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Good Words 1860
Bible Records or Remarkable Conversion


THE STORY OF THE PHILIPPIAN JAILER.

Paul and Silas were sent by the church at Antioch on a missionary journey. At a public meeting of the brethren, they were commended to the grace of God. At first they went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the newly-formed congregations. They proceeded on their journey, and attempted to go into Bithynia; but the Spirit suffered them not. God was their guide, He the director of apostolic missions ; and the instruction which they had received from the mother church at Antioch gave them full liberty to follow the leadings of the infallible Head and Lord. So Paul passed by Mysia, and came down to Troas, a great mercantile city and seaport in the Ægean. Here they paused, and bethought themselves whither they were to go. As they looked across the Ægean, they beheld in the distance the hills of Macedonia. Were they to leave Asia, and enter into Europe? Can you not imagine how that night, ere Paul and Silas went to rest, they bent their knees in prayer to their heavenly Master, beseeching Him to guide them, and to make straight their path before them? And how, after their fervent petition, and after the hearty Amen which Silas had added to the Amen of brother Paul, they both laid them down in peace, knowing that God had heard and accepted their prayer, and would in due time send an answer to their supplications. And behold, in the silence of night, when deep sleep falleth upon men in slumberings upon the bed, He openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction. He who rules supreme in the visible kingdom of nature, is also Sovereign in the invisible spiritual world; and quietly and unobserved He sends forth His decrees. Thus, 0 thou mighty and subtle adversary, proud and cunning Idumean, thou thinkest the new-born King of the Jews cannot escape thy assassins ; behold, the Father of the holy child Jesus has sent a messenger to defeat thy purpose, a messenger whom thy legions cannot see and attack; the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream ! Oh, praise the Lord, all ye His saints, who doeth according to His will—and it is a will of infinite love and wisdom—-in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth!

The vision sent unto Paul was this:—"There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us." And when he awoke, he knew it was the Lord who had spoken to him; and, in the touching entreaty of the Macedonian, he heard the voice of God, and, as a faithful servant, he cheerfully obeyed it.

So in the morning, when the men of Troas arose to their trades and occupations, among those who were busy about the shipping in the harbour were Paul and Silas and young Timothy, whom Paul had taken with him, and the beloved physician Luke, who seems to have recently joined them. They were seeking a passage to Europe. Fair ship, that from the Ægean shore sailed the placid ocean plains, bringing to Europe the messengers of life and peace, more precious than all the richly-laden vessels, though they bring gold and silver and ivory! Did not the angels of God watch her with intense interest ? Nay, the Lord himself brought the wind of His treasuries and prospered the voyage of His servants. In two days they were at Neapolis, and from thence they went to Philippi, which was only ten miles distant. It was a Roman colony, inhabited by Greeks and Romans, and a small number of Jews. According to the example and command of Jesus, they went first to the ancient covenant-people, to the synagogue, which was outside the city gates, by a river. There they preached the gospel to the women which resorted thither. Lydia, a seller of purple, an Asiatic Jewess from Thyatira, listened, and the Lord opened her heart, and she believed. How simply the Spirit of God tells the wonderful story! "As Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be with you;" so He constantly enters the heart of man, opening it Himself, and bringing with Him the most precious gifts. A high dignitary in a Christian Church was once asked, at a public meeting in Berlin, to relate the history of his conversion. He shewed at first great reluctance to comply with their request; but at last he said, '' Well, brethren, I can say no more: the Lord drew me, and I could not help yielding to Him."

Lydia, no doubt anxious that the precious truths which she had heard should be made known also to her friends and acquaintances, invited the brethren to abide with her. And they accepted her invitation, and thus beheld, in the house of Lydia at Philippi, the first congregation of Christian believers in Europe. Is not "the kingdom of God like a grain of mustard-seed, which indeed is the smallest of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof ?"

But the apostle's quiet activity was soon disturbed. Paul, moved with pity and compassion at beholding a human being, created in God's image to enjoy perfect liberty, even by being filled with the Spirit, enslaved and fettered, possessed with a spirit of divination, under the bondage of some supernatural, but evil power, commanded the spirit, in the name of Jesus, to depart from her. The miracle was performed. The poor woman was free; but, of course, she had thereby returned to her natural normal state; she could no longer prophesy, for her mind was now no longer assisted by superior inhabitants of an unseen world. Thus her masters lost their gain. As long as Paul preached quietly to a number of earnest Jews and Gentiles, no notice was taken of him; but as soon as his gospel interfered with the sinful practice of men and their sinful pleasures and gains, there was a great tumult. ''What! these Jews to meddle with our affairs; to interfere with our worship; to intrude upon us their fine-spun theories of a mysterious, invisible, only God; His strange and intolerable ten commandments; to change our customs which please us so well!—it cannot be endured for a moment." The whole town was in commotion; the multitude rose against them. Thus has my heart been like the tumultuous market-place of Philippi, when Christ's gospel began to interfere with a right eye or right arm, and said, "Pluck it out; cut it off."

