Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Galatians 2:4), when they came to invade its liberty; or if - a much greater peril - the Church at Jerusalem had decided in favor of the Judaizers, and had passed a sentence that circumcision was necessary to salvation; and if Christian truth had thus been narrowed to the small dimensions of a mere adjunct to Judaism, where would Christianity have been to-day? From the incident here related we draw the lessons -
I. WHAT HARM ZEALOTRY MAY TRY TO DO. These men "who came down from Judaea" (ver. 1) were members of the Pharisaic party "which believed (ver. 5); they were formal adherents of the Christian faith; they spake reverently of Christ, and believed themselves to be acting in the interests of his kingdom. Yet we know that they were taking a course which, if they had carried their point, would hove simply extinguished the faith in a few years. Often, since then, has blind zealotry done its best to bring about a condition which would have proved fatal to the cause of God and of redeemed humanity.
II. IN WHAT UNINVITING LABORS FIDELITY MAY INVOLVE US. How different from evangelizing risks and toils, and from the fraternal intercourse which followed these, how much beneath both the one and the other, how much more uninviting this controversy with false brethren, narrow-minded, mistaking a rite whose significance was exhausted for an essential of salvation! How uncongenial, to the spirit of the apostle this dissension and disputation" (ver. 2)! But it was necessary; it was as much a part of their bounden duty and their loyal obedience to their Lord as the preaching of the gospel or the indicting of an Epistle. The Christian workman cannot always choose his work. He must sometimes give up the congenial for the unpleasant, the inviting for the repellent.
III. HOW WELL TO ENCOURAGE THE FAITHFUL IN THE HOUR OF THEIR ANXIETY. Those who constituted the deputation were "brought on their way by the Church" (ver. 3). In the profound anxiety which must have filled the sagacious and earnest mind of Paul at this critical juncture, such gracious attention on the part of the Church must have been exceedingly refreshing. No "moral support' of tried and anxious leaders, in times of supreme solicitude, is thrown away; it is well-spent time and trouble.
IV. THAT IT IS SOMETIMES OUR DUTY TO TAKE INTO CONSULTATION OUR BRETHREN IN A HIGHER POSITION. The Church at Antioch was not obliged to consult that at Jerusalem; the latter had no jurisdiction entitling it to decide the disputes of the former. But it was becoming and it was wise, and therefore it was right, to refer the matter in dispute to "the Church [of Jerusalem] and the apostles and the elders" (vers. 4, 6). Often when no written constitution obliges us to refer to authorities, it is a matter of practical wisdom, and therefore of rectitude, to go outside our own "body" and submit our case to those in high repute. We may gain far more than we lose thereby.
V. THE TEACHING OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. (Vers. 7-9.) Peter would not have taken the side he took now had not his eyes been opened by the event in which he had borne so large and so honorable a share (Acts 10.). We should grow more charitable and more large-minded as we grow in years.
VI. THE FREEDOM OF THE GOSPEL FROM ALL BURDENSOME IMPOSTS. (Ver. 10.) Why tempt God by putting on the neck of the disciples an intolerable yoke? Why invite defeat? Why multiply difficulty and ensure disappointment by requiring of the whole Gentile world a conformity which they will not render and which God does not demand? Why make burdensome the yoke which the Master himself made easy (Matthew 11:30)? The gospel of his grace was meant to be a source of blessedness and deliverance; how insensate the folly of tying to it any institutes which would make it become an insufferable vexation!
VII. THE ESSENCE OF THE ORDINANCE. Circumcision was but the outward sign of admission to the privilege and obligation of the Law. The Law was but the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. Those, then, who were saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (ver. 11) had the very essence and substance of which the old Jewish rite Was but the sign and symbol (Philippians 3:3; Romans 2:28, 29). - C.
I. THE POSITION OF THE JUDAIZERS.
1. It was a reactionary position. It aimed at the re-establishment of circumcision as the condition of salvation. This was going back from the "spirit" to the "flesh," from the principle of an internal to that of an external religion. It was substituting works for faith, doing for being, as the condition of salvation.
2. It was a revolutionary position. Such a claim convulses the very heart of the Christian Church. Wherever it has come up, a deep mark has been left in history. This was essentially the conflict of Isaiah and other prophets against the ceremonialists of the day. The question came up again at the Reformation. Law or gospel - Moses or Christ? Behind this question lies a world. Is religion stationary and stagnant or ideal, Divine, and possessed of the power of an expansive and endless life?
II. THE IMMEDIATE EFFECT OF THE RAISING OF THE QUESTION.
1. Private dissension. Alas! often is it so. The loving missionary comrades, Paul and Barnabas, are disunited. But we must remember, "Though Plato is my friend, truth is my friend still more." Paul felt that evangelical freedom was threatened (Galatians 2:4). And the gospel was dearer to him than life. Truth must not be compromised in the supposed interests of friendship. Indeed, the supposition is illusory. For if it be "a strong and habitual inclination in two persons to promote the good and happiness of each other," this cannot be at the expense of truth.
2. Public discussion. The difference between Paul and Barnabas could not be ignored. The topic must have been on the tongue of every one. See how good comes out of controversy as well as evil. Private pain is often the condition of public blessing. A cloud comes between two minds, but the truth shines presently the more brightly forth.
III. THE ACTION OF THE CHURCH. They resolved to despatch Paul and Barnabas to consult the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Note the appropriateness of this decision.
1. As to the men sent - Paul representing the Gentiles and the missionary work, Barnabas the Church at Antioch. Besides, from Galatians 2:1, et sqq., we see that St. Paul had a special inward direction to proceed thither.
