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Came down … and taught for which came down … taught, A.V.; saying for and said, A.V.; custom (ἔθος) for manner, A.V. Except ye be circumcised, etc. The question thus raised nearly effected the disruption of the Church, and was the most serious controversy that had yet arisen. If the views broached by these Judaean Christians had prevailed, the whole character of Christianity would have been changed, and its existence probably cut short. How great the danger was appears from even Peter and Barnabas having wavered in their opinion. (For St. Paul's treatment of the subject, see Romans 2:25, etc.; 4.; Galatians 5:2-6; Galatians 6:12-15, etc.) The expression, Τινὲς κατέλθοντες ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰουδαίας, is so like that in Galatians 2:11, Πρὸ τοῦ ἐλθεῖν τινὰς ἀπὸ Ἰακώβου as to suggest very strongly the consideration whether Peter was not at Antioch at this time, and whether the scene related in Galatians 2:11, etc., did not precede, and in fact cause, the Council of Jerusalem. In this case the "dissension and disputation" spoken of in Galatians 2:2 would include and directly point to the memorable rebuke given by Paul to Peter; and we should understand that Peter, accepting Paul's rebuke, preceded him and Barnabas, and prepared the way at Jerusalem for the solution arrived at. And, indeed, Peter's words at Jerusalem are almost an echo of Paul's words addressed to him at Antioch. If Barnabas had shown a leaning towards the Judaizing party, he would the more readily have been accepted by them as one of the embassy. The chief objection to this hypothesis is that in Galatians 2:11 Peter's visit to Antioch seems to be spoken of as something subsequent to the journey of St. Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem. But it is not in the least necessary so to understand it. St, Paul's mention of his visit to Jerusalem might naturally recall the incident which had led to it, and which was another example of his own independence. Farrar places Peter's visit to Antioch between the Council of Jerusalem and the quarrel with Barnabas, in the time indicated in verse 35 of this chapter (vol. 1 Chronicles 23:0.), and so do Conybeare and Howson, Meyer, and Alford. Renan and Lewin (vol. 1 Chronicles 13:0.) place it after St. Paul's return to Antioch, at the conclusion of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:22, Acts 18:23). No absolute certainty can be arrived at, but see note to verse 35. Custom (see Acts 16:21); τὰ ἔθη is the technical term for the Mosaic institutions, used by Josephus and Philo (see too Acts 6:14; Acts 21:21, note).
And when for when therefore, A.V.; questioning for disputation, A.V.; the brethren (in italics) appointed for they determined, A.V. Certain other of them. One of these would be Titus (Galatians 2:1). The circumstance that, on this occasion, St. Paul did go up to those who were apostles before him, to consult with them on a matter of doctrine, shows at once why he refers so pointedly to this visit in Galatians 2:1, etc., and is almost conclusive evidence that this visit is the one there referred to. The companionship of Barnabas; the agreement of the expression, "I went up by revelation," with the fact that he was sent by the Church, doubtless in obedience to some voice of the Spirit, like that mentioned in Acts 13:2; the occasion, a dispute about the circumcision of Gentile converts; the line taken by Paul and Barnabas in declaring the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 15:4, Acts 15:12; Gal 2:1-21 :27), and the result (Acts 15:19; Galatians 2:5, Galatians 2:7, Galatians 2:9), are all strong, not to say conclusive, marks of the identity of the two visits. The apostles and elders. This phrase marks the constitution of the governing part of the Church of Jerusalem. The addition in Acts 13:22 and Acts 13:23 of "the whole Church," and (according to the T.R.) of "the brethren," shows the part the body of the believers had in approving and sanctioning the decisions of the elders. The transaction marks the position of the Church of Jerusalem as the metropolitan Church of Christendom.
They therefore … passed for and … they passed, A.V.; both Phoenicia for Phonice, A.V. Being brought on their way (προπεμφθέντες). The word προπέμπειν has two distinct though allied meanings: one is "to conduct a person on his way," as in Acts 20:38; Acts 21:5; the other is "to help a person on his way, by supplying him with all necessaries for his journey," as in Romans 15:24; 1 Corinthians 16:6; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 Colossians 1:16; Titus 3:13; 3 John 1:6. This last is the meaning here. Being the messengers of the Church, they traveled at the Church's expense. Both Phoenicia and Samaria. Their course would be through Berytus, Type, Sidon, and Samaria. Declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. There was an especial reason for doing so, as it had a strong bearing upon the great controversy about to be decided at Jerusalem.
The apostles for of the apostles, A.V.; the elders for elders, A.V.; rehearsed for declared, A.V. They were received of the Church, etc. Being themselves the formal envoys of the Church of Antioch, they were formally received as such by the Church of Jerusalem, headed by the apostles and elders.
Who for which, A.V.; it is for that it was, A.V.; charge for command, A.V. There rose up, etc. As soon as Paul and Barnabas had finished their recital of the conversion of the heathen to whom they had preached the gospel, certain Christian Pharisees who were at the meeting disturbed the joy of the brethren and the unanimity of the assembly by getting up and saying that all the Gentile converts must be circumcised and keep the Law. This, of course, would have included Titus, who was present with St. Paul (Galatians 2:1, Galatians 2:3). The Epistle to the Galatians deals directly and forcibly with this question.
The elders for elders, A.V.; were gathered for came, A.V.; to for for to, A.V. The question was too important, and, perhaps, the persons who advanced the objections too considerable, to allow of a decision to be taken on the spot. A special meeting of the Church was called to consider the matter.
Questioning for disputing, A.V., as in Acts 15:2; brethren for men and brethren, A.V., as in Acts 7:2, etc.; you for us, A.V. and T.R.; by my mouth the Gentiles for the Gentiles by my mouth, A.V. Questioning. It was a repetition of the same scene that took place at Antioch. Peter, etc. It seems to have been wise on Peter's part to allow the meeting to exhaust itself by fruitless disputations before he rose to speak. His rising, with all the authority of his person and position, commanded immediate attention. A good while ago; literally, from ancient days, or still more exactly, from the days of the beginning of the gospel (ἡμεραὶ ἀρχαίαι), days belonging to the beginning (ἀρχή) of the Church's existence, and dating far back in Peter's own apostolic life. Nothing can be more natural than this allusion to the conversion of Cornelius, and the gift of the Holy Ghost to the Gentile inmates of his house, as related in Acts 10:44.
Heart for hearts, A.V. (καρδιογνώστης). Bare them witness; i.e. set the mark of his approval upon them, vouched for their sincerity (see the use of the verb μαρτυρέω in Luke 4:22; John 3:26; Acts 6:3; Acts 10:22, etc.).
He made no distinction for put no difference, A.V. (comp. Acts 10:20, note); cleansing for purifying, A.V. This is exactly the doctrine of Galatians 2:16 and Romans 3:30, with which compare also Romans 3:11.
That ye should put for to put, A.V. The Greek words cannot be construed as the A.V. takes them. It is not a Greek construction to say πειράζειν τινα ποιεῖν κακόν, "to tempt any one to do evil." The infinitive ἐπιθεῖναι must be taken gerundially, "by placing," or "putting," and the sense is—Why do you try God's patience by your provocation in putting an unbearable yoke upon the necks of those who believe? Or, "as if he had not power to save by faith" (Chrysostom).
We shall be saved through the grace, etc., for through the grace … we shall be saved, A.V.; Jesus for Jesus Christ, A.V. and T.R.; in like manner for even, A.V. "How full of power are these words! The same that Paul says at large in the Epistle to the Romans, the same says Peter here" (Chrysost., ' Hem.,' 32.).
And for then, A.V.; they hearkened for gave audience, A.V.; rehearsing what signs for declaring what miracles, A.V. Kept silence; marking the contrast between the noisy questionings and disputings which had preceded Peter's speech, and the quiet orderly attention with which they now listened to Paul and Barnabas, telling them of the conversion of the Gentiles. It recalls Virgil's description of the effect of the presence of a man of grave piety upon an excited crowd—
"Tum, pielate gravem ac meritis si forte virum quem
Aspexere, silent, arrectisque auribus adslant."
Brethren for men and brethren, A.V., as Acts 15:7. James answered. James's place as presiding bishop is here distinctly marked by his summing up the debate. "This (James)was bishop, as they say, and, therefore, he speaks last" (Chrysost., ' Hom.,' 33.). And again, "No word speaks John here, no word the other apostles, but held their peace, for James was invested with the chief rule." "He says well with authority, 'My sentence is'" (ibid.). A remarkable testimony against papal supremacy.
Symeon for Simeon, A.V.; rehearsed for declared, A.V.; first God for God at the first, A.V. Symeon. This is the only place (unless Symeon is the right reading in 2 Peter 1:1) in which Simon Peter's name is given in this Hebrew form, which is most proper in the month of James speaking to Palestine Jews. Singularly enough, Chrysostom was misled by it, and thought the prophecy of Simeon in Luke 1:31 was meant, How first; corresponding to the" good while ago" of Luke 1:7. Did visit, etc. The construction ἐπεσκέψατο λαβεῖν is very unusual, and indeed stands alone. The verb always has an accusative case after it (Acts 6:3; Acts 7:23; Acts 15:36), unless Luke 1:68 is an exception, which, however, it hardly is. There are two ways of construing the phrase. One is to consider it as elliptical, and to supply, as the A.V. and R.V. do, τὰ ἐθνή. So Alford, who compares the construction in Luke 1:25, where ἐπ ἐμέ must be supplied. But this is a harsh construction. The other and better way is to take ἐπεσκεψατο, not in the sense of" visiting," but of" looking out," or "endeavoring to find something." The sense of the infinitive after the verb is nearly equivalent to" look out for and took," literally, looked out how he might take. With a slight modification of meaning, Irenaeus (in 'Speaker's Commentary') renders it" Excogitavit accipere," "planned" or "contrived to take." A people for his Name; 1.e. to be called by his Name. Λαός was the peculiar designation of "the people" of God, answering to the Hebrew מעַ.
These things for this, A.V.; I will for will, A.V.; fallen for fallen down, A.V.
May for might, A.V.
Who maketh these things known, etc., for who doeth all these things (in Acts 15:17 of A.V.); known for known unto God are all his works, A.V. and T.R. Known from the beginning of the world. The above passage from Amos 9:11, Amos 9:12, is quoted, not very exactly, though with no change of sense, from the LXX., where it ends with the words, "saith the Lord, who doeth all these things," as in the A.V. But the LXX. verse 17 differs widely from the present Hebrew text. For whereas the Hebrew has, "That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen that are called by my Name," the LXX. (Cod. Alex.) have Ὅπως ἂν ἐκζητήσωσιν οἱ κατάλοιποι τῶν ἀνθρώπων τὸν Κύριον καὶ ππάντα τὰ ἔθνη κ.τ.λ., where it is evident that they read וּשׁרְדְיִ, seek after, for וּשׁרְיֵ, possess, and מדָאָ, men, for מוֹדאֶ, Edom. There is every appearance of the LXX., followed here by St. James, having preserved the true reading. As regards the reading of the R.V. in verse 18, it is a manifest corruption. It is not the reading of either the Hebrew or the Greek version of Amos, or of any other version; and it makes no sense. Whereas the T.R., which is the reading of Irenaeus (3.12.), as Meyer truly says, "presents a thought completely clear, pious, noble, and inoffensive as regards the connection," though he thinks that a reason for rejecting it. Nothing could be more germane to St. James's argument than thus to show from the words of Amos that God's present purpose of taking the Gentiles to be his people was, like all his other works, formed from the beginning of the world (comp. Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 3:5, Eph 3:6; 2 Timothy 1:9, etc.). As regards the interpretation of the prophecy of Amos intended, the idea seems to be that that apparent ruin of the house and family of David which culminated in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus would be followed by those "sure mercies of David," which consisted in his resurrection from the dead, his exaltation to the right hand of God, and the gathering in of the Gentiles to his kingdom. The phrase, "the tabernacle of David," is rather difficult, because the word in the Hebrew is דיזִדָ תכַּסֻ, tabernacle or booth of David. It is the word used for the booths at the Feast of Tabernacles, and denotes a temporary shed of branches or the like of a very humble character. It is difficult to say why this word was used, unless it was to show that the house of David had fallen to a low estate before it was pulled down.
Judgment for sentence, A.V. (ἐγὼ κρίνω); turn for are turned, A.V.
this is explained by εἰδωλοθύτων, things offered to idols, though some apply the "pollutions" to all the things here mentioned, not the idols only. Later St. Paul somewhat enlarged the liberty of Gentile converts in respect to meats offered to idols (see 1 Corinthians 8:4-13; 1 Corinthians 10:25-28). What is strangled, etc. The things forbidden are all practices not looked upon as sins by Gentiles, but now enjoined upon them as portions of the Law of Moses which were to be binding upon them, at least for a time, with a view to their living in communion and fellowship with their Jewish brethren. The necessity for some of the prohibitions would cease when the condition of the Church as regards Jews and Gentiles was altered; others were of eternal obligation.
