The Chief of Sinners Saved

by Stephen Charnock

"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."

One man said that this was such an amazing and such an unbelievable statement that Paul said beforehand, "this is a faithful saying and it is worthy of all acceptation". The fact that God would save any sinner at all, much less the chief of sinners, is a miracle of God's grace. It is amazing. It is a faithful saying and it is worthy to be received and accepted by all that hear it.
"...Christ Jesus came into the world…"

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things - Christ who was in the beginning:

    "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."2

Jesus Christ, who is equal to God the Father. The Son of God dwelt in glory with the Father before the foundation of the world. Before there was an angel, before there was a human, before there was a universe, he was there. That God, the Lord Jesus Christ, created all things, and in the fullness of time he was born of a virgin and lived upon the earth for the purpose that is stated here. He didn't stay in heaven, but he came here and he dwelt among us in flesh. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
"…to save…"

Now the Lord Jesus Christ said that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners unto repentance. He came into the world to save sinners. He did not come to tell sinners how to be saved. He didn't come just to make a way of salvation, but he came to save sinners and there is a difference. I've heard people say that they are good at fishing, but not too good at catching, or that they are good at hunting, but not good at finding. But that is not the case with the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said,

    "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."3

John Bunyan said there has never been a sinner so powerful that found himself outside the power of "Shall-come". The Lord Jesus came into this world to save sinners.

If you lived your whole life and you committed only one sin, you would be worthy of eternal damnation, because it is a sin against the eternal God. Sinners - not one sin, not hundreds of sins, not thousands of sins, but sins that you could never number if you tried. You have committed so many sins from your birth until now and all of those sins hang between you and a holy God. You can't approach unto him, because he is holy. Unless you are as righteous as God is, you cannot approach to him. Sin is not just what you do, it is who you are. You are a sinner by birth. You are a sinner by choice. You are a sinner by nature. The reason you do what you do is because you are who you are, a sinner. Your heart is a factory of sin. Your mind is a seedbed of sin. The Word of God says in Proverbs 28,

    "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination."4

If you are a sinner lost without God, you might say your prayers hundreds of times a day, but all the prayers you could ever say to God, even your prayers are an abomination. They are something that God hates, because they are not by the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says in Proverbs 24,

    "The thought of foolishness is sin…"5

Even the foolish thought, even worse than that, the wicked thoughts that you meditate upon, they are sin before God. Your sins are so enormous and so many that even after doing your very best you could never approach unto God. Isaiah 64,

    "…and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…"6

All the righteousnesses, every good thing you could do, if you could heap them all together, they would still be filthy rags before God. You say, "That sounds hopeless. You are calling me a sinner." God calls you a sinner and, yes, it is hopeless. There is no hope at all except in the fact that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That is your only hope. That is your only way of escape. The only positive thing God has to say towards you as a sinner is that Christ died for sinners.

We find here first of all,
I. The Worst

"…sinners, of whom I am chief…"

He said Christ Jesus came into the world to save "sinners of whom I am chief". Saul of Tarsus is the example sinner. He called himself the chief of sinners. Every tribe has a chief. That chief represents the tribe. He is the one that speaks for that tribe. He is the most prominent person. He is the ring leader of that tribe. Saul of Tarsus was the chief of sinners. There as he persecuted the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ and we find here three ways that he is a sinner.
Saul of Tarsus was a blasphemer.

He was in that same crowd with the Pharisees that called Jesus "born of fornication". They said that he was not the Son of God, that he was born of fornication. The Pharisees said all kinds of blasphemies against the Lord Jesus, and eventually crucified him. Saul of Tarsus was of that same religious group of men, the Pharisees. He was a blasphemer and sinned against the first half of the law, sins against God.
Saul of Tarsus was a persecutor.

He was guilty of sins against men. He had taken the people of God, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and persecuted them, men and women and put them to prison and put them to death. He was a persecutor. He wasn't content just to speak against the Lord Jesus Christ. He enforced his blasphemy to the point of shedding the blood of those that followed the Lord Jesus.
Saul of Tarsus was injurious.

He didn't just blaspheme and persecute. He did it with gusto. He did it with a vengeance. He did it with all his heart and he added insult to injury. He used force and violence. Saul of Tarsus was of the tribe of Benjamin who was called "a ravening wolf". He was a ravening wolf against the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived, ate, slept and breathed to hunt down Christians and kill them and put them in jail and to stomp out the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only did he blaspheme, but he also compelled others to blaspheme. We find in Acts 26:11,

    "And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities."7

That is how much he hated the person and the message of the Lord Jesus Christ who had claimed to be the Son of God with glory. He was "exceedingly mad" against them. But he didn't realize there was an "exceeding abundant" grace that was on his trail. Even though he was an exceedingly mad sinner, there was an exceeding abundant grace of God, a super-abundant grace of God, that was on his trail and it says here that he obtained mercy.

