Part 1 out of 2
This etext was produced from the 1845 Thomas Nelson edition by David
Price, email email@example.com
THE JERUSALEM SINNER SAVED;
GOOD NEWS FOR THE VILEST OF MEN
by John Bunyan
BEGINNING AT JERUSALEM.--Luke xxiv. 47.
The whole verse runs thus: "And that repentance and remission of
sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at
The words were spoken by Christ, after he rose from the dead, and
they are here rehearsed after an historical manner, but do contain in
them a formal commission, with a special clause therein. The
commission is, as you see, for the preaching of the gospel, and is
very distinctly inserted in the holy record by Matthew and Mark. "Go
teach all nations," &c. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the
gospel unto every creature." Matt. xxviii. 19; Mark xvi. 15. Only
this cause is in special mentioned by Luke, who saith, That as Christ
would have the doctrine of repentance and remission of sins preached
in his name among all nations, so he would have the people of
Jerusalem to have the first proffer thereof. Preach it, saith
Christ, in all nations, but begin at Jerusalem.
The apostles then, though they had a commission so large as to give
them warrant to go and preach the gospel in all the world, yet by
this clause they were limited as to the beginning of their ministry:
they were to begin this work at Jerusalem. "Beginning at Jerusalem."
Before I proceed to an observation upon the words, I must (but
briefly) touch upon two things: namely,
I. Show you what Jerusalem now was.
II. Show you what it was to preach the gospel to them.
I. For the first, Jerusalem is to be considered, either,
1. With respect to the descent of her people: or,
2. With respect to her preference and exaltation: or,
3. With respect to her present state, as to her decays.
First, As to her descent: she was from Abraham, the sons of Jacob, a
people that God singled out from the rest of the nations to set his
love upon them.
Secondly, As to her preference or exaltation, she was the place of
God's worship, and that which had in and with her the special tokens
and signs of God's favour and presence, above any other people in the
world. Hence the tribes went up to Jerusalem to worship; there was
God's house, God's high-priest, God's sacrifices accepted, and God's
eye, and God's heart perpetually; Psalm lxxvi. 1, 2; Psalm cxxii.; 1
Kings ix. 3. But,
Thirdly, We are to consider Jerusalem also in her decays; for as she
is so considered, she is the proper object of our text, as will be
further showed by and by.
Jerusalem, as I told you, was the place and seat of God's worship,
but now decayed, degenerated, and apostatized. The word, the rule of
worship, was rejected of them, and in its place they had put and set
up their own traditions; they had rejected also the most weighty
ordinances, and put in the room thereof their own little things,
Matt. xv.; Mark vii. Jerusalem was therefore now greatly
backsliding, and become the place where truth and true religion were
It was also now become the very sink of sin and seat of hypocrisy,
and gulf where true religion was drowned. Here also now reigned
presumption, and groundless confidence in God, which is the bane of
souls. Amongst its rulers, doctors, and leaders, envy, malice, and
blasphemy vented itself against the power of godliness, in all places
where it was espied; as also against the promoters of it; yea, their
Lord and Maker could not escape them.
In a word, Jerusalem was now become the shambles, the very slaughter-
shop for saints. This was the place wherein the prophets, Christ,
and his people, were most horribly persecuted and murdered. Yea, so
hardened at this time was this Jerusalem in her sins, that she feared
not to commit the biggest, and to bind herself by wish under the
guilt and damning evil of it; saying, when she had murdered the Son
of God, "His blood be upon us and our children."
And though Jesus Christ did, both by doctrine, miracles, and holiness
of life, seek to put a stop to their villanies, yet they shut their
eyes, stopped their ears, and rested not, till, as was hinted before,
they had driven him out of the world. Yea, that they might, if
possible, have extinguished his name, and exploded his doctrine out
of the world, they, against all argument, and in despite of Heaven,
its mighty hand, and undeniable proof of his resurrection, did hire
soldiers to invent a lie, saying, his disciples stole him away from
the grave; on purpose that men might not count him the Saviour of the
world, nor trust in him for the remission of sins.
They were, saith Paul, contrary to all men: for they did not only
shut up the door of life against themselves, but forbade that it
should be opened to any else. "Forbidding us," saith he, "to preach
to the Gentiles, that they might be saved, to fill up their sins
alway;" Matt. xxiii. 35; chap. xv. 7-9; Mark vii. 6-8; Matt. iii. 7-
9; John viii. 33, 41; Matt. xxvii. 18; Mark iii. 30; Matt. xxiii. 37;
Luke xiii. 33, 34; Matt. xxvii. 25; chap. xx. 11-16; 1 Thess. ii. 14-
This is the city, and these are the people; this is their character,
and these are their sins: nor can there be produced their parallel
in all this world. Nay, what world, what people, what nation, for
sin and transgression, could, or can be compared to Jerusalem!
especially if you join to the matter of fact the light they sinned
against, and the patience which they abused. Infinite was the
wickedness upon this account which they committed.
After all their abusings of wise men, and prophets, God sent unto
them John Baptist, to reduce them, and then his Son to redeem them;
but they would be neither reduced nor redeemed, but persecuted both
to the death. Nor did they, as I said, stop here; the holy apostles
they afterwards persecuted also to death, even so many as they could;
the rest they drove from them unto the utmost corners.
II. I come now to show you what it was to preach the gospel to them.
It was, saith Luke, "to preach to them repentance and remission of
sins" in Christ's name; or, as Mark has it, to bid them "repent and
believe the gospel," Mark i. 15; not that repentance is a cause of
remission, but a sign of our hearty reception thereof. Repentance is
therefore here put to intimate, that no pretended faith of the gospel
is good that is not accompanied with it: and this he doth on
purpose, because he would not have them deceive themselves: for with
what faith can he expect remission of sins in the name of Christ,
that is not heartily sorry for them? Or how shall a man be able to
give to others a satisfactory account of his unfeigned subjection to
the gospel, that yet abides in his impenitency?
Wherefore repentance is here joined with faith in the way of
receiving the gospel. Faith is that without which it cannot be
received at all; and repentance that without which it cannot be
received unfeignedly. When therefore Christ says, he would have
repentance and remission of sins preached in his name among all
nations, it is as much as to say, I will that all men every where be
sorry for their sins, and accept of mercy at God's hand through me,
lest they fall under his wrath in the judgment. For as I had said,
without repentance, what pretence soever men have of faith, they
cannot escape the wrath to come. Wherefore Paul saith, God commands
"all men every where to repent," (in order to their salvation),
"because he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world
in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained;" Acts xvii. 31.
And now to come to this clause, "Beginning at Jerusalem;" that is,
that Christ would have Jerusalem have the first offer of the gospel.
1. This cannot be so commanded, because they had now any more right
of themselves thereto than had any of the nations of the world; for
their sins had divested them of all self-deservings.
2. Nor yet, because they stood upon the advance-ground with the
worst of the sinners of the nations; nay, rather, the sinners of the
nations had the advance-ground of them: for Jerusalem was, long
before she had added this iniquity to her sin, worse than the very
nations that God cast out before the children of Israel; 2 Chron.
3. It must therefore follow, that this clause, Begin at Jerusalem,
was put into this commission of mere grace and compassion, even from
the overflowings of the bowels of mercy; for indeed they were the
worst, and so in the most deplorable condition of any people under
Whatever, therefore, their relation was to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob,
however they formerly had been the people among whom God had placed
his name and worship, they were now degenerated from God, more than
the nations were from their idols, and were become guilty of the
highest sins which the people of the world were capable of
committing. Nay, none can be capable of committing of such
pardonable sins as they committed against their God, when they slew
his Son, and persecuted his name and word.
From these words, therefore, thus explained, we gain this
That Jesus Christ would have mercy offered in the first place to the
That these Jerusalem sinners were the biggest sinners that ever were
in the world, I think none will deny, that believes that Christ was
the best man that ever was in the world, and also was their Lord God.
And that they were to have the first offer of his grace, the text is
as clear as the sun; for it saith, "Begin at Jerusalem." "Preach,"
saith he, "repentance and remission of sins" to the Jerusalem
sinners: to the Jerusalem sinners in the first place.
One would a-thought, since the Jerusalem sinners were the worst and
greatest sinners, Christ's greatest enemies, and those that not only
despised his person, doctrine, and miracles, but that a little before
had had their hands up to the elbows in his heart-blood, that he
should rather have said, Go into all the world, and preach repentance
and remission of sins among all nations; and after that offer the
same to Jerusalem; yea, it had been infinite grace, if he had said
so. But what grace is this, or what name shall we give it, when he
commands that this repentance and remission of sins, which is
designed to be preached in all nations, should first be offered to
Jerusalem, in the first place to the worst of sinners!
Nor was this the first time that the grace which was in the heart of
Christ thus shewed itself to the world. For while he was yet alive,
even while he was yet in Jerusalem, and perceived even among these
Jerusalem sinners, which was the most vile amongst them, he still in
his preaching did signify that he had a desire that the worst of
these worst should in the first place come unto him. The which he
showeth, where he saith to the better sort of them, "The publicans
and harlots enter into the kingdom of God before you;" Matt. xxi. 31.
Also when he compared Jerusalem with the sinners of the nations, then
he commands that the Jerusalem sinners should have the gospel at
present confined to them. "Go not," saith he, "into the way of the
Gentiles, and into any of the cities of the Samaritans enter ye not;
but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel;" Matt. x. 5,
6; chap. xxiii. 37; but go rather to them, for they were in the most
These therefore must have the cream of the gospel, namely, the first
offer thereof in his lifetime: yea, when he departed out of the
world, he left this as part of his last will with his preachers, that
they also should offer it first to Jerusalem. He had a mind, a
careful mind, as it seems, to privilege the worst of sinners with the
first offer of mercy, and to take from among them a people to be the
first fruits unto God and to the Lamb.
The 15th of Luke also is famous for this, where the Lord Jesus takes
more care, as appears there by three parables, for the lost sheep,
lost groat, and the prodigal son, than for the other sheep, the other
pence, or for the son that said he had never transgressed, yea, he
shows that there is joy in heaven, among the angels of God, at the
repentance of one sinner, more than over ninety and nine just
persons, which need no repentance; Luke xv.
After this manner therefore the mind of Christ was set on the
salvation of the biggest sinners in his lifetime. But join to this,
this clause, which he carefully put into the apostles' commission to
preach, when he departed hence to the Father, and then you shall see
that his heart was vehemently set upon it; for these were part of his
last words with them, Preach my gospel to all nations, but see that
you begin at Jerusalem.
Nor did the apostles overlook this clause when their Lord was gone
into heaven: they went first to them of Jerusalem, and preached
Christ's gospel to them: they abode also there for a season and
time, and preached it to no body else, for they had regard to the
commandment of their Lord.
And it is to be observed, namely, that the first sermon which they
preached after the ascension of Christ, it was preached to the very
worst of these Jerusalem sinners, even to these that were the
murderers of Jesus Christ, Acts ii. 23, for these are part of the
sermon: "Ye took him, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain
him." Yea, the next sermon, and the next, and also the next to that,
was preached to the self-same murderers, to the end they might be
saved; Acts iii. 14-16; chap. iv. 10, 11; chap. v. 30; chap. vii. 52.
