THE JERUSALEM SINNER SAVED;
GOOD NEWS FOR THE VILEST OF MEN;
BEING A HELP FOR DESPAIRING SOULS, SHOWING THAT JESUS CHRIST WOULD HAVE MERCY IN THE FIRST PLACE OFFERED TO THE BIGGEST SINNERS.
THE THIRD EDITION,
IN WHICH IS ADDED, AN ANSWER TO THOSE GRAND OBJECTIONS THAT LIE IN THE WAY OF THE THEM THAT WOULD BELIEVE: FOR THE COMFORT OF THEM THAT FEAR THEY HAVE SINNED AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST.
BY JOHN BUNYAN, OF BEDFORD.
London: Printed for Elizabeth Smith, at the Hand and Bible, on London Bridge, 1691.
ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR.
THAT Bunyan, who considered himself one of the most notorious of Jerusalem sinners, should write with the deepest earnestness upon this subject, is not surprising. He had preached upon it with very peculiar pleasure, and, doubtless, from many texts; and, as he says, 'through God's grace, with great success.' It is not probable that, with his characteristic intensity of feeling, and holy fervour in preaching, he ever delivered the same sermon twice; but this was a subject so in unison with his own feelings and experience, that he must have dilated upon it with even unusual interest and earnestness. The marrow of all these exercises he concentrated in this treatise; and when his judgment was, by severe internal conflicts, fully matured—upon the eve of the close of his earthly pilgrimage, in the last year of his life, 1688—he published it in a pocket volume of eight sheets. It was soon translated into several languages, and became so popular as to pass through ten editions in English by 1728. Like other favourite books, it was ornamented with some very inferior wood-cuts.
The object of the author is fully explained in the title to his book. It is to display the riches of Divine grace and mercy to the greatest sinners—even to those whose conduct entitled them to be called 'Satan's colonels, and captains, the leaders of his people; and to such as most stoutly make head against the Son of God.' It is to those who feel themselves to be such, and who make a proper estimate of their own characters, as in the sight of God, that the gracious proclamations of the gospel are peculiarly directed. They to whom much is forgiven, love much; and the same native energies which had been misdirected to promote evil, when sanctified and divinely guided, become a great blessing to the church, and to society at large.
Bunyan does not stoop to any attempt to reconcile the humbling doctrines of grace to the self-righteous pride of those who, considering themselves but little sinners, would feel contaminated by the company of those who had been such great sinners, although they were pardoned and sanctified by God. His great effort was directed to relieve the distress and despair of those who were suffering under deep convictions; still, his whole treatise shows that the doctrine of salvation by grace, of free gift, is no encouragement to sin that grace may abound, as some have blasphemously asserted. It is degrading to the pride of those who have not drunk so deeply of sin, to be placed upon a level with great sinners. But the disease is the same—in breaking one commandment, the whole law is violated; and, however in some the moral leprosy does not make such fearful ravages as in others, the slightest taint conveys moral, spiritual, and eternal death. ALL, whether young or old, great or small, must be saved by grace, or fall into perdition. The difference between the taint of sin, and its awfully developed leprosy, is given. Who so ready to fly to the physician as those who feel their case to be desperate? and, when cured, they must love the Saviour most.
Comparatively little sins before conviction, when seen in the glass of God's law, and in his holy presence, become great ones. Those who feel themselves to be great sinners, are peculiarly invited to the arms of the Saviour, who saves to the uttermost ALL that come unto him; and it is thus that peculiar consolation is poured in, and the broken heart is bound up. We are then called by name, as Bunyan forcibly describes it, as men called by name before a court. 'Who first cry out, "Here, Sir"; and then shoulder and crowd, and say, "Pray give way, I am called into the court." This is thy case, wherefore say, "Stand away, devil, Christ calls me; stand away, unbelief, Christ calls me; stand away, all ye my discouraging apprehensions, for my Saviour calls me to him to receive of his mercy."' 'Wherefore, since Christ says come, let the angels make a lane, and let all men give place, that the Jerusalem sinner may come to Jesus Christ for mercy.' How characteristic is this of the peculiarly striking style of Bunyan! How solemn his warnings! 'The invitations of the gospel will be, to those who refuse them, the hottest coals in hell.' His reasonings against despair are equally forcible: ''Tis a sin to begin to despair before one sets his foot over the threshold of hell gate. What! despair of bread in a land that is full of corn! despair of mercy, when our God is full of mercy! when he goes about by his ministers, beseeching of sinners to be reconciled unto him! Thou scrupulous fool, where canst thou find that God was ever false to his promise, or that he ever deceived the soul that ventured itself upon him?' This whole treatise abounds with strong consolation to those who are beset with fears, and who, because of these, are ready to give way to despair; it ought to be put into the hands of all such, let them belong to what party they may; for, like our author's other books, nothing of a sectarian nature can be traced in it, except we so call the distinguishing truths of evangelical religion. There are some very interesting references to Bunyan's experience and life, and one rather singular idea, in which I heartily concur; it is, that the glorified saints will become part of the heavenly hierarchy of angels, and take the places of those who fell from that exalted state (Rev 22:8,9).
To those whose souls are invaded by despair, or who fear that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost—to all who pant to have their faith strengthened, and hopes brightened, this little work is most earnestly and affectionately commended.
TO THE READER.
ONE reason which moved me to write and print this little book was, because, though there are many excellent heart-affecting discourses in the world that tend to convert the sinner, yet I had a desire to try this simple method of mine; wherefore I make bold thus to invite and encourage the worst to come to Christ for life.
I have been vile myself, but have obtained mercy; and I would have my companions in sin partake of mercy too: and, therefore, I have writ this little book.
The nation doth swarm with vile ones now, as ever it did since it was a nation. My little book, in some places, can scarce go from house to house, but it will find a suitable subject to spend itself upon. Now, since Christ Jesus is willing to save the vilest, why should they not, by name, be somewhat acquainted with it, and bid come to him under that name?
A great sinner, when converted, seems a booty to Jesus Christ; he gets by saving such an one; why then should both Jesus lose his glory and the sinner lose his soul at once, and that for want of an invitation?
I have found, through God's grace, good success in preaching upon this subject, and perhaps, so I may by my writing upon it too.1 I have, as you see, let down this net for a draught. The Lord catch some great fishes by it, for the magnifying of his truth. There are some most vile in all men's eyes, and some are so in their own eyes too; but some have their paintings, to shroud their vileness under; yet they are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do; and for all these, God hath sent a Saviour, Jesus; and to all these the door is opened.
Wherefore, prithee, profane man, give this little book the reading. Come; pardon, and a part in heaven and glory, cannot be hurtful to thee. Let not thy lusts and folly drive thee beyond the door of mercy, since it is not locked nor bolted up against thee. Manasseh was a bad man, and Magdalene a bad woman, to say nothing of the thief upon the cross, or of the murderers of Christ; yet they obtained mercy; Christ willingly received them.
And dost thou think that those, once so bad, now they are in heaven, repent them there because they left their sins for Christ when they were in the world? I cannot believe, but that thou thinkest they have verily got the best on't. Why, sinner, do thou likewise. Christ, at heaven gates, says to thee, Come hither; and the devil, at the gates of hell, does call thee to come to him. Sinner, what sayest thou? Whither wilt thou go? Don't go into the fire; there thou wilt be burned! Don't let Jesus lose his longing, since it is for thy salvation, but come to him and live.
One word more, and so I have done. Sinner, here thou dost hear of love; prithee, do not provoke it, by turning it into wantonness. He that dies for slighting love, sinks deepest into hell, and will there be tormented by the remembrance of that evil, more than by the deepest cogitation of all his other sins. Take heed, therefore; do not make love thy tormentor, sinner. Farewell.
GOOD NEWS FOR THE VILEST OF MEN;
A HELP FOR DESPAIRING SOULS.
'BEGINNING AT JERUSALEM.'—LUKE 24:47.
