Click here to join the effort!
Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and behold a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus.
1. The first of Paul’s missionary journeys reached its furthest limit at Lystra--the most uncivilised place he ever visited. Even here, however, he left a Church which he now found standing steadfast, and among its members a youth of peculiar promise, who bore the now famous name of Timothy.
2. On the mother’s side Timothy was a Jew. Both mother and grandmother were devout, and it is therefore surprising that “his father was a Greek,” and probably a heathen. Mixed marriages were held in horror by orthodox Jews. At Lystra, however, Jews were few, and the rigour of custom must have been relaxed. Timothy had never been circumcised. But what might escape remark in Lycaonia, would prove a scandal elsewhere; and with his usual practical judgment, Paul “took and circumcised him” before he led him forth to work.
3. The spiritual ancestry of Timothy is as clearly marked as the natural. Prepared for the willing reception of the gospel by the godly education of his childhood, he became Paul’s “own son in the faith.” In the interval between the two visits he had advanced to a character of marked ability and usefulness. Paul, always on the watch for helpers, saw the materials lying ready for a noble missionary life. “Him would Paul have to go forth with him.” And with this period we connect the numerous allusions to his ordination service. The Church appears gathered in solemn assembly. He makes “a good profession before many witnesses.” Then the apostle explains the labours and the risks of the Christian warfare, and charges his “son” to be brave, patient, and believing. The laying on of hands succeeds; and the prayer of the Church rises to heaven on his behalf. Nor in vain; for to that moment is referred the special anointing of the Spirit which fitted the young man for his future ministry. And, amid smiles and tears, we see him going forth into the great world, in the footsteps of the Captain who had chosen him to be a soldier.
4. Timothy’s work constantly widened in range and in importance. Very young when he went out with Paul, it was fitting that he should at first remain in the background. But, from references in the epistles, we discover how usefully and industriously he was employed. From Corinth he is sent to the Thessalonians, “to establish and comfort them in their faith.” From Ephesus he is sent to the Corinthians “to bring them into remembrance” of the truth they seemed to have forgotten. He passed through his apprenticeship in a loyal and loving spirit; and presently rose to be a master, with enterprises of his own. Still comparatively young, he is left at Ephesus with an Herculean task on his hands. He becomes the recognised successor of the great apostle, invested with an authority hardly inferior to his own. When that apostle’s end draws near, and he seeks someone to be his comforter and executor, it is to Timothy that the summons is sent; and we learn, from the Epistle to the Hebrews, that he was imprisoned for Christ, and, if tradition is to be trusted, he died at last a martyr’s death in the streets of his own turbulent Ephesus.
5. With little beyond allusions to guide us, it is difficult to decide on Timothy’s qualities. His bodily health was feeble, and required stimulants; his natural disposition appears to have been as sensitive as Paul’s, and perhaps deficient in forwardness and courage. The situation of affairs at Ephesus was at the time extremely difficult and even dangerous. The bravest might easily have lost heart in such an atmosphere, and would have needed to sustain him every motive which an apostle could supply. Paul did not think meanly of his follower. On the contrary, he speaks of his unfeigned faith, his unwearied service, his strict fidelity. He declares that in all the chosen hand of his fellow labourers there is none so disinterested, so full of sympathy, so much after his own heart. More dazzling names than his are to be seen in the firmament of the early Church; Apollos flames across the sky, leaving behind the brilliant sparks of his Alexandrian rhetoric: but the star of Timotheus brains on with a gentle, gracious, and unfading lustre, holding forth the word of life.
6. Whatever the contrast between Timothy’s mission and ours, his character is one which, in its strength, its modesty, and its devotedness, may be ours. Character is a building of which God is the architect, and all the designs are His. But the building rises stone on stone, and is the work of many different hands; and it is useful to inquire what influences we can trace as helping to make this man what he was.
(1) One was the Bible. “From a child” it had been his great lesson book. And now, in this great age of making books, where, by common confession, is there a book that will do for character what the Bible does?
(2) No less helpful were personal influences. The Bible is the best of books; but the character of those who teach it adds immensely to its power. Now the earliest Scripture lessons of Timothy were mingled with the happy associations of hours spent at the feet of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. When they and he were parted, the same good work was carried on by apostolic hands. How much may be done to impart interest and impressiveness to the Word of God! The desire to see her child become another Timothy lives in many a Christian mother’s heart: does not the power to make him so, under the Divine blessing, lie largely in her hands? The Bible class, wisely conducted, becomes the very garden of the Lord, where the young plants are nourished to a full stature and strength.
(3) Yet, after all, the main human force at work in the formation of Timothy’s character was Timothy himself: for the determining will was his own. (W. Brock, jun.)
Timothy; or maternal goodness
I. Timothy’s beauty of character is traceable throughout his life. He was not converted from sin and shame in mature life. From a child he knew the Holy Scriptures experimentally, as well as being the founts of doctrine and the rules of conduct. A young man, just budding into strength and freedom, he became a Christian, whose character endeared him to the community of which both his grandmother and mother were distinguished ornaments, and whose gifts, exercised and proved, commanded the Church’s admiration. Every way it is important that the young should feel that their youth belongs to Christ. It is contrary to the spirit and intention of our holy religion to treat them as the subjects of a depravity which must have its way, and consign them to years of separation from God. A young soul may be rendered hopeless of spiritual good through misrepresentation of the actual facts of life. Children naturally fall into what you say they are. The Saviour of men is the Saviour of the young. He who took them in His arms and blessed them, is always longing for the homage and affection of fresh, young hearts. He deprecates one hour spent in the service of evil. The history of Timothy proves the possibility, and shows the beauty of Divine life in youth.
II. the sacred influence of a mother’s piety. Eunice was a Jewess--and to “the unfeigned faith which dwelt in her” is to be traced the spiritual development of Timothy. How many of the most renowned of the Church’s heroes have been born again through the prayers and example of pious mothers! We think of Jochebed, Hannah, Mary, Salome, etc. As a mother is her child’s world, it is evident that on her must depend its first impressions. As she is kind and gentle, graceful and sweet, pure and devout, or the reverse, so will her child’s life be. How mothers should cultivate their own hearts and watch over their own doings!
III. The home hindrances of Timothy’s spiritual life. “His father was a Greek,” which indicates not only the diversity between himself and wife, as of different races, but that his wife believed, and he remained an idolater. This divergence had of necessity to be made manifest to the child. The mother taught him the truths of the religion his father despised. It is a picture on which, even in these days, we are often called to look. There was sometimes sorrow in the house, because there was no spiritual sympathy. The strength of his mother’s faith and love were enough to overcome this hindrance. But it is not always so. Sometimes the dead weight of a godless husband or wife is sufficient to drag down and crush the goodness which is allied with it. The waters wear the stones, and sometimes the marriage bells ring the knell of the spiritual life and profession. (W. H. Davison.)
Paul and Timothy
I. Paul took Silas with him, but he could not give up a man like Barnabas and think no more about him. He who can forget old friends is no apostle of Jesus Christ. Besides, Paul was going “again” to the churches. The people would ask about Barnabas. We ask questions that open graves and heart wounds. The man who has not seen you for years asks you how that sweet little boy of yours is, and it seems to you incredible that a grief that filled your house with darkness had not made itself known to your friend. What must Paul’s answer have been? He was a faithful man true as steel: he knew not the genius of equivocation and the fine art of telling lies. We have to account for old associations being ruptured, we have to explain new faces and new relationships.
II. Paul came to Derbe and Lystra, and found “a certain disciple named Timotheus.” Long ago we read about a young man whose name was Saul. We begin in obscurity, we are pointed at as hardly to be identified. If the foolish tree could be taking itself up in order to show its antecedents, it would soon be killed. All that we have to do is so to lift ourselves up in God’s light and rain, as to bring forth fruit. We may be now nothing more than “certain disciples,” but we may still be disciples.
III. Timothy was the son of a Jewess and a Greek. Happy man, to stand between two civilisations! What must the boy have been? Two such fires meeting in his blood; two such histories recounting themselves in his memory! How able to look well round him and to understand the mystery of Law and the mystery of Beauty! His religion might go up into superstition, his philosophy might develop into scepticism and sneering; if he touched Christ, he touched One who to the Jew was a stumbling block and to the Greek foolishness, but to the believing Timothy the power of God and the wisdom of God. We ourselves see this double relationship sometimes in life. Your mother prayed--your father never prayed. You are a child of the night and of the day, and you feel it, and sometimes you are plunged in the darkness of the one parentage, and sometimes you are away on the bright broad wings of the other into the light. But is it possible that a Jewess could marry a Greek? I should have said, No, but for what you have done.
IV. Timothy “was well reported of.” Character is very subtle. Timothy never asked any man to speak well of him, and yet no man could speak ill of the youth. Do not appeal to one another’s charitable judgment for a character, but so live that character will come. Live your character; do not be painted as good men, but paint your own character in your own blood.
V. “Him would Paul have to go forth with him.” Paul could not do without youth. A young man can run, and is not burdened with a sense of his own respectability. God bless the young life! There are those who would snub the youthful soul, and never permit him to be seen or heard. Paul loved the young, and would never give them up so long as they were true; but if ever they began to prove themselves fickle, he would give them up and their uncle Barnabas with them. A soldier could not do with a coward; only be true, and Paul would be your lifelong friend.
VI. He took and circumcised Timothy. This from Paul, who would not circumcise Titus! But the reason is given (verse 3). It was therefore no breach of the apostle’s stern policy that, under circumstances so peculiar, he should respect a temporary prejudice. Now they start, Paul, and Silas, and Timotheus (verse 4). Do not be afraid of the word “Decrees”; they were decrees of liberty. What they signed was the Magna Charts of the Church; freedom centred in God and in the Cross. Christ’s followers are not lawless; they have decrees to keep. The spirit of authority is the spirit of rest when it brings with it the assurance that the authority is not arbitrary but rational, not local but universal, not imperfect but Divine. VII. “So were the churches established,” etc. These are the true results which accompany every true mission--edification first, and evangelisation second. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Trained from childhood
As Alexander the Great attained to have such a puissant army, whereby he conquered the world, by having children born and brought up in his camp, whereby they became so well acquainted and exercised with weapons from their swaddling-clothes, that they looked for no other wealth or country but to fight; even so, if thou wouldst have thy children either to do great matters, or to live honestly by their own virtuous endeavours, thou must acquaint them with painstaking in their youth, and so bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Cawdray.)
Children, cost of training cheap in the long run
An Englishman visiting Sweden, noticing their care for educating children, who are taken from the streets and highways and placed in special schools, inquired if it was not costly. He received the suggestive answer, “Yes, it is costly, but not dear. We Swedes are not rich enough to let a child grow up in ignorance, misery, and crime, to become a scourge to society as well as a disgrace to himself.” (The Lantern.)
Early impressions permanent
I stood in a house in one of the Long Island villages, not long ago, and I saw a beautiful tree, and I said to the owner: “That is a very fine tree; but what a curious crook there is in it.” “Yes,” said he; “I planted that tree, and when it was a year old, I went to New York, and worked as a mechanic for a year or two, and when I came back I found they had allowed something to stand against the tree, and so it has always had that crook.” And so, I thought, it was with the influence upon children, If you allow anything to stand in the way of moral influence against a child on this side or that side, to the latest day of its life on earth and through all eternity it will show the pressure. No wonder Lord Byron was bad. Do you know his mother said to him, when she saw him one day limping across the floor with his unsound foot: “Get out of my way, you lame brat!” What chance for a boy like that? (T. De W. Talmage, D. D.)
Early piety, importance of
The most important ten years of human life are from five to fifteen years of age. The vast majority of those who pass twenty irreligious are never converted at all Dr. Spencer tells us that, out of two hundred and thirty-five hopeful converts in his church, one hundred and thirty-eight were under twenty years, only four had passed their fiftieth year. I have been permitted during my ministry to receive nearly one thousand persons into the Church on confession of their faith, and not one dozen of these had outgrown their fiftieth year. I did indeed once baptise a veteran of eighty-five, but the case was so remarkable that it excited the talk and wonder of the town. Such late repentances are too much like what the blunt, dying soldier called “flinging the fag end of one’s life into the face of the Almighty.” (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Children early taught idolatry
The heathen mother takes her babe to the idol temple, and teaches it to clasp its little hands before its forehead, in the attitude of prayer, long before it can utter a word. As soon as it can walk, it is taught to gather a few flowers or fruits, or put a little rice upon a banana leaf, and lay them upon the altar before the idol god. As soon as it can utter the names of its parents, so soon it is taught to offer up its petitions before the images. Who ever saw a heathen child that could speak, and not pray? Christian mothers, why is it that so many children grow up in this enlightened land without learning to pray?
Mother, influence of
The mother of the Beechers prayed during life and in death, “that her children might be trained up for God.” One of her journals contains this simple record--“This morning I rose very early to pray for my children, and especially that my sons may be ministers and missionaries of Jesus Christ.” What has been the result? That for all her children her prayers have been answered. Her five sons are all ministers and missionaries of Christ. One of them she has welcomed to heaven; another is now the most powerful preacher in America; and her daughter, Mrs. Beecher Stowe, is, by her writings, not less widely or favourably known. (W. Landels, D. D.)
Mother, influence of
Someone asked a man of wisdom when the education of a child should be commenced? “Twenty years before his birth, by educating his mother,” was the reply. (Christian Advocate.)
Mother, influence of
Upon a tombstone erected by a family of children was the inscription “Our mother; she always made home happy.” When Madame Campan asked Napoleon what was the great want of the trench nation, his reply was “Mothers.”
Mother, prayers of a
Samuel Budgett was about nine years of age, when, one day passing his mother’s door, he heard her engaged in earnest prayer for her family, and for himself by name. He thought, “My mother is more earnest that I should be saved than I am for my own salvation.” In that hour he became decided to serve God, and the impression thus made was never effaced. (W. Arthur.)
Him would Paul have to go forth with him.
Using new converts
It is good for young converts to be set at work; it is good for them. It is good for every Church to set its young converts at work; it is good for the Church. “All at it, and always at it,” was the old Wesleyan cry. And it was in that way that the Methodist Church gained and grew so wonderfully. It was long ago said of the Waldensian Church, that its peculiar vitality was accounted for by the fact that as soon as a new convert had been seven days a believer, he was set to teach someone who was not so far along as he was. And that is the way for a Church to have greatest activity and widest efficiency on the part of its membership. Of course, when it comes to assigning special duties to young converts, there must be wisdom shown in their selection. If a man is to be sent into another field, he ought to be one who has a good reputation in his own field. He who lacks the confidence of those who know him, ought not to be helped to new acquaintances by a local church or by a foreign missionary society. (H. C. Trumbull.)
Paul and Timothy colleagues
I. The ideal ministry is that of partnership. “Two are better than one,” either as pastors or missionaries.
1. No one man is fully equipped for all the duties of his office, though two may be. The one often supplies what is lacking in the other; and common interests are promoted by the interchange of thought and affection, and by the division of labour. What one may have no adaptability for the other may have in abundance. Able preachers are not always good pastors. Happy the Church which has two ministers: one who can visit, another who can preach.
2. Partnership was the plan of the Master who sent His disciples out “two by two.” It was the plan of the apostles. How often we find Peter and John in conjunction. It was Paul’s plan, who never laboured alone if he could help it.
II. This partnership must be based on harmonious qualities. Not necessarily identical qualities. Persons of similar ideas and temperaments have not always been good colleagues. Opposites are not necessarily antagonistic: they are often complementary. The most angular persons have often worked well together, because the angles have been made to fit laterally instead of pressing on the points. Paul could not, under existing circumstances, have worked with Mark, and so far he was wise in refusing his companionship; and it is doubtful if he could have permanently worked with Barnabas. We may see a wise Providence in their separation if not in the means by which it was brought about. Paul could get on better with Timothy, whom he could train in his own methods and aims.
III. This partnership was realised in the case of Paul and Timothy. What one lacked the other possessed--inexperience and experience; the desire to learn and the ability to teach; sedateness and energy; evangelistic genius, and pastoral and governmental gifts. (J. W. Burn.)
And as they went through the cities they delivered them the decrees for to keep.
The decrees of the Church at Jerusalem
I. The messengers who delivered these decrees.
II. To whom they were delivered.
III. The end for which they were delivered.
IV. The results of this delivery.
2. Augmentation. (W. Burkitt.)
And so were the Churches established.--
The establishment and increase of the Church
The ultimate success of any system must depend upon its truth. A lie may partially succeed; but its final doom is certain. It carries in itself the elements of its own destruction. Truth, on the contrary, is imperishable. However persecuted and misrepresented, it will infallibly vindicate its birth and greatness. It is, therefore, a matter of the utmost importance that the truths of the gospel should be maintained in their entireness and purity. For, in proportion as error mingles with truth, its influence will be counteracted. And when antiquated rites or modern conceits are substituted for evangelical doctrine, the pernicious results of error become still more apparent. The facts on which these observations are based may be found in this and the preceding chapter. Note here:--
I. The establishment of Christians in the faith. The term “faith” is often employed to signify Christianity as a religious system; doubtless, because by believing we become partakers of its blessings (Acts 6:7; Galatians 1:23; 1 Timothy 5:8; Titus 1:13). This establishment of Christians in the faith includes--
1. Their confirmation in doctrinal truth. The evangelical writers constantly assume that there is such a thing as an authoritative standard of truth, to which reason and opinion are obliged to bow (Romans 6:17; 2Ti 1:13; 1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 1:9; 1 John 2:21; 1 John 2:24). And it is assumed throughout the Scriptures that these truths are capable of being understood by every order of mind so as to exercise their influence over the whole man (John 8:32; 1 Timothy 2:4). Now that the apostles are no longer on earth to explain their own meaning, it becomes us to be the more careful in the use of the means we possess, that we may avoid error, and arrive at the “knowledge of the truth.” We must “search the Scriptures,” asking for the “Spirit of truth to guide us into all truth.”
2. Their establishment in piety to God, and love to one another. The “faith” to which they were pledged, and of whose truth they were now reassured, was a faith which embraced in its regards the entire economy of the human spirit, and exerted a sovereign influence over all its faculties. When evangelical truth is received with humble faith, certain saving results immediately ensue. All spiritual graces followed in due succession, sustained by faith, animated with love, and crowned by the hope of immortal life. Now this connection between the doctrines to be believed, and blessings to be enjoyed, is illustrated and confirmed by the passage under consideration. An unsettled creed is always unfavourable to a settled piety. The “dissension and disputation” (Acts 15:2) must have been detrimental to their spiritual welfare. They were “troubled,” and their “souls subverted” (verse 24). Accordingly, when the disturbing force was removed they “rejoiced for the consolation” (verse 31).
3. Out of our establishment in faith and holiness will arise a settled practice and a steady devotion to the service of Christ. Where the principles of Christianity are loosely held, and its blessings are only known by report, there you may anticipate laxity of morals, or open violation of the Divine law.
II. The connection between the establishment of Christians in the faith and the prosperity of the work of God.
1. The establishment of Christians in the faith disposes them to overlook minor points of controversy, and to devote themselves to the propagation of vital truth. It was on this principle that the Apostle Paul refused to dispute on points non-essential to salvation, and exhorted Christians to liberality of sentiment. So the true Christian says, “If we are to debate, let it be on matters worthy our character and intellect. If we are to labour, let it be in a field where our toil shall not be wasted.”
2. A settled piety permits our attention to be drawn off from our personal anxieties, and to be fixed on the conversion of others. We cannot be content with our own happiness; we want to make others happy also.
3. Consistency and harmony in the Church have their influence on the minds of the undecided, and induce them to join themselves to the disciples. If the religion of Christ were properly represented in the spirit and conduct of the professing Church, the world could hardly withstand its attraction.
4. God has established the connection between piety and usefulness, and therefore confers His special blessing on the labours of established Christians, and the enterprises of pure and devoted Churches. He is not dependent upon any particular set of instruments. But there is one rule which He never violates--He never employs unholy men or fallen Churches to represent Him in the world, or to fulfil the saving objects of His redeeming scheme. (W. Williams.)
The establishment and increase of the Church
I. The Churches were established in the faith. The phrase is used as a comprehensive description of Christianity.
1. Primitive Christian Churches were composed exclusively of such as professed to believe in Christ, and to conform their lives to the holy requirements of the gospel. Their members were consequently Christians, not in that loose sense of the term in which it is now so commonly used, but as disciples of Christ who had been “born of water and of the Spirit,” and upon whom the “unction of the Holy One” rested. Hence they are variously denominated by the apostles as the “beloved of God--saints--faithful brethren”--those who are “sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Christ Jesus and called”; and are always addressed as persons who could understand the sentiments and the language of doctrinal, vital, and experimental religion. And their piety being thus sincere and vital it was capable of increase. Accordingly, under the instructions of these inspired men, they made a very observable progress in the Divine life. There was a manifest growth in grace.
2. Christianity as a system is eminently social. Hence its converts have from the first been formed into Churches. This was done by collecting them together, and uniting them in the joint observance of the laws and ordinances of Jesus Christ. Such societies have continued to exist from that time to the present, and seem to be the destined means, under the Holy Spirit, of perpetuating and extending the kingdom of the Redeemer.
II. They increased in number daily; either, that is, these several Churches already established increased in the number of their members, or the Churches themselves were multiplied, or both. The increase, whether of members or of Churches, is said to have been “daily.” The expression seems to indicate both the rapidity and the constancy of the increase. It was not such an increase as we are accustomed to witness, when at distant intervals a few individuals enter the fellowship of the Church. The evangelists seem never to have preached but souls were converted; and the Churches never to have come together, but they had the high privilege of receiving many new disciples into the communion of saints. Nor did this last for a few days merely. As the increase was rapid, so it was constant.
III. The cause from which this prosperous state of things resulted. The Holy Spirit most manifestly attended upon the labours of the apostles. Apart from His gracious influence, apostolic eloquence and zeal would have accomplished nothing. Not less necessary then than now was that life-giving energy which proceeds alone from Him. There were, however, certain subordinate and subsidiary causes to which, in the order of means, this prosperity may be traced.
1. The apostolic settlement of the question, that converts from among the Gentiles were not to be subject to the institutions of Moses (chap. 15:31). Being delivered from a yoke of bondage which would have fatally depressed their rising zeal, they were free to throw all their newly awakened energies into the cause of the Redeemer. The preachers, also liberated from all trammels, might now come forward simply with the doctrine of the cross. Nothing is so calculated to produce either a vigorous state of personal piety, or a prosperous state of Church fellowship, as a simple, clear, and Scriptural exhibition of the “truth as it is in Jesus.”
2. The devotional spirit of the early Christians, combined with their fervent zeal.
3. There was none of that timid neutrality respecting the profession of the gospel among the first Christians by which modern Christianity is so lamentably distinguished. When a man was converted, the next thing was to join the Church. There was consequently a line of demarcation, broad and deep, between the Church and the world. None were ashamed of Christ, or ashamed to avow their attachment to His followers, and His cause.
4. The spirit of union and Christian love. Believers were of “one heart and one way.” Separate Churches there were, as now, but separate denominations there were none. “The communion of saints” was not then what it has since become--a cold article in a formal creed, but the practical and sweet experience of every day. The uniting bond was not an exact coincidence of opinion in every point of doctrine, or a perfect uniformity of practice in matters of government and discipline; but it was love. Let Christians of all parties forget their differences, and approximate among themselves to something like the union subsisting between Christ and His Father; let them be one, as they are one, and the influence will be irresistible. (E. Steane, D. D.)
Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia.
Paul’s first visit to Galatia, A.D. 51 or 52
The form of the Greek expression implies that Phrygia and Galatia are not to be regarded as separate districts--but the land originally inhabited by Phrygians, but subsequently occupied by Cauls. Paul does not appear to have had any intention of preaching the gospel here. He was perhaps anxious at once to bear his message to the more important and promising district of proconsular Asia. But he was detained by a return of his old malady “the thorn in the flesh”--some sharp and violent attack which humiliated him and prostrated his physical strength. To this the Galatians owed their knowledge of Christ. Though a homeless, stricken wanderer might seem but a feeble advocate of a cause so momentous, yet it was the Divine order that in the preaching of the gospel strength should be made perfect in weakness. The zeal of the preacher and the enthusiasm of his hearers triumphed over all impediments. They did not despise the temptation in his flesh. They received him as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. They would have plucked out their very eyes if they could and have given them to him.” It can scarcely have been any predisposing religious sympathy which attracted them so powerfully. The gospel as a message of mercy and a spiritual faith stood in direct contrast to the gross and material religions in which the race had been nurtured. But if we picture to ourselves the apostle, as he appeared before the Galatians, a friendless outcast, writhing under the tortures of a painful malady, yet instant in season and out of season, by turns denouncing and entreating, perhaps also, as at Lystra, enforcing his appeals by some striking miracle, we shall be at no loss to conceive how the fervid temperament of the Gaul might have been aroused. In the absence of all direct testimony we may conjecture that it was at Ancyra, now the capital of the Roman province, as formerly of the Gaulish settlement, “the most illustrious metropolis,” as it is called in formal documents; at Pessinus under the shadow of Mount Dindimus, the cradle of the worship of Cybele, and one of the principal commercial towns of the district; at Tavium, at once a strong fortress and a great emporium, situated at the point of convergence of several important roads; perhaps also at Juliopolis, the ancient Gordium, formerly the capital of Phrygia, almost equidistant from the three seas, and from its central position a busy mart; at these, or some of these places, that Paul founded the earliest Churches of Galatia. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
And were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the Word in Asia.--
The guidance of the Spirit
Who can read this account without being tempted to ask--Why should the Holy Ghost forbid the apostles to preach in Asia? Why not suffer them to go into Bithynia? Were not the inhabitants sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death? And did not Christ die for them? Now as God giveth no account of His matters; and as the Lord of the harvest may send forth labourers into whatever part of His harvest He pleases, it might he enough to answer that it belongs not to us to pry into those reasons which it has pleased Him to keep secret. But the matter admits of a most satisfactory explanation. No doubt the souls in Asia and Bithynia were dear to God; but Paul and Silas could not be labouring both in Asia and Macedonia at the same time; and He, who knew the hearts of all, knew in which country the minds of men were most prepared to receive the gospel. That there was such a preparation in Macedonia is intimated by the very nature of the vision. The whole may be illustrated by a familiar image. A farmer perceives his fields white for the harvest, and hires labourers to reap the corn. They go into one field, and prepare to cut it down, but he forbids them; they look to another, and attempt to enter it; but he suffers them not: he conducts them to a third which is most fully ripe, and says,” This is the field, work here.” Would any say that he did not care for the corn in the other fields because he passed them by? Would not everyone be sure that he only took the third before them because it was most ready for the sickle, and that he would take the others in due time? So when the Lord forbad His servants to preach in Asia and Bithynia it was not that He did not care for the souls there, but that Macedonia was the most prepared. How well prepared it was appears from Paul’s epistles to the Churches in that country, at Philippi and Thessalonica. But were Asia and Bithynia therefore neglected? No. We find Paul afterwards preaching in Troas, the very port of Asia whence he sailed to Macedonia. In Ephesus also, the principal city of that Asia where he had been forbidden to preach the Word, he abode two full years, so that all they, both Jews and Greeks, that dwelt in Asia, heard the Word of the Lord Jesus. We may observe, too, that the first epistle of Peter is addressed to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Yes! the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. His tender mercies are over all His works: and we have the authority of Paul for saying that He will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (J. Fawcett, M. A.)
You want to know what to do, how to act, where to go. There is one safe and sure method--and only one. It is Paul’s. He thought, he used his natural reason; his instinct was to travel on, his inclination was to visit Asia, then Bithynia. Having done his best to choose, he submits his choice to a higher guidance. He carries the question in prayer to God, then he feels he is not to go--knows not where to go, obeys this intuition which happens to be opposed to his own wishes, waits, but waits not long. The vision and the voice follow speedily. It is at length from these that he “assuredly gathers”--infers truly his next step. It is even so. Use your faculties, submit your judgment to the highest, be true to what seems to you the highest leading, and the Divine message will grow clearer and clearer--the intuition, the vision, the voice--but, mark you, clearer only for the next step. The whole of Paul’s journey was not mapped out. He could not see far, but he was not left in doubt. He “assuredly gathered” the next move. Perhaps he thought he was now bound for Rome--Rome attracted him far more powerfully than Athens. Yet he was not to go to Rome that time, nor could he have guessed, when he started for Philippi, that he was going to Athens and preach there to the scoffing, subtle Greeks. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Paul called to Europe
All Asia had heard the gospel. Now it was brought to that Europe which has furnished to the world its civilised energy. Probably in Paul’s mind the European passage was but one of many journeys. But to the eye of history, seeing before and after, it was the challenge of Christianity to civilisation, to intellect, to world-controlling energy, to come and be ruled by Christ. Before this journey, however, there went--
I. The time of waiting. Proconsular Asia and Bithynia were before Paul and his companions; they were without the gospel; they needed it; Paul was ready to give it. And yet the gospel was not preached. It was not a time to labour, but a time to wait.
1. Yet it was a time of endeavour to labour. Paul did not choose the waiting for himself. He honestly and earnestly tried to preach the gospel. He went to the frontier of the province of Asia Minor intending to enter and preach. Prevented there, he tried Bithynia next. Preaching was the one word that summed up all Paul’s life. Every Christian is called to work. His mission in life is to proclaim Jesus Christ.
2. Paul’s endeavour to do his work was thwarted. He wanted to labour for Christ, and he was prevented from doing so. He went into many a place only to be driven out with stones. He planned great journeys and found himself in prison. It would be a very instructive thing to look over the Scriptural records of Paul’s life and tabulate the thwarted plans recorded. No man makes every Christian endeavour he undertakes a success. As God makes the flower cast many a seed to the ground that one or two plants may spring up, so He gives it as a law of spiritual accomplishment that there shall sometimes be many failures to one success. And Paul, like a wise man, did not quarrel with law.
3. The strange part of Paul’s experience at this point was that the thwarting of his purpose to preach the gospel in proconsular Asia and Bithynia was directly due to God. Some of Paul s failures were due to the interference of Satan (see 1 Thessalonians 2:18), who we may believe goes about endeavouring to hinder God’s people in God’s work. What are we to think of this?
(1) God was leading Paul away from the conversion of Asia Minor to the conversion of Europe. Paul, having but one human life and one man’s natural power, could not do both. God set before him the larger work. To accomplish it involved the exclusion of the smaller.
(2) Asia Minor was undoubtedly approached more advantageously by the gospel from the westward, when the weight of European success added a new commendation to Paul’s teaching, which it lacked when it came from the eastward. If you want to win a man to anything it is better to await the favourable moment than to rush in at first sight. It was better for Asia Minor and Bithynia not to have the gospel preached to them just yet.
(3) God’s thwarting of Paul’s plans would have been all right even if we could see no reason whatever in it.
4. The Holy Spirit was present with Paul, directing and equipping him, quite as well in the time of waiting as in the time of work.
II. The call. Paul had found his intentions foiled; Asia Minor and Bithynia were closed to him; Europe remained. Should he seek those shores? He needed direction, and it was given. The vision of the Macedonian, perhaps authenticated as from God in some way unknown to us, showed Paul where his labour lay.
1. The vision was that of a pleading man. The gospel is for the world, and the whole world.
2. The figure in the vision voiced the need of help; it did not define just what was needed. The call that rises from the human race is a cry for help, whatever the help be. It is not always a cry for the gospel; for many times when the gospel is offered it is blindly refused. It is the function of the gospel sometimes to create desire as well as to satisfy it. When Paul landed in Macedonia he found no crowd standing with outstretched hands to welcome him. No, he “tarried certain days” before there was any sign of the gospel being wanted, and then the sign came only to Paul’s search for it.
3. The Macedonian was a representative. He said not “Come over and help me,” but “Come over and help us.” All needed Christ, and not only the few souls who were already near to the kingdom--like Lydia, the first convert.
4. The request that was made by the pleading man of the vision was in Paul’s power to grant. He could go over and help them if he wanted to. So can we help the nations who seem to stand before us in vision beseeching us to help them.
III. The answer.
1. Paul was led to make an answer by using the mind God had given him. He and his companions consulted together and “concluded that God had called them for to preach the gospel unto them.” The supernatural vision seems to separate Paul’s experience from ours. We are not so led in our work. But his consulting with his friends and reasoning out as well as he could the conclusion which God wanted him to make, brings his way of being led back into similarity with our own.
2. Having made up his mind that he ought to go to Macedonia, Paul “sought” to carry out that purpose. Assurance of success and the accomplishment of success are in God’s hands, but we can at least try. If God is willing to bless, and we are able at least to try, if Christian work sometimes does not greatly prosper, what is the reason?
3. Paul’s answer to the meaning of the vision was immediate. “Straightway we sought to go.” The reaction of Paul’s converted soul in the presence of spiritual need was instant. If he responded instantly to the call of need we can respond so too, if we will.
4. The call’s being from God was what made Paul’s reply so quick. Obedience was a primal element in Paul’s religious life, and so he is seen to be truly of the company of Him who was “an obedient Son.”
IV. The result.
1. It was not visible at once. Over in Troas there was the exciting vision of the pleading Macedonian. But in Macedonia there was nothing but indifference. Paul was received, as the missionary of the cross is almost always received, with perfect indifference.
2. Paul used means to bring a result about. He did not sit down with folded hands, saying to himself, “Macedon has cried to me for help; I have come a long way at great trouble in order to give help: now if the Macedonians want me let them speak out.” Paul assumed that the Macedonians needed everything and acted as though they desired nothing. He waited not for them to seek him, he sought them. Work is a spiritual as well as a natural condition of success.
3. A small beginning was made. Paul was not disheartened at its smallness, but content with its being a beginning. No heathen were allured to the gospel at all. No men were reached. One woman, and she half converted already before Paul’s appearance, was the harvest of Paul’s effort. The beginning is not yet the end, but it surely has the end hidden in it, in however small circumference.
4. Fellowship was established. Lydia brought her household into the faith and took Paul and his friends into the sweet communion of this new Christian home. When that Christian fellowship was formed the success of Paul’s Philippian mission was assured. A group of real Christian friends can leaven a city.
V. Lessons concerning missionary work.
1. The relation of God and man in gospelising. God calls; man’s imperative and immediate duty is to obey. God sends the Holy Spirit to direct and empower in Christian work. “For it is God that worketh in you.” God sends us to try all plans in the world with His gospel. He only knows where we shall succeed in planting it.
2. The laws of gospelising. Persuading for Christ is like other persuading. Paul did not preach when he made his first European convert. What a spectacle he would have made if he had proceeded to deliver a thunderous oration like that on Mars’ Hill to these half-dozen women! He sat down and talked with them. The gospel begins its work in small ways. Europe’s conquest for Christ is heralded in the saving of one woman. The gospel uses the God-made relations of human life for its propagation. Lydia brought her household to Christ. The family is recognised and utilised by the gospel. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Permission to preach the gospel strangely conveyed
The Rev. John Thomas, who may be regarded as the founder of the Friendly Islands’ mission, had laboured for some time at Hihifo, in Tonga, with but little fruit, being continually thwarted and persecuted by the Pagan chief Ata: when, having heard that the paramount chief of Haabai had renounced idolatry, and was anxious to have a missionary, he made up his mind to remove thither. But as the commencement of a new mission in another group of islands would involve considerable expense, he wished first to hear from the missionary committee in London, who had some time before been written to on the subject. Whilst waiting at Nukualofa, in a state of considerable anxiety and suspense, in the month of January 1830, an incident occurred which clearly shows the superintending providence of God in the affairs of the missionary enterprise. A small box was washed on shore and brought to Mr. Turner by one of the natives. On being opened it was found to contain a letter from the missionary secretaries, giving the sanction of the committee for the extension of the mission in the Friendly Islands, and the appointment of a missionary to Haabai without further delay. The vessel by which this communication had been sent, a schooner from Sydney, had foundered at sea, and all on board were lost. It is said that neither vessel, nor crew, nor any of the goods with which she had been freighted were ever seen or heard of again. The package containing that letter alone, a messenger of mercy for a people waiting for the law of the Lord, guided by Him “whom wind and seas obey,” escaped the general wreck, and was cast on shore at the right place and the right time to relieve the minds of the anxious missionaries, and to enable them to go forward and enter the openings which appeared before them for the proclamation of the “glorious gospel of the blessed God.”
The Spirit’s direction
That you may know the Divine plan for you, go to God Himself, and ask for it; for as certainly as He has a plan or calling for you, He will somehow guide you into it. And this is the proper office and work of His Spirit. By this private teaching He can show us, and will, into the very plan that is set for us. And this is the significance of what is prescribed as our duty--namely, living and walking in the Spirit; for the Spirit of God is a kind of universal presence, or inspiration, in the world’s bosom; an unfailing inner light, which if we accept and live in, we are guided thereby into a consenting choice, so that what God wills for us we also will for ourselves, settling into it as the needle to the pole. By this hidden union with God, or intercourse with Him, we get a wisdom or insight deeper than we know ourselves; a sympathy, a oneness with the Divine will and love. We go into the very plan of God for us, and are led along in it by Him, consenting, cooperating, answering to Him we know not how, and working out, with nicest exactness, that good end for which His unseen counsel girded us and sent us into the world. In this manner, not neglecting other methods, but gathering in all their separate lights, to be interpreted in the higher light of the Spirit, we can never be greatly at a loss to find our way into God’s counsel and plan. The duties of the present moment we shall meet as they rise, and these will open a gate into the next, and we shall thus pass on, trusting and securely, almost never in doubt as to what God calls us to do. (Horace Bushnell.)
The supernatural element in labour
1. Here is the direct action of the Holy Ghost. The early Christians realised that they were living in the age of the Holy Spirit. Why should there be any difficulty in believing that spirit may affect spirit? We believe that matter affects matter. It is quite scientific to believe that; yet to believe that mind can affect mind, that spirit can touch spirit, is fanaticism! I have not so learned life. It is easy for me, having seen the action of metal upon metal, to believe that there may be a kindred action of soul upon soul, God upon man.
2. The action of the Spirit is as morally mysterious as it is personally direct. Why should the Holy Ghost forbid the apostles to preach the Word anywhere? That we cannot explain; but then you cannot explain yourself. We are forbidden to do certain things. The things themselves are good, but the time is wrong, or the place is ill-chosen, or another opportunity is greater and ought to be absorbent. It is not enough that you are in a good place, doing a good work; your object should be to live and move and have your being in the Spirit of God, so that wherever He may point, your heart may outrun your feet in attaining the destination. Where life is bounded by programmes and outlines, and purposes merely human, life will be a succession of mistakes and stinging disappointments.
3. It is, to our degenerate piety, quite difficult to believe that the early apostles--yea, the prophets ages before them--could live so familiarly in the presence of the supernatural. Everything depends upon the level of your life. It is possible to live so high up in intellectual and spiritual companionship as to receive with grateful ease and friendly recognition appearances and communications which at one time would have affected us with the surprise of a miracle.
4. What did Paul see, then, in his vision?
(1) A man. He who truly sees a man must ever be moved by the pathetic sight. We do not see one another whilst we are in the crowd performing the day’s jugglery. We do not see the man, but having once seen him under favouring lights, we must feel that man is a name high up in the register of life.
(2) A man in earnest prayer, praying to a fellow man. It was all, perhaps, the Macedonian suppliant could then do. We are allowed to pray at such altars as we can find. If you fell down before the least flower, before your mother’s old armchair, it would be shrine enough. And by and by you will want a whole heaven for a church and altar. Begin where you can.
(3) A man in earnest, and a man seeking help. There are cowards that run away when poor, ill-used people call for “help.” Christianity is “help” or it is nothing. This is a typical instance. If the Church could have its eyes opened today, it would see every unevangelised country and every land in sore strait or difficulty typified in this Macedonian man.
5. “And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured--” Luke here joins the company. Up to this time the narrative has been written in the third person; it will now be written in the first. The missionaries came “to Philippi.” There is a city plan of evangelisation; the apostles followed that plan. They did not hide themselves in obscure places; we find great names in their record. What is the justification of these metropolitan names? This--and higher there is none--“Beginning at Jerusalem.” So we shall find in these missionary records Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Philippi, Athens, Ephesus, name upon name of local eminence and dignity, yet all the names put together are not equal to London! Give us London, and we have the key of the world. Converted London would seem to mean converted England; and converted England would be almost equal to a converted world! (J. Parker, D. D.)
And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas and a vision appeared to Paul in the night.
