Did Paul Actually Think of Himself as the “Chief” of Sinners?

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).

AMAZING-GRACE1We have all heard it and perhaps we have even said it ourselves.  “I am the worst cook…”  “I am the worst organizer…”  “I am the worst preacher…”  “I am the worst teacher…”  “I am the worst gardener…”  “I am the worst mother/father/daughter/son-in-law…,” etc.

Why do we say such things?  We don’t believe these things when we say them.  So, why do we say them?  I would like to suggest a few reasons.  Sometimes, we just don’t want people’s expectations to be too high.  We don’t want them to be disappointed if we fail to deliver the goods.  Or perhaps we say such things simply to elicit sympathy.  We want people to feel sorry for us.  We want them to pat us on the back and tell us that we are really not the worst, but someone else is.  Often, people say things like these out of a false sense of humility.  We are subtly fishing for compliments.  We want people to tell us that far from being the worst, we are actually the best they know.  Sometimes we say these things due to a very poor self-image.  Life has been so hard for us.  We have been battered for so long.  We are tired and sick of everything and we feel that we owe it to ourselves and the world to say such things.  Self-depreciation has perhaps become a lifestyle.  Sometimes we say such things because we have unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of ourselves.  We are perfectionists and we judge anything less than perfect to be the absolute worst.  But perhaps we say these things simply because we don’t really know what else to say!  We each have our own favorite, well-rehearsed, self-inflicting put-downs which we like to repeat to ourselves and others from time to time.  But if truth be told, we don’t really believe them.  We don’t really know why we keep saying them but we do.

In 1 Timothy 1:15, we have a statement from the Apostle Paul which sounds very similar to the statements we have looked at above.  Paul addresses himself as the “chief” of sinners.  Why would Paul say this about himself?   Continue reading

The Best Book for a Wounded Conscience

John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, the second most popular book in Christendom (second from the Bible) wrote the following in his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:

…Apart from the Holy Bible, I consider this commentary on Galatians by Martin Luther to be the best of all the books that I have ever seen for a wounded conscience.

Of his own experience with Luther’s commentary on Galatians, Bunyan writes:

…The God in whose hands are all our days and ways one day brought into my possession a book by Martin Luther.  It was his commentary on Galatians.  It was so old that, if I so much as turned it over, it was ready to fall to pieces.  I was so pleased that such an old book had fallen into my hands that when, just a few pages into it, I found my condition so comprehensively described by Luther’s experience, it was as if his book had been written from my own heart.

I highly recommend to you both:

Of course, if you have never read Pilgrim’s Progress, I highly recommend that too.

The Assurance of Grace in the Heart – from the Pen of John Bunyan

It would be too long for me here to stay, to tell you in particular how God did set me down in all the things of Christ, and how He did, that He might do so, lead me into His words; yea, and also how He did open them unto me, make them shine before me, and comfort me over and over, both of His own being, and the being of His Son, and Spirit, and Word, and gospel.

Only this, as I said before I will say unto you again, that in general He was pleased to take this course with me; first, to suffer me to be afflicted with temptation concerning them, and then reveal them to me: as sometimes I should lie under great guilt for sin, even crushed to the ground therewith, and then the Lord would show me the death of Christ; yea, and so sprinkle my conscience with His blood, that I should find, and that before I was aware, that in that conscience where but just now did reign and rage the law, even there would rest and abide the peace and love of God through Christ.

Now had I an evidence, as I thought, of my salvation from heaven, with many golden seals thereon, all hanging in my sight; now could I remember this manifestation and the other discovery of grace, with comfort; and should often long and desire that the last day were come, that I might for ever be inflamed with the sight, and joy, and communion with Him whose head was crowned with thorns, whose face was spit on, and body broken, and soul made an offering for my sins: for whereas, before, I lay continually trembling at the mouth of hell, now methought I was got so far therefrom that I could not, when I looked back, scarce discern it; and oh! thought I, that I were fourscore years old now, that I might die quickly, that my soul might be gone to rest.

But before I had got thus far out of these my temptations, I did greatly long to see some ancient godly man’s experience, who had writ some hundreds of years before I was born; for those who had writ in our days, I thought, but I desire them now to pardon me, that they had writ only that which others felt, or else had, through the strength of their wits and parts, studied to answer such objections as they perceived others were perplexed with, without going down themselves into the deep. Well, after many such longings in my mind, the God in whose hands are all our days and ways, did cast into my hand, one day, a book of Martin Luther; it was his comment on the Galatians–it also was so old that it was ready to fall piece from piece if I did but turn it over.