THE whole verse runs thus: 'And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, 'beginning at Jerusalem.' The words were spoken by Christ, after he rose from the dead, and they are here rehearsed after an historical manner, but do contain in them a formal commission, with a special clause therein. The commission is, as you see, for the preaching of the gospel, and is very distinctly inserted in the holy record by Matthew and Mark. 'Go-teach all nations,' &c. (Matt 28:19) 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature' (Mark 16:15). Only this clause is in special mentioned by Luke, who saith, that as Christ would have the doctrine of repentance and remission of sins preached in his name among all nations, so he would have the people of Jerusalem to have the first proffer thereof. Preach it, saith Christ, in all nations, but begin at Jerusalem.
The apostles, then, though they had a commission so large as to give them warrant to go and preach the gospel in all the world, yet by this clause they were limited as to the beginning of their ministry; they were to begin this work at Jerusalem. "Beginning at Jerusalem."
Before I proceed to an observation upon the words, I must, but briefly, touch upon two things: namely, FIRST, Show you what Jerusalem now was. SECOND, Show you what it was to preach the gospel to them.
FIRST, Jerusalem is to be considered either, First, With respect to the descent of her people; or, Second, With respect to her preference and exaltation; or, Third, With respect to her present state, as to her decays.
First, As to her descent, she was from Abraham, [by] the sons of Jacob, a people that God singled out from the rest of the nations, to set his love upon them.
Secondly, As to her preference or exaltation, she was the place of God's worship, and that which had in and with her the special tokens and signs of God's favour and presence, above any other people in the world. Hence, the tribes went up to Jerusalem to worship; there was God's house, God's high-priest, God's sacrifices accepted, and God's eye, and God's heart perpetually (Psa 76:1,2, 122; 1 Kings 9:3). But,
Thirdly, We are to consider Jerusalem also in her decays; for, as she is so considered, she is the proper object of our text, as will be further showed by and by.
Jerusalem, as I told you, was the place and seat of God's worship, but now decayed, degenerated, and apostatized.2 The Word, the rule of worship, was rejected of them, and in its place they had put and set up their own traditions: they had rejected, also, the most weighty ordinances, and put in the room thereof their own little things (Matt 15; Mark 7). Jerusalem was therefore now greatly backslidden, and become the place where the truth and true religion were much defaced.
It was also now become the very sink of sin and seat of hypocrisy, and gulf where true religion was drowned. Here also now reigned presumption, and groundless confidence in God, which is the bane of souls. Amongst its rulers, doctors, and leaders, envy, malice, and blasphemy vented itself against the power of godliness, in all places where it was espied; as also against the promoters of it; yea, their Lord and Maker could not escape them.
In a word, Jerusalem was now become the shambles, the very slaughter-shop for saints. This was the place wherein the prophets, Christ, and his people, were most horribly persecuted and murdered. Yea, so hardened at this time was this Jerusalem in her sins, that she feared not to commit the biggest, and to bind herself, by wish, under the guilt and damning evil of it; saying, when she had murdered the Son of God, 'His blood be on us, and on our children.' And though Jesus Christ did, both by doctrine, miracles, and holiness of life, seek to put a stop to their villanies, yet they shut their eyes, stopped their ears, and rested not, till, as was hinted before, they had driven him out of the world. Yea, that they might, if possible, have extinguished his name, and exploded his doctrine out of the world, they, against all argument, and in despite of heaven, its mighty hand, and undeniable proof of his resurrection, did hire soldiers to invent a lie, saying, his disciples stole him away from the grave; on purpose that men might not count him the Saviour of the world, nor trust in him for the remission of sins.
They were, saith Paul, contrary to all men: for they did not only shut up the door of life against themselves, but forbade that it should be opened to any else. 'Forbidding us,' saith he, 'to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway' (1 Thess 2:14-16; Matt 23:35; 15:7-9; Mark 7:6-8; Matt 3:7-9; John 8:33,41; Matt 27:18; Mark 3:30; Matt 23:37; Luke 13:33,34; Matt 27:25; 20:11-16).
This is the city, and these are the people; this is their character, and these are their sins: nor can there be produced their parallel in all this world. Nay, what world, what people, what nation, for sin and transgression, could or can be compared to Jerusalem? especially if you join to the matter of fact the light they sinned against, and the patience which they abused. Infinite was the wickedness upon this account which they committed.
After all their abusings of wise men, and prophets, God sent unto them John Baptist, to reduce them, and then his Son, to redeem them; but they would be neither reduced nor redeemed, but persecuted both to the death. Nor did they, as I said, stop here; the holy apostles they afterwards persecuted also to death, even so many as they could; the rest they drove from them unto the utmost corners.
SECOND, I come not to show you what it was to preach the gospel to them. It was, saith Luke, to preach to them 'repentance and remission of sins' in Christ's name; or, as Mark has it, to bid them 'repent and believe the gospel' (Mark 1:15). Not that repentance is a cause of remission, but a sign of our hearty reception thereof. Repentance is therefore here put to intimate, that no pretended faith of the gospel is good that is not accompanied with it; and this he doth on purpose, because he would not have them deceive themselves: for with what faith can he expect remission of sins in the name of Christ, that is not heartily sorry for them? Or how shall a man be able to give to others a satisfactory account of his unfeigned subjection to the gospel, that yet abides in his impenitency?
Wherefore repentance is here joined with faith, in the way of receiving the gospel. Faith is that without which it cannot be received at all; and repentance that without which it cannot be received unfeignedly. When, therefore, Christ says, he would have a repentance and remission of sins preached in his name among all nations, it is as much as to say, I will that all men everywhere be sorry for their sins, and accept of mercy at God's hand through me, lest they fall under his wrath in the judgment; for, as I have said, without repentance, what pretence soever men have of faith, they cannot escape the wrath to come. Wherefore Paul said, God commands 'all men everywhere to repent,' (in order to their salvation): 'because he hath appointed a day, in the which he shall judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained' (Acts 17:31).
And now, to come to this clause, 'Beginning at Jerusalem'; that is, that Christ would have Jerusalem have the first offer of the gospel. 1. This cannot be so commanded because they had now any more right, of themselves, thereto, than had any of the nations of the world; for their sins had divested them of all self-deservings. 2. Nor yet because they stood upon the advance-ground with the worst of the sinners of the nations; nay, rather, the sinners of the nations had the advance-ground of them: for Jerusalem was, long before she had added this iniquity to her sin, worse than the very nations that God cast out before the children of Israel (2 Chron 33). 3. It must, therefore, follow, that this cause, 'Beginning at Jerusalem,' was put into this commission of mere grace and compassion, even from the overflowings of the bowels of mercy; for indeed they were the worst, and so in the most deplorable condition of any people under the heavens.3
Whatever, therefore, their relation was to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob—however they formerly had been the people among whom God had placed his name and worship, they were now degenerated from God, more than the nations were from their idols, and were become guilty of the highest sins which the people of the world were capable of committing. Nay, none can be capable of committing of such pardonable sins as they committed against their God, when they slew his Son, and persecuted his name and Word.
From these words, therefore, thus explained, we gain this observation:—That Jesus Christ. would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners
That these Jerusalem sinners were the biggest sinners that ever were in the world, I think none will deny, that believes that Christ was the best man that ever was in the world, and also was their Lord God. And that they were to have the first offer of his grace, the text is as clear as the sun; for it saith, 'Beginning at Jerusalem.' 'Preach,' saith he, 'repentance and remission of sins' to the Jerusalem sinners: to the Jerusalem sinners in the first place. One would a-thought, since the Jerusalem sinners were the worst and greatest sinners, Christ's greatest enemies, and those that not only despised his person, doctrine, and miracles, but that, a little before, had had their hands up to the elbows in his heart's blood, that he should rather have said, Go into all the world, and preach repentance and remission of sins among all nations; and, after that, offer the same to Jerusalem; yea, it had been infinite grace if he had said so. But what grace is this, or what name shall we give it, when he commands that this repentance and remission of sins, which is designed to be preached in all nations, should first be offered to Jerusalem; in the first place to the worst of sinners!