2. The destination. Jerusalem, the mother city and the mother Church, and the seat of apostolic authority. Yet Antioch was probably not second to Jerusalem in numbers and influence. Without debating questions of Church government, the lesson may be drawn that no particular community should act for itself in important questions without consulting the general sense of the Christian Church.
IV. THE JOURNEY AND ARRIVAL AT JERUSALEM.
1. They had a conduct from the Church of Antioch as they set forth - an expression of confidence in the men, and of deer interest in the result. Said the electoral Prince of Brandenburg to his envoy, proceeding to a conference with the papists, "Bring me the little word sola, i.e." alone, faith only, back - or come not back at all.
2. They told good news on the way. They told of the conversion of the heathen, and. the news was received with great joy. Here was a great argument for Paul, gathered on the way. So does God solve our disputes in words by the irresistible logic of his facts.
3. At Jerusalem they tell the great things God has done for them. The facts of the past are prophetic of the future. Divine mercy as an historical fact is the basis of sure hope and confidence. The temper of devout recollection and thanksgiving fits the mind for the view of present duties. - J.
I. THE FACTS THEMSELVES are never questioned, but gladly acknowledged. The acceptance of the Gentiles, the blessing on the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed on others than the Jewish believers.
II. THE POINT OF CONTENTION is the claim asserted by a small section of the Jewish Church, of Pharisaic spirit, to impose on the new Gentile converts the obligations of the Mosaic Law, particularly circumcision. This showed that they regarded Christ as only a Reformer of the Law, not as substituting the gospel for the Law.
III. THE WHOLE CHURCH is the body of referees. The apostles and ciders are the speakers and leaders, but the multitude is present, and to them (ver. 22) the decision is referred.
IV. THE TESTIMONY OF THE SPIRIT in the facts rehearsed, the signs and wonders wrought, is plainly the voice of God to the apostles. Both Peter and James stand firmly on that foundation - God hath called them. Therefore we must obey his voice. The witness of the facts agrees with the witness of the word.
V. THE RESTRICTIONS which were deemed necessary were simply the dictates of brotherly love. Stumbling-blocks should not be thrown in the way of weak brethren. Let the Gentiles use their liberty, only let them respect the feelings of Jews and the moral demands of the Law.
VI. THE CONTENTIOUS PARTY must have been a mere handful of men. They are condemned by the letter sent to Antioch. The effect of the epistle was to silence them and produce a happy peace. Which representation entirely overthrows the statement of such critics as Baur, that there was a Pauline element in the Church opposed by the Petrine.
VII. THE CAUSE OF STRIFE IS BURIED in the depth of zealous labor for Christ and souls. Judas and Silas, the messengers from Jerusalem, soon forgot the trouble in much higher topics and co-operation with the Church at Antioch in their evangelistic efforts. Thus this first occasion of ecclesiastical settlement shows the Church pervaded with the spirit of brotherly love and faith. They had no conception of Church authority apart from the voice of God's Spirit. They came together in perfect equality. They reverenced age and spiritual distinction, and the mind of the brethren gathered together in conference, but their chief dependence was on the promise of the Holy Ghost and his guidance, so that they could say, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us. - R.
I. THE SIMPLE QUESTION ITSELF AT ISSUE. Gentiles have many great signs and wonders wrought amongst them, of which they are by no means simple beholders. They themselves are "a great part of them." They are believed in multitudes of cases to have become true converts to the new faith. The apostolic verdict and pronouncement have gone forth that "God had opened the door of faith" to them. And facts seem to speak for themselves, saying that they have received the gifts as well as the gift of the Holy Ghost. Must these Gentiles submit to the Jewish initiatory rite of circumcision?
II. THE ORIGIN OF THE GREAT DISSENSION THAT AROSE UPON THIS SIMPLE QUESTION. Certain men, evidently of the Church in Judaea, came down to Antioch, and with volunteered assiduity (ver. 24) took upon them to teach the brethren at Antioch that circumcision was a rite necessary for them to submit to, if they would be saved. Of these men, before they are condemned as mere officious idlers or "busybodies," it shall be granted that they had a right to their own religious views, their own reading of the Law and prophets, and their own past history; that they also had a right to travel and to go and see the new Gentile converts, whose Church at Antioch must in itself have been such a sign; and that, arrived there, they were not bound to keep a perpetual silence. But from the very moment that these things are conceded to the members of any Christian society dates the solemn responsibility which rests upon them. One of the great facts of the "liberty" (ver. 10; Galatians 5:1) of Christ's Church is that individual character shall be called out and strictly tried by the vast increase of individual responsibility. But the liberty cannot be had and the responsibility left. And up to this point these things may be noted -
(1) that from the very first "offences would come," even within the Church; but
(2) that it was no less "woe" to them by whom the offence should come; for that on them lay the responsibility (of which they should be aware and be ware), and not upon any laches on the part of the Church as a whole in not legislating, for instance, to suppress the freedom of individual thought and word. For to do this under the rule of Jesus would be to originate worse "offence." The very Worst affront to Jesus is to substitute letter for spirit, law for love. The origin of a dissension, then, that excited much disputation, consumed much precious time, is certain to have awakened some bitterness of word and of temper, as well as to have caused no slight anxiety and pain to those concerned, was the gratuitous work of men who had not correct knowledge, did not try to get it (ver. 24), and who went out of their way to "make a great stir."
III. THE APOSTOLIC MANAGEMENT OF THIS DISSENSION. The somewhat indefinite phraseology of the second verse, compared with the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:2, leaves us in very little uncertainty that we are to understand that Paul and Barnabas received special intimation from the Spirit that the question should be moved to Jerusalem; that the Church at Antioch heartily fell in with the rightness of this course, and rejoiced to attend the steps of the apostles and other delegates to the last, as well as to commend them in prayer to God.