Paul’s vision at Troas
I. Its benevolence. What is the gospel? Help for man. It helps man--
1. To know God.
2. To preach Christ.
3. To promote civilisation.
II. Its influence. It recognises--
1. The independent capacity of man as a moral agent.
2. The weakness of man.
III. Its ministration. The appeals of humanity to Christianity are various.
1. By the information of history.
2. By the general operation of Christian principles.
3. By inward impressions. (Caleb Morris.)
What might have happened had the vision not occurred
That figure represented Europe, and its cry for help Europe s need of Christ. Paul recognised in it a Divine summons; and the very next sunset which bathed the Hellespont in its golden light shone upon his figure seated on the deck of a ship whose prow was moving towards the shore of Macedonia. In this passage of Paul, from Asia to Europe, a great providential decision was taking effect, of which, as children of the West, we cannot think without the profoundest thankfulness. Christianity arose in Asia and among an Oriental people; and it might have been expected to spread first among those races to which the Jews were most akin. Instead of coming west, it might have gone eastwards, It might have penetrated into Arabia and taken possession of those regions where the faith of the False Prophet now holds sway. It might have visited the wandering tribes of Central Asia, and, piercing its way down through the passes of the Himalayas, reared its temples on the banks of the Ganges, the Indus, and the Godavery. It might have travelled farther east to deliver the swarming millions of China from the cold secularism of Confucius. Had it done so, missionaries from India and Japan might have been coming to England at the present day to tell the story of the cross. But Providence conferred on Europe a blessed priority, and the fate of our Continent was decided when Paul crossed the Hellespont. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us.--
The Macedonian spectre
Sometimes men hear better with their eyes than with their ears. Truth will get in through the imagination when it will make no impression through the intellect. Hence Bunyan was as philosophical as he was ingenious in representing Mansoul as having Feel-gate, Nose-gate, Mouth-gate, as well as the chief among them all, Ear-gate and Eye-gate. But when the grand attack of Diabolos was made it was found that Captain Resistance was established above Ear-gate; but Ear-gate was much more slightly defended. In Scripture there is constant recognition of this comparative ease of entering the human soul by the way of the eyes. Hence we are sure to find some splendid vision whenever a fresh messenger is appointed from God to men. Observe:--
I. That this vision was addressed to an inspired man. It found him shaken with uttermost perplexity, and was the only thing which availed to give direction in his present duty. Twice in succession their intentions were suddenly held in check by a power higher than their own. The man of those regions deepens the impressiveness of such a strange discipline. For while the apostle was urging his way east the Holy Ghost was constraining him to go to the west. “Westward the star of empire takes its way,” seems to be the Divine rule for human history. Learn:
1. That the great Head of the Church retains guidance of every form of Christian enterprise. It was the “Spirit of Jesus” which stopped Paul now, just as He did on the road to Damascus. That we must ask God’s decision, when we set about religious effort. We are to invite Divine cooperation in selection of methods, as well as in choice of ends, and so to discern in failure a stimulant to faith, and in success a reason for our giving new glory to God.
II. This story throws light upon “calls” to service.
1. Any real declaration of want is a call. Anything that has a voice can utter a call. Adaptations to usefulness are direct calls to usefulness.
2. The supreme necessity of a lost human soul. The words which the world at large is speaking are “Come over and held us.” It does not appear to have occurred that the spectre could have possibly had any meaning beside a religious one. All men the world over have one point in common at which they need succour: they must have pardon for sin.
3. The “calls” to duty which one has afford a safe exposition of his heart. A politician would have imagined that a struggling people were sending for soldiers to fight for their cause. A philanthropist would find some signs of a famine. Thus each would discover his own.
III. How readily these messengers of Christ started out on a foreign mission.
1. Note the intense form of expression: “immediately,” etc.
2. The finest picture in this world is that of a human will surrendered in sublime obedience to the will of God. The beauty of the Troad is famous: think of Mount Ida, the city of Priam, the tomb of Achilles. But the chief fame of that region now is found in the remembrance that there four men set out upon the sea to conquer Europe unto Christ. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The Macedonian phantom
I. St. Paul’s need of faith and Divine guidance. The apostles differed from ourselves in that they were endowed with extraordinary gifts.
1. It might have been thought that, possessed as they were of superhuman might, there would have been but little opportunity or demand for that trust which is required from ourselves. But that the apostles were able to work miracles did not secure to them the supply even of their daily wants. It was a strange, but an instructive spectacle, that of a man who could raise the dead, obliged to labour like a common artisan in order to procure a meal. But God, in order to keep His servant dependent on himself, would not allow him to exercise, on his own behalf, the powers which were so mighty in subjugating the world.
2. The apostles had the gift of prophecy, and, privileged with immediate revelation, they knew far more than common men of the will and purposes of the Almighty. But this was no more allowed than their power of working miracles, to diminish the necessity for the exertion of faith. You might have thought that such men would never have been at any loss with regard to their own plans. Yet this was far from being the case. The Apostles appear to have had just our trials of faith; they were called upon for the same patient waiting on God, the same watching the leadings of His Providence, the same studying the minute indications of His will. If you look at the verses which immediately precede our text, you will find abundant evidence that St. Paul and his companions were required, like ourselves, to go forward in faith, uninformed as to the precise course which God would have them take, but acting on the assurance that He directs the steps of all such as commit themselves to His guidance.
3. At last, there is granted unto Paul the vision recorded in our text, from which he is enabled assuredly to gather that the Lord designed him to preach in Macedonia. We hear much of the leadings of God’s providence; and it is our business to be always on the watch for the leadings; assured that, as God taught His people of old by the cloud upon the tabernacle, He will not fail now to vouchsafe guidance to those who in all their ways acknowledge Him. But we are not to expect that the leadings of Providence will be always, or even often, marked and distinct. This would be to change the character of our dispensation; for if the pillar of fire and cloud went visibly before us, it would be by sight, and no longer by faith, that Christians were required to walk. It is the easiest thing in the world to imagine the leadings of Providence, where we have already got the leadings of inclination. And we may learn from the instance of St. Paul that, even where there is prayerfulness and entire submission, it may be only by dark intimations, and after many frustrations, that God’s providence will mark out our course.
II. St. Paul’s vision. There is not one who does not consider that sleep is a sort of image of death. The heathen spake of death as a sleep; and Scripture, from the very first, made use of the figure. But the metaphor has not been carried to its proper extent.
1. I do indeed think that God designed sleep as the standing image of death. But I think also that God hereby meant to fix their thoughts, not only on their dying, but on their rising from the dead. Why, when every morning calls us from our beds, strung with new energy, and, as it were, freshened into a new life--why are we to speak of sleep as though it imaged our death, but not also our resurrection?
2. But our condition whilst asleep furnishes notices of our condition whilst we lie amongst the dead.
(1) In sleep it is not the whole man, it is only the earthly part that falleth asleep. The bodily senses and faculties are suspended from their usual exercise; but the mind is more than commonly active. What flights will the soul take during sleep. It may be well doubted whether the soul is ever inactive: we do not always remember our dreams; but, probably, we always dream. And what ought we to gather from this? Surely, that the soul shall be active while the body lies dead.
(2) Neither is this all. Such passages of Scripture as our text teach us that while the body is asleep the soul may be receiving instruction. It is every way observable that God should have made such frequent use of visions or dreams in the communicating intimations of His will. He might have given these intimations through many other modes; for nothing can be more vague or uncertain than a dream. And it may have been that in thus frequently employing dreams, and employing them more frequently whilst there was less distinct information as to man’s state after death, God’s purpose was to direct attention to the capacity of the soul for receiving instruction, yet not through the organs of the body, but whilst those organs might be closed and unable to discharge their ordinary offices. The separate state shall not be a state of dull inactivity or low attainment: that state is imaged by sleep; and as if to tell me what the righteous may expect in that state, God hath come to His servants in visions of the night, and taught them in sleep what they had vainly striven to discover when awake. And now I am not to give room to any fears that, whilst the flesh lies slumbering in the grave, the soul will not be admitted into acquaintance with portions of God’s will which it may vainly have endeavoured to ascertain whilst on earth; enough that St. Paul, whilst awake, had meditated to preach in Asia, and assayed to go into Bithynia, seeking fruitlessly to determine what God’s will might be, and yet that St. Paul, in sleep, which is the image of death, was thoroughly instructed in regard of that will--there stood by him in a vision, “a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.”
III. St. Paul’s interpretation of the vision. There is no reason to think that any further revelation was added; the expression, “assuredly gathering,” implies that the disciples were left to draw the inference that “the Lord had called them for to preach the gospel unto them.” They never seem to have imagined that there might be any other way in which they could help the Macedonians, that the Macedonians could want any other sort of help. Do you not, then, see that St. Paul and his companions lived for only one object? that they acknowledged but one supply for all the wants of the world? Ah, how very different would it be amongst ourselves! Let the phantom be sent to one of our statesmen; let the form of the wild Indian, or of the African, stand by his bedside in the stillness of the midnight, and breathe, in accents compelling his attention, the simple entreaty, “Come over and help us,” and how would the politician interpret the call? He would probably conclude that ruthless foes were invading the distant country; and his first, his only thought, might be to send an army to its succour. Or let the spectre go and speak to one of our merchants--he would presently think of commercial embarrassments or commercial openings, and if he “assuredly gathered” anything it would be that he must freight a vessel and send out a mercantile establishment. Or if it were even to one of our benevolent and philanthropic men that the phantom addressed itself, the likelihood is he would think of famine, or pestilence, and he would hesitate as to what help could be given, till he had made out some particular and temporal evil under which they were labouring. And yet, whatever our occupation, we are professed servants of Christ, and all bound, by the vows of our profession, to take as our chief object the advancing Christ’s kingdom. It was not merely because St. Paul’s business was that of a preacher that he interpreted a cry for help into a cry for the gospel; St. Paul was also a tent maker; St. Luke was a physician; but it never occurred to either the one or the other that assistance might be wanted to teach a trade or heal a disease: their ruling desire was that of glorifying Christ; they could not, therefore, be invited into a country and not seize on the invitation as an opening for Christianity. They believed that in carrying Christianity to a land, they were carrying that which would best rectify disorders, alleviate distresses, assuage sorrows, and multiply happiness. And, therefore, they never stopped to consider whether they had at their disposal the particular engine which, on a human computation, might be suited for counteracting a particular evil--enough that they had the gospel to preach; and they felt that they had an engine which could in no case be inappropriate and in none inefficient. Let us learn, from the example of St. Paul, to set a higher value on the gospel: whether it be as a nation or as individuals that we are called upon by the Macedonian for help; whether the cry, borne from heathen lauds, be a cry specifically for religious instruction, or the cry generally of suffering and degraded humanity.
IV. St. Paul’s obedience to the vision. Observe how ready they were to obey God’s will the moment they had ascertained it. “Immediately.” It had not been into Macedonia that they had been wishing or purposing to go, and unbelief might have suggested, Shall we let a phantom guide us? ought we not at least to wait for some less dubious intimation? But no; there was sufficient reason to think that God’s will was now discovered, and there was nothing to be done but to hasten to the sea and seek the means of embarking. Alas! we are all ready enough to follow the leadings of God’s providence when they concur with our own wish; but how reluctant are we when God points in one direction and inclination in another! This is the trial--to set out for Macedonia, to which duty calls us, in place of staying at Troas, to which our own wishes bind us. But a Christian should have no will of his own--he is the servant of a Master in heaven, and the only thing for him to ascertain is where that Master would have him work, and what He would have him do. Has the phantom been at his bedside? Then he ought not to confer with flesh and blood. He is indeed to take every just means for assuring himself that he is not deceived, that the phantom has not been woven from the imagining of his own brain, but has really been sent to him by his Master. But this having been done, there is no room for hesitation. And are we not summoned to Macedonia? and is not the voice for assistance more thrilling and more plaintive than that which fell, in night visions, on the ear of St. Paul? It is the voice, not only of the Macedonian, the foreigner, the heathen; it is the voice of our own countrymen. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The cry of the Macedonian to Paul
I. Was human.
1. A man--
(1) Not an angelic intelligence.
(2) Not a member of a class, but of a race. It was not a philosopher, artist, priest, warrior, king; but a man.
2. It is the humanity in heathendom that is in moral distress. The aid that is so deeply required is not secular, political, educational, military, but moral. Help to the conscience, soul; help to man as man in his spiritual and eternal relationships.
II. Was significant. “Come over and help us.” It implies--
1. A sense of need. Man everywhere feels that there is something wanting to make matters right between him and his God. “Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord?”
2. Conscious inability to supply the need. The Macedonian felt that the Macedonians, with all their wealth and intelligence, could not supply the necessity. Heathenism has no self-redemptive power.
3. Faith is the power of Christians to help. The Macedonian took it for granted that Paul could help. Macedonia represents the western world. Once this call sounded for help from the heathen West to the Christian East; now it sounds from the heathen East to the Christian West.
III. Was obeyed. Paul attends at once to the call. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The cry of the heathen
I. The wants of the heathen. Think of the millions of India ignorant of God, of Christ, and of the way of salvation; destitute of hope, victims of the most degrading superstition, Of their rites we may well say with St. Paul (Ephesians 5:12; Romans 1:29-32).
II. The character of the blessing.
1. It offers a Divine atonement.
2. The Holy Spirit applies it and imparts the state of mind essentially necessary (Mark 16:16).
III. Our obligations.
1. It is the command of Christ, “Go ye,” etc. (Mark 16:15).
2. Common humanity demands it.
IV. The motives which urge us.
1. The facilities offered for the propagation of the gospel. Multitudes are prepared for it. The Bible is translated into their tongues, there is a disposition to read it, prejudice is wearing away. God is pouring out His blessing on the means already employed.
2. Our abundant means. We have wealth, piety, influence, talent, all at our command.
3. The magnitude of the work calls forth our exertions.
1. The glory of the Redeemer is involved in the extension of His Church. Has not God given Him the heathen for His inheritance, etc. Every soul saved adds one gem to the Redeemer’s crown. Is not this the object of our daily prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” and can we consistently use the words without employing the means?
2. Gratitude, as enlightened Gentiles. Here God was once unknown. All the blessings we enjoy we owe to the labours of those holy men who left their peaceful homes to preach among us “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
3. Compassion to their deplorable state. The temporal salvation of millions of men is not equal to that of one soul. (Pulpit.)
The vision and the call
I. The vision. “They came down to Troas”--that is, to Troy, a modern city bearing the name, and marking the region, if not the site, of Priam’s Troy, the City of the Iliad and the blind singer’s deathless song. Such places are fountains of inspiration in themselves. Hill and grove, stream and plain, are vocal with great memories; and the soul that is worthy of such a scene hears, as Augustine heard voices in the air saying, “Let us, too, conquer something.” But more depends upon the soul than on the scene; for whatever it looks upon the eye can only see what the eye brings with it, the means of seeing, for everything wears the hue of the spirit. Xerxes, Alexander of Macedon, Julius Caesar, and many more came to this famed region, and each one saw and heard according to the spirit that was in him visions of battles. But the man who had now come to Troy had brought with him another spirit and an eye capable of nobler visions. He brought with him a great soul, wide in the range of its sympathies, sensitive, impressionable, and glowing with the quenchless passion of love to God and man. Never in all its eventful history had Troy an eye so rich in the means of seeing whatever Troy could show. And what did Paul see upon the Trojan plain? Behold, then, the new Troy that God would have besieged and conquered, as the spring besieges, and as the summer conquers the land! Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, and the message that moulded his life came to him from the very lips of God, speaking in person. That was the highest vision of which the best man in that stage of the world’s spiritual development was capable. But Paul in that great moment, not only of his life, beheld, not the Lord high and lifted up, but a man of Europe, one of ourselves, and heard a human voice pleading in the darkness for such help as he could give. It was the vision rendered possible by the Incarnation of the Son of God, and necessary by the state of the world. He beheld a man! That is the vision needed today. In all our difficulties in England, political, economic, social and ecclesiastic, the devil’s policy is still to raise such a dust of controversy as to hide man from man. Penetrate to the heart of any question of the day, and there you find a man, a man asking for help. At the heart of the Drink Question, at the heart of the Labour Question, there are men, not monsters, but men, flesh of our flesh, men with difficulties, crying to us, calling to us, pleading with us. And our only hope of settling these questions lies in laying the cloud of devil’s dust of passion and prejudice until we can see the man and hear what he is saying. And this great matter of missions, what is it? Do some of you young people think that, after all, it is nothing but a war of religions? that it is simply a crusade of one creed against another? Nothing of the sort. It is man’s ministry to man. How shall we figure heathenism to ourselves tonight? Shall we call up a vision of idols and groves and temples and mitred priests and garlanded victims? No; all that is mere detail. If you want to see heathenism in the fullest pathos and tragedy of its fate, think of it under the guise of a man with soul enough to conceive the sublime ideas of Brahminism, with conscience enough to appreciate the grand moral precepts of Buddha, with brain enough to frame the marvellous scheme of Confucius, and spirituality enough in him to see with Zoroaster that the difference between good and evil is no measurable distance, but a distance as between day and night. We have to approach them rather in the spirit of brotherliness; for a man stands before us, and yet in a spirit of compassion for this man, so noble, so subtle, so mighty of intellect, is weighed down, is cramped, he is weary with searching and cannot find, he is a baffled man, and he asks us to help him with that very thing in the possession of which alone we are superior to him, the thing which, perhaps, when we have handed it to him he will be able to make a very much better use of than we have made.
II. The call. Human need is always sacred and ever oracular, for through it God speaks. The will of God is the only plain thing in this universe, the only thing that is absolutely known. Everything else has darkness and mist about it, but the will of God is absolutely plain. The will of God is gladness, sunshine, music, life. It is everywhere. Go forth into the byways and highways of London with open eye and reverent heart, and you shall see it written upon every human need, and you shall hear it speaking to you in every human cry. It is the will of God that men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth; and God’s will be done! The call of God is a call to unity. “When he had seen the vision we sought to go forth.” It is noticed that the word “we” comes in here for the first time. The men felt that it was a call not only to action, but to united action. There had been quarrels and partings at Antioch. Paul and Barnabas had separated; but this revelation of the need of the world came to give compression and compactness and unity to this little band. If you want to see the quarrel at Antioch in its true nature, look at it in the light of Europe’s need; and if you want to see the divisions and the jealousies that divide Christian people at home, look at them against the world’s need today. God is not calling us simply to action, but to united action, to cooperation, to Christian unity. Twice one man is not simply two, but two plus their unity. It does not matter how many they are. It is not the number of men that work; it is the spirit in which any number work; their unity tells.
III. The work. “God had called us to preach the gospel unto them.” Dr. Owen, in his sermon on this text, says: “No men want help like the men that want the gospel.” But what is the gospel?
1. Preaching the gospel; what is it? It is calling the righteous to repentance. There were good folk in Philippi, and Paul found them engaged in a good work on a good day. Well, then, let well alone? No, for it is not at all well. Nowhere in all Philippi was Paul more needed than among these good folk praying on the Sabbath day by the river’s brim; and there is no one in all England that needs a mission more than many a good, blameless, irreproachable, man. But are there good among the heathen? Oh! yes. I am no more concerned to deny goodness to India and China than St. Luke to Philippi. There is goodness among the heathen, conscientiousness, aspiration, prayerfulness. Why, then, send missions to good people? Why? Because the goodness of the world, almost more than its badness, demonstrates the absolute necessity of the gospel. If the badness of the world proves how far down man can fall left to himself, the goodness of the world goes to show what a very little way, left to himself, he can lift himself from where he has fallen.
2. Preaching the gospel, what is it? Deliverance of the captives. As Paul passed and repassed through the streets on his way to the place of prayer, to preach to the good, kind people, he saw another phase of European life--a poor girl, on whose supposed powers of divination greedy men were making a fat living. Well, she, too, as well as Lydia, should be helped. Paul held a gospel in trust for her. Oh! yes: but think of the difficulties and the danger of doing it! For timid friends tell Paul, who had never been in Europe before; never been face to face with downright heathenism before: “She is a property, a human chattel; she belongs to the men who live upon her powers.” Salvation for her means ruin for them: good money is good in Europe, and what it might mean ultimately for Paul no one could say. Then think of the scandal, the interruptions of the good work so nicely begun--all this to be stopped and a great scandal raised, and Christianity itself, perhaps. Yes, there were strong reasons for not touching this matter, and Paul seems to have shrunk from doing so. But God forced his hand. The girl followed him day by day, advertising the mission that he had been sent upon, until, at last, able to bear it no longer, he stood there in the open street and, in the name of Christ, opened fire upon the devil in her, and the more malignant devil in her masters. Yes, there was a scandal and tumult, and much trouble came of it. But it had to be done, for in this matter peace is with the devil and the fight is with God.
3. Preaching the gospel to the heathen is preaching Christ as the Saviour of lost men. Philippi held not Lydia only, not girls like that poor lost, wild one; but men like this gaoler, coarse, hardened, sceptical. What can Paul do to help that man? What does that man want? Why, he wants everything; he wants the chief thing. And so, from obeying the vision they saw and following the call they heard, God led these people into a work that touched the European town at every point of its life, and stirred it to its lowest depths. They left it in a few days a different place from what they had found it. (J. M. Gibbon.)
The cry of the heathen
This was no doubt a special vision sent of God for the direction of the apostle. And yet the vision may be very readily accounted for by natural causes. Men usually dream of that which is most upon their minds. Who marvels that the miser dreams of gold, the mother of her infant, the soldier of battle? No wonder that Paul, whose whole soul was full of his Master’s cause, should have a vision concerning a new field of labour. God sometimes tells men in their sleep the secret they could not discover when they were awake. We have heard of the preacher who dreamed his sermon and then preached it. The text suggests that--
I. The greatest help that can be given to any people is the preaching of the gospel. Those who have not the gospel stand in the greatest need of help; but when the gospel is carried, you carry everything within it.
1. Many lands are still subject to despots. How is liberty to be established in these lands? We need something more potent than steel to carve out the liberty of mankind. If liberty, equality, and fraternity, the three great words that are the world’s heirloom, are ever to be fully known, it must be by the preaching of the Word of Jesus.
2. See how the nations are lying under gloomy superstition. How many have their intellect blighted, their hopes blasted, their progress stepped, by the cursed dominancy of priests. But the preaching of the gospel which teaches that believers are all priests and kings--this, and this only, is the world’s hope of its deliverance from the slavery of the body and the yet more accursed bondage of the soul.
3. There are many places where all social comforts and enjoyments are as yet totally unknown. Nothing else can make the barbarian into a civilised man but the cross.
4. There are districts where the ground is red with blood. What shall we do to put an end to war? The gospel of Jesus shall yet break the battle bow in sunder.
5. But still, the greatest help that the gospel brings is help to the soul. Does not your heart desire that the blind eye should be opened, the misguided directed, the vicious led to virtue, and the virtuous to righteousness! Ye must send the gospel far and wide. How can they believe without a preacher? How can they preach except they be sent?
II. Every day and hour the nations are saying, “Come over and help us.” They do not vocally ask for help; nay, if you send it, they will many of them reject it. Missionaries have been slain; but still the nations are silently crying, “Come over and help us.” If I saw a person in the street faint and dying, although he spoke not to me, I should think the weakness of his silence more potent than all the power of words. Ay, and if I saw him like a maniac, pushing me from him, for that very reason I would give him my assistance; and so must you do. It is ours to thrust our kindness upon unwilling men, because we believe that their unwillingness arises from the madness of their disease. Unborn generations shall bless the men that sent the gospel which at first their fathers did reject.
III. What do you mean to do is answer to the heathen’s cry? Have I one man who has a mind to go and preach the gospel in other lands? Because if I have, and if I have ten others who have a mind to give him ten pounds a year, I have an opening for sending him out at once. Who can tell?--he might be another Livingstone. Have we no young men here who are ready to volunteer? And what are you resolved to do who cannot preach? Says one, “I will pray.” Do so; but in doing that, recollect that is what the Roman priest did for the beggar. The priest said he would not give him a sovereign, nor a half-crown, nor a penny. “Holy father,” said the beggar, “will you give me your prayers?” “Yes,” said the priest; “kneel down.” “No,” said the beggar; “for if your prayers had been worth a penny, you would not have given them to me.” If you have nought else to give to Christ, ye need not be ashamed; but if you are blessed in your substance, you will be lying before Him if you ask Him to bless His cause and do not give of your means in its support. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Cry of the heathen
One sunny evening, on Mr. Mason’s return from a preaching excursion among the Burmans, the first object which attracted his attention was the fine form of a Sgare chief, who, seated like a child at Mrs. Mason’s feet, was earnestly imploring her to visit the karens in his village and neighbourhood. “We have heard of Christianity, and it seems to us something wonderful. We do not understand it, and yet it seems the very thing we want. Come to our jungle homes, and preach to us on our native streams. Many will believe. I have a Burman wife, and I have daughters, and sons-in-law, and brothers, and nephews, all of whom will become Christians, as well as myself, as soon as we really understand.” In a few years this man became one of the most efficient labourers in Merqui and Tavoy, and under his influence many were baptized. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
A cry for help
The form of the petition, which we may declare without exaggeration to be addressed to all of us in the periodical call of Christian missions, places in a very attractive light the work to which it refers. The gospel is designed by its Author, and is felt by its true disciples to be the help of man. The Bible is full of this aspect of the gospel. Man wants help, and God alone offers him help.
I. Instruction is help. We all speak of the helplessness of the blind. See a blind man groping his way: math the vacillation of his step, the uncertainty of his hand; see how a little child, a dumb animal, a lifeless staff, is welcomed as the guide and helper. Now what the light of the sun is to one who has to move among the things of this world, that knowledge is to a man who has to find his way through the mysteries, perils, and obstructions of this life into an eternal state. Well can you imagine yourself crying, in the words of the text, “Come over and help me! Help me by telling me for certain what I am and where; who is He above me, and what the life beyond; how I can so pass through things temporal that I finally lose not the things eternal.”
II. Comfort is help. See how the Psalmist cries out for help in his hours of distress. “Shew me a token for good: that they who hate me may see it and be ashamed, because Thou, Lord, hast holpen me and comforted me.” Holpen and comforted. The two things are one. If I could only feel that someone has cared for my soul, it is help at once. It is neglect, indifference, alienation, which disheartens and makes me feel myself helpless. Let me know that God whom I have displeased yet loves, that God whom I have neglected waits for me with outstretched arm, and I can bear anything, I can do anything. It is so when first the gospel is apprehended as indeed a message of peace from God. And it is so again day by day. The gospel is indeed help for the helpless and life from the dead.
III. But there are hearts of which the inward thought is, “The help I need most of all is, in the simplest sense, assistance--aid against difficulties, enemies, temptations.” Yes, here we touch the vital point. What makes a true Christian love his gospel is that he finds strength in it. (Dean Vaughan.)
A call for help
Oriental in its lineage and nativity Christianity was destined to become European in its triumphs. A few centuries saw it wither in those lands which gave it birth. Whereas transplanted to Europe it has struck here abiding roots and borne ample fruit. Nourished by the stronger soil of Western life, it is now beginning to repay the East its early obligations. The moment to which the text refers was one of the supreme turning points of history. It was a moment sure to come. Sooner or later the gospel was bound to pass from the continent of its infancy to that robuster continent which was to prove the home of its manhood. Yet it needed quite a series of unusual providential indications to bring that mission band down to Treas. Again and again had the unseen Guide of that enterprise stood, like the angel of Balaam, barring progress. Read widely the Macedonians’ appeal suggests--
I. That all human religions, governments, literature, civilisation, have ended in a confession of failure.
1. What are human religions but attempts to find God? But they strive after the unattainable. The net result of them all in Paul’s day was a general scepticism respecting religious truths, and despair respecting their highest good.
2. The end of government and all social systems is the regeneration of society and a reign of justice, peace, and happiness; and at this problem men had long been working. Government by one, by a few, by the many, by the best--the world has tried them all, and under all of them has gone to corruption.
3. This failure repeats itself in the individual soul. The inward history of every man, when the net result of all life’s efforts comes to be inspected, does not satisfy even the man himself. It is not what it ought or was meant to be.
II. To all this incessant, profound, pathetic plaint of humanity, God’s answer has been the gospel of His Son, or rather God’s Son Himself. He is the Helper who has come over to us. He has brought light, revealing the Father whom we had ignorantly worshipped; peace cancelling guilt and atoning for transgression; power to break the bonds of evil habit, to renew the wasted moral energy, and to build up holy character. We believe in this Helper; to receive Christ is to be a Christian. Come and see if He be not the Christ of God.
III. Christ being God’s response to the cry for help, it follows that Christians in their turn must listen to the cry and answer it. If the gospel has not forgotten its own origin it can never hear unmoved the Macedonian appeal. Christianity, is nothing if not a mission; and the Church’s loyalty is tested by the degree of her sensitiveness to catch and her promptness to answer the cry of perishing men. Not that the Church must wait for any formal invitation. Paul did not wait for that. Macedonia knew and cared nothing about Christianity. The cry came not from Europe, but from God. What the vision meant was that Macedonia needed and was ready for the gospel. And no other provocation is needed for the Church’s missionary effort today. Note then--
1. The need. The study of comparative religion yields two results--
(1) It brings to light the seeds of spiritual truth which lie buried beneath the great old religions, and which testify to the inextinguishable cravings after God to which Christ is God’s reply.
(2) It shows the necessity for the Christian revelation. To know heathenism thoroughly is to know not only its fragments of partial truth, but also their insufficiency, and their witness to man’s abortive spiritual struggles. There is great need for a fuller acquaintance with heathen creeds, and their outcome in heathen life. It is most difficult for men whose moral sense has been refined by Christianity to fathom the deeps of sinfulness and cruelty in which men have been plunged by unnumbered centuries of heathenism. Had Christians only an exacter knowledge of these things, compassion for the heathen would be vastly more keen and active than it is.
2. The readiness. The Church literally staggers beneath appeals for help. You can scarcely name a region that is inaccessible to the gospel. This is the privilege and perplexity of all our Churches. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
The world’s want, the world’s cry
It is only hearts burdened with Divine pity, and moved by Divine love, that see such visions or hear such voices as Paul saw and heard. The cold and indifferent sleep on; never hear and never see the great spirit world that wraps us close round. But we must not suppose that the Macedonians were actually hungering for the gospel. We know that they did not welcome Paul. His first sermon was preached to a few women only, and he was beaten and disregarded by the Philippians at large, and driven from their city; and when he went further south to Thessalonica, they assaulted him so furiously that he had to escape out of the city by night. And further south again in Athens they mocked him and said, “What will this babbler say?” Alas! the heathen, as a rule, do not see their darkness or feel their misery. The sheep in the wilderness, though utterly lost and in utmost peril, never seek the shepherd; it is the shepherd who has to seek the sheep. There was once an old man, diseased and worn and literally clothed in rags, who sat by the wayside begging, an object of pity: yet he never uttered a word, but simply sat there. One day a gentleman passing by was struck by his abject misery, but as no appeal was made he passed on. Yet, haunted by the man’s woe-begotten appearance, he came back and said, “Are you in want?” And the old man replied, “Oh, sir! I am sick and cold and hungry.” Then said the gentleman, “Why don’t you beg?” And the old man, stretching out his worn, wasted hands, and looking at his rag-covered body, said, “Sir, I am begging with a thousand tongues.” Yes, his misery was begging more eloquently than words. And it is thus that the heathen world is begging at the doors of the Church. It is its misery that begs; for the heathen are without God, and without hope in the world. But it is only a Christian’s eye that can see that misery, and only a Christian’s ear that can hear the cry. But what kind of help did the Macedonians want from Paul? and what kind of help had Paul to give them? It was--
1. Help out of their debasing idolatries and superstitions to the knowledge of the one true and living God.
2. Help out of their moral degradation to a higher and nobler life.
3. Help out of darkness and death to Christ and life. (G. Owen.)
The beginning of European missions
I. The dream. It seems a slight sort of thing to be the beginning of any enterprise, for a dream may arise from some slight derangement of the body, some uneasy posture, some preoccupation of the mind. Sometimes, however, it may be the effluence of another life. Just as a telegraph wire will transmit an influence that will reach another wire quite detached from it miles away--how, no man knows--so there are souls, perhaps, with so much vitality and power to propagate an impression that they may waft their desire into other hearts by the subtle breathing and yearning of the soul. In such a case a dream may have a meaning. God “fulfils Himself in many ways,” and sometimes, when He cannot get into our waking mind, He will enter into the mind while it sleeps, and convey His message there. From the result we see that this dream was a ministering angel. Mark some of the strange things about him.
1. It is very strange that He goes to the hearts that He does. Truly there was need of some angel to be the mouthpiece of creation that was groaning. For despair spread over the face of the people. The power of Rome was oppressive; liberty was extinct; the laws were bitter and cruel in a degree we cannot easily imagine. But surely that angel went to the wrong house. Let him go to the emperor, to the Roman Senate, to some that had power to see to the well-being of the people. But he is gone to travel-stained men with no fitness for any task like this. Angel, you have come to the wrong door. But oh! woe always knows in what direction to look for help; it has an instinct unerring as the child’s for the mother’s breast. And the dream angel, that is the pleader for human help, is always coming to Christian hearts. They may be few and poor; but somehow the cry of distress is always coming to the Church of Christ, as if she had some secret by which to heal the troubles of men. It may be the poor people of London; the ignorance of little children; orphans; the hospital; some nation struggling for liberty; womanhood. All the sorrowful the world over passing by all others say to us, “Come over and help us.” In Tokio, in Japan, a pool woman asked to be led to the Christian people. They asked her what she wanted. She said she understood that they knew how to heal the broken heart, and her heart was broken, and she wanted to find them. You cannot get out of this position. It is an evidence of Christianity little noticed, the expectation that the world has from us. Realise it. You may learn what to do in learning what the world expects you to do. The first marvel about this dream angel is the people to whom he goes.
2. The next strange thing about this dream angel is that he gets into the heart he goes to. It was not every heart that he got into. There are thoughts and feelings that cannot be got into our minds and hearts, for they are not big enough for them. There are some who can look upon sorrow and never see a claim in it; who can have the gospel and never feel that they have anything that can heal the woes of men. If such an angel had come to such, he might have stood at the door and knocked the whole night through, and he would not have disturbed their slumber. We would have told him that the rich man lived in the next street, or that somebody that was particularly interested in this sort of work was to be found somewhere else, or of the number of calls that we had, or turned to ask the news from Macedon: what about the crops, and the business, and the state of the frontier? The dream angel has been trying to get into some of our hearts for years, and we do not heed him, and send him away. Blessed are the souls that are open to let him in. All Christ-like hearts listen to such appeals. St. Patrick heard the dream voice, and the great missionaries of the Middle Ages--Boniface, the missionary of Central Europe; Raymond Lully, who went to Northern Africa; Xavier, who went to the furthest India and the edge of China. He came to our own Carey. There are some people that have never seen this dream angel. God pity them! Blessed are they who have.
II. What did they do with the dream? What would you have done? Probably you would have told it as rather a strange, curious dream, and have forgotten it. And suppose you had been with Paul; would you have given in to him, and gone to Macedonia on the mere strength of this dream? I fancy Silas would be very much tempted to say, “Well, Paul, that is you all over; your dream cometh of your compassions. When you were at Antioch you thought of Cyprus, and when you got to Cyprus you thought of Asia Minor; when yon were at Syria you wanted to go to Rome, and when you get to Rome you will want to go to Spain--always ‘the regions beyond.’ Your dream by night just comes of your thought by day.” I can fancy Luke was tempted to say, “Paul, you had a very serious illness in Galatia a month or two ago, ought you to go yonder?” Oh, if it had been you or I, we would have wanted a month or two to consider it, and we would have got everybody’s opinion till we got addled by the multitude of opinions that we took, and chilled by the cold water we invited. What did they do? (verse 10). How long it takes to convince us of any duty! We ask for light, and when light comes we look at it as if it had been something sent on approbation, and send it back, or wait for God to change His mind and show us something else; or we consult with flesh and blood, with books, and wonder whether we have to do it, or perhaps we say, “Is it necessary? Is there not somebody else that can do it?” Happy are those hearts that are easily convincible of God’s love and of their own duty. These men were of that make. They “assuredly gathered that the Lord had called,” and there was an end of it. Four big children, not stupid enough to philosophise, nor prudent enough to tarry for light, but heroes as well as children. “Immediately they endeavoured to go.” Not lingering. How much they gained by their promptness! Why, if they had waited till tomorrow the ship would have been gone, and no one knows how long it would have been before another vessel would sail in that direction. Besides, when you are guided by God’s eye, the eye that guides you smiles on you, and you walk in the light. And they went with its bloom upon them, and the voyage pleasant, and three days do not elapse before they are in the capital of Macedon at their work. Brethren, this world is too short for us to practise delay. You are going to give a lot of money to the missions when your fortune is made. “Immediately they endeavoured to go into Macedonia”--that was Paul’s example. Tomorrow is not yours or mine; today is ours. Be like the stars, as Goethe said; not hasting, not tarrying, waiting till the light is clear; the moment it is clear, go forth.
III. The result of this action. What was it? Perhaps not very encouraging at first. Nobody is waiting for them. They go out to the little oratory by the riverside; there is not a man, only a few women. It is true that one of them is converted; it is true that another is converted. And then, when they have got into prison, another low-natured man that it took an earthquake to rouse is added to the other two; and thus there are three to start the Christian worship in Europe. It is a strange trio--a seeker after God, a poor demoniac woman, and a great sinner. You know that is the way the Church is gathered--seekers, sufferers, sinners. Was that all? Not quite all. For these three, with two women at the head, grew into the noblest of all the Apostolic Churches. Then after Philippi they went to Thessalonica, Beroea, Athens, Corinth; and the Church grew and grew till today European Christianity has grown out of it. Brethren, send the bail rolling, and somebody else will keep it up. Sow one seed, and a thousand years hence some fruit of it may wave. Were they repaid? What says your heart? What would you give to have their reward in heaven? Oh! what overpowering delight would it be to any one of us to have a ten thousandth part of the reward that came to them! So all are rewarded that obey these heavenly visions. (R. Glover.)
The charter of Massachusetts
granted by Charles I contains an expression of the hope that the settlers to whom it is granted “may win and incite the natives of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true God and Saviour of mankind and the Christian faith, which, in our royal intention, and the adventurer’s free profession, is the principal end of this plantation.” The first seal of the State represents an Indian giving utterance to the words, “Come over and help us.” (W. E. Rae.)
And from thence to Philippi.
The apostle had not paused at Samothrace--an island celebrated for its sanctity and its amulets, its gods and orgies, its Cybele and Cobira--a scene where the mysteries of Eastern and Western superstition seem to have met and blended. Nor did he stop at Neapolis, the harbour of the Thymonic gulf, but he pressed on to Philippi; and the ground of his preference was that it was “the chief city,” etc. This cannot mean the chief or capital city, for that was Thessalonica; and if there existed at that period a minuter subdivision, the principal town was Amphipolis. It probably means that it was the first city of the province that lay upon his journey. It was the chief city of that part, and there was every inducement to fix upon it as a centre of operations. As it was a city and a colony, its importance in itself, and in relation to other towns and districts, made it a fitting place for present work and subsequent enterprise. You may either say that Paul went to Philippi as the first city in his path, for he had been summoned into Macedonia, and he could never think of passing the first city which he came to; or that he formally selected Philippi because of its rank and its privileges as a Roman colony. Philippi was anciently called Krenides, or the “Springs,” on account of its numerous fountains, in which the Gangites has its sources. Philip, about 358 B.C., enlarged the old town and fortified it, in order to protect the frontiers against Thracian invaders, and named it after himself, to commemorate the addition of a new province to his empire. After the famous battle fought and won in its neighbourhood by the Triumvirs, Augustus conferred special honours on the city, and made it a Roman colony. A military settlement had been made in it, chiefly of the soldiers who had been ranged under the standard of Antony, so that it was a protecting garrison on the confines of Macedonia. A colonia was a reproduction in miniature of the mother city Rome. The Roman law ruled; and the Roman insignia were everywhere seen. The municipal affairs were managed by duumvirs, or praetors. Philippi had also the Jus Italicum, or quaritarian ownership of the soil, its lands enjoying the same freedom from taxation as did the soil of Italy. Highly favoured as Philippi had been, it was in need of “help.” Political franchise and Roman rights, Grecian tastes and studies, wide and varied commerce, could not give it the requisite aid. It was sunk in a spiritual gloom, which needed a higher light than Italian jurisprudence or Hellenic culture could bring it, It was helpless within itself, and the “man” who represented it had appealed to the sympathies of a Jewish stranger, whose story of the Cross could lift the darkness off its position and destiny. The spear and phalanx of Macedonia had been famous, and had carried conquest and civilisation through a large portion of the Eastern world; the sun of Greece had not wholly set, and Epicureans and Stoics yet mingled in speculation, and sought after “wisdom”; the sovereignty of Rome had secured peace in all her provinces, and her great roads not only served for the march of the soldier, but for the cortege of the trader; art and law, beauty and power, song and wealth, the statue and the drama, survived and were adored; but there was in many a heart a sense of want and powerlessness, an indefinite longing after some higher good and portion, a painless and restless agitation, which only he of Tarsus could soothe and satisfy with his preaching of the God-man--the life, hope, and centre of humanity. (Prof. Eadie.)
