear what the Scriptures say, "Christ also has once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." And again, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed." And again, "When we were yet without strength in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

There is a challenge to every one of you in this saying. It is as to what response you have made to the Saviour's approach to you. I ask you to consider what He has done. Think of the great love that filled His heart for us when He died for such as we are. I would that all here were like a young Scotsman to whom I talked at the close of a meeting like this. He knew that he was a sinner and he wanted to be saved. I turned him to a verse of Scripture which I have already quoted, Isaiah 53:5. I explained to him that it spoke of what Jesus suffered on the cross for sinners, and asked him to put himself into it, to change the plural pronouns into singular ones. He understood me and read, "He was wounded for MY transgressions, He was bruised for MY iniquities; the chastisement of MY peace was upon Him, and with His stripes!" — then he burst into a big sob and could not finish the verse. I put my arm round him and asked, "What is the matter?" He answered, "I can't understand why He should have loved me so much as to die for me." My reply was, "Neither can I understand it. And God knew that neither you nor I could understand it, and so He calls it in His Word, "the love of Christ that passes knowledge."

I preach this great Saviour to you tonight. "He died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." He is willing and able to save you, and all whom He saves He keeps. He gives to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them from His hand. And yet this preaching Christ is alike my joy and my despair. My joy, for I speak with gladness of Him who has saved me and whom I know to be brighter and better than the brightest and the best that the world can give; and yet my despair, for I feel that my words are dull and cold words when they ought to throb and burn, and move you, and bend you, and bring you in full surrender to the feet of Him of whom I speak.

The Golden Setting

This saying is the gem. Now for a few words about its setting. A man said to me after a gospel meeting, "If only what you have been telling us were true!" I answered, "It would be very good, wouldn't it?" He admitted that it would. "Let me assure you," I said, "that it is as true as it is good," and my text declares it to be so. IT IS A FAITHFUL SAYING. It will not deceive or disappoint you. It is true, it is faithful. You have heard and believed thousands of false sayings from the lips of men in your time; your credulity in that respect is amazing; but here is a saying from the lips of God, and it is not false but true, and it is good as it is true. Have you believed it with your hearts? You may safely do it, for it is a faithful saying. I wish you to consider earnestly that part of the setting.

Another may ask, "But is it for me? How may I be sure that it is for me?" The text answers the questions, for it tells us that the saying is WORTHY OF ALL ACCEPTATION. It is worthy that every man, woman and child should receive it. It reaches out to the greatest of men and they need it, and it comes down to the meanest of men — they, too, may believe it. All excludes none. This saying, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, is worthy of your acceptation, it is for you. That is another part of the setting that I want you to consider.

A young actor had come to hear the gospel, and at the close of the meeting he said to me, "If you knew what God knows about me you would not say that I could be saved." He felt his badness, and it may be that some here are like him, feeling that they are too bad to be saved. It is quite possible that you could not be worse than you are, but, even so, look again at our saying, examine further the setting in which it appears. The one who was inspired by the Holy Ghost to write it exclaimed as he did so, OF WHOM I AM CHIEF. It was as though he said, None need despair, Christ Jesus has saved the preacher, and if He has saved the preacher He can save you. The chief of sinners is with Christ in glory. He is there because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And for the same wonderful reason you may dwell for ever in the same glory.

It seems to me that my text meets every difficulty and answers every question that you can raise. It leaves you without an excuse. It encourages you to put the great Saviour to the test. If you do that now you will begin to learn His grace, His tenderness, His power. He is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.