"The Chief of Sinners."

1 Timothy 1:15.

J. A. Trench.

Article 25 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.

It is important to see that the Apostle looks at his conversion in a double way; first, as the expression of the mercy of God to one in ignorance and unbelief, which yet was no excuse for his sin. (He was not sinning in high-handed rejection of the known grace of the Gospel, which would have made mercy impossible) And, secondly, as bringing out all the exceeding grace of God, which abounded in his case, for he was the chief of sinners, and made him a pattern of all (as it must be read) who should believe, and who have believed on Christ ever since. "That in me" he could say (ver. 16) "first" (or "chief," it is the same word in the original) "Jesus Christ might show forth the whole long-suffering" (as it reads literally). How this was so, will be seen if it be remembered that Saul came in for the blessing, after the whole history of God's ways of putting man to the test was over. Israel had been chosen out of all the nations of the world, and hedged in by God, that the great trial of man in the flesh might be made under the most favourable circumstances. Stephen sums up the result in his remarkable address in Acts 7. What was the solemn history? The promises despised, the law transgressed, the prophets persecuted and slain who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom they had been now the betrayers and murderers, and the Holy Spirit resisted all along the line. Moreover, now that He was given from Christ glorified, witnessing in power through Stephen, the young men that stoned him, laid down their clothes at Saul's feet. He thus became the formal witness of man's rejection, not only of Christ come in humiliation, but of the Holy Ghost's testimony to His glory at the right hand of God. That was the Spirit's last testimony to the nation in answer to the intercession of Jesus on the Cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

The chief priests had resisted that testimony to the full; and Saul not only helped them in it, as their willing tool, but being exceedingly mad against the saints himself persecuted them to strange cities, dragging them to prison and to death, seeking to blot the very memory of the Name of Jesus out of the earth. Thus he was not only the chief representative of the resistance of the Jew to the grace of God, but the vessel of the last possible expression of the enmity of the heart of man against Him whom God had glorified. Who fitter — when grace had triumphed, and it pleased God to reveal His Son in him — to become the vessel of the fullest possible expression, in testimony, of the grace of God to man. When "the whole long-suffering" had been gone through, man had been proved to be only enmity against Him. "This is a faithful word, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."

It characterises all Paul's ministry, as in his own personal history he was "pattern" of the full extent of that grace, by which alone any of us are saved.