CONVERSION TO GOD CHAPTER 17

BY

ALEXANDER BROWN

EDINBURGH

PRINTED BY H. & J. PILLANS & WILSON

1887


CHAPTER 17

A NIGHT IN PRISON.

Acts 16:16-40.

New experiences - The actors in Philippi - A spirit of Python - Slave-masters - Magistrates - Paul sore troubled - Joy and love in a prison - The cause of joy in suffering - The jailor - A contrast - Causes of the jailor's conversion - The word spoken to him - What must I do to be saved? An approved question

QUIETNESS characterised the commencement of the first evangelistic effort in Europe. The gospel of Christ was told in a prayer meeting. One woman and her household became converts. The proclaimers of the new gospel took up their abode in the house of their converts at the earnest request of one of the latter, and from thence continued their evangelistic work, attending also at the stated prayer meeting.

The work so quietly begun soon received a rude shock. Paul, accompanied by Barnabas, in the missionary journey narrated in Acts 13-14, had experienced rough treatment; but the experience in Europe was in some respects different from anything that Paul had previously undergone. New forces were set in operation against him. In Antioch and Iconium, and even at Lystra, his country men were the instigators of opposition, and rough and ready measures were adopted to silence the servants of Christ; but the notoriety of being the first, outside the Jewish capital, so far as is recorded, to have the preachers of Christ arraigned before them was reserved to the magistrates of Philippi. In this prominent city occurred one of those three beatings with rods which Paul; underwent, and the only one recorded (2 Cor. 11:25); and here, too, began his prison experience. The magistrates, unceremoniously, and with as little of justice as dignity, tearing the clothes off the prisoners, ordered them to be beaten. Then were they thrust into the inner prison and made fast in stocks.

The group of actors in Philippi is composed of five parties. Paul and his company are the central figures, and stand out in bold relief from all the others. The slave maiden is by herself in the picture; she is unique. With startling voice and unmistakable mien she points to the messengers of salvation. Her selfish and avaricious masters form a dark background; their countenances being as expressive of lying slander as of greedy worldliness. By their side are the ignoble magistrates, possessing the insignia of authority, but devoid of magisterial nobility, common justice, or even manliness, and betraying, by their appearance, cruel ferocity. The jailor and his household complete the picture. He is of the true Roman type - stern and unfeeling, a fit executioner of unbending, iron law. Let us study these characters more in detail, commencing with

THE DAMSEL WITH A PYTHON SPIRIT.

"The heathens themselves attributed these phenomena to the agency of Apollo, the deity of Pythonic spirits; and such phenomena were of very frequent occurrence, and displayed themselves under many varieties of place and circumstance. Sometimes those who were possessed were of the highest condition; sometimes they went about the streets like insane imposters of the lowest rank. It was usual for the prophetic spirit to make itself known by an internal muttering or ventriloquism. We read of persons in this miserable condition used by others for the purpose of gain. Frequently they were slaves; and there were cases of joint proprietorship in these unhappy ministers of public superstition."

The testimony of the young woman to Paul and Silas was explicit. She was a slave; these men were also slaves, but they were the slaves of the most high God. She told the fortunes of dupes around; these men told the way of salvation. How much of intelligence was possessed by the witness it is impossible for us to conjecture. Common sense intelligence may have been reigning, or there may have been wild excitement and hazy dreaming. The spirit that possessed her, and the girl's mental activity, may have been interblended beyond our unravelling; but whatever the cause or causes that produced the testimony, the words uttered had a clear ring:- "These men are the servants of the most high God, who show unto us the way of salvation." Having met these servants of God once on their way to a prayer meeting, she not only turned round and shouted her testimony regarding them, but also continued to do so for many days. Before dealing with the important results of her conduct let us notice

THE PROPRIETORS OF THE PYTHON GIRL.

Their character is plainly portrayed. She was their property. The profit accruing to them was considerable. The public were willing to pay handsomely for her prognostications. Eager for any kind of glimpse of the future of their lives, they would supply in abundance the diviner's fee, and this the purse of the masters became filled.

But one day the value of the property dropped considerably. The girl was placed on a level with other mortals. Her ventriloquising, fortune-telling, divining, soothsaying powers and propensities had departed. Paul and Silas were the agents in bringing about this depreciation of their property. Against them, therefore, the masters wreaked their wrathful disappointment. What mattered it to the masters that the girl was restored to proper mental balance? They were touched in a sensitive part - the pocket. Someone must suffer for it.

Straightforward dealing, however, would not have served their purpose; and so, piloting their rage with diabolical skill, they manufactured the charge of illegality of teaching. "These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans." They gained the sympathy of the mob, and the wild clamour took effect upon

THE MAGISTRATES.

There seems nothing commendable to be said about these rulers. No semblance of evidence was presented in support of the charge against the prisoners, none was sought for, and no examination of the case took place. It was sufficient that the complainants could say that they were Romans, and the prisoners were Jews, and that these Jews were teaching something inconsistent with their boasted Roman citizenship. The magistrates did not even retain the dignity of passing sentence and leaving others to execute it. With ungoverned brutality they themselves rushed upon the prisoners, and tore off their garments, commanding that they be beaten.