John Gill said, "What works, merits or previous qualifications and preparations were in Saul of Tarsus fitting him for the grace and mercy of God, seeing in the midst of his sins that in the full pursuit of them, the grace of God laid hold upon him and mercy was shown to him? There is nothing between his being a blasphemer, a persecutor, an injurious person, an ignorant unbeliever and his obtaining mercy."

While he was blaspheming, while he was persecuting, while he was doing all these things, at that time he obtained mercy and the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him and came to him and struck him down and he cried out calling Jesus Lord. From that day forward he served the Lord Jesus Christ. He obtained mercy and it could happen just that fast. One minute he was on his horse on the road doing what he did best, persecuting Christians, hunting them down, breathing out threatenings against Christ. Suddenly Christ appeared to him and the next moment he was wallowing down on the ground crying out, "Who art thou Lord?" And then, "Lord, what will thou have me to do?" The very one he lived to hate and he lived to persecute, he ended up living and dying for, living for the Lord Jesus and dying for the Lord Jesus. And it can happen that fast. God saves the chief of sinners.

We find here that he obtained mercy that he might "show forth". John Trapp said, "By full demonstration and sufficient evidence so that all may say there is mercy with Christ, that he may be feared."

Do you ever wonder if you are too wicked a sinner for God to save? God gave you an example. He gave you an illustration; Saul of Tarsus. It is not only Saul of Tarsus, but throughout the Word of God we find that God saves the worst and the chiefest of sinners.
Throughout Scripture, God Saved the Worst of Sinners

Adam, who plunged the human race into sin and every sin from Adam all the way down to the end of time, he is accountable for because he is the one that plunged mankind into sin and we have inherited his sin nature. But right after Adam sinned against God, God was willing to slay an animal instead of Adam and God was willing to give them the gospel promise that "the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent" and that salvation would come.

Think about Abram, the father of the Jews. He was making idols in the Ur of Chaldees and the next thing you know he is the father of many nations and the father of faith. God saved the chief of sinners.
Throughout His Earthly Life, Jesus Saved The Worst of Sinners
Jesus saved the worst of sinners at his birth

You can see throughout the life of the Lord Jesus Christ how that he came into this world to save sinners. It wasn't something new for him to save Saul of Tarus, the chief of sinners. He had been in this business for a long time beforehand. Even at the birth and the infancy of the Lord Jesus Christ, while he was still a baby, the wise men came to him and if you study that word it is talking about magicians. It is talking about sorcerers. Elymas the "sorcerer", Simon the "sorcerer" - it is the same Greek word for these "wise men" and even while he was still a baby he saved the worst of sinners as these magicians came to him and they were saved by the grace of God.
Jesus saved the worst of sinners in his earthly life

Throughout his life he hunted down the worst of sinners, men of the sea. Sailors, fishermen are noted all over the world for being the most wicked and the most vile types of people. They are the very first ones he went to and he called them to be his own personal hand-chosen disciples and to invest his ministry in them.

He must needs go through Samaria where the other Jews thumbed their noses and never wanted to go. Yet the Lord Jesus went out of his way to go there. He was known as a friend of publicans and sinners throughout his life.

Think about how that the woman at the well in John 4. Stephen Charnock said, "He told the woman of Samaria who lived in fornication that he was the Messiah. The woman said to him, 'I know that Messiah is come which is called Christ.' Jesus saith unto her, 'I that speak unto thee am he,' which he never disclosed to the self righteous Pharisees, nor, indeed, in so many words to his disciples until Peter's confession of him."

Jesus clearly stated, "I am the Christ. I am the Messiah." He hadn't even said it that clearly to his own disciples or the most religious of his day. Yet here is a lost woman, a sinner that he is about to save and he reveals this truth unto her and it is nothing but his grace.

Think of "Mary Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils" and how Christ saved her and cast the devils out of her. Then the Scripture says in Mark 16,

    "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils."8

Mary, out of whom went seven devils, had been of the worst of sinners, yet she was the very first one that Jesus appeared to after his resurrection. He is willing and he is well able and he has proved time and time again that he is in the business of saving the worst of sinners.
Jesus saved the worst of sinners at his dying hour

Stephen Charnock said, "When he comes to act his last part in the world he saves a thief who was next to the hell gate ready to be pushed in by the devil."

