Acts 16

The apostle has now fully and freely entered on his fresh missionary excursion, as well as on his visitation of the assemblies already formed. Silas is his chosen companion, no longer Barnabas. All things work together for good in the hand of divine love; whilst governmentally each shall bear his own burden: grace does not fail, but moral responsibility is untouched also.

From Syria and Cilicia Paul journeys to Lycaonia. ‘And he came unto Derbe and unto Lystra, and, behold, a certain disciple was there, by name Timothy, son of a Jewish believing woman, but of a Greek father; who was borne witness to by the brethren in Lystra and Iconium. Him Paul would have to go forth with him, and he took and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek’ (vers. 1-3).

Little is said of the other results from the apostle’s visit to Derbe and Lystra. Our attention is concentrated on a ‘young disciple’ there. He was therefore not converted at this time, but, doubtless, during the former visit of the apostle, who speaks of him as his ‘true child in faith’. Timothy he had begotten in Christ Jesus through the gospel. The circumstances were peculiar. He was the son of a believing Jewess, Eunice, but of a Greek father, with an exceptionally good testimony from the brethren in those parts. This led to a remarkable step on the part of the apostle: he circumcised him ‘on account of the Jews’ there, ‘for they all knew that his father was a Greek’ or Gentile.

Now this was in no way the requirement of the law, which, on the contrary, in strictness placed Timothy by his birth in a painful and outside position. It was really an act of grace on the part of the same apostle who would have utterly repelled the circumcision of Titus; for Titus was a Gentile. Still less is it inconsistent with the recent council at Jerusalem; for the question there was whether the Jewish yoke was to be placed on the Gentiles that believed. It was decided, we have seen, that no such compulsion was authorized or desirable. Here, it was the child of a Jewess against whom Jews would have had a feeling because of his father. In all probability the father was now dead, of whom we never hear as alive, and who in that case, might have perpetuated the uncircumcised condition of his son. If the father no longer lived, Paul could act the more freely, and the same champion for liberty who refused compulsion in the case of Titus, himself took and circumcised Timothy.

It is of great moment that we learn to submit our souls to the largeness of divine truth. The principles which governed the cases of Titus and Timothy were quite distinct, because their nature and circumstances were wholly different. But there was a centre in which the two principles found harmony. They were alike expressions of Christian liberty; in neither instance was the apostle under law but under grace. What can be more instructive for us? We are always liable to the exact reverse: flesh and law habitually work together, as on the other hand we are called to the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.

We may learn from this to avoid and resist the notion that there can be but one principle to govern our conduct. It is not so, if the relationships and the circumstances of the parties wholly differ. Wisdom in that case would rather seek from God’s word the Spirit’s instruction for our guidance in each case respectively. Nature and tradition constantly tend to a dead level, which is as far as possible from the wisdom of God, in which we are called to judge and act. A principle however true and sound, as for instance not to circumcise Titus, might entirely fail to meet Timothy’s case whom grace circumcised to stop the mouths of Jews though the letter of the law would rather have put him away than circumcise him. Routine is sure to mislead in the things of God. An eye single to Christ and His grace will discover the true way, and grace knows where to be inflexible and when to yield. It was the wise procedure of one who, free from all made himself bondman to all that he might gain the more; who became to the Jews as a Jew in order that he might gain the Jews, to those under law as under law (not being himself under law) in order that he might gain those under law, to those without law as without law (not as without law to God but as lawfully subject to Christ) in order that he might gain those without law.

What an admirable lesson was this, practically, for Timothy, henceforth to be the companion and fellow-worker of the great apostle of the Gentiles, whatever the immense gap between them! The step, too, was taken in connection with his going forth with Paul who sought to cut off occasion from them that sought occasion. Grace where there is no demand can go far to meet such as have honest difficulties; whilst it resents and refuses every effort to impose what is unauthorized by God and is inconsistent with itself (1 Cor. 9:20, 21).

We may here recall the important facts for which we are indebted to the two Epistles which the apostle wrote long after to Timothy; for they really had the most influential bearing on the course which was opening for his young companion. First, there were prophecies which went before as to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:18, 1 Tim. 4:14), and this not only as marking him out but indicating the gift of God to be imparted. The history simply gives us the apostle’s wish and mind as to him, but the apostle’s letter shows that there were prophetic intimations, presumably from more than one, respecting the work to which he was divinely designated; not unlike the way in which Barnabas and Saul had been called and separated to their first missionary work and journey. Even the apostle did not act without these remarkable interventions, of which he reminds his beloved child when he first wrote to enforce the commission entrusted to him and to define his duties in that charge, ‘that thou mightest war by them (i.e., the prophecies) the good warfare’, though this would be vain without ‘having faith and a good conscience’ It would brace his spirit to remember that God had designated him to a work of such difficulty and peril.

Secondly, a positive gift of God, or cavrisma, had been communicated to Timothy by the imposition of the apostle’s hands (2 Tim. 1:6), the elderhood having also joined in laying on their hands at the same time (1 Tim. 4:14) as not only witnesses but as having fellowship with the apostle’s act. The believer in God’s word needs no argument to prove that such a power of the Spirit is wholly distinct from any qualities previously possessed by Timothy, though no doubt all he had before was the vessel in and through which the gift wrought. But such a phrase, like so many common among evangelical, as well as Catholic, ‘sanctified intellect’, is wholly misleading, because it expresses the error of human nature rehabilitated or improved by grace, denies the judgment of the fleshly mind in the cross to which faith thoroughly bows, and leaves out the special energy of the Spirit according to the gift of Christ. This Timothy then received and in the way Scripture describes: which none should doubt because of the powerless, not to say profane, imitation of some bodies in Christendom from early days till now. With Timothy it was a special way for a special work. It is error and ignorance to generalize it, and to assume that others did not receive gifts, carivsmata, without any such laying on of hands; as it is also to aver that the Holy Ghost was given to the faithful only after a similar sort. That He was so given in peculiar circumstances by imposition of apostolic hands is true; that it was always so is to neglect the still weightier instances of Acts ii. and x. So with the gifts; they were given in sovereign grace without any such act ordinarily; and this is of all moment for the saints at all times since, when there were and could be no apostles to lay hands on any. But superstition is as blind as rationalism, though seemingly more reverent.