Nor was this the first time that the grace, which was in the heart of Christ, thus showed itself to the world. For while he was yet alive, even while he was yet in Jerusalem, and perceived, even among these Jerusalem sinners, which was the most vile among them, he still, in his preaching, did signify that he had a desire that the worst of these worst should, in the first place, come unto him. The which he showeth, where he saith to the better sort of them, 'The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you' (Matt 21:31). Also when he compared Jerusalem with the sinners of the nations, then he commands that the Jerusalem sinners should have the gospel at present confined to them. 'Go not,' saith he, 'into the way of the Gentiles, and into any of the cities of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel' (Matt 10:5,6; 23:37). But go rather to them, for they were in the most fearful plight. These, therefore, must have the cream of the gospel, namely, the first offer thereof, in his lifetime; yea, when he departed out of the world, he left this as part of his last will with his preachers, that they also should offer it first to Jerusalem. He had a mind, a careful mind, as it seems, to privilege the worst of sinners with the fist offer of mercy, and to take from among them a people, to be the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb.
The 15th of Luke also is famous for this, where the Lord Jesus takes more care, as appears there by three parables, for the lost sheep, lost groat, and the prodigal son, than for the other sheep, the other pence, or for the son that said he had never transgressed; yea, he shows that there is joy in heaven, among the angels of God, at the repentance of one sinner, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance. After this manner, therefore, the mind of Christ was set on the salvation of the biggest sinners in his lifetime. But join to this, this clause, which he carefully put into the apostles' commission to preach, when he departed hence to the Father, and then you shall see that his heart was vehemently set upon it; for these were part of his last words with them, Preach my gospel to all nations, but that you begin at Jerusalem.
Nor did the apostles overlook this clause when their Lord was gone into heaven; they went first to them of Jerusalem, and preached Christ's gospel to them; they abode also there for a season and time, and preached it to nobody else, for they had regard to the commandment of their Lord. And it is to be observed, namely, that the first sermon which they preached after the ascension of Christ, it was preached to the very worst of these Jerusalem sinners, even to those that were the murderers of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:23), for these are part of the sermon: 'Ye took him, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain him.' Yea, the next sermon, and the next, and also the next to that, was preached to the self-same murderers, to the end they might be saved (Acts 3:14-16; 4:10,11; 5:30; 7:52).
But we will return to the first sermon that was preached to these Jerusalem sinners, by which will be manifest more than great grace, if it be duly considered. For after that Peter, and the rest of the apostles, had, in their exhortation, persuaded these wretches to believe that they had killed the Prince of life; and after they had duly fallen under the guilt of their murder, saying, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' he replies, by an universal tender to them all in general, considering them as Christ's killers, that if they were sorry for what they had done, and would be baptized for the remission of their sins in his name, they should receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:37,38).
This he said to them all, though he knew that they were such sinners. Yea, he said it without the least stick or stop, or pause of spirit, as to whether he had best to say so or no. Nay, so far off was Peter from making an objection against one of them, that, by a particular clause in his exhortation, he endeavours, that not one of them may escape the salvation offered. 'Repent,' saith he, 'and be baptized every one of you.' I shut out never an one of you; for I am commanded by my Lord to deal with you, as it were, one by one, by the word of his salvation. But why speaks he so particularly? Oh! there were reasons for it. The people with whom the apostles were now to deal, as they were murderers of our Lord, and to be charged in the general with his blood, so they had their various and particular acts of villany in the guilt thereof, now lying upon their consciences. And the guilt of these, their various and particular acts of wickedness, could not, perhaps, be reached to a removal thereof but by this particular application. Repent, every one of you; be baptized, every one of you, in his name, for the remission of sins, and you shall, every one of you, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Objector. 'But I was one of them that plotted to take away his life. May I be saved by him?'
Peter. Every one of you.
Objector. 'But I was one of them that bare false witness against him. Is there grace for me?'
Peter. For every one of you.
Objector. 'But I was one of them that cried out, Crucify him, crucify him; and desired that Barabbas, the murderer, might live, rather than him. What will become of me, think you?'
Peter. I am to preach repentance and remission of sins to every one of you, says Peter.
Objector. 'But I was one of them that did spit in his face when he stood before his accusers. I also was one that mocked him, when in anguish he hanged bleeding on the tree. Is there room for me?'
Peter. For every one of you, says Peter.
Objector. 'But I was one of them that, in his extremity, said, Give him gall and vinegar to drink. Why may not I expect the same when anguish and guilt is upon me?'
Peter. Repent of these your wickednesses, and here is remission of sins for every one of you.
Objector. 'But I railed on him, I reviled him, I hated him, I rejoiced to see him mocked at by others. Can there be hope for me?'
Peter. There is, for every one of you. 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.' Oh! what a blessed 'Every one of you,' is here! How willing was Peter, and the Lord Jesus, by his ministry, to catch these murderers with the word of the gospel, that they might be made monuments of the grace of God! How unwilling, I say, was he, that any of these should escape the hand of mercy! Yea, what an amazing wonder is it to think, that above all the world, and above everybody in it, these should have the first offer of mercy! 'Beginning at Jerusalem.'
But was there not something of moment in this clause of the commission? Did not Peter, think you, see a great deal in it, that he should thus begin with these men, and thus offer, so particularly, this grace to each particular man of them?
But, as I told you, this is not all; these Jerusalem sinners must have this offer again and again; every one of them must be offered it over and over. Christ would not take their first rejection for a denial, nor their second repulse for a denial; but he will have grace offered once, and twice, and thrice, to these Jerusalem sinners. Is not this amazing grace? Christ will not be put off. These are the sinners that are sinners indeed. They are sinners of the biggest sort; consequently, such as Christ can, if they convert and be saved, best serve his ends and designs upon. Of which more anon.
But what a pitch of grace is this! Christ is minded to amaze the world, and to show that he acteth not like the children of men. This is that which he said of old, 'I will not execute the fierceness of my wrath, I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man' (Hosea 11:9).5 This is not the manner of men; men are shorter winded; men are soon moved to take vengeance, and to right themselves in a way of wrath and indignation. But God is full of grace, full of patience, ready to forgive, and one that delights in mercy. All this is seen in our text. The biggest sinners must first be offered mercy; they must, I say, have the cream of the gospel offered unto them.
But we will a little proceed. In the third chapter we find, that they who escaped converting by the first sermon, are called upon again to accept of grace and forgiveness, for their murder committed upon the Son of God. You have killed, yea, 'ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life.' Mark, he falls again upon the very men that actually were, as you have it in the chapters following, his very betrayers and murderers (Acts 3:14,15), as being loath that they should escape the mercy of forgiveness: and exhorts them again to repent, that their sins might 'be blotted out'(verse 19,20).
Again, in the fourth chapter, he charges them afresh with this murder (verse 10), but withal tells them salvation is in no other. Then, like a heavenly decoy, he puts himself also among them, to draw them the better under the net of the gospel; saying, 'There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved' (verse 12).
In the fifth chapter, you find them railing at him, because he continued preaching among them salvation in the name of Jesus. But he tells them, that that very Jesus whom they had slain and hanged on a tree, him God had raised up, and exalted 'to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins' (verse 29-31). Still insinuating, that though they had killed him, and to this day rejected him, yet his business was to bestow upon them repentance and forgiveness of sins.
'Tis true, after they began to kill again, and when nothing but killing would serve their turn, then they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Yet even some of them so hankered after the conversion of the Jews, that they preached the gospel only to them. Also the apostles still made their abode at Jerusalem, in hopes that they might let down their net for another draught of these Jerusalem sinners. Neither did Paul and Barnabas, who were the ministers of God to the Gentiles, but offer the gospel, in the first place, to those of them that, for their wickedness, were scattered, like vagabonds, among the nations; yea, and when they rendered rebellion and blasphemy for their service and love, they replied it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to them (Acts 1:8; 13:46,47).
