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prayer-meetings in separate places; for upon this occasion it is said that the missionaries sat down and addressed the assembled women, in the same way that it was usual for some one to instruct the congregation in the synagogues. (Luke iv. 16-22.)
There was a pious Jewess present, named Lydia. She belonged to the city of Thyatira, and was settled at Philippi, where she was engaged in the business of selling purple cloth.
This woman listened attentively to the preaching of Paul; and it pleased God to influence her heart by His Holy Spirit, so that she believed what he taught. The result was, that she was converted, and baptized, together with the members of her family. She afterwards earnestly entreated Paul and his companions, if they considered her to be truly a christian, to take up their abode in her house while they remained at Philippi ; which, upon her urging them, they consented to do.
The heathens of Greece had a strong belief in certain oracles or pretended prophecies spoken by the priestess of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. This priestess was called the Pythia ; and other women, called Pythonesses, used to exercise the same art in various parts of the country, and probably were occasionally assisted by the power of Satan, whose servants they were. There was a young woman at Philippi, who was celebrated for her magic art, and is said to have been possessed by a spirit of this kind. She was a slave; and her powers of divination were exercised in a manner very profitable to the persons to whom she belonged.
One day, as Paul and his companions were on their way to the place appointed for the prayer-meeting, they were met by this girl, who immediately turned and went after them, crying out with a loud voice, that they were “the servants of the most High God," who came to teach the people of Philippi what was the way of salvation. After this, the girl continually followed the missionaries wherever they went, and persisted in worrying them in this manner for a long while. At length the patience of Paul was worn out, and as she was crying in the usual way after them, he turned round and commanded the evil spirit to come forth in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; upon which the Pythoness became dispossessed.
It soon became evident to the owners of this young slave, that they were no longer likely to gain money by the exercise of the supernatural powers she had before manifested; and in order to revenge themselves upon the missionaries who had deprived them of their profit, by casting out the evil spirit, they forced Paul and Silas to go before the magistrates, where they accused them of exciting great disturbances amongst the people, by seeking to introduce their own Jewish customs, although they were contrary to the laws which the Philippians, as of Roman descent and privileges, were bound to obey. The court being in the market-place, there was a crowd of people at hand, all of whom tumultuously took part against the missionaries; and the magistrates, carried along with the popular feeling, ordered them to be stripped and publicly whipped. After Paul and Silas had received a great number of lashes, they were committed to prison, and a special charge given to the jailer to keep them securely. In consequence of these orders, the prisoners were confined in an inner dungeon, where their feet were fastened to a wooden machine, something like the stocks in England.
In this painful position, and in this dark cell, the two christian missionaries experienced the comfort which is imparted by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit ; in the middle of the night, they gave vent to their earnest feelings of prayer, by singing hymns to the praise of God; and this they did so loudly, that their singing was heard by the prisoners in the other cells. While thus engaged, all of a sudden a great earthquake shook the prison to its very foundations-all the doors flew open-and all the chains or bonds by which each prisoner had been restrained were let loose; so that every one might have gone
free who wished, although no one attempted to escape. The jailer was awaked by the eartl:quake, and seeing all the prison doors open, he took it for granted that the prisoners would make their escape; and expecting that, under such circumstances, he would certainly have to pay the penalty with his life, he at once resolved to anticipate such a result. He drew his sword, with the intention of killing himself; but Paul called to him with a loud voice, desiring him not to do what he intended, for that none of the prisoners had left the prison. Upon this the jailer desired that lights might be brought; and running into the cells with much fear he threw himself on the ground at the feet of Paul and Silas. Then leading them out of their dungeon, he earnestly asked them what he was to do, in order that he might be saved. They immediately informed him that he had but to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that himself and all his family should be saved. Then they explained the gospel to him and to all those who were assembled. The effect of this exposition of the word of the Lord was immediate :—though it was so unseasonable an hour, in the middle of the night, the jailer instantly had proper attention paid to them, by washing the wounds made by the stripes on their backs; and then he himself, with all the members of his family, were admitted into the christian church by baptism. He then took Paul and Silas to his own apartments in the upper part of the prison, and gave them proper refreshment; manifesting at the saine time his joy at the mercy that had been shewn him, he and all his family believing in the true God.
