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Acts xvi, 29–31.
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?. And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.
If there were any subject of religion in which it were pardonable for us to amuse you with speculations, or if there were any truths connected with your spiritual interests, to which you might reasonably be inattentive, yet certain it is that the truth contained in the words we have read to you is not one of them. For here we find a question proposed of such awful magnitude, that in comparison of it all other inquiries sink into insignificance. It is not here asked, as in a case of great doubtfulness and uncertainty, what is the will of God and the path of duty? it is not inquired what is the precise nature of salvation, or what the extent of man's power to obtain it, but simply that great critical question with which all others of a religious nature are more or less connected, What must I do to be saved?
Not to anticipate any future observations we may make on the importance of this question, let it be sufficient to observe, that if there is in man a spiritual part which survives his bodyif there be a God who shall call that spirit into judgment-if there be, to say the least, a possibility of its being consigned to misery, then it becomes us as reasonable men to regard the subject of our text as entitled to our most attentive meditation. The words naturally lead us to consider, first, the jailer's question; and secondly, the Apostle's answer.
1. The circumstances which led to this question are related in the foregoing context. Paul and Silas, were now at Philippi, a city of Macedonia; not the chief city, for that was Thessalonica, but the first they would meet with in their way from Neapolis. Here they soon met with persecution; occasioned chiefly by Paul's having cast out a spirit of Python from a damsel, who brought her masters much gain by, soothsaying. The masters enraged at their loss, excited the popular clamor against the Apostles: and the magistrates rent of their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely: who having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
From the expressions of this narrative it should seem that the jailer himself was a persecutor, as well as the instrument of
persecuting malice; for the expressions of thrusting them, and into the inner prison, and of making their feet fast in the stocks, make it very probable that much unnecessary severity was used. But no bodily suffering could deprive them of their inward enjoyments: these strangers intermeddled not with their joy; for when men have wreaked all their fury on the body, after that they have nothing that they can do. Neither the thick wall nor bolted gates could hinder the passage of the heavenly dove to them; they received the visits of the Comforter, and found God their maker, who giveth songs in the night. At midnight, when most of their fellow-creatures were taking their repose, these holy Apostles were prevented by the pain of their lacerated flesh, the uneasy position of their bodies, and probably by the noisomeness of the place, from enjoying sleep or rest. But how did they pass away, the dark watches of the night? not in sighs but in songs; imitating therein the example of David, who, when he was overwhelmed with trouble, could say in the confidence of hope, In the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.* At midnight Paul and Silas
* Pe. xlii, 8.
prayed, and sang praises to God, rejoicing with the rest of the Apostles that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. It had not often happened that the songs of Zion were heard within the precincts of a heathen prison, and the novelty of the sound seems to have excited no small surprise in the rest of the prisoners: for it is particularly mentioned that the prisoners heard them. The prison now exhibited a most striking assemblage of remarkable circumstances. The stillness of the hour, the silent attention of the prisoners in their respective cells, the cheerful notes of divine melody in a place where the walls had hitherto echoed only with groans, must have presented a very solemn scene. The jailer, who was soon to become a very prominent person in the history, was now fast asleep. While the song of thanksgiving was thus ascending from the dungeon, there was one above who heard not their praises only, but listened to the voice of their cry; and now he was about to make bare his holy arm, and to cause the lighting down of it to be seen,now God was about to say to his enemies, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. Suddenly the earth shook beneath the foundations of the prison—the walls of the fabric tottered as about to tumble into ruins—the ground trembled at the touch of the Almighty's finger the massy gates flew open of their own accord before God and the bands of the prisoners no
longer retained their hold in his presence. By this time the jailer was roused from his sleep, but seems to have felt as yet no fear with respect to his eternal salvation; for on seeing the prison doors open, he instantly seized his sword and was about to plunge into eternity: a sufficient proof that he was unprepared to go into it. Paul and Silas alone stood undisturbed. This awful display of divine power did not terrify them, because they knew that the God of nature was their friend. Seeing the rash act the man was about to perpetrate, Paul cried out with a loud voice, assuring him that none of them had escaped. Then it was that he seems to have been convinced that these were servants of the Most High God; and the thoughts of the future judgment wbich they had been preaching, and the consciousness of his own sins, crowded at once upon his mind. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling
Now this question of the jailer seems to express three things, in each of which we shall endeavor to point out what is your duty and exhort you to it. It expresses, first, a desire to be informed of the way of salvation; secondly a determination to comply with the conditions; and thirdly, an earnestness guited to the importance of the case.
1. You should seek to be informed about the way of salvation. That men do not generally make such inquiry is a melancholy fact, which we shall not have much difficulty in