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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Acts 15

 

 

Verse 1-2

Chapter 10

THE FIRST CHRISTIAN COUNCIL.

Acts 15:1-2; Acts 15:6; Acts 15:19

I HAVE headed this chapter, which treats of Acts 15:1-41 and its incidents, the First Christian Council, and that of set purpose and following eminent ecclesiastical example. People often hear the canons of the great Councils quoted, the canons of Nice, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, those great assemblies which threshed out the controversies concerning the person and nature of Jesus Christ and determined with marvellous precision the methods of expressing the true doctrine on these points, and they wonder where or how such ancient documents have been preserved. Well, the answer is simple enough. If any reader, curious about the doings of these ancient assemblies, desires to study the decrees which proceeded from them, and even the debates which occurred in them, he need only ask in any great library for a history of the Councils, edited either by Hardouin or Labbe and Cossart, or, best and latest of all, by Mansi. They are not externally very attractive volumes, being vast folios; nor are they light or interesting reading. The industrious student will learn much from them, however; and he will find that they all begin the history of the Christian Councils by placing at the very head and forefront thereof the history and acts of the Council of Jerusalem held about the year 48 or 49 A.D., wherein we find a typical example of a Church synod which set a fashion perpetuated throughout the ages in councils, conferences, and congresses down to the present time. Let us inquire then into the origin, the procedure, and the results of this Assembly, sure that a council conducted under such auspices, reported by such a divinely guided historian, and dealing with such burning questions, must have important lessons for the Church of every age.

I. The question, however, naturally meets us at the very threshold of our inquiry as to the date of this assembly, and the position which it holds in the process of development through which the Christian Church was passing. The decision of this Synod at Jerusalem did not finally settle the questions about the law and its obligatory character. The relations between the Jewish and Gentile sections of the Church continued in some places, especially in the East, more or less unsettled well into the second century; for the Jews found it very hard indeed to surrender all their cherished privileges and ancient national distinctions. But the decree of the Jerusalem Assembly, though only partial settlement, "mere articles of peace," as it has been well called, to tide over a pressing local controversy, formed in St. Paul’s hands a powerful weapon whereby the freedom, the unity, and the catholicity of the Church were finally achieved. Where, then, do we locate this Synod in the story of St. Paul’s labours?

The narrative of the Acts clearly enough places it between the first and second missionary tours in Asia Minor undertaken by that apostle. Paul and Barnabas laboured for the first time in Asia Minor probably from the autumn of 44 till the spring or summer of 46. Their work at that time must have extended over at least eighteen months or more. Their journeys on foot must alone have taken up no small time. They traversed from Perge, where they landed, to Derbe, whence they turned back upon their work, a space of at least two hundred and fifty miles. They made lengthened sojourns in large cities like Antioch and Iconium. They doubtless visited other places of which we are told nothing. Then, having completed their aggressive work, they retraced their steps along the same route, and began their work of consolidation and Church organisation, which must have occupied on their return journey almost as much, if not more, time than they had spent in aggressive labour upon their earlier journey. When we consider all this, and strive to realise the conditions of life and travel in Asia Minor at that time, eighteen months will not appear too long for the work which the apostles actually performed. After their return to Antioch they took up their abode in that city for a considerable period. "They tarried no little time with the disciples" are the exact words of St. Luke telling of their stay at Antioch. Then comes the tale of Jewish intrigues and insinuations, followed by debates, strife, and oppositions concerning the universally binding character of the Jewish law, terminating with the formal deputation from Antioch to Jerusalem. These latter events at Antioch may have happened in a few weeks or months, or they may have extended over a couple of years. But then, on the other hand, we note that St. Paul’s second missionary journey began soon after the Synod of Jerusalem. That journey was very lengthened. It led St. Paul right through Asia Minor, and thence into Europe, where he must have made a stay of at least two years. He was at Corinth for eighteen months when Gallio arrived as proconsul about the middle of the year 53, and previously to that he had worked his way through Macedonia and Greece. St. Paul on his second tour must have been then at least four years absent from Antioch, which he must therefore have left about the year 49 or 50. The Synod of Jerusalem must therefore be assigned to the year 48 A.D. or thereabouts; or, in other words, not quite twenty years after the Crucifixion.

II. And now this leads us to consider the occasion of the Synod. The time was not, as we have said, quite twenty years after the Crucifixion, yet that brief space had been quite sufficient to raise questions undreamt of in earlier days. The Church was at first completely homogeneous, its members being all Jews; but the admission of the Gentiles and the action of St. Peter in the matter of Cornelius had destroyed this characteristic so dear to the Jewish heart. The Divine revelation at Joppa to St. Peter and the gift of the Holy Ghost to Cornelius had for a time quenched the opposition to the admission of the Gentiles to baptism; but, as we have already said, the extreme Jewish party were only silenced for a time, they were not destroyed. They took up a new position. The case of Cornelius merely decided that a man might be baptised without having been previously circumcised; but it decided nothing in their opinion about the subsequent necessity for circumcision and admission into the ranks of the Jewish nation. Their view, in fact, was the same as of old. Salvation belonged exclusively to the Jewish nation, and therefore if the converted Gentiles were to be saved it must be by incorporation into that body to which salvation alone belonged. The strict Jewish section of the Church insisted the more upon this point, because they saw rising up in the Church of Antioch, and elsewhere among the Churches of Syria and Cilicia, a grave social danger threatening the existence of their nation as a separate people. There were just then two classes of disciples in these Churches. There were disciples who lived after the Jewish fashion., -abstaining from unlawful foods, using food slain by Jewish butchers, and scrupulous in washings and lustrations; and there were Gentiles who lived after the Gentile fashion, and in especial ate pork and things strangled. The strict Jews knew right well the tendency of a majority to swallow up a minority, specially when they were all members of the same religious community, enjoying the same privileges and partakers of the same hope. A majority does not indeed necessarily absorb a minority. Roman Catholicism is the religion of the majority in Ireland and France; yet it has not absorbed the small Protestant minority. The adherents of Judaism were scattered in St. Paul’s day all over the world, yet Paganism had not swallowed them up. In these cases, however, the minority have been completely separated from the majority by a middle wall, a barrier of rigid discipline, and of strong, yea even violent religious repugnance. But the prospect now before the strict Jewish party was quite different. In the Syrian Church as they beheld it growing up Jew and Gentile would be closely linked together, professing the same faith, saying the same prayers, joining in the same sacraments, worshipping in the same buildings. All the advantages, too, would be on the side of the Gentile. He was freed from the troublesome restrictions-the more troublesome because so petty and minute-of the Levitical Law. He could eat what he liked, and join in social converse and general life without hesitation or fear. In a short time a Jewish disciple would come to ask himself, What do I gain by all these observances, this yoke of ordinances, which neither we nor our fathers have been able perfectly to bear? If a Gentile disciple can be saved without them, why should I trouble myself with. them? The Jewish party saw clearly enough that toleration of the presence of the Gentiles in the Church and their admission to full communion and complete Christian privileges simply involved the certain overthrow of Jewish customs, Jewish privileges, and Jewish national expectations. They saw that it was a case of war to the death, one party or the other must conquer, and therefore in self-defence they raised the cry, "Unless the Gentile converts be circumcised after the manner of Moses they cannot be saved."

Antioch was recognised at Jerusalem as the centre of Gentile Christianity. Certain, therefore, of the zealous, Judaising disciples of Jerusalem repaired to Antioch, joined the Church, and secretly proceeded to organise opposition to the dominant practice, using for that purpose all the authority connected with the name of James the Lord’s brother, who presided over the Mother Church of the Holy City.

Now let us see what position St. Paul took up with respect to these "false brethren privily brought in, who came in privily to spy out the liberty he enjoyed in Christ Jesus." Paul and Barnabas both set themselves undauntedly to fight against such teaching. They had seen and known the spiritual life which flourished free from all Jewish observances in the Church of the Gentiles. They had seen the gospel bringing forth the fruits of purity and faith, of joy and peace in the Holy Ghost; they knew that these things prepare the soul for the beatific vision of God, and confer a present salvation here below; and they could not tolerate the idea that a Jewish ceremony was necessary over and above the life which Christ confers if men are to gain final salvation.

Here, perhaps, is the proper place to set forth St. Paul’s view of circumcision and of all external Jewish ordinances, as we gather it from a broad review of his writings. St. Paul vigorously opposed all those who taught the necessity of Jewish rites so far as salvation is concerned. This is evident from this chapter and from the Epistle to the Galatians. But on the other hand St. Paul had not the slightest objection to men observing the law and submitting to circumcision, if they only realised that these things were mere national customs and observed them as national customs, and even as religious rites, but not as necessary religious rites. If men took a right view of circumcision, St. Paul had not the slightest objection to it. It was not to circumcision St. Paul objected, but to the extreme stress laid upon it, the intolerant views connected with it. Circumcision as a voluntary practice, an interesting historical relic of ancient ideas and customs, he never rejected, -nay, further, he even practised it, as we shall see in the case of Timothy; circumcision as a compulsory practice binding upon all men St. Paul utterly abhorred. We may, perhaps, draw an illustration from a modern Church in this respect. The Coptic and Abyssinian Churches retain the ancient Jewish practice of circumcision. These Churches date back to the earliest Christian times, and retain doubtless in this respect the practice of the primitive Christian Church. The Copts circumcise their children on the eighth day and before they are baptised; but they regard this rite as a mere national custom, and treat it as absolutely devoid of any religious meaning, significance, or necessity. St. Paul would have had no objection to circumcision in this aspect any more than he would have objected to a Turk for wearing a fez, or a Chinaman for wearing a pigtail, or a Hindoo for wearing a turban. National customs as such were things absolutely indifferent in his view. But if Turkish or Chinese Christians were to insist upon all men wearing their peculiar dress and observing their peculiar national customs as being things absolutely necessary to salvation, St. Paul, were he alive, would denounce and oppose them as vigorously as he did the Judaisers of his own day.

This is the explanation of St. Paul’s own conduct. Some have regarded him as at times inconsistent with his own principles with regard to the law of Moses. And yet if men will but look closer and think more deeply., they will see that St. Paul never violated the rules which he had imposed upon himself. He refused to circumcise Titus, for instance, because the Judaising party at Jerusalem were insisting upon the absolute necessity of circumcising the Gentiles if they were to be saved. Had St. Paul consented to the circumcision of Titus, he would have been yielding assent, or seeming to yield assent, to their contention. {see Galatians 2:3} He circumcised Timothy at Lystra because of the Jews in that neighbourhood; not indeed because they thought it necessary to salvation that an uncircumcised man should be so treated, but because they knew that his mother was a Jewess, and the principle of the Jewish law, and of the Roman law too, was that a man’s nationality and status followed that of his mother, not that of his father, so that the son of a Jewess must be incorporated with Israel. Timothy was circumcised in obedience to national law and custom, not upon any compromise of religious principle. St. Paul himself made a vow and cut off his hair and offered sacrifices in the Temple, as being the national customs of a Jew. These were things in themselves utterly meaningless and indifferent; but they pleased other people. They cost him a little time and trouble; but they helped on the great work he had in hand, and tended to make his opponents more willing to listen to him. St. Paul, therefore, with his great large mind, willing to please others for their good to edification, gratified them by doing what they thought became a Jew with a true national spirit beating within his breast. Mere externals mattered nothing in St. Paul’s estimation. He would wear any vestments, or take any position, or use any ceremony, esteeming them all things indifferent, provided only they conciliated human prejudices and cleared difficulties out of the way of the truth. But if men insisted upon them as things necessary, then he opposed with all his might. This is the golden thread which will rule our footsteps wandering amid the mazes of this earliest Christian controversy. It will amply vindicate St. Paul’s consistency, and show that he never violated the principles he had laid down for his own guidance. Had the spirit of St. Paul animated the Church of succeeding ages, how many a controversy and division would have been thereby escaped!

III. Now let us turn our attention to the actual history of the controversy and strife which raged at Antioch and Jerusalem, and endeavour to read the lessons the sacred narrative teaches. What a striking picture of early Church life is here presented! How full of teaching, of comfort, and of warning! How corrective of the false notions we are apt to cherish of the state of the primitive Church! There we behold the Church of Antioch rejoicing one day in the tidings of a gospel free to the world, and on the next day torn with dissension as to the points and qualifications necessary to salvation. For we must observe that the discussion started at Antioch touched no secondary question, and dealt with no mere point of ritual. It was a fundamental question which troubled the Church. And yet that Church had apostles and teachers abiding in it who could work miracles and speak with tongues, and who received from time to time direct revelations from heaven, and were endowed with the extraordinary presence of the Holy Ghost. Yet there it was that controversy with all its troubles raised its head and "Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension" with their opponents. What a necessary warning for every age, and specially for our own, we behold in this narrative! Has not this sacred Book a message in this passage specially applicable to our own time? A great Romeward movement has within the last seventy years, more powerful in the earlier portion of that period than in the latter, extended itself over Europe. English people think that they have themselves been the only persons who have experienced it. But this is a great mistake. Germany forty and fifty years ago felt it also to a large extent. And what was the great predisposing cause of that tendency? Men had simply become tired of the perpetual controversies which raged within the churches and communions outside the sway of Rome. They longed for the perpetual peace and rest which seemed to them to exist within the Papal domains, and they therefore flung themselves headlong into the arms of a Church which promised them relief from the exercise of that private judgment and personal responsibility which had become for them a crushing burden too heavy to be borne. And yet they forgot several things, the sudden discovery of which has sent many of these intellectual and spiritual cowards in various directions, some back to their original homes, some far away into the regions of scepticism and spiritual darkness. They forgot, for instance, to inquire how far the charmer who was alluring them from the land of their nativity by specious promises could satisfy the hopes she was raising. They hoped to get rid of dissension and controversy; but did they? When they had left their childhood’s home and their father’s house and sought the house of the stranger, did they find there halcyon peace? Nay, rather, did they not find there as bitter strife, nay, far more bitter strife, on questions like the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility, than ever raged at home? Did they not find, and do they not find still, that no man and no society can put a hook in the jaws of that Leviathan the right of private judgment, which none can tame or restrain, and which asserts itself still in the Roman Communion as vigorously as ever, even now when the decree of Papal infallibility has elevated that dogma into the rank of those necessary to salvation? Else whence come those dissensions and discussions between minimisers and maximisers of that decree? How is it that no two doctors or theologians will give precisely the same explanation of it, and that, as we in Ireland have seen, every curate fresh from Maynooth claims to be able to express his own private judgment and determination whether any special Papal decree or bull is binding or not? This is one important point forgotten by those who have sought the Roman Communion because of its promises of freedom from controversy. They forgot to ask, Can these promises be fulfilled? And many of them, in the perpetual unrest and strife in which they have found themselves involved as much in their new home as in their old, have proved the specious hopes held out to be the veriest mirage of the Sahara desert. But this was not the only omission of which such persons were guilty. They forgot that, suppose the Roman Church. could fulfil its promises and prove a religious home of perfect peace and freedom from diverging opinions, it would in that case have been very unlike the primitive Church. The Church of Antioch or of Jerusalem, enjoying the ministry of Peter and John and James and Paul, -these pillar-men, as St. Paul calls some of them, -was much more like the Church of England of fifty years ago than any society which offered perfect freedom from theological strife; for the Churches of ancient times in their earliest and purest days were swept by the winds of controversy and tossed by the tempests of intellectual and religious inquiry just like the Church of England, and they took exactly the same measures for the safety of the souls entrusted to them as she did. They depended upon the power of free debate, of unlimited discussion, of earnest prayer, of Christian charity to carry them on till they reached that haven of rest where every doubt and question shall be perfectly solved in the light of the unveiled vision of God.

Then, again, we learn another important lesson from a consideration of the persons who raised the trouble at Antioch. The opening words of the fifteenth chapter thus describes the authors of it: "Certain men came down from Judaea." It is just the same with the persons who a short time after compelled St. Peter to stagger in his course at the same Antioch: "When certain came from James, then St. Peter separated himself, fearing them of the circumcision." [Galatians 2:12] Certain bigots, that is, of the Jewish party, came, pretending to teach with the authority of the Mother Church, and secretly disturbing weak minds. But they were only pretenders, as the apostolic Epistle expressly tells us: "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your-souls; to whom we gave no such commandment." These religious agitators, with their narrow views about life and ritual, displayed the characteristics of like-minded men ever since. They secretly crept into the Church. There was a want of manly honesty about them. Their pettiness of vision and of thought affected their whole nature, their entire conduct. They loved the by-ways of intrigue and fraud, and therefore they hesitated not to claim an authority which they had never received, invoking apostolic names on behalf of a doctrine which the apostles had never sanctioned. The characteristics thus displayed by these Judaisers have ever been seen in their legitimate descendants in every church and society, East and West alike. Narrowness of mind, pettiness and intolerance in thought, have ever brought their own penalty with them and have ever been connected with the same want of moral uprightness. The miserable conception, the wretched fragment of truth upon which such men seize, elevating it out of its due place and rank, seems to destroy their sense of proportion, and leads them to think it worth any lie which they may tell, any breach of Christian charity of which they may be guilty, any sacrifice of truth and honesty which they may make on behalf of their beloved idol. The Judaisers misrepresented religious truth, and in doing so they misrepresented themselves, and sacrificed the great interests of moral truth in order that they might gain their ends.

IV. The distractions and controversies of Antioch were overruled, however, by the Divine providence to the greater glory of God. As the Judaisers continually appealed to the authority of the Church of Jerusalem, the brethren at Antioch determined to send to that body and ask the opinions of the apostles and eiders upon this question. They therefore despatched "Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them," among whom was Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile convert, as a deputation to represent their own views. When they came to Jerusalem the Antiochene deputies held a series of private conferences with the leading men of Jerusalem. This we learn, not from the Acts of the Apostles, but from St. Paul’s independent narrative in Galatians 2:1-21, identifying as we do the visit there recorded with the visit narrated in Acts 15:1-41. St. Paul here exhibits all that tact and prudence we ever trace in his character. He did not depend solely upon his own authority, his reputation, his success. He felt within himself the conscious guidance of the Divine Spirit aiding and guiding a singularly clear and powerful mind. Yet he disdained no legitimate precaution. He knew that the presence and guidance of the Spirit does not absolve a man anxious for the truth from using all the means in his power to ensure its success. He recognised that the truth, though it must finally triumph, might be eclipsed or defeated for a time through man’s neglect and carelessness; and therefore he engaged in a series of private conferences, explaining difficulties, conciliating the support, and gaining the assistance of the most influential members of the Church, including, of course, "James, Cephas, and John, who were reputed to be pillars."

Is there not something very modern in the glimpse thus given us of the negotiations and private meetings which preceded the formal meeting of the Apostolic Council? Some persons may think that the presence and power of the Holy Ghost must have superseded all such human arrangements and forethought. But the simple testimony of the Bible dispels at once. all such objections, and shows us that as the primitive Church was just like the modern Church, torn with dissension, swept with the winds and storms of controversy, so too the divinely guided and inspired leaders of the Church then took precisely the same human means to attain their ends and carry out their views of truth as now find place in the meetings of synods and convocations and parliaments of the present time. The presence of the Holy Ghost did not dispense with the necessity of human exertions in the days of the apostles; and surely we may, on the other hand, believe that similar human exertions in our time may be quite consonant with the presence of the Spirit in our modern assemblies, overruling and guiding human plans and intrigues to the honour of God and the blessing of man. After these private conferences the apostles and elders came together to consider the difficult subject laid before them. And now many questions rise up which we can only very briefly consider. The composition of this Synod is one important point. Who sat in it, and who debated there? It is quite clear, from the text of the Acts, as to the persons who were present at this Synod. The sixth verse says, "The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter"; the twelfth verse tells us that "all the multitude kept silence, and hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them"; - in the twenty-second verse we read, "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole Church, to choose men out of their company, and to send them to Antioch"; while, finally, in the twenty-third verse. we read the superscription of the final decree of the Council, which ran thus, "The apostles and the elder brethren unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia." It seems to me that any plain man reading these verses would come to the conclusion that the whole multitude, the great body of the Church in Jerusalem, were present and took part in this assembly. A great battle indeed has raged round the words of the Authorised Version of the twenty-third verse, "The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles," which are otherwise rendered in the Revised Version. The presence or the absence of the "and" between elders and brethren has formed the battle-ground between two parties, the one upholding, the other opposing the right of the laity to take part in Church synods and councils.

Upon a broad review of the whole affair this Apostolic Assembly seems to me to have an important bearing upon this point. There are various views involved. Some persons think that none but bishops should take part in Church synods; others think that none but clergymen, spiritual persons, in the technical and legal sense of the word "spiritual," should enter these assemblies, specially when treating of questions touching doctrine and discipline. Looking at the subject from the standpoint of the Apostolic Council, we cannot agree with either party. We are certainly told of the speeches of four individuals merely, - Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and James - to whom may be conceded the position of bishops, and even more. But, then, it is evident that the whole multitude of the Church was present at this Synod, and took an active part in it. We are expressly told (Acts 15:4-5): "When they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the Church and the apostles and the elders" "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them." This indeed happened at the first meeting of the Church held to receive the Antiochene deputation when they arrived. But there does not seem to have been any difference between the constitution and authority of the first and second meetings. Both were what we should call Ecclesiastical Assemblies. Laymen joined in the discussions of the first, and doubtless laymen joined in the discussions and much questioning of the second.

There is not indeed a hint which would lead us to conclude that the Pharisees, who rose up and argued on behalf of the binding character of the law of Moses, held any spiritual office whatsoever. So far as the sacred text puts it, they may have been laymen pure and simple, such as were the ordinary Pharisees. I cannot, indeed, see how any member of the Church of England can consistently maintain either from Holy Scripture, ancient ecclesiastical history, or the history of his own Church, that laymen are quite shut out from councils debating questions touching Christian faith, and that their consideration must be limited to bishops, or at least clergymen alone. The Apostolic Church seems to have admitted the freest discussion. The General Councils most certainly tolerated very considerable lay interference. The Emperor Constantine, though not even baptised, obtruded much of his presence and exercised much of his influence upon the great Nicene Council. Why, even down to the sixteenth century, till the Tridentine Council, the ambassadors of the great Christian Powers of Europe sat in Church synods as representing the laity; and it was only in the Council of the Vatican, which met in 1870, that even the Roman Catholic Church formally denied the right of the people to exercise a certain influence in the determination of questions touching faith and discipline by the expulsion of the ambassadors who had in every previous council held a certain defined place. While again, when we come to the history of the Church of England, we find that the celebrated Hooker, the vindicator of its Church polity, expressly defended the royal supremacy as exercised within that Church on the ground that the king represented by delegation the vast body of the laity, who through him exercised a real influence upon all questions, whether of doctrine or discipline. I feel a personal interest in this question, because one of the charges most freely hurled against the Church of Ireland is this, that she has admitted laymen to discussions and votes concerning such questions. I cannot see how, consistently with her past history as an established Church, she could have done otherwise. I cannot see how the Church of England, if she comes in the future to be disestablished, can do otherwise. That Church has always admitted a vast amount of lay interference, even prior to the Reformation, and still more since that. important event. Extreme men may scoff at those branches of their own Communion which have admitted laymen to vote in Church synods upon all questions whatsoever; but they forget when doing so that statements and decrees most dear to themselves bear manifest traces of far more extreme lay intervention. The Ornaments Rubric, standing before the order for Morning Prayer, is a striking evidence of this. It is dear to the hearts of many, because it orders the use of eucharistic vestments and the preservation of the chancels in the ancient style; but on what grounds does it do so? Let the precise words of the rubric be the answer: "Here it is to be noted that such ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth." Objections to the determinations, rules, and canons of the Irish Church Synod might have some weight did they profess, as this rubric does, to have been ordained and imposed by the order of laymen alone. But when the bishops of a. Church have an independent vote, the clergy an independent vote, the free and independent vote of the laity is totally powerless by itself to introduce any novelty, and is only powerful to prevent change in the ancient order. I do not feel bound to defend some ill-judged expressions and foolish speeches which some lay representatives may have made in the Irish Church Synod, as again no member of the Church of England need trouble himself to defend some rash speeches made in Parliament on Church topics. In the first moments of unaccustomed freedom Irish laymen did and said some rash things, and, overawing the clergy by their fierce expressions, may have caused the introduction of some hasty and ill-advised measures. But sure I am that every sincere member of the Church to which I belong will agree that the admission of the lay representatives to a free discussion and free vote upon every topic has had a marvellous influence in broadening their conceptions of Scripture truth and deepening their affections and attachment to their Mother Church which has treated and trusted them thus generously.

V. The proceedings of the Apostolic Synod next demand our attention. The account which has been handed down is doubtless a mere outline of what actually happened. We are not told anything concerning the opening of the Assembly or how the discussion was begun. St. Luke was intent merely on setting forth the main gist of affairs, and therefore he reports but two speeches and tells of two others. Some Christian Pharisee having put forward his objections to the position occupied by the Gentile converts, St. Peter arose, as was natural, he having been the person through whose action the present trouble and discussion had originated. St. Peter’s speech is marked on this occasion by the same want of assumption of any higher authority than belonged to his brethren which we have noted before when objections were taken to his dealings with Cornelius. His speech claims nothing for himself, does not even quote the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but simply repeats in a concise shape the story of the conversion of Cornelius, points out that God put no difference between Jew and Gentile, suggesting that if God had put no difference between them why should man dare to do so, and then ends with proclaiming the great doctrine of grace that men, whether Jews or Gentiles, are saved through faith in Christ alone, which purifies their hearts and lives. After Peter’s speech there arose James the Lord’s brother, who from ancient times has been regarded as the first bishop of Jerusalem, and who most certainly, from the various references to him both here and elsewhere in the Acts 12:17; Acts 21:18 and in the Epistle to the Galatians, seems to have occupied the supreme place in that Church. James was a striking figure. There is a long account of him left us by Hegesippus, a very ancient Church historian, who bordered on apostolic times, and now preserved tot us in the "Ecclesiastical History" of Eusebius, 2:23. There he is described as an ascetic and a Nazarite, like John the Baptist, from his earliest childhood. "He drank neither wine nor fermented liquors, and abstained from animal food. A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used the bath. He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary. He never wore woollen, but linen garments. He was in the habit of entering the Temple alone, and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became as hard as camels, in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God. And indeed on account of his exceeding great piety he was called the Just and Oblias, which signifies the Rampart of the People." This description is the explanation of the power and authority of James the Just in the Apostolic Assembly. He was a strict legalist himself. He desired no freedom for his own share, but rejoiced in observances and restrictions far beyond the common lot of the Jews. When such a man pronounced against the attempt made to impose circumcision and the law as a necessary condition of salvation, the Judaisers must have felt that their cause was lost. St. James expressed his views in no uncertain terms. He begins by referring to St. Peter’s speech and the conversion of Cornelius. He then proceeds to show how the prophets foretold the ingathering of the Gentiles, quoting a passage [Amos 9:11-12] which the Jewish expositors themselves applied to the Messiah. His method of Scriptural interpretation is exactly the same as that of St. Paul and St. Peter. It is very different from ours, but it was the universal method of his day; and when we wish to arrive at the meaning of the Scriptures, or for that matter of any work, we ought to strive and place ourselves at the standpoint and amid the circumstances of the writers and actors. The prophet Amos speaks of the tabernacle of David as fallen down. The rebuilding of it is then foretold, and James sees in the conversion of the Gentiles this predicted rebuilding. He then pronounces in the most decided language against "troubling those who from among the Gentiles are turned to God" in the matter of legal observances, laying down at the same time the concessions which should be demanded from the Gentiles so as not to cause offence to their Jewish brethren. The sentence thus authoritatively pronounced by the strictest Jewish Christian was naturally adopted by the Apostolic Synod, and they wrote a letter to the disciples in Syria and Cilicia, embodying their decision, which for a time settled the controversy which had been raised. This epistle begins by disclaiming utterly and at once the agitators who had gone forth to Antioch and had raised the disturbances. It declared that circumcision was unnecessary for the Gentile converts. This was the great point upon which St. Paul was most anxious. He had no objection, as we have already said, to the Jews observing their legal rites and ceremonies, but he was totally opposed to the Gentiles coming under any such rule as a thing necessary to salvation. The epistle then proceeds to lay down certain concessions which the Gentiles should in turn make. They should abstain from meats offered in sacrifice unto idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication; all of them points upon which the public opinion of the Gentiles laid no stress, but which were most abhorrent to a true Jew. The decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem, as the inspired historian expressly terms them in Acts 16:4, were mere temporary expedients. They determined indeed one important question, that circumcision should not be imposed on the Gentiles-that Judaism, in fact, was not in and by itself a saving dispensation; but left unsolved many other questions, even touching this very subject of circumcision and the Jewish law, which had afterwards to be debated and threshed out, as St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians proves. But, turning our eyes from the obsolete controversy which evoked the Apostolic Epistle, ‘and viewing the subject from a wider and a modern standpoint, we may say that the decrees of this primitive Synod narrated in this typical history bestow their sanction upon the great principles of prudence, wisdom, and growth in the Divine life and in Church work. It was with the apostles themselves as with the Church ever since. Apostles even must not make haste, but must be contented to wait upon the developments of God’s providence. Perfection is an excellent thing, but then perfection cannot be attained at once. Here a little and there a little is the Divine law under the New as under the Old Dispensation. Truth is the fairest and most excellent of all possessions, but the advocates of truth must not expect it to be grasped in all its bearings by all sorts and conditions of men at one and the same time. They must be content, as St. Paul was, if one step be taken at a time; if progress be in the right and not in the wrong direction; and must be willing to concede much to the feelings and long-descended prejudices of short-sighted human nature.


Verse 6

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Chapter 10

THE FIRST CHRISTIAN COUNCIL.

Acts 15:1-2; Acts 15:6; Acts 15:19

I HAVE headed this chapter, which treats of Acts 15:1-41 and its incidents, the First Christian Council, and that of set purpose and following eminent ecclesiastical example. People often hear the canons of the great Councils quoted, the canons of Nice, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, those great assemblies which threshed out the controversies concerning the person and nature of Jesus Christ and determined with marvellous precision the methods of expressing the true doctrine on these points, and they wonder where or how such ancient documents have been preserved. Well, the answer is simple enough. If any reader, curious about the doings of these ancient assemblies, desires to study the decrees which proceeded from them, and even the debates which occurred in them, he need only ask in any great library for a history of the Councils, edited either by Hardouin or Labbe and Cossart, or, best and latest of all, by Mansi. They are not externally very attractive volumes, being vast folios; nor are they light or interesting reading. The industrious student will learn much from them, however; and he will find that they all begin the history of the Christian Councils by placing at the very head and forefront thereof the history and acts of the Council of Jerusalem held about the year 48 or 49 A.D., wherein we find a typical example of a Church synod which set a fashion perpetuated throughout the ages in councils, conferences, and congresses down to the present time. Let us inquire then into the origin, the procedure, and the results of this Assembly, sure that a council conducted under such auspices, reported by such a divinely guided historian, and dealing with such burning questions, must have important lessons for the Church of every age.

I. The question, however, naturally meets us at the very threshold of our inquiry as to the date of this assembly, and the position which it holds in the process of development through which the Christian Church was passing. The decision of this Synod at Jerusalem did not finally settle the questions about the law and its obligatory character. The relations between the Jewish and Gentile sections of the Church continued in some places, especially in the East, more or less unsettled well into the second century; for the Jews found it very hard indeed to surrender all their cherished privileges and ancient national distinctions. But the decree of the Jerusalem Assembly, though only partial settlement, "mere articles of peace," as it has been well called, to tide over a pressing local controversy, formed in St. Paul’s hands a powerful weapon whereby the freedom, the unity, and the catholicity of the Church were finally achieved. Where, then, do we locate this Synod in the story of St. Paul’s labours?

The narrative of the Acts clearly enough places it between the first and second missionary tours in Asia Minor undertaken by that apostle. Paul and Barnabas laboured for the first time in Asia Minor probably from the autumn of 44 till the spring or summer of 46. Their work at that time must have extended over at least eighteen months or more. Their journeys on foot must alone have taken up no small time. They traversed from Perge, where they landed, to Derbe, whence they turned back upon their work, a space of at least two hundred and fifty miles. They made lengthened sojourns in large cities like Antioch and Iconium. They doubtless visited other places of which we are told nothing. Then, having completed their aggressive work, they retraced their steps along the same route, and began their work of consolidation and Church organisation, which must have occupied on their return journey almost as much, if not more, time than they had spent in aggressive labour upon their earlier journey. When we consider all this, and strive to realise the conditions of life and travel in Asia Minor at that time, eighteen months will not appear too long for the work which the apostles actually performed. After their return to Antioch they took up their abode in that city for a considerable period. "They tarried no little time with the disciples" are the exact words of St. Luke telling of their stay at Antioch. Then comes the tale of Jewish intrigues and insinuations, followed by debates, strife, and oppositions concerning the universally binding character of the Jewish law, terminating with the formal deputation from Antioch to Jerusalem. These latter events at Antioch may have happened in a few weeks or months, or they may have extended over a couple of years. But then, on the other hand, we note that St. Paul’s second missionary journey began soon after the Synod of Jerusalem. That journey was very lengthened. It led St. Paul right through Asia Minor, and thence into Europe, where he must have made a stay of at least two years. He was at Corinth for eighteen months when Gallio arrived as proconsul about the middle of the year 53, and previously to that he had worked his way through Macedonia and Greece. St. Paul on his second tour must have been then at least four years absent from Antioch, which he must therefore have left about the year 49 or 50. The Synod of Jerusalem must therefore be assigned to the year 48 A.D. or thereabouts; or, in other words, not quite twenty years after the Crucifixion.

II. And now this leads us to consider the occasion of the Synod. The time was not, as we have said, quite twenty years after the Crucifixion, yet that brief space had been quite sufficient to raise questions undreamt of in earlier days. The Church was at first completely homogeneous, its members being all Jews; but the admission of the Gentiles and the action of St. Peter in the matter of Cornelius had destroyed this characteristic so dear to the Jewish heart. The Divine revelation at Joppa to St. Peter and the gift of the Holy Ghost to Cornelius had for a time quenched the opposition to the admission of the Gentiles to baptism; but, as we have already said, the extreme Jewish party were only silenced for a time, they were not destroyed. They took up a new position. The case of Cornelius merely decided that a man might be baptised without having been previously circumcised; but it decided nothing in their opinion about the subsequent necessity for circumcision and admission into the ranks of the Jewish nation. Their view, in fact, was the same as of old. Salvation belonged exclusively to the Jewish nation, and therefore if the converted Gentiles were to be saved it must be by incorporation into that body to which salvation alone belonged. The strict Jewish section of the Church insisted the more upon this point, because they saw rising up in the Church of Antioch, and elsewhere among the Churches of Syria and Cilicia, a grave social danger threatening the existence of their nation as a separate people. There were just then two classes of disciples in these Churches. There were disciples who lived after the Jewish fashion., -abstaining from unlawful foods, using food slain by Jewish butchers, and scrupulous in washings and lustrations; and there were Gentiles who lived after the Gentile fashion, and in especial ate pork and things strangled. The strict Jews knew right well the tendency of a majority to swallow up a minority, specially when they were all members of the same religious community, enjoying the same privileges and partakers of the same hope. A majority does not indeed necessarily absorb a minority. Roman Catholicism is the religion of the majority in Ireland and France; yet it has not absorbed the small Protestant minority. The adherents of Judaism were scattered in St. Paul’s day all over the world, yet Paganism had not swallowed them up. In these cases, however, the minority have been completely separated from the majority by a middle wall, a barrier of rigid discipline, and of strong, yea even violent religious repugnance. But the prospect now before the strict Jewish party was quite different. In the Syrian Church as they beheld it growing up Jew and Gentile would be closely linked together, professing the same faith, saying the same prayers, joining in the same sacraments, worshipping in the same buildings. All the advantages, too, would be on the side of the Gentile. He was freed from the troublesome restrictions-the more troublesome because so petty and minute-of the Levitical Law. He could eat what he liked, and join in social converse and general life without hesitation or fear. In a short time a Jewish disciple would come to ask himself, What do I gain by all these observances, this yoke of ordinances, which neither we nor our fathers have been able perfectly to bear? If a Gentile disciple can be saved without them, why should I trouble myself with. them? The Jewish party saw clearly enough that toleration of the presence of the Gentiles in the Church and their admission to full communion and complete Christian privileges simply involved the certain overthrow of Jewish customs, Jewish privileges, and Jewish national expectations. They saw that it was a case of war to the death, one party or the other must conquer, and therefore in self-defence they raised the cry, "Unless the Gentile converts be circumcised after the manner of Moses they cannot be saved."