The magistrates of the city had inflicted punishment upon Paul and Silas under the influence of the tumultuous mob, and without any charge being proved against them; and they seem to have become sensible of their error, for very early in the morning they sent the officers of the court to the jail, with an order to discharge them. The jailer told Paul of this, and would have dismissed them with kindness. But Paul considered it right to have their innocence justified in some more distinct manner; and therefore he bid the officers go back to the magistrates, and represent to them that they had acted against the law, by scourging two Roman citizens without any legal sentence, and by publicly committing them to prison; now they wanted to release them privately. To this the prisoners would not consent; the least that they required was, that he magistrates should come themselves to the prison, to set them free. The officers went back with this message, and it alarmed the magistrates to find that the missionaries were Roman citizens. This information greatly altered their tone; they went themselves to the prison, and endeavoured to soothe Paul and Silas; whom they brought forth, and requested them to leave the city. This however Paul did not judge it right to do immediately, but on going out of the prison they went to their former abode in the house of Lydia ; here they received the visits of the christians, whom they exhorted and encouraged, and then took their departure from Philippi.
APPLICATION. 1. We have already had occasion to observe, in the case of Timothy, the blessing which followed a careful instruction in the Scriptures ; and now, in the case of Lydia, we find a similar blessing attend her pious devotion, according to what she knew, although it was not according to the fulness of truth. Yet this blessing did not result as a matter of course : however prepared the heart of Lydia might have been, it was yet needful that the Lord should open that heart, in order that she might attend to the things spoken for her salvation, and receive the gospel in faith. The preparation of the heart is one thing, and the opening of it is another; and with every attention to ordinances and sincerity in worship, according to the best knowledge of an ignorant heart, it is important always to remember that the grace of the Lord must open the heart, or the most gifted preacher will fail in producing a real effect, even upon the most prepared heart. A sense of this truth leads to diligence in prayer for the blessing from the Lord upon the means of grace, which is too often overlooked while certain attractive instrumentality is regarded as though it were sure to produce the effect desired.
QUESTION. Do I feel as if certain means of grace, or the sermons of certain preachers, were sure to convert those in whom I am interested, and whom I believe to be prepared ? and what effect has this upon my prayers for the Lord to open their hearts?
2. The case of the slave who had a spirit of divination affords an opportunity for discovering some of the less apparent devices of the evil enemy. The young woman was possessed of the devil, yet she testified to the truth
concerning the missionaries of Christ; declaring that they were the servants of the most high God, who shewed the way of salvation. But the testimony of such a witness was one way to damage the influence of these servants of Christ. The world, who knew the habits and profession of the Pythoness, would not fail to attribute the preaching of Paul to the same source as the divination of the damsel, who witnessed concerning him. From this cunning device we may conclude that Satan was finding the effects of the gospel upon his kingdom, since he took this way to hinder it; and whatever may be the course of his warfare in a heathen country, he constantly exercises the same device in a country professedly christian, in order to confuse the minds of those whom he fears to lose from the bondage of his power. When spiritual truth has become sufficiently known, and extended to produce a certain effect, then Satan allows some persons of the most decided worldliness to run after the preachers of the gospel, and set up the cry which would seem to testify of truth—“they are the servants of the most high God, who shew us the way of salvation.” This worldly testimony to gospel truth has the effect of confusing the minds of the ignorant, who love not to discern the difference between the quiet walk of a true christian, and the loud talk of an inconsistent religionist, while the conduct of the individual is attributed to the whole body; and Satan hopes to retain his victims by entangling them in this confusion. But when Paul had borne with the Pythoness long enough, he disappointed the devices of the devil by making her the subject of divine power herself: so also the Lord sometimes manifests his wisdom and his mercy, by imparting his grace to some of the most worldly of these dangerous professors; and casting out the spirit of the world, he converts them, and thus turns their testimony to the benefit of the cause of Christ.
Does my christian profession flow from the sincere feelings of my heart? or is it in any measure like the testimony of a worldling? Do I strive to draw to a better mind inconsistent and worldly professors of the truth?