Hallelujah. Glory to God! From his waking breath as he came into this world as a man to his dying breath on the cross, he was in the business of saving the worst and the chiefest of sinners. This was a thief who had nothing to offer him. He didn't have a life to give him and to live for him. He was gasping his dying breath, but yet the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners like him. Even if you don't have anything to give back to God, even if you are in the death rattles of your dying hour and you can't give the rest of your life to God, he is willing to save you and he came into the world for that purpose. Hallelujah.
After his resurrection, Jesus sent his disciples to preach to the worst of sinners

After his resurrection, in the Great Commission Jesus said,

    "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."9

"All the world" and "every creature". Charnock said this. "He put no difference between men in this respect. Though you meet with them in the likeness of beast and of devil, you can still preach the gospel to them."

Jesus said "every creature" and "all the world". You might meet with some like that wherever God sends you, where they seem more like a devil or more like a beast than human. Well, he didn't qualify. He said, "Preach it to every creature." Amen.

He illustrated with that parable in Luke 14,

    "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind."10

Jesus told them to go out in the hedges and the highways to those most loathsome people, those dregs of mankind at the bottom of the bottom and to bring them in that his house may be full. He told them to compel them, to force them against their own natural inclinations and doubts.

How many sinners have been afraid to come to Jesus because they feel like they are too wicked for him to save? Jesus said, "Compel them to come." If they feel like they are too wicked, if they feel like they are not worthy, compel them, constrain them, convince them to come in.

God gave all kinds of promises throughout his Word to encourage seeking sinners, even the worst of sinners, to come unto him and be saved.
Christ Jesus has saved sinners from the worst families in the world
Herod's Family

We read even out of Herod's family in Acts 13. When those first missionaries were sent out there was one of Herod's household. This was either Herod Antipas who ridiculed Christ before Pilate or Herod Agrippa who put James to death. Either way it was a terrible Herod. And yet there was one out of his own house that was saved, that was brought up with him. Not only was he an object of God's mercy, he was an instrument of mercy to others. He was being sent out as a missionary, thank God, to preach the gospel that Herod tried to stomp out.
Nero's Family

And not only Herod, but Nero. What a monster of a persecutor Nero was. Yet in Philippians 4:22,

    "All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household."11

Charnock said this. "To hear of saints in Caesar's household or Nero's household is as strange as to hear of saints in hell."

But God is in the business of saving the chief of sinners, no matter how bad a family, no matter if it is a politician that has power to persecute and power to kill God's people, God can save even those persecutors.

Christ Jesus saved sinners guilty of the worst of sins
We read of people who committed some of the worst sins, the Ephesians. Paul said that they were "darkness", not that they just had darkness in them, he said they "were darkness". But thank God now they are light. The Corinthians, that list of horrible sins in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and all of the wickedness of Corinth and yet there was a blood washed band among them and there were ones that had been washed, justified and sanctified. Amen.

If Christ Jesus saved Saul of Tarsus, he can save any sinner
Then we find here that it was done for a pattern. Paul and his salvation was a pattern, an example, to them that should believe hereafter.

My grandfather worked construction for years. He told about one man who would go onto a new job. He said he was one of the roughest, meanest fellows he had ever seen. When he went on to a new job he would find the meanest, roughest guy there and beat the fire out of him. Once he did that, nobody else there would mess with him, because they knew if he could whip the toughest one amongst them, he could whip them all.

If God could save Saul of Tarsus, a blaspheming persecutor and injurious toward the people of God, He can save any kind of sinner.

I think about Goliath's sword that was given back to David years later. There is no sword like the sword of Goliath. That was a trophy of victory that day, those two armies gathered together in that valley as the Israelites and the Philistines and that blaspheming Goliath that no man could defeat. And yet David went out and defeated him and the whole army of the Philistines ran away that day because they knew if he could beat Goliath, their champion, that he could beat all of them. He didn't have to have every piece of armor off of every Philistine soldier as a trophy. All he needed was Goliath's sword. That meant if he beat the one that wielded that sword, if he beat that Goliath, he could beat them all. Saul of Tarsus is like Goliath's sword, hanging on God's wall where God says, "I took down the Goliath. I took down the champion of the powers of darkness. Who is there that I cannot save?"

It is an example. It is a pattern.

