" And it came to pass, 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 show unto MS the way of salvation" etc. ACTS XVI. 16-24. HITHERTO in the experience of the missionaries per secution had always originated with the Jews. At this place, however, they were few and destitute of in fluence. In these parts of the empire the Jews were themselves crushed, and so they lacked the power to crush the Christians. Here the opposition sprang di rectly from the Gentiles. As they went on some subsequent occasion to the place of prayer, a slave damsel, " possessed with a spirit of divination," followed them, uttering a remark able testimony in favor of the apostles as the servants of the Most High God. This slave was owned by a company of speculators. Great gains might be made from the oracles, half mad and apparently half inspired, which she uttered. A copartnership was formed to manage the concern. They bought the slave, and farmed out her oracles to the credulous. This was the ordinary form of the heathen oracles. A priestess either permanently possessed, or artificially thrown into a raving condition at certain times, was concealed in the shrine. From her mouth ambiguous answers issued, and skilful attendants wrote them down for the superstitious inquirers. Wicked men fabricated the im posture, and the wicked spirit availed himself of the prepared deceit. The people were both deceiving and being deceived. Such was the moral condition of the

community into which the gospel of Christ was making its entrance. Such was the corruption of that earth upon which the salt was about to be spread. The raving Pythoness followed Paul and his com pany, crying out in an excited and passionate voice, but

292 The Church in the House. emitting an unexpectedly sober and far-reaching tes timony in favor of the missionaries and their work. Such a witness was borne by the possessed man to Jesus when he cried out, " I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God." These testimonies were per haps expressions of the victims, emitted at momentary intervals of freedom contrary to the will of the pos sessing spirit. Perhaps the hope of the captive some how revived at the approach in the one case of the Mas ter, and in the other of his servant Paul. So the captives lately held in cruel bondage by the Emperor of Ab yssinia remained quiet, and seemed submissive to the tyrant, while no help was near, but changed their tone and defied him when the British army appeared at Magdala. This enthralled human spirit seemed to speak out with courage when deliverance was nigh. When this had continued many days Paul was grieved at the interruption, and had compassion on the captive. Remembering the commission given by the Lord to his ministers, he cast the evil spirit out by the name and power of Jesus Christ. The slave was restored to her right mind. No more the wild rolling eye, and no longer the fitful, incoherent ravings which the evil spirit had palmed upon the people as superhuman in spirations. But the investment of the greedy share holders had lost its value. We paid so many thousands to her owner for this woman, and now, though we pos sess the legal right to her services as a slave, all that

she will bring in that capacity will not reimburse us for a tithe of our outlay. Here is a predicament. The gains are gone; Paul and Silas are the cause of all the loss. A mob is gathered; a tumult is excited; an as sault is made upon the strangers. The apostles are dragged into the forum, and accused before the mag istrates as the propagators of a faith not recognized by Roman law. To give force to their charge, trie accusers are care ful to intimate that the prisoners are Jews. Already the Jews had, in a violent tumult, been expelled from Rome, and the colony will imitate the metropolis. Both the populace and the magistrates will readily receive an accusation against men of that hated and persecuted nation.

T/ie Pythoness. 293 Stirred up by this great outcry, and thinking they might safely perpetrate any outrage upon Jews, who were beyond the pale of the law, the magistrates two men who exercised authority over the colony stripped the accused, and commanded the lictors to beat them with rods. Many stripes were inflicted before the cruel appetite of the mob was satiated. It is difficult for us to estimate the severity of this punishment. The vic tim was beaten on the naked flesh with thick rods by trained professional executioners. The insignia of a Roman ruler consisted of a bunch of rods tied together like a sheaf, and an axe protruding from the end of the bundle. The rods symbolized secondary, and the axe capital, punishment. After the scourging the missionaries were cast into prison. The magistrates did not prescribe the treat ment in detail, but they gave a general charge that these men should be kept with special security, and

left the jailer to adopt his own methods. That officer, with an eye to his own safety, shut them in an interior cell of exceptional strength, and fixed their feet in the stocks besides. On another occasion, when he was himself in chains, Paul exulted in the remembrance that the word of God was not bound (2 Tim. ii. 9). He meant that God s word to men might have free course through the Roman world although one of its preachers was si lenced. There is another sense in which word may go free although the speaker s body is bound in chains. Not only the word that comes from God, but also the word that goes to God, is free though the speaker be in fetters. Christ is the way, and that way lies open up to the Father s presence when the prison-doors have shut upon a suppliant. The word which an afflicted child pours into the Father s ear was not bound that night in the prison of Philippi. The stocks had no power to grasp prayer, and hinder it from ascending heavenward. Blessed be God, nothing can block the way of prayer. It is long since the record was written, "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee:" and I sup pose, when the books are opened, it will be found that most of the cries that have really reached the throne were cries that ascended from the deep. It is when

294 The Church in the House. you look from the bottom of a well that you descry the stars in daylight; on the surface, with the glare all round, although they are there, you cannot discernthem. It is thus that faith s eye cannot pierce the heavens so well from the bright surface of prosperity as from the low, low place of some great sorrow. We may leave Paul and Silas in the dungeon for the night. The Lord that bought them will so reveal him

self to his witnesses, that the darkness shall be light about them. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS 2. ALL WRITINGS

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