The magistrates, horror-struck at the audacity of the strangers, rent their clothes, commanded them to be beaten, and to be cast into prison. The jailer is charged to keep them closely.

And thus, gentle reader, have we at last come to the jailer. I like, when I read a chapter, to read the one before it. I find the Word of God requires to be read connectedly and systematically. When I wish not merely to read, but to see, a Bible narrative, I like to know all the antecedents, and to begin at the beginning. And so, though I do not think the matter was extraneous, even should it be so, in God's garden all the bypaths and nooks and corners are delightful, and we need not grudge the time, but enjoy ourselves leisurely. But now let us look at the jailer.

He belongs to a class of men who generally become so familiar with crime and with suffering that their perceptions are blunted, their sympathies destroyed, their consciences seared. But let us not condemn the individual on account of the character which his class generally bears. Let us watch his conduct. With rigorous cruelty he fulfils the directions of the magistrates. Not content with placing the apostles among the other offenders against the law who were in custody at Philippi, he thrust them into the inner prison, ''and then forced their limbs, lacerated as they were, and bleeding from the scourge, into a painful and constrained position, by means of an instrument employed to confine and torture the bodies of the worst malefactors." [Conybeare and Howson.] The inner prisons of ancient times were not like the prisons of our day, when Christianity has taught us to remember mercy in justice. Christ's gospel alone introduced clemency into the world. Such names as Elizabeth Fry and John Howard do not grace the pages of the annals of ancient history. The inner prison, we are told by antiquarian scholars, were pestilential cells, damp, cold, and unvisited by the cheery rays of light.

Why did the jailer exceed his commission, and treat the apostles with such severity? We read of charity, that it "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but re-joiceth in the truth;" but great and hardened sinners rejoice in the suppression of truth, and the sufferings and defeat of the apostles of righteousness. The hardened man hates not merely the light, but also the light-bearers; he not merely hates godliness, but he hates all who possess and proclaim it; and he imagines that, when the disciples are oppressed and bound, he has disarmed the King himself, whose might is infinite. Thus is it probable that the jailer was pleased at seeing '' men who pretend to be better than other people, in the same plight with the very worst offenders," and that his hatred of righteousness and truth found vent in his cruel treatment of men of whom he must have known that they were innocent of crime.

Poor prisoners under charge of such a jailer! It is midnight, all is still, when the voice of song is heard from the inner prison! Who has ever been heard singing there? Singing in the inner prison! The merriest bird, whose tiny breast God has filled with treasures of cheerful melody, would become silent in cage so dreary and dark. It is the chained prisoners; though their feet were in the stocks, their souls were unfettered and unchained, free and strong and joyous. Like larks

they soar up and bathe in the sunshine of God's favour, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ.

[Thus has God at all times enabled His servants not merely to suffer, but to rejoice in afflictions for Christ's sake. John Bunyan sang—

"For though men keep my outward man
Within these locks and bars,
Yet by the faith of God I can
Mount higher than the stars."]

God giveth songs in the night. What did they sing? God has provided the pilgrims to 'the heavenly Jerusalem with all that is needful; He has given them also songs for their pilgrimage to cheer them in trouble, to encourage them in difficulties, to keep them hopeful and watchful when they pass through the enchanted ground. Knowest thou the chief musician whom God has given to His people? That man after His own heart, who knew life, with its bitterness and joys, its trials and sorrows, its sunshine and gloom, its mountain heights and dark valleys? Lovest thou the Psalms? ''The Bible in miniature," Luther called them, "where thou seest the very heart-life of God's saints." In the night of affliction, in the storm of temptation, in the anguish of repentance, in the twilight of doubt, hast thou found in them supplications, and sighs, and outpourings of heart that thou couldst make thy own? In the joy of fulfilled wishes, in the ecstasy of gratitude and praise, in the overwhelming moments when thou wast crowned with loving-kindness and mercies of which thou wast not worthy, hast thou found in them hallelujahs, songs of triumph and joy and adoration? Oh yes, Christian, I know thou hast; for God has given this Book of Psalms to be the companion of His people, and His Church will use it and sing it till we learn that new song in heaven. And out of that song-book did the prisoners doubtless sing. "Oh, let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before Thee; according to the greatness of Thy power, preserve Thou those that are appointed to die! The Lord helpeth them to right that suffer wrong; the Lord looseth men out of prison ; the Lord helpeth them that are fallen; the Lord careth for the righteous."

