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Story of the Bible by  Jesse Lyman Hurlbut
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THE SONG IN THE PRISON

Acts xv: 1, to xvi: 40.

A FTER Paul and Barnabas brought to Antioch the news that the Gentiles had turned to the Lord, a great question arose in the Church. Some of the strict Jews said, "All these Gentile believers must become Jews, and keep the Jewish laws about food, and feasts, and washings and offerings."

Others said that the laws were made for Jews only, and that Gentiles who believed in Christ were not called upon to live as Jews. After many words on both sides, Paul and Barnabas, with other believers, went up to Jerusalem to lay this matter before the apostles and the elders of the Church. They listened to Paul's story of God's great work among the Gentiles, and talked about it, and sought God in prayer, and at last the apostles, and elders, and the whole Church in Jerusalem, sent a message to the Gentiles who believed, telling them that Jews and Gentiles were alike before God, that both were saved by believing in Christ, and that Gentiles who [709] believed were not called upon to keep the laws given to the Jews only.

The apostles sent with Paul and Barnabas two men, Judas and Silas, to bring this news to the Church at Antioch. They came, and read the letter, which brought great joy to the Gentile believers. For now the Gentiles who believed in Christ were able to serve the Lord without obeying all the rules which the Jews themselves found very hard to keep.

After a time Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go again and visit the brethren in the cities where we preached the gospel, and see how they are doing."

Barnabas was willing to go and wished to take again with them John Mark as their helper in the work. But Paul did not think it well to take with them the young man who went home in the middle of their journey, and left them to visit strange lands alone. Barnabas was determined to take Mark, and Paul refused to have him go, so at last Paul and Barnabas separated. Barnabas took Mark, and went again to the island of Cyprus. Paul chose as his helper Silas, who had come from Jerusalem to Antioch, and Paul and Silas went together through the lands in Asia Minor, which Paul had visited on his earlier journey. Everywhere they sought out the churches which before had been planted by Paul and Barnabas, and they encouraged the disciples to be faithful in the Lord.

When Paul came to Derbe and Lystra he found a young man named Timothy, whose mother was of the Jewish race and a believer in Christ. Timothy had known the word of God from his childhood; he had given his heart to Christ, and all the believers in Christ at Lystra and Iconium knew him and spoke well of him. Paul asked this young man Timothy to leave his home and to go out with him as his helper in the gospel. Timothy went, and from that time was with Paul as a friend and a fellow-worker, dearly beloved by Paul. Paul, and Silas, and Timothy went through many lands in Asia Minor, preaching the gospel and planting the church. The Spirit of the Lord would not let them go to some places, which were not yet ready for the gospel, and they came down to Troas, which was on the sea, and opposite to the land of Macedonia in Europe.

While they were at Troas a vision came to Paul in the night. He saw a man of Macedonia standing before him, and pleading with him and saying, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us."

[710] When Paul told this vision to his friends they all knew that this was a call from the Lord to carry the gospel of Christ to Macedonia. As soon as they could find a vessel sailing across the sea they went on board, and with them went a doctor named Luke, who at this time joined Paul. Luke stayed with Paul for many years, and Paul called him "the beloved physician." Afterward Luke wrote two books, which are in the Bible, "The Gospel according to Luke," and "The Acts of the Apostles."

Paul and his three friends set sail from Troas; and on the third day they came to the city of Philippi, in Macedonia; and there they stayed for some days. There was no synagogue in that city, and scarcely any Jews; and on the Sabbath-day Paul and his company went out of the city gate to the river-side where was a place of prayer. There they sat down and talked with a few women, who had met together to pray. One of these was a woman named Lydia, who had come from Thyatira in Asia Minor, and was a seller of purple dyes. She was one who was seeking after God, and the Lord opened her heart to hear the words of Paul, and to believe in Christ. She was baptized, the first one brought to the Lord in all Europe; and with her all in her house were baptized also. Lydia said to Paul and to his company, "If you count me as one who is faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and stay there."

She urged them so strongly that they all went to Lydia's house, and made it their home while they were in the city. One day while they were going to the place of prayer, a young woman who had in her an evil spirit, met them. She was a slave-girl, and through the spirit in her, her owners pretended to tell what was to happen; and by her they made great gains of money. As soon as she saw Paul and his friends, she cried out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who tell you the way to be saved."

And this she did day after day, following Paul and his companions. Paul was troubled to see her held in the power of the evil spirit; and he spoke to the spirit, "I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!"

And in that very hour the spirit left the girl. But with the evil spirit gone from her, there were no more gains to her masters. They were very angry, and took hold of Paul and Silas, and dragged them before the rulers of the city, and they said, "These men, who [711] are Jews, are making great trouble in our city, and are teaching the people to do what is against the law for Romans."

And they stirred up the crowd of the lowest of the people against them. To please the throng, the rulers stripped off their garments from Paul and Silas, and commanded that they should be beaten with rods. When they had received many cruel blows, they were thrown into the prison, and the jailor was charged to keep them carefully. He took them, all beaten and wounded, into the dungeon, which was in the very middle of the prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison-house were shaken; every door was opened, and all the chains on the prisoners were loosed, and all could have gone out free if fear had not held them in their places. The jailor of the prison was suddenly roused out of sleep and saw the prison-doors wide open. By the laws of the Romans, a man in charge of a prisoner must take his place if his prisoner escaped, and the jailor, thinking that the men in the prison had gotten away, drew out his sword, and was just going to kill himself, when Paul called out, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here."

Then the jailor called for lights, and sprang into the room where Paul and Silas were, and, trembling with fear, fell down at their feet and cried out, "O, sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

And they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and those in your house with you."

And that night, in the prison, they spoke the word of the Lord [712] to the jailor, and to all that were with him. The jailor washed their wounds, and he and all his family were baptized in that hour. Afterward, he brought them from the prison into his own house, and set food before them. And the jailor and his household were all happy in the Lord, believing in Christ.

The rulers of the city knew well that they had done an unjust act in beating Paul and Silas, and thrusting them into prison; but they did not know that Paul and Silas, though Jews, were also free citizens of Rome, whom it was unlawful to beat or to put in prison without a fair trial. In the morning the rulers sent their officers to the jailor, saying, "Let those men go." And the jailor brought their words to Paul and said, "The rulers have sent to me to let you go; therefore, now come out of the prison, and go in peace."

But Paul said, "We are free citizens of Rome, and without a trial they have beaten us, and have cast us into prison. And now do they turn us out secretly? No, indeed, let those rulers come themselves and bring us out!"

The officers told these words to the rulers, and when they learned that these men were Roman citizens, they were frightened; for their own lives were in danger for having beaten them. They came to Paul and Silas, and begged them to go away from the prison and from the city. Then Paul and Silas walked out of the prison, and went to the house of Lydia. They met the brethren who believed in Jesus, and spoke to them words of comfort and of help. And then they went out of the city. In Philippi, from this time there was a church which Paul loved greatly, and to which in after-times he wrote "The Epistle (or letter) to the Philippians."


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