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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Acts 16



Verse 14-15



Acts 16:14-15. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

IN preaching the Gospel to mankind, every minister will not be alike successful; though every one may expect such a measure of success, as shall be a testimony from God to the truth of his declarations, and a seal to the commission with which he has been charged [Note: Jeremiah 23:22.]. More especially may we hope to convert sinners unto God, if we are attentive to the calls of his providence, respecting the proper sphere of our labours. We may, like the Apostles, spread our net wide, and “toil all the night, and catch nothing:” but, if our Lord instruct us where to cast the net, we may hope to enclose a multitude of fishes. The commission given to the Apostles was, to “go and preach the Gospel to every creature:” yet there were particular places to which, at particular times, their attention was more especially directed. St. Paul, after going through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, would have gone into Asia and Bithynia; but he was forbidden by the Holy Ghost to go there [Note: ver. 6, 7.]; and was instructed by a vision to go over rather into Macedonia [Note: ver. 9, 10.]. There therefore he went; and there he met with the woman of whom our text speaks; and was the happy instrument of saving her soul alive. Her name, her occupation, her character, and the place of her nativity, are all distinctly noticed: she was called “Lydia;” and was “of the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple” clothes; and a worshipper of the true God. We forbear, however, to dwell on these circumstances, in order that we may consider more fully the means and evidences of her conversion:

I. The means of her conversion—

Lydia was, by nature, like all the rest of mankind: her heart was shut against the truths of the Gospel: nor could she either receive or know them, because she possessed not a spiritual discernment. But the Lord “knocked, as it were, at the door” of her heart, and constrained her to open to him: he fixed her attention to the subject which Paul insisted on; gave her an insight into it; inclined her cordially to embrace the truth; and thus “subdued her to the obedience of faith.”

Now this is the way in which the work of conversion is always effected—

[We say not that every person is wrought upon as suddenly as she was; or that there are not many subordinate points in which the conversion of others may differ from hers: but we are sure that every natural man is blind to the Gospel of Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]; that both the sublimity of its doctrines and the purity of its precepts is offensive to him; that an effort of omnipotence also is exerted to overcome the reluctance of his soul; and that, till that influence is felt, he will hold fast his delusions, “confounding good and evil, sweet and bitter, light and darkness.”]

Nor can it be effected by any other means whatever—

[If good dispositions would effect it, or if human eloquence could effect it, she might have been converted without any such exercise of the Divine power; seeing that she was already “a worshipper” of the true God, and had Paul for her instructor. But we are expressly told, that the work of conversion depends not on any such circumstances, but that it is altogether the effect of a divine operation on the soul [Note: John 1:13.]. The Disciples, who had the peculiar advantage of our Lord’s instructions for above three years together, and that in private as well as in public, could not understand the most important parts of Scripture, till “he opened their understandings [Note: Luke 24:45.].” In like manner, there is yet a veil on the hearts of men whilst they read and hear the Scriptures; nor can any but God remove it [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:13-16.]. Hence it is plainly declared by our Lord himself, that “no man can come unto him, except he be drawn of the Father [Note: John 6:44-45.].” However humiliating therefore the truth may be, we are constrained to say, in relation to every man that is converted, that the work “is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy [Note: Romans 9:16.].”]

That a great and effectual work was wrought upon her will appear, whilst we consider,

II. The evidences of her conversion—

Here we are called to notice,

1. Her public profession of the faith of Christ—

[She was not ashamed to acknowledge the conviction that had been wrought on her mind; nor was she afraid to confess her faith in Jesus of Nazareth. Accordingly, she was, together with all her household, baptized immediately, in token that she had embraced the Christian covenant, and was become a disciple of the Lord Jesus. This, it is true, was not a decisive proof of sound conversion; because some submitted to the rite of baptism who had not received the grace of God in truth [Note: Acts 8:13.]: but it was a strong presumptive evidence of her sincerity, inasmuch as it exposed her to all the obloquy and persecution, which were the common lot of Christians at that day. The insincere were deterred by these considerations from acting according to the dictates of their conscience [Note: John 12:42-43.]: but the upright uniformly and universally complied with them; and exerted their influence over their respective households, to bring them also by baptism into covenant with Christ.

