Paul and Silas in Prison.

Acts 16:19-40.

This incident in the apostle's career is so significant that it is impossible to pass over it without a distinct and separate consideration. As in the book of Ezra, after the proffered help of the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin in building the temple had been refused, they threw off the mask and became their open enemies, so at Philippi. Foiled by the spiritual insight and energy of Paul when he sought to corrupt the apostle's work, Satan now raised against him a storm of opposition and persecution. In the first place he had used the poor possessed damsel, now he stirred up her masters, who, seeing "that the hope of their gains was gone," were nothing loth to be his active instruments. Wrought upon by their self-interest, "they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the market-place unto the rulers, and brought them to the magistrates." It was not to be tolerated that unknown men should burst in upon the quiet of a heathen city, and assail Satan in one of his strongholds!

It is worthy of observation that, whatever his efforts, Satan cannot conceal his true character. What was the cause of the enmity of these accusers of the apostles? Simply and solely the loss of their gains from the fact of the damsel being healed. But, remark, they do not utter a single word on this point; they rather come forward in the guise of being concerned for the peace of their city, as public benefactors. And to gain their object they present a series of false accusations. As our Lord said of Satan, "When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." (John 8:44.) Their first charge was, "These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city." That Paul and his companions were Jews was undoubted, but there was no evidence whatever to show that they had disturbed the city, except indeed through the casting out of the evil spirit. Nor could the second charge, that they taught customs which were not lawful for Romans to receive, neither to observe, be truthfully sustained. But all this was of no consequence if the condemnation of these preachers of the gospel could be secured. Satan accordingly stirred up the multitude, influenced the minds of the magistrates, and thus succeeded in uniting all classes of the people against these servants of Christ.

All the forms of law were perverted in this judicial procedure. But sentence was passed, and Paul and Silas had many stripes laid upon them, were cast into prison, and were there treated with exceptional severity. Satan therefore, to all appearance, had gained a notable victory. But why, it may be asked, did the Lord permit His servants thus to be worsted? The answer to this question will be seen in the subsequent narrative. There was a poor soul in that particular prison who, in the eternal counsels of God, had been chosen in Christ, and who, therefore, was the object of God's mercy and grace. As yet he was benighted in heathen darkness, and, as it would seem, he was in full sympathy with the action of the magistrates, for, "having received such a charge," he thrust Paul and Silas "into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks." But the time had now arrived in the purpose of God for bringing this hardened soul out of darkness into His marvellous light; and the unjust accusations, the violence of the multitude, the illegal action of the magistrates, were but the instrumentalities for the accomplishment of God's purpose. The word of the gospel was thereby carried into the home of the jailer, for the blessing of himself and of his household. Satan was thus, in all that he had done, but the blind instrument of God's will.

Let us, however, pause to consider the effect upon the apostles of the brutal treatment they had received. Some hours must have passed between their sentence and the middle of the night; but of their thoughts and feelings during this time we have no record. "At midnight," however, we read, "Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God." Suffering for Christ, and for His testimony, they were so abundantly sustained, that, superior to their bodily pain and circumstances, and filled with the sense of God's grace and love, they rejoiced, like the other apostles, that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ, and they poured out their souls in prayer and praise before God. Defeated? No; they were the victors, by the grace of God, in the conflict into which they had been precipitated. The power of God was with them, and their Lord, for whom they were suffering, so revealed Himself to them that their hearts could not contain the gladness with which they had been filled. Prayer and praise under such circumstances could only be the fruit of the mighty working of the Spirit of God in their souls.

The Lord hearkened, and heard the prayer and praises of His servants, and He intervened with a testimony that should have appalled the stoutest hearts, and that accomplished the purpose for which it was sent. "Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened." If nothing further had taken place, it might have been open to unbelief to contend that the earthquake was but a common and natural occurrence, and that it could not be directly connected with the hand of God, or with the imprisonment of Paul and Silas. But it is added, "and every one's bands were loosed," a result which could not in any way be traced to the violence of the earthquake, but only to direct divine interference. The jailer, moreover, was roused out of his sleep, and, concluding, when he saw the prison doors open, that his prisoners had escaped, "would have killed himself," so near was he at that moment to eternal perdition. How often has it been the case in the history of souls, that they have been reduced to the utmost extremity just as grace was about to appear on their behalf

We may now follow the various steps in the pathway of the jailer's blessing. Paul, it should be observed, was not in the same apartment as the jailer, and consequently he could not have seen that he was about to commit suicide. But in some way - through being divinely instructed - lie discerned the snare which Satan was laying for this poor soul, and he "cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here." The jailer was thus snatched in the first place from bodily death, and so deep was the impression made upon his soul by what had occurred, that, seeing more than a human hand in it, "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?" Whether tidings of Paul's preaching had penetrated into the prison before this eventful night cannot be known; but in some way or other this poor man had been convicted of sin and of his lost condition, and was brought to the feet of the Lord's messengers with an earnest desire to know the way of salvation. Light had entered his soul, and the effect was the revelation of his hopeless condition. That this was a work of the Spirit of God is seen from the fact that he was drawn to the feet of those whose mission it was to open blind eyes, to turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.

What joy to these servants of the Lord to proclaim, in answer to the jailer's question, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Here in one short sentence is the only way of salvation. That this, however, is a compact summary of what Paul said to him is clear, we judge, from what follows, that "they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." Whether it be so or not, these words of the apostle are fraught with instruction, containing as they do the truth of the Lord's claims, of His person, and of His work. Salvation is in, and through, the Lord Jesus Christ alone. The reader will notice that Paul says, "Thou shalt be saved." This is because salvation in its full sense goes on to the resurrection of the body of the believer, and comprises his being conformed to the image of God's Son. (Romans 8:29.) The "house" of the believer was also to be included in the blessed circle of grace; and hence it is that the households of God's people become spheres of light amidst the moral darkness of this world, though this is only the case where the truth is known, and the Lord's claims and authority are maintained.

A real work of grace carries with it unmistakable signs. That the jailer bowed to the word, and received it, is seen from the fact that he took Paul and Silas "the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway." His first thought was for the comfort of the ambassadors of the gospel, his next to confess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to be baptized, "he and all his"; then he brought the apostles into his house, and set meat before them, and he "rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." What a change had been wrought in this man and his household within a few brief hours! When he retired to rest he was as dark as the prison-house which he guarded - he was without hope and without God in the world. Now light from heaven had flooded his soul, he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, was filled with joy, and it was his delight, as well as his privilege, to minister to the men whom the evening before he had thrust into the inner prison, and whose feet he had made fast in the stocks. It is a bright example of the transforming power of the grace of God as made known in the gospel.

One thing more remained to be accomplished. God would have His servants, who had been publicly put to shame and unjustly condemned, as publicly vindicated. In the morning a message was sent from the magistrates to release the apostles. This Paul declined to accept; but whether, in taking the ground of a Roman citizen, he maintained the truth of his heavenly calling, or whether he was at the spiritual level of the preceding night, when he and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God, may be questioned. Be this as it may, it will be observed that he did not plead his citizenship to secure himself from scourging and imprisonment, but only to expose the injustice of the magistrates. The magistrates, fearing the consequences for themselves, came and besought their prisoners, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city. Paul's work was for the time ended in Philippi, and thus having regained their liberty, they "entered into the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed."

"Christ is perfect enough to be always good; and as absolutely and infinitely perfect, is always absolutely and infinitely good."

"It is a blessed thought that Christ will Himself introduce us into the Father's house - into heaven. What an entrance will that be, when He leads us in, the fruit of the travail of His own soul - His own - and glorified according to His worth - and all His heavenly company there!"