The Word of Salvation to a Philippian Jailer


The Word of Salvation to a Philippian Jailer

April 19th, 1962 @ 12:00 PM

And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 16:25-34

4-19-62    12:00 p.m.




The theme of the services this week has been on “The Word of Salvation.” Tomorrow, The Word of Salvation to the Dying Thief; Monday, The Word of Salvation to a Learned Judean; on Tuesday, it was The Word of Salvation to a Scarlet Samaritan;  yesterday, it was The Word of Salvation to an Ethiopian Eunuch; and today, it is The Word of Salvation to a Philippian Jailer.   “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” [Acts 16:25].

I would think they would.  I would suppose every time any prisoner had ever seen a man cast into a dungeon he looked upon a disheveled wretch who murmured, who bemoaned his lot, bewailed his fortune.  But whoever heard of prisoners who were beat, bloody, cast in an inner dungeon, bound down with stocks and chains [Acts 16:23-24], and prayed and sang praises unto God [Acts 16:25].  No wonder the prisoners heard them.


And suddenly, and suddenly, there was a great earthquake, and the foundations of the prison were shaken:  and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s chains were loosed. 

And the keeper of the prison awakening out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. 

But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: we are all here. 

Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 

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 unto all that were in his house. 

And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway…believing in God with all his house.

[Acts 16:25-34]


What different interpretation of God’s providence; to Paul, praying and singing at midnight, this was an answer by fire; it was the moving presence of the Lord God.  He heard His feet walking by, and the earth trembled and the doors of the prison fell off, and everyone’s shackles and stocks and chains were loosed [Acts 16:25-26].  To Paul, it was a presence of God, but to this cruel Philippian jailer, what a different providence it seemed to him, for being responsible for his prisoners and thinking they had fled, in his miscalculation and misinterpretation, he fell into hopeless despair.  This was the end of the way for him, and drawing out his sword he proposed to destroy his life [Acts 16:27]

And Paul, seeing him in the shadow of the night against the burning light, about to destroy his own life, cried out and said, “Oh, do thyself no harm!  This is the moving of the presence of God.  No one has escaped.  We are all here.”  And that miscalculating, misinterpreting cruel jailer, with his light, came into that inner dungeon, fell down before Paul and Silas, and in the agony of that moment asked an inevitable question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:29-30].

I say it is an inevitable question because somewhere, sometime, someday, that same question will be forced from our lips as we fall to our knees in an agony and in despair.  No one shall escape it.  The portrayal of the Bible here of that Philippian jailer is a picture of us all. Sometimes that question is forced from our lips because of a great sorrow that overwhelms our life.

 Sir Harry Lauder was one of the most beloved singers and entertainers in the world, a Scotsman of kilt and of tartan with his “Roamin’ in the Gloamin.’”  He traveled the ways of the world and was beloved by all.  In World War I, in the trenches of France, his only son was killed.  And Sir Harry Lauder said, “In my sorrow I had three choices.  First, I could turn to drink and drown my sorrow in debauchery and dissipation.  Or second, I could take my life and hide my sorrow in the grave.  Or third, I could turn to God.”  And the great world famed, world loved entertainer said, “And I, I turned to God.”

Sometimes, brought to our hearts by a great sorrow, sometimes that question, “What must I do to be saved?” is forced from our lips by a cognizance, a realization that we are lost, that we are sinful creatures, that we are not right in the sight of God.

John Bunyan describes himself when in Pilgrim’s Progress he begins the story with a description of the pilgrim: 

I saw a Man…in a certain place…standing, with his face turned from his own house, dressed in rags, a Book in his hand, and a great Burden upon his back.  And I looked, and saw that he opened the Book and read thereon; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and being no longer able to contain, he would break out with a great and lamentable cry, saying, “What shall I do?”


Forced from our lips by the realization that we are not right in the sight of God.

Then sometimes that question is forced from our hearts by the inevitable judgment of a certain and pronounced death.  An attorney in England, in the days of the ago, had a friend who for years and unjustly languished in prison.  And upon a time he gained from the Queen Victoria a pardon, and making his way to the prison he brought the pardon in his hand, went into the cell, laid it in the hands of his friend and said, “You are free.  You are free.  This is a pardon from the queen.”

To his astonishment, his friend made no response of joy or even of recognition.  And the attorney said, “But don’t you know, you don’t realize this is your freedom, man!  You’re free.  It’s a pardon from the queen.”  And the man pulled aside the clothing, and baring his breast disclosed a great and ugly and eating cancer.  And then, in hopeless despair, looked to his friend and said, “Go ask the queen if she can heal this.”

