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T.W. Brents

“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.” Acts xvi: 30, 31.

We propose an examination of the jailer’s conversion because it is supposed to teach the doctrine of salvation by faith only. As the jailer was told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and he should be saved and nothing more is contained in the direct answer to the question asked by him, it is assumed that nothing else was necessary to his salvation but to believe. Before entering upon an examination of the real merits of this case of conversion, there are a few preliminary considerations to which we invite attention for a few moments.

When we ask a person, demanding baptism, if he believes with all the heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our religious neighbors tell us that belief is not faith; yet when these same persons wish to preach a discourse, setting forth the doctrine of justification by faith only, the answer of Paul to the jailer is a favorite text from which to preach it. Why use a command to believe, to teach the necessity of faith, if belief is not faith? Surely there is a want of fitness of text and sermon in such efforts as these. It occurs to us that if belief is not faith, they should select a text having the word faith in it at least. Again, if from the fact that belief is the only thing of salvation on baptism alone. Is there not just the same authority for it that is claimed to build a theory of salvation by faith only on the jailer’s case?

But another man comes upon the arena, and he is not pleased with faith alone, nor with baptism alone— indeed he has no use for either; and he begins turning the leaves of his New Testament in search of an example by which he can exclude both. He turns to the 3rd chapter of Acts and reads the 19th verse: “Repent ye, therefore, and be converted that your sins may be blotted out.” Here it is. No faith, no baptism mentioned here, and he constructs him a theory of conversion on repentance alone. Has he not the same authority to do it that any one has to construct a theory of salvation on the jailer’s case by faith alone because nothing else but belief is mentioned in the answer?

Still another man appears who is not pleased with faith alone, repentance alone, or baptism alone, and he looks up an example that suits his taste better. He opens at Acts ii: 37, 38. He finds that substantially the same is asked by the Pentecostians that was asked by the jailer: “Men and brethren what shall we do?” It was answered by an inspired man who spake as the Spirit gave him utterance: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.” Here there is nothing said about faith; and the reasoning applied to the jailer’s case forces the conclusion that that which is not specifically mentioned is unnecessary, and he, therefore, builds him a theory on repentance and baptism without any faith at all. Has he not a right to come to such conclusion from the theory adopted in the jailer’s case? And so we might go on, multiplying theories to any extent desirable.


Is it possible that God has no system at all; but just pardons or saves one man in this way another in that way, and still another in some other way, as may chance to happen? Surely this cannot be if we look at the material universe, where God controls everything by natural law, we find day and night, summer and winter, seed time and harvest, have succeeded each other in regular order, without a single failure, from the dawn of creation until now. Planets roll in regular cycles around the sun, as they have ever done, since God’s almighty hand hung them in space upon nothing save the law by which, from the beginning, he has held them in position subservient to his will. In all directions we see everything subordinate to law, conceived in infinite wisdom; and no discordant note is heard, or want of harmony seen in any department of his dominion. Can we conclude, then, that in the salvation of man, whom he so loved as to give the life of his Son to consummate it, there is no system, harmony, or order; but everything left in confusion, and subject to the mere happenings of chance. Surely such utter want of system, in a matter so important, is wholly unlike God; and nothing of the kind ever emanated from him. The plan of salvation, understood as God gave it, is the grandest exhibition of harmony and order on which the mind of man was ever permitted to dwell; and when we see and appreciate its perfection these conflicting theories will have passed into the darkness of eternal night.


One other matter of general application demands attention before entering upon an examination of the jailer’s conversion. Circumstances connected with different cases of conversion, and conditions on which conversion depends are not the same. Circumstances connected with cases of conversion have differed, do differ, and will continue to differ, as long as man lives in a tenement of clay; but conditions of conversion, or salvation under the Christian dispensation, always have been, are now, and will continue to be the same in all cases. We know nothing of exceptions to this position. If exceptions there be, they are not connected with any case of conversion recorded, and hence we can know nothing about them. It was a circumstance connected with the conversion of the Pentecostians that they had gone to Jerusalem, fifty days before, to attend the annual feast of the pass- over; and were awaiting the feast of Pentecost; and hence were dwelling there during the fifty days between those two festivals. Thus they were present, and heard Peter’s preaching on that memorable occasion, by which they were converted. Must this circumstance attend every case of conversion? If so no one could be converted until he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; and not then until the other events of the day were repeated.