A corresponding humiliation awaited them next morning. When they would fain have dismissed the prisoners in quietness, they had to come and act the suppliant, begging the men whom they had so cruelly wronged to leave. It must have been a bitter sop to the proud "justices" to come to the prisoners and beseech them to go away. Unjust and cruel men have often to lick the dust. In striking contrast to both the magistrates and the masters of the damsel, stand out

PAUL AND SILAS.

But why should Paul have been grieved? The revisers say that he was "sore troubled." Was it not a fine advertisement to be proclaimed throughout the city as messengers from God? Many religionists nowadays would deem such public testimony a splendid help, if not a providential occurrence. Not so Paul. There was danger of misapprehension. It might easily be believed, and become a prevalent idea, that there was an alliance between the evil spirit and the apostle. These must not be even the appearance of that. Perhaps unwilling to interfere, but fearing an undesirable result from a continued favourable testimony from such a source, Paul was at last roused to eject the spirit in the name of his Master. Said he, "I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour."

Most people in the circumstances of Paul and Silas would have concluded that there was more cause for grief a little later. They were hurried before the magistrates, a false charge trumped up against them, the true ground of opposition suppressed, an unjust sentence pronounced, and an ignominious flogging inflicted, followed by incarceration in the most secure, and probably the most uncomfortable part of the jail. With feet fast in the stocks, so that no relief could be found by change of posture, and with backs bleeding by the beating with rods, there was nothing in their condition to cause joy, but everything to cause sorrow or grief.

Christian reader, what would have been your thoughts had you been in Paul's place? Perhaps you would have felt yourself justified in sullen sadness to regret trying so much to do people good, and to resolve that, if only you were out of this difficulty, you would leave such thankless people to themselves. It is within the range of possibility that even Christians would have allowed the rough jailor, who thrust them into prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks, to take away his own life. Was it not what he richly deserved after his treatment of Paul and Silas? How should we have felt and acted after trying to do good and received such recompense?

Paul was sore troubled when the young woman was, day after day, speaking in his favour; but Silas and he, with lacerated backs and tightly fastened feet, sang praises in prison at midnight, and were so forgetful of their own sufferings and ill-treatment, that they were the first and only ones ready to prevent the jailor from committing suicide, and to take pains to instruct him what to do. The singing of praises is the employment of thankful and happy hearts. How could these men be happy? How could they be thankful? By what means were they able to cherish kind feelings towards the unkind jailor? What power enabled them at the hour of midnight and with their sufferings to become his patient tutors?

Their higher than human behaviour - their readiness to forgive and to continue to do good, even when suffering for it - their truly Christ-like conduct is accounted for, in brief form, by one of them when his life's journey was near its close. His words are, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). Such knowledge and trust gave them closest intercourse with God, sustained them amid cruel suffering, fortified them against contumely, and filled them with love to their enemies. Living as seeing Him who is invisible dispelled all fear of tyrannical slave-masters, unjust magistrates, humiliating flogging, and painful imprisonment. With a consciousness of the divine presence they could calmly bear, joyfully hope, lovingly do good, and yet, at the proper time, demand an acknowledgement even from the proud Roman magistrates. The Lord was their refuge and their strength. This faith gave consistency to their conduct throughout.

THE CONDUCT OF THE JAILOR

contains more of contrast. We have two views of his character. The first one is immediately contradicted by himself. It represents him as unfeeling, perhaps cruel, and seemingly unconcerned about both the sufferings of his prisoners and his own salvation. He thrust Paul and Silas into the inner prison. What occasion was there to thrust them in? If the circumstances seemed to require the use of the inner prison, could be not have led them gently in? He must soon have gone to sleep, as at midnight he required to be awakened. Would anyone in sympathy with Paul and Silas, or in anxiety about his own salvation, have needed either the sound of praise or the tremor of an earthquake to awake him out of sleep? The second view is more inviting. The jailor is in trembling prostration before Paul and Silas. In anxious haste he has sprung in and thus humbled himself. He is there begging to be taught, asking to know the way of salvation from those servants of God. He even brings them out of the prison and takes them into his own house. He sets food before them, and, gentle as any nurse, he bathes their blood-clotted backs. The whole house is astir, and during the night-hours the plan of salvation is learned, and all in the house are baptised.

Not many hours has elapsed, but how great the change! What caused it? What roused him to the mad attempt at suicide, and then saved him from it? What elicited the interest of the jailor? What had inspired him with confidence in these men? What had overcome his indifference and made him hospitable? What induced a Roman soldier in such short time to become a Christian convert?

Three causes co-operated to bring about the great and sudden change.

1. The wonders of the earthquake. The shaking of the earth that night was from no ordinary cause, with no ordinary results. An earthquake had never before then opened all the doors of a house specially secured, nor removed the manacles from the inmates of a prison. Ordinarily, if an earthquake had severed the chains by which prisoners were bound, it must have wrenched their poor limbs, and added to their misery without affording any liberty. The authorities at Philippi were to be taught that bolts and bars, and prisons, and jailors, were all powerless to detain the servants of the most high God. They had been speaking to Him in prayer and praise. He answered them in a manner that might well startle everyone except themselves. The Lord was in the earthquake. Who would not have feared? The jailor at least was not only awakened out of sleep, but also out of his apathy and unconcern.

2. The conduct of Paul and Silas. They saved his life. That was more than ordinary prisoners would have done. It was rendering him good for evil. But it was the way to find an entrance into his heart, and to turn the current of his whole being.

And did he not know how these men had behaved during the day? If sound sleep prevented him from hearing the prayers and the praise, could he be ignorant of their gentle, unmurmuring fortitude under previous ill-treatment? The "many days" they had been in the city may have brought much to the ears of the jailor as to the true character of these men. But whether he knew much or little of these humble Jews, it was all such as to impress him favourably, and induce him to confide to them without reserve. The conduct of the preachers opened the way for

3. The preaching. The message to the jailor, so far as Luke has narrated it, is briefly expressed in these words: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Evidently more was said than is reported; for it is added that "they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." In what is recorded there is comprehended the nucleus of the whole life, character, and work of the Redeemer. He was Jesus or Saviour, Christ or anointed One - anointed with the Holy Spirit and Power - and Lord or Sovereign. If the Lordship of the Redeemer, His anointing and His great work of salvation for the human family be taken into account conjointly, there is a broad view of the mediatorial work of Jesus. It was such a view that was presented to the jailor in the small compass of the three words - Lord Jesus Christ.

Belief was commanded. But as belief can only be brought into existence by God's Word, Paul and Silas at once began to make the Word known. They ordered faith, and they gave the man the means of acquiring it.

The object of faith is important, especially in relation to salvation. There is something different from belief of a creed, however true; more than acceptance of a proposition, however well authenticated; there is trust in a living person - the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we believe in God (1 Pet. 1:21). It was therefore natural, not only to teach the need of faith in Him, but also to provide the means of faith.

What was "the word of the Lord" which was then spoken? It may have been the word respecting the Lord Jesus; the story of His life's work, death, and resurrection. In brief form, it may have been the word which the Lord Jesus spoke - His commission to His chosen ones. According to Matthew it is: Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:19-20). According to Mark it is: Go into all the world, and preach the good news to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned (Mark 16:15-16). According to Luke it is: It behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead on the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47).

From a comparison of the three records it is evident that in becoming a Christian these three things were required - faith, repentance, and baptism; and this threefold requirement is exemplified in the conversion of the jailor.

1. He was taught to believe, and he and all his are reported as immediately becoming believers.

2) He repented, as is seen in his change of conduct.

3) He and all his were baptised.

It was with the jailor as with the Samaritans and the eunuch; there is no mention of the preachers preaching baptism. Not only his baptism, however, but also his belief and repentance are accounted for by the fact that the word of the Lord was spoken to him. The life of Christ formed the basis of his belief, and in his repentance and immersion he was obeying Christ's commands.

Miracle roused the jailor into attention and reflection; the conduct and known character of Paul and Silas opened his house to them, and his ears to what they had to say; and what they taught opened his heart, changed his will, and turned the whole course of his behaviour.

WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?

is before us for the third time in our study of the conversions in the Acts of Apostles. It was the question of the Jews on the day of Pentecost: "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" They thus indicated an ardent desire to do whatever would place them in a state of reconciliation with God.

Saul of Tarsus gave utterance to the same longing to take some active part in altering the past. When he discovered his sin in persecuting the followers of Jesus, he said, "What shall I do, Lord?" (Acts 22:10). Coming to a knowledge of his sad mistake, he at once requested information how to act.

The jailor was more explicit as to why he wanted to know what to do; it was to be saved. What could he do to insure salvation? How must he act to get into a safe state? What was there devolving on himself?

The same question has been asked times without number since. Was there ever earnest inquirer who did not ask it? In circumstances causing anxiety the question arises spontaneously. Realising ourselves in any danger, the first thought naturally is, What shall we do? How must we act to get into a more desirable condition? It is a law of our being to think of activity in order to rescue ourselves from danger, or redeem ourselves from difficulties. The greater the danger, and the more we realise it, the more anxiously do we feel that we must do something. To want to do, and to try to find out what is best to do, are natural and universal traits of those who find themselves in danger.

I have heard a Free Church minister tell his audience that the jailor made a mistake in asking what to do. Doing, he said, was altogether a wrong thing in connection with the obtaining of salvation. My Free Church friend evidently knows something that was unknown to Peter, Ananias, Paul and Silas, and the Lord Himself. There is not a word of blame in the New Testament to those who asked what they must do to be saved. On the contrary, they were at once told what to do.

Oh that men would be content to be guided only by the teaching of the Scriptures!

ALEXANDER BROWN INDEX