But we will return to the first sermon that was preached to these
Jerusalem sinners, by which will be manifest more than great grace,
if it be duly considered.
For after that Peter, and the rest of the apostles, had, in their
exhortation, persuaded these wretches to believe that they had killed
the Prince of life, and after they had duly fallen under the guilt of
their murder, saying, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" he
replies, by an universal tender to them all in general, considering
them as Christ's killers, that if they were sorry for what they had
done, and would be baptized for the remission of their sins in his
name, they should receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; Acts ii. 37,
This he said to them all, though he knew that they were such sinners.
Yea, he said it without the least stick or stop, or pause of spirit,
as to whether he had best to say so or no. Nay, so far off was Peter
from making an objection against one of them, that by a particular
clause in his exhortation, he endeavours, that not one of them may
escape the salvation offered. "Repent," saith he, "and be baptized
every one of you." I shut out never a one of you; for I am commanded
by my Lord to deal with you, as it were, one by one, by the word of
his salvation. But why speaks he so particularly? Oh! there were
reasons for it. The people with whom the apostles were now to deal,
as they were murderers of our Lord, and to be charged in the general
with his blood, so they had their various and particular acts of
villany in the guilt thereof, now lying upon their consciences. And
the guilt of these their various and particular acts of wickedness,
could not perhaps be reached to a removal thereof, but by this
particular application. Repent every one of you; be baptized every
one of you, in his name, for the remission of sins, and you shall,
every one of you, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Object. But I was one of them that plotted to take away his life.
May I be saved by him?
Peter. Every one of you.
Object. But I was one of them that bare false witness against him.
Is there grace for me?
Peter. For every one of you.
Object. But I was one of them that cried out, Crucify him, crucify
him; and desired that Barabbas the murderer might live, rather than
him. What will become of me, think you?
Peter. I am to preach repentance and remission of sins to every one
of you, says Peter.
Object. But I was one of them that did spit in his face when he
stood before his accusers. I also was one that mocked him, when in
anguish he hanged bleeding on the tree. Is there room for me?
Peter. For every one of you, says Peter.
Object. But I was one of them that in his extremity said, give him
gall and vinegar to drink. Why may not I expect the same when
anguish and guilt is upon me?
Peter. Repent of these your wickednesses, and here is remission of
sins for every one of you.
Object. But I railed on him, I reviled him, I hated him, I rejoiced
to see him mocked at by others. Can there be hopes for me?
Peter. There is for every one of you. "Repent and be baptised every
one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins,
and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Oh! what a blessed
"Every one of you," is here! How willing was Peter, and the Lord
Jesus, by his ministry, to catch these murderers with the word of the
gospel, that they might be made monuments of the grace of God! How
unwilling, I say, was he, that any of these should escape the hand of
mercy! Yea, what an amazing wonder it is to think, that above all
the world, and above every body in it, these should have the first
offer of mercy! "Beginning at Jerusalem."
But was there not something of moment in this clause of the
commission? Did not Peter, think you, see a great deal in it, that
he should thus begin with these men, and thus offer, so particularly,
this grace to each particular man of them?
But, as I told you, this is not all; these Jerusalem sinners must
have this offer again and again; every one of them must be offered it
over and over. Christ would not take their first rejection for a
denial, nor their second repulse for a denial; but he will have grace
offered once, and twice, and thrice, to these Jerusalem sinners. Is
not this amazing grace? Christ will not be put off. These are the
sinners that are sinners indeed. They are sinners of the biggest
sort; consequently such as Christ can, if they convert and be saved,
best serve his ends and designs upon. Of which more anon.
But what a pitch of grace is this! Christ is minded to amaze the
world, and to shew, that he acteth not like the children of men.
This is that which he said of old. "I will not execute the
fierceness of my wrath, I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I
am God and not man;" Hos. xi. 9. This is not the manner of men; men
are shorter winded; men are soon moved to take vengeance, and to
right themselves in a way of wrath and indignation. But God is full
of grace, full of patience, ready to forgive, and one that delights
in mercy. All this is seen in our text. The biggest sinners must
first be offered mercy; they must, I say, have the cream of the
gospel offered unto them.
But we will a little proceed. In the third chapter we find, that
they who escaped converting by the first sermon, are called upon
again, to accept of grace and forgiveness, for their murder committed
upon the Son of God. You have killed, yea, "you have denied, the
holy one and the just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you;
and killed the Prince of life." Mark, he falls again upon the very
men that actually were, as you have it in the chapters following, his
very betrayers and murderers, Acts iii. 14, 15; as being loath that
they should escape the mercy of forgiveness; and exhorts them again
to repent, that their sins might "be blotted out;" verses 19, 20.
Again, in the fourth chapter, he charges them afresh with this
murder, ver. 10; but withal tells them, salvation is in no other.
Then, like a heavenly decoy, he puts himself also among them, to draw
them the better under the net of the gospel; saying, "There is none
other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved;"
In the fifth chapter you find them railing at him, because he
continued preaching among them salvation in the name of Jesus. But
he tells them, that that very Jesus whom they had slain and hanged on
a tree, him God had raised up, and exalted to be a Prince and a
Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins: ver.
29-31. Still insinuating, that though they had killed him, and to
this day rejected him, yet his business was to bestow upon them
repentance and forgiveness of sins.
'Tis true, after they began to kill again, and when nothing but
killing would serve their turn, then they that were scattered abroad
went every where preaching the word. Yet even some of them so
hankered after the conversion of the Jews, that they preached the
gospel only to them. Also the apostles still made their abode at
Jerusalem, in hopes that they might yet let down their net for
another draught of these Jerusalem sinners. Neither did Paul and
Barnabas, who were the ministers of God to the Gentiles, but offer
the gospel, in the first place, to those of them that for their
wickedness were scattered like vagabonds among the nations; yea, and
when they rendered rebellion and blasphemy for their service and
love, they replied, it was necessary that the word of God should
first have been spoken to them; Acts i. 8; chap. xiii. 46, 47.
Nor was this their preaching unsuccessful among these people: but
the Lord Jesus so wrought with the word thus spoken, that thousands
of them came flocking to him for mercy. Three thousand of them
closed with him at the first; and afterwards two thousand more; for
now they were in number about five thousand; whereas before sermons
were preached to these murderers, the number of the disciples was not
above "a hundred and twenty;" Acts i. 15; chap. ii. 41; chap. iv. 4.
Also among these people that thus flocked to him for mercy, there was
a "great company of the priests;" chap. vi. 7. Now the priests were
they that were the greatest of these biggest sinners; they were the
ringleaders, they were the inventors and ringleaders in the mischief.
It was they that set the people against the Lord Jesus, and that were
the cause why the uproar increased, until Pilate had given sentence
upon him. "The chief priests and elders," says the text, "persuaded
(the people) the multitude," that they should ask Barabbas, and
destroy Jesus; Matt. xxvii. 20. And yet behold the priests, yea, a
great company of the priests, became obedient to the faith.
Oh the greatness of the grace of Christ, that he should be thus in
love with the souls of Jerusalem sinners! that he should be thus
delighted with the salvation of the Jerusalem sinners! that he should
not only will that his gospel should be offered them, but that it
should be offered unto them first, and before other sinners were
admitted to a hearing of it. "Begin at Jerusalem."
Were this doctrine well believed, where would there be a place for a
doubt, or a fear of the damnation of the soul, if the sinner be
penitent, how bad a life soever he has lived, how many soever in
number are his sins?
But this grace is hid from the eyes of men; the devil hides it from
them; for he knows it is alluring, he knows it has an attracting
virtue in it: for this is it that above all arguments can draw the
soul to God.
I cannot help it, but must let drop another word. The first church,
the Jerusalem church, from whence the gospel was to be sent into all
the world, was a church made up of Jerusalem sinners. These great
sinners were here the most shining monuments of the exceeding grace
Thus you see I have proved the doctrine; and that not only by showing
you that this was the practice of the Lord Jesus Christ in his
lifetime, but his last will when he went up to God; saying, Begin to
preach at Jerusalem.
Yea, it is yet further manifested, in that when his ministers first
began to preach there, he joined his power to the word, to the
converting of thousands of his betrayers and murderers, and also many
of the ringleading priests to the faith.
I shall now proceed, and shall show you,
1. The reasons of the point:
2. And then make some application of the whole.
The observation, you know, is this: Jesus Christ would have mercy
offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners, to the Jerusalem
sinners: "Preach repentance, and remission of sins, in my name,
among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
The reasons of the point are:
First, Because the biggest sinners have most need thereof. He that
has most need, reason says, should be helped first. I mean, when a
helping hand is offered, and now it is: for the gospel of the grace
of God is sent to help the world; Acts xvi. 9. But the biggest
sinner has most need. Therefore, in reason, when mercy is sent down
from heaven to men, the worst of men should have the first offer of
it. "Begin at Jerusalem." This is the reason which the Lord Christ
himself renders, why in his lifetime he left the best, and turned him
to the worst; why he sat so loose from the righteous, and stuck so
close to the wicked. "The whole," saith he, "have no need of the
physician, but the sick. I came not to call the righteous, but
sinners to repentance;" Mark ii. 15-47.
Above you read, that the scribes and pharisees said to his disciples,
"How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?"
Alas! they did not know the reason: but the Lord renders them one,
and such an one as is both natural and cogent, saying, These have
need, most need. Their great necessity requires that I should be
most friendly, and show my grace first to them.
Not that the other were sinless, and so had no need of a Saviour; but
the publicans and their companions were the biggest sinners; they
were, as to view, worse than the scribes; and therefore in reason
should be helped first, because they had most need of a Saviour.
Men that are at the point to die have more need of the physician than
they that are but now and then troubled with an heart-fainting qualm.
The publicans and sinners were, as it were, in the mouth of death;
death was swallowing of them down: and therefore the Lord Jesus
receives them first, offers them mercy first. "The whole have no
need of the physician, but the sick. I came not to call the
righteous, but sinners to repentance." The sick, as I said, is the
biggest sinner, whether he sees his disease or not. He is stained
from head to foot, from heart to life and conversation. This man, in
every man's judgment, has the most need of mercy. There is nothing
attends him from bed to board, and from board to bed again, but the
visible characters, and obvious symptoms, of eternal damnation. This
therefore is the man that has need, most need; and therefore in
reason should be helped in the first place. Thus it was with the
people concerned in the text, they were the worst of sinners,
Jerusalem sinners, sinners of the biggest size; and therefore such as
had the greatest need; wherefore they must have mercy offered to
them, before it be offered any where else in the world. "Begin at
Jerusalem," offer mercy first to a Jerusalem sinner. This man has
most need, he is farthest from God, nearest to hell, and so one that
has most need. This man's sins are in number the most, in cry the
loudest, in weight the heaviest, and consequently will sink him
soonest: wherefore he has most need of mercy. This man is shut up
in Satan's hand, fastest bound in the cords of his sins: one that
justice is whetting his sword to cut off; and therefore has most
need, not only of mercy, but that it should be extended to him in the
But a little further to show you the true nature of this reason, to
wit, That Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place,
to the biggest sinners.
