XVI: 1, 2. Without giving the least detail of Paul's labors in Syria and Cilicia, Luke hurries us forward to his arrival in Derbe and Lystra, the scenes respectively of the most painful and the most consoling incidents which occurred on his former tour. His chief object in this seems to be to introduce us to a new character, destined to play an important part in the future history. (1) |Then he came down into Derbe and Lystra, and behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, son of a believing Jewess, but of a Greek father; (2) who was well attested by the brethren in Lystra and Iconium.| Not only the mother, but also the grandmother of the disciple was a believer; for Paul afterward writes to him: |I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, that first dwelt in thy grandmother Lois, and in thy mother Eunice, and I am persuaded also in thee.| From this it seems that both the mother and grandmother had preceded him into the kingdom; for it is clearly of their faith in Christ, and not of their Jewish faith, that Paul here speaks. With such an example before him, it is not surprising that the young disciple should be found well attested by all the brethren who knew him. The fact that he was thus attested not only at Derbe and Lystra, within the vicinity of his residence, but also in the more distant city of Iconium, renders it probable that he was already known as a public speaker.
On the occasion of Paul's former visit to Lystra, we learned that while he lay dead, as was supposed, after the stoning, |the disciples stood around him.| Timothy was doubtless in the group; for he was Paul's own son in the faith, and must have been immersed previous to the stoning, as Paul left the city immediately after. The scene occurred just at the period in Timothy's religious life, the period immediately subsequent to immersion, when the soul is peculiarly susceptible to the impress of noble example. The recesses of the heart are then open to their deepest depths, and a word fitly spoken, a look full of religious sympathy, or a noble deed, makes an impression which can never be effaced. In such a frame of mind Timothy witnessed the stoning of Paul; wept over his prostrate form; followed him, as if raised from the dead, back into the city; and saw him depart with heroic determination to another field of conflict in defense of the glorious gospel. It is not wonderful that a nature so full of sympathy with that of the heroic apostle to extort from the latter the declaration, |I have no one like-minded with me,| should be inspired by his example, and made ready to share with him the toils and sufferings of his future career.
3. The discriminating and watchful eye of Paul soon discovered qualities which would render this youth a fitting companion and fellow-laborer, and it was by his request that Timothy was placed in the position which he afterward so honorably filled. (3) |Paul wished him to go forth with him, and took him, and circumcised him on account of the Jews who were in those quarters; for they all knew that his father was a Greek.|
The circumcision of Timothy is quite a remarkable event in the history of Paul, and presents a serious injury as to the consistency of his teaching and of his practice, in reference to this Abrahamic rite. It demands of us, at this place, as full consideration as our limits will admit.
The real difficulty of the case is made apparent by putting into juxtaposition two of Paul's statements, and two of his deeds. He says to the Corinthians, |Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing;| yet to the Galatians he writes: |Behold, I, Paul, say to you, that if you are circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.| When he was in Jerusalem upon the appeal of the Antioch Church, brethren urgently insisted that he should circumcise Titus, who was with him, but he sternly refused, and says, |I gave place to them by subjection, no, not for an hour.| Yet we see him in the case before us, circumcising Timothy with his own hand, and this |on account of certain Jews who were in those quarters.| In order to reconcile these apparently conflicting facts and statements, we must have all the leading facts concerning this rite before us.
We observe, first, that in the language of Jesus, circumcision |is not of Moses, but of the fathers.| The obligation which the Jews were under to observe it was not originated by the law of Moses, or the covenant of Mount Sinai; but existed independent of that covenant and the law, having originated four hundred and thirty years before the law. The connection between the law and circumcision originated in the fact that the law was given to a part of the circumcised descendants of Abraham. We say a part of his descendants, because circumcision was enjoined upon his descendants through Ishmael, through the sons of Keturah, and through Esau, as well as upon the Jews. Since, then, the law did not originate the obligation to be circumcised, the abrogation of the law could not possibly annul that obligation. He shall be forced, therefore, to the conclusion, that it still continues since the law, unless we find it annulled by the apostles.
Again: its perpetuity is enjoined in the law of its institution. God said to Abraham: |He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised, and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.| An everlasting covenant is one which continues as long as both parties to it continue to exist. The covenant concerning Canaan was everlasting, because it continued as long as the twelve tribes continued an organized people to live in it. The covenant of Aaron's priestly dignity was everlasting, because it continued in Aaron's family as long as such a priesthood had an existence. So the covenant of circumcision must be everlasting, because it is to continue as long as the flesh of Abraham is perpetuated. This will be till the end of time; hence circumcision has not ceased, and can not cease, till the end of the world. This conclusion can not be set aside, unless we find something in the nature of gospel institutions inconsistent with it, or some express release of circumcised Christians from its continued observance.
It is, then, inconsistent with any gospel institution? Pedobaptists assume that it was a seal of righteousness, and a rite of initiation into the Church; and as baptism now occupies that position, it necessarily supplants circumcision. It is true, that Paul says: |Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while yet uncircumcised;| but what it was to Abraham, it never was not any of his offspring, seeing that the child eight days old could not possibly have any righteousness of faith while yet uncircumcised, of which circumcision could be the seal. Again: it was not to the Jew an initiatory rite. For, first, the law of God prescribing to Abraham the terms of the covenant says: |The uncircumcised man-child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.| Now, no man can be cut off from a people who is not previously of them. Regarding the Jewish commonwealth, therefore, as a Church, the infant of eight days was already in the Church by natural birth, and circumcision, instead of bringing him into it, was a condition of his remaining in it. In the second place, this conclusion from the terms of the covenant is made indisputable by a prominent fact in Jewish history. While the twelve tribes were in the wilderness forty years, none of the children born were circumcised. The six hundred thousand men over twenty years of age who left Egypt all died in the wilderness, and an equal number were born in the same period; for the whole number of men at the end of the journey was the same as at the beginning. When they crossed the Jordan, therefore, there were six hundred thousand male Jews, some of them forty years of age, who had not been circumcised, yet they had been entering the Jewish Church during a period of forty years. After crossing the Jordan Joshua commanded them to be circumcised, and it was done. This fact not only demonstrates that circumcision was not to the Jews an initiatory rite, but throws light upon its real design. The covenant of circumcision was ingrafted upon the promise to Abraham of an innumerable fleshly offspring, to keep them a distinct people, and to enable the world to identify them, thereby recognizing the fulfillment of the promise, and also the fulfillment of various prophesies concerning them. In accordance with this design, while they were in the wilderness, in no danger of intermingling with other nations, the institution was neglected. But, as soon as they enter the populous land of Canaan, where there is danger of such intermingling, the separating mark is put upon them.