The first three Philippian converts
1. They are representatives of three different races--the one an Asiatic, the other a Greek, the third a Roman.
2. In the relations of everyday life they have nothing in common: the first is engaged in an important and lucrative branch of traffic; the second, treated by law as a mere chattel without any social or political rights, is employed by her masters to trade on the credulous superstition of the ignorant; the third, equally removed from both, holds a subordinate office under government.
3. In their religious training they stand no less apart. In the one, the speculative mystic temper of Oriental devotion has at length found deeper satisfaction in the revealed truths of the Old Testament; the second, bearing the name of the Pythian god, the reputed source of Greek inspiration, represents an artistic and imaginative religion, though manifested in a very low and degrading form; while the third, if he preserved the characteristic features of his race, must have exhibited a type of worship essentially political in tone. The purple dealer and proselyte of Thyatira, the native slave girl with the divining spirit, the Roman jailer, all alike acknowledge the supremacy of the new faith. In the history of the gospel at Philippi, as in the history of the Church at large, is reflected the great maxim of Christianity, the central truth of the apostle’s preaching--that here “is neither Jew nor Greek,” etc. (Galatians 3:28).
4. The order of these conversions is significant: first the proselyte, next the Greek, lastly the Roman. Thus the incidents in their sequence, no less than in their variety, symbolise the progress of Christianity throughout the world. Through the Israelite dispersion, through the proselytes whether of the covenant or the gate, the gospel message first reached the Greek. By the instrumentality of the Greek language, and the diffusion of the Greek race, it finally established itself in Rome, the citadel of power and civilisation, whence directly or indirectly it was destined to spread over the whole world. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
Christianity in Europe
I. Accepting Christ (verses 14, 15). It is well to note--
1. Who this convert was.
(1) She was a woman of business. Her perceptions had been sharpened by trade. She was free from the bondage of local prejudice.
(2) She was from Thyatira, a city of “Asia,” in which district the missionaries had been forbidden to speak the Word. When the Holy Spirit shuts the door in one place, it may be that He intends to reach it by the way of another.
(3) She was a Jewish proselyte. She had learned to worship the true God. Having made that much progress, she was prepared to go still further--much more prepared than the Jews themselves.
2. How she was converted. “Whose heart the Lord opened,” etc., Paul spoke the Word, but the Lord gave the Word fruitfulness. “I planted, Apollos watered; God gave the increase.”
3. How her conversion was shown.
(1) Her whole family was converted with her. Through her faith, her servants, and her children, if she had children, were brought into the kingdom of Christ.
(2) She constrained the missionaries to abide with her, which was no small burden. Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Luke made quite a party to take care of. And note how she puts her request. She makes it appear as though they were doing her a favour, rather than she them. They had done so much for her soul that she wanted to do something for their bodies.
II. Saved through Christ. We turn from one who was ready to accept Christ to one who was in the power of Satan. But the power of Christ was shown in the one ease as in the other. The Lord opened the heart of the one, cast out the evil spirit from the other.
1. The evil spirit in possession.
(1) Bringing gain. The unfortunate girl was owned by a joint-stock company. Her owners speculated in the credulity of men. Her insane ravings were taken as the revelation of an oracle.
(2) Bringing reproach. “The same following after Paul and us, cried,” etc. This she did for many days. The testimony which she bore was the same as that of the evil spirits to the Saviour. The witness was true, but it was not from a good source.
2. The evil spirit cast out.
(1) Why? “Paul being sore troubled,” etc. At what? Presumably at the character of the endorsement he and his friends were receiving. With this, however, there may have been a great sympathy for the poor girl.
(2) How? “I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” The act was done in such a way as to show the faith of Paul in Christ, his dependence upon Christ, and as to honour Christ. Those who witnessed the miracle could not have any doubt as to the power through which the marvel was accomplished.
III. Suffering for Christ.
1. The anger of the masters.
(1) How it arose. “Her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone.” The maid now spoke rationally, instead of raving, or giving wild, weird utterances that made people think that they were listening to something supernatural. Now no one would pay anything to hear the girl speak good sense. It did not matter to them that the maid was released from a most cruel thraldom. Let a drunkard burst his bonds, and what rum seller will rejoice over his deliverance? Let a gambler throw off the terrible fascination, and how angry are those whom he has been enriching.
(2) How it was manifested.
(a) “They laid hold on Paul and Silas,” etc. The dragging, we may be sure, was not gently done.
(b) “They said, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,” etc. The formal complaint did not correspond to the offence. They knew that the magistrates could take no cognisance of such an injury as they had received. They craftily word their complaint. They appeal to the Roman prejudice against the Jews.
2. The anger of the magistrates. The multitude became a mob, and the magistrates not much better. No form of a trial was even pretended. Against these Jews, the accusation of such respectable, dividend-receiving citizens was taken as conclusive evidence. Judgment and sentence were instantaneous.
(1) The missionaries were beaten “with many stripes,” more cruelly than if they had been committing a crime.
(2) They were cast into the “inner prison,” and their feet made fast in the stocks. What land is there where a similar heroic record has not been made? (M. C. Hazard.)
And on the Sabbath we went out of the city by a river side where prayer was wont to be made.
The duty of Christ’s servants when from home
This may be gathered from what the apostles did not do, and what they did when they reached Philippi.
I. Negatively. They did not--
1. Give up going to prayer meeting because they were away from their home church.
2. Go to prayer meeting and wait and wait for someone else to say something.
3. Need a fifty-thousand-dollar church, and the presence of a fashionable congregation to call out their best efforts.
1. They found a few women gathered in a little chapel by the river side--then and there they saw that work for Christ was to be done.
2. They did Christ’s work, and forthwith one soul at least was won for the Master.
3. When all Christ’s servants do their duty as unhesitatingly, what joy there will be among the angels of God, over repentant souls turning heavenward! (S. S. Times.)
The place of prayer
The place of prayer is a place of power. Miracles are done in it. When the disciples were praying, the Holy Spirit descended. When the Church was praying at John Mark’s house, Peter was let out of prison by an angel. When the Church prays now, there is answer in India and China and Africa, While Christians pray there is fresh anointing from on high; they become “strong in the Lord and the power of His might.” The hour we spend in communing with God is the most strengthening in the week. More prayers and less words. Less with men, and more with God. We get the victory in the prayer room where no eye sees but God’s, and all hearts are one before Him. The prayer circle is a place of instruction. Prayer is a great teacher. The word of truth is unfolded there; mysteries are explained; promises are fulfilled; deliverances are wrought. What God teaches in prayer is pure truth; what we learn on our knees we never unlearn. The place of prayer is a place of rest after toil, of comfort in perplexity and trouble. It is good to draw near to God. “Draw nigh unto Me and I will draw nigh unto you.” The gates to the mercy seat are many, and, like those to the golden city, stand open day and night, that every soul may enter in. It is a place of fellowship, Next to the joy of heaven is the gladness of hearts gathered together in prayer. It is a place for conversion of souls. Of how many it shall be written: “They were born there.” It is a place for replenishing the daily losses of the heart, and enthroning God again at the seat of the soul. A Christian is always helped in his association with other Christians. Single coals do not hold fire, but gathered together there is glow.
The names proseuche and synagogue were sometimes confounded; though at other times the distinction between them is observed. This distinction consists in the first word being used of the place of assembly, and the latter of the assembly itself. But however frequently these names were interchanged, they seem on the whole to have been used to designate different buildings, the first a temporary and tentative place of worship, the second a regular and acknowledged edifice, much as among ourselves a mission chapel is distinguished from a parish church. Wheresoever, from the paucity of their numbers, the Jews were not able to establish a synagogue, which required a certain number of men competent to bear the offices necessary to constitute a synagogue, there near a stream, as seems to have been the almost invariable practice in heathen countries, a proseuche was established--a humble dwelling partly covered, in part open to the sky, which in after times might give place to a grander edifice, and was not exclusively devoted to worship as the synagogue was. Thus at Thessalonica and Antioch and elsewhere we find synagogues mentioned; at Philippi, where there is no appearance of any Jewish colony, there is only “a place for prayer.” (W. Denton, M. A.)
The gospel in Europe
I. The first gospel preaching in europe.
1. The season--the “Sabbath.” On this day the religious sentiment would be more active than on other days. Ministers should study mental moods. There are days and circumstances suited for religious impressions. There are tides in the affairs of spiritual as well as secular concerns.
2. The scene. They retired from the hum and bustle of the city into the solitudes and sublimities of nature. “By a river side.” Few objects in nature are more beautiful and suggestive than a river. Emblem of life, ever changing; emblem of the universe, flowing on forever. The Jews were accustomed to have their proseuche built near water, that they might attend to the various ablutions connected with their religious rites. To Christianity all places are alike sacred. “God is a Spirit.”
3. The style. They did not stand erect in the attitude of orators, they sat “down,” mingled with the people. They did not deliver set discourses, but “spake,” talked. What did they talk about? The beauties of nature? the immortality of the soul? the providence of the Eternal? If they referred to these, Christ and His Cross were, we may rest assured, their grand theme.
II. The first gospel hearers in Europe. Who were they? Poets, statesmen, philosophers, heroes, kings? No! “Women.” Why women and not men? Perhaps because the men came at another hour, or because the women had a special service for themselves. Did wives meet there to pray for their husbands, and sisters for their brothers, etc.? All we know is, that women are always more religiously disposed than men. Note--
1. That the gospel is universally appreciable. Had the apostles felt that the truth required culture, logic, philosophic acumen, they would have gone first, not only to men, but to men of the higher type. But they felt that the gospel, being a revelation of facts, character, love, all that was required was the common intuitions and sympathies of a woman’s nature.
2. That the gospel honours the female character. All religions but that of the Bible degrade women; and though, as in the more civilised parts of the world, she may be petted, she is still a slave to man. The gospel honours woman. The Saviour was born of a woman. Women were amongst His followers. He showed Himself to women after His resurrection, and the apostles now preached in Europe first to women. Woman is under special obligation to the gospel.
3. That the gospel has a regard to social influence. Woman has a greater influence on the race than man has. When she acts worthily of her nature, her influence as sister, wife, mother, is regal.
III. The first gospel convert in Europe. “A certain woman named Lydia,” etc. Observe--
1. Her secular calling. “A seller of purple.” Purple was a colour got from a shellfish, and of great cost and richness. It was chiefly worn by the wealthy and great. This woman was in trade.
2. Her religious character. “Which worshipped God,” i.e., she was a proselyte; a formal worshipper of the God of Abraham.
3. Her spiritual change.
(1) Its subject. The “heart.” This, notwithstanding her religious profession, had been closed. The spirit of truth had not entered it. Avarice, prejudice, habit, shut up the heart.
(2) Its cause. “The Lord opened” it. Not by a miracle, not irrespective of means, but by certain influences. Sabbath day associations, natural scenery, the presence and speeches of the apostles, etc., disposed her to listen to what Paul had to say.
(3) Its proof.
(a) Teachableness. “She attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” As a thirsty soul she drank in the new truths.
(b) Profession. She avowed symbolically the necessity of a cleansing influence for herself and household.
(c) Gratitude. “If ye have judged me,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The gospel in Europe
1. Here the Lord of salvation is on His way to us, bending His steps westward. Just suppose that Paul and Silas had been ordered the other way. Then very likely these lands of ours would have been the Asia and the Africa that now are.
2. They had been staying in Philippi for certain days, as you might be sojourning in London. Paul was not a devout worshipper in Jerusalem, but a Philippian in Philippi. Had Paul been as loose in his observance of the Sabbath as some people, this story would not have been written. Forget not the ways of worship in which you were brought up when you are sojourning in London. Remember that perhaps you were brought here to open some door which, but for your arrival, would have remained shut.
3. “Lord,” says the Psalmist, “I have loved the habitation of Thy house,” etc. Can we say that? Is the love of worship so strong in us that when the day comes round our heart wakens up with strong desire to engage in the dear and familiar round? What a scene is presented to us! The city away back there, with its sin, bustle, and gaiety. They turn their backs on the city, and go out here to this quiet place by the river side. What a picture after all of all congregations! Where are we today? “Along the river of time we glide,” but on the Sabbath we reach a little quiet creek, and God’s own hand thrusts our boat in here; and while the river goes speeding away on to the sea, we disembark, and quietly, for a little time, while our boat rocks idly in this little bay, we rest ourselves. We land, and we sit down, and lo! God’s servant comes among us, and speaks of things that belong to the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and our hearts are opened for us, so that we attend to the things that are said to us, and receive blessings thereby.
4. How unlike the Lord’s “Forward.” Movements are to some of which we hear. No big bills, no beating of the drum. Maybe the Lord would like us to take a leaf out of His book, and whether we do things in a quiet or public way, to make sure that we are aiming at individuals. If Europe ever is to be saved, it is to be saved man by man, woman by woman, family by family. That is God’s programme. How quiet. People, perhaps, taking a stroll by the river side would cast a wondering eye upon that little group, little knowing what was there. “Who hath despised the day of small things?” No wise man; but fools do it continually--and that is a folly that we London ministers and workers are apt to be guilty of. We come to some meeting, and there are only a few women, and the very look on our face says, “The meeting is a failure. None of the men of the district! This is not the class of people we wanted to gut at.” One might have said, “Paul you are off the track. You are swinging about aimlessly.” Paul did not think so, but he sat down and spoke unto the women who resorted thither. I am not saying a word against big crowds. It is impossible to convert empty benches, and I never want to see dead wood. Often a bad use is made of Christ speaking to the woman at the well, for He so spoke that she went and raised the town about Him. “God has much people in this city,” but He gets at the multitude through quickened individuals. God bless the women who give us meetings! for sometimes if it were not for Lydia we should have no meeting at all. Do you understand that, you men? It is not that you are engaged. It is simply that you will not come. It is not that you stay at home. You go out, but you do not come this way. Still, accepting the situation as it is, if there are only a few women, let us, like Paul, say to ourselves, “This is God’s opportunity, and this is my work.”
5. Notice the condition of the heart of this worshipper. She was a devout woman according to her light. She knew after some dim and distant fashion the God of Israel. It is not enough to be religious after the ordinary fashion. Even Lydia needs to have her shut heart opened. But still we have to notice that she was there, and she was using the light which she had; and by using the light which she had she came to more. Notice how the preacher is suppressed, and the sermon, and how the hearer is lifted up into prominence.
6. Attention, humanly speaking, is the avenue by which Christ comes into the human soul. It is a small thing, but I am afraid a rare thing. Even supposing that you had that great apostle, still conversions would be scanty if the audience did not attend. And it is not so easy as we are apt to imagine. It needs the power of the Holy Spirit to enable Paul to preach, and it needs the same power to enable the hearer to hear. Although your face is to me, where is your mind just now? Thinking of the state of things at home, of something that was in your business yesterday, of something that is to be in your business tomorrow? Ah, how many of us are like the wayside hearers! You are unconverted, not because of a poor preacher here, but because of a mighty poor listener down there. “Hear,” says the prophet, “and your soul shall live.”
7. Then see how this simple narrative brings out the mystery of conversion. Her heart was opened by the Lord. I cannot explain it. I can only point you to the fact, but what a blessed fact it is! If my heart has been opened, it was Divinely done. Oh, what a strange thing is the heart of man! Not long ago, in sport, a man handed me a purse with money in it, and I felt it, and I heard it jingle. He said, “Open it”; and in spite of my doing my utmost, I could not, it was too cunningly contrived. Such is the heart of man. It is worth the opening. Hand it up to God, and say, “O God, do for me what Thou didst for Lydia.” He will. I think I see the Lord Jesus doing what I did out in the country one day. I came to a little cottage, and I went round, but the shutters were up, and I went round to the door, but the door was fastened. However, it did open; and you know the uncertain, cautious way in which you push open the door of an empty house and peer into the darkness. But I went in. So Christ today is coming to your heart, and He knows all the springs and locks in it, and He is opening it, and He is looking in. What a place! everything dark and desolate and dirty, for it has been God-forsaken ever since you were born. May He come in--at whose girdle hang the keys of all hearts.
8. “And when she was baptized, and her household,” etc. First the heart, and then the home. She kept them; she fed them; she bore all charges for them at the very beginning. Remember Lydia at once became a contributor to the Sustentation Fund! (J. McNeill.)
That simple account is the first record of the preaching of the gospel in Europe. We are standing at the well head of a great river. The little silver thread, over which a shepherd might step without asking it to stay its progress, broadens out into a great expanse, and the Christendom of a civilised world is developed from those simple words spoken that Saturday morning. Thus gently and unobtrusively stole into Europe the great words which were to shatter and remould its institutions, and to be the starling point of its liberties.
I. The apparent insignificance and real greatness of Christian work. It was the biggest thing that was done in the world that day when Paul talked to that handful of women. Well now, the same temptation, to judge of acts by their external aspect, and to underrate their value, besets us all in our Christian work. The greatness of an action depends on three things--its motive, its sphere, and its consequences. Anything that is done for God is great. You take a pebble and plunge it into a stream and all the veins become visible, which you failed to detect as it lay on the shore, and so it is with Christian work, cast it into the stream of holy motive--let it be done for God and it is sanctified and ennobled. And so it is as to the relative greatness of the sphere of our actions; what is done for material well-being and physical life is distinctly at the bottom. What is done for the understanding is higher, and if the lightest word of a great thinker is more than all material magnificence, then decisively, by the very same reasoning, we must exalt above the mere thinker’s words the words and deeds which touch the heart, and that sway the will, that cleanse and invigorate, and instruct, and invest with sovereign power the life and conscience; and the preaching of Christ’s name is that which does all these things. Therefore high above all other forms of Christian benevolence and munificence is this setting forth of the name that Paul spake by the riverside that morning. But deeds are classified according to their consequences. The longer they last, the wider they reach, the deeper they go--the greater the act which sets them in motion. Go and ask about the length of time the consequences of that sublime morning’s discourse will endure. When all the flaring gas lamps and rush lights are out, “they that be wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.”
II. The law of growth in Christ’s kingdom. The seed sown at first was but little, and though eighteen centuries have passed, and it has grown to a kingdom, it is obviously a long way from the term of its growth. So I may draw one or two lessons upon which I would touch for a moment or two. First: That the law of Christ’s kingdom is found in minute and unobtrusive beginnings--noise and prominence are no parts of its power, and have little part in accomplishing the great things that are done for Him. The noisiest things are generally the little things, and the quiet things are the strong ones. Look how Jesus Christ stole into the world, into a corner of a remote little province, and went about silently doing good, and passed out of it again, and “the world knew Him not.” And so don’t let us be ashamed of little beginnings. They are in the line of God’s way of working, and side by side with that there is the other thought, slow progress is unobtrusive and steadfast. The length which any organism takes to come to its maturity is the measure of its duration, and the man outlasts a million generations of moths, and the oak waves its unchanging branches alive many, many generations of reeds that spring and wither at its careless feet; and if eighteen centuries have but begun the development of the forces which were set loose in Europe for the first time that morning, how long is it going to be before decay sets in upon that which has taken so long to grow? A long, long duration must belong to that kingdom, the consolidation of which has been the work of all these centuries, and that must be an unsetting day, of which these years are but as a watch in the morning twilight. God works leisurely and invisibly. Treading most closely in the footsteps of Him who waited over a thousand years to send His own Son with that small beginning and slow advance, they commenced their work of the founding and building of the kingdom of Christ.
III. The simplicity of the forces to which Christ entrusts the progress of His kingdom. It seemed a most unequal contest into which the apostle and his little band had gone, led by the vision which they interpreted as the Divine monition. Think of the opposition, the antagonisms that were ready against them. There was Greece over the hills with its proud philosophies. There was Rome all active, ready to change its toleration for active persecution. They had to meet storms of heathenish idolatry, round which the superstitious dread of untold centuries gathered, and which was ever menacing with consummate obstinacy. They had to confront ordered systems of able philosophic teachers with their unlettered message. Did Cartes, landing on an unknown shore, with an unsubdued and barren beach in front and his burning ships behind, embark on a more apparently desperate venture than these men? And what were the weapons that made them victorious? First and foremost the message that they preached, the plain gospel--to which the heart and conscience of men will respond, when it is put before them as Christ meant it to be--the message, “That God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing unto them their trespasses.” That was Paul’s gospel, as he tells us, and that was the weapon with which he fought, which was, “the power of God unto salvation.” With this most beneficent intention they fronted the universe with one word, and with that word they took the world; and you and I have it, and if we will be faithful and will use it, we shall have the same issues and results as they. Their power in the next place came from the earnestness with which they preached the truth. Convictions are contagious. You may reason with a man until Doomsday, and if you hammer an iceberg to powder it will be ice still, but melt it, as you can by having your own soul aglow with love and loyalty to Jesus Christ, and you can turn it from ice to sweet water. The last element of power is the presence of the abiding and indwelling Christ. The Word, mighty as it is, is vain without the mighty power and inspiration of the Spirit. As we read that verse lower down, what do we find? “Whose heart the Lord opened, that she should attend to the things that were spoken of Paul.” In the measure in which we are true to Him, and yield ourselves in glad surrender to His power and presence, we carry Jesus Christ with us, and He works through us, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, which are indeed the acts of the risen Christ in the apostles. The gospel is as much the power of God unto Salvation today as it ever was, and the earnestness of our personal conviction is as deep as ever, and the presence and power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ is as real as ever, and the closer we keep to Christ and the more exclusively and unreservedly we trust Him the more assured will be our results. God’s Church has no need of wealth. Jewels on the hilt of a sword are often in the way of getting a good grip of it, and the gilded scabbard adds nothing to the keenness of its edge. The Church has no need of worldly help. David was almost throttled in Saul’s armour, he was better without it. Let us then get the old proved weapons which have been tried through many generations; we have more reason to trust them than Paul had, for we have eighteen centuries of experience to fall back upon, which he had not; and if we cleave to them, as I pray God we may, we shall find that the weapons of our warfare, not being carnal, but spiritual, are mighty through God to the pulling down of the strongholds of sin and Satan. And so I venture to commend to your sympathies the claims of the Foreign Missionary enterprise. I am sure of this, that no Church is in a healthy condition that does not lend a helping hand in the great work of foreign missions. The lamp that is placed in the window gives no less light in the room because its rays are illuminating the darkness outside. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The gospel in Europe
1. In verse 12 we read of “certain days”--days which needed not to be named--the ordinary process of time. But in verse 13 we read of “the Sabbath”--the day that has a name; the one day into which all other days flow as streamlets and rivers flow into the sea. There is none like it. You need not bolster up the Sabbath by argument. Its Divine authority is written in the heart, and we shall see it to be so when once awakened and inspired by the Holy Ghost. The Sabbath must be its own argument.
2. “And on the Sabbath we went out of the city by the riverside.” Church hunting! A journey that was allowed. To leave home thus on Sunday is to seek the greater home. You cannot stop at home on the Sabbath day. That were insult to the very home you profess to love. To leave it is to seek it; to go from it is to get at it. We must go out on the Sabbath day, if the Spirit of Christ be in us, in order to help to complete the family gathering. Let us not be led away by the foolish fantasy that a man can read the Bible at home, or have a Church at home, in some sense which dispenses with the common joy of kindred sympathy and soul. Christianity does not isolate men, but brings men together in sacred, sympathetic brotherhood. We know what it is in strange places to seek the particular Church we know and love on the Sabbath day.
3. “Where prayer was wont to be made.” How singular is the cause of reputation or fame! There are famous battlefields to which men make pilgrimages. How can a man be in Belgium without feeling some constraint towards Waterloo? That is natural. There are men who would make long pilgrimages to see where John Bunyan was born. The land through which the apostles passed was full of historic interest, but they cared little for the histories which have beginnings and endings; they lived in the nobler history which continues through the everlasting duration. They sought the place where soul battles had been fought. You might have known whither the men were moving; they were praying as they were going. We must keep up the spiritual frame.
4. “The women which resorted thither.” Have men forsaken religion and left the women to keep it up? Do “women keep up the Church”? It may be; but it is a fool’s gibe! The woman does keep up the Church--God bless her! But she keeps up more. Oh, thou blatant, mocking fool, to taunt the very saviour of society! There be those who say that the men have given up Church. Yes, but only in the same proportion in which they have given up love, purity, patience, home!
5. “And a certain woman named Lydia.” This is like the “days” and “the Sabbath.” What subtle little harmonies there are in this inspired book! How part balances part! As there are days that may be mentioned in the plural number, so there are men and women who may be mentioned in their plurality; but as there is one day which is always named alone, so there are individuals who head every catalogue; names which have whole lines to themselves. Look at the case of Lydia.
I. She was a business woman--“a seller of purple.” So, then, women of business may be women of prayer. We ought to have more women of business. It is one thing for a woman to be a slave, and another for a woman to work and to love her work. He, or she, who loves work, makes all the week a kind of introductory Sabbath to the great religious rest. I would that all women were Lydias in this respect of having something definite to do every day and doing it, and finding in industry a balance to piety.
II. She was a religious woman; she “worshipped God.” It is one thing to be religious and another to be Christianised. Religion is a general term; Christianity is a specific form of religion. It is not enough for you and me to be religious, we must take upon us by the mighty ministry of the Holy Ghost a particular form, and that particular form is Christianity. In this respect Christianity is a heart opening; a heart enlargement.
III. When she became the subject of Christian influence, at once she would have a Church in the house--“If ye have judged me,” etc. In that suggestion there is a whole philosophy. That was impulse Divine. When the two travellers felt their hearts burn within them, by reason of the converse of the third Man, they said, “Abide with us.” Lydia would have a fellowship at once. Souls that are kindred must never leave one another. Christians must abide together. In the olden time “they that feared God met often one with another,” etc. (J. Parker, D. D.)
And spoke unto the women that resorted thither.--
Paul and the women of Philippi
I. The circumstances.
1. It was upon the Sabbath day.
2. It was by the river side. A river may remind us of the Spirit, by whose influence we are enabled to drink of the “streams which make glad the city of God.”
3. It was a place where prayer was accustomed to be made.
II. The position. “They sat down.”
III. The operation (verse 14).
1. Something implied.
2. Something described.
(1) Before conversion.
(2) After conversion.
(c) Enlargement. (Dr. Andrews.)
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple.--
The conversion of Lydia
I. The character of Lydia, previous to the apostle’s arrival. This will, in a considerable degree, account for that absence of intense feeling by which her conversion was distinguished. You are not now invited to look on the rough Roman soldier, or the dissolute vagrant. But Lydia stands before you, marked by the mildness of her sex, the native pliancy of the Asiatic character, and the respectability of her standing in society. For you find that she was a woman of Thyatira, a Lydian city, and a respectable householder in Philippi. And her employment, as a seller of purple, was calculated to produce a certain degree of morality and gentleness; for trade has a tendency to repress open profligacy, and to remove moroseness of temper. And the peculiar branch of commerce, which engaged Lydia’s attention would tend, by bringing her into contact with her superiors, to foster a submissive and obliging disposition. But the most important fact of her early history is her proselytism to the Jewish faith--she “worshipped God.” It cannot hence be inferred that she was really pious, for in chap. 13 we find that those individuals at Antioch, characterised by the same term, and called in our Bibles “devout women,” were among the violent persecutors of Paul and Barnabas. Many of these proselytes were, doubtless, like the Jews themselves, but professors of the tenets of Judaism. Yet the religious profession of Lydia will prove that she was to a certain extent instructed in the writings of the Old Testament; and the narrative shows her to have been an attendant in assemblies for Divine worship. And this knowledge, and this attention to the rites of religion, would give an aspect to her mind, very different from that of her depraved neighbours. The ruggedness of the heathen character would be thus worn away, and the law, as the forerunner of the gospel, would have “prepared the way of the Lord, and made straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Lydia then, at this period, although unchanged by the Holy Spirit, may be described as moral, amiable, industrious, domestic, and instructed in the leading principles of religion.
II. The scene of her conversion. And in this there is much to harmonise with the characteristic of her conversion itself. Lydia is not roused beneath the strong arches of a prison, by an earthquake, like the savage jailer. But time, and place, and employment, all tell of tranquillity.
III. The manner of the Divine operation. We have not time now to enlarge on the sentiment, that an immediate Divine influence is necessary for the conversion of a soul, although this is sufficiently established by the present history. “It is God which worketh in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure”; and then listen to the language of Jesus Christ, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” But we have here to advert particularly to the gentle manner in which the Spirit affected the mind of Lydia. This is implied in the word “opened.” The hearers of Peter, on the day of Pentecost, were pricked to the heart.” The hearts of others are represented as “broken.” Indeed, the convinced soul sometimes reminds us of a city taken by storm: the bars of iron are cut asunder--the gates are battered down--the assailants pour in like a torrent. But the heart of Lydia was opened like the gate of Peter’s prison. Now, there are two circumstances recorded in the narrative that will illustrate the mildness of the Divine agency.
1. The first is that the preaching of the gospel was the instrument of Lydia’s conversion. The Spirit in His saving influences always affects the mind by bringing it into contact with truth; and, indeed, with that portion of truth which He has been pleased to communicate to man in the Scriptures. “Of His own will begat He us by the word of truth.” This is the sun of the moral world. “The law of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” But light does not always strike the eye from the same point: sometimes the sun pours on it his direct effulgence; at others, the rays reach it through all the varieties of reflection. And thus the truth is not always communicated to the mind in the same manner. It impresses one man amid the silence of meditation; another, while perusing the Bible; it smites a third in the rebuke of an enemy; it came to Paul in a voice from heaven. But the more common manner of conveying to the mind the truths of revelation is by the preaching of the gospel.
2. The other circumstance to which we allude is that the operations of the Spirit did not interfere with the calm exercise of Lydia’s mental powers. The influences of the Spirit, indeed, never supersede the employment of the intellectual faculties; for then man would cease to be responsible. But in the early stages of some conversions, there is but little calmness in the employment of these. The feelings are too much agitated to allow of close attention to the various bearings of truth. Imminent peril occupies too large a space in the field of vision to permit the presence of other objects. But such was not Lydia’s case. “She attended unto the things which were spoken by Paul.” Her heart was engaged with his discourse. While Lydia heard that Christ was “bruised for our transgressions,” she felt that she was a transgressor. True, she had been industrious, amiable, moral. But now she perceived that religion required much more than outward decency. She began to feel the meaning of the Psalmist’s prayer; “Create in me, O God, a clean heart.” She saw that the anxieties of business, and the cares of a family, had interfered with supreme love to God. And Lydia received the testimony of God. She saw its extent, embracing time and eternity; the character of man, and the nature of God--and she received it all.
IV. The subsequent conduct of Lydia, as according with the gentleness which we have noticed as predominant in her history. She was not called, like the apostle to whose language she had listened, to raise her voice in the public assembly, or to expose her life in perilous journeys. But there was a little congregation to whom she could introduce the word of truth--her household. It is evident that Lydia discharged her duty to her family, for they too were baptized. And mild as Lydia appears in the centre of her family, regarded by its members as the instrument of their own conversion, she is not seen in a light less amiable, when performing towards the apostles the rites of Christian hospitality. Mark with what urgency she pleads with Paul, her father in Christ, to come, with his companions, beneath her roof; till, constrained by her grateful importunity, these holy men became her guests. And so closely was Christian friendship cemented by their brief intercourse, that we find Paul and Silas, as soon as they were released from prison, hastening to the house of Lydia, to share with their anxious hostess the joy of their deliverance. And her considerate regard to the temporal wants of the apostles was not limited to the transient attentions of hospitality. Read the Epistle to the Church at Philippi and you will find that, at the introduction of the gospel into Macedonia, this Christian society alone ministered to the necessities of the apostle. Twice at Thessalonica and once at Corinth did this Church aid, by its pecuniary contributions, the mission of Paul among the heathen. And from whom do you suppose this liberality originated, but from Lydia, the first fruits and centre of the Philippian Church? Such is a rapid sketch of Lydia’s conversion. And surely it is not less illustrious for being distinguished by a placidity which among men would be esteemed incompatible with the production of a mighty effect. The operations of God must not be estimated by a human standard. Feebleness is restless, omnipotence is calm. Look on its noblest works. When the sun was formed, was there the accumulation of materials, or the toil of labourers, or the clang of machinery? No. “God said, Let there be light,” and the glorious orb existed, blazed, and threw abroad its infant rays amid the songs of the sons of God. And how was that more marvellous work, the spirit of man, produced? God “breathed” into the beauteous clay “the breath of life, and man became a living soul”; and the eye beaming with intelligence opened upon the tranquillity of Paradise. And then, think of the incarnation of the Son of God. No earthquake shakes the mountains--no trumpet summons the nations--no chariot of fire cleaves the air; but the glory of a single angelic messenger shines around a group of shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. In the application of this subject we might observe--
1. That the conversion of the moral and the amiable is frequently attended with comparatively small degrees of mental excitation. This consideration may console those who resemble Lydia in their character and in the manner of their conversion.
2. That a calm entrance upon the Christian life will not necessarily interfere with decision and activity in the Church of God. In the full prospect of persecution Lydia professed her faith, and identified herself with the cause of Christianity.
3. That attention to the public ordinances of religion should ever accompany dependence on the Spirit of God; nor should we absent ourselves from a service because thinly attended, or inferior to others in excitement.
4. Finally, we observe, that natural excellence of character will not render conversion unnecessary. If it would, why was it needful that the Lord should open the heart of Lydia? (T. C. Everett.)
The ordinary blessings of life are distributed with great inequality; indeed, we often find that the worst characters enjoy the largest portion of them. The reason is this--they are not essential to man’s happiness. Whatever is necessary to the happiness of all is placed within the reach of all. True religion is, however, necessary to our dignity and to our happiness; and, therefore, it is placed within the reach of every person, and, especially, within the reach of the poor. There are many striking illustrations of this. One is now before us. The sacred historian makes no mention of Philip or his warlike son--he says nothing of Augustus, or of Brutus; but he mentions with peculiar honour an humble individual from Thyatira. Let us notice--
I. The industry of Lydia--she was “a seller of purple.”
1. A dog which had been eating a Conchilis or Purpura, and whose lips had been deeply tinged with a purple colour, gave occasion to the discovery of this elegant and costly dye. At one time it was more valuable than gold, and articles of dress dyed by it were worn only by sovereign princes; but in the days of Roman luxury they were used by the noble and wealthy in general; hence it is said of the rich man that “he was clothed in purple and fine linen.”
2. Lydia was employed in preparing and selling this. As idleness is quite opposed to the virtue and happiness of man, it is necessary that all persons should follow some employment. Even those who are placed in independent circumstances should not be idle, but should employ their time, talents, and influence in doing good to others. What a noble example does the life of the benevolent Howard furnish to persons placed in such circumstances as these! Such, however, as have, by their own exertions, to provide for their personal and family wants should be diligent in their calling, whatever it may be.
3. And whatever else we attend to or neglect, we should attend to the soul. “For what is a man profited,” etc. There are many persons who plead that they are placed in such circumstances that it is out of their power to attend to the one thing needful, but this is a vain excuse; for we shall find that there have been persons in all ages distinguished for piety, who have been placed in circumstances the most unfavourable to religion.
II. Lydia’s piety.
1. “She worshipped God”; that is, the true God, according to the practice of the Jews.
2. Such was the power of principle with Lydia, that neither the fear of man, nor the love of lucre would lead her to desecrate the day which the Lord had sanctified. How far does her conduct surpass that of those who enjoy superior advantages! How shamefully is the Sabbath desecrated. If, in reference to an individual, drunkenness be an inlet to every other crime, in reference to a community, Sabbath breaking is an inlet to every other evil.
3. Witness the advantages that resulted to Lydia from the course of conduct which she pursued. She went to the house of prayer, and there received the end of her faith, even the salvation of her soul. It is a great principle in the Divine administration, that God honours them that honour Him.
III. The change which Lydia experienced.
1. The Jews used the term, “heart,” to describe the understanding, the will, and the affections. Now Lydia listened to the doctrinal statements of St. Paul, and she so listened as to understand them; when understood they commended themselves so that she embraced them with her will, and cherished them in her affections. Thus her heart was opened--she believed and received the Saviour with all His fulness of evangelical blessing.
2. Now it is not to St. Paul’s preaching, but to the influence of the Spirit, that this great change is attributed. Paul might have preached till the present hour, and Lydia would have remained what she was unless the Spirit had accompanied the ministrations of the apostle, and rendered the word effectual.
3. It is more difficult to accomplish the redemption of a fallen human spirit than it was to create this vast universe. For when God proceeded to employ His high attributes in the work of creation there was nothing to impede the operations of His hand. But when God proceeds to accomplish the great work of spiritual regeneration in the heart of man, his pride, his passions, his prejudices, hid deep-rooted depravity, oppose that influence. How necessary, then, that we should pray for the Holy Spirit, without whom all human means are in vain!
IV. The evidence furnished by Lydia of the reality and extent of this gracious change.
1. “She was baptized.” Man is a sentient being, and, therefore, it is necessary that he should receive instruction through the medium of his senses. Under every dispensation God has accommodated Himself to this. Although the ceremonies of the law have been abrogated, still God condescends to our weakness in the two sacraments. Now, baptism is an initiatory and dedicatory ordinance. By means of this we are introduced into the Christian Church and devoted to the service of God. It is also emblematical of regeneration; and as we can enter into the visible Church only by the sacrament of baptism, so we can enter into the real Church only by regeneration. Now, Lydia, having embraced the Christian faith, manifested not merely confidence in Christ as her Saviour--not merely respect for Him as her Prophet, but subjection to His authority as her King, by submitting to the rite of baptism.
2. “She was baptized and her household”--that is, we apprehend, all the members of her household who were under fourteen years of age; for this appears to have been the Jewish practice in reference to the admission of proselytes into the Jewish Church.
3. She also received the messengers of mercy in her dwelling. This was a proof of her gratitude. But it was also a proof of her sincerity. At that time a profession of Christianity exposed those who made it to various privations and sufferings. (R. Alder, D. D.)
I. Her employment. She was not “idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also, and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.” Trade is respectable, and nothing is so disgraceful as beggary and shabby gentility. The Jews always give their children a calling; and said that “he who brings up a son without a trade teaches him to steal.” Seneca declared, “I had rather be sick than be idle.” And truly has Dr. Watts said, “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.”
II. The place of her extraction. Thyatira was a great way from Philippi. How few die where they were born; or even settle where they were brought up. The events leading to their removal often seem very casual; and they are so as to the individuals themselves; but they are Divinely known and arranged. The Lord fixes “the bounds of their habitation,” and with regard to His own people, the disposals of His Providence are in subserviency to the designs of His grace. The man says, “I will go into such a city, and buy, and sell, and get gain”; and he goes; and he finds there, though he never looked after it, “the pearl of great price.” Many, when they look back on life, will know that, had it not been for such or such an occurrence, they would have remained in places where they might have been corrupted and destroyed.
III. Her character. She “worshipped God.” She is, therefore, very distinguishable from the jailer. The grace of God is infinitely free: and accordingly, we sometimes find it operating on individuals the most unlikely; and even publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of God before Scribes and Pharisees. So when the apostle, writing to the Corinthians, enumerates a dreadful catalogue of sinners, he adds, “and such were some of you”; some, “but not all.” Some talk as if they had a kind of advantage in having been converted from a state of profligacy. But sin is a bad business, and it is a mercy to have been preserved from it: and one peculiar advantage arises from having been moral before we became spiritual, namely, the avoiding of the injuries which sin does to others, by influence and example.
IV. Her attendance. She “heard us.” What induced her to be there we know not; but she could say, “I being in the way, the Lord led me.” It is well to be at the pool, “waiting for the troubling of the water.” Whatever brings persons under the preaching of the Word is to be viewed with thankfulness, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Sin entered by the ear, and so does grace. Listening to the devil we fell, hearkening unto God we rise. “Hear, and your soul shall live.”
V. The change she experienced. “Whose heart the Lord opened.”
1. Her heart therefore had been shut. Shut, as ice shuts up the water that it cannot flow--as the miser shuts up his compassion from the poor--as a door is shut to keep the house from the entrance of the owner. This is our Saviour’s own image: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” etc.
2. The Lord opened her heart. Our state is such as to require the Almighty to “work in us, both to will and to do.” Every saved sinner is “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” An operation is required, to effect which is above the power of education, example, and moral suasion. But nothing is too hard for the Lord. The heart is under His dominion and agency; and “what He has promised, He is able also to perform.”
VI. The evidences she gave of the reality of her conversion.
1. Her regard to the Divine teachings. “She attended,” etc.
2. Her readiness to dedicate herself entirely to the Lord in a profession of His name. “She was baptized, and her household.” A profession of religion, without the reality, is nothing; but we are not only to be Christians, but to appear such. “With the heart,” indeed, “man believeth unto righteousness”; but “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Experience is necessary; but our “light is to shine before men,” etc. And you will observe, she did this immediately, without reserve, and relatively as well as personally; devoting her whole family in the same rite; and thus saying, with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
3. The pressing solicitation she gave to the apostles. Evincing--
(1) A desire for spiritual improvement, and to have her house further blessed.