First, Mercy ariseth from the bowels and compassion, from pity, and
from a feeling of the condition of those in misery. "In his love,
and in his pity, he saveth us." And again, "The Lord is pitiful,
very pitiful, and of great mercy;" Isa. lxiii. 9; James v. 11.
Now, where pity and compassion is, there is yearning of bowels; and
where there is that, there is a readiness to help. And, I say again,
the more deplorable and dreadful the condition is, the more directly
doth bowels and compassion turn themselves to such, and offer help
and deliverance. All this flows from our first scripture proof; I
came to call them that have need; to call them first, while the rest
look on and murmur.
"How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" Ephraim was a revolter from
God, a man that had given himself up to devilism: a company of men,
the ten tribes, that worshipped devils, while Judah kept with his
God. "But how shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver
thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee
as Zeboim? (and yet thou art worse than they: nor has Samaria
committed half thy sins); Ezek. xvi. 46-51. My heart is turned
within me, and my repentings are kindled together;" Hos. xi. 8.
But where do you find that ever the Lord did thus yearn in his bowels
for and after any self-righteous man? No, no; they are the publicans
and harlots, idolaters and Jerusalem sinners, for whom his bowels
thus yearn and tumble about within him: for, alas! poor worms, they
have most need of mercy.
Had not the good Samaritan more compassion for that man that fell
among thieves (though that fall was occasioned by his going from the
place where they worshipped God, to Jericho, the cursed city) than we
read he had for any other besides? His wine was for him, his oil was
for him, his beast for him; his penny, his care, and his swaddling
bands for him; for alas! wretch, he had most need; Luke x. 30-35.
Zaccheus the publican, the chief of the publicans, one that had made
himself the richer by wronging of others; the Lord at that time
singled him out from all the rest of his brother publicans, and that
in the face of many Pharisees, and proclaimed in the audience of them
all, that that day salvation was come to his house; Luke xix. 1-8.
The woman also that had been bound down by Satan for eighteen years
together, his compassions putting him upon it, he loosed her, though
those that stood by snarled at him for so doing; Luke xiii. 11-13,
And why the woman of Sarepta, and why Naaman the Syrian, rather than
widows and lepers in Israel, but because their conditions were more
deplorable, (for that) they were most forlorn, and farthest from
help; Luke iv. 25, 27.
But I say, why all these, thus named? why have we not a catalogue of
some holy men that were so in their own eyes, and in the judgment of
the world? Alas if at any time any of them are mentioned, how
seemingly coldly doth the record of scripture present them to us?
Nicodemus, a night professor, and Simon the pharisee, with his fifty
pence; and their great ignorance of the methods of grace, we have now
and then touched upon.
Mercy seems to be out of his proper channel, when it deals with self-
righteous men; but then it runs with a full stream when it extends
itself to the biggest sinners. As God's mercy is not regulated by
man's goodness, nor obtained by man's worthiness; so not much set out
by saving of any such. But more of this anon.
And here let me ask my reader a question: suppose that as thou art
walking by some pond side, thou shouldst espy in it four or five
children all in danger of drowning, and one in more danger than all
the rest, judge which has most need to be helped out first? I know
thou wilt say, he that is nearest drowning. Why, this is the case;
the bigger sinner, the nearer drowning; therefore the bigger sinner
the more need of mercy; yea, of help by mercy in the first place.
And to this our text agrees, when it saith, "Beginning at Jerusalem."
Let the Jerusalem sinner, says Christ, have the first offer, the
first invitation, the first tender of my grace and mercy, for he is
the biggest sinner, and so has most need thereof.
Secondly, Christ Jesus would have mercy offered in the first place to
the biggest sinners, because when they, any of them, receive it, it
redounds most to the fame of his name.
Christ Jesus, as you may perceive, has put himself under the term of
a physician, a doctor for curing of diseases: and you know that
applause and fame, are things that physicians much desire. That is
it that helps them to patients, and that also that will help their
patients to commit themselves to their skill for cure, with the more
confidence and repose of spirit. And the best way for a doctor or
physician to get himself a name, is, in the first place, to take in
hand, and cure some such as all others have given off for lost and
dead. Physicians get neither name nor fame by pricking of wheals, or
pricking out thistles, or by laying of plaisters to the scratch of a
pin; every old woman can do this. But if they would have a name and
a fame, if they will have it quickly they must, as I said, do some
great and desperate cures. Let them fetch one to life that was dead;
let them recover one to his wits that was mad; let them make one that
was born blind to see; or let them give ripe wits to a fool; these
are notable cures, and he that can do thus, and if he doth thus
first, he shall have the name and fame he desires; he may lie a-bed
Why, Christ Jesus forgiveth sins for a name, and so begets of himself
a good report in the hearts of the children of men. And therefore in
reason he must be willing, as also he did command, that his mercy
should be offered first to the biggest sinners.
"I will forgive their sins, iniquities, and transgressions," says he,
"and it shall turn to me for a name of joy, and a praise and an
honour, before all the nations of the earth;" Jer. xxxiii. 8, 9.
And hence it is, that at his first appearing he took upon him to do
such mighty works: he got a fame thereby, he got a name thereby;
Matt. iv. 23, 24.
When Christ had cast the legion of devils out of the man of whom you
read, Mark v., he bid him go home to his friends, and tell it: "Go
home," saith he, "to thy friends, and tell them how great things God
has done for thee, and has had compassion on thee;" Mark v. 19.
Christ Jesus seeks a name, and desireth a fame in the world; and
therefore, or the better to obtain that, he commands that mercy
should first be proffered to the biggest sinners, because, by the
saving of one of them he makes all men marvel. As 'tis said of the
man last mentioned, whom Christ cured towards the beginning of his
ministry: "And he departed," says the text, "and began to publish in
Decapolis, how great things Jesus had done for him; and all men did
marvel," ver. 20.
When John told Christ, that they saw one casting out devils in his
name, and they forbade him, because he followed not with them, what
is the answer of Christ? "Forbid him not: for there is no man which
shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me."
No; they will rather cause his praise to be heard, and his name to be
magnified, and so put glory on the head of Christ.
But we will follow a little our metaphor: Christ, as I said, has put
himself under the term of a physician; consequently he desireth that
his fame, as to the salvation of sinners, may spread abroad, and that
the world may see what he can do. And to this end, he has not only
commanded, that the biggest sinners should have the first offer of
his mercy, but has, as physicians do, put out his bills, and
published his doings, that things may be read and talked of. Yea, he
has moreover, in these his blessed bills, the holy scriptures I mean,
inserted the very names of persons, the places of their abode, and
the great cures that, by the means of his salvations, he has wrought
upon them to this very end. Here is, Item, such a one, by my grace
and redeeming blood, was made a monument of everlasting life; and
such a one, by my perfect obedience, became an heir of glory. And
then he produceth their names.
Item, I saved Lot from the guilt and damnation that he had procured
to himself by his incest.
Item, I saved David from the vengeance that belonged to him for
committing of adultery and murder.
Here is also Solomon, Manasseh, Peter, Magdalen, and many others,
made mention of in this book. Yea, here are their names, their sins,
and their salvations recorded together, that you may read and know
what a Saviour he is, and do him honour in the world. For why are
these things thus recorded, but to show to sinners what he can do, to
the praise and glory of his grace?
And it is observable, as I said before, we have but very little of
the salvation of little sinners mentioned in God's book, because that
would not have answered the design, to wit, to bring glory and fame
to the name of the Son of God.
What should be the reason, think you, why Christ should so easily
take a denial of the great ones, that were the grandeur of the world,
and struggle so hard for hedge-creepers and highwaymen (as that
parable, Luke xiv., seems to import he doth), but to show forth the
riches of the glory of his grace to his praise? This I say, is one
reason to be sure.
They that had their grounds, their yoke of oxen, and their marriage
joys, were invited to come; but they made their excuse, and that
served the turn. But when he comes to deal with the worst, he saith
to his servants, Go ye out and bring them in hither. "Go out
quickly, and bring in hither the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the
blind." And they did so: and he said again, "Go out into the
highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be
filled;" Luke xiv. 18, 19, 23. These poor, lame, maimed, blind,
hedge-creepers and highwaymen, must come in, must be forced in.
These, if saved, will make his merits shine.
When Christ was crucified, and hanged up between the earth and
heavens, there were two thieves crucified with him; and behold, he
lays hold of one of them and will have him away with him to glory.
Was not this a strange act, and a display of unthought of grace?
Were there none but thieves there, or were the rest of that company
out of his reach? Could he not, think you, have stooped from the
cross to the ground, and have laid hold on some honester man if he
would? Yes, doubtless. Oh! but then he would not have displayed his
grace, nor so have pursued his own designs, namely, to get to himself
a praise and a name: but now he has done it to purpose. For who
that shall read this story, but must confess, that the Son of God is
full of grace; for a proof of the riches thereof, he left behind him,
when upon the cross he took the thief away with him to glory. Nor
can this one act of his be buried; it will be talked of to the end of
the world to his praise. "Men shall speak of the might of thy
terrible acts, and will declare thy greatness; they shall abundantly
utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy
righteousness. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and
talk of thy power; to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts,
and the glorious majesty of his kingdom;" Psalm cxlv. 6-12.
When the word of God came among the conjurers and those soothsayers
that you read of, Acts xix., and had prevailed with some of them to
accept of the grace of Christ, the Holy Ghost records it with a
boast, for that it would redound to his praise, saying, "And many of
them that used curious arts, brought their books together, and burned
them before all men: and counted the price of them, and found it
fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God,
and prevailed;" Acts xix. 19, 20. It wrenched out of the clutches of
Satan some of those of whom he thought himself most sure.
"So mightily grew the word of God." It grew mightily, it encroached
upon the kingdom of the devil. It pursued him, and took the prey; it
forced him to let go his hold: it brought away captive, as prisoners
taken by force of arms, some of the most valiant of his army: it
fetched back from, as it were, the confines of hell, some of those
that were his most trusty, and that with hell had been at an
agreement: it made them come and confess their deeds, and burn their
books before all men: "So mightily grew the word of God, and
Thus, therefore, you see why Christ will have mercy offered in the
first place to the biggest sinners; they have most need thereof; and
this is the most ready way to extol his name that rideth upon the
heavens to our help. But,
Thirdly, Christ Jesus would have mercy offered in the first place to
the biggest sinners, because by their forgiveness and salvation,
others hearing of it, will be encouraged the more to come to him for
For the physician, by curing the most desperate at the first, doth
not only get himself a name, but begets encouragement in the minds of
other diseased folk to come to him for help. Hence you read of our
Lord, that after, through his tender mercy, he had cured many of
great diseases, his fame was spread abroad, "They brought unto him
all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments,
and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were
lunatic, and those that had the palsy, and he healed them. And there
followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and Decapolis,
and Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond Jordan;" Matt. iv. 24, 25.
See here, he first by working gets himself a fame, a name, and
renown, and now men take encouragement, and bring from all quarters
their diseased to him, being helped, by what they had heard, to
believe that their diseased should be healed.
