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is, they rejected Christianity and injured its professors, because these broke in upon their schemes of worldly advantage ; you on the same account violate its plainest commands, and harden your hearts against your brethren in Christ.
Having brought Paul and Silas to the magistrates, they accused them, saying, “ These men being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.”_ What these customs were they do not state ; but they may have founded their charges upon an ancient law forbidding the worship of any Gods beside those approved by the Senate of Rome ; nor is it improbable, that they might have made the titles of Lord and King, given to Christ by his disciples, matter of further accusation, as if tending to subvert the Roman power ; as we find in the next chapter was done at Thessalonica. You will observe, that the Christians are here called Jews, of whom the Heathens in general looked upon them to be nothing more than a sect ; because Christ was a Jew, and his religion first planted and propagated in Judea.
66 The multitude," we are now told, “ rose up together against them, and the magistrates rent off their clothes (which was a custom both among Jews and Romans, preparatory to beating criminals with rods) and commanded to beat them.”And so the history proceeds to relate their being
scourged, cast into the inner prison, and their feet made fast in the stocks ; they praying and singing praises to God for thinking them worthy to suffer in his cause. From this severe custody they are delivered by the keeper of the prison, and taken to his own house ; who, being alarmed by an earthquake and the opening of all the prison doors, perceived the hand of God, and was converted with his whole family. In the morning a message was sent to him, saying, “ Let these men go ;"--which being made known to Paul, he said, “ 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.”—This he said, that they might be made sensible of their injustice and cruelty, and violation of those laws. which they were bound to protect. It was one of the highest offences to treat a Roman citizen as they had been used. St. Paul therefore puts forward the circumstance, without distinguishing the cases of himself and bis companion, although he only was so ; because any such distinction would most probably have been an injury to Silas. How he came to be a Roman citizen, does not appear; he was free born, and it is natural therefore to suppose that some of his ancestors had acquired this privilege by their services to the state : which was a very usual methods
Let ng conclude with a reflection or two upon the conduct of these magistrates, compared with that of St. Paul. In the first place, their total disregard of all the principles of justice is very striking ; for they made their sacred duty subservient to the views of a wicked calling, and to the rage of a furious multitude. A wretched woman, whether really or affectedly possessed by an evil spirit, is restored to her natural state. Taking the act of thus restoring her in a public view, we should expect the approbation of a good magistrate ; because it either relieved an unhappy subject from a grievous affliction, or put a stop to an odious fraud.
How greatly then must they have forgotten their character and station, when, without the least form of trial, they proceed against the men who had done this public service, with extreme violence !
In the next place they were as rash as they were unjust ; and thus involved themselves in a situation of difficulty and danger. For they not only shewed a contempt for the general laws of equity, but were so inconsiderate as not to reflect, how far they might be violating the civil constitution under which they held authority. Accordingly they committed a very criminal act against the state ; for which, had not the sufferer been too forgiving to prosecute them, they might have suffered condign punishment.
Lastly : in liberating Paul and Silas, they apa pear to be actuated more by fear than by a just sense of their misconduct. Hence that humiliation so unbecoming their place and office; “ They came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city.”—How much more true dignity had there been in acknowledging their offence, and wishing to make every reparation in their power! Miserable, indeed, is a state, where the magistrates consult but their passions or their interest; and where they are only withheld by the terror of punishment from doing wrong. In such hands the most salutary laws become objects of hatred or contempt ; sedition is encouraged, and good men are oppressed. So it was in the present instance.—But these violent proceedings did not triumph in the end. For in the aggrieved and insulted prisoner we find the just vindicator of the law, yet without the least private animosity; and while we commend the virtuous and firm citizen, we cannot but admire the mild and forbearing Christian. Those rulers had been violent, rash, unjust, timid, and self degraded : the Apostle, in return, was patient, manly, dignified, and forgiving. How glorious to suffer like him, how shameful to act like them! Both instances are pregnant with instruction ; one negatively, to such as are armed with power, against a wanton abuse of it: the other
positively and universally to all who may suffer un