Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 334 - March 1884
The gospel with which the apostle was entrusted gives occasion to the words that fellow down to the end of ver. 17. It is singular that this is one of the passages on which a distinguished rationalist rested to impugn the genuineness of the epistle; whereas in fact the remark goes to prove the blindness of unbelief. It attests the incapacity of the doubting school in general (Schleiermacher being one of their ablest minds, and perhaps the least objectionable in his ordinary tone) to seize the admirable links, and not least such as do not lie on the surface but reveal themselves to those that search the word as God's word and feel the truth as well as understand it. The apostle had given emphatic expression to himself as entrusted with the glad tidings of the glory. Light from Christ's glory had, even literally, shone on, and into the heart of, Saul of Tarsus. Hence it is not doctrine here, but an outburst of thanksgiving, which breaks forth and links together his own case, as the readiest and deepest and most conspicuous object to be found of sovereign grace, with the message he was called to deliver.
Perhaps it was the wish to connect these verses with the foregoing, from lark of the spiritual insight to discern their intimate connexion without any outward mark, which added the copulative ("And") of the common text. The most ancient copies end version do not countenance it. Nor is it needful to begin, a doxology, which could not be repressed from a heart over-flowing at the recollection and in the present enjoyment of 'the Saviour's grace.
1"I thank him that strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, that he counted me faithful, appointing me unto ministry,2 though I was a blasphemer and persecutor . and doer of outrage. But I had mercy shown me because I did [it] ignorantly in unbelief; end the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love that is in Christ Jesus. Faithful [is] the word and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ jeans came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. But for this cause mercy was shown me that in me, as chief, Christ might display the whole longsuffering for an outline sketch of those that should believe on him unto life eternal. Now to the King of the ages, incorruptible invisible only3 God, be honour and glory unto the ages of ages. Amen" (ver. 12-17).
The heart of Paul glows in thanksgiving to our Lord for the inward power conferred on him. Not only was he called to be a saint but appointed to service, for that Christ deemed him faithful. It was immeasurably enhanced by another consideration never to be forgotten,—what he was when thin called: he had been before this a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insulter, which all persecutors might not be. It was therefore no merely high colouring but the genuine feeling of his soul, that he was foremost of sinners: and no man who ever lived was more competent to form an adequate judgment of sin. He knew what sinners were, m as large an experience as any man could grasp. Yet did our Lord call him, who, as he says himself, even compelled the saints to blaspheme, who was exceedingly furious in persecuting them outside their own land, who breathed out threatenings and slaughter in his insolent hatred of the name of Jesus; which gave him power to go forth and persevere in an endurance, beyond what this. world has ever seen, in not labours only but sufferings for Christ. The Lord did indeed account him faithful, and this from the day of his conversion, an elect vessel (He said) to bear His name before both Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel, in that astonishing path of trial for His name, of which the apostle says nothing, but only when it was as it were wrung out, in his "folly" as he calls it by the bad state and. real folly of the worldly-wise Corinthians.
For the love of Christ proved its own strength in appointing to His service, not merely one apostle (whose confidence in his own affection for Christ met with a speedy and most overwhelming humiliation, that so he might by grace be a strengthener of his brethren, and a bold preacher of the glad tidings assured even to those who denied the Holy and Righteous One), but another arrested in the mid-career of unmitigated hatred of His name 'and haughty contempt of His grace, whom He was calling to the highest and largest conceivable place of service, minister of the assembly His body, and minister of the, gospel proclaimed in all the creation that is under heaven (Col. i. 23-55). Who but "Christ Jesus our Lord" would have felt, thought, acted thus toward either? Such a Saviour and Lord was He to both, and thus were they each fitted to give the best effect to the testimony of His grace, without the smallest palliation of their sins respectively.
"But," says the one before us, "I had mercy shown me, because I did it in unbelief." Assuredly there was no lack of sincerity; not a doubt clouded his conscience,. He thought he ought to do much against the name of the Nazarene, armed as he was with the authority and commission of the chief priests, confident in the strictest Pharisaic orthodoxy as well as scrupulous practice, and satisfied of an unbroken succession in the religion of the true God from its enactment at Sinai, not to say from the garden of Eden.
