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set before us, by him and his gospel, there is what may
5. 'To which I may add one consideration more, as an
Here are not only the necessary, reasonable precepts of true holiness; but also some excellent directions, very expedient for us in our state of frailty ; whilst we are imperfect, and are surrounded with snares.
“ Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation, and be not overcome of evil. Let your loins be girded, and your lights burning ; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord. Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Be diligent, that ye may be found of him in peace.”
These considerations amount to a full proof of this truth; and show, that they who attend to this doctrine cannot fail of salvation. The rule is right and infallible, if observed. And it is of such a nature, that they who know it, and think of it, must be forcibly engaged to act according to it. As St. Paul says: “ The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth,” Rom. i. 16.
And they said : Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou
shalt be saved, and thy house. Acts xvi. 31.
IV. I now intend to mention some inferences by way of
1. We perceive from the history before us, that affecting, awakening occurrences in life are sometimes of great use to men.
The keeper of the prison at Philippi, by the shaking of the prison, and the loosening of the bands of all under his charge, was brought into great distress of mind; supposing that the prisoners had escaped, and fearing the displeasure of his superiors. But that distress was useful. He was brought to serious thoughts of religion, and a concern for eternal salvation, and how to obtain it,
The Lord was pleased to render the conversion of Saul very affecting, who was to be an instrument in converting many others, and who was likely to meet with many difficulties in the discharge of the office for which he was designed. As he was journeying to Damascus, Acts ix. in the company of others, with a design to apprehend all whom he should find there, that called upon the name of Jesus,“ suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven, insomuch that he fell to the earth; and then heard a voice saying unto him; Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said ; Who art thou, Lord And the Lord said ; I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. And he trembling and astonished, said ; Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?” Much after the same manner with the gaoler at Philippi; “ Sirs, what shall I do to be saved ? And the Lord said unto him; Arise, go into the city; and it shall be told thee what thou must do” And “ Saul arose from the earth-And they led him by the hand, and brought him to Damascus. 'And he was three days without sight; and neither did eat nor drink."
Possibly some appearances less awful, some means less awakening than these, might have been sufficient to work upon Saul, and convince him of bis sin. Somewhat less than all this might have sufficed to induce him to become of a persecutor a preacher of the gospel; nevertheless we may reasonably think, that every part of that remarkable transaction was wisely ordered. It was suited to make deep impressions on Saul, and would be of lasting use to secure his future steadiness, faithfulness, and zeal.
In a like manner, still, remarkable occurrences in life, whether signal deliverances or afflictive events, though not miraculous, may be overruled by Divine Providence for reclaiming men from a sinful course of life, or for alarming good men fallen into negligence and security,
2. We may collect from this history, that the christian religion does not condemn or forbid the exercise of any employments and offices that are necessary and useful in this world.
This person, after his conversion to christianity, seems VOL. IX.
still to have continued in the office of keeper of the prison at Philippi. He believed and had been baptized. And after this, “ when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let these men go. And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul: The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.” The order of the magistrates was sent to him; and he delivered it to Paul and Silas. He was therefore still in his former office. Nor does it appear that St. Paul had enjoined him to quit it.
Whilst therefore no sinful compliances are insisted upon as qualifications, any useful and necessary office may be discharged by a christian.
3. We cannot but observe here a just character of the christian religion. It is the doctrine of salvation; it teaches men what they ought to do to be saved.
We have formerly shown the connection between faith in Jesus Christ and salvation; nevertheless it is fit to make this remark here. Jesus is eminently the Saviour. He “ saves his people from their sins,” Matt. i. 21. He “ delivers from the wrath to come," 1 Thess. i. 10; and will bestow eternal life upon them that obey him. Says the angel to the shepherds near Bethlehem; " I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David à Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,” Luke ii. 10, 11 ; and his gospel is called “ the saving grace of God,” Tit. ü. 11.
Such then is the word taught by Christ. It is the doctrine of salvation. It is not a scheme of natural philosophy, teaching the several orders and powers of invisible beings; or the hidden nature and various properties of material things. It is not a system of civil policy and government. It is not the art of fine speaking and rhetorical discourse. But it teaches men of every rank and condition the duties of their condition, and the several branches of piety; what they ought to do to be saved; how they ought to walk that they may please God. It affords directions and assistances for persevering in virtue; for resisting and overcoming temptations, so as that they may maintain their integrity to the end, and have peace in death, and inherit everlasting life.
4. The christian doctrine is fitted to awaken, convince, and
reform men of every temper, and every station in life.
We have a proof of it in the conversion of this person, who had been employed in an office which is apt to render men rough and untractable; which is, perhaps, more especially fit for such tempers; and is also likely to cherish self-confidence, fierceness, and austerity of behaviour.
Such an one is the convert in the text. We see what he once was; how he was affected, and how he was changed and reformed. Paul and Silas, having been accused before the rulers of Philippi, were beaten by their order; after which the same rulers cast them into prison, " charging the gaoler to keep them safely. Who having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.” He readily executed a severe sentence; and possibly, added to the rigour of it.
“ And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God, and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and every man's bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword, and would have killed himself.” Here we see the rashness and resolution of a man of strong passions. “ But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?" Now he is affected to a gi degree, and in good measure humbled and softened.
Sensible of his ignorance and guilt, he inquires how he may be saved ; and he is open to conviction. When the truth is proposed to him, he embraceth it, and practises compassion and tenderness, to which he had hitherto been a stranger. “ And they said unto him; Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.” How obedient is he to the heavenly, saving doctrine of the gospel ! “ And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." How great is this change!
Indeed, the doctrine of the gospel, setting before men the evil of sin, the necessity of holiness, the future misery of the wicked, the glory of heaven for the righteous, and the grace of God to all that repent; and speaking of these things clearly and strongly, in a manner unknown to reason, and the law of Moses, is adapted to make impressions upon all who are capable of thought and consideration.
And thus, as “ Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," 1 Tim. i. 15; and “ to call men to repentance," Matt. ix. 13; he does by hís doctrine effectually bring them to repentance, and saves them from their sins.
5. The christian religion, and they who are animated by its principles, are concerned for the welfare of men of every age and every condition.
This person said to Paul and Silas : “ Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said ; Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house :” some, very probably, in early age, some of very mean condition, hired servants and bondsmen, slaves for a time, or for life; but all rational, accountable beings, capable of salvation, and formed for everlasting life, if they do not render themselves unworthy of it. And Cornelius, of Cæsarea, was directed by an angel to send for Peter; who would tell him words whereby he and all his might be saved.
6. We learn from this history, as well as from divers other things in the book of the Acts, and from other parts of the New Testament, that the christian doctrine, or the great things of religion, may be taught and understood in a short space of time.
It could be only some general knowledge of the doctrine of Paul, which this person bad before. But now upon some short discourses and arguments of the apostle, he becomes a believer, and is baptized. So likewise Lydia “ attended to the things that were spoken of Paul :" and she and her household were baptized forthwith. And upon Peter's first sermon at Jerusalein, after our Lord's “ sion, they that gladly received his word, were baptized. And the same day were added to them about three thousand men,” Acts ii. 41. Afterwards, “ Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake; hearing and seeing the miracles which he did- -And there was great joy in that city— And when they believed Philip, preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women,” ch. viii. 5–12. Not long after this, Philip, by divine direction, meets the chamberlain and treasurer of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, à proselyte of the Jewish religion, who had been up at Jerusalem to worship; and Philip preached Jesus unto him. After a short conversation, travelling in the chariot, he is convinced, and