From these two considerations, we see that there is no inconsistency between circumcision and baptism, even if the latter is admitted to be a seal of righteousness of faith, which language is nowhere applied to it in the Scriptures. Neither is there inconsistency between it and any thing in the gospel scheme; for Paul declares: |In Jesus Christ, neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love.| Thence, he enjoins: |Is any man called, being circumcised, let him not be uncircumcised; is any called in uncircumcision, let him not be circumcised.| So far as faith in Christ, and acceptability with him are concerned, circumcision makes a man neither better nor worse, and is, of course, not inconsistent with the obedience of faith in any respect whatever.
We next inquire, Are there any apostolic precepts which release converted Jews from the original obligation to perpetuate this rite? Paul does say, |If you are circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing;| and this, certainly, is a prohibition to the parties to whom it is addressed. If it was addressed to Jewish Christians, then it is certainly wrong for the institution to be perpetuated among them. But neither Paul nor any of the apostles so understood it. That Paul did not is proved by the fact that he circumcised Timothy; and that the other apostles did not, is proved conclusively by the conference which took place in Jerusalem upon Paul's last visit to that place. James says to him, |You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who believe, and they are all zealous of the law. And they are informed of you, that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. Do this, therefore, that we say to you. We have four men which have a vow on them. Take them, and purify yourself with them, and pay their expenses, in order that they may shave their heads, and all may know that the things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself walk orderly, and keep the law.| This speech shows that James considered it slanderous to say that Paul taught the Jews not to circumcise their children; and Paul's ready consent to the proposition made to him shows that he agreed with James. Yet this occurred after he had written the epistle to the Galatians, in which he says, |If you are circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.| There could not be clearer proof that this remark was not intended for Jewish Christians.
Even James, in the speech from which we have just quoted, makes a distinction, in reference to this rite, between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians. He says: |Concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written, having decided that they observe no such thing; save, only, that they keep themselves from idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication.| This remark refers to the decree issued by the apostles from Jerusalem, which Paul was carrying with him at the time that he circumcised Timothy. It should be observed, that there never did arise among the disciples any difference of opinion as to the propriety of circumcising Jews. This was granted by all. But the controversy had exclusive reference to the Gentiles; and the fact that the Judaizers based their plea for circumcising Gentiles upon the continued validity of the rite among the Jews, is one of the strongest proof that all the disciples considered it perpetual. If Paul, in disputing with them, could have said, that, by the introduction of the gospel, circumcision was abolished even among the Jews, he would have subverted, at once, the very foundation of their argument. But this fundamental assumption was admitted and acted upon by Paul himself, and no inspired man ever called it in question.
That it was the Gentiles alone who were forbidden to be circumcised, is further evident from the context of this prohibition in Galatians. This epistle was addressed to Gentiles, as is evident from the remark in the fourth chapter, |Howbeit, then, when you knew not God, you did service to them who by nature are no gods?| The circumcision of the Gentiles is not, however, considered apart from the purpose for which it was done. It is often the purpose alone which gives moral character to an action; and in this case it gave to this action its chief moral turpitude. The purpose for which the Judaizers desired the Gentiles to be circumcised was that they might be brought under the law as a means of justification. Hence Paul adds to the declaration we are considering: |I testify again to every man who submits to circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. You have ceased from Christ, whoever of you are being justified by the law, you have fallen away from favor.| This can not refer to Jews, for it would make Paul himself and all the Jewish Christians |debtors to do the whole law;| a conclusion in direct conflict with one of the main arguments of this epistle. It must, then, refer to Gentiles who were considering the propriety of circumcision as a condition of justification by the law.
We can now account for Paul's stern refusal to circumcise Titus. He was a Gentile, and could not with propriety be circumcised unless he desired to unite himself nationally with the Jewish people. But if, with Paul's consent, he should do this, his example would be used as a precedent to justify all other Gentile disciples in doing the same; and thus, in a short time, circumcision would cease to be a distinguishing mark of the offspring of Abraham, and the original design of the rite would be subverted. Moreover, to have circumcised him under the demand that was made by the Pharisees, would have been a virtual admission that it was necessary to justification, which could not be admitted without abandoning the liberty of Christ for the bondage of the law.
The case of Timothy was quite different. He was a half-blood Jew, and therefore belonged, in part, to the family of Abraham. He could be circumcised, not on the ground of its being necessary as a part of a system of justification by law, but because he was an heir of the everlasting covenant with Abraham. This, however, was not the chief reason for which Paul circumcised him, for Luke says it was |on account of the Jews who dwelt in those quarters; for they all knew that his father was a Greek.| In this reason there are two considerations combined, the latter qualifying the former. The fact that his father was known to be a Greek is given to account for the fact that Paul yielded to the prejudices of the Jews. If his father and mother both had been Jews, Paul might have acted from the binding nature of the Abrahamic covenant. Or if both had been Greeks, he would have disregarded the clamor of the Jews, as he had done in the case of Titus. But the mixed parentage of Timothy made his case a peculiar one. The marriage of his mother to a Greek was contrary to the law of Moses. Whether the offspring from such a marriage should be circumcised, or not, the law did not determine. The Jewish rabbis taught that the mother should not circumcise the child without the consent of the father, which was to admit that his circumcision was not obligatory. Paul did not, then, feel bound by the Abrahamic covenant to circumcise him, but did so to conciliate the |Jews who dwelt in those quarters,| who had, doubtless, already objected to the prominent position assigned to one in Timothy's anomalous condition. It was, as all the commentators agree, a matter of expediency; but not, as they also contend, because it was indifferent whether any one were circumcised or not, but because it was indifferent whether one like Timothy were circumcised or not. It was an expediency that applied only to the case of a half-blood Jew with a Greek father; and it would, therefore, be most unwarrantable to extend it to the case of full-blooded Jews.