‘And as they passed through the cities, they delivered them the decrees to observe, which had been ordained by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem’ (ver. 4). This is particularly recorded of the apostle and his companions; and it is the more to be noticed because, when the questions discussed at the council came up for solution in the Epistles these decrees are never referred to. Here again we have to discern the wisdom of God. The decrees were given where Jewish influence prevailed. They were of the highest value to settle the doubts of those who looked up to Jerusalem and especially to the apostles and elders there. If in Jerusalem the chiefs and the church as a whole condemned wholly the imposing of circumcision on Gentiles, who were entitled to press it elsewhere? Certainly not such as had reverence for those whom the Lord had set up in Jerusalem.

In the First Epistle to the Corinthians and in that to the Galatians, the question is argued on the broad ground of the gospel, without reference to the decrees. Here again there is no inconsistency whatever. The decrees were admirably in season and place for those to whom they were given; and Paul was conspicuously zealous in giving assemblies already formed where Jews abounded these decrees to observe. But when he wrote his Epistles in the subsequent exercise of his apostolic power, he solves the question altogether apart from the decision at Jerusalem by the truth of Christ and His work now fully revealed.

‘The assemblies then were being strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily’ (ver. 5). Thus did the Lord use the action of grace for helping on His testimony. Agitation is eminently destructive not only of the confirmation of the soul but the going forward of the work among fresh converts. Faith is nourished by grace, not by questions gendering strife, any more than ‘by meats’ as the apostle somewhat contemptuously speaks of Jewish controversies, ‘wherein they that walked were not profited’ (2 Tim. 2:23; Heb. 13:9). And grace is inseparable from Christ Who is ‘the same yesterday, and today, and for ever’. Questions apart from Him are met by diverse and strange teachings which only distract the senses. It is good that the heart be established by grace. This was what the apostle walked in to the profit of those that heard him. Faith was strengthened and fresh assemblies sprung up more and more, or, at the least, their numbers increased daily. Such is the beautiful picture drawn by the Spirit of God; and such the encouragement given to the apostle with his companions in labour.

We know how universal was the field opened for the work of the gospel: Go ye into all the world, said the Master to the apostles, and preach the gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15). This general order, which ever abides, does not, however, supersede the direction in detail which the Holy Spirit knows how to supply to the Lord’s glory. He will have the servant subject to Christ and exercised livingly about His will: a matter of the deepest moment for all who would serve Him thoroughly, and as obligatory now as of old though we may lack some of the means of intimation. This truth remarkably appears in what follows as it does elsewhere.

‘And they167 went through the Phrygian and Galatian country, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and 168having come over against Mysia, they attempted to proceed into169 Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus170 permitted them not; and passing by Mysia they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul by night: There was a certain man of Macedon standing and beseeching him and saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us. And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia,171 concluding that God172 had called us to preach the gospel to them. Having therefore sailed away from Troas we took a straight course unto Samothrace, and on the morrow unto Neapolis, and thence unto Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, first of the district, a colony. And we were in this city staying certain days’ (vers. 6-12).

It is not only in the unconverted that man’s will is treated by scripture as evil: the believer now, as living in the Spirit, is exhorted to walk in the Spirit, and the power is vouchsafed in the Spirit given, though His power will not act in positive blessing save to Christ’s glory in dependence on Him and obedience to His word. So it is of high moment to remember that it is not otherwise in the work of the Lord, where the labourer is constantly exposed to the danger of being guided by fair appearances or of following what pleases his own mind, or it may be the suggestions of others whom he respects. The Lord is jealous, as valuing our subjection and fidelity and confidence in Himself, that we look to Him Who does not fail to act by the Spirit that His will be known and done. The work is His, and He only is adequate to its direction in gracious wisdom and power: we are at best only His journeymen in that work. How happy to work as well as walk by faith, guided by His eye and succoured no less than sent here or there by His grace! In a world given up to self-will and all its baneful ways, how sweet to Him that His servants do not forget their absent Lord any more than their own blessedness in having Him to make His will plain, that their hearts refer to Him, that their faith expects from Him all needed to glorify Him and to preserve themselves from straying!

So was the work of Paul and his companions ordered of the Lord, and it is here set out in the written word, that we may labour in the same spirit of faith, and neither forego the like favour nor reduce scripture to a dead letter. ‘And they went through the Phrygian and Galatian country, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.’ The allusion to Phrygia and Galatia as the combined sphere of their visitation is full of interest as a fact; but how striking the absence of detail where our curiosity would have demanded a great deal! In the Epistle to the assemblies of Galatia we have not only the fruit of sowing the gospel seed there but circumstances revealed of high value and solemn warning. Of Phrygia we know scarce any particulars, save that Paul and Silas did then go through that region as well as Galatia, ‘having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia’.

