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ST. PAUL A PATTERN OF THE LONG SUFFERING OF GOD.
1. FIMOTHY, i. 16.
Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy; that in me, first, Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering for a pattern to them, which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
THE Character of St. Paul on many accounts is highly deserving of our attention. His constant labours, his successful ministry, his Christian attainments must ever be regarded with admiration, delight, and profit. The circumstance, however, which most powerfully claims our notice, is his miraculous Conversion, or that exceeding abundant Grace, which was vouchsafed in bringing him from darkness to light, and in making him a believer, and even a preacher of that Gospel which he had before denied and persecuted. The consideration of this extraordinary event is full of instruction, but especially, it sets before us the most encouraging display of God's rich mercy towards Sinners. It is this view of the subject, which St. Paul himself gives VOL II. 2
in the text. Having spoken in very strong terms of his own unworthiness and guilt, he adds; "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy; that in me, first, Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them, which should hereafter believe on him, to life overlasting."
In considering this passage, let us fix our thoughts on two particulars contained in it.
I. The Mercy, which St. Paul obtained.
II. The Cause, for which he obtained it.
I. To say that any one sinner has more pretension to God's mercy than another, would be to talk absurdly : for no sinner can have any pretensions to mercy. Mercy, in its nature and its operations are wholly free. It is favour shewn to objects, who in themselves are utterly unworthy of it. Sinners, indeed, may greatly differ in their degrees of guilt. But still the least guilty sinner can lay no claim to the divine Compassion for in that case to shew Compassion to him would be an act, not of Mercy, but of Justice. In this respect all sinners are on a level. They all need mercy, and they must all receive it as a free gift; which none deserve, and to which therefore no one can have better pretensions than another.
But while we admit this truth, it is no contradiction to say, that some sinners stand in need of greater mercy than others; that some, according to our view of things, are less likely to obtain mercy than others; that some, having contracted guilt of a deeper dye, require a larger measure of grace to absolve and cleanse them, than others, whose sins are comparatively of a lighter
bue. To pardon the least sinner is great mercy: but to pardon a Sinner, who has long resisted the calls of grace, who has sinned with a high hand, and has hardened himself in wickedness; to pardon a sinner of this kind would be still greater mercy. Such an act of grace would more strikingly shew the riches of divine love. Now such is the act of grace, which St. Paul considers to have been shewn in his favour. While be tells us, that he "obtained mercy;" he yet speaks of himself, as of all men the least likely to have obtained it; yea, of all men, as he thought, the most unfit to ob- . tain it. "Howbeit I obtained mercy."-This is a way
of speaking which implies, that there were in his case, some peculiar circumstances, which made it more difficult, at least less probable, for him to obtain mercy than for others; circumstances, therefore, which, when mercy was obtained, proved it to have been beyond measure great and wonderful. Let us see what these circumstances were. They, in fact, are all contained in two particulars; the character and conduct of the apostle before he obtained mercy.
In speaking of St. Paul's character and conduct before his conversion to Christianity, we have good ground for saying that he was in a more than common degree a sinner. He tells us himself, under a deep conviction of his guilt, that he was "the chief of sinners." And, indeed, he declares the same thing in the text, when he says, "unto me first Jesus Christ shewed forth all long-suffering;" that is, unto me first, not in order of time, not before others in this sense; for many had thus obtained mercy before St. Paul
but first in rank, in guilt, in eminence, as a sinner: unto me, who have sinned more than others, and stand foremost in the list of obstinate offenders.
But what had been St. Paul's peculiar guilt before his conversion to Christianity? Had he been an idolater, or a publican? Had he been a drunkard, a fornicator, or a slave to his licentious appetites ? Had he been unjust, dishonest, or covetous? Had he oppressed the poor, the fatherless, or the widow? Had he polluted the Sabbath? Had he openly expressed his contempt and disregard of religious duties? Was it i all, or in any of these respects that he had been thus eminently guilty? No: not in one of them. We have reason to believe, that in all these respects, he had been far better than the generality of men. "Touchng the righteousness which is in the Law, he had been blameless."a
Does this appear strange to us? Does it seem difficult to understand how St. Paul, though neither an Idolater, nor a Publican, though neither an immoral, nor a profane person, might yet have been, and even was, the Chief of Sinners? The reason is, we are accustomed to judge of sin merely by the outward act. We are apt to measure the guilt of the sinner, merely by the injury which he does to his fellow-creatures. We forget that sin begins in the heart, and that it may be conceived and brought forth there, notwithstanding that it does not shew itself in any outward act. We forget that the sinfulness of sin consists in its being committed against God; and that the sinner's guilt is to be mea
a Philip. iii. 6.
sured by the opposition and enmity of his heart to the Divine Character and Will. Here then we shall discover St. Paul's sins to have been of crimson dye, Outwardly moral in his conduct, even zealous in his religious professions, he had been inwardly a bitter enemy to God and holiness. He had been full of pride and unbelief, the two worst sins of which a man can be guilty. He had hated the gospel, because it opposed his Prejudices, and bade him lay aside his self-righteous hopes of justifying himself by his works. And because he had hated the Gospel, he had refused to attend to the proofs, which might have convinced him of its truth. He had obstinately shut his eyes that he might not see, and his ears that he might not hear: while he had conceived and cherished the most rancorous enmity against the Holy Jesus and his faithful followers.-Now if the description of the Apostle's guilt were to end here, we must allow that it was guilt of no common measure. But the description does not end here; much remains to be added. While such had been the Sin indulged in the heart, it had not been confined to the heart. It had broken forth into outward acts; and those of the worst kind: into blasphemy and persecution. St. Paul tells us that he had been "a Blasphemer."b"Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. An evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart, bringeth forth evil things." Perhaps, my Brethren, we take not words into our account of sin. We may suppose that an hasty expression at least, whether impure, or profane, or passionate, will escape unnoticed, and
b 1 Tim. i, 13.