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cially fit for such tempers; and is also likely to cherish self-confidence, fierceness, and austerity of behaviour.
Such an one is the convert in the text. We see what he once was; how he was affected, and how he was changed and reformed. Paul and Silas, having been accused before the rulers of Philippi, were beaten by their order; after which the same rulers cast them into prison, “ charging the gaoler to keep them safely. Who having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.” He readily executed a severe sentence; and possibly, added to the rigour of it.
" And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God, and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken ; and immediately all the doors were opened, and every man's bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword, and would have killed himself." Here we see the rashness and resolution of a man of strong passions. “ But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here. Then he called for a liglit, 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 ?” Now he is affected to a great degree, and in good measure humbled and softened.
Sensible of his ignorance and guilt, he inquires how he may be saved; and he is open to conviction. When the truth is proposed to him, he embraceth it, and practises compassion and tenderness, to which he had hitherto been a stranger. “ And they said unto him; Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway." How obedient is he to the heavenly, saving doctrine of the gospel ! 6 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” How great is this change!
Indeed, the doctrine of the gospel, setting before men the evil of sin, the necessity of holiness, the future misery of the wicked, the glory of heaven for the righteous, and the grace of God to all that repent; and speaking of these things clearly and strongly, in a manner unknown to reason, and the law of Moses, is adapted to make impressions upon all who are capable of thought and consideration.
And thus, as “ Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," 1 Tim. i. 15; and “ to call men to repentance, Matt. ix. 13; he does by his doctrine effectually bring them to repentance, and saves them from their sins,
5. The christian religion, and they who are animated by its principles, are concerned for the welfare of men of every age and every condition.
This person said to Paul and Silas : “ Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said ; Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in bis house:” some, very probably, in early age, some of very mean condition, hired servants and bondsmen, slaves for a time, or for life; but all rational, accountable beings, rapable of salvation, and formed for everlasting life, if they do not render themselves unworthy of it. And Cornelius, of Cæsarea, was directed by an angel to send for Peter; who would tell him words whereby he and all his might be saved.
6. We learn from this history, as well as from divers other things in the book of the Acts, and from other parts of the New Testament, that the christian doctrine, or the great things of religion, may be taught and understood in a short space of time.
It could be only some general knowledge of the doctrine of Paul, which this person had before. But now upon some short discourses and arguments of the apostle, he be
a believer, and is baptized. So likewise Lydia “ attended to the things that were spoken of Paul:" and she and her household were baptized forthwith. And upon Peter's first sermon at Jerusalein, after our Lord's “ ascension, they that gladly received bis word, were baptized. And the same day were added to them about three thousand men ," Acts ii. 41. Afterwards, “ Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Cbrist unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake; bearing and seeing the miracles which be did—And there was great joy in that city-And when they believed Philip, preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women,” ch. viii. 5—12. Not long after this, Philip, by divine direction, meets the chamberlain and treasurer of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, a proselyte of the Jewish religion, who had been up at Jerusalem to worship; and Philip preached Jesus unto him. After a short conversation, travelling in the chariot, he is convinced, and proposes to be baptized. Philip said: “ If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. He answered, and said : I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Then Philip baptized him," ver. 26–28.
, It seems therefore, that the christian religion may be so sel before men, as that they shall in a short time attain to a competent knowledge of it, and believe upon good grounds. And it must be agreeable to think, that the knowledge of the doctrine of salvation, in which all men are concerned, is not a very abstruse and difficult science, but easy, and upon the level with ordinary capacities.
Indeed, where there are strong prejudices and worldly passions prevailing greatly, as in most of the Jews in our Saviour's time, the best instructions will have little effect. But when men are well disposed, the christian religion and its evidences may be soon perceived and understood, if rightly proposed. This is manifest from the instances in the Acts, just mentioned; and from many sincere conversions, and numerous churches formed by the apostles in divers places in a short space of time.
However, in such a world as ours, where there are temptations of no small force, and numerous amusements and avocations, it is requisite that we carefully attend to “ the things which we have heard,” Heb. ii. 1, and often meditate
Nor should we forsake the assemblies of christians, but stir up one another to love and good works, ch. X. 24, 25,
Moreover some will teach things which they ought not, for the sake of private interest: and there is danger, if we are not upon our guard, lest some articles should be mixed with the pure and uncorrupted doctrine of the gospel, that tend to enervate its purifying and sanctifying influences.