Antioch was recognised at Jerusalem as the centre of Gentile Christianity. Certain, therefore, of the zealous, Judaising disciples of Jerusalem repaired to Antioch, joined the Church, and secretly proceeded to organise opposition to the dominant practice, using for that purpose all the authority connected with the name of James the Lord’s brother, who presided over the Mother Church of the Holy City.

Now let us see what position St. Paul took up with respect to these "false brethren privily brought in, who came in privily to spy out the liberty he enjoyed in Christ Jesus." Paul and Barnabas both set themselves undauntedly to fight against such teaching. They had seen and known the spiritual life which flourished free from all Jewish observances in the Church of the Gentiles. They had seen the gospel bringing forth the fruits of purity and faith, of joy and peace in the Holy Ghost; they knew that these things prepare the soul for the beatific vision of God, and confer a present salvation here below; and they could not tolerate the idea that a Jewish ceremony was necessary over and above the life which Christ confers if men are to gain final salvation.

Here, perhaps, is the proper place to set forth St. Paul’s view of circumcision and of all external Jewish ordinances, as we gather it from a broad review of his writings. St. Paul vigorously opposed all those who taught the necessity of Jewish rites so far as salvation is concerned. This is evident from this chapter and from the Epistle to the Galatians. But on the other hand St. Paul had not the slightest objection to men observing the law and submitting to circumcision, if they only realised that these things were mere national customs and observed them as national customs, and even as religious rites, but not as necessary religious rites. If men took a right view of circumcision, St. Paul had not the slightest objection to it. It was not to circumcision St. Paul objected, but to the extreme stress laid upon it, the intolerant views connected with it. Circumcision as a voluntary practice, an interesting historical relic of ancient ideas and customs, he never rejected, -nay, further, he even practised it, as we shall see in the case of Timothy; circumcision as a compulsory practice binding upon all men St. Paul utterly abhorred. We may, perhaps, draw an illustration from a modern Church in this respect. The Coptic and Abyssinian Churches retain the ancient Jewish practice of circumcision. These Churches date back to the earliest Christian times, and retain doubtless in this respect the practice of the primitive Christian Church. The Copts circumcise their children on the eighth day and before they are baptised; but they regard this rite as a mere national custom, and treat it as absolutely devoid of any religious meaning, significance, or necessity. St. Paul would have had no objection to circumcision in this aspect any more than he would have objected to a Turk for wearing a fez, or a Chinaman for wearing a pigtail, or a Hindoo for wearing a turban. National customs as such were things absolutely indifferent in his view. But if Turkish or Chinese Christians were to insist upon all men wearing their peculiar dress and observing their peculiar national customs as being things absolutely necessary to salvation, St. Paul, were he alive, would denounce and oppose them as vigorously as he did the Judaisers of his own day.

This is the explanation of St. Paul’s own conduct. Some have regarded him as at times inconsistent with his own principles with regard to the law of Moses. And yet if men will but look closer and think more deeply., they will see that St. Paul never violated the rules which he had imposed upon himself. He refused to circumcise Titus, for instance, because the Judaising party at Jerusalem were insisting upon the absolute necessity of circumcising the Gentiles if they were to be saved. Had St. Paul consented to the circumcision of Titus, he would have been yielding assent, or seeming to yield assent, to their contention. {see Galatians 2:3} He circumcised Timothy at Lystra because of the Jews in that neighbourhood; not indeed because they thought it necessary to salvation that an uncircumcised man should be so treated, but because they knew that his mother was a Jewess, and the principle of the Jewish law, and of the Roman law too, was that a man’s nationality and status followed that of his mother, not that of his father, so that the son of a Jewess must be incorporated with Israel. Timothy was circumcised in obedience to national law and custom, not upon any compromise of religious principle. St. Paul himself made a vow and cut off his hair and offered sacrifices in the Temple, as being the national customs of a Jew. These were things in themselves utterly meaningless and indifferent; but they pleased other people. They cost him a little time and trouble; but they helped on the great work he had in hand, and tended to make his opponents more willing to listen to him. St. Paul, therefore, with his great large mind, willing to please others for their good to edification, gratified them by doing what they thought became a Jew with a true national spirit beating within his breast. Mere externals mattered nothing in St. Paul’s estimation. He would wear any vestments, or take any position, or use any ceremony, esteeming them all things indifferent, provided only they conciliated human prejudices and cleared difficulties out of the way of the truth. But if men insisted upon them as things necessary, then he opposed with all his might. This is the golden thread which will rule our footsteps wandering amid the mazes of this earliest Christian controversy. It will amply vindicate St. Paul’s consistency, and show that he never violated the principles he had laid down for his own guidance. Had the spirit of St. Paul animated the Church of succeeding ages, how many a controversy and division would have been thereby escaped!

III. Now let us turn our attention to the actual history of the controversy and strife which raged at Antioch and Jerusalem, and endeavour to read the lessons the sacred narrative teaches. What a striking picture of early Church life is here presented! How full of teaching, of comfort, and of warning! How corrective of the false notions we are apt to cherish of the state of the primitive Church! There we behold the Church of Antioch rejoicing one day in the tidings of a gospel free to the world, and on the next day torn with dissension as to the points and qualifications necessary to salvation. For we must observe that the discussion started at Antioch touched no secondary question, and dealt with no mere point of ritual. It was a fundamental question which troubled the Church. And yet that Church had apostles and teachers abiding in it who could work miracles and speak with tongues, and who received from time to time direct revelations from heaven, and were endowed with the extraordinary presence of the Holy Ghost. Yet there it was that controversy with all its troubles raised its head and "Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension" with their opponents. What a necessary warning for every age, and specially for our own, we behold in this narrative! Has not this sacred Book a message in this passage specially applicable to our own time? A great Romeward movement has within the last seventy years, more powerful in the earlier portion of that period than in the latter, extended itself over Europe. English people think that they have themselves been the only persons who have experienced it. But this is a great mistake. Germany forty and fifty years ago felt it also to a large extent. And what was the great predisposing cause of that tendency? Men had simply become tired of the perpetual controversies which raged within the churches and communions outside the sway of Rome. They longed for the perpetual peace and rest which seemed to them to exist within the Papal domains, and they therefore flung themselves headlong into the arms of a Church which promised them relief from the exercise of that private judgment and personal responsibility which had become for them a crushing burden too heavy to be borne. And yet they forgot several things, the sudden discovery of which has sent many of these intellectual and spiritual cowards in various directions, some back to their original homes, some far away into the regions of scepticism and spiritual darkness. They forgot, for instance, to inquire how far the charmer who was alluring them from the land of their nativity by specious promises could satisfy the hopes she was raising. They hoped to get rid of dissension and controversy; but did they? When they had left their childhood’s home and their father’s house and sought the house of the stranger, did they find there halcyon peace? Nay, rather, did they not find there as bitter strife, nay, far more bitter strife, on questions like the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility, than ever raged at home? Did they not find, and do they not find still, that no man and no society can put a hook in the jaws of that Leviathan the right of private judgment, which none can tame or restrain, and which asserts itself still in the Roman Communion as vigorously as ever, even now when the decree of Papal infallibility has elevated that dogma into the rank of those necessary to salvation? Else whence come those dissensions and discussions between minimisers and maximisers of that decree? How is it that no two doctors or theologians will give precisely the same explanation of it, and that, as we in Ireland have seen, every curate fresh from Maynooth claims to be able to express his own private judgment and determination whether any special Papal decree or bull is binding or not? This is one important point forgotten by those who have sought the Roman Communion because of its promises of freedom from controversy. They forgot to ask, Can these promises be fulfilled? And many of them, in the perpetual unrest and strife in which they have found themselves involved as much in their new home as in their old, have proved the specious hopes held out to be the veriest mirage of the Sahara desert. But this was not the only omission of which such persons were guilty. They forgot that, suppose the Roman Church. could fulfil its promises and prove a religious home of perfect peace and freedom from diverging opinions, it would in that case have been very unlike the primitive Church. The Church of Antioch or of Jerusalem, enjoying the ministry of Peter and John and James and Paul, -these pillar-men, as St. Paul calls some of them, -was much more like the Church of England of fifty years ago than any society which offered perfect freedom from theological strife; for the Churches of ancient times in their earliest and purest days were swept by the winds of controversy and tossed by the tempests of intellectual and religious inquiry just like the Church of England, and they took exactly the same measures for the safety of the souls entrusted to them as she did. They depended upon the power of free debate, of unlimited discussion, of earnest prayer, of Christian charity to carry them on till they reached that haven of rest where every doubt and question shall be perfectly solved in the light of the unveiled vision of God.

Then, again, we learn another important lesson from a consideration of the persons who raised the trouble at Antioch. The opening words of the fifteenth chapter thus describes the authors of it: "Certain men came down from Judaea." It is just the same with the persons who a short time after compelled St. Peter to stagger in his course at the same Antioch: "When certain came from James, then St. Peter separated himself, fearing them of the circumcision." [Galatians 2:12] Certain bigots, that is, of the Jewish party, came, pretending to teach with the authority of the Mother Church, and secretly disturbing weak minds. But they were only pretenders, as the apostolic Epistle expressly tells us: "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your-souls; to whom we gave no such commandment." These religious agitators, with their narrow views about life and ritual, displayed the characteristics of like-minded men ever since. They secretly crept into the Church. There was a want of manly honesty about them. Their pettiness of vision and of thought affected their whole nature, their entire conduct. They loved the by-ways of intrigue and fraud, and therefore they hesitated not to claim an authority which they had never received, invoking apostolic names on behalf of a doctrine which the apostles had never sanctioned. The characteristics thus displayed by these Judaisers have ever been seen in their legitimate descendants in every church and society, East and West alike. Narrowness of mind, pettiness and intolerance in thought, have ever brought their own penalty with them and have ever been connected with the same want of moral uprightness. The miserable conception, the wretched fragment of truth upon which such men seize, elevating it out of its due place and rank, seems to destroy their sense of proportion, and leads them to think it worth any lie which they may tell, any breach of Christian charity of which they may be guilty, any sacrifice of truth and honesty which they may make on behalf of their beloved idol. The Judaisers misrepresented religious truth, and in doing so they misrepresented themselves, and sacrificed the great interests of moral truth in order that they might gain their ends.

IV. The distractions and controversies of Antioch were overruled, however, by the Divine providence to the greater glory of God. As the Judaisers continually appealed to the authority of the Church of Jerusalem, the brethren at Antioch determined to send to that body and ask the opinions of the apostles and eiders upon this question. They therefore despatched "Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them," among whom was Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile convert, as a deputation to represent their own views. When they came to Jerusalem the Antiochene deputies held a series of private conferences with the leading men of Jerusalem. This we learn, not from the Acts of the Apostles, but from St. Paul’s independent narrative in Galatians 2:1-21, identifying as we do the visit there recorded with the visit narrated in Acts 15:1-41. St. Paul here exhibits all that tact and prudence we ever trace in his character. He did not depend solely upon his own authority, his reputation, his success. He felt within himself the conscious guidance of the Divine Spirit aiding and guiding a singularly clear and powerful mind. Yet he disdained no legitimate precaution. He knew that the presence and guidance of the Spirit does not absolve a man anxious for the truth from using all the means in his power to ensure its success. He recognised that the truth, though it must finally triumph, might be eclipsed or defeated for a time through man’s neglect and carelessness; and therefore he engaged in a series of private conferences, explaining difficulties, conciliating the support, and gaining the assistance of the most influential members of the Church, including, of course, "James, Cephas, and John, who were reputed to be pillars."

Is there not something very modern in the glimpse thus given us of the negotiations and private meetings which preceded the formal meeting of the Apostolic Council? Some persons may think that the presence and power of the Holy Ghost must have superseded all such human arrangements and forethought. But the simple testimony of the Bible dispels at once. all such objections, and shows us that as the primitive Church was just like the modern Church, torn with dissension, swept with the winds and storms of controversy, so too the divinely guided and inspired leaders of the Church then took precisely the same human means to attain their ends and carry out their views of truth as now find place in the meetings of synods and convocations and parliaments of the present time. The presence of the Holy Ghost did not dispense with the necessity of human exertions in the days of the apostles; and surely we may, on the other hand, believe that similar human exertions in our time may be quite consonant with the presence of the Spirit in our modern assemblies, overruling and guiding human plans and intrigues to the honour of God and the blessing of man. After these private conferences the apostles and elders came together to consider the difficult subject laid before them. And now many questions rise up which we can only very briefly consider. The composition of this Synod is one important point. Who sat in it, and who debated there? It is quite clear, from the text of the Acts, as to the persons who were present at this Synod. The sixth verse says, "The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter"; the twelfth verse tells us that "all the multitude kept silence, and hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them"; - in the twenty-second verse we read, "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole Church, to choose men out of their company, and to send them to Antioch"; while, finally, in the twenty-third verse. we read the superscription of the final decree of the Council, which ran thus, "The apostles and the elder brethren unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia." It seems to me that any plain man reading these verses would come to the conclusion that the whole multitude, the great body of the Church in Jerusalem, were present and took part in this assembly. A great battle indeed has raged round the words of the Authorised Version of the twenty-third verse, "The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles," which are otherwise rendered in the Revised Version. The presence or the absence of the "and" between elders and brethren has formed the battle-ground between two parties, the one upholding, the other opposing the right of the laity to take part in Church synods and councils.

Upon a broad review of the whole affair this Apostolic Assembly seems to me to have an important bearing upon this point. There are various views involved. Some persons think that none but bishops should take part in Church synods; others think that none but clergymen, spiritual persons, in the technical and legal sense of the word "spiritual," should enter these assemblies, specially when treating of questions touching doctrine and discipline. Looking at the subject from the standpoint of the Apostolic Council, we cannot agree with either party. We are certainly told of the speeches of four individuals merely, - Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and James - to whom may be conceded the position of bishops, and even more. But, then, it is evident that the whole multitude of the Church was present at this Synod, and took an active part in it. We are expressly told (Acts 15:4-5): "When they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the Church and the apostles and the elders" "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them." This indeed happened at the first meeting of the Church held to receive the Antiochene deputation when they arrived. But there does not seem to have been any difference between the constitution and authority of the first and second meetings. Both were what we should call Ecclesiastical Assemblies. Laymen joined in the discussions of the first, and doubtless laymen joined in the discussions and much questioning of the second.

There is not indeed a hint which would lead us to conclude that the Pharisees, who rose up and argued on behalf of the binding character of the law of Moses, held any spiritual office whatsoever. So far as the sacred text puts it, they may have been laymen pure and simple, such as were the ordinary Pharisees. I cannot, indeed, see how any member of the Church of England can consistently maintain either from Holy Scripture, ancient ecclesiastical history, or the history of his own Church, that laymen are quite shut out from councils debating questions touching Christian faith, and that their consideration must be limited to bishops, or at least clergymen alone. The Apostolic Church seems to have admitted the freest discussion. The General Councils most certainly tolerated very considerable lay interference. The Emperor Constantine, though not even baptised, obtruded much of his presence and exercised much of his influence upon the great Nicene Council. Why, even down to the sixteenth century, till the Tridentine Council, the ambassadors of the great Christian Powers of Europe sat in Church synods as representing the laity; and it was only in the Council of the Vatican, which met in 1870, that even the Roman Catholic Church formally denied the right of the people to exercise a certain influence in the determination of questions touching faith and discipline by the expulsion of the ambassadors who had in every previous council held a certain defined place. While again, when we come to the history of the Church of England, we find that the celebrated Hooker, the vindicator of its Church polity, expressly defended the royal supremacy as exercised within that Church on the ground that the king represented by delegation the vast body of the laity, who through him exercised a real influence upon all questions, whether of doctrine or discipline. I feel a personal interest in this question, because one of the charges most freely hurled against the Church of Ireland is this, that she has admitted laymen to discussions and votes concerning such questions. I cannot see how, consistently with her past history as an established Church, she could have done otherwise. I cannot see how the Church of England, if she comes in the future to be disestablished, can do otherwise. That Church has always admitted a vast amount of lay interference, even prior to the Reformation, and still more since that. important event. Extreme men may scoff at those branches of their own Communion which have admitted laymen to vote in Church synods upon all questions whatsoever; but they forget when doing so that statements and decrees most dear to themselves bear manifest traces of far more extreme lay intervention. The Ornaments Rubric, standing before the order for Morning Prayer, is a striking evidence of this. It is dear to the hearts of many, because it orders the use of eucharistic vestments and the preservation of the chancels in the ancient style; but on what grounds does it do so? Let the precise words of the rubric be the answer: "Here it is to be noted that such ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth." Objections to the determinations, rules, and canons of the Irish Church Synod might have some weight did they profess, as this rubric does, to have been ordained and imposed by the order of laymen alone. But when the bishops of a. Church have an independent vote, the clergy an independent vote, the free and independent vote of the laity is totally powerless by itself to introduce any novelty, and is only powerful to prevent change in the ancient order. I do not feel bound to defend some ill-judged expressions and foolish speeches which some lay representatives may have made in the Irish Church Synod, as again no member of the Church of England need trouble himself to defend some rash speeches made in Parliament on Church topics. In the first moments of unaccustomed freedom Irish laymen did and said some rash things, and, overawing the clergy by their fierce expressions, may have caused the introduction of some hasty and ill-advised measures. But sure I am that every sincere member of the Church to which I belong will agree that the admission of the lay representatives to a free discussion and free vote upon every topic has had a marvellous influence in broadening their conceptions of Scripture truth and deepening their affections and attachment to their Mother Church which has treated and trusted them thus generously.