In this, her example deserves particular attention: for though, on account of our having already received the seal of the covenant in baptism, we are not again to be baptized, yet are we to maintain the same fidelity as she did, and to shew, by the whole of our conduct, whose we are, and whom we have engaged to serve [Note: Romans 10:10.] — — —]

2. Her zealous attachment to the cause of Christ—

[She felt an ardent love towards him who had been the instrument of her conversion; and a most unfeigned desire to glorify her God, to whose grace alone she was indebted for all the blessings she had received. Hence she desired, and urged the Apostles, if they accounted her sincere, to come and take up their abode under her roof. This was attended, not only with expense, but with considerable danger too [Note: Acts 16:22; Acts 17:6-9.]: but she had counted the cost in every way, and was well content to pay it.

This was an excellent evidence in her favour: for this kind of love is particularly specified by God himself as one of those “things which accompany salvation [Note: Hebrews 6:9-10.]:” and in a very eminent degree it may be considered as “fulfilling the law of Christ [Note: Galatians 6:2; Galatians 6:10.].” Respecting the exercise of such dispositions under the Christian dispensation, and the consecration of all our wealth to the service of our God, the Prophet Isaiah spoke repeatedly [Note: Isaiah 23:18; Isaiah 60:9.]: and wherever the grace of God reigns in the heart, it will produce these effects in the life and conversation [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:7-8.].]

We shall conclude this subject with some reflections naturally arising from it:

1. How necessary in divine ordinances is the Lord’s presence!

[Of all the women who heard the Apostle at that time, we hear only of one who gave due attention to the things that were spoken by him: and the source of the difference between her and the others was, that “the Lord opened her heart.” To this source must we trace all the good that is done by the ministration of the Gospel [Note: Isaiah 53:1. Acts 11:21. 1 Thessalonians 1:5.]: whoever be the preacher, God alone is the author of the blessing [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:6-7.].]

2. How great are the obligations of those whose eyes are opened!

[Consider the change wrought on her at the time, and the effect of it on her everlasting state: what cause had she to adore and magnify the grace of God! So it is with all who are made monuments of Divine grace: they are indeed “brands plucked out of the burning;” and to all eternity must they ascribe their happiness, not to themselves, but unto Him that “chose them from before the foundation of the world,” and gave them to his dear Son, to be the trophies of his redeeming love [Note: John 15:16. Romans 9:16. Ephesians 1:4-6.].]

3. How anxious should we be to adorn the doctrine we have received!

[Lydia did not wait to have this burthen imposed upon her; she sought of her own accord, and that with great earnestness permission to bear it; yea, she accounted it not a burthen, but an honour and a joy. Thus it was with the Christians in the Churches of Macedonia [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:1-4.]: and thus should it be with us also. We should long and pant after opportunities of honouring our God: we should value nothing any further than it may be subservient to that end: we should account ourselves, and all that we possess, as the Lord’s property [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.]; and we should make it the one labour of our lives to “glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his.”]

Verses 16-18



Acts 16:16-18. 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: the same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.

IT has been thought by many, that all which the Scriptures speak respecting the possession of men by Satan, is merely figurative; and that the effects ascribed to such possessions must be referred to other causes. Accordingly, the expulsion of evil spirits from men by Jesus Christ is considered by them as only a cure of some particular disorders. But, if there be some passages which may possibly admit of such an interpretation, there are others that cannot be so explained. The damsel of whom our text speaks, is represented as having “a spirit of divination;” which, according to the opinion of the fore-mentioned persons, was a mere fiction only, to impose upon the credulity of the weak. Her art is regarded as nothing more than a conspiracy between her and her masters to deceive the world by juggling and imposture. But, if this was the case, how could the command given by St. Paul to the spirit that was in her, prevent her from practising the same deceits in future! Yet it did dispossess her of talents with which she had before been endowed, and deprived her masters of all hope of further gain from the exercise of those talents [Note: ver. 19.]. This is a clear proof, that she had really been possessed by an evil spirit; and that that spirit had imparted to her powers, different from any that are common to the rest of mankind. Without stopping to enter into the general question of Satanic possessions, which we consider as sufficiently determined by the fact recorded in our text, we shall confine our attention to the account here given of the damsel that was possessed; and shall notice,