From generations of old for of old time, A.V.; sabbath for sabbath day, A.V. The meaning of this verse seems to be that, in requiring the above compliances, the council was not enjoining anything new or strange, because the Gentiles who attended the synagogues were familiar with these Mosaic doctrines. It has been often stated that these four prohibitions were in substance the same as the so-called seven precepts of Noah, which were binding upon proselytes of the gate. This is, however, scarcely borne out by the facts. The four prohibitions seem to have been a temporary arrangement adapted to the then condition of the Church, with a view to enabling Christian Jews and Gentiles to live in brotherly fellowship. The Jew was not to require more of his Gentile brother: the Gentile was not to concede less to his Jewish brother. St. Augustine ('Cont. Manich.,' 32, 13), quoted by Meyer, ridicules the idea of Christians in his time being bound by the law of things strangled (see Hooker and Bishop Sanderson, quoted by Wordsworth, in the same sense).
It seemed good to for pleased it, A.V.; the elders for elders, A.V.; to choose men out of their company and send them, etc., for to send chosen men of their own company, A.V.; Barsabbas for Barsabas, A.V. and T.R., as Acts 1:23. To choose men, etc. This is a necessary, change, because the middle aorist (ἐκκεξαμένους) cannot have a passive meaning (chosen); see verse 40. Chief men (ἡγουμένους); literally, leaders. So in Luke 22:26 Ὁ ἡγούμενος is rendered, "He that is chief." In Hebrews 13:7, Οἱ ἡγούμενοι ὑμῶν is, "Them which have the rule over you;" your spiritual rulers. Silas seems to be a contraction of Silvanus, like Lucas for Lucanus. In the Acts he is always called Silas, in the Epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter, Silvanus. Going as direct emissaries from James and the Church of Jerusalem, and Judas would have great weight with the Jews in Syria and Cilicia.
Wrote thus by them for wrote letters by them after this manner, A.V.; the elder brethren for elders and brethren, A.V.; unto … greeting for send greeting unto, etc., A.V., as Acts 23:1-35. Acts 23:26. The elder brethren, etc. The grammar of the sentence is irregular, as there is nothing for γράψαντες to agree with. But "the elder brethren" is a phrase unknown to the Scriptures, and it is much more in accordance with the feeling of the times that "the brethren," i.e. the whole Church, should be included in the salutation. Greeting. It is remarkable that the only other place in the New Testament where this Greek salutation occurs is James 1:1.
The words in the A.V. and the T.R., saying, Ye must be circumcised and keep the Law, are omitted in the R.T. and the R.V.; commandment for such commandment, A.V. The certain which went out from us are the same as the "certain men" which "came down from Judaea," of Acts 15:1. The word rendered subverting (ἀνασκευάζοντες) occurs nowhere else in Scripture or in the LXX. It is spoken properly of a person who moves and carries off all the goods and furniture from the house which he is quitting. Hence to "disturb," "throw into confusion, turn upside down," and the like. To whom we gave no commandment. Observe the distinct disavowal by James of having authorized those who went forth from him and the Jerusalem Church to require the circumcision of the Gentiles. The A.V. expresses the meaning most clearly.
Having come to for being assembled with, A.V.; to choose out men and send them for to send chosen men, A.V. (see note on Acts 15:22). Having come, etc. The Greek is capable of either meaning. Alford prefers that of the A.V. Others think that stress is laid upon the decree being unanimous. Our beloved Barnabas and Paul. James and the council thus gave their full and open support to Barnabas and Paul. Observe that Barnabas is named first, as in verse 12.
Themselves also shall for shall also, A.V.; by word of mouth for by mouth, A.V. Judas and Silas (see Acts 10:7, note).
It seemed good, etc. The formula is remarkable. It implies the consciousness on the part of the council that they had "the mind of the Spirit;" but how this mind of the Spirit was communicated we are not expressly told. There may have been some "revelation," similar to that recorded in Acts 13:2; Acts 10:19; Galatians 2:1, etc. It is, however, generally understood as resting upon Christ's promise to be with his Church always. Hefele quotes Cyprian as writing to Pope Cornelius in the name of the Council of A.D. 252: "Placuit nobis, Sancto Spiritu suggerente;" and the Synod of Aries as saying, "Placuit, praesenti Spiritu Sancto." And this is the general language of the synods. Constantine claimed for the decrees of the three hundred bishops at Nicaea the same authority as if they had been "solius Filii Dei sententia." But, as Bishop Wordsworth on Acts 15:28 wisely says, "It cannot be held that councils of the Church now are entitled to adopt the words of the text in the framing of canons."
Things sacrificed for meats offered, A.V.; it shall be well with you for ye shall do well, A.V. The phrase εὗ πράσσειν means to" prosper," to "fare well" (comp. Ephesians 6:21, "How I do").
They, when they were dismissed, came down for when they were dismissed, they came, A.V.; having gathered for when they had gathered, A.V. The multitude does not exactly express the idea of τὸ πλῆθος, which is the fullness or the whole of the body spoken of. Thus Luke 1:10, Πᾶν τὸ πλῆθος τοῦ λαοῦ is "The whole congregation;" Luke 2:13, Πλῆθος στρατιᾶς οὐρανίου is "The whole heavenly host;" Luke 19:37, Ἄπαν τὸ πλῆθος τῶν μαθητῶν, "The whole company of the disciples;" also Acts 6:2 and Acts 4:32, Τὸ πλῆθος τῶν πιστευσάντων is "The whole company of believers;" Act 22:1-30 :36, Τὸ πλῆθος τοῦ λαοῦ is "The whole body of the people;" in Acts 22:12 of this chapter, Πᾶν τὸ πλῆθος is "The whole Church of Jerusalem.'' So here, Τὸ πλῆθος means "The whole Church."
And when they had read it for which when they had read, A.V.
Being themselves also prophets for being prophets also themselves, A.V. Being themselves also prophets, exhorted, etc. Observe the connection of exhortation with prophecy, and compare the explanation of the name of Barnabas in Acts 4:36, note. Confirmed them; ἐπεστήριξαν, as verse 41 and Acts 14:22; Acts 18:23. Nothing is so unsettling as controversy; but the preaching of these "chief men" brought back men's minds to the solid faith and hope of the gospel. How rich the Church of Antioch was at this time, with Paul and Barnabas, Judas and Silas, and probably Titus, and some, if not all, of those mentioned in Acts 13:1, for their teachers.
Spent some time there for tarried there a space, A.V. (see Acts 18:23; Acts 20:3; James 4:13); dismissed for let go, A.V. those that had sent them forth for the apostles, A.V. and T.R.
This verse is omitted in the R.T. and by the best manuscripts and commentators. It seems to have been put in to explain Acts 15:40. But Silas may have returned to Jerusalem, as stated in Acts 15:33, and come back again to Antioch, from having formed a strong attachment to St. Paul and his views.
But Paul for Paul also, A.V.; tarried for continued, A.V. It is at this time that Meyer and other commentators (see Acts 15:1, note) place Peter's visit to Antioch mentioned in Galatians 2:11. But it is quite inconceivable that Peter, with all the influence of the Jerusalem Cornell fresh upon him, and after the part he himself took in it, and when his own emissaries, Silas and Judas, had just left Antioch, should act the part there ascribed to him. Nor is it within the region of probability that, so soon after the council, any should have come "from James" to unsay what James had said and written at the council. We may with much confidence place Peter's visit to Antioch before the council, as suggested in note to verse 1.
After some days for some days after, A.V.; return now for go again, A.V.; the brethren for our brethren, A.V. and T.R.; wherein we proclaimed for where we have preached, A.V.; fare for do, A.V. After some days is hardly equivalent to μετά τινας ἡμέρας. The expression in Greek is quite indefinite as to time, and may cover months as well as days. That it does cover a considerable length of time we gather from the expression in Acts 15:33, that Judas and Silas "tarried some time at Jerusalem," followed by that in Acts 15:35, that after their departure "Paul and Barnabas tarried (διέτριβον) in Antioch." We can hardly suppose the two periods together to have included much less than a year. Let us return, etc. The singular loving care of Paul for his young converts appears here.
Was minded for determined, A.V. and T.R.; John also for John, A.V. and T.R.; who was called for whose surname was, A.V. Was minded. It is doubtful which is the true reading, ἐβουλεύσατο or ἐβούλετο. The difference of meaning is small. The first means "took council with himself," i.e. planned, thought, to take Barnabas; the second, "wished," i.e. his deliberate will was to take Barnabas. Singularly enough, Alford, who rejects ἐβούλετο, which is the reading of R.T., translates ἐβουλεύετο by "was minded," which is the translation of ἐβούλετο in the R.V. We see in this choice of Mark by Barnabas the natural partiality of a near relation. We may also see the same flexibility of disposition which made him yield to the influence of the emissaries of James (Galatians 2:13). Who was called. It might seem odd that this description of John should be repeated here after having been given in Acts 12:25. But perhaps it was usual so to designate him (see Luke 8:2; Luke 22:3; Matthew 10:3; Acts 1:23; Acts 10:6).
Take with them him for take him with them, A.V.; withdrew for departed, A.V. Withdrew. The Greek word ἀποστάντα (from which comes the substantive apostasy) is a strong one, and denotes decided blame, as does the indication of the opposite course, by way of contrast, which he did not take. "He did not go with them to the work" to which God called them, as he ought to have done. The whole phrase, too, which follows is strongly worded. "Paul thought good," as regards one who had turned back from the work, "not to take that man." The μὴ συμπαραλαβεῖν of Acts 15:38 is, as Meyer observes, sharply opposed to the συμπαραλαβεῖν of Acts 15:37. Luke evidently sides strongly with Paul, and almost reproduces the ipsissima verba of the "sharp contention." One would infer that this passage was penned by Luke before the reconciliation which appears in 2 Timothy 4:11, and that we have here an indication of the early date of the publication of "The Acts." Perhaps also there is an indication in the narrative, coupled with Mark's subsequent attach-merit to Peter, that Mark rather leant at this time to Judaizing views, and that his previous departure "from the work" was partly owing to a want of complete sympathy with St. Paul's doctrine. St. Paul would have no half-hearted helper in his grand and arduous work.
There arose a sharp contention for the contention was so sharp between them, A.V. and T.R.; parted for departed, A.V.; so that for so sharp … that, A.V.; and Barnabas for and so Barnabas, A.V.; took Mark with him for took Mark, A.V.; sailed away for sailed, A.V. There arose a sharp contention, etc. The sense "between them" must be supplied, if the English word "contention" is used. The word παροξυσμός only occurs twice in the New Testament: once in Hebrews 10:24, in a good sense, "To provoke" (for a provocation)—" stimulate or excite"—" unto love and good works," which is its common classical sense; the other time in this passage, where the sense is attributed to it in which it is used in the LXX., as in Deuteronomy 29:28, Ἐν θυμῷ καὶ ὀργῇ καὶ παροξυσμῷ μεγάλῳ σφόδρα, "in great indignation;" and in Jeremiah 32:37 (39. 37, LXX.), coupled with the same words, ἐν παροξυσμῷ μεγάλῳ, "in great wrath;" answering to פצקֶ in Hebrew. But it is more probable that St. Luke uses the word here in its common medical sense. In medical writers—Galen, Hippocrates, etc.—the παροξυσμός is equivalent to what we call an access, from the Latin aecessio, used by Celsus, when a disease of some standing takes a turn for the worse, comes to a height, and breaks out into its severest form. This is the sense in which our English word "paroxysm" is used. The meaning of the passage will then be that, after a good deal of uncomfortable feeling and discussion, the difference between Paul and Barnabas, instead of cooling down, broke out into such an acute form that Barnabas went off to Cyprus with Mark, leaving St. Paul to do what he pleased by himself. And Barnabas, etc. The R.V. is much more accurate. The consequence of the quarrel is said by St. Luke to have been that Barnabas took Mark off with him to Cyprus. The statement that Paul chose Silas is a separate and independent statement, as appears by Παῦλος (in the nominative) and ἐξῆλθε in the indicative mood. St. Luke's narrative quite sides with St. Paul, and throws the blame of the quarrel, or at least of the separation, upon Barnabas. Renan thinks St. Paul was too severe upon John Mark, and that it was ungrateful of him to break with one to whom he owed so much as he did to Barnabas for any cause of secondary importance. He also thinks that the real root of the quarrel lay in the constantly changing relations between the two apostles, aggravated by a domineering spirit in St. Paul. But the force of this censure turns upon the question whether it was a cause of secondary importance. If St. Paul had a single eye to the success of his mission, and judged that Mark would be a hindrance to it, it was a question of primary importance to "the work," and St. Paul was right. Renan also remarks upon the extinction of the fame of Barnabas consequent upon this separation from his more illustrious companion. "While Paul kept advancing to the heights of his glory, Barnabas, separated from the companion who had shed a portion of his own luster upon him, pursued his solitary course in obscurity." Sailed away. Cyprus was Barnabas's native country (Acts 4:36), and the scene of the earliest mission (Acts 11:19), and of Paul and Barnabas's first joint evangelistic labors (Acts 13:4). Barnabas would have many friends there, and could form plans at his leisure for his future action. The friendly mention of him in 1 Corinthians 9:6 shows both that he continued his disinterested labors as an apostle and that the estrangement between him and St. Paul had passed away. The paroxysm had yielded to the gentle treatment of charity.