V. The proceedings of the Apostolic Synod next demand our attention. The account which has been handed down is doubtless a mere outline of what actually happened. We are not told anything concerning the opening of the Assembly or how the discussion was begun. St. Luke was intent merely on setting forth the main gist of affairs, and therefore he reports but two speeches and tells of two others. Some Christian Pharisee having put forward his objections to the position occupied by the Gentile converts, St. Peter arose, as was natural, he having been the person through whose action the present trouble and discussion had originated. St. Peter’s speech is marked on this occasion by the same want of assumption of any higher authority than belonged to his brethren which we have noted before when objections were taken to his dealings with Cornelius. His speech claims nothing for himself, does not even quote the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but simply repeats in a concise shape the story of the conversion of Cornelius, points out that God put no difference between Jew and Gentile, suggesting that if God had put no difference between them why should man dare to do so, and then ends with proclaiming the great doctrine of grace that men, whether Jews or Gentiles, are saved through faith in Christ alone, which purifies their hearts and lives. After Peter’s speech there arose James the Lord’s brother, who from ancient times has been regarded as the first bishop of Jerusalem, and who most certainly, from the various references to him both here and elsewhere in the Acts 12:17; Acts 21:18 and in the Epistle to the Galatians, seems to have occupied the supreme place in that Church. James was a striking figure. There is a long account of him left us by Hegesippus, a very ancient Church historian, who bordered on apostolic times, and now preserved tot us in the "Ecclesiastical History" of Eusebius, 2:23. There he is described as an ascetic and a Nazarite, like John the Baptist, from his earliest childhood. "He drank neither wine nor fermented liquors, and abstained from animal food. A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used the bath. He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary. He never wore woollen, but linen garments. He was in the habit of entering the Temple alone, and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became as hard as camels, in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God. And indeed on account of his exceeding great piety he was called the Just and Oblias, which signifies the Rampart of the People." This description is the explanation of the power and authority of James the Just in the Apostolic Assembly. He was a strict legalist himself. He desired no freedom for his own share, but rejoiced in observances and restrictions far beyond the common lot of the Jews. When such a man pronounced against the attempt made to impose circumcision and the law as a necessary condition of salvation, the Judaisers must have felt that their cause was lost. St. James expressed his views in no uncertain terms. He begins by referring to St. Peter’s speech and the conversion of Cornelius. He then proceeds to show how the prophets foretold the ingathering of the Gentiles, quoting a passage [Amos 9:11-12] which the Jewish expositors themselves applied to the Messiah. His method of Scriptural interpretation is exactly the same as that of St. Paul and St. Peter. It is very different from ours, but it was the universal method of his day; and when we wish to arrive at the meaning of the Scriptures, or for that matter of any work, we ought to strive and place ourselves at the standpoint and amid the circumstances of the writers and actors. The prophet Amos speaks of the tabernacle of David as fallen down. The rebuilding of it is then foretold, and James sees in the conversion of the Gentiles this predicted rebuilding. He then pronounces in the most decided language against "troubling those who from among the Gentiles are turned to God" in the matter of legal observances, laying down at the same time the concessions which should be demanded from the Gentiles so as not to cause offence to their Jewish brethren. The sentence thus authoritatively pronounced by the strictest Jewish Christian was naturally adopted by the Apostolic Synod, and they wrote a letter to the disciples in Syria and Cilicia, embodying their decision, which for a time settled the controversy which had been raised. This epistle begins by disclaiming utterly and at once the agitators who had gone forth to Antioch and had raised the disturbances. It declared that circumcision was unnecessary for the Gentile converts. This was the great point upon which St. Paul was most anxious. He had no objection, as we have already said, to the Jews observing their legal rites and ceremonies, but he was totally opposed to the Gentiles coming under any such rule as a thing necessary to salvation. The epistle then proceeds to lay down certain concessions which the Gentiles should in turn make. They should abstain from meats offered in sacrifice unto idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication; all of them points upon which the public opinion of the Gentiles laid no stress, but which were most abhorrent to a true Jew. The decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem, as the inspired historian expressly terms them in Acts 16:4, were mere temporary expedients. They determined indeed one important question, that circumcision should not be imposed on the Gentiles-that Judaism, in fact, was not in and by itself a saving dispensation; but left unsolved many other questions, even touching this very subject of circumcision and the Jewish law, which had afterwards to be debated and threshed out, as St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians proves. But, turning our eyes from the obsolete controversy which evoked the Apostolic Epistle, ‘and viewing the subject from a wider and a modern standpoint, we may say that the decrees of this primitive Synod narrated in this typical history bestow their sanction upon the great principles of prudence, wisdom, and growth in the Divine life and in Church work. It was with the apostles themselves as with the Church ever since. Apostles even must not make haste, but must be contented to wait upon the developments of God’s providence. Perfection is an excellent thing, but then perfection cannot be attained at once. Here a little and there a little is the Divine law under the New as under the Old Dispensation. Truth is the fairest and most excellent of all possessions, but the advocates of truth must not expect it to be grasped in all its bearings by all sorts and conditions of men at one and the same time. They must be content, as St. Paul was, if one step be taken at a time; if progress be in the right and not in the wrong direction; and must be willing to concede much to the feelings and long-descended prejudices of short-sighted human nature.


Verse 19

2

Chapter 10

THE FIRST CHRISTIAN COUNCIL.

Acts 15:1-2; Acts 15:6; Acts 15:19

I HAVE headed this chapter, which treats of Acts 15:1-41 and its incidents, the First Christian Council, and that of set purpose and following eminent ecclesiastical example. People often hear the canons of the great Councils quoted, the canons of Nice, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, those great assemblies which threshed out the controversies concerning the person and nature of Jesus Christ and determined with marvellous precision the methods of expressing the true doctrine on these points, and they wonder where or how such ancient documents have been preserved. Well, the answer is simple enough. If any reader, curious about the doings of these ancient assemblies, desires to study the decrees which proceeded from them, and even the debates which occurred in them, he need only ask in any great library for a history of the Councils, edited either by Hardouin or Labbe and Cossart, or, best and latest of all, by Mansi. They are not externally very attractive volumes, being vast folios; nor are they light or interesting reading. The industrious student will learn much from them, however; and he will find that they all begin the history of the Christian Councils by placing at the very head and forefront thereof the history and acts of the Council of Jerusalem held about the year 48 or 49 A.D., wherein we find a typical example of a Church synod which set a fashion perpetuated throughout the ages in councils, conferences, and congresses down to the present time. Let us inquire then into the origin, the procedure, and the results of this Assembly, sure that a council conducted under such auspices, reported by such a divinely guided historian, and dealing with such burning questions, must have important lessons for the Church of every age.

I. The question, however, naturally meets us at the very threshold of our inquiry as to the date of this assembly, and the position which it holds in the process of development through which the Christian Church was passing. The decision of this Synod at Jerusalem did not finally settle the questions about the law and its obligatory character. The relations between the Jewish and Gentile sections of the Church continued in some places, especially in the East, more or less unsettled well into the second century; for the Jews found it very hard indeed to surrender all their cherished privileges and ancient national distinctions. But the decree of the Jerusalem Assembly, though only partial settlement, "mere articles of peace," as it has been well called, to tide over a pressing local controversy, formed in St. Paul’s hands a powerful weapon whereby the freedom, the unity, and the catholicity of the Church were finally achieved. Where, then, do we locate this Synod in the story of St. Paul’s labours?

The narrative of the Acts clearly enough places it between the first and second missionary tours in Asia Minor undertaken by that apostle. Paul and Barnabas laboured for the first time in Asia Minor probably from the autumn of 44 till the spring or summer of 46. Their work at that time must have extended over at least eighteen months or more. Their journeys on foot must alone have taken up no small time. They traversed from Perge, where they landed, to Derbe, whence they turned back upon their work, a space of at least two hundred and fifty miles. They made lengthened sojourns in large cities like Antioch and Iconium. They doubtless visited other places of which we are told nothing. Then, having completed their aggressive work, they retraced their steps along the same route, and began their work of consolidation and Church organisation, which must have occupied on their return journey almost as much, if not more, time than they had spent in aggressive labour upon their earlier journey. When we consider all this, and strive to realise the conditions of life and travel in Asia Minor at that time, eighteen months will not appear too long for the work which the apostles actually performed. After their return to Antioch they took up their abode in that city for a considerable period. "They tarried no little time with the disciples" are the exact words of St. Luke telling of their stay at Antioch. Then comes the tale of Jewish intrigues and insinuations, followed by debates, strife, and oppositions concerning the universally binding character of the Jewish law, terminating with the formal deputation from Antioch to Jerusalem. These latter events at Antioch may have happened in a few weeks or months, or they may have extended over a couple of years. But then, on the other hand, we note that St. Paul’s second missionary journey began soon after the Synod of Jerusalem. That journey was very lengthened. It led St. Paul right through Asia Minor, and thence into Europe, where he must have made a stay of at least two years. He was at Corinth for eighteen months when Gallio arrived as proconsul about the middle of the year 53, and previously to that he had worked his way through Macedonia and Greece. St. Paul on his second tour must have been then at least four years absent from Antioch, which he must therefore have left about the year 49 or 50. The Synod of Jerusalem must therefore be assigned to the year 48 A.D. or thereabouts; or, in other words, not quite twenty years after the Crucifixion.

II. And now this leads us to consider the occasion of the Synod. The time was not, as we have said, quite twenty years after the Crucifixion, yet that brief space had been quite sufficient to raise questions undreamt of in earlier days. The Church was at first completely homogeneous, its members being all Jews; but the admission of the Gentiles and the action of St. Peter in the matter of Cornelius had destroyed this characteristic so dear to the Jewish heart. The Divine revelation at Joppa to St. Peter and the gift of the Holy Ghost to Cornelius had for a time quenched the opposition to the admission of the Gentiles to baptism; but, as we have already said, the extreme Jewish party were only silenced for a time, they were not destroyed. They took up a new position. The case of Cornelius merely decided that a man might be baptised without having been previously circumcised; but it decided nothing in their opinion about the subsequent necessity for circumcision and admission into the ranks of the Jewish nation. Their view, in fact, was the same as of old. Salvation belonged exclusively to the Jewish nation, and therefore if the converted Gentiles were to be saved it must be by incorporation into that body to which salvation alone belonged. The strict Jewish section of the Church insisted the more upon this point, because they saw rising up in the Church of Antioch, and elsewhere among the Churches of Syria and Cilicia, a grave social danger threatening the existence of their nation as a separate people. There were just then two classes of disciples in these Churches. There were disciples who lived after the Jewish fashion., -abstaining from unlawful foods, using food slain by Jewish butchers, and scrupulous in washings and lustrations; and there were Gentiles who lived after the Gentile fashion, and in especial ate pork and things strangled. The strict Jews knew right well the tendency of a majority to swallow up a minority, specially when they were all members of the same religious community, enjoying the same privileges and partakers of the same hope. A majority does not indeed necessarily absorb a minority. Roman Catholicism is the religion of the majority in Ireland and France; yet it has not absorbed the small Protestant minority. The adherents of Judaism were scattered in St. Paul’s day all over the world, yet Paganism had not swallowed them up. In these cases, however, the minority have been completely separated from the majority by a middle wall, a barrier of rigid discipline, and of strong, yea even violent religious repugnance. But the prospect now before the strict Jewish party was quite different. In the Syrian Church as they beheld it growing up Jew and Gentile would be closely linked together, professing the same faith, saying the same prayers, joining in the same sacraments, worshipping in the same buildings. All the advantages, too, would be on the side of the Gentile. He was freed from the troublesome restrictions-the more troublesome because so petty and minute-of the Levitical Law. He could eat what he liked, and join in social converse and general life without hesitation or fear. In a short time a Jewish disciple would come to ask himself, What do I gain by all these observances, this yoke of ordinances, which neither we nor our fathers have been able perfectly to bear? If a Gentile disciple can be saved without them, why should I trouble myself with. them? The Jewish party saw clearly enough that toleration of the presence of the Gentiles in the Church and their admission to full communion and complete Christian privileges simply involved the certain overthrow of Jewish customs, Jewish privileges, and Jewish national expectations. They saw that it was a case of war to the death, one party or the other must conquer, and therefore in self-defence they raised the cry, "Unless the Gentile converts be circumcised after the manner of Moses they cannot be saved."

Antioch was recognised at Jerusalem as the centre of Gentile Christianity. Certain, therefore, of the zealous, Judaising disciples of Jerusalem repaired to Antioch, joined the Church, and secretly proceeded to organise opposition to the dominant practice, using for that purpose all the authority connected with the name of James the Lord’s brother, who presided over the Mother Church of the Holy City.

Now let us see what position St. Paul took up with respect to these "false brethren privily brought in, who came in privily to spy out the liberty he enjoyed in Christ Jesus." Paul and Barnabas both set themselves undauntedly to fight against such teaching. They had seen and known the spiritual life which flourished free from all Jewish observances in the Church of the Gentiles. They had seen the gospel bringing forth the fruits of purity and faith, of joy and peace in the Holy Ghost; they knew that these things prepare the soul for the beatific vision of God, and confer a present salvation here below; and they could not tolerate the idea that a Jewish ceremony was necessary over and above the life which Christ confers if men are to gain final salvation.

Here, perhaps, is the proper place to set forth St. Paul’s view of circumcision and of all external Jewish ordinances, as we gather it from a broad review of his writings. St. Paul vigorously opposed all those who taught the necessity of Jewish rites so far as salvation is concerned. This is evident from this chapter and from the Epistle to the Galatians. But on the other hand St. Paul had not the slightest objection to men observing the law and submitting to circumcision, if they only realised that these things were mere national customs and observed them as national customs, and even as religious rites, but not as necessary religious rites. If men took a right view of circumcision, St. Paul had not the slightest objection to it. It was not to circumcision St. Paul objected, but to the extreme stress laid upon it, the intolerant views connected with it. Circumcision as a voluntary practice, an interesting historical relic of ancient ideas and customs, he never rejected, -nay, further, he even practised it, as we shall see in the case of Timothy; circumcision as a compulsory practice binding upon all men St. Paul utterly abhorred. We may, perhaps, draw an illustration from a modern Church in this respect. The Coptic and Abyssinian Churches retain the ancient Jewish practice of circumcision. These Churches date back to the earliest Christian times, and retain doubtless in this respect the practice of the primitive Christian Church. The Copts circumcise their children on the eighth day and before they are baptised; but they regard this rite as a mere national custom, and treat it as absolutely devoid of any religious meaning, significance, or necessity. St. Paul would have had no objection to circumcision in this aspect any more than he would have objected to a Turk for wearing a fez, or a Chinaman for wearing a pigtail, or a Hindoo for wearing a turban. National customs as such were things absolutely indifferent in his view. But if Turkish or Chinese Christians were to insist upon all men wearing their peculiar dress and observing their peculiar national customs as being things absolutely necessary to salvation, St. Paul, were he alive, would denounce and oppose them as vigorously as he did the Judaisers of his own day.

This is the explanation of St. Paul’s own conduct. Some have regarded him as at times inconsistent with his own principles with regard to the law of Moses. And yet if men will but look closer and think more deeply., they will see that St. Paul never violated the rules which he had imposed upon himself. He refused to circumcise Titus, for instance, because the Judaising party at Jerusalem were insisting upon the absolute necessity of circumcising the Gentiles if they were to be saved. Had St. Paul consented to the circumcision of Titus, he would have been yielding assent, or seeming to yield assent, to their contention. {see Galatians 2:3} He circumcised Timothy at Lystra because of the Jews in that neighbourhood; not indeed because they thought it necessary to salvation that an uncircumcised man should be so treated, but because they knew that his mother was a Jewess, and the principle of the Jewish law, and of the Roman law too, was that a man’s nationality and status followed that of his mother, not that of his father, so that the son of a Jewess must be incorporated with Israel. Timothy was circumcised in obedience to national law and custom, not upon any compromise of religious principle. St. Paul himself made a vow and cut off his hair and offered sacrifices in the Temple, as being the national customs of a Jew. These were things in themselves utterly meaningless and indifferent; but they pleased other people. They cost him a little time and trouble; but they helped on the great work he had in hand, and tended to make his opponents more willing to listen to him. St. Paul, therefore, with his great large mind, willing to please others for their good to edification, gratified them by doing what they thought became a Jew with a true national spirit beating within his breast. Mere externals mattered nothing in St. Paul’s estimation. He would wear any vestments, or take any position, or use any ceremony, esteeming them all things indifferent, provided only they conciliated human prejudices and cleared difficulties out of the way of the truth. But if men insisted upon them as things necessary, then he opposed with all his might. This is the golden thread which will rule our footsteps wandering amid the mazes of this earliest Christian controversy. It will amply vindicate St. Paul’s consistency, and show that he never violated the principles he had laid down for his own guidance. Had the spirit of St. Paul animated the Church of succeeding ages, how many a controversy and division would have been thereby escaped!

