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Gratitude for Mercy

12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.


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12 I give thanks Great is the dignity — of the apostleship, which Paul has claimed for himself; and he could not, looking at his former life, be accounted at all worthy of so high an honor. Accordingly, that he may not be accused of presumption, he comes unavoidably to make mention of his own person, and at once frankly acknowledges his own unworthiness, but nevertheless affirms that he is an Apostle by the grace of God. But he goes further, and turns to his own advantage what appeared to lessen his authority, declaring that the grace of God shines in him so much the more brightly.

To our Lord Jesus Christ When he gives thanks to Christ, he removes that dislike towards him which might have been entertained, and cuts off all ground for putting this question, “Does he deserve, or does he not deserve, so honorable an office?” for, although in himself he has no excellence, yet it is enough that he was chosen by Christ. There are, indeed, many who, under the same form of words, make a show of humility, but are widely different from the uprightness of Paul, whose intention was, not only to boast courageously in the Lord, but to give up all the glory that was his own. 1717     “Mais de se demettre de toute gloire, et recognoistre a bon eseient son iudignite;” — “But to part with all glory, and to acknowledge sincerely his own unworthiness.”

By putting me into the ministry. Why does he give thanks? Because he has been placed in the ministry; for thence he concludes that he hath been, accounted faithful Christ does not receive any in the manner that is done by ambitious 1818     “Christ ne fait pas comme les hommes, lesquels par ambition mettent des yens en un estat, sans regarder quay et commet;” — “Christ does not act like men, who, through ambition, put persons into an office, without considering what or how.” people, but selects those only who are well qualified; and therefore all on whom he bestows honor are acknowledged by us to be worthy. For is it inconsistent with this, that Judas, according to the prediction, (Psalm 109:8) was elevated for a short time, that he might quickly fall. It was otherwise with Paul, who obtained the honor for a different purpose, and on a different condition, when Christ declared that he should be

“a chosen vessel to him.” (Acts 9:15.)

But in this manner Paul seems to say that faithfulness, by which he had been previously distinguished, was the cause of his calling. If it were so, the thanksgiving would be hypocritical and contradictory; for he would owe his apostleship not only to God, but to his own merit. I deny, therefore, that the meaning is, that he was admitted to the rank of an apostle, because God had foreseen his faith; for Christ could not foresee in him anything good but what the Father had bestowed on him. Still, therefore, it continues to be true,

“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.”
(John 15:16.)

On the contrary, he draws from it a proof of his fidelity, that Christ had made him an Apostle; for he declares that they whom Christ makes Apostles must be held to be pronounced faithful by his decrees.

In a word, this judicial act is not traced by him to foreknowledge, but rather denotes the testimony which is given to men; as if he had said, “I give thanks to Christ, who, by calling me into the ministry, has openly declared that he approves of my faithfulness.” 1919     “Here is Paul, who was slandered by many people, as we see that there are always dogs that bark against God’s servants, aiming at nothing but to bring them into contempt, or rather to make their doctrine be despised and abhorred. Wishing to shut the mouths of such people, Paul says that he is satisfied with having the authority and warrant of Christ. As if he had said, ‘Men may reject me, but it is enough that I am declared to be faithful by him who has all authority in himself, and who, being the heavenly Judge, hath pronounced it. When he put me into that office, he declared that he reckoned me to be his servant, and that he intended to employ me in preaching his gospel. That is enough for me. Let men contrive and calumniate as much as they may, provided that I have Christ on my side, let men jeer at me, it will be of no avail; For the decision pronounced by the Lord Jesus Christ can never be recalled.’ Thus we see what was Paul’s intention, namely, that he does not here mean that Christ foresaw in him anything as the reason why he called him to so honorable an office, but only that, by putting him into it, he declared and made it evident to men, that he intended to make use of him.” — Fr. Ser.

