Paul and Silas at Philippi



The Assertion of our Sights.

The demand made by Paul.—The wrong done to him could not be undone. —But it could be openly acknowledged.—The rights which Paul had as a Roman citizen.—The advantages thus secured to him by law.—The violation of these rights.—Philippi, a Roman colony.—Christian Church formed.—The possessed woman.—Results of her cure.—Paul had thereby done no wrong.—The unjust treatment he endured.—The propriety oj his demand.—How to be reconciled with the teachings of Christianity?— (1.) By the example of Christ Himself.—(2.) By the value of good laws; the struggle it has cost to establish them; and the duty of striving to maintain them.—(3.) By the important influence of cnaracter, as bearing on the claims of Christianity itself.

"But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly, uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay, verily; but let them come themselves, and fetch us out."

Acts xvi. 37.

IT is my purpose now to consider an assertion, on the part of the apostle Paul, that his rights as a Roman citizen had been violated by those ^* who pretended to act under Roman authority, and a demand on his part for a public acknowledgment of that wrong. Made sensible by reflection, and by the remarkable events which had occurred during the night when Paul and Silas were imprisoned, that injustice had been done to these men, the magistrates—01 arnartrfoi—the Roman prcetors—those entrusted with the civil administration at Philippi, "sent the Serjeants"—roue pafiSouyoue—literally, the " rod-holders," the lictors—or, as we should say, the constables,—directing that the prisoners should be discharged (ver. 35). This was done "privily"—XaOpa, secretly,—without any public proclamation; with no open avowal that wrong had been done. If Paul had accepted this, and had been discharged in such a manner, he would have gone forth safely indeed, but under the prejudice against him produced by the fact that he had been condemned by the magistrates; that he had been scourged for crime; that he had been imprisoned on a charge of violating the laws of the empire; and, consequently, with all the presumption against him that this was a just sentence, and that he had been actually guilty. So far as the judicial sentence of a Roman magistrate could operate (and it might affect him wherever he went—even in Rome itself,—for the sentence of a magistrate was presumed to be in accordance with justice), he might suffer from the effect of this condemnation, scourging, and imprisonment. He resolved, therefore, not to accept of a discharge on these conditions, but to demand a public assertion, on the part of the magistrates, that an act of injustice had been committed. He wished that the influence of their retraction should go as far as the influence of the condemnation had done; in other words, that the one should counteract the other. The wrong could not, indeed, be undone. The truth that he had been condemned could not cease to be a truth. The fact that from him and Silas their clothes had been "rent off;" that "many stripes" had been laid on them; that they had been "thrust into the inner prison;" that their feet had been "made fast in the stocks;" that they had been treated in a harsh and unfeeling manner by a jailor in the service of the Roman magistrates; that (thus suffering) they had been left unpitied in a dark and gloomy dungeon, could not cease to be a fact in their history. But Paul and Silas, as Roman citizens, could demand as a right that the magistrates who had injured them should publicly confess the wrong, that they themselves might be publicly acquitted, and allowed to go to their work without any prejudice against them in the public mind from what had occurred at Philippi. This was done. The magistrates feared when they heard that they were Romans; and they came and "besought them"—iraptnaXiaav—entreated them— begged them—" and brought them out," (vers. 38, 39.)

The subject which is suggested for our consideration by this portion of the history of the apostle Paul, viz. THE ASSERTION OR VINDICATION OF OUR RIGHTS, is not without practical importance, though it is not without difficulty. The questions arise, how far is this proper? when is it proper? with what motives should it be done? how can this be reconciled with the requirements of meekness and a spirit of forgiveness? For a proper illustration of these points, it will be necessary to consider—

I. The rights which Paul had as a Roman citizen. In what way Paul had become possessed of these rights, whether in virtue of his birth at Tarsus as a "free city," or in consequence of some service rendered by his father to the Roman government, is not of importance. He did not hesitate to avail himself of it; and the appeal in each case, when he made it, was recognized and allowed. To Paul this right was invaluable. It was in itself an honour, and would be everywhere so regarded. It gave to him who enjoyed it, the protection of the best system of laws known among men,—for there can be no doubt that the Romans had advanced far beyond other nations in their jurisprudence. In any part of the world, moreover, where the Roman power extended, it conceded that right . Thus Cicero says (against Verres, v. 57) "That declaration and appeal, '/ am a Roman citizen} has often brought aid and safety even among the barbarians in most distant lands." There were also special rights conferred by this. A Roman citizen might not be crucified; a Roman citizen might not be scourged. The laws especially protected a Roman citizen from being beaten.1 Some of the most powerful appeals of Cicero in his orations were in cases where the laws, which protected Roman citizens from such' insult, had been disregarded by Roman praetors (Orations against Verres, v. 62, 66). The privilege of Roman citizenship also secured the right of a public trial. No man could be legally condemned, even for the slightest offence, without the formality of such a trial (Cicero, as above, i. 9). This tended, in an eminent degree, to maintain justice. Of all the ancient nations the Romans were most eminent for the sternness with which justice was administered. Brutus, with the approval and applause of the whole nation, condemned his own son to death for crime,—on the general principle that all private and personal feelings were to be sacrificed to justice in any and every case.