Nor was this their preaching unsuccessful among these people: but the Lord Jesus so wrought with the word thus spoken, that thousands of them came flocking to him for mercy. Three thousand of them closed with him at the first; and, afterwards, two thousand more; for now they were in number about five thousand; whereas, before sermons were preached to these murderers, the number of the disciples was not above 'a hundred and twenty' (Acts 1:15; 2:41; 4:4).
Also among these people that thus flocked to him for mercy, there was a 'great company of the priests' (Acts 6:7). Now, the priests were they that were the greatest of these biggest sinners; they were the ringleaders, they were the inventors and ringleaders in the mischief. It was they that set the people against the Lord Jesus, and that were the cause why the uproar increased, until Pilate had given sentence upon him. 'The chief priests and elders,' says the text, 'persuaded (the people) the multitude, that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus' (Matt 27:20). And yet, behold the priests, yea, a great company of the priests, became obedient to the faith.6
Oh, the greatness of the grace of Christ, that he should be thus in love with the souls of Jerusalem sinners! that he should be thus delighted with the salvation of the Jerusalem sinners! that he should not only will that his gospel should be offered them, but that it should be offered unto them first, and before other sinners were admitted to a hearing of it. 'Begin at Jerusalem.'
Was this doctrine well believed, where would there be a place for a doubt, or a fear of the damnation of the soul, if the sinner be penitent, how bad a life soever he has lived, how many soever in number are his sins? But this grace is hid from the eyes of men; the devil hides it from them; for he knows it is alluring, he knows it has an attracting virtue in it; for this is it that, above all arguments, can draw the soul to God. I cannot help it, but must let drop another word. The first church, the Jerusalem church, from whence the gospel was to be sent into all the world, was a church made up of Jerusalem sinners. These great sinners were here the most shining monuments of the exceeding grace of God.
Thus, you see, I have proved the doctrine; and that not only by showing you that this was the practice of the Lord Jesus Christ in his lifetime, but his last will when he went up to God; saying, Begin to preach at Jerusalem. Yea, it is yet further manifested, in that when his ministers first began to preach there, he joined his power to the word, to the converting of thousands of his betrayers and murderers, and also many of the ringleading priests, to the faith.
I shall now proceed, and shall show you, FIRST, The reasons of the point. SECOND, And then make some application of the whole.
[THE REASONS OF THE POINT.]
The observation, you know, is this: Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, to the Jerusalem sinners: 'Preach repentance, and remission of sins, in my name, among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.'
The reasons of the point are:—
First, Because the biggest sinners have most need thereof.
He that has most need, reason says, should be helped first. I mean, when a helping hand is offered, and now it is; for the gospel of the grace of God is sent to help the world (Act 16:9). But the biggest sinner has most need. Therefore, in reason, when mercy is sent down from heaven to men, the worst of men should have the first offer of it. 'Begin at Jerusalem.' This is the reason which the Lord Christ himself renders, why, in his lifetime, he left the best, and turned him to the worst; why he sat so loose from the righteous, and stuck so close to the wicked. 'The whole,' saith he, 'have no need of the physician, but the sick. I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance' (Mark 2:15-17).7
Above, you read that the scribes and Pharisees said to his disciples, 'How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?' Alas! they did not know the reason; but the Lord renders them one, and such an one as is both natural and cogent, saying, These have need, most need. Their great necessity requires that I should be most friendly, and show my grace first to them.
Not that the other were sinless, and so had no need of a Saviour; but the publicans and their companions were the biggest sinners; they were, as to view, worse than the scribes; and, therefore, in reason, should be helped first, because they had most need of a Saviour.
Men that are at the point to die, have more need of the physician than they that are but now and then troubled with a heart-fainting qualm. The publicans and sinners were, as it were, in the mouth of death; death was swallowing of them down:8 and, therefore, the Lord Jesus receives them first; offers them mercy first. 'The whole have no need of the physician, but the sick. I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance.' The sick, as I said, is the biggest sinner, whether he sees his disease or not. He is stained from head to foot, from heart to life and conversation. This man, in every man's judgment, has the most need of mercy. There is nothing attends him from bed to board, and from board to bed again, but the visible characters, and obvious symptoms, of eternal damnation. This, therefore, is the man that has need, most need; and, therefore, in reason, should be helped in the first place. Thus it was with the people concerned in the text; they were the worst of sinners, Jerusalem sinners, sinners of the biggest size; and, therefore, such as had the greatest need; wherefore they must have mercy offered to them, before it be offered to anywhere else in the world. 'Begin at Jerusalem,' offer mercy first to a Jerusalem sinner. This man has most need, he is furthest from God, nearest to hell, and so one that has most need. This man's sins are in number the most, in cry the loudest, in weight the heaviest, and, consequently, will sink him soonest; wherefore he has most need of mercy. This man is shut up in Satan's hand, fastest bound in the cords of his sins: one that justice is whetting his sword to cut off; and, therefore, has most need, not only of mercy, but that it should be extended to him in the first place.
But a little further to show you the true nature of this reason, to wit, That Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners.
First, Mercy ariseth from the bowels and compassion, from pity, and from a feeling of the condition of those in misery. 'In his love, and in his pity, he redeemed them.' And again, 'The Lord is pitiful, very pitiful, and of tender mercy' (Isa 63:9; James 5:11).
Now, where pity and compassion is, there is yearning of bowels; and where there is that, there is a readiness to help. And, I say again, the more deplorable and dreadful the condition is, the more directly doth bowels and compassion turn themselves to such, and offer help and deliverance. All this flows from our first scripture proof, I came to call them that have need; to call them first, while the rest look on and murmur.
'How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?' Ephraim was a revolter from God, a man that had given himself up to devilism; a company of men, the ten tribes that worshipped devils, while Judah kept with his God. But 'how shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? [and yet thou art worse than they, nor has Samaria committed half thy sins (Eze 16:46-51)] Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together' (Hosea 11:8).
But where do you find that ever the Lord did thus rowl9 in his bowels for and after any self-righteous man? No, no; they are the publicans and harlots, idolaters and Jerusalem sinners, for whom his bowels thus yearn and tumble about within him: for, alas! poor worms, they have most need of mercy.
Had not the good Samaritan more compassion for that man that fell among thieves (though that fall was occasioned by his going from the place where they worshipped God, to Jericho, the cursed city), than we read he had for any other besides? His wine was for him, his oil was for him, his beast for him; his penny, his care, and his swaddling bands for him; for, alas! wretch, he had most need (Luke 10:30-35).
Zaccheus the publican, the chief of the publicans, one that had made himself the richer by wronging of others; the Lord at that time singled him out from all the rest of his brother publicans, and that in the face of many Pharisees, and proclaimed in the audience of them all, that that day salvation was come to his house (Luke 19:1-8).
The woman, also, that had been bound down by Satan for eighteen years together, his compassions putting him upon it, he loosed her, though those that stood by snarled at him for so doing (Luke 13:11-13).
And why the woman of Sarepta, and why Naaman the Syrian, rather than widows and lepers of Israel, but because their conditions were more deplorable; for that they were most forlorn, and furthest from help (Luke 4:25,27).
But I say, why all these, thus named? Why have we not a catalogue of some holy men that were so in their own eyes, and in the judgment of the world? Alas! if, at any time, any of them are mentioned, how seemingly coldly doth the record of scripture present them to us? Nicodemus, a night professor, and Simon the Pharisee, with his fifty pence, and their great ignorance of the methods of grace, we have now and then touched upon.
Mercy seems to be out of its proper channel when it deals with self-righteous men; but then it runs with a full stream when it extends itself to the biggest sinners. As God's mercy is not regulated by man's goodness, nor obtained by man's worthiness, so not much set out by saving of any such. But more of this anon.
