Howbeit, for this cause I obtained mercy
Though so great a sinner, and even the chief of sinners:
that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering;
not that the apostle was the first that was converted upon Christ's coming to save sinners; for there were many converted before him, and very great sinners too, and he speaks of himself as one born out of due time; unless it can be thought that he was the first of the persecutors of the church, upon the death of Stephen, that was converted: but the word "first" is not an "adverb" of time, but a "noun" expressing the character of the apostle, as before; and the sense is, that in him, the first or chief of sinners, Jesus Christ exhibited an instance of his abundant longsuffering exercised towards his elect for their salvation; he waiting in the midst of all their sins and rebellions to be gracious to them; and of this, here was a full proof in the Apostle Paul: what longsuffering and patience were showed, while he held the clothes of them that stoned Stephen, when he made havoc and haled men and women to prison, and persecuted them to death? and this was done,
for a pattern to them that should hereafter believe on him to life
either to those of his fellow persecutors, or of others in that age, who should be made sensible of their sins, and by this instance and example of grace be encouraged to believe in Christ for life and salvation; or to all awakened and convinced sinners then, and in every age, who from hence may conceive hope of salvation in Christ for themselves, though ever so great sinners; since such patience and longsuffering were exercised towards, and such grace bestowed upon, one that had been a sinner of the first rank and size, yea, the chief of sinners: in him was delineated the grace of God, and in his conversion it was painted in its most lively colours; and a just representation is given of it, for the encouragement of the faith and hope of others in Christ. Christ is here represented as the object of faith; and true faith regards him, looks unto him, and deals with him for eternal life and salvation. Our countryman, Mr. Mede, thinks that the sense is, that the conversion of the Apostle Paul was a pattern of the conversion of the Jews in the latter day; and his thought seems to be a very good one: the apostle's conversion is a pledge and earnest of theirs, and showed that God had not cast away all that people; and carries in it some likeness and agreement with theirs: as his, theirs will be in the midst of all their blindness and unbelief; and when they have filled up the measure of their sins; and they will be a nation born at once, suddenly, and by the immediate power and grace of God, without the ministry of the word, which they will not hear: thus they will be converted as he was, and become as hearty lovers and friends of the Gentile churches.