Now, as he did with those outward cures, so he does in the proffers
of his grace and mercy: he proffers that in the first place to the
biggest sinners, that others may take heart to come to him to be
saved. I will give you a scripture or two, I mean to show you that
Christ, by commanding that his mercy should in the first place be
offered to the biggest of sinners, has a design thereby to encourage
and provoke others to come also to him for mercy.
"God," saith Paul, "who is rich in mercy, for his great love
wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened
us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us
up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ
Jesus." But why did he do all this? "That in the ages to come he
might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards
us through Christ Jesus;" Eph. ii. 4-7.
See, here is a design; God lets out his mercy to Ephesus of design,
even to shew to the ages to come the exceeding riches of his grace,
in his kindness to them through Christ Jesus. And why to shew by
these the exceeding riches of his grace to the ages to come, through
Christ Jesus, but to allure them, and their children also, to come to
him, and to partake of the same grace through Christ Jesus?
But what was Paul, and the Ephesian sinners? (of Paul we will speak
anon). These Ephesian sinners, they were men dead in sins, men that
walked according to the dictates and motions of the devil;
worshippers of Diana, that effeminate goddess; men far off from God,
aliens and strangers to all good things; such as were far off from
that, as I said, and consequently in a most deplorable condition. As
the Jerusalem sinners were of the highest sort among the Jews, so
these Ephesian sinners were of the highest sort among the Gentiles;
Eph. ii. 1-3, 11, 12; Acts xix. 35.
Wherefore as by the Jerusalem sinners, in saving them first, he had a
design to provoke others to come to him for mercy, so the same design
is here set on foot again, in his calling and converting the Ephesian
sinners, "That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches
of his grace," says he, "in his kindness towards us through Christ
Jesus." There is yet one hint behind. It is said that God saved
these for his love; that is, as I think, for the setting forth, for
the commendations of his love, for the advance of his love, in the
hearts and minds of them that should come after. As who should say,
God has had mercy upon, and been gracious to you, that he might shew
to others, for their encouragement, that they have ground to come to
him to be saved. When God saves one great sinner, it is to encourage
another great sinner to come to him for mercy.
He saved the thief, to encourage thieves to come to him for mercy; he
saved Magdalen, to encourage other Magdalens to come to him for
mercy; he saved Saul, to encourage Sauls to come to him for mercy;
and this Paul himself doth say, "For this cause," saith he, "I
obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all
long-suffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe
on him to life everlasting;" 1 Tim. i. 16.
How plain are the words! Christ, in saving of me, has given to the
world a pattern of his grace, that they might see and believe, and
come, and be saved; that they that are to be born hereafter might
believe on Jesus Christ to life everlasting.
But what was Paul? Why, he tells you himself; I am, says he, the
chief of sinners: I was, says he, a blaspheme; a persecutor, an
injurious person; but I obtained mercy; 1 Tim. i. 14, 15. Ay, that
is well for you, Paul; but what advantage have we thereby? Oh, very
much, saith he; for, "for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me
first, Jesus Christ might shew all long-suffering for a pattern to
them which shall believe on him to life everlasting."
Thus, therefore, you see that this third reason is of strength,
namely, that Jesus Christ would have mercy offered in the first place
to the biggest sinners, because, by their forgiveness and salvation,
others, hearing of it, will be encouraged the more to come to him for
It may well therefore be said to God, Thou delightest in mercy, and
mercy pleases thee; Mich. vii. 18.
But who believes that this was God's design in shewing mercy of old--
namely, that we that come after might take courage to come to him for
mercy; or that Jesus Christ would have mercy offered in the first
place to the biggest sinners, to stir up others to come to him for
life? This is not the manner of men, O God!
But David saw this betimes; therefore he makes this one argument with
God, that he would blot out his transgressions, that he would forgive
his adultery, his murders, and horrible hypocrisy. Do it, O Lord,
saith he, do it, and "then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and
sinners shall be converted unto thee;" Psalm li. 7-13.
He knew that the conversion of sinners would be a work highly
pleasing to God, as being that which he had designed before he made
mountain or hill: wherefore he comes, and he saith, Save me, O Lord;
if thou wilt but save me, I will fall in with thy design; I will help
to bring what sinners to thee I can. And, Lord, I am willing to be
made a preacher myself; for that I have been a horrible sinner:
wherefore, if thou shalt forgive my great transgressions, I shall be
a fit man to tell of thy wondrous grace to others. Yea, Lord, I dare
promise, that if thou wilt have mercy upon me, it shall tend to the
glory of thy grace, and also to the increase of thy kingdom; for I
will tell it, and sinners will hear on't. And there is nothing so
suiteth with the hearing sinner as mercy, and to be informed that God
is willing to bestow it upon him. "I will teach transgressors thy
ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee."
Nor will Christ Jesus miss of his design in proffering of mercy in
the first place to the biggest sinners. You know what work the Lord,
by laying hold of the woman of Samaria, made among the people there.
They knew that she was a town sinner, an adulteress, yea, one that
after the most audacious manner lived in uncleanness with a man that
was not her husband: but when she, from a turn upon her heart, went
into the city, and said to her neighbours, "Come," Oh how they came!
how they flocked out of the city to Jesus Christ! "Then they went
out of the city, and came to him." "And many of the Samaritans
(people perhaps as bad as herself) believed on him, for the saying of
the woman, which testified, saying, he told me all that ever I did;"
John iv. 39.
That word, "He told me all that ever I did," was a great argument
with them; for by that they gathered, that though he knew her to be
vile, yet he did not despise her, nor refuse to shew how willing he
was to communicate his grace unto her; and this fetched over, first
her, then them.
This woman, as I said, was a Samaritan sinner, a sinner of the worst
complexion: for the Jews abhorred to have ought to do with them,
ver. 9; wherefore none more fit than she to be made one of the decoys
of heaven, to bring others of these Samaritan wild-fowls under the
net of the grace of Christ. And she did the work to purpose. Many,
and many more of the Samaritans believed on him; ver. 40-42. The
heart of man, though set on sin, will, when it comes once to a
persuasion that God is willing to have mercy upon us, incline to come
to Jesus Christ for life.
Witness those turn-aways from God that you also read of in Jeremiah;
for after they had heard three or four times over, that God had mercy
for backsliders, they broke out, and said, "Behold, we come unto
thee, for thou art the Lord our God." Or as those in Hosea did, "For
in thee the fatherless find mercy;" Jer. iii. 22; Hos. xiv. 1-3.
Mercy, and the revelation thereof, is the only antidote against sin.
It is of a thawing nature; it will loose the heart that is frozen up
in sin; yea, it will make the unwilling willing to come to Jesus
Christ for life. Wherefore, do you think, was it that Jesus Christ
told the adulterous woman, and that before so many sinners, that he
had not condemned her, but to allure her, with them there present, to
hope to find favour at his hands? (As he also saith in another
place, "I came not to judge, but to save the world.") For might they
not thence most rationally conclude, that if Jesus Christ had rather
save than damn an harlot, there was encouragement for them to come to
him for mercy.
I heard once a story from a soldier, who with his company had laid
siege against a fort, that so long as the besieged were persuaded
their foes would shew them no favour, they fought like madmen; but
when they saw one of their fellows taken, and received to favour,
they all came tumbling down from their fortress, and delivered
themselves into their enemies' hands.
I am persuaded, did men believe that there is that grace and
willingness in the heart of Christ to save sinners, as the word
imports there is, they would come tumbling into his arms: but Satan
has blinded their minds, that they cannot see this thing. Howbeit,
the Lord Jesus has, as I said, that others might take heart and come
to him, given out a commandment, that mercy should in the first place
be offered to the biggest sinners. "Begin," saith he, "at
Jerusalem." And thus I end the third reason.
Fourthly, Jesus Christ would have mercy offered in the first place to
the biggest sinners, because that is the way, if they receive it,
most to weaken the kingdom of Satan, and to keep it lowest in every
age of the world. The biggest sinners, they are Satan's colonels and
captains, the leaders of his people, and they that most stoutly make
head against the Son of God. Wherefore let these first be conquered,
and his kingdom will be weak. When Ishbosheth had lost his Abner,
his kingdom was made weak: nor did he sit but tottering then upon
his throne. So when Satan loseth his strong men, them that are
mighty to work iniquity, and dexterous to manage others in the same,
then is his kingdom weak; 2 Sam. iii. Therefore, I say, Christ doth
offer mercy in the first place to such, the more to weaken his
kingdom. Christ Jesus was glad to see Satan fall like lightning from
heaven, that is, suddenly or head long; and it was, surely, by
casting of him out of strong possessions, and by recovering of some
notorious sinners out of his clutches; Luke x. 17-19.
Samson, when he would pull down the Philistines temple, took hold of
the two main pillars of it, and breaking them, down came the house.
Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, and to destroy by
converting grace, as well as by redeeming blood. Now sin swarms, and
lieth by legions, and whole armies, in the souls of the biggest
sinners, as in garrisons: wherefore the way, the most direct way to
destroy it, is first to deal with such sinners by the word of his
gospel, and by the merits of his passion.
For example, though I shall give you but a homely one: suppose a
family to be troubled with vermin, and one or two of the family to be
in chief the breeders, the way, the quickest way to clear that
family, or at least to weaken the so swarming of those vermin, is, in
the first place, to sweeten the skin, head, and clothes of the chief
breeders; and then, though all the family should be apt to breed
them, the number of them, and so the greatness of that plague there,
will be the more impaired.
Why, there are some people that are in chief the devil's sin-breeders
in the towns and places where they live. The place, town, or family
where they live, must needs be horribly verminous, as it were, eaten
up with vermin. Now, let the Lord Jesus, in the first place, cleanse
these great breeders, and there will be given a nip to those swarms
of sins that used to be committed in such places throughout the town,
house, or family, where such sin-breeding persons used to be.
I speak by experience: I was one of these verminous ones, one of
these great sin-breeders; I infected all the youth of the town where
I was born, with all manner of youthful vanities. The neighbours
counted me so; my practice proved me so: wherefore Christ Jesus took
me first, and taking me first, the contagion was much allayed all the
town over. When God made me sigh, they would hearken, and
enquiringly say, What is the matter with John? They also gave their
various opinions of me: but, as I said, sin cooled, and failed, as
to his full career. When I went out to seek the bread of life, some
of them would follow, and the rest be put into a muse at home. Yea,
almost the town, at first, at times would go out to hear at the place
where I found good; yea, young and old for a while had some
reformation on them; also some of them, perceiving that God had mercy
upon me, came crying to him for mercy too.
But what need I give you an instance of poor I; I will come to
Manasseh the king. So long as he was a ring-leading sinner, the
great idolater, the chief for devilism, the whole land flowed with
wickedness; for he "made them to sin," and do worse than the heathen
that dwelt round about them, or that was cast out from before them:
but when God converted him, the whole land was reformed. Down went
the groves, the idols, and altars of Baal, and up went true religion
in much of the power and purity of it. You will say, The king
reformed by power. I answer, doubtless, and by example too; for
people observe their leaders; as their fathers did, so did they; 2
Chron. xxxiii. 2.
This, therefore, is another reason why Jesus would have mercy offered
in the first place to the biggest sinners, because that is the best
way, if they receive it, most to weaken the kingdom of Satan, and to
keep it poor and low.
