Here the apostle, I. Returns thanks to Jesus Christ for putting him into the ministry. Observe, 1. It is Christ’s work to put men into the ministry, Acts 26:16, 17. God condemned the false prophets among the Jews in these words, I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied, Jer. 23:21. Ministers, properly speaking, cannot make themselves ministers; for it is Christ’s work, as king and head, prophet and teacher, of his church. 2. Those whom he puts into the ministry he fits for it; whom he calls he qualifies. Those ministers who are no way fit for their work, nor have ability for it, are not of Christ’s putting into the ministry, though there are different qualifications as to gifts and graces. 3. Christ gives not only ability, but fidelity, to those whom he puts into the ministry: He counted me faithful; and none are counted faithful but those whom he makes so. Christ’s ministers are trusty servants, and they ought to be so, having so great a trust committed to them. 4. A call to the ministry is a great favour, for which those who are so called ought to give thanks to Jesus Christ: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath put me into the ministry.
II. The more to magnify the grace of Christ in putting him into the ministry, he gives an account of his conversion.
1. What he was before his conversion: A blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious. Saul breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, Acts 9:1. He made havoc of the church, Acts 8:3. He was a blasphemer of God, a persecutor of the saints, and injurious to both. Frequently those who are designed for great and eminent services are left to themselves before their conversion, to fall into great wickedness, that the mercy of God may be the more glorified in their remission, and the grace of God in their regeneration. The greatness of sin is no bar to our acceptance with God, no, nor to our being employed for him, if it be truly repented of. Observe here, (1.) Blasphemy, persecution, and injuriousness, are very great and heinous sins, and those who are guilty of them are sinners before God exceedingly. To blaspheme God is immediately and directly to strike at God; to persecute his people is to endeavour to wound him through their sides; and to be injurious is to be like Ishmael, whose hand was against every one, and every one was against him; for such invade God’s prerogative, and encroach upon the liberties of their fellow-creatures. (2.) True penitents, to serve a good purpose, will not be backward to own their former condition before they were brought home to God: this good apostle often confessed what his former life had been, as Acts 22:4; 26:10, 11.
2. The great favour of God to him: But I obtained mercy. This was a blessed but indeed, a great favour, that so notorious a rebel should find mercy with his prince.
(1.) If Paul had persecuted the Christians wilfully, knowing them to be the people of God, for aught I know he had been guilty of the unpardonable sin; but, because he did it ignorantly and in unbelief, he obtained mercy. Note, [1.] What we do ignorantly is a less crime than what we do knowingly; yet a sin of ignorance is a sin, for he that knew not his Master’s will, but did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes, Luke 12:48. Ignorance in some cases will extenuate a crime, though it do not take it away. [2.] Unbelief is at the bottom of what sinners do ignorantly; they do not believe God’s threatenings, otherwise they could not do as they do. [3.] For these reasons Paul obtained mercy: But I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly, in unbelief. [4.] Here was mercy for a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an injurious person: “But I obtained mercy, I a blasphemer,” etc.
(2.) Here he takes notice of the abundant grace of Jesus Christ, 1 Tim. 1:14. The conversion and salvation of great sinners are owing to the grace of Christ, his exceedingly abundant grace, even that grace of Christ which appears in his glorious gospel (1 Tim. 1:15): This is a faithful saying, etc. Here we have the sum of the whole gospel, that Jesus Christ came into the world. The Son of God took upon him our nature, was made flesh, and dwelt among us, John 1:14. He came into the world, not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, Matt. 9:13. His errand into the world was to seek and find, and so save, those that were lost, Luke 19:10. The ratification of this is that it is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation. It is good news, worthy of all acceptation; and yet not too good to be true, for it is a faithful saying. It is a faithful saying, and therefore worthy to be embraced in the arms of faith: it is worthy of all acceptation, and therefore to be received with holy love, which refers to the 1 Tim. 1:14; where the grace of Christ is said to abound in faith and love. In the close of 1 Tim. 1:15 Paul applies it to himself: Of whom I am chief. Paul was a sinner of the first rank; so he acknowledges himself to have been, for he breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, etc., Acts 9:1, 2. Persecutors are some of the worst of sinners: such a one Paul had been. Or, of whom I am chief, that is, of pardoned sinners I am chief. It is an expression of his great humility; he that elsewhere calls himself the least of all saints (Eph. 3:8) here calls himself the chief of sinners. Observe, [1.] Christ Jesus has come into the world; the prophecies concerning his coming are now fulfilled. [2.] He came to save sinners; he came to save those who could not save and help themselves. [3.] Blasphemers and persecutors are the chief of sinners, so Paul reckoned them. [4.] The chief of sinners may become the chief of saints; so this apostle was, for he was not a whit behind the very chief apostles (2 Cor. 11:5), for Christ came to save the chief of sinners. [5.] This is a very great truth, it is a faithful saying; these are true and faithful words, which may be depended on. [6.] It deserves to be received, to be believed by us all, for our comfort and encouragement.