Who hath made me powerful He now introduces the mention of another act of the kindness of Christ, that he strengthened him, or “made him powerful.” By this expression he does not only mean that he was at first formed by the hand of God, so as to be well qualified for his office, but he likewise includes the continued bestowal of grace. For it would not have been enough that he was once declared to be faithful, if Christ had not strengthened him by the uninterrupted communication of aid. He acknowledges, therefore, that he is indebted to the grace of Christ on two accounts, because he was once elevated, and because he continues in his office.

13. Who was formerly a blasphemer and persecutor; a blasphemer against God, a persecutor and oppressor against the Church. We see how candidly he acknowledges that it might be brought against him as a reproach, and how far he is from extenuating his sins, and how, by willingly acknowledging his unworthiness, he magnifies the greatness of the grace of God. Not satisfied with having called himself a “persecutor,” he intended to express more fully his rage and cruelty by an additional terns, an oppressor.

Because I did it ignorantly in unbelief “I obtained pardon,” said he, “for my unbelief; because it proceeded from ignorance;” for persecution and oppression were nothing else than the fruits of unbelief.

But he appears to insinuate that there is no room for pardon, unless when ignorance can be pleaded in excuse. What then? Will God never pardon any one who has sinned knowingly? I reply, we must observe the word unbelief; 2020     “Par incredulite, ou, n’ayant point la foy.” — “Through unbelief, or not having faith.” for this term limits Paul’s statement to the first table of the law. Transgressions of the second table, although they are voluntary, are forgiven; but he who knowingly and willingly breaks the first table sins against the Holy Spirit, because he is in direct opposition to God. He does not err through weakness, but, by rushing wickedly against God, gives a sure proof of his reprobation.

And hence may be obtained a definition of the sin against the Holy Ghost; first, that it is open rebellion against God in the transgression of the first table; secondly, that it is a malicious rejection of the truth; for, when the truth of God is not rejected through deliberate malice, the Holy Spirit is not resisted. Lastly, unbelief is here employed as a general term; and malicious design, which is contrasted with ignorance, may be regarded as the point of difference. 2121     “En la definition du peche contre le S. Esprit, Incredulite est le terme general; et le Propos malicieux, qui est le contraire d’ignoranee, est comme ce que les Dialecticiens appellent la difference, qui restraint ce qui estoit general.” — “In the definition of the sin against the Holy Spirit, Unbelief is the general term, and malicious intention, which is the opposite of ignorance, may be regarded as that which logicians call the difference, which limits what was general.”

Accordingly, they are mistaken who make the sin against the Holy Ghost to consist in the transgression of the second table; and they are also mistaken, who pronounce blind and thoughtless violence to be a crime so heinous. For men commit the sin against the Holy Spirit, when they undertake a voluntary war against God in order to extinguish that light of the Spirit which has been offered to them. This is shocking wickedness and monstrous hardihood. Nor is there room for doubting that, by an implied threatening, he intended to terrify all who had been once enlightened, not to stumble against truth which they knew; because such a fall is destructive and fatal; for if, on account of ignorance, God forgave Paul his blasphemies, they who knowingly and intentionally blaspheme ought not to expect any pardon.

But it may be thought that what he now says is to no purpose; for unbelief, which is always blind, can never be unaccompanied by ignorance. I reply, among unbelievers some are so blind that they are deceived by a false imagination of the truth; and in others, while they are blinded, yet malice prevails. Paul was not altogether free from a wicked disposition; but he was hurried along by the thoughtless zeal, so as to think that what he did was right. Thus he was an adversary of Christ, not from deliberate intention, but through mistake and ignorance. The Pharisees, who through a bad conscience slandered Christ, were not entirely free from mistake and ignorance; but they were instigated by ambition, and base hatred of sound doctrine, and even by furious rebellion against God, so that maliciously and intentionally, and not in ignorance, they set themselves in opposition to Christ. 2222     “It may deserve consideration whether a large portion of this able argument might not have been avoided, by means of a different collocation of the passage. “Who was formerly a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and an oppressor, (for I did it ignorantly in unbelief,) but I obtained mercy, and the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” — Ed.