1. If, then, the intimation of the Spirit showed the way for the apostles, it may be gathered
(1) what really important issues were at stake, not in the matter only, but in the manner of treating this dissension; and
(2) it may be assumed that many a time and anxiously and fervently did the two implore Divine guidance. The Spirit is the Ruler in the Church. How imperfectly is this vital fact remembered in modern days! And the Spirit's guidance is sought and obtained when clouds and stormy weather were presaged. As to the practical uses to be gained by this reference of the question to Jerusalem and to the body of the apostles and elders, it goes by saying.
2. When Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of the Antioch Church with them, reach Jerusalem, they are, in the first instance, courteously received by the whole Church with "the apostles and elders." The meeting was a set, ice, and a happy, holy service. All hear what God has done (ver. 4), and the joy is great. And, finally, the question is opened, apparently as temperately as plainly (ver. 5).
3. The proper council shortly come together. It consists of "the apostles and elders." But the matter appears to have been argued in the presence of the whole assembly still (vers. 7, 12, 13, 22). Four leading speeches and arguments are recorded, and the order and the wisdom alike of the selection of speakers must be apparent. Who better to begin than Peter? His argument is plain, practical, and cannot be gainsaid. But the way in which he turns the tables on his brethren of the Jewish sticklers for circumcision (ver. 11) is most significant. There follow Barnabas and Paul with their missionary tidings. These carried volumes of conviction, and were well fitted to do so. Men listen still wonderfully in preached sermons to facts and reliable history. It is these which weigh, too, with the unsophisticated and the mass. And with what keenness of attention and almost sympathetic pride they listen to these recitals from the lips of men who had "hazarded their lives for the Name" of the Lord Jesus Christ (ver. 26) 1 And after these thrilling speeches James (probably "the brother of the Lord" and the writer of the Epistle general) renews argument, corroborating it by Old Testament Scripture quotation. Nor does he sit down without making definite proposals to meet the present case.
4. In harmony with those proposals, the apostles and elders and the whole Church agree. And they agree to write and to send what they write by the honored hands of Paul and Barnabas, and two others specially delegated from their own home communion to Antioch. Vers. 23-29 contain the words of a letter which, for kindly respect, for conciliatory tone toward all, for fidelity of truth (ver. 24), for "honor to whom honor" is due (ver. 26), for religious calling to witness of the one Ruler of the Church, "the Holy Ghost" (ver. 28), and for the word of exhortation (ver. 29), could not be surpassed. 5. The four peacemakers speed on their way to Antioch. They call "the multitude" (Acts 4:32; Acts 6:5) together, deliver their letter, and congratulate the Gentiles liberated from many a fear in its "consolation." This gentle touch at the end speaks much of what had been transpiring in the minds of those Gentile converts, and helps as practical comment upon ver. 10 of this chapter. The two visitors, Judas and Silas, also address the Antioch Church, the latter of whom finds such interest in place and people that he stays at Antioch, there a while assisting Paul and Barnabas in their ministry and in their pastorate of the flock.
IV. SOME GENERAL LESSONS FOR CHURCH LIFE SUGGESTED BY THIS HISTORY. We should observe:
1. The sanction here given to the patient and faithful use of strictly moral forces in the government of the Church of Christ. The case had aspects that might well, on the one hand, try the forbearance of the large-hearted, and, on the other hand, tempt to high-handed dispatch. But a world of trouble is not grudged to keep well within the spirit of the Master, and to have compassion on the weak, and to consider others in their errors and their small-mindedness, "lest they also be tempted," with whom confessedly may lie now the strength and the right and the goodness.
2. The honor done to courtesy and respect and to the observance of "duty towards equals," or those who for the time must be called so. Christianity often seems to offer us a very clear, very beautiful outline of the perfections possible to human society merely as such.
3. The kindest attention here paid to human feelings. It seems to shine out again and. again. Where a cold, despotic, hard-and-fast ecclesiasticism would have found its occasion for triumphing, the true order of Christ's Church finds a chosen occasion for reverencing feeling. For upon and in addition to all the honor shown in the transactions recorded in this chapter to respect and courtesy, there is apparent the sympathy of true and heartfelt love. Amid great dangers the least possible damage was done to the reputation of young Christianity, and the comment might still be, "See how these Christians love one another." - R.
I. MAN'S HIGHEST NEED CONCEIVED AS SALVATION. Not reformation; not religion; not material prosperities; not intellectual attainments; not culture; but distinctly salvation, which is a moral good, bears direct relation to personal sins and to a sinful state, and is conceivable only by some Divine intervention, and on revealed Divine terms. Man's final cry is," What must I do to be saved?" "How can man be just with God?" Salvation, conceived as man's reconciliation with God, was the idea of Judaism, and it was represented by man's being brought into covenant relations, and kept in them by sacrifice and ceremonial. Judaism had a moral life within its ritual, and this finds expression in the Psalms and in the prophets. Salvation, as apprehended by Christianity, is man's reconciliation to God, upon his penitence for sin, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the all-sufficient Sacrifice for sin and Savior entrusted with authority to forgive. The two systems are related, as a shadow is related to the figure that throws it; but the two cannot be combined; the shadow must pass altogether when the substance has come. The salvation man wants is a soul-salvation, and that no rite, no ceremonial, can touch.
