“According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:11-17)
Three times over in these letters the apostle Paul speaks of a faithful saying (1 Tim.1:15, 4:9, and Tit.3:8). We are fond of sayings. I notice it again and again, not a day passes without me meeting somebody and them saying some little crisp statement which has passed into a saying. And oftentimes we are not very critical of these sayings, we just accept them and we do not question them, which would be a wise thing to do. I remember at the time of the Welsh revival going down to Wales in 1905 and doing a lot of visitation work with very useful gospel tracts. It was there a man I knew very well told me about an incident. One day he knocked at a door and a rather talkative woman came out, but apparently not a Christian, although she was living where so much was being done in the way of conversion and she was desirous of dismissing the work. She said, ‘Thank you for offering me your little book, but I do not know that I need it, I intend to be all right someday, there is plenty of time for me yet to think about religious things.’ And then she said, ‘You know, as the Bible says, it is never to late to mend’. My good friend restrained his amusement (it was really rather tragic), and said, ‘Is it indeed? Do you know madam’ he continued, pulling his Bible out of his pocket, ‘I have read the Bible for many years and I have never read that saying in the Bible. In fact I think I am as bold as to tell you that you have made a mistake, the Bible never in any place says, It is never to late to mend’. She was quite taken aback at this statement, but he went on, ‘And I think I can tell you why it is not in the Bible.’ ‘Why is that?’ she replied. ‘Because it is not true.’ he said. The man continued, ‘Madam, you are far too late to mend.’
The prophets in the Old Testament had said to the Israelitish people under the law of Moses again and again, ‘Israel, mend your ways. Conform to the holy law of God. Be not drawn aside into the evils of the idolatrous world around you, Mend your ways.’ So it went on. Prophet after prophet begged them to mend, but when the supreme tragedy took place, and the promised Messiah, the Christ, was presented to them they crucified Him. From that moment it was too late to mend. No mending is going to patch up humanity, the experience of fallen men and women has proved to be such that it is too late to mend. So do not quote that as being a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.
If the apostle Paul was here tonight, I am sure he would tell us, ‘Oh yes, in A.D.55-65 there were lots of sayings abroad, folk trotted them out to one another and never questioned their validity, but a great many of them are not worth the amount of breath that is spent in uttering them’. I am only saying that so you may realise that the apostle Paul is putting his finger on certain things that had passed into sayings, probably among the early Christians. If you and I could have gone into these early Christian communities again and again we would have heard somebody saying, ‘Ah, what a wonderful thing it is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!’, and, ‘Thank God for this saying, it is a true one. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, men whose minds were blinded and blackened by sin, and yet wonderful to say, the saving grace of Christ can reach all such.’ Having said that, the apostle gives us a little bit of a reason why he puts the divine stamp of approval on this saying, “This is a faithful saying. This is worthy of all acceptation”. I always feel inclined to interpret that in two ways. Firstly, it is worthy of the most wholehearted and absolute acceptation, not a ninety nine per cent acceptation, but a one hundred per cent acceptation, but it is equally true if you take it in this sense, it is worthy of everybody’s acceptation. Go wherever you will in those early days, go among the Barbarians, the untutored, semi-savage men living on the outskirts of the Roman empire and civilisation, or the Greeks, the cultivated, intellectual men, although still idolaters and pagans, having no real knowledge of God, or the Jews, who had been for centuries under divine instruction by the law, and each needed what this saying indicates. It is worthy of acceptation in every quarter, by everybody, and by you also. Yet you may not have received it. Men in privileged England need it just as much as, for example, the people of the great dense forests of Central Africa.
The saying is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. That has no application to you if you are not a sinner. If you are one of those self righteous people you are excluding yourself from the saving grace of Christ. Who said this? The apostle Paul did. And who was the apostle Paul? Well, let us read what he says about himself in the early part of his epistle to the Philippian Christians. There he tells us that he was fortified by all the rites of Judaism. He was a true blooded Jew descended without admixture from Abraham, touching the law he was a Pharisee, scrupulous, careful, religious, to the last degree (3:4-6), but when you read what he says of himself here you might say, ‘Is this the same individual who is so highly qualified religiously amongst the Jews? Can it be possible that a man of that standard has to speak of himself as he does?’ He says, ‘And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious”.
