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God's Regard for His Own Glory, Seen in the Saving of Sinners


by Stephen Charnock


Second in a series of three sermons entitled "The Chief Sinners Objects of the
Choicest Mercy."

"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 Tim. 1:15

1. The glory of his patience. We wonder, when we see a notorious sinner, how God
can let his thunders still lie by him, and his sword rust in his sheath. And,
indeed, when such are converted, they wonder themselves that God did not draw
his sword out, and pierce their bowels, or shoot one of his arrows into their
hearts all this while. But God, by such a forbearance; shews himself to be God
indeed, and something in this act infinitely above such a weak creature as man
is: 'I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to
destroy Ephraim; for I am God, and not man,' Hosea 11:9. When God had reckoned
up their sins before, and they might have expected the sentence after the
reading the charge, God tells them, he would not destroy them, he would not
execute them, because he was God. If he were not a God, he could not keep
himself from pouring out a just vengeance upon them. If a man did inherit all
the meekness of all the angels and all the men that ever were in the world, he
could not be able to bear with patience the extravagances and injuries done in
the world the space of one day; for none but a God, i.e. one infinitely
longsuffering, can bear with them.

Not a sin passed in the world before the coming of Christ in the flesh, but was
a commendatory letter of God's forbearance, 'To declare his righteousness for
the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God,' Rom. 3:25.
And not a sin passed before the coming of Christ into the soul, but gives the
same testimony, and bears the same record. And the greater number of sins, and
great sins are passed, the more trophies there are erected to God's
longsuffering; the reason why the grace of the gospel appeared so late in the
world, was to testify God's patience. Our apostle takes notice of this
long-suffering towards himself in bearing with such a persecutor. 'Howbeit, for
this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all
long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him,' 1
Tim. 1:16. This was Christ's end in letting him run so far, that he might shew
forth not a few mites, grains, or ounces of patience, but all longsuffering,
longsuffering without measure, or weight, by wholesale; and this as a pattern to
all ages of the world; upotupwsin for a type: a type is but a shadow in respect
of the substance. To shew, that all the ages of the world should not waste that
patience, whereof he had then manifested but a pattern.

A pattern, we know, is less than the whole piece of cloth from whence it is cut;
and as an essay is but a short taste of a man's skill, and doth not discover all
his art, as the first miracle Christ wrought, of turning water into wine, as a
sample of what power he had, was less than those miracles which succeeded; and
the first miracle God wrought in Egypt, in turning Aaron's rod into a serpent,
was but a sample of his power which would produce greater wonders; so this
patience to Paul was but a little essay of his meekness, a little patience cut
off from the whole piece, which should always be dealing out to some sinners or
other, and would never be cut wholly out till the world had left being. This
sample or pattern was but of the extent of a few years; for Paul was but young,
the Scripture terms him a young man, Acts 7:58, about thirty-six years of age,
yet he calls it all longsuffering. Ah, Paul! Some since have experienced more of
this patience; in some it has reached not only to thirty, but forty, fifty, or
sixty years.

2. Grace. It is partly for the admiration of this grace that God intends the day
of judgment. It is a strange place: 'When he shall come to be glorified in his
saints, and to be admired in all them that believe in that day,' 2 Thess. 1:10.
What, has not Christ glory enough in heaven with his Father? Will he come on
purpose to seek glory from such worthless creatures as his saints are? What is
that which glorifies Christ in them? It is the gracious work he has wrought in
them. For the word is, endoxasqhnai en agioiV, to be inglorified in his saints,
i.e. by something within them; for which they glorify Christ actively and
objectively. As the creatures glorify the wisdom and power of God, by affording
matter to men to do so, so does the work of God in saints afford matter of
praise to angels, and admiration to devils. The apostle useth two words:
glorified, that is, the work of angels and saints, who shall sing out his
praises for it, as a prince, after a great conquest, receives the
congratulations of all his nobility; admired, that the very devil and damned
shall do; for, though their malice and condition will not suffer them to praise
him, yet, his inexpressible love in making such black insides so beautiful,
shall astonish them.