II. THE OLDER IDEA OF THE MEANS OF SALVATION. Salvation was a Divine favor granted to one particular race. The Abrahamic relations, standing, and rights were secured to all who adopted the appointed sign and seal of circumcision. In later years outsiders were admitted to share the "salvation," or '"standing with God," of the Abrahamic race, by submitting to the rite of circumcision. As spirituality faded from the Jewish life, increasing importance became attached to the mere rite, and zealots contended for it as if in it alone lay the hope of salvation. There is an important place for ritual, but it is ever perilous to spiritual truth if it is put out of its place. It is a useful handmaid; it is a tyrannous mistress.
III. THE NEWER IDEA OF THE MEANS OF SALVATION AS REVEALED TO THE APOSTLES. Not works of righteousness, but "faith," which presupposes penitence. How is a sinner saved? Apart from all systems or ceremonies, he must accept the salvation freely offered to him by God in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. The act of acceptance is called "faith." We cannot wonder that this new and most gracious condition of salvation should have pushed the older idea altogether out of the apostles' minds. It seemed new; they would not even try to think how it fitted the old. Conscious of the new life and joy it brought, they would find themselves gradually being weaned from Jewish ceremonial, and the more advanced thinkers, such as St. Paul, would be even in some danger of exaggerating the contrasts between the old and the new.
IV. THE EFFORT TO RESTORE AGAIN THE OLDER IDEA. Truths and practices which have long absorbed the interest of men do not die without a struggle. Some champions linger on, and show fight at every opportunity. A wealth of interests gather round every religious system, and generations must pass before these can be wholly changed. So we cannot wonder that the sterner Judaism showed fight against the apostles, or that paganism again and again made desperate efforts to resist advancing Christianity. The Jewish tethers seem on this occasion to have acted in an underhanded and unworthy way. "The course they adopted, in the first instance, was not that of open antagonism to St. Paul, but rather of clandestine intrigue. They came as 'spies' into an enemy's camp, creeping in unawares, and gradually insinuating or openly inculcating their opinion that the observance of the Jewish Law was necessary to salvation. Two things need to be considered.
1. Why their teaching had to be so vigorously resisted.
(1) Because it tended to confuse the minds of the disciples;
(2) because it was fundamentally opposed to the Christian teaching.
2. On what grounds the resistance could be made. These were
(1) the exclusiveness of the Christian condition of salvation - by faith;
(2) the supreme claims of the teaching of Christ, who laid no such burden on his disciples;
(3)the fact that the Holy Ghost sealed believers from among the uncircumcised. This is enough, then and now. Whosoever believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life." - R.T.
I. JERUSALEM, THE CHRISTIAN STARTING-POINT. The first teachers were Jews; and Christianity is not only the proper outcome and perfection of Judaism, but it bears the Jewish stamp. It links on to the fundamental ideas of God, sin, redemption, which were revealed to the Jews. If it were wholly new, it could not be true.
II. JERUSALEM, THE APOSTOLIC CENTER. A kind of mother Church. Observe how its council of apostles and elders was sought when difficulties of doctrine or practice arose; and how the Gentile Churches sent their charitable gifts to the poor saints at the mother Church.
III. JERUSALEM, THE MODEL CHURCH. How far any Church could present a model may be disputed. Any model would be efficient by reason of its illustrating working principles, not by virtue of its mere form.
IV. JERUSALEM, THE SOURCE OF AUTHORITY. How far apostles claimed authority on the ground of their knowledge of Christ, inspiration, miraculous gifts, and power to give or bring the Holy Ghost, needs to be carefully considered. - R.T.
I. DISCOURSE OF PETER.
1. The question whether the Mosaic Law is binding upon the heathen or no is referred by him to experience. This is the great guide of all. In no case may it be neglected. In every case recurrence to it as a whole will be found helpful. Now, at Caesarea it was clear that the Gentiles, no less than the Jewish Christians, had received the Holy Spirit. This fact the apostle considers to be significant proof that God had already decided the question in debate. God, he had before learned, was no "respecter of persons." Here he expresses the same truth by saying that God has made no difference between them; has placed the two upon one footing. He has testified to the Gentiles by imparting to them the Holy Spirit, his grace and good pleasure.
2. The reference to immediate experience leads to the larger reference to history - the history of the sacred past. The entire revelation of God in both testaments rests on history and consists in history. Christ "lived his doctrine and preached his life." And the living experience of prophets and apostles offers a rich fund of instruction. Paul's doctrine is his own life translated into consciousness and knowledge. And the doctrine of Peter is his own life wrought out in views of duty and principles of Christian thought. Christian doctrine is the expression of the results of Christian history. The discourse of Peter evidently produces a great impression. Silence follows, broken only by the voices of Barnabas and Paul, who relate the significant occurrences which have befallen among the heathen.
II. DISCOURSE OF JAMES.
1. He, like a true Jew, trained in ear and memory by the prophetic oracles, reverts to them, and finds confirmation there of the views wrought out in the minds of the others by the certain discipline of experience. The writings of the prophets were used by the apostles as a guide to the interpretation of the signs of the present, and for directions as to present duty. Now, the oracle from Amos adduced by James refers in the first instance to the house of David. His royal house is fallen into ruins. But God would raise it up out of the ruins, would restore and extend it among the Gentiles among whom his Name shall be known - that is, among those who shall decide to acknowledge and serve him. All this God would bring about in accordance with his eternal designs (ver. 18).