And do you not think now, that if God would but take hold of the
hearts of some of the most notorious in your town, in your family, or
country, that this thing would be verified before your faces? It
would, it would, to the joy of you that are godly, to the making of
hell to sigh, to the great suppressing of sin, the glory of Christ,
and the joy of the angels of God. And ministers should, therefore,
that this work might go on, take advantages to persuade with the
biggest sinners to come into Christ, according to my text, and their
commissions; "Beginning at Jerusalem."
Fifthly, Jesus Christ would have mercy offered, in the first place,
to the biggest sinners; because such, when converted, are usually the
best helps in the church against temptations, and fittest for the
support of the feeble-minded there. Hence, usually, you have some
such in the first plantation of churches, or quickly upon it.
Churches would do but sorrily, if Christ Jesus did not put such
converts among them: they are the monuments and mirrors of mercy.
The very sight of such a sinner in God's house, yea, the very thought
of him, where the sight of him cannot be had, is ofttimes greatly for
the help of the faith of the feeble.
"When the churches (said Paul) that were in Judea, heard this
concerning me, that he which persecuted them in time past, now
preached the faith which once he destroyed, they glorified God in
me;" Gal. i. 20-24.
"Glorified God." How is that? Why, they praised him, and took
courage to believe the more in the mercy of God; for that he had had
mercy on such a great sinner as he. They glorified God "in me;" they
wondered that grace should be so rich, as to take hold of such a
wretch as I was; and for my sake believed in Christ the more.
There are two things that great sinners are acquainted with, when
they come to divulge them to the saints, that are a great relief to
1. The contests that they usually have with the devil at their
parting with him.
2. Their knowledge of his secrets in his workings.
For the first, The biggest sinners have usually great contests with
the devil at their partings; and this is an help to saints: for
ordinary saints find afterwards what the vile ones find at first, but
when at the opening of hearts, the one finds himself to be as the
other, the one is a comfort to the other. The lesser sort of sinners
find but little of this, till after they have been some time in
profession; but the vile man meets with his at the beginning.
Wherefore he, when the other is down, is ready to tell that he has
met with the same before; for, I say, he has had it before. Satan is
loath to part with a great sinner. What my true servant (quoth he),
my old servant, wilt thou forsake me now? having so often sold
thyself to me to work wickedness, wilt thou forsake me now? Thou
horrible wretch, dost not know, that thou hast sinned thyself beyond
the reach of grace, and dost think to find mercy now? Art not thou a
murderer, a thief, a harlot, a witch, a sinner of the greatest size,
and dost thou look for mercy now? Dost thou think that Christ will
foul his fingers with thee?
'Tis enough to make angels blush, saith Satan, to see so vile a one
knock at heaven-gates for mercy, and wilt thou be so abominably bold
to do it? Thus Satan dealt with me, says the great sinner, when at
first I came to Jesus Christ. And what did you reply? saith the
tempted. Why, I granted the whole charge to be true, says the other.
And what, did you despair, or how? No, saith he, I said, I am
Magdalen, I am Zaccheus, I am the thief, I am the harlot, I am the
publican, I am the prodigal, and one of Christ's murderers: yea,
worse than any of these; and yet God was so far off from rejecting of
me (as I found afterwards), that there was music and dancing in his
house for me, and for joy that I was come home unto him. O blessed
be God for grace (says the other), for then I hope there is favour
for me. Yea, as I told you, such a one is a continual spectacle in
the church, for every one to behold God's grace and wonder by.
Secondly, And as for the secrets of Satan, such as are suggestions to
question the being of God, the truth of his word, and to be annoyed
with devilish blasphemies; none more acquainted with these than the
biggest sinners at their conversion; wherefore thus also they are
prepared to be helps in the church to relieve and comfort the other.
I might also here tell you of the contests and battles that such are
engaged in, wherein they find the besettings of Satan, above any
other of the saints. At which times Satan assaults the soul with
darkness, fears, frightful thoughts of apparitions; now they sweat,
pant, cry out, and struggle for life.
The angels now come down to behold the sight, and rejoice to see a
bit of dust and ashes to overcome principalities and powers, and
might, and dominions. But, as I said when these come a little to be
settled, they are prepared for helping others, and are great comforts
unto them. Their great sins give great encouragement to the devil to
assault them; and by these temptations Christ takes advantage to make
them the more helpful to the churches.
The biggest sinner, when he is converted, and comes into the church,
says to them all, by his very coming in, Behold me, all you that are
men and women of a low and timorous spirit, you whose hearts are
narrow, for that you never had the advantage to know, because your
sins are few, the largeness of the grace of God. Behold, I say, in
me, the exceeding riches of his grace! I am a pattern set forth
before your faces, on whom you may look and take heart. This, I say,
the great sinner can say, to the exceeding comfort of all the rest.
Wherefore, as I have hinted before, when God intends to stock a place
with saints, and to make that place excellently to flourish with the
riches of his grace, he usually begins with the conversion of some of
the most notorious thereabouts, and lays them as an example to allure
others, and to build up when they are converted.
It was Paul that must go to the Gentiles, because Paul was the most
outrageous of all the apostles, in the time of his unregeneracy.
Yea, Peter must be he, that after his horrible fall, was thought
fittest, when recovered again, to comfort and strengthen his
brethren. See Luke xxii. 31, 32.
Some must be pillars in God's house; and if they be pillars of cedar,
they must stand while they are stout and sturdy sticks in the forest,
before they are cut down, and planted or placed there.
No man, when he buildeth his house, makes the principal parts thereof
of weak or feeble timber; for how could such bear up the rest? but of
great and able wood. Christ Jesus also goeth this way to work; he
makes of the biggest sinners bearers and supporters to the rest.
This then, may serve for another reason, why Jesus Christ gives out
in commandment, that mercy should, in the first place, be offered to
the biggest sinners: because such, when converted, are usually the
best helps in the church against temptations, and fittest for the
support of the feeble-minded there.
Sixthly, Another reason why Jesus Christ would have mercy offered in
the first place to the biggest sinners, is, because they, when
converted, are apt to love him most.
This agrees both with Scripture and reason. Scripture says so: "To
whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much. To whom little is
forgiven, the same loveth little;" Luke vii. 47. Reason says so:
for as it would be the unreasonablest thing in the world to render
hatred for love, and contempt for forgiveness; so it would be as
ridiculous to think, that the reception of a little kindness should
lay the same obligations upon the heart to love, as the reception of
a great deal. I would not disparage the love of Christ; I know the
least drachm of it, when it reaches to forgiveness, is great above
all the world; but comparatively, there are greater extensions of the
love of Christ to one than to another. He that has most sin, if
forgiven, is partaker of the greatest love, of the greatest
I know also, that there are some, that from this very doctrine say,
"Let us do evil that good may come;" and that turn the grace of our
God into lasciviousness. But I speak not of these; these will
neither be ruled by grace nor reason. Grace would teach them, if
they know it, to deny ungodly courses; and so would reason too, if it
could truly sense the love of God; Titus ii. 11, 12; Rom. xi. 1.
Doth it look like what hath any coherence with reason or mercy, for a
man to abuse his friend? Because Christ died for men, shall I
therefore spit in his face? The bread and water that was given by
Elisha to his enemies, that came into the land of Israel to take him,
had so much influence upon their minds, though heathens, that they
returned to their homes without hurting him: yea, it kept them from
coming again in a hostile manner into the coasts of Israel; 2 Kings
But to forbear to illustrate till anon. One reason why Christ Jesus
shews mercy to sinners, is, that he might obtain their love, that he
may remove their base affections from base objects to himself. Now,
if he loves to be loved a little, he loves to be loved much; but
there is not any that are capable of loving much, save those that
have much forgiven them. Hence it is said of Paul, that he laboured
more than them all; to wit, with a labour of love, because he had
been by sin more vile against Christ than they all; 1 Cor. xv. He it
was that persecuted the church of God, and wasted it; Gal. i. 13. He
of them all was the only raving bedlam against the saints: "And
being exceeding mad," says he, "against them, I persecuted them, even
to strange cities;" Acts xxvi. 11.
This raving bedlam, that once was so, is he that now says, I laboured
more than them all, more for Christ than them all.
But Paul, what moved thee thus to do? The love of Christ, says he.
It was not I, but the grace of God that was with me. As who should
say, O grace! It was such grace to save me! It was such marvellous
grace for God to look down from heaven upon me, and that secured me
from the wrath to come, that I am captivated with the sense of the
riches of it. Hence I act, hence I labour; for how can I otherwise
do, since God not only separated me from my sins and companions, but
separated all the powers of my soul and body to his service? I am
therefore prompted on by this exceeding love to labour as I have
done; yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
Oh! I shall never forget his love, nor the circumstances under which
I was, when his love laid hold upon me. I was going to Damascus with
letters from the high-priest, to make havock of God's people there,
as I had made havock of them in other places. These bloody letters
were not imposed upon me. I went to the high-priest and desired them
of him; Acts ix. 1, 2; and yet he saved me! I was one of the men, of
the chief men, that had a hand in the blood of his martyr Stephen;
yet he had mercy on me! When I was at Damascus, I stunk so horribly
like a blood-sucker, that I became a terror to all thereabout. Yea,
Ananias (good man) made intercession to my Lord against me; yet he
would have mercy upon me, yea, joined mercy to mercy, until he had
made me a monument of grace! He made a saint of me, and persuaded me
that my transgressions were forgiven me.
When I began to preach, those that heard me were amazed, and said,
"Is not this he that destroyed them that called on this name in
Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them
bound to the high-priest?" Hell doth know that I was a sinner;
heaven doth know that I was a sinner; the world also knows that I was
a sinner, a sinner of the greatest size; but I obtained mercy; 1 Tim
i. 15, 16.
Shall not this lay obligation upon me? Is not love of the greatest
force to oblige? Is it not strong as death, cruel as the grave, and
hotter than the coals of juniper? Hath it not a most vehement flame?
can the waters quench it? can the floods drown it? I am under the
force of it, and this is my continual cry, What shall I render to the
Lord for all the benefits which he has bestowed upon me?
Ay, Paul! this is something; thou speakest like a man, like a man
affected, and carried away with the love and grace of God. Now, this
sense, and this affection, and this labour, giveth to Christ the love
that he looks for. But he might have converted twenty little
sinners, and yet not found, for grace bestowed, so much love in them
I wonder how far a man might go among the converted sinners of the
smaller size, before one could find one that so much as looked any
thing this wayward. Where is he that is thus under pangs of love for
the grace bestowed upon him by Jesus Christ? Excepting only some
few, you may walk to the world's end, and find none. But, as I said,
some there are, and so there has been in every age of the church,
great sinners, that have had much forgiven them; and they love much
upon this account.
Jesus Christ therefore knows what he doth, when he lays hold on the
hearts of sinners of the biggest size. He knows that such an one
will love more than many that have not sinned half their sins.