(3.) The mercy which Paul found with God, notwithstanding his great wickedness before his conversion, he speaks of,
[1.] For the encouragement of others to repent and believe (1 Tim. 1:16): For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to those who should hereafter believe. It was an instance of the long-suffering of Christ that he would bear so much with one who had been so very provoking; and it was designed for a pattern to all others, that the greatest sinners might not despair of mercy with God. Note here, First, Our apostle was one of the first great sinners converted to Christianity. Secondly, He was converted, and obtained mercy, for the sake of others as well as of himself; he was a pattern to others. Thirdly, The Lord Jesus Christ shows great long-suffering in the conversion of great sinners. Fourthly, Those who obtain mercy believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; for without faith it is impossible to please God, Heb. 11:6. Fifthly, Those who believe on Christ believe on him to life everlasting; they believe to the saving of the soul, Heb. 10:39.
[2.] He mentions it to the glory of God having spoken of the mercy he had found with God, he could not go on with his letter without inserting a thankful acknowledgment of God’s goodness to him: Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. Observe, First, That grace which we have the comfort of God must have the glory of. Those who are sensible of their obligations to the mercy and grace of God will have their hearts enlarged in his praise. Here is praise ascribed to him, as the King eternal, immortal, invisible. Secondly, When we have found God good we must not forget to pronounce him great; and his kind thoughts of us must not at all abate our high thoughts of him, but rather increase them. God had taken particular cognizance of Paul, and shown him mercy, and taken him into communion with himself, and yet he calls him the King eternal, etc. God’s gracious dealings with us should fill us with admiration of his glorious attributes. He is eternal, without beginning of days, or end of life, or change of time. He is the Ancient of days, Dan. 7:9. He is immortal, and the original of immortality; he only has immortality (1 Tim. 6:16), for he cannot die. He is invisible, for he cannot be seen with mortal eyes, dwelling in the light to which no man can approach, whom no man hath seen nor can see, 1 Tim. 6:16. He is the only wise God (Jude 1:25); he only is infinitely wise, and the fountain of all wisdom. “To him be glory for ever and ever,” or, “Let me be for ever employed in giving honour and glory to him, as the thousands of thousands do,” Rev. 5:12, 13.
Here is the charge he gives to Timothy to proceed in his work with resolution, 1 Tim. 1:18. Observe here, The gospel is a charge committed to the ministers of it; it is committed to their trust, to see that it be duly applied according to the intent and meaning of it, and the design of its great Author. It seems, there had been prophecies before concerning Timothy, that he should be taken into the ministry, and should prove eminent in the work of the ministry; this encouraged Paul to commit this charge to him. Observe, 1. The ministry is a warfare, it is a good warfare against sin and Satan: and under the banner of the Lord Jesus, who is the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10), and in his cause, and against his enemies, ministers are in a particular manner engaged. 2. Ministers must war this good warfare, must execute their office diligently and courageously, notwithstanding oppositions and discouragements. 3. The prophecies which went before concerning Timothy are here mentioned as a motive to stir him up to a vigorous and conscientious discharge of his duty; so the good hopes that others have entertained concerning us should excite us to our duty: That thou by them mightest war a good warfare. 4. We must hold both faith and a good conscience: Holding faith and a good conscience, 1 Tim. 1:19. Those that put away a good conscience will soon make shipwreck of faith. Let us live up to the directions of a renewed enlightened conscience, and keep conscience void of offence (Acts 24:16), a conscience not debauched by any vice or sin, and this will be a means of preserving us sound in the faith; we must look to the one as well a the other, for the mystery of the faith must be held in a pure conscience, 1 Tim. 3:9. As for those who had made shipwreck of the faith, he specifies two, Hymeneus and Alexander, who had made a profession of the Christian religion, but had quitted that profession; and Paul had delivered them to Satan, had declared them to belong to the kingdom of Satan, and, as some think, had, by an extraordinary power, delivered them to be terrified or tormented by Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme not to contradict or revile the doctrine of Christ and the good ways of the Lord. Observe, The primary design of the highest censure in the primitive church was to prevent further sin and to reclaim the sinner. In this case it was for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, 1 Cor. 5:5. Observe, (1.) Those who love the service and work of Satan are justly delivered over to the power of Satan: Whom I have delivered over to Satan. (2.) God can, if he please, work by contraries: Hymeneus and Alexander are delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme, when one would rather think they would learn of Satan to blaspheme the more. (3.) Those who have put away a good conscience, and made shipwreck of faith, will not stick at any thing, blasphemy not excepted. (4.) Therefore let us hold faith and a good conscience, if we would keep clear of blasphemy; for, if we once let go our hold of these, we do not know where we shall stop.