Was this province of Asia then wholly barren? Was it hopeless soil? From the beginning of the gospel, witnesses thence (Acts 2:9, 10) had heard the mighty works of God spoken in their tongue and in that of Phrygia among many others, yet here Phrygia is visited, Asia is not, while in the all-wise direction of the Lord the region of Galatia and Phrygia sees the apostle going through it in order, ‘stablishing all the disciples’ and not evangelizing only (Acts 18:23). Also Paul visits Ephesus after Apollos had wrought there not in vain, and to his own learning the way of God more carefully, and there the apostle brings on the little nucleus of disciples into full Christian truth and privilege (Acts 19), and carried on the work for more than two years, first in the synagogue, then in the school of Tyrannus, so that, not the capital only but the province also, ‘all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks’, and that word, not without special powers wrought of God by the hands of Paul, ‘mightily grew and prevailed’. He Who knew all hearts, and alone can employ any mouth to God’s glory, the Holy Spirit forbade their speaking the word in Asia now. Those who believe in man may show their real unbelief in God by cavilling at the present prohibition; those whose confidence is in His grace will admire His admirable care in leading to the right place of testimony then, and in working later in the place now prohibited when He deigned in His goodness to create a fruitful oasis if not more than one in that desert. He knows infallibly, as even an apostle did not, and He it is Who is still here to guide the work to the praise of the Name of Jesus. As He knows the time to sow, so He ensures a harvest at the right season.

Nor was this the only prohibition about the same time. For ‘having come over against Mysia, they attempted to proceed into Bithynia; and the Spirit of Jesus permitted them not’ (ver. 7). Here the evidence is as plain as possible to those who justly estimate scripture of the personal action of the Spirit in correction even of the apostle’s proposed movements. ‘They attempted to proceed into Bithynia’, where we know (1 Peter 1:1) sojourners of the dispersion, i.e., Christian Jews were, as well as in Galatia and proconsular Asia, but this was not now the mind of the Lord for His service. And an expression is employed, more than usually, though by no means uniquely, connecting the Spirit with the Lord, which has therefore so much the more appropriate force in the passage, ‘and the Spirit of Jesus permitted them not.’ The Spirit is as we all know a divine person and may be spoken of simply as the Spirit, or the Holy Spirit; He may be introduced in a general way as the Spirit or the Holy Spirit of God, or as the Spirit of the Lord, i.e. Jehovah. Again, He may be specially designated, where truth required it, as the Spirit of the Father, of the Son, of Christ, or as here, of ‘Jesus’, in each case securing an appropriateness not to be reached otherwise. Scarce anything shows or produces more looseness of conception among Christians than the neglect of these fine and wonderful distinctions found in no other books with any approach to scripture, but found in every book of scripture where the subject matter admits of them and in perfection, whoever may be the inspired writer, and whenever written, so as to point to one unerring and divine Spirit, the true Author. ‘The Spirit of Jesus’ blends the personal interest of the glorified Man Whose Name it was their heart’s desire and the great object of their life to make known, subject to His will, with the power of the Spirit Who is the energy that works in the new man.

‘And passing by Mysia they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul by night: There was a certain man of Macedon standing and beseeching him and saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us. And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them’ (vers. 8-10).

Thus the Lord helped His servant in a positive manner. They all needed direction for their work, and Paul alone saw the vision: a favour frequently shown him, and of the highest character, which no creature has a right to expect. Grace gave him revelations also. But though set in a very different place in the assembly the condition and wants of which are so far apart from the primitive state, God never fails for present difficulties. It is we who fail in waiting and counting on Him, though the prime directory of His written word is complete as it was not then. But special honour was put on one who was behind none in position, and whose labours were most abundant and blessed. All were immediately impressed by the apostle’s vision and turned their eyes and steps toward Macedonia.

But it is well to notice that the language is ‘we’, and not ‘they’ as heretofore. Luke thus modestly but without doubt lets us see that he at Troas joined the apostle’s company. That the inspired writer was a personal witness from this point is surely not a slight matter; but no error can be more profound in principle than the human notion that a higher character begins to attach to his account. Not so: inspiration excludes all question of degrees of assurance or of authority. It is equally of God, whether the writer witnessed what he wrote, or not. The Spirit of God alone secures absolute truth, which no seeing, hearing, or research could effect. Man cannot rise to the divinely given, save as a receiver. He may be indefinitely exact but is necessarily human. God, as He knows all, communicates what is due to His glory in love to His own.

In fact there is no more minuteness in what is conveyed during the writer’s presence. Conversations, differences, journeys, preachings, were given when he was absent, no less than when with the apostle’s companions. How comforting this quiet evidence that in the inspired word we have to do, not merely with good men doing their best, but with a God Who cannot err or lie! He provides us with His account through man of these spiritually instructive facts. Later in the history we learn that they made a little stay in the Troad where at least there was an assembly (Acts 20); but there was no indecision now, no tarrying by the way: the gospel must be preached forthwith in Macedonia.

‘Having therefore sailed away from Troas we took a straight course unto Samothrace, and on the morrow unto Neapolis, and thence unto Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, first of the district, a colony. And we were in this city staying certain days’ (vers. 11, 12). The description is most exact. It would not have been true to call it the chief city or capital of Macedonia; but of that part or district it was: a Roman colony too, not a Greek, which had a somewhat important bearing on the incidents that follow, of which we have so graphic a sketch. There Roman armies had engaged in deadly strife, not with strangers, but with one another. There the fate of the moribund republic was decided. There the coming empire of the world began to dawn, an empire which was to last as no predecessor had done, though it had the unenviable distinction of contact with the Lord of glory not only in His despised birth but in His crucifixion of shame; as it alone, after succombing long and notoriously, is destined to live again for a brief but awful space of lawlessness closing in a vain, blasphemous and destructive opposition to His appearing from heaven in glory.