In this sense those things under the earth shall bow down to that name of Jesus,
a Saviour; a name which God gave him at first: 'Wherefore God also hath highly
exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of
Jesus every knee should bow,' Philip. 2:9. And upon his exaltation did confirm,
Heb. 5:9, when he was made perfect, i.e. exalted, he became the author of
eternal salvation, and had the power of saving, as well as the name conferred
upon him. They shall confess that he is Lord, Philip. 2:11, i.e. that he acted
like a Lord, when he prevailed over all the opposition which those great sinners
made against him. The whole trial of the saints, and the sentence of their
blessedness, shall be finished before that of the damned, Mat. 25:85, 44. That
the whole scene of his love, and the wonders of the work of faith being laid
open, might strike them with a vast amazement. And that this is the design of
Christ, to be thus glorified in his grace and power, appears by the apostle's
prayer, ver. 11, 12, that the Thessalonians might be in the number of those
Christ should be thus glorified in. Therefore he prays, that God would 'fulfil
all the good pleasure of his goodness,' i.e. that grace he so pleased and
delighted to manifest, and carry on the work of faith with power; 'that the name
of Christ might be glorified in them,' as well as in the rest of his saints.

Ordinary conversion is an act of grace; Barnabas so interprets it, Acts 11:21,
23, when a great number believed; what abundance of grace then is expended in
converting a company of extraordinary sinners!

It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence, Prov. 19:11, i.e. it is a
manifestation of a property which is an honour to him to be known to have. If it
be thus an honour to pass by an offence simply, then the greater the offence is,
and the more the offences are which he passeth by, the greater must the glory
needs be, because it is a manifestation of such a quality in greater strength
and vigour. So it must argue a more exceeding grace in God to remit many and
great sins in man, than to forgive only some few and lesser offences.

(1.) Fulness of his grace. He shews hereby that there is more grace in him than
there can be sin in us or the whole world. He lets some sinners run mightily
upon his score, to manifest that though they are beggared, yet his grace is not;
that though they have spent all their stock upon their swinish lusts, yet they
have not drained his treasures; no more than the sun is emptied of its strength
by exhaling the ill vapours of so many dunghills. This was his design in giving
the moral law, finis operis; that is, the event of the law was to increase the
sin; but finis operantis, was thereby to glorify his grace; 'Moreover, the law
entered, that the offence might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did much
more abound,' Rom. 5:20. When the law of nature was out of print, and so blurred
that it could scarce be read, God brings the moral law (the counterpart of the
law of nature) in a new edition into the world; and thereby sin hath new
aggravations, as being rebellion against a clearer light, a swelling and
breaking over this mighty bank of the law laid in its way. But this was
serviceable to the fulness of his grace, which had more abundant matter hereby
to work upon, and a larger field to sow its inexhaustible seed in,
upereperisseusen, it did superabound. That grace should rise in its tide higher
than sin, and bear it down before it, just as the rolling tide of the sea riseth
higher than the streams of the river, and beats them back with all their mud and
filth. It was mercy in God to create us; it is abundant mercy to make any new
creatures, after they had forfeited their happiness, 1 Pet. 1:3, which,
according to his abundant mercy, kata to polu, according to his much mercy. But
it was uperpleonazousa cariV, overflowing, exceeding abundant, more than full
grace, to make such deformed creatures new creatures, ver. 14 of this chapter.
(2.) Freeness of grace. None can entertain an imagination that Christ should be
a debtor to sin, unless in vengeance, much less a debtor to the worst of
sinners. But if Christ should only take persons of moral and natural
excellencies, men might suspect that Christ were some way or other engaged to
them, and that the gift of salvation were limited to the endowments of nature,
and the good exercise and use of a man's own will. But when he puts no
difference between persons of the least and those of the greatest demerit, but
affecting the foulest monsters of sin, as well as the fairest of nature's
children, he builds triumphal arches to his grace upon this rubbish, and makes
men and angels admiringly gaze upon these infinitely free compassions, when he
takes souls full of disease and misery into his arms. For it is manifest hereby
that the God and Lord of nature is no more bound to his servant (as touching the
gift of salvation), when she carries it the most smoothly with him, than when
she rebels against him with the highest hand; and that Christ is at perfect
liberty from any conditions but that of his own, viz. faith; and that he can and
will embrace the dirt and mud, as well as the beauty and varnish of nature, if
they believe with the like precious faith.

Therefore it is frequently God's method in Scripture, just before the offer of
pardon, to sum up the sinner's debts, with their aggravations; to convince them
of their insolvency to satisfy so large a score, and also to manifest the
freeness and vastness of his grace: 'But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob,
but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel; thou hast not brought me the small
cattle of thy burnt-offering, &c., but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins,
thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities,' Isa. 43:22-24. When he had told
them how dirtily they had dealt with him, and would have made him a very slave
to their corrupt humours; at the conclusion, when they, nor no creature else,
but would have expected fire-balls of wrath to be flung in their faces; and that
God should have dipped his pen in gall, and have writ their mittimus to hell, he
dips it in honey, and crosses the debt; 'I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy
transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins,' ver. 25.
Could there be anything of merit here, when the criminal, instead of favour,

could expect nothing but severity, there being nothing but demerit in him?
It is so free, that the mercy we abuse, the name we have profaned, the name of
which we have deserved wrath, opens its mouth with pleas for us; 'But I had pity
for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen
whither they went,' Ezek. 36:21. Not for their sakes. It should be wholly free;
for he repeats their profaning of his name four times. This name he would
sanctify, i.e. glorify. How? In cleansing them from their filthiness, ver. 25.