But for and, A.V.; went forth or departed, A.V.; commended for recommended, A.V.; to for unto, A.V.; the Lord for God, A.V. and T.R. Chose Silas. If Acts 15:34 of the T.R. is a true reading, it accounts for the presence of Silas at Antioch. Otherwise there is no difficulty in supposing that Silas, attracted by the holy zeal of St. Paul and by desire to work among the Gentiles, had come back to Antioch after giving account to the apostles at Jerusalem of the success of his mission with Judas to the Churches at Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.
Syria and Cilicia (see Acts 15:23). This rather looks as if the "some days after" of Acts 15:36 did not cover a very long time, because the special mention of "the Churches of Syria and Cilicia" indicates that St. Paul's visit had some connection with the epistle addressed to them by the apostles and elders of the Church of Jerusalem (Acts 15:23), as we see from Acts 16:4 was the case. Confirming; as Acts 14:22; Acts 15:32; Acts 18:22 (T.R.). In the passive voice ἐπιστηρίζομαι means to "lean upon," as in 2 Samuel 1:6, LXX., and in classical Greek. Renan thus indicates their probable route: "They traveled by land northwards across the plain of Antioch, went through the 'Syrian Gates,' coasted the gulf of the Issus, crossed the northern branch of the Issus through the 'Amanean Gates,' then,, traversing Cilicia, went perhaps through Tarsus, crossed Mount Taurus through the 'Cilician Gates,' one of the most terrible passes in the world, and thus reached Lycaonia, going as far as Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium".
The apprehension of truth, full, pure, and unmixed with error, should be the desire of all good men. And it is a great help towards attaining truth when we are able to love it and to seek it absolutely for its own sake, without reference to its consequences, without regard to the wishes of others or undue submission to their opinions. It is also necessary for a man in pursuit of truth to divest himself of prejudices, and the influence of false opinions which he has adopted from habit, and without due consideration. The mind should approach the consideration of truth unwarped and uncolored by any subjective influences except the love of God and innocency of character. Divested of prejudices and of passions, and possessed of adequate knowledge, the mind would receive moral and religious truth with nearly as much certainty as it does mathematical problems. The object of controversy should be to clear away all prejudice, all ignorance, all passion, every groundless opinion and prepossession, which stand in the way of the acceptance of truth. And controversialists should be ready to admit the probalility that those who differ most widely from them may, for that very reason, see some side of truth which is hidden from their own eyes, and therefore should be ready to give a candid consideration to their arguments. The controversy which is described in its origin, progress, and settlement, in the passage before us, is an instructive one. We see on the side of the Judaizing party the types of the hindrances constantly existing to the reception of new truths. There was at first a blind and indiscriminate attachment to old opinions. They had been brought up in the belief that the Mosaic institutions were unchangeable. The very suggestion of a modification of them was treason against Moses and against God. They had been brought up in the belief that they were exclusively the people of God. All the pride and selfishness of their hearts rebelled against the idea of others being admitted to an equality of privileges with themselves. They had cherished a contempt and hatred for all other nations of the earth: how could they believe that those nations were as much objects of the love of God as they themselves were? Again, they had fattened in the opinion of their own righteousness, of their own moral superiority over other people: how could they be willing to accept a gospel which taught them that they could only be justified by grace, and that they must seek that grace on a level with all other sinners, through the merits of Jesus Christ? Again, their reverence for their rabbis and great men, and for their sayings and teaching, which they were accustomed to lean upon with a certain superstitious awe, and to quote with a proud fondness, was another hindrance to the reception of the gospel in its integrity by them. And all these influences, good and bad, concurred to close the eyes of their reason against all opposing evidence. They would, indeed, admit a Christianity which left the Law of Moses intact, and obliged all Christians to become Jews, so to speak. That exalted their nation, flattered their pride, increased their self-importance, left the prejudices of their childhood undisturbed. But the gospel as preached by Paul they could not and would not accept. The controversy on the other side was waged with fairness and firmness combined. St. Paul's large experience, both of the prejudices of his opponents, which he had once felt himself in their full power, and of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, which had been manifested to him in so remarkable a manner, gave him an unrivalled command of the argument. He had as much reverence for Moses, as full a conviction of the Divine origin of the Law, of the inspiration of the prophets, and of the infallible authority of Holy Scripture, as his opponents had. But he had a deep insight into the doctrines of grace, borne witness to by the Law and the prophets, which they had not. He saw the harmony between the Old and New Testaments; how the Law was a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ; how Christ was the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believes; and how in the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ the Law was not destroyed, but fulfilled, tie had, therefore, a full certainty as to the main points of the controversy which others had not. And yet he was tender and considerate toward his opponents (Galatians 4:19), and brought, not abuse, but argument to bear against their errors; as in the two wonderful Epistles, to the Galatians and to the Romans. And in a similar spirit we find him here willing to refer the matters in dispute to the Church at Jerusalem, presided over as it was by James, who had the credit of leaning to the side of his antagonists. But combined with this gentleness we have to mark his unflinching firmness and boldness. It required no small courage and strength of conviction to withstand a person of such weight and authority as Peter, and to reprove him before the Church. It required no little heroism to go into the very stronghold of Judaism, and there, before James, and Peter, and the Pharisees, and the most Judaizing members of the Churches of Judaea, to proclaim the gospel of the free grace of God (Galatians 2:2; Acts 15:12), and the free admission of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ. And let us mark the result. All the true-hearted men were won by Paul's way. Peter recovered from his weakness and openly sided with Paul; James threw his great weight unequivocally into the same scale; Barnabas shook off his momentary hesitation; the whole assembly gave a unanimous vote in favor of Paul's view; and the Church was saved from disruption. In an age when the peace of the Church is so much disturbed by controversy, and when such violence, both of language and of action, is indulged in by those who wish to enforce their own views, it is important to study carefully the history of this first great and trying controversy, which threatened at one time to split the Church to its very foundations, but which was brought to such a happy issue, under the blessing of God, by the wisdom, charity, and firmness of the apostle to the Gentiles. God grant, of his tender mercy, a like spirit to the leaders of party in our own days, and a no less happy settlement of the questions which separate brother from brother, and impede the progress of Christian truth.
The proposal of two friends whose fast friendship was of many years' standing; of two brethren loving and beloved; of two apostles of Jesus Christ, who had long labored together to win souls to Christ and to advance the kingdom of God, and who had achieved together the most signal triumphs over the powers of darkness, who had suffered together, who had undergone the most appalling dangers together, who had stuck by one another under every circumstance of trial and difficulty;—the proposal, I say, of two such men to start together on a new errand of love, might have seemed to be the very last occasion likely to produce contention and strife. Alas! for the infirmity of our poor fallen nature, that any evil should arise from purposes so good and holy. The faithful, truthful record of the sacred history in our text suggests much caution and many useful lessons for Christian practice.
1. There was perfect agreement between the two apostles as to the end in view—the revisiting the Churches they had planted for the purpose of confirming them in the faith of Jesus Christ. As far as we know, they were both of one mind, both equally desirous of advancing the kingdom of God, both equally ready to spend and be spent for the Name of the Lord Jesus and for the spread of his gospel in the world. Thus far we may well believe that their communications on the subject of the new mission were carried on in perfect harmony and love, because there was in each a single eye and an unmixed motive, viz. the glory of Christ.
2. The difference arose when Barnabas proposed that they should take John Mark as their companion. Here we seem to detect the entrance in of human motives. His partiality for his cousin; possibly the feeling that his own softer character needed the support of a steady ally to enable him to hold his own against the strength of Paul's will; possibly too some leaning towards the Jewish party in the Church, or at least an unwillingness to offend them,—made him blind to the inconvenience of taking a half-hearted companion with them. He was consulting with flesh and blood, and not with the Spirit of God, when he made the suggestion. We can imagine that Paul objected at first with mildness, and pointed out the evils that might arise. He would dwell upon the vital interests of the mission, the dangers and difficulties of the work, the insufficient guarantee that John Mark's constancy would be equal to the task. It is, of course, possible, though it does not appear, that Paul may have judged Mark somewhat severely, or may have urged his objections without all the tenderness that was due to the feelings of Barnabas. But there is not the slightest evidence that this was so. Probably at first he hoped to persuade Barnabas to give up his project. Probably Barnabas hoped so to state his wish to reinstate John Mark that Paul might give way. But when these hopes broke down on either side, then gradually, no doubt, the discussion assumed a growing tone of asperity, till at length the paroxysm came on. Barnabas cut the discussion short by turning upon his heel, and separating himself from his old companion and friend, and going forth in self-will with his cousin to Cyprus. The old partnership with Paul was dissolved, and nothing remained for Paul to do but to choose another missionary companion, and pursue his project in sadness. We cannot doubt that the peace and joy of both apostles was clouded by this unfortunate episode. But St. Paid had probably the testimony of his conscience that he had acted from the purest motives, and, from the friendly mention of Barnabas alluded to in the note to verse 39, we may hope that, when the paroxysm had subsided, the old relations between the two brethren were restored to their former footing of cordimity and love. But the great practical lesson we learn is the importance of keeping our motives of action pure and simple. We must try and not allow our judgment to be clouded by partialities and personal influences of any kind. We must endeavor never to subordinate the great interests of the Church and of the gospel to any private feelings or wishes, however innocent in themselves. And even right feelings and reasonable wishes must be so kept under control as never to overflow the banks of reason and of charity, and never to injure the great cause of the gospel of Christ, to which they ought always to be made subservient. Generally, the narrative of this paroxysm enforces the wise words of St. James, "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20, James 1:21).
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
A grave crisis in the kingdom of God: more lessons.
The crisis of the kingdom will be found in the life of the Divine Leader of the faith. In those hours when all that was human in him shrank from the sufferings and sorrows which were before him, or from the agony which was upon him, or from the darkness which enshrouded him, then was "the crisis of the world" and of the kingdom of God on earth. But this also was a crisis, grave and serious. If the Church at Antioch had yielded to these "false brethren" (Galatians 2:4), when they came to invade its liberty; or if—a much greater peril—the Church at Jerusalem had decided in favor of the Judaizers, and had passed a sentence that circumcision was necessary to salvation; and if Christian truth had thus been narrowed to the small dimensions of a mere adjunct to Judaism, where would Christianity have been to-day? From the incident here related we draw the lessons—
I. WHAT HARM ZEALOTRY MAY TRY TO DO. These men "who came down from Judaea" (Acts 15:1) were members of the Pharisaic party "which believed" (Acts 15:5); they were formal adherents of the Christian faith; they spake reverently of Christ, and believed themselves to be acting in the interests of his kingdom. Yet we know that they were taking a course which, if they had carried their point, would hove simply extinguished the faith in a few years. Often, since then, has blind zealotry done its best to bring about a condition which would have proved fatal to the cause of God and of redeemed humanity.
II. IN WHAT UNINVITING LABORS FIDELITY MAY INVOLVE US. How different from evangelizing risks and toils, and from the fraternal intercourse which followed these, how much beneath both the one and the other, how much more uninviting this controversy with false brethren, narrow-minded, mistaking a rite whose significance was exhausted for an essential of salvation! How uncongenial, to the spirit of the apostle this "dissension and disputation" (Acts 15:2)! But it was necessary; it was as much a part of their bounden duty and their loyal obedience to their Lord as the preaching of the gospel or the indicting of an Epistle. The Christian workman cannot always choose his work. He must sometimes give up the congenial for the unpleasant, the inviting for the repellent.
III. HOW WELL TO ENCOURAGE THE FAITHFUL IN THE HOUR OF THEIR ANXIETY. Those who constituted the deputation were "brought on their way by the Church" (Acts 15:3). In the profound anxiety which must have filled the sagacious and earnest mind of Paul at this critical juncture, such gracious attention on the part of the Church must have been exceedingly refreshing. No "moral support' of tried and anxious leaders, in times of supreme solicitude, is thrown away; it is well-spent time and trouble.
IV. THAT IT IS SOMETIMES OUR DUTY TO TAKE INTO CONSULTATION OUR BRETHREN IN A HIGHER POSITION. The Church at Antioch was not obliged to consult that at Jerusalem; the latter had no jurisdiction entitling it to decide the disputes of the former. But it was becoming and it was wise, and therefore it was right, to refer the matter in dispute to "the Church [of Jerusalem] and the apostles and the elders" (Acts 15:4, Acts 15:6). Often when no written constitution obliges us to refer to authorities, it is a matter of practical wisdom, and therefore of rectitude, to go outside our own "body" and submit our case to those in high repute. We may gain far more than we lose thereby.
V. THE TEACHING OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. (Acts 15:7-9.) Peter would not have taken the side he took now had not his eyes been opened by the event in which he had borne so large and so honorable a share (Acts 10:1-48.). We should grow more charitable and more large-minded as we grow in years.
VI. THE FREEDOM OF THE GOSPEL FROM ALL BURDENSOME IMPOSTS. (Acts 15:10.) Why tempt God by putting on the neck of the disciples an intolerable yoke? Why invite defeat? Why multiply difficulty and ensure disappointment by requiring of the whole Gentile world a conformity which they will not render and which God does not demand? Why make burdensome the yoke which the Master himself made easy (Matthew 11:30)? The gospel of his grace was meant to be a source of blessedness and deliverance; how insensate the folly of tying to it any institutes which would make it become an insufferable vexation!
VII. THE ESSENCE OF THE ORDINANCE. Circumcision was but the outward sign of admission to the privilege and obligation of the Law. The Law was but the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. Those, then, who were saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15:11) had the very essence and substance of which the old Jewish rite Was but the sign and symbol (Philippians 3:3; Romans 2:28, Romans 2:29).—C.
A grave crisis in the kingdom of God: more lessons.
After Peter's speech (Acts 15:7-10) came the narration of facts by Barnabas and Paul, in which they laid stress on the Divine tokens of favor and support which they had received in the execution of their work (Acts 15:12); and then James summed up the matter, evidently giving voice to the decision of the Church. We learn—
I. THAT MEN OF DIVERGENT THOUGHT SHOULD STRIVE TO MEET ONE ANOTHER'S VIEWS IN CHRISTIAN COUNCIL. Probably it would be hard to find two good men of any age or country who have taken more divergent views of the gospel of Christ than did James and Paul. Their Epistles show us how they viewed the one truth from separate and even distant standpoints. Had they come to this Church meeting intent on magnifying their own distinctive points, there would have ensued bitter conflict and fatal rupture. But they strove to meet one another, and the end was peace and the furtherance of redeeming truth.
II. THAT AN EQUITABLE COMPROMISE MAY BE THE MOST HONORABLE SETTLEMENT. (Verses 19-21.) In concession to the Gentile party, it was not required that they should submit to the distinctive rite; in concession to the Jewish party, it was required that certain statutes should be observed by them. Occasions will very frequently occur when each side owes it to the other to make concession. The spirit that strives only for victory is not the spirit of Christ. We should, as his disciples, count it an honor and a joy to concede, when we conscientiously can do so, to Christian brethren who differ from us.
III. THAT WE MAY LEAVE UNIMPORTANT MATTERS TO THE SETTLEMENT OF TIME. The particular precepts which James and those who thought with him desired to have enforced have long since disappeared. Their observance at the time was expedient, for Moses had in every city them that preached him, etc. (verse 21). But when the special reasons for conformity were removed, then they fell through. Where the peace of a Church or a large Christian community is at stake, we do well to accept small matters which are unessential; time is on our side.
IV. THAT CHRISTIANITY HAS PURIFIED AND PROPORTIONED PUBLIC MORALS. It surprises and shocks us to read of abstinence from meat which had been offered to idols, and from things strangled, being placed side by side with abstinence from the sin of fornication, as if, in morals, these things stood on the same level. We feel that the latter is a thing so utterly and inherently bad that the former is not at all comparable with it in heinousness of offence. The fact is that we think thus because our holy religion has purified our thoughts, and taught us to see ceremonial and moral offences in true perspective. But wherever Christianity has been corrupted, where the traditions of men have overlaid its simplicity with their ceremonialism, we find this defective view prevailing. It was necessary, at that time and in the then condition of the world, formally and expressly to disallow a custom which we now shudder at and shrink from as a shameful sin.
V. THAT DECISIONS, WHEN ONCE ATTAINED, SHOULD BE COURTEOUSLY AND CAREFULLY CARRIED OUT. (Verses 22-33.) The Church at Jerusalem, though on the main point it had yielded to the Church at Antioch, did not give way sulkily or grudgingly. It did not dismiss the deputation with a cold and formal resolution. It sent able and influential men, with letters, to accompany Paul and Barnabas, and these greeted the Syrian Church and laid the matter fully before them. So that, in the end, the two communities understood one another and rejoiced in one another the more. What is done in Christ's name and cause should be done with utmost courtesy and with perfect thoroughness.
VI. THAT WE MAY REST HAPPY IN THE ALL-SEEING WISDOM AND ALL-EMBRACING LOVE OF GOD. (Verses 14-15.) James intimated that what was then happening was only the fulfillment of the Divine intention. God knew from the beginning what he should accomplish, and he purposed the recovery and redemption of the whole Gentile world,
1. When we are baffled by the perplexities of the way, let us remember that all things are in the hands of the omniscient One.
2. When we are distressed by the disappointments and difficulties of our work, let us be consoled by thinking that God means to restore mankind; his wisdom and his love will prevail, though we see not our way and though our fears abound.—C.
Self-sacrifice for Christ.
There are two classes of men of whom we are reminded by these words of the Jerusalem Church.
I. THOSE WHO ARE READY TO SACRIFICE THEIR LIVES FOR ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING BUT THE BEST AND HIGHEST. The soldier for victory; the sportsman for excitement; the explorer for the gratification of curiosity; the Alpine climber for credit; the artist for fame; the sailor for love of the sea, etc. There is no lack of men who risk life for something. But we have to consider that while
(1) there is a touch of nobility in some of these cases which wins our admiration; yet
(2) often the end is not worth the sacrifice,—life and all that life means to its holder and to those who are related to him and dependent on him are too precious to be parted with for a slight object, too valuable to be sacrificed for any but a serious and great end. And
(3) when thus lost, it is often laid down from instinct or passion rather than from principle. There is something essentially unsatisfactory in it; for it is a material loss with no corresponding gain. It brings sadness to the heart, loneliness and misery to the home, and does not bring adequate consolation to the mind.
II. THOSE WHO RECOGNIZE THE HIGHEST AND THE BEST BUT SACRIFICE LITTLE OR NOTHING TO IT. We should, perhaps, say to him; for:
1. The highest and best meet in a living One, even Jesus Christ. It is, indeed, to honor his Name (see text), but it is also and chiefly to exalt and extol him and make him very high (Isaiah 52:13) in the estimation and affection of the world, that his servants strive and suffer.
2. Ourselves and all that we have are his due; therefore our lives, when he asks us to lay them down at his feet.
3. There are those who recognize his claim, but do not comply with his desire. There are those who do; men that have hazarded their lives for Jesus Christ, from Paul and Barnabas down to our own Christian martyrs; men and women who, on various fields of holy, daring, and heroic suffering, have cheerfully sacrificed all to honor him and do his bidding; but there are too many that acknowledge the validity of his claim but do not respond to his call. There are in our congregations and even in our Churches
(1) men who withhold themselves from missionary or ministerial service, because, though well fitted for it, they are not prepared to make the necessary sacrifices;
(2) men that will not step into the breach when some other kind of holy activity is demanded, because they shrink from the burdens or the annoyances it will entail;
(3) men that will not encourage some good work of Christ, because, to do so, they must part with that which the world counts precious. These are far from being numbered with the "good and faithful servants."—C.
Apostles at fault.
When a grave and critical juncture had been safely passed without damage done to any, there arose a quarrel about an unimportant and insignificant matter, which had regrettable, not to say deplorable, results. The heart of the earnest and affectionate Paul yearned to know how their converts fared in "every city where they had preached the Word of the Lord" (Acts 15:36). Barnabas immediately acquiesced in Paul's proposal to visit them; everything promised another useful mission journey, in which the calmer and more genial qualities of the one man would supplement the intenser and more vehement characteristics of the other. But there arose a question as to companionship, which wrecked their agreement to work in one another's company, and which separated the two friends for life. Barnabas wished to take Mark, and would not abandon his desire; Paul would not consent to take him: "and the contention was so sharp … that they departed asunder" (verse 39). We learn from this incident—
I. THAT AS ACT OF MORAL WEAKNESS MAY HAVE FAR LONGER AND MORE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES THAN WE CAN POSSIBLY FORESEE. Could Mark have foreseen that his desertion of the cause in Pamphylia would have led to the lifelong separation of his uncle from Paul, he would probably have remained with them, and "fulfilled the work," even as they did. But he did not reckon on after consequences. It is well for us to consider that our acts of minor wrong-doing, of moral weakness, of spiritual shortcoming, may do an amount of mischief from the commission of which we should shrink with dismay if we could only look it in the face.
II. THAT BETWEEN THE TWO APOSTLES A DECIDED AND REGRETTABLE FAULT WAS COMMITTED. Their intention to work together in the cause of Christ need not and should not have been broken off by their disagreement. They ought either to have compromised the matter by mutual concession, or one of the two should have yielded to the other. Paul owed too much to Barnabas to be justified in pushing his own will to the point of separation. Barnabas owed too much to Paul to make it right for him to insist so pertinaciously on his particular desire. One should have yielded if the other would not. It was an unedifying, unseemly, unchristian thing for two apostles to throw up a plan on which they had sought Divine direction, and which must have received the sanction of the Church, because they could not agree on a matter of detail. They must both have lived to regret it. Men in prominent positions, and those who are engaged in great matters, are bound to be above such unseemliness of behavior. Either
(1) the ingenuity of love should devise a middle way, or
(2) the sacrificial spirit of love should yield the point altogether.
III. THAT IN EACH CASE THE FAULT COMMITTED WAS THE SHADOW OF HIS OWN PARTICULAR EXCELLENCY. Probably both of the apostles were blameworthy. But so far as Paul was to be condemned, his failure was the shadow of his intensity. Such was the entirety of his devotedness, such the intensity of his zeal, such the strenuousness of his soul, that he could not brook anything which looked like half-heartedness. And so far as Barnabas was to blame, his fault was the shadow of his kind-heartedness, his willingness to give another chance to a young man, his reluctance to exclude from noble service a man who had made one mistake. Each was animated by a commendable spirit, though each may have gone too far in his own course. Often when we unsparingly condemn, it would be well to remind ourselves and others that the faults of good men are usually but the shadow of their virtues.
IV. THAT GOD JUDGES THE GOOD BY THEIR ABIDING SPIRIT, AND NOT BY THEIR OCCASIONAL DISPOSITIONS: so also should we. These two men were not the less servants of God, ambassadors of Jesus Christ, because they were betrayed into temporary ill humor. God appraised them by their essential, abiding spirit of love and devotion; he forgave their passing ebullition. In the same way we must take care to estimate men, not by an occasional outburst which is not really characteristic and is no true criterion, but by the "spirit of their mind "—that which really shapes and colors their life and character.
V. THAT THIS FAULT OF THE APOSTLES HAD, AS BECAME THE MEN, A CHRISTIAN ENDING. Paul afterwards wrote kindly of Barnabas, and actually sent for Mark, declaring that he was "profitable for [the] ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11). The sun should not go down upon our wrath. If any man has a quarrel against any, he is to "forbear and to forgive" (Colossians 3:13).—C.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The Judaizers at Antioch.
There must needs be heresies, that is, divisions and separations of opinion, in order that that which is approved may be made manifest. In conflicts of this kind, the chaff of falsehood is sifted from the genuine wheat of truth.
I. THE POSITION OF THE JUDAIZERS.
1. It was a reactionary position. It aimed at the re-establishment of circumcision as the condition of salvation. This was going back from the "spirit" to the "flesh," from the principle of an internal to that of an external religion. It was substituting works for faith, doing for being, as the condition of salvation.
2. It was a revolutionary position. Such a claim convulses the very heart of the Christian Church. Wherever it has come up, a deep mark has been left in history. This was essentially the conflict of Isaiah and other prophets against the ceremonialists of the day. The question came up again at the Reformation. Law or gospel—Moses or Christ? Behind this question lies a world. Is religion stationary and stagnant or ideal, Divine, and possessed of the power of an expansive and endless life?
II. THE IMMEDIATE EFFECT OF THE RAISING OF THE QUESTION.
1. Private dissension. Alas! often is it so. The loving missionary comrades, Paul and Barnabas, are disunited. But we must remember, "Though Plato is my friend, truth is my friend still more." Paul felt that evangelical freedom was threatened (Galatians 2:4). And the gospel was dearer to him than life. Truth must not be compromised in the supposed interests of friendship. Indeed, the supposition is illusory. For if it be "a strong and habitual inclination in two persons to promote the good and happiness of each other," this cannot be at the expense of truth.
2. Public discussion. The difference between Paul and Barnabas could not be ignored. The topic must have been on the tongue of every one. See how good comes out of controversy as well as evil. Private pain is often the condition of public blessing. A cloud comes between two minds, but the truth shines presently the more brightly forth.
III. THE ACTION OF THE CHURCH. They resolved to despatch Paul and Barnabas to consult the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Note the appropriateness of this decision.
1. As to the men sent—Paul representing the Gentiles and the missionary work, Barnabas the Church at Antioch. Besides, from Galatians 2:1, et sqq., we see that St. Paul had a special inward direction to proceed thither.
2. The destination. Jerusalem, the mother city and the mother Church, and the seat of apostolic authority. Yet Antioch was probably not second to Jerusalem in numbers and influence. Without debating questions of Church government, the lesson may be drawn that no particular community should act for itself in important questions without consulting the general sense of the Christian Church.
IV. THE JOURNEY AND ARRIVAL AT JERUSALEM.
1. They had a conduct from the Church of Antioch as they set forth—an expression of confidence in the men, and of deer interest in the result. Said the electoral Prince of Brandenburg to his envoy, proceeding to a conference with the papists, "Bring me the little word sola, i.e." alone, faith only, back—or come not back at all.
2. They told good news on the way. They told of the conversion of the heathen, and. the news was received with great joy. Here was a great argument for Paul, gathered on the way. So does God solve our disputes in words by the irresistible logic of his facts.
3. At Jerusalem they tell the great things God has done for them. The facts of the past are prophetic of the future. Divine mercy as an historical fact is the basis of sure hope and confidence. The temper of devout recollection and thanksgiving fits the mind for the view of present duties.—J.
The council at Jerusalem.
The claim of the Judaizers is sharply and absolutely put. Circumcision is a necessity; the Law of Moses must be observed. The whole question is open, and the air is full of debate.
I. DISCOURSE OF PETER.
1. The question whether the Mosaic Law is binding upon the heathen or no is referred by him to experience. This is the great guide of all. In no case may it be neglected. In every case recurrence to it as a whole will be found helpful. Now, at Caesarea it was clear that the Gentiles, no less than the Jewish Christians, had received the Holy Spirit. This fact the apostle considers to be significant proof that God had already decided the question in debate. God, he had before learned, was no "respecter of persons." Here he expresses the same truth by saying that God has made no difference between them; has placed the two upon one footing. He has testified to the Gentiles by imparting to them the Holy Spirit, his grace and good pleasure.
2. The reference to immediate experience leads to the larger reference to history—the history of the sacred past. The entire revelation of God in both testaments rests on history and consists in history. Christ "lived his doctrine and preached his life." And the living experience of prophets and apostles offers a rich fund of instruction. Paul's doctrine is his own life translated into consciousness and knowledge. And the doctrine of Peter is his own life wrought out in views of duty and principles of Christian thought. Christian doctrine is the expression of the results of Christian history. The discourse of Peter evidently produces a great impression. Silence follows, broken only by the voices of Barnabas and Paul, who relate the significant occurrences which have befallen among the heathen.
II. DISCOURSE OF JAMES.
1. He, like a true Jew, trained in ear and memory by the prophetic oracles, reverts to them, and finds confirmation there of the views wrought out in the minds of the others by the certain discipline of experience. The writings of the prophets were used by the apostles as a guide to the interpretation of the signs of the present, and for directions as to present duty. Now, the oracle from Amos adduced by James refers in the first instance to the house of David. His royal house is fallen into ruins. But God would raise it up out of the ruins, would restore and extend it among the Gentiles among whom his Name shall be known—that is, among those who shall decide to acknowledge and serve him. All this God would bring about in accordance with his eternal designs (verse 18).
2. Here, then, is light on the question of debate. Observe that the theocracy, the kingdom of God, stands in the center of the promise, and not the Law as such. Further, the "calling on the Name of God" is laid down as the condition or incorporation with the kingdom of God. This condition has been already, fulfilled by the converted heathen Lastly, it is "the Lord who doeth these things." It is not our short-sighted counsel and prudence which have to make new history and new laws, but God has promised that he will do it. Already has he adopted a people out of the heathen (verse 14). If, then—this is the argument of James—we should lay a burden on the Gentile Christians, this would be going against the teaching of facts, striving against the current of history, thwarting the will of God therein revealed.
3. The decision of James. He would not have the Gentile Christians harassed, who are turning in repentance and good works to God. He would recognize their evangelical freedom; would reject the demands of the Pharisaic party; in fact he fully, though on different grounds, coincides with Paul. At the same time, he insists on certain moral and ceremonial abstinences. The whole illustrates the mild, gentle, and loving character of this apostle. There was in him, with the greatest strictness towards himself, the most compassionate love to others. Unceasingly in the temple, on his knees, he prayed for forgiveness for his people (Eusebius, 'Eccl. Hist.,' 2. 25). He who loves his own household best will be the kindest to them without. The true patriot is the true philanthropist; the loyal adherent of his Church the best friend of universal Christianity and progress.—J.
Decision of the council at Jerusalem.
This, the first council of the Church, is generally considered an example for all times.
I. AN EXAMPLE OF CHRISTIAN PRUDENCE.
1. In the selection of emissaries. It had reference partly to the Churches, partly to Paul and Barnabas. The Churches were assured that the emissaries were not delivering their own private opinion, but the deliberate judgment of the Church. And the apostles had the legitimacy and purity of their office sealed by the highest Church authority.
II. AN EXAMPLE OF BROTHERLY LOVE AND WISDOM. Without the taking of some such step, the Judaizers in Antioch and elsewhere would remain unchecked, and left to pursue their disturbing and factious intrigues. And by this step a new bond of sympathy and affection was established between Jew and Gentile, between Jerusalem and the world.
III. AN EXAMPLE OF INSPIRED ACTION. "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us." The words may be abused or used with genuine devout feeling. The Holy Spirit is the Source of light and wisdom in the mind—the Judge and Decider in spiritual things. The conclusion of a matter, discussed by the faithful in the light of the Holy Spirit, may justly be looked upon as the decision of the Holy Spirit. The whole stamp of the message is spiritual, impressive, full of Christian piety and love. Its closing word, promising blessing on the conditions laid down, is far better than a threat of pains on disobedience would have been. The Christian "Farewell!" contains not only the wish for a brother's happiness, but that he may abide in Christ, and walk as he walked in the world.—J.
Effects of the mission from the Church.
The few words of the decision gave rise to a large joy and consolation at Antioch. Let us generalize this.
I. THE GOSPEL BRINGS PEACE TO TROUBLED HEARTS. Freedom from the yoke of the Law only truly to be enjoyed by those who have previously smarted and groaned beneath that yoke.
II. IT UNITES THE SOULS OF BELIEVERS IN PEACE. Judas and Silas, by the exercise of their prophetic gifts, exhorted and strengthened the brethren. The faithful teacher's heart is in his element in bringing souls to the Savior.
III. IT LEADS IN PEACE TOWARDS THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM, TO THE MOTHER CHURCH ABOVE. They were sent with peace from the brethren to those who sent them forth. All interchange of love on earth, all messages of reconciliation, are prophetic of and prepare for the home of peace above.—J.
Beginning of the second missionary journey.
The dissension of Paul and Barnabas, painful in itself, may yield useful matter of reflection.
HUMAN INFIRMITY IS MATURE CHRISTIANS.
1. The fact of it. Paul judged severely of Mark on moral grounds. His desertion of him and Barnabas (Acts 13:13) on a former occasion was to his mind a strong proof of inconstancy. But Mark had fallen away from them, not from Christ. And Barnabas would lean to the side of leniency and clemency towards the young disciple. The contention became sharp. Both thought themselves to be contending for Christ; both were unconsciously contending for self. Both were in the right, each from his own point of view aiming at the good of the young man and the furtherance of the kingdom.
2. The consolation of it.
(1) With reference to the person concerned. Chrysostom says that the strife was of great service to Mark; for the sternness of Paul brought a change in his mind, while the kindness of Barnabas suffered him not to feel abandoned.
(2) With reference to us. We may be encouraged by the thought that these holy men were of like passions with ourselves, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Divine love triumphs over and is made perfect in human weakness. Apart from that, man's very virtues become faults; the mildness of Barnabas degenerates into softness, the severity of Paul into harshness. Divine love converts faults into blessings. Mark is humiliated, and thereby raised in Christian manhood. The separation of the apostles divides the stream of saving grace into two streams, and so the more widely spreads it in the world.—J.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
The first council: spiritual liberty established.
The controversy between a corrupt Judaism and the gospel of Christ certain to be brought to a crisis. The conversion of Saul, taken in connection with his special mission to the Gentiles, forced the matter on the attention of the Church. The scene of the controversy was Antioch, where Paul would have many supporters. But Jerusalem was the proper place for a settlement—not because any authority was assigned to the spot, but because there could be gathered a more really representative assembly of the whole Church. Notice—
I. THE FACTS THEMSELVES are never questioned, but gladly acknowledged. The acceptance of the Gentiles, the blessing on the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed on others than the Jewish believers.
II. THE POINT OF CONTENTION is the claim asserted by a small section of the Jewish Church, of Pharisaic spirit, to impose on the new Gentile converts the obligations of the Mosaic Law, particularly circumcision. This showed that they regarded Christ as only a Reformer of the Law, not as substituting the gospel for the Law.
III. THE WHOLE CHURCH is the body of referees. The apostles and ciders are the speakers and leaders, but the multitude is present, and to them (Acts 15:22) the decision is referred.
IV. THE TESTIMONY OF THE SPIRIT in the facts rehearsed, the signs and wonders wrought, is plainly the voice of God to the apostles. Both Peter and James stand firmly on that foundation—God hath called them. Therefore we must obey his voice. The witness of the facts agrees with the witness of the word.
V. THE RESTRICTIONS which were deemed necessary were simply the dictates of brotherly love. Stumbling-blocks should not be thrown in the way of weak brethren. Let the Gentiles use their liberty, only let them respect the feelings of Jews and the moral demands of the Law.
VI. THE CONTENTIOUS PARTY must have been a mere handful of men. They are condemned by the letter sent to Antioch. The effect of the epistle was to silence them and produce a happy peace. Which representation entirely overthrows the statement of such critics as Baur, that there was a Pauline element in the Church opposed by the Petrine.
VII. THE CAUSE OF STRIFE IS BURIED in the depth of zealous labor for Christ and souls. Judas and Silas, the messengers from Jerusalem, soon forgot the trouble in much higher topics and co-operation with the Church at Antioch in their evangelistic efforts. Thus this first occasion of ecclesiastical settlement shows the Church pervaded with the spirit of brotherly love and faith. They had no conception of Church authority apart from the voice of God's Spirit. They came together in perfect equality. They reverenced age and spiritual distinction, and the mind of the brethren gathered together in conference, but their chief dependence was on the promise of the Holy Ghost and his guidance, so that they could say, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us."—R.
The spirituality of the gospel.
"Purifying [cleansing] their hearts by faith." Purity comes from within. The influence of pure thought and pure feeling on practice. The purification of Judaism typical. The Holy Ghost did the work. When the temple was closed, the kingdom of grace opened. The Spirit must operate upon the spirit. All ritualism, as such, contradicts the essential principles of gospel liberty.
I. THE HEART NEEDS CLEANSING.
1. Of its falsehood. The heathen world a world of lies. The tendency of fallen nature to believe strong delusions.
2. Of its corrupt desires. The Fall was a lowering of the spirit of humanity to the level of the inferior races. Animalism is the characteristic of heathenism and of an unregenerate state.
3. Of its self-justification and pride. The evil holds to it. A broken and contrite heart is required.
II. THE HEART IS CLEANSED. Consider the nature of the purity bestowed.
1. The conscience, by a sense of forgiveness; "perilous stuff" cleansed away.
2. An object of love revealed to whom the heart is surrendered. "Thou knowest that I love thee." The germ of the new life in the soil of the affections.
3. Consecration. Circumcision was a covenant sign. "Out of the heart are the issues of life." A pure will is that which is pledged by a changed course of action and a new position.