I. The testimony she bore respecting them—

In considering her testimony, we notice,

1. The design of it—

[We doubt not but that it was intended to bring the Apostles into disrepute, and to induce a suspicion that they were in confederacy with the devil — — — This was a scheme which Satan had long before practised in relation to our Lord himself, who, knowing his subtle intentions, repeatedly interposed with authority to prevent his further exercise of this device [Note: Luke 4:33-35; Luke 4:41.] — — —]

2. The substance was perfectly correct—

[The testimony itself; the Apostles were “the servants of the Most High God;” and their one employment was, “to shew unto men the way of salvation.” The same is true also respecting us: for though we are not called precisely in the same way as the Apostles were, nor have precisely the same commission given to us, yet we are truly “servants of God,” sent by him, as his ambassadors, to bring men into a state of reconciliation with him; and we trust that, as it is our office, so it is our delight, “to shew unto men the way of salvation.” “We come, preaching peace by Jesus Christ.” We declare that “Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; and that no man cometh unto the Father but by him” — — — On the other hand, we declare, that God “will cast out none who come to him” in that way; and that “Christ will save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him” — — —]

However gratifying we might suppose such a testimony to be, it was far from being acceptable to the Apostles; as we see by,

II. The conduct they observed respecting her—

1. For many days they waited, to see what God might do by her means: but at last they commiserated her state—

[St. Paul was “grieved” at her, as well he might be: for, whilst she was bearing this testimony from day to day, she sought not the way of salvation for her own soul, and obstructed, rather than promoted, the salvation of others.

And have not we similar cause for grief on account of multitudes around us? Yes truly. There are many who espouse the cause of faithful ministers, and profess to believe the truths they preach, whilst yet they are altogether slaves of sin and Satan — — — Now such are greatly to be pitied, both on account of the state of their own souls, and on account of the injury they do to the souls of others. As it respects themselves, their knowledge only aggravates their guilt [Note: John 3:19.]; and their casting a stumbling-block before others involves them in a heavier condemnation [Note: Matthew 18:7.] — — —]

2. They exerted themselves for her relief—

[Being endued with the power of working miracles, they commanded the evil spirit to come out of her: and that command, issued as it was in the name of Jesus Christ, instantly liberated her from her sore bondage.

To effect similar wonders is not in our power: but yet we are authorized to declare to men how they may obtain a similar deliverance. A believing application to Jesus will bring Omnipotence to their aid: and “the strong man armed” can no longer retain possession of their souls, when “the stronger than he,” even the Lord Jesus Christ, comes forth to eject him. Are there any then amongst you who know the truths of the Gospel without experiencing their sanctifying and saving efficacy? Cry mightily to the Lord; and he will work effectually in your behalf: yea, he will make use of the words which ye now hear, to “turn you from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God” — — —]

Now this subject opens the way to some important distinctions—

Let us learn from hence,

1. To distinguish between the advocates of the Gospel and the Gospel itself—

[If any were hardened in their infidelity by means of that damsel, they were exceeding blameable; for her testimony did not at all affect either the persons respecting whom it was borne, or the Gospel itself. The adversaries of the Gospel are very fond of referring to the characters of its advocates; and if they can find that any of its professors have dishonoured it by their conduct, they will bring that as an argument against the Gospel itself. But was Jesus an impostor, because demoniacs confessed him to be the Christ? Were the Apostles less to be regarded as servants of the Most High God, because this damsel, by Satanic agency, bore testimony to them under that character? Or was the path, which they pointed out to men as the way of salvation, less worthy to be trodden, because it received her sanction? So then, neither is the Gospel less worthy of acceptance because some dishonour it by their conduct; nor are we the more to be considered as deceivers, because there may be amongst our hearers some who “hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The Gospel is wholly independent both of those who preach it and those who profess it: we call upon you therefore to receive it with all humility of mind. Whatever be the character of its advocates or its opponents, it declares the only way in which a sinner can be saved: and to those who cordially embrace it, it shall be the power of God unto salvation — — —]