It was with "all long suffering". Think how long suffering God is. The long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah. Though men were doing always evil continually and their thoughts were evil continually, God waited and waited before he sent the flood upon them. He is a long suffering God. He was long suffering towards Saul. He could have snuffed him out and sent him to hell. But he saved him by his grace.

The Lord Jesus, after Jerusalem had done all that Jerusalem did towards him, yet he wept over them.

    "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"12

He is longsuffering.
Several Things This Truth Should Do For Us:
1. It should humble us who are saved

If you are saved, you are on God's list of the worst of sinners. Thank God. He didn't come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He didn't look for the best. He reached into the worst dung hill. He reached closest and grabbed that ember, that fire brand, right from the mouth of hell. It should humble us.
2. It is a rebuke to believers that are not evangelizing, not giving the gospel

I don't just mean put money in the plate to support missions in another country. That is biblical. We have got to have that. I mean you as an individual being a witness and getting the gospel to people where you are at.

I was talking to brother Ryan about the Marines, the artillery that he shoots - the howitzer 155 - that heavy artillery. They can shoot up to 14 miles. When that shell hits he said it has a 50 meter kill radius. Those are some big guns that will do some big damage and will be a big help in a battle.

But what would it be like if those marines had those guns there, had them polished, having them sitting there ready to go and they just met together three times a week, polished them and looked at them and the battle is going on out at the front line and they are not firing those guns that can do all that damage. Friend, we have got the Word of God. We have got the gospel of Christ that is so powerful it can save the chiefest of sinners, but yet many times we just talk about and polish it and look at it. We don't shoot it. It is a rebuke to those who don't evangelize. Why not? Friend, have confidence. This gospel will work. Souls will be saved if you will give it out.
3. It gives hope to the evangelist

In fact, the places Paul preached, not all of them were like Macedonia saying, "Come over to us and help us." At some of these places, the price to pay was blood and chains and imprisonment and even death. And yet he went to them. Wicked governments brought false accusations and all the trials that Paul faced, but thank God that even in the midst of that God can save the chiefest of sinners.

I remember Dr. Lescelius teaching that it was a temptation in the days in the Old Testament with the Israelites to be too separated in a wrong way. By the time of the Pharisees they were so isolated and separated that they didn't try to even evangelize anybody else. They kept it all to themselves. You can't be too holy, but you can be too separated. If you are so separated that you will not go give the gospel to an old, rough, hard sinner, that is not like the Lord Jesus Christ did. He was holy. He was God of very God, yet he went to where sinners were and took the gospel to them. That is what we as the people of God need to do.

Then there is the temptation to the disciples. They didn't want to go through Samaria. The early Christians had to be scattered by persecution to go out and take the gospel different places. It is a temptation to us today just to hold up in the church like it is some kind of bomb shelter. It is not. It is a fortress in enemy territory, an outpost where we come to get rearmed and go out and do battle against the gates of hell.

Somebody asked C. H. Spurgeon, "Can the heathen who have never heard the gospel be saved?" Spurgeon replied, "More the question with me is: Can we who have heard the gospel and do not take it to those who have not heard it, can we be saved?"

We, the worst of sinners, how could we exclude the gospel to anyone? It is hope for the evangelist. God will never send you anywhere to anybody who is outside his power to save.
4. It is a rebuke to religious hypocrites

Look at all of these sinners at the bottom of the barrel whom Jesus saved and yet he passed by most of those religious Pharisees. They were the least of those who received the gospel. It is a rebuke to religious hypocrites.

The greatest open door that we have had on the streets was up in Pikeville, Kentucky, as far as here in America. There were some of the roughest sinners I have ever seen in my life. I mean drugs and alcohol and just a rough lifestyle up there and when we first went there, I was thinking, man, I don't know what is going to happen here. I don't know how they are going to receive it. But as we began giving out tracts, within just a few hours we passed out 5,000 tracts and didn't have any more to give. We weren't expecting that. People gathering around and listened to us preach. The next time we went back and took a team and those people gathered and listened to the gospel. There is a man that knelt down right outside the police department begging God to save him and two others that were saved. People would come up and say, "Please pray for me. I know I need help from God." Yet you go to places around here in the "Bible belt" where people are religious and they have got some kind of church profession and they are the hardest coldest people you will ever minister among. But many times just plain old rough sinners, they know what they are. They know they need help from God.