III. Now let us turn our attention to the actual history of the controversy and strife which raged at Antioch and Jerusalem, and endeavour to read the lessons the sacred narrative teaches. What a striking picture of early Church life is here presented! How full of teaching, of comfort, and of warning! How corrective of the false notions we are apt to cherish of the state of the primitive Church! There we behold the Church of Antioch rejoicing one day in the tidings of a gospel free to the world, and on the next day torn with dissension as to the points and qualifications necessary to salvation. For we must observe that the discussion started at Antioch touched no secondary question, and dealt with no mere point of ritual. It was a fundamental question which troubled the Church. And yet that Church had apostles and teachers abiding in it who could work miracles and speak with tongues, and who received from time to time direct revelations from heaven, and were endowed with the extraordinary presence of the Holy Ghost. Yet there it was that controversy with all its troubles raised its head and "Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension" with their opponents. What a necessary warning for every age, and specially for our own, we behold in this narrative! Has not this sacred Book a message in this passage specially applicable to our own time? A great Romeward movement has within the last seventy years, more powerful in the earlier portion of that period than in the latter, extended itself over Europe. English people think that they have themselves been the only persons who have experienced it. But this is a great mistake. Germany forty and fifty years ago felt it also to a large extent. And what was the great predisposing cause of that tendency? Men had simply become tired of the perpetual controversies which raged within the churches and communions outside the sway of Rome. They longed for the perpetual peace and rest which seemed to them to exist within the Papal domains, and they therefore flung themselves headlong into the arms of a Church which promised them relief from the exercise of that private judgment and personal responsibility which had become for them a crushing burden too heavy to be borne. And yet they forgot several things, the sudden discovery of which has sent many of these intellectual and spiritual cowards in various directions, some back to their original homes, some far away into the regions of scepticism and spiritual darkness. They forgot, for instance, to inquire how far the charmer who was alluring them from the land of their nativity by specious promises could satisfy the hopes she was raising. They hoped to get rid of dissension and controversy; but did they? When they had left their childhood’s home and their father’s house and sought the house of the stranger, did they find there halcyon peace? Nay, rather, did they not find there as bitter strife, nay, far more bitter strife, on questions like the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility, than ever raged at home? Did they not find, and do they not find still, that no man and no society can put a hook in the jaws of that Leviathan the right of private judgment, which none can tame or restrain, and which asserts itself still in the Roman Communion as vigorously as ever, even now when the decree of Papal infallibility has elevated that dogma into the rank of those necessary to salvation? Else whence come those dissensions and discussions between minimisers and maximisers of that decree? How is it that no two doctors or theologians will give precisely the same explanation of it, and that, as we in Ireland have seen, every curate fresh from Maynooth claims to be able to express his own private judgment and determination whether any special Papal decree or bull is binding or not? This is one important point forgotten by those who have sought the Roman Communion because of its promises of freedom from controversy. They forgot to ask, Can these promises be fulfilled? And many of them, in the perpetual unrest and strife in which they have found themselves involved as much in their new home as in their old, have proved the specious hopes held out to be the veriest mirage of the Sahara desert. But this was not the only omission of which such persons were guilty. They forgot that, suppose the Roman Church. could fulfil its promises and prove a religious home of perfect peace and freedom from diverging opinions, it would in that case have been very unlike the primitive Church. The Church of Antioch or of Jerusalem, enjoying the ministry of Peter and John and James and Paul, -these pillar-men, as St. Paul calls some of them, -was much more like the Church of England of fifty years ago than any society which offered perfect freedom from theological strife; for the Churches of ancient times in their earliest and purest days were swept by the winds of controversy and tossed by the tempests of intellectual and religious inquiry just like the Church of England, and they took exactly the same measures for the safety of the souls entrusted to them as she did. They depended upon the power of free debate, of unlimited discussion, of earnest prayer, of Christian charity to carry them on till they reached that haven of rest where every doubt and question shall be perfectly solved in the light of the unveiled vision of God.

Then, again, we learn another important lesson from a consideration of the persons who raised the trouble at Antioch. The opening words of the fifteenth chapter thus describes the authors of it: "Certain men came down from Judaea." It is just the same with the persons who a short time after compelled St. Peter to stagger in his course at the same Antioch: "When certain came from James, then St. Peter separated himself, fearing them of the circumcision." [Galatians 2:12] Certain bigots, that is, of the Jewish party, came, pretending to teach with the authority of the Mother Church, and secretly disturbing weak minds. But they were only pretenders, as the apostolic Epistle expressly tells us: "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your-souls; to whom we gave no such commandment." These religious agitators, with their narrow views about life and ritual, displayed the characteristics of like-minded men ever since. They secretly crept into the Church. There was a want of manly honesty about them. Their pettiness of vision and of thought affected their whole nature, their entire conduct. They loved the by-ways of intrigue and fraud, and therefore they hesitated not to claim an authority which they had never received, invoking apostolic names on behalf of a doctrine which the apostles had never sanctioned. The characteristics thus displayed by these Judaisers have ever been seen in their legitimate descendants in every church and society, East and West alike. Narrowness of mind, pettiness and intolerance in thought, have ever brought their own penalty with them and have ever been connected with the same want of moral uprightness. The miserable conception, the wretched fragment of truth upon which such men seize, elevating it out of its due place and rank, seems to destroy their sense of proportion, and leads them to think it worth any lie which they may tell, any breach of Christian charity of which they may be guilty, any sacrifice of truth and honesty which they may make on behalf of their beloved idol. The Judaisers misrepresented religious truth, and in doing so they misrepresented themselves, and sacrificed the great interests of moral truth in order that they might gain their ends.

IV. The distractions and controversies of Antioch were overruled, however, by the Divine providence to the greater glory of God. As the Judaisers continually appealed to the authority of the Church of Jerusalem, the brethren at Antioch determined to send to that body and ask the opinions of the apostles and eiders upon this question. They therefore despatched "Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them," among whom was Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile convert, as a deputation to represent their own views. When they came to Jerusalem the Antiochene deputies held a series of private conferences with the leading men of Jerusalem. This we learn, not from the Acts of the Apostles, but from St. Paul’s independent narrative in Galatians 2:1-21, identifying as we do the visit there recorded with the visit narrated in Acts 15:1-41. St. Paul here exhibits all that tact and prudence we ever trace in his character. He did not depend solely upon his own authority, his reputation, his success. He felt within himself the conscious guidance of the Divine Spirit aiding and guiding a singularly clear and powerful mind. Yet he disdained no legitimate precaution. He knew that the presence and guidance of the Spirit does not absolve a man anxious for the truth from using all the means in his power to ensure its success. He recognised that the truth, though it must finally triumph, might be eclipsed or defeated for a time through man’s neglect and carelessness; and therefore he engaged in a series of private conferences, explaining difficulties, conciliating the support, and gaining the assistance of the most influential members of the Church, including, of course, "James, Cephas, and John, who were reputed to be pillars."

Is there not something very modern in the glimpse thus given us of the negotiations and private meetings which preceded the formal meeting of the Apostolic Council? Some persons may think that the presence and power of the Holy Ghost must have superseded all such human arrangements and forethought. But the simple testimony of the Bible dispels at once. all such objections, and shows us that as the primitive Church was just like the modern Church, torn with dissension, swept with the winds and storms of controversy, so too the divinely guided and inspired leaders of the Church then took precisely the same human means to attain their ends and carry out their views of truth as now find place in the meetings of synods and convocations and parliaments of the present time. The presence of the Holy Ghost did not dispense with the necessity of human exertions in the days of the apostles; and surely we may, on the other hand, believe that similar human exertions in our time may be quite consonant with the presence of the Spirit in our modern assemblies, overruling and guiding human plans and intrigues to the honour of God and the blessing of man. After these private conferences the apostles and elders came together to consider the difficult subject laid before them. And now many questions rise up which we can only very briefly consider. The composition of this Synod is one important point. Who sat in it, and who debated there? It is quite clear, from the text of the Acts, as to the persons who were present at this Synod. The sixth verse says, "The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter"; the twelfth verse tells us that "all the multitude kept silence, and hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them"; - in the twenty-second verse we read, "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole Church, to choose men out of their company, and to send them to Antioch"; while, finally, in the twenty-third verse. we read the superscription of the final decree of the Council, which ran thus, "The apostles and the elder brethren unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia." It seems to me that any plain man reading these verses would come to the conclusion that the whole multitude, the great body of the Church in Jerusalem, were present and took part in this assembly. A great battle indeed has raged round the words of the Authorised Version of the twenty-third verse, "The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles," which are otherwise rendered in the Revised Version. The presence or the absence of the "and" between elders and brethren has formed the battle-ground between two parties, the one upholding, the other opposing the right of the laity to take part in Church synods and councils.

Upon a broad review of the whole affair this Apostolic Assembly seems to me to have an important bearing upon this point. There are various views involved. Some persons think that none but bishops should take part in Church synods; others think that none but clergymen, spiritual persons, in the technical and legal sense of the word "spiritual," should enter these assemblies, specially when treating of questions touching doctrine and discipline. Looking at the subject from the standpoint of the Apostolic Council, we cannot agree with either party. We are certainly told of the speeches of four individuals merely, - Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and James - to whom may be conceded the position of bishops, and even more. But, then, it is evident that the whole multitude of the Church was present at this Synod, and took an active part in it. We are expressly told (Acts 15:4-5): "When they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the Church and the apostles and the elders" "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them." This indeed happened at the first meeting of the Church held to receive the Antiochene deputation when they arrived. But there does not seem to have been any difference between the constitution and authority of the first and second meetings. Both were what we should call Ecclesiastical Assemblies. Laymen joined in the discussions of the first, and doubtless laymen joined in the discussions and much questioning of the second.

There is not indeed a hint which would lead us to conclude that the Pharisees, who rose up and argued on behalf of the binding character of the law of Moses, held any spiritual office whatsoever. So far as the sacred text puts it, they may have been laymen pure and simple, such as were the ordinary Pharisees. I cannot, indeed, see how any member of the Church of England can consistently maintain either from Holy Scripture, ancient ecclesiastical history, or the history of his own Church, that laymen are quite shut out from councils debating questions touching Christian faith, and that their consideration must be limited to bishops, or at least clergymen alone. The Apostolic Church seems to have admitted the freest discussion. The General Councils most certainly tolerated very considerable lay interference. The Emperor Constantine, though not even baptised, obtruded much of his presence and exercised much of his influence upon the great Nicene Council. Why, even down to the sixteenth century, till the Tridentine Council, the ambassadors of the great Christian Powers of Europe sat in Church synods as representing the laity; and it was only in the Council of the Vatican, which met in 1870, that even the Roman Catholic Church formally denied the right of the people to exercise a certain influence in the determination of questions touching faith and discipline by the expulsion of the ambassadors who had in every previous council held a certain defined place. While again, when we come to the history of the Church of England, we find that the celebrated Hooker, the vindicator of its Church polity, expressly defended the royal supremacy as exercised within that Church on the ground that the king represented by delegation the vast body of the laity, who through him exercised a real influence upon all questions, whether of doctrine or discipline. I feel a personal interest in this question, because one of the charges most freely hurled against the Church of Ireland is this, that she has admitted laymen to discussions and votes concerning such questions. I cannot see how, consistently with her past history as an established Church, she could have done otherwise. I cannot see how the Church of England, if she comes in the future to be disestablished, can do otherwise. That Church has always admitted a vast amount of lay interference, even prior to the Reformation, and still more since that. important event. Extreme men may scoff at those branches of their own Communion which have admitted laymen to vote in Church synods upon all questions whatsoever; but they forget when doing so that statements and decrees most dear to themselves bear manifest traces of far more extreme lay intervention. The Ornaments Rubric, standing before the order for Morning Prayer, is a striking evidence of this. It is dear to the hearts of many, because it orders the use of eucharistic vestments and the preservation of the chancels in the ancient style; but on what grounds does it do so? Let the precise words of the rubric be the answer: "Here it is to be noted that such ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth." Objections to the determinations, rules, and canons of the Irish Church Synod might have some weight did they profess, as this rubric does, to have been ordained and imposed by the order of laymen alone. But when the bishops of a. Church have an independent vote, the clergy an independent vote, the free and independent vote of the laity is totally powerless by itself to introduce any novelty, and is only powerful to prevent change in the ancient order. I do not feel bound to defend some ill-judged expressions and foolish speeches which some lay representatives may have made in the Irish Church Synod, as again no member of the Church of England need trouble himself to defend some rash speeches made in Parliament on Church topics. In the first moments of unaccustomed freedom Irish laymen did and said some rash things, and, overawing the clergy by their fierce expressions, may have caused the introduction of some hasty and ill-advised measures. But sure I am that every sincere member of the Church to which I belong will agree that the admission of the lay representatives to a free discussion and free vote upon every topic has had a marvellous influence in broadening their conceptions of Scripture truth and deepening their affections and attachment to their Mother Church which has treated and trusted them thus generously.

V. The proceedings of the Apostolic Synod next demand our attention. The account which has been handed down is doubtless a mere outline of what actually happened. We are not told anything concerning the opening of the Assembly or how the discussion was begun. St. Luke was intent merely on setting forth the main gist of affairs, and therefore he reports but two speeches and tells of two others. Some Christian Pharisee having put forward his objections to the position occupied by the Gentile converts, St. Peter arose, as was natural, he having been the person through whose action the present trouble and discussion had originated. St. Peter’s speech is marked on this occasion by the same want of assumption of any higher authority than belonged to his brethren which we have noted before when objections were taken to his dealings with Cornelius. His speech claims nothing for himself, does not even quote the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but simply repeats in a concise shape the story of the conversion of Cornelius, points out that God put no difference between Jew and Gentile, suggesting that if God had put no difference between them why should man dare to do so, and then ends with proclaiming the great doctrine of grace that men, whether Jews or Gentiles, are saved through faith in Christ alone, which purifies their hearts and lives. After Peter’s speech there arose James the Lord’s brother, who from ancient times has been regarded as the first bishop of Jerusalem, and who most certainly, from the various references to him both here and elsewhere in the Acts 12:17; Acts 21:18 and in the Epistle to the Galatians, seems to have occupied the supreme place in that Church. James was a striking figure. There is a long account of him left us by Hegesippus, a very ancient Church historian, who bordered on apostolic times, and now preserved tot us in the "Ecclesiastical History" of Eusebius, 2:23. There he is described as an ascetic and a Nazarite, like John the Baptist, from his earliest childhood. "He drank neither wine nor fermented liquors, and abstained from animal food. A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used the bath. He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary. He never wore woollen, but linen garments. He was in the habit of entering the Temple alone, and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became as hard as camels, in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God. And indeed on account of his exceeding great piety he was called the Just and Oblias, which signifies the Rampart of the People." This description is the explanation of the power and authority of James the Just in the Apostolic Assembly. He was a strict legalist himself. He desired no freedom for his own share, but rejoiced in observances and restrictions far beyond the common lot of the Jews. When such a man pronounced against the attempt made to impose circumcision and the law as a necessary condition of salvation, the Judaisers must have felt that their cause was lost. St. James expressed his views in no uncertain terms. He begins by referring to St. Peter’s speech and the conversion of Cornelius. He then proceeds to show how the prophets foretold the ingathering of the Gentiles, quoting a passage [Amos 9:11-12] which the Jewish expositors themselves applied to the Messiah. His method of Scriptural interpretation is exactly the same as that of St. Paul and St. Peter. It is very different from ours, but it was the universal method of his day; and when we wish to arrive at the meaning of the Scriptures, or for that matter of any work, we ought to strive and place ourselves at the standpoint and amid the circumstances of the writers and actors. The prophet Amos speaks of the tabernacle of David as fallen down. The rebuilding of it is then foretold, and James sees in the conversion of the Gentiles this predicted rebuilding. He then pronounces in the most decided language against "troubling those who from among the Gentiles are turned to God" in the matter of legal observances, laying down at the same time the concessions which should be demanded from the Gentiles so as not to cause offence to their Jewish brethren. The sentence thus authoritatively pronounced by the strictest Jewish Christian was naturally adopted by the Apostolic Synod, and they wrote a letter to the disciples in Syria and Cilicia, embodying their decision, which for a time settled the controversy which had been raised. This epistle begins by disclaiming utterly and at once the agitators who had gone forth to Antioch and had raised the disturbances. It declared that circumcision was unnecessary for the Gentile converts. This was the great point upon which St. Paul was most anxious. He had no objection, as we have already said, to the Jews observing their legal rites and ceremonies, but he was totally opposed to the Gentiles coming under any such rule as a thing necessary to salvation. The epistle then proceeds to lay down certain concessions which the Gentiles should in turn make. They should abstain from meats offered in sacrifice unto idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication; all of them points upon which the public opinion of the Gentiles laid no stress, but which were most abhorrent to a true Jew. The decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem, as the inspired historian expressly terms them in Acts 16:4, were mere temporary expedients. They determined indeed one important question, that circumcision should not be imposed on the Gentiles-that Judaism, in fact, was not in and by itself a saving dispensation; but left unsolved many other questions, even touching this very subject of circumcision and the Jewish law, which had afterwards to be debated and threshed out, as St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians proves. But, turning our eyes from the obsolete controversy which evoked the Apostolic Epistle, ‘and viewing the subject from a wider and a modern standpoint, we may say that the decrees of this primitive Synod narrated in this typical history bestow their sanction upon the great principles of prudence, wisdom, and growth in the Divine life and in Church work. It was with the apostles themselves as with the Church ever since. Apostles even must not make haste, but must be contented to wait upon the developments of God’s providence. Perfection is an excellent thing, but then perfection cannot be attained at once. Here a little and there a little is the Divine law under the New as under the Old Dispensation. Truth is the fairest and most excellent of all possessions, but the advocates of truth must not expect it to be grasped in all its bearings by all sorts and conditions of men at one and the same time. They must be content, as St. Paul was, if one step be taken at a time; if progress be in the right and not in the wrong direction; and must be willing to concede much to the feelings and long-descended prejudices of short-sighted human nature.


Verse 36

Chapter 11

APOSTOLIC QUARRELS AND THE SECOND TOUR.

