THE FAITHFUL SAYING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Timothy 1:15
6-15-58 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Faithful Saying. In our preaching through the Word, we left off last Sunday evening with the eleventh verse of the first chapter of 1 Timothy [1 Timothy 1:11]. And today we begin at the twelfth verse, reading through the sixteenth, 1 Timothy 1:12-16. Paul had concluded the first, introductory part of his message to his young minister with these words: “According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust” [1 Timothy 1:11]. Then he continues:
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.
But 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 honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
[1 Timothy 1:12-17]
Just to read that passage is its own apology. It is one of the great, great passages in the Bible. And upon it, I have prepared three sermons; the first of which is delivered this morning. “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. Paul had just written a little resume, a little recapitulation of his life: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, an injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant toward me” [1 Timothy 1:13-14].
Then having made that little reference to his life, he dipped his pen in his own heart’s blood and wrote this beautiful and suggestive and marvelous gospel text: “That He came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” [1 Timothy 1:15]. It is an experiential text. It came out of the experience of his life. It is something that he had known for himself. He was preaching a gospel that arose out of the fountains of the deep of his own soul and life.
Now he says is it an unusual way. Instead of just saying the text, writing it, he put it in a framework. He describes it: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all”—and that’s an old archaic word acceptation—”worthy of all acceptance, that…” [1 Timothy 1:15]. Then he writes the text: like apples of gold in pictures of silver [Proverbs 25:11]—words, beautifully, eloquently spoken—so Paul takes this text and puts it in a framework: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance” [1 Timothy 1:15].
So I am to speak first of the saying. It is a saying. It is a Christian axiom. It was so repeated and said until it became a saying. No sentence is a saying that is said one time or infrequently. But a thing becomes a saying when it is said, and it is said, and it is said, and the truth of it appeals to the heart. And that was a saying, a Christian axiom, in the first community. Parents taught it to their children; and fathers and mothers repeated it, and repeated it; and sons and daughters affirmed it and confirmed it. It was said in youth and it was said in old age. It is a saying. It is a great Christian axiom. It is a gospel truth.
And now may I pause to avow that these passages in the Scriptures over which we pass so frequently, so glibly, we just read them and rush on—oh! how their meaning has been bathed in blood and in tears, in agony, at the stake, on the rack, in the dungeon: these texts, these sayings, these great Christian axioms that we read here in the gospel message. I have chosen one out of the history books—on this one: “That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” [1 Timothy 1:15]; that it is a great Christian axiom; that it is a saying.
Back yonder in the dark ages, in the 1500s, the early 1500s, there came to England the greatest scholar of the Renaissance. His name was Desiderius Erasmus, and he spoke in the early 1500s to the centers of intellectual appreciation and study in England. He spoke at the university centers and finally at Cambridge. There was a student at Cambridge by the name of Thomas Bilney, whom his fellow students affectionately referred to as Little Bilney. He listened to Erasmus as he spoke, and his soul caught fire. In the religion that he had known all of his life, there was left in his heart an aching void, a hunger and a thirsting. And as he listened to Erasmus, the incomparable scholar, he felt that Erasmus had something hidden from English eyes. So the young fellow said in his heart: “Every book that he writes, every sentence that he publishes, I will faithfully read.”
Soon after Erasmus had returned to the continent, in France he published a translation of the New Testament in the Latin language. And according to the ingenuity of Little Bilney, he soon managed to buy a copy of it and to read it. Now I quote from Little Bilney’s own story:
My soul was sick, and I longed for peace, but nowhere could I find it. I went to the priests, and they appointed me penances and pilgrimages; yet by these things, my poor, sick, soul was nothing profited. But at last, I heard of the grace of Jesus. It was like this, when first the New Testament was set forth by Erasmus that the light came. I bought the book, being drawn thereto by the Latin, rather than by the Word of God, for at that time, I knew not what the Word of God meant. And on the first reading of it, as I well remember, I chanced upon these words: ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.’ That one sentence, through God’s inward working, did so lift up my poor, bruised spirit, that the very bones within me leaped for joy and gladness. It was as if, after a long dark night, day had suddenly broke.