But there were far other and happier reasons which made the entrance of the gospel and the founding of the church in Philippi full of holy interest. The work began in face of an ensnaring spirit of evil and of an adverse unrighteous world, with singular simplicity, with joy rising high and loudly above sorrow and shame, with a display of divine grace no less than divine power. There was nothing exactly like this at Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, Thessalonica, though each no doubt had characteristics of admirably suited and special favour. Philippi too went, not without severe trials and peculiar difficulties but as a whole in spiritual power, to ripe experience beyond known parallel without so painful a brand of declension as we know befell the once fair and bright assembly in Ephesus. God would have us learn how the good seed took root and bore fruit at Philippi. Let others boast in the old almanac of man’s tale as vain and unreliable in the ecclesiastical as in the secular sphere. Here the believer can rest in the certain truth of God and profit by that which He Who knows all gives for our refreshment or our admonition. We see alas! how fading was that which grace made so good and true and faithful in its measure, for where is that assembly now? how was it in the next generation after Paul’s Epistle to all the saints there? If it had stood as the Latin church, it had like Rome been but a pillar of salt with every truth falsified (save perhaps those elements which the Athanasian creed owns), and every way of grace changed into judaizing. This would have been but deeper dishonour of Christ; and the assembly at Philippi, as in almost all the apostolic plantations, has passed away, that men might learn, were they not blinded by worldly wisdom and the fleshly mind, that the power and even the truth of the church of God rests not in an ecclesiastical succession, but in the living energy of the Holy Spirit working in the bond of Christ’s confessors who are worse than nothing as a witness if untrue to Him, who are just of price in God’s sight as they do His will and reflect His grace.

The gospel entered Europe apostolically with genuine simplicity. Two inspired men were among those who introduced it, an apostle, the greatest of them indeed, and a prophet not the least of them, or as he is popularly styled ‘the evangelist’, Luke. Very likely he may have been an evangelist in the true scriptural sense of the term. Certainly upon such as Paul and Luke were built the saints now called of God (Eph. 2:20), as to them was revealed the mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:5). The foundation was well laid, even Jesus Christ; yet what a holy absence of pretension do we see here!

‘And on the sabbath day we went forth outside the gate173 by a river where174 prayer [or, place of prayer] was wont to be; and we sat down and spoke to the women that had come together. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, that worshipped God, heard, whose heart the Lord opened to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she was baptized and her house, she besought, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide. And she constrained us’ (vers. 13-15).

There was no synagogue, it would seem, in the city, once called ‘The Fountains’ but now Philippi from his name who had annexed the district from Thrace to his ancestral Macedonia, and drew largely the treasures of this world from gold mines in the neighbourhood. By that river-side outside the city gate, among the women that assembled, one at least received richer treasure and so drank as to have within her a fountain springing up into eternal life. The good physician who writes was not a painter save graphically. Think of a philosopher, or even a rabbi, speaking to the women of what God is and gives, of the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ! Even the disciples once on a time wondered that the Lord talked with a woman, for He first vindicated the solemnity of a lost soul, the blessed value of a saved one, be it of man or woman. And here the choicest of His servants is found, not alone but with a few of kindred mind and heart, ministering Christ and dispensing the mysteries of God to the assembled women.

Among these one attracts our attention in the narrative, Lydia, of Thyatira, a seller of that dye for which these Lydians were far famed in Homer’s day (Iliad. δ. 141), as ‘the dyers’ may be illustrated by the inscription found in the ruins of Thyatira. She was not an idolater, but a worshipper of God, and so betook herself to the little band of Jews that met on the sabbath for prayer, separate from the heathen corruptions around, at a river-side, a spot convenient for the Jews and made use of for purifying. This seems to decide that it was the little and less known Gangas, rather than the Strymon which was more remote. Lydia was hearing, and the Lord opened her heart to attend to the things spoken by Paul: she received Him that came by water and blood, believing on the name of Jesus Christ.

It is well to observe the special form of the work of grace in souls: two never seem precisely alike. It is not merely that men differ, but that the Spirit of God gives a fresh character in the case, while all had been once alike lost sinners, and the same Christ is all and in all. Each, however, has his own individuality, and God does not withhold honour from the weaker vessel but shares His joy in love by detailing the peculiar circumstances of such a one as here before us. No doubt her conscience was exercised, she repented toward God. If this had not been before, it was now, for there is no vital operation in the soul without that self-judgment which owns our sins and ruined state, and turns to God’s mercy as the sole spring of saving hope. But the glad tidings or gospel of God presents the Christ already dead and risen, that the guilty may have remission of sins not promised only but preached to them, and every believer may know himself justified from all things — exactly what the law could not effect for its most zealous votary

But here we are not told of such pungent grief and anxiety as in the Jewish converts at Pentecost confronted with their guilt in rejecting their own Messiah; nor of such great fear as smote all that heard of the judicial death of Ananias and Sapphira nor of the great grace which multiplied disciples in the face of persecutions for such as taught and preached the Lord Jesus. The Lord wrought on Lydia, opening her heart to pay heed to the discourse of Paul. It was not prayer only that day, but God’s answer in the testimony of grace which in Christ supplies every want and flows, yea, overflows, evermore to His glory.

Made a disciple, Lydia was baptized as became her (John 4:1). Such was the Lord’s command to His servants. Only the males among the. Jews were circumcised; disciples, both men and women, were baptized (Acts 8:12). Not only Lydia was baptized but her household also: ‘And when she was baptized and her house . . .’ What is meant thereby? We do not hear of children or of husband; she may have been a widow. without a family or never married. She had a household, and we hear (ver. 40) of the brethren there, believers therefore, and probably not men only but women. Of little ones we hear nothing; and the divine account, which is full and minutely exact to admiration in other respects, not even implies anything of the kind, so that the temerity of tradition, of intellect, of will, that would from this account extract a ground for supposing infants in this case at any rate, is as bold and manifest as unjustifiable.

Hence Meyer, the ablest modern commentator of the Lutheran body, says honestly, in opposition to all his ecclesiastical prejudices, ‘When Jewish or heathen families became Christians, the children in them could have been baptized only in cases in which they were so far developed that they could profess their faith in Christ, and did actually profess it; for this was the universal requisition for the reception of baptism: [see also vers. 31, 33; Acts 18:8]. On the contrary, if the children were unable to believe, they did not partake of the rite, since they were wanting in what the act pre-supposed. The baptism of children is not to be supposed as an apostolic institution, but arose gradually in the post-apostolic age, after early and long-continued resistance, in connection with certain views of doctrine, and did not become general in the church till after the time of Augustine. The defence of infant-baptism transcends the domain of exegesis, and must be given up to that of dogmatics.’ Others of high eminence might be added, themselves paedo-baptist, who frankly own that neither here, nor later in the chapter, nor in 1 Cor. 1 is there the least proof that any were baptized except confessors of Christ, and that the baptism of infants has no scriptural warrant.

But this by the way. Lydia’s heart, opened of the Lord, went out toward His servants. She ‘besought [us] saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide. And she constrained us.’ The love of Christ was there and made her, little knowing the value of her gracious importunity in His sight, to be a fellow-helper with the truth (3 John 8).

Another lesson of far-reaching practical moment ought to be evident: the profound indifference not only to souls but to the Lord in that refusal to ‘judge’, which pleases the flesh and characterizes the world-church, be it Catholic or Protestant, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or aught else that is not based on the Christ of God confessed and the Holy Spirit given of God (Matt. 16:16-18; Acts 11:17). No doubt men plead that we must not judge, or that we must exercise a judgment of charity: both pleas alike are ignorant, perverse and evil. Certainly we ought never to be censorious, never to impute bad motives where evil conduct is not manifest. But it is equally unbelieving and heartless, for such as know that faith in God’s testimony to Christ is the turning point of the passage from death into life — life eternal, to abandon or neglect discrimination in this respect. Our solemn judgment, if guided by the word, is that death is the condition of all, our judgment of charity and our joy are, that they only live through and of and in Christ who by grace hear His word; as thereon we exhort them in His name that they should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto Him that for them died and rose again.

From such a judgment as this Lydia did not shrink but rather humbly challenged it as due to the Lord. Paul and his company acted on it, and the Holy Spirit has recorded it for our admonition. There was assuredly therefore no lack of love in Peter’s judging Simon the Samaritan from his own words, and this, though a baptized man, to be in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:20-23). It was rather indeed the painful side, but in the circumstances absolutely indispensable, in that judgment of love which the knowledge of God entails on His servants; and woe be to those who, to gratify the world or for selfish ease and advantage, relinquish so plain and indisputable a duty to their Master! This did not Peter any more than Paul.

‘And it came to pass as we were going unto prayer [or, the place of prayer], that a certain maid haying a spirit of Python met us, who brought her masters much gain by divinations. She, having followed Paul and us, cried, saying, These men are bondmen of the Most High God who announce to you [or, us] salvation’s way. And this she did for many days. But Paul, being distressed, turned and said to the spirit, I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And it came out the same hour’ (vers. 16-18).

As the better authorities ( ABCE, et al.) insert the article with ‘prayer’ in verse 16, it is allowed that ‘the place of prayer’ is the more likely meaning. But if so here, it would go far to commend the same sense in verse 13, the article being there properly absent as it was a previously unknown and unmentioned place. The incident recorded was weighty in itself and in its consequences. Satan essayed a new means of mischief, not assailing the gospel but patronizing it and this for many days. Distressed thereby the apostle at length turned and enjoined the evil spirit to leave her, which came to pass in the name of Jesus.

Alas! not so have the servants of the Most High God acted in Europe They have accepted, instead of eschewing, the favours of the enemy, to their own shame and ruin and to their Master’s dishonour. In Asia the gospel was resisted, calumniated, and persecuted. No Python followed its preachers, nor was the cry heard, These men are bondmen of the Most High who announced to you salvation’s way. Open opposition, not flattery, was the devil’s way. But Europe later had no Paul to cast out the unclean spirit, an unholy compact at last prevailed, and servants of God claimed honour to Jesus from the homage of the world. But it was hollow lip-service, as the event in Philippi soon proved. The world is at enmity with God essentially and always; and nothing is so far from its prince’s heart than the honour of His Son. A liar and its father, he hates detection; and his rage came out when the faithful apostle, who had at first slighted his overtures, cast out in Jesus’ name the power from its instrument of imposture.

An act of such uncompromising decision as well as power roused the enemy acting on human covetousness. But it is well to note that the apostle did not act in divine energy till Satan’s persistence made it a duty.

‘And when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone,175 they laid hold on, and dragged Paul and Silas into the market-place before the rulers, and when they had brought them unto the praetors, they said, These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city, and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive or practise, being Romans. And the crowd rose up together against them, and the praetors rent their garments off them, and commanded to beat [them] with rods. And, having laid many stripes on them, they cast [them] into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely, who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison and secured their feet into the stocks’ (vers. 19-24).

Defeated in his effort to mix himself up with God’s work, the enemy flees to his ordinary and natural opposition through human interests and passions. Covetousness is a mainspring of the world’s activity, ‘covetousness, which is idolatry’ (Col. 3:5). Those whose hope of gain vanished with the cast-out spirit lawlessly apprehended Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the market-place, where the local rulers then, even more than now, were found. It may be noticed that here only the inspired historian specifies the magistrates in Philippi with the Greek term which answers to praetors: a striking evidence of minute accuracy, for the city was a colony, and a colony was but Rome on a small scale, with its two chiefs (sometimes modified by need, but in general duumviri). We shall see the city governors of Thessalonica quite differently designated in the next chapter, but there too with similarly characteristic accuracy as here. Compare also Acts 13:7, 12; Acts 18:12; Acts 19:31 for other instances of such exactitude.