Now blasphemy clearly is a sin against God. We do not blaspheme one another, we may abuse one another, but blasphemy is a word we use in relation to God. When did Paul blaspheme? With all his religion and Pharisee-ism he blasphemed Jehovah, the God of Israel when he blasphemed Jesus of Nazareth, because he did not realise that He was God. It is a tribute to the deity of Christ. That was when the blasphemy took place. So Paul was a blasphemer. He would never have blasphemed the great Jehovah of Israel, the Giver of the law, the Elohim, but he blasphemed Jesus, but he woke up to the fact that he was a blasphemer in his attitude to Christ. He was a persecutor in his attitude to the people who acknowledged Jesus to be their Lord and Master, he persecuted the Christians unto death. Then he was injurious. This is more general. Another translation puts it this way, he was “a violent overbearing man”. I think he was that. He was a man of great mental powers, tremendous persistence, he would ride roughshod over almost everybody, but the Lord lays hold of extraordinary people! This was the man who was rampaging after the early Christians, but his eyes were opened and he discovered what he had been doing, and so later he said he was the “ least of the apostles...... because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor.15:9). Yet he was highly religious in his unconverted days, he “profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals” (Gal.1:14). He was the top of the Jewish religious tree, and yet “the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant”. He was the very chief of sinners.
This is his argument here. It is a faithful saying. ‘Dear Timothy,’ he says, ‘this is not an observation that people use without any real thought and examination, you investigate this saying, it is absolutely true.’ There was no greater proof of this faithful saying that Saul of Tarsus as he had been, he was the very chief of sinners, ‘and if Christ Jesus who came into the world to save sinners has saved me, well, there is not a sinner on earth that he cannot save. He has saved the very chief of sinners’.
Then there is a kind of P.S. Picture this. In India years ago people used to ride elephants, and I was told of one that was brought to a very flimsy looking bridge over a river, and the elephant put first one foot on the bridge, then another foot, and then very gingerly a third before finally the last, and then after a moment or two he walked slowly across. Now a very large man said, ‘I wonder if that bridge would support me? Would I be rash if I attempted to walk across?’ ‘Why,’ it was said, ‘a great elephant weighing five tonnes has just walked across! of course the bridge will support you!’ This is an illustration that I heard used when I was a young man. Paul is really saying that ‘It is a faithful saying. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, He has saved me, even such as I, the very chief of sinners’ and so He can save anybody.
It is all a question of mercy. I must draw your attention to that before I move on. “Howbeit for this reason I obtained mercy”. I was talking to some boys and girls and I had a blackboard and put on the letters ‘M....E....R’ and said, ‘How am I going to finish this word?’ I might finish with ‘....I.....T’ to spell - MERIT. Do we deserve this blessing? No, there was no merit with Paul, he only merited damnation, but he got MERCY. I do not know a true Christian who does not say, ‘What mercy has reached me to turn my thoughts away from myself and my evil ways and brought me to the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ!’ God did it for Saul of Tarsus, the chief of sinners, and He did it for me and for millions more beside. Mercy is the only ground on which salvation reaches any at this or any other time.
“But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.” (1 Timothy 4:7-9)
Having received the first we move to another faithful saying which has to do with godliness, a life according to God. The apostle Paul, having stated this, makes the remark, ‘Now Timothy, I want you to exercise yourself unto godliness (or ‘piety’)’. This is a kind of inward exercise that goes on in heart and mind and conscience, it is not muscular exercise, the exercise of your legs and arms and lungs, which “profits for a little”, exercise unto godliness is another form of exercise which affects the heart and the conscience and the mind. This is “profitable unto all things”, not only to a little thing. This is because it has promised “of the life that now is” and it has promise “of the life which is to come”. That was also a saying that was current amongst the early Christians of Antioch and elsewhere, early Christians would say to each other, ‘This life of godliness into which we have been introduced is profitable for now and for the life to come’.
