This is an excerpt taken from John Bunyan’s Jerusalem sinners’ saved sermon. It is a rich mine of gospel instruction and anyone who reads it will come away blessed and adoring the Lord Jesus Christ more than before. I believe it is very good for apologist to have a rich understanding of the gospel and a deep insight into the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I offer this as a help to you as saints turning from sins and as a fellow sinner in need of Christ’s abundant grace himself.
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[THE REASONS OF THE POINT.]
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 (Act 16:9). 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 the sinners to repentance’ (Mark 2:15-17).
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 a 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 the 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 to anywhere else in the world. ‘Begin at Jerusalem,’ offer mercy first to a Jerusalem sinner. This man has most need, he is furthest 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 first place.
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 redeemed them.’ And again, ‘The Lord is pitiful, very pitiful, and of tender mercy’ (Isa 63:9; James 5:11).
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 (Eze 16:46-51)] Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together’ (Hosea 11:8).
But where do you find that ever the Lord did thus rowl  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 10:30-35).
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 19:1-8).
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 13:11-13).
And why the woman of Sarepta, and why Naaman the Syrian, rather than widows and lepers of Israel, but because their conditions were more deplorable; for that they were most forlorn, and furthest from help (Luke 4:25,27).
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 its 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.
Second , 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 up for lost and dead. Physicians get neither name nor fame by pricking of wheals, or picking out thistles, or by laying of plasters 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 till noon.
Why, Christ Jesus forgiveth sins for a name, and so begets for 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 be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour, before all the nations of the earth’ (Jer 33:8,9).
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 4:23,24).
When Christ had cast the legion of devils out of the man of whom you read (Mark 5), 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 hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee’ (Mark 5:19). 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 it is 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’ (Mark 5:20).
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’ (Mark 9:39). 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, that the world may see what he can do. And to this end, 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 salvation, he has wrought upon them to this very end. Here is, Item , such an one, by my grace and redeeming blood, was made a monument of everlasting life; and such an 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 for 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, Magdalene, 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 seems to import he doth, but to show forth the riches of the glory of his grace, to his praise? (Luke 14). 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 the 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 14:18,19,23). These poor, lame, maimed, blind, hedge-creepers, and highwaymen, must come in, must be forced in. These, if saved, will make his merit 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 I 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’ (Psa 145:6-12).
When the Word of God came among the conjurors and those soothsayers, that you read of (Acts 19), 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, ‘Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men ; and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the Word of God, and prevailed’ (Acts 19:19,20). 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 prevailed.’ Thus, therefore, you see why Christ will have offered mercy, 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.