His name, while it pleads for them, mentions their demerits, that grace might
appear to be grace indeed, and triumph in its own freeness. Our sins against him
cannot deserve more than our sufferings for him, and even they are not worthy of
the glory which shall be revealed, Rom. 8:18.

(3.) Extent of his grace. The mercy of God is called his riches, and exceeding
riches of grace. Now as there is no end of his holiness, which is his honour,
neither any limits set to his power, so there is no end of his grace, which is
his wealth; no end of his mines; therefore the foulest and greatest sinners are
the fittest for Christ to manifest the abundant riches of his graces upon; for
it must needs argue a more vast estate to remit great debts, and many thousands
of talents, than to forgive some fewer shillings or pence, than to pardon some
smaller sins in men of a more unstained conversation. If it were not for turning
and pardoning mountainous sinners, we should not know so much of God's estate;
we should not know how rich he were, or what he were worth. He pardons
iniquities for his name's sake; and who can spell all the letters of his name,
and turn over all the leaves in the book of mercy? Who shall say to his grace,
as he does to the sea, Hitherto shalt thou go, and no further?

As the heavens are of a vast extension, which, like a great circle, encompass
the earth, which lies in the middle like a little atom, in comparison of that
vast body of air and ether, so are our sins to the extent of God's mercy; 'For
as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts,' Isa. 55:9. Men's sins are innumerable, yet
they are but ciphers to the vast sums of grace which are every day expended;
because they are finite, but mercy is infinite; so that all sins in the world
put together cannot be of so large an extent as mercy; because being every one
of them finite, if all laid together, cannot amount to infinite.

The gospel is entitled 'good-will to men;' to all sorts of men, with iniquities,
transgressions, and sins of all sorts and sizes. God hath stores of mercy lying
by him. His exchequer is never empty 'Keeps mercy for thousands,' Exod. 34:7, in
a readiness to deal it upon thousand millions of sins as well as millions of
persons. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all that were before, have not wasted
it; and if God were to proclaim his name again, it is the same still, for his
name as well as his essence is unchangeable. His grace is no more tied to one
sin than it is to one person; he has mercy on whom he will, and his grace can
pardon what sins he will; therefore he tells them, Isa. 55:7, that he would
multiply pardons. He will have mercy to suit every sin of thine, and a salve for
every sore. Though thy sin has its heights and depths, yet he will heap mercy
upon mercy, till he makes it to overtop thy sin. He will be as good at his
merciful arithmetic as thou hast been at thy sinful, if thou dost sincerely
repent and reform. Though thou multiply thy sins by thousands, where repentance
goes before, remission of sin follows without limitation. When Christ gives the
one, he is sure to second it with the other. Though aggravating circumstances be
never so many, yet he will multiply his mercies as fast as thou canst the sins
thou hast committed.

He hath a cleansing virtue and a pardoning grace for all iniquities and
transgressions; 'And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they
have sinned against me: and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they
have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me,' Jer. 33:8. It is
three times repeated, to shew that his mercy should be as large as their sin,
though there was not a more sinful nation upon the earth than they were. His
justifying and sanctifying grace should have as vast an extension, for he would
both pardon and cleanse them. Why? Ver. 9, that it might be a name of joy and
praise, and an honour to him before all the nations of the earth.

It is so great, that self-righteous persons murmur at it, that such swines
should be preferred before them; as the eldest son was angry that his father
should lavish out his kindness upon the prodigal more than upon himself, Luke
15:28.
(4.) Compassion of his grace. The formal nature of mercy is tenderness, and the
natural effect of it is relief. The more miserable the object, the more
compassionate human mercy is, and the more forward to assist. Now that mercy
which in man is a quality, in God is a nature. How would the infinite tenderness
of his nature be discovered, if there were no objects to draw it forth? It would
not be known to be mercy, unless it were shed abroad; nor to be tender mercy,
unless it relieved great and oppressing miseries; for mercy is a quality in man
that cannot keep at home, and be stowed under a lock and key in a man's own
breast; much less in God, in whom it is a nature. Now the greater the disease,
the greater is that compassion discovered to be wherewith God is so fully
stored.

