Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 7: Imprisonment of Paul and Silas
The jailer hastened into the inner dungeon, and fell down before Paul and Silas, begging their forgiveness. He then brought them into the open court, and inquired of them, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
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In company with Silas, Paul again visited Lystra,
where he had been greeted as a god by the
heathen; where the opposing Jews had followed
on his track, and by their misrepresentation
had turned the reverence of the people into insult,
abuse, and a determination to kill him.
Yet we find him again on the scene of his former
danger, looking after
the fruit of his labors there.
He found that the converts to Christ had not
been intimidated by the violent persecution of
the apostles; but, on the contrary, were confirmed
in the faith, believing that the kingdom of Christ
would be reached through trial and suffering.
Paul found that Timothy was closely bound to
him by the ties of Christian union. This man [p. 73] had been instructed in the Holy Scriptures from
his childhood, and educated for a strictly religious
life. He had witnessed the sufferings of Paul
upon his former visit to Lystra, and the bonds of
Christian sympathy had knit his heart firmly to
that of the apostle. Paul accordingly thought
best to take Timothy with him to assist in his
The extreme caution of Paul is manifested
in this act. He had refused the companionship
of Mark, because he dared not trust him in an
emergency. But in Timothy he saw one who
fully appreciated the ministerial work, who
respected his position, and was not appalled at the
prospect of suffering and persecution. Yet he
did not venture to accept Timothy, an untried
youth, without diligent inquiry with regard to
his life and character. After fully satisfying
himself on these points, Paul received Timothy
as his fellow-laborer and son in the gospel.
Paul, with his usual good judgment, caused
Timothy to be circumcised; not that God required
it, but in order to remove from the minds of the
Jews an obstacle to Timothy's ministration. Paul
was to labor from place to place in the
synagogues, and there to preach Christ. If his
companion should be known as an uncircumcised
heathen, the work of both would be greatly
hindered by the prejudice and bigotry of the people,
The apostle everywhere met a storm of persecution.
He desired to bring the Jews to Christianity,
and sought, as far as was consistent with
the faith, to remove every pretext for opposition.
Yet while he conceded this much to Jewish
prejudice, his faith and teachings declared that
circumcision or uncircumcision was nothing, but
the gospel of Christ was everything. [p. 74]
At Philippi, Lydia, of the city of Thyatira,
heard the apostles, and her heart was open to
receive the truth. She and her household were
converted and baptized, and she entreated the
apostles to make her house their home.
Day after day, as they went to their devotions,
a woman with the spirit of divination followed
them, crying, "These men are the servants of the
most high God, which show unto us the way of
salvation." This woman was a special agent of
Satan; and, as the devils were troubled by the
presence of Christ, so the evil spirit which
possessed her was ill at ease in the presence of the
apostles. Satan knew that his kingdom was
invaded, and took this way of opposing the work
of the ministers of God. The words of
recommendation uttered by this woman were an injury
to the cause, distracting the minds of the people
from the truths presented to them, and throwing
disrepute upon the work by causing people
to believe that the men who spoke with the
Spirit and power of God were actuated by the
same spirit as this emissary of Satan.
The apostles endured this opposition for several
days; then Paul, under inspiration of the Spirit
of God, commanded the evil spirit to leave the
woman. Satan was thus met and rebuked. The
immediate and continued silence of the woman
testified that the apostles were the servants of
God, and that the demon had acknowledged them
to be such, and had obeyed their command.
When the woman was dispossessed of the spirit
of the devil, and restored to herself, her masters
were alarmed for their craft. They saw that all
hope of receiving money from her divinations
and soothsayings was at an end, and perceived [p. 75] that, if the apostles were allowed to continue
their work, their own source of income would
soon be entirely cut off.
A cry was therefore raised against the
servants of God, for many were interested in gaining
money by Satanic delusions. They brought
Paul and Silas before the magistrates with the
charge that "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."
Satan stirred up a frenzy among the people.
A mob spirit prevailed, and was sanctioned by the
authorities, who, with their official hands, tore
the clothes from the apostles, and commanded
them to be scourged. "And when they had laid
many stripes upon them, they cast them into
prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely;
who, having received such a charge, thrust them
into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in
The apostles were left in a very painful condition.
