“Sinners; of whom I am chief.” – 1 Timothy 1:15
In the eyes of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Apostle Paul was incomparable among mortal men. Indeed, Spurgeon began his sermon by asking, “Who among all the Scriptural writers can compare with Paul in the fullness of his testimony to the grace of God?” Spurgeon was puzzled by his own question.
For Spurgeon, Paul was a “mighty master” and “great teacher.” Even though Augustine was a “particularly bright star,” and Calvin might have “[excelled]” him, Paul “far excels both in the brilliancy with which he exhibits every quality of grace.” And so, how could such a man call himself “the chief of sinners?”
One reason for Paul’s “clearness about grace” was that “he was himself a very pattern and model of its power.” Indeed, in Paul God’s “super-abundant power” was made especially manifest in “passing by” Paul’s “transgression, iniquity, and sin.” This encouraged Spurgeon because if God could save the “chief of sinners” then he certainly no one was out of reach.
In the first section of his sermon, Spurgeon sought “To try and hunt out the chief of sinners.” Here Spurgeon focused on different groups who qualified as being “chief of sinners.” First, he addressed “those who directly oppose themselves to God and his Christ.” Here he first addressed the “blasphemers” who, like Paul, said “some foul things” about Christ and “challenged the vengeance of the Almighty.”
Another character considered under the same class was the “infidel.” While this individual may not speak blasphemous words their “thought that there is no God” was itself “blasphemy.” This was ironinc because every man’s conscience testified to the justness of God and expected to be “punished for thy sins.”
Then there were those who “hold views derogatory of the Deity and the person of Christ.” Here Spurgeon gave special warning to those who “say that Christ is not God” or that he was “but the son of Mary.” Further still, were those who “attack Christ’s people, and who seek to pervert them from the right way.” This was especially serious as those who persecute Christ’s people “fight against God in his little ones.” Indeed, “this is a high sin!”
But there were also those who “have sinned foully in the worlds esteem.” Here Spurgeon noted painfully that prostitution and sexual immorality were the “crying sin of our land” and needed to be “sternly rebuked.” Indeed, he exclaimed “young man,” “young woman,” “take care that ye stand aloof from this!” But, there was hope, for while men “reject the sinner” “Jesus is able to save to the uttermost.” In Jesus Christ, and him alone, there is a “full, a free, a perfect, and a complete pardon” for all “past offences.”
Finally, there were those who “sit under an earnest ministry, and yet go on in sin.” Spurgeon warned his congregation that “you only compound with sin and make a covenant with hell” if one “[paid] respect” to religion but “secretly [indulged] in other profanities.” Indeed, repentance consisted in “not giving up one sin” but “giving up the whole.” Truly there had to be a “divorce” with sin. This was urgent lest his hearers get “gospel hardened” and not “come to Jesus,” for they “may never have another invitation.”
In the second section of his sermon, Spurgeon considered “Why those who are proverbially the chief of sinners are very frequently saved.” First he noted that one reason was “to illustrate divine sovereignty.” When God saved the “harlot” or the “persecutor” “then all men see that this is the finger of God.” Simply, it made his matchless grace more conspicuous.
Second, it allowed God to “show his great power.” Here Spurgeon exulted “Oh! how hell is made angry when some great champion falls!” Indeed, the “chief of sinners becomes a trophy of the divine power!” A testimony to God’s great grace. After all, “In great sinners, then, the grace of God is made conspicuous.”
Finally, Spurgeon admonished his hearers saying, “I have just put this before you. My hearers, here is life and death. If you despise Christ, there is death for you,” but if they responded in faith to the gospel, eternal life.
Why you should take up and read:
For Charles Spurgeon, the Apostle Paul was incomparable among mortal men. He was a “mighty master” and “great teacher” who exhibited “every quality of grace” with “brilliancy,” and yet, Paul saw himself as the “chief of sinners.” In this sermon, Spurgeon exposed other “chief sinners” who were in desperate need of Christ. For those wanting to meditate on God’s great grace in saving great sinners please take up and read.
Here is the link to the Sermon of the Week:https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-chief-of-sinners#flipbook/
Phillip Ort serves at the Director of The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City where he is also pursuing a Master of Divinity degree.