III. THE HEART IS CLEANSED BY FAITH. The contrast between the old covenant and the new. The truth accepted becomes the power of God unto salvation. Spiritual cleansing differs from:
1. Mere ritual purification.
2. Mere nominal separation from the world by an external life.
3. Mere slavish obedience to the letter of the Law. A purity which rests upon faith is a purity embracing thoughts and desires, lifting the heart with joy, securing it against the temptation to self-righteousness and superficial morality. Believe; give your mind to the message; welcome the personal Savior; follow the leading Spirit. Rejoice in the liberty of God's children. Christ's yoke is easy, his burden light.—R.
"Men that have hazarded their lives," etc.
I. THE POWER OF CHRIST'S NAME.
1. Those who were ready to die for him must have accepted him as the fulfillment of all their hopes. The previous position of Paul and Barnabas instructive as showing what the Name of Christ was to them.
2. No mere change of creed so expressed. A personal affection at the root of their heroism. The self-sacrifice not only proved sincerity, but exemplified the transforming and ennobling power of the gospel.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF HEROIC EXAMPLES.
1. In strengthening faith.
2. In stimulating feeling. The Christianity of the present time apt to languish for lack of such influence. Times of great danger to the Church times of great testimony. The Effect of missionary zeal in promoting the growth of character.
3. The true leaders of the Church should be foremost in devotion. Apostolic zeal very different from ecclesiastical fanaticism. The world bows before spiritual might.—R.
Contention amongst brethren.
Importance of the record as showing:
1. The sincerity and simplicity of the Christian writers. An impostor would never have inserted such a fact.
2. The overruling grace of God. The treasure in earthen vessels. Infirmities in the agents magnifies him who, notwithstanding, accomplishes his proposes. Notice—
I. THE TRUE PRINCIPLE OF CHRISTIAN WORK. Constant watchfulness and inspection. "See how they fare;" for encouragement and confirmation; for maintenance of order for advancement in teaching. "Visit the brethren." Not only in each Church, but in the outlying districts; maintain brotherly sympathy. The true conception of the Church is that of a society resting on a spiritual basis of mutual confidence and love.
II. SUBORDINATION OF PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS to the highest interests of Christ's kingdom. Barnabas thought more of his nephew than the work. He was most in the wrong. The Church, by their commendation of Paul in prayer, plainly expressed their sympathy with his side of the controversy. At the same time, as Mark proved himself faithful, events showed that Paul might have yielded for the sake of peace without injury to the cause of truth. His strong will tempted him.
III. THE ERRORS OF GOOD MEN are not suffered to hinder the work of God. More good done by the division of labor. Introduction of Silas. Mark probably best under the sole guidance of Barnabas. The divisions in the Christian Church viewed in the light of this primitive contention. Not wholly injurious. Partly due to the natural differences of intellect and temper. Overruled to develop the variety of Christian character. Will be at last, like discords resolved into harmony, the source of glory to God. Yet, as at first, so always, remembrance of the infirmity and fallibility of great and good men should keep us near the throne of grace.—R.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
A great dissension or, the threshold of the Gentile Church, and the apostolic management of it.
One subject knits together very firmly the contents of this paragraph. And the subject is one of the greatest importance. Its interest is all of the practical kind; and well had it been for the unconverted world had the Church through all these centuries abided by the suggested lessons that we have here. The one subject is the beginning of ecclesiastical dissension within the Church catholic itself; not on matter purely doctrinal, not on matter purely disciplinary, but on matter that may be for the time supposed to lie on the border-land between these two. For some will insist on making it mostly a question of veritable doctrine; others would stickle for it as a question at least of "decency and order" in discipline. Let us notice—
I. THE SIMPLE QUESTION ITSELF AT ISSUE. Gentiles have many great signs and wonders wrought amongst them, of which they are by no means simple beholders. They themselves are "a great part of them." They are believed in multitudes of cases to have become true converts to the new faith. The apostolic verdict and pronouncement have gone forth that "God had opened the door of faith" to them. And facts seem to speak for themselves, saying that they have received the gifts as well as the gift of the Holy Ghost. Must these Gentiles submit to the Jewish initiatory rite of circumcision?
II. THE ORIGIN OF THE GREAT DISSENSION THAT AROSE UPON THIS SIMPLE QUESTION. Certain men, evidently of the Church in Judaea, came down to Antioch, and with volunteered assiduity (Acts 15:24) took upon them to teach the brethren at Antioch that circumcision was a rite necessary for them to submit to, if they would be saved. Of these men, before they are condemned as mere officious idlers or "busybodies," it shall be granted that they had a right to their own religious views, their own reading of the Law and prophets, and their own past history; that they also had a right to travel and to go and see the new Gentile converts, whose Church at Antioch must in itself have been such a sign; and that, arrived there, they were not bound to keep a perpetual silence. But from the very moment that these things are conceded to the members of any Christian society dates the solemn responsibility which rests upon them. One of the great facts of the "liberty" (Acts 15:10; Galatians 5:1) of Christ's Church is that individual character shall be called out and strictly tried by the vast increase of individual responsibility. But the liberty cannot be had and the responsibility left. And up to this point these things may be noted—
(1) that from the very first "offences would come," even within the Church; but
(2) that it was no less "woe" to them by whom the offence should come; for that on them lay the responsibility (of which they should be aware and beware), and not upon any laches on the part of the Church as a whole in not legislating, for instance, to suppress the freedom of individual thought and word. For to do this under the rule of Jesus would be to originate worse "offence." The very Worst affront to Jesus is to substitute letter for spirit, law for love. The origin of a dissension, then, that excited much disputation, consumed much precious time, is certain to have awakened some bitterness of word and of temper, as well as to have caused no slight anxiety and pain to those concerned, was the gratuitous work of men who had not correct knowledge, did not try to get it (Acts 15:24), and who went out of their way to "make a great stir."
III. THE APOSTOLIC MANAGEMENT OF THIS DISSENSION. The somewhat indefinite phraseology of the second verse, compared with the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:2, leaves us in very little uncertainty that we are to understand that Paul and Barnabas received special intimation from the Spirit that the question should be moved to Jerusalem; that the Church at Antioch heartily fell in with the rightness of this course, and rejoiced to attend the steps of the apostles and other delegates to the last, as well as to commend them in prayer to God.
1. If, then, the intimation of the Spirit showed the way for the apostles, it may be gathered
(1) what really important issues were at stake, not in the matter only, but in the manner of treating this dissension; and
(2) it may be assumed that many a time and anxiously and fervently did the two implore Divine guidance. The Spirit is the Ruler in the Church. How imperfectly is this vital fact remembered in modern days! And the Spirit's guidance is sought and obtained when clouds and stormy weather were presaged. As to the practical uses to be gained by this reference of the question to Jerusalem and to the body of the apostles and elders, it goes by saying.
2. When Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of the Antioch Church with them, reach Jerusalem, they are, in the first instance, courteously received by the whole Church with "the apostles and elders." The meeting was a set, ice, and a happy, holy service. All hear what God has done (Galatians 2:4), and the joy is great. And, finally, the question is opened, apparently as temperately as plainly (Galatians 2:5).
3. The proper council shortly come together. It consists of "the apostles and elders." But the matter appears to have been argued in the presence of the whole assembly still (Galatians 2:7, Galatians 2:12, Galatians 2:13, 22). Four leading speeches and arguments are recorded, and the order and the wisdom alike of the selection of speakers must be apparent. Who better to begin than Peter? His argument is plain, practical, and cannot be gainsaid. But the way in which he turns the tables on his brethren of the Jewish sticklers for circumcision (Galatians 2:11) is most significant. There follow Barnabas and Paul with their missionary tidings. These carried volumes of conviction, and were well fitted to do so. Men listen still wonderfully in preached sermons to facts and reliable history. It is these which weigh, too, with the unsophisticated and the mass. And with what keenness of attention and almost sympathetic pride they listen to these recitals from the lips of men who had "hazarded their lives for the Name" of the Lord Jesus Christ (verse 26) 1 And after these thrilling speeches James (probably "the brother of the Lord" and the writer of the Epistle general) renews argument, corroborating it by Old Testament Scripture quotation. Nor does he sit down without making definite proposals to meet the present case.
4. In harmony with those proposals, the apostles and elders and the whole Church agree. And they agree to write and to send what they write by the honored hands of Paul and Barnabas, and two others specially delegated from their own home communion to Antioch. Verses 23-29 contain the words of a letter which, for kindly respect, for conciliatory tone toward all, for fidelity of truth (verse 24), for "honor to whom honor" is due (verse 26), for religious calling to witness of the one Ruler of the Church, "the Holy Ghost" (verse 28), and for the word of exhortation (verse 29), could not be surpassed. 5. The four peacemakers speed on their way to Antioch. They call "the multitude" (Acts 4:32; Acts 6:5) together, deliver their letter, and congratulate the Gentiles liberated from many a fear in its "consolation." This gentle touch at the end speaks much of what had been transpiring in the minds of those Gentile converts, and helps as practical comment upon verse 10 of this chapter. The two visitors, Judas and Silas, also address the Antioch Church, the latter of whom finds such interest in place and people that he stays at Antioch, there a while assisting Paul and Barnabas in their ministry and in their pastorate of the flock.
IV. SOME GENERAL LESSONS FOR CHURCH LIFE SUGGESTED BY THIS HISTORY. We should observe:
1. The sanction here given to the patient and faithful use of strictly moral forces in the government of the Church of Christ. The case had aspects that might well, on the one hand, try the forbearance of the large-hearted, and, on the other hand, tempt to high-handed dispatch. But a world of trouble is not grudged to keep well within the spirit of the Master, and to have compassion on the weak, and to consider others in their errors and their small-mindedness, "lest they also be tempted," with whom confessedly may lie now the strength and the right and the goodness.
2. The honor done to courtesy and respect and to the observance of "duty towards equals," or those who for the time must be called so. Christianity often seems to offer us a very clear, very beautiful outline of the perfections possible to human society merely as such.
3. The kindest attention here paid to human feelings. It seems to shine out again and. again. Where a cold, despotic, hard-and-fast ecclesiasticism would have found its occasion for triumphing, the true order of Christ's Church finds a chosen occasion for reverencing feeling. For upon and in addition to all the honor shown in the transactions recorded in this chapter to respect and courtesy, there is apparent the sympathy of true and heartfelt love. Amid great dangers the least possible damage was done to the reputation of young Christianity, and the comment might still be, "See how these Christians love one another."—R.
Symptoms more starting.
There is a sense in which human nature and Christian principle are opposed to each other. When in conflict they are indeed two rare antagonists. It is astonishing at how many angles the former can be touched by the latter, and how deeply and incisively this cuts into that. The great dissension in the matter of circumcision and the new Gentile converts filled larger space under the eye; but how often has it faded away from the mental gaze of even the most devout reader when the present dissension has come immediately after upon his view, and with unwelcome semi-fascination riveted attention! Faithful, we may well say, as the "Spirit of all truth" is his Book. The sins and failings of apostles are not concealed. Nor are they even glossed over, though it was the very moment when men of devout sympathies would have given anything to veil them from view and withdraw them from any permanent record. The record lies here, and it must be for use. A certain indefiniteness characterizes it where it would have particularly suited our curiosity to have exact detail and pronounced verdict. That very incompleteness is sure to shelter valuable hints. We shall do well, then, to notice as simply as possible the track of the narrative, and keep near it. We are taught—
I. ONE ELEMENT OF THE RESPECT DUE TO SCRIPTURE. This is to compare Scripture with Scripture. The slight hint of Acts 13:13 lies for a while like a chance seed dropped in chance soil. But now it has appeared above ground, and it takes shape and color, and buds with meaning. Act 20:1-38 :39 furnishes us with another kind of instance of the value of reading Scripture in this way, where we glean a beautiful saying of "the Lord Jesus," not recorded elsewhere, though the apostle calls on those to whom he was speaking to "remember" it as a thing they had heard or read.
II. SCRIPTURE'S EXAMPLE AS TO OCCASIONAL RETICENCE. Here was a quarrel undoubtedly. There was, without doubt, Divine reason for writing certain facts of it on the page of inspiration. But how frugal the language is! How utterly absent the least symptom of satisfaction in the narrating of it! And there is not an attempt to dilate or expatiate upon it.
III. SCRIPTURE'S EXAMPLE AS TO PASSING JUDGMENT AND MEASURING OUT PRAISE AND BLAME. If Scripture is thus cautious, with all the resources, amounting often as in this case to certainty of knowledge, which it possesses, how much more careful should we be to avoid a course for which our nature seems often to manifest a strong predilection! It is our very disappointment here that blame is not apportioned between Paul and Barnabas, nor any final verdict pronounced. But, on second thoughts, is that disappointment of worthy sort?