It was a circumstance connected with the conversion of Cornelius that he saw and talked with an angel, by whom he was told where to find a man who would tell him what to do to be saved. Must every one see and talk with an angel before he can be converted now? Such agencies are not necessary now as they were then. The New Testament was not then written, from which Cornelius could learn his duty, as we can now. Why should we want an angel to tell us that which we may plainly read in the word of God?

It was a circumstance connected with Saul’s conversion that he saw the Lord, and talked with him in person. Another circumstance was that he saw a light above the brightness of the sun. It was still another circumstance that he was made physically blind, and had to have his friends to lead him by the hand. Do these circumstances have to be reproduced in the conversion of any one to day? If so, we suppose there is not a man living who has been converted, or ever will be.

It was a circumstance connected with the conversion of the jailer, that he was the keeper of that prison; and as such, had charge of those holy men, of whom he learned what to do to be saved. It was another circumstance that there was an earthquake there, the prison doors were opened, and the fetters of the prisoners were taken off. Must these circumstances be present in conversion to-day? Thus we dispose of all the miracles connected with the conversions recorded. They were circumstances, not conditions; and were not the same in any two cases recorded.

And today we cannot find any two cases of conversion the circumstances connected with which are the same throughout. We could easily demonstrate this by an examination of cases, but cannot spare space to do so. Anyone can satisfy himself by an examination of the circumstances connected with such cases as may be personally known to him. If he will make the search he will soon be convinced that in no two cases are the circumstances precisely the same. We are now ready to look for the conditions upon which the jailer was saved; and if we will allow the inspired teachers that common sense, to say nothing of their inspiration that other men exercise in the ordinary affairs of life, we will have no difficulty in harmonizing his conversion with all others recorded for our inspection.


It is twenty-one miles from Lewisburg, where I am now writing, to the town of Shelbyville. Suppose a man wishing to go from here to Shelbyville, and not knowing the distance, inquires of me, “how far to Shelbyville?” Of course I reply it is twenty-one miles. He starts on the road, and after traveling seven miles, he meets another man and makes the same inquiry of him: “How far to Shelbyville?” Now, will this man give him the same answer given him before starting? No; it would not be true if he were to so answer him; and any man governed by the plainest dictates of common sense would adapt his answer to the position of the traveler when he made the inquiry; and the answer would be, “it is fourteen miles, sir.” He moves on another seven miles, and meets another man of whom he makes the same inquiry: “How far to Shelbyville?” Will he reply as did either of those of whom he inquired before? No; it is not twenty-one miles from where he now is, nor is it fourteen miles, but it is seven miles; and the man exercising reasonable common sense so answers him. Here are three different answers, given to the same question, about a very plain matter; and though the answers were different they were all true; and had the same answer been given every time it would have been false two out of the three times, because of the different position of the man making the inquiry. This is only an illustration, but it is a very plain one, and if we keep it in mind it may help us to understand the jailer’s conversion, and not only his but others as well.


Now what was the jailer’s inquiry? It was: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This was a very important question, and we would expect intelligent men (to say nothing of inspired men) to adapt their answer to the condition of the party at the time he asked it. Then what was his condition at that time? He was a heathen jailer, and had these holy men in his keeping for casting a spirit of divination out of a damsel in the name of Jesus, of whom, as yet, he knew nothing. He doubtless regarded Jesus as an impostor, and his followers as disturbers of the peace, and worthy of the punishment they had received. Then surely we would expect just such an answer as was given: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Not that he would be saved at the moment he believed on Him; but when he believed on him he would be ready to accept terms of salvation coming from him.

It would not be reasonable to command him to do anything in obedience to him in whom he did not believe. When he believed in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of man, then, and not until then, would he be inclined to accept his teaching, and respect his authority. Then the plan of salvation might be taught him, with a reasonable prospect of compliance with it. This was just the order observed. After telling him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, they spake unto him the word of the Lord and to all that were in his house. In the word of the Lord spoken to him was included all the conditions of pardon. That the necessity of baptism was preached to him, in the word of the Lord, is evident from the fact that he took them the same hour of the night, and was baptized he and all his, straightway. Surely he did not so promptly attend to that about which nothing had been said, and of which he knew nothing; and he could have known nothing about it until they preached the word of the Lord to him. Like the man in our illustration, before he started the jailer had the entire distance before him—he had to begin at the beginning; and he was instructed accordingly. Thus we see that these inspired teachers adapted their instruction to the condition of the party desiring salvation, and all preachers should do the same thing now.