Still the power and glory which struck all down as far as concerned Saul in his person, and revealed to his soul in a light beyond the sun at noonday that the crucified but glorified Jesus was the Jehovah God of Israel changed all in an instant, and without a question proved all he had loved and venerated to be in hopeless enmity against God's grace, truth, glory—all centering in Him who, in convicting him of the worst sins, saved him to be His servant-witness, while taking him out from among the people and the Gentiles to whom He thenceforward sent him on the lifelong errand of His own matchless mercy. No doubt he was ignorant, and unbelief was the root of it; and it is a different state from that of these who, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, sin wilfully or fall away to religious forms, in preference to Christ and the Spirit's testimony to His work. The heavenly Christ was Jesus whom he had been persecuting in His members. It was all over with himself, as well as with, his religion: Christ was all to him, and Christ be owns in all who loved Him, whose name he had till that moment anathematized. It was his ever after to live and die for Him who died for all, that they who lived should no longer live to themselves but to Him who for them died and rose again. It was sinful unbelieving ignorance. "But the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love that is in Christ Jesus," the contrast of unbelief and hatred when he only knew the law. And so he can commend to others with the deepest feeling his own compressed summary of the gospel: "Faithful is the word and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," but he adds, "of. whom I am chief."
In vain do men seek to limit either "sinners" on the one hand, or "chief" on the other. The apostle knew the truth incomparably better than they, be they Fathers of old or modern Germans, Catholics or Protestants. The very aim is to sweep away all comparison, to overturn all self-righteousness, and to meet all despair, laying man in the dust and exalting only the Saviour, who abased Himself and saves to the last degree those that disobey not "the heavenly vision."
Nor was it only a question of mercy in saving the foremost of sinners; there was a purpose of grace toward others. "But for this cause mercy was shown me, that in me, as chief, Jesus Christ might display the whole long-suffering, for an outline-sketch of these that should believe on Him unto life eternal," It is impossible to exceed the energy of the expression. Nor need we wonder, if his case was to be a standing pattern or delineation of divine love rising above the most active hostility, of divine longsuffering exhausting the most varied and persistent antagonism, whether in Jews or in Gentiles at large; for who had in either exceeded Saul of Tarsus? How will not the Lord use the history of his conversion to win the hardened yew by-and-by! How does He not turn it to the account of any wretched sinner now! And how does the apostle delight in that grace which can thus make the pride and wrath of man praise Him, both at present and in the future day, through the faith of our Lord Jesus, without whom all must have been only ruin and wretchedness, closed, by everlasting judgment. " Now to the King of the ages, incorruptible invisible only God, [be] honour and glory unto the ages of ages. Amen."
As those that believe on Christ unto life eternal are not a mere people under earthly government to enjoy and attest the blessings of a just rule and a divine ruler, so God is here owned and praised as King of the ages, in His supremacy above all passing conditions and circumstances of the creature here below. Bat Ho is also confessed as "incorruptible" in face of that which has shamelessly departed from Him in heaven above and on the earth beneath, turning even His dealings and revelations into self-aggrandizement or self indulgence to His dishonours; as "invisible," where unseen powers have availed themselves of what is seen to play into the idolatry of the fallen heart and evil conscience; and as "only" or "alone," where the world's wisdom freely gave . its worship, begrudged to the alone true God, to created objects on high and around and below which excited its admiration, hopes, and fears, and so was led on by Satan to deify him and his hosts under names which consecrated every lust and passion to man's cwt ever increasing degradation. "To Him that is King of the ages, incorruptible invisible only God, be honour and glory," not now merely as the basest rivals may have been, but "to the ages of the ages"—time without end. "Amen." The Authorised Version is here inaccurate; and so is any commentator that carps at Bp. Middleton's just and necessary correction. The article really goes with θ. "God,' binding together all between as descriptive, If . ἀφθαρ. κ. τ. λ. were in immediate concord with τῷ β., they could not be anarthrous.
1) Most copies, none first-class, add "and" as in Text Rec.
2) The article in the best MSS. goes with πρ. which forbids the rendering "him who" or "me who' as with the common text.
3) "Wise" is an interpolation here and in Jade 25. In Rom. xvi. 27 it is right and most suitable. Its omission here Bengel calls nagnifica lectio; so the oldest and best MSS. and Vv.