Now I was pleased much that such an old book had fallen into my hands; the which, when I had but a little way perused, I found my condition, in his experience, so largely and profoundly handled, as if his book had been written out of my heart. This made me marvel; for thus thought I, This man could not know anything of the state of Christians now, but must needs write and speak the experience of former days.

Besides, he doth most gravely, also, in that book, debate of the rise of these temptations, namely, blasphemy, desperation, and the like; showing that the law of Moses as well as the devil, death, and hell hath a very great hand therein, the which, at first, was very strange to me; but considering and watching, I found it so indeed. But of particulars here I intend nothing; only this, methinks, I must let fall before all men, I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians, excepting the Holy Bible, before all the books that ever I have seen, as most fit for a wounded conscience.

And now I found, as I thought, that I loved Christ dearly; oh! methought my soul cleaved unto Him, my affections cleaved unto Him, I felt love unto Him as hot as fire; and now, as Job said, I thought I should die in my nest; but I did quickly find that my great love was but little, and that I, who had, as I thought, such burning love to Jesus Christ, could let Him go again for a very trifle; God can tell how to abase us, and can hide pride from man. Quickly after this my love was tried to purpose.

Taken from John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.

Biography of John Bunyan

John BunyanJohn Bunyan had very little schooling. He followed his father in the tinker’s trade, and he served in the parliamentary army from1644 to 1647. Bunyan married in 1649 and lived in Elstow until 1655, when his wife died. He then moved to Bedford, and married again in 1659. John Bunyan was received into the Baptist church in Bedford by immersion in 1653.  In 1655, Bunyan became a deacon and began preaching, with marked success from the start. In 1658 he was indicted for preaching without a license. The authorities were fairly tolerant of him for a while, and he did not suffer imprisonment until November of 1660, when he was taken to the county jail in Silver Street, Bedford, and there confined (with the exception of a few weeks in 1666) for 12 years until January 1672. Bunyan afterward became pastor of the Bedford church. In March of 1675 he was again imprisoned for preaching publicly without a license, this time being held in the Bedford town jail. In just six months this time he was freed, (no doubt the authorities were growing weary of providing Bunyan with free shelter and food) and he was not bothered again by the authorities.

John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress in two parts, of which the first appeared at London in 1678,which he had begun during his imprisonment in 1676. The second part appeared in 1684. The earliest edition in which the two parts were combined in one volume came out in 1728. A third part falsely attributed to Bunyan appeared in 1693. The Pilgrim’s Progressis the most successful allegory ever written, and like the Bible has been extensively translated into other languages.

John Bunyan wrote many other books, including one which discussed his inner life and reveals his preparation for his appointed work is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). Bunyan became a popular preacher as well as a very voluminous author, though most of his works consist of expanded sermons. In theology he was a Puritan, but not a partisan. He was no scholar, except of the English Bible, but that he knew thoroughly. He also drew much influence from Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians.

Some time before his final release from prison Bunyan became involved in a controversy with two theologians of his day: Kiffin and Paul. In 1673 he published hisDifferences in Judgement about Water-Baptism no Bar to Communion, in which he took the ground that “the Church of Christ hath not warrant to keep out of the communion the Christian that is discovered to be a visible saint of the word, the Christian that walketh according to his own light with God.” While he agreed as a Baptist that water baptism was God’s ordinance, he refused to make “an idol of it,” and he disagreed with those who would dis-fellowship from Christians who did not adhere to water baptism

Kiffin and Paul published a rejoinder in Serious Reflections (London, 1673), in which they set forth the argument in favor of the restriction of the Lord’s Supper to baptized believers. The controversy resulted in the Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists leaving the question of communion with the unbaptized open. Bunyan’s church permitted pedobaptists (those who baptize children, such as the Calvinistic Presbyterian Church) to fellowship and eventually, Bunyan’s church even became a pedobaptist church.

On a trip to London, John Bunyan caught a severe cold, and he died at the house of a friend at Snow Hill on August 31, 1688. His grave lies in the cemetery at Bunhill Fields in London.