IV. HOW TWO UNDOUBTEDLY CHRISTIAN MEN MAY TAKE VERY DIFFERENT VIEWS OF DUTY IN SOME ONE PRACTICAL MATTER.
1. It is even pleasant and suggestive to note that the difference was none of doctrine. The "unity of the faith," at all events, is not wounded in the house of its friends.
2. It is even possible, though perhaps scarcely probable, that this difference of opinion was abundantly legitimate, and that it proceeded from as much excellence of one kind in Barnabas as of another in Paul. Barnabas may have leaned to John in compassion and forgivingness and desire to give him another trial, instead of shutting him out from it for one offence. And strong, trenchant Paul may have been so stricken with the "memory" of the words of "the Lord Jesus" about the man who "put his hand to the plough, and looked back," and like words, that he could not feel it was a case for human kindness as against Divine fidelity, and could not entertain two opinions upon it. Paul also may have rightly estimated the incalculable disgrace and reproach it would bring upon the work of Christ if at some more unfortunately critical point than before Mark should fail. It must be admitted that both of these good men way have been justified in thinking that the matter was not a little matter and not a matter for yielding, but for allowing conscience "to have her perfect work."
V. HOW TREMBLINGLY CAREFUL GOOD MEN SHOULD BE IN DIFFERING TO GOVERN TEMPER AND RESTRAIN ALL BITTERNESS. However possibly motives may have been unimpeachable on this occasion, and justifiable room have existed for two opinions, yet it is impossible to escape the conviction that difference degenerated into dispute. The passage-at-arms was not altogether that of brethren, but it was "so sharp" that the sacred phraseology uses an equivalent not less forcible than the word "exasperation."
VI. HOW MUCH BETTER IT IS TO SEPARATE, AND BOTH WORK RATHER THAN FIGHT AND BOTH STOP WORK. The separation of tiffs place may be regarded as the typical instance of the New Testament, as the separation of Abram and Lot (Genesis 13:5-18) is that of the old, with consequences not altogether dissimilar. For from this point the star of Paul is more and yet more in the ascendant, as it was with Abram, but of Barnabas henceforth the sacred record fails to tell.
VII. HOW GRATEFULLY WE SHOULD ACKNOWLEDGE THE GOODNESS AND THE PITY THAT STILL USE SINFUL, IMPERFECT MEN, AND OUT OF ALL THE TANGLE OF HUMAN STRIFE BRING TO PASS DIVINE PURPOSES AND THE SALVATION OF MEN. For when all else is said, and our whole brief narrative in these few verses is surveyed, we most gratefully gather this residuum of good and of comfort.
1. The purpose that visited Paul's heart and his sharing of it with Barnabas—a purpose that rose from a heart's deep and high love, and that was nothing daunted by the prospect of danger and suffering.
2. The outspoken and honest objection taken by Paul to the company of Mark. That this objection, with its blunt honesty, finds room given to it on the page may be taken as some indication that the right lay with Paul. Nothing is breathed to detract from the propriety of his firm veto of Mark as a companion.
3. The prayers of the brethren who send Paul forth, and their "recommending him to the grace of God." These three things are welcome reliefs in the midst of a scene not attractive in its main aspects. Would that as much redeeming impression could be found in other cases of "sharp contention" among Christian brethren and fellow-laborers in the same vineyard!—B.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Circumcision and salvation
Revised Version, "Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved." It was inevitable that the claims of Judaism and of Christianity should presently come into conflict. The conflict, when it came, would be sure to rage round some one particular point of difference; not necessarily the most important point, but the one which would give most prominence to the essential differences. Circumcision was only a formal rite, and its importance might easily be exaggerated; but it sealed the exclusiveness of the Jewish system, and it illustrated its ceremonial character, so it formed a good ground on which to fight. The Jews had this vantage-ground. Circumcision was unquestionably a Divine institution; and the Christian could bring no proof whatever that it had been formally removed. The Christian teachers could only urge that the "life in Christ" no longer needed formal bonds, and that God's grace in Christ Jesus was given to those who were not of the circumcision. St. Paul took very firm ground on the question. While prepared to go to the very limits of charitable concession in dealing with those who felt the helpfulness of rites and ceremonies, he was prepared to resist to the death any tampering with the gospel condition of salvation, or any attempt to declare that saving grace could be found in any formal ordinance or ceremony. "When the very foundations of Christianity were in danger of being undermined, it was not possible for St. Paul to "give place by subjection."
I. MAN'S HIGHEST NEED CONCEIVED AS SALVATION. Not reformation; not religion; not material prosperities; not intellectual attainments; not culture; but distinctly salvation, which is a moral good, bears direct relation to personal sins and to a sinful state, and is conceivable only by some Divine intervention, and on revealed Divine terms. Man's final cry is," What must I do to be saved?" "How can man be just with God?" Salvation, conceived as man's reconciliation with God, was the idea of Judaism, and it was represented by man's being brought into covenant relations, and kept in them by sacrifice and ceremonial. Judaism had a moral life within its ritual, and this finds expression in the Psalms and in the prophets. Salvation, as apprehended by Christianity, is man's reconciliation to God, upon his penitence for sin, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the all-sufficient Sacrifice for sin and Savior entrusted with authority to forgive. The two systems are related, as a shadow is related to the figure that throws it; but the two cannot be combined; the shadow must pass altogether when the substance has come. The salvation man wants is a soul-salvation, and that no rite, no ceremonial, can touch.
II. THE OLDER IDEA OF THE MEANS OF SALVATION. Salvation was a Divine favor granted to one particular race. The Abrahamic relations, standing, and rights were secured to all who adopted the appointed sign and seal of circumcision. In later years outsiders were admitted to share the "salvation," or '"standing with God," of the Abrahamic race, by submitting to the rite of circumcision. As spirituality faded from the Jewish life, increasing importance became attached to the mere rite, and zealots contended for it as if in it alone lay the hope of salvation. There is an important place for ritual, but it is ever perilous to spiritual truth if it is put out of its place. It is a useful handmaid; it is a tyrannous mistress.
III. THE NEWER IDEA OF THE MEANS OF SALVATION AS REVEALED TO THE APOSTLES. Not works of righteousness, but "faith," which presupposes penitence. How is a sinner saved? Apart from all systems or ceremonies, he must accept the salvation freely offered to him by God in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. The act of acceptance is called "faith." We cannot wonder that this new and most gracious condition of salvation should have pushed the older idea altogether out of the apostles' minds. It seemed new; they would not even try to think how it fitted the old. Conscious of the new life and joy it brought, they would find themselves gradually being weaned from Jewish ceremonial, and the more advanced thinkers, such as St. Paul, would be even in some danger of exaggerating the contrasts between the old and the new.
IV. THE EFFORT TO RESTORE AGAIN THE OLDER IDEA. Truths and practices which have long absorbed the interest of men do not die without a struggle. Some champions linger on, and show fight at every opportunity. A wealth of interests gather round every religious system, and generations must pass before these can be wholly changed. So we cannot wonder that the sterner Judaism showed fight against the apostles, or that paganism again and again made desperate efforts to resist advancing Christianity. The Jewish tethers seem on this occasion to have acted in an underhanded and unworthy way. "The course they adopted, in the first instance, was not that of open antagonism to St. Paul, but rather of clandestine intrigue. They came as 'spies' into an enemy's camp, creeping in unawares, and gradually insinuating or openly inculcating their opinion that the observance of the Jewish Law was necessary to salvation." Two things need to be considered.
1. Why their teaching had to be so vigorously resisted.
(1) Because it tended to confuse the minds of the disciples;
(2) because it was fundamentally opposed to the Christian teaching.
2. On what grounds the resistance could be made. These were
(1) the exclusiveness of the Christian condition of salvation—by faith;
(2) the supreme claims of the teaching of Christ, who laid no such burden on his disciples;
(3)the fact that the Holy Ghost sealed believers from among the uncircumcised. This is enough, then and now. "Whosoever believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life."—R.T.
Acts 15:2, Acts 15:4
The Jerusalem Church.
Christianity started out from Jerusalem. The disciples fulfilled their Lord's command, and "began at Jerusalem." The gospel was first preached at Jerusalem. The Holy Ghost endowed the Christian teachers, and scaled the Christian believers, first at Jerusalem. The Church first took form at Jerusalem. Its officers were first appointed at Jerusalem. And the records intimate that, when the other disciples were scattered abroad, the older and prominent apostles remained behind in the holy city, and exercised a kind of supervision over the work of the various Christian teachers. The constitution of the Jerusalem Church cannot be certainly known; but it is clear that St. Peter had no exclusive authority, and that if disputes and controversies were submitted to an apostolic council, their decision took the form of recommendation and not of Command. As the subject will be treated from several points of view, according to the bias of the preacher, we give only the general outline of the topics that may be usefully considered.
I. JERUSALEM, THE CHRISTIAN STARTING-POINT. The first teachers were Jews; and Christianity is not only the proper outcome and perfection of Judaism, but it bears the Jewish stamp. It links on to the fundamental ideas of God, sin, redemption, which were revealed to the Jews. If it were wholly new, it could not be true.
II. JERUSALEM, THE APOSTOLIC CENTER. A kind of mother Church. Observe how its council of apostles and elders was sought when difficulties of doctrine or practice arose; and how the Gentile Churches sent their charitable gifts to the poor saints at the mother Church.
III. JERUSALEM, THE MODEL CHURCH. How far any Church could present a model may be disputed. Any model would be efficient by reason of its illustrating working principles, not by virtue of its mere form.
IV. JERUSALEM, THE SOURCE OF AUTHORITY. How far apostles claimed authority on the ground of their knowledge of Christ, inspiration, miraculous gifts, and power to give or bring the Holy Ghost, needs to be carefully considered.—R.T.
Salvation by grace for all.
This passage is part of the speech delivered by St. Peter at the conference, tits words ought to be weighty words, seeing that God had been pleased to reveal directly to him the relations in which the Gentiles should stand to his gospel. St. Peter would have been an intensely Jewish man but for his experiences at Joppa and Caesarea. He had evidently learned well the lesson of the broadness of the Christian platform; and yet even he subsequently faltered, and brought himself under the rebuke of St. Paul. After reminding his hearers of the part which he himself had taken in admitting the Gentiles into the Christian Church, St. Peter urges this point: "The communication of the Holy Ghost was the true test of God's acceptance; and God had shown that he was no respecter of persons by shedding abroad the same miraculous gifts on Jew and Gentile, and purifying by faith the hearts of both alike." He further reminds them what a heavy yoke the Jewish Law had proved for many generations; how thankful they were to be relieved from the legal bondage by the salvation offered through faith; and how unreasonable it would be to attempt to impose on others a burden which neither they nor their fathers had ever been able to bear. Dean Plumptre gives thus the conclusion of St. Peter's speech: "The Pharisee might regard the Law as binding; but even he, if he believed in Christ, was compelled to confess that his hope of salvation was found in the work of Christ as the Savior; and if so, then, as regards that hope, Jew and Gentile were on the same level, and the judgment that men could not be saved without the Law was but the inconsistency of an intolerant dogmatism, insisting on imposing that which was acknowledged to be profitless." There is in St. Peter's speech a firm declaration of the great evangelical principles.
I. SALVATION ON GOD'S SIDE IS HIS ACT OF GRACE. The idea of purchase or desert is wholly excluded from it. Salvation by perfect obedience to formal rules, and faithful keeping of covenant terms, had been thoroughly tried in Judaism, and it had certainly and hopelessly failed, because sinning man lacked the power. Man could no more save himself by the attempted obediences of Judaism than by the human schemes devised in heathenism. It was evident that salvation for man must be an intervention of Divine love, a manifestation of Divine grace. And this is the very essence of the gospel message concerning God: "What the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Salvation is a Divine gift, offered freshly and freely, apart from all previous revelations and conditions, on terms which God himself is pleased to arrange. And, without bringing forward any older ideas or customs, our simple duty is to listen to God as he tells us the conditions upon which he is pleased to offer forgiveness and life. We may be quite satisfied if we can find the terms laid down in the new covenant of grace, and they are these: "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life."
II. SALVATION, ON MAN'S SIDE, IS HIS ACT OF FAITH. NO gift can be of value unless there is a proper preparedness to receive it. We do not simply scatter our common earthly gifts, we choose to whom we shall give them, and we expect them to be in such a state of mind and feeling towards us as shall ensure that they will accept and make good use of our gifts. Such conditions apply to the gift of salvation. Of free grace, though it is, it requires something in man which can alone secure that the gift will be valued. The spiritual preparedness of man for the spiritual gift is called faith. It is illustrated in the disposition of mind which Christ required in those whom he miraculously healed. And it includes
(1) surrender of self-trust;
(2) confidence in God's provision and promise; and
(3) a full desire for and expectancy of Divine help.