And here let me ask my reader a question: Suppose that, as thou art walking by some pond side, thou shouldst espy in it four or five children, all in danger of drowning, and one in more danger than all the rest; judge which has most need to be helped out first? I know thou wilt say, he that is nearest drowning. Why, this is the case; the bigger sinner, the nearer drowning; therefore, the bigger sinner, the more need of mercy; yea, of help, by mercy, in the first place. And to this our text agrees, when it saith, 'Beginning at Jerusalem.' Let the Jerusalem sinner, says Christ, have the first offer, the first invitation, the first tender of my grace and mercy; for he is the biggest sinner, and so has most need thereof.
Second, Christ Jesus would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, because when they, any of them, receive it, it redounds most to the fame of his name.
Christ Jesus, as you may perceive, has put himself under the term of a physician, a doctor for curing of diseases; and you know that applause and fame are things that physicians much desire. That is it that helps them to patients; and that, also, that will help their patients to commit themselves to their skill, for cure, with the more confidence and repose of spirit. And the best way for a doctor or physician to get himself a name, is, in the first place, to take in hand, and cure, some such as all others have given up for lost and dead. Physicians get neither name nor fame by pricking of wheals,10 or picking out thistles, or by laying of plasters to the scratch of a pin; every old woman can do this. But if they would have a name and a fame, if they will have it quickly, they must, as I said, do some great and desperate cures. Let them fetch one to life that was dead; let them recover one to his wits that was mad; let them make one that was born blind to see; or let them give ripe wits to a fool: these are notable cures, and he that can do thus, and if he doth thus first, he shall have the name and fame he desires; he may lie a-bed till noon.
Why, Christ Jesus forgiveth sins for a name, and so begets for himself a good report in the hearts of the children of men. And, therefore, in reason he must be willing, as, also, he did command, that his mercy should be offered first to the biggest sinners. I will forgive their sins, iniquities, and transgressions, says he, 'And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour, before all the nations of the earth' (Jer 33:8,9).
And hence it is, that, at his first appearing, he took upon him to do such mighty works; he got a fame thereby, he got a name thereby (Matt 4:23,24).
When Christ had cast the legion of devils out of the man of whom you read (Mark 5), he bid him go home to his friends, and tell it. 'Go home,' saith he, 'to thy friends, and tell them how great things God hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee' (Mark 5:19). Christ Jesus seeks a name, and desireth a fame in the world; and, therefore, or the better to obtain that, he commands that mercy should first be proffered to the biggest sinners; because, by the saving of one of them, he makes all men marvel. As it is said of the man last mentioned, whom Christ cured towards the beginning of his ministry. 'And he departed,' says the text, 'and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him; and all men did marvel' (Mark 5:20).
When John told Christ, that they saw one casting out devils in his name, and they forbade him, because he followed not with them, what is the answer of Christ? 'Forbid him not; for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me' (Mark 9:39). No; they will rather cause his praise to be heard, and his name to be magnified, and so put glory on the head of Christ.
But we will follow, a little, our metaphor. Christ, as I said, has put himself under the term of a physician; consequently, he desireth that his fame, as to the salvation of sinners, may spread abroad, that the world may see what he can do. And to this end, has not only commanded that the biggest sinners should have the first offer of his mercy, but has, as physicians do,11 put out his bills, and published his doings, that things may be read and talked of. Yea, he has, moreover, in these, his blessed bills, the holy scriptures I mean, inserted the very names of persons, the places of their abode, and the great cures that, by the means of his salvation, he has wrought upon them to this very end. Here is, Item, such an one, by my grace and redeeming blood, was made a monument of everlasting life; and such an one, by my perfect obedience, became an heir of glory. And then he produceth their names. Item, I saved Lot from the guilt and damnation that he had procured for himself by his incest. Item, I saved David from the vengeance that belonged to him for committing of adultery and murder. Here is, also, Solomon, Manasseh, Peter, Magdalene, and many others, made mention of in this book. Yea, here are their names, their sins, and their salvations recorded together, that you may read and know what a Saviour he is, and do him honour in the world. For why are these things thus recorded, but to show to sinners what he can do, to the praise and glory of his grace? And it is observable, as I said before, we have but very little of the salvation of little sinners mentioned in God's book, because that would not have answered the design, to wit, to bring glory and fame to the name of the Son of God.
What should be the reason, think you, why Christ should so easily take a denial of the great ones that were the grandeur of the world, and struggle so hard for hedge-creepers12 and highwaymen, as that parable seems to import he doth, but to show forth the riches of the glory of his grace, to his praise? (Luke 14). This, I say, is one reason, to be sure. They that had their grounds, their yoke of oxen, and their marriage joys, were invited to come; but they made the excuse, and that served the turn. But when he comes to deal with the worst, he saith to his servants, Go ye out and bring them in hither. 'Go out quickly-and bring in hither the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind.' And they did so. And he said again, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled' (Luke 14:18,19,23). These poor, lame, maimed, blind, hedge-creepers, and highwaymen, must come in, must be forced in. These, if saved, will make his merit shine.
When Christ was crucified, and hanged up between the earth and heavens, there were two thieves crucified with him; and, behold, he lays hold of one of them, and will have him away with him to glory. Was not this a strange act, and a display of unthought-of grace? Were there none but thieves there, or were the rest of that company out of his reach? Could he not, think you, have stooped from the cross to the ground, and have laid hold on some honester man, if he would? Yes, doubtless. Oh! but then he would not have displayed his grace, nor so have pursued his own designs, namely, to get to himself a praise and a name; but now he has done it to purpose. For who that shall read this story, but must confess, that the Son of God is full of grace; for a proof of the riches thereof, he left behind him, when, upon the cross, he took the thief away with him to glory. Nor can this one act of his be buried; it will be talked of, to the end of the world, to his praise. 'Men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts; and I will declare thy greatness. They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness-They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power; to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom' (Psa 145:6-12).
When the Word of God came among the conjurors and those soothsayers, that you read of (Acts 19), and had prevailed with some of them to accept of the grace of Christ, the Holy Ghost records it with a boast, for that it would redound to his praise, saying, 'Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men; and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the Word of God, and prevailed' (Acts 19:19,20). It wrenched out of the clutches of Satan some of those of whom he thought himself most sure. 'So mightily grew the Word of God.' It grew mightily, it encroached upon the kingdom of the devil. It pursued him, and took the prey; it forced him to let go his hold! It brought away captive, as prisoners taken by force of arms, some of the most valiant of his army. It fetched back from, as it were, the confines of hell, some of those that were his most trusty, and that, with hell, had been at an agreement. It made them come and confess their deeds, and burn their books before all men. 'So mightily grew the Word of God, and prevailed.' Thus, therefore, you see why Christ will have offered mercy, in the first place, to the biggest sinners; they have most need thereof; and this is the most ready way to extol his name 'that rideth upon the heavens' to our help. But,
Third, Christ Jesus would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, because, by their forgiveness and salvation, others, hearing of it, will be encouraged the more to come to him for life.
For the physician, by curing the most desperate at the first, doth not only get himself a name, but begets encouragement in the minds of other diseased folk to come to him for help. Hence you read of our Lord, that after, through his tender mercy, he had cured many of great diseases, his fame was spread abroad: 'They brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy, and he healed them. And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond Jordan' (Matt 4:24,25). See here, he first, by working, gets himself a fame, a name, and renown; and now men take encouragement, and bring, from all quarters, their diseased to him, being helped, by what they had heard, to believe that their diseased should be healed.