Acts 15:36; Acts 15:39; Acts 16:6; Acts 16:8-9

THE second missionary tour of St. Paul now claims our attention, specially because it involves the first proclamation of Christianity by an apostle within the boundaries of Europe. The course of the narrative up to this will show that any Christian effort in Europe by an apostle, St. Peter or any one else prior to St. Paul’s work, was almost impossible. To the Twelve and to men like-minded with them, it must have seemed a daring-innovation to bring the gospel message directly to bear upon the masses of Gentile paganism. Men of conservative minds like the Twelve doubtless restrained their own efforts up to the time of St. Paul’s second tour within the bounds of Israel, according to the flesh, in Palestine and the neighbouring lands, finding there an ample field upon which to exercise their diligence. And then when we turn to St. Paul and St. Barnabas, who had dared to realise the free-ness and fulness of the gospel message, we shall see that the Syrian Antioch and Syria itself and Asia Minor had hitherto afforded them scope quite sufficient to engage their utmost attention. A few moments’ reflection upon the circumstances of the primitive Christian Church and the developments through which Apostolic Christianity passed are quite sufficient to dispel all such fabulous incrustations upon the original record as those involved in St. Peter’s episcopate at Antioch or his lengthened rule over the Church at Rome. If the latter story was to be accepted, St. Peter must have been Bishop of Rome long before a mission was despatched to the Gentiles from Antioch, if not even before the vision was seen at Joppa by St. Peter when the admission of the Gentiles to the Church was first authorised under any terms whatsoever. In fact, it would be impossible to fit the actions of St. Peter into any scheme whatsoever, if we bring him to Rome and make him bishop there for twenty-five years beginning at the year 42, the time usually assigned by Roman Catholic historians. It is hard enough to frame a hypothetical scheme, which will find a due and fitting place for the various recorded actions of St. Peter, quite apart from any supposed Roman episcopate lasting over such an extended period. St. Peter and St. Paul had, for instance, a dispute at Antioch of which we read much in the second chapter of the Galatian epistle. Where shall we fix that dispute? Some place it during the interval of the Synod at Jerusalem and the second missionary tour of which we now propose to treat. Others place it at the conclusion of that tour, when St. Paul was resting at Antioch for a little after the work of that second journey. As we are not writing the life of St. Paul, but simply commenting upon the narratives of his labours as told in the Acts, we must be content to refer to the Lives of St. Paul by Conybeare and Howson, and Archdeacon Farrar, and to Bishop Lightfoot’s "Galatians," all of whom place this quarrel before the second tour, and to Mr. Findlay’s "Galatians" in our own series, who upholds the other view. Supposing, however, that we take the former view in deference to the weighty authorities just mentioned, we then find. that there were two serious quarrels which must for a time have marred the unity and Christian concord of the Antiochene Church.

The reproof of St. Peter by St. Paul for his dissimulation was made on a public occasion before the whole Church. It must have caused considerable excitement and discussion, and. raised much human feeling in Antioch. Barnabas too, the chosen friend and companion of St. Paul, was involved in the matter, and must have felt himself condemned in the strong language addressed to St. Peter. This may have caused for a time a certain amount of estrangement between the various parties. A close study of the Acts of the Apostles dispels at once the notion men would fain cherish, that the apostles and the early Christians lived just like angels without any trace of human passion or discord. The apostles had their differences and misunderstandings very like our own. Hot tempers and subsequent coolnesses arose, and produced evil results between men entrusted with the very highest offices, and paved the way, as quarrels always do, for fresh disturbances at some future time. So it was at Antioch, where the public reproof of St. Peter by St. Paul involved St. Barnabas, and may have left traces upon the gentle soul of the Son of Consolation which were not wholly eradicated by the time that a new source of trouble arose.

The ministry of St. Paul at Antioch was prolonged for some time after the Jerusalem Synod, and then the Holy Ghost again impelled him to return and visit all the Churches which he had founded in Cyprus and Asia Minor. He recognised the necessity for supervision, support, and guidance as far as the new converts were concerned, The seed might be from heaven and the work might be God’s own, but still human effort must take its share and do its duty, or else the work may fail and the good seed never attain perfection. St. Paul therefore proposed to Barnabas a second joint mission, intending to visit "the brethren in every city wherein they had proclaimed the word of the Lord." Barnabas desired to take with them his kinsman Mark, but Paul, remembering his weakness and defection on their previous journey, would have nothing to say to the young man. Then there arose a sharp contention between them, or as the original expression is, there arose a paroxysm between the apostles, so that the loving Christian workers and friends of bygone years, "men who had hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," separated the one from the other, and worked from henceforth in widely different localities.

I. There are few portions of the Acts more fruitful in spiritual instruction, or teeming with. more abundant lessons, or richer in application! to present difficulties, than this very incident. Let us note a few of them. One thought, for instance, which occurs at once to any reflecting mind is this: what an extraordinary thing it is that two such holy and devoted men as Paul and-Barnabas should have had a quarrel at all; and. when they did quarrel, would it not have been far better to have hushed the matter up and never! have let the world know anything at all about it?

Now I do not say that it is well for Christian people always to proclaim aloud and tell the world at large all about the various unpleasant circumstances of their lives, their quarrels, their misunderstandings, their personal failings and backslidings. Life would be simply intolerable did we live always, at all times, and under all circumstances beneath the full glare of publicity. Personal quarrels too, family jars and bickerings, have a rapid tendency to heal themselves if kept in the gloom, the soft, toned, shaded light of retirement. They have an unhappy tendency to harden and perpetuate themselves when dragged beneath the fierce light of public opinion and the outside world. Yet it is well for the Church at large that such a record has been left for us of the fact that the quarrel between Paul and Barnabas waxed so fierce that they departed the one from the other, to teach us what we are apt to forget-the true character of the apostles. Human nature is intensely inclined to idolatry. One idol may be knocked down, but as soon as it is displaced the heart straightway sets to work to erect another idol in its stead, and men have been ready to make idols of the apostles. They have been ready to imagine them supernatural characters tainted with no sin, tempted by no passion, weakened by no infirmity. If these incidents had not been recorded-the quarrel with Peter and the quarrel with Barnabas-we should have been apt to forget that the apostles were men of like passions with ourselves, and thus to lose the full force-the bracing, stimulating force-of such exhortations as that delivered by St. Paul when he said to a primitive Church, "Follow me, as I, a poor, weak, failing, passionate man, have followed Christ." We have the thorough humanity of the apostles vigorously presented and enforced in this passage. There is no suppression of weak points, no accentuation of strong points, no hiding of defects and weaknesses, no dwelling Upon virtues and graces. We have the apostles presented at times vigorous, united, harmonious; at other times weak, timorous, and cowardly.

Again, we note that this passage not only shows us the human frailties and weaknesses which marked the apostles, and found a place in characters and persons called to the very highest places; it has also a lesson for the Church of all time in the circumstances which led to the quarrel between Paul and Barnabas. We do well to mark carefully that Antioch saw two such quarrels, the one of which, as we have already pointed out, may have had something to say to the other. The quarrel between St. Paul and St. Peter indeed has a history which strikingly illustrates this tendency of which we have just now spoken. Some expositors, jealous of the good fame and reputation and temper of the apostles, have explained the ‘quarrel at Antioch between St. Paul and St. Peter as not having been a real quarrel at all, but an edifying piece of acting, a dispute got up between the apostles to enforce and proclaim the freedom of the Gentiles, a mere piece of knavery and deception utterly foreign to such a truth-loving character as was St. Paul’s. It is interesting, however, to note as manifesting their natural characteristics, which were not destroyed, but merely elevated, purified, and sanctified by Divine grace, that the apostles Paul and Barnabas quarrelled about a purely personal matter. They had finished their first missionary tour on which they had been accompanied by St. Mark, who had acted as their attendant or servant, carrying, we may suppose, their luggage, and discharging all. the subordinate offices such service might involve. The labour and toil and personal danger incident to such a career were too much for the young man. So with all the fickleness, the weakness, the want of strong definite purpose we often find in young people, he abandoned his work simply because it involved the exercise of a certain amount of self-sacrifice. And now, when Paul and Barnabas are setting out again, and Barnabas wishes to take the same favourite relative with them, St. Paul naturally objects, and then the bitter, passionate quarrel ensues. St. Paul just experienced here what we all must more or less experience, the crosses and trials of public life, if we wish to pass through that life with a good conscience. Public life, I say-and I mean thereby not a political life, which alone we usually dignify by that name, but the ordinary. life which every man and every woman amongst us must live as we go in and out and discharge our duties amid our fellow-men, -public life, the life we live once we leave our closet communion with God in the early morning till we return thereto in the eventide, is in all its department most trying. It is trying to temper, and it is. trying to principle, and no one can hope to pass through it without serious and grievous temptations. I do not wonder that men have often felt, as the old Eastern monks did, that salvation was more easily won in solitude than in living and working amid the busy haunts of men where bad temper and hot words so often conspire to make one return home from a hard day’s work feeling miserable within on account of repeated falls and shortcomings. Shall we then act as. they did? Shall we shut out the world completely and cease to take any part in a struggle which seems to tell so disastrously upon the-equable calm of our spiritual life? Nay, indeed, for such a course would be unworthy a soldier of the Cross, and very unlike the example shown by the blessed apostle St. Paul, who had to battle not only against others, but had also to. battle against himself and his own passionate. nature, and was crowned as a victor, not because-he ran away, but because he conquered through the grace of Christ.

And now it is well that we should note the special trials he had to endure. He had to fight against the spirit of cowardly self-indulgence in others, and he had to fight against the spirit of jobbery. These things indeed caused the rupture in the apostolic friendship. St. Barnabas, apostle though he was, thought far more of the interests of his cousin than of the interests of Christ’s mission. St. Paul with his devotion to. Christ may have been a little intolerant of the weakness of youth, but he rightly judged that one who had proved untrustworthy before should not be rapidly and at once trusted again. And St. Paul was thoroughly right, and has left a very useful and practical example. Many young men among us are like St. Mark. The St. Marks of our own day are a very numerous class. They have no respect for their engagements. They will undertake work and allow themselves. to be calculated upon, and arrangements to be made accordingly. But then comes the stress of action, and their place is found wanting, and the work undertaken by them is found undone. And then they wonder and complain that their lives are unsuccessful, and that men and women who are in earnest will not trust or employ them in the future! These are the men who are the social wrecks in life. They proclaim loudly in streets and highways the hard treatment which they have received. They tell forth their own misery, and speak as if they were the most deserving and at the same time the most ill-treated of men; and yet they are but reaping as they have sown, and their failures and their misfortunes are only the due and fitting rewards of their want of earnestness, diligence, and self-denial. To the young this episode proclaims aloud. Respect your engagements, regard public employments as solemn contracts in God’s sight. Take pains with your work. Be willing to endure any trouble for its sake. There is no such thing as genius in ordinary life. Genius has been well defined as an infinite capacity for taking pains. And thus avoid the miserable weakness of St. Mark, who fled from his work because it entailed trouble and self-denial on his part.

Then, again, we view St. Paul with admiration because he withstood the spirit of jobbery when it displayed itself even in a saint. Barnabas in plain language wished to perpetrate a job in favour of a member of his family, and St. Paul withstood him. And how often since has the same spirit thus displayed itself to the injury of God’s cause! Let us note how the case stood. St. Barnabas was a good pious man of very strong emotional feelings. But he allowed himself to be guided, as pious people often do, by their emotions, affections, prejudices, not by their reason and judgment. With such men, when their affections come into play, jobbery is the most natural thing in the world. It is the very breath of their nostrils. It is the atmosphere in which they revel. Barnabas loved his cousin John Mark, with strong, powerful, absorbing love, and that emotion blinded Barnabas to Mark’s faults, and led him on his behalf to quarrel with his firmer, wiser, and more vigorous friend. Jobbery is a vice peculiar to no age and to no profession. It flourishes in the most religious as in the most worldly circles. In religious circles it often takes the most sickening forms, when miserable, narrow selfishness assumes the garb and adopts the language of Christian piety. St. Paul’s action proclaims to Christian men a very needful lesson. It says, in fact, Set your faces against jobbery of every kind. Regard power, influence, patronage as a sacred trust. Permit not fear, affection, or party spirit to blind your eyes or prejudice your judgment against real merit; so shall you be following in the footsteps of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, with his heroic championship of that which was righteous and true, and of One higher still, for thus you shall be following the Master’s own example, whose highest praise was this: "He loved righteousness, and hated iniquity."

We have now bestowed a lengthened notice upon this quarrel, because it corrects a very mistaken notion about the apostles, and shows us how thoroughly natural and human, how very like our own, was the everyday life of the primitive Church. It takes away the false halo of infallibility and impeccability with which we are apt to invest the apostles, making us view them as real, fallible, weak, sinful men like ourselves, and thereby exalts the power of that grace which made them so eminent in Christian character, so abundant in Christian labours. Let us now apply ourselves to trace the course of St. Paul’s second tour.

The effect of the quarrel between the friends was that St. Paul took Silas and St. Barnabas took Mark, and they separated; the latter going to Cyprus, the native country of Barnabas, while Paul and Silas devoted themselves to Syria and Asia Minor and their Churches. The division between these holy men became thus doubly profitable to the Church of Christ. It is perpetually profitable, by way of warning and example, as we have just now shown; and then it became profitable because it led to two distinct missions being carried on, the one in the Island of Cyprus, the other on the continent of Asia. The wrath of man is thus again overruled to the greater glory of God, and human weakness is made to promote the interests of the gospel. We read, too, "they parted asunder, the one from the other." How very differently they acted from the manner in which modern Christians do! Their difference in opinion did not lead them to depart into exactly the same district, and there pursue a policy of opposition the one against the other. They sought rather districts widely separated, where their social differences could have no effect upon the cause they both loved. How very differently modern Christians act, and how very disastrous the consequent results! How very scandalous, how very injurious to Christ’s cause, when Christian missionaries of different communions appear warring one with another in face of the pagan world! Surely the world of paganism is wide enough and large enough to afford scope for the utmost efforts of all Christians without European Christendom exporting its divisions and quarrels to afford matter for mockery to scoffing idolaters! We have heard lately a great deal about the differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries in Central Africa, terminating in war and bloodshed and in the most miserable recriminations threatening the peace and welfare of the nations of Europe. Surely there must have been an error of judgment somewhere or another in this case, and Africa must be ample enough to afford abundant room for the independent action of the largest bodies of missionaries without resorting to armed conflicts which recall the religious wars between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant Cantons of Switzerland! With the subsequent labours of Barnabas we have nothing to do, as he now disappears from the Acts of the Apostles, though it would appear from a reference by St. Paul- 1 Corinthians 9:6, "Or I only, and Barnabas, have we not a right to forbear working?"-as if at that time, four or five years after the quarrel, they were again labouring together at Ephesus, where First Corinthians was written, or else why should Barnabas be mentioned in that connection at all.

Let us now briefly indicate the course of St. Paul’s labours during the next three years, as his second missionary tour must have extended over at least that space of time. St. Paul and his companion Silas left Antioch amid the prayers of the whole Church. Evidently the brethren viewed Paul’s conduct with approbation, and accompanied him therefore with fervent supplications for success in his self-denying labours. He proceeded by land into Cilicia and Asia Minor, and wherever he went he delivered the apostolic decree in order that he might counteract the workings of the Judaisers. This decree served a twofold purpose. It relieved the minds of the Gentile brethren with respect to the law and its observances, and it also showed to them that the Jerusalem Church and apostles recognised the Divine authority and apostolate of St. Paul himself, which these "false brethren" from Jerusalem had already assailed, as they did four or five years later both in Galatia and at Corinth. We know not what special towns St. Paul visited in Cilicia, but we may be sure that the Church of Tarsus, his native place, where in the first fervour of his conversion he had already laboured for a considerable period, must have received a visit from him. We may be certain that his opponents would not leave such an important town unvisited, and we may be equally certain that St. Paul, who, as his Epistles show, was always keenly alive to the opinion of his converts with respect to his apostolic authority, would have been specially anxious to let his fellow townsmen at Tarsus see that he was no unauthorised or false teacher, but that the Jerusalem Church recognised his work and teaching in the amplest manner.

Starting then anew from Tarsus, Paul and Silas set out upon an enormous journey, penetrating, as few modern travellers even now do, from the southeastern extremity of Asia Minor to the northwestern coast, a journey which, with its necessarily prolonged delays, must have taken them at least a year and a half. St. Paul seems to have carefully availed himself of the Roman road system. We are merely given the very barest outline of the course which he pursued, but then, when we take up the index maps of Asia Minor inserted in Ramsay’s "Historical Geography of Asia Minor," showing the road systems at various periods, we see that a great Roman road followed the very route which St. Paul took. It started from Tarsus and passed to Derbe, whence of course the road to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch had already been traversed by St. Paul. He must have made lengthened visits to all these places, as he had much to do and much to teach. He had to expound the decree of the Apostolic Council, to explain Christian truth, to correct the errors and abuses which were daily creeping in, and to enlarge the organisation of the Christian Church by fresh ordinations. Take the case of Timothy as an example of the trouble St. Paul must have experienced. He came to Derbe, where he first found some of the converts made on his earlier tour; whence he passed to Lystra, where he met Timothy, whose acquaintance he had doubtless made on his first journey. He was the son of a Jewess, though his father was a Gentile. St. Paul took and circumcised him to conciliate the Jews. The Apostle must have bestowed a great deal of trouble on this point alone, explaining to the Gentile portion of the Christian community the principles on which he acted and their perfect consistency with his own conduct at Jerusalem and his advocacy of Gentile freedom from the law. Then he ordained him. This we do not learn from the Acts, but from St. Paul’s Epistles to Timothy. The Acts simply says of Timothy, "Him would Paul have to go forth with him." But then when we turn to the Epistles written to Timothy, we find that it was not as an ordinary companion that Timothy was taken. He went forth as St. Paul himself had gone forth from the Church of Antioch, a duly ordained and publicly recognised messenger of Christ. We can glean from St. Paul’s letters to Timothy the order and ceremonies of this primitive ordination. The rite, as ministered on that occasion, embraced prophesyings or preachings by St. Paul himself and by others upon the serious character of the office then undertaken. This seems plainly intimated in 1 Timothy 1:18 : "This charge I commit unto thee, my child Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee"; while there seems a reference to his own exhortations and directions in 2 Timothy 2:2. where he writes, "The things which ‘thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men." After this there was probably, as in modern ordinations, a searching examination of the candidate, with a solemn profession of faith on his part, to which St. Paul refers in 1 Timothy 6:12, "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on the life eternal, whereunto thou wast called, and didst confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses. I charge thee in the sight of God who quickeneth all things, and of Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession; that thou keep the commandment without spot, without reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." And finally there came the imposition of hands, in which the local presbyters assisted St. Paul, though St. Paul was so far the guiding and ruling personage that, though in one place [1 Timothy 4:14] he speaks of the gift of God which Timothy possessed, as given "by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery," in another place he describes it as given to the young evangelist by the imposition of St. Paul’s own hands. [2 Timothy 1:6] This ordination of Timothy and adoption of him as his special attendant stood at the very beginning of a prolonged tour throughout the central and northern districts of Asia Minor, of which we get only a mere hint in Acts 16:6-8 : "They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden of the Holy Ghost to speak the word in Asia; and when they were come over against Mysia, they essayed to go into Bithynia; and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not; and passing by Mysia, they came unto Troas." This is the brief sketch of St. Paul’s labours through the northwestern provinces of Asia Minor, during which he visited the district of Galatia and preached the gospel amid the various tribal communities of Celts who inhabited that district.