As his end in letting the devil pour out so many afflictions upon Job was to
shew his pity and tender mercy in relieving him. You have heard of the patience
of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful, and of
tender mercy, James 5:11; so, in permitting the devil to draw his elect to so
many sins, it is the same end he drives at. And he is more pitiful to help men
under sin than under affliction, because the guilt of one sin is a greater
misery than the burden of a thousand crosses. If forgiveness be a part of
tenderness in man, it is also so in God, who is set, Eph. 4:32, as a pattern of
the compassion we are to shew to others: 'And be ye kind one to another,
tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath
forgiven you.' The lower a man is brought, the more tender is that mercy that
relieves him: 'Let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us; for we are brought
very low,' Psa. 79:8. To visit them that sit in darkness and the shadow of
death, and to pardon their sins, is called mercy, with this epithet of tender;
'Through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the day-spring from on high hath
visited us,' Luke 1:77-79. And so it is indeed when he visits the most forlorn
sinners.

(5.) Sincerity and pleasure of his grace. Ordinary pardon proceeds from his
delight in mercy; 'Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and
passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage. He retaineth not
his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy,' Micah 7:18. Therefore the
more of his grace he lays out upon any one, the more excess of delight he hath
in it, because it is a larger effect of that grace. If he were not sincere in
it, he would never mention men's sins, which would scare them from him rather
than allure them to him. If he were not sincere, he would never change the heart
of an enemy, and shew kindness to him in the very act of enmity; for the first
act of grace upon us is quite against our wills. And man is so far from being
active in it, that he is contrary to it. In primo actionis, it is thus with a
man, though not in primo actu; for in the first act of conversion man is
willing, though not in the first moment of that act. But for God to bestow his
grace upon us against our wills, and when he can expect no suitable recompence
from us, evidences the purity of his affection; that when he endured so many
contradictions of sinners against himself day by day, yet he is resolved to have
them, and does seize upon them, though they struggle and fly in his face, and
provoke him to fling them off.

It is so much his delight, that it is called by the very name of his glory: 'The
glory of the Lord shall follow thee,' Isa. 58:8; i.e. the mercy of the Lord
shall follow them at the very heels. And when they call, it should answer them;
and when they cry, he would, like a watchful guardian servant, cry out, Here I
am. So that he never lets a great sinner, when changed into a penitent, wait
long for mercy, though he sometimes lets them wait long for a sense of it. This
mercy is never so delightful to him as when it is most glorious, and it is most
glorious when it takes hold of the worst sinners. For such black spots which
mercy wears upon its face, makes it appear more beautiful.

Christ does not care for staying where he has not opportunities to do great
cures, suitable to the vastness of his power, Mark 6:5. When he was in his own
country, he could do no great work there, but only laid his hands upon a few
sick people. He had not a suitable employment for that glorious power of working
miracles. So when men come to Christ with lighter guilt, he has but an under
opportunity given him, and with a kind of disadvantage, to manifest the
greatness of his charity. Though he has so much grace and mercy, yet he cannot
shew more than the nature and exigence of the opportunity will bear; and so his
pleasure doth not swell so high as otherwise it would do, for little sins, and
few sins, are not so fit an object for a grace that would ride in triumph. Free
grace is God's darling, which he loves to advance; and it is never more
advanced, than when it beautifies the most misshapen souls.

3. Power. The Scripture makes conversion a most wonderful work, and resembles it
to creation, and the resurrection of Christ from the dead, &c.