(2) Liberality. She was willing to “minister to the necessities of the saints”; and “given to hospitality.”
(3) Affection for God’s servants. Like begets like, and attracts like. “By this we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love this brethren.”
(4) Pious fortitude. To perceive this you must remember that at this time Christians were a “sect everywhere spoken against.” (W. Jay.)
I. Her state and character before conversion.
1. A proselyte who maintained in the idolatrous city of her adoption a devout attachment to the worship of God. There can be no doubt of the reality of her devotion, for not only did she observe the Sabbath, but, having no other opportunity for attending the ordinances of public worship, she “went out of the city,” etc. While engaged in prayer the blessing came--a striking proof of its efficacy. God does indeed sometimes surprise a prayerless sinner, as in the case of the jailer, but there is no promise except to prayer, and that promise is unlimited and sure. “Ask and ye shall receive,” etc.
2. While pious according to her light, her heart was nevertheless closed against the truth as it is in Jesus.
(1) Such is the natural state of every man.
(a) The understanding is shut against the light of the gospel.
(b) The conscience is seared as with a hot iron.
(c) The heart is hardened.
(2) There are many obstacles to the entrance of truth. There is the bar of--
(a) Ignorance. Many hear the Word but understand it not.
(b) Unbelief, which rejects the testimony of God.
(c) Enmity, for “the carnal mind is enmity against God.”
(d) Presumption or pride. “The wicked through the pride of his countenance will not seek after God.”
(e) Discouragement and despair. “Thou saidst, There is no hope; for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go.”
(f) Unwillingness. “Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life.”
(g) Worldly-mindedness. “The cares of the world … choke the Word.”
(i) Vicious passions and depraved habits.
3. But how could the heart of such a woman be closed? The answer is that Lydia’s case is not a solitary one. Devout and honourable women opposed Paul, and Paul himself and Nicodemus were at first proof against the gospel.
II. The means by which her conversion was effected.
1. There was a direct Divine operation in her heart, which consisted in opening--
(1) The understanding to discern the light of God’s truth.
(2) The conscience, to feel its convincing power.
(3) The affections to receive its sanctifying influence.
2. Means were employed. “The Lord opened her heart to attend,” etc. It is by the truth that the great change is wrought; and hence we are “born of the Spirit,” but also “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, even by the Word of God.”
III. Lessons. Note--
1. The care with which God provided for the instruction of sincere Jewish inquirers.
2. The efficacy of prayer as a means of spiritual advancement.
3. The necessity of a spiritual change in many sincere religious professors.
4. The relative functions of the Word and Spirit, and the duty of combining the use of means with dependence on the Divine blessing.
5. The different feelings of those whose heart the Lord opens towards His ministers, and those of the ungodly multitude. (J. Buchanan, D. D.)
1. Philippi is famous as the spot where the world’s future trembled in the balance when Octavius met Brutus and Cassius in terrible conflict. The two republican generals here ended their stormy career and universal empire crouched at the feet of Caesar. As long as time endures, Philippi will be remembered as one of the greatest names in history. But when time shall have passed away Philippi will still have a name as the place where the first herald of the Cross cried, “Europe for Jesus,” and won his first victory in our quarter of the world. More fraught with blessings to the human race was that conquest of a woman’s heart, than all the laurels which Octavius had reaped upon the bloody field.
2. The introduction of Christianity into Europe is a very humble affair. It was an open-air service by the riverside. Happy augury of the results of open-air preaching in after times! Let us look at Lydia’s conversion--
I. In itself.
1. It was brought about by providential circumstances.
(1) She was a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, famous for its dyeing trade, which had flourished there ever since the days of Homer, and situated in that part of the country into which Paul was forbidden to preach; therefore, had Lydia been at home, she could not have heard the truth. But providence brings her to Philippi at the right time. Here is the first link of the chain.
(2) But how is Paul to be brought there? He must be shut out of Bithynia, and he must be silenced in his journey through Mysia, etc. In this case God rules and overrules all things to bring that woman and that apostle to the same spot, and everything in God’s providence is working together for the salvation of the elect.
2. There was not only providence, but there was also grace preparing the soul. The woman knew many truths which were excellent stepping stones to a knowledge of Jesus. She was a proselyte of the gate, and therefore well acquainted with the oracles of God. As in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, the Scriptures she had read had prepared her mind: the ground had been ploughed ready for the good seed; it was not a hard rock as in the jailer’s ease.
3. Her conversion took place in the use of the means. On the Sabbath she went to the gathering of her people. Although God calls men when they are not hearing the Word, yet usually we must expect that being in the way, God will meet with them. It is somewhat extraordinary that the first convert in Europe was converted at a very small prayer meeting. Wherever we are, let us not forget the assembling Of ourselves together as the manner of some is. Do not say “only a prayer meeting!” God loves to put honour upon prayer.
4. It was assuredly a work of grace.
(1) She did not open her own heart, Her prayers did not do it; Paul did not do it. God alone can put the key into the door and open it, and get admittance for Himself. He is the heart’s master as He is the heart’s maker, and conversion in every case is the Lord’s work alone.
(2) Yet--for one truth must always march arm in arm with another--although the Lord opened the heart, Paul’s words were the instrument of her conversion. The heart may be opened, and willing to receive, but then if truth enter not, what would be the use of an open door?
5. It was distinctly perceptible by the signs which followed. As soon as she had believed in Jesus she put on, together with her household, the profession of her faith in Christ Jesus.
II. By way of contrast.
1. In the case of the jailer, we see nothing like a previous preparation for the reception of the Word; he was coarse, rough, brutal. The earthquake comes, etc. In Lydia’s case there was much which went to prepare the way for the grace of God.
2. She was in the way where the grace of God was likely to meet with her. But the jailer is not in a place where the gospel is at all likely to come. His occupation was not that which would foster any religious ideas. But in a moment, at God’s voice, the current of his thoughts changes its direction, and flows where it had never gone before.
3. In Lydia’s case there was no earthquake; it was a “still, small voice.” The jailer sprang in, and cams trembling; but we find nothing about Lydia’s being overwhelmed with the terrors of conscience; she was gently led by the finger of the eternal Father. Grace came to her as the shower which first begins as a mist, and then thickens into a heavy dew, and then becomes a gentle sprinkling, and afterwards empties the clouds upon the soil. To the jailer it was like an April storm beginning with big drops, and dashing into a torrent in a few moments: to the jailer it was as though the sun should rise in an instant, and turn the thickest night into full blaze of noon. Do not expect all to be converted in the same way. Our God is the God of variety.
III. The comparison between the two. In both cases--
1. Providence co-worked with grace. Providence brings Lydia to Philippi, and shakes the prison.
2. There was a distinct work of God.
3. The Word of God is essential for the jailer as to Lydia, “They spake the word of the Lord,” etc.
4. The same signs followed. The same love to the brethren, consecration of the substance, obedience to the Divine command, “Arise, and be baptized.”
IV. As a model of multitudes of conversions. “We have a summary of the work of the Holy Spirit here.
1. The Lord removed prejudice.
2. Her desires were awakened
3. Her understanding was enlightened.
4. Her affections were excited.
5. And then came faith; she believed the whole of the record.
6. Faith being given, all the graces followed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. Conversion is heart work.
1. The subject. “The heart” is the seat of spiritual feeling, conviction, and desire (Acts 2:27). It is the real test of character, of what a man is in God’s estimation (Proverbs 23:7). It is that part of us in which are bred all the moral and immoral qualities which make us good or bad in the sight of God (Pro 4:33). It has the power to exercise faith (Romans 16:10).
2. The Agent--“The Lord.” It was the fulfilment of the promise (Ezekiel 36:25-27). God is the chief, and to a great extent the sole, active Agent in this work. Along with this there is a converse truth (Psalms 27:8). The work of conversion is completed by God working, and man working; but neither working apart from the other effectually.
3. The instrumental means: whilst Paul spake the Word, the Lord opened Lydia’s heart.
II. The immediate and permanent results of conversion.
1. There was a beautiful humility which manifested itself in a desire to submit her conversion to the test of the judgment of others. “If ye have judged me to be faithful.” Over-confidence in a young convert is neither pleasing nor hopeful (1 Corinthians 10:12).
2. She exhibited her gratitude to God in kindness to His servants. “Come into my house and abide there.”
3. She made a public profession of her faith. “She was baptized and her household.” The family of a believer should be a Christian household. Personal decision is a great matter, but the head must be alone. (A. B. Gardiner.)
The first European convert
Honest, industrious people, when converted, become noble and useful Christians. This first European convert was of such a character as to be especially susceptible to gospel influences.
I. Her character. She was industrious, reliable, conscientious, generous, devout. Observe--
1. Her name--“Lydia.” As no mention is made of her husband, probably she was a widow. Learn how right relationship to Jesus Christ gives immortality to the humblest name.
2. Her native place--“Thyatira,” in Asia Minors situated about midway between Pergamos and Sardia; it is still a town of some size, though now in the hands of the Turks. She was not a Jew but a Gentile proselyte, having given up the worship of idols for that of the true God. Learn what great blessings may grow out of a little prayer meeting, and the wisdom of laying down the yard stick and closing the store in order to be present.
II. Her conversion. It was brought about--
1. By human instrumentality, “us”--Paul and Silas. Probably, an informal meeting, and that both preachers not only prayed but conversed publicly and personally with those present.
2. Contact with the truth--“Heard us.” It is the truth that saves--“Truth shall make you free.” Revelation brings life. The preacher can communicate power only through His message. Discourses and essays on ethics, science, and politics may interest and instruct, but it is only the Divine message that can save from the guilt, dominion, and consequences of sin. “Heard us.” It used to be almost literally true that faith cometh only “by hearing.” Books and the ability to read them were very scarce in ancient times, so that much of men’s knowledge of this world, and especially of the world to come, was gathered through the ear. “Heard us.” Even now faith cometh chiefly by hearing. But in the case of Lydia the message came through the ear. “Heard us.”
3. By prompt action--“She attended unto the things which were spoken.” She was an admirable hearer. She laid hold of the truth, and thus the truth laid hold of her. Then she at once began to practise the truth she had just heard. She did not modify it by theorising or waste its force by delay. “She attended to the things spoken.”
4. Through Divine interposition. “Whose heart the Lord opened.” Why did He not open her head? God wanted this woman to feel as well as understand. There are some truths which first enter the intellect and then sink into the heart, but the profound, life-giving truths of Christianity enter the heart first and then rise to the intellect. They first give life and then light. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Not the light was the life, but the life was the light of men. A man must be born before he can see; he must be alive before he can know. First life, then light. The opening of the heart was--
(1) Gradual. Gradual in that she so honestly followed the light she had. God had so opened her heart before this that all the idols of heathenism left in it a great “aching void.” “In common with the best spirits of her age she felt paganism to be a failure and a sham, and longed for something more solid and satisfying.” She therefore embraced Judaism, and so we find her at prayer meeting, still going on to know the Lord.
(2) Complete, in that God personally helped her to apprehend and personally appropriate the broader, grander, life-giving truths of the gospel. (Thomas Kelly.)
The conversion of Lydia
I. Lydia was listening. Great stress is laid in the Bible on hearing. “Faith cometh by hearing.” Books and readers were rare. Faith then came to the majority by hearing only. Now faith comes by reading as well as by hearing.
II. Lydia listened attentively. Some people never apply what they hear, they leave that to the preacher. Others apply to other people, never to themselves. If you lay hold of the truth, the truth will lay hold of you. Wherefore the Holy Scriptures lay much emphasis on close attention. “Incline your ear,” “hear and your soul shall live.” When you feel deeply interested in a subject, you stretch the neck and incline the ear that you may catch every syllable. Without this eager attention you will not be able to clearly discern the Divine Voice. When Elijah was hiding in the cave there came a “great and strong wind,” etc.; “but the Lord was not in the wind,” etc. And after the fire “a voice,” so still and small that Elijah was obliged to come out of the cave and listen with all his might. And what is the gospel? A storm? An earthquake? Fire? No. The “still small voice” of Divine Love. Love never speaks loud.
III. She listened attentively with her heart. The mind is generally divided into intellect and heart. There are truths which appeal only to the intellect, the truths of mathematics, e.g. But religious truths must be interpreted through the heart rather than through the head. We read of the “thoughts of the heart.” In creation we see the thoughts of God’s intellect; in the gospel the thoughts of His heart. And to properly understand the great heart of God we must bring to the work the little heart of man. There is a class of truths which first enter the intellect and then sink into the heart; but the truths of Christianity first enter the heart and gradually rise into the intellect.
IV. Lydia was listening attentively with her heart opened. Two things are necessary to salvation.
1. An open Bible. Paul “expounded the Kingdom of God.” The prophecies were tightly closed against the spiritual perception of the disciples; but Christ “opened unto them the Scriptures,” and they were astonished at the wealth of their meaning. And that is the proper function of the ministry.
2. An open heart to receive the open Bible. St. Paul was sowing good seed; but to secure a plentiful harvest it was necessary to open hearts to receive the seed. The words of the Old Testament which are oftenest quoted in the New are, “By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross,” etc. They are quoted six times in the first six books of the New Testament. Why? To teach us the extreme danger of shutting our hearts against the “things spoken of Paul” and other inspired writers. Physicians often speak of “The fatty degeneration of the heart,” an unhealthy accumulation of fat interfering with its vital functions, and often terminating in sudden death. And the Jews suffered from a like spiritual malady. They had lost all sensitiveness to spiritual things; and in this lamentable grossness of the heart is to be found the ultimate cause of their rejection of the Saviour. And so now “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” “O fools, and slow of heart to believe.” It is the fashion nowadays to offer graceful apologies for the infidel; but the Bible always calls him a fool. His infidelity has its origin in a closed heart.
V. Lydia was listening attentively with her heart opened wide, that, it appears, is the literal translation, and it implies--
1. That there was a profound need. The young bird in the nest in early spring, when hunger sets in, opens its little beak wide. And when the soul becomes vividly conscious of its great need, it opens its beak as best it can--every faculty opens its mouth wide and eagerly cries to heaven for food. “A man of Macedonia stood before Paul and prayed him, saying, Come over and help us.” There is in the cry a painful consciousness of deep want. Paul came; and lo! the first soul he met was wide open crying to heaven for satisfaction.
2. That the Lord had made ample provision to supply the need. He would have never opened Lydia’s heart wide unless He had something to put into it. “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” I took my little children to the British Channel. They were very diligent filling their little buckets; but after filling them over and over again, the ocean still remained, ready to fill a million buckets more. And you are welcome to bring the cups of your nature and fill them to overflowing with the “Water of Life;” but after filling you over and over again, the boundless ocean of the Infinite Godhead will still remain, ready to fill millions more.
VI. Lydia listened attentively with her heart opened wide by the Lord. This opening was--
1. Gradual. It was not a consequence of the preaching, but something prior to and simultaneous with it. Lydia was in all probability brought up in heathenism. But in common with many of the best of the age, she yearned for something more satisfying. Whilst yet in paganism, the Lord opened her heart too wide for the idols of the Gentiles to fill. She therefore embraced Judaism. The Judaism of that age, it is true, was very formal and corrupt; but Judaism at its worst was immeasurably superior to paganism at its best. And in Judaism Lydia found a kind of rest for her weary soul. But the Lord continued to work within her. She, it seems, was a widow. Mention is made of her family, and of her business, but none of her husband. Deeply feeling her loss, she often groans under the anxiety of business, and is glad when the Sabbath comes round that she may attend the Prayer Meeting by the riverside. Nevertheless she is acutely conscious of a great void, and when Paul turned and began to speak of Jesus, His tender sympathy and never failing succour, she perceived at once that He was what she needed--a Husband of the soul. The heart, before opened, was now occupied--the great void was now filled.
2. Gentle. Further on, we read of the conversion of the jailer. His conversion was the work of a brief hour; but it was a very terrible hour. But a gentler method was adopted to convert Lydia. This morning about six o’clock a great battle was fought in this neighbourhood, more important by far than either Waterloo or Sedan--a battle between the forces of Light and the powers of Darkness. But did the clash of weapons awake any of you? No; not one. The victory was won gently and silently. That is precisely the way in which Lydia was converted, it was a victory not of lightnings but of light. The prophet compares the Word of God to a hammer breaking in pieces the rock. Such was the case with the jailer. But the same prophet compares the Divine Word to fire melting the wax. This is how Lydia was converted, by warmth, not by force. It was only right that the swarthy jailer should be hammered a little--he had hammered many in his day; but it would be a great pity to terrify the little widow. And those two methods still continue.
3. Thorough, as is evidenced by her subsequent conduct.
(1) “She was baptized.” Christianity was the third religion she had professed; her neighbours might bring a charge of inconsistency. But man’s supreme duty is not to be consistent with himself, but consistent with his God--not to be consistent with his past, but consistent with the light which he at the time enjoys. Lydia repeatedly changed her religion; but each change was in the direction of light.
(2) “She was baptized and her household.” This, I believe, is the first instance in which it is recorded that the baptism of the parent was followed by the baptism of the family. Why? Because family religion is a characteristic of European as compared with Asiatic Christianity. And there is something remarkable that Christianity, on its introduction to Europe, was first offered to, and believed in by a woman, a prophecy of the subsequent career of the gospel upon our continent. “A man” first sought it, but a woman first received it. How to help the men of Macedonia? By improving and refining the women of Macedonia. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
Tile conversion of Lydia
Though the Lord’s people are thinly scattered, and sometimes throughout large cities, yet they have a way of finding one another out. True religion is a magnet to draw their hearts together. Considering the text as descriptive of true conversion, it is--
I. A Divine work. It is said of the skill of the husbandman in opening the clods, etc., that “his God doth instruct him.” How much more in breaking up the fallow ground of the sinner’s heart, and sowing the seed of the kingdom! The heart is naturally shut: sin is shut in and Christ shut out. Prejudice, perverseness, and enmity are the bars and bolts that keep it shut. Ministers may knock at the door, but it is God alone that can open it.
II. God’s first work. Impressions and convictions are common, but the opening of the heart is the effect of special grace and the commencement of true religion. Previous to this the soul is dead in trespasses and sins; and now it is that the Lord passes by and says, Live! Christ in the gospel lays the foundation of a sinner’s hope; but it must be Christ in you that gives existence to the hope of glory.
III. An instantaneous work. In our apprehension it may be gradual, like Christ’s opening the eyes of the blind man, who first saw men as trees walking, and afterwards, upon a fresh touch from His hand, all things clearly; but in itself the change is quick.
IV. A work effected in a way perfectly consistent with human liberty. God opens the heart by engaging and inclining it to that which is good. The power is His, but the act is our own. Men are not driven but drawn. Divine influence is not compulsive, but attractive. God does not open the heart as man would open a passage into a strongly-fortified place, by planting a battery against it; but by “putting in His hand by the hole of the door,” and then “our bowels are moved for Him” (Song of Solomon 5:4-5; Hosea 2:14; Romans 3:20).
V. An internal work. It is true, the ears are opened to instruction, the mouth in prayer and praise, the hands in acts of justice and benevolence, and the eyes to sea the odious nature of sin and the transcendent glory of the Saviour; but the opening of the heart is previous to all this, and is the cause of all these openings. God’s first and principal work is to win the heart: the sinner’s first and principal work is to give the heart to Him.
VI. Though the work itself is invisible, yet its effects are not so. Grace cannot be seen but by its fruits. Where the heart is changed the conduct will be changed. New duties will result from new principles. Three blessed effects of God’s opening the heart of Lydia are here mentioned.
1. “She attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”
2. She manifested her regard to the commands of our Saviour by being immediately baptized.
3. No sooner had she received Christ into her heart than she received His friends into her house; one door being opened, the other did not remain shut.
VII. An abiding work. When the heart is once opened Christ takes possession of it, and says in effect, This is My rest: here will I dwell forever, for I have desired it (Hebrews 13:5).
VIII. A necessary work. As we cannot be saved without the death of Christ, so neither without the work of the Spirit. More particularly--
1. Satan; that unclean spirit had usurped the dominion of our hearts, and it is necessary to deprive him of his power.
2. Our souls must be cleansed, and this is done by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.
3. The heart must be opened in order to its being beautified and adorned with every grace.
4. By all these means the Lord makes us a fit habitation for Himself. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The hindrances to a cordial reception of gospel truth
We are to inquire--
I. What were the things which were spoken of Paul. It will not be uninteresting, and I hope not uninstructive, to take a review of the doctrine of the gospel, which may be comprised under these three heads: the ruin of all mankind; redemption and salvation by Christ Jesus; and regeneration by the Holy Ghost.
II. What are the hindrances to a cordial reception of the truths of the gospel?
1. Pride in the human heart is a great obstacle. This evil disposition works not only in the vilest of mankind, but in those who are in their outward conduct blameless, in the moral and decent.
2. Prejudice is another powerful obstacle. Would you not have thought that the Jews of old would have believed in the Saviour, and have been instructed by Him in the way to heaven, seeing He performed so many miracles as proofs of His mission before their eyes? But they did not receive His words. And why did they not? They expected a triumphant Messiah.
3. The love of sin is another very great obstacle in the way of cordially receiving the truths of the gospel.
4. Lastly, the love of the world is another great obstacle. We do not say that Lydia was a lover of sin and of the world; because it is said “she worshipped God”; but there can be no doubt that her heart was full of Jewish prejudices against the religion of Christ; and in that state she would have continued had not her heart been opened so that she attended to the things which were spoken of Paul.
III. This brings me to inquire, in the third place, by whom and by what means these hindrances are removed and the consequence of their removal? Can man of himself remove them? No; for the Scriptures, from one end to another, declare that he has no power to do so. “Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended to the things which were spoken of Paul.” The means which the Lord uses are many. He opens the heart; that is, He instills into it a longing desire to be instructed in those Divine and saving truths of the gospel. There is one truth which our text sets before us that I would wish to impress upon your minds: it is this--that we ought not to forsake the assembling of ourselves in the house of God, from an idea that we can get as much good at home. If Lydia had not gone to the house of prayer on the day she was converted, she would not then, and perhaps never at all, have heard; and therefore would have lost the inestimable blessing which the Lord bestowed upon her in the use of the means of grace. (W. J. Kirkness, M. A.)
The power of the Holy Spirit exemplified in the conversion of Lydia
I. From these words we may infer this truth--that the heart of man is naturally closed against the gospel. Not only is the understanding darkened, not only is the will opposed to the truth, but the heart is shut against it. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” etc. The gospel is addressed to our ears year after year; truths, in the reception of which our happiness both for time and eternity is involved, are brought before us again and again; we may, perhaps, go so far as to assent to them; they inform our understanding, but they go no farther; the heart is not affected by them; and all the power or reasoning of men is utterly unable to cause them to produce the desired effect. If this were not the case, how different would be the effect produced even by a single sermon! One consideration only of the love of Christ in dying for us would have such a constraining influence on our lives, that we should henceforth most readily yield ourselves to His service. But, though the heart of man is naturally closed against the gospel, and though no human power can open it, yet we may observe--
II. That a Divine power is able to open it. It was that which was exerted in opening the heart of Lydia, or St. Paul had preached in vain. The work of conversion depends not on human eloquence, but it is altogether the effect of a Divine operation on the soul. The means too, which the Holy Spirit uses in influencing the heart, are as various as the ways in which He opens it: God is never at a loss for instruments to carry forward His designs either of providence or grace. He can make the most unlikely instruments effectual for the accomplishment of His plans, and out of evil itself can bring forth good. But, though He is not limited to the use of means, yet there are certain ordinances which He has appointed as the special channels for conveying His grace to the soul. Prayer, either public or private, is one of these ordinances. But, though this power be God’s alone, it is exerted in a way perfectly consistent with human liberty; men are not driven, but drawn; not forced against their will, but made willing. Divine influence is not compulsive, but attractive.
III. The effects produced on Lydia when the Lord had opened her heart. “She attended to the things which were spoken of Paul.” She not only gave attendance on his preaching, but gave attention to it. To those whose hearts have been opened by Divine grace to attend to the things which belong to their everlasting peace, I would address the word of exhortation. Consider, how great a debt of gratitude you owe to distinguishing grace! (E. C. Wells, M. A.)
Hearing and keeping the Word of God
I. How we ought to hear it.
1. Collectedly, away from the distractions of the world; Lydia went out of the city.
2. With a heart consecrated by prayer: Lydia went to prayer.
3. With an eager expectation of what the Lord will give: the Lord opened her heart.
II. How we ought to keep it.
1. Not resting satisfied with a mere temporary impression, but walking with the Lord in true fellowship of life: Lydia was baptized.
2. Endeavouring to convey to others our newly acquired faith: with Lydia, her house is baptized.
3. Labouring to pay our debt of gratitude to the Lord by self-sacrificing love to our neighbour: Lydia constrained her benefactors to come to her house. (Lisco.)
Whose heart the Lord opened.--
Divine influence opening human hearts
I stood one evening last summer watching the pure white flowers on a vine encircling the verandah. I had been told that the buds that hung with closed petals all day, every evening near sunset unfolded and sent out a peculiar fragrance. The miracle was more than I had anticipated. A feeling of silent awe possessed me as I saw bud after bud, as if under the touch of invisible hand, slowly fold back its leaves until the vine was filled with perfect blossoms, most beautiful and sweet.
And I said, “If the finger of God laid upon these, His flowers, can do this in a way beyond the power of human study to explain, cannot the same Divine touch, in ways we know not of, do as much for human hearts? It was in the quiet of the evening, when the garish light of the summer sun had softened to twilight, when the bird songs had ceased, and shadows were creeping over the fields, that this miracle of the flowers was wrought. Who can tell why they did not open earlier in the day? The shower of the morning and the sunshine of the afternoon had nourished the vine and made everything ready for the consummation, but it did not appear until evening, and who can describe the beauty and fragrance then of the revelation? Shall the flowers teach us a lesson of patient waiting and holy trust for the coming blessing? There are hearts for whom we long have prayed seemingly closed as yet to every influence of the blessed Spirit. But let us be patient. Perhaps we must wait until evening. It may be these hearts for whose unfolding we pray will open late; or they may open in the twilight of sorrow and disappointment, when the songs cease and shadows stretch over the path long before the day of life is done. True, the parallel is not perfect. The flowers never resisted the gentle influences of air and sun and rain; hearts may resist the Holy Ghost and remain, perhaps, closed against Him. And yet from these sweet blossoms we may surely learn a lesson of patient faith. The silent forces are at work; the God who cares for the flowers of the field is surely caring for these for whose perfected life in Him we pray. Let us wait and watch with Him, nor be surprised nor impatient if it requires years of discipline to bring a sinful soul, where by the Divine touch it can be transformed into a glorious, ransomed spirit. (John Hall, D. D.)
Lydia’s heart opened
I. The central faculty on which the great change is wrought.
1. The heart is the generic term in which we include the entire phenomena of the animal and spiritual man. Metaphysically it concentrates all that belongs to the physical, emotional, and intellectual nature. In its Scriptural import the heart is the normal status that conditions man’s relations to God. What it is that the man is. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
2. The heart, therefore, is the power in man that most needs to be changed.
(1) Tendencies, idiosyncrasies, and even moral aberrations may be arrested and mastered by culture. The heart never outgrows its inherent depravity. The painted savage and the erudite sage are scions of the same stock. “Born in sin,” we must be born again.
(2) Then, further, under a momentary or selfish motive man will surrender to God his most costly possessions, while he withholds his heart. “Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples.”
(3) To change the heart, then, is not merely to amend the life; for the life, as in the case of the rich young ruler, may be superficially correct while the heart is utterly false. For the same reason it cannot be any mere intellectual change, such as a new mode of thinking about God, or His claims; nor yet in the quickened sensibility of the conscience in its outward reverence for truth; all of which are perfectly congruous with the alienation of the heart from God.
3. The new birth is the coming into life of that which previously did not exist. Redemption through Christ is, potentially, the recreation of the lost Divine order in the soul--the re-entrance of God into man, and His enthronement over the will and in the affections as the one supreme Lord.
4. All men need this change, and must experience it just because they are men. There is no difference in the sin which vitiates and condemns, and man must plead no exemption on the ground of birth or training, lest he shut himself out of the kingdom of God.
II. The method of this change. Note--
1. Its supernatural source. Regeneration is a work wrought by Divine power on the individual soul. It may be simulated, but it cannot be fabricated by any art of man.
(1) There are two theories against which this doctrine is a dignified protest, viz.--
(a) That man is an embryo saint to begin with. A germ of all goodness is folded up within us waiting only favouring circumstances to bloom into a godly life.
(b) That religious life depends on education. There is in us all a capacity of becoming good, and the business of education is to cultivate that: the fruit-bearing tree may never produce fruit, but that is an accident; so a man may be virtually good, but never actually from defective training.
(2) But these theories deal with ideal human nature and not with human nature as it is.
(a) So far from having the germ of a holy nature, the Scriptures declare that we are born in sin, a declaration corroborated by consciousness. Any growth, therefore, is a growth in evil. Under the most benign parental influences this noxious weed has sprung up as if native to the soil.
(b) Education is a grand power, but it cannot correlate with the forces of Omnipotence. All mere unfolding of latent faculties deals with the animal and the intellectual only; it creates neither faculty nor disposition.
2. Its various methods. The Lord “opened” the heart of Lydia. The work was done silently as the young spring bud is opened by the morning sun. In the case of the jailer the same work is done in tumult. To have dealt with his petrified sensibilities as with the sweet serenities of Lydia’s womanly nature would have been to try at chiselling the marble with sunbeams. To the masculine mind the gospel will appeal successfully chiefly as it appeals to the intellect, and so works out its results through the logic. To the feminine and finer mind it will appeal successfully chiefly as it appeals to the sympathies, the moral susceptibilities, the delicate aesthetics of human nature.
3. Its immediate fruits. Lydia--
(1) “Attended,” etc. If listless, or only curious before, she is awake now.
(2) Took upon herself and her home the profession of the Christian faith. A waste of power meets us here. Not a few estimable people decline to embody their belief in Christian fellowship. If Lydia had gone back to Thyatira resolved to keep the matter secret, trusting to the loyalty of conscience, and the integrity of her feelings, the chances are that she would have failed. We cannot stand alone in the perilous struggle of a religious career; and if we could, we cannot honour Christ if we decline to take up the Cross. And least of all can we help to sustain the burden God has laid on our fellow men as trustees for the world’s salvation, if we withhold from them the sympathy and patronage of our professional support. The Church faints, not because bankrupt in her resources, but because men refuse to consecrate to her service that which is already her own. (J. Burton.)
The ideal reformation
I. This is a reformation effected in the centre of existence. This was not a reformation on parchment, but a reformation of the springs of activity. If the heart is changed all the emotions, purposes, and activities of life will be changed.
II. This is a reformation that originated in Divine agency. “The Lord opened.”
III. This is a reformation that brought the soul into the highest discipleship. “She attended unto the things that were spoken of Paul.” She became a pupil in the school of Christ. (Homilist.)
Suppose it now midnight, and the sun with the antipodes: he doth not presently mount up to the height of our heaven, and make it noonday; but first it is twilight, then the day dawns, and the sun rises, and yet looks with weaker eyes before he shines out in his full glory. We do not sweat with summer today, and be shaken with the fury of the winter tomorrow; but it comes on with soft paces. Now, it is most true that Christ is able, in a moment, of sinners on earth to make men saints in heaven, as He wrought upon the dying malefactor. Some may make sudden leaps, and of furious sinners become zealous professors in a trice. Of such we may be charitably jealous; holiness shoots not up, like Jonah’s gourd, in a night. God is the God of order, not of confusion; and nature is not suffered to run out of one extreme into another but by a medium. That ordinary way whereby men walk from the state of sin to the state of glory is the state of grace. So our conversion is by soft and scarcely sensible beginnings, albeit no part after part, degree by degree in every part, by gentle seekings in of goodness in every degree, by growing up to maturity and ripeness. (T. Adams.)
The imperceptible operations of grace
The grandest operations both in nature and in grace are the most silent and imperceptible. The shallow brook babbles in its passage and is heard by everyone, but the coming on of the seasons is silent and unseen. The storm rages and alarms, but its fury is soon exhausted and its effects are partial and soon remedied; but the dew, though gentle and unheard, is immense in quantity and the very life of large portions of the earth. And these are pictures of the operations of grace in the Church and in the soul. (R. Cecil.)
Lydia’s heart opened
It was opened like the gates of a canal lock. It is by water coming in secretly below, and gradually swelling up within, that at length the folding doors allow themselves to be opened; as long as the water presses from above and without, the pressure tends to shut the gates more firmly, rather than to open them. The lock keeps itself empty, and resists the offer of the water to come in. But when by secret channels the interior is nearly filled, then the resistance ceases, and the gates are thrown wide. Ah, many an empty heart resists the offer of mercy from God; the offer of that mercy rather shuts the gate more firmly! But when, secretly, some grace finds its way in and more follows, and the empty space gradually fills, then the enmity disappears, and the whole soul opens out to Christ. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Lydia’s heart opened
I. Open heart. The Lord opened her heart in the ordinary way, no doubt, by the unseen work of the Holy Spirit. He had been opening it all along, while she had been serving Him by keeping close up to the light as fast as it was revealed to her. The Holy Ghost is always in advance of us when we are trying to find our way out into clear duty.
II. Open heart invariably brings open mind. The entrance of the Divine Word gives light. So Lydia “attended unto” what the apostle told her. The Holy Spirit continued His work. Lydia appears to have surrendered her convictions instantly without cavil.
III. Open mind brought open mouth. Out of the abundance of her heart her mouth spoke. Lydia unhesitatingly made public acknowledgment of the faith she now accepted. She lost no time in foolish self-searching after what some call special evidences. She knew she believed in Jesus Christ, and she was ready to say so.
IV. Open hand brought open house. The “Daughter of Tyre” was there “with her gift.” Hospitality was the form of immediate usefulness Lydia chose. It was not within her reach perhaps to do magnificent things, but she did “what she could.” Conclusion:
1. These, then, were the evidences of grace which the Holy Spirit gave instantly to this Thyatiran woman. There was nothing subtle or mysterious in them; anybody could have them! anybody could know them if he had them.
2. And, with these before us, it is easy to learn what growth in grace is--it is increase in openness of heart, mind, mouth, hand, and house--growth in the same simple life which is begun. And more grace is lust glory; and more glory is heaven. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The heart opened
Though labouring from his childhood under extreme shortsightedness, Ampere, the celebrated French philosopher, was unconscious of this defect till awakened to a sense of it by the following circumstance. When travelling, at the age of eighteen, in one of the most beautiful parts of France, he chanced to take up the eyeglass of a fellow traveller, and he burst into tears of wonder and delight at the first discovery thus suddenly made to him of the beauty and magnificence of nature. Before, when he heard others speak with enthusiasm of the loveliness of some particular scenery, he could not understand what they meant, and thought they must be under some strange delusion. But now he felt as if he had suddenly been endowed with a new sense, and could say, like the blind man in the gospel narrative after he had been restored to sight, “One thing I know: that whereas I was blind, now I see.” This incident affords a striking illustration of the brief but emphatic description given of the conversion of Lydia, “whose heart the Lord opened.”
The great preliminary
I. Lydia’s heart was closed, which means that there is a natural indisposition to the things of God.
1. An indisposition not incompatible with much that is lovely and of good report. Not implying, as a matter of course, habits of sin or a spirit of frivolity. These things may be or may not be. Inclinations vary: what is one man’s pleasure would be another’s pain. Under the moral man’s respectability, under the amiable man’s affection, under the outwardly religious man’s worship, there may lurk a repugnance to God; a fixed determination not to come to close quarters with that sword of the Spirit which must pierce and wound before it can be safe to heal. Christ knocks at the door, but they will not rise for Him, nor let Him in. They do not open to Him because they are enlightened enough to know His terms, and honest enough with themselves to decide against them.
2. And without this definite reason for disliking Christ, there are other influences at work in keeping the door of the heart closed against Him.
(1) In one there is a spirit of levity which makes all serious reflection irksome: he would fain enjoy himself while he can: “when I have a convenient season,” in other words, when sorrow comes, or sickness, or the near prospect of death, then I will call for Thee.
(2) And without any resolution of this kind, there is in the heart a strength of practical procrastination which is enough of itself to keep the heart closed against Christ: the very absence of resolution against Him assists the practical exclusion. A man is so nearly a Christian that he writes himself not far from the kingdom, able at any moment by a single step to cross into it. Thus he too has a closed heart; a heart closed by the very idea of its openness.
(3) Then there is the case of those who are “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” There are some who, with a real desire to be saved, can never grasp the simplicity of Christ’s salvation. By a medley of things true and false, an inversion of important truths, a mixture of conditions with the gospel of free grace, they have been so perplexed that the work of faith has been impossible: they stand afar off, wishing and waiting, instead of taking the kingdom of God, as our Lord says, by force, and pressing into it with a resolute conviction. Oh for a voice to sound in the depths of that soul--The gospel is this: not that if you will do something God will do the rest; but that, even as you are, God loves you, and that the work of your salvation is already done for you in Christ. Take God at His word: believe Him when He says that He has laid all your sins upon Christ: try the experiment of coming to Him on that basis; and to you the promise shall be fulfilled in the very act of stretching out the hand, the strength will be given: in the reception of the glad tidings the stony heart will be taken away, and a heart of flesh shall replace it: out of the gospel, not before it, will spring repentance and reconciliation: and the heart closed against all else will yield to the inward summons of an atonement already made and a peace already purchased.
II. Lydia’s heart was opened. This opening is ascribed to the Lord, acting through the instrumentality of Him whom He promised to send from the Father. The methods of this opening are various as God’s agencies and God’s attributes. In the case before us, the first hearing sufficed. And it has been so with others. More often, perhaps, the opening is gradual. These hearts are very obstinate. If God gave but one chance who could be saved? But He who will do anything for our salvation, except that one thing which would vitiate it altogether, namely, a compulsion of conversion; that God is patient with us, and tries many means: sometimes a sudden influx of blessing has brought with it a softening of the heart and a turning of the whole man to give thanks and to glorify his Benefactor: sometimes the discipline of life in its sterner aspect has wrought reflection, and sorrow for sin, and earnest calling upon God. These things are all various. But, amidst them all, one thing varies not. There is a Divine Spirit who works the great change wherever it is wrought; who alone touches the very spring of being, and quickens the dead soul into newness of life. (Dean Vaughan.)
That she attended to the things which were spoken of Paul.--
The attention demanded by the gospel
It must be--
I. Candid. The preacher of the gospel should not be prejudged. Let him be fairly heard, and let his doctrine be impartially weighed in the balance of the sanctuary. The people of Berea are commended on this account.
II. Serious. The word presents to our minds the most serious subjects in the world. Death and judgment, heaven and hell, are serious things.
III. Devout. Too many persons in hearing look no farther than to men, and to the words of men; and if they are pleased, it is with the sentiments, the voice, or the manner of the preacher; but we should hear the Word of God as the Word of God, and if we do so it will be with reverence of soul.
IV. Diligent. It is not a trifling matter which it represents to us; it is for our life, and therefore should be regarded with the utmost vigour and energy of our souls.
V. Believing. It is the testimony of Jehovah and demands the fullest credit. The Word cannot profit our souls unless it be “mixed with faith” (Hebrews 4:2). It is proposed “for the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26), and, when it is obeyed, it becomes the power of God to our salvation.
VI. Joyful. The gospel is glad tidings; it proclaims pardon; and if this be really believed, it must excite joy. It did so in all the first converts to Christianity (Acts 8:6-8; Acts 16:34; 1 Thessalonians 1:6).
VII. Practical. And where it is truly received it cannot fail of working by love. A true believer is a doer of the Word (James 1:22). (G. Burder.)
She was baptized and her household.
I. Although from the earliest days infant baptism has been practised, there are some who deny its scriptural authority.
1. At first sight their position seems to be a strong one, when they say, “Where is there any command for it?” In reply to this it is only necessary to say that Christians consider many things as most important for the support of which no such authority can be claimed. Where is it written, “Thus saith the Lord, Christians must observe the day of the Saviour’s resurrection”? or, “Thus saith the Lord, Women must receive the Communion”? or, “Thus saith the Lord, Christian people must have family prayer, and establish Sunday Schools, and support missionary societies”?
2. It is also urged that no one ought to be baptized who does not believe, and that as infants are incapable of believing, so also they are improper subjects of baptism (Mark 16:16). The unfairness of such a conclusion may be shown in various ways.
(1) Take the apostle’s injunction, “If any will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Does St. Paul mean to extend this to infants, or the sick or the aged? Plainly not. He is only speaking of those who are capable of working. And so, too, our Saviour’s language in regard to the subjects of baptism should be applied to none but those who can exercise faith, and who enjoy the privilege of being taught their duty. The ease of infants is in no way connected with these passages.