But the same question, in substance, was asked by the Pentecostians, and it was answered differently. Here again the inspired teachers adapted their instructions to the condition of those wanting the information. They had believed Jesus an impostor, and with wicked hands had crucified him. Peter corrected their mistake by assuring them that God had raised him from the dead and had made him both Lord and Christ. When they believed on Christ as Peter preached him to them they were cut to the heart, and cried out, men and brethren, what shall we do? Now would any reasonable man have given these the same answer given to the jailer? I suppose not. These are believers, the jailer was not. Why should they be told to believe when they had already believed? Please read Peter’s discourse to them, see what he had preached to them, what they believed, and the effect it had on them; and you will be able to see why they were not told to believe. To use our illustration again, they had already traveled one-third of the distance, and needed only to go the remaining two- thirds. So they were not told to do that which they had done, but that which remained to be done: Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.

This is plain practical common sense, and better still, it was instruction given by one who spake as the Spirit gave him utterance. The words were borne by the Holy Spirit, fresh from the eternal throne, and put into his mouth as he used them, and were surely appropriate. Do you know any people who believe, and preach that way now? Do you know any preacher who would answer such a question, coming from persons just in such condition, just in the same way today? If an angel from heaven were to give a different answer it would surely be wrong. Then if persons in such condition cry to us, “What shall we do?” we will not tell them to kneel down that we and our brethren may pray for them, but we will tell them to repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins: and if they receive this instruction we will baptize them, feeling perfectly sure that we have followed the teaching of God—not the tradition of men.


But we have, substantially, the same question asked on another occasion, and still a different answer is given—why was this? Come and see. When the Lord appeared to the persecuting Saul on his way to Damascus, and convinced him that he was not an impostor as he had believed him to be, he, like the others, was cut to the heart, and cried out, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” The Lord having delegated the preaching of the gospel to human agency, did not answer Saul’s question directly, but told him to go into the city and there he should be told what to do. He went into the city, and there continued praying in deepest agony for three days and nights. The New Testament was not written then, so that Saul could go to it and learn his duty as we can now; hence the Lord sent a man to tell him what to do in answer to his question, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Here the whole doctrine of justification by faith alone breaks down. In this question is a clear and public expression of Paul’s faith in Christ, and a willingness to do anything required of him, by him in whom he now believes; and yet it is conceded, on all hands, that he did not yet know what to do that he might be pardoned, and hence was not pardoned until Ananias went to him and told him how to wash away his sins.

Here, were three days and nights between, his faith and pardon, beyond the possibility of a respectable quibble. Then pardon does not take place the moment a man believes. This is settled if a plain Scriptural example can settle anything. But the Lord sent Ananias to tell him what to do. He said: “Why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts xxii:16. Here again the answer is varied to suit the condition of the man wanting the information. He was not told to believe, as was the jailer, for he had believed. He was not told to repent, as were the Pentecostians, for he was as truly penitent as he could ever get to be.

To use our illustration again, he had already traveled two-thirds of the distance and only one-third remained before him. It was not necessary that he should go back and start again; but to go on from where he then was. So Saul was not told to do that which he had done; but he was told to do that which remained to be done—arise and be baptized. When he did this he had complied with all the conditions required in the commission—he had believed, repented and been baptized; and in order to salvation, pardon or remission of sins, he needed nothing more. This instruction came by inspiration and cannot be wrong. Will you accept it? Why not?

But do you know any modern preacher who would so instruct a man in his condition today? Remember, he was down praying when Ananias went to him, why not tell him something like the following: “Pray on, Brother Saul; you will get through after a while if you persevere. You are on the right road now; I have been along there, and that is the way I got through. A little more faith, believe in Jesus, trust in the Lord, etc., etc.” Did you never hear anything like this? But is this the way Saul was instructed by the man of God?