2. Here, then, is light on the question of debate. Observe that the theocracy, the kingdom of God, stands in the center of the promise, and not the Law as such. Further, the "calling on the Name of God" is laid down as the condition or incorporation with the kingdom of God. This condition has been already, fulfilled by the converted heathen Lastly, it is "the Lord who doeth these things." It is not our short-sighted counsel and prudence which have to make new history and new laws, but God has promised that he will do it. Already has he adopted a people out of the heathen (ver. 14). If, then - this is the argument of James - we should lay a burden on the Gentile Christians, this would be going against the teaching of facts, striving against the current of history, thwarting the will of God therein revealed.
3. The decision of James. He would not have the Gentile Christians harassed, who are turning in repentance and good works to God. He would recognize their evangelical freedom; would reject the demands of the Pharisaic party; in fact he fully, though on different grounds, coincides with Paul. At the same time, he insists on certain moral and ceremonial abstinences. The whole illustrates the mild, gentle, and loving character of this apostle. There was in him, with the greatest strictness towards himself, the most compassionate love to others. Unceasingly in the temple, on his knees, he prayed for forgiveness for his people (Eusebius, 'Eccl. Hist.,' 2. 25). He who loves his own household best will be the kindest to them without. The true patriot is the true philanthropist; the loyal adherent of his Church the best friend of universal Christianity and progress. - J.
I. THE HEART NEEDS CLEANSING.
1. Of its falsehood. The heathen world a world of lies. The tendency of fallen nature to believe strong delusions.
2. Of its corrupt desires. The Fall was a lowering of the spirit of humanity to the level of the inferior races. Animalism is the characteristic of heathenism and of an unregenerate state.
3. Of its self-justification and pride. The evil holds to it. A broken and contrite heart is required.
II. THE HEART IS CLEANSED. Consider the nature of the purity bestowed.
1. The conscience, by a sense of forgiveness; "perilous stuff" cleansed away.
2. An object of love revealed to whom the heart is surrendered. "Thou knowest that I love thee." The germ of the new life in the soil of the affections.
3. Consecration. Circumcision was a covenant sign. "Out of the heart are the issues of life." A pure will is that which is pledged by a changed course of action and a new position.
III. THE HEART IS CLEANSED BY FAITH. The contrast between the old covenant and the new. The truth accepted becomes the power of God unto salvation. Spiritual cleansing differs from:
1. Mere ritual purification.
2. Mere nominal separation from the world by an external life.
3. Mere slavish obedience to the letter of the Law. A purity which rests upon faith is a purity embracing thoughts and desires, lifting the heart with joy, securing it against the temptation to self-righteousness and superficial morality. Believe; give your mind to the message; welcome the personal Savior; follow the leading Spirit. Rejoice in the liberty of God's children. Christ's yoke is easy, his burden light. - R.
The communication of the Holy Ghost was the true test of God's acceptance; and God had shown that he was no respecter of persons by shedding abroad the same miraculous gifts on Jew and Gentile, and purifying by faith the hearts of both alike." He further reminds them what a heavy yoke the Jewish Law had proved for many generations; how thankful they were to be relieved from the legal bondage by the salvation offered through faith; and how unreasonable it would be to attempt to impose on others a burden which neither they nor their fathers had ever been able to bear. Dean Plumptre gives thus the conclusion of St. Peter's speech: "The Pharisee might regard the Law as binding; but even he, if he believed in Christ, was compelled to confess that his hope of salvation was found in the work of Christ as the Savior; and if so, then, as regards that hope, Jew and Gentile were on the same level, and the judgment that men could not be saved without the Law was but the inconsistency of an intolerant dogmatism, insisting on imposing that which was acknowledged to be profitless." There is in St. Peter's speech a firm declaration of the great evangelical principles.
I. SALVATION ON GOD'S SIDE IS HIS ACT OF GRACE. The idea of purchase or desert is wholly excluded from it. Salvation by perfect obedience to formal rules, and faithful keeping of covenant terms, had been thoroughly tried in Judaism, and it had certainly and hopelessly failed, because sinning man lacked the power. Man could no more save himself by the attempted obediences of Judaism than by the human schemes devised in heathenism. It was evident that salvation for man must be an intervention of Divine love, a manifestation of Divine grace. And this is the very essence of the gospel message concerning God: "What the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Salvation is a Divine gift, offered freshly and freely, apart from all previous revelations and conditions, on terms which God himself is pleased to arrange. And, without bringing forward any older ideas or customs, our simple duty is to listen to God as he tells us the conditions upon which he is pleased to offer forgiveness and life. We may be quite satisfied if we can find the terms laid down in the new covenant of grace, and they are these: "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life."
II. SALVATION, ON MAN'S SIDE, IS HIS ACT OF FAITH. NO gift can be of value unless there is a proper preparedness to receive it. We do not simply scatter our common earthly gifts, we choose to whom we shall give them, and we expect them to be in such a state of mind and feeling towards us as shall ensure that they will accept and make good use of our gifts. Such conditions apply to the gift of salvation. Of free grace, though it is, it requires something in man which can alone secure that the gift will be valued. The spiritual preparedness of man for the spiritual gift is called faith. It is illustrated in the disposition of mind which Christ required in those whom he miraculously healed. And it includes
(1) surrender of self-trust;
(2) confidence in God's provision and promise; and
(3) a full desire for and expectancy of Divine help.
Faith, as a disposition or mood of mind, is to be distinguished from faith as an act. The state of faith sets us ready to receive the gift; the act of faith appropriates the gift. So presenting man's faith, it will be clearly seen that no kind of "merit," as a saving work, can attach to it.
III. BOTH ARE LARGE ENOUGH CONDITIONS TO COVER AND EMBRACE ALL HUMANITY. Jew and Gentile too. This is St. Peter's point in vers. 9,11. The grace of the universal Father can, without doubt, reach and bless and save all. And faith is so common, so universal a human faculty that it can be made a condition for all. Every one can thankfully open hand and heart to receive a gift. Everybody can trust. - R.T.