II. We have to notice the manner in which these rights had been violated in the case of Paul and Silas at Philippi. The consideration of this will make it necessary to describe the causes which gave offence on the part of Paul and Silas; the opposition which was aroused; and the countenance lent to an excited mob by the Roman magistrates.

It is proper to remark, first, that Philippi was a place where Paul might have presumed on the protection of the R man laws, no less than in Rome itself. The author of the Acts of the Apostles describes it as "the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony"KoXwvla (Acts xvi. 12). The term was used in this instance with the strictest propriety, and it implied much more than the term "colony" does now with us.1 In such a place, Paul and his fellow traveller, as possessing the rights of citizenship—and even, as strangers, — might have looked for security from wrong. Either the fact that they were Roman citizens had not before been made known to the magistrates, or, if it had been made known, it had been disregarded.

Paul and Silas commenced their work in Philippi as

1 "A Roman colony was no mere mercantile factory, such as those which the Phoenicians established in Spain, or on those very shores of Macedonia with which we are now engaged; or such as modern nations have founded in the Hudson's Bay territory, or on the coast of India. Still less was it like those incoherent aggregates of human beings which we have thrown, without care or system, on distant islands and continents. It did not even go forth, as a young Greek republic left its parent state, carrying with it, indeed, the respect of a daughter for a mother, but entering upon a new and independent existence. . . . The colonists went out with all the pride of Roman citizens, to represent and reproduce the city in the midst of an alien population. They proceeded to their destinaquietly as possible. There were Jews in the city, but the number was small, and (unlike most other places, in heathen countries, where there were Jews) no synagogue was found in it. There was, however, on the banks of the river which flowed near the city, one of those humble and temporary structures which the Jews frequently erected, when too poor or too few to erect a synagogue, called proscuchce—places of prayer. These were slight structures—mere enclosures—open usually to the sky. To that place, Paul and his companion resorted, and addressed the few—mostly women—who were accustomed to resort thither. The heart of one of them, Lydia, a native of Thyatira, a seller of purple, the Lord opened, and she was converted; her house became the home of the travellers; and a church was gradually formed. A bitter persecution, however, unexpectedly arose.

The circumstance that gave rise to it, was one in which Christianity came in contact with heathenism, in one of its prevalent forms, and in a form in which (as afterwards at Ephesus, Acts xix. 23— 34), the

tion like an army with its standards; and the limits of the new city were marked out by the plough. Their names were still enrolled in one of the Roman tribes. Every traveller who passed through a colonia saw there the insignia of Rome. He heard the Latin language, and was amenable, in the strictest sense, to the Roman law. The coinage of the city, even if it were in a Greek province, had Latin inscriptions. . . . The colonists were entirely free from any intrusion by the governor of the province. Their affairs were regulated by their own magistrates. These officers were named Duumviri; and they took a pride in calling themselves by the Roman title of Praetors (<rj-pornvo1)."—Conybcare and ffowson, vol. i. pp. 269, 27a

contact would be likely to produce most excitement and opposition. It was an instance in which pecuniary interest was involved, or in which Christianity came into conflict with the means by which men obtained a subsistence.

The case here was that of a female, perhaps partially insane, and partly an impostor, whose ravings were taken advantage of by certain persons, represented as her "masters."1 For several days she followed Paul and his companions, exclaiming, "These men are the servants of the most High God, which show unto us the way of salvation." Fearing, no doubt, lest the cause of truth should suffer through testimony from such a source, and touched with pity for the poor woman herself, Paul "being grieved," turned and said to the evil spirit which possessed her, "I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her."

The effect, which followed the casting out of the spirit, was such as might have been anticipated. The "masters" whose gains were "gone," appealed to the passions and prejudices of the people. They charged Paul and Silas with troubling the city, and with introducing "customs" contrary to the Roman laws. The popular feeling against the strangers was too strong for

1 "She was the property of more than one master, who kept her for the purpose of practising on the credulity of the Philippians, and realised 'much profit' in th1s way. We all know the kind of sacrcdness with which the ravings of common insanity are apt to be invested by the ignorant; and we can easily understand the notoriety which the gestures and words of this demoniac would obtain in Philippi."—Conybeareand ffowson, voL i. p. 277.

the magistrates to resist; and, perhaps, they did not care to resist it. The Jews were objects of hatred everywhere; and it could not be supposed that such consequences would follow from anything that might be done to these two strangers as to affect the position of those in power. Regardless, therefore, of their duty as Roman magistrates, — without inquiry into the real nature of the offence,—and without affording them any opportunity of defence,—the praetors acted at once on the demands of the mob, and commanded them to be beaten and thrown into prison.

