And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us…
Soft as the step with which Christianity entered the fair fields of Europe, and kindly as the welcome given to it then, its uniform lot was not long in making its appearance. It soon wakens close attention, it rouses strong opposition, it vindicates its genius and rights, and the luster of its moral victory must often have been felt by the faithful apostles enough of itself to compensate for the persecutions and sufferings they encountered. Rarely was there a more consummate instance of the kind than that here recorded. Let us notice -
I. THE RISE OF THE OPPOSITION, AND VICTORY THE FIRST. The first note of discord was sounded by an agent unusual but not altogether unknown, and it was unintentionally occasioned by that actor in the whole scene.
1. The damsel possessed by the spirit of divination, possibly responsible in the first instance for being thus the victim of evil powers, may be held to be not responsible in her present conduct.
2. The utterances of spirits of evil by means of her bodily organs of speech need not be supposed to be necessarily the utterances of mockery, or of any evil design to prejudice those who might have listened to Paul, had he and his companions not been advertised by an agent of so unwelcome a kind. It is said Christ" suffered not the devils to speak because they knew him." And the possessed slave spoke what she spoke because she was under the influence of those who really discerned and knew of what sort Paul and St]as were. 3. The objection of Paul may have been due
(1) to a repetition, which of itself might turn seriousness into mockery;
(2) to the deep grief, that he would inevitably feel that the words of truth should be now, not the utterance of intelligent and converted human beings, as such, but of human powers usurped, and though under the domination of superior Tower, not under the governance of superior goodness, but the contrary.
4. Paul is empowered to speak the command of dispossession, with which the "many days'" cry stopped, and the evil spirit went, and her" right mind" returned to the slave. And from the barest facts of the painful but wonderful incident we learn how tyrannical is the usurpation of the powers of evil; how nevertheless the powers of evil do sometimes press into the service of the truth; how their unsought aid (if aid it be) is refused by the Spirit of truth and by the true themselves, who will not encourage the evil that good may come; on the other hand, how their designed injury is baulked; but finally how, from all the humbling mournful scene, a victory "in the Name of the Lord Jesus" was won by Paul. Whatever it was that was most offensive in what had been taking place was summarily ended, human powers were disenthralled, a whole market of human iniquity was soon closed, if not bankrupt, and the true power was exalted and magnified.
II. THE OPPOSITION ITSELF, AND VICTORY THE SECOND.
1. The opposition was not on account of the religious views or preaching and teaching of Paul and Silas. They were Gentiles and Romans who were the opponents now, not, as so often hitherto, Jews. The cause of the opposition was most radical to the human heart. The miserable slave had been gain to cruel masters, never so cruel as when cruel to humanity, and as her gainfulness was gone their opposition was come, and was decided and determined and bitter, and withal disingenuous. They pleaded they were Romans, and they forgot to make sure that there was not a sense in which Paul and Silos were Romans to whom it was yet more necessary to show respect. But the cause was stated to consist in what Paul taught as a "Jew."
2. The opposition was conducted in every sort of disregard of justice and order. Angry people and rulers, and magistrates and multitude, are mingled together against a couple of men who had brought a possessed slave to her right mind; and stripes and imprisonment, and innermost prison and stocks, are their punishment, and, it is supposed, the silencing of them.
3. The opposition, instead of silencing them, had taken the means to keep them awake even at midnight, when perhaps every one of their enemies slept. What can they do but pray? But prayer sometimes brings very ready, very present help, and they sang praises, and though the jailor heard them not, other suffering prisoners did. And God above heard, and brought speedy and full deliverance. No stone of the prison building but it moved, no locked door but it opened, no fetter but it was loosed. And immediately the second great victory began to be apparent.
(1) The cause of Paul and Silos is one for which miracle and earthquake and Heaven will appear.
(2) The jailor's life is saved by prisoners forsooth - those whom be had fastened so securely and so hastily a few hours before.
(3) A greater, better life is roused in that jailor, so that his hands to wash the stripes, and his house and his meat and his very heart, are all at the feet of his prisoners, and "he and all his" numbered among the followers of Christ! Wonders like these passed all Philippi had ever dreamed of before.
III. THE ENTIRE COLLAPSE OF THE OPPOSITION, AND VICTORY THE THIRD,
1. When God's judgments are abroad in the earth, the very air is rife of their rumor. The magistrates, before ever day dawned, had heard, if it were only a whisper, what moved them more than the earthquake. They send simplest order that the men be "let go." It is not only humble hearts moved to salvation, that own to the interposition of Paul's God and Savior; hearts proud, unchanged, and haply unchangeable quake to their center, and will try the shortest way and the least-observed way or any way, if they may feel free again to breathe, and free from what is to them the most dread incubus.
2. But the hour of the supreme triumph of the servants of Christ had arrived. They show no hurry to go. They have been silent when the market-place howled around them. But when an almost deathly stillness prevailed that day-dawn, and those who were about spoke with hushed and bated breath, a very few, very quiet, but very authoritative words of Paul's lips finally complete the transformation of the scene. What a contrast, and what a proud hour for truth, when Paul pronounces on certain magistrates a sentence of more moral grandeur and far-reachingness, than all the sentences they for centuries have pronounced! You can hear those words, and the climax of them, "Nay verily!" Certainly all the rest "went indeed by saying." Nor can we doubt that to God Paul and Silas gave the glory; to Jesus, Master, King, Captain, they gave the glory; to the energetic Spirit of light and power and conversion, they gave the glory; nor took one atom of the proud satisfaction to themselves when the "magistrates came" in person, "and besought" them and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city." What triple triumph Jesus won in Philippi of Europe, when he disenthralled the body and the mind of the slave, when he made the jailor's heart and life all his own, and when he sent the magistrates on their knees to the scourged, imprisoned, but now dictating Paul and Silas! - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: