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The Philippian Gaoler.

The Philippian Gaoler.

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Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

Acts xvi. 30.

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

Acts xvi. 30.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Apr 29, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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THE PHILIPPIA GAOLER. BY JOSEPH BARBER LIGHTFOOT, D.D., D.C.L., LLD., Sirs, what must I do to be saved? Acts xvi. 30. Second Sunday after Christmas, 1879. It was a strange question to come from such a person. Of all employments and positions in life, the office of a gaoler in S. Pauls time would seem to hold out the least promise to a Christian preacher. The Christian preacher looks for some impressibility in his hearers. If he cannot reckon on high spiritual insight, he will at least approach his audience through their sympathies and affections. He will knock at the door of their humanity; and in this way he will obtain an entrance for his divine message. But what can he hope for here } Humanity has no place in a gaoler s language. Humanity is excluded by his very func- xvii.] THE PHILIPPIA GAOLER. 23 1 tions as a gaoler. A gaoler lives in hourly intercourse with criminals. He sees human nature in its most brutal and degraded forms. He becomes familiarised with crime. He gets to regard vice, as the rule, not the exception, in mankind. He ceases to believe in human virtue, at least in its higher and nobler types. He sinks into a hard cynicism. Has he not had too wide an experience to put any faith in the illusions of philanthropists and preachers ? Virtue is a mere pretence, and repentance is an elaborate hypocrisy. And he becomes hardened also in another way.
Whatever feelings of compassion he may have natu- rally, he is forced to thrust them aside. If he were too gentle, or too sensitive, or too merciful, he would be unfit for his trade. He must steel his heart to the inroads of pity. He must ply his task in a stern, relentless, mechanical way. To lock those chains, to bar that door, to shut out the face of heaven, perhaps for ever, on this victim, to drag out that other half- blinded once more into the light of day, only that he may lay his head on the block or stretch his limbs on the cross — this is the cruel routine of his daily life. What room is there here for sympathy, for love, for tenderness, for any of those humane emotions on which the Christian preacher reckons as his most powerful allies.^ The gaoler at Philippi is introduced to us first, 232 THE PHILTPPIA GAOLER. [xvii. performing his gaoler's task. Here are two new prisoners to be looked after. They are far more dangerous than the ordinary run of prisoners. They are disturbers of the public peace; they are. revo- lutionary agents; they are foreign emissaries; they would subvert the social and political institutions of the place. * These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city.' * They teach customs which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.' Accordingly they have been scourged first, and they have been cast into prison afterwards. Special injunctions are given to the gaoler. The prisoners must on no account be allowed to escape. He is not wanting on his part. He obeys his orders to the letter, and beyond the letter. He thrusts them into the inner dungeon, a dark underground vault, as would appear from the sequel. He is not content with this. He has made their feet fast in the stocks.
Even the slight liberty of movement, which heavy chains would have allowed them, is rendered impos- sible. He has not suffered himself to be betrayed into any weakness. He has performed his grim task with relentless rigour. He has done his gaoler s work in a true gaoler's spirit. What hope more hopeless, than the conversion of such a man as this.^ The poor itinerant divining girl — half impostor, half demoniac- was a far more promising subject than he. It was not xviij THE PHILIPPIA GAOLER. 233 in a heart like this, that any profound spiritual emo- tions could be looked for. It was not on lips like his, that we should expect the question to arise, * Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?* But the man, though a gaoler, was a man still. He had his human emotions, his human fears, aye and — as the sequel shows — ^his human compassions also, which his grim trade had been powerless to crush out. We must not imagine that, when he asked the question, he asked it with any very distinct con- ception of its bearing. He spoke of saving himself. What did he mean by this ? His soul was convulsed by a tumult of conflicting passions. Only the moment before he would have done the very reverse of saving himself; he would have committed suicide. The first instantaneous terror was past. His prisoners were safe. His own life was safe — safe from his own mur- derous hand, and safe from the displeasure of his masters. But a vague, bewildering awe had seized him. He was in imminent peril, he knew not whence and how. Hence his imploring cry, *What must I do to be saved ?' And God took him at his word. God accepted his confused yearning ; God heard his inarticulate utterance. He asked for salvation. And God taught him salvation ; God gave him salvation, a

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