(1.) Creation. Conversion, simply considered, is concluded by divines to be a
greater work than creation; for God puts forth more power morally in conversion
than he did physically in creation. The world was created by a word; but many
words, and many acts, concur to conversion. The heavens are called the works of
God's fingers, Ps. 8:8; but the gospel, in the effects of it, is called the arm
of the Lord, Isa. 53:1. Men put not their arm to a thing but when the work
requires more strength than the fingers possess. It is 'the power of God to
salvation;' and the faith it works is begun and fulfilled with power, 2 Thess.
1:11. God created the world of nothing; nothing could not objectively contribute
to his design, as matter does to a workman's intent; yet neither doth it oppose
him, because it is nothing. As soon as God spake the word, this nothing brings
forth sun, moon, stars, earth, trees, flowers, all the garnish of nature out of
its barren womb. But sin is actively disobedient, disputes his commands, slights
his power, fortifies itself against his entrance upon the heart, gives not up an
inch of ground without a contest. There is not only a passive indisposition, but
an active opposition. His creating power drew the world out of nothing, but his
converting power frames the new creature out of something worse than nothing.
Naturally there is nothing but darkness and confusion in the soul. We have not
the least spark of divine light, no more than the chaos had, when God, who
commanded light to shine out of that darkness, 2 Cor. 4:6, shined in our hearts.
To bring a principle of light into the heart, and to set it up in spite of all
the opposition that the devil and a man's own corruption makes, is greater than
creation. As the power of the sun is more seen in scattering the thickest mists
that triumph over the earth, and mask the face of the heavens, than in melting
the small clouds compacted of a few vapours, so it must needs argue a greater
strength to root out those great sins that were twisted and inlaid with our very
nature, and become as dear to us as our right eye and right hand, than a few
sins that have taken no deep root. Every man naturally is possessed with a
hatred of God, and doth oppose everything which would restore God to his right;
and being, since the fall filled with a desire of independency, which is daily
strengthened with new recruits, and loath to surrender himself to the power and
direction of another, it is a more difficult thing to tame this unruly
disposition in man's heart, I say more difficult, than to annihilate him, and
new create him again; as it is more easy oftentimes for an artificer to make a
new piece of work, than to repair and patch up an old one that is out of frame.
(2.) Resurrection. Conversion simply is so called: 'Quickened us when we were
dead,' Eph. 2:5. And the power that effects it is the same power that raised
Christ from the dead; which was a mighty power, that could remove the stone from
the grave, when Christ lay with all the sins of the world upon him, Eph. 1:19,
20; so the greater the stone is upon them, the greater is God's power to remove
it. For if it be the power of God simply to regenerate nature, and put a new law
into the heart, and to qualify the will with a new bias to comply with this law,
and to make them that could not endure any thoughts of grace not to endure any
thoughts of sin, it is a greater power sure to raise a man from that death
wherein he has lain thirty or forty years rotten and putrefied in the grave; for
if conversion in its own nature be creation and resurrection, this must needs be
creation and resurrection with an emphasis.

The more malignant any distemper is, and the more fixed in the vital parts, and
complicated with other diseases, the greater is the power in curing it; for a
disease is more easily checked at the first invasion, than when it has infected
the whole mass of blood, and become chronical; so it is more to pull up a sin,
or many sins, that have spread their roots deep, and stood against the shock of
many blustering winds of threatenings, than that which is but a twig, and newly
planted.

(3.) Traction or drawing. Drawing implies a strength. If conversion be a
traction, then more strength is required to draw one that is bound to a post by
great cables, than one that is only tied by a few pack-threads; one that has
millions of weights upon him, than one that hath but a few pounds.
(4.) It is the only miracle Christ hath left standing in the world, and declares
him more to be Christ than anything. When John sent to know what he was, Luke
7:20, he returns no other account but a list of his miracles; and that which
brings up the rear as the greatest is, the poor euaggelizontai, are evangelised.
It is not to be taken actively, of the preaching of the gospel; but passively,
they were wrought upon by the gospel, and became an evangelised people,
transformed into the mould of it; for else it would bear no analogy to the other
miracles. The deaf heard, and the dead were raised; they had not only
exhortations to hear, but the effects were wrought upon them. So these words
import not only the preaching of the gospel to them, but the powerful operation
of the gospel in them. It is not so great a work to raise many thousands killed
in a battle, as to evangelise one dead soul. It is a miracle of power to
transform a ravenous wolf into a gentle lamb, a furious lion into a meek dove, a
nasty sink into a clear fountain, a stinking weed into a fragrant rose, a toad
or viper into a man endued with rational faculties and moral endowments; and so
to transform a filthy swine into a king and priest unto God. In conquests of
this nature does divine power appear glorious. It is some strength to polish a
rough stone taken out of the quarry, and hew it into the statue of a great
prince; but more to make this statue a living man. Worse stones than these doth
God make children, not only to Abraham, but to himself, even the Gentiles, who
were accounted stones by the Jews; and are called stones in Scripture for the
worshipping idols.

What power must that be which can stop the tide of the sea, and make it suddenly
recoil back! What vast power must that be that can change a black cloud into a
glorious sun? This and more doth God do in conversion. He doth not only take
smooth pieces of the softest matter, but the ruggedest timber full of knots, to
plane and shew both his strength and art upon.