I. THAT MEN OF DIVERGENT THOUGHT SHOULD STRIVE TO MEET ONE ANOTHER'S VIEWS IN CHRISTIAN COUNCIL. Probably it would be hard to find two good men of any age or country who have taken more divergent views of the gospel of Christ than did James and Paul. Their Epistles show us how they viewed the one truth from separate and even distant standpoints. Had they come to this Church meeting intent on magnifying their own distinctive points, there would have ensued bitter conflict and fatal rupture. But they strove to meet one another, and the end was peace and the furtherance of redeeming truth.
II. THAT AN EQUITABLE COMPROMISE MAY BE THE MOST HONORABLE SETTLEMENT. (Vers. 19-21.) In concession to the Gentile party, it was not required that they should submit to the distinctive rite; in concession to the Jewish party, it was required that certain statutes should be observed by them. Occasions will very frequently occur when each side owes it to the other to make concession. The spirit that strives only for victory is not the spirit of Christ. We should, as his disciples, count it an honor and a joy to concede, when we conscientiously can do so, to Christian brethren who differ from us.
III. THAT WE MAY LEAVE UNIMPORTANT MATTERS TO THE SETTLEMENT OF TIME. The particular precepts which James and those who thought with him desired to have enforced have long since disappeared. Their observance at the time was expedient, for Moses had in every city them that preached him, etc. (ver. 21). But when the special reasons for conformity were removed, then they fell through. Where the peace of a Church or a large Christian community is at stake, we do well to accept small matters which are unessential; time is on our side.
IV. THAT CHRISTIANITY HAS PURIFIED AND PROPORTIONED PUBLIC MORALS. It surprises and shocks us to read of abstinence from meat which had been offered to idols, and from things strangled, being placed side by side with abstinence from the sin of fornication, as if, in morals, these things stood on the same level. We feel that the latter is a thing so utterly and inherently bad that the former is not at all comparable with it in heinousness of offence. The fact is that we think thus because our holy religion has purified our thoughts, and taught us to see ceremonial and moral offences in true perspective. But wherever Christianity has been corrupted, where the traditions of men have overlaid its simplicity with their ceremonialism, we find this defective view prevailing. It was necessary, at that time and in the then condition of the world, formally and expressly to disallow a custom which we now shudder at and shrink from as a shameful sin.
V. THAT DECISIONS, WHEN ONCE ATTAINED, SHOULD BE COURTEOUSLY AND CAREFULLY CARRIED OUT. (Vers. 22-33.) The Church at Jerusalem, though on the main point it had yielded to the Church at Antioch, did not give way sulkily or grudgingly. It did not dismiss the deputation with a cold and formal resolution. It sent able and influential men, with letters, to accompany Paul and Barnabas, and these greeted the Syrian Church and laid the matter fully before them. So that, in the end, the two communities understood one another and rejoiced in one another the more. What is done in Christ's name and cause should be done with utmost courtesy and with perfect thoroughness.
VI. THAT WE MAY REST HAPPY IN THE ALL-SEEING WISDOM AND ALL-EMBRACING LOVE OF GOD. (Vers. 14-15.) James intimated that what was then happening was only the fulfillment of the Divine intention. God knew from the beginning what he should accomplish, and he purposed the recovery and redemption of the whole Gentile world,
1. When we are baffled by the perplexities of the way, let us remember that all things are in the hands of the omniscient One.
2. When we are distressed by the disappointments and difficulties of our work, let us be consoled by thinking that God means to restore mankind; his wisdom and his love will prevail, though we see not our way and though our fears abound. - C.
I. AN EXAMPLE OF CHRISTIAN PRUDENCE.
1. In the selection of emissaries. It had reference partly to the Churches, partly to Paul and Barnabas. The Churches were assured that the emissaries were not delivering their own private opinion, but the deliberate judgment of the Church. And the apostles had the legitimacy and purity of their office sealed by the highest Church authority.
II. AN EXAMPLE OF BROTHERLY LOVE AND WISDOM. Without the taking of some such step, the Judaizers in Antioch and elsewhere would remain unchecked, and left to pursue their disturbing and factious intrigues. And by this step a new bond of sympathy and affection was established between Jew and Gentile, between Jerusalem and the world.
III. AN EXAMPLE OF INSPIRED ACTION. "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us." The words may be abused or used with genuine devout feeling. The Holy Spirit is the Source of light and wisdom in the mind - the Judge and Decider in spiritual things. The conclusion of a matter, discussed by the faithful in the light of the Holy Spirit, may justly be looked upon as the decision of the Holy Spirit. The whole stamp of the message is spiritual, impressive, full of Christian piety and love. Its closing word, promising blessing on the conditions laid down, is far better than a threat of pains on disobedience would have been. The Christian "Farewell!" contains not only the wish for a brother's happiness, but that he may abide in Christ, and walk as he walked in the world. - J.
I. THOSE WHO ARE READY TO SACRIFICE THEIR LIVES FOR ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING BUT THE BEST AND HIGHEST. The soldier for victory; the sportsman for excitement; the explorer for the gratification of curiosity; the Alpine climber for credit; the artist for fame; the sailor for love of the sea, etc. There is no lack of men who risk life for something. But we have to consider that while
(1) there is a touch of nobility in some of these cases which wins our admiration; yet
(2) often the end is not worth the sacrifice, - life and all that life means to its holder and to those who are related to him and dependent on him are too precious to be parted with for a slight object, too valuable to be sacrificed for any but a serious and great end. And
(3) when thus lost, it is often laid down from instinct or passion rather than from principle. There is something essentially unsatisfactory in it; for it is a material loss with no corresponding gain. It brings sadness to the heart, loneliness and misery to the home, and does not bring adequate consolation to the mind.