The remark of Paul that |Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God,| is readily explained in the light of the above remarks, and of its own context. It is immediately preceded by these words: |Is any man called being circumcised, let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision, let him not be circumcised.| And it is immediately followed by these words: |Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called.| So far, then, is this text from making it indifferent whether a Christian become circumcised or not, that it positively forbids those who had been in uncircumcision before they were called, to be circumcised; while it equally forbids the other party to render themselves uncircumcised; which expression means to act as if they were uncircumcised by neglecting it in reference to their children. For to become uncircumcised literally is impossible. That circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision nothing, means, therefore, simply that it is indifferent whether a man had been, before he was called, a Jew or a Gentile; but it is far from indicating that it is innocent in a Jew to neglect this rite, or in a Gentile to observe it.
If we have properly collated the apostolic teaching on this subject, the conclusion of the whole matter is this: that Christian Jews, Ishmaelites, or Edomites, are under the same obligation to circumcise their children that the twelve tribes were in Egypt, and that the descendants of Ishmael and Esau were during the period of the law of Moses. This being so, the pedobaptist conceit that baptism has taken the place of circumcision is shown to be absurd, by the fact that circumcision still occupies its own place. It is undeniable that during the whole apostolic period Jewish disciples observed both baptism and circumcision, and as both these could not occupy the same place at the same time, their proper places must be different. According to apostolic precedent, both should still continue among the Jews; neither one taking the place of the other, but one serving as a token of the fleshly covenant with Abraham, the other as an institution of the new covenant, and a condition, both to Jew and Gentile, of the remission of sins.
4, 5. After so long delay upon the circumcision of Timothy, we are prepared to start forward again with the apostles, cheered as they were by this valuable addition to their company. (4) |And as they passed through the cities they delivered to them to observe the decrees which had been adjudged by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. (5) And the Churches were confirmed in the faith, and were daily increasing in number.| These decrees were everywhere needed, in order to unite in harmonious fellowship the Jewish and Gentile converts. Presented by Paul, who had been sent to Jerusalem for them, and by Silas, who had been sent out with high commendation by the apostles, to bear them to the Gentiles, that came with their full force to the ears of the brethren, and produced the happiest effects. The peace and harmony which they helped to confirm the brethren in the faith, and the daily increase in number was the result of this happy condition of the Churches.
6-8. The neighboring cities of Derbe and Lystra, where Paul was joined by Timothy, constituted the limit of his former tour with Barnabas into this region of country. He makes them now the starting point for an advance still further into the interior, and to the western extremity of Asia Minor. (6) |Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the district of Galatia, being forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, (7) they went to Mysia, and attempted to go on through Bythinia, and the Spirit did not permit them. (8) So passing by Mysia they went down to Troas.|
From this hurried sketch of the tour through Phrygia and Galatia, it might be inferred that nothing of special interest occurred during its progress. But we learn from Paul himself that it was far otherwise in Galatia. In his epistle to the Churches there, he lifts the vail of obscurity thrown over this part of his life, and brings to light one of the most touching incidents in his eventful career. More than one congregation sprang up under his personal labors there, who owed their knowledge of salvation to an afflicting providence affecting himself. He writes to them: |You know that on account of infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel to you at the first.| This statement does not mean merely that he was suffering in the flesh at the time; but the expression di asthenian indicates that the infirmity was the cause which led him to his preaching to them. The infirmity was evidently that |thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him,| which he had prayed in vain to the Lord to take from him. For he says to them: |My temptation which was in my flesh you despised not, nor rejected, but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.| It is probable that he had intended to pass through this region without stopping, but some unusual violence of the humiliating and irritating malady compelled him to forego the more distant journey, and make some stay where the Word was so gladly received by these brethren. Though Paul felt that strangers like these would be likely to despise him and reject him, on perceiving the malady with which he was afflicted, yet this people listened to his annunciation of eternal truth as if they heard an angel of God, or Jesus Christ Christ himself. His distress of mind and weakness of body were calculated to give a mellower tone to his preaching, and to awaken a livelier sympathy in truly generous hearts, and such was the effect on them. He says: |I bear you witness, that if it had been possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and have given them to me.| Thus, out of the most unpropitious hour in which this faithful apostle every introduced the gospel to a strange community, the kind providence of God brought forth the sweetest fruits of all his labors; for there are no other Churches of whose fondness for him he speaks in terms so touching. This serves to illustrate the meaning of the Lord's answer, when Paul prayed that the thorn might depart from his flesh: |My favor is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.| His weakest hour, wherein he expected to be despised and rejected, he found the strongest for the cause he was pleading, and the most soothing to his own troubled spirit. It was experience like this which enabled him, in later years, to exclaim, |Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong.|
Paul's own judgment seems to have been much at fault, during this period, in reference to the choice of a field of labor. Contrary to his purpose, he had been delayed in Galatia, |on account of infirmity of flesh;| and then, intending to enter the province of Asia, of which Ephesus was the capital, he was |forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word there.| Finally they attempted to go into Bythinia, |and the Holy Spirit did not permit them.| Feeling his way around the forbidden territory, he finally went down to Troas, on the shore of the Ægean Sea.
9, 10. Here he learns the object which the Spirit had in view, while turning him aside from one after another of the fields which he himself had chosen. (9) |Then a vision appeared to Paul in the night. There stood a man of Macedonia, entreating him, and saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us. (10) And when he saw the vision, we immediately sought to go forth into Macedonia, inferring that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel them.|
This overruling of Paul's purpose, coupled with the absence of it at other times, indicates something of the method by which the journeyings of inspired men were directed. While their own judgment led to a judicious choice, it was permitted to guide them; but when it failed, as was likely to be the case, through their ignorance of the comparative accessibility of different communities, or the circumstances of individuals, they were overruled by some controlling providence, like Paul in Galatia; directed by angels, like Philip in Samaria; or by the Spirit, like Peter in Joppa; restrained from some purpose, like Paul and Silas when attempting to enter Asia and Bythinia; or called away across the sea, as he was now, by a vision at night. We will yet see that, as in the cases of Philip and of Peter, the prayers of individuals ready to hear the gospel were connected with the divine interference by which Paul and Silas were now being directed.
Preachers of the present day have no authoritative visions by night to guide them, and the supposition indulged by some, that they are at times prompted by the Spirit as Paul was, is nothing more than the conceit of an enthusiast, while it is nothing less than a claim to inspiration. But Paul was often guided merely by the indications of Providence, and so may it be with us. If we are attentive to these indications, we shall be under the guidance of that same All-seeing Eye which chose the steps of Paul. If the way of our choosing is entirely blocked up, at times, or some stern necessity turns us aside from a settled purpose, we may regard it as but the firmer pressure of that hand which leads us, for the most part, unseen and unfelt.