4. Wisdom. The work of grace being a new creation, is not only an act of God's
power, but of his wisdom, as the natural creation was. As he did in contriving
the platform of grace, and bringing Christ upon the stage, so also in particular
distributions of it, lie acts according to counsel, and that infinite too, even
the counsel of his own will, Eph. 1:11. The apostle having discoursed before,
ver. 9, of God's making known the mystery of his will in and through Christ,
and, ver. 11, of the dispensation of this grace, in bestowing an inheritance,
'being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things
according to the counsel of his own will,' he doth not say God predestinated us
according to the counsel of his own will, but refers it to all he had said
before, viz., of his making known the mystery of Christ, and their obtaining an
inheritance. And ver. 8, speaking before of the pardon of sin in the blood of
Christ, according to the riches of God's grace, wherein, saith he, 'he hath
abounded towards us in all wisdom.' As there was abundance of grace set apart to
be dealt out, so there was abundance of wisdom, even all God's wisdom, employed
in the distribution of it. The restoring of God's image requires at least as
much wisdom as the first creating of it. And the application of redemption, and
bestowing of pardoning and converting grace, is as much an act of God's prudence
as the contrivance of it was of his counsel.

Grace, or a gracious man in respect of his grace, is called God's workmanship,
Eph. 2:10, poihma, not ergon work of his art as well as strength, and operation
of his mind as well as his hand; his poem, not barely a work of omnipotency, but
an intellectual spark. A new creature is a curious piece of divine art,
fashioned by God's wisdom to set forth the praise of the framer, as a poem is,
by a man's reason and fancy, to publish the wit and parts of the composer. It is
a great skill of an artificer, with a mixture of a few sands and ashes, by his
breath to blow up such a clear and diaphanous body as glass, and frame several
vessels of it for several uses. It is not barely his breath that does it, for
other men have breath as well as he; but it is breath managed by art. And is it
not a marvellous skill in God to make a miry soul so pure and chrystalline on a
sudden, to endue an irrational creature with a divine nature, and by a powerful
word to frame so beautiful a model as a new creature is!

The more intricate and knotty any business is, the more eminent is a man's
ability in effecting it. The more desperate the wound is, the more honourable is
the surgeon's ability in the cure. Christ's healing a soul that is come to the
last gasp, and given over by all for lost, shews more of art than setting right
an ordinary sinner. Our apostle takes notice of the wisdom of God in his own
conversion here; for when he relates the history of it, he breaks out into an
Hallelujah, and sends up a volley of praises to God for the grace he hath
obtained. And in that doxology he puts an emphasis on the wisdom of God: 'Now
unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and
glory for ever and ever,' ver. 17. Only wise God; only, which he does not add to
any other attribute he there gives him.

This wisdom appears, (1.) In the subjects he chooseth. We will go no further
than the example in our text. Our apostle seems to be a man full of heat and
zeal. And the church had already felt the smart of his activity, insomuch that
they were afraid to come at him after his change, or to admit him into their
company, imagining that his fury was not changed, but disguised, and he of an
open persecutor turned trepanner, Acts 9:26. None can express better what a lion
he was than he doth himself: 'Many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having
received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I
gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and
compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, persecuted
them even unto strange cities,' Acts 26:10, 11. He seems also to have been a man
of high and ambitious spirit. This persecuting probably was acted so vigorously
by him to ingratiate himself with the chief priests, and as a means to step into
preferment, for which he wag endued with parts and learning, and would not want
zeal and industry to attain it. He seems to be of a proud spirit, by the
temptation which he had: 'Lest I should be exalted above measure,' 2 Cor. 12:7.
He speaks it twice in that verse, intimating that his natural disposition led
him to be lifted up with any excellency he had; and usually God doth direct his
battery to beat down that which is the sin of our constitution.

He was a man of a very honest mind, and was forward in following every point his
conscience directed him to; for what he did against Christ, he did according to
the dictates of his conscience, as then informed: 'I verily thought with
myself,' Acts 26:9, i.e. in my conscience, 'that I ought,' not that I might, but
that it was his duty. His error commanded with the same, power that truth does
where it reigns. Now it discovers the wisdom of God to lay hold of this man thus
tempered, who had honesty to obey the dictates of a rightly-informed conscience,
as well as those of an erroneous one; zeal to execute them, and height of spirit
to preserve his activity from being blunted by any opposition, and parts and
prudence for the management of all these. I say, to turn these affections and
excellencies to run in a heavenly channel, and to guide this natural passion and
heat for the service and advancement of that interest which before he
endeavoured to destroy, and for the propagation of that gospel which before he
persecuted, is an effect of a wonderful wisdom; as it is a rider's skill to
order the mettle of a headstrong horse for his own use to carry him on big
journey.