2. To distinguish between an approbation of the Gospel, and the actual experience of it in our own souls—

[Men, if they change their sentiments, and especially if they shew an attachment to the truths of the Gospel, are apt to think that they are truly converted unto God. But conversion is a change of heart, and not of sentiment only: it is “a renewing in the spirit of our mind.” Let us inquire then, not merely whether we are “turned from darkness unto light,” but whether we are “turned from the power of Satan unto God.” If we are still habitually under the power of Satan in any thing, we have no part nor lot in the Gospel salvation. Let us then search and try our hearts; and beg of God also to search and try us, lest we deceive our own souls, and perish in our sins. True it is, that if we receive the Gospel aright, we shall, like Lydia, shew a cordial attachment to those who are sent of God to dispense it to us: but we shall delight also in the commandments of our God; we shall live nigh to God in the constant exercise of prayer and praise; we shall grow up into his image, and be advancing from day to day in righteousness and true holiness. See to it then, brethren, that ye have these evidences of conversion; for “then shall ye not be ashamed, when ye have respect unto all God’s commandments.”]

Verses 29-31



Acts 16:29-31. 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 shall be saved.

VARIOUS are the ways in which God effects the conversion of sinners to himself. Some he draws by the attractive influences of his Spirit; causing his word to distil as dew upon their souls, and imperceptibly, as it were, opening their understandings (as he did Lydia’s [Note: ver. 14.]), and inclining their hearts to embrace his truth. With others he deals rather in a way of fear and terror; filling them with compunction (as he did the converts on the day of Pentecost [Note: Acts 2:37.]), and awakening them from their security by some awful dispensation of his providence. It was thus that he impressed the savage mind of the jailor, whose conversion we are about to consider. By an earthquake at midnight, (an earthquake that shook the very foundations of the prison, and opened all its doors,) he first rendered him sensible of his guilt and danger, and stimulated him to make the inquiries, which terminated in the conversion and salvation of his soul.

The jailor’s inquiry, and the answer given to it, will form the natural division of our text.

I. The jailor’s inquiry—

In this there are two things worthy of particular attention:

1. The importance of it—

[There is no other concern in this world of so great, or so universal, importance. The inquiring, “What we shall eat, or drink, or be clothed with,” is certainly necessary in this present state of existence: but those things are not worth a thought, in comparison of the salvation of the soul [Note: Matthew 6:31-33. The soul! Heaven! Hell! Eternity! what weighty considerations.] — — — Nor is there any human being who needs not this inquiry. All are sinners; and, as sinners, condemned: all therefore have reason to dread the wrath of God, and to ask how they may obtain mercy at his hands — — — Youth, learning, riches, do not at all supersede the necessity of this inquiry: all are liable to be summoned, at any moment, into the presence of their God, who is no respecter of persons, but will judge every man according to his works — — — They who have embraced the salvation offered by him in the Gospel, will be saved by him: they who have slighted and neglected it, whatever be their rank or condition in life, will perish.]

2. The manner in which it was made—

[Here we see an earnestness suited to the object inquired offer, and a determination of heart to follow any directions which these servants of God should give him. He did not, like Pilate, ask with indifference, “What is truth [Note: John 18:38.]?” and then go away without waiting for an answer: nor did he, like the Jews at Rome, ask in a mere speculative or inquisitive manner, “We desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest [Note: Acts 28:22.].” It was with him a personal concern; a matter of the greatest importance. He had no disposition to cavil or dispute: but an ardent desire to know how he might obtain mercy at the hands of his offended God. They needed only to point out to him the way of life, and he was ready without hesitation to use the means prescribed, how difficult soever the task might be, or whatever sacrifices he might be called to make in the pursuit of this great object — — —]