Some time ago I was returning from Scotland and talking to my friend who had had a remarkable conversion. He had been a young lad of 19 who worked in the coal mine and always drank heavily. He was earning £14 a week but regularly spent £5 of it on cigarettes and drink. He would not have lived very long in that condition, but now he has entered upon a life that is profitable. It is profitable for the life that is. I know a number of servants of God who looked after their bodies and who have lived to a healthy old age, long after their unbelieving contemporaries have died. Why? They do not indulge in all the harmful things of this world, they live godly lives. It is quite profitable to live a godly life for the life that is and it is ten times more profitable for the life that is to come. The gospel introduces us to a new character of life. The godly, converted person accepts this faithful saying that godliness is profitable for all things. He not only has his or her bodily exercise, especially when young, but he lives the life of godliness which is profitable for the life that is and also for the life which is to come. Look at the apostle Paul again, the chief of sinners, who got converted. What a day is coming for Paul when in the presence of the Lord Jesus he meets the thousands who were converted through his instrumentality. What a day it will be! Paul wrote a very sound thing and we accept it. This godly life is the life that is profitable for all things. That is its character. The godly man or woman is one who has sterling Christian character. I commend it to you. If you can say, ‘Yes, by the grace of God I know the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ’ this introduces you to a new kind of life and it is a profitable life; go in for it.
“This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.” (Titus 3:8)
Life has to express itself in action. This is why there is this third remark. Paul had sent Titus to Crete to ordain elders in every city. Now in Titus 1:12 we find that the Cretans, although heathens, had a kind of prophet of their own who evidently got stirred up about something and got a bit candid and told the Cretan people a thing or two about themselves, saying “the Cretans are always liars, evil beasts (or ‘wild animals’), slow bellies (or ‘lazy gluttons’)” (Tit.1:12). This was not very complimentary to the Cretans, but one of their own said it. They could not stick to the truth, they rampaged about and injured one another like wild beasts and did not want to work but wanted to eat a lot. I have heard a few things like this today. A man who should have been working on the road was sitting smoking a cigarette, and when a colleague challenged him he said, ‘Only fools and horses work’, but he was only showing himself to be a lazy glutton. That was the character of the Cretans.
Now we are Christians, and things run in the Cretan way in this land. When we pick up the papers we read every day of who has been attacked on the street, who has been robbed, we take it for granted these days - the evil wild beasts are about, along with the liars and lazy gluttons. What about Christians? It should put us on our mettle. What does Paul say? He says, ‘Now look here, Titus, you are living in this extraordinary island where the people have these bad features. So it is a faithful saying’, he does not say worthy of all acceptation because he is now thinking of Titus in the midst of people who could not possibly accept it, but he says, ‘these things I will that thou affirm constantly. You say to people, Have you believed in God? There is only one way you can do that and that is through our Lord Jesus Christ. Have you believed in God? Keep on at it, it is faithful and constantly affirm it. If you have truly believed on God, if you are a believer be careful to maintain good works. Let your godliness, your proper Christian character come into display in your actions. Be careful to maintain good works’.
Here are the works of which the apostle James speaks in his epistle, the works of faith. Some people think there is contradiction between Paul in Romans and James in his epistle, but it is not so. The faith that Paul is speaking of in Romans 3-4 is “not of works”, he is talking about the works of the law. Paul says in effect, ‘you must exclude all thought of works done in order to establish yourself on a righteous basis in the presence of God. The works of the law are put out’. But James is not talking about the works of the law, he is talking about the works of faith. He says, ‘Yes, you have faith, and your faith must come into expression and display. You must not simply say, ‘I believe’, without any outward effect in your life. If there is genuine faith it will express itself in works of another order to the things which are popular in the world through which you pass. Be careful to maintain good works. That is a faithful saying. Let us all remember it.
These are the three faithful sayings the apostle Paul enjoined in the first century and I am perfectly sure I am on safe ground when I tell you they are as important now as they were then, as important in our land as they were in the lands where the apostle Paul wrote them. There is no salvation except in our Lord Jesus Christ and that which He has wrought, not on the ground of merit but on that of mercy through the grace of our Lord, and if we receive it it works a transformation in character so that we pursue godliness. It comes into expression in works that are good according to God. These are faithful sayings, and they are worthy of all acceptation. I hope we shall all be stirred up by having looked at them briefly tonight to seek to make those faithful sayings operative in our hearts and in our lives. If that is wrought out as a result of our little talk tonight we shall each be blessed and God will be glorified.