Now, as he did with those outward cures, so he does in the proffers of his grace and mercy; he proffers that, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, that others may take heart to come to him to be saved. I will give you a scripture or two. I mean to show you that Christ, by commanding that his mercy should, in the first place, be offered to the biggest of sinners, has a design thereby to encourage and provoke others to come also to him for mercy. 'God,' said Paul, 'who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.' But why did he do all this? 'That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus' (Eph 2:4-7). See, here is a design; God lets out his mercy to Ephesus of design, even to show to the ages to come the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness to them through Christ Jesus. And why, to show, by these, the exceeding riches of his grace to the ages to come, through Christ Jesus? But to allure them, and their children also to come to him, and to partake the same grace through Christ Jesus?13
But what was Paul, and the Ephesian sinners? (of Paul we will speak anon.) These Ephesian sinners, they were men dead in sins; men that walked according to the dictates and motions of the devil; worshippers of Diana, that effeminate goddess; men far off from God, aliens and strangers to all good things; such as were far off from that, as I said, and, consequently, in a most deplorable condition. As the Jerusalem sinners were of the highest sort among the Jews, so these Ephesian sinners were of the highest sort among the Gentiles (Eph 2:1-3,11,12; Acts 19:35). Wherefore, as by the Jerusalem sinners, in saving them first, he had a design to provoke others to come to him for mercy, so the same design is here set on foot again, in his calling and converting the Ephesian sinners, 'That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace,' says he, 'in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus.' There is yet one hint behind. It is said that God saved these 'for his great love'; that is, as I think, for the setting forth, for the commendation of his love, for the advance of his love, in the hearts and minds of them that should come after. As who should say, God has had mercy upon, and been gracious to you, that he might show to others, for their encouragement, that they have ground to come to him to be saved. When God saves one great sinner, it is to encourage another great sinner to come to him for mercy.
He saved the thief, to encourage thieves to come to him for mercy; he saved Magdalene, to encourage other Magdalenes to come to him for mercy; he saved Saul, to encourage Sauls to come to him for mercy; and this Paul himself doth say, 'For this cause,' saith he, 'I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting' (1 Tim 1:16). How plain are the words! Christ, in saving of me, has given to the world a pattern of his grace, that they might see, and believe, and come, and be saved; that they that are to be born hereafter might believe on Jesus Christ to life everlasting.
But what was Paul? Why, he tells you himself; I am, says he, the chief of sinners. I was, says he, a blasphemer, a persecutor, an injurious person; but I obtained mercy (1 Tim 1:13,14). Ay, that is well for you, Paul; but what advantage have we thereby? Oh, very much, saith he; for, 'for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting' (verse 16). Thus, therefore, you see that this third reason is of strength; namely, that Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, because, by their forgiveness and salvation, others, hearing of it, will be encouraged the more to come to him for mercy. It may well, therefore, be said to God, Thou delightest in mercy, and mercy pleases thee (Micah 7:18).
But who believes that this was God's design in showing mercy of old—namely, that we that come after might take courage to come to him for mercy; or that Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, to stir up others to come to him for life? This is not the manner of men, O God! But David saw this betimes; therefore he makes this one argument with God, that he would blot out his transgressions, that he would forgive his adultery, his murders, and horrible hypocrisy. Do it, O Lord, saith he, do it, and 'then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee' (Psa 2:7-13). He knew that the conversion of sinners would be a work highly pleasing to God, as being that which he had designed before he made mountain or hill: wherefore he comes, and he saith, Save me, O Lord; if thou wilt but save me, I will fall in with thy design; I will help to bring what sinners to thee I can. And, Lord, I am willing to be made a preacher myself, for that I have been a horrible sinner; wherefore, if thou shalt forgive my great transgressions, I shall be a fit man to tell of thy wondrous grace to others. Yea, Lord, I dare promise, that if thou wilt have mercy upon me, it shall tend to the glory of thy grace, and also to the increase of thy kingdom; for I will tell it, and sinners will hear on't. And there is nothing so suiteth with the hearing sinner as mercy; and to be informed that God is willing to bestow it upon him. 'I will teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.'
Nor will Christ Jesus miss of his design in proffering of mercy, in the first place, to the biggest sinners. You know what work the Lord, by laying hold of the woman of Samaria, made among the people there. They knew that she was a town sinner, an adulteress; yea, one that, after the most audacious manner, lived in uncleanness with a man that was not her husband. But when she, from a turn upon her heart, went into the city, and said to her neighbours, 'Come,' Oh, how they came! how they flocked out of the city to Jesus Christ! 'Then they went out of the city, and came to him.' 'And many of the Samaritans of that city (people, perhaps, as bad as herself) believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did' (John 4:39). That word, 'He told me all that ever I did,' was a great argument with them; for by that they gathered, that though he knew her to be vile, yet he did not despise her, nor refuse to show how willing he was to communicate his grace unto her; and this fetched over, first her, then them.
This woman, as I said, was a Samaritan sinner, a sinner of the worst complexion; for the Jews abhorred to have ought to do with them (verse 9), wherefore none more fit than she to be made one of the decoys of heaven, to bring others of these Samaritan wild-fowls under the net of the grace of Christ; and she did the work to purpose. Many, and many more of the Samaritans believed on him (verse 40-42). The heart of man, though set on sin, will, when it comes once to a persuasion that God is willing to have mercy upon us, incline to come to Jesus Christ for life. Witness those turn-aways from God that you also read of in Jeremiah; for after they had heard, three or four times over, that God had mercy for backsliders, they broke out, and said, 'Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God.' (Jer 3:22); or, as those in Hosea did, 'For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy' (Hosea 14:1-3).
Mercy, and the revelation thereof, is the only antidote against sin. 'Tis of a thawing nature; 'twill loose the heart that is frozen up in sin; yea, 'twill make the unwilling willing to come to Jesus Christ for life. Wherefore, do you think, was it that Jesus Christ told the adulterous woman, and that before so many sinners, that he had not condemned her, but to allure her, with them there present, to hope to find favour at his hands? As he also saith, in another place, 'I came not to judge, but to save the world.' For might they not thence most rationally conclude, that if Jesus Christ had rather save than damn an harlot, there was encouragement for them [although great sinners] to come to him for mercy.
I heard once a story from a soldier, who, with his company, had laid siege against a fort, that so long as the besieged were persuaded their foes would show them no favour, they fought like madmen; but when they saw one of their fellows taken, and received to favour, they all came tumbling down from their fortress, and delivered themselves into their enemies' hands. I am persuaded, did men believe that there is that grace and willingness in the heart of Christ to save sinners, as the Word imports there is, they would come tumbling into his arms: but Satan has blinded their minds that they cannot see this thing. Howbeit, the Lord Jesus has, as I said, that others might take heart and come to him, given out a commandment, that mercy should, in the first place, be offered to the biggest sinners. 'Begin,' saith he, 'at Jerusalem'; and thus I end the third reason.
Fourth, Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place, to biggest sinners, because that is the way, if they receive it, most to weaken the kingdom of Satan, and to keep it lowest in every age of the world.
The biggest sinners, they are Satan's colonels and captains, the leaders of his people, and they that most stoutly make head against the Son of God. Wherefore, let these first be conquered, and his kingdom will be weak. When Ishbosheth had lost his Abner, the kingdom was made weak, nor did he sit but tottering then upon his throne. So, when Satan loseth his strong men, them that are mighty to work iniquity, and dexterous to manage others in the same, then is his kingdom weak (2 Sam 3). Therefore, I say, Christ, and doth offer mercy, in the first place, to such, the more to weaken his kingdom. Christ Jesus was glad to see Satan fall like lightning from heaven; that is, suddenly, or head-long; and it was, surely, by casting of him out of strong possession, and by recovering of some notorious sinners out of his clutches (Luke 10:17-19).
Samson, when he would pull down the Philistines' temple, took hold of the two main pillars of it, and, breaking them, down came the house. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, and to destroy by converting grace, as well as by redeeming blood. Now, sin swarms, and lieth by legions, and whole armies, in the souls of the biggest sinners, as in garrisons;14 wherefore, the way, the most direct way, to destroy it, is first to deal with such sinners by the word of his gospel, and by the merits of his passion.
