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The Ancient Church by William Dool Killen



After the Council of Jerusalem, the gospel continued its prosperous career. When Paul had remained for some time at Antioch, where he returned with the deputation, he set out to visit the Churches of Syria and Cilicia; and then travelled through Lycaonia, Galatia, and some other portions of Asia Minor. He was now directed, by a vision, [90:1] to pass over into Greece; and about the spring of A.D.52, or twenty-one years after the crucifixion, Europe was entered, for the first time, by the Apostle of the Gentiles. Paul commenced his ministry in this new sphere of labour by announcing the great salvation to the inhabitants of Philippi, a city of Macedonia, and a Roman colony. [90:2]

Nearly a century before, two powerful factions, contending for the government of the Roman world, had converted the district now visited into a theatre of war; immense armies had been here drawn out in hostile array; and two famous battles, which issued in the overthrow of the Republic, had been fought in this very neighbourhood. The victor had rewarded some of his veterans by giving them possessions at Philippi. The Christian missionary entered, as it were, the suburbs of the great metropolis of the West, when he made his appearance in this military colony; for, it had the same privileges as the towns of Italy, [91:1] and its inhabitants enjoyed the status of Roman citizens. Here he now originated a spiritual revolution which eventually changed the face of Europe. The Jews had no synagogue in Philippi; but, in places such as this, where their numbers were few, they were wont, on the Sabbath, to meet for worship by the side of some river in which they could conveniently perform their ablutions; and Paul accordingly repaired to the banks of the Gangitas, [91:2] where he expected to find them assembled for devotional exercises. A small oratory, or house of prayer, seems to have been erected on the spot; but the little society connected with it must have been particularly apathetic, as the apostle found only a few females in attendance. One of these was, however, the first-fruits of his mission to the Western continent. Lydia, a native of Thyatira, and a seller of purple, -- a species of dye for which her birthplace had acquired celebrity, -- was the name of the convert; and though the gospel may already have made some progress in Rome, it must be admitted that, in as far as direct historical testimony is concerned, this woman has the best claim to be recognised as the mother of European Christianity. It is said that she |worshipped God,| [91:3] that is, though a Gentile, she had been proselyted to the Jewish faith; and the history of her conversion is given by the evangelist with remarkable clearness and simplicity. |The Lord opened her heart that she attended unto the things that were spoken of Paul.| [91:4] When she and her family were baptized, she entreated the missionaries to |come into her house and abide there| during their sojourn in the place; and, after some hesitation, they accepted the proffered hospitality.

Another female acts a conspicuous part in connexion with this apostolic visit. |It came to pass,| says Luke, |as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: the same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the Most High God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days.| [92:1] It is quite possible that even daemons have the power of discerning certain classes of future events with the quickness of intuition; [92:2] and if, as the Scriptures testify, they have sometimes entered into human bodies, we can well understand how the individuals thus possessed have obtained credit for divination. In this way the damsel mentioned by the evangelist may have acquired her celebrity. We cannot explain how disembodied spirits maintain intercourse; but it is certain that they possess means of mutual recognition, and that they can be impressed by the presence of higher and holier intelligences. And as the approach of a mighty conqueror spreads dismay throughout the territory he invades, so when the Son of God appeared on earth, the devils were troubled at His presence, and, in the agony of their terror, proclaimed His dignity. [92:3] It would appear that some influence of an analogous character operated on this Pythoness. The arrival of the missionaries in Philippi alarmed the powers of darkness, and the damsel, under the pressure of an impulse which she found it impossible to resist, told their commission. But neither the apostles, nor our Lord, cared for credentials of such equivocal value. As this female followed the strangers through the streets, and in a loud voice announced their errand to the city, |Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her, and he came out the same hour.| [93:1]

The unbelieving Jews had hitherto been the great persecutors of the Church; but now, for the first time, the apostles encountered opposition from another quarter; and the expulsion of the spirit from the damsel evoked the hostility of this new adversary. When the masters of the Pythoness |saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers.| [93:2] We here discover one great cause of our Lord under the government of the pagan emperors. The Jews were prompted by mere bigotry to display hatred to the gospel -- but the Gentiles were generally guided by the still more ignoble principle of selfishness. Many of the heathen multitude cared little for their idolatrous worship; but all who depended for subsistence on the prevalence of superstition, such as the image-makers, the jugglers, the fortune-tellers, and a considerable number of the priests, [93:3] were dismayed and driven to desperation by the progress of Christianity. They saw that, with its success, |the hope of their gains was gone;| and, under pretence of zeal for the public interest, and for the maintenance of the |lawful| ceremonies, they laboured to intimidate and oppress the adherents of the new doctrine.