(2.) This wisdom appears in the time. As man's wisdom consists as well in timing
his actions as contriving the models of them, so doth God's. He lays hold of the
fittest opportunities to bring his wonderful providences upon the stage. He hath
his set time to deliver his church from her enemies, Ps. 102:13; and he hath his
set time also to deliver every particular soul, that he intends to make a member
of his church from the devil. He waits the fittest season to manifest his grace:
'Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you,' Isa. 30:18.
Why? 'For the Lord is a God of judgment,' i.e. a God of wisdom; therefore will
time things to the best advantage, both of his glory and the sinner's good. His
timing of his grace was excellent in the conversion of Paul.

[a.] In respect of himself. There could not be a fitter time to glorify his
grace than when Paul was almost got to the length of his chain; almost to the
sin against the Holy Ghost. For if he had had but a little more light, and done
that out of malice which he did out of ignorance, he had been lost for over. He
obtained mercy. Why? Because he did it ignorantly, ver. 13. As I said before, he
followed the dictates of his conscience; for if he had had knowledge suitable to
his fury, it had been the unpardonable sin. Christ suffered him to run to the
brink of hell before he laid hold upon him.

[b.] In respect of others. He is converted at such a time when he went as full
of madness as a toad of poison, to spit it out against the poor Christians at
Damascus, armed with all the power and credential letters the high priest could
give him, who without question promised himself much from his industry; and when
he was almost at his journey's end, ready to execute his commission, And as he
journeyed, he came near Damascus,' Acts 9:3, about half a mile from the city, as
Gulielmus Tyrius thinks, at this very time Christ grapples with him, and
overcomes all his mad principles, secures Paul from hell, and his disciples from
their fears of him. Behold the nature of this lion changed, just as he was going
to fasten upon his prey. Christ might have converted Paul sooner, either when
Paul had heard of some of his miracles, for perhaps Paul was resident at
Jerusalem at the time of Christ's preaching in Judea, for he was brought up in
Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, Acts 13:3, who was one of the council, Acts
5:24. He might have converted him when he heard Stephen make that elegant and
convincing oration in his own defence, Acts 7; or when he saw Stephen's
constancy, patience, and charity in his suffering, which might somewhat have
startled a moral man as Paul was, and made him look about him.

But Christ omits the doing of it at all these opportunities, and suffers him to
kick against the pricks of miracles, admonitions, and arguments of Stephen and
others, yet hath his eye upon him all along in a special manner, Acts 7:58. He
is there named when none else are: 'And the witnesses laid their clothes at a
young man's feet, named Saul.' And 'Saul was consenting to his death,' Acts 8:1.
Was there none else that had a hand in it? The Spirit of God takes special
notice of Saul here. He runs in God's mind, yet God would not stop his fury: 'As
for Saul, he made havoc of the church,' Acts 8:3. Did nobody else shew as much
zeal and cruelty as Saul? Sure he must have some instrument with him. Yet we
hear none named but Saul: and 'Saul yet breathing,' &c., Acts 9:1; yet, as much
as to say, he shall not do so long. I shall have a fit time to meet with him
presently.

And was it not a fit time, when the devil hoped to rout the Christians by him,
when the high priests assured themselves success from this man's passionate
zeal, when the church travailed with throws of fear of him? But Christ sent the
devil sneaking away for the loss of such an active instrument, frustrates all
the expectations of the high priests, and calms all the stormy fears of his
disciples; for Christ sets him first a preaching at Damascus in the very
synagogues which were to assist him in his cruel design: 'And straightway he
preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God, and increased the
more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that
this is very Christ,' Acts 9:20-22.

Did not Christ shew himself to be a God of judgment here? He sat watching in
heaven for this season to turn Paul with the greatest advantage. His wisdom
answers many ends at once, and killed so many birds with one stone. He struck
dead at one blow Paul's sin, his people's fears, the high priests' expectations,
and the devil's hopes. He triumphs over his enemies, secures his friends, saves
Paul's soul, and promotes his interest by him he disappoints the devil of his
expectations, and hell of her longing.

(3.) This wisdom appears to keep up the credit of Christ's death. The great
excellence of Christ's sacrifice, wherein it transcends the sacrifices under the
law, is because it perfectly makes an atonement for all sins; it first satisfies
God, and then calms the conscience, which they could not do, Heb. 10:1, 2, for
there was a conscience of sin after their sacrifices. The tenor of the covenant
of grace which God makes with his people, is upon the account of this sacrifice,
'This is the covenant I will make with them. And their sins and iniquities will
I remember no more,' Heb. 10:16, 17. 'Now, where remission of these is, there is
no more offering for sin,' ver. 18. This covenant extends not only to little
sins, for there is no limitation; great sins are included; therefore Christ
satisfied for great sins, or else, if ever they be pardoned, there must be
another sacrifice, either of himself or some other, which the apostle, upon the
account of this covenant, asserts there need not be, because this sacrifice was
complete, otherwise there would be a remembrance of sin; as the covenant implied
the completeness of Christ's satisfaction, so the continual fulfilling or
application of the tenor of the covenant implies the perpetual favour and force
of this sacrifice.