‘And when they had brought them unto the praetors, they said, These men, being ( ὑπάρχοντες) Jews (or, as Mr. Humphry suggests, “being Jews to begin with”), exceedingly trouble our city, and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive or practise, being ( ὄντες) Romans.’ This was calculated, and no doubt intended, to arouse the mob, the more sensitive on the score of Roman pride and privilege, because they were not unmixedly Roman, and such as might be Romans, though tolerant of other religionists one with another, were jealous of anything like aggression on themselves. The appeal was not in vain. ‘And the crowd rose up together (i.e., with the masters of the dispossessed slave) against them, and the praetors, rending their garments off them, commanded to scourge them with rods.’ It may not be necessary to hold with Bengel that the duumvirs stripped Paul and Silas with their own hands; but the special expression employed ( περιρήξαντες) and the general scope and intrinsic sense, exclude the notion that the magistrates rent ( διαρρήσσω) their own clothes. It is certain that they gave command to beat them with rods, though uncondemned: an open violation of Roman law, which exposed themselves to severe punishment, had proceedings been instituted. ‘And having inflicted on them many stripes, they cast [them] into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely, who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison and secured their feet into the stocks.’

Such was man, civilized man, high and low, carried away into most manifest injustice, without the form even of trying the holy, harmless, and self-denying servants of the Lord, at the call of the basest who had lived by the oracles or divinations of their female slave under Satan’s power.

Had God nothing to do?

‘But about midnight, Paul and Silas in praying were singing praises to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and the bands of all were loosed’ (vers. 25, 26). Could any facts more dearly indicate Whose purpose and hand had wrought on behalf of His injured ministers? An earthquake, men could readily argue, might happen, and with the most singular coincidence of circumstances; but who ever heard of an earthquake so great as to shake, not windows or walls, not chains or bolts only, but the foundations of an extensive building? And withal so nicely adjusted as to cast down nothing, nor injure a soul! Only all the doors were forthwith opened, and everyone’s bands were loosed! It was the same divine power which had delivered Simon Peter, though chained to two soldiers, on the eve of his execution (Acts 12); the same power which had extricated the apostles from a prison-house, shut in all safety, with the keepers standing at the doors (Acts 5).

Here a deeper purpose was in hand, and a great earthquake heralded it; and Paul and Silas, who had been praying to God in hymns, remained in the prison to declare His wonderful works; yea, those whose naturally strongest desire had otherwise been to make their escape and renew their lawless life were so overawed that not one stirred from the opened prison. It was the God of all grace, Who answered the prayers and praises of His prisoners, Who knew how to control the wicked, and Who was guiding His servants for His glory. For He was now about to do more, and most worthily of the name of His Son; and to do this so as to win to Himself as hardened a heart as beat within the prison walls.

Let us too hear. ‘And the jailer, being roused out of sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm, for we are all here. And he called for lights, and sprang in, and trembling for fear fell down before Paul and Silas, and led them forth, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus,176 and thou shalt be saved, and thy house’ (vers. 27-31).

We can understand the horror of the jailer, and his first impulse, as a heathen, to make away with himself, inferring from the open doors the flight of the prisoners, and therefore (according to the stern law De Custodia Reorum) with no other prospect for himself than a violent stroke of judicial shame. But conceive the overwhelming effect on his conscience when the apostle averted his suicidal hand by the loud assurance that the prisoners were all there! Light from God penetrated his dark heart on the instant. with a deep desire for mercy, before he got the lights he called for. He needed no more intimation where to turn for the truth he wanted, no more dealings of God to prove His hand was in all that had just occurred, and that He was really with those who had been so harshly thrust into prison with mockings and scourgings. Had not the Pythoness notoriously designated them as servants of the Most High God, who proclaim salvation’s way? The depths of his soul were broken up; and as his sins rose from every hiding place, he felt instinctively that now was the moment to find God. So he sprang in, and, all of a tremble, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them forth to inquire of the great salvation.

For salvation in any lesser sense is not to be thought of. The earthquake was soon all over, the prisoners were all safe; what had he to fear from Roman justice? But God had awakened his soul, and his sins troubled him. Not death from man, but divine judgment at the close of all was before his eyes, and God’s servants, for whom He had just been interposing miraculously, were there to tell him the way of salvation. Whatever learned men may think, who, never having felt the burden of their sins, catch at words, and waste their time on questions dubious or not, the jailer’s burning anxiety was about the salvation of his soul. The strange utterance respecting his two holy prisoners could not but rise before him in his then awe-stricken frame of mind. It was really God Who was at work in his conscience, as He had wrought otherwise in the prison. Not a moment was to be lost, so, having led forth the two prisoners, he says Sirs, what must I do that I may be saved?’ Eternal salvation was the urgent want of his soul, as he honestly owns.

Nor was the answer of the Lord’s servants less prompt. Thanks be to God, it may and it ought always to be so, when the soul is thus in earnest. For the righteous foundation on which salvation rests is already laid, and so perfectly that to add anything, to wait for aught else, is to dishonour God and to hinder the sinner. The atoning work is done and accepted of God, Who therefore sends His glad tidings to the guilty, without respect of persons. It is no question of promises on man’s part or of amelioration as a ground of divine favour. Man was once let alone till his violence and corruption became insupportable, and judgment swept all away, save the few who trusted God in the ark provided for them by grace. Man was then tried fully by God’s law, with every religious help possible but, as God indicated beforehand, all was vain, save to prove that man could not be saved on any ground of moral worth or religious ordinance. What remained? Nothing but a Saviour sent from God to be a propitiation for sins. The Saviour has already come, has already died, and is now risen and glorified. Yea, God has sent from heaven the Holy Spirit thereon to declare the glad tidings by His servants. Therefore Paul and Silas could say with absolute confidence, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.’

Such is the grace of God in the gospel. It brings salvation for all. It is no longer laid up in shadows. It has appeared to the world. It summons all men everywhere to repent, but none receives the remission of his sins save through faith; and the Lord Jesus is the object of that faith. No doubt He has suffered for our sins: else there could be no sovereign proclamation on God’s part, nor such a righteous blessing for man. But faith goes with grace, and excludes any and every desert of men; as the righteousness revealed in the gospel is God’s, founded upon the accomplished work of Christ.