Their lacerated and bleeding backs were in contact
with the rough stone floor, while their
feet were elevated and bound fast in the stocks.
In this unnatural position they suffered extreme
torture; yet they did not groan nor complain,
but conversed with and encouraged each other,
and praised God with grateful hearts that they
were found worthy to suffer shame for his dear
name. Paul was reminded of the persecution he
had been instrumental in heaping upon the
disciples of Christ, and he was devoutly thankful
that his eyes had been opened to see, and his
heart to feel, the glorious truths of the gospel of
the Son of God, and that he had been privileged
to preach the doctrine which he had once despised. [p. 76]
There in the pitchy darkness and desolation
of the dungeon, Paul and Silas prayed, and sung
songs of praise to God. The other prisoners
heard with astonishment the voice of prayer and
praise issuing from the inner prison. They had
been accustomed to hear shrieks and moans,
cursing and swearing, breaking at night upon
the silence of the prison; but they had never
before heard the words of prayer and praise
ascending from that gloomy cell. The guards and
prisoners marveled who were these men who,
cold, hungry, and tortured, could still rejoice and
converse cheerfully with each other.
Meanwhile the magistrates had returned to
their homes congratulating themselves upon having
quelled a tumult by their prompt and
decisive measures. But upon their way home they
heard more fully concerning the character and
work of the men whom they had sentenced to
scourging and imprisonment. They also saw
the woman who had been freed from Satanic
influence, and who had been a very troublesome
subject to them. They were sensibly struck by
the change in her countenance and demeanor.
She had become quiet, peaceful, and possessed of
her right mind. They were indignant with themselves
when they discovered that in all probability
they had visited upon two innocent men
the rigorous penalty of the Roman law against
the worst criminals. They decided that in the
morning they would command them to be privately
released, and escorted in safety from the
city, beyond the danger of violence from the mob.
But while men were cruel and vindictive, or
criminally negligent of the solemn responsibilities
devolving upon them, God had not forgotten [p. 77] to be gracious to his suffering servants. An
angel was sent from Heaven to release the apostles.
As he neared the Roman prison, the earth
trembled beneath his feet, the whole city was
shaken by the earthquake, and the prison walls
reeled like a reed in the wind. The heavily
bolted doors flew open; the chains and fetters fell
from the hands and feet of every prisoner.
The keeper of the jail had heard with amazement
the prayers and singing of the imprisoned
apostles. When they were led in, he had seen
their swollen and bleeding wounds, and he had
himself caused their feet to be fastened in the
instruments of torture. He had expected to
hear bitter wailing, groans, and imprecations;
but lo! his ears were greeted with joyful praise.
He fell asleep with these sounds in his ears; but
was awakened by the earthquake, and the shaking
of the prison walls.
Upon awakening he saw all the prison doors
open, and his first thought was that the prisoners
had escaped. He remembered with what an
explicit charge the prisoners had been intrusted
to his care the night before, and he felt sure
that death would be the penalty of his apparent
unfaithfulness. He cried out in the bitterness of
his spirit that it was better for him to die by his
own hand than to submit to a disgraceful execution.
He was about to kill himself, when Paul
cried out with a loud voice, "Do thyself no harm;
for we are all here."
The severity with which the jailer had treated
the apostles had not roused their resentment, or
they would have allowed him to commit suicide.
But their hearts were filled with the love of
Christ, and they held no malice against their [p. 78] persecutors. The jailer dropped his sword, and
called for a light. He hastened into the inner
dungeon, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
begging their forgiveness. He then brought
them into the open court, and inquired of them,
"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
He had trembled because of the wrath of God
expressed in the earthquake; he had been ready
to die by his own hand for fear of the penalty of
the Roman law, when he thought the prisoners
had escaped; but now all these things were of
little consequence to him compared with the new
and strange dread that agitated his mind, and
his desire to possess that tranquility and
cheerfulness manifested by the apostles under their
extreme suffering and abuse. He saw the light
of Heaven mirrored in their countenances; he
knew that God had interposed in a miraculous
manner to save their lives; and the words of the
woman possessed by the power of divination
came to his mind with peculiar force: "These
men are the servants of the most high God,
which show unto us the way of salvation."