And, indeed, when God delivered him up, he intended it for the greatest sins:
'He was delivered for our offences,' Rom. 4:25,which signifies not stumbling,
but falling. Not a light, but a great transgression. Now, if Christ's death be
not satisfactory for great debts, Christ must be too weak to perform what God
intended by him, and so infinite wisdom was frustrate of its intention, which
cannot, nor ought not, to be imagined. Now, therefore, God takes the greatest
sinners, to shew,

[a.] First, the value of this sacrifice. If God should only entertain men of a
lighter guilt, Christ's death would be suspected to be too low a ransom for
monstrous enormities; and that his treasure was sufficient for the satisfaction
of smaller debts, but a penury of merit to discharge talents; which had not been
a design suitable to the grandeur of Christ, or the infiniteness of that mercy
God proclaims in his word. But now the conversion of giant-like sinners does
credit to the atonement which Christ made, and is a great renewed approbation of
the infinite value of it, and its equivalency to God's demands; for it bears
some analogy to the resurrection of Christ, which was God's general acquittance
to Christ, to evidence the sufficiency of his payment. And the justification of
every sinner is a branch of that acquittance given to Christ at his
resurrection; 'Raised again for our justification,' Rom. 4:25; and a particular
acquittance to Christ for that particular soul he had the charge of from his
Father.

All that power that works in the first creation of grace, or the progress of
regeneration, bears some proportion to the acquitting and approving power
manifested in Christ's resurrection: 'And what is the exceeding greatness of his
power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead,' Eph. 1:19, 20. In
ver. 17, 18, the apostle prays for the carrying on the work of grace and
regeneration begun in them, that they might more clearly understand that power
which wrought in Christ, viz., that approving power of what Christ has done,
which he exerts daily in conversion, and in the effects of it. For by raising
any soul from a death in sin, God doth evidence the particular value of Christ's
blood for that soul, as he did, in raising Christ, evidence the general fulness
of that satisfaction. And this he will do even to the end of the world; raised
us up together with Christ;' 'kindness through Christ Jesus,' Eph. 2:6, 7. All
his grace in all ages, even to the end of the world, shall run through this
channel, to put credit and honour upon Christ. Now the greater the sin is that
is pardoned, and the greater the sinner is that is converted, the more it shews
the sufficiency of the price Christ paid.

[b.] The virtue of this sacrifice. He is a 'priest for ever,' Heb. 7:17 and
therefore the virtue as well as the value of his sacrifice remains for ever he
hath 'obtained an eternal redemption,' Heb. 9:12, i.e. a redemption of an
eternal efficacy. As long as men receive any venom from the fiery serpent, they
may be healed by the antitype of the brazen one, though it were so many years
since he was lifted up. And those who were stung all over, as well as those who
are bitten but in one part, may, by a believing looking upon him, draw virtue
from him as diffusive as their sin.

Now the new conversion of men of extraordinary guilt proclaims to the world,
that the fountain of his blood is inexhaustible; that the virtue of it is not
spent and drained, though so much hath been drawn out of it for these five
thousand years and upwards, for the cleansing of sins past before his coming,
and sins since his death. This evidences that his priesthood now is of as much
efficacy as his sufferings on earth were valuable; and that his merit is as much
in virtue above our iniquity, as his person is in excellency above our
nothingness. He can wash the tawny American, as well as the moral heathen; and
make the black Ethiopian as white as the most virtuous philosopher. God fastens
upon the worst of men sometimes, to adorn the cross of Christ; and maketh them
eminent testimonies of the power of Christ's death: 'He made his grave with the
wicked,' Isa. 53:9. God shall make man, wallowing in sinful pleasures, tied to
the blandishments and profits of the world, to come to Christ, and comply with
him, to be standing testimonies in all ages of the virtue of his sufferings.

(4.) For the fruitfulness of this grace in the converts themselves. The most
rugged souls prove most eminent in grace upon their conversion, as the most
orient diamonds in India, which are naturally more rough, are most bright and
sparkling when cut and smoothed. Men usually sprout up in stature after
shattering agues.


 

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