In forming an estimate of the wrong done to Paul and Silas, it is not necessary to make any inquiry as to the reality of demoniacal possessions. Such "possessions" are assumed everywhere in the New Testament to have been real; and they would, if real, be not less likely to be found in heathen nations than in Judaea, and not less likely in Greece than elsewhere.1 Whatever might be true on this point, Paul had done no wrong in healing a much-afflicted woman; in preventing what would be likely to discredit the Gospel, as if it derived its success from such influences, and was identified with the impositions of "soothsaying;" in breaking up a scheme by which the people were deluded,

1 "If in any region of heathendom the evil spirits had pre-eminent sway, it was in the mythological system of Greece, which, with all its beautiful imagery and all its ministrations to poetry and art, left man powerless against his passions, and only amused him while it helped him to be unholy. In the lively imagination of the Greeks, the whole visible and invisible world was peopled with spiritual powers."—ConybcareandHmvson, vol. i. p. 275.

and by which bad men obtained a livelihood by imposing on the credulity of the weak. He does no wrong to the world who breaks up schemes of fraud; who exposes the arts and tricks of imposture; who, by the presentation of truth, or by a Divine influence attending his preaching, cuts off the gains of wicked men, and throws out of employment those who live by deluding their fellow-men. However it may affect the interests of individuals, he is a public benefactor who contributes anything to the abolition of gaming; who closes the houses of licentiousness; who checks the manufacture and sale of intoxicating drinks; who makes any business that leads to the corruption of morals, or to the destruction of the bodies and souls of men, unpopular or hateful. Paul and Silas, therefore, were merely doing that which all the friends of religion and morality must be allowed to do.

The wrong done to them, therefore, was a palpable injustice. The treatment which they received, was, in all respects, at variance with the requirements of the Roman law. They were condemned unheard; they were condemned under the excitement, and at the demand of a mob; they were publicly whipped, though Roman citizens; they were cast into prison, untried. Every one of these things was contrary to Roman law. They were committed, moreover, to the charge of a hard, harsh, severe, unfeeling, cruel man, who at once "thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks ;"—a man who had not sympathy enough to provide them food, or to wash their stripes,—


but left them to lie unpitied, in a dark dungeon, on the cold earth, not knowing when, if ever, they would be released; not knowing whether they would not be left there to die.

Such were the wrongs which they were called to endure; such were the circumstances in view of which they now demanded that justice should be done them. This leads us, then, to consider—

III. The propriety of the demand thus urged. I have already adverted to the apparent difficulty of reconciling this with those requirements of the Gospel which enjoin meekness in the reception of injuries, and a spirit of forgiveness towards those by whom we have been wronged. The principles of the Gospel seem to require that we should bear injuries not only with no malice, no spirit of retaliation or revenge, no returning of evil for evil, but even with no resistance, no attempt to assert our rights in any form, or to bring in the authority of the law for our protection. "Resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also; and whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain" (Matt. v. 39—41). "Brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers; now therefore, there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another; why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" (1 Cor. vi. 6—8).

In examining now the just principles of interpreting these passages, and stating the proper rules of Christian conduct, as illustrating and vindicating the conduct of Paul, I have three remarks to make.

(1.) The conduct of the Saviour, as has been often remarked, may be allowed to interpret His own words. As a matter of fact, in the numerous injuries which He suffered at the hands of individuals, He offered no resistance. He never returned injury for injury; blow for blow; taunt for taunt; violence for violence. He never cherished the memory of an offence, or sought an opportunity for revenge. He never allowed ill-treatment received from others to prevent His doing them good at any future time. When betrayed, when arrested, when bound, when clothed with a mock robe of royalty, when made a subject of sport by the soldiers of Herod, when scourged, when spit upon, when derided and mocked on the cross, He uttered no language of reproach. Yet, in entire consistency with all this, when He came in contact with the law, and when, under the forms of law, injustice was about to be done, He demanded that the provisions of the law should not be violated; He insisted on a just and proper trial. Thus, when standing before the Sanhedrim, and when "one of the officers which stood by struck Him with the palm of his hand,"—and did this not only unrebuked by the high priest, but evidently with his approval,—Jesus calmly yet firmly said, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?" (John xviii. 23).

(2.) This leads us to notice, then, the value of law for the protection of rights. That value was recognized by Paul, not only on this occasion at Philippi, but also in his solemn rebuke of the high priest Ananias, who had "commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth," and when he said to him, " God shall smite thee, thou whited wall; for sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" (Acts xxiii. 2, 3); and again, when, from the violence of a mob, and the injustice of an inferior court, he carried his cause up to the highest tribunal, and, as a last resort, brought it before that higher power, from whence all the laws of the Empire emanated (Acts xxv. 11).