(2) Again, if this verse proves that infants ought not to be baptized, it proves also that they cannot be saved. I need hardly say that the plain and undoubted sense of the passage repels so monstrous a conclusion. Our Lord was announcing that the door of entrance to His kingdom was now thrown open to all who chose to come in; and He sets forth belief and baptism as two distinct conditions of salvation. Adults, who are capable of belief, are expected to bring this qualification; but it is not looked for in infants, who cannot exercise faith. Baptism is a solemn form of adoption into God’s family--the Church. So much for the popular objections against the practice of infant baptism.
II. Let us see, now, what can be said for it.
1. We claim that it is right and proper to baptize infants, because they are naturally included in the broad commission which our blessed Lord gave to His apostles (Matthew 28:19). Suppose the proper authorities in this country should issue a command that a census be made: who would be included in it? Would it merely embrace the adults, or would it give an account of the number of children also? And so, when our Saviour sends forth His servants to bring all nations into covenant with their Creator and Redeemer, the most natural construction of the commission makes it include both old and young. To expect that in promulgating His covenant He would make mention of infancy or adult years would be an absurdity. The physical and the personal has nothing at all to do with the spiritual covenant.
2. That our Lord regards with favour the bringing of little children into covenant with Him is seen from the fact that He showed such kindness towards them during His sojourn upon earth (Matthew 19:13; Luke 18:15; Mark 10:13-16). The phrase, “Kingdom of God,” means the Church. And does not every word in the passage just quoted go to prove that our Saviour regarded little children as fit subjects for His kingdom? Hermas, who wrote during the apostolic age, remarks: “All infants are valued by the Lord, and esteemed first of all.”
3. We are obliged to believe that children are entitled to the privilege of holy baptism, because they are distinctly included in the promises (Acts 2:38-39). The Jews who heard these words of St. Peter’s had always been accustomed to have their children enjoy the privileges of Church membership; and if it had been his purpose to tell them that this rule must now be changed, this was a very curious way of doing it! And slow progress Christianity would have made had it closed its doors more completely than Judaism had done!
4. The apostles baptized whole households. Not long after the baptism of Lydia’s household, that of the jailor was baptized (Acts 16:31-32). Here is an item from St. Paul’s own journal--“I baptized the household of Stephanas” (1 Corinthians 1:16). The Syriac version of the New Testament, which was completed early in the second century, renders the verse concerning Lydia and her household as the baptism of Lydia and her children. And so, too, in the case of the jailor and his household, and the household of Stephanas.
5. Even those most opposed to infant baptism agree that when these little innocents die they are fit to be received into heaven. And if fit for the Church triumphant, why not for the Church militant?
6. Note the resemblance which infant baptism bears to circumcision. By this rite, children, when eight days old, all unconscious of what was done for them, were brought into covenant with God. When, in the course of Divine Providence, the seal of circumcision was changed to that of baptism, the Christian sacrament sanctioned all that the Jewish rite would have secured, had it continued to be observed. The conclusion follows, therefore, most naturally, that as children were made members of God’s Church under the old dispensation, they are entitled to the same privilege under the new.
7. We enter our protest against those who oppose infant baptism, and we insist that it is a practice in accordance with God’s will, because it is nowhere forbidden. Does the Word of God command that children shall be shut out from His kingdom? And when we remember that nineteen-twentieths of the Christian world practise infant baptism, is it likely that the one-twentieth can be right?
8. It was practised in the Church from the days of the apostles, for a period of nearly fifteen hundred years, without a dissenting voice. The only question in regard to infant baptism which ever arose in the early ages of Christianity was whether, as baptism had taken the place of circumcision, it should be put off to the eighth day. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
The gospel fulfils its noblest mission in hallowing the general relations of family life. On the first introduction of Christianity to Europe, whole families are gathered into the fold. Lydia and her household, the jailer and all belonging to him, are baptized into Christ. Henceforth the worship of households plays an important part in the Divine economy of the Church. As in primeval days the patriarch was the recognised priest of his clan, so in the Christian Church the father of the house is the Divinely appointed centre of religious life to his own family. The family religion is the true starting point, the surest foundation, of the religion of cities, nations, and empires. The Church in the house of Philemon grows into the Church of Colossae (Philemon 1:2); the Church in the house of Nymphas becomes the Church of Laodicea (Colossians 4:15); the Church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla loses itself in the Churches of Ephesus and Rome (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:5). (Bp. Lightfoot.)
Come into my house and abide there.
The origin of Christian hospitality
We have here the first example of that Christian hospitality which was so emphatically enjoined and so lovingly practised in the apostolic Church (Hebrews 13:2; 1 Timothy 5:10). The frequent mention of the “hosts” who gave shelter to the apostles (Romans 16:23, etc.) reminds us that they led a life of hardship and poverty, and were the followers of Him for whom there was “no room in the inn.” The Lord had said to His apostles that when they entered into a city, they were to seek out “those who were worthy,” and with them to abide. The search at Philippi was not difficult. Lydia invited them, and admitted of no refusal, and their “peace was on that house.” Thus the gospel obtained a home in Europe. (Dean Howson.)
A certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination.
The words, literally, are as in the margin, a spirit of Python, or, as some MSS. give it, a Python spirit. The Python was the serpent worshipped at Delphi, as the symbol of wisdom, from which the Pythian priestesses and Apollo, as succeeding to the oracular power of the serpent, took their distinguishing appellative. The fact that St. Luke, who in his Gospel describes like phenomena as coming from daemonia, “evil spirits,” “unclean spirits,” should here use this exceptional description, seems to imply either that this was the way in which the people of Philippi spoke of the maiden, or else that he recognised in her state phenomena identical with those of the priestesses of Delphi, the wild distortions, the shrill cries, the madness of an evil inspiration. After the manner of sibyls, and sorceresses, and clairvoyants of other times, the girl, whom Augustine describes as a faemina ventriloqua--the phrase probably expressing the peculiar tones characteristic of hysteria--was looked on as having power to divine and predict (“soothsaying,” as distinct from “prophesying,” exactly expresses the force of the Greek verb), and her wild cries were caught up and received as oracles. Plutarch (“de Defect. Orac.,” p. 737) speaks of the name Python as being applied commonly, in his time, to “ventriloquists” of this type. As she was a slave, her masters traded on her supposed inspiration, and made the girl, whom prayer and quiet might have restored to sanity, give answers to those who sought for oracular guidance in the perplexities of their lives. (Dean Plumptre.)
Paul and the damsel of Philippi
1. None can bear such testimony to the real nature of goodness as bad spirits. How the fallen angels could preach! They could speak of goodness with all the vividness which comes of conscious contrast. Could not he say much of friendship who has lost it? Could not he speak tenderly of home who has abandoned it? So the spirit that has known God and wandered from Him could speak with soul-touching pathos--of salvation. But Christianity will not have such service. The poor damsel said truly, but her cooperation was declined. The devil can have no part or lot in Christian service. He is not in it! Though his word be true, his tone is wrong. What Paul could have done with this aid! How he could have turned upon all those who held in captivity the infatuated girl, and said to them, “She is our ally; she knows the truth, and is not afraid to proclaim it.” These temptations are not without force; but the truth being devil-spoken, is not to be received upon such authority, because the authority would not stop there. Have nothing to do with him. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” We see from such incidents the pureness and nobility of the apostolic mind and the independence of truth. In the hands of the apostles the truth did not go a-begging for patronage. When will the Church refuse the bad man’s money? The same kind of aid was offered to Christ, but He would never accept it.
2. The girl had masters who made a profit out of her. It is possible that some of ourselves may be under the influence of evil “masters.” It is in the nature of selfishness to make slaves. Older and craftier men may be making experiments upon your green youthfulness. Christ would have us all free. “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
3. “And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone--.” The bad man has a larger sphere in which to make money than the good man has. Think what they were doing! Living upon this brain-bewildered damsel. Such men would sell the very Church of God and defile the dead for money. Do not imagine that this is an ancient instance; it is the work of today. There is no stopping place in selfishness short of the very destruction of the universe. Begin, therefore, early to resist the devil. “It is not all gold that glitters.” There are some coins that honest fingers dare not touch. Do not call yourself poor if you have today’s honestly-gotten dinner waiting for you. That is a proof that you shall also dine tomorrow. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Crafty masters, dealers in superstition and quackery, may have their gain-bringing damsels taken away from them, but they who bank in heaven have effects inexhaustible.
4. Look at the spirit of the damsel’s masters (verse 19, etc.). What liars they were! Not a word did they say about the “gains.” Here is the crime of today, of working from one motive and trying to get credit for another. Do we not sometimes hate a man, and do all manner of evil to him, and then say that we have no personal jealousy, but are concerned about some great question or public good? And yet there are persons who quite disdain the idea of original sin! The gospel will have no pretence, mental reservation, or moral obliquity. It will insist upon trying all our work by the square add plummet of heaven. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The soothsaying damsel at Philippi
I. True testimony from a questionable quarter. This testimony Was as true as if it had been spoken by an angel. But the testifier was under the influence of a devil, and God’s servants need not his praise either in behalf of themselves or their work. But what could induce this woman to bear this true testimony?
1. Perhaps the hope of getting gain. She might think that Paul would reward her for her public proclamation.
2. A wish to conciliate. The evil spirit, fearing expulsion, might influence her to bear this testimony so as to gain favour.
3. A desire to heighten her authority and increase her success. She saw evident tokens of the Divinity of their cause; and by proclaiming this she may have hoped to acquire a higher reputation for being inspired.
4. The hope of bringing discredit on the cause of God. The stratagem might lead the people to conclude that Paul and Silas were in league with evil spirits.
(1) That there is a way of salvation. Plain, safe, exclusive.
(2) That there is need to show this way.
(3) That the work of God’s servants is to show it.
II. Effectual exorcising by an inspired apostle. Paul was grieved--
1. To see a human being the victim of demoniacal power. Many similar saddening sights are still to be seen. The demons avarice, ambition, pride, envy, and sensuality possess men’s souls and rule in their hearts. Who can see them and not be grieved?
2. To see the malignant design with which the testimony was borne. The girl was only the instrument of the devil, whose design might be to bring discredit on Christianity; and who might also aim at exciting the self-complacency of Paul.
3. To see the sordid motives of the masters of this girl. They cared not how her nature was degraded, or how the people were imposed on, if only their mercenary ends were answered. Many are still as unscrupulous. They will lie, and cheat, and sell both body and soul for gain.
III. Malignant persecution by disappointed mercenaries (verse 20-22). If you would not enrage a selfish man, do not interfere with his gains, or he will persecute you. Your enterprise may be of God, and there may be evident tokens of this, yet it must not be allowed to live if it frustrates his selfish purposes.
IV. Illegal measures by civil authorities.
V. Midnight melody by incarcerated sufferers (verse 25).
1. “They prayed”--
(1) for themselves, that they might be supported and delivered;
(2) for their persecutors, that they might be forgiven and saved; and
(3) for their new converts, that they might be strengthened and established.
2. “And sang praises unto God.” A consciousness of having done right makes a man undaunted in danger, unswerving in suffering, and triumphant in tribulation. (John Elstob.)
The devil of avarice
I. In the pursuance of its purpose. Mercenariness in truth was the demon which inspired her. In pursuing its sordid aim we discover--
1. The prostitution of mind. This young woman’s sympathies and talents were consecrated to the greed of her masters. Mammon ever hires the genius of the world for its service. A more terrible sight than this can scarcely be witnessed.
2. The practice of falsehood. This woman pretended to withdraw the veil of the future for money. Men build up their fortunes by falsehoods. Lies are considered the life of trade.
3. Religious profession. To impose upon the spectators, she professed almost a reverence for the apostles. Perhaps she had sufficient prescience to see that their mission would be successful, and that her declaration of their success would heighten her reputation and increase her authority. Alas! avarice uses religion for its own ends, puts on its garb, uses its vocabulary, and kneels to its heroes.
II. In the frustration of its purpose (verse 18). Does this mean the exorcising of a personal spirit of evil who had taken possession of her? or does it mean the expulsion of the spirit of evil from her? I incline to the latter opinion, and regard Paul as effecting her conversion. This he did, as all conversions are accomplished, “in the name of Jesus Christ,” and at once--“in the same hour.” The change which Paul effected in her now interfered with the gains of her masters. Observe--
1. The vindictiveness of this frustrated avarice (verse 19). Selfish men will oppose any enterprise, however divine, that interferes with their gains. Vested interests are the great antagonists of truth everywhere.
2. Its hypocrisy. Did they say, these men have interfered with our traffic? This would have been truth. No; they prefer a false accusation. These wounded grubs would be thought patriotic heroes.
3. Its power. These rich men had sufficient power to move the multitude in their favour, and to command the magistrates to do their work (verses 22, 23). Such was the power which avarice had in Philippi eighteen centuries ago, and such is the power, alas! which it has ever wielded, and still wields. It can move magistrates and monarchs. “Money answereth all things,” “and the love of it is the root of all evil.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The rescue of a slave
Some facts connected with--
I. The slave.
1. The power by which she was swayed.
2. The profession she made.
3. The testimony she bore.
II. The apostles.
1. Their tenderness of heart.
2. Their great power.
3. Their habitual prayerfulness.
III. The owners.
1. The degradation of their nature.
2. The vengeance of their hearts.
3. The power of their hate. (H. J. Martyn.)
These men are servants of the Most High God and show to us the way of salvation.
The confession of the girl
What a strange thing have we here! the devil preaching the gospel; at least confirming the word of those who preached it. How was it that the prince of darkness could thus support the men who were labouring to destroy his kingdom? How could he give his testimony to the truth of that gospel by which his throne was to be subverted? Was not Satan here casting out Satan, and contributing to the overthrow of his own dominion? No: his speaking truth was a master stroke of devilish policy. He spoke the truth to counteract it; to put Paul and Silas and the possessed woman on the same ground, as if they all agreed: and if Paul and Silas had been pleased with this testimony, and appealed to it, and observed to the people that she who had told them so correctly many things which they could not have found out, confessed them as the servants of God and the preachers of salvation, he would have gained a great point. Let the Pythoness once be identified with the Christian teachers and she might teach, under the name of Christianity, such things as the devil has since often taught, and called them the way of salvation. The devil confessing Christ is in fact more dangerous than the devil denying Christ: for he only confesses to oppose. He confesses, and misrepresents, so that he makes the doctrine of Christ sometimes one thing and sometimes another; and anything but what it really is. Sometimes it is salvation by man’s merit, heaven purchased by the performance of outward works. Thus he builds up a fatal system of self-righteousness. Yet there is truth in what he teaches. The works are necessary; but he assigns to them a wrong office, puts them in the place of Christ, and thus leads men to reject that way of salvation, to which, by the mouth of the Pythoness, he bore witness. At other times he takes the direct contrary course; and with the show of honouring Christ teaches men to look for salvation by a faith which produces no works. Thus his doctrine is--what it were to be wished his kingdom was--divided against itself: sometimes it is Christ requiring what God has not commanded; sometimes it is Christ allowing what God has forbidden, or forbidden what God has allowed. Alas! this confession of the Pythoness, as it was not altogether the first instance of Satan’s acknowledging Christ, so neither was it the last by many, many examples. And Christian teachers have too often been ignorant of his devices, not having received the wisdom to detect him, when transformed into an angel of light. Paul had this wisdom. (J. Fawcett, M. A.)
At the very end of the nave of Westminster Abbey there is a monument erected to a young philosopher and clergyman who ill his short space of life, which lasted only twenty-one years, made discoveries in science of a most surprising kind. His name was Jeremiah Horrox. There was one thing which he felt ever had a higher claim upon him even than science. It was to do his duty in the humble sphere in which he found himself; and when he was on the eve of watching the transit of the planet Venus across the sun, and was waiting with the utmost keenness of observation for this phenomenon, he put even all these thoughts aside, and went, on the Sunday on which this sight was to be observed, to perform his humble parish duty in the church where he was pastor. He mentions it in his journal, in words which are now written over his monument: “Called aside to greater things, which ought not to be neglected for the sake of subordinate pursuits.” Subordinate, secondary, in one sense, the pursuits could not be, for they were the discovery of the glory of God in the greatest of His works; but subordinate in another sense they were, for they came across, in that instance, the single-minded discharge of the task which he owed to his Divine Master. (Dean Stanley.)
The exactest way of salvation
Sir Thomas Smith, the eminent secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth, when on his death bed, sent to his friends, the Bishops of Winchester and Worcester, and solemnly entreated them to draw from the Word of God the plainest and exactest way of salvation; adding, “It is a matter of lamentation that men know not to what end they are born into the world till they are ready to get out of it.”
The confession of the slave
Truth is truth, by whomsoever confessed, for whatever motive, and in whatever way. Here it was confessed by a devil-possessed girl. Perhaps her better nature was in the ascendant at the time. As we know from the Gospels demoniacal possession was intermittent, and the poor creatures had their lucid intervals. So this damsel, conscious for the moment of her misery and degradation, may have meant this as a sort of appeal for help. Perhaps, however, it may have been in mockery. No doubt the apostles had asserted their authority as servants of the most high God, and certainly “the way of salvation” was their constant theme. And the girl gifted with powers of mimicry may have reproduced their peculiar accent for the purpose of creating amusement. On the former hypothesis Paul’s pity was excited: on the latter his indignation and alarm lest the gospel should be brought into contempt. Anyhow the testimony is true as a description of:--
I. The character of gospel ministers.
1. They are men
(1) Not angels; do not therefore expect angelic attributes of them. One of the greatest hindrances to the work of the Church is the extravagant demands which are made of the ministry. It discourages the men, and induces indolence in the people.
(2) They are men having knowledge of human needs, invested with human sympathies, gifted with the faculty of communicating Divine thought in human language.
2. They are servants.
(1) A humbling thought. All magisterial airs, all pomp and show, are utterly inconsistent with this character. A servant is a subordinate and has simply to do what he is told.
(2) A suggestion of responsibility and labour. What is a servant for but for work? And for the efficient discharge of that work he is held responsible.
3. They are servants of the Most High God.
(1) Their office therefore is invested with the loftiest dignity. What greater honour than to be the servant of a sovereign. Our Lord Himself gloried in this title.
(2) Their persons are secure. God will protect His servants till they can say, “I have finished my course.”
(3) Their reward is great; as is to be expected from such a Master. “Be thou faithful,” etc.
II. Their work. “To show the way of salvation.”
1. There is a way of salvation.
(1) A way to it--i.e., means whereby it may be secured.
(a) Repentance--consciousness of being in the wrong way, regret for it, confession of it, and desire to get out of it.
(b) Faith. Acceptance of the right way; of Him who is the Way; walking in that Way--i.e., humble dependence on Christ.
(2) Salvation itself is a way--a progress from darkness to light, from misery to blessedness, from sin to holiness, from uselessness or injuriousness to usefulness, from earth to heaven, from grace to glory. Salvation is a state, but it is an endlessly progressive state. No matter however high the attainment the saved one is to “forget the things that are behind,” etc. So viewed salvation is the right way, the happy way.
2. This way has to be shown.
(1) Hence the guide must know it, and not theoretically, from books or from what others have told him; but from being in it. Personal salvation is the essential qualification for a minister, and a guarantee of his competency for his work.
(2) Knowing it the guide must show it; by precept and example: simply, clearly, powerfully. (J. W. Burn.)
The nature of the Christian ministry
I. The work of all ministers of the gospel.
1. They are to show the way of salvation. This is the great object they should ever have in view.
2. The way of salvation they are to show is, by faith in Christ.
3. They are to show the way, not the ways of salvation. There never was, and never will be, but one way. This their work implies--They ought to know it themselves.
II. The appellation here given them; with the reasons of their being selected and employed in this service. “Servants of God.”
1. It denotes that they are sent by Him to this work.
2. The dignity of their office--servants, not of men--of the highest men, but of God--of the most high God. They are employed as mortals; because this method is adapted to our receiving information on the subject with composure.
1. The guilt of those who neglect a gospel ministry.
2. Be helpers of ministers. (The Evangelist.)
And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone.
Apostolic duty and vicissitudes
I. Christ’s servants will use whatever power they possess to set the slaves of Satan free. Paul did not act from mere impulse, but upon the principle of compassion with which all true Christians are animated, he was miraculously endowed, it is true, while we have only the power of influence and persuasion. But when a country is invaded, what patriot will draw back because he has not a rifle of the most approved pattern? Let us then do what we can to exorcise the demons of intemperance, etc.
II. Christ’s servants are not to expect that their efforts will win earthly rewards. This ought to be the result; but connected with all evils are vested interests which resist all efforts to diminish their gains. The owners of this damsel looked not at her benefit, but at their loss. For the same reason all reformers have been hated; and they must not be surprised at it (John 15:19-21).
III. Christ secures for His servants not exemption from sorrow, but a sustaining joy. All power is given to Christ, and He sometimes uses it to disappoint the enemies of His servants; but more frequently He leaves them, as here, to suffer for His name’s sake. But it is then that He gives then the sweetest assurances of His presence and love; and makes them more than conquerors (Acts 5:41).
IV. By their conduct towards their persecutors Christ’s servants show that they are His. That can be no merely human religion which enables men to conquer the natural desire for revenge, and to do good to those by whom they have been despitefully used.
V. By their fidelity to conviction and the beauty of their character Christ’s servants will ultimately win the respect of those who have wronged them. The behaviour of Paul and Silas impressed the jailer quite as much as the earthquake. That might have been a natural occurrence, but the cheerfulness and kindness of the missionaries under the circumstances were obviously supernatural. So it is that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
VI. Turning to the jailer, we learn--
1. That the worst of men may become the servants of Christ.
2. That they may become so instantly. How long does it take to enlist a recruit? The resolve may be the fruit of long consideration, and it may take months of drill to make him an efficient soldier; but the act of enlistment is instantaneous.
3. The proof that men have become servants of Christ consists not in emotion but in conduct. (R. A. Bertram.)
Paul at Philippi
I. The preparation for God’s spiritual work. The rebuke of the evil spirit in the girl, the anger of the crowd, the imprisonment, seemed to form a series of events complete in itself and existing for itself, if we may say so. But these things were but the preparation for something more important.
1. The preparation for God’s work was by affliction. The disciples found themselves cast down, but the sequel showed it was in order that they might be exalted, by being used as a means of glorying God. A man’s best work comes sometimes after he has ceased to be able to work at all. God works through our afflictions even when we do not know it. Well may we then count it joy when we are honoured by falling upon them.
2. The affliction of the apostles was certain, sooner or later, because of the ever persisting antagonism between the gospel and the world. And is it not forever so to the end of time? Must not the gospel always find opposition from the world? Surely this vile world is not a friend to grace to help us on to God.
3. Paul’s understanding of this made him careless of being unpopular. He had counted the cost of his service and was willing to pay it.
4. The affliction of the apostles was relieved by faith. They trusted God to give them strength to endure it, to lead them out of it into safety, and beyond these, to use the affliction itself as an instrument of his own purposes.
5. God is with His children in times of trial.
6. Such faith makes one thoughtful for others. Paul was not so absorbed in his own rapture as to forget the jailer. “Do thyself no harm; for we are all here.” Forgetfulness of others is no part of the soul’s deepest joy.
7. In Paul’s joy in God there was involved forgiveness to those who injured him.
II. The work of God. God by His permission of the apostles’ affliction had made ready for the first soul-ingathering among the heathen of Europe.
1. The first element that appears in the experience of the Philippian jailer is fear. He was trembling when he sprang into the cell (Acts 16:29). John Bunyan had an awful experience of his own sinfulness before he was converted. If all have sinned, all are entitled to a guilty fearful conscience.
2. This dread of conscience was immediately accompanied by a consciousness of the supernatural.
3. With fear went desire. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” What it was to be saved he knew in a most undefined way. Wants do not have to be defined in order to be genuine. A child knows that it feels bad but cannot always tell where or why, yet its suffering is most real. And to want the gospel comes with complete satisfaction. But it does not come except to the want.
4. The jailer was willing to do anything necessary for salvation. “Sirs, what must I do?”
5. The answer has well been called classic. It sums up once for all the ages everything that is required of man in order to be saved.
(1) Do nothing. Salvation is not of works.
(3) Make Christ the object of faith.
6. This faith has its social bearing. It is recognised as an influential element in the family, which is here shown to be the God-constituted unit of human life.
7. True faith will not be ignorant. It recognises its imperfection and is ever seeking to learn more of the truth of God, that it may appropriate it by faith (verse 32).
8. As soon as faith had entered the jailer’s heart, it emerged again in a deed of kindness; he washed the apostles’ wounds. So by a beautiful spiritual chemistry faith is ever transmuting the love of God as it comes into our upward-opened hearts into love for our fellow men (1 John 4:12).
9. Immediately there came an open recognition of Christian faith in the form of baptism. Wherever there is faith there should be frank, manly avowal of it.
10. No wonder the jailer when he had brought them into his house rejoiced (verse 34). It was the happiest time he had ever known in his life. No wonder the jailer rejoiced. Blessed beyond words are all those who come to know Christ and His salvation.
III. Lessons about conversion.
1. Providence often prepares for it, sometimes by suffering and sorrow.
2. There are many ways of being led to Christ, and all are valid. Lydia came one way, the jailer another. No one need try to force himself into another’s experience.
3. Faith is the same for all. All are sinners. All need the atoning blood. All must trust without any merit of their own.
4. Salvation is free to all. What Paul said to the jailer he said to the whole world. Whosoever will may come. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The consequences of doing good
1. If you destroy a man’s hope of gain you are very apt to make him your enemy.
2. When you are hindering a man’s business, he will charge you with precipitating a general business panic.
3. When you drive prosperity from a bad man’s door, you may be inviting adversity to enter your own.
4. When you help some afflicted one, when you free some oppressed one, the affliction or the oppression may be transferred to yourself.
5. When you do a good deed, and are put in prison for it, wait for God’s deliverance--it will come.
6. The night is not all dark, nor the stocks hard, nor the imprisonment bitter, to those who, in the consciousness that they are suffering for Christ, wait for the breaking fetters and the earthquake shock. (S. S. Times.)
Antagonism to religion: how aroused
So long as the preaching of the gospel does not interfere with bad men’s money making, bad men are disposed to let it alone, as “none of their business.” But when the work of these temperance people interferes with liquor selling; when the work of these law and order people stops the selling of vile books and pictures, and closes Sunday concert saloons; when the religious sentiment of the community rises up against lotteries and raffles; when the political reform movements propose to stop stealing in the city institutions--then it is evident to every servant of the devil whose supply of gain is thereby cut off, that “these men do exceedingly trouble our city,” and the same feeling against the gospel is aroused in them as showed itself in the impoverished hog raisers of the Gadarenes. This is one of the sure hindrances in the path of all zealous Christian workers. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
The effects of Christianity on ancient superstitions
The priesthood in all its branches, Flamens, Augurs, Hornspices, contemplated the advance of Christianity with dismay. It emptied their temples, curtailed their sacrifices, reduced their profits, exposed their frauds. (J. J. Blunt, D. D.)
And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison.--
The punishment of the missionaries
The words imply a punishment of more than usual severity, such as would leave their backs lacerated and bleeding. So in 1 Thessalonians 2:2, St. Paul speaks of having been “shamefully entreated” at Philippi. Those who have seen anything of the prisons of the Roman empire, as e.g., Mamertine dungeon at Rome itself, can picture to themselves the darkness and foulness of the den into which St. Paul and his friend were now thrust: the dark cavern-like cell, below the ground, the damp and reeking walls, the companionship of the vilest outcasts. And, as if this were not enough, they were fastened in the “stocks.” St. Luke used the Greek term xylon, the same as is used sometimes for the cross (Acts 5:30; Acts 13:29). The technical Latin word was nervus. Like the English stocks, it was a wooden frame with five holes, into which head and feet and arms were thrust, and the prisoner left in an attitude of “little ease.” Here, however, it would seem, the feet only were fastened, the rest of the body being left lying on the ground. If the received version of Job 13:27; Job 33:11, which follows the LXX and the Vulgate, be correct, the punishment was common at a very early period in the East (compare Jeremiah 29:26). (Dean Plumptre.)
Paul imprisoned at Philippi
When Catherine Evans, a Quaker heroine of the seventeenth century, was imprisoned within the gloomy walls of the Inquisition, in the Island of Malta, for obeying what she regarded as a call from God to preach the gospel in the East, she was put into an inner room of the Inquisition, which had only two little holes in it for light and air, and which was so exceedingly hot that it seemed to be the intention to stifle her. On one occasion Friar Malachi told her unless she abandoned her religion she should never go out of that room alive. To this she fearlessly replied, “The Lord is sufficient to deliver me, but whether He will or no, I will not forsake the living fountain to drink at a broken cistern.” In like manner Paul and Silas, when apprehended and thrust into the inner prison of Philippi, were not debarred thereby from praising and preaching Christ. To such men, indeed,
Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.
Christian preachers in prison
Some years ago three Primitive Methodist preachers went to mission a town in Worcestershire, and when they commenced the service, there was a magistrate, a clergyman, and a constable. The constable was ordered to take the preacher down, and he took him down and put him in prison; but there was immediately a second one up preaching away. The magistrate ordered the constable to take the second one, and then the third one was up preaching away. He bad orders to take the third, and he put all three together into the prison and they made a noise there. The magistrate went to the constable, and he said, “What a noise those men are making; go and separate them, and do not let them make a noise like that.” So the man went in and separated them, and he put two of them in a cell with a robber, and they preached the gospel to the robber. They preached to him, and they prayed with him, and he got converted. More noise than ever now. The magistrate said, “I told you to separate those men.” “Well,” he said, “I have separated them.” “Separate them again, then.” “Well,” he said, “if I separate them again they will all get it. That robber is as bad as they are now.”
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God.--
Devotion under difficulties
I. The men engaged were eminently good. “Paul and Silas.”
1. They were employed in the highest service.
2. They were the truest benefactors of society.
3. They were successful opponents of evil.
4. They were martyrs to religious fidelity.
II. The place was notoriously wicked. “Prison.”
1. Circumstances are no criterion of character.
2. Doing good does not necessarily produce its equivalent.
3. The world is ignorant of the nature of true religion.
4. The good are non-resistant in their method of meeting persecution.
5. The ungodly are permitted great freedom.
III. The time was extremely unusual. “Midnight.” It was neither of the usual “hours” of devotion. The heart of man on earth and the ear of God in heaven are not regulated by our chronometers. Midnight, as well as midday, is the “accepted” time.
1. It was singular time. The world asleep.
2. It was sacred time. David and other eminent servants of God often worshipped them.
3. It was suitable time. Silence reigned. Quietness favourable to devotion.
IV. The service was marvellous in its nature. They had been stopped serving God by preaching. In the circumstances they did what they could.
1. There was supplication.
(1) Probably for pardon of enemies.
(2) Probably for success of mission.
(3) Probably for guidance in difficulties.
(4) Probably for preservation of converts.
2. There was song.
(1) Consciousness of Divine favour.
(2) Acknowledgment of Divine favour.
(3) Enjoyment of Divine favour.
3. There was sublimity. Such conduct in such a place was unique--marvellous.
V. The results were extraordinarily great.
1. Shaking of the prison.
(1) Proof of the Divine presence.
(2) Illustration of the Divine power.
(3) Sign of the Divine indignation.
(4) Symbol of the Divine goodness. Open doors and broken chains. Moral freedom.
2. Conversion of the prison keeper.
3. Liberation of the prisoners.
(1) Infringement of rights.
(2) Assertion of claims.
(3) Acknowledgment of wrong.
1. God cares for the good.
2. Fidelity to God rewarded.
3. Ultimate triumph of the gospel.
4. Worship God. (B. D. Johns.)
Paul and Silas sing praises at midnight
Like the nightingale, which warbles forth its beautiful notes in the night time, and when other birds are quietly asleep, so these two apostles sang praises to God at unconventional hours, for they were in unusual circumstances, and in an unconventional place. Many people will go some distance to hear the nightingale, and do not soon forget its notes; so all this prisoners in the jail at Philippi heard the apostles sing that night, and, it is hoped, they never forgot it. The other day, when the wind was furiously swaying the trees, when the heavy hailstones rattled against the window panes, and the darkened skies poured down the rain in torrents amid lightning flashes, until our hearts were quaking with fear, a beautiful little bird sat upon one of our sheltered rose bushes and sang its clear and beautiful notes, as though it knew God would not suffer the storm to hurt it. So, when the storm of persecution burst over the apostles at Philippi, though the excitement of their situation and the soreness of their stripes kept them awake, as some think, yet they sang praises to God, believing not only that their situation would be a furtherance to the gospel, but that God would not suffer them to be hurt.
A wonderful nocturnal service
I. The unusual hour of prayer--midnight.
II. The singular temple--a prison.
III. The remarkable conductors of the service.
Paul and Silas in the stocks.
IV. The strange congregation--the prisoners in their cells. (K. Gerok.)
The prayer meeting in the Philippian jail
It is always easy to have an excellent prayer meeting when the heart is right. There were three persons attending this one there in the jail. The ancient Jews had a saying, “Where two persons meet, there is ever a third.” Paul and Silas and Jesus Christ spent the night together (Matthew 18:19-20). It was a most unusual--
I. Time--“midnight.” The Jews were strict as to their stated seasons of supplication; but this was the hour of neither the evening nor the morning oblation. But God never slumbers, He is alive to His children’s wants even in “the dead of night.”
II. Place. This was the first time the voice of Christian devotion was heard in those precincts--the earliest dungeon in Europe which held a mercy seat, although it has had many successors.
III. Posture. It was neither standing, nor kneeling, nor lying on one’s face. What a poor time they would have had, if they had been compelled to use a formula or work themselves into an attitude. God does not care for attitudes when only the heart is right, and the spirit true, and the want pressing.
IV. Kind of prayer. “Praying, they sang.” They set their petitions to music. True prayer is praise, and genuine praise is prayer.
V. Expression of prayer--by tones of old Hebrew melodies such as one hears now in the synagogue: wild, pathetic, plaintive, and fascinating. Match one of David’s psalms or Isaiah’s anthems to it, and it will move one’s heart like a strain from the sky. He who has at command psalm after psalm has wonderful resources of comfort in his times of trouble.
VI. Reach of prayer. No doubt God heard it, but “the prisoners” also heard it. These were the “songs in the night” that Elihu told Job about; perhaps the psalm was that where David told of the good his singing did him (Psalms 42:8). And we can have no sort of doubt that the jailer heard everything that was going on.
VII. Force of prayer. The Lord sent the earthquake in answer, and converted the jailer.
VIII. Direction of prayer. Imagine a triangle. The perpendicular line represents the direction of a Christian man’s petition: it goes up straight towards God. The horizontal line represents the level pressure of the same force, going out towards those within range. That jailer, no doubt, heard the singing and the praying; it was not addressed to him, but it swept out toward him with lateral force. It is not safe to calculate deliberately upon affecting a bystander by our supplication; preaching in prayers is never to be commended; but a life of prayer, and an unconscious fervour of prayer in an individual instance, may be useful to one who watches it. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The power of song
Wondrous power of music! When prayers give out, when all is dark, the mystic waves of sweet melody have still force to lift us out of ourselves, and upon their golden tides our souls seem to float away and leave far behind them the sad life of tears and strife. I note that Jesus is recorded as singing but once. It was when His soul was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death--when the gloom and foreboding was deepest--when His disciples could not speak or pray, and hardly dared to think. Then, after supper, when they had sung a hymn, they went out into Gethsemane. In our own homes, in times of deep trouble--after the death or burial of a beloved one--in the midst of some great pain or loss--when the children look blankly at each other, and sit talking in whispers, and father and mother scarce know how to speak without weeping--a sister or friend will go to the piano or harmonium, and presently there shall arise such a sweet hymn as shall draw the voices of the sorrowing little company together, and the cloud will be lifted, something like a tender serenity and peace coming over the oppressed and darkened hearts as the pulses of the music rise and fall. Indeed there have been times in the history of the Church when music, hymn singing, chanting, have done duty for almost the whole of religion. What a part did hymn singing play in the life of Luther--in the Lollard movement--in Wesleyan prayer meetings--in the Salvation Armies--past and present. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Sorrow producing song
The agonies of Germany in the Thirty Years’ War and other conflicts was productive of a vast number of patriotic and Christian songs. At the end of the seventeenth century, Councillor Faankenau made a collection of 32,712, which he presented in three hundred volumes to the University library at Copenhagen; while in 1718 another collector, Wetzel, reckoned 55,000 printed German hymns. (J. FB. Tinling, B. A.)
Joy in trouble, its influence upon others
A lamp, when lighted, may burn by day, but it is only at night that it is seen by the neighbourhood. The darkness does not kindle or cause the light, but the darkness reveals it and spreads it around. It is thus that consistent joy in the Lord, when believers attain it, in a time of trouble becomes an effective testimony for Christ. Not a few owe their conversion instrumentally to the light that streamed from a saint in the hour of his departure--to the song that rose from the pilgrim when he was traversing the valley of the shadow of death. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Paul and Silas in prison
No man has more religion than he can show in time of adversity. The jail was a test of the Christian character of Paul and Silas. The way they stood the test, not only exalts them as Christian heroes, but also shows what power there is in the religion of Jesus.
I. A great earthquake.
1. The prisoners rejoicing (verse 25). They were praying--for they needed comfort. They sang praises--for comfort was given. Their hymns were unto God alone; but “the prisoners were listening unto them.” The Christian often exerts an influence of which he is unaware. What must have been the feelings of the listeners? Probably--
(1) Wonder. Songs from that inner prison was an unheard of thing. From there usually came groans, curses, wails of despair.
(2) A conviction that the two men were sustained by the God whom they were praising.
(3) A desire to partake of the same peace and joy. When a disciple has sunshine in trial, then men say, “If religion can do that for us, then we want it.” Songs in the night are better than sermons in the daytime.
2. The prisoners loosed. God now endorses the singers. The earthquake was natural in its character; but it happened at a time that shows that God was in it, using it, as He can use any force of nature, to accomplish His will.
II. A great change.
1. The keeper despairing (verse 27). His life depended upon the keeping of the prisoners. Awakened by the shock his first thought was of fidelity to his office, and, when he beheld the open doors, his instant conclusion was that the prisoners had escaped.
2. The keeper saved.
(1) From self-destruction (verse 28). There are two interesting questions in connection with this.
(a) How did Paul know that the keeper was intending suicide? He was in the “inner” prison, where he could have seen nothing.
(b) Why did none of the prisoners attempt to escape? It would seem as if the songs of the two missionaries, and the marvel which followed, had held them spellbound.
(2) From eternal destruction. Why did the keeper tremble? He was in no danger; for not a prisoner had escaped. He had rightly connected the earthquake with God and the presence of the servants of God. His fear was of Him who is the Judge of all. How was he saved? “Believe,” etc. Note how much larger the promise was than the question--“thou and thy house.” He had asked for himself only, but ha obtained assurance for those whose salvation was of as much consequence as his own.
3. The keeper changed. How was the change shown?
(1) In washing their stripes. His occupation had made him indifferent to the sufferings of others. But now that he had learned to love the Saviour his heart was touched with pity.
(2) “Was baptized, he and all his immediately.” Thus he and they expressed at once their faith in Christ.
(3) “Set meat before them.” He did not forget any of their physical wants in his own great joy. Those who have been fed with the Bread of Life should not be oblivious to the fact that the minister by whom they are fed has a body that needs to be fed also.
(4) “Rejoiced greatly,” etc. Now he was the possessor of the same joy that had caused those songs in the night.
III. A great humiliation.
1. The magistrate’s permission to depart.
(1) Given (verse 35). They realised that they had acted hastily, and without warrant, and desired to get rid of the men as quietly as possible.
(2) Refused. Paul did not stand upon a point of order as a matter of pride. If they departed without vindication, their influence as preachers of the gospel would be gone. For the honour of the Master, they refused to go.
2. The magistrates’ humiliation (verse 37). And the magistrates were made to come. They did not feel safe until they had gone where they would not again hear from them. The missionaries went out of prison with their innocence as publicly declared as their punishment. And thus they strengthened the hold of the gospel in Philippi.
3. The missionaries’ departure (verse 40). Having suffered so much, one would think that they needed comforting by the brethren instead. But God had comforted them with so great a comfort, that they still were the richer, and could afford to give. They went away, but they left brethren behind them. The Church was established at Philippi, and that could not be driven out. (M. C. Hazard.)
Paul and Silas in prison
The Christian looks beyond this world for complete happiness. Yet while here on earth he has something which the world can neither give nor take away. Deprive him of all that which ministers to the happiness of worldly men, and still he is happy. We have a striking example of this in the text. What then can make us happy in any condition, or under any circumstances? We answer--that which made Paul and Silas so happy in the prison at Philippi. The same sources of support and joy are open to every real Christian. Let us, then, examine them.
I. Their comparative estimate of what they gained, with what they lost. It is by such comparisons that we form our estimate of almost every condition in human life. In this world, that is reasonably esteemed an eligible condition in which the good to be enjoyed far outweighs the evil to be endured. What then was the case of these prisoners? Were they in prison--it was not the prison of death. Were they in chains--they still possessed the liberty of the sons of God. Did they endure the pains of the lash--they had peace which passeth all understanding. Had they no hopes from the world--they had the hope of eternal glory. Who that possessed millions would grieve at the loss of a penny? When, therefore, we hear them say, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as having nothing, yet possessing all things,” their language is intelligible.
II. The assurance that their sufferings were the means of great good. They regarded suffering not only as inseparably connected with the crown of glory, but as the appointed means of the preparation to wear it. They, therefore, “gloried in tribulation because tribulation worketh patience,” etc. They rejoiced in the darkness of the dungeon, because there every Christian grace shone purer and brighter.
III. Love to Him for whom they suffered. Love is the strongest passion of the human heart. It is delight in the object loved. With what cheerfulness and pleasure does it lead us to act or suffer! As intimately connected with their love to Christ, I ought to mention the great object of these men--the honour of Christ. Ease, pleasure, honour, interest, life were nothing in their view, and Christ was all in all. Conclusion:
1. Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is. Real religion in its nature is a rich source of support and joy in every condition.
2. Religion is as good a thing now as in the days of the apostles. The same sources of enjoyment are open to us as to them. Why then should not religion bless the Christian under the little crosses of this tranquil age, as well as under the terrors which the annals of persecution record? Alas t here is the defect. They have not as much religion as they ought to have and might have. (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
The supreme power of true piety
We gather from this narrative--
1. That good men are persecuted notwithstanding the most evident signs that they are the servants of God. The presumption of evildoers.
2. That the beneficent ministries of good men incur the hatred of unrighteous traffickers.
3. That religious persecutions are generally promoted by men who have the least regard for religion.
4. That religion often has to endure the blame of tumults raised by evildoers.
I. The power of true piety to give men joy amidst circumstances of sorrow. Paul and Silas--
1. Their patient endurance.
2. Their fervent devotion.
(1) Devotion superior to physical pain. They had been beaten. Song stronger than sorrow.
(2) Devotion superior to the suggestion of mental association. Prison a suggestive place.
(3) Devotion superior to the habitual needs of human life. Midnight--time of sleep.
3. Their unique conduct. The masters with gains lost were in despair; the jailer in earthquake was about to commit suicide. Paul and Silas worshipped. Piety is supreme judged by results.
II. The power of true piety to give men calmness in physical disturbance.
1. God takes care of His persecuted servants.
2. The moral significance of the physical occurrences on the earth. Newspapers can only record the earthquake, not its hidden providences.
III. The power of true piety to enable men to give guidance amidst moral perplexity. See how the providence of God has in view the awakening of the souls of men. “Believe,” etc.
1. This advice was willing.
IV. The power of true piety to give men dignity in the humiliating emergencies of life. “Let them come,” etc.
1. Not the language of proud self-assertion.
2. The language of self-vindication. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Preachers in prison
I. The preachers.
1. Their punishment.
(1) “Many stripes.”
(2) “In the inner prison.”
(3) “Their feet fast in the stocks.” Cell windowless and damp; stocks irritating and painful.
2. Their piety. “Prayed and sang.” Only heroes of the highest type could have prayed in such a place.
3. Their noise. “The prisoners heard them.” They will have all the more attentive audience by the place and time. Noise was no new thing in the old prison. Groans, curses, threats had often echoed through those gloomy corridors; but never until now prayer and praise.
4. Their deliverance.
(1) It was supernatural. “A great earthquake.”
(2) It was instantaneous. “Immediately the doors were opened.”
(3) It was complete. “Every man’s bands were loosed.”
II. The penitent. The exciting scenes of the afternoon and evening had passed, and “at midnight” the jailer is fast asleep.
1. His surprise (“waking out of his sleep”) at the swaying of the prison, the open doors, and the supernatural aspect of things generally.
2. His fear. “That the prisoners had fled.” Nothing was more reasonable. Prisoners have not much conscience when the alternative of bondage or freedom is before them.
3. His desperation. “Would have killed himself.” Believing his own life to be forfeited, his first thought was that of suicide. That was the highest point to which heathen culture could rise. The advice of Seneca was, “If life is pleasant, live; if not, you have a right to return whence you came.”
4. His instructions. “Do thyself no harm.” How did Paul know he was going to do himself harm?
5. His encouragement. “We are all here.” How, then, could Paul vouch for this?
6. His penitence. “Came trembling.” The marvels he had witnessed had aroused his conscience, and smitten him with an awful sense of guilt and alarm.
7. His humility. “Fell down before Paul.” There are earthquake crises in life when God’s despised people are appreciated--crises when they only can allay the troubled spirit, and answer the momentous questions which agitate and alarm the human heart.
8. His inquiry. “What must I do to be saved?” The danger implied in this question is not that which prompted him to suicide. The presence of all the prisoners saved him from that. The inquiry involves a conviction--
(1) Of danger. “Saved.”
(2) Of the importance of action or effort. “Must.”
(3) Anxiety to do what may be required. “What must I do?”
(4) Personal responsibility. “What must I do?” We lose ourselves in the crowd. True penitence individualises the man.
III. The pardon.
1. Its condition--“Believe.”
2. Its object--“Jesus Christ.”
3. Its certainty--“Thou shalt be saved.”
4. Its effects.
(1) Sympathetic--“Washed their stripes.” A man should doubt his conversion if he does not seek to undo the wrongs of yesterday.
(2) Hospitality--Into his house.
(3) Liberality--Set meat before them.
(4) Public and prompt confession--Baptised straightway.
(5) Influence--“And all his.” One saved man has a tendency to produce another.
The jailer, though a heathen, had some manhood and character about him, or his family would not have been so ready to follow him with such confidence. (T. Kelly.)
Good men in prison
It is a great disgrace to humanity that its greatest benefactors have been ill-treated. Next to the Saviour, the world has known no truer benefactor than Paul. And yet he was cast into prison. We feel ashamed of our complaining as we think of this God’s true hero singing songs of praise unto the Lord.
I. A good man radiates his influence. He cannot help it.
1. Silas was benefited by his connection with Paul. Silas was a man of mark, but he became more remarkable from his identification with Paul. We may not get earthly greatness or riches, but we must be better in a moral sense by allowing ourselves to be touched by a good man’s influence. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise.”
2. Paul and Silas together exerted a good influence--
(1) On the prisoners, who listened to the sweet singing.
(2) On the jailer, whom they rescued from death. It has been so ever since. “The path of the just is as the shining light.” A bird will sing in a cage; a preacher has spoken through the grating of his cell.
II. A good man’s character is not damaged by outward conditions. His reputation may be affected by them; for a man may have a good character and a bad reputation. Paul and Silas had a bad reputation. But a change is soon brought about. The very jailer acknowledges them as messengers of God. Today the world delights to honour those men who sat in that cell. If we suffer as evil-doers, we have reason to be ashamed; but if we suffer as Christians, let us glorify God on this behalf.
III. Good men are true to their principles, though they have been the causes of disaster. If the world were morally right, correct principles would never bring a man into trouble. If the apostles had been brought up in the school of worldly prudence, and had sat at the feet of Professors Pliable and Worldly Wiseman, they would not have had a sore back that night, though they might have had the worse evil of an uneasy conscience. But they were brought up in the school of Christ. The lesson impressed upon their mind was, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” It was theirs to dare to do the right, and leave consequences. Throw the mere professor into prison, and he soon recants. But when Paul and Silas are thrown into prison, they pray and sing praises unto God. They do not change their mode of procedure.
IV. Good men are sustained and encouraged in their sufferings.
1. The consciousness of having done right is a sustaining power. Paul and Silas had songs given to them in the night time of their confinement, while the poor jailer was in agonies, and the magistrates who condemned were sadly troubled.
2. The consciousness of a helper in heaven is a sustaining power. Paul without prayer would have been Paul without his lofty heroism. Prayer nerved his arm for the conflict, and brought down heavenly blessings. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
Good people in prison
John Bunyan, the immortal dreamer, speaking on one occasion of the cell on Bedford Bridge, where for twelve long years he was confined, said, “So, being again delivered up to the jailer’s hands, I was had home to prison.” When Madame Guyon was imprisoned in the Castle of Vincennes, in 1695, she not only sang, but wrote songs of praise to her God. “It sometimes seemed to me,” she said, “as if I were a little bird whom the Lord had placed in a cage, and that I had nothing now to do but to sing. The joy of my heart gave a brightness to the objects around me. The stones of my prison looked in my eyes like rubies. I esteemed them more than all the gaudy brilliancies of a vain world. My heart was full of that joy which Thou givest to them that love Thee in the midst of their greatest crosses”--a sentiment which she embodied, during one of her imprisonments, in a touching little poem, which begins thus--
“A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
And in my songs I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there:
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleaseth Thee.”
Bass Rock, a lonely island cliff in the Firth of Forth, off Haddingtonshire, two miles from land, was once used by the English Government as a fortress and State prison. Here, in the seventeenth century, many good ministers, persecuted for conscience’ sake, suffered confinement; and one of their number, Mr. Fraser, of Brea, wrote an account of their prison hardships. They were alternately chilled through with cold and half suffocated with smoke, fed with unwholesome food, and scarcely fed at all. “Many contracted diseases there which embittered and shortened their lives. But from within those walls the voice of praise and prayer might be often heard, mingled with the laughter, oaths, and songs of the reckless sentinels; and the souls of the captives were borne, on the wings of holy meditation, far aloft and away from the dreary rock within which their bodies were pent.” “Every day,” continues Fraser, “I read the Scriptures, exhorted and taught therefrom, did sing psalms and prayed with such of our society as our masters did permit to worship together, and this two times a day. I studied Hebrew and Greek, and I likewise read some divinity, and wrote a Treatise on Faith.”
The miracle in the prison
I. The prayer (verse 25). It is night. All are buried in slumber. A dark building--a lodging for the night, a prison. But light is in one of the cells--internal light, the light of faith. Therefore prayer and praise.
II. The shock (verses 26-28). Not only were the walls shaken, but the jailer’s heart. Certainly at first a shock of anguish and despair. But eternal love watches and prevails. The comforting word. “We are all here.” Hope returns; but he wishes to see his fortune and to grasp it with his hands (verse 29).
III. The great question (verses 30-82). It is not entirely unpremeditated. Already the praying apostles have caused the presentiment of something higher to rise in him. Perhaps also earlier experiences in his dismal employment. The earthquake has ripened the slumbering seed. The apostles have not fled. How secure and happy they must be! What must I do that I may be the same? The great life question finds also a great life answer. There is one answer. Without Christ no one is saved; through Him all may be saved.
IV. The first love (verses 33, 34). What is it? The attempt to make a return for what has been received--to do good to Christ in His servants. (Lisco.)
What the Lord can make of a prison
I. A quiet chapel of prayer (verse 25).
II. An alarming place of judgment (verses 26-29).
III. A wholesome school of repentance (verses 30, 31).
IV. A brotherly house of Christian love and compassion (verses 32, 33).
V. A blessed birthplace of the new life (verse 34). (K. Gerok.)
Disadvantages made useful
I. Strange places may be changed into churches. If in many cases desecration has taken place, many surprising instances of consecration have also occurred. We might turn every place into a praying ground. The teaching of this immediate lesson is that distressing, harmful, and threatening circumstances may be turned into ladders up to heaven. What are you doing in your unusual circumstances--moaning, groaning, complaining? Paul and Silas “sang praises.” Such men, therefore, never could be in prison. Christians ought never to be in any circumstances which they cannot turn into sacramental occasions.
II. Christian workers and worshippers may have unexpected observers and listeners. It is always exactly so.
1. You do not speak without being listened to; you do not go to church without being observed. The preacher speaks to his immediate congregation, but he knows not who is listening in the vestibule. “And the prisoners were listening.” They never heard such music before! They had been accustomed to profane language; to violent and complaining exclamations; but here is a new spirit in the house. It is so at home. Passing the room door, we pause a moment to hear some sweet voice in prayer or praise, and it follows the life like a pleading angel.
2. What is true on the one side is true on the other. The unjust judgment you passed was listened to by your children, and they will grow up to repeat your cynicism.
III. It is possible quietly and even thankfully, to accept all the circumstances of life. Nothing must interfere with the religious sacrifice. Are we in prison? We may have to alter the hour of worship, but not the worship itself. Are we in an uncongenial atmosphere? We may have to wait until the company has broken up before communion with the Father; but it is only waiting. Show me a Christian who does not complain. Where is the ancient joy? May the old days come again! When they come Christians will accept poverty or wealth, life or death, bleak March or warm June, with thankfulness, saying, “This is the best for me; I live not in circumstance, but in faith.”
IV. This is a full religious service. “But there was no preaching,” you say. Yes, there was; for we may preach by singing. But, even in a more direct and literal sense, preaching was added to prayer and praise. The earthquake took place, and the jailer, with his house, became a congregation to which Paul and Silas did, in the literal sense of the term, preach. So that night they had a full service--prayer, praise, preaching, and conversion.
V. Look at this conversion of the jailer.
1. It took place under circumstances which may well be described as “exciting.” Have we not been unjust to what is called “religious excitement”? But are the circumstances to blame, or ourselves? We like quietness--deadness; we do not like to be “excited,” because the devil has chloroformed us into a state of insensibility. Jesus Christ did not rebuke the excitement which followed His ministry; when others would have had Him rebuke them, He said, “I tell you that if these held their peace, the very stones would cry out.”
2. Happily the incident does not end here. To excitement was added the necessary element of instruction (verse 32). Tears in the eyes that are not followed by activities in the hand harden the very heart which for the moment they softened. We shall be the worse for every revival that ends in itself. Times of revival must be followed by times of study. We might get up such services as these almost every day in the week. If we prayed and praised in every prison into which our life is thrust, we should be heard by strange listeners, we should be interrogated by strange inquirers, and doors of usefulness would be opened in the very granite which apparently shuts us in. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The surpassing power of personal Christianity
Here we see it--
I. Elevating the spirit above the greatest trials (verse 25). What gives religion this power.
1. Faith in the Divine superintendence. The apostles knew that they were not here by accident or chance, but that the whole was under the wise and kind control of the Eternal Father. This is consoling. Job felt this. “He knoweth the way that I take,” etc.
2. Consciousness of God’s approval. The “well done” of Heaven echoed within, and set all to music. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God,” etc.
3. The thought of Christ’s trials in comparison with their own.
4. Assurance of a glorious deliverance. “Our light afflictions, which are but for a moment,” etc. “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared,” etc. He who has this religion can find a paradise in a dungeon.
II. Ensuring the interposition of God (verse 26). While caring for all God takes special care of the good.
1. Reason would suggest this, viz., that the Eternal Spirit would feel a greater interest in mind than in matter; that the Eternal Father in His offspring than in His mere workmanship; that the Source of love and holiness in those who participate in His own moral attributes than in those who do not.
2. The Bible teaches this.
(1) In explicit declarations. “To that man will I look,” etc. “As a father pitieth his children,” etc. “Wherefore if God so clothe the grass of the field,” etc.
(2) In the biography of the good. Did He not specially interpose on behalf of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles? If necessary He will make the heavens rain bread, and the rock out-pour refreshing streams. He will divide the sea, and stop the mouth of lions.
III. Capacitating the soul for the highest usefulness. The Philippian jailer--
1. Was prevented from self-destruction. The voice of Christianity to man is, “Do thyself no harm” of any kind. The good are ever useful in preventing evil.
2. Was directed to true safety. His question indicates a complex state of mind. He had regard not only to material and civil deliverance, but to spiritual and eternal. The question implies a sense of peril, and a sense of the necessity of individual effort. Something must be done. Paul, without circumlocution and delay, answers, “Believe,” etc. Believe on Him as the Representative of God’s love for the sinner, as the Atoner to God’s character, as the Guide to God’s heaven.
3. Experienced a delightful change (verses 33, 34). The ruffian who “thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks,” now tenderly washes their “stripes,” and entertains them with pious hospitality. The terror-struck soul who sprang in, in utmost horror, is now full of joy and faith (verse 34).
IV. Investing the soul with the truest independency (verse 35, etc.). This is seen--
1. In their superiority to the fear of man. As soon as they were miraculously delivered from prison, they might have hurried away from such a scene of enemies; but they remained, although the magistrates gave them liberty to depart. They were not afraid. They could chant the 46th psalm.
2. In refusing great benefits, because offered on improper grounds. We will not accept as a favour what we demand as a right. A good man will refuse liberty, social influence, wealth, unless they can be honourably and righteously obtained.
3. In triumphing over their enemies. The tyrants became fawning suppliants at the feet of their prisoners. Such is Christian piety at first displayed in Europe, and in a prison. Piety is not that weak, simpering thing which often passes for it. It is the mightiest force on earth. True Christians have not received “the spirit of fear, but of love, power, and of a sound mind.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
God’s heroes and man’s
On losing a battle in that neighbourhood, Cassius, “the last of the Romans,” hid himself in his tent, and bade his freedmen strike, while Brutus, in his sullen desperation, fell upon his sword. But, so far from drooping and murmuring, and calling God to account, who had beckoned them to Europe, and yet had permitted them to be so “shamefully entreated”; so far from resolving to desert a Master who had not protected them, or deeming the vision at Troas a lure to draw them on to stripes and a dungeon, “Paul and Silas” prayed, and not only poured out their hearts in supplication, but “sang praises unto God,” and that in no whispered melody, for “the prisoners heard them.” (Prof. Eadie.)
And the prisoners heard them.--
Indirect means of doing good
Though the speakers were bound, the Word was free; not only the Word that went upward to the throne of God, but also the echo of the Word, that pierced the gloomy partition walls and sank into the startled ears of wretched prisoners. It seemed a roundabout road that the gospel took to reach these Gentiles; but it did not miss its way. There was a dead wall between the apostles and their audience, and therefore they did not preach that night. But there was no wall between them and the Father of their spirits: praying they hymned God, and the prayer sent upward fell down again on the other side of the partition, falling there on listening ears. In this circuitous method the gospel reached some needy souls. It is thus that in modern warfare they often overcome a fortress which is too strong to be taken by direct assault. The wall frowns thick and high between the defenders and the assailants. No missile sent in a direct line can touch the protected garrison. The besiegers in such a case throw their balls high into the heavens; these fall within the enclosure and do their work. When a good soldier of Jesus Christ cannot by direct preaching reach men, he may by prayer and praise. Christians travelling in Romish or otherwise darkened districts, might in this way scatter blessings in their track. And so might those who live in benighted neighbourhoods. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
And suddenly there was a great earthquake.
The earthquake at Philippi
A miraculous act of the breaker of all bonds.
I. He breaks the bonds of tribulation, when His elect call to Him day and night (Paul and Silas).
II. He tears asunder the fetters of sin, when bound souls sigh after Him (the jailer).
III. He makes a path for His word and kingdom even when the world puts fetters on them. “The Word of God is not bound.”
IV. He bursts open the prison of the grave, when the hour of eternal redemption strikes. That hour is said to be midnight. (K. Gerok.)
We have all read of the earthquake in Lisbon, in Lima, in Aleppo, and in Caraceas; but we live in a latitude where in all our memory there has not been one severe volcanic disturbance. And yet we have seen fifty earthquakes. Here is a man who has been building up a large fortune. His bid on the money market was felt in all the cities. He thinks he has got beyond all annoying rivalries in trade, and he says to himself, “Now I am free and safe from all possible perturbation.” But in 1837, or in 1857, or in 1873, a national panic strikes the foundations of the commercial world, and crash f goes all that magnificent business establishment. Here is a man who has built up a very beautiful home. His daughters have just come home from the seminary with diplomas of graduation. His sons have started in life, honest, temperate, and pure. When the evening lights are struck, there is a happy and unbroken family circle. But there has been an accident down at Long Branch. The young man ventured too far out in the surf. The telegraph hurled the terror up to the city. An earthquake struck under the foundations of that beautiful home. The piano closed; the curtains dropped; the laughter hushed. Crash! go all those domestic hopes, and prospects, and expectations. So, my friends, we have all felt the shaking down of some great trouble, and there was a time when we were as much excited as this man of the text, and we cried out as he did: “What shall I do?”
The midnight hour in the prison of Philippi, an image of the great hour of the Lord
1. The world sleeps, but believers wait for it with watchfulness and prayer.
2. The earth quakes, but the Lord is near.
3. The servants of sin tremble before judgment.
4. The children of the kingdom lift up their heads with joy, because their redemption draweth nigh. (K. Gerok.)
God a powerful Ally
When John G. Paton, upon his little island of Anyeitum, was almost giving up hope of life, though still trying to pacify the bloodthirsty natives, it happened that upon the far horizon line a ship’s sails were seen and a line of smoke going up into the sky. “The fire steamer comes,” cried the natives in wild terror, and ran to hide themselves in the bush. The chief, who had been so cruel, came to beg Paton for his life. It seemed like the last judgment to these poor ignorant subjects. But what was it to the missionary? To him the connecting link with his own country, the help and strength of new life. When the ship came it proved to be one of Her Majesty’s men-of-war, and the sight of the power of Paton’s Queen so struck the native imagination that they decided to leave the man who had such powerful friends to do his work unharmed. So behind the Christian there is the Christian’s God, all-powerful, all-willing.
And the keeper of the prison … would have killed himself.
Suicide is not to fear death, but yet to be afraid of life. It is a brave act of valour to contemn death; but where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest valour to dare to live; and herein religion has taught us a noble example; for all the valiant acts of Cartius, Scoevola, or Codrus do not parallel or match that of Job. (Sir Thomas Browne.)
Suicide at Philippi
Philippi is famous in the annals of suicide. Here Cassius, unable to survive defeat, covered his face in the empty tent, and ordered his freedmen to strike the blow. His messenger, Titinius, held it to be “a Roman’s part,” to follow the stern example. Here Brutus bade adieu to his friends, exclaiming, “Certainly we must fly, yet not with the feet, but with the hands”; and many whose names have never reached us, ended their last struggle for the republic by self-inflicted death. Here, too, another despairing man would have committed the same crime, had not his hand been arrested by an apostle’s voice. Instead of a sudden and hopeless death, the jailer received at the hands of his prisoner the gift both of temporal and spiritual life. (J. S. Howson, D. D.)
Do thyself no harm.--
Religion a safeguard
I. The alarm of the keeper of the prison. The tokens of the Divine presence were earthquakes, the opening of doors, and the loosing of bonds. In this manner God bore a testimony to His faithful servants, and prepared the way for the jailer’s conversion. But the moral terror was the most memorable thing in his history. God used terrific means with a view to a peaceful and merciful end. He was first reduced to despair of himself, and next led to hope in Christ. The degrees of terror are different in different minds. Lydia was brought by calm and peaceful means; the jailer by solemn and arousing ones. Some doubt whether they are converted, because they have not passed through strong convictions, agonies of terror. Let them look at Lydia. That man has had terror enough, be it much or little, if he has been brought to Christ. Our state is to be determined, not by our former emotions, but by our present conduct.
II. The language of St. Paul to him: “Do thyself no harm.” The text suggests three great truths--
1. That it is the tendency of sin to harm the sinner. He does not think so in the outset of his career; but he finds it out very soon. We follow evil under the forms of good. The enemy of souls first allures, and then destroys. Sin wounds the conscience; blights the reputation; injures the sinner in his worldly circumstances; destroys the happiness of his family; shortens his days; ruins his soul. As the shadow follows the body, so do plagues follow sin.
2. That it is the design of religion to be a moral safeguard and blessing. It is favourable to a peaceful conscience; to a good name; to worldly prosperity; to family comfort; to length of days; to a peaceful death; and joyful eternity. The gospel is a preservative as well as a restorative system.
3. That it is the office of the ministry to interfere, by its counsels and warnings, between man and misery. Paul cried with a loud voice.
III. The improvement it suggests to ourselves. Believe and obey the gospel. It is a remedy suited to all times and persons.
1. By way of inquiry. Have we taken the first step in the road to heaven?
2. By way of caution. Guard against the beginning of sin.
3. By way of invitation to penitents. “Turn to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope.”
4. Encouragement to Christians derived from the ascertained connection between faith and salvation. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” (The Evangelist.)
Do thyself no harm.
I. Physically. The body is God’s handiwork, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” It has been redeemed by Christ, and is a temple of the Holy Ghost. Do not harm it therefore--
1. By overwork.
2. By excessive exercise.
3. By undue exposure.
4. By enervating indolence or pleasure.
5. By neglecting the means of its support in health or its recovery in sickness. We shall have to give an account for deeds done in the body in more senses than one.
II. Mentally. How august the gift of intellect with its faculties of memory, reason, imagination, etc., and how delicate and susceptible of injury. There are laws of mind as well of matter which cannot be disobeyed without severe retribution. Do thy mind no harm--
1. By overstrain. Some of the highest in examination lists have done poorly in life, because their academic honours represent not so much useful and healthy knowledge, but so much cram.
2. By neglect. The mind gets into an otiose and diseased state for want of exercise.
III. Emotionally. How rich a gift is feeling, and how soon and easily is the heart injured or broken! Do thyself no harm--
1. By over-sensitiveness.
2. By deliberate petrifaction.
3. By anxiety. Guard love against unworthy objects; hope against unreasonable expectations; joy against exhaustible sources. Cultivate the best friendships; “Be content with such things as ye have”; never despair.
IV. Spiritually. Here the greatest harm can be done. Here injury may be irreparable.
1. Communion with God, who is the soul’s life, may be broken off.
2. The soul may die to its richest inheritance in time and eternity. Do it no harm, therefore, by neglecting the means of grace, prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, etc., nor by the allowance of any known sin.
V. Socially. Under this head may be grouped a variety of interests in which great damage may be done. A man may harm himself--
1. Commercially, by unwise speculations, wrong methods, indolence, etc.
2. In his friendships by bad associations, want of thought, forbearance, etc.
3. Politically. The Christian and unfailing rule of self-preservation is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God … and thy neighbour as thyself.” (J. W. Burn.)
A young gentleman spent his fortune in riotous living and was reduced to poverty. For a time his friends supported him; but at last they all forsook him. Wandering about as a vagabond, and having no prospect of a further supply, he resolved to drown himself. Being then in a strange place, he went to the riverside; but waiting till it was dark, he saw a light in a house and went to it. The people there were singing; he listened, and after hearing a chapter from the Bible and a prayer, he knocked at the door and was admitted. In the astonishing kindness of Providence the passage for consideration was the one before us. After several members had made their remarks they concluded, as usual, with prayer, after which the stranger asked how they came to know his thoughts, for he had not mentioned his purpose to any person on earth. This equally surprised the audience, for they had not seen or heard of him till now. Upon which the young gentleman told them his design and how it had been prevented. This remarkable providence struck him to such a degree that, by the Divine blessing, it was made the means of his conversion. He became an eminent Christian, regained the favour of his friends, and lived a useful and godly life.
When Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, about seven o’clock in the evening, he exclaimed, “Sauve qui peut,” and rode off the field to Charleroi. But that was after his campaigns had stained his sword with the blood and tears of millions, and when the three preceding days had been marked by the fall of 40,000 French, 16,000 Prussians, and 13,000 British and Germans. Paul’s advice, “Do thyself no harm,” was given in time to prevent mischief, and this is the timely and standing counsel of the gospel to the men of all nationalities in all ages. (H. Peach, LL. D.)
Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling.
The Philippian jailer
I. The state of his mind before conversion.
1. He was a careless sinner. This appears not so much from his official acts; for the guilt of persecution rested on the people and magistrates: but from his conduct as depicted in Acts 16:26, in which we have the picture of a worldly, careless, godless man, driven to desperation by an unexpected temporal calamity. He had no fear of God, since he was more afraid of “them that could kill the body,” etc.; he had no care for his soul, since he was ready to peril its salvation; he was utterly reckless about eternity, since to escape present misery he was about to rush unsummoned into the presence of his Judge. The idea of suicide could not have occurred to any man unless he were utterly careless alike to God and His everlasting prospects.
2. But a change was wrought before conversion; from being a careless he becomes a convinced sinner. This preliminary change consisted in strong convictions of conscience and lively apprehensions of danger; and these, although suddenly produced, were profound and sincere (Acts 16:29). Here is a great change from apathy to concern, from recklessness to anxious inquiry. This conviction may be accounted for by what he had seen and heard; the confession of the slave girl; the conduct of the apostles; the earthquake; Paul’s exhortation.
3. But while a marked change had been wrought, it was not conversion. Conviction, while it precedes conversion, is not always followed by it. He had remorse, but remorse is not repentance; he had fear; but fear is not faith; he had an apprehension of danger, but danger may be apprehended while the method of deliverance is unknown. These convictions were useful as preparatory means; they were hopeful symptoms; but they may be, and often are, stifled, resisted, and overcome. That he was not converted is evident from his question, which implies that as yet he was ignorant of the ground of a sinner’s hope, and that he was disposed to look to something that he might himself do, rather than what might be Divinely done for him.
II. The means by which his conversion was effected. It matters little by what circumstances a sinner is first awakened to inquire; whether by the earthquake, or the still small voice. But while the circumstances are various the means are the same in all--the truth as it is in Jesus, the full and free gospel of the grace of God. The jailer was not converted by the earthquake, on the contrary, the effect of that was suicidal terror; but what the miraculous event could not do was done by the gospel. He was directed to look out of himself to Christ, to relinquish all hope of salvation by works, and to work it by faith. The exhortation implies--
1. That he should believe the truth concerning Christ--which is involved in the names given him.
(1) Jesus--i.e., Saviour.
(2) Christ, the Lord’s anointed.
2. That believing the truth concerning Christ, he should place his own personal trust and reliance in Christ alone as One able to save to the uttermost. The gospel thus proposed was--
(1) A suitable means, as prescribing a remedy in all respects adapted to the evils he felt or feared.
(2) Sufficient, as containing everything to instruct, encourage, or persuade.
III. The nature of the change. His conversion properly consisted in believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Until he believed he was unconverted; but as soon as he believed he became a converted man. The production of pure faith is not a mere change of opinion, but a radical and thorough renovation attested by certain fruits.
1. He thirsted for more instruction (Acts 16:32).
2. He was concerned for the souls of his family.
3. His faith wrought by love.
4. He had peace and joy in believing.
5. He made an open profession of his faith.
1. That men in their unconverted state are often careless, and destitute of all fear of God and concern for their souls.
2. While they are thus careless God is often pleased to make use of some solemn and awakening dispensation to arouse and alarm them.
3. Sometimes the trials and disappointments of sinners only serve to exasperate their natural enmity, as was the case with the jailer, or attempted suicide.
4. Convictions are only useful when they produce an earnest spirit of thoughtfulness and inquiry.
5. Conviction only ends in conversion when a true sense of sin is combined with an apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ. (J. Buchanan, D. D.)
The Philippian jailer
I. The awakening of the jailer. The first circumstance that appears powerfully to have affected his mind was, great temporal calamity threatening his immediate ruin and death, Great and sudden and heavy afflictions are often sent by the providence of God that He may bring men to recollection and prayer. There were many things here, all concurring, which powerfully affected the jailer’s mind. But these were only outward circumstances; and it was only by the special grace of God that they were made serviceable to his soul. Many people suffer huge afflictions, but never think of God in them; and so their afflictions come to no blessed issue. It was not, indeed, till after the jailer had come to himself that he thinks about his soul, and sees the hand of God in the surrounding circumstances. In the day of God’s conviction men are thankful for help from those whom they had reviled: and in the great day of all, when the door of repentance shall be forever closed, the persecutors of the true Church of Jesus shall fall down before them, and be as ashes under the soles of their feet.
II. The consequences of his awakening, in his earnest inquiry. Let me point out to you what it is to be saved.
1. To be delivered from all our sins.
2. To be delivered from all the penalty of all these evil acts.
3. To be placed in a capacity to overcome them.
4. To be saved from the practice of sin, as well as from the condemnation of it.
5. To be delivered from the devil.
6. To be delivered from the world.
7. To be saved from the curse of the Almighty.
8. To be delivered from hell.
But to be saved is far more than this: it is to be brought from sin to holiness, from the curse to the blessing, from death to life, from unquietness to peace, from Satan to God.
III. The answer given to this inquiring, awakening man. They call away his attention at once from himself to Christ, to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. He entered into a new life from that very hour. And now, observe, the jailer has found Jesus; and his terror is turned into joy. As the blessed fruits of his believing, his heart is filled with joy and love to the brethren; and he attended, with swift obedience, to the Lord’s laws, and entered, by baptism, upon his Christian course. Conclusion: In the narrative observe--
1. A remarkable instance of free and rich mercy to a desperate sinner reduced to the last extremity.
2. An instructive instance of the mysteriousness of God’s ways in the accomplishment of His purposes of mercy.
3. That the salvation of God is as free as it is vast.
4. The simplicity of the gospel.
5. That all the children of God are not awakened in the same way.
6. A picture of the world.
This earth is a prison; the persons in it are condemned to die--yea, a thousand are led forth to execution daily. And though the unconverted man may not draw a sword to plunge it into his own heart, the sword of Divine vengeance is unsheathed against him, and may pierce him at any moment. And whereas, while Paul and Silas were praising God for redemption, the earthquake shook the prison, and the fetters fell off the prisoners, we see, as it were, a picture of the blessings of the gospel, whereby “the prisoner leaps to loose his chains,” and those who are enabled to believe are emancipated from the bondage of sin, and brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God. (T. Snow, A. M.)
The conversion of the jailer
I. The initiative stages to conversion.
1. A terrible sense of danger. The earthquake, and the strange, sublime conduct of the prisoners, roused his guilty conscience.
2. An earnest spirit of inquiry. “What must I do,” etc.
3. A readiness to do whatever is required.
II. The exclusive means of conversion. Faith in Christ is indispensable to produce this moral change.
1. A change of character requires a change in beliefs. We are controlled and moulded by motives: motives are beliefs.
2. The new beliefs necessary to produce this change must be directed to Christ. Christ alone gives us--
(1) The true ideal of character.
(2) The true way of reaching it.
(3) The true aids to enable us to do so.
III. The glorious issue of conversion. “Thou shalt be saved.” What is salvation? It is not in any sense a physical change, nor merely an intellectual change, nor necessarily a local change. It is a moral revolution. It is the soul rising from sensualism to spirituality, from selfishness to benevolence, from the world to God. This conversion--
1. Will ensure the salvation of our own souls. “Thou shalt,” etc.
2. Will lead to the salvation of others. “And thy house”--not, of course, that his belief would save his family independently of theirs; but that it would prompt him to use such efforts as would, under God, lead his family to a saving faith. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
A man in two conditions
I. What kind of man before conversion? The jailer a remarkable instance of the power of God’s grace. He was a stern Roman disciplinarian. He respected authority. He was probably an old soldier, who for good service in the past was rewarded with this post. This was creditable to him. We must be faithful in our daily work. I grant there is a little harshness in the execution of his orders; he was not commanded to thrust, but to keep them safely, and he tried his best to do so. He goes to bed. He is asleep. An earthquake comes. Not alarmed about his wife and family. His one business was, under the seal of the Roman Emperor, to look after the prison doors. Would that all Christians were as faithful to their office as this unenlightened man. He finds the door open. He fears disgrace. He cannot combat the charge of neglected duty. He would have killed himself. He was a man sternly upright. I am always glad when such men are saved. They are not always saved. They stand high in public esteem, and are apt to forget their Master in heaven. The jailer was a man of few words. “What must I do to be saved?” Men of this kind are often cold. It is hard to warm their hearts. He was a man of action and decision, he says to this man, “Go, and he goeth”; he is prompt himself.
II. What occasioned his conversion? He had received some instruction before, he had heard the testimony of the girl, and possibly the words of Paul. They did not impress him. He slept afterwards, he was not made to tremble because the prisoners had escaped; this fear had been banished by Paul. What then, the miracle, that the doors were opened, and yet that none had escaped! What gladness filled his soul! No blame possible. He was brought near to the unseen world by the danger he had escaped; and as the light shone around he saw his past life, and the Eternal Spirit unveiled that life and made him to see the evil of it. Then his conversion grew out of the further instruction of the apostle. Plain teaching and a simple heart to receive it make quick work of the matter. Let us thank God for any circumstances which secure the conversion of a soul. Do not complain because the earthquake is not in the conversion; no matter how accomplished, or through whom.
III. What sort of a convert he made.
1. He was a believing convert. He believed without delay or doubt. He was told to believe, and he did. Who will not believe what the experience of thousands promises to be true?
2. He was an humble convert. He fell down at the feet of the apostle. He waited upon them in his house. A convinced soul does not want the highest seat in the synagogue. If good people dispute at all, let it be for a place at the feet of Christ.
3. He was a ready convert. Hearing--believing--fellowship--all in the midnight hour. When we know what Christ would have us do, any moment of delay is sin.
4. He was a practical convert. He washed their stripes. He set food before them. Not easy to get up a feast in the middle of the night, He fetched them the best. He is the right sort of a convert who wants to be doing something for Christ; he can soon find something to do.
5. He was a joyful convert.
6. He was an influential convert. All in his house were converted.
7. He was a sensible convert. He still kept on in his position, he did not give up keeping the gaol. Who so fit to be a jailer as a man who knows the Lord and will be humane? We like those who are converted to keep to their business and to make money for the cause of Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
What must I do to be saved?
…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.
The great question and the plain answer
The keeper of a Macedonian gaol was not likely to be a very nervous or susceptible person. And so the extraordinary state of agitation and panic into which this rough jailer was east needs some kind of explanation. Now do you think that the jailer’s question was a piece of foolish superstition? I daresay some of you do, or some of you may suppose, too, that it was one very unnecessary for him or anybody to ask. So I want, in a very few words, to deal with these three things--the question that we should all ask, the answer that we may all take, the blessing that we may all have.
I. The question that we should all ask. I know that it is very unfashionable nowadays to talk about “salvation” as man’s need. What is it to be saved? Two things; to be healed and to be safe. With both aspects the expression is employed over and over again in Scripture. It means either restoration from sickness or deliverance from peril. I venture to press upon everyone here these two considerations--we all need healing from sickness; we all need safety from peril. Mind, I am not talking about vices. I have no doubt you are a perfectly respectable man, in all the ordinary relations of life. Be honest with yourselves in asking and answering the question whether or not you have this sickness of sin, its paralysis towards good or its fevered inclination to evil. If salvation means being healed of a disease we have all got the disease; and whether we wish it or no, we want the healing. And what of the other meaning of the word? Salvation means being safe? Are you safe? Is anybody safe standing in front of that awful law that rules the whole universe, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”? Somewhere and somehow, men will have to lie on the beds that they have made; to drink as they have brewed. If sin means separation from God, and separation from God means, as it assuredly does, death, then I ask you, and there is no need for any exaggerated words about it, Are we not in danger? and if salvation be a state of deliverance from sickness, and a state of deliverance from peril, do we not need it? Ah, I venture to say we need it more than anything else. You will not misunderstand me as expressing the slightest depreciation of other remedies that are being offered extensively now for the various evils under which society and individuals groan. We are wrong in our relation to God, and that has to be set right before we are fundamentally and thoroughly right. That is to say, salvation is our deepest need. Then how does it come that men go on, as so many of my friends here this evening have gone on, all their days paying no attention to that need? Is their any folly, amidst all the irrationalities of that irrational creature man, to be matched with the folly of steadily refusing to look forward and settle for ourselves the prime element in our condition--viz., our relation to God? A man is never so wise as when he says to himself, “Let me fairly know the whole facts of my relation to the unseen world in so far as they can be known here, and if they are wrong, let me set about rectifying them, if it be possible.”
II. That brings me to the next point here--viz., the blessed, clear answer that we may all take. Paul and Silas were not nonplussed by this question, nor did they reply to it in the fashion in which many men would have answered it. Take a specimen. If anybody were to go with this question to some of our modern wise men and teachers, they would say, “Saved? My good fellow, there is nothing to be saved from. Get rid of delusions, and clear your mind of cant and superstition.” Or they would say, “Saved? Well, if you have gone wrong, do the best you can in the time to come.” Or if you went to some of our friends they would say, “Come and be baptized, and receive the grace of regeneration in holy baptism; and then come to the sacraments, and be faithful and loyal members of the Church which has apostolic succession in it.” And some would say, “Set yourselves to work and toil and labour.” And some would say, “Don’t trouble yourselves about such whims. A short life and a merry one; make the best of it, and jump the life to come.” Neither cold morality nor godless philosophy nor wild dissipation nor narrow ecclesiasticism prompted Paul’s answer. He said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” What did that poor heathen man know about the Lord Jesus Christ? Next to nothing. How could he believe upon Him if he knew so little about Him? Well, you hear in the context that this summary answer to the question was the beginning and not the end of a conversation, which conversation, no doubt, consisted largely in extending and explaining the brief formulary with which it had commenced. But it is a grand thing that we can put the all essential truth into half a dozen simple words, and then expound and explain them as may be necessary. Mark, first, whom it is that we are to believe on. “The Lord,” that is the Divine Name; “Jesus,” that is the name of a man; “Christ,” that is the name of an office. And if you put them all together, it is this, He on whom we sinful men may put our sole trust, and hope for our healing and our safety, is the Son of God, who came down upon earth to live our life and to die our death that He might bear on Himself our sins, and fulfil all that ancient prophecy and symbol had proclaimed as needful, and therefore certain to be done, for men. It is not a starved half Saviour whose name is only Jesus, and neither Lord nor Christ, faith in whom will save you. You must grasp the whole revelation of His nature and His power if from Him there is to flow the life that you need. And note what it is that we are to do with Jesus Christ. To “believe on Him” is a very different thing from believing Him.
III. Lastly, consider the blessing we may all receive. This jailer about whom we have been speaking was a heathen when the sun set and a Christian when it rose. A sudden conversion, you say, and sudden conversions are always suspicious. I am not so sure about that: they may be or they may not be, according to circumstances. There are a great many things in this world that have to be done suddenly if they are ever to be done at all. And I, for my part, would have far more faith in a man who, in one leap, sprung from the depth of the degradation of that coarse jailer into the light and joy of the Christian life, than in a man who tried to get to it by slow steps. You have to do everything in this world worth doing by a sudden resolution, however long the preparation may have been which led up to the resolution. The act of resolving is always the act of an instant. And there is an immense danger that with some of you, if that change does not begin in a moment’s resolve tonight, you will be further away from it than ever you were. The outcast jailer changed nationalities in a moment. You who have dwelt in the suburbs of Christ’s kingdom all your lives--why cannot you go inside the gate as quickly? For many of us the gradual “growing up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” has been the appointed way. For some of us I verily believe this sudden change is the best. Some of us have a sunrise like the tropics, where the One moment is grey and cold, and next moment the seas are lit with the glory. Others of us have a sunrise like the poles, where a long, slow-growing light precedes the rising, and the rising itself is scarce observable. But it matters little as to how we get to Christ, if we are there. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The jailer’s question
I. The circumstances under which the question was asked.
1. Not in response to any direct teaching. Paul and Silas had not been preaching to him, so far as we know. The pulpit is a great but not the only instrument for good. Where the prophet has preached in vain, God may reserve many to Himself. There is a still small voice that does a work which the pulpit may fail to do.
2. But after a time of trouble. It is quite common to see religious interest awakened in a time of trouble. But it is not, alas! so common, that the interest continues after the trouble is past. The jailer had been assured of the safety of his prisoners before he asked this question.
3. After observation of the power of Christianity on others’ lives. He had seen Paul and Silas scourged, and had, notwithstanding, heard them singing praises. He had seen that, when they had opportunity, they made no attempt to escape. Their preaching he might have scoffed at, but their lives carried with them a power beyond that of words.
II. The question itself. What is it to be saved?
1. To be delivered from sin’s punishment.
2. To be delivered from sin’s power. It was “from their sins” that Christ came to save His people.
III. The answer. The question is: “What shall I do?” as though anticipating some great requirement. The answer, perplexing many by its simplicity, is, “Believe.” And what is it to believe? Well, that depends on what is to be believed. “Jesus Christ died to save you.” Do I believe that? Then emotion and action are both called forth, I sorrow for sin, and flee from sin; His love calls forth my love, and my faith works by love. Let the object of faith be a person, and trust is its essential element. To the banker whom I trust I give up my gold. To the physician whom I trust I commit the care of my diseased body, and I take his medicines, though they be poisonous. To the Saviour whom I trust I commit my all. I lay my sins upon Him, and He bears them; I forsake sin, for He commands it; I lay cheerfully hold on His promises and He fulfils them.
1. Gospel faith is trustful, because its object is a Person.
2. It is fruitful in good works, because that Person calls to action. (Study and Pulpit.)
The great question
There are many questions of great importance, but there is one question that comes before all others, and that is--“What must I do to be saved?” When Esther stood before Ahasuerus, her request was, “Let my life be given to me at my petition, and my people at my request.” Had she asked anything else than this she might as well not have asked at all. It is even so with the human soul. There are many blessings to be enjoyed, and acquisitions to be made, but these are only possible when this great question has been set at rest.
I. The question. It suggests the thought of present danger. If I were to exclaim with apparent solicitude, “My friend, allow me to save you!” would you not look astonished, and reply, “My dear sir, what do you mean? I am in no danger.” But suppose I were to offer the same proposal when you were in peril of drowning, you would understand the proposal. The danger from which Christ proposes to save the soul is threefold.
1. There is a moral danger. Sin is to the soul what disease is to the body. We value our natural life sufficiently to take measures to counteract disease when we recognise its presence. Oh, that men were equally wise about the soul! But it is not always the most startling form of disease that is the most fatal. There is a disease that sweeps off its victims by hundreds, where smallpox slays its tens--consumption. Some forms of sin are loathsome. It is not to be wondered at that the drunkard should be described as in danger, but all seems a contrast between his life and the very respectable life you live. Yet though your sins excite no fears, remember they are sins, and a disease of the soul all the more perilous because they excite so little apprehension.
2. There is a spiritual danger. There are certain mysterious intelligences of evil who waylay us, with the object of compassing our ruin. We pity the man whose footsteps are dogged by the assassin. Have we no commiseration for those who are exposed to a more murderous foe? You would tremble if you woke up to find your greatest enemy standing over your bed, dagger in hand; but a more terrible than any human enemy has you at present in his power.
3. Judicial danger. Here is a man in the condemned cell: no man will say that he is not in terrible danger. Why? Because he is condemned already. Even so judgment has been already pronounced upon every sinner. It used to be fabled of the ostrich that when pressed hard by the pursuer, it buried its head in the sand, and endeavoured to persuade itself that it was safe because it ceased to see the danger. But the bird of the desert is too wise to do anything of the kind; yet sinners are not. Whether, however, they forget it or not, it is there. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” Now with these thoughts before us we shall be better able to understand the story from which our text is taken. Why did the jailer tremble? He was no coward, nor were earthquakes unusual in that part of the world. He had shown a moment before how little he feared death. Paul and Silas had created no small stir in that town, and the damsel had borne witness to them as “servants of the most high God,” etc. The jailer must have known all about this, and now when he awakes in the darkness of night and hears their singing amid the terrible rumble of the earthquake shock, and sees them full of solicitude for the man that had so cruelly wronged them, the thought rushes into his mind, “They are what they profess to be; and have come to show us the way of salvation.” Another moment and this mighty God, whose majesty I have defied in the persons of His servants, may hurl me to the flames of Tartarus. “Sirs, what shall I do to be saved?” Now we understand what the inquiry meant. The man felt what it was to be in the hands of a justly indignant God. It is this that brings a similar inquiry to our lips, and until you reach this point nothing is gained.
II. The answer--“Believe,” etc. It does not sound so very much, does it? It sets forth salvation as centred in a Person. That Person then is represented as in a position to deliver us from the forms of danger to which we are exposed.
1. The last danger is the greatest of all; for what can be more terrible than to have God against us? Here most of all, I find myself in need of a Saviour; for in this respect more than any ether my case is hopeless. When I contemplate sin as a moral disease, I may flatter myself with the hope that I may get the better of it; or I may flatter myself that I may escape the malignant influence of the intelligences of darkness by care, and watchfulness, and determined resistance. But how shall I escape from the sentence of the righteous Judge? I am directed to raise my eyes to the Cross, and there I see One who has vindicated His Father’s law in His own person by suffering such a penalty as sin has merited, and by doing so has rendered it no longer necessary that God’s judgment should be vindicated by my doom.
2. Being thus saved from the judgment of God, I am also saved from the power of Satan. St. Paul was sent to the Gentiles “to turn them from the power of Satan unto God.” In forsaking God man turned his back on the only power sufficiently strong to enable him to rise above the tyranny of the destroyer; and thus we came under the yoke of Apollyon. But “the Son of God has been manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil.” He rescues us from Satan by bringing us back to God. The Son has made us free, and now are we free indeed.
3. From sin, as a fatal moral disease, Jesus proves Himself our Saviour. In curing bodily diseases He illustrated to us His willingness and His ability to cure our spiritual diseases. There is a balm in Gilead, there is a Physician there, and your “hurt” may yet be recovered. “Wilt thou be made whole?” Surely Jesus is passing through this our Bethsaida tonight with this question on His lips. Which of us shall be the first to claim His healing touch?
III. The subjective condition upon which the enjoyment of these benefits depends. What is it to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? In endeavouring to understand these words, we have to guard against the danger of making them mean too little, or too much. Those who fall into the first error would represent faith as the mere mental acceptance of a certain number of facts or doctrines, and those who fall into the latter would represent it as something so mysterious and unintelligible that none can be assured that they really possess it. This faith is--
1. An intellectual conviction or apprehension by which I take in the object proposed to me, assuring myself of its character and trustworthiness. Many fail here, because they do not even intellectually apprehend the true character of the provision made in Christ to meet their case.
2. Next comes the decision of the will--the moral act by which I repose my simple confidence upon the object so apprehended. Now it is here that most people are found wanting. The child that you set on a table and bid spring into your arms is as apt an illustration as you could wish. There it stands hesitating, not because it has any real doubt in its mind of its parent’s ability to catch it, but rather because it allows its will to be influenced by its feelings instead of being affected by its reasonable conviction. Now you believe with your mind that Jesus is the sinner’s Saviour, and therefore yours. Why allow any feeling of misgiving to prevent you from committing yourself with a distinct and decisive act of will into His arms, trusting Him to save you now?
3. But next, when the mind has apprehended the object, and the will decides to trust itself to it, there will naturally follow a rest of the soul, in the assurance that all is well, and this may be described as the emotional element in a true faith, the presence of which crowns and completes the whole, and brings the inward uneasiness and disquiet to an end. One of you is drowning. I swim out to save you. As I approach you know and believe that I have the power and the will to save you. Then comes the act of will as you trust yourself to me. But still, there is only one arm between you and destruction. Yet you reflect, “What have I to fear? he is able and willing to save me, and I am trusted into his hands.” At once the inward tumult begins to subside, and a wonderful reaction of relief and oven of calm happiness sets in, although you have not yet reached the shore. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Method of dealing with inquirers
Every Christian, especially every minister, will have this responsible and difficult work to do.
I. General principle suited to all cases. The directions given will be determined by the views we entertain of the nature of religion.
1. Rationalists endeavour to suppress all concern.
2. Romanists teach men to submit to the Church, and practise religious duties and penance.
3. Protestants direct inquirers to come directly to God in the way appointed in the gospel. But this general direction is modified by the peculiar views of those who give it.
(1) Some place the essence of religion in submission to God, and hence the general directions to submit.
(2) Others in the choice of God as a source of happiness, hence the direction “Choose God as your portion.”
(3) Others in a volition to make the happiness of the universe the aim of our being.
(4) Others in the return of the soul to God through Christ, and by faith in Him. Hence the general direction to “believe.” This is the proper direction, because--
(a) Faith is declared to be the condition of salvation. Believers are saved: unbelievers are lost.
(b) This is the apostolic direction.
(c) Neither pardon nor sanctification is otherwise to be obtained.
(d) Christ is the Alpha and Omega of the gospel. But what is faith? What is the precise thing to be done? The exercise of this involves immediate conviction of sin.
II. Special directions.
1. As to sceptical doubts.
(1) Do not rely on speculative arguments mainly. Their true place is to remove difficulties, to show that the truth is not inconsistent with reason or fact. But they are not to be used to prove the truth--i.e., to afford its positive evidence.
(2) Rely upon the exhibition of the truth, and upon pressing it on the conscience, because--
(a) The ground of faith is the witness of the Spirit with the truth.
(b) The truth is self-evidencing.
(c) Arguments are human, while truth is Divine.
2. As to fatalists, who say nothing can be done. They plead the doctrine of election.
(1) Here again moral considerations should direct our effort. The intellectual difficulty is not first to be removed.
(2) The sinner should be urged to act as he does in other cases.
3. As to have those who rely on the excuse of inability, or feel they can do nothing. The true method is to admit the fact and fall as the leper at the feet of Jesus.
4. As to those who plead hardness of heart, want of conviction of sin. Show the true place of conviction. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Sin and salvation
I. To every man in his serious moods the sense of sin is a genuine human experience which no reasoning can reason away.
1. It is not a remnant of savagery, but the sign of a spiritual nature; growing with our growing power of moral sympathy and insight.
2. The Christian revelation quickens and deepens the consciousness of sin. In the presence of Jesus Christ all our self-complacencies vanish.
3. The reality of sin is increasingly felt as we realise its consequences; how it darkens and disorders human life and human society. The sense of sin is a pain, but in such pain there is hope; it is the beginning of all redemption and all progress.
II. The Christian idea of salvation is a very comprehensive one.
1. It is a certain severance from the shame and guilt of transgression. The sense of dissatisfaction with sin is not healthy in its influence unless it receives a hopeful interpretation and leads to hopeful endeavour. It may also, according to our training, assume the form of a fear of God and the hereafter. But the removal of our distress concerning ourselves, and our ignorant and guilty dread of God and fate, is only clearing the ground for Christ’s great salvation.
2. There is evil working within, and from its presence and dominion in the heart and life we need to be delivered. “What must I do to be saved?” is but a poor and petty cry when it only means “What must I do to escape from the discomfort, the fear, the natural penalty of sin?” That is the cry of a man who cares more for his ease and happiness than for eternal truth and good. We are not to speak of being saved if we are not being saved from the sins we are tempted to commit daily.
3. Salvation is character and the perfection of character, the realisation of the ideal life for which we were created. The obligation is laid upon everyone to come to his best, and we are called not to repress but to cultivate all our human faculties. The saved man is the whole man, the full-grown, healthily and harmoniously developed man.
4. Salvation means a life lived not for self but for God. Religious selfishness is just as bad as any other kind of selfishness. Man’s chief end is to save himself that he might glorify God, live for Divine ends, and give himself as the Lord did fur the redemption of mankind.
III. How believing in Jesus Christ enables a man to realise this ideal of salvation. Christ saves not by any single method, but by whatever He was and is, did and does, by all the influences of His life and Cross, truth, and spirit; saves not by any arbitrary and magical efficacy, but precisely to the extent in which He is known and understood, loved and obeyed; saves by inspiring right thoughts, right feelings, right motives; saves by giving new trusts, new hopes, new sympathies, new affections; saves by His revelation of the Divine mercy and by bringing men into direct communion with the eternal grace and power.
1. To believe in Christ as the revelation of God to man is to believe in redeeming mercy and grace, and to be delivered thereby from the fear which weakens and the despair which kills.
2. To believe in Christ is to have evil affections conquered and displaced by the growth of a new and holier and more masterful love.
3. In our Christian believing and loyalty are all the elements required for the development of the most complete and finished type of human excellence. To believe in Christ is to believe in ourselves, and to see in Him the man we are each called to be, ought to be, and can be; His righteousness is, indeed, our righteousness--ours to love and live. Faith in Christ is not a substitute for personal obedience, but it is vital with quickening power to make us obey as He obeyed. He changes character by imparting His own character sympathetically to all who enter into real sympathy with Him.
4. To believe in Christ is to be brought out of the circle of our selfish affections, aims, and interests into communion with mankind. His spirit is a social spirit, drawing and binding men together in mutual love and helpfulness, and, through individual influence, producing its effect on the families and generations of men, making possible and actual, as the text suggested, a Christian heredity. It is in the way of the spread and triumph of the Christian spirit we are to look for the coming of the Christian order of society, which is the second coming of Jesus Christ. (John Hunter.)
Anxiety for salvation
The reasons that justify this anxiety are--
I. The value of that object on which it is bestowed. We look around upon the solicitude which men feel in reference to earthly objects; and we justify that solicitude up to a certain point. What then should be the solicitude which should be cherished with reference to the immortal soul? Oh, that I had ability to describe the madness a thousand times multiplied of that man who professes to believe that he is immortal, and who can find anything on earth more important to him as a subject of attention than the salvation of his soul!
II. The concern which others have manifested about our souls. The whole moral universe has been drawn into concern for the immortal soul of man. What was it brought the Son of God from the throne of heaven to the Cross? Per what are all the miraculous agencies of the Holy Spirit granted? For what purpose did the finger of inspiration write the Bible, and the arm of Providence defend it? Why did patriarchs live, and priests minister, and prophets predict, and apostles preach? For the salvation of man.
III. Consider what the salvation or the damnation of the soul includes. I dwell for a moment on that vast word--“salvation.” The pardon of all your sins; the justification of your person; your adoption into the family of Jehovah, and a spirit of sonship connected with it; the renovation of your fallen nature; consolation in affliction; assurance that all things work together for good; hope in death; the resurrection of the just; life everlasting; a blissful heaven made up of the presence of God in Christ. Turn to the opposite of this. What is hell? The loss of all happiness; but it is a state of conscious existence; it is a state of prolonged death. Hell means banishment from the presence of God, consignment to the dark world where hope never enters and mercy is never seen. This is the question, What shall we do to be saved, so as to gain heaven and to escape hell?
IV. The soul of every man, until he repents and believes in Christ, is actually in a lost state, although not irrecoverably lost. You have no need to ask what will bring the soul into a state of death and condemnation: it is done already. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” You are under the terrors of the law and exposed to the wrath of God. How shall I be delivered from the guilt which sin has brought on my conscience so as to avoid the dominion of sin here and the punishment of sin in the world that is to come?
V. The multitude of souls that are irrecoverably lost. Such is the loss of the soul, that if it occurred but once in a century it is so tremendous a catastrophe, that it should awaken the solicitude of the whole world. And that man must be guilty of the greatest folly who can go on in reckless security even under the very possibility that he may be that one in a century who might thus perish eternally.
VI. The loss of the soul may yet be averted and this salvation secured. It were perfectly useless to talk to men of miseries which cannot be remedied, or excite them to the pursuit of benefits which never can be obtained. But this is not your case; you are in that world where mercy reigns; where all the opportunities of salvation and the means of grace are continued. You ask the question, “What shall I do to be saved?” And I am commissioned to reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” (J. Angell James.)
The way of salvation
I. The importance of the question. And yet it is lamentable how few ask it! Many who have been driven up to it like this jailer would never have thought it unless God had sent some distress to rouse them. This man was asleep till the earthquake happened, and then his mind was suddenly filled with a subject which he had never thought of before. If men were quite left to themselves the generality would never concern themselves with this subject. What is the reason men do not ask the question? Because they do not like the answer. And yet the same persons who are so slack about their great concern are found to be very careful in lesser things. What must I do to be rich? What must I do to be in the fashion? Here daily labours and nightly watchings are sustained without reluctance. And is it consistent with common sense to toil for the sake of things which are perishing, and neglect the only object that is of any real value? People take much more pains to go on in the broad way of destruction than would be requisite to carry them to heaven. Our danger will be more manifest if it be considered that under these circumstances there is one who is as careful as we are careless about ourselves. While we sleep Satan is awake.
II. The answer. This is short and to the purpose. Salvation is what all men are equally interested in; and thence it stands to reason that the way of salvation should be so plain that all may understand it. But lest they should think that they believe when they do not, it will be necessary to show--
1. That belief necessarily implies a knowledge of the object in which we believe. This object is our Lord Jesus Christ, whose person, character, and offices must be made known to us before we can believe Him to be what He is.
(1) He is the Lord; and this word is expressed by two words, one of which is Jehovah, and denotes His eternal existence; the other is a term of authority and dominion, which bespeaks Him the Ruler of all things in heaven and earth. As such He is to be worshipped by us; and we find, in fact, that He was frequently worshipped upon earth.
(2) He is Jesus. This name expresses that office which He took upon Him for our salvation, and proposes His as the only name given under heaven whereby we may be saved. And if it is His office to deliver us from sin, then we are all under the dominion of sin till He redeems us from the power of Satan unto God.
(3) He is Christ, the anointed of God; that Person who, by the power of the Divine Spirit, is ordained to be our Prophet, Priest, and King.
2. Our belief implies an obedience to the commandments of this Divine Person; and this obedience is the evidence He expects of our faith. If we call Him Lord, Lord, we are to do the things which He saith. And therefore--
3. The belief of a Christian implies a conformity of character between the believer and the person in whom he believes. The likeness between the Master and the disciple is universal in all professions. If Jesus had been a great warrior then certainly His followers would have excelled in the military art. If He had been a master of worldly forms, then we should have been all for elegance and niceness of outward appearance. But as He was none of these, but a preacher of righteousness, a physician of souls, a guide of the blind, and a comforter of the afflicted, and a sufferer upon earth for the glory of God and the salvation of men; the qualifications which show us to be believers must be of the same sort. (W. Jones, M. A.)
Conditions of being saved
I. What sinners must do to be saved.
1. They must not imagine that they have nothing to do.
2. Not mistake what they have to do.
3. Not say or imagine that they cannot do what God requires.
4. Not procrastinate.
5. Not wait for God to do what He commands them to do.
6. Not wait for God to do anything whatever. God has either done all on His part already, or if anything more remains, He is ready and waiting this moment for you to do your duty that He may impart all needful grace.
7. Not flee to any refuge of lies.
8. Not seek for any self-indulgent method of salvation.
9. Not imagine you will ever have a more favourable time.
10. Not suppose that you will find another time as good, and one in which you can just as well repent as now.
11. Not wait to see what others will do or say.
12. Not indulge prejudices against God, His ministers, Christians, or anything religious.
II. What sinners must do to be saved. You must--
1. Understand what you have to do.
2. Return and confess your sins to God.
3. Renounce yourself. In this is implied that you renounce--
(1) Your own righteousness, forever discarding the very idea of having any righteousness in yourself.
(2) The idea of having done any good which ought to commend you to God, or be ever thought of as a ground of your justification.
(3) Your own will, and be ever ready to say not in word only, but in heart--“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
(4) Your own way and let God have His own way in everything.
4. Come to Christ. You must accept of Christ really and fully as your Saviour.
5. Seek supremely to please Christ, and not yourself.
6. Forsake all that you have, or you cannot be Christ’s disciple. There must be absolute and total self-denial.
7. Believe the record God hath given of His Son. “This is the record that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (C. G. Finney, D. D.)
God’s method of saving men
Consider the question in relation--
I. To human thought.
1. The history of human thought is to a great extent a history of the manifold forms in which this question has betrayed itself, and of the costly expedients to which man has had recourse in his attempts to answer it.
(1) Four thousand years ago confused and anxious whispers of this question meet us in the inquiry of the patriarch--“How shall a man be just with God?” They come up in the later question of the prophet, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?” etc. If we consult the dusky records of paganism we encounter everywhere, in its temples and altars, the dark eclipse of sin and the uneasy suspicions it has cast over the race. If we listen to the creeds and litanies of the best of its teachers we hear everywhere the cry of fugitives from a justice they have provoked, but which they know not how to appease.
(2) In our own age the question thrusts itself up in quarters where we least expect to find it. Thinkers, statesmen, scientists, cannot avoid drifting into the mystery that belongs to the religious question. The mind grown weary of abstract speculations hungers for rest. The conscience, chafed and outraged by unclean proclivities, asks for peace. The heart of the man most engrossed in worldly pursuits will have its hours of awakening, of aching dread in which the questions--What am I, and whither am I going? will make themselves heard.
2. As Christian students we have but one answer to give, and that is the one of the text. When from surging to and fro in all kinds of dreary speculation a man drifts, and turns away to the gospel, the gospel meets him with an answer direct and full in the Person of Christ. It says for a man to be saved is for him to be reconditioned in his moral relations with the Infinite Father, to “be reconciled,” to “be at peace.” Sin is disharmony. It puts man out of his normal orbit. To be saved is just to enter that orbit. The antecedents to this state are, first, the intelligent conviction that we need it, which is a wise self knowledge, begotten of the truth; and secondly, an ingenuous sorrow for sin, expressed in an amended life. The conditions on which its attainment hinges are belief in the promise, and trust in the Person of Christ. The consequence instantly following is a new life state--salvation is its initial act.
II. To man’s destiny.
1. Man is “a yonder-minded being, an embodied hereafter.” Every man in the present life is building out of himself and for himself a character which belongs to the future. This little everyday life is but the prologue of a mighty drama, the sad plot out of which the harvest of the future is to be reaped. The great assize simply catalogues results. Men are, now and here, what the Judgment Day will show them to be. The supposition of a change induced by death in the character and condition of man must be dismissed. Death does not change, it only fixes. It puts a finality on the book of life, and hands it on to be opened at “the judgment of the Great Day.” It sums up two columns--for and against the man--of right and wrong, good and evil, and registers the result.
2. What then? What in view of his eternal existence must a man do to he saved? If there were no dangers to be encountered this question would be useless and impertinent. Or if all souls are sure to enter heaven, the question, how, is a matter of comparative indifference. On the other hand, if there is a risk, and if to make the chance of escape sure to all who are earnest about it, a revelation has been vouchsafed, then we are infinitely concerned to know how that revelation speaks; and we hazard eternal consequences if we fall to listen to, and instantly obey it. First, then, let us say that there is a beginning of the religious life in man which puts the soul and God into a fellowship of peace. When such a man, delivered from his old bondage to evil, yields himself to God, and when amidst the perils of the world he maintains the sanctities of conscience, he has reached a second stage. When at the end of life, the man conquers gloriously in death and then stands faultless in the presence of His glory--this is the end of his salvation: that man is saved--saved because he is safe. The everlasting gates close him in.
III. To Christian teaching. Two things are noteworthy in Paul’s answer--first its simplicity, and secondly its immediateness. And were we now dealing with this question within the same limits we should need only to reproduce the same answer. But we are dealing with the question in its broader and more exhaustive signification; and the answer must take in forgiveness, sanctification, and heaven. What then must be done?
1. The wrong doing, on which the necessity of salvation is founded, must be got rid of. We must “cease to do evil” before we can become good. “Let the wicked forsake his way,” etc. There can be no compromise between the two terms which enter into this agreement. We must give up sinning if God is to forgive us for having sinned.
2. The remedy which God has provided must not only be accepted as theoretically true, but must be personally applied. And this shuts out all the pretentious rights of human reason to determine in what method God should deal with the sinner. It brings us squarely up with the one method in which God will deal with us. God’s plan does not alternate between open courses--two or more.
3. The one thing that a man must do is distinctly put. He must “believe on,” etc. The apostles had nothing more simple to set before this rude pagan. And they had no figurative, fabulous, or doctrinal Christ, but the Christ of Bethlehem and Calvary. And the act on which salvation hinges is as straightforward as its object is definite. You are not to think about Christ, or say grand nothings about Him: you are to believe on Him, to submit to, to trust in Him that He may forgive and heal you. And this act of the soul putting itself out in an intelligent surrender of the whole personality of its being--mind, heart, will--to Christ is the man’s trust for salvation.
IV. To the individual man.
1. The importance of this question is obvious, It is the one question that silences every other. It is the most stupendous question that man in his agony can ask, or that God in His mercy can answer. And it is none the less impressive in that nowhere outside this Book is an answer to be found. The universe has not a whisper of it. Those calm, grand laws, know nothing of mercy. Our schools of philosophy know nothing of salvation. Science has not a word of pity for guilty man.
2. We are not saying that this is the only important question, but that all others are insignificant in comparison. One hundred years hence and what shall I know or care about my banking account, or who is the premier of the country? But one hundred years hence what and where shall I myself be?
3. This question must be answered by each one for himself, and at once. It admits of no postponement. “Today if ye will hear His voice,” etc. Time is on the rush, and we are rushing with it into a timeless future. (John Burton.)
Believe and be saved
I. What is it to believe? Believing in this case involved--
1. The assent of the mind to the testimony that Paul gave to our Lord. Now all that is necessary in the case of the testimony that the worlds were framed by the word of God is that we should mentally assent to it. When we have intellectually apprehended it, we have perhaps done all that we can do with it.
2. But there is other testimony which requires the consent of the heart: “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” Our conviction is that in this case God testified that He would provide an atonement, and that blood should be shed as a symbol of that atonement, and in acknowledgment of the fact that a personal application of that atonement was required. Now Cain, although he evidently understood this testimony mentally, rejected it in his heart. He thought it sufficient to acknowledge God as a Creator: and therefore simply brought to God of the fruit of the ground, in acknowledgment of God’s relation to him as a Creator, and in recognition of the bountifulness of Divine Providence. But Abel received the testimony, adopted the symbol, offered the sacrifice, and therefore by faith offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.
3. There is testimony which requires not merely the assent of the mind, and the consent of the heart, but the response of the will--testimony which, if a man receive, puts him immediately upon a certain course of conduct: and we have two illustrations in the cases of Noah and Abraham. You will see by these illustrations what the apostle means by “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The first thing is, of course, to understand the meaning of the words, the next to receive them to the heart (Romans 10:9), and the next to take personal advantage of them. For this message is sent by God to us personally.
II. The object of this belief.
1. Not God, as God, for the devils believe in God. They go further--as the effect of their faith they tremble. They do more than some of you have done.
2. Neither did Paul exhibit the providence of God: far less the law of God. Of what advantage would it be to preach the law of God to a transgressor except with the object of convincing him of sin? If I were to see a fellow man drowning, should I help him by pointing him to the stream? If he was not conscious of his danger, I should, but it would be useless otherwise. Just so with the law of God. If I find that you do not feel that you are sinners, I teach you the law of God. But if I find you asking, “What must I do to be saved?” if I were to preach God’s law to you I should be cruelly mocking you. I then say, not “The law is holy, and just, and good”; but “Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
3. Paul presented not a mere doctrine: there is no mere doctrine that will save any man. If I were to give you a letter of introduction to some physician notable for the cure of particular bodily ailments, could you be cured by that letter? Unless you took the letter to the physician, and saw him, and received his remedies, and applied them, would the letter benefit you? Just so doctrines are intended to introduce you to Christ.
4. And Paul was justified in doing this, for the following reasons. In the first place, the object is adapted, and able to save. Salvation is now Christ’s one work. And the act of believing is appointed to save. There is nothing in it of efficacy, as there is in the object. It is efficacious simply because of God’s arrangement: and therefore no merit can be attached to faith. Faith is a simple receptive faculty. Nothing more now is required. By and by you will have to let that faith work; but just now, for your introduction into salvation, nothing more is required. But then, mark, nothing else will suffice. You must believe. Shall I remind you why this is so difficult? Because it is so simple. You are just like that proud Syrian Naaman. If I were to say to you that in order to be saved, you must visit the Holy Sepulchre, there are some of you who would sell everything to get to the Holy Sepulchre; and you would start immediately. But instead of that we say, Trust. This is God’s first and last provision; so that if you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you never can be saved.
III. The result. “Saved!”
1. The body saved--from fresh inroads by sin; from its members being instruments of unrighteousness; from the sting of death; from the victory of the grave.
2. The soul saved--from unholy affection; from raging fear; from guilt; from despondency and despair; from the discord of the passions; from ungodly impulses; from evil influence.
3. The spirit saved--from fatal ignorance; from damnable folly; from vain and evil imaginations; from ruinous error. Body, soul, and spirit, all saved! Saved! Saved from all evil now in part, and hereafter saved in absolute and everlasting perfection. (S. Martin.)
I. What it presupposes. As distinguished from faith in Christ historically, and from what Scripture affirms of Him doctrinally (James 2:17-20), it presupposes a certain belief with respect to ourselves--viz., that we are sinners, and with a sincere sorrow because of it, and a sincere desire to forsake sin.
II. In what it consists.
1. Intellectual assent to the fact that Christ is the Saviour of men. Thus far saving faith is the same as that by which we buy, sell, eat, drink, and travel. Faith is not a new element in the soul life of man, superadded by God, upon an after thought to the moral constitution at the time of conversion. What is then given is grace to see--
(1) Self undone.
(2) Christ sufficient.
2. Trustfulness superadded to intellectual assent. Heart belief must accompany head belief. A drowning man cannot be saved by a lifeboat simply by believing in its life-saving capabilities; he must trust himself to it. So self is given to Christ in every case of saving faith.
3. Faith in a person. Some people trust in a creed or a ritual; because trust in them flatters rather than interferes with self-love. My creed is orthodox, my service ornate is the expression of some men’s faith. Further, it is faith in a Divine person. It is not necessary that we should be able to theorise about the Incarnation or philosophise about the Atonement; but our trust must be in the Son of God, in opposition to being in human priests, whatever their claims. But remember that we are not saved by our faith as something meritorious, but by Christ; yet we cannot be saved without faith, because remaining in unbelief--
(1) We make God a liar, and fail to comply with His law of love.
(2) We cannot secure and develop the character necessary to fit us for heaven, nor the capacity for its enjoyments.
III. The extent of the salvation which faith secures.
1. Salvation from the punishment due to past transgressions.
2. Deliverance from the power and principle of sin. (J. S. Swan.)
Salvation through faith in Christ
I. Who is this Christ?
3. God and Man in one Person.
II. What is it to believe in this Christ?
1. To know Him (1 Corinthians if. 2; John 17:3).
2. Assent to Him (John 11:27).
3. Rely upon Him (Ephesians 1:12).
(1) For the pardon of your sins.
(2) The acceptance of your persons.
(3) The salvation of your souls.
III. How shall they that believe in Christ be saved?
1. From what?
(1) The guilt of sin (Galatians 3:13).
(2) The strength of sin (Acts 3:26; Matthew 1:21).
(3) The prevalency of Satan (Hebrews 2:14).
(4) The wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3; Romans 5:9).
2. To what?
(1) Justification (Romans 5:1).
(2) Regeneration (2 Corinthians 5:17).
(3) Spiritual consolation (2 Corinthians 1:5).
(4) Everlasting salvation (John 3:16). Consisting in--
(a) Our freedom from all evil.
(b) Our enjoyment of all good--as appears from the promises (John 1:12; John 3:15; Acts 13:39); from the end of Christ’s coming (John 3:16); from the nature of faith (Hebrews 11:1).
IV. Uses for--
1. Instruction. Unbelievers will be damned.
(1) You do not know Him; for then you could not choose but--
(a) Admire Him (1 Timothy 3:16).
(b) Love Him (Ephesians 6:24).
(c) Think frequently of Him.
(d) Make it your business to interest yourselves in Him.
(2) If you do know, you do not assent to Him; for did you believe that He died for sin--
(a) Would you live in it?
(b) Would you not repent of it?
(3) You do not rely on Christ; for--
(a) What was it thou tookest most comfort from upon thy last sick bed?
(b) What is it that thou now delightest thyself with in trouble? How seldom dost thou think of Christ.
(c) How comest thou to live in sin without mourning for and turning from it (2 Corinthians 5:17)?
3. Examination. Test thy faith in Christ by--
(1) Thy knowledge of Him.
(2) Thy love to Him.
(3) Thy longing after Him.
(4) Thy obedience to His command.
(5) Thy acting for Him (James 2:18).
4. Exhortation. Believe in Christ; for consider--
(1) How miserable thou wilt be without Him. Satan always domineering over, sin always raging in, and God always frowning upon thee to all eternity (Psalms 7:11).
(2) How happy thou wilt be with Him.
(a) Thy sins pardoned.
(b) Satan subdued.
(c) Corruptions mortified.
(d) The heart sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:2).
(e) God pleased (Hebrews 11:5).
(f) The soul saved (Romans 8:1).
3. Hearing (Romans 10:17).
(1) The insufficiency of all things else.
(2) The sufficiency of Christ.
(3) Its end in coming into the world. (Bp. Beveridge.)
The great question answered
I. What are the antecedents of saving faith, that is, what precedes the act of faith in the experience of the sinner? I do not doubt that there was, previous to this jailer’s faith and essential to it, a conviction first of his guilt, secondly of his danger, and therefore, thirdly, of his need of salvation, and of a Saviour. It is on the ground of these facts that the gospel comes to men with offers of pardon and grace; and he who does not realise them as facts in his personal history cannot receive the gospel, for he does not feel his need of the gospel.
II. Let us look at the object of faith. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” This which you are ready to rely on is nothing within you--no change wrought there, either by your own efforts or by any other agency, human or Divine. Cease, then, to explore the recesses of your spirits in search of something there which will constitute a ground of hope. You may search there forever and find no Saviour there, and nothing that will make you more worthy to come to Christ.
III. Let us consider the act of faith. What does the sinner do when he believes in Christ? It is worthy of notice that the Bible, while saying much of the necessity, the object, and the effects of faith, says very little of its nature. The reason may be because the act itself is so simple, so easily understood.
IV. Let us look at the results of faith. In the text these results are all summed up in the one word saved. We find, by searching the Scriptures, that these results, thus summed up, are resolved into two classes, one of which takes place in the mind and purposes of God, and the other in the mind and destiny of the sinner. On the side of God is His justification of the sinner. It is a judicial act, the act of God as a judge, freeing the sinner from the penalty of the law which he has incurred, and placing him in the position, in regard to the condemning sentence, of one who has never incurred the penalty. On the side of God also is His acceptance of believing sinners, and His adoption of them into His family. “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” On the side of God is also His bestowment of His Spirit on the believing sinner. “Because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts.” But let us look at the results of this faith in the mind and destiny of the believer. In his heart, one of the first results of believing is peace or joy. Another result of faith is obedience. All acts of holy obedience spring from true faith. It brings the believer within the sphere of new motives. It fills his heart with ardent love. It secures for him the influences of the Divine Spirit. So in proportion to his faith will be his faithfulness. The final result of faith is eternal life. Who can tell its value? Who can show us the everlasting difference between a soul lost and a soul saved? In conclusion, I remark--
1. The terms of salvation are easy and simple. They could not be more so. They are also exactly adapted to our necessities.
2. The time for the exercise of this faith is now. Is not Christ now able and willing to save you? Is He not as worthy of trust now as He ever wilt be?
3. Finally, the results of faith are most urgent motives to its immediate exercise. Do you wish to be free from condemnation, and stand justified before God? Then believe. Do you wish to be adopted into the family of God, and so become an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ? Then believe. Do you wish for peace with God? Then believe. Do you wish for God’s Spirit as a comforter, a guide, a strengthener, a sanctifier? Then believe. (W. W. Woodworth.)
Believing on Jesus
I know of a man who, being obliged to sleep in the upper story of a lofty building, keeps a fire escape in his room in the shape of a stout rope ladder. He believes in that ladder. That is, he has perfect confidence in the stoutness of the hemp, the strength of the wooden “rounds,” and the ability of that ladder to bear his weight. But on some dark night let the cry of “fire” ring through that edifice, and let him put the grappling irons fast to the window casement, and swing himself out into the air, and he will believe on that rope ladder. He will trust himself to it. When he has done that, he will have exercised saving faith in his fire escape, Not before. Thousands keep gospel truth coiled up in their memories as my friend kept that rope ladder coiled up in one corner of his room. They have heard and read of Jesus, the Atoner for sin; they admire Him, they believe in His Divine qualities, love, etc., and vaguely expect, at some future day, to get to heaven by Him. But they have never for one moment trusted their souls to Jesus. They never have even attempted to escape out of their guilt and danger, by resting their whole weight on what Jesus has done for the sinner, or on His omnipotent grace. Perish they must, if they remain where they are. The act of resting on the crucified Jesus saves.
This answer has three or four properties.
1. It was immediate, and without delay. There was no time required, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men, when they had to interpret the king’s dream. The apostles were well versed in such matters.
2. It was full and comprehensive. It meets the point at once, and contains an epitome of the whole gospel.
3. It is highly satisfactory, affording direct relief in the moment of distress, and giving peace.
4. It is the same answer as all God’s ministers return to inquiring souls, whatever be their previous state or character.
I. The exhortation. The Scriptures speak of various kinds and degrees of faith, but of one only that accompanies salvation.
1. The original source of all true believing is the free grace of God in Christ Jesus. It is His gift, and the effect of His good pleasure.
2. The means of producing faith is the Divine testimony. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
3. The immediate object of faith is Christ, as revealed in the gospel.
4. The ultimate end of faith is our happiness, and the glory of God. “Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” It disclaims all merit and sufficiency of its own, and excludes all boasting, only in the Lord.
II. The promise. Salvation comprehends a final and complete deliverance from all evil, natural and moral, and the enjoyment of perfect bliss. It includes, especially, the pardon of sin, the sanctification of our nature, a victory over all our enemies, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. The connection which this has with believing, will be seen in the following particulars.
1. Though salvation is promised to them that believe, it is neither provided nor bestowed in the foresight of their believing nor had faith any influence on the Divine determination. The ground of all spiritual blessings is the free and unmerited favour of God (2 Timothy 1:9).
2. Though salvation is promised to them that believe, it is not promised as a reward for their believing, but for His sake in whom they believe. It receives a title to eternal life, but does not give one. Faith is like the eye beholding, and the hand receiving a gift; but however necessary to its enjoyment, the gift itself is free and undeserved.
3. As faith receives a title to eternal life, founded upon the promises of the gospel, so it is that which gives us the actual enjoyment of it. By faith we receive the atonement, and are led to acquiesce in the way of acceptance with God, as full of wisdom, and suited to our sinful and helpless condition. It is not a medicine prepared, but applied, that effects a cure.