St. Paul’s work in Galatia is specially interesting to ourselves. The Celtic race certainly furnished the groundwork of the population in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and finds to this day lineal representatives in the Celtic-speaking inhabitants of these three islands. Galatia was thoroughly Celtic in St. Paul’s day. But how, it may be said, did the Gauls come there? We all know of the Gauls or Celts in Western Europe, and every person of even moderate education has heard of the Gauls who invaded Italy and sacked Rome when that city was yet an unknown factor in the world’s history, and yet but very few know that the same wave of invasion which brought the Gauls to Rome led another division of them into Asia Minor, where-as Dr. Lightfoot shows in his Introduction to his Commentary about three hundred years before St. Paul’s day they settled down in the region called after them Galatia, perpetuating in that neighbourhood the tribal organisation, the language, the national feelings, habits, and customs which have universally marked the Celtic race, whether in ancient or in modern times. St. Paul on this second missionary tour paid his first visit to this district of Galatia. St. Paul usually directed his attention to great cities. Where vast masses of humanity were gathered together, there St. Paul loved to fling himself with all the mighty force of his unquenchable enthusiasm. But Galatia was quite unlike other districts with which he had dealt in this special respect. Like the Celtic race all the world over, the Gauls of Galatia specially delighted in village communities. They did not care for the society and tone of great towns, and Galatia was wanting in such. St. Paul, too, does not seem originally to have intended to labour amongst the Galatians at all. In view of his great design to preach in large cities, and concentrate his efforts where they could most effectually tell upon the masses, he seems to have been hurrying through Galatia when God laid His heavy hand upon the Apostle and delayed his course that we might be able to see how the gospel could tell upon Gauls and Celts even as upon other nations. This interesting circumstance is made known to us by St. Paul himself in the Epistle to the Galatians 4:13 : "Ye know that because of an infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you for the first time." Paul, to put it in plain language, fell sick in Galatia. He was delayed on his journey by the ophthalmia or some other form of disease, which was his thorn in the flesh, and, then, utilising the compulsory delay, and turning every moment to advantage, he evangelised the village communities of Galatia with which he came in contact, so that his Epistle is directed, not as in other cases to the Church of a city or to an individual man, but the Epistle in which he deals with great fundamental questions of Christian freedom is addressed to the Churches of Galatia, a vast district of country. Mere accident, as it would seem to the eye of sense, produced the Epistle to the Galatians, which shows us the peculiar weakness and the peculiar strength of the Celtic race, their enthusiasm, their genuine warmth, their fickleness, their love for that which is striking, showy, material, exterior. But when we pass from Galatia we know nothing of the course of St. Paul’s further labours in Asia Minor. St. Luke was not with him during this portion of his work, and so the details given us are very few. We are told that "the Spirit of Jesus" would not permit him to preach in Bithynia, though Bithynia became afterwards rich in Christian Churches, and was one of the districts to which St. Peter some years later addressed his first Epistle. The Jews were numerous in the districts of Bithynia and Asia, and "the Spirit of Jesus" or "the Holy Ghost"-for the sacred writer seems to use the terms as equivalent the one to the other-had determined to utilise St. Paul in working directly among the Gentiles, reserving the preaching of the gospel to the Dispersion, as the scattered Jews were called, to St. Peter and his friends. It is thus we would explain the restraint exercised upon St. Paul on this occasion. Divine providence had cut out his great work in Europe, and was impelling him westward even when he desired to tarry in Asia. How the Spirit exercised this restraint or communicated His will we know not. St. Paul lived, however, in an atmosphere of Divine communion. He cultivated perpetually a sense of the Divine presence, and those who do so experience a guidance of which the outer world knows nothing. Bishop Jeremy Taylor, in one of his marvellous spiritual discourses called the "Via Intelligentiae," or the Way of Knowledge, speaks much on this subject, pointing out that they who live closest to God have a knowledge and a love peculiar to themselves. And surely every sincere and earnest follower of Christ has experienced somewhat of the same mystical blessings! God’s truest servants commit their lives and their actions in devout prayer to the guidance of their heavenly Father, and then when they look back over the past they see how marvellously they have been restrained from courses which would have been fraught with evil, how strangely they have been led by ways which have been full of mercy and goodness and blessing. Thus it was that St. Paul was at length led down to the ancient city of Troas where God revealed to him in a new fashion his ordained field of labour. A man of Macedonia. appeared in a night vision inviting him over to Europe, and saying, "Come over into Macedonia and help us." Troas was a very fitting place in which this vision should appear. Of old time and in days of classic fable Troas had been the meeting-place where, as Homer and as Virgil tell, Europe and Asia had met in stern conflict, and where Europe as represented by Greece had come off victorious, bringing home the spoils which human nature counted most precious. Europe and Asia again meet at Troas, but no longer in carnal conflict or in deadly fight. The interests of Europe and of Asia again touch one another, and Europe again carries off from the same spot spoil more precious far than Grecian poet ever dreamt of, for "when Paul had seen the vision, straightway we sought to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God called us for to preach the gospel unto them." Whereupon we notice two points and offer just two observations. The vision created an enthusiasm, and that enthusiasm was contagious. The vision was seen by Paul alone, but was communicated by St. Paul unto Silas and to St. Luke, who now had joined to lend perhaps the assistance of his medical knowledge to the afflicted and suffering Apostle. Enthusiasm is a marvellous power, and endows a man with wondrous force. St. Paul was boiling over with enthusiasm, but he could not always impart it. The two non-apostolic Evangelists are marked contrasts as brought before us in this history. St. Paul was enthusiastic on his first tour, but that enthusiasm was not communicated to St. Mark. He turned back from the hardships and dangers of the work in Asia Minor. St. Paul was boiling over again with enthusiasm for the new work in Europe. He has now with him in St. Luke a congenial soul who, when he hears the vision, gathers at once its import, joyfully anticipates the work, and "straightway sought to go forth into Macedonia." Enthusiasm in any kind of work is a great assistance, and nothing great or successful is done without it. But above all in Divine work, in the work of preaching the gospel, the man devoid of enthusiasm begotten of living communion with God, such as St. Paul and St. Luke enjoyed, is sure to be a lamentable and complete failure.

Then, again, and lastly, we note the slow progress of the gospel as shown to us by this incident at Troas. Here we are a good twenty years after the Crucifixion, and yet the chief ministers and leaders of the Church had not yet crossed into Europe. There were sporadic Churches here and there. At Rome and at possibly a few Italian seaports, whence intercourse with Palestine was frequent, there were small Christian communities; but Macedonia and Greece were absolutely untouched up to the present. We are very apt to overrate the progress of the gospel during those first days of the Church’s earliest Church life. We are inclined to view the history of the Church of the first three centuries all on a heap as it were. We have much need to distinguish century from century and decennium from decennium. The first ten years of the Church’s history saw the gospel preached in Jerusalem and Palestine, but not much farther. The second decennium saw it proclaimed to Asia Minor; but it is only when the third decennium is opening that Christ despatches a formal mission to that Europe where the greatest triumphs of the gospel were afterwards to be won. Ignorance and prejudice and narrow views had been allowed to hinder the progress of the gospel then, as they are hindering the progress of the gospel still; and an express record of this has been handed down to us in this typical history in order that if we too suffer the same we may not be astonished as if some strange thing had happened, but may understand that we are bearing the same burden and enduring the same trials as the New Testament saints have borne before us.


Verse 39

Chapter 11

APOSTOLIC QUARRELS AND THE SECOND TOUR.

Acts 15:36; Acts 15:39; Acts 16:6; Acts 16:8-9

THE second missionary tour of St. Paul now claims our attention, specially because it involves the first proclamation of Christianity by an apostle within the boundaries of Europe. The course of the narrative up to this will show that any Christian effort in Europe by an apostle, St. Peter or any one else prior to St. Paul’s work, was almost impossible. To the Twelve and to men like-minded with them, it must have seemed a daring-innovation to bring the gospel message directly to bear upon the masses of Gentile paganism. Men of conservative minds like the Twelve doubtless restrained their own efforts up to the time of St. Paul’s second tour within the bounds of Israel, according to the flesh, in Palestine and the neighbouring lands, finding there an ample field upon which to exercise their diligence. And then when we turn to St. Paul and St. Barnabas, who had dared to realise the free-ness and fulness of the gospel message, we shall see that the Syrian Antioch and Syria itself and Asia Minor had hitherto afforded them scope quite sufficient to engage their utmost attention. A few moments’ reflection upon the circumstances of the primitive Christian Church and the developments through which Apostolic Christianity passed are quite sufficient to dispel all such fabulous incrustations upon the original record as those involved in St. Peter’s episcopate at Antioch or his lengthened rule over the Church at Rome. If the latter story was to be accepted, St. Peter must have been Bishop of Rome long before a mission was despatched to the Gentiles from Antioch, if not even before the vision was seen at Joppa by St. Peter when the admission of the Gentiles to the Church was first authorised under any terms whatsoever. In fact, it would be impossible to fit the actions of St. Peter into any scheme whatsoever, if we bring him to Rome and make him bishop there for twenty-five years beginning at the year 42, the time usually assigned by Roman Catholic historians. It is hard enough to frame a hypothetical scheme, which will find a due and fitting place for the various recorded actions of St. Peter, quite apart from any supposed Roman episcopate lasting over such an extended period. St. Peter and St. Paul had, for instance, a dispute at Antioch of which we read much in the second chapter of the Galatian epistle. Where shall we fix that dispute? Some place it during the interval of the Synod at Jerusalem and the second missionary tour of which we now propose to treat. Others place it at the conclusion of that tour, when St. Paul was resting at Antioch for a little after the work of that second journey. As we are not writing the life of St. Paul, but simply commenting upon the narratives of his labours as told in the Acts, we must be content to refer to the Lives of St. Paul by Conybeare and Howson, and Archdeacon Farrar, and to Bishop Lightfoot’s "Galatians," all of whom place this quarrel before the second tour, and to Mr. Findlay’s "Galatians" in our own series, who upholds the other view. Supposing, however, that we take the former view in deference to the weighty authorities just mentioned, we then find. that there were two serious quarrels which must for a time have marred the unity and Christian concord of the Antiochene Church.

The reproof of St. Peter by St. Paul for his dissimulation was made on a public occasion before the whole Church. It must have caused considerable excitement and discussion, and. raised much human feeling in Antioch. Barnabas too, the chosen friend and companion of St. Paul, was involved in the matter, and must have felt himself condemned in the strong language addressed to St. Peter. This may have caused for a time a certain amount of estrangement between the various parties. A close study of the Acts of the Apostles dispels at once the notion men would fain cherish, that the apostles and the early Christians lived just like angels without any trace of human passion or discord. The apostles had their differences and misunderstandings very like our own. Hot tempers and subsequent coolnesses arose, and produced evil results between men entrusted with the very highest offices, and paved the way, as quarrels always do, for fresh disturbances at some future time. So it was at Antioch, where the public reproof of St. Peter by St. Paul involved St. Barnabas, and may have left traces upon the gentle soul of the Son of Consolation which were not wholly eradicated by the time that a new source of trouble arose.

The ministry of St. Paul at Antioch was prolonged for some time after the Jerusalem Synod, and then the Holy Ghost again impelled him to return and visit all the Churches which he had founded in Cyprus and Asia Minor. He recognised the necessity for supervision, support, and guidance as far as the new converts were concerned, The seed might be from heaven and the work might be God’s own, but still human effort must take its share and do its duty, or else the work may fail and the good seed never attain perfection. St. Paul therefore proposed to Barnabas a second joint mission, intending to visit "the brethren in every city wherein they had proclaimed the word of the Lord." Barnabas desired to take with them his kinsman Mark, but Paul, remembering his weakness and defection on their previous journey, would have nothing to say to the young man. Then there arose a sharp contention between them, or as the original expression is, there arose a paroxysm between the apostles, so that the loving Christian workers and friends of bygone years, "men who had hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," separated the one from the other, and worked from henceforth in widely different localities.

I. There are few portions of the Acts more fruitful in spiritual instruction, or teeming with. more abundant lessons, or richer in application! to present difficulties, than this very incident. Let us note a few of them. One thought, for instance, which occurs at once to any reflecting mind is this: what an extraordinary thing it is that two such holy and devoted men as Paul and-Barnabas should have had a quarrel at all; and. when they did quarrel, would it not have been far better to have hushed the matter up and never! have let the world know anything at all about it?

Now I do not say that it is well for Christian people always to proclaim aloud and tell the world at large all about the various unpleasant circumstances of their lives, their quarrels, their misunderstandings, their personal failings and backslidings. Life would be simply intolerable did we live always, at all times, and under all circumstances beneath the full glare of publicity. Personal quarrels too, family jars and bickerings, have a rapid tendency to heal themselves if kept in the gloom, the soft, toned, shaded light of retirement. They have an unhappy tendency to harden and perpetuate themselves when dragged beneath the fierce light of public opinion and the outside world. Yet it is well for the Church at large that such a record has been left for us of the fact that the quarrel between Paul and Barnabas waxed so fierce that they departed the one from the other, to teach us what we are apt to forget-the true character of the apostles. Human nature is intensely inclined to idolatry. One idol may be knocked down, but as soon as it is displaced the heart straightway sets to work to erect another idol in its stead, and men have been ready to make idols of the apostles. They have been ready to imagine them supernatural characters tainted with no sin, tempted by no passion, weakened by no infirmity. If these incidents had not been recorded-the quarrel with Peter and the quarrel with Barnabas-we should have been apt to forget that the apostles were men of like passions with ourselves, and thus to lose the full force-the bracing, stimulating force-of such exhortations as that delivered by St. Paul when he said to a primitive Church, "Follow me, as I, a poor, weak, failing, passionate man, have followed Christ." We have the thorough humanity of the apostles vigorously presented and enforced in this passage. There is no suppression of weak points, no accentuation of strong points, no hiding of defects and weaknesses, no dwelling Upon virtues and graces. We have the apostles presented at times vigorous, united, harmonious; at other times weak, timorous, and cowardly.

Again, we note that this passage not only shows us the human frailties and weaknesses which marked the apostles, and found a place in characters and persons called to the very highest places; it has also a lesson for the Church of all time in the circumstances which led to the quarrel between Paul and Barnabas. We do well to mark carefully that Antioch saw two such quarrels, the one of which, as we have already pointed out, may have had something to say to the other. The quarrel between St. Paul and St. Peter indeed has a history which strikingly illustrates this tendency of which we have just now spoken. Some expositors, jealous of the good fame and reputation and temper of the apostles, have explained the ‘quarrel at Antioch between St. Paul and St. Peter as not having been a real quarrel at all, but an edifying piece of acting, a dispute got up between the apostles to enforce and proclaim the freedom of the Gentiles, a mere piece of knavery and deception utterly foreign to such a truth-loving character as was St. Paul’s. It is interesting, however, to note as manifesting their natural characteristics, which were not destroyed, but merely elevated, purified, and sanctified by Divine grace, that the apostles Paul and Barnabas quarrelled about a purely personal matter. They had finished their first missionary tour on which they had been accompanied by St. Mark, who had acted as their attendant or servant, carrying, we may suppose, their luggage, and discharging all. the subordinate offices such service might involve. The labour and toil and personal danger incident to such a career were too much for the young man. So with all the fickleness, the weakness, the want of strong definite purpose we often find in young people, he abandoned his work simply because it involved the exercise of a certain amount of self-sacrifice. And now, when Paul and Barnabas are setting out again, and Barnabas wishes to take the same favourite relative with them, St. Paul naturally objects, and then the bitter, passionate quarrel ensues. St. Paul just experienced here what we all must more or less experience, the crosses and trials of public life, if we wish to pass through that life with a good conscience. Public life, I say-and I mean thereby not a political life, which alone we usually dignify by that name, but the ordinary. life which every man and every woman amongst us must live as we go in and out and discharge our duties amid our fellow-men, -public life, the life we live once we leave our closet communion with God in the early morning till we return thereto in the eventide, is in all its department most trying. It is trying to temper, and it is. trying to principle, and no one can hope to pass through it without serious and grievous temptations. I do not wonder that men have often felt, as the old Eastern monks did, that salvation was more easily won in solitude than in living and working amid the busy haunts of men where bad temper and hot words so often conspire to make one return home from a hard day’s work feeling miserable within on account of repeated falls and shortcomings. Shall we then act as. they did? Shall we shut out the world completely and cease to take any part in a struggle which seems to tell so disastrously upon the-equable calm of our spiritual life? Nay, indeed, for such a course would be unworthy a soldier of the Cross, and very unlike the example shown by the blessed apostle St. Paul, who had to battle not only against others, but had also to. battle against himself and his own passionate. nature, and was crowned as a victor, not because-he ran away, but because he conquered through the grace of Christ.