He saw his own deplorable condition in
contrast with that of the disciples, and with deep
humility and reverence asked them to show him
the way of life. "And they said, Believe on the
Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and
thy house. And they spake unto him the word
of the Lord, and to all that were in his house."
The jailer then washed the wounds of the apostles,
and ministered unto them; and was baptized
by them. A sanctifying influence spread among
the inmates of the prison, and the hearts of all
were opened to receive the truths uttered by the
apostles. They were convinced also that the living [p. 79] God, whom these men served, had miraculously
released them from bondage.
The citizens had been greatly terrified by the
earthquake. When the officers informed the
magistrates in the morning of what had occurred
at the prison, they were alarmed, and sent the
sergeants to liberate the apostles from prison.
"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."
Paul and Silas felt that to maintain the dignity
of Christ's church, they must not submit to the
illegal course proposed by the Roman magistrates.
The apostles were Roman citizens, and it was
unlawful to scourge a Roman, save for the most
flagrant crime, or to deprive him of his liberty
without a fair trial and condemnation. They
had been publicly thrust into prison, and now
refused to be privately released, without proper
acknowledgments on the part of the magistrates.
When this word was brought to the authorities,
they were alarmed for fear the apostles would
make complaint of their unlawful treatment to
the emperor, and cause the magistrates to lose
their positions. They accordingly visited the
prison, apologized to the apostles for their injustice
and cruelty, and themselves conducted them
out of the prison, and entreated them to depart
out of the city. Thus the Lord wrought for his
servants in their extremity.
The magistrates entreated them to depart,
because they feared their influence over the people,
and the power of Heaven that had interposed in
behalf of those innocent men who had been [p. 80] unlawfully scourged and imprisoned. Acting upon
the principles given them by Christ, the apostles
would not urge their presence where it was not
desired. They complied with the request of the
magistrates, but did not hasten their departure
precipitously. They went rejoicing from the
prison to the house of Lydia, where they met the
new converts to the faith of Christ, and related
all the wonderful dealings of God with them.
They related their night's experience, and the
conversion of the keeper of the prison, and of the
The apostles viewed their labors in Philippi as
not in vain. They there met much opposition
and persecution; but the intervention of
Providence in their behalf, and the conversion of the
jailer and all his house, more than atoned for the
disgrace and suffering they had endured. The
Philippians saw represented in the deportment
and presence of mind of the apostles the spirit of
the religion of Jesus Christ. The apostles might
have fled when the earthquake opened their
prison doors and loosened their fetters; but that
would have been an acknowledgment that they
were criminals, which would have been a
disgrace to the gospel of Christ; the jailer would
have been exposed to the penalty of death, and
the general influence would have been bad. As
it was, Paul controlled the liberated prisoners so
perfectly that not one attempted to escape.
The Philippians could but acknowledge the
nobility and generosity of the apostles in their
course of action, especially in forbearing to
appeal to a higher power against the magistrates
who had persecuted them. The news of their
unjust imprisonment and miraculous deliverance, [p. 81] was noised about through all that region, and
brought the apostles and their ministry before
the notice of a large number who would not
otherwise have been reached.
Paul's labors at Philippi resulted in the
establishment of a church there, whose numbers
steadily increased. His example of zeal and
devotion, above all, his willingness to suffer for
Christ's sake, exerted a deep and lasting influence
upon the converts to the faith. They highly
prized the precious truths for which the apostle
had sacrificed so much, and they gave themselves,
with whole-hearted devotion, to the cause of
This church did not escape persecution. Says
Paul, in his Epistle to the Philippians: "Unto
you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only
to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
having the same conflict which ye saw in me."
Yet such was their steadfastness in the faith
that he declares: "I thank my God upon every
remembrance of you, always in every prayer of
mine for you all making request with joy, for
your fellowship in the gospel from the first day
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"Opposition at Thessalonica"