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unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry that I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.”
Our Lord described the commission which he gave to him, as intended to be the instrument of “opening the blind eyes,” of “ turning men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Christ Jesus.”' Words, my brethren, are inadequate to explain the depth of meaning which these expressions of Christ contain. The world is sunk in darkness, and the curse of God, on account of sin, rests heavily upon it; and the penalty of sin is alienation from God, and everlasting misery in that alienation from him : and there is no single ray that falls upon that darkness, that we can accredit as a ray of true light. It is reserved for the Gospel of Christ, to pour its healing radiance upon that darkness ; and there is no other inlet for light, no other means of knowledge which shall place the soul in possession of peace, but that Gospel. How beautifully is the real nature of the Gospel described by anticipation, in that expression of Job, “ Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace !" To know God, and Jesus Christ whom God hath sent, is life eternal. And therefore the Apostle gave up his whole life, consecrated every faculty of mind and body to the proclamation of this character of God, in the belief of which rested all the welfare of human creatures.
Let us, however, go to the second point, THE SUCCESS WITH WHICH THE FULFILMENT OF THIS COMMISSION WAS ATTENDED.
We judge, from the statement made by the Apostle in his letter to the Philippian church, that there were many converts to the Christian faith, converts very dear to the heart of the Apostle, towards whom he exercised all the fatherly love of his heart, and cherished them as a nurse cherisheth her children. But we have, in the history before us, an account of two of these converts, very different in external circumstances and as to the appearance of moral character. The one is Lydia ; the other is the jailer. And I would direct your attention, briefly, to the history of these two persons, in this heathen land in order that we may be led to the consideration of the adaptation of the Gospel to every description of human character, how it enfolds, within its provisions of grace and kindness, all the characters of men. For we have, I think, in these two persons
the two extremes of character—the
gentle, quiet character, and the stern and ferocious character; and we shall find that the Gospel in Philippi, was precisely the same Gospel to the one case as to the other, that the process of mercy was precisely the same in the one case as in the other.
We are told, that it was the custom of the Apostles to go and speak to the persons who were by the river side, on the sabbath. It is said, by the historian, “ On the Sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made, and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither; and a certain woman, named Lydia, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul; and when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there; and she constrained us.” It is probable, I think, that this place of prayer was connected with the Jewish proselytes, who called upon the true God; and this Lydia was probably first a heathen worshipper, but afterwards converted to the knowledge of the true God, though ignorant of the Gospel of Christ, and, like the Ethiopian eunuch, was following her light where it led the way, if haply feeling after God, she should find him. And she did find him. It pleased God to open her heart. But mark, my brethren, the conversion of Lydia to the Christian faith is not stated as the result of her own amiableness, of her own previous devout character. It is not stated that, being destitute of prejudices, and being of a large mind and of a candid spirit, she received, upon the evidence of truth, the doctrines of truth. But it is said, that “the Lord opened her heart, that she attended to the things that were spoken of Paul.” It was by the silent whispers of the great Teacher and holy Comforter, whose office it is to take of the things of Christ and to show them to the soul; it was by that influence, that this gentle, and amiable, and devout person received power to become a disciple of Christ, to open her heart to the reception of the Gospel doctrines, to lay her pride and former opinions, whatever they may have been, at the Saviour's feet, and to receive him as all her salvation and all her desire. And she was ready at once to testify her attachment to this Saviour, by being baptized into his name, by receiving the herald of his mercy as a guest into her own house, and by accrediting, by all the influence she may have had, the message and the character of the Apostle to the Gentiles.
