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ACTS xvi. 29, 30.
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?
WE have here and in the context an account of the conversion of the jailer, which is one of the most remarkable instances of the kind in the scriptures. The jailer before seems not only to have been wholly insensible to the things of religion, but to have been a persecutor, and to have persecuted these very men, Paul and Silas; though he now comes to them in so earnest a manner, asking them what he must do to be saved. We are told in the context that all the magistrates and multitude of the city rose up jointly in a tumult against them, and took them, and cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely. Whereupon he thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And it is probable he did not act in this merely as the servant or instrument of the magistrates, but that he joined with the rest of the people in their rage against them, and that he did what he did urged on by his own will, as well as the magistrates' commands; which made him execute their commands with such rigour.
But when Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises at midnight, and there was suddenly a great earthquake, and God had in so wonderful a manner set open the prison doors, and every man's bands were loosed, he was greatly terrified; and in a kind of desperation, was about to kill himself. But Paul and Silas crying out to him, "do thyself no harm, for we are all here," then he called for a light, and sprang in, as we have the account in the text. We may observe,
1. The objects of his concern. He is anxious about his salvation: he is terrified by his guilt, especially by his guilt in his ill treatment of these ministers of Christ. He is concerned to escape from that guilty state, the miserable state, he was in by reason of
2. The sense which he has of the dreadfulness of his present This he manifests in several ways.
1. By his great haste to escape from that state. By his haste to inquire what he must do. He seems to be urged by the most pressing concern, sensible of his present necessity of deliverance, without any delay. Before, he was quiet and secure in his natural state; but now his eyes are opened, he is in the utmost haste. If the house had been on fire over his head, he could not have asked more earnestly, or as being in greater haste. He could soon have come to Paul and Silas, to ask them what he must do, if he had only walked. But he was in too great haste to walk only, or to run; for he sprang in; he leaped into the place where they were. He fled from wrath. He fled from the fire of divine justice, and so hastened, as one that fled for his life.
2. By his behaviour and gesture before Paul and Silas. He fell down. That he fell down before those whom he had persecuted, and thrust into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks, shows what was the state of his mind. It shows some great distress, that makes such an alteration in him, that brings him to this. He was broken down, as it were, by the distress of his mind, in a sense of the dreadfulness of his condition.
3. His earnest manner of inquiring of them what he shall do to escape from this miserable condition; "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" So distressed, that he is brought to be willing to do any thing; to have salvation on any terms, and by any means, however difficult; brought, as it were, to write a blank, and give it in to God, that God may prescribe his own terms.
Doctrine. They who are in a natural condition, are in a dreadful condition. This I shall endeavour to make appear by a particular consideration of the state and condition of unregenerate persons.
I. As to their actual condition in this world.
II. As to their relations to the future world.
I. The condition of those who are in a natural state, is dreadful in the present world.
First. On account of the depraved state of their natures. men come into the world, their natures are dreadfully depraved. Man in his primitive state was a noble piece of divine workmanship; but by the fall it is dreadfully defaced. It is awful to think that so excellent a creature as man is, should be so ruined. The dreadfulness of the condition, which unconverted men are in in this respect, appears in the following things:
1. The dreadfulness of their depravity appears in that they are so sottishly blind and ignorant. God gave man a faculty of reason and understanding, which is a noble faculty. Herein he differs from all other creatures here below. He is exalted in his na
ture above them, and is in this respect like the angels, and is made capable to know God, and to know spiritual and eternal things. And God gave him understanding for this end, that he might know him, and know heavenly things, and made him as capable to know these things as any others. But man has debased himself, and has lost his glory in this respect. He has become as ignorant of the excellency of God as the very beasts. His understanding is full of darkness; his mind is blind, is altogether blind to spiritual things. Men are ignorant of God, and ignorant of Christ, ignorant of the way of salvation, ignorant of their own happiness, blind in the midst of the brightest and clearest light, ignorant under all manner of instructions. Romans iii. 17. "The way of peace they have not known." Isaiah xxvii. 11. "It is a people of no understanding." Jeremiah iv. 22. "My people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and have none understanding :" v. 21. "Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding." Psalms xcv. 10, 11. "It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways; unto whom I sware in my wrath, that they should not enter into my rest." 1 Corinthians xv. 34. "Some have not the knowledge of God; I speak this to your shame."
There is a spirit of atheism prevailing in the hearts of men; a strange disposition to doubt of the very being of God, and of another world, and of every thing, which cannot be seen with the bodily eyes. Psalms xiv. 1. "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." They do not realize that God sees them, when they commit sin, and will call them to an account for it. And therefore, if they can hide sin from the eyes of men, they are not concerned, but are bold to commit it. Psalms xciv. 7, 8, 9. "Yet they say, the Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it. Understand, ye brutish among the people; and, ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?" Psalms Ixxiii. 11. "They say, how doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High ?" So sottishly unbelieving are they of future things, of heaven and hell, and will commonly run the venture of damnation sooner than be convinced. They are stupidly senseless to the importance of eternal things. How hard to make them believe, and to give them a real conviction that to be happy to all eternity is better than all other good; and to be miserable for ever under the wrath of God, is worse than all other evil. Men show themselves senseless enough in temporal things; but in spiritual things far more so. Luke xii. 56. "Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky, and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time?" They are very subtle in evil designs; but sottish in those things which most concern them.
Jeremiah iv. 22. "They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge." Wicked men show themselves more foolish and senseless of what is best for them, than the very brutes. Isaiah i. 3. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." Jeremiah viii. 7. "Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord."
2. They have no goodness in them. Romans vii. 18. "In me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." They have no principle, that disposes them to any thing that is good. Natural men have no higher principle in their hearts than self-love. And herein they do not excel the devils. The devils love themselves, and love their own happiness, and are afraid of their own misery. And they go no further. And the devils would be as religious as the best of natural men, if they were in the same circumstances. They would be as moral, and would pray as earnestly to God, and take as much pains for salvation, if there were the like opportunity. And as there is no good principle in the hearts of natural men, so there are never any good exercises of heart, never one good thought, or motion of heart in them. Particularly, there is no love to God in them. They never had the least degree of love to the infinitely glorious Being. They never had the least true respect to the Being that made them, and in whose hand their breath is, and from whom are all their mercies. However they may seem to do things at times out of respect to God, and wear a face as though they honoured him, and highly esteemed him, it is all in mere hypocrisy. Though there may be a fair outside, they are like painted sepulchres; within, there is nothing but putrefaction and rottenness. They have no love to Christ, the glorious Son of God, who is so worthy of their love, and has shown such wonderful grace to sinners in dying for them. They never did any thing out of any real respect to the Redeemer of the world, since they were born. They never brought forth any fruit to that God, who made them, and in whom they live, and move, and have their being. They never have in any way answered the end for which they were made. They have hitherto lived altogether in vain, and to no purpose. They never so much as sincerely obeyed one command of God; never so much as moved one finger out of a true spirit of obedience to him, who made them to serve him. And when they have seemed outwardly to comply with God's commands, their hearts were not in it. They did not do it out of any spirit of subjection to God, or any disposition to obey him, but were merely driven to it by fear, or in some way influenced by their worldly interest. They never gave God the honour of one of his