I will tell you a story that I have read of Martha and Mary; the name
of the book I have forgot; I mean of the book in which I found the
relation; but the thing was thus: Martha, saith my author, was a
very holy woman, much like Lazarus her brother; but Mary was a loose
and wanton creature; Martha did seldom miss good sermons and
lectures, when she could come at them in Jerusalem; but Mary would
frequent the house of sports, and the company of the vilest of men
for lust: And though Martha had often desired that her sister would
go with her to hear her preachers, yea, had often entreated her with
tears to do it, yet could she never prevail; for still Mary would
make her excuse, or reject her with disdain for her zeal and
preciseness in religion.
After Martha had waited long, tried many ways to bring her sister to
good, and all proved ineffectual, at last she comes upon her thus:
"Sister," quoth she, "I pray thee go with me to the temple to-day, to
hear one preach a sermon." "What kind of preacher is he?" said she.
Martha replied, "It is one Jesus of Nazareth; he is the handsomest
man that ever you saw with your eyes. Oh! he shines in beauty, and
is a most excellent preacher."
Now, what does Mary, after a little pause, but goes up into her
chamber, and with her pins and her clouts, decks up herself as fine
as her fingers could make her.
This done, away she goes, not with her sister Martha, but as much
unobserved as she could, to the sermon, or rather to see the
The hour and preacher being come, and she having observed whereabout
the preacher would stand, goes and sets herself so in the temple,
that she might be sure to have the full view of this excellent
person. So he comes in, and she looks, and the first glimpse of his
person pleased her. Well, Jesus addresseth himself to his sermon,
and she looks earnestly on him.
Now, at that time, saith my author, Jesus preached about the lost
sheep, the lost groat, and the prodigal child. And when he came to
shew what care the shepherd took for one lost sheep, and how the
woman swept to find her piece which was lost, and what joy there was
at their finding, she began to be taken by the ears, and forgot what
she came about, musing what the preacher would make of it. But when
he came to the application, and shewed, that by the lost sheep was
meant a great sinner; by the shepherd's care, was meant God's love
for great sinners; and that by the joy of the neighbours, was shewed
what joy there was among the angels in heaven over one great sinner
that repenteth; she began to be taken by the heart. And as he spake
these last words, she thought he pitched his innocent eyes just upon
her, and looked as if he spake what was now said to her: wherefore
her heart began to tremble, being shaken with affection and fear;
then her eyes ran down with tears apace; wherefore she was forced to
hide her face with her handkerchief; and so sat sobbing and crying
all the rest of the sermon.
Sermon being done, up she gets, and away she goes, and withal
inquired where this Jesus the preacher dined that day? and one told
her, At the house of Simon the Pharisee. So away goes she, first to
her chamber, and there strips herself of her wanton attire: then
falls upon her knees to ask God forgiveness for all her wicked life.
This done, in a modest dress she goes to Simon's house, where she
finds Jesus sat at dinner. So she gets behind him, and weeps, and
drops her tears upon his feet like rain, and washes them, and wipes
them with the hair of her head. She also kissed his feet with her
lips, and anointed them with ointment. When Simon the Pharisee
perceived what the woman did, and being ignorant of what it was to be
forgiven much (for he never was forgiven more than fifty pence), he
began to think within himself, that he had been mistaken about Jesus
Christ, because he suffered such a sinner as this woman was, to touch
him. Surely, quoth he, this man, if he were a prophet, would not let
this woman come near him, for she is a town-sinner (so ignorant are
all self-righteous men of the way of Christ with sinners.) But lest
Mary should be discouraged with some clownish carriage of this
Pharisee and so desert her good beginnings, and her new steps which
she now had begun to take towards eternal life, Jesus began thus with
Simon. "Simon," saith he, "I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he
saith, Master, say on. There was," said Jesus, a certain creditor
had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other
fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them
both. Tell me therefore which of them will love him most? Simon
answered and said, I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And he
said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman,
and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy
house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my
feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou
gavest me no kiss: but this woman, since the time I came in, hath
not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint,
but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say
unto thee, Her sins which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much;
but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said
unto her, Thy sins are forgiven;" Luke vii. 36-50.
Thus you have the story. If I come short in any circumstance, I beg
pardon of those that can correct me. It is three or four and twenty
years since I saw the book: yet I have, as far as my memory will
admit, given you the relation of the matter. However Luke, as you
see, doth here present you with the substance of the whole.
Alas! Christ Jesus has but little thanks for the saving of little
sinners. "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." He
gets not water for his feet, by his saving of such sinners. There
are abundance of dry-eyed Christians in the world, and abundance of
dry-eyed duties too; duties that never were wetted with the tears of
contrition and repentance, nor ever sweetened with the great sinner's
box of ointment. And the reason is, such sinners have not great sins
to be saved from; or if they have, they look upon them in the
diminishing glass of the holy law of God. But I rather believe, that
the professors of our days want a due sense of what they are; for,
verily, for the generality of them, both before and since conversion,
they have been sinners of a lusty size. But if their eyes be holden,
if convictions are not shewn, if their knowledge of their sins is but
like to the eye-sight in twilight; the heart cannot be affected with
that grace that has laid hold on the man; and so Christ Jesus sows
much, and has little coming in.
Wherefore his way is ofttimes to step out of the way, to Jericho, to
Samaria, to the country of the Gadarenes, to the coasts of Tyre and
Sidon, and also to Mount Calvary, that he may lay hold of such kind
of sinners as will love him to his liking; Luke xix. 1-11; John iv.
3-11; Mark v. 1-21; Matt. xv. 21-29; Luke xxiii. 33-44.
But thus much for the sixth reason, why Christ Jesus would have mercy
offered in the first place to the biggest sinners, to wit, because
such sinners, when converted, are apt to love him most. The
Jerusalem sinners were they that outstripped, when they were
converted, in some things, all the churches of the Gentiles. "They
were of one heart, and of one soul, neither said any of them, that
aught of the things that they possessed was their own." "Neither was
there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of
lands or houses sold them, and brought the price of the things that
were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet," &c; Acts iv.
32-35. Now, shew me such another pattern if you can. But why did
these do thus? Oh! they were Jerusalem sinners. These were the men
that but a little before had killed the Prince of Life; and those to
whom he did, that notwithstanding, send the first offer of grace and
mercy. And the sense of this took them up betwixt the earth and the
heaven, and carried them on in such ways and methods as could never
be trodden by any since. They talk of the church of Rome, and set
her in her primitive state, as a pattern and mother of churches; when
the truth is, they were the Jerusalem sinners, when converts, that
out-did all the churches that ever were.
Seventhly, Christ Jesus would have mercy offered, in the first place,
to the biggest sinners; because grace when it is received by such,
finds matter to kindle upon more freely than it finds in other
sinners. Great sinners are like the dry wood, or like great candles,
which burn best and shine with biggest light. I lay not this down,
as I did those reasons before, to shew, that when great sinners are
converted, they will be encouragement to others, though that is true;
but to shew that Christ has a delight to see grace, the grace we
receive, to shine. We love to see things that bear a good gloss;
yea, we choose to buy such kind of matter to work upon, as will, if
wrought up to what we intend, cast that lustre that we desire.
Candles that burn not bright, we like not: wood that is green will
rather smother, and sputter, and smoke, and crack, and flounce, than
cast a brave light and a pleasant heat: wherefore great folks care
not much, not so much for such kind of things, as for them that will
better answer their ends.
Hence Christ desires the biggest sinner; in him there is matter to
work by, to wit, a great deal of sin; for as by the tallow of the
candle, the fire takes occasion to burn the brighter; so by the sin
of the soul, grace takes occasion to shine the clearer. Little
candles shine but little, for there wanteth matter for the fire to
work upon; but in the great sinner, here is more matter for grace to
work by. Faith shines, when it worketh towards Christ, through the
sides of many and great transgressors, and so does love, for that
much is forgiven. And what matter can be found in the soul for
humility to work by so well, as by a sight that I have been and am an
abominable sinner? And the same is to be said of patience, meekness,
gentleness, self-denial, or of any other grace. Grace takes occasion
by the vileness of the man to shine the more; even as by the
ruggedness of a very strong distemper or disease, the virtue of the
medicine is best made manifest. Where sin abounds, grace much more
abounds; Rom. v. 20. A black string makes the neck look whiter;
great sins make grace burn clear. Some say, when grace and a good
nature meet together, they do make shining Christians: but I say,
when grace and a great sinner meet, and when grace shall subdue that
great sinner to itself, and shall operate after its kind in the soul
of that great sinner, then we have a shining Christian; witness all
those of whom mention was made before.
Abraham was among the idolaters when in the land of Assyria, and
served idols with his kindred on the other side of the flood; Jos.
xxiv. 2; Gen. xi. 31. But who, when called, was there in the world,
in whom grace shone so bright as in him?
The Thessalonians were idolaters before the word of God came to them;
but when they had received it, they became examples to all that did
believe in Macedonia and Achaia; 1 Thess. i. 6-10.
God the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son, are for having things seen,
for having the word of life held forth. They light not a candle that
it might be put under a bushel, or under a bed, but on a candlestick,
that all that come in may see the light; Matt. v. 15; Mark iv. 21;
Luke viii. 16; chap. xi. 33.
And, I say, as I said before, in whom is light like so to shine, as
in the souls of great sinners?
When the Jewish Pharisees dallied with the gospel, Christ threatened
to take it from them, and to give it to the barbarous heathens and
idolaters. Why so? For they, saith he, will bring forth the fruits
thereof in their season: "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of
God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the
fruits thereof;" Matt. xxi. 41-43.
I have often marvelled at our youth, and said in my heart, What
should be the reason that they should be so generally at this day
debauched as they are? For they are now profane to amazement; and
sometimes I have thought one thing, and sometimes another; that is,
why God should suffer it so to be. At last I have thought of this:
How if the God, whose ways are past finding out, should suffer it so
to be now, that he might make of some of them the more glorious
saints hereafter. I know sin is of the devil, but it cannot work in
the world without permission: and if it happens to be as I have
thought, it will not be the first time that God the Lord hath caught
Satan in his own design. For my part, I believe that the time is at
hand, that we shall see better saints in the world than has been seen
in it this many a day. And this vileness, that at present does so
much swallow up our youth, is one cause of my thinking so: for out
of them, for from among them, when God sets to his hand, as of old,
you shall see what penitent ones, what trembling ones, and what
admirers of grace, will be found to profess the gospel to the glory
of God by Christ.
Alas! we are a company of worn-out Christians, our moon is in the
wane; we are much more black than white, more dark than light; we
shine but a little; grace in the most of us is decayed. But I say,
when they of these debauched ones that are to be saved shall be
brought in, when these that look more like devils than men shall be
converted to Christ (and I believe several of them will), then will
Christ be exalted, grace adored, the word prized, Zion's path better
trodden, and men in the pursuit of their own salvation, to the
amazement of them that are left behind.
Just before Christ came into the flesh, the world was degenerated as
it is now: the generality of the men in Jerusalem, were become
either high and famous for hypocrisy, or filthy base in their lives.
The devil also was broke loose in a hideous manner, and had taken
possession of many: yea, I believe that there was never generation
before nor since, that could produce so many possessed with devils,
deformed, lame, blind, and infected with monstrous diseases, as that
generation could. But what was the reason thereof, I mean the reason
from God? Why one (and we may sum up more in that answer that Christ
gave to his disciples concerning him that was born blind) was, that
the works of God might be made manifest in them, and that the Son of
God might be glorified thereby, John ix. 2, 3; chap. xi. 4.