If you are a religious hypocrite that is a dangerous place to be.
5. It gives hope for revival

Even in the most wicked nation, the fact that God saves the chief of sinners, gives hope for revival. Listen to the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 11,

"Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you."13

Young person, listen to me. If you grow up hearing the gospel preached like you have heard here, and you grow up and rebel against God and the things of God and go out in a life of sin and die without Christ, friend, it will be better if you were a Sodomite from Sodom and Gomorrah on the judgment day, than for you to die and go to hell out of this church, because you have had a thousand times more light than they have ever had.

But Jesus said in Matthew 11:23,

    "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day."14

Sodom and Gomorrah - I drove across that plain and saw where they believe those cities were and it is a ghastly sight. The landscape is petrified by fire and brimstone out of heaven. Yet the Lord said that if they had repented they would still remain. That city would still remain. He wouldn't have sent judgment. Even if there were only 10 righteous in those cities, even though they were so wicked and so ungodly, he was willing to forgive them if they would have repented.

I believe if our nation, like Nineveh, would get in sackcloth and ashes from the president all the way down to the county commissioner, get in sackcloth and ashes - even down to the children as they did in Nineveh and cry out to God, I believe he would have mercy like he did in that day. It gives hope for revival even in the worst of nations.

Look in Isaiah 1. He said in verse 16,

    "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land."15

Do you realize the context of that promise? It is given to Israel and to the king at a time when they were compared in verse 9 to Sodom and Gomorrah. They are compared to Sodom again in verse 10. He calls them, "ye rulers of Sodom", "ye people of Gomorrah." He talks about their false sacrifices. They are trying to go on being religious and acting like everything is ok, but God hates the religious sacrifices and their prayer. That is the exact same condition that America is in today with the abominations, the Sodomites, the abortion, the butchering and slaughter of the innocent and all the things that America is doing and yet going on acting religious. People say, "God bless America. God bless our filth and our abominations that we are shaking in the face of God and, God, you can like it and you can bless it." That is what America is saying today. It is easy to get discouraged when you see that people are religious hypocrites and religious sinners, but even in the midst of that, God extended that promise unto them.

He is saying if they would turn from their wicked ways and come reason together with him, though their sins were like scarlet they could be washed away and be white as snow.

There is hope for salvation for the worst of sinners. Jesus said,

    "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."16

    "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."17

What does it mean to be a sinner?

Friend, if you are a sinner lost with out God, this is what it means.
1. It means that you are at enmity with God.

You are the enemy of God and he is your enemy. He is against you.
2. It means that you are right now under the judgment of God

"The wrath of God abideth on him." He that believeth not, John chapter three, right now the wrath of God abideth on you.
3. But, friend, it also means you are amongst that group of people, sinners, who were the very purpose that Christ came into this world.

If you are a sinner, take hope that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. If you will just get honest about your sin and get honest with God, there is hope for you. There is hope for the worst of sinners.

Then we see here,
II. The Wonder

In verses 12 to 15 he expounds this great salvation.
III. The Worship

He goes to worshiping God in verse 17.

    "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen."18

When I think back about how God saved me and I see different ones of you and remember how God saved you by his grace. When I think about sinners out there that are yet to be saved and I might be able to be an instrument to take the gospel to them and see them saved by the grace of God (and you might, too), it gives me hope and it makes me want to worship God. Nothing less than this God that he described here could do such a thing as that.
III. The Warfare

Here in 1 Timothy 1:18,

    "This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy."19

He exhorts him to the warfare. God saves the worst of sinners. He is still in the saving business. If he is able to do that, we ought to be faithful. We ought to stay true. We ought to keep on for him and we ought to keep our heads up believing that there is no limit to what God could do amongst us.

Download or listen to this sermon:

Note: My eyes were first opened to some of these glorious truths while reading a sermon from Stephen Charnock (1628-1680), "The Chief of Sinners, Objects of the Choicest Mercy". Much of this content, I credit to Brother Charnock.

1 - 1 Timothy 1:15.
2 - John 1:1. 
3 - John 6:37. 
4 - Proverbs 28:9. 
5 - Proverbs 24:9.
6 - Isaiah 64:6. 
7 - Acts 26:11. 
8 - Mark 16:9. 
9 - Mark 16:15. 
10 - Luke 14:21. 
11 - Philippians 4:22. 
12 - Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34.
13 - Matthew 11:20-22.
14 - Matthew 11:23. 
15 - Isaiah 1:16-19.
16 - Luke 19:10.
17 - Luke 5:32.
18 - 1 Timothy 1:17. 
19 - 1 Timothy 1:18.


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