11, 12. An opportunity was offered without delay, for the apostolic company to make the contemplated voyage to Macedonia. (11) |Therefore, setting sail from Troas, we ran by a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day to Neapolis; (12) and thence to Philippi, which is the first city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony. And we abode in that city some days.|
Samothrace is an island in the Archipelago, about midway between Troas and Neapolis. Neapolis was a seaport of Macedonia, and the landing place for Philippi. The remark that they sailed to Samothrace, and the next day to Neapolis, shows that they spent the night at Samothrace, which accords with the custom of ancient navigators, who generally cast anchor at night, during coasting voyages, unless the stars were out. This voyage occupied a part of two days.
Philippi was not the chief city of that part of Macedonia, as rendered in the common version, but the first city; by which is meant, either that it was the first which Paul visited, or the first in point of celebrity. I think the latter is the real idea; for it is obvious from the history that this was the first city Paul visited, and of this the reader need not be informed. But it was the first city of that region in point of celebrity, because it was the scene of the great battle in which Brutus and Cassius were defeated by Marc Antony. Thessalonica was then, and is yet, the chief city of Macedonia.
The observant reader will here notice a change in the style of the narrative, which indicates the presence of the writer among the companions of Paul. Hitherto he had spoken of them only in the third person; but when about to leave Troas, he uses the first person plural, saying, |we sought to go forth into Macedonia,| and |we ran to Samothrace,| etc. It is only by such a change in the pronoun employed, from the third to the first person, and from the first to the third that we can detect the presence or absence of Luke. From this indication we conclude that he first joined the company in the interior of Asia Minor, just previous to entering the city of Troas. The company with whom we are now traveling is composed of Paul and Silas, Timothy and Luke.
13-15. Upon entering this strange city, the first on the continent of Europe visited by an apostle, Paul and his companions must have looked around them with great anxiety for some opportunity to open their message to the people. The prospects were sufficiently forbidding. They knew not the face of a human being; and there was not even a Jewish synagogue into which they might enter with the hope of being invited to speak |a word of exhortation to the people.| By some means, however, they learned that on the bank of the river Gangas, which flowed by the city, some Jewish women were in the habit of congregating on the Sabbath-day, for prayer. Thither the apostles directed their steps, determined that here should be the beginning of their labors in Philippi. (13) |And on the Sabbath-day we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made, and sat down, and spoke to the women who had collected there. (14) And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening; whose heart the Lord opened, so that she attended to the things spoken by Paul. (15) And when she was immersed, and her house, she entreated us, saying, If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and remain there. And she constrained us.|
With Bloomfield, I reject the criticism of the most recent commentators, who render the second clause of verse 13, |where was wont to be a place of prayer.| Besides the reasons suggested by this learned author, I would observe, first, that the term proseuche is nowhere else in the New Testament used in the sense of a place of prayer, but always means prayer. Nothing but a contextual necessity, therefore, would justify a different rendering here. Again, the expression enomizeto einai means was accustomed to be, and it is never said of a place, or building, that it is accustomed to be where it is.
We now see one reason for that singular prohibition which had been steadily turning Paul aside from the fields which he had preferred, until he reached the sea-shore; and of that vision which had called him into Europe. These women had been wont to repair to this river-bank for prayer. God had heard their prayers, as in the case of Cornelius, and he was bringing to them the preacher through whose words they might obtain faith in Christ, and learn the way of salvation. Long before either they or Paul knew anything of it, God was directing the steps of the latter, and timing the motion of the winds at sea, with reference to that weekly meeting on the river's bank, as he had once done the flight of an angel and the steps of Philip with reference to the eunuch's chariot. Now, as in those two cases, he has brought the parties face to face. He answers the prayers of the unconverted, not by an enlightening influence of the Spirit in their hearts, but by providentially bringing to them a preacher of the gospel who knows the way of salvation.
The statement that the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, that she attended to the things spoken by Paul, is generally assumed by the commentators as a certain proof that an immediate influence of the Spirit was exerted on her heart, in order that she should listen favorably to the truth. Their interpretation of the words is expressed in the most orthodox style by Bloomfield, thus: |The opening in question was effected by the grace of God, working by his Spirit with the concurrent good dispositions of Lydia.| Dr. Hackett says her heart was |enlightened, impressed by his Spirit, and so prepared to receive the truth.| Whether this is the true interpretation or not, may be determined by a careful examination of all the facts in this case.
First: The term open is evidently used metaphorically, but in a sense not at all obscure. To open the mind is to expand it to broader or more just conceptions of a subject. To open the heart is to awaken within it more generous impulses. What exact impulse is awakened, in a given case, is to be determined by the context.
Second: The impulse awakened in Lydia's heart was not such a disposition that she listened favorably to what Paul said, but, |that she attended to things| which he spoke. The facts, in the order in which they are stated, are as follows: 1st. |We spoke to the women.| 2d. Lydia |was listening.| 3d. God opened her heart.4th. She attended to the things spoken. The fourth fact is declared to be the result of the third. It was after she |was listening| that God opened her heart, and after her heart was opened, and because of this opening, that she attended to what she had heard. What the exact result was, then, is to be determined by the meaning of the word |attended.| The term attend sometimes means to concentrate the mind upon a subject, and sometimes to practically observe what we are taught. The Greek term prosecho, here employed, has a similar usage. It is used in the former sense, in Acts viii.6, where it is said the people, |attended to the things spoken by Philip, in hearing and seeing the miracles which he wrought.| It is used in the latter sense in 1 Tim. iv.13, where Paul says, |Till I come, attend to reading, to exhortation, to teaching;| and in Heb. vii.13, where to attend to the altar means to do the service at the altar. That the latter is the meaning in the case before us is clearly proved by the fact that she had already listened to what Paul spoke, or given mental attention to it, before God opened her heart so that she attended to the things she had heard. Now, in hearing the gospel, she learned that there were certain things which she was required to attend to, which were, to believe, to repent, and to be immersed. To attend to the things she heard, then, was to do these things. That immersion was included in the things which Luke refers to by this term is evident from the manner in which he introduces that circumstance. He says, |And when she was immersed,| etc., as if her immersion was already implied in the preceding remark. If such was not his meaning, he would not have used the adverb when, but would simply have stated, as an additional fact, that she was immersed.