Faith, as a disposition or mood of mind, is to be distinguished from faith as an act. The state of faith sets us ready to receive the gift; the act of faith appropriates the gift. So presenting man's faith, it will be clearly seen that no kind of "merit," as a saving work, can attach to it.
III. BOTH ARE LARGE ENOUGH CONDITIONS TO COVER AND EMBRACE ALL HUMANITY. Jew and Gentile too. This is St. Peter's point in Acts 15:9,Acts 15:11. The grace of the universal Father can, without doubt, reach and bless and save all. And faith is so common, so universal a human faculty that it can be made a condition for all. Every one can thankfully open hand and heart to receive a gift. Everybody can trust.—R.T.
The highest Christian commendation.
Nothing could be said more fitted to ensure the confidence of the Churches in the messengers sent from the conference than this description: "Men that have hazarded their lives for the Name of our Lord Jesus." It may be observed that men have established this test of sincerity, nobility, or belief in any truth: "Could the man stake his life on it?" "Was he willing to die for it?" The heroic traveler is the man who stakes his life on his purpose, as did Livingstone. The heroic soldiers are they who volunteer for the forlorn hope, and die to serve their country. The heroic martyrs are the men who can die for their faith and opinion. No man's faith has come under the full testing unless, in some form, it is proved whether he will die for it. The sublimest of all illustrations is found in our Lord's purpose of perfect obedience to his Father's will. That purpose came under many and various testings, but we could not feel that it was perfect, and indeed the infinite example, if he had not kept it through the trial of that agonizing death, He not only "hazarded," he actually yielded his life in maintaining that obedience. By the same test Barnabas and Paul had been proved, and in their first missionary journey their lives had again and again been in peril; once indeed Paul had been left for dead after the riotous stoning of the populace (Acts 13:50; Acts 14:19). From the Christian standpoint the noblest and best men are—
I. THOSE WHO CAN SACRIFICE SELF. Self-seeking is the marked characteristic of the unrenewed man, toned, however, by amiability, kindness of disposition, generosity, motherhood, etc., as elements of the natural character. Self-denial is the highest conception of purely human virtue, and is the noblest adornment of human character. In a thousand forms "self-denial" is demanded in our common life and relations; and none of the responsible positions in life can be occupied without this virtue being demanded. Self-sacrifice is seldom required; but the man who can meet this demand gains the first place in the world's esteem. Illustrate by the doctor who dies for his patient; the mother who dies for her child; the rescuer who dies in rescuing; the missionary who yields his life in his mission, The extreme demand may not always be made; it often has to be faced. And we may test our own hold of truth, duty, or hope, by putting to ourselves this question, "Could I die for it?" Show what kind of moral Power the heroic leaders in self-sacrifice gain over their fellows.
1. They declare that duty is before pleasure.
2. They attest the grandeur of a cherished idea.
3. They glorify the conception of right.
4. They uphold faith in God.
5. They affirm the insignificance of this life in view of the life that is to come.
6. They keep up the standard of life for us all; and are, as angel-ministrants, ever beckoning us on to higher and nobler things.
II. THOSE WHO CAN SACRIFICE SELF FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST'S NAME. Taken in two senses:
1. For the sake of upholding the honor of Christ's Name, seeing that he is ever honored in the conduct of his servants. Men praise him through what they see of him in us. He "laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
2. For the sake of making witness for Christ. No witness can have the power of a martyrdom. Illustrate Stephen's witness in his death.
(1) Self-sacrifice sets Christ up in the view of men, for all gather round the martyr, and wonder over his calmness and victory.
(2) Self-sacrifice proves the truth of doctrine (see Paley's argument from the persecutions and sufferings of the early teachers).
(3) Self-sacrifice for Christ impresses upon us the extraordinary fascination which the Lord Jesus can exert on men's souls. How we must love those for whom we are willing to die! None can take our love so that for the sake of it we will yield our life, as does the Lord Jesus Christ. Conclude by showing that passing ages do not change the Divine demands, only change the forms in which they find expression. The heroic life of self-denial in many things, and even of self-sacrifice sometimes, as our witness to Christ, is still demanded, in these indulgent times, of all who name the Name of the Lord Jesus.—R.T.
Acts 15:28, Acts 15:29
Reasonable and unreasonable burdens.
"To lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things." The precise nature of the things which the council thought essential to Christian standing and life are discussed in the Expository Portion of this Commentary, and materials for the introduction of our subject will be found in it. "The letter does not say why these things were necessary, and the term was probably chosen as covering alike the views of those who held, like the Pharisee Christians, that they were binding on the Church for ever, and those who, like St. Paul, held that they were necessary only for a time, and as a measure of wise expediency." The letter is a most wise and careful one; it avoids the details of the dispute, or any report of the discussion in the council. It accuses no one, but by implication supports the position which St. Paul had taken. It effectually checked for a time the agitation created by the Judaizing party. Two dangers attended the young Christian Church.
1. A false conception of liberty in Christ, which really meant "license," and ruinous loosening of self-restraint and reasonable rule.
2. A mischievous bondage to mere forms, out of which the life and meaning had long faded, and passed. The council wisely met the twofold danger by declaring that the old forms were no longer binding, but that the Christian liberty ought to be set under safe, prudent, and mutually accepted rules and restraints. The laying on Gentile Christians of the old Judaic burdens was unreasonable. But the laying on them of burdens coming from the relations of Christian principles to the sins and evils of society, all must recognize to be reasonable. They were free, but they must not use their liberty unwisely, or so as to injure the conscience and sensitive feeling of even the weakest brother among them. We may gather from this advice given to the Antiochene Church some clear distinctions between the reasonable and unreasonable in burdens laid on us as Christians.
I. THE BURDEN OF CUSTOM IS UNREASONABLE. The plea, "Everybody does it, therefore you must," is one which the Christian is quite justified in rejecting. Fashion in religious conduct, or in religious worship, or in religious doctrine, if it is imposed as a burden, the Christian may call unreasonable. He is in no sense obliged to follow such lead unless he can clearly discern that the fashion or custom expresses the claim of the right. Oftentimes customs grow up which become a terrible slavery, and it becomes necessary for some Christians to break the bonds as resolutely as St. Paul did the bonds of these Judaizing teachers. Illustrate from the three spheres:
(1) religious doctrine;
(2) religious worship;
(3) religious society.
II. THE BURDEN OF ABROGATED LAW IS UNREASONABLE. Recognizing the progression of Divine revelation, we see that a step upwards involves freedom from the step below. Judaism was one step in Divine revelation, and it prepared for the spiritual revelation in Christ, which was a step higher. It was unreasonable to press the demands of formal Judaism, and much more unreasonable to press the claims of rabbinical Judaism, on those who had been lifted up to the spiritual and Christian platform. This point is well argued by Phillips Brooks, in a most suggestive sermon on the 'Symbol and the Reality.' He says, "There is no better test of men's progress than this advancing power to do without the things which used to be essential to their lives. As we climb a high mountain, we must keep our footing strong upon one ledge until we have fastened ourselves strongly on the next; then we may let the lower foothold go. The lives of men who have been always growing are strewed along their whole course with the things which they have learned to do without." What an overburdened life ours would be if we were compelled to carry all the old things we once valued and used with us in our advance to the new! Yet there is a sense in which, even in our Christian times, men press on us the burden of that which is past, abrogated, and done with. It may be effectively illustrated in relation to Christian doctrine. It is said that Judaic forms of sacrifice explain the Christian redemption; and we may urge that this is an unreasonable burden, and all that we need to accept is, that Judaic sacrifice was the figure and symbol, by the help of which men were prepared to apprehend and receive the moral and spiritual redemption wrought in and by the Lord Jesus. We, as well as the early disciples, may properly refuse the burden of Mosaic symbols and forms, which have had their day, done their work, and ceased to be.
III. THE BURDEN OF AGREED RULES IS REASONABLE. All associations of persons together involve mutual acceptance of conditions of fellowship; and those conditions must put limitations on personal liberty. Illustrate by the necessary rules of a nation, a club, a family, a congregation. These are reasonable, and are no infringements of liberty, but a proper expression of it. No one feels such to be a burden. Further than this, society, as constituted in each country and age, has an unwritten code of manners and morals, and this need not be unreasonable, nor is it felt to be a burden so long as it manifestly concerns the preservation of social virtue and goodness. As with the early Church, the conditions of society may make specific demands on Christians, such as are indicated in Acts 15:29; but these may reasonably be accepted as the restraints of the few for the good of the whole.
IV. THE BURDEN OF CHARITY IS REASONABLE. Here we come upon ground which St. Paul's teaching to the Corinthians has made very familiar. Christian love even rejoices to put itself into bonds if thus it can gain influence on others. In conclusion, urge that life properly refuses bonds, and demands free expression; but the life in Christ willingly puts itself under rules for his sake and for others' sake.—R.T.
Contentions and separations.
It is sometimes a weakness of dealing with Scripture characters that "inspiration" is not distinguished from "perfection." The place of human infirmity in divinely endowed men is not sufficiently recognized. And yet, for the correction of this very tendency, the frailty of good men is always indicated in the Scripture histories. Of only one man—the Man Christ Jesus—can it be said, "In him was no sin." So when it is manifest that good men have fallen into error and sin, unnatural ways of explaining the fact are often resorted to, and men are afraid to recognize that these great men of Scripture were really "men of like passions with us;" and so, from our own experiences, we can best apprehend their failings. A point needing much careful thought is the relation of the Divine regeneration to the natural disposition and character. It is a renewal of the man if it renews his will; but it has to be followed up by a continuous Divine work which renews the mind, character, temper, habits, and relations; and we must not be surprised if, at any particular point of that work, there remain frailties and infirmities. Evidently no idea of absolute perfection of character and disposition can be entertained concerning either Barnabas—"a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost"—or of Paul, who had been called to the apostleship. A close survey of the relations between these two missionaries reveals a gradual drifting apart, a kind of widening distance between them, which probably neither of them consciously recognized or in any way encouraged. When they started out, Barnabas, as the elder man and the elder Christian, took the leading place; but circumstances brought Paul to the front. There was force of character, power on others, natural leadership, which men soon recognized, in spite of his somewhat insignificant appearance; and as he gradually subsided into the second place, Barnabas could very naturally cherish the idea that Paul had better go alone, or with companions of his own choosing. Actual grounds of separation usually follow on a period of secretly divided feeling, and the difficulty that arose over John Mark need not have been so serious if there had been no previous unconscious drifting asunder. Difficulties and dissensions occur only too often in family and Chinch life, but they seldom are mere sudden storms which cannot be accounted for; they follow on a condition of atmosphere which has necessitated them sooner or later. Olshansen says, on this contention between Barnabas and Paul, "Paul appears, although indeed this cannot be imagined, to have permanently violated the principle of love, for on account of a single fault he entirely threw off Mark; and of Barnabas it might be feared that love for his relative, more than a conviction of his fitness, was the motive for taking him as a companion on his missionary journey. But on closer consideration these surmises are seen to be perfectly groundless." These considerations prepare the way for a closer examination of the "contention" and the consequent separation of these two good friends and fellow-laborers.
I. THE SUBJECT OF THE CONTENTION. Give some account of Mark; his probable youthfulness; his mother's dependence on him; his particular office as minister or attendant on the two missionaries. The difficulties and dangers of traveling in those times required that several should go together; and as men of good family and associations, both Barnabas and Paul would be accustomed to, and dependent on, the daily offices of servants or attendants. Ministry to such a person as St. Paul we would count honorable indeed.
II. THE ARGUMENTS OF THE CONTENTION. These may easily be imagined. Each man took his own point of view and pressed it too hard. Each had good show of reason, but each manifested self-will in presenting it. The arguments were of little avail towards producing satisfactory results, because the divergence was rather one of sentiment and feeling than of deliberate judgment. Arguments seldom help the settlement of disputes that really arise from diversity of feeling. Christian principle and Christian charity and brotherliness can do more in such cases than the most convincing arguments.
III. THE RESULTS OF THE CONTENTION. These may be shown so far as they affected
(1) St. Paul,
It may be shown that St. Paul's severity with Mark did not influence his personal affection for him; and that if, as a matter of judgment, he declined his service, he did not take up a permanent prejudice against him. In conclusion, lessons may be learnt from this incident concerning
(1) the insidious growth of feelings that tend to separate "very friends;"
(2) the hopelessness of settling the disputes which arise between men by mere argument;
(3) the hope that lies in the exercise of mutual forbearance, kindly yielding of our own, anxiety to find common ground, and the true Christian brotherliness, to preserve us from separating contentions, and to heal them when they arise.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Acts 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26