There will come a time, an inevitable day, when the sentence of death will be pronounced upon us.  “It is appointed unto men once to die, after that the judgment”  [Hebrews 9:27].  


And however wealth or estate, or grandeur, or fame, or power,

They turn into dust and into ashes, for my soul faces God.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,

All that beauty, all that wealth e’er gaveaway to life the inevitable hour;

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

[“Pathway To Glory,” Thomas Gray]


Some where, some time, some day, the question of that agonizing Philippian jailer will be the question forced from the lips of every man, “Sir, what must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30]. The reply of the apostle Paul is an astonishing thing.  It is not of worth or of merit or of works or of achievement, but he speaks of faith, of trust, of committal [Acts 16:31].


Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy does He save us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Which He has shed abroad in our hearts by Jesus Christ;

In whose grace we are made heirs to the hope of eternal life.

 [Titus 3:5-7]


For it is not by works of righteousness that we are saved, but by the grace and the favor of God. “By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. The reply of the apostle is astonishing, “What must I do to be saved?  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:30-31].

Ah, what a merciful, merciful provision of God for us!  For had He said, “Be rich enough to buy it,” some of us are poor and could not achieve it.  Had He said, “Be strong enough to possess it,” some of us are not strong; we are weak and frail. Had He said, “Be erudite enough to learn it,” but some of us are unlettered and unlearned.  And had He said, “Be good enough to deserve it,” all of us are fallen and undone [Romans 3:23].  What a merciful provision of God for lost sinners to save; believe and be saved [Acts 16:30-31]; wash and be clean [Revelation 1:5, 7:14; 2 Kings 5:10-12]; look and live [Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-15].

Will you notice, will you notice our salvation is effected outside of ourselves, beyond ourselves.  It is an objective salvation. That is one of the most remarkable things in the Word of God, and it is a thing that is hard for a man to realize.  For we turn to psychiatrists, and psychologists, and all kinds of inward probings, trying to find in ourselves the seat of salvation, when all through the millenniums and all through the Bible and all through the Word of God, the Lord says the seat and the fountain and the source and the consummation and the victory of our salvation is not in a man; it is outside.  It is an objective thing; it is beyond us [John 3:16, 2 Corinthians 5:19].

And the types in the Bible are always true to that great declaration of God.  I am to get out of myself and all of the weary probings and the despair and the disappointment and all of the hopelessness I find in myself.  My salvation lies beyond; it lies in God. And there is no exception to that in the great types of the Bible.  It’s in the ark.  It’s in the ark.  In the days of the stormand the flood and the fury and the judgment and the wrath, it’s in the ark.  It’s in the ark, in the ark [Genesis 6:11-14, 17-18, 7:1-24].

In the days of the visitation of God upon Egypt, it was in the blood.  Sprinkle the blood—and what a type in the form of a cross on the doorposts—on either side and on the lintel [Exodus 12:6-7, 12-13].  And whosoever will wait in faith under the blood for him that night, God’s death angel will pass over [Exodus 12:22-23].  It’s in the blood.  It is in the blood.  It is in the blood.

In the days of the wilderness when the people were destroyed by the bite of the serpent, it was, “to look.”  And Moses raised a brazen serpent in the wilderness, and it was so if a man was bitten and he was dying, if he would look he would live [Numbers 21:6-9, John 3:14-15].  Less could not have been required.  More by some could not have been offered.  However bitten, however stricken, however weak, and however dying, if a man would look, look, he would live.  It is effected by a great, great provision outside of ourselves; not looking within, but up and outside; look [Isaiah 45:22].

I may be mistaken, I don’t say I’m infallible, but in my humble judgment as a pastor for thirty-five years, if I could persuade people to look beyond themselves, outside of yourselves, oh, my friend, my friend, instead of living in the despair and the helplessness and the hopelessness of the circle of your own weakness, man, beyond yourself, beyond yourself, outside of yourself, I believe I could heal nine-tenths of the heartaches and the ills of this world.  It is accomplished in a great provision beyond us [John 3:16]

Now again, in this astonishing thing that Paul says, it is effected by a great spiritual turning.  You know, for years I have tried to find a word that would say what repentance and faith is, and I have never found one better than the word, “to turn, to turn, to turn.”  It is effected by a great act of turning.  Now the Bible is true to that.

May I, just for a moment, and bear with me, just for a moment, look: nailed to the cross, this dying thief of tomorrow’s sermon facing that inevitable judgment, he turned and said to the Master, dying on the center cross, “Lord,” calling Him Lord, “Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom”—then he believed He would have a kingdom some day, somewhere—“Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom, Lord, remember me”  [Luke 23:42].  We are saved in an act of turning [Acts 2:38].

Again, a woman who had an issue of blood, and for the years of her life since womanhood, no physician able to heal, the sentence of sorrow in her life, she said, “If, if I, if I could but touch the hem of His garment, I would be healed” [Matthew 9:20-21; Luke 8:43-44].

And in the crowd that pressed Him and jostled Him on every side, the Lord stopped and said,

 “Who, who touched Me?” [Luke 8:45]

And Simon Peter said, “Master, they press Thee on every side and yet Thou sayest, Who touched Me?” [Luke 8:45].

But Jesus said, “But somebody touched Me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of Me” [Luke 8:46], and turning, there was that humble woman with the issue of blood [Luke 8:47].

 “If I but touch the hem of His garment, I will be healed” [Matthew 9:20-21; Luke 8:43-44].

Or the publican, when the Pharisee said, “Lord, thank You I am not like other men, vile sinners. Thank Thee, Lord, I fast, and I am a faithful attendant on the services.  I support the work.  Thank Thee, Lord; I am not like other men” [Luke 18:11-12].  But the publican beat on his breast; would not so much as lift up his face to God. But as his tears fell on the pavement of the temple, he cried saying,  “O Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” [Luke 18:13].  The Book says, “the sinner.”  “Be merciful to me, Lord, the sinner.”  And when he cast himself on the mercy of God, Jesus said, “And he went to his house justified” [Luke 18:14].  God said he was righteous, not that he is righteous, but he was justified, that is, God declared him righteous, looked upon him as righteous for God’s sake [Luke 18:14].

Same thing with this Philippian jailer on his knees in his agony, “What must I do?”   And they said, “Turn to Jesus.  Look in faith to Jesus” [Acts 16:30-31].

Let me say one other thing.  Some of you must go and it is good.  Let me say one thing to us who remain.  May I speak in the moment of the insignia of the sign of the turning?  And before he was baptized, before anything, “He took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes” [Acts 16:33].  Washing stripes, the sign of a new heart and a new life and a new faith, a new day.  This cruel jailer, beyond the call of duty and beyond the necessity of the law, taking those two preachers, beating them, and in their blood putting them on the inside of an inner dungeon and fastening them in stocks and chains [Acts 16:23-24].  There was no necessity for all that, that heartless and cruel man.  But now, “And he took them the same hour of the night, washing their stripes” [Acts 16:33], mingling his tears with the water.  Turning, turning, turning, washing stripes.

 There was a cruel, bad man who turned; he had been converted in a revival of Moody’s.  And then wherever Moody went, this man, John Vassar, went up and down the streets of the city in which Moody was preaching.  He would knock at the door, and give whoever came to the door, he would give them a tract and invite them to the services.  And a woman heard about him, and she said, “But if he knocks at my door, I will slam my door in his face.”

And John Vassar, unknowing, knocking at the door, inadvertently and unknowingly knocked at hers.  She came and looked at him; there was a man with a tract in his hand and an invitation to the revival.

 She said, “Are you John Vassar?”

He said, “Yes, ma’am.”

And she slammed the door in his face.  But he did not leave.  He sat down on her doorstep, and he sang this song:


Was it for crimes that I have done

He groaned upon the tree?

Amazing pity! grace unknown!

And love beyond degree!


But drops of grief can ne’er repay

The debt of love I owe:

Here, Lord, I give myself away—

‘Tis all that I can do!

[“At the Cross,” Isaac Watts; Ralph E Hudson, Refrain]


Washing stripes.

In the Moody meetings, as you know, those who came forward went to an inquiry room, and in the room this woman who had come forward that night told the story of John Vassar singing on her doorstep.  And she said, “When he came to those drops of grief, each one seemed to fall upon my heart.”  Washing stripes.


Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small:

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

[“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Isaac Watts]


Washing stripes.

Our Lord, grant to us the like spirit of turning, turning in faith out of ourselves unto Thee; turning in love, in gratitude, to God’s people, for whom our Savior died on the tree [1 Peter 2:24].  And in the love and compassion of our Lord, grant to us we may live our life and offer unto Thee our humble ministries [Colossians 3:23].  In His blessed name, amen.