Not a word like it. We respectfully suggest that Saul’s condition was very much like that of modern mourners. He was a believer—so are they. If they did not believe on Christ they would not leave their seats and go forward to seek salvation through Him. Suppose you ask an infidel to go to the mourner’s bench to seek salvation through Christ in whom he does not believe—would he go, do you think? No, indeed; he would laugh at you. But Saul was penitent—so are they. See their faces all bathed in tears of bitterest grief on account of past sins and anxious to live a new life, and tell me if such are not penitent. Then why not give them the same instructions that were given to Saul? “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins.” But are they ever so instructed? If not, why not? We think it likely that these three cases cover every conceivable condition in which sinners may be found to-day.

They are believers, or they are in unbelief. If they are in unbelief the instructions given to the jailer would apply to them. He was in unbelief, and if they are as he was, they should be instructed as was he. If they have believed and have not repented, the instructions given to the Pentecostians would apply to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” would surely apply to such. If they have believed and repented, but have not been baptized, then the instructions given by Ananias to Saul would apply to them. “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord.”

Can you think of any other condition in which sinners may be found? If not, then we have covered the whole ground with these three cases. You are in one of these three conditions —will you apply the instructions to your own case and act upon it? Why not?

In conclusion we propose to show that the same thing was preached to the jailer that Peter preached in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Paul said to the jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt he saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” Acts xvi: 31, 32.


Now please notice that the word of the Lord was spoken to the jailer, and if we can learn what was included in the word of the Lord, we may feel sure that we have found what was required of him. The prophets Isaiah and Micah both said: “Out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Is. ii: 3; Mic. iv: 2. Here we see that the word of the Lord spoken to the jailer was to go forth from Jerusalem. The Lord said: “Repentance and remission of sins should he preached in his name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke xxiv: 47. Perhaps repentance and remission of sins that were to begin to be preached at Jerusalem constituted the word of the Lord that was to go forth from there. Peter said: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the re- mission of sins.” Did this constitute the word of the Lord at Jerusalem, that the prophets said should go forth from there? We suppose it did. Then as the word of the Lord was what was spoken to the jailer, it is certain that the same thing was preached to him that Peter preached in Jerusalem on Pentecost. Nor is this all—they understood and obeyed it in the same way at both places. On Pentecost they that gladly received his word were baptized, and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. Yes, they that gladly received what Peter preached were baptized the same day.

What was the result at the Philippian jail? He took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes and was baptized he and all his straightway. Thus we see that not only the same thing was preached at both places, but it was understood and obeyed in the same way at both places. As to whether or not the jailer was baptized in the house see Gospel Plan of Salvation, page 347. [“For in the next verse we are informed that “when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them.” How could it be said that they were brought into the house after baptism if they had not left the house to be baptized? Seeing, then, that they were not baptized in the house, but left it in the night to be baptized, we claim the benefit of a strong presumption in favor of immersion – for surely no one would now think of leaving the house, at such an hour of the night, to sprinkle or pour a few drops of water on any one in lieu of baptism.”- inserted from Gospel Plan of Salvation, p.348].

As to whether or not infants were baptized with the jailer, see Gospel Plan of Salvation, page 459. [It is claimed that this jailer had infants in his family, and, as he and all his were baptized, his infants were baptized also. Is this position warranted by the proof? The record says: “They spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” Ver. 32. Thus we see that the jailer’s conversion was in strict accord with the other cases of conversion recorded, and with the commission given by the Lord, as well. The gospel was preached to all that were in his house. Why preach the gospel to senseless babes? But he and all his were baptized. Yes; “And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” Ver.34. Then the same, all his house, that were baptized were capable of rejoicing and believing in God. . . We submit to the unprejudiced judgment of the reader whether infants are capable of doing what is here said to have been done by the jailer and those baptized with him. Can they believe in God? Can they rejoice in the privileges of the gospel? If not, then no infants were among the baptized of this family. – inserted from Gospel Plan of Salvation, p.459-460]

Every condition of the commission was complied with by him. He believed, repented, was baptized, and was saved. There is not a case of conversion recorded under the gospel of Christ where these conditions were not all present, either expressed or implied. He who has com- plied with all these conditions has the words of Jesus pledged for his pardon. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” This was said by him who had all power in heaven and on the earth. Will you trust it? Who has power to revise and improve upon it?

[This if from Gospel Sermons  (1891) by Dr. T.W. Brents]

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God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”