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THEN HE CALLED FOR А
AND CAME TREMBLING, AND FELL DOWN BEFORE PAUL AND SILAS : AND BROUGHT THEM OUT, AND SAID, SIRS, WHAT MUST I DO TO BE
ACTS XVI. 29, 30.
HAVING in the two preceding Discourses considered the necessity, the reality, and the nature of regeneration, I shall now proceed to give a history of this important work as it usually exists in fact; and shall attempt to exhibit its antecedents, its attendants, and its consequents. The first of these subjects shall occupy the present Discourse.
The text is a part of the story of the jailor, to whose charge Paul and Silas were committed by the magistrates of Philippi, with a particular direction, that he should keep them safely.' To comply with this direction - he thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. In this situation, at midnight they prayed, and sung praises to God.' Suddenly there was a great earthquake; so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here. Then he 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 ?'
The man who is the principal subject of this story had been educated a heathen, and, until a short time before the events specified in it took place, was totally ignorant of the Christian religion. Within this period he must have been present, and I think not unfrequently, at the preaching of Paul and Silas : otherwise he could not have known that there was such a thing as salvation. Probably he was induced, in common with his fellow-citizens, to hear their discourses merely as a gratification of curiosity. Whatever was the motive, it is plain he had gained some knowledge of a Saviour ; and had learned that through him men might in some manner or other be saved.
The things which he had known concerning these subjects seem not, however, to have made any very deep impressions on his mind. Before the extraordinary events recorded in the verses immediately preceding the text, he appears not to have conversed with these ministers about his religious concerns, por to have felt any peculiar anxiety concerning his guilt or his danger. On the contrary, we cannot hesitate to consider him, as clearly proved by his severe treatment of them, to have been hitherto in a state of religious unconcern, a state of sinful coldness and quietude.
But at this time a change was wrought in the man great and wonderful; a change, manifested in his conduct with the most unequivocal evidence. But by what was this change accomplished? What was it that of a heathen made this man a Christian? Was the cause found in the miraculous events by which the change was immediately preceded? It would seem that many others who were equally witnesses of these events still continued to be heathen, and experienced no alteration of character. Beyond this it is evident from the story, that the jailor did not witness them at all; and that he did not awake out of sleep until after the earthquake and all its alarming effects had terminated. Besides, when he had awakened, and concluded that the prisoners had made their escape, he determined to kill himself: an effort which refutes the supposition that he had any just moral apprehensions, and
proves him to have been solicitous only concerning his responsibility to the magistrates. He had indeed heard Paul and Silas preach; so had many others who still continued to be heathen. Preaching, therefore, did not alone accomplish this change ; otherwise it would have accomplished it in them also. An influence not common to others must have been felt by him, an influence never felt by himself before, must now have produced this mighty alteration in his character.
The text presents him to us in the utmost agitation and distress, and as thus agitated and distressed concerning his salvation. • He called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas; and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?' A little before he had • thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.' Immediately before he was on the point of committing suicide ; a gross and dreadful crime, which would have ruined him for ever. A little before, nay immediately before, he was a heathen; regardless of salvation, a foe to Christianity, and the hard-hearted jailor of these ministers of the Gospel.
But now he bade adieu to all these dispositions and practices at once; renounced his former heathenism and sin, and became a meek, humble, and pious follower of the Redeemer. Now he fell down at the feet of his prisoners, and relied implicitly on them for direction concerning his eternal wellbeing.
A description of the state of this man's mind in the progress of his regeneration must, in substance, be a description of the state of every mind with respect to the same important subject. The events preceding the work of regeneration are substantially the same in every mind; the work itself is the same; and its consequences are the same.
The first great division of this work, viz. what I have mentioned as the antecedents of regeneration, is commonly called conviction of sin. Of this subject the text is a strong illustration, and will very naturally conduct our thoughts to every thing which will be necessary to it on the present occasion. The jailor plainly laboured under powerful and distressing conviction of his own sin, and of the danger with which it was attended. Of this truth his conduct furnishes the most af.
fecting proof. The state of mind which he experienced, and which this passage of Scripture describes, it is the design of this Discourse to exhibit under the following heads :
I. The cause.
I. The peculiar cause of this conviction is the law of God.
* By the law,' saith St. Paul, * is the knowledge of siņ.' As sin is merely a transgression of the law;' and as, 'where; no law is, there is no transgression ;' it is clear beyond a question that all knowledge of sin must be derived from the law. To discern that we are sinful, we must of course know the rule of obedience; and comparing our conduct with that rule, must see in this manner, that our conduct is not conformed to the rule. In this way all knowledge of sin is obtained.
This, however, is not an account of the knowledge of sin, intended by conviction, as that word is customarily used by divines. The great body of sinners under the Gospel have, in some degree at least, this knowledge; and yet are not justly said to be convinced.
Conviction of sin denotes something beyond the common, views of the mind concerning its sins; and is always a serious, solemn, heart-felt sense of their reality, greatness, guilt, and danger. This all sinners under the Gospel have not; as every man knows, who possesses a spirit of common observation ; and peculiarly every man who becomes a subject of this conviction. Every such man knows that in his former, ordinary state he had no such sense of sin.
To explain this subject it is necessary to observe, that there is a total difference between merely seeing or understanding a subject, and feeling it. A man may contemplate, as a mere object of speculation and intellect, the downward progress of his own affairs towards bankruptcy and ruin, and have clea. views of its nature and certainty; and still regard it as an object of mere speculation. Should he afterwards become a bankrupt, and thus be actually ruined, he will experience a state of mind entirely new, and altogether unlike any thing, which he experienced before. He now feels the subject : before he only thought on it with cool contemplation ; and, however clear his views were, they had no effect on his heart.
His former views never moved him to a single effort for the prevention of his ruin ; those which he now possesses would have engaged him, had they existed at the proper time for this purpose, in the most vigorous exertions. Just such is the difference between the common views of sin, and those which are experienced under religious conviction. What before was only seen, is now realized and felt.
This also is accomplished by the law, felt as well as understood; brought home to the heart, and strongly realized by the sinner. This fact is thus forcibly described by St. Paul : • For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. He was alive,' that is, in his own feelings, while he was without the law ;' or while the law was no more realized than it is by mankind in their ordinary state ; while it is acknowledged to be the law of God, but not seriously regarded, applied to themselves, nor felt to be a rule of duty, obliging them indispensably to obey.
• But when the commandment came.'— The commandment was before at a distance, scarcely seen, and scarcely regarded ; but now came home to him, to his sober thoughts, his realizing apprehensions.
Sin revived.'—Sin began then first to be perceived to be his true and distressing character. It arose out of the torpid state in which it had seemed to exist before, and assumed new life, strength, and terror. Of consequence, he who had hitherto considered himself, while he was inattentive to the nature and extent of the divine law, as a just man, safe, and acceptable to God, now died ;' now perceived himself to be a great and guilty sinner, condemned and perishing; and all his former safety, righteousness, and life vanished in a moment.
Under conviction of sin, the law is applied by the sinner to himself, and considered as the rule of his own duty; the rule by which his character is hereafter to be tried, and the rule by which he himself is now to try it. Before this, no such views of the law had entered his mind; no such trial had ever been made. In this trial the law is often, solemnly, critically, and effectually examined. Both its precepts and penalties are brought homo irresistibly to the heart. Before, they were things with which tho sinner hath little or no concern. Now,