And Little Bilney, the Cambridge student, found the Lord in that text.
The days passed and Hugh Latimer, the most punctilious and zealous and devoted and learned of all of the preaching friars of England, came to visit Cambridge University. And the monk ascended the pulpit in the church at Cambridge and preached the message. And as Little Bilney listened to him, Hugh Latimer was so eloquent, so majestic in appearance, so persuasive in his ableness to speak, that the little scholar said: “Oh, if only God could reveal the truth to that man, he’d change England!” And he thought: “If only somebody could take Hugh Latimer and be to him what Aquilla and Priscilla were to Apollos, the eloquent preacher of the New Testament” [Acts 18:24-28]. And Little Bilney bowed his head and said: “O Lord, You can do nothing through Little Bilney, nothing! I can do nothing for Thee. But Lord, if Thou wouldst give me the soul and life of that man, what he would do for Thee!”
Praying that in the church at the University of Cambridge; upon a day, when the great, mighty Hugh Latimer descended from the pulpit there at Cambridge, he came so close, passing down the aisle to Little Bilney, that his robes brushed the face of the student. And just like that, without planning it, the young student arose and said: “Father Latimer, could I confess unto thee my soul?” And the great preacher condescended; he beckoned to the student; they went into a quiet room and sat down together.
And Little Bilney fell on his face before the great preacher. And it was the strangest confessional this world ever heard of. And it was the strangest confession that was ever poured into the ears of a priest since the auricular confession was started—for the little student, down on his knees, poured out his soul to the great preacher, how he was hungry and thirsty in his soul. And Erasmus came, and he found in Erasmus, something that he didn’t have. And he bought the New Testament from Erasmus, and he read. And Little Bilney mingled his tears as he quoted it: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I chief” [1 Timothy 1:15].
And he said: “And Father Latimer, Father Latimer, my soul took fire, and my very bones leaped for joy, and I found I could be justified by faith and my sins forgiven [Romans 5:1; Galatians 3:24]. And I have had peace with God!” And the great preacher Latimer did an overwhelming thing. He stood up above that prostrate and crying student, pouring out his soul, and he got down on his knees by the side of Little Bilney; and he said to Little Bilney, “I too have had a hunger and a thirsting in my soul!”
And Little Bilney reached in the robes of his academic gown and drew out Erasmus’ New Testament; and it fell open at that tear-stained page: “This is a faithful saying… that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” [1 Timothy 1:15]. And the light of heaven fell upon Latimer’s soul and Latimer’s heart, and he arose the true and great and mighty preacher of the gospel of the Son of God.
Watch him now. He walks down the Strand to preach before the king at Whitehall.. And the crowds and the throngs crowd around him just to touch the hem of his robe—the great preacher, Hugh Latimer, taking a whole nation with him to the feet of the cross—the great Protestant man of God, making England ring with the sound and the Word of the gospel of the Son of God!
Then the years passed, and for a little while, Bloody Mary is the queen. And she reaches out her prelate-lead bloody hand and seizes the great preacher! And he’s going down the streets again, this time at Oxford, and the crowds are hushed, for the executioner walks by his side, and the stake is prepared, and the wood is gathered, and the fagots burn!
And now I copy again from the history books. Bishop Ridley first entered the lists, dressed in his Episcopal habit, and soon after, Bishop Latimer, dressed as usual in his prison garb. Master Latimer now suffered the keeper to pull off his prison garb, and then he appeared in his shroud. Being ready, he commended his soul to God; and then he delivered himself to the executioner saying to the Bishop of London these prophetic words, “We shall this day my lord light such a candle in England as shall never be extinguished.”
I have stood at that sacred place where they burned him and Ridley at the stake.
