THE CHIEF OF SINNERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Timothy 1:15
6-15-58 7:30 p.m.
Now in our Bibles, let’s turn to First Timothy, the first chapter, and we shall read beginning at the twelfth verse to the end of the chapter:First Timothy 1:12 reading to the end – First Timothy 1:12. First Timothy 1:12. That big name down there is Hymenaeus. Hymenaeus. Now we have it? First Timothy 1:12 – let’s all of us read God’s Word together:
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry,
Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant, with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
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.
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.
Now, unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.
This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightestwar a good warfare,
Holding faith and a good conscience, which some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck,
Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
[1 Timothy 1:12-20]
And our message tonight is following this morning’s sermon – one of the great, great texts of the Bible: "This is a faithful saying worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" [1 Timothy 1:15]. And the message this morning was onThe Faithful Saying and the sermon tonight on The Chief of Sinners.
Not all men sin alike. There are differences in sinners. There are differences in punishment. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Luke, our Lord says: "Those that are worthy of many stripes shall be beaten with many stripes. Those that are worthy of few stripes shall be beaten with few stripes" [from Luke 12:47-48].
Not all hell is alike. There are degrees of guilt, degrees of sin, and degrees of punishment. Not all men are vile as other men are vile. There are degrees in sin. All of us are in the mire, stuck down in the mud of this depravity and debauchery and guilt, but not all of us are mired to the same depth, to the same degree.
So Paul, using that, spoke of himself as being the worst of sinners. Now why he thought himself such was on account of what he had done against Christ and against Christ’s church: "I was a blasphemer, stood in the presence of the Sanhedrin and denounced the gospel of the Son of God, called imprecations upon His name" [from 1 Timothy 1:13]. "I was a blasphemer. I was a persecutor hailing men and women into prison for no other offense than that they loved Jesus [Acts 26:9-11]. And I was injurious – I presided over the death of Stephen" [Acts 7:54-8:1].
And as long as Paul lived, he felt that the blood of that martyr lay heavy on his own soul. These things of the past and of memory, he could never obliterate, blot out, or forget. They stayed in his memory, and that’s why he says: "I who am the chief of sinners" [1 Timothy 1:15].
You know, memory is an instrument of God both for good and for ill. Memory is used of God to call us to highest devotions:
"Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondsman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord delivered thee" [Deuteronomy 24:18].
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" [Exodus 20:8].
"Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth" [Ecclesiastes 12:1].
"This do in remembrance of Me" [1 Corinthians 11:24].
God uses that faculty for the confirmation and encouragement and strengthening of His people, but God also uses that as a judgment upon our sins. There they are. There they stay. There they seem to abide forever – what we have done that is wrong.
Every time Joseph’s brethren heard the voice of an Egyptian ruler, it struck fear and terror to their hearts [Genesis 50:15]. When Herod Antipas heard about the works of Jesus, his guilty soul said, "That’s John the Baptist whom I beheaded. He’s risen from the dead!" [Matthew 14:1-11]
Memory! In the [sixteenth] chapter of the Book of Luke, our Lord describes a rich man who lifts up his eyes in torment in hell [Luke 16:19-31]. And when he pled against the flame that burned and consumed, why, Father Abraham said: "Son, remember, remember? These things that have been of sin and of guilt burn in the soul."
And Paul never got away from them – a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious: the chief of sinners [1 Timothy 1:13, 15]. And there are "chiefs of sinners" today, everywhere, just like the apostle Paul said of himself: "A chief sinner" [1 Timothy 1:15].
There are people today who persecute God’s children. There are husbands who belittle and mock and ridicule the faith and religion of their wives. Once in a while, there is a wife that makes it impossible for her husband to serve God.I know a man in this church who, when he kneels to pray, his wife laughs and mocks and ridicules openly while he’s on knees by his bed trying to pray. Ah, such wrong and such sin and such guilt.
There are employers who make it hard for their employees because they are Christians. There are men and women and young people who ridicule, and make fun, and scorn, and laugh at God’s devoted servants: the "chief of sinners" persecuting the people of God.