But there is another character brought before our view in this town of Philippi. It pleased God to prepare the way for this remarkable conversion, by the persecution stirred up against the Apostle Paul. He had been grieved by witnessing a young person under the influence of a spirit of divination, and he had cast out that spirit of divination; the consequence of which being that gain no longer accrued to her masters, a tumult was stirred up against the Apostle, and he, with his companion Silas, was thrown into prison, into “ the inner prison.” And we are told, that the jailer, having a commission to keep them in close custody, very sternly and harshly “ thrust them into the inner prison, making their feet fast in the stocks.” That God, whom they served, upheld them in this trial. It may have been, that, in the midst of the many scenes of revelry heard in the midnight hour, the contrast would be great, between the mirthful worldling and the imprisoned Apostle and his fellow-labourer; but we are told, that such was the grace, and such the consolation of his love, that the Apostle and his fellow-labourer sang praises in that midnight hour, and the prisoners heard them. Those dungeon walls re-echoed sounds never heard within them before. These men, despised and rejected, and rudely imprisoned, had inward joys the world knew not of, soared by faith where no prosperons worldling could follow them, had fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, who spread a table in this dark scene before them, in the presence of their enemies. They " sang praises unto God, and the prisoners heard them.” And God wrought a miracle to deliver them. An earthquake awakened the jailer; and fearing that the prisoners had fled, the stern and ferocious heathen, stung with apprehension that his character would suffer, and his place be endangered, was ready to lay violent hands
upon himself, and to commit suicide; when Paul, with that calm, benevolent, and generous temper, which it is the peculiar power and office of Christianity to produce, arrested him in his rash purpose“Do thyself no harm, for we are all here.” And then the keeper of the prison, we are told, “ called for a light, 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? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." What a change is suddenly wrought in this man's heart! Ambition, alarm for the consequence of his action in this world, pass away. All the anxieties and interests of the present moment are absorbed, in a new and strange interest—that of eternity. The benevolence,
the calmness, the happiness of these men arrested his attention; but it was to the same power that opened Lydia's heart, that he owed the impressions now made upon his own. It was to the mighty working of the Eternal Spirit, that bows the human will, that arrests the human intelligence, and changes the bent, and purpose, and disposition of the soul-it was to that great Teacher, that he owed now a strange and mysterious alteration in all his views. A light from heaven had beamed in upon his heart, and all the great things of salvation were now crowding in upon his soul. His alarm was the alarm of a man that feels that he owes to God a responsibility that he has never considered—a man, who feels that, if God were to enter into judgment with him, hope would wither for ever. And now he is taught by these prisoners, that they, who seemed destitute of human power, were in possession of heaven's own remedies, had balm for the festering heart of man, had power to break their chains asunder, and to bring them out of the captivity of sin, and from the penalty of eternal death, into the liberty and happiness of God's redeemed children, and to his anxious query of “ What must I do to be save: they answered in that simple language, which, because it is so imple, my brethren, is adequate instruction to the least and lowest of mankind. It is because the message of the Gospel does not need the science of philosophy, nor the development of human talent—it is because it is a message that goes straight and direct to the necessities of the human soul, and points out that which the poor man can comprehend equally with the rich—it is because of this its adaptation to the general character of human guilt and misery, that it has its mighty operation under the teaching of the Spirit of God. “ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." The atonement of his blood, the perfection of his righteousness, the extent of his compassions, the power that rests in him in heaven and in earth, the purpose of grace that is in his heart, the large and generous compassion that never fails within his bosom, when he thinks and looks upon human creatures—this love of the Lord Jesus Christ is adequate to do its hallowed work, and tell its mighty errand to the human soul. And we are told, that this man when “ they spake unto him further the word of the Lord and to all that were in his house, took them the same hour of the night (how quick was the teaching of God! What a world, as it were, of events had happened, connecting themselves with eternity !) “he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.” The stern, ferocious man, the heathen that poured contempt upon the name of Christ, and seemed to outgo the orders he had received of the magistrates, through his own sternness—this man is changed from the lion into the lamb, binds up the wounds he had loved to inflict, binds up
the wounds he glorified perhaps in inflicting, stands now simply, earnestly desirous of mercy, struck by the character of the Apostles, and yet more by the character of their Master, and, with a heart healed by grace, a heart cheered by the sovereign display of everlasting love to one of the chief of sinners, has learnt to taste his Master's mercy, and to partake of his Master's spirit.
Now, my brethren, not to pursue this subject further, I would come to the practical application of it to the occasion before us. I think that the character of this Philippian jailer, is, perhaps, one of the sternest features that we can find in heathenism, and that, if the commission which Jesus Christ gave to his disciples has not been repealed, and if no change has taken place by the lapse of years in the moral condition of mankind, then you have in this statement all that you need for the confirmation and encouragement of your efforts and purposes in respect to Christian missions. Ungodly men may smile in idle scorn at the idea of a messenger of Christ going forth to stand in the midst of a large population, whose idolatrous views are enshrined in all the fondest associations of infancy, in all the associations handed down from generation to generation. That a man coming forth from a distant island should take his place amidst the thousands and tens of thousands of men, whose superstitions or idolatries are thus rivetted by education, and by all that is dear to the human heart, in the matter of opinion ; men of the world smile at the supposition that a missionary shall succeed. But, my brethren, they know not the ground, either of the obligation under which the missionary proceeds, or of the encouragement by which he is affected. They judge without data ; they are ignorant of God, and of themselves ; and no wonder their judgment is according to error, and not according to truth. Why is it, brethren, that in any age of the world, Christianity has found its way to the human heart? Why, in this land, are we assembled within the sacred walls of a Christian church, instead of being still addicted to all the cruel superstitions of the ancient Britons? Is not the answer precisely that which the history before us supplies ? “ The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, that she attended to the things which were spoken to her of Paul ;” the Lord changed the inwrought ferocity of the heathen jailer, and made him a humble, kind,