II. THOSE WHO RECOGNIZE THE HIGHEST AND THE BEST BUT SACRIFICE LITTLE OR NOTHING TO IT. We should, perhaps, say to him; for:
1. The highest and best meet in a living One, even Jesus Christ. It is, indeed, to honor his Name (see text), but it is also and chiefly to exalt and extol him and make him very high (Isaiah 52:13) in the estimation and affection of the world, that his servants strive and suffer.
2. Ourselves and all that we have are his due; therefore our lives, when he asks us to lay them down at his feet.
3. There are those who recognize his claim, but do not comply with his desire. There are those who do; men that have hazarded their lives for Jesus Christ, from Paul and Barnabas down to our own Christian martyrs; men and women who, on various fields of holy, daring, and heroic suffering, have cheerfully sacrificed all to honor him and do his bidding; but there are too many that acknowledge the validity of his claim but do not respond to his call. There are in our congregations and even in our Churches
(1) men who withhold themselves from missionary or ministerial service, because, though well fitted for it, they are not prepared to make the necessary sacrifices;
(2) men that will not step into the breach when some other kind of holy activity is demanded, because they shrink from the burdens or the annoyances it will entail;
(3) men that will not encourage some good work of Christ, because, to do so, they must part with that which the world counts precious. These are far from being numbered with the "good and faithful servants." - C.
I. THE POWER OF CHRIST'S NAME.
1. Those who were ready to die for him must have accepted him as the fulfillment of all their hopes. The previous position of Paul and Barnabas instructive as showing what the Name of Christ was to them.
2. No mere change of creed so expressed. A personal affection at the root of their heroism. The self-sacrifice not only proved sincerity, but exemplified the transforming and ennobling power of the gospel.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF HEROIC EXAMPLES.
1. In strengthening faith.
2. In stimulating feeling. The Christianity of the present time apt to languish for lack of such influence. Times of great danger to the Church times of great testimony. The Effect of missionary zeal in promoting the growth of character.
3. The true leaders of the Church should be foremost in devotion. Apostolic zeal very different from ecclesiastical fanaticism. The world bows before spiritual might. - R.
Acts 13:50; Acts 14:19). From the Christian standpoint the noblest and best men are -
I. THOSE WHO CAN SACRIFICE SELF. Self-seeking is the marked characteristic of the unrenewed man, toned, however, by amiability, kindness of disposition, generosity, motherhood, etc., as elements of the natural character. Self-denial is the highest conception of purely human virtue, and is the noblest adornment of human character. In a thousand forms "self-denial" is demanded in our common life and relations; and none of the responsible positions in life can be occupied without this virtue being demanded. Self-sacrifice is seldom required; but the man who can meet this demand gains the first place in the world's esteem. Illustrate by the doctor who dies for his patient; the mother who dies for her child; the rescuer who dies in rescuing; the missionary who yields his life in his mission, The extreme demand may not always be made; it often has to be faced. And we may test our own hold of truth, duty, or hope, by putting to ourselves this question, "Could I die for it?" Show what kind of moral Power the heroic leaders in self-sacrifice gain over their fellows.
1. They declare that duty is before pleasure.
2. They attest the grandeur of a cherished idea.
3. They glorify the conception of right.
4. They uphold faith in God.
5. They affirm the insignificance of this life in view of the life that is to come.
6. They keep up the standard of life for us all; and are, as angel-ministrants, ever beckoning us on to higher and nobler things.
II. THOSE WHO CAN SACRIFICE SELF FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST'S NAME. Taken in two senses:
1. For the sake of upholding the honor of Christ's Name, seeing that he is ever honored in the conduct of his servants. Men praise him through what they see of him in us. He "laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
2. For the sake of making witness for Christ. No witness can have the power of a martyrdom. Illustrate Stephen's witness in his death.
(1) Self-sacrifice sets Christ up in the view of men, for all gather round the martyr, and wonder over his calmness and victory.
(2) Self-sacrifice proves the truth of doctrine (see Paley's argument from the persecutions and sufferings of the early teachers).
(3) Self-sacrifice for Christ impresses upon us the extraordinary fascination which the Lord Jesus can exert on men's souls. How we must love those for whom we are willing to die! None can take our love so that for the sake of it we will yield our life, as does the Lord Jesus Christ. Conclude by showing that passing ages do not change the Divine demands, only change the forms in which they find expression. The heroic life of self-denial in many things, and even of self-sacrifice sometimes, as our witness to Christ, is still demanded, in these indulgent times, of all who name the Name of the Lord Jesus. - R.T.
1. A false conception of liberty in Christ, which really meant "license," and ruinous loosening of self-restraint and reasonable rule.
2. A mischievous bondage to mere forms, out of which the life and meaning had long faded, and passed. The council wisely met the twofold danger by declaring that the old forms were no longer binding, but that the Christian liberty ought to be set under safe, prudent, and mutually accepted rules and restraints. The laying on Gentile Christians of the old Judaic burdens was unreasonable. But the laying on them of burdens coming from the relations of Christian principles to the sins and evils of society, all must recognize to be reasonable. They were free, but they must not use their liberty unwisely, or so as to injure the conscience and sensitive feeling of even the weakest brother among them. We may gather from this advice given to the Antiochene Church some clear distinctions between the reasonable and unreasonable in burdens laid on us as Christians.