In Oxford town, the fagots they piled,
With furious haste and with curses wild,
Round two brave men of our British breed,
Who dared to stand true to their speech, and deed;
Round two brave men of that sturdy race,
Who with tremorless souls the worst can face;
Round two brave souls who could keep their tryst
Through a pathway of fire to follow Christ.
And the flames leaped up, but the blinding smoke
Could not the soul of Hugh Latimer choke;
“For,” said he, “Master Ridley, be of good cheer,
A candle in England is lighted here,
Which by grace of God shall never go out!—
And that speech, in whispers was echoed about—
Latimer’s light shall never go out,
However the winds may blow it about.
Latimer’s light has come to stay
Till the trump of a coming judgment day.
[from “A Bunch of Everlastings,” F. W. Boreham, 1920]
These texts, I say, that we so glibly pass over, they are bathed in smoke, and in fire, and in tears, and in blood. So, as I come to this text, I do it with great reverence. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” [1 Timothy 1:15]. It is a faithful saying, true, true; for nineteen hundred years never changes, like the sun still shines true, this coin of heaven, its image and its superscription, it’s never erased by the usage of the passing generations. This coin of God’s minting is fresh; it shines; it is a true saying. “It is worthy of all acceptance.” It is worthy of the acceptance of all men. It is worthy [of] our entire faith and belief and trust—all of our acceptance! The learned man, the rich man, the wise man, the pure, the innocent, the beggar, the harlot, the whoremonger, the thief, the depraved, the helpless, the hopeless—to all alike, this text is worthy of all acceptance! [1 Timothy 1:15].
If I were standing in the midst of vilest sinners, and should repeat it, “Christ came into the world to save sinners,” and a vile man stood up and say, “Preacher, does it reach even to me?” I can say, “Brother, it reaches even to you.”
If I were to stand in the office of a great industrial magnate, or a learned scientist and repeat the text, “And He came into the world to save sinners.” Does it reach even to him? It reaches even to him! “Worthy of all acceptance!” [1 Timothy 1:15].
In these few minutes that remain, let me now speak of the text: “Christ Jesus”—so we have a Person coming—”Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” [1 Timothy 1:15]. So an angel couldn’t save us. And a mere man couldn’t make atonement for us. Christ Jesus; Christ means “the Anointed One.” Jesus means “Savior.” So the two words mean “The Anointed Savior.” That is back yonder, I don’t know when. The Bible refers to a time before the foundation of the world, back yonder, God anointed Jesus, Christ, the Logos, the Son of God, deity, to be our Savior [Ephesians 1:4-7]. “Christ Jesus came into the world” [Hebrews 10:5-14]. That’s the description of His incarnation; down, down, down, through all of the universes that fill the star-studded sky. Down and down to this atom of dust; down to us creatures of the earth and took upon Him our nature; down, down and became a man. Down, and down, and down, and suffered, hungered, thirsted [John 4:7], grieved [Mark 3:5], sobbed, cried [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8]; died like a man! [Matthew 27:32-50].
Came into the world a man—God [Matthew 1:23]—for why; for why? To save sinners; not to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners! [Matthew 9:13]. Not to heal the well, but the sick! [Mark 2:17]. Not to let loose the free, but the bound [Luke 4:18]—to save sinners; “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10]. “. . . of whom I am chief” [1 Timothy 1:15]. I don’t quite know what to say about that. He said he was the chief. I suppose each one of us could stand in his place this morning and say: “Paul, you’re not quite right there. I—I’m the chief!”
But thank God, if a bridge can hold up a great train, it can hold up somebody like us walking over the chasm. If a great creature can go through a great door, little creatures like us, we can go through it too. If Christ could save Paul—who before was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious [1 Timothy 1:13], wasted the church of God [Galatians 1:13]—if He could save Paul [Acts 9:1-18], He can save me. He can save you [Romans 10:9-13].