There are those who are guilty of the gross crimes like the prodigal son living in harlotry, wasting his substance and his life in riotous and debauched living [Luke 15:11-13]. And there are the greater sinnerslike the brother who stayed at home who are pharisaical, and proud, and unbending, and unfriendly, and unsympathetic [Luke 15:25-32]. And there are those who take God’s name in vain which is the most inexcusable and useless sin that I know ofwith no reward or recompense whatsoever. If a man steals, he gets something for it if he can get by with it, but when a man uses God’s name in vain, he reaps nothing but the judgment of the Almighty! [Exodus 20:7] Gross sinners.
Then there are those who sin against the light. Were they children of heathen parents, lived in darkest Africa, and didn’t know any difference, it might be explicable; but there are children of Christian parents who do the most impossible and terrible things against God and against the faith of their fathers and their mothers: sinning against the light.
There are those who grieve the Holy Spirit of God [Ephesians 4:30]: the Lord has whispered in your heart, and He’s pled and He’s directed, and you’ve said "no" and calloused your soul against Jesus. And now things hardly move you anymore that once brought you to the very verge of tears: sinning against the Holy Spirit of God!
Then there are those who lead others into sin – encourage them into wrong. When I was a youngster, I can remember a young man taking a little boy – his nephew – and teaching that boy the vilest things. Oh, leading others into sin! A man who was converted prayed, "Oh, God, forgive me my other men’s sins" – things that he had done in his unconverted life that led friends and neighbors into wrong and into guilt and into sin."The chief of sinners" [1 Timothy 1:15].
And if I could go down that list, finally, we’d all find a place. Who among us hasn’t used God’s name in vain? Who among us hasn’t been angry without a cause? Who of us hasn’t lifted up his spirit in pride – like the elder brother at home – feeling ourselves better than the prodigal? [Luke 15:25-30] And who of us hasn’t sometime in his life fallen into prodigality either in mind, or heart, or in actual deed and life? Who among us hasn’t grieved the Holy Spirit of God? Who among us hasn’t known what it is to refuse the appeal of the whispered presence of God in our souls and in our lives?"The chief of sinners" [1 Timothy 1:15]. All of us stand by Paul and say: "And that includes me. That includes me."
Then what a wonderful text: "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world for" you, my friend! [1 Timothy 1:15]He didn’t come for that righteous fellow [Mark 2:17]. He didn’t come for that man that thinks himself so good and strong and well. He doesn’t need God. He doesn’t need the Great Physician. He came for you, my young friend. He came for me. Jesus came into the world to save sinners [1 Timothy 1:15], and if you are a sinner, you have the qualification for the love, and mercy, and grace, and salvation of God.
He came into the world to save sinners. Paul describes himself here. Aren’t you glad for the present tense of the Christian faith? "I was," said he, "a blasphemer. I was a persecutor – like a leopard tasting blood, furiously following after the people of God. I was a persecutor. I was injurious. But God’s mercy reached unto me, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ was exceeding abundant toward me" [from 1 Timothy 1:13-14].
I want to show you something there. You’ll never find in the Book where God ever describes Himself as being rich in power, or rich in omnipotence, or rich in glory. But you’ll find over and over and over again that He names His riches in His mercy. "He is rich in mercy" [Ephesians 2:4]. And you’ll find it over and over again that His riches He counts in grace:"according to the riches of His grace" [Ephesians 1:7]. Bless your heart, when we have sinned, God counts it a part of His riches that He has mercy upon us and that His grace extends even unto us, unto me.
Then Paul says: "And I obtained mercy, that in me the longsuffering of the Lord might be shown forth, that I might be a pattern to them which should believe on him to life everlasting" [1 Timothy 1:16]. A pattern: that is, God took the apostle Paul and set him over there as Exhibit A as a patternwhat God can do with a vile sinner. He takes this persecutor and makes an apostle out of him. He takes this sinner and makes a saint out of him. He takes this vile blasphemer and makes a preacher out of him. He takes this infidel and makes a great evangelist out of him. Why, bless you.
We don’t deal in personalities, but if I were free, I could start on this side and go clear through this audience and start at that horseshoe balcony and go all around and say, "Now, I want you to look at that fellow. This is how he used to be, and this is how he is now. I want you to look at her. This is how she used to be; this is how she is now. I want you to look at that one. Trophies of grace – patterns: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C what God can do with a sinner."
"This is a faithful saying worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" [1 Timothy 1:15].