14 And the grace of our Lord He again magnifies the grace of God towards himself, not only for the purpose of removing the dislike of it and testifying his gratitude, but also to employ it as a shield against the slanders of wicked men, whose whole design was to bring down his apostleship to a lower level. When he says that it abounded, and that, too, beyond measure, the statement implies that the remembrance of past transactions was effaced, and so completely swallowed up, that it was no disadvantage to him that God had formerly been gracious to good men.

With faith and love Both may be viewed as referring to God, in this sense, that God showed himself to be true, and gave a manifestation of his love in Christ, when he bestowed his grace upon him. But I prefer a more simple interpretation, that “faith and love” are indications and proofs of that grace which he had mentioned, that it might not be supposed that he boasted needlessly or without good grounds. And, indeed, “faith” is contrasted with unbelief, and “love in Christ” is contrasted with the cruelty which he had exercised towards believers; as if he had said, that God had so completely changed him, that he had become a totally different and new man. Thus from the signs and effects he celebrates in lofty terms the excellence of that grace which must obliterate the remembrance of his former life.

15 It is a faithful saying After having defended his ministry from slander and unjust accusations, not satisfied with this, he turns to his own advantage what might have been brought against him by his adversaries as a reproach. He shews that it was profitable to the Church that he had been such a person as he actually was before he was called to the apostleship, because Christ, by giving him as a pledge, invited all sinners to the sure hope of obtaining pardon. For when he, who had been a fierce and savage beast, was changed into a Pastor, Christ gave a remarkable display of his grace, from which all might be led to entertain a firm belief that no sinner; how heinous and aggravated so ever might have been his transgressions, had the gate of salvation shut against him.

That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners He first brings forward this general statement, and adorns it with a preface, as he is wont to do in matters of vast importance. In the doctrine of religion, indeed, the main point is, to come to Christ, that, being lost in ourselves, we may obtain salvation from him. Let this preface be to our ears like the sound of a trumpet to proclaim the praises of the grace of Christ, in order that we may believe it with a stronger faith. Let it be to us as a seal to impress on our hearts a firm belief of the forgiveness of sins, which otherwise with difficulty finds entrance into the hearts of men.

A faithful saying What was the reason why Paul aroused attention by these words, but because men are always disputing with themselves 2323     “Sinon d’autant que les honames disputent tousjours, et sont en doute en eux — mesmes touehant leur salut.” — “But because men are always disputing, and are in doubt in themselves about their salvation.” about their salvation? For, although God the Father a thousand times offer to us salvation, and although Christ himself preach about his own office, yet we do not on that account cease to tremble, or at least to debate with ourselves if it be actually so. Wherefore, whenever any doubt shall arise in our mind about the forgiveness of sins, let us learn to repel it courageously with this shield, that it is an undoubted truth, and deserves to be received without controversy.

To save sinners. The word sinners is emphatic; for they who acknowledge that it is the office of Christ to save, have difficulty in admitting this thought, that such a salvation belongs to “sinners.” Our mind is always impelled to look at our worthiness; and as soon as our unworthiness is seen, our confidence sinks. Accordingly, the more any one is oppressed by his sins, let him the more courageously betake himself to Christ, relying on this doctrine, that he came to bring salvation not to the righteous, but to “sinners.” It deserves attention, also, that Paul draws an argument from the general office of Christ, in order that what he had lately testified about his own person might not appear to be on account of its novelty.

Of whom, I am the first Beware of thinking that the Apostle, under a presence of modesty, spoke falsely, 2424     “Il se faut bien donner garde de cuider que l’Apostre ait ainsi parle par une faeon de nmodestie, et non pas qu’il se pensast en son coeur.” — “We must guard against thinking that the Apostle spoke thus under a presence of modesty, and that he did not think so in his heart.” for he intended to make a confession not less true than humble, and drawn from the very bottom of his heart.

