When preaching last Tuesday in Dover, the mayor of the town very courteously lent the ancient town hall for the service, and in passing along to reach a private entrance, I noticed a large number of grated windows upon a lower level than the great hall. These belonged to the prison cells where persons committed for offences within the jurisdiction of the borough were confined. It at once struck me as a singular combination, that we should be preaching the gospel of liberty in the upper chamber, while there were prisoners of the law beneath us. Perhaps when we sang praises to God, the prisoners, like those who were in the same jail with Paul and Silas, heard us; but the free word above did not give them liberty, nor did the voice of song loose their bonds. Alas! what a picture is this of many in our congregations. We preach liberty to the captives; we proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord; but how many remain year after year in the bondage of Satan, slaves to sin. We send up our notes of praise right joyously to our Father who is in heaven, but our praises cannot give them joy, for alas! their hearts are unused to gratitude. Some of them are mourning on account of unpardoned sin, and others are deploring their blighted hopes, for they have looked for comfort where it is never to be found. Let us breathe a prayer this morning, ‘Lord, break the fetters, and set free the captives. Glorify thyself this morning by proving thyself to be Jehovah, who ‘looseth the prisoners’.’
For meditation: Dover Old Town Gaol is now a prison museum. Spurgeon’s allegorical guided tour of Victorian and earlier prisons included the common prison (sin), the solitary cell (penitence), the silent cell (prayerlessness), the cell of ignorance (unbelief), the ball and chain (habit), the hard labour room (self-righteousness), the low dungeon (despondency), the inner prison (despair), the torture chamber (Satanic temptation) and the condemned cell (self-condemnation). Are you in spiritual prison? Christ was sent to set the prisoners free (Isaiah 42:7; 61:1; Luke 4:18; John 8:36), but nothing can be done for those who choose to stay in prison.