Now if these devils and diseases, as they possessed men then, were to
make way and work for an approaching Christ in person, and for the
declaring of his power, why may we not think that now, even now also,
he is ready to come by his Spirit in the gospel to heal many of the
debaucheries of our age? I cannot believe that grace will take them
all, for there are but few that are saved; but yet it will take some,
even some of the worst of men, and make blessed ones of them. But, O
how these ringleaders in vice will then shine in virtue! They will
be the very pillars in churches, they will be as an ensign in the
land. "The Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock
of his people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up
as an ensign upon his land;" Zech. ix. 16. But who are these? Even
idolatrous Ephraim, and backsliding Judah; ver. 13.
I know there is ground to fear, that the iniquity of this generation
will be pursued with heavy judgments: but that will not hinder what
we have supposed. God took him a glorious church out of bloody
Jerusalem, yea, out of the chief of the sinners there, and left the
rest to be taken and spoiled, and sold, thirty for a penny, in the
nations where they were captives. The gospel working gloriously in a
place, to the seizing upon many of the ringleading sinners thereof,
promiseth no security to the rest, but rather threateneth them with
the heaviest and smartest judgments; as in the instance now given, we
have a full demonstration; but in defending, the Lord will defend his
people; and in saving, he will save his inheritance.
Nor does this speak any great comfort to a decayed and backsliding
sort of Christians; for the next time God rides post with his gospel,
he will leave such Christians behind him. But I say, Christ is
resolved to set up his light in the world; yea, he is delighted to
see his graces shine; and therefore he commands that his gospel
should to that end be offered, in the first place, to the biggest
sinners; for by great sins it shineth most; therefore he saith,
"Begin at Jerusalem."
Eighthly, and lastly, Christ Jesus will have mercy to be offered in
the first place to the biggest sinners; for that by that means the
impenitent that are left behind will be at the judgment the more left
God's word has two edges; it can cut back-stroke and fore-stroke: if
it doth thee no good, it will do thee hurt; it is the savour of life
unto life to those that receive it, but of death unto death to them
that refuse it; 2 Cor. ii. 15, 16. But this is not all; the tender
of grace to the biggest sinners in the first place, will not only
leave the rest, or those that refuse it, in a deplorable condition,
but will also stop their mouths, and cut off all pretence to excuse
at that day. "If I had not come and spoken unto them," saith Christ,
"they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin," for
their sin of persevering in impenitence; Job xv. 22.
But what did he speak to them? Why, even that which I have told you;
to wit, That he has in special a delight in saving the biggest
sinners. He spake this in the way of his doctrine; he spake this in
the way of his practice, even to the pouring out of his last breath
before them; Luke xxiii. 34.
Now, since this is so, what can the condemned at the judgment say for
themselves, why sentence of death should not be passed upon them? I
say, what excuse can they make for themselves, when they shall be
asked why they did not in the day of salvation come to Christ to be
saved? Will they have ground to say to the Lord, Thou wast only for
saving of little sinners; and therefore because they were great ones,
they durst not come unto him? or that thou hadst not compassion for
the biggest sinners, therefore I died in despair? Will these be
excuses for them, as the case now standeth with them? Is there not
every where in God's book a flat contradiction to this, in multitudes
of promises, of invitations, of examples, and the like? Alas, alas!
there will then be there millions of souls to confute this plea;
ready, I say, to stand up, and say, O! deceived world, heaven swarms
with such, as were, when they were in the world, to the full as bad
Now, this will kill all plea or excuse, why they should perish in
their sins; yea, the text says, they shall see them there. "There
shall be weeping, when you shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob,
and all the prophets in the kingdom of heaven, and you yourselves
thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west,
and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the
kingdom of God;" Luke xiii. 28, 29. Out of which company it is easy
to pick such as sometimes were as bad people as any that now breathe
on the face of the earth. What think you of the first man, by whose
sins there are millions now in hell? And so I may say, What think
you of ten thousand more besides?
But if the world will not stifle and gag them up (I speak now for
amplification's sake), the view of those who are saved shall.
There comes an incestuous person to the bar, and pleads, That the
bigness of his sins was a bar to his receiving the promise. But will
not his mouth be stopped as to that, when Lot and the incestuous
Corinthian shall be set before him; Gen. xix. 33-37; 1 Cor. v. 1, 2.
There comes a thief, and says, Lord, my sin of theft, I thought, was
such as could not be pardoned by thee! But when he shall see the
thief that was saved on the cross stand by, as clothed with beauteous
glory, what further can he be able to object? Yea, the Lord will
produce ten thousand of his saints at his coming, who shall after
this manner execute judgment upon all, and so convince all that are
ungodly among them, of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners
have spoken against him. And these are hard speeches against him, to
say that he was not able or willing to save men, because of the
greatness of their sins, or to say that they were discouraged by his
word from repentance, because of the heinousness of their offences.
These things, I say, shall then be confuted: he comes with ten
thousand of his saints to confute them, and to stop their mouths from
making objections against their own eternal damnation.
Here is Adam, the destroyer of the world; here is Lot, that lay with
both his daughters; here is Abraham, that was sometime an idolater,
and Jacob, that was a supplanter, and Reuben, that lay with his
father's concubine, and Judah that lay with his daughter-in-law, and
Levi and Simeon that wickedly slew thee Shechemites, and Aaron that
great backslider, and Manassah that man of blood and that made an
idol to be worshipped, and that proclaimed a religious feast unto it.
Here is also Rachab the harlot, and Bathsheba that bare a bastard to
David. Here is Solomon a witch. Time would fail me to tell you of
the woman of Canaan's daughter, Magdalen, of Matthew the publican,
and of Gideon and Sampson, and many thousands more.
Alas! alas! I say, what will these sinners do, that have, through
their unbelief, eclipsed the glorious largeness of the mercy of God,
and gave way to despair of salvation, because of the bigness of their
For all these, though now glorious saints in light, were sometimes
sinners of the biggest size, who had sins that were of a notorious
hue; yet now, I say, they are in their shining and heavenly robes
before the throne of God and of the Lamb, blessing for ever and ever
that Son of God for their salvation, who died for them upon the tree;
admiring that ever it should come into their hearts once to think of
coming to God by Christ; but above all, blessing God for granting of
them light to see those encouragements in his testament; without
which, without doubt, they had been daunted and sunk down under guilt
of sin and despair, as their fellow-sinners have done.
But now they also are witnesses for God, and for his grace against an
unbelieving world; for, as I said, they shall come to convince the
world of their speeches, their hard and unbelieving words, that they
have spoken concerning the mercy of God, and the merits of the
passion of his blessed Son Jesus Christ.
But will it not, think you, strangely put to silence all such
thoughts, and words, and reasonings of the ungodly before the bar of
God? Doubtless it will; yea and will send them away from his
presence also, with the greatest guilt that possibly can fasten upon
the consciences of men.
For what will sting like this?--I have, through mine own foolish,
narrow, unworthy, undervaluing thoughts, of the love and ability of
Christ to save me, brought myself to everlasting ruin. It is true, I
was a horrible sinner; not one in a hundred did live so vile a life
as I: but this should not have kept me from closing with Jesus
Christ: I see now that there are abundance in glory that once were
as bad as I have been: but they were saved by faith, and I am damned
Wretch that I am! why did not I give glory to the redeeming blood of
Jesus? Why did I not humbly cast my soul at his blessed footstool
for mercy? Why did I judge of his ability to save me by the voice of
my shallow reason, and the voice of a guilty conscience? Why betook
not I myself to the holy word of God? Why did I not read and pray
that I might understand, since now I perceive that God said then, he
giveth liberally to them that pray, and upbraideth not; Jam. i. 5.
It is rational to think, that by such cogitations as these the
unbelieving world will be torn in pieces before the judgment of
Christ; especially those that have lived where they did or might have
heard the gospel of the grace of God. Oh! that saying, "It shall be
more tolerable for Sodom at the judgment than for them," will be
better understood. See Luke x. 8-12.
This reason, therefore, standeth fast; namely, that Christ, by
offering mercy in the first place to the biggest sinner now, will
stop all mouths of the impenitent at the day of judgment, and cut off
all excuse that shall be attempted to be made (from the thoughts of
the greatness of their sins) why they came not to him.
I have often thought of the day of judgment, and how God will deal
with sinners at that day; and I believe it will be managed with that
sweetness, with that equitableness, with that excellent
righteousness, as to every sin, and circumstance, and aggravation
thereof; that men that are damned, before the judgment is over shall
receive such conviction of the righteous judgment of God upon them,
and of their deserts of hell-fire, that they shall in themselves
conclude that there is all the reason in the world that they should
be shut out of heaven, and go to hell-fire: "These shall go away
into everlasting punishment;" Matt. xxv. 46.
Only this will tear them, that they have missed of mercy and glory,
and obtained everlasting damnation through their unbelief; but it
will tear but themselves, but their own souls; they will gnash upon
themselves; for in that mercy was offered to the chief of them in the
first place, and yet they were damned for rejecting of it; they were
damned for forsaking what they had a sort of propriety in; for
forsaking their own mercy.
And thus much for the reasons. I will conclude with a word of
First, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered in the first place to
the biggest sinners? then this shews us how to make a right judgment
of the heart of Christ to men. Indeed we have advantage to guess at
the goodness of his heart, by many things; as by his taking our
nature upon him, his dying for us, his sending his word and ministers
to us, and all that we might be saved. But this of beginning to
offer mercy to Jerusalem, is that which heightens all the rest; for
this doth not only confirm to us, that love was the cause of his
dying for us, but it shews us yet more the depth of that love. He
might have died for us, and yet have extended the benefit of his
death to a few, as one might call them, of the best conditioned
sinners, to those who, though they were weak, and could not but sin,
yet made not a trade of sinning; to those that sinned not
lavishingly. There are in the world, as one may call them, the
moderate sinners; the sinners that mix righteousness with their
pollutions; the sinners that though they be sinners, do what on their
part lies (some that are blind would think so) that they might be
saved. I say, it had been love, great love, if he had died for none
but such, and sent his love to such: but that he should send out
conditions of peace to the biggest of sinners; yea, that they should
be offered to them first of all; (for so he means when he says,
"Begin at Jerusalem;") this is wonderful! this shews his heart to
purpose, as also the heart of God his Father, who sent him to do
There is nothing more incident to men that are awake in their souls,
than to have wrong thoughts of God; thoughts that are narrow, and
that pinch and pen up his mercy to scanty and beggarly conclusions,
and rigid legal conditions; supposing that it is rude, and an
intrenching upon his majesty, to come ourselves, or to invite others,
until we have scraped and washed, and rubbed off as much of our dirt
from us as we think is convenient, to make us somewhat orderly and
handsome in his sight. Such never knew what these words meant,
"Begin at Jerusalem:" yea, such in their hearts have compared the
Father and his Son to niggardly rich men, whose money comes from them
like drops of blood. True, says such, God has mercy, but he is loath
to part with it; you must please him well, if you get any from him;
he is not so free as many suppose, nor is he so willing to save as
some pretended gospellers imagine. But I ask such, if the Father and
Son be not unspeakably free to shew mercy, why was this clause put
into our commission to preach the gospel? Yea, why did he say,
"Begin at Jerusalem:" for when men, through the weakness of their
wits, have attempted to shew other reasons why they should have the
first proffer of mercy; yet I can prove (by many undeniable reasons)
that they of Jerusalem (to whom the apostles made the first offer,
according as they were commanded) were the biggest sinners that ever
did breathe upon the face of God's earth, (set the unpardonable sin
aside), upon which my doctrine stands like a rock, that Jesus the Son
of God would have mercy in the first place offered to the biggest
sinners: and if this doth not shew the heart of the Father and the
Son to be infinitely free in bestowing forgiveness of sins, I confess
Neither is there, set this aside, another argument like it, to shew
us the willingness of Christ to save sinners; for, as was said
before, all the rest of the signs of Christ's mercifulness might have
been limited to sinners that are so and so qualified; but when he
says, "Begin at Jerusalem," the line is stretched out to the utmost:
no man can imagine beyond it; and it is folly here to pinch and pare,
to narrow, and seek to bring it within scanty bounds; for he plainly
saith, "Begin at Jerusalem," the biggest sinner is the biggest
sinner; the biggest is the Jerusalem sinner.