And as they sang and prayed, God answered. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the earth were shaken.

"Great is the Lord, and greatly to be feared. In His hand are the deep places of the earth. God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble."

The jailer, roused from his sleep, immediately thought of the prisoners. To his great amazement and horror, he saw the prison-doors open; and supposing that the prisoners had fled, knowing that inevitable death awaited him, in his ignorance and wretchedness he resolved that suicide was better than disgrace.

Paul, calm, collected, unselfish, as a true child of God, in the midst of the terrible and exciting scene, exclaimed, '' Do thyself no harm ; for we are all here." Then the jailer laid aside his sword, called for a light, and rushed into the inner prison. And as he stood there before Paul and Silas, a fear of a higher kind took possession of his soul. He remembered all that he had heard before of the prisoners, who were now so calm, their countenances irradiated with heavenly peace and confidence; of their doctrine of obedience to God and love to man — their blameless life of prayer, and purity, and benevolence ; he called to mind their patience, their meekness, their gentle submission, their undisturbed tranquillity in the undeserved humiliations, sufferings, tortures which they had to endure. He trembled and fell down before them. Here was a greater and mightier earthquake than that which had shaken the foundations of the prison. When the eternal world came so near him—when he was so close to death, and that unknown future, whose shadow had so often flitted across and disturbed the even tenor of his God-estranged life—and when he saw before him men who evidently were in possession of a faith which was a reality, a peace which was from above, a strength which nerved them to look fearlessly into the jaws of death—the question which lies buried in the heart of the sinner, be he ever so careless and hardened, broke forth, "What must I do to be saved ?" It is the most important question for a sinful, guilty man to ask. Saved is the word—not improved, reformed, soothed. For he knows that he is lost and condemned. "Sirs," he exclaimed—"you, who know about these things —you, who are in safety and peace—you, who know and love God, and are loved and upheld by Him—you, I ask, what must I do to be saved?" And now, come, friend, and think of all systems of religion and philosophy, ancient and modern, austere, sentimental, poetical, transcendental, and tell me what human being can give an answer to this question — an answer true, sure, decided, authoritative. Can he be saved, guilt-laden, sin-stained as he is? What is he to do? How is he to obtain it? You say he is to repent. Will repentance save him? Can you promise it? What amount of sorrow, contrition, reformation, is sufficient to secure salvation? The very utmost that men can say amounts to faint probabilities, uncertainties, which give no peace to the wounded conscience, no life to the broken heart, no principle of holiness to the polluted soul, no strength to the sin-enfeebled man. "What must I do to be saved?"

And clear and strong, as a voice from heaven, sounds the answer of the apostle—"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." This is a faithful saying, for it is God's truth. It is worthy of all acceptation, for it brings a message of peace and life from the heavenly Father himself. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. He has done it. What required to be done in order to secure the salvation of the guilty, behold it has been done, for Christ lived, obeyed, suffered, died, rose again, and ascended. Then believe, and live! Look unto Him, and be saved! Cling to Him, who was wounded for thy transgression, and bruised for thine iniquity. Thou shalt be saved; for God has declared it. He has not merely said so, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the glorious confirmation of our acceptance. Thou shalt be saved immediately; for as soon as thou believest, the righteousness of Christ is thine. And saved for ever; because the joy of the Father and the angels over a sinner that repenteth is a proof that the prodigal, once restored by Divine grace to the home of love and peace, is to dwell there for evermore.

The promise, "Thou shalt be saved," has its depths. "To be saved" means, to be brought out of a state of danger into a state of safety. But this is only the beginning and foundation. The state of danger is a state of sin, soul-sickness, estrangement from God. The state of safety, a life of faith, love, and hope, of fellowship with the Father and the Son. Our salvation is perfect when we are like Jesus; for He is the true man, in the likeness of God, and we are to be conformed to His image. But the moment we believe, we are virtually saved; for we are begotten again by the Spirit of God, created anew in Christ Jesus, endowed with a new principle of life. And we must hold fast the beginning of our confidence, our first act of faith, to the end; for the just shall not merely commence to live, but shall live by faith. In proportion as we exercise faith in Jesus, is our peace deepened, our love strengthened, our hope established, our holiness increased. What a wonderful salvation is this, which descends into the lowest depth of guilt with comfort and peace, and carries on its work, till it has raised us to a height and eminence too lofty for our gaze at present: "We shall be like Him!"