And now it is well that we should note the special trials he had to endure. He had to fight against the spirit of cowardly self-indulgence in others, and he had to fight against the spirit of jobbery. These things indeed caused the rupture in the apostolic friendship. St. Barnabas, apostle though he was, thought far more of the interests of his cousin than of the interests of Christ’s mission. St. Paul with his devotion to. Christ may have been a little intolerant of the weakness of youth, but he rightly judged that one who had proved untrustworthy before should not be rapidly and at once trusted again. And St. Paul was thoroughly right, and has left a very useful and practical example. Many young men among us are like St. Mark. The St. Marks of our own day are a very numerous class. They have no respect for their engagements. They will undertake work and allow themselves. to be calculated upon, and arrangements to be made accordingly. But then comes the stress of action, and their place is found wanting, and the work undertaken by them is found undone. And then they wonder and complain that their lives are unsuccessful, and that men and women who are in earnest will not trust or employ them in the future! These are the men who are the social wrecks in life. They proclaim loudly in streets and highways the hard treatment which they have received. They tell forth their own misery, and speak as if they were the most deserving and at the same time the most ill-treated of men; and yet they are but reaping as they have sown, and their failures and their misfortunes are only the due and fitting rewards of their want of earnestness, diligence, and self-denial. To the young this episode proclaims aloud. Respect your engagements, regard public employments as solemn contracts in God’s sight. Take pains with your work. Be willing to endure any trouble for its sake. There is no such thing as genius in ordinary life. Genius has been well defined as an infinite capacity for taking pains. And thus avoid the miserable weakness of St. Mark, who fled from his work because it entailed trouble and self-denial on his part.

Then, again, we view St. Paul with admiration because he withstood the spirit of jobbery when it displayed itself even in a saint. Barnabas in plain language wished to perpetrate a job in favour of a member of his family, and St. Paul withstood him. And how often since has the same spirit thus displayed itself to the injury of God’s cause! Let us note how the case stood. St. Barnabas was a good pious man of very strong emotional feelings. But he allowed himself to be guided, as pious people often do, by their emotions, affections, prejudices, not by their reason and judgment. With such men, when their affections come into play, jobbery is the most natural thing in the world. It is the very breath of their nostrils. It is the atmosphere in which they revel. Barnabas loved his cousin John Mark, with strong, powerful, absorbing love, and that emotion blinded Barnabas to Mark’s faults, and led him on his behalf to quarrel with his firmer, wiser, and more vigorous friend. Jobbery is a vice peculiar to no age and to no profession. It flourishes in the most religious as in the most worldly circles. In religious circles it often takes the most sickening forms, when miserable, narrow selfishness assumes the garb and adopts the language of Christian piety. St. Paul’s action proclaims to Christian men a very needful lesson. It says, in fact, Set your faces against jobbery of every kind. Regard power, influence, patronage as a sacred trust. Permit not fear, affection, or party spirit to blind your eyes or prejudice your judgment against real merit; so shall you be following in the footsteps of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, with his heroic championship of that which was righteous and true, and of One higher still, for thus you shall be following the Master’s own example, whose highest praise was this: "He loved righteousness, and hated iniquity."

We have now bestowed a lengthened notice upon this quarrel, because it corrects a very mistaken notion about the apostles, and shows us how thoroughly natural and human, how very like our own, was the everyday life of the primitive Church. It takes away the false halo of infallibility and impeccability with which we are apt to invest the apostles, making us view them as real, fallible, weak, sinful men like ourselves, and thereby exalts the power of that grace which made them so eminent in Christian character, so abundant in Christian labours. Let us now apply ourselves to trace the course of St. Paul’s second tour.

The effect of the quarrel between the friends was that St. Paul took Silas and St. Barnabas took Mark, and they separated; the latter going to Cyprus, the native country of Barnabas, while Paul and Silas devoted themselves to Syria and Asia Minor and their Churches. The division between these holy men became thus doubly profitable to the Church of Christ. It is perpetually profitable, by way of warning and example, as we have just now shown; and then it became profitable because it led to two distinct missions being carried on, the one in the Island of Cyprus, the other on the continent of Asia. The wrath of man is thus again overruled to the greater glory of God, and human weakness is made to promote the interests of the gospel. We read, too, "they parted asunder, the one from the other." How very differently they acted from the manner in which modern Christians do! Their difference in opinion did not lead them to depart into exactly the same district, and there pursue a policy of opposition the one against the other. They sought rather districts widely separated, where their social differences could have no effect upon the cause they both loved. How very differently modern Christians act, and how very disastrous the consequent results! How very scandalous, how very injurious to Christ’s cause, when Christian missionaries of different communions appear warring one with another in face of the pagan world! Surely the world of paganism is wide enough and large enough to afford scope for the utmost efforts of all Christians without European Christendom exporting its divisions and quarrels to afford matter for mockery to scoffing idolaters! We have heard lately a great deal about the differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries in Central Africa, terminating in war and bloodshed and in the most miserable recriminations threatening the peace and welfare of the nations of Europe. Surely there must have been an error of judgment somewhere or another in this case, and Africa must be ample enough to afford abundant room for the independent action of the largest bodies of missionaries without resorting to armed conflicts which recall the religious wars between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant Cantons of Switzerland! With the subsequent labours of Barnabas we have nothing to do, as he now disappears from the Acts of the Apostles, though it would appear from a reference by St. Paul- 1 Corinthians 9:6, "Or I only, and Barnabas, have we not a right to forbear working?"-as if at that time, four or five years after the quarrel, they were again labouring together at Ephesus, where First Corinthians was written, or else why should Barnabas be mentioned in that connection at all.

Let us now briefly indicate the course of St. Paul’s labours during the next three years, as his second missionary tour must have extended over at least that space of time. St. Paul and his companion Silas left Antioch amid the prayers of the whole Church. Evidently the brethren viewed Paul’s conduct with approbation, and accompanied him therefore with fervent supplications for success in his self-denying labours. He proceeded by land into Cilicia and Asia Minor, and wherever he went he delivered the apostolic decree in order that he might counteract the workings of the Judaisers. This decree served a twofold purpose. It relieved the minds of the Gentile brethren with respect to the law and its observances, and it also showed to them that the Jerusalem Church and apostles recognised the Divine authority and apostolate of St. Paul himself, which these "false brethren" from Jerusalem had already assailed, as they did four or five years later both in Galatia and at Corinth. We know not what special towns St. Paul visited in Cilicia, but we may be sure that the Church of Tarsus, his native place, where in the first fervour of his conversion he had already laboured for a considerable period, must have received a visit from him. We may be certain that his opponents would not leave such an important town unvisited, and we may be equally certain that St. Paul, who, as his Epistles show, was always keenly alive to the opinion of his converts with respect to his apostolic authority, would have been specially anxious to let his fellow townsmen at Tarsus see that he was no unauthorised or false teacher, but that the Jerusalem Church recognised his work and teaching in the amplest manner.

Starting then anew from Tarsus, Paul and Silas set out upon an enormous journey, penetrating, as few modern travellers even now do, from the southeastern extremity of Asia Minor to the northwestern coast, a journey which, with its necessarily prolonged delays, must have taken them at least a year and a half. St. Paul seems to have carefully availed himself of the Roman road system. We are merely given the very barest outline of the course which he pursued, but then, when we take up the index maps of Asia Minor inserted in Ramsay’s "Historical Geography of Asia Minor," showing the road systems at various periods, we see that a great Roman road followed the very route which St. Paul took. It started from Tarsus and passed to Derbe, whence of course the road to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch had already been traversed by St. Paul. He must have made lengthened visits to all these places, as he had much to do and much to teach. He had to expound the decree of the Apostolic Council, to explain Christian truth, to correct the errors and abuses which were daily creeping in, and to enlarge the organisation of the Christian Church by fresh ordinations. Take the case of Timothy as an example of the trouble St. Paul must have experienced. He came to Derbe, where he first found some of the converts made on his earlier tour; whence he passed to Lystra, where he met Timothy, whose acquaintance he had doubtless made on his first journey. He was the son of a Jewess, though his father was a Gentile. St. Paul took and circumcised him to conciliate the Jews. The Apostle must have bestowed a great deal of trouble on this point alone, explaining to the Gentile portion of the Christian community the principles on which he acted and their perfect consistency with his own conduct at Jerusalem and his advocacy of Gentile freedom from the law. Then he ordained him. This we do not learn from the Acts, but from St. Paul’s Epistles to Timothy. The Acts simply says of Timothy, "Him would Paul have to go forth with him." But then when we turn to the Epistles written to Timothy, we find that it was not as an ordinary companion that Timothy was taken. He went forth as St. Paul himself had gone forth from the Church of Antioch, a duly ordained and publicly recognised messenger of Christ. We can glean from St. Paul’s letters to Timothy the order and ceremonies of this primitive ordination. The rite, as ministered on that occasion, embraced prophesyings or preachings by St. Paul himself and by others upon the serious character of the office then undertaken. This seems plainly intimated in 1 Timothy 1:18 : "This charge I commit unto thee, my child Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee"; while there seems a reference to his own exhortations and directions in 2 Timothy 2:2. where he writes, "The things which ‘thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men." After this there was probably, as in modern ordinations, a searching examination of the candidate, with a solemn profession of faith on his part, to which St. Paul refers in 1 Timothy 6:12, "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on the life eternal, whereunto thou wast called, and didst confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses. I charge thee in the sight of God who quickeneth all things, and of Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession; that thou keep the commandment without spot, without reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." And finally there came the imposition of hands, in which the local presbyters assisted St. Paul, though St. Paul was so far the guiding and ruling personage that, though in one place [1 Timothy 4:14] he speaks of the gift of God which Timothy possessed, as given "by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery," in another place he describes it as given to the young evangelist by the imposition of St. Paul’s own hands. [2 Timothy 1:6] This ordination of Timothy and adoption of him as his special attendant stood at the very beginning of a prolonged tour throughout the central and northern districts of Asia Minor, of which we get only a mere hint in Acts 16:6-8 : "They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden of the Holy Ghost to speak the word in Asia; and when they were come over against Mysia, they essayed to go into Bithynia; and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not; and passing by Mysia, they came unto Troas." This is the brief sketch of St. Paul’s labours through the northwestern provinces of Asia Minor, during which he visited the district of Galatia and preached the gospel amid the various tribal communities of Celts who inhabited that district.

St. Paul’s work in Galatia is specially interesting to ourselves. The Celtic race certainly furnished the groundwork of the population in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and finds to this day lineal representatives in the Celtic-speaking inhabitants of these three islands. Galatia was thoroughly Celtic in St. Paul’s day. But how, it may be said, did the Gauls come there? We all know of the Gauls or Celts in Western Europe, and every person of even moderate education has heard of the Gauls who invaded Italy and sacked Rome when that city was yet an unknown factor in the world’s history, and yet but very few know that the same wave of invasion which brought the Gauls to Rome led another division of them into Asia Minor, where-as Dr. Lightfoot shows in his Introduction to his Commentary about three hundred years before St. Paul’s day they settled down in the region called after them Galatia, perpetuating in that neighbourhood the tribal organisation, the language, the national feelings, habits, and customs which have universally marked the Celtic race, whether in ancient or in modern times. St. Paul on this second missionary tour paid his first visit to this district of Galatia. St. Paul usually directed his attention to great cities. Where vast masses of humanity were gathered together, there St. Paul loved to fling himself with all the mighty force of his unquenchable enthusiasm. But Galatia was quite unlike other districts with which he had dealt in this special respect. Like the Celtic race all the world over, the Gauls of Galatia specially delighted in village communities. They did not care for the society and tone of great towns, and Galatia was wanting in such. St. Paul, too, does not seem originally to have intended to labour amongst the Galatians at all. In view of his great design to preach in large cities, and concentrate his efforts where they could most effectually tell upon the masses, he seems to have been hurrying through Galatia when God laid His heavy hand upon the Apostle and delayed his course that we might be able to see how the gospel could tell upon Gauls and Celts even as upon other nations. This interesting circumstance is made known to us by St. Paul himself in the Epistle to the Galatians 4:13 : "Ye know that because of an infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you for the first time." Paul, to put it in plain language, fell sick in Galatia. He was delayed on his journey by the ophthalmia or some other form of disease, which was his thorn in the flesh, and, then, utilising the compulsory delay, and turning every moment to advantage, he evangelised the village communities of Galatia with which he came in contact, so that his Epistle is directed, not as in other cases to the Church of a city or to an individual man, but the Epistle in which he deals with great fundamental questions of Christian freedom is addressed to the Churches of Galatia, a vast district of country. Mere accident, as it would seem to the eye of sense, produced the Epistle to the Galatians, which shows us the peculiar weakness and the peculiar strength of the Celtic race, their enthusiasm, their genuine warmth, their fickleness, their love for that which is striking, showy, material, exterior. But when we pass from Galatia we know nothing of the course of St. Paul’s further labours in Asia Minor. St. Luke was not with him during this portion of his work, and so the details given us are very few. We are told that "the Spirit of Jesus" would not permit him to preach in Bithynia, though Bithynia became afterwards rich in Christian Churches, and was one of the districts to which St. Peter some years later addressed his first Epistle. The Jews were numerous in the districts of Bithynia and Asia, and "the Spirit of Jesus" or "the Holy Ghost"-for the sacred writer seems to use the terms as equivalent the one to the other-had determined to utilise St. Paul in working directly among the Gentiles, reserving the preaching of the gospel to the Dispersion, as the scattered Jews were called, to St. Peter and his friends. It is thus we would explain the restraint exercised upon St. Paul on this occasion. Divine providence had cut out his great work in Europe, and was impelling him westward even when he desired to tarry in Asia. How the Spirit exercised this restraint or communicated His will we know not. St. Paul lived, however, in an atmosphere of Divine communion. He cultivated perpetually a sense of the Divine presence, and those who do so experience a guidance of which the outer world knows nothing. Bishop Jeremy Taylor, in one of his marvellous spiritual discourses called the "Via Intelligentiae," or the Way of Knowledge, speaks much on this subject, pointing out that they who live closest to God have a knowledge and a love peculiar to themselves. And surely every sincere and earnest follower of Christ has experienced somewhat of the same mystical blessings! God’s truest servants commit their lives and their actions in devout prayer to the guidance of their heavenly Father, and then when they look back over the past they see how marvellously they have been restrained from courses which would have been fraught with evil, how strangely they have been led by ways which have been full of mercy and goodness and blessing. Thus it was that St. Paul was at length led down to the ancient city of Troas where God revealed to him in a new fashion his ordained field of labour. A man of Macedonia. appeared in a night vision inviting him over to Europe, and saying, "Come over into Macedonia and help us." Troas was a very fitting place in which this vision should appear. Of old time and in days of classic fable Troas had been the meeting-place where, as Homer and as Virgil tell, Europe and Asia had met in stern conflict, and where Europe as represented by Greece had come off victorious, bringing home the spoils which human nature counted most precious. Europe and Asia again meet at Troas, but no longer in carnal conflict or in deadly fight. The interests of Europe and of Asia again touch one another, and Europe again carries off from the same spot spoil more precious far than Grecian poet ever dreamt of, for "when Paul had seen the vision, straightway we sought to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God called us for to preach the gospel unto them." Whereupon we notice two points and offer just two observations. The vision created an enthusiasm, and that enthusiasm was contagious. The vision was seen by Paul alone, but was communicated by St. Paul unto Silas and to St. Luke, who now had joined to lend perhaps the assistance of his medical knowledge to the afflicted and suffering Apostle. Enthusiasm is a marvellous power, and endows a man with wondrous force. St. Paul was boiling over with enthusiasm, but he could not always impart it. The two non-apostolic Evangelists are marked contrasts as brought before us in this history. St. Paul was enthusiastic on his first tour, but that enthusiasm was not communicated to St. Mark. He turned back from the hardships and dangers of the work in Asia Minor. St. Paul was boiling over again with enthusiasm for the new work in Europe. He has now with him in St. Luke a congenial soul who, when he hears the vision, gathers at once its import, joyfully anticipates the work, and "straightway sought to go forth into Macedonia." Enthusiasm in any kind of work is a great assistance, and nothing great or successful is done without it. But above all in Divine work, in the work of preaching the gospel, the man devoid of enthusiasm begotten of living communion with God, such as St. Paul and St. Luke enjoyed, is sure to be a lamentable and complete failure.

Then, again, and lastly, we note the slow progress of the gospel as shown to us by this incident at Troas. Here we are a good twenty years after the Crucifixion, and yet the chief ministers and leaders of the Church had not yet crossed into Europe. There were sporadic Churches here and there. At Rome and at possibly a few Italian seaports, whence intercourse with Palestine was frequent, there were small Christian communities; but Macedonia and Greece were absolutely untouched up to the present. We are very apt to overrate the progress of the gospel during those first days of the Church’s earliest Church life. We are inclined to view the history of the Church of the first three centuries all on a heap as it were. We have much need to distinguish century from century and decennium from decennium. The first ten years of the Church’s history saw the gospel preached in Jerusalem and Palestine, but not much farther. The second decennium saw it proclaimed to Asia Minor; but it is only when the third decennium is opening that Christ despatches a formal mission to that Europe where the greatest triumphs of the gospel were afterwards to be won. Ignorance and prejudice and narrow views had been allowed to hinder the progress of the gospel then, as they are hindering the progress of the gospel still; and an express record of this has been handed down to us in this typical history in order that if we too suffer the same we may not be astonished as if some strange thing had happened, but may understand that we are bearing the same burden and enduring the same trials as the New Testament saints have borne before us.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Acts 15:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/acts-15.html.

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Monday, December 16th, 2019
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