For example, though I shall give you but a homely one; suppose a family to be very lousy, and one or two of the family to be in chief the breeders, the way, the quickest way, to clean that family, or at least to weaken the so swarming of those vermin, is, in the first place, to sweeten the skin, head, and clothes of the chief breeders; and then, though all the family should be apt to breed them, the number of them, and so the greatness of that plague there, will be the more impaired. Why, there are some people that are in chief the devil's sin-breeders in the towns and places where they live. The place, town, or family where they live, must needs be horribly lousy, and, as it were, eaten up with vermin. Now, let the Lord Jesus, in the first place, cleanse these great breeders, and there will be given a nip to those swarms of sins that used to be committed in such places throughout the town, house, or family, where such sin-breeding persons used to be.
I speak by experience. I was one of these lousy ones, one of these great sin-breeders; I infected all the youth of the town where I was born, with all manner of youthful vanities. The neighbours counted me so; my practice proved me so: wherefore Christ Jesus took me first; and taking me first, the contagion was much allayed all the town over. When God made me sigh, they would hearken, and inquiringly say, What's the matter with John? They also gave their various opinions of me; but, as I said, sin cooled, and failed, as to his full career. When I went out to seek the bread of life, some of them would follow, and the rest be put into a muse 15 at home. Yea, almost the town, at first, at times would go out to hear at the place where I found good; yea, young and old for a while had some reformation on them; also some of them, perceiving that God had mercy upon me, came crying to him for mercy too.
But what need I give you an instance of poor I; I will come to Manasseh the king. So long as he was a ringleading sinner, the great idolater, and chief for devilism, the whole land flowed with wickedness; for he made them to sin (2 Chron 33), and do worse than the heathen that dwelt round about them, or that was cast out from before them: but when God converted him, the whole land was reformed. Down went the groves, the idols, and altars of Baal, and up went true religion in much of the power and purity of it. You will say, The king reformed by power. I answer, doubtless, and by example too; for people observe their leaders; as their fathers did, so did they (2 Kings 17:41). This, therefore, is another reason why Jesus would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, because that is the best way, if they receive it, most to weaken the kingdom of Satan, and to keep it poor and low.
And do you not think now, that if God would but take hold of the hearts of some of the most notorious in your town, in your family, or country, that this thing would be verified before your faces? It would, it would, to the joy of you that are godly, to the making of hell to sigh, to the great suppressing of sin, the glory of Christ, and the joy of the angels of God.16 And ministers, should, therefore, that this work might go on, take advantages to persuade with the biggest sinners to come into Christ, according to my text, and their commission, 'Beginning at Jerusalem.'
Fifth, Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, because such, when converted, are usually the best helps in the church against temptations, and fittest for the support of the feeble-minded there.
Hence, usually, you have some such in the first plantation of churches, or quickly upon it. Churches would do but sorrily, if Christ Jesus did not put such converts among them; they are the monuments and mirrors of mercy. The very sight of such a sinner in God's house, yea, the very thought of him, where the sight of him cannot be had, is ofttimes greatly for the help of the faith of the feeble.
When the churches, saith Paul, that were in Judea, heard this concerning me, that he which persecuted them in time past, now preached the faith which once he destroyed, 'they glorified God in me' (Gal 1:20-24). 'Glorified God.' How is that? Why, they praised him, and took courage to believe the more in the mercy of God; for that he had had mercy on such a great sinner as he. They glorified God 'in me'; they wondered that grace should be so rich, as to take hold of such a wretch as I was; and for my sake believed in Christ the more.
There are two things that great sinners are acquainted with, when they come to divulge them to the saints, that are a great relief to their faith. 1. The contests that they usually have with the devil at their parting with him. 2. Their knowledge of his secrets in his workings.
1. For first, The biggest sinners17 have usually great contests with the devil at their partings; and this is an help to saints: for ordinary saints find afterwards what the vile ones find at first, but when, at the opening of hearts, the one finds himself to be as the other—the one is a comfort to the other. The lesser sort of sinners find but little of this, till after they have been some time in profession; but the vile man meets with his at the beginning. Wherefore he, when the other is down, is ready to tell that he has met with the same before; for, I say, he has had it before. Satan is loath to part with a great sinner. 'What, my true servant,' quoth he, 'my old servant, wilt thou forsake me now? Having so often sold thyself to me to work wickedness, wilt thou forsake me now? Thou horrible wretch, dost not know, that thou has sinned thyself beyond the reach of grace, and dost thou think to find mercy now? Art not thou a murderer, a thief, a harlot, a witch, a sinner of the greatest size, and dost thou look for mercy now? Dost thou think that Christ will foul his fingers with thee? It is enough to make angels blush, saith Satan, to see so vile an one knock at heaven-gates for mercy, and wilt thou be so abominably bold to do it?' 18 Thus Satan dealt with me, says the great sinner, when at first I came to Jesus Christ. And what did you reply? saith the tempted. Why, I granted the while charge to be true, says the other. And what, did you despair, or how? No, saith he, I said, I am Magdalene, I am Zaccheus, I am the thief, I am the harlot, I am the publican, I am the prodigal, and one of Christ's murderers; yea, worse than any of these; and yet God was so far off from rejecting of me, as I found afterwards, that there was music and dancing in his house for me, and for joy that I was come home unto him. O blessed be God for grace (says the other), for then, I hope, there is favour for me. Yea, as I told you, such an one is a continual spectacle in the church, for every one by to behold God's grace and wonder by.
2. And as for the secrets of Satan, such as are suggestions to question the being of God, the truth of his Word, and to be annoyed with devilish blasphemies; none more acquainted with these than the biggest sinners at their conversion; wherefore thus also they are prepared to be helps in the church to relieve and comfort the other.
I might also here tell you of the contests and battles that such are engaged in, wherein they find the buffetings of Satan, above any other of the saints. At which time Satan assaults the soul with darkness, fears, frightful thoughts of apparitions; now they sweat, pant, cry out, and struggle for life. The angels now come down to behold the sight, and rejoice to see a bit of dust and ashes to overcome principalities and powers, and might, and dominions. But, as I said, when these come a little to be settled, they are prepared for helps for others, and are great comforts unto them. Their great sins give encouragement to the devil to assault them; and by these temptations Christ takes advantage to make them the more helpful to the churches.
The biggest sinner, when he is converted, and comes into the church, says to them all, by his very coming in, Behold me, all you that are men and women of a low and timorous spirit, you whose hearts are narrow, for that you never had the advantage to know, because your sins are few, the largeness of the grace of God. Behold, I say, in me, the exceeding riches of his grace! I am a pattern set forth before your faces, on whom you may look and take heart. This, I say, the great sinner can say, to the exceeding comfort of all the rest. Wherefore, as I have hinted before, when God intends to stock a place with saints, and to make that place excellently to flourish with the riches of his grace, he usually begins with the conversion of some of the most notorious thereabouts, and lays them, as an example, to allure others, and to build up when they are converted. It was Paul that must go to the Gentiles, because Paul was the most outrageous of all the apostles, in the time of his unregeneracy. Yea, Peter must be he, that after his horrible fall, was thought fittest, when recovered again, to comfort and strengthen his brethren (See Luke 22:31,32).
Some must be pillars in God's house; and if they be pillars of cedar, they must stand while they are stout and sturdy sticks in the forest, before they are cut down, and planted or placed there. No man, when he buildeth his house, makes the principal parts thereof of weak or feeble timber; for how could such bear up the rest? but of great and able wood. Christ Jesus also goeth this way to work; he makes of the biggest sinners bearers and supporters to the rest. This, then, may serve for another reason, why Jesus Christ gives out in commandment, that mercy should, in the first place, be offered to the biggest sinners, because such, when converted, are usually the best helps in the church against temptations, and fittest for the support of the feeble-minded there.
Sixth, Another reason why Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, is, because they, when converted, are apt to love him most.
This agrees both with scripture and reason. Scripture says so. To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much. 'To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little' (Luke 7:47). Reason says so: for as it would be the unreasonablest thing in the world to render hatred for love, and contempt for forgiveness; so it would be as ridiculous to think, that the reception of a little kindness should lay the same obligations upon the heart to love as the reception of a great deal. I would not disparage the love of Christ; I know the least drachm of it, when it reaches to forgiveness, is great above all the world; but comparatively, there are greater extensions of the love of Christ to one than to another. He that has most sin, if. forgiven, is partaker of the greatest love, of the greatest forgiveness.