4. Faith produces those holy dispositions which form our meetness for heaven, though not our title to it. There can be no enjoyment where there is no congeniality. But true faith purifies the heart, and imbues it with every principle of piety and goodness. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
How to be saved
The sinner’s prescription. It points out--
I. A fact--“salvation.”
II. A certain fact--“shalt.”
III. A personal fact--“Thou.”
IV. The cause of salvation--“Christ,” “Jesus,” “Lord.”
V. The instrument of salvation--“Believe.” (W. W. Wythe.)
The all-decisive step
There are some documents of so little importance that you do not care to put any more than your last name under them, or even your initials; but there are some documents of so great importance that you write out your full name. So the Saviour in some parts of the Bible is called “Lord,” and in others “Jesus,” and in others “Christ”; but that there might be no mistake about this passage, all three names come in together.
I. Who is this being that you want me to believe in? Men sometimes come to me with certificates of good character, but I cannot trust them. There is some dishonesty in their looks. You cannot put your heart’s confidence in a man until you know what stuff he is made of. No man would think of venturing his life on a vessel going out to sea that had never been inspected. And you cannot expect me to risk the cargo of my immortal interests on board any craft. Well--
1. Christ was a very attractive person. Christ did not tell the children to come to Him. “Suffer little children to come unto Me” was not spoken to the children, but to the disciples. The children came without any invitation. Christ did not ask John to put his head down on His bosom; John could not help but put his head there. When people saw Christ coming they ran into their houses and brought their invalids out that He might look at them. They could not keep away from Him.
2. In addition to this softness of character, there was a fiery momentum. How the old hypocrites trembled before Him! How the kings of the earth turned pale! He was a loving Christ, but it was not effeminacy. Lest the world should not realise His earnestness, this Christ mounts the Cross. Oh, such a Christ as that--so loving, so self-sacrificing--can you not trust Him?
II. Many say, “I will trust Him if you will only tell me now.” Just as you trust anyone. You trust your partner in business. H a commercial house give you a note payable three months hence, you expect the payment of that note. You go home and expect there will be food on the table. Have the same confidence in Christ. He is only waiting to get from you what you give to scores of people every day. Confidence. If these people are more worthy, more faithful, if they have done more than Christ, then give them the preference; but if Christ is as trustworthy as they are, then deal with Him as fairly. “Oh,” says someone, “I believe that Christ was born in Bethlehem, and that He died on the Cross.” Do you believe it with your head or your heart? I will illustrate the difference. You read in a newspaper how Captain Braveheart on the sea risked his life for the salvation of his passengers. You say, “What a grand fellow he must have been!” You fold the paper and, perhaps, do not think of that incident again. That is historical faith. But now you are on the sea, and asleep, and are awakened by the shriek of “Fire!” You rush out on the deck. “Down with the lifeboats!” cries the captain. People rush into them. Room only for one more man. Who shall it be? You or the captain? The captain says, “You.” You jump and are saved. He stands there and dies. Now, you believe that Captain Braveheart sacrificed himself for his passengers, but you believe it with grief at his loss, and with joy at your deliverance. That is saving faith. You often go across a bridge you know nothing about. You do not know who built the bridge, nor of what material it is made; but you walk over it, and ask no questions. And here is an arched bridge blasted from the “Rock of Ages,” and built by the Architect of the universe, spanning the dark gulf between sin and righteousness, and all God asks you is to walk across it; and you start, and you come to it, and you stop, and you go a little way on and you stop, and you fall back and you experiment. You say, “How do I know that bridge will hold me:” instead of marching on with firm step, feeling that the strength of the eternal God is under you.
III. What is it to be saved? It means--
1. A happy life. It is a grand thing to go to sleep at night, and to get up in the morning, and to do business all day feeling that all is right between my heart and God.
2. A peaceful death. Almost all the poets have said handsome things about death. There is nothing beautiful about it. Death is loathesomeness, and midnight, and the wringing of the heart until the tendrils snap and curl in the torture unless Christ be with us. Unless there be some supernatural illumination, I shudder back from it. But now this glorious lamp is lifted above the grave, and all the darkness is gone, and the way is clear. What power is there in anything to chill me in the last hour if Christ wraps around me the skirt of His own garment: What darkness can fall upon my eyelids then, amid the heavenly daybreak:
3. A blissful eternity. To be saved is to wake up in the presence of Christ. You know when Jesus was upon earth, how happy He made every house He went into. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The king’s highway opened and cleared
When the children of Israel were settled in Canaan, God ordained that they should set apart certain Cities of Refuge, that to these the man-slayer might flee for security. We are told by the rabbis that once in the year, or oftener, the magistrates of the district surveyed the roads which led to these cities: they carefully gathered up all the stones, and took the greatest possible precautions that there should be no stumbling blocks in the way. We hear, moreover, that all along the road there were hand posts with the word “Refuge” written legibly upon them. Now God has prepared a City of Refuge, and the way to it is by faith in Christ. I propose to go along it, and to remove any impediment which Satan may have laid. There is--
I. The recollection of the past life. But all thy sins, be they never so many, cannot destroy thee if thou dost believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” It is not the greatness of the sinner that is the difficulty; it is the hardness of the sinner’s heart. Remember, too, that all the while thou dost not believe in Christ, thou art adding to thy sin.
II. Consciousness of hardness of heart and the lack of what is thought to be true penitence. But dost thou read that those who have hard hearts are not commanded to believe? The Scripture says, “Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish,” etc. Now, if thou believest, though thy heart be never so hard, thy believing saves thee; and what is more, thy believing shall yet soften thy heart. If thou canst not feel thy need of a Saviour as thou wouldst, remember that when thou hast a Saviour thou wilt soon find out how great was thy need of Him, Many persons find out their needs by receiving the supply. Have you never looked in at a shop window and seen an article, and said, “Why, that is just what I want”?
III. Consciousness of weak or little faith. Ah, there you are again looking to yourself. It is not the strength of thy faith that saves thee, but its reality. What is more, it is not even the reality of thy faith that saves thee, it is the object of thy faith. A grain of mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, and yet if thou hast but that quantity of faith, thou art a saved man. Remember the poor woman who touched but the fringe of Christ’s garment, and she was made whole. Remember a little child belongs to the human race as much as the greatest giant; and so a babe in grace is as truly a child of God as is Mr. Greatheart, who can fight all the giants on the road.
IV. The existence of many doubts and fears. My answer is, “He that believeth shall be saved,” be that faith intermingled with multitudes of doubts and fears. You remember that story of our Saviour in the storm, and the poor disciples were full of fear--“Lord, save us or we perish.” Here were doubts. Did Jesus say, O ye of no faith? No; “O ye of little faith.” So there may be little faith where there are great doubts. At eventide, even though there is a great deal of darkness, yet there is light. And if thy faith should never come to noonday, if it do but come to twilight, nay, if thy faith is but starlight, nay, candlelight, nay, a spark--if it be but a glow worm spark, thou art saved. Think of John Knox, on his dying bed, troubled about his interest in Christ. If such a man have doubts, dost thou expect to live without them? If Paul himself keeps under his body lest he should be a castaway, how canst thou expect to live without clouds?
V. Fear of death. There are many of God’s blessed ones who, through fear of death, have been much of their lifetime subject to bondage. And this is accounted for, because God has stamped on nature that law, the love of life and self-preservation. And again, it is natural that you should scarce like to leave behind those that are so dear. But you are testing yourself by a condition in which you are not placed. You don’t want dying grace in life, but you will have it when you want it.
VI. The absence of joy. But remember it is not “he that is joyful shall be saved,” but “he that believeth shall be saved.” Thy faith will make thee joyful by and by, but it is as powerful to save thee even when it does not make thee rejoice. VII. A grievous sense of imperfection. What, will you not believe in Christ until you are perfect? Then you will never believe in Him. You will not trust the precious Jesus till you have no sins to trust Him with? Then you will never trust Him at all. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And they spake unto him the Word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
It sometimes happens that a good man has to go alone to heaven: God’s election has separated him from the midst of an ungodly family. But though grace does not run in the blood, yet it frequently happens that God, by means of one of a household, draws the rest to Himself. Bunyan, in the first part of his “Pilgrim’s Progress,” describes Christian as a lonely traveller. The second part, however, exhibits family piety, and many a gentle spirit has found it sweeter than the former. It is most natural and proper that your desire for the salvation of others should, first of all, rest upon your own families. If charity begins at home, so, assuredly, piety will. Let Abraham’s prayer be for Ishmael, let Hannah pray for Samuel, let Andrew first find his brother Simon, and Eunice train her Timothy. Observe--
I. A whole household hearing the word. If we are to have household conversion there must be a household hearing of the Word.
1. Now many fathers never hear the Word of God, because they regard the Sabbath as a day of laziness.
2. The mothers must hear the Word as well as the fathers. Many of them do, but many are detained at home with the children. Now it is the duty of every father, if he does not keep a servant, to take his turn with the wife and let her have her fair share of opportunity for hearing the gospel.
3. Then the children also must be thought of. We desire to see them converted as children. There is no need that they should wait until they are grown up, and have run into sin. Let the little ones be brought to hear the gospel. Let it be said of you, as of “Judah, who stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.”
4. Then there are the servants. You cannot honestly pray God to save your household unless you give the whole household an opportunity of being saved.
II. A whole household believing (Acts 16:34).
1. They were new hearers, and yet they all believed. Is it not a sad fact that many of my old hearers have not believed? Oh! the responsibilities that are heaped up upon gospel-hardened sinners!
2. They were most unlikely hearers. In the society and associations of a jail there was very little that could be likely to improve the mother, to benefit the children, or elevate the servants. Yet how often are the most unlikely persons led to the Saviour. How true is it still of many who are outwardly religious, that “the publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of heaven before them.” This is an encouragement to you who work in the slums of this vast city.
3. Yet they were converted, there and then. I do not know how long Paul’s sermon was; he was a wise man, and I should not think he would preach a long sermon in the dead of the night, just after an earthquake. As the lightning flash can split the oak from its loftiest bough to the earth in a second, so the ever blessed lightning of God’s Spirit can cleave the heart of man in a moment.
4. It is said particularly of them all that “they believed.” Was that the only thing? Could it not be said that they all prayed? I daresay it could, and many other good things; but then faith was at the root of them all.
5. Though converted suddenly, all of them were, nevertheless, very hearty converts. They were quick to do all that in them lay for the apostle, and for the good cause. It is delightful to meet your hearty Christian, who, when he gave his heart to Jesus, meant it, and devoted his whole body, soul, and spirit to the good Lord who had bought him with His blood.
III. A whole household baptized.
1. “He” was baptized--the jailer. Then “all his” followed.
2. This was done straightway. There was not one who wished to have it put off till he had tried himself a little. In those days no one had any scruple or objection to obey. No minister has any right to refuse to baptize any person who professes faith in Jesus Christ, unless there be some glaring fact to cast doubt upon the candidate’s sincerity.
IV. A whole household at work for God. They all did something. The father called for a light, the servants bring the torches. Here is work for himself, and for gentle hands to do: to wash out the grit that had come there through their lying on their backs on the dungeon floor, and to mollify and bind up their wounds. There was suitable occupation for the mother and for the servants, for they set meat before the holy men. The kitchen was sanctified to supply the needs of the ministers of Christ. Even our children when they are saved can do something for the Master. The little hand that drops its halfpence into the offering-box, out of love to Jesus, is accepted of the Lord. The young child trying to tell its brother or sister of the dear Saviour who has loved it is a true missionary of the Cross.
V. A family all rejoicing.
1. If the family had been left a fortune they would have rejoiced, but they had found more than all the world’s wealth at once in finding a Saviour, therefore were they glad.
2. Though their joy sprang mainly from their believing, it also arose from their being baptized, for the Ethiopian, after he was baptized, “went on his way rejoicing.” “In keeping His commandments there is great reward.”
3. They rejoiced, no doubt, because they had an opportunity of serving the Church in waiting upon the apostle. They felt glad to think that Paul was at their table. And Christian people are never so happy as when they are busy for Jesus.
4. I have no doubt that their joy was permanent. There would not be any quarrelling in that house now, no disobedient children, no short-tempered father, no fretful mother, no purloining servants, no eye servers. Conclusion: That household is now in glory. With some of you the father is in heaven, and the mother is on the road, but the children! With others, your little ones have gone before you, and your grandsire is also in glory; but, ah! husband and wife, your faces are turned towards the ways of sin. There will be broken households around the throne, and if it could mar their joy--if anything could--it would be the thought that a son or husband is absent while the wife and mother sing the endless song. This is the last question, “Will my family be there?” Will yours be there? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Belief, baptism, blessing
The gospel, attended by the Spirit of God, is always victorious; but it is very pleasant to make notes of its victories. The gospel came to Lydia, a devout woman, who worshipped God, although she did not know the Lord Jesus Christ. She was a woman of tender heart, and she was soon won. “Well,” says one, “that is an instance of what the gospel does with delicate, tender, gentle natures.” Now, here is an old soldier; he has been in the wars, he has earned distinction, and has been appointed to the office of jailer at Philippi, an office of some importance under the Roman Emperor. He is a man who knows the sight of blood; he is of a coarse, though apparently honest, disposition. He keeps prisoners, and that is not an office that brings much gentleness with it; and he is under very stern law. He is as hard as a bit of the lower millstone. What will the gospel do with him? It triumphed as much in the jailer at Philippi as it did in the lady from Thyatira. I want specially to call your attention to this point; the Philippian jailer stands before us as one who was converted and baptized, and who brought forth useful fruit all in the compass of an hour or so. “Straightway,” says my text. It also says, “The same hour of the night.” In a great many cases conversion may be said to be a slow work. I do not think that it really is so; but it appears to be so. There is the early training, there is the awakening of conscience, there is the seeking to find Christ. We have a great many people round us who are very slow. Why it is, I do not know; for this is not a slow age. People are fast enough about the things of this world. We cannot travel fast enough. I have no doubt that the work of grace is very gradual in some people; it is like the sunrise in this country. I am sure that you cannot tell, on foggy mornings, when the sun does rise. A man cannot be somewhere between condemnation and justification; there is no land in between. The man is either condemned on account of sin, or he is justified through the righteousness of Christ; he cannot be between those two states; so that, after all, in its essence, salvation must be an instantaneous thing.
I. In this Philippian jailer’s case everything is sharp, clear, distinct. In considering it, I will first call your attention to the fact that here is a person converted at once.
1. There was no previous thought. There is nothing that I can imagine in his previous life that led up to it. He had not been plied with sermons, instructions, invitations, entreaties. Nothing could be a greater contrast than the ethics of Rome and the teachings of Christ. What do you think impressed this man?
2. I think, in part, it may have been the behaviour of Paul and Silas. They had no curses on their lips when he made their feet fast in the stocks. He went to bed that night with many thoughts of a new character. Who were these men? Who was this Jesus of whom they spoke?
3. Then, in the middle of the night, a singular miracle was wrought. The prison was shaken by an earthquake. The idea of being lost has come over him. It is not that he is afraid to die, for he is about to put himself to death; but he is afraid of what is to follow after death. He is a lost man, and therefore he asks, “What must I do to be saved?”
4. Now it is that he is plainly told the way of salvation. It was put with great brevity, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Probably he did not understand it when he heard it; and so “they spake unto him the Word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” It is a happy circumstance that the gospel is so simple. There are certain preachers who seem as if they must mystify it, like the negro, who said, “Brethren, I have read you a chapter, and now I will confound it.” No doubt there are many who are always making out the gospel to be a very difficult thing to understand; philosophical, deep, and so on; but it was meant for the common people, and the gospel is suitable to be preached to the poor.
II. Here is a person confessing his faith at once. “He was baptized, he and all his, straightway.” Should a person be baptized as soon as he believes? As a rule, yes; but there may be good reasons why he should not be.
1. There was no good reason for delay in this man’s case, for, in the first place, his conversion was clear as noonday.
2. In his case, also, there was no other reason for delay. In the case of many young persons, there are reasons for delay.
3. In this man’s case, note also, that he was not hindered by selfish considerations. Had the jailer been like some people that I know of, he would hove found plenty of reasons for delaying his baptism. First, he would have said, “Well, it is the middle of the night. Would you have me be baptized at this hour?” He would have said that he did not know that there were conveniences for baptism, for it is so easy to find it inconvenient when you do not like it. He might also have said, “I do not know how the magistrates will like it.” He did not care about the magistrates. Perhaps he would lose his situation. He did not take his situation into consideration. Then, what would the soldiers in the Philippian colony say when they heard that the jailer had been baptized into the name of Christ? Oh, the guffaws of the guard room, the jokes that there would be all over Philippi! This brave man did not take those things into consideration; and if he did, he dismissed them in a moment.
4. The fact was, this man was in downright earnest, and therefore he would not delay his baptism. He had enlisted in the army of Christ, and he would wear Christ’s regimentals straightway.
III. Now, here is a person useful at once. Useful? What could he do? Well, he did all he could.
1. He performed an act of mercy: “He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes.” Dear, good men, they were covered all over with the marks of the Roman rods. I do not know that he could have done anything better to show his sincere repentance. He washed their stripes; and when he had done that, and had been baptized, we read that he brought them into his house, and set meat before them.
2. Thus he exercised hospitality. He used his hands and his bath in washing the disciples; now he uses his table, his larder, and his dining room to entertain them. What more could he do? Seeing that it was the middle of the night, I cannot think of anything more that he could do. So now, if you love the Lord, if you have only just believed in Him, begin to do something for Him at once. It is a pity that we have so many Christian people, so-called, who do nothing for Christ, literally nothing. They have paid their pew-rent, perhaps; and that is all Christ is to have out of them! We want to have a Church in which all the members do something, in which all do all they can, in which all are always doing all they can, for this is what our Lord deserves to have from a living, loving people bought with His precious blood.
IV. Here is a person perfectly happy at once. When the jailer bad brought Paul and Silas into his house, “he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” Oh, that was a happy, happy time! “He rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”
1. He rejoiced that he was saved. His heart kept beating, “Hallelujah! hallelujah! hallelujah!” As he sat at that table with his two strange guests, he had indeed cause for joy. His sin was forgiven; his nature was changed; he had found a Saviour.
2. And then he rejoiced that all his household were saved. What a delight it was to see all his household converted! There was his wife. If she had not been converted, it would have been a very awkward thing for him to have asked Paul and Silas in to that midnight meal. I do not like it when you count up your household and leave out Mary Ann, the little servant girl, the last you have had in. You treat her as a drudge; but if she has come into your family, reckon her to be a part of your household; and pray God that they may all be converted.
3. The jailer’s rejoicing was also a seal of the Spirit upon his fidelity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Conversion--its means and tests
Looking now more especially at the human side of this instance of an immense moral and spiritual change in the Philippian jailer, let us think, under the guidance of this example, of conversion, its means and tests. Certainly here is an evident conversion. If ever man were squarely turned about, this jailer was. He is no spurious instance of conversion, like Mr. Facing-Both-Ways, in Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.”
I. Consider the means of conversion. It seems to me we can divide these means into two sorts--subsidiary and essential. Means subsidiary.
1. The prayers and songs of Paul and Silas. What I mean is that I am sure the brave and beautiful carriage of themselves by Paul and Silas under all his unnecessarily harsh treatment of them--for he far exceeded his instructions--must have made some impression upon the jailer. And it seems to me that this must have been a kind of outlying and subsidiary cause of the jailer’s conversion. It is a kind of gospel that even such stupid and cruel eyes as this jailer’s must read. And something of blessing is bound to come of it. It is likely to make a path for somebody’s conversion. Let us see to it that even amid the most painful circumstances we carry ourselves as Christians should.
2. The shock of the earthquake and the opened doors and the unloosed bonds of the prisoners, and Paul’s beautiful calming of the jailer’s fear when he would have killed himself, since, if the prisoners had escaped, according to the Roman law death must have been visited on him. This jailer was stirred through his whole nature. In the grip of the earthquake he was convinced of his own helplessness; in Paul’s calm bravery he felt himself confronted by the presence of a strange moral power; in the apostle’s service, in preventing the escape of the prisoners, to him who had been so needlessly cruel, who in harshness had so far exceeded his instructions, the jailer found himself smitten by a new sense of shame--shock, I think that is the word for it. The man was thrown out of his old bad routine into strange and other thoughts about his cruelty and his sin. Well, I do not think conversion possible unless it be preceded by something to which this shock is parallel. It may be an influence very steady and gentle. It may be the quiet result of the education of a Christian home; but somehow, in some way, the man must be, as this jailer was, actually and squarely confronted by the necessity of change in himself. Means essential--Faith. The Greek for “Sirs” in Acts 16:30, and “Lord” in Acts 16:31, is the same. He addresses them as “Sires” or “Lords”; they reply, “Trust in the one and only ‘Sire’ or ‘Lord’ Jesus Christ.” Faith is the only and lonely Jesus Christ: this is the essential means of conversion.
II. The tests of conversion.
1. Rejoicing hearing of the Lord’s word (Acts 16:32). A man really turned toward the Lord will want to know all he can about Him.
2. Immediate change of life (Acts 16:33). The cruel jailer becomes at once the merciful man.
3. Immediate confession of Christ (Acts 16:33). “And was baptized.” A thoroughly converted man will not attempt to be a secret Christian.
4. Helpfulness (Acts 16:34). “And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them.” That is to say, there is a quick instinct of ministry in him.
5. Joy in the new life (Acts 16:34). “And rejoiced.” When a man turns towards God, God floods him, and that is utmost joy.
6. The man’s home is changed (Acts 16:34). Believing in God wish all his house. A conversion which does not help a man’s home amounts to little. Mark also that here is certainly a sudden conversion. The influences which lead up to it may be long, as they are in many cases may be quick, as in this ease; but the conversion, the turning, is, in the nature of the case, sudden. Do not be afraid of sudden conversions. (Homiletic Review.)
And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes.
First fruits of repentance
It was the jailer and his wife, as Chrysostom conceits it, whom by the name of Euodias and Syntiche. St. Paul enrolls in the book of life (Philippians 4:2). See the meanest relief done to Christ and His members hath a patent of eternity. A little manna, but a vanishing meteor, lay it up in the ark, it never putrefies. The cheapest alms to Christ and His Church, the memory of it shall never be abolished. For the purpose of the words, conceive them to be an holy action of this convert, following upon and so manifesting and expressing the truth of his conversion. A few words, a small action in appearance, and yet a powerful evidence of his new birth. This small work, dipped and coloured in the blood of Paul, appears like that red thread on the hand of the newborn child, as a testimony of his birthright; and stands here upon record, and hangs, like Rahab’s scarlet thread, fastened on his house as a pledge of his salvation. “Indeed,” as Basil speaks, “‘tis his first sacrifice of thanks he offers for his conversion; a sacrifice, an whole burnt offering, and yet not by fire, but by water kindled and enflamed.” First, conceive this action of his, in respect of his person, that doth exercise and perform it, as it arises from him and is his action. He washed them. Look first upon him as a man quickened and enlivened with a principle of faith, and then conceive this action of his, as ‘tis a fruit of his faith. So soon as he believed, presently the same hour he washed their stripes. And the observation hence is briefly thus much: That a true believer is readily and presently a religious worker. Faith is not a frontlet to thine eyes only in illumination, but ‘tis a tablet on thine hands for employment and action. The work of faith and labour of love, St. Paul unites them, and they are never asunder, and that upon a threefold ground.
I. The very life and being of faith makes it naturally working. As at the beginning the Lord created trees with fruit on them, not a trunk or a stock, but flourishing and abundant, so in our new creation, the tree of faith, ‘tis presently furnished with the fruit of piety. See how suddenly in this convert the seedtime, and the spring, and harvest do follow each other. A lively faith, it longs to be working, like St. John’s converts, seeks employment presently. “What shall I do?” Deny it working, you deprive it of being; like the soul, it stays no longer in the body than it may act and quicken it; hinder the actions of life, it forsakes us presently. O let thine heart by faith be bathed and warmed in the blood of Christ, and thou mayest as well keep the fire from burning, and the sun from shining, and the heavens from moving, as true faith from working.
II. Except thy faith be lively and working, ‘tis an unuseful faith, altogether unprofitable.
1. That St. James assures thee (James 2:14), “It cannot save him.” The working faith, though it do not purchase heaven, yet it effectually procures it; it abhors works as merits, embraces them as means.
2. ‘Tis not light, but heat, that purges and purifies; not a contemplative notion swimming in the brain, but a devoted affection seated in the heart. Nay--
3. ‘Tis only the working faith that obtains thy pardon: in this case, though faith be actually destitute, yet ‘tis such a faith as will be industrious. God gives grace unto it as to a poor beggar, but not as to a lazy one, and faith receives it with an empty hand, but not with an idle one.
III. Except thy faith be active and operative ‘tis no way acceptable. In this case, as thine outward services without inward faith, like the emperor’s sacrifice that had no heart in it, are prodigious and loathsome, so the inwards of faith, without the body and-substance of works, are offals and refuse. “God,” saith Gregory, “requires not only the shake breast of faith, but the heave shoulder and arm of obedience. Before thou believest, God freely forgives thee even all thine evil works, but when thou believeth He strictly exacts the performance of good.” Conceive this action of washing their stripes, secondly, as arising from a second seed of grace wrought in conversion, the principle of repentance. The observation from hence is thus much: Repentance, it makes us undo all that we did before. It enforces us to befool ourselves, look back upon all our actions with grief and sorrow; make us wish and desire we had never committed them. How did this jailer now smite on his thigh, as the prophet speaks? How did he question with himself and upbraid his folly--“What have I done?” Oh then! in the beginning of thy life, when thou first settest out, aim right and advisedly, lest at the long run thou befool thyself. Learn this lesson, ye wise fore-plotters of what you undertake, that account it your wisdom in all other business not to be mistaken, that judge it a point of folly to excuse yourselves. Happy be you that have your action in your hand, and may take a true level. This is the fore-counsel of repentance to thee. It persuades and forewarns, as St. Paul did the mariners (chap. 27.): “Undertake not this desperate voyage, it will be much damage of your goods and lives.” But if thou wilt on for all this warning, then comes repentance with an after-counsel, as the same St. Paul: “Sirs, you should have been advised by me, and so you should have gained this harm and loss.” Consider this action of the jailer in washing their stripes as arising from, thirdly, a third principle of grace wrought in conversion, and that’s as it springs from a seed and principle of renovation. And so ‘tis an evidence and fruit of the changing and reforming his former life, and that in three several considerations.
I. This washing and cherishing the apostles, it evidences the renewing and changing of his nature and former disposition. And from hence take notice of this observation: That grace and religion mollifies, changes, and sweetens the profanest natures and most barbarous dispositions. This jailer, before a savage persecutor, like the demoniac in the gospel, exceeding fierce, no man could tame him, now behold him dispossessed of his fury, he sits at Christ’s feet peaceable and gentle. Religion, it persuades us and woos us, in St. Paul’s language (Colossians 3:12). Education, laws, magistrates, may suppress for a time, but ‘tis grace alone that can thoroughly and effectually transform us. Thus the primitive fathers undertook the performance of those desperate cures. ‘Twas the voice of religion in their times, “Hast thou an unchaste wife? Bring her to religion, ‘twill make her temperate. Hast thou an undutiful child? Bring him to religion, ‘twill make him obedient. Hast thou an unfaithful servant? It will teach him fidelity.” Monsters of sin by the power of this have been converted into miracles of virtue.
II. It arises from the seed and principle of renovation in respect of his particular actual fault, of which he was now in present commission. He was even now exercising his barbarous cruelty towards the apostles; and in this sin the hand of God now finds him, and the guilt of this sin the mercy of God now pardons him; and therefore of all other sins, he will beware of this sin, presently puts himself into the practice of the contrary virtue. Observe, a true convert, though he resolves of a general reformation, yet, above all others, he will have a special eye at that sin which was the cause of his greatest ruin, and which God made the occasion of his rising and conversion. As a man recovered from a dangerous sickness, he carefully uses a general good diet, but especially desires preservatives and antidotes against the disease he was lately cured of. I surfeited of this meat; this proved my bane, and he knows relapses to be dangerous and deadly. A captain is careful to strengthen every corner of his castle, but that place where the enemy broke in before shall have a double watch, that’s fortified especially.
III. ‘Tis a fruit arising from the seed of renovation in respect of his private calling and profession. He is a jailer, and they, you know, are usually merciless, hard-hearted men. Now he is converted he reforms the abuses of his calling, uses his prisoners mercifully and with much pity. He shows the truth and power of his conversion in his private personal calling and profession. He is not only a good Christian, but a good jailer, hath care of his prisoners; a good father and master, all his house must be taught and baptized. Observe, the truth of conversion will evidence itself in the ordering and reforming of our personal calling. Religion, ‘tis not a matter merely of public and common profession, dwells not in churches and temples only, but it will enter into thine house, bids itself home to thee, as Christ to Zaccheus, “Come, I must lodge in thine house,” have access and sway in all thine employments. Secondly, take notice of it, as it respects and passes upon these men to whom he performed it; he washed their stripes. And so the divers considerations of the object will specify the nature of the act and fruit of conversion. First, then generally and briefly conceive them as proximi, as men, brethren, and neighbours, in that common reference, so ‘tis actus charitatis, an act of charity. And then observe, the truth of conversion will express itself in the works of love to our neighbours and brethren. This is the main evidence of our new birth.
I. ‘Tis the best sign and proof of our love if we love our brethren. Who doth not boast of his love to God? ‘Tis every man’s profession, and we cannot convert them. Bring them to this trial, “Dost thou love Him that is begotten of God; wheresoever thou seest His image and similitude?” “By this ye are known to he My disciples, if ye love one another.”
II. God sets over this love to our brethren that they might receive the fruit and improvement of it. The benefit of our love it cannot reach Him; His self-sufficiency admits no addition from our poor charity; He makes our brethren the receivers of it.
III. This love to our brethren multiplies and strengthens and increases our love to God. That’s hearty love that rests not upon the party, whom we chiefly affect, but enlarges itself to His children and followers and all that belongs to Him. And that’s the first consideration of it, as they are proximi, and so this washing, ‘tis opus charitatis, he loves them as brethren. But, secondly, conceive them as they are afflicti, as Christians in misery and affliction, whipped and imprisoned; and then ‘tis actus misericordiae, an action of mercy. Before we considered them as members of Christ, and so He loved them; now behold them as the afflicted members of Christ, and so now He pities them. Observe, the naturalest motion of an heart converted is to commiserate the poor saints of God, and to show mercy towards them. The works of mercy are the most kindly returns of mercy received. Wert thou furnished with all other graces, yet thou fallest short if thou wantest this one. These fruits of piety and relief to the poor saints, Christ--
1. Most strictly exacts.
2. Most graciously accepts.
3. Most bountifully rewards.
Saith Basil, “Liberality to the poor saints, ‘tis not liberality, but usury to God, and that of the highest increase.” Thirdly, conceive them as they are men that were wronged and oppressed by him, and so ‘tis an act of satisfaction. The truth of conversion as it shows itself in all duties of love and commiseration; so to those we have injured it will express itself in a due satisfaction. Without this, saith St. Augustine, all acts of repentance prove ineffectual. Nay, ‘tis no true repentance, but a mere counterfeit. Fourthly, conceive them as they are the ministers and means of His calling; and so ‘tis a testimony of thankfulness. These are the servants of the Most High God; these have brought the glad tidings of grace and salvation; not only their feet, but their wounds and stripes and sores are beautiful. He thankfully embraces, refreshes, and comforts them. And then give way to this observation: That the truth of this conversion will manifest itself in all fruit of thankfulness to the ministers of salvation. See now this jailer draws out the apostles, as Ebed-Melech did Jeremy, from the depth of the dungeon; makes his prison, like Obadiah’s cave, to nourish these prophets; becomes a Lot and an Abraham to entertain these angels and messengers of heaven. (Bp. Brownrigg.)
1. The old cause produces the old effect. Here is a man converted, and he instantly seeks to make up for the past. What did it all mean? Exactly what our own repentance must do. He tried to rub out yesterday’s injury. Christianity always drives men back upon their yesterdays. The Christian says, “I must pay the money that I am owing. I know that the Statute of Limitations would excuse me, but there is no statute of limitations in the regenerated heart.” The penitent says, “I must find out the life I once bruised, and if that life is no longer on the earth I must find some descendants, and for David’s sake I will love Mephibosheth.” The religion that does this proves its own inspiration. It does not need our eloquence, nor ask for our intellectual patronage. Any argument in words may provoke a retort in words; but a jailer washing stripes undeserved, feeding hunger unmerited, will carry the day.
2. The natural result of receiving Christ into the heart is joy (verse 34). Christianity never brings gloom; it is a religion of light, morning, summer. There are three possible views of God. There is the view which afflicts the soul with a sense of terror. There is the view which elevates veneration without touching emotion. The third view is the Christian one, and that always brings with it joy. We ought to enter into joy now.
3. There are results of Christianity on the other side; hence we find that the magistrates were afraid; they sent to announce their willingness that Saul and Silas should leave the city. The bad man has a ghost on the right hand and on the left. There are “earthquakes” representing all kinds of physical difficulties, material alarms and afflictions. Following these came the discovery that the apostles claimed the protection of the Roman law. The bad man has no peace. The very law turned to a serpent in his grip and stung his arm. The bad man is always getting hold of the wrong end; always mistaking the case; always prosecuting the wrong party. Then add all the fears which come from spiritual doctrine, and the bad man has a poor time of it. There is no peace but in goodness; no rest but in righteousness. If thou hast turned away from thy Father in heaven, “acquaint now thyself with Him and be at peace.”
4. This incident throws some light upon the character of Paul. He did not tell at first that he was a Roman citizen. He kept it back until he could use it with the happiest effect. Paul was probably the only Roman citizen in the little band, and was Paul a man to get off and let the others go to prison? Now that he could smite the magistrates as with a fist of iron, he said, “They have beat us … being Romans,” etc. He knew how that message would bite all the soul such men had left. This is the way we should stand by one another. Mark the dignity of his innocence. “As for your sergeants, we are much obliged to you for your civility, but let the gentlemen themselves put on their boots this cold morning and come down.” So the magistrates, what with earthquakes, and Roman citizenships, and converted jailers, and one thing added to another, came down and said in effect, “If you will be so kind, gentlemen, as to go, we shall be deeply obliged to you.” In former days they besought Christ Himself to depart out of their coasts; and the bad world is always asking Christianity if it will be so kind as to leave it. It will interfere with the world’s weights and measures; with life at home and life in the market place; with dress and speech, and with honesty of heart; so the wicked world says to it, “If you be so kind as to go away.” Sooner would the rising sun go at the bidding of some poor insect, or the rising tide retire before the waving hand of some impotent Canute.
5. Being liberated, the apostles did not take the shortest way out of Philippi; “they entered into the house of Lydia”; they called the brethren together and “comforted them.” The sufferer comforting those who have not suffered! Then they departed with the ineffable dignity of Christian uprightness.
6. So the Church of Christ was first established in Europe; see what a hold it has today. I am aware of the corruptions of Christianity, but underneath all the Christian idea has been the mightiest force in European civilisation and progress. Take out of European cities the buildings which Christianity has put up, and those cities would in many instances lose their only frame. What is Cologne but the foreground of its infinite cathedral? What would Milan be but for its august and overwhelming church? Take away St. Peter’s from Rome and Notre Dame from Paris, etc., and see how frightful a mutilation would be made in the map of European grandeur. If you tell me that the great galleries of art would still be left, I would ask you to take every Christian picture and statue, and then call for your estimate of the boundless cavity. If you tell me that the great centres of music will still remain, I would ask you to take away the productions of the Christian poets and musicians; and after you have removed Beethoven and Handel, Mendelssohn and Haydn, I will ask you to state in figures the stupendous and irreparable loss. When you call these things to mind, and then remember that Paul planted the first Christian Church at Philippi, you will see how important are the incidents recorded in the chapter. We cannot tell what we are doing. He who plants a tree cannot forecast the issue of his planting. The penny you gave to the little poor boy may be the seed of great fortunes. The love grasp you gave the orphan’s cold hand may be the beginning of an animation lasting as immortality. (J. Parker, D. D.)
They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans.--
The assertion or vindication of rights
I. Paul’s right as a Roman citizen. To Paul this was invaluable. It was in itself an honour, and would be everywhere so regarded. It gave to him who enjoyed it the protection of the best system of laws known among men. In any part of the world, moreover, where the Roman power extended, it conceded that right. A Roman citizen might not be crucified, nor scourged. The privilege of Roman citizenship also secured the right of a public trial. This tended, in an eminent degree, to maintain justice.
II. The manner in which these rights had been violated. The wrong done was a palpable injustice, in all respects, at variance with the requirements of the Roman law. They were condemned unheard; and at the demand of a mob; they were publicly whipped; they were cast into prison. Every one of these things was contrary to Roman law. They suffered, moreover, further indignities at the hands of the jailer.
III. The propriety of the demand thus urged. The principles of the gospel seem to require that we should bear injuries not only with no malice, but even with no resistance (Matthew 5:39-41; 1 Corinthians 6:6-8). But note--
1. That the conduct of the Saviour interprets His own words. In the numerous injuries which He suffered at the hands of individuals, He offered no resistance. Yet, in entire consistency with all this, when He came in contact with the law, and when, under the forms of law, injustice was about to be done, He demanded that the provisions of the law should not be violated (John 18:23).
2. This leads us to notice, then, the value of law for the protection of rights. That value was recognised by Paul on other occasions (Acts 23:2-3; Acts 25:11). The history of the world, in regard to law, has been a little more than a succession of struggles to secure the rights of individuals against arbitrary power; and the points gained in that respect have been the beginning of new eras in the history of the world, each of these epochs sending its influence far into the future. Law itself, as we now have it, has been the slow growth of ages; and is the result of effort to save from arbitrary punishment. Under wise provisions, in favour of general liberty and individual rights, we are permitted to live; and the business of the world now is to protect and defend these principles as the ground of security in all time to come. They are of inestimable worth, and it is every man’s privilege and duty to appeal to them and to demand that they shall be observed and enforced. Pym and Hampden are immortal as having defended the great principles of liberty; and Paul stands thus among the great benefactors of mankind for having asserted and maintained the right of an appeal to the law.
3. It remains only to remark, in the vindication of the conduct of Paul, that the character of a good man belongs to the public, to virtue, to truth, to religion. Paul had not only his own individual rights to maintain, but he was a representative man, entrusted with the rights pertaining to the Christian religion. All that he had endured in his imprisonment, he could privately and personally bear and forgive. But the public wrong which had been done was a wrong to justice; and not only so, but a wrong to religion; a wrong to him as the minister of religion; a wrong which, if acknowledged, might greatly hinder the success of his future labours. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The selfish policy of magistrates
There is a thing which passes for generosity which, when analysed, is found to be nothing but selfish policy. Sometimes a flint-hearted magistrate makes a great show of generous consideration for the condition of the prisoner, and pompously discharges him on that ground, as he says. Whereas it will often be found that the charge against the man was one of which the law could take no cognisance, or else which the magistrate felt himself unable to grapple with. He gets great credit for his clemency. His manoeuvre, however, reminds those who see through it of the spider’s tricks. We well know that the moment an ill-starred fly or other insect comes in contact with the net of the spider, it is sprung upon with the rapidity of lightning, and if the captured insect be of small size the spider conveys it at once to the place of slaughter, and having at its leisure sucked all its juice, throws out the carcase. If the insect be somewhat larger and struggles to escape, the spider envelops its prey in a mesh of thread passed round its body in various directions, and its wings and legs thus effectually secured, it is conveyed to the den and devoured. But when a bee or large fly, too powerful to be mastered by the spider, happens to get entangled in its toils, then the wary animal, conscious of its incapacity to contend against such fearful odds, makes no attempt to seize or embarrass the victim. On the contrary, it assists the entangled captive in its efforts to free itself, and often goes so far as to break off that part of the web from which it may be suspended. This act has upon it the colour of seeming generosity, but in reality it is nothing more than the performance of selfish cunning. The tyrant, feeling himself incapable of doing an injury, determines to have no molestation. To obtain this end he performs an act of manumission. In this policy he is not unlike the magistrate referred to. (Scientific Illustrations.)
Vindication of rights:--Thomas Maynard, English consul, was thrown into the prison of the Inquisition at Lisbon, under pretence that he had said or done something against the Roman religion. Mr. Meadows, who was then Resident, advised Cromwell of the affair, and being directed by him, demanded of the King of Portugal the liberation of Maynard. The king told him that he had no authority over the Inquisition. The Resident sent this answer to Cromwell, from whom he received instructions to tell the king that since he had no power over the Inquisition, he was commanded by Cromwell to declare war against the Inquisition itself. This so terrified the king and the Inquisition that they opened the prison doors and gave the consul liberty to go out. He, however, refused to go out privately, and required that he should be honourably brought forth by the Inquisition. (W. Baxendale.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29