23. And when they had given them many stripes, they did cast them into prison, commanding the keeper of the prison to keep them safe; 24. Who, seeing he had received such commandments, did put them in the inner prison, and made fast their feet in the stocks.25. And at midnight Paul and Silas praying, did praise God; and those which lay bound heard them.26. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and by and by all the doors were opened, and all their hands [chains] were loosed.27. And when the keeper of the prison awaked, and saw all the prison doors open, drawing out his sword, he was about to slay himself, thinking that those which lay bound were fled.28. And Paul cried with a loud voice, Do thyself no harm: for we be all here.
23. That he should keep them safe. Whereas the magistrates command that Paul and Silas should be kept so diligently, it was done to this end, that they might know more of the matter. For they had already beaten them with rods to appease the tumult. And this is that which I said of late, that the world doth rage with such blind fury against the ministers of the gospel, that it doth keep no mean in severity. But as it is very profitable for us, for example's sake, to know how uncourteously and uncomely the witnesses of Christ were entertained in times past; so it is no less profitable to know that which Luke addeth immediately concerning their fortitude and patience. For even when they lay bound with fetters, he saith that in prayer they lauded God, whereby it appeareth that neither the reproach with they suffered, nor the stripes which made their flesh smarter, nor the stink of the deep dungeon, nor the danger of death, which was hard at hand, could hinder them from giving thanks to the Lord joyfully and with glad hearts.
We must note this general rule, that we cannot pray as we ought, but we must also praise God. For though the desire to pray arise of the feeling of our want and miseries, and therefore it is, for the most part, joined with sorrow and carefulness; yet the faithful must so bridle their affections, that they murmur not against God; so that the right form of prayer doth join two affections together, (to look too contrary,) [viz.] carefulness and sorrow, by reason of the present necessity which doth keep us down, and joyfulness, by reason of the obedience whereby we submit ourselve to God, and by reason of the hope which, showing us the haven high at hand, doth refresh us even in the midst of shipwreck. Such a form doth Paul prescribe to us. Let your prayers (saith he) be made known to God with thanksgiving, (Philippians 4:6.) But in this history we must note the circumstances. For though the pain of the stripes were grievous, though the prison were troublesome, though the danger were great, seeing that Paul and Silas cease not to praise God, we gather by this how greatly they were encouraged to bear the cross. So Luke reported before that the apostles rejoiced, because they were counted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of the Lord, (Acts 5:41.)
And those which lay bound. We must know that Paul and Silas prayed aloud, that they might make the boldness of a good conscience known to others who were shut up in the same prison; for they might have made their prayer with secret groaning and sighing of heart as they were wont, or they might have prayed unto the Lord quietly and softly. Why do they then exalt their voice? Assuredly, they do not that for any ambition; but that they may profess, that, trusting to the goodness of their cause, they fly without fear unto God. Therefore, in their prayers was included a confession of faith, which did appertain unto a common example, and prepared as well the malefactor's as the jailer's house to consider the miracle.
26. There was an earthquake. The Lord, in showing this visible sign, meant chiefly to provide for his servants, that they might more manifestly know that they prayers were heard; yet he had respect also of the rest. He could have loosed the fetters of Paul and Silas without an earthquake, and also have opened the gates. But that addition served not a little to confirm them, seeing that the Lord, for their sakes, did shake both the air and also the earth. Again, it was requisite that the keeper of the prison and the rest should feel the presence of God, lest they should think that the miracle came by chance. Neither is it to be doubted, but that the Lord did then show a token of his power, which should be profitable for all ages; so that the faithful may fully assure themselves that he will be nigh unto them so often as they are to enter combats and dangers for the defense of the gospel. Nevertheless, he doth neither always keep the same course, to testify his presence by manifest signs; neither is it lawful for us to prescribe him a law. For he did help his by manifest miracles then for this cause, that we may be content with his hidden grace at this day; concerning which matter we have spoken more upon the second chapter.
27. When the keeper of the prison was awaked. He would have slain himself that he might prevent punishment; for it had been a foolish answer to have said that the doors were opened of their own accord. But this question may be asked, Seeing that Paul seeth that they might have some hope to escape if he should slay himself, why doth he hinder him? for he seemeth by this means to refuse the deliverance which was offered by God; yea, it seemeth to have been a mere toy, in that the Lord would have the jailer awaked, lest there should be any use of the miracle. I answer, that we must in this place have respect unto his counsel and purpose. For he did not loose Paul and Silas, and the rest, from their fetters, neither did he, therefore, open the doors, that he might straightway let them go free; but that, by showing the power of his hand, he might seal up the faith of Paul and Silas, and might make the name of Christ glorious among others. Therefore, he doth so yield to the petitions of Paul and Silas, that he showeth that he is able enough to deliver them so often as he shall think it good; and that nothing can hinder him, but that he is able to enter not only into prisons, but also into graves, that he may deliver those that be his. He opened the gates of the prison to Peter to another end, as we saw in chapter twelve. But now, forasmuch as he had another way in readiness to deliver Paul and Silas, he meant not so much to deliver them for the present time by miracle, as to confirm them against the time to come. Again, we must call that to mind which I said of late, that the opening of the prison appertained unto others, that it might be known to many witnesses that God did favor the doctrine, which was now burthened with an unjust prejudice. Undoubtedly, Paul perceived this; and therefore, though his hands were loosed, he did not once wag from his place. He might have gone away, if he had been so disposed. Why doth he not? Was it because he contemned the grace of God? or because, through his slothfulness, he will make the miracle frustrate? None of all these is probable; whence we gather that he was holden by God, as the Lord useth to direct the minds of those which be his in doubtful matters, that they may follow sometimes ignorantly, sometimes wittingly, that which is expedient to be done, and not pass their bounds.