What must I do to be saved? — Acts 16:30.
To spread the gospel through the world, God employed certain persons who were called apostles, persons sent, 1:e. immediately from God Himself; and from Him alone they received their commission, which was as extensive as the habitable world: for it was delivered in these words: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” This, they appear to have understood in the most literal sense; and therefore thought of nothing less than carrying the glad tidings of salvation, by Christ Jesus, to every nation of the earth, to which the Providence of God should open their way.
It was necessary that, in the first planting of the gospel, these messengers of God should be able to mark extraordinary interpositions of Divine Providence in their favor; and should be furnished, as occasion might require, with miraculous powers: and this we find was the case. God did, by extraordinary providences, mark out their way, and enabled them to work a variety of beneficent miracles which at once pointed out the nature of the gospel which they preached, and were a confirmation of its doctrines.
Of those peculiarly providential calls, we have a remarkable instance in the chapter before us; by which the apostles were prevented from going to a certain place in Asia Minor, where they wished to preach the gospel, and were sent to another of which they had not thought. “Now, when they had gone through Phrygia, and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia; after they were come to Mysia, they essayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not.
And they, passing by Mysia, came down to Troas: and a vision appeared to Paul in the night; there stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over to Macedonia, and help us.” ver. 7—9. This was an interposition of Providence, which, to them, had no equivocal voice; and they immediately endeavored to reach Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called them to preach the gospel to the inhabitants of that place.
The nighest way from Troas in Mysia, where they then were, was to run across the top of the AEgean sea, nearly from East to West, which we are informed they did; and thus came by a straight course by Samothracia to Neapolis, and thence to Philippi, which appears to have been, at this time, the chief city of that part of Macedonia; though two hundred and twenty years prior to that, when Paulus AEmilius had conquered Macedonia, he made Amphipolis the chief city of that division of the country, which lay between the rivers Strymon and Nessus. Near this city the Jews, who, for the purpose of merchandise, frequented these parts, had an oratory, or place of prayer, this place Paul, with Silas his companion, visited on the sabbath days, and preached the gospel to the Jews and proselytes who assembled there; and with such good success, under the influence of that Spirit which was their constant Helper, that several persons were converted; among whom the most remarkable was Lydia, a seller of purple, from the city of Thyatira, in Asia Minor.
In their occasional attendance at this place, they were greatly disturbed by a young woman, who had a spirit of divination; and who was maintained by some persons of that city, to whom she brought considerable gains by her soothsaying: this woman continually followed the apostles, saying, “ These are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation,” ver. 17. All this was strictly true; but it was a testimony very suspicious in such a case; and was given with that subtilty and cunning which are peculiar to the great deceiver, who never bears testimony to the truth but when he designs to injure it. He well knew that, in the Jewish law, all magic, incantations, magical rites, and dealings with familiar spirits, were strictly forbidden: he therefore bore, what was in itself, a true testimony, that he might ruin the credit of the apostles. By such a testimony, from such a quarter, the Jews would be led to believe that the apostles were in compact with these demons; and that the miracles which they worked, were performed by the agency of these wicked spirits; and that the whole was the effect of magic; and this would necessarily harden their hearts against the preaching of the gospel. On the other hand, the Gentiles, finding that their own demon bore testimony to the apostles, would naturally consider that the whole was one system; that they had nothing to learn, nothing to correct; and thus, to them, the preaching of the apostles must be useless.
In such circumstances as these, nothing could have saved the credit of the apostles but their dispossessing this woman of her familiar spirit; and that in the most incontestable manner: for, what could have saved the credit of Moses and Aaron, when the magicians of Egypt turned their rods into serpents, had not Aaron’s rod devoured their’s? and what could have saved the credit of these apostles, but the casting out this spirit of divination with which, otherwise, both Jews and Gentiles would have believed them in compact? Paul being grieved, and probably on these accounts, turned to the spirit, and commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her; and he came out in the same hour; and from thenceforward the young woman was rendered totally incapable of acting the part she had before done; and the source whence her masters had derived so much gain was now most evidently closed up. This inflamed them to madness; therefore violently seizing the apostles, they dragged them before the magistrates, and accused them of turbulent and seditious designs. The magistrates, without acquainting themselves with the merits of the case, ordered their clothes to be rent off, and to scourge them. When this was done, and it appears to have been executed with as little mercy as justice, they were thrust into prison; and the jailor receiving the strictest charge to keep them safely, put them into the dungeon, and made their feet fast in the stocks, ver. 18-24.
