Acts 15
Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
Self-inquiry in Religion

Acts 15:36

This was a proposal made by St. Paul to Barnabas after their first missionary journey; he suggested revisiting the Churches they had founded, to see if their members were continuing steadfast in the faith, growing in grace, advancing in the spiritual life—standing still, or falling away.

It was both a wise and useful proposal. And we, nineteen centuries after, may apply it to ourselves; let us 'consider our ways,' and find out how things stand between ourselves and God; for if ever self-inquiry in religion was needed, it is needed now.

I. Do we ever think about our souls at all? Thousands cannot answer satisfactorily. They never give the subject of religion any place in their thoughts. They are absorbed in the pursuit of business, pleasure, politics, money, self-indulgence; and death, judgment, eternity, heaven and hell, and the Resurrection are never seriously regarded.

II. Do we ever do anything about our souls? There are multitudes in England who do occasionally think about religion, but never get beyond the thinking. These people are always meaning, purposing, and resolving; they say they 'know 'what is right, and 'hope 'to be found right at the last; but there is no actual separation from the service of the world and sin; no 'doing' in their religion—they never attain to action.

III. Are we trying to satisfy our consciences with mere formality? How many are making shipwreck on this rock! They are punctual in the observance of the outward forms and ordinances of religion, even the most solemn; yet all this time there is no secret heart in their Christianity. Of these our Lord's words are true (St. Matthew 15:9).

IV. Have we sought and received the forgiveness of our sins? Forgiveness has been purchased for us by the eternal Son of God, Who became incarnate, lived, died, and rose again, as our Substitute, in our behalf. But this forgiveness is a thing which each must lay hold on, appropriate, and make his own by faith. Jesus is able and willing to save, but man must come to Him in faith; without believing there is no forgiveness.

V. Do we know anything by experience of conversion to God? Without conversion there is no salvation. Sense of sin, deep hatred of it, faith in Christ, and love to Him, 'hungering and thirsting after righteousness,' detachment from love of the things of the world—these are some of the signs of true conversion.

VI. Do we know anything of practical Christian holiness? 'Without holiness no man shall see the Lord '(Hebrews 12:14). Holiness is not absolute perfection, freedom from all faults. That is for heaven and not earth, where we have a weak body, wicked surroundings, and a busy devil ever near at hand. Yet Christian holiness is a real thing, with distinct characteristics; it is seen more than heard: humility, kindness, gentleness, unselfishness, consideration for others, meekness, a forgiving temper, the faithful performance of duty, the rising to the test alike of trial or prosperity; this is practical Christianity. But it is never attained or maintained without a struggle, a constant conflict.

VII. Do we use and enjoy the 'means of grace'? God has graciously appointed certain means to be the channels of Divine grace to man's heart, to maintain his spiritual life. Tell me what a man does in the matter of Bible study, private prayer, public worship, attendance at the Holy Communion, and I will soon tell you what he is, and on what road he is travelling.

VIII. Are we preparing for, and looking forward to, the Second Coming of our Lord? The Bible emphatically declares this glorious fact, that He shall return with power and great glory to raise the dead, to judge the souls of men, and to set up a kingdom where sin and death shall have no place.

—The late Bishop Ryle.

References.—XV. 36.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 25; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 366. XV. 37, 38.—J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, p. 239. XV. 37-39.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 206. XV. 39.—C. Vince, The Unchanging Saviour, p. 263. F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 243. XVI. 1.—H. A. Smith, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 345. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 17; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 446. XVI. 1, 3.—Ibid. vol. i. p. 107. XVI. 4.—Ibid. (5th Series), vol. x. p. 266; ibid. (6 th Series), vol. ii. p. 298; ibid. vol. viii. p. 419. XVI. 5.—J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (3rd Series), p. 284. XVI. 6.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 404; ibid. vol. viii. p. 325; ibid. vol. ix. pp. 45, 294, 332; ibid. vol. x. p. 6; ibid. (5th Series), vol. x. p. 11.

When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.
And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.
But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.
And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:
Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:
That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.
Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:
And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:
Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:
It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:
Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.
And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.
And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles.
Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.
Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.
And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.
But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.
And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;
And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.
And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.
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