Now, look what the sinner says when the mercy of God’s reached to his soul, and the grace and longsuffering of Christ has touched his heart. Look at him: "Now, now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God our Savior, to Him be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen" [1 Timothy 1:17].
Now – why, the saved sinner starts praising God. When he’s cleansed, he’s clothed with glory and thanksgiving and gratitude. "Why, man, we going to praise God in heaven." That’s right! All God’s children going to praise God forever in glory, but we not going to wait till we get to glory. Now! Now, we are praising the Lord.
"Now unto the King eternal" [1 Timothy 1:17]. Our Lord is a King who has a kingdom; and He never dies, and He’s never defeated, and He never abdicates, and He never ceases to reign. He is a king and shall reign forever, eternally.
"Now unto the King immortal" [1 Timothy 1:17]. He never dies in Himself. He has power in Himself, and He’s able to raise dead souls to life [John 11:39-44] – immortal.
"Invisible" [1 Timothy 1:17]. We don’t see Him with the naked eye. The Holy Spirit gives us eyes of faith: "Whom, having not seen, we love" [from 1 Peter 1:8].
And there He lives, our Lord, the only wise God [1 Timothy 1:17], choosing in His elective purposes decisions that we don’t know how to make, but He makes them. "Our wise only God our Savior, to Him be honor and glory forever and ever" [1 Timothy 1:17] – kind of a double eternity there: "forever and forever." We don’t get through praising God enough here in this life. We just going to praise Him into the eternities out there that are yet to come – forever and forever.
A man can’t make too much of the gospel. Oh, the angels can trumpet it, and the profoundest philosopher can gaze into its mysteries, and the vilest sinner can sing its praises, and all of us can adore our living Lord forever and forever. "This is a faithful saying worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" [1 Timothy 1:15].
While we sing this invitation appeal tonight, is there somebody you that’d come down this aisle and take this pastor by the hand? "Pastor, tonight, in faith, I give my soul and my life to Jesus." Is there somebody who will turn tonight, who will repent tonight and come to the Lord and to us? Is there a family tonight put his life with us in the fellowship of this church? Is there somebody you, tonight, who has felt the call of the Holy Spirit of God in your hearts? Would you come and answer that call tonight?
I cannot make that appeal. If this appeal is mine, it is nothing. If the appeal is God’s, it is all in all. Will you listen to the voice of the Spirit of Jesus? Will you answer with your life? "Here I am, Pastor. Here I come. I’ve given my heart to Jesus. I give you my hand. I’m answering a call of the Lord for a special service. I’m rededicating my life to Christ. I’m coming into the fellowship of the church. I’ve never been baptized. I want to be baptized."
I cannot say the appeal. It’s the whispering of the Spirit of the Lord. But if He whispers in your soul, will you come? Will you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, down these stairwells, from side to side: "Here I come, pastor. Here I am. I make it now" – while we stand and while we sing.
I. Chief sinners
are differences in sinners and in punishment (Luke 12:47-48)
of guilt, degrees of sin, degrees of punishment
All of us are stuck in the mire, but not all are mired to the same depths
felt himself chief, "first" (1 Timothy 1:13, 15)
He felt the blood of Stephen heavy on his soul
Memory can be an instrument of God, both for good and ill (Deuteronomy 24:18, Exodus 20:8, Ecclesiastes 12:1, 1
Corinthians 11:24, Luke 16:25)
are "chiefs of sinners" today
Those who persecute God’s children
guilty of gross crimes
who sin against the light
who grieve the Holy Spirit
Those who lead others into sin
II. Christ came into the world to save
sinners(1 Timothy 1:15)
present tense of the Christian faith
Paul – "I was a blasphemerâ€¦I was a persecutorâ€¦"
God is rich in mercy
pattern of Paul(1 Timothy 1:16)
is "Exhibit A" as a pattern of what God can do with a vile sinner
Trophies of grace
III. This word of praise(1 Timothy 1:17)
"Now" – the saved sinner starts praising God
"The King eternal" – He shall reign forever
"Immortal" – lives forever by own power; able to give life to dead souls
– we don’t see Him with the naked eye
"The only wise God" – his choices are best
"Honor and glory forever and ever" – we don’t get through praising God enough
here in this life; we will praise Him into the eternities