These outward afflictions, however severe; contributed nothing to the diminution of their peace and joy: they had a happiness which lay beyond the influence of those changes and chances to which sublunary things are exposed. They were happy in God, though in the dungeon, and their feet fast in the stocks: and at midnight, while all the rest had forgotten their cares in sleep, Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God, ver. 25.
While thus employed, requesting grace to support themselves, and pardon for their enemies, praising God that He had accounted them worthy to suffer shame for the testimony of Jesus; God, by an earthquake, and loosing the bands of the prisoners, bore a miraculous testimony of approbation to His servants; and showed, in a symbolical way, the nature of that religion which they preached; for, while it shakes and terrifies the guilty, it proclaims deliverance to the captives, the opening of the prisons to them that are bound; and sets at liberty them that are bruised. The prison-doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed; yet so did God order it in His wise providence, that not one of the prisoners attempted to make his escape! God never can work a miracle to defeat the ends of civil justice; many of those who were here confined, were no doubt offenders against the laws, and should be judged by the law which they had broken.
The jailor, who was responsible for the safe custody of all who were under his care, seeing what was done, supposing that the prisoners had escaped, and knowing that his own life would be the forfeit, choosing rather to die by his own hands, than by those of others; (for this sort of suicide was a heathen virtue,) drew out his sword, and was just going to kill himself, when Paul perceiving what was about to be done, cried with a loud voice, Do thyself no harm; we are all here! Astonished at these circumstances, he called for a light, (for these transactions took place at midnight,) and seeing what was done, and that a supernatural agency was most evident; fearing for his life, and feeling for his soul, he fell down before Paul and Silas; and having brought them out of the dungeon, he addressed them in the language of the text, every word of which is most solemn and emphatic, “O Sirs! what must I do that I may be saved?” Whether this strong enquiry refer to personal or eternal safety; or whether it relate to the body or soul in a state of danger; it is a question the most interesting and important to man.
As it has been supposed that the jailor asked this question in reference to his personal safety alone, and that it had no reference to his soul; it may be well to spend a few moments on the consideration of this point.
The jailor had seen, notwithstanding the prison doors had been miraculously opened, and the bands of all the prisoners loosed, that not one of them had escaped; hence he could not feel himself in danger of losing his life on this account; and, consequently, it cannot be his personal safety about which he enquires. He could not but have known that these apostles had been, for some time, preaching at Philippi what they called the doctrine of salvation; to this the Pythoness had alluded, “These are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of SALVATION,” ver. 17. And he knew that it was for casting the demon out of this young woman that they were delivered into his custody: all this is sufficiently evident. The Spirit of God appears to have convinced his heart that he was lost, was in a state of the most imminent spiritual danger, and needed salvation; and therefore his earnest enquiry was, how he should obtain it. The answer of the apostles shows, that his enquiry was not about his personal safety; as his believing on the Lord Jesus could have had no effect upon that in his present circumstances; for as none of the prisoners had escaped, and he saw that this was the case, neither he nor his family could have been in personal danger: and if they had, the answer of the apostles would have been as impertinent on that ground, as his question was, had it referred to personal danger, when he must have been convinced that nothing of the kind existed. I conclude, therefore, from the circumstances of the apostles, the circumstances of the jailor, his question and their answer, that his enquiry concerned the salvation of his soul, and not the safety of his body; and, being taken in this point of view, it is the most momentous that can interest or arrest the attention of man.