The appearance of the missionaries at Philippi must have created a profound sensation, as otherwise it is impossible to account for the tumult which now occurred. The |masters| of the damsel possessed of the |spirit of divination,| no doubt, took the initiatory step in the movement; but had not the public mind been in some degree prepared for their appeals, they could not have induced all classes of their fellow-citizens so soon to join in the persecution. |The multitude rose up together| at their call; the duumviri, or magistrates, rent off the clothes of the apostles with their own hands, and commanded them to be scourged; the lictors |laid many stripes upon them;| they wore ordered to be kept in close confinement; and the jailer exceeded the exact letter of his instructions by thrusting them |into the inner prison,| and by making |their feet fast in the stocks.| [94:1] The power of Imperial Rome arrayed itself against the preachers of the gospel, and now distinctly gave note of warning of the approach of that long night of affliction throughout which the church was yet to struggle.

If the proceedings of the missionaries, before their committal to prison, produced such a ferment, it is clear that the circumstances attending their incarceration were not calculated to abate the excitement. It soon appeared that they had sources of enjoyment which no human authority could either destroy or disturb; for as they lay in the pitchy darkness of their dungeon with their feet compressed in the stocks, their hearts overflowed with divine comfort. |At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.| [94:2] What must have been the wonder of the other inmates of the jail, as these sounds fell upon their ears! Instead of a cry of distress issuing from |the inner prison,| there was the cheerful voice of thanksgiving! The apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer in the service of Christ. The King of the Church sympathised with His oppressed saints, and speedily vouchsafed to them most wonderful tokens of encouragement. Scarcely had they finished their song of praise when it was answered by a very significant response, proclaiming that they were supported by a power which could crush the might of Rome. |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 bands were loosed.| [95:1]

It is not improbable that the mind of the jailer had already been ill at ease. He must have heard of the extraordinary history of the damsel with the spirit of divination who announced that his prisoners were the servants of the Most High God, and that they shewed unto men the way of salvation. Rumour had, perhaps, supplied him with some information in reference to their doctrines; and during even his short intercourse with Paul and Silas in the jail, he may have been impressed by much that he noticed in their spirit and deportment. But he had meanwhile gone to rest, and he remained asleep until roused by the noise and tremor of the earthquake. When he awoke and saw |the prison doors open,| he was in a paroxysm of alarm; and concluding that the prisoners had escaped, and that he might expect to be punished, perhaps capitally, for neglect of duty, he resolved to anticipate such a fate, and snatched his sword to commit suicide. At this moment, a voice issuing from the dungeon where the missionaries were confined, at once dispelled his fears as to the prisoners, and arrested him almost in the very act of self-murder. |Paul cried with a loud voice, saying -- Do thyself no harm, for we are all here.| [95:2] These words operated on the unhappy man like a shock of electricity. They instantaneously directed his thoughts into another channel, and imparted intensity to feelings which, had hitherto been comparatively dormant. The conviction flashed upon his conscience that the men whom he had so recently thrust into the inner prison were no impostors; that they had, as they alleged, authority to treat of matters infinitely more important than any of the passing interests of time; that they had, verily, a commission from heaven to teach the way of eternal salvation; and that he and others, who had taken part in their imprisonment, had acted most iniquitously. For what now could be more evident than that the apostles were the servants of the Most High God? When everything around them was enveloped in the gloom of midnight, they seemed able to tell what was passing all over the prison. How strange that, when the jailer was about to kill himself, a voice should issue from a different apartment saying -- Do thyself no harm! How strange that the very man whose feet, a few hours before, had boon made fast in the stocks, should now be the giver of this friendly counsel! How remarkable that, when all the doors were opened, no one attempted to escape! And how extraordinary that, during the very night on which the apostles were imprisoned, the bands of all the inmates were loosed, and that the building was made to rock to its foundations! Did not the earthquake indicate that He, whom the apostles served, was able to save and to destroy? Did it not proclaim, trumpet-tongued, that He would surely punish their persecutors? When the jailer thought on these things, well might he be paralysed with fear, and believing that the apostles alone could tell him how he was Lo obtain relief from the anxiety which oppressed his spirit, it is not strange that |he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said -- Sirs, what must I do to be saved?| [96:1]

