And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us…
We learn -
I. THAT SACRED TRUTH IS SOMETIMES FOUND ON IRREVERENT LIPS. (Ver. 17.)
1. Sometimes in mockery, as with this poor Philippian slave. She probably caught up the words she heard Paul use, and in the spirit of ribaldry uttered them again. So men have sometimes preached or sung in the spirit of mere raillery and indecent mirth.
2. Sometimes in insincerity; when those who have no care to secure a livelihood by honorable means resort to religion as a source of income. It is melancholy to think of the thousands who have adopted the preacher's function as a worldly calling, on whose lips the sacred truths of the gospel would be as ill placed as on those of this damsel of Philippi.
3. Sometimes in inconsiderate enthusiasm; when they who are animated by a desire to do good, but allow themselves to act without due thought, use the most sacred terms with a freedom which is very near to flippancy. In all cases the irreverent use of Divine names and heavenly truths is to be strongly if not sternly deprecated.
II. THAT SELFISHNESS WILL NEVER WANT A GARMENT WITH WHICH TO HIDE ITS UGLINESS. (Vers. 18-21.) The masters of this poor woman, when they found that "the hope of their gains was gone," determined to rid themselves of men who were actually sacrificing their temporal interests to the cause of truth and of humanity! So they incited the mob, and brought Paul and Silas before the magistrates, and played the part of indignant citizens, whose religious equanimity was being shamelessly disturbed (vers. 20, 21). They would not have ventured to show themselves as they were, in the nakedness and ugliness of utter selfishness; so they borrowed the flag of patriotism to cover themselves withal. The worst of this kind of sophistry is that men in no great time deceive themselves, even if they do not deceive their neighbors. Sin soon imposes on itself; it thinks itself benevolent and humane when it is mercenary and cruel.
III. THAT ERROR IGNORANTLY IMAGINES IT CAN EXTINGUISH TRUTH BY FORCE. The magistracy of Philippi, well sustained by the violence of the mob (ver. 22), caused truth, in the person of its advocates, to be beaten and imprisoned. It doubtless imagined that there would be an end of this new and "pestilent" doctrine. But as the names of these prisoners were to be honored long ages after those of their judges had been forgotten, so the truths which they proclaimed were to be preached and sung many centuries after those bonds were broken and those dungeon walls had crumbled. How vain the magistrates' court, the scourge, the gaol, the scaffold, when it is the living truth of the Divine Redeemer of mankind which men are trying to stifle or to slay (Philippians 1:12-14).
IV. THAT FAITHFUL SERVICE OF CHRIST IS SONGFUL EVERYWHERE. Songs in the sanctuary are as natural as they are common; that is to say, when we are worshipping that God who is our God, even the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Their devotees could not praise the "gods of the nations," because there was nothing in their character to call forth reverence, trust, gratitude. But the followers of Jesus Christ find in him everything for which to pay homage and to present thanksgiving; But it is not only in the act of Divine worship, but at all times, that "his praise is m our mouth." Even in prison - in such a prison as that of Philippi, and after such lacerating blows as they had endured - Paul and Silas "sang praises unto God." They rejoiced that they were "counted worthy to suffer shame for his Name" (Acts 5:41; see Matthew 5:10-12). And if the faithful servants of Christ could "lift up to God the voice of praise" in the dungeon, those who are engaged in his service now should carry about with them everywhere the spirit of sacred song. We should, we can, cherish the spirit of gratitude and holy joy in the home, in the place of business, in the social circle, in every sphere of our activity. For as there is no engagement in which we should not be honoring Christ, in which we should not be realizing his presence and enjoying a sense of his Divine favor, so is there none in which we may not find a source of satisfaction, in which we may not find a reason for holy song.
V. THAT ABOUNDING CHRISTIAN LIFE OVERFLOWS TO THE BENEFIT OF ALL. "And the prisoners heard them" (ver. 25). Not that Paul and Silas sang for their benefit, but that abounding happiness in suffering for Christ overflowed and made itself felt by all around. How these men, whose mouths, if opened at all, doubtless poured forth oaths and curses, must have been struck with surprise, and perhaps smitten with shame, to hear these two prisoners singing psalms of praise! If our Christian life be not the poor, ill-fed, shallow streamlet it may be, but the well-fed, strong, swift, ever-flowing river it should be, then shall we live to bless others even when we are only acting to express our own souls. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: