The Jailor's Question Improved
James Smith, 1865
"What must I do to be saved?" Acts 16:30
All men by nature are asleep in sin. They manifest an awful indifference about the state of their souls. They go on in darkness. Therefore anything that arouses them, and leads them to think — is likely to be beneficial. The Jailor, I suppose, had heard of Christ. He may have heard Paul and Silas preach. But he was careless of his own soul, and cruel to those committed to his custody. Therefore he thrust Paul and Silas into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. But the earthquake aroused him. The fear of his prisoners escaping, filled him with fear. The Holy Spirit set his iniquities before him. He felt deep conviction of sin. He was concerned to escape, not merely from the wrath of men — but from the wrath of God. He saw his danger. He dreaded his doom. He looked out for a way of escape. He cried to his prisoners, who now appeared to him in a new light, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
No question can be more important. It is just the question that every one of us should propose. We need salvation. We may be saved. But how? What must we do? How can we escape our deserved doom? The answer given was most simple. No ceremonies were proposed. No human priest was exalted. No theological system or body called "the Church" was pointed out. No, it was simply, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ — and you shall be saved." Receive into your mind the truth concerning Jesus. Give credit to the testimony of God. Place your confidence in the person and finished work of Christ. Commit your souls into his faithful hands. He will save you. No sin shall condemn you. No power shall destroy you. No evil spirit shall rejoice over you.
He will place his righteousness and blood shedding to your account. His blood will be your atonement, and on the ground of that — you will be pardoned. His obedience will be your righteousness, and on account of that — you will be justified. His power will be your defense — and by that you will be protected. His wisdom will be your guide — and by that you will be conducted. He will undertake to save you,and to present you faultless before the face of his Father, with exceeding joy. No penances, no pilgrimages, no prayers to the virgin Mary, or the saints, will be required. He will save you himself, without any assistance. He will save you without money or price, or anything that will answer to, or may be represented by, such words. Commit the soul to Christ, exercise confidence in Christ, expect to be saved alone by Christ — and salvation is infallibly certain.
No duties, no observances, are required as pre-requisites to salvation. We must be saved by free grace first — and then perform duties, and attend to religious observances, in order that we may glorify God for his mercy to us. Faith is the first thing that God requires of us, and "without faith it is impossible to please him." No prayer we can offer, no tears we may shed, no duties we may perform, no ordinances we observe — can please God, until we believe in Jesus. Faith in Christ, or giving credit to the gospel, and relying on what Jesus did and suffered, should go before prayer, and every other religious exercise; nor can anything we do please him until we believe. This is the plain unvarnished declaration of God's most holy word. Faith, prayer, penitence, peace, purity, power, and obedience — is God's order.
We must therefore look to Jesus first, and then we shall find every part of practical religion comparatively easy. The common mistake is, that we must feel deep repentance, or a spirit of prayer, or love to the Savior, or perform certain religious duties — and then exercise confidence in Christ. This is just reversing God's order, and this very thing keeps multitudes in bondage, doubt, fear, and distress. Believe and be saved — be saved by believing, and then go to work; realize salvation by simple faith in Christ, and then you will find liberty in prayer, power to repent, pleasure in duties, and fellowship with God in his own ordinances.
Reader, as a sinner, you are in as great danger as the Jailor was. Do you feel it? Have you been alarmed at it? Have you seriously and heartily inquired how you may be saved? Or, are you like he was before the earthquake aroused him? The way of salvation is most simple, if we take God's word for our directory. But if we listen to men, and neglect God's word — then ten to one that we shall be misled, bewildered, and confused.
Some will send you to the Church, some to the crucifix, some to baptism, some to the law, some to one thing, and some to another; but the gospel sends you directly to Christ. Some will say, repent; some, pray; some, do penance; some, try to do your best, and expect Christ in mercy to do the rest; but the gospel says, "Believe, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ;" and without asking who you are, or what you are — assures you in most plain and positive terms, that "you shall he saved."
Do you doubt? Do you ask, "How may I know which is the right way?" Put the matter out of doubt by putting it to the proof. Do you ask, "How shall I go to Jesus?" Go, saying,
"Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill your law's demands:
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
You must save, and You alone!
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to your cross I cling;
Naked, come to you for dress;
Helpless, look to you for grace;
Black, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior — or I die!"