Having the facts of the case now before us, we inquire whether it is necessary to admit an immediate influence of the Spirit, in order to account for the opening of her heart. We must bear in mind, while prosecuting this inquiry, that the opening in question was such a change in her heart as to induce her to believe the gospel, to repent of her sins, and to be immersed, thereby devoting her life to the service of Christ. Her heart had been contracted by the narrowness of Jewish prejudices, which were obstacles, in some degree, to the reception of the gospel; but she was a |worshiper of God,| which inclined her to do whatever she might learn to be the will of God. In seeking to account for the change effected, we must also bear in mind the well-settled philosophical principle, that when an effect can be accounted for by causes which are known to be present, it is illogical to assume a cause which is not known to be present. Now, in Lydia's case, it is not asserted that an immediate action of the Spirit took place in her heart; neither can it be known that such a cause was present, unless this is the only cause which could produce the effect. But it is known that all the power which can be exerted through the words of an inspired apostle preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, was present. And it can not be denied, that when the gospel, thus presented, is listened to by one who is already a sincere worshiper of God, as Lydia was, the heart may be so expanded by it from the narrowness of Jewish prejudice as to admit of faith, repentance, and obedience. The assumption, therefore, that her heart was opened by an abstract influence of the Spirit, is entirely gratuitous and illogical, while the real cause is patent upon the face of the narrative in the preaching done by Paul.
If it be objected to this conclusion, that it is said God opened her heart, and not Paul, we answer, that God by his Spirit was the real agent of all that was effected through the words of Paul. For it was the Spirit in Paul who spoke to Lydia, and it was the fact that the Holy Spirit was in him which compelled her to believe what he might say, and gave his words all their power. Hence, so far is the statement of the text from being inconsistent with our conclusion, that the opening of her heart through Paul's words is the clearest proof that it was effected by the Holy Spirit as the prime agent.
If, in conclusion of this inquiry, we compare Lydia's case with that of the eunuch, or of Cornelius, who were in similar states of mind previous to conversion, and needed a similar opening of the heart, we find that it was effected in the same way, through the power of miraculously attested truth, and that the only difference is in the phraseology in which Luke chooses to describe it. If, from these facts, we attempt a general conclusion, it is, that when any narrowness of heart, produced by improper education, or otherwise, stands in the way of salvation, the Lord removes it, and opens the heart, by the expanding and ennobling influence of his truth. This is true of the saint as well as the sinner, as is well illustrated by the case of Peter and the other apostles in connection with the family of Cornelius.
The statement that Lydia's household were immersed with her has been taken by nearly all pedobaptist writers as presumptive evidence in favor of infant baptism. Olshausen, however, while affirming that |the propriety of infant baptism is undoubted,| has the candor to admit that |It is highly improbable that the phrase her household should be understood as including infant children.| He also affirms that |There is altogether wanting any conclusive proof-passage for the baptism of children in the age of the apostles, nor can the necessity of it be deduced from the nature of baptism.| Dr. Alexander also remarks that |The real strength of the argument lies not in any one case, but in the repeated mention of whole households as baptized.| But Dr. Barnes states the argument in the more popular style, thus: |The case is one that affords a strong presumptive proof that this was an instance of household or infant baptism. For, (1) Her believing is particularly mentioned. (2) It is not intimated that they believed. On the contrary, it is strongly implied that they did not. (3) It is manifestly implied that they were baptized because she believed.|
Dr. Alexander's statement of the argument is that generally employed by debatants; that of Dr. Barnes the one most common among preachers and teachers who have no opponent before them. In reference to the former it is sufficient to say, that |the repeated mention of whole households as baptized| affords not the slightest evidence in favor of infant baptism, unless it can be proved that in at least one of these households there were infants. It there were infants in one, this would establish the presumption that there might be in some others. But until there is proof that there were infants in some of them, it may be inferred that the absence of infants was the very circumstance which led to the immersion of the whole family. Indeed, a fair induction of such cases fully justifies this inference in reference to Lydia's case. There is positive proof that there were no infants in any other family whose immersion is mentioned in the New Testament. There were none in the household of Cornelius; for they all spoke in tongues, and believed. There were none in that of the jailer; for they all believed and rejoiced in the Lord. None in the household of Stephanas; for they |addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.| Now, inasmuch as one of the peculiarities of all households who were immersed, of whom we know the facts, was the absence of infants, we are justified in the conclusion, no evidence to the contrary appearing, that this was also a peculiarity of Lydia's household. The argument, therefore, as stated by Dr. Alexander, is not only inconclusive, but, when properly viewed, establishes a presumption quite the reverse.
The argument, as stated by Dr. Barnes, is based entirely upon the silence of the Scriptures. He says: |Her believing is particularly mentioned;| but |it is not intimated that they believed. On the contrary, it is strongly implied that they did not.| Now, if the mere silence of Luke in reference to their faith implies strongly that they did not believe, his silence in reference to Lydia's repentance implies as strongly that she did not repent. In some cases of conversion, the repentance of the parties is |particularly mentioned.| |It is not intimated| that Lydia repented; therefore, says the logic of Dr. Barnes, |there is a strong presumptive proof that this was an instance of| baptism without repentance. If men are allowed thus to prove what is Scripture doctrine, by what the Scriptures do not mention, there is no end to the doctrines and practices which the Bible may be made to defend. If Dr. Barnes were compelled to meet the argument in reference to Lydia's repentance, he would do it very easily, and, in so doing, would refute his own in reference to the baptism of her children. He would show that we know that Lydia repented, because none but those who repented were admitted to baptism on other occasions. Just so, we know that all baptized on this occasion believed, because none but believers were baptized on other occasions. Not till he can prove, from other statements of the Scriptures, that persons were baptized by the apostles without faith, can he establish the presumption that these parties were not believers, simply because their faith is not mentioned.
Dr. Barnes concludes his note on this case, by saying, |It is just such an account as would now be given of a household or family that were baptized on the faith of the parent.| This is true. But it is equally true, that it is just such an account as would now be given of a household or family that were baptized without an infant among them. The presence, therefore, of one or more infants, which is essential to the argument, remains absolutely without proof.
