And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God: and the prisoners heard them.
It is hardly possible to exaggerate in describing the sufferings of St. Paul and his companion on this occasion. The frailty of St. Paul's frame and the sensitiveness of his nervous constitution must be taken into account. Moreover, he appears to have hardly recovered from a very serious illness. Canon Farrar says, "It was the first of three such scourgings with the rods of Roman lictors which Paul endured, and it is needless to dwell even for a moment on its dangerous and lacerating anguish. We, in these modern days, cannot read without a shudder even of the flogging of some brutal garotter, and our blood would run cold with unspeakable horror if one such incident, or anything which remotely resembled it, had occurred in the life of a Henry Martyn or a Coleridge Patteson. But such horrors occurred eight times at least in the story of one whose frame was more frail with years of suffering than that of our English missionaries." With their wounds untended, St. Paul and Silas were roughly thrust into the inner prison, a foul and loathsome dungeon, there to sit for hours with cramped limbs, shivering in the dampness and cold. Everything in their circumstances was against them, and yet "with heroic cheerfulness they solaced the long black hours of midnight with prayer and hymns." They would doubtless sing well-known psalms, and selections may readily be made of such as would precisely suit their purpose. It is a remarkable incident. It is a triumph of character; a triumph of grace; a sublime declaration of what Christ's realized presence can be to the suffering believer. He can give "songs in the night." Making the incidents the subject of meditation, we observe -
I. THE UNITY OF BODY AND SOUL. A unity so complete that the one never can suffer without the sympathetic suffering of the other. If the soul be depressed or distressed, the nervous condition of the body is sure to respond. Vigorous bodily health can never be known when the mind is diseased or the soul overworn and troubled. And, on the other hand, depression of soul comes oftentimes out of pain of body; and as long as the pain is limited the depression continues. It is singular to note that a prolonged little frailty is more trying to the spirit than a sudden and intense distress or pain. The soul seems to make a great effort to meet a great occasion, but fails to resist a continuous wearying influence. Illustration may be taken from various classes of physical and mental sufferers. It may be shown how often spiritual doubt and distress are found to be due to the sympathy between the body and the soul. And, in view of this, the infinite tenderness of God's dealings with us may be urged. Most gracious God, "he knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust! '
II. THE DIVORCE OF BODY AND SOUL. It can be said that "as the outward man perishes, the inward man is renewed day by day." The records of the afflicted will bear out the statement that, under two circumstances or conditions, the soul may force itself free of the body and rise above bodily reach in the power of its own life.
1. When pain is extreme. Illustrate from martyrology, or from records of great sufferers. There seems to be a possibility of pain reaching such an extreme as to swing the body loose from the soul, and leave the soul free to sing. This we may, perhaps, see in the ease of St. Paul; the very intensity of his suffering in part explains his triumph.
2. When the soul-life is strong. Swelling into power under sudden impulse, as in the martyrs; nourished into a holy fullness of vigor, as in the afflicted and diseased, and as in St. Paul.
III. THE FULFILLMENT OF DIVINE PROMISES IN THIS MASTERY OF THE SOUL OVER THE BODY. Such promises in the Old Testament as, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee," etc. And in the New Testament as, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Impress what a holy witness is made for God by all Christian sufferers who can win calmness, submission, and peace, and even sing their "songs in the night." - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.