The Dependence of the Words
by Obadiah Sedgwick
Paul and Silas (on their journey) make a stop in Philippi, a chief city in Macedonia, ver. 12. They had a special calling for it, ver. 9. Being there, the next Sabbath, they devoted themselves to praying and preaching, ver. 13. And each of these activities was crowned with a blessed outcome.
By the former, Lydia was converted, ver. 14, 15. By the latter, the devil was exorcised from a damsel, ver. 16, 18. The word of God and prayer are the great power of God to change the heart and conquer Satan.
But if we trouble the devil, the devil will not cease to trouble us. It has been the fate of the best ministers to do the most good and find the most affliction. Look at ver. 19 and you will see that Paul and Silas were arrested and brought before the rulers.
Good God! That Paul should be questioned because he cast out a devil! But this is not the matter of objection, nor the immediate cause of trouble (her master saw that the hope of their profits was gone). How far will love of the world drive a man against God's servants? Even Paul himself was brought to trial when he cut off the profits that the devil brought. Covetous hearts and good ministers can never agree; they would rather sell the truth than lose their profit.
But now before the magistrate, what is their accusation? What! That Paul and Silas cast out the devil? No; that the masters of the damsel were hurt and disadvantaged by their preaching? No, though this was the reason, yet something else was the excuse. This would seem too base, and therefore they brought another charge against them that they knew would easily stick, ver. 20. These being Jews, greatly trouble our city, and ver. 21. Teach customs, which are not lawful for us to accept or observe, being Romans.
As if they said, they are a couple of divisive and schismatic fellows, men of a peculiar spirit, given to innovation, who speak strange things about one Christ, about belief, and about repentance, and we don't know what.
They needed to say no more, immediately there was an uproar, and without any more ado, right or wrong, they received justice. The magistrates tore their clothes and ordered them to be beaten, ver. 22.
And this was not enough, besides the whip, they had to go to prison and be kept safe and secure, ver. 23. Hatred of goodness often leads evil men to acts of injustice; and he who hates a good man will often become a bad judge.
But they are in prison and in stocks, and the jailer is as diligent to carry out the command as the rulers were unjust in giving it, ver. 24. He threw them into the inner prison and made them fast in the stocks.
The providence of God is strange; Paul and Silas were sent to prison to convert a jailer, to free him who had bound them, to heal him who had whipped them; God has some special plans for the times and places of his servants' suffering. Well, at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to God, ver. 25. No prison can prevent our communion with God. Prayer will reach heaven in spite of all opposition, and even a suffering Christian can be very cheerful.
But now see the consequences of this, their prayers shook heaven and heaven shook the earth, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were loosened, ver. 26.
I do not marvel that prayer can break the bonds of iron, when I know it is able to break asunder the bonds of death itself.
The jailer awakes, sees the prison doors open, and for all he knew, an escape of all his prisoners, for whose lives, probably it is, that he must pay his own; and therefore in a passionate desperation, draws out his sword to kill himself.
Paul espies him, and cries out with a loud voice (hold, hold) Do yourself no harm, for we are all here, not a man of us that has stirred.
Which when he had searched and found, Oh! what a strange alteration is in this jailer? Vers. 29. He came in trembling. What! He who before made them to bleed, does he now tremble? He that before cast them into the stocks, does he come trembling to them? What were they? Or what could they do? Shackled and scourged, and imprisoned persons, that he trembled before them? But so he did. Scorners will become tremblers, when God has once touched their hearts. Yet this is not all; He also falls down before them. He is upon his knees to ask them forgiveness, for his cruel usage. And then he brings them forth.
Object. But what of all this? All this may arise from sparks of pity and humanity.
Sol. Nay, but there is a greater matter than all this: Sirs, said he, What shall I do to be saved? (As if he had said) I am in a miserable condition, I have lived wickedly, and done wrong to many of the people of God, and in particular to you; Good Lord! what shall become of me? You are the ministers of Christ, I beseech you have pity on me, and show unto me what I may do to save this poor soul of mine.
What does Paul and Silas answer him? They said, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. And I beseech you mark it, how immediate their answer is to his question; they do not say, as the High Priests to afflicted Judas, Look thou to that; they do not upbraid him with his hard and cruel usage; They take not that advantage, and say, Nay, now does your conscience trouble you for being so wicked, and scourging us so sharply? Yea, and so let it; do you come for direction and comfort to us, whom you have so shamefully abused?
No, they forget the injuries, and presently pour in the oil. They instantly direct him into the true way of life, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. But more of this anon.