The history of the world, in regard to law, has been little more than a succession of efforts or struggles to secure the rights of individuals against arbitrary power; and the points gained in that respect, each one the result of a single conflict, or of a series of conflicts, and often the result of bloody wars and revolutions, have been the beginning of new eras in the history of the world, each of these epochs sending its influence far into the future. All the guarantees which we now have for our personal liberty and rights can be traced back to some important period in the history of mankind, and have given its character to the age in which they were secured. Law itself, as we now have it, carefully defining crime, and specifying the proper punishment of crime, has been the slow growth of ages; and is the result of effort to save from arbitrary punishment. Under wise provisions, in favour of genera! liberty and individual rights, we in this land are permitted to live. The law which demands that the accuser shall be known, and shall be confronted with the accused,—the law which demands the presence of witnesses in open court, and subjects them (under the solemnity of an oath) to a rigid and free examination,— the law which demands that the judgment in regard to the fact shall be submitted to a jury consisting of impartial men,—the law which forbids unreasonable searches and seizures,—the lawj which secures from arbitrary arrests and imprisonments, and which secures a speedy trial,—these have gone into the constitution of the United States, and have each, in their history in this land and in other lands, been connected with some great struggle for freedom. These and kindred things, which are securities for personal liberty and rights in our time, are the growth of ages. They are the result of conflicts and wars. Few of them were known in the early periods of the world,—few at the time when Paul and Silas made their appeal to the Roman magistrates at Philippi,—few, comparatively, in Greece, in Egypt, in Babylon, in Rome,—few in the early periods of the English history; but, as society has seized upon one after another of these principles, it has held it with a tenacity such that no despotic power has been able to wrest it away.

Beyond these, there is now almost nothing to be desired for general liberty, or for securing the individual rights of men ; and the business of the world now is to protect and defend these principles, as the ground of security in all time to come. They are of inestimable worth, and it is every man's privilege and duty to appeal to them, and to demand (when his rights are invaded, as were those of Paul), that they shall be observed and enforced. No man can perform a more important duty to society than to demand, when his own rights are violated, that these great principles shall not be disregarded, and that under no plea whatever shall they in his own case be set aside. A nation has no higher interests than those which are involved in these principles; no man can do a more important service to his country than to see, as far as may be in his power, that they are not endangered. They are indispensable to liberty, to justice, to the rights of man, and to individual and public peace. All attempts to infringe them, therefore, are to be resisted; and he, who, in a conflict with arbitrary power, secures their observance when they are menaced, is to be reckoned among his country's greatest benefactors, and his name should go down to distant times, associated with those who have struggled and bled that they might be securely established. The names, not only of those who have striven to establish these principles, but also of the men who have been associated with them by wrongs threatened or done to themselves, obscure and unknown as these men might otherwise be, have acquired immortality. The name of Somerset, a coloured man—a slave—has thus become immortal, as leading to the great decision of Lord Mansfield in regard to freedom under the British constitution; the name of Dred Scott, a coloured man—a slave—has become immortal, also, as the result of an unrighteous decision in our own country, and as having been among the means by which this nation has been aroused to see the intrinsic evil of slavery. Pym and Hampden are immortal as having defended the great principles of liberty; and Paul stands thus among the great benefactors of mankind for having asserted- and maintained the right of an appeal to the law.

(3.) It remains only to remark, in vindication of the conduct of Paul, that the character of a good man belongs to the public, to virtue, to truth, to religion. As that character is the result of good principles, it belongs to a nation no less than the principles themselves, and is of equal value. The character which is formed by Christianity is a part of Christianity itself. It is formed by it; it pertains to it; it is that on which Christianity itself depends as a means of its own perpetuity, propagation, influence in the world. Paul had not only his own individual rights to maintain, but he was a representative man, entrusted with the rights pertaining to the Christian religion. All that he had endured in his imprisonment, he could privately and personally bear and forgive. But the public wrong which had been done was a wrong to justice; and not only so, but a wrong also to religion:—a wrong to him as the minister of religion; a wrong, which, if unacknowledged, might greatly hinder the success of his future labours. He was the ambassador and defender of Christianity. His character was of inestimable worth to mankind, and as he went forth on his high message to the world, that character was a material part of that on which the success of religion itself depended. In demanding, then, that his character should be protected by law,—that justice should be publicly done him, as wrong had been publicly done him,—that they, who, sustaining an official position as representatives of the Roman power, had done him this wrong, should officially retract it,— he was urging one of the claims of Christianity itself, and demanding for his Master and Saviour what properly belonged to Him and His cause.