It is true, he saith, that repentance and remission of sins must go
together, but yet remission is sent to the chief, the Jerusalem
sinner; nor doth repentance lessen at all the Jerusalem sinner's
crimes; it diminisheth none of his sins, nor causes that there should
be so much as half a one the fewer: it only puts a stop to the
Jerusalem sinner's course, and makes him willing to be saved freely
by grace; and for time to come to be governed by that blessed word
that has brought the tidings of good things to him.
Besides, no man shews himself willing to be saved that repenteth not
of his deeds; for he that goes on still in his trespasses, declares
that he is resolved to pursue his own damnation further.
Learn then to judge of the largeness of God's heart, and of the heart
of his Son Jesus Christ, by the word; judge not thereof by feeling,
nor by the reports of thy conscience; conscience is oftentimes here
befooled and made to go quite beside the word. It was judging
without the word that made David say, I am cast off from God's eyes,
and shall perish one day by the hand of Saul; Psalm xxxi. 22; 1 Sam.
The word had told him another thing; namely, that he should be king
in his stead. Our text says also, that Jesus Christ bids preachers,
in their preaching repentance and remission of sins, begin first at
Jerusalem, thereby declaring most truly the infinite largeness of the
merciful heart of God and his Son, to the sinful children of men.
Judge thou, I say, therefore, of the goodness of the heart of God and
his Son, by this text, and by others of the same import; so shalt
thou not dishonour the grace of God, nor needlessly fright thyself,
nor give away thy faith, nor gratify the devil, nor lose the benefit
of his word. I speak now to weak believers.
Secondly, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered in the first place to
the biggest sinners, to the Jerusalem sinners? then, by this also,
you must learn to judge of the sufficiency of the merits of Christ;
not that the merits of Christ can be comprehended, for that they are
beyond the conceptions of the whole world, being called the
unsearchable riches of Christ; but yet they may be apprehended to a
considerable degree. Now, the way to apprehend them most, is, to
consider what offers, after his resurrection, he makes of his grace
to sinners; for to be sure he will not offer beyond the virtue of his
merits; because, as grace is the cause of his merits, so his merits
are the basis and bounds upon and by which his grace stands good, and
is let out to sinners.
Doth he then command that his mercy should be offered in the first
place to the biggest sinners? It declares, that there is sufficiency
in his blood to save the biggest sinners. The blood of Jesus Christ
cleanseth from all sin. And again, "Be it known unto you therefore,
men and brethren, that through this man (this man's merits) is
preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that
believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be
justified by the law of Moses;" Acts xiii. 38.
Observe then thy rule to make judgment of the sufficiency of the
blessed merits of thy Saviour. If he had not been able to have
reconciled the biggest sinners to his Father by his blood, he would
not have sent to them, have sent to them in the first place, the
doctrine of remission of sins; for remission of sins is through faith
in his blood. We are justified freely by the grace of God, through
the redemption that is in the blood of Christ. Upon the square, as I
may call it, of the worthiness of the blood of Christ, grace acts,
and offers forgiveness of sin to men; Eph. i. 7; chap. ii. 13, 14;
Col. i. 20-22.
Hence, therefore, we must gather, that the blood of Christ is of
infinite value, for that he offereth mercy to the biggest of sinners.
Nay, further, since he offereth mercy in the first place to the
biggest sinners, considering also, that this first act of his is that
which the world will take notice of and expect it should be continued
unto thee end. Also it is a disparagement to a man that seeks his
own glory in what he undertakes, to do that for a sport, which he
cannot continue and hold out in. This is our Lord's own argument,
"He began to build," saith he, "but was not able to finish;" Luke
Shouldst thou hear a man say, I am resolved to be kind to the poor,
and should begin with giving handfuls of guineas, you would conclude,
that either he is wonderful rich, or must straiten his hand, or will
soon be at the bottom of his riches. Why, this is the case: Christ,
at his resurrection, gave it out that he would be good to the world;
and first sends to the biggest sinners, with an intent to have mercy
on them. Now, the biggest sinners cannot be saved but by abundance
of grace; it is not a little that will save great sinners; Rom. v.
17. And I say again, since the Lord Jesus mounts thus high at the
first, and sends to the Jerusalem sinners, that they may come first
to partake of his mercy, it follows, that either he has unsearchable
riches of grace and worth in himself, or else he must straiten his
hand, or his grace and merits will be spent before the world is at an
end. But let it be believed, as surely as spoken, he is still as
full as ever. He is not a jot the poorer for all the forgivenesses
that he has given away to great sinners. Also he is still as free as
at first; for he never yet called back this word, Begin at the
Jerusalem sinners. And, as I said before, since his grace is
extended according to the worth of his merits, I conclude, that there
is the same virtue in his merits to save now, as there was at the
Oh! the riches of the grace of Christ! Oh! the riches of the blood
Thirdly, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered in the first place to
the biggest sinners, then here is encouragement for you that think,
for wicked hearts and lives, you have not your fellows in the world,
yet to come to him.
There is a people that therefore fear lest they should be rejected of
Jesus Christ, because of the greatness of their sins; when, as you
see here, such are sent to, sent to by Jesus Christ to come to him
for mercy, "Begin at Jerusalem." Never did one thing answer another
more fitly in this world, than this text fitteth such kind of
sinners. As face answereth face in a glass, so this text answereth
the necessities of such sinners. What can a man say more, but that
he stands in the rank of the biggest sinners? let him stretch himself
whither he can, and think of himself to the utmost, he can but
conclude himself to be one of the biggest sinners. And what then?
Why the text meets him in the very face, and saith, Christ offereth
mercy to the biggest sinners, to the very Jerusalem sinners. What
more can be objected? Nay, he doth not only offer to such his mercy,
but to them it is commanded to be offered in the first place; "Begin
at Jerusalem." Preach repentance and remission of sins among all
nations. "Begin at Jerusalem." Is not here encouragement for those
that think, for wicked hearts and lives, they have not their fellows
in the world?
Object. But I have a heart as hard as a rock.
Answ. Well, but this doth but prove thee a bigger sinner.
Object. But my heart continually frets against the Lord.
Answ. Well, this doth but prove thee a bigger sinner.
Object. But I have been desperate in sinful courses.
Answ. Well, stand thou with the number of the biggest sinners.
Object. But my grey head is found in the way of wickedness.
Answ. Well, thou art in the rank of the biggest sinners.
Object. But I have not only a base heart, but I have lived a
Answ. Stand thou also among those that are called the biggest
sinners. And what then? Why the text swoops you all; you cannot
object yourselves beyond the text. It has a particular message to
the biggest sinners. I say, it swoops you all.
Object. But I am a reprobate.
Answ. Now thou talkest like a fool, and of that thou understandest
not: no sin, but the sin of final impenitence, can prove a man a
reprobate; and I am sure thou hast not arrived as yet unto that;
therefore thou understandest not what thou sayest, and makest
groundless conclusions against thyself. Say thou art a sinner, and I
will hold with thee; say thou art a great sinner, and I will say so
too; yea, say thou art one of the biggest sinners, and spare not; for
the text yet is beyond thee, is yet betwixt he and thee; "Begin at
Jerusalem," has yet a smile upon thee; and thou talkest as if thou
wast a reprobate, and that the greatness of thy sins do prove thee so
to be, when yet they of Jerusalem were not such, whose sins, I dare
say, were such, both for bigness and heineousness, as thou art
incapable of committing beyond them; unless now, after thou hast
received conviction that the Lord Jesus is the only Saviour of the
world, thou shouldst wickedly and despitefully turn thyself from him,
and conclude he is not to be trusted to for life, and so crucify him
for a cheat afresh. This, I must confess, will bring a man under the
black rod, and set him in danger of eternal damnation; Heb. vi. 6:
chap. x. 29. This is trampling under foot the Son of God, and
counting his blood an unholy thing. This did they of Jerusalem; but
they did it ignorantly in unbelief; and so were yet capable of mercy:
but to do this against professed light, and to stand to it, puts a
man beyond the text indeed; Acts iii. 14-17; 1 Tim. i. 13.
But I say, what is this to him that would fain be saved by Christ?
His sins did, as to greatness, never yet reach to the nature of the
sins that the sinners intended by the text, had made themselves
guilty of. He that would be saved by Christ, has an honourable
esteem of him; but they of Jerusalem preferred a murderer before him;
but as for him, they cried, Away, away with him, it is not fit that
he should live. Perhaps thou wilt object, That thyself hast a
thousand times preferred a stinking lust before him: I answer, Be it
so; it is but what is common to men to do; nor doth the Lord Jesus
make such a foolish life a bar to thee, to forbid thy coming to him,
or a bond to his grace, that it might be kept from thee; but admits
of thy repentance, and offereth himself unto thee freely, as thou
standest among the Jerusalem sinners.
Take therefore encouragement, man, mercy is, by the text, held forth
to the biggest sinners; yea, put thyself into the number of the
worst, by reckoning that thou mayst be one of the first, and mayst
not be put off till the biggest sinners are served; for the biggest
sinners are first invited; consequently, if they come, they are like
to be the first that shall be served. It was so with Jerusalem;
Jerusalem sinners were they that were first invited, and those of
them that came first (and there came three thousand of them the first
day they were invited; how many came afterwards none can tell), they
were first served.
Put in thy name, man, among the biggest, lest thou art made to wait
till they are served. You have some men that think themselves very
cunning, because they put up their names in their prayers among them
that feign it, saying, God, I thank thee I am not so bad as the
worst. But believe it, if they be saved at all, they shall be saved
in the last place. The first in their own eyes shall be served last;
and the last or worst shall be first. The text insinuates it, "Begin
at Jerusalem;" and reason backs it, for they have most need. Behold
ye, therefore, how God's ways are above ours; we are for serving the
worst last, God is for serving the worst first. The man at the pool,