In 1 Timothy 1, the apostle Paul says that the Lord Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom Paul counted himself the chief.
“However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (verse 16, New King James Version).
That is, Jesus saved Paul that His power to deliver might be demonstrated in the man formerly known as the church’s foremost persecutor.
To conclude a sermon about the power of forgiveness, the famous 19th century minister Charles Spurgeon gives a handful of examples of other men, such as Paul, who were called from darkness to be light.
What Spurgeon preached:
The Lord never does have any who really and acceptably fear Him but those who once were sinners, and who are led as sinners to accept His pardon, and these are the people that do fear Him.
Do you want to find a warm-hearted woman who really loves Jesus Christ, and who would break the alabaster box for His sake? You will find her in one who may be called “a woman who was a sinner.”
Do you want to find a man who would preach Christ’s Word with tears running down his cheeks? You must go and find him among those who once were foul, of whom the apostles said, “Such were some of you, but ye are washed.”
When the Lord wanted a man to write the next best book in the world to the Bible—“The Pilgrim’s Progress”—He did not go to Lambeth Palace for him, and He did not go to any of the fine streets of this city to pick up some moral person. There was a swearing tinker playing at “cat” on Sunday on Elstow-Green, and the Lord said, “That is the man.” He laid hold of him, washed his heart, made him a new man in Christ Jesus, and John Bunyan, the master-dreamer, has given us that remarkable book.
And when the Lord wanted a man who would stir up London from end to end by preaching in St. Mary Woolnoth, where should He find him? Why, among the ragamuffins who were conducting the slave trade on the coast of Africa, among the sweepings and dregs of the universe.
Almighty grace picked up John Newton, changed his heart, and made him one of His mightiest teachers.
And when the Lord will bring out any that shall really fear Him, and do anything great for His sake, it will be either from among those who have been outwardly great sinners, or else those who have been made in their conscience to feel the greatness of their guilt, and thus have been fitted to deal with others.
Oh, how many times I have blessed God for the five years of despair that I had to endure! No poor soul was ever more racked than I was, nor more hunted of the devil. For five years I was a victim to that black thought that God would never forgive me, and I bless His name for it.
I never could have preached to the chief of sinners if it had not been for that experience. If I had come freely from my mother’s apron strings, without any deep sense of sin, and had found Christ as many and many a young man does, readily and at once, I should never have liked to go down, and run my hands in the mire to get at the foul and the vile.
But now, I look back upon those times of anguish—why, they were days when I thought I was worse than the devils in hell, there were days when if anybody had asked me my character, though no one ever knew anything amiss of it, still I would have said, and felt it too, that there did not breathe God’s air a greater miscreant that more deserved to be in hell than I did.
I wrote bitter things against myself, and if any had said, “Why, your life is moral,” I should have said, “Yes, but my heart is a reeking dunghill, full of everything that is foul,” and I felt it too, for though my lips never cursed God, yet my heart did, with blasphemy so foul that I shudder when I think of it.
When I was given up a prey to the devil, and it seemed as if there was a pandemonium within my heart, then indeed I knew what it was to be sorely broken in the place of darkness, and to be like a ship driven out to sea with the mast gone over the side, and every timber strained, and the hold filling with water, and nothing but omnipotence keeping it from going down into the lowest depths.
Ah! then I knew that I wanted a great Christ for great sinners, and I dare not preach a little Christ now, and I dare not preach Him to little sinners either.
Oh, how great your sin has been, my hearers, but Jesus Christ is greater still! You have gone deeply into sin, but the arm of mercy can reach you.
You have wandered far, but the eye of love can see you, and the voice of love calls to you now, “Come, come, come and welcome, come and welcome.”
Come just as you are, and you will not be cast away, but be accepted in the Beloved. “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared,” and none fear, and love, and bless, and praise God so much as those who know that there is forgiveness with Him.
Sermon edited with preface by Zach Parker, news editor at The Ouachita Citizen, and pastoral intern at Church of the Redeemer in West Monroe. The excerpt is from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon, “Forgiveness,” delivered on Jan. 25, 1906 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.