But some will ask, “Why does he, who only erred through ignorance of sound doctrine, and whose whole life, in even other respect, was blameless before men, pronounce himself to be the chief of sinners?” I reply, these words inform us how heinous and dreadful a crime unbelief is before God, especially when it is attended by obstinacy and a rage for persecution. (Philippians 3:6.) With men, indeed, it is easy to extenuate, under the presence of heedless zeal, all that Paul has acknowledged about himself; but God values more highly the obedience of faith than to reckon unbelief, accompanied by obstinacy, to be a small crime. 2525     “If we consider what is the chief service that God demands and accepts, we shall know what is meant by saying that humility is the greatest sacrifice that he approves. (1 Samuel 15:22.) And that is the reason why it is said that faith may be regarded as the mother of all the virtues; it is the foundation and source of them; and, but for this, all the virtues that are visible, and that are highly valued by men, have no solid value; they are so many vices which God condemns. After we have loudly praised a man, and placed him in the rank of angels, he shall be rejected by God, with all his fine reputation, unless he have that obedience of faith. Thus it will be in vain for men to say, ‘I did not intend it, that was my opinion;’ for, not withstanding their good intention and their reputation, they must be condemned before God as rebels. This would, at first sight, seem hard to digest. And why? For we see how men always endeavor to escape from the hand of God, and resort to many indirect means. And when can they find this palliation, ‘I intended to do what was right, and why not accept my good intention?’ When that can be alleged, we think that it is enough, but such palliations will be of no avail before God.” — Fr. Ser.

We ought carefully to observe this passage, which teaches us, that a man who, before the world, is not only innocent, but eminent for distinguished virtues, and most praiseworthy for his life, yet because he is opposed to the doctrine of the gospel, and on account of the obstinacy of his unbelief, is reckoned one of the most heinous sinners; for hence we may easily conclude of what value before God are all the pompous displays of hypocrites, while they obstinately resist Christ.

16 That in me the first Jesus Christ might shew When he calls himself the first, he alludes to what he had said a little before, that he was the first 2626     “Qu’il estoit le premier ou le principal de tous les pecheurs.” — “That he was the first, or the chief, of all sinners.” among sinners and, therefore, this word means “chiefly,” or, “above all.” The Apostle’s meaning is, that, from the very beginning, God held out such a pattern as might be visible from a conspicuous and lofty platform, that no one might doubt that he would obtain pardon, provided that he approached to Christ by faith. And, indeed, the distrust entertained by all of us is counteracted, when we thus behold in Paul a visible model of that grace which we desire to see.

17 Now to the King eternal His amazing vehemence at length breaks out into this exclamation; because he could not find words to express his gratitude; for those sudden bursts occur chiefly when we are constrained to break off the discourse, in consequence of being overpowered by the vastness of the subject. And is there anything more astonishing than Paul’s conversion? Yet, at the same time, by his example he reminds us all that we ought never to think of the grace manifested in God’s calling 2727     “Nostre vocation, e’est a dire, la grace que Dieu nous a faite en nous appellant.” — “Our calling, that is, the grace which God has displayed in calling us.” without being carried to lofty admiration.

Eternal, invisible, only wise This sublime praise of the grace which God had bestowed on him 2828     “De la grace de Dieu sur lay.” swallows up the remembrance of his former life. For how great a deep is the glory of God! Those attributes which he ascribes to God, though they belong to him always, yet are admirably adapted to the present occasion. The Apostle calls him the King eternal, not liable to any change; Invisible, because (1 Timothy 6:16) he dwells in light that is inaccessible; and, lastly, the Only Wise, because he renders foolish, and condemns as vanity, all the wisdom of men. The whole agrees with that conclusion at which he arrives:

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his designs! How unsearchable his ways!” (Romans 11:33.)

He means that the infinite and incomprehensible wisdom of God should be beheld by us with such reverence that, if his works surpass our senses, still we may be restrained by admiration.

Yet as to the last epithet Only, it is doubtful whether he means to claim all glory for God alone, or calls him the only wise, or says that he only is God. The second of these meanings is that which I prefer; for it was in fine harmony with his present subject to say, that the understanding of men, whatever it may be, must bend to the secret purpose of God. And yet I do not deny that he affirms that God alone is worthy of all glory; for, while he scatters on his creatures, in every direction, the sparks of his glory, still all glory belongs truly and perfectly to him alone. But either of those meanings implies that there is no glory but that which belongs to God.




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