The mere absence of proof is not the worst feature of the pedobaptist assumptions in this case. For the assumption that infants were here baptized depends upon five other assumptions, the falsity of either of which would vitiate the whole argument. It is assumed, First, That some of the household were baptized without faith. Second, That Lydia was, or had been, a married woman. Third, That she had children. Fourth, That one or more of her children were infants. Fifth, That her infant children were so young as to necessarily be brought with her from Thyatira to Philippi. Now, so long as it remains possible that all the parties baptized were believers; or that Lydia was a maiden; or that she was a married woman or widow without children; or that her children were of a responsible age; or that her younger children were left at home in Thyatira when she came to Philippi to sell her purple cloths; so long as any one of these hypotheses can possibly be true, so long will it be impossible to prove an instance of infant baptism in her household.
One more suggestion is necessary to a full statement of the argument in this case. When Lydia invited Paul's company to lodge in her house, they were backward about complying, as is evident from the remark that |she constrained us.| Now there can be no probable reason assigned for this reluctance, but the fact that it was her house, and the brethren felt it a matter of delicacy to be the guests of a woman. To the full extent of the probability of this supposition, which is heightened by the fact that she calls the house her own, is it probable that she was an unmarried woman, and, therefore, improbable that she had infant children. Thus we find that all the known facts in the case are adverse to the argument in favor of infant baptism.
16-18. We are next introduced to an incident which led to a decided change in the fortunes of Paul and Silas. (16) |And it came to pass, as we were going to prayer, there met us a certain female servant, having a spirit of divination, who brought her masters much gain by soothsaying. (17) The same followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, These men are servants of the most high God, who show us the way of salvation. (18) She did this for many days. But Paul, being much grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.| Demons exhibited a knowledge of the person of Jesus, and the mission of himself and the apostles, which seems not to have been derived from preaching. This was a superhuman knowledge. But there is no evidence known to me that they could foretell future events, though it was believed by the heathen generally that they could. It was the prevalent confidence in the vaticinations of persons possessed by them that enables this girl to bring her owners much gain.
If Paul had reasoned as many do at the present day, he would have been glad that this girl followed him with such a proclamation. It was the very thing of which he was trying to convince the people of Philippi, who already had confidence in the demoniac. Why, then, was he not rejoiced at so powerful co-operation, instead of being grieved, and shutting the mouth of an apparent friend? It must be because he saw the matter in a far different light from that in which it appears to those advocates of |spirit rappings,| who exult in them as affording strong confirmation of the gospel.
The course pursued by Paul was the same with that of Jesus, who invariably stopped the mouths of demons when they attempted to testify to his claims. The propriety of this course will be apparent upon observing: First, That to have permitted demons to testify for the truth would have convinced the people that there was an alliance between them and the preachers. Second, This supposed alliance would have caused all the good repute of Jesus and the apostles to reflect upon the demons, and all the evil repute of demons to reflect upon them. It was an ingenious effort of the devil to ally himself with Jesus Christ, in order the more effectually to defeat his purposes. If Christ and the apostles had given countenance to demons while telling the truth, they could have used their indorsement to gain credence when telling a lie; and thus, believers would have been left to the mercy of seducing spirits, fulfilling, with the apparent sanction of Christ, the prophesy of Paul that, |In the latter times men shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and teachings of demons, speaking lies in disguise, having the conscience seared with a hot iron.| To guard against this result, it was necessary to exorcise all demons who ventured to speak in favor of the truth.
In the present instance, Paul could not pursue the settled course of the apostles, without greatly depreciating the value of the slave; and doubtless it was an extreme reluctance to interference with the rights of property which had induced him to submit to the annoyance of so many days. At length, seeing no other means of relief, he cast the demon out, and, in doing so, framed the exorcising sentence in such a way as to indicate an antagonism between the demon and Jesus Christ; saying, |In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her.| The immediate obedience of the spirit demonstrated the authority of the name by which Paul spoke, and thus the very attempt of the devil to gain an apparent alliance with Jesus through this demon was made the occasion of demonstrating the divine power of the latter.
19-21. (19) |Then her masters, seeing that the hope of their gain was gone, seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place to the rulers, (20) and leading him forward to the magistrates, they said, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, (21) and are announcing customs which it is unlawful for us, being Romans, to receive or to observe.| In this accusation, the real cause of complaint was concealed, for several reasons: First, The disinterested multitude would naturally sympathize with the girl who had been restored to her mind, rather than with the masters who had made her misfortune a source of profit. Second, To have made prominent the fact that Paul, by a word, had expelled the demon, would have made an impression favorable to him and his cause. But the Jews and their religion were particularly obnoxious to the Romans, and hence, when the accusation was made by men of wealth and influence, that these men, |being Jews,| were introducing customs contrary to the religion and laws of Rome, it was easy to excite the populace against them.
22-24. (22) |And the multitude rose up against them, and the magistrates, having torn off their garments, commanded to beat them with rods. (23) And having laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely; (24) who, having received such a commandment, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.| It appears that the magistrates gave them no opportunity to defend themselves, but simply yielded to the clamor of the multitude, in utter disregard of all the forms of justice. It was that same miserable truckling to the passions of a mob, whom they ought to have ruled into sobriety and reason, which has stamped with infamy the name of Pontius Pilate.
25. The condition of the two brethren, as night drew on, was miserable to a degree scarcely conceivable. Besides the physical pain of sitting in a dark dungeon, with their backs bleeding from the scourge, and feet fastened in the stocks to prevent even the relief which a change of position might afford, their minds were racked with a sense of the deep injustice done them; with the reflection that such was the return they met at the hands of men for whom they had sacrificed their all on earth, and their present reward for faithful service of the Lord; and with the most mournful anticipations of their future fate. Most men, under such circumstances, would have been wild with rage against their persecutors, unconcerned for the fate of an unfriendly world, and full of doubts as to the protecting favor of God. But in the darkest and bitterest hour of their sufferings, these faithful disciples brought forth the richest fruits of their faith and piety. (25) |But at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to God, and the prisoners heard them.| Men do not pray when they are enraged, nor when they are hopeless. The soul must recover from the turmoil of violent passion, before it can offer thoughtful prayer. But still greater composure is necessary to induce a disposition to engage in singing. One in deep distress may be soothed by the music of other voices, but is not inclined to join in the song itself. That Paul and Silas prayed at midnight is the clearest evidence that the tempest of their feelings, which must, at the whipping-post, and when first thrust within the dungeon and fastened in the stocks, have driven away all sober thought, and smothered all utterance, had by this time subsided. And that, after praying, they |sang praises to God,| shows how quickly the soothing effects of prayer had still further calmed and cheered their spirits. The song they sang was not a plaintive strain, suited to the sorrows of the lonely prisoner; but it swelled up in those firm and animated tones which are suited to the praises of God. How rich the treasures of faith and hope which can thus cheer the gloom of a midnight dungeon, and calm the spirit of the bleeding prisoner of Jesus Christ!
