And when it was day, the magistrates sent the sergeants, saying, Let those men go.…
We may learn -
I. THE PITIFUL END OF PRECIPITANCY. (Vers. 35, 38, 39.) These magistrates of Philippi had hastily adopted the opinion of the clamorous multitude; they had made no sufficient investigation; they had not ascertained the citizenship of the prisoners at the bar; and now they have to pay for their precipitance. They send a sneaking message to the prison, "Let those men go; ' thus virtually confessing themselves in the wrong. Then when Paul refused to be thus dismissed, and placed himself in the position of one whose legal rights had been violated, they were fain to come in person, and beg of their own prisoners to go on their way! To such dishonor did a hasty and unfaithful use of their power bring these men. They who are in any office, whether in sacred or secular affairs, should remember that rashness is certain to suffer in the end, that precipitancy in judgment conducts to the shame of him who judges, that we should take ample time and make full inquiry before we condemn and punish. Otherwise judging others, we condemn ourselves and bring down the blow on our own head.
II. THE CHRISTIAN DUTY OF REMONSTRANCE. Paul refused to be ignominiously dismissed, having first been illegally punished. He uttered an indignant, a fervent remonstrance (per. 37). He declined, being innocent and wronged, to be treated as if he were guilty and as if he had nothing of which righteously to complain. It is often our Christian duty to act in the same way. In this matter there are:
1. Two laws to which we may make our appeal: either the law of man, which the magistrates of Philippi had now broken, and which Paul claimed they should have regarded; or the law of God, the law which makes its demand on every human conscience, requiring truth, equity, respect, etc. When this is palpably violated, we may make our appeal to it against the iniquity and ill usage of our fellows.
2. Three laws by which we must be bruited.
(1) The law of purity. We are not at liberty to indulge in remonstrance if there is nothing in our mind but self-assertion; the spirit by which we must be animated is a sense of wrong having been done, and of a righteous resentment of that wrong. A remonstrance which is nothing more than an attempt to recover something for ourselves, into which the feeling of pure indignation against evil does not largely enter, is not worthy of the name; that is only a contention.
(2) The law of innocence. We must take care that we have clean hands, or we shall not be in a position to upbraid others. Too often there are faults on both sides, and those who use the language of remonstrance are open to damaging retort. Only the innocent are at liberty to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" (see Romans 2:17-23).
(3) The law of considerateness. We must consider what is the probable effect of remonstrating. If the outpouring of our indignation, though it Would relieve our own mind, would endanger the comfort, the liberty, or even (as is possible) the life of others, then we should restrain ourselves and be silent. If remonstrance, though it should bring down bitterness or even blows on ourselves, is likely to benefit others, then it becomes our Christian duty to let loose our tongue and give play to our indignation. The question to be considered is - Will utterance honor Christ and benefit our fellows? According to that verdict let our behavior be.
III. THE DIGNITY OF INNOCENCE. These magistrates will always present to the Christian eye the picture of undignified officialism; first hastily condemning, and then ignominiously retreating. Paul and Silas will ever be to us the types of true dignity; first patiently suffering, then loftily refusing to be secretly dismissed, then composedly uniting and comforting the disciples, and then quietly departing. They who have God on their side are in a position to be above the fretting and fuming of the world, to possess their souls in patience and in calmness. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go.