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The Incalculable Element in Christianity

The Incalculable Element in Christianity

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Published by glennpease

And the jailer . . . , supposing that the pris-
oners had escaped . . . — Acts 16. 27.

And the jailer . . . , supposing that the pris-
oners had escaped . . . — Acts 16. 27.

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Published by: glennpease on Nov 19, 2013
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THE ICALCULABLE ELEMET I CHRISTIAITY JOSEPH M. M. GRAY And the jailer . . . , supposing that the pris- oners had escaped . . . — Acts 16. 27. Let me emphasize very briefly the out- standing features in the story of the earth- quake at Philippi. The apostles had been beaten and publicly disgraced, had been not only imprisoned but fastened in the stocks in the dungeon. At midnight there had been an earthquake which had shaken the prison doors apart and doubtless had loosened the stones in which the stocks were fastened. The jailer, roused by the noise and tremor, had naturally rushed to secure the custody of his prisoners and had seen by the flickering lights that the doors were down. He realized in the instant that the prisoners would, by every probability, have taken advantage of so great an opportunity to escape. He knew also what was in store for him if they were gone, for by law he would be executed in ignominy; and with a Roman's keen sense of honor and equally pronounced indifference to suicide, he preferred death by his own hands to the dishonor of a public execution for failure of trust, however unavoid- able the failure might be. So, as it is written in the account of the occurrence, he "was about to kill himself." 193
194 THE COTEMPORARY CHRIST There is a singular congeniality with history in this incident of the jailer's purpose of suicide at Philippi, for Philippi was the place of notable suicides. It was near here that Cassius and Brutus fought the fatal battle against Antony and Octavius, some seventy-five years before Paul and Silas were thrown into prison; and it was here that many of the defeated officers killed themselves because they had no hope of pardon from the victorious emperor. It is at Philippi that Shakespeare has the specter warn Brutus he would meet him, and here it was that Cassius was slain by his own command and Brutus took his own life, tradition has it with the sword with which he had stabbed Julius Caesar. Where the jailer was about to kill himself was already steeped in the tradition of suicide to escape dishonor. So that, reading the story with a feeling for the atmosphere of Philippi as well as for the spirit of the narrative itself, it gathers a deeper sense of tragedy. It is somewhat like one of the great Greek dramas: you feel in it the indefin- able but certain movement of fate. It would be hard to say which offers the more disordered scene, the shattered prison with the prisoners huddling there amid the rocking midnight, or the desperate spirit of the jailer drawing his sword. But in any case, out of the tumult of THE ICALCULABLE 195 the night and the desperation of the man,
there comes this one phrase with far deeper implications than the words show upon the surface: "The jailer . . . , supposing that the prisoners had escaped.' ' That was the reason he was about to kill himself. He thought the prisoners had escaped. It was a very natural supposition. Prisoners may be frightened by an earthquake and a storm, but few offenders would be so greatly frightened as to ignore the opportunity given by open doors at night. owadays, with our instantaneous communication across a conti- nent, our rapid transit,, the widely organized system of police and detective vigilance, with all the odds against the possibility of escaping, prisoners seldom hesitate to make the attempt when the chance affords. In that earlier day, with immensely increased probabilities of suc- cess, escape would be the most natural thing in the world, and the jailer was justified by all custom and knowledge oi the times to expect that his prisoners had gone. The inference of the story is that the other prisoners did not escape because of the conduct and character of these two prisoners who are the center of the episode, and what the jailer failed to appre- hend was what character of men these two prisoners were. There was in them a quality 196 THE COTEMPORARY CHRIST of which he had not known, which made all his hurried supposition wrong. He supposed they had escaped, but he found they were there. He had thought of them as criminals, and they were Christians. He had thought of them as Christians, of course, for so they were

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