I have a little more time left. Let me speak last then of some of the doctrine of the text. I will speak of two things; first, sin, that we are sinners [Romans 3:23]; and isn’t it strange that a man would have to elaborate upon that! I’ve never understood why. But all human nature comes to the defense of its self; and is so proud of its achievements and accomplishments. He didn’t come down into this world to say: “Human nature is not so bad after all. Lot of people are pretty good, take them all in all.” He didn’t come down to commend human nature. He didn’t come down to commend and to extol and to eulogize on men who are ready to stand on their own and to fight bravely and courageously their way into the heaven! There’s not a syllable of that in the Bible. He came down into this world because we were lost, helpless, undone sinners—all of us in the mire, all of us stuck deep in this death. And He came down to save us [1 Timothy 1:15]. He did! He did—to save sinners! Well, I take it then: it is His work. He doesn’t come down to help sinners save themselves. He does it all, all of it [Ephesians 2:8-9]. All of it! Every part of it! It is a finished work! [John 19:30].
I could not think of a better illustration than that of the Good Samaritan. He bound up the wounds of the [victim]. He couldn’t help himself. He’d been beat and bruised. He was half dead. He was lying under the hot sun by the side of the road, and the Good Samaritan bound up his wounds, put him on his own animal, took him to the inn, and said, “And if there be anything lacking, charge it to my account. I will repay when I return” [Luke 10:30-35]. If there is anything lacking in our salvation, Jesus will do it for us. We don’t do it ourselves. We just take it as a free gift from His hands:
In my hands, no price I bring,
simply to Thy cross I cling.
[“To Thy Cross I Cling,” Augustus Toplady]
An empty hand that receives a gift from God [Romans 6:23].
And He doesn’t half-way save us. He saves us! It’s an odd kind of eternal life that lasts a month, or a year, or two years and then perishes away. He saves us forever! [John 3:16, 10:27-30]. When Jesus puts His hands to the plow, He never looks back. We may go through the storm and the fire, we may become prodigal in our lives, we may temporarily forget and drift away, but if He has ever put His hands upon us, He will see us through. He saves us forever, and forever, and forever! [John 3:15-16]. That’s why Paul concluded with that beautiful adoration and ascription of praise to Jesus: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, Jesus, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” [1 Timothy 1:17]. He saves sinners, and He saves us forever, and ever, and ever. Amen. Amen [John 10:27-28].
And that’s our invitation to somebody you this morning. Give your heart to Christ, would you? Receive from His gracious hands the gift of His atoning grace [Romans 5:11; Ephesians 2:8], the remission of sins in His blood [Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22]—to look to, to trust in, to believe on the Lord Jesus [Acts 16:30-31]—you come this morning. In this balcony around, in this throng of people on this lower floor, somebody you give his heart to the Lord, come and stand by me. Somebody you, a family you, put your life in the church, coming by letter, would you? Into the aisle, down to the front, stand by me? Somebody regive his life to the Lord, “I want to start anew with Him,” you come and stand by me. As God shall say the word, as the Spirit shall lead the way, would you give your life to Him in faith and in trust this morning? Not to buy it; we haven’t money enough. Not to earn it; we could never be good enough, but to receive it as a gift from God; life that never dies, eternal, unending. Would you come? Would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A.
little outline of Paul’s life (1 Timothy 1:13-14)
experiential text – out of his own experience, depths of his soul
text with a description preceding it – a picture with a framework(1 Timothy
A. It is
a saying – a Christian axiom
Bilney and Hugh Latimer
Ridley and Bishop Latimer
B. It is
a faithful saying
C. It is
worthy of acceptance of all men
text, the saying
Person coming – Christ Jesus(Ephesians 1:4)
deed He did(Hebrews
9:13, Luke 19:10)
D. If He
saved Paul, He can save me, you
The doctrine of the text
are lost sinners – human nature is fallen
atoning work of our Lord is a completed, finished work(Ephesians
2:8-9, John 19:30)