THE PHILLIPPIAN JAILOR
We are told that faith unto salvation is the natural man’s duty ‘by express command.’ And if we ask where such a command is to be found, we are answered, ‘The Jailor, for instance, was commanded to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that he might be saved,’ Acts 16:31. And this one text ‘is selected as alone sufficient proof.’ And as this text is selected to answer for all, we may, I suppose, safely conclude that this is considered as much to the point in proof as any one text in the whole scriptures, and that nothing in all the scriptures can be found more to the point in proof than this text; and thus stands the best proof that faith unto salvation is the natural man’s duty.
But in putting this proof, and so this duty, to the test, allow me to say, that the apostle’s words to the jailor are not all in any shape in the place, nor nature, nor order, of either a command, and exhortation, or an invitation, but of instruction, in a plain, pertinent, gospel-truth answer to an earnest enquiry made. The jailor spoke first, and the answer was simply according to the question proposed; and this even you, Mr. Editor of the Primitive Church Magazine, call ‘an express command.’ This is very strange, because neither Paul, nor Silas said anything of the words of our text to the jailor over-night, when he ‘thrust them into the inner prison,’ nor while he was busy in making ‘their feet fast in the stocks;’ though they were not too sad to speak, for at midnight ‘Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God.’ And there being ‘a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, all the doors were opened, and their bands were loosed;’ but the words of our text were not uttered to one single soul of the prisoners, though they heard when Paul and Silas’ sang praises unto God.’ And when the awaking jailor drew his sword and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled, ‘Paul cried with a loud voice,’ and so he was in good earnest for the man’s life, ‘do thyself no harm, for we are all here;, and even then he uttered not one word of our text, although it was so fair and solemn an opportunity, if any such thing as our text had laid in the shape of a command, in either Paul’s mind or commission from God to the ungodly, natural and unbelieving world. Then the) jailor ‘called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas;’ and even at this solemn and advantageous crisis, not one word of our text is uttered. And the jailor ‘brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ He was now the Lord’s convict in soul fetters of guilt and terror, the commandment of the law of God’s holiness had come into his conscience, sin was ‘revived,’ and death’s sentence had entered into his heart, by the life and light of God’s quickening and apprehending convictions; and agonizing under alarm, guilt, despair, and death eternal woefully apprehended, he cries out as for his very life, yea, the life of his soul, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And as the great and gracious gospel truth, for the life and comfort of all such quickened, convinced, and crying souls is, ‘He that believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved;’ so the apostle answered, as by heaven’s high favor and wisdom commissioned, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,’
And this answer you call an express command!!’ If a poor, weary, penniless and benighted traveler had lost his road, and he met a gentleman and said to him, ‘Sir, which way must I take to go to such a place? for I am in distress to find it;’ and the gentleman for answer, simply, but in positive terms, declared to the distressed the true and sure road to the place, would any man, in the name of common sense, and much less in the name of God, the judge of all the earth, call such an answer an ‘express command?’ I think every one who reacts this question must answer, ‘Most surely not.’ If a servant boy of yours were to ask you which way he could kill himself the quickest if he were so disposed, and you, answering a fool according to his folly, were to reply, ‘Blow your brains out with a pistol,’ and the boy were to go and do it, would you like to be considered to have commanded the boy to kill himself, by an, express command,’ because you answered his according to his question? I think you would not. And yet this is how you can take and handle the sacred word of God, for the support of the natural man’s duty to believe unto eternal salvation, which cannot be otherwise maintained.
And as this is one of your strongest forts ‘in proof and support of the point, there need not a clearer demonstration that the point is erroneous, senseless, and hostile to all truth, than its requirement of such an abuse and misuse of the sacred word of God for its support. I do not want to say that this is your willful perversion of the scripture; and yet I can hardly think it an oversight, and ignorantly done, when all things are considered. If a minister who has simply had the commission of God, and qualification of the Holy Ghost only, to preach, teach, and explain the scriptures, were to take our text to be a command, the error would be none the less, but the blunder might be somewhat more accounted for; but for a minister who, beside the commission and qualifications of God, to preach, teach, and explain the scriptures, has been to a minister modeling school, to embellish and finish up, and to add the super advantages of such a God-helping establishment; yea, I say, for a minister like this, to make such an egregious misapplication of words, as to set down our text for an ‘express command,’ is altogether unaccountable, unbearable, and abominable! Or is this of itself a peculiar art, taught at such schools? However, I hope this pointed remark or two will be a caution to others, to look well on all sides of a text, so as to come at the proper place, order, and relation ‘in which it stands, and the occasion of its being spoken, and who are spoken to, Jews or Gentiles, the dead in sin, or the alive by quickening grace, that the true sense and mind of the spirit may be ascertained, remembering always, that no part of the true system of divine things can stand well upon a false sense on the sacred scriptures, and that no false system can stand well upon a true sense on the sacred scriptures, and that no man can understand nor hold the beauty and harmony of the sacred word, with a false sense put upon some parts thereof.
John Foreman (1792-1872) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He was appointed the Pastor of Hill Street Chapel, Marylebone, serving this position for close to forty years.