And now let us see what was,

II. The answer given him—


1. Its simplicity—

[Men, by cavils and disputes, have thrown obscurity over the plainest of all truths. To the proud and self—sufficient, the faith of the Gospel is made a stumbling-block: but to the humble and contrite, the light of the meridian sun is not more clear. Here are no conditions imposed, no limitations fixed. It is not said, “If you will do so many good works, Jesus Christ will accept you:” but simply, “Believe in him:” believe that he has died to save sinners; believe, that by the blood of his cross he has made reconciliation for you with God, and that he will save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.” Think not to purchase the Divine favour by any thing of your own, but seek it as the free gift of God for Christ’s sake. “Look” to Christ, as the wounded Israelites did to the brazen serpent; and “wash” in the fountain of his blood, as Naaman did in the streams of Jordan: then shall you “be healed” from your leprosy, and “be saved” from the deadly wounds of sin — — — Yes, you, notwithstanding the treatment you have shewn to us, his servants, and notwithstanding you have never thought of salvation till this moment of terror and alarm, even you shall surely, shall instantly, be saved by him, if only you trust in him with your whole heart — — — What beautiful simplicity is there in this way of salvation!]

2. Its efficacy—

[“Sharper than a two-edged sword was the word” spoken by Paul and Silas. As it suited the jailor’s case, so it reached his heart, and proved “the power of God to the salvation of his soul.” It instantly turned his sorrow into joy [Note: ver. 34. He was enabled to see the freeness, the suitableness, the sufficiency of the Gospel salvation, and to trust with confidence in the promises made to him in Christ Jesus. Thus were his fears dissipated, and his terrors changed into exultation and triumph.] — — — It also with no less rapidity, changed and renewed his soul. But a few hours before, he had with unrelenting cruelty executed the commission which he had received from the persecuting magistrates; “thrusting these divine messengers into the inner prison, and making their feet fast in the stocks.” But now “he took them into his own house, and washed their stripes, and set meat before them:” yea, “the very same hour of the night” did he thus evince the truth of his conversion — — — Finally, it caused him, without hesitation, to become a determined follower of Christ. Though he saw what he was likely to suffer for the truth’s sake, he did “not consult with flesh and blood,” or temporize at all; but immediately, with all his household, devoted himself to God in baptism, and avowed himself a friend of this persecuted religion.

Surely the wonder-working rod of Moses did not more clearly display the power of God, when it divided the Red Sea, or brought water from the rock, than this simple declaration did in the change it wrought on this ferocious jailor.]


1. The secure—

[When do you intend to begin this inquiry? Is it a fit employment for a dying hour? — — — Will the consciousness of having neglected it excite no fears when you are just entering on eternity, or leave no room for regret when you stand at the judgment-seat of Christ? — — — O that you were wise, and would consider your latter end! — — —]

2. The fearful—

[Some there are who make this inquiry, we trust, in sincerity, yet do not derive comfort from the Apostle’s direction: they are so discouraged by a sense of their own unworthiness, that they are not able to lay hold on the promises of the Gospel: they are ready to think it would be presumption in them to expect mercy in so free a way. But, whatever have been their past state, they may come, yea, they must come to Christ in this way. If our unworthiness were a bar to our acceptance with God, who would ever be saved? — — — But the fact is, that such persons do not see enough of their unworthiness; for if they did, they would immediately perceive that they must come to Christ, as the most unworthy of his creatures, or lie down in everlasting despair.

Dear brethren, do not indulge pride under the garb of humility; but be willing to come to Christ as ye are. Only feel as the jailor did, and you need not fear but that you shall be accepted as readily as the jailor was — — —]

3. The believing—

[Doubtless some of you have been enabled to believe in Christ, and to found all your hopes on his atoning sacrifice. Let me then say to you, that you must not consider the work of faith as done, but merely as begun, and as necessary to be carried on every day and hour. You must “live still from day to day by faith on the Son of God” — — — At the same time, O let me remind you to “shew forth your faith by your works.” You see how the jailor honoured God, by a cordial acquiescence in the terms proposed, a bold confession of the crucified Jesus, a thorough change both of heart and life, and a joyful expectation that not a tittle of God’s word should fail. Go ye on thus, trusting in God with all your hearts, and glorifying God with all your souls.]


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Acts 16:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

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