But again, let us listen to the apostle's answer: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Poor jailer! and hast thou a house—a wife, who gives thee the affection of her heart—and children, who cling to thee, and. look to thee as their guide and model! Thou poor, godless, prayerless man, who hast allowed thyself, in thy recklessness, to be hurried along on the road to destruction, bearest thou the sacred name of father? Knowest thou not that these children look up to thee as if thou wert the only man in the universe, the very type and model of what a man ought to be?—that thy words and doings are regarded by them as worthy of all imitation? '' Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Thou wilt be a light, and guide, and blessing to them; and the Lord will hear thy prayer, and bless thy example ; and they also will be brought into the fold of Jesus.

Hast thou not come to Jesus yet, dear reader? and has God given thee souls to watch over and train?—and I know thou lovest them: do ponder over this gracious promise:—"Thou shalt be saved, and thy house!"

The apostles, we are told, spoke unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house; and they heard it, and believed. They understood it. So do you. Christ died for the ungodly— Jesus came to save that which is lost. They had heard it only once. You a thousand times. They believed—that is, they did not make God a liar; but thought His word worthy of all trust and confidence. They believed, because they thought themselves bad enough for Jesus. Most people say, they do not think themselves good enough to come to Christ. But they do not express their thoughts and feelings correctly. They do not think themselves bad enough; they do not hold their case to be a desperate one; they still imagine they will be able to pay some portion of their debt. As soon as people think themselves bad enough for Jesus, for a Saviour who only undertakes lost, condemned, leprous, bankrupt sinners, they believe.

They believed and were baptized straightway. Wherever there is faith, the sign and seal of the covenant ought not to be withheld, Thinkest thou thyself justified in coming to Christ, and resting on His bosom, then why hesitate to sit down at His table, and fulfil His dying request: "This do in remembrance of me?"

The jailer's house is now changed into a church of God. Behold him filled with shame and contrition, and yet hope, and peace, and consolation. Just look at him, washing the disciples' stripes. Is not his very countenance changed? Are these the same hard, selfish, creel features? Pause here, and adore. The love of Christ is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost. As one of God's elect, he has put on bowels of mercy, compassion, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness. He is in Christ, and, therefore, a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. Is it not true, ''Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved?" Is not faith the victory that overcometh the world?

Look at that scene in the jailer's house, on that early morning. He set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God, with all his house. The apostles, through whom God had given them the knowledge of the truth, sat down with them. The angels of God were near them, partakers of their joy. Oh, it must have been a glorious sight! But still more glorious shall it be, when, with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the innumerable multitude of ransomed sinners, the Lord Jesus Christ shall sit down in the kingdom of His Father; and their joy will be full, and their blessedness everlasting: when the promise, "Thou shalt be saved," shall be perfectly fulfilled ; when there shall be no more trace of that sin which reigned unto death, but where nothing but grace shall abound unto eternal life.

He came trembling—call it not selfish, ignoble fear. It is more selfish and ignoble to drown the misgivings, and forebodings, and anxious thoughts of the conscience in the cares and pleasures of this life, than to forget our own salvation in trying to be useful to others. For it is said, "Love thy neighbour as thyself;" and to be at peace with Him is the only foundation of true love and unselfishness. Call not this fear selfish and ignoble; for there was in it the beginning of repentance—turning from sin unto righteousness, from self unto God; there was in it a seed sown by the Divine Sower. Remember that Jesus—the truth and the love of God—has shewn unto us whom and what we are to fear and bear in mind,—that He thought it necessary to speak to us of that fire which is unquenchable, and that sentence which is final. Look at this trembling jailer, and learn from him how fear may be changed into peace, trembling into joy, the spirit of bondage into the spirit of adoption, the unknown God into Abba, Father, the despised Nazarene and His followers into a beloved Saviour and brethren. Hear the word "Believe," as an invitation of mercy, and the command of our heavenly Father. Askest thou, "What shall I do?" as the Jews asked, '' What shall we do, that we might work the works of God ?" Then the answer of Jesus is to us as it was to them: ''This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." A. S.


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