But it is all-important to see and hold fast the fact that the gospel presents the person of Christ, and not His work only. The soul is called to ‘believe on the Lord Jesus’. This could not purge the conscience without the shedding of His blood; it could not give peace or liberty, unless He were not only delivered up for our offences, but raised for our justification. But it is on the Lord Jesus that we believe. Thus alone is the soul set in a right attitude from the first, and that object of faith abides to the last.

‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.’ This gave joy and assurance to the jailer’s soul, as we shall see by and by. So it was intended of God, Who is the God of peace, not of uncertainty, and would bring the believer into the communion of His own mind. ‘Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Faith is the principle, and not human righteousness but God’s revealed unto faith; for there is no other ground which grace or truth could accredit Anything else would exalt man, in the way either of his own merits, or of ordinances done by others for him. God’s righteousness revealed by faith unto faith excludes everything of the sort. Christ alone is, and abides, the only efficacious ground — the Lord Jesus Who has already offered His one sacrifice on the cross. All scripture on this infinite theme is but the development of that which was made known to the jailer in these pregnant words, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.’

It will be seen that salvation is no less open to the jailer’s house than to himself. Jew or Gentile makes no difference, old or young, bond or free, but on the same terms of faith. In scripture there is no such notion, whatever the precious privileges attached to the head of a house, that he believes for them, or that they are to be saved because he is saved by faith. On the contrary the idea is a fleshly licence, based on letter, not spirit, as dangerous for the soul as it is subversive of fundamental truth. No wonder that it shelters itself under the dark shade of ordinance with appeal to feeling and imagination without scripture, though boasting loudly of its own spiritual intelligence. Even Dean Alford forgot the Book of Common Prayer in his allegiance to God’s word, and declares that καὶ ὁ οἰκος σου [and thy house] does not mean that his faith would save his household — but that the same way was open to them as to him: ‘Believe and thou shalt be saved, and the same of thy household.’ So too Meyer, in the face of as great or yet greater prejudices, exploded an error opposed to the gospel and the truth generally, and says that the epanorthosis σὺ καὶ ὁ οἶκος σου extends or belongs in effect to πίστευσον and σωθήσῃ. For, be it noted, the verse speaks not of an institution like baptism, but, of salvation, and we do well to speak seriously of what is so serious. But human levity in divine things is as incredibly common as deplorable.

But as yet, as far as I am aware, this heterodoxy is only whispered in private, or at most, taught where the ignorant and blinded votaries of party are present to hear. Its advocates do not venture to affirm it where it would be sifted to their shame, and rejected by those who still hold the truth. It will be seen in the inspired word which follows, how daringly these enthusiasts overlook the context in their haste to avail themselves of the most superficial appearance to give their favourite notion currency. This however we may leave till the rest of this scripture comes before us in due course. But it is the characteristic of error to despise what is most certain, solid, and blessed in a vain chase after shadows, and to rejoice more for one pervert, than for ninety and nine repentant sinners.

Let it be carefully weighed: the question of the jailer, the answer of the Lord’s servants, was not about the sign but about the reality of salvation soul-salvation, as Peter calls it (1 Peter 1:9). And this is here, as elsewhere, bound up with faith; which of all things is personal, as is the repentance it implies. Believing for others, even so close as one’s household, in order that they should be not baptized merely, but thus saved, shows not only the poverty in resource of this pretentious school, but their hardihood in advancing questions, so dangerous for souls, on such slender grounds.

The assumption which underlies the theory, in the minds of the more moderate, probably is that the jailer’s house consisted only of children, young enough to be irresponsible: otherwise (of which extravagance some are not ashamed) it would be convicted of slighting repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus more flagrantly than any orthodox Christian sect: for which of the sects does not demand some such profession in candidates of riper years? No wonder therefore that all godly, or even sober, interpreters of the divine word repudiate those shifts of hard-driven controversialists. But scripture enables us to carry this disproof to the uttermost; for it is added (in ver. 32) that they spoke the word of the Lord to him ‘with all that were in his house’, as if the Holy Spirit by express anticipation had designed to leave no possible plea for teaching so strange. Those only who could hear the word were then concerned; none else was by the call itself included within the terms of the blessing, whatever grace might effect afterwards, if indeed any remained to be called and blessed.

‘And they spoke to him the word of the Lord’ [or, God]177 with all that were in his house. And at that hour of the night he took and washed [them from] their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his immediately. And having brought them up into his house, he set meat [a table] before them, and rejoiced with all his house, having believed in God (vers. 32-34).

The jailer took them ‘that hour’ of the night, however unseasonable it might seem; for such is the force, rather than ‘the same’ which is not said, though of course the latter also was true. But we must correctly reproduce what was originally written and meant. After washing their stripes he and all his were baptized without delay, it would seem in the precincts of the prison proper. Then he brought them ‘up’ into his house, apparently over the prisoners’ quarters, attended to their bodily refreshment, and rejoiced with all his house, having believed in God.

Undoubtedly the Greek phrase for ‘with all his house’ is adverbial; but this makes no difference for the sense substantially, either here or anywhere else. Thus all the family of every man pertaining to Jacob (Ex. 1:1) came from Palestine into Egypt: the heads of each house did not come with Jacob in lieu of the members. It was equally true of all, though the heads only were specified. So here the jailer rejoiced, yet not representatively for his family; but they too as really in their measure as he, though his joy as believing in God is duly specified, It is intended that we should understand the joy of faith in the case of all. A beautiful picture of the reality and activity of God’s grace in this world, and this with the whole house of a hardened pagan; and of such it is repeatedly predicated. For is He the God of Jews only? Is He not also of Gentiles? Yes, of Gentiles also; since God is one Who shall justify circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through their faith, not annulling law thereby, but establishing it, for law never was so vindicated as in the death of the Lord Jesus; and hence the believers, once guilty, enter into peace and joy.