26. The song of the apostles was a strange sound to the other prisoners, but one most welcome to heaven; and God, who appeared almost to have forsaken his servants, came to their relief in a manner peculiar to himself, yet most surprising to all within the prison. (26) |And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bonds were loosed.| The prisoners were all awake when this occurred, having been awakened by the singing, and must instinctively have connected the phenomenon with those midnight singers.
27. The jailer seems not to have heard the singing, but was awakened by the motion of the earthquake, the slamming of the doors, and the clanking of the fetters which fell from the hands of the prisoners. (27) |And the jailer, awaking out of sleep, and seeing the prison-doors open, drew his sword, and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had fled.| It was not so dark as to prevent him from seeing, to some extent, what had taken place. He supposed that the prisoners had, as a matter of course, all rushed out through the open doors. He knew what the penalty, under Roman law, for allowing prisoners to escape, was death; and that peculiar code of honor among the Romans, which made them prefer to die by their own hands, rather than by that of an enemy or an executioner, drove him to this attempt at suicide.
28. He had already planted the hilt of his sword upon the floor, and was about to cast himself upon the point of it, when Paul, who must now have left his dungeon, saw what he was doing, and arrested his mad purpose. (28) |But Paul cried, with a loud voice, saying, Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.| Reassured by this statement, and by the calmness of the tone in which it was uttered, he drew back from the leap he was about to make into eternity.
29, 30. As soon as he could collect his senses, he recollected that the calm speaker who had called to him had been preaching salvation in the name of the God of Israel; and he immediately perceived that the earthquake, the miraculous opening of the doors, and the unlocking of chains and handcuffs were connected with him and his companion. In an instant he recognizes the divine authority, and, glancing into the black eternity from which he had suddenly been rescued, his own salvation, rather than the safety of his prisoners, at once absorbs his thoughts. (29) |Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas; (30) and led them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?| That he asked this question proves that he had some conception of the salvation of which Paul had been preaching; and that he trembled, and fell at their feet, shows that he was overwhelmed with a sense of danger, and painfully anxious to escape from it. At sunset, when coldly thrusting the bleeding apostles into the dungeon, he cared but little for this question. In the midst of life and health, when all goes well with us, we may thrust this awful question from us; but when we come within an inch of death, like the jailer at midnight, hanging over the point of his own sword, it rushes in upon the soul like a lava torrent, and burns out all other thoughts.
31, 32. Leading the brethren into his family apartment, he received a full and satisfactory answer to his question. (31) |They said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house. (32) And they spake the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house.| Those who advocate the doctrine of justification by faith only, appeal with great confidence to this answer of the apostle, as proof of that doctrine. We can not enter upon the merits of this doctrine, except as it is affected by this and other passages in Acts.
To state the argument in its strongest form, it would stand thus: In answer to the question, What shall I do to be saved? one thing is commanded to be done: |Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ;| and one thing is promised. |You shall be saved.| Now, then, Paul could not have made this promise on this one condition, unless he knew that all who believe on the Lord Jesus are saved. No less than the universal proposition that all who believe shall be saved, would justify the conclusion that if the jailer believed, he would be saved. Paul, then, assumes this universal proposition, and, therefore, it must be true. But there are some who believe, and are consequently saved, who have never been immersed; therefore, immersion does not constitute a part of what we must do to be saved.
The fallacy of this very plausible argument is to be found in the ambiguous usage of the term believe. This ambiguity does not arise from the fact that there are different kinds of faith; but from the fact that the term is sometimes used abstractly, and sometimes to include the repentance and obedience which properly result from faith. Whatever is affirmed of faith only must necessarily contemplate it in the former sense. But in that sense it can not secure justification, as is proved by the force of those passages which treat of it in this sense. John, in his gospel, says: |Among the chief rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.| James also says: |As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.| In those passages faith is considered separately from the works which should follow it, and is declared to be dead, or inoperative.
Now, the statement of Paul to the jailer is not, that if he would believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with a dead faith, or a faith so weak as to be overpowered by worldly motives, he should be saved; but he evidently contemplates a living faith -- a faith which leads to immediate and hearty obedience. In this usage of the term it is true that not only the jailer, but every other believer may be promised, |Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.| Yet it is equally true that the salvation does not result from the faith only; and that it is not enjoyed until the faith brings forth the contemplated obedience. If faith without works is dead, then it remains dead as long as it remains without works. It thus remains until the believer is immersed, if he proceed according to apostolic example; therefore, faith without immersion is dead. Paul acted upon this principle in the case before us. For, after telling him, in the comprehensive sense of the term believe, that if he would believe on the Lord Jesus he should be saved, he immediately gives him more specific instruction, and immerses him the same hour of the night. Those who argue that the jailer obtained pardon by faith alone, leave the jail too soon. If they would remain one hour longer, they would see him immersed for the remission of his sins, and rejoicing in the knowledge of pardon after his immersion, not before it.
There is another aspect of this answer to the jailer which must not \ be passed by; for it confirms what we have already said, and at the same time harmonizes this with other inspired answers to the same question. To Saul, who was a penitent believer, and sent to Ananias to learn what he should do, the latter replied: |Arise and be immersed and wash away your sins.| To the Jews on Pentecost, who had faith, but faith only, Peter commands: |Repent and be immersed, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.| But to the jailer, who was a heathen, Paul commands, |Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ;| and intending more fully to develop the manner in which his faith should be manifested, promises, |and you shall be saved.| Thus each answer is adapted to the exact religious state of the party to whom it is addressed, requiring first that which is to be done first, and enjoining to be done only that which had not been done.
The conduct of the jailer in prostrating himself before Paul and Silas, and crying out, |What shall I do to be saved?| shows that he already believed them to be messengers of God, and understood that their message had reference to the salvation of men. But there is no evidence that his faith or his information extended beyond this. Having commanded him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, it was necessary to put within his reach the means of faith; and this Paul proceeds to do by preaching |the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.|
33, 34. The preaching, as would be expected under circumstances so favorable, had the desired effect both upon the jailer and his household. (33) |And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was immersed, he and all his, immediately. (34) And having led them into his house, he set food before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.|
Those pedobaptist writers who claim the example of the apostles in favor of affusion and infant baptism attempt to find support for these practices in this case of conversion. Their argument for affusion depends entirely upon the assumption that the baptism was performed within the prison. If this assumption were admitted, it would prove nothing in favor of affusion so long as it is possible that there were conveniences for immersion within the prison. But the assumption is in direct conflict with the facts in the case. The facts are briefly as follows: First, When the jailer was about to commit suicide, Paul saw him, which shows that he was then outside of his dungeon, in the more part of the prison. Second, Hearing Paul's voice, the jailer sprang into the prison, and |led them out| -- not dungeon, but out of the prison. Third, Being now out of the prison, |they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.| While speaking, then, they were in the house, and not in the prison. Fourth, |He took them and washed their stripes, and was baptized.| The verb took, in this connection, implies the removal of the parties to some other spot for the washing and baptizing. Whether to some other part of the house, or out of the house, it does not determine. But, fifth, when the baptizing was concluded, |he led them into his house,| which shows that, before it was done, he had taken them out of the house. Between the moment at which he took them out of the house and the moment he brought them into it, the baptizing was done. But they would not, at this hour of the night, have gone out, unless there was some necessity for it, which the demands of affusion could not supply. The circumstances, though not in itself a proof of immersion, afford strong circumstantial evidence in its favor, and is suggestive of that river on the banks of which Lydia first heard the gospel, and in which she was immersed.
It has been suggested that the party could not have passed through the gates of the city at this hour of the night; but there is no evidence that Philippi was a walled town. Again, it is sometimes objected, that the jailer had no right to take his prisoners outside the jail; and that Paul and Silas showed, by their conduct on the next morning, that they would not go out without the consent of the authorities. But this is to assume that the jailer would rather obey men than God, and that Paul and Silas were so punctilious about their personal dignity that they would refuse to immerse a penitent sinner through fear of compromising it. Such assumptions are certainly too absurd to be entertained when once observed; but, even if we cling to them, they can not set aside the fact, so clearly established above, that the jailer did lead them out of the prison.
As for the assumption that infants were baptized here, we have already observed, in commenting on Lydia's conversion, that it is precluded by the fact that all the household believed. |He rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.| Moreover, Paul and Silas spoke the Word to |all who were in the house,| yet they certainly did not preach to infants. As there were no infants in the house while hearing, and none while subsequently believing and rejoicing, there could be none at the intermediate baptizing.
Before dismissing this case of conversion, which is the last we will consider in detail in the course of this work, we propose a brief review of its leading features, that we may trace its essential uniformity with those already considered. The influence which first took effect upon him was that of the earthquake, and the attendant opening of the prison-doors. This produced a feeling of alarm and heathenish desperation. It awakened within him no religious thought or emotions until the voice of Paul had recalled all that he had known of the apostolic preaching, when he instantly perceived that the miracle had been wrought by the God whom Paul and Silas preached. The proper effect of miraculous attestation of a messenger of God is next apparent in his rushing forward, falling before them, and exclaiming, |Sirs, what must I do to be saved?| He is now a believer in the divine mission of the apostles, but not yet a believer in Jesus Christ. Whatever he hears from these men, however, he is ready to receive as God's truth. He hears from them the |word of the Lord,| and the next we see, he is washing from the neglected stripes of the prisoners the clotted blood, and submitting to immersion. That he was immersed proves that he was both a believer and a penitent. After immersion, he rejoices. The case exhibits the same essential features which we have found in all others; the same word of the Lord spoken and attested by miraculous evidence; the same faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, followed by repentance, and the same immersion, followed by the same rejoicing. Thus we trace a perfect uniformity in the apostolic procedure, and in the experience of their converts.
35, 36. When the magistrates gave orders for the imprisonment of Paul and Silas, it would naturally be supposed that they intended to make some further inquiry into the charges preferred against them. But we are told, (35) |When it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, Release those men. (36) The jailer told Paul these words, The magistrates have sent word that you be released. Now, therefore, depart, and go in peace.| This order was given without any further developments known to the magistrates, at least so far as we are informed, and shows that they had only imprisoned the brethren, as they had scourged them, to gratify the mob; and now that the clamor of the mob had ceased, they had no further motive to detain them.
37-39. To be thus released from prison, as though they had simply suffered the penalty due them, would be a suspicious circumstance to follow the missionaries to other cities; and, fortunately, the means of escaping it were at hand. (37) |But Paul said to them, They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and do they now cast us out privately? No. But let them come themselves, and lead us out. (38) The officers told these words to the magistrates, and when they heard that they were Romans, they were alarmed. (39) And they came, and entreated them, and led them out, and asked them to depart out of the city.| If the fact of their having been scourged and imprisoned should follow them to other cities, it would do them no harm, provided it were also known that the magistrates had acknowledged the injustice done them, by going in person to the prison, and giving them an honorable discharge.
As it was a capital crime, under the Roman law, to scourge a Roman citizen, and Paul and Silas both enjoyed the rights of citizenship, they had the magistrates in their power, and could dictate terms to them. The terms were promptly complied with; for men who can be induced to pervert justice by the clamor of an unthinking mob will nearly always prove cowardly and sycophantic when their crimes are exposed, and justice is likely to overtake them. By making complaint to the proper authorities, Paul might have procured their punishment; but he had been taught not to resent evil, and was himself in the habit of teaching his brethren. |Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.| His conduct, on this occasion, happily illustrates this precept. If he had appealed to the Roman authorities for the punishment of his tormenters, he would have been avenging himself in the most effectual method. But to yield, as he did, this privilege, was to leave vengeance in the hands of God, to whom it belongs. By this course Paul gained the approbation of God, and the admiration of posterity, while justice lost nothing; for the unresenting demeanor of the apostle |heaped coals of fire on their heads,| and the Judge of all the earth held their deeds in remembrance. The incidents justifies Christians in making use of civil laws to protect themselves, but not to inflict punishment on their enemies.
40. When they were discharged, they took their own time to comply with the polite request of the magistrates. (40) |Then they went out of the prison, and went into the house of Lydia; and having seen the brethren, and exhorted them, they departed.| Who these |brethren| were, besides Luke and Timothy, we can not tell; but the presumption is, that they were others who had been immersed during their stay in the city.