And we should go on to perfection, and improve in religious knowledge and useful gifts, that we may be able to instruct and admonish others.
St. Paul, as we all know, cultivated the good principles which he had planted in the minds of men. He was greatly solicitous for their welfare, and apprehensive Jest by some means they should be seduced and perverted from the simplicity that is in Christ. He therefore sent to them some of his fellow-labourers, in whom he could confide, to strengthen and comfort them: or by personal visits, or by epistles, reminded them of the truths he had taught: exhorting them to be “ sted fast in the faith," and to adorn it by a holy conversation : “ Beseeching and exhorting them by the Lord Jesus, that as they had received of him, how
way to it.
they ought to walk and to please God, so they would abound more and more," 1 Thess, iv, 1.
7. We are hence enabled to form a just estimate of the conduct of those who receive, and of those who reject the gospel.
For the doctrine of the gospel is a kind proposal and gracious message from God to mankind, by Jesus Christ and his apostles, and others after them, instructing men in the way of salvation, teaching them how they may obtain eternal life, and surmount and overcome every obstacle in the
They therefore who receive and obey it, act wisely. They consult their present peace, and secure to themselves the happiness of a better life.
What then do they who reject it? As St. Luke says of some: “ They reject the counsel of God against ” or toward " themselves," Luke vii. 30. It becomes us to be cautious how we censure particular persons; remembering St. Paul's advice : “ Judge nothing before the time,” 1 Cor. iv. 5. God only knows the hearts of men, and all their peculiar circumstances. But where the gospel is proposed in truth and simplicity, men had need to take heed how they reject it; and should at least afford it a serious attention and impartial examination.
8. It follows from what has been said, that we, to whom the doctrine of the gospel has been preached, and who have received it as the word of God, know the way of salvation, and may obtain eternal life if we use due care and diligence.
And, certainly, we ought so to do; and not neglect any of the rules and precepts that have been delivered to us. The profession of christianity will not save us. Christians, so called, if they are wicked, are not in the way of salvation; for they do not the things which their religion teaches they ought to do in order to be saved. They are condemned, and excluded from happiness by the very rules and laws of that religion which they profess to receive as divine. Such therefore are still “ in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity. They have no part or lot in this matter. Their heart is not right in the sight of God," Acts ix. 20–23. And they cannot but know, that they should immediately repent and seek forgiveness of God, or they perish for ever; and their ruin will be great and terrible.
9. We have here a good argument to be stedfast in the truth as it is in Jesus, and to let his word abide in us.
For it is the word of life. It is the doctrine of salvation. Does it want any thing to complete that character? Is there
any other word equal to it? Is it not strict to a great degree? Are not its rules and precepts reasonable and excellent? And does it not afford the best arguments that can be devised, to promote and secure that universal holiness which it requires ?
Indeed, it is supposed in the epistle to the Hebrews, that some may
fall away, who were once enlightened, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come," Heb. vi. And St. Peter makes the supposition, “ that some, who have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, may be again entangled therein, and overcome,” 2 Pet. ii. 20. Ånd St. Paul with grief speaks of " many, who so walked,” as to show themselves“ enemies of the cross of Christ,” Philip. iii. 18.
But these instances do not invalidate the truth of God, nor the power of the gospel of Christ; which does very forcibly " teach us to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” Tit. ii. 12. St. Paul therefore was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; knowing it to be “the power of God to salvation, both to Jews and Gentiles." And he therefore glories in it, because “ thereby the world had been crucified to him, and he to the world." St. James makes no hesitation to exhort men to “ receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save their souls," Jam. i. 21.
Let us then esteem the doctrine of the gospel as a very precious advantage, teaching us how to act, so as to approve ourselves to God; how to perform the duties of our stations; how to improve the mercies and afflictions of this state, so as that we may lay up a good foundation against the time to come, and obtain everlasting life.
Happy discoveries are pleasing and entertaining to men, whilst new and fresh ; but they are really a good foundation of lasting joy. We have reason always to rejoice, and think ourselves happy, that we have the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ, and the way of salvation through him. It was the abiding frame of the apostle Paul. Aud after that the gospel had cost him much of those things which are highly esteemed by the most, he declares, that he “ counted all things” base and contemptible, “ for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord,” Philip. iii. 8.
10. Finally, this subject puts us in mind of the importance of our preaching and hearing.