I know also, that there are some, that from this very doctrine say, 'Let us do evil that good may come'; and that turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness. But I speak not of these; these will neither be ruled by grace nor reason. Grace would teach them, if they knew it, to deny ungodly courses; and so would reason too, if it could truly sense the love of God (Titus 2:11,12; Rom 12:1).
Doth it look like what hath any coherence with reason or mercy, for a man to abuse his friend? Because Christ died for me, shall I therefore spit in his face? The bread and water that was given by Elisha to his enemies, that came into the land of Israel to take him, had so much influence upon their minds, though heathens, that they returned to their homes without hurting him; yea, it kept them from coming again in a hostile manner into the coasts of Israel (2 Kings 6:19-23).
But to forbear to illustrate, till anon. One reason why Christ Jesus shows mercy to sinners, is, that he might obtain their love, that he may remove their base affections from base objects to himself. Now, if he loves to be loved a little, he loves to be loved much; but there is not any that are capable of loving much, save those that have much forgiven them. Hence it is said of Paul, that he laboured more than them all; to wit, with a labour of love, because he had been by sin more vile against Christ than they all (1 Cor 15). He it was that 'persecuted the church of God, and wasted it' (Gal 1:13). He of them all was the only raving bedlam against the saints. 'And being exceeding mad,' says he, 'against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities' (Acts 26:11). This raving bedlam, that once was so, is he that now says, I laboured more than them all, more for Christ than them all. But Paul, what moved thee thus to do? The love of Christ, says he. It was not I, but the grace of God that was with me. As who should say, O grace! It was such grace to save me! It was such marvellous grace for God to look down from heaven upon me, and that secured me from the wrath to come, that I am captivated with the sense of the riches of it. Hence I act, hence I labour; for how can I otherwise do, since God not only separated me from my sins and companions, but separated all the powers of my soul and body to his service? I am, therefore, prompted on by this exceeding love to labour as I have done; yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Oh! I shall never forget his love, nor the circumstances under which I was, when his love laid hold upon me. I was going to Damascus with letters from the high-priest, to make havoc of God's people there, as I had made havoc of them in other places. These bloody letters were not imposed upon me. I went to the high-priest and desired them of him, and yet he saved me! (Acts 9:1,2). I was one of the men, of the chief men, that had a hand in the blood of his martyr Stephen; yet he had mercy upon me! When I was at Damascus, I stunk19 so horribly like a blood-sucker, that I became a terror to all thereabout. Yea, Ananias, good man, made intercession to my Lord against me; yet he would have mercy upon me, yea, joined mercy to mercy, until he had made me a monument of grace. He made a saint of me, and persuaded me that my transgressions were forgiven me.
When I began to preach, those that heard me were amazed, and said, 'Is not this he that destroyed them that called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound to the high-priest?' Hell doth know that I was a sinner; heaven doth know that I was a sinner; the world also knows that I was a sinner, a sinner of the greatest size; but I obtained mercy (Acts 9:20,21). Shall not this lay obligation upon me? Is not love of the greatest force to oblige? Is it not strong as death, cruel as the grave, and hotter than the coals of juniper? Hath it not a most vehement flame? Can the waters quench it? can the floods drown it? I a m under the force of it, and this is my continual cry, What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits which he has bestowed upon me?
Aye, Paul! this is something; thou speakest like a man, like a man affected, and carried away with the love and grace of God. Now, this sense, and this affection, and this labour, giveth to Christ the love that he looks for. But he might have converted twenty little sinners, and yet not found, for grace bestowed, so much love in them all. I wonder how far a man might go among the converted sinners of the smaller size, before he could find one that so much as looked anything this way ward. Where is he that is thus under pangs of love for the grace bestowed upon him by Jesus Christ? Excepting only some few, you may walk to the world's end, and find none. But, as I said, some there are, and so there have been in every age of the church, great sinners, that have had much forgiven them; and they love much upon this account. Jesus Christ, therefore, knows what he doth, when he lays hold on the hearts of sinners of the biggest size. He knows that such an one will love more than many that have not sinned half their sins.
I will tell you a story that I have read of Martha and Mary; the name of the book I have forgot; I mean of the book in which I found the relation; but the thing was thus:—
Martha, saith my author, was a very holy woman, much like Lazarus, her brother; but Mary was a loose and wanton creature; Martha did seldom miss good sermons and lectures, when she could come at them in Jerusalem; but Mary would frequent the house of sports, and the company of the vilest of men for lust. And though Martha had often desired that her sister would go with her to hear her preachers, yea, had often entreated her with tears to do it, yet could she never prevail; for still Mary would make her excuse, or reject her with disdain, for her zeal and preciseness in religion.
After Martha had waited long, tried many ways to bring her sister to good, and all proved ineffectual, at last she comes upon her thus: 'Sister,' quoth she, 'I pray thee go with me to the temple today, to hear one preach a sermon.' 'What kind of preacher is he?' said she. Martha replied, 'It is one Jesus of Nazareth; he is the handsomest man that ever you saw with your eyes. Oh! he shines in beauty, and is a most excellent preacher.'
Now, what does Mary, after a little pause, but goes up into her chamber, and, with her pins and her clouts,20 decks up herself as fine as her fingers could make her. This done, away she goes, not with her sister Martha, but as much unobserved as she could, to the sermon, or rather to see the preacher.
The hour and preacher being come, and she having observed whereabout the preacher would stand, goes and sets herself so in the temple, that she might be sure to have the full view of this excellent person. So he comes in, and she looks, and the first glimpse of his person pleased her. Well, Jesus addresseth himself to his sermon, and she looks earnestly on him.
Now, at that time, saith my author, Jesus preached about the lost sheep, the lost groat, and the prodigal child. And when he came to show what care the shepherd took for one lost sheep, and how the woman swept to find her piece which was lost, and what joy there was at their finding, she began to be taken by the ears, and forgot what she came about, musing what the preacher would make of it. But when he came to the application, and showed, that by the lost sheep, was meant a great sinner; by the shepherd's care, was meant God's love for great sinners; and that by the joy of the neighbours, was showed what joy there was among the angels in heaven over one great sinner that repenteth; she began to be taken by the heart. And as he spake these last words, she thought he pitched his innocent eyes just upon her, and looked as if he spake what was now said to her: wherefore her heart began to tremble, being shaken with affection and fear; then her eyes ran down with tears apace; wherefore she was forced to hide her face with her handkerchief, and so sat sobbing and crying all the rest of the sermon.
Sermon being done, up she gets, and away she goes, and withal inquired where this Jesus the preacher dined that day? and one told her, At the house of Simon the Pharisee. So away goes she, first to her chamber, and there strips herself of her wanton attire; then falls upon her knees to ask God forgiveness for all her wicked life. This done, in a modest dress she goes to Simon's house, where she finds Jesus sat at dinner. So she gets behind him, and weeps, and drops her tears upon his feet like rain, and washes them, and wipes them with the hair of her head. She also kissed his feet with her lips, and anointed them with ointment. When Simon the Pharisee perceived what the woman did, and being ignorant of what it was to be forgiven much (for he never was forgiven more than fifty pence), he began to think within himself, that he had been mistaken about Jesus Christ, because he suffered such a sinner as this woman was, to touch him. Surely, quoth he, this man, if he were a prophet, would not let this woman come near him, for she is a town-sinner; so ignorant are all self-righteous men of the way of Christ with sinners. But, lest Mary should be discouraged with some clownish carriage of this Pharisee, and so desert her good beginnings, and her new steps which she now had begun to take towards eternal life, Jesus began thus with Simon: 'Simon,' saith he, 'I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was,' said Jesus, 'a certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered, and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss; but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint, but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore, I say unto her, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven'(Luke 7:36-48).