Such is the triumph of God’s righteousness for all who submit to it, yet it is no promise in suspense, still less a sham, but a reality of blessed and effectual grace for none but those that do submit, whatever may be one’s desire and hope for others. It is sweet to see thoughtful love and hospitality at once in motion, when faith purifies the heart. The restraining and controlling hand of law is a great boon in a sinful world; yet what is it at best compared with the working of divine grace, even in one but just born of God?

‘And when it was day, the praetors sent the lictors, saying, Let those men go. And the jailer reported the saying unto Paul, The praetors have sent that ye be let go: now then go out and proceed in peace. But Paul said unto them, They beat us openly, uncondemned, men being Romans, and cast us into prison; and now do they cast us out privily? No indeed: but let themselves come and bring us out. And the lictors announced these words to the praetors and they were afraid when they heard they were Romans. And on coming they besought them, and bringing out entreated [them] to go out of the city. And when they went out of prison, they entered into [the house of] Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they exhorted them and departed’ (vers. 35-40).

Another evidence of a Roman colony appears here in the lictors employed as subordinates by the praetors, which is disguised in the vague name of ‘serjeants’, as the higher officials under that of ‘magistrates’.

The passionate or time-serving concession to unjust clamour had now passed away, and word was dispatched next morning to dismiss the abused prisoners of the day before. The jailer naturally repeated his orders, glad doubtless to release them. But Paul was now as firm in a dignified way for the vindication of the gospel, and even of the law, of which they were the unworthy administrators, as he and his companion before in uncomplaining meekness had borne their lawless violence. If there is a time to keep silent, there is a time to speak; and the Spirit alone can guide as to either, for which the word alone suffices, for it warrants both, each in its due season. Here we see the two injunctions carried out in the same transaction, and both turning to the glory of the Lord.

It was not invariably so even with such honoured servants. Their own spirit might, and occasionally did, act without the sure guidance of God; as when the high priest was rebuked and Caesar was appealed to, each time with consequences less or more serious, as it may be shown when the history comes before us. Here beyond controversy the silent suffering of Paul and Silas was a mighty and striking testimony to the practical grace which our Lord would have to characterize His own. ‘For what glory is it,’ says another apostle, ‘if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable [lit., grace] with God’ (1 Peter 2:20). To this saints, as such, are called. Peculiarly does it become those to practise it who teach it, as did the blessed pair then at Philippi. They were reproached for the name of Christ, and were partakers of His sufferings without a murmur, nay, with prayers and hymns of joy that they were counted worthy to bear wrong and shame for His Name.

But now that they had thus endured, it was fitting that it should be proved that Paul and Silas were not evildoers punished justly with scourging and prison and the stocks, but that the guardians of the law had been guilty of flagrant, manifest, and inexcusable unrighteousness against the preachers of the gospel. The time was come when the praetors sent to let them go, and Paul saw this, not at first the jailer. Therefore said the apostle to them, ‘They beat us openly, uncondemned, men being Romans, and cast us into prison; and do they cast us out privily? No, indeed; but let themselves come and bring us out.’ Their exposure was complete, though only the officials and their victims might know it. There was not the semblance of resentment, not the least desire to injure them, and exact from men who lay absolutely in the power of those they had wantonly injured. But it was unanswerably demonstrated, that, in the conflict between the officials of Roman law at Philippi and the ministers of the gospel, the latter were no less honoured by the gracious power of God than the former had utterly failed to repress the mob, and had even become the ringleaders in cruel infraction of that law they were bound to enforce.

The lictors bring back Paul’s words to the praetors, who when they heard the sufferers were Romans could not hide their fear, but came and besought their prisoners. It was a humiliation on their part, as undeniable a triumph for those charged with God’s gospel, who had suffered only as Christians with the Spirit of glory and of God resting on them.

Certainly the preachers of grace were not disposed to swerve from grace, least of all now that the truth was clear; nor had they any wish to put dishonour on any human institution, but rather to be patterns in that subjection to it for the Lord’s sake, to which they were conspicuous in exhorting others. They were easily entreated, having never thought of a prosecution.

‘And when they brought them out, they asked [them] to go out of the city. And they went out of the prison into [the house of] Lydia; and when they saw the brethren, they exhorted them and departed.’ They exercised their indisputable title to liberty by a visit, on quitting the prison, to Lydia, where they saw ‘the brethren’. These would seem to be her household of whom we heard in verse 15. Of none others in that holy bond of relationship do we read at this time in Philippi. These they exhorted or comforted, as well there might be need, and the Lord’s servants could happily do in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. As they had rejoiced in their bonds, they took their leave: a lovely picture in their own persons, of that superiority to circumstances which the apostle in his Epistle at a later day impressed on all the saints there, for their blessing and ours.

167 The highest authorities (ABCDE) with adequate support of the cursives and versions, et al, support the finite verb against the participle in HLP and the mass of cursives, and Text. Rec.

168 The more ancient read the copulative against the majority and Text. Rec. as they give εἰς instead of κατά, and add Ἰησοῦ.

169 Ibid.

170 Ibid.

171 The authorities are more divided as to the article here, the best omitting it. So they are between ‘God’ and ‘the Lord’, but the oldest support the former.

172 Ibid.

173 The most ancient MSS., ABCD, good cursives, et al., give πύλης, instead of πόλεως, (city), as in the Text. Rec. following most.

174 Some ancient authorities give ‘where we supposed there was a place of prayer’, as in the Revised Version.

175 Literally, ‘gone out’; it would seem in allusion to the going out of the demon

176 The mass of witnesses adds ‘Christ’ as in Text. Rec., but the most ancient with some good cursives, the Vulg., et al., do not accredit it.

177 Some ancient authorities read ‘God’, but the best sustain the Text. Rec., save in preferring ‘with’ to ‘and to’, though in sense equivalent.