I. THE BURDEN OF CUSTOM IS UNREASONABLE. The plea, "Everybody does it, therefore you must," is one which the Christian is quite justified in rejecting. Fashion in religious conduct, or in religious worship, or in religious doctrine, if it is imposed as a burden, the Christian may call unreasonable. He is in no sense obliged to follow such lead unless he can clearly discern that the fashion or custom expresses the claim of the right. Oftentimes customs grow up which become a terrible slavery, and it becomes necessary for some Christians to break the bonds as resolutely as St. Paul did the bonds of these Judaizing teachers. Illustrate from the three spheres:
(1) religious doctrine;
(2) religious worship;
(3) religious society.
II. THE BURDEN OF ABROGATED LAW IS UNREASONABLE. Recognizing the progression of Divine revelation, we see that a step upwards involves freedom from the step below. Judaism was one step in Divine revelation, and it prepared for the spiritual revelation in Christ, which was a step higher. It was unreasonable to press the demands of formal Judaism, and much more unreasonable to press the claims of rabbinical Judaism, on those who had been lifted up to the spiritual and Christian platform. This point is well argued by Phillips Brooks, in a most suggestive sermon on the 'Symbol and the Reality.' He says, "There is no better test of men's progress than this advancing power to do without the things which used to be essential to their lives. As we climb a high mountain, we must keep our footing strong upon one ledge until we have fastened ourselves strongly on the next; then we may let the lower foothold go. The lives of men who have been always growing are strewed along their whole course with the things which they have learned to do without." What an overburdened life ours would be if we were compelled to carry all the old things we once valued and used with us in our advance to the new! Yet there is a sense in which, even in our Christian times, men press on us the burden of that which is past, abrogated, and done with. It may be effectively illustrated in relation to Christian doctrine. It is said that Judaic forms of sacrifice explain the Christian redemption; and we may urge that this is an unreasonable burden, and all that we need to accept is, that Judaic sacrifice was the figure and symbol, by the help of which men were prepared to apprehend and receive the moral and spiritual redemption wrought in and by the Lord Jesus. We, as well as the early disciples, may properly refuse the burden of Mosaic symbols and forms, which have had their day, done their work, and ceased to be.
III. THE BURDEN OF AGREED RULES IS REASONABLE. All associations of persons together involve mutual acceptance of conditions of fellowship; and those conditions must put limitations on personal liberty. Illustrate by the necessary rules of a nation, a club, a family, a congregation. These are reasonable, and are no infringements of liberty, but a proper expression of it. No one feels such to be a burden. Further than this, society, as constituted in each country and age, has an unwritten code of manners and morals, and this need not be unreasonable, nor is it felt to be a burden so long as it manifestly concerns the preservation of social virtue and goodness. As with the early Church, the conditions of society may make specific demands on Christians, such as are indicated in ver. 29; but these may reasonably be accepted as the restraints of the few for the good of the whole.
IV. THE BURDEN OF CHARITY IS REASONABLE. Here we come upon ground which St. Paul's teaching to the Corinthians has made very familiar. Christian love even rejoices to put itself into bonds if thus it can gain influence on others. In conclusion, urge that life properly refuses bonds, and demands free expression; but the life in Christ willingly puts itself under rules for his sake and for others' sake. - R.T.
I. THE GOSPEL BRINGS PEACE TO TROUBLED HEARTS. Freedom from the yoke of the Law only truly to be enjoyed by those who have previously smarted and groaned beneath that yoke.
II. IT UNITES THE SOULS OF BELIEVERS IN PEACE. Judas and Silas, by the exercise of their prophetic gifts, exhorted and strengthened the brethren. The faithful teacher's heart is in his element in bringing souls to the Savior.
III. IT LEADS IN PEACE TOWARDS THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM, TO THE MOTHER CHURCH ABOVE. They were sent with peace from the brethren to those who sent them forth. All interchange of love on earth, all messages of reconciliation, are prophetic of and prepare for the home of peace above. - J.
I. THAT AS ACT OF MORAL WEAKNESS MAY HAVE FAR LONGER AND MORE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES THAN WE CAN POSSIBLY FORESEE. Could Mark have foreseen that his desertion of the cause in Pamphylia would have led to the lifelong separation of his uncle from Paul, he would probably have remained with them, and "fulfilled the work," even as they did. But he did not reckon on after consequences. It is well for us to consider that our acts of minor wrong-doing, of moral weakness, of spiritual shortcoming, may do an amount of mischief from the commission of which we should shrink with dismay if we could only look it in the face.
II. THAT BETWEEN THE TWO APOSTLES A DECIDED AND REGRETTABLE FAULT WAS COMMITTED. Their intention to work together in the cause of Christ need not and should not have been broken off by their disagreement. They ought either to have compromised the matter by mutual concession, or one of the two should have yielded to the other. Paul owed too much to Barnabas to be justified in pushing his own will to the point of separation. Barnabas owed too much to Paul to make it right for him to insist so pertinaciously on his particular desire. One should have yielded if the other would not. It was an unedifying, unseemly, unchristian thing for two apostles to throw up a plan on which they had sought Divine direction, and which must have received the sanction of the Church, because they could not agree on a matter of detail. They must both have lived to regret it. Men in prominent positions, and those who are engaged in great matters, are bound to be above such unseemliness of behavior. Either
(1) the ingenuity of love should devise a middle way, or
(2) the sacrificial spirit of love should yield the point altogether.
III. THAT IN EACH CASE THE FAULT COMMITTED WAS THE SHADOW OF HIS OWN PARTICULAR EXCELLENCY. Probably both of the apostles were blameworthy. But so far as