The missionaries were prepared with a decisive reply to this earnest inquiry, and it is probable that their answer took the jailer by surprise. He expected, perhaps, to be called upon to do something, either to propitiate the apostles themselves, or to turn away the wrath of the God of the apostles. It is obvious, from the spirit which he manifested, that, to obtain peace of conscience, he was ready to go very far in the way of self-sacrifice. He may have been willing to part with his property, or to imperil his life, or to give |the fruit of his body for the sin of his soul.| What, then, must have been his astonishment when he found that the divine mercy so far transcended anything he could have possibly anticipated! With what satisfaction must he have listened to the assurance that an atonement had already been made, and that the sinner is safe as soon as he lays the hand of faith on the head of the great Sacrifice! What delight must he have experienced when informed that unbelief alone could shut him out from heaven; that the Son of God had died the just for the unjust; and that this almighty Saviour now waited to be gracious to-himself! How must the words of the apostles have thrilled through his soul, as he heard them repeating the invitation-|Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.| [97:1]

The jailer joyfully accepted the proffered Deliverer; and felt that, resting on this Rock of Salvation, he was at peace. Though well aware that, by openly embracing the gospel, he exposed himself to considerable danger, he did not shrink from the position of a confessor. The love of Christ had obtained full possession of his soul, and he was quite prepared to suffer in the service of his Divine Master. He took Paul and Silas |the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his, straightway; and when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.| [98:1]

It is highly probable that the shock of the earthquake was felt beyond the precincts of the jail, and that the events which had occurred there had soon been communicated to the city authorities. We can thus best account for the fact that |when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants saying, Let those men go.| [98:2] As it is not stated that the apostles had previously entered into any vindication of their conduct, it has been thought singular that they now declined to leave the prison without receiving an apology for the violation of their privileges as Roman citizens. But this matter presents no real difficulty. The magistrates had yielded to the clamour of an infuriated mob; and, instead of giving Paul and Silas a fair opportunity of defence or explanation, had summarily consigned them to the custody of the jailer. These functionaries now seemed prepared to listen to remonstrance; and Paid deemed it due to himself, and to the interests of the Christian Church, to complain of the illegal character of the proceedings from which he had suffered. He had been punished, without a trial, and scourged, though a Roman citizen. [98:3] Hence, when informed that the duumviri had given orders for the liberation of himself and his companion, the apostle exclaimed -- |They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison, and now do they thrust us out privily? Nay, verily, but let them come themselves, and fetch us out.| [98:4] These words, which were immediately reported by the serjeants, or lictors, inspired the magistrates with apprehension, and suggested to them the expediency of conciliation. |And they came| to the prison to the apostles, |and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city.| [99:1] The missionaries did not, however, leave Philippi until they had another opportunity of meeting with their converts. |They went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia, and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them and departed.| [99:2]

On the whole Paul and Silas had reason to thank God and take courage, when they reviewed their progress in the first European city which they visited. Though they had met with much opposition, their ministry had been greatly blessed; and, in the end, the magistrates, who had treated them with much severity, had felt it necessary to apologise. The extraordinary circumstances accompanying their imprisonment must have made their case known to the whole body of the citizens, and thus secured a degree of attention to their preaching which could not have been otherwise expected. The Church, now established at Philippi, contained a number of most generous members, and Paul afterwards gratefully acknowledged the assistance he received from them. |Ye have well done,| said he, |that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now, ye Philippians, know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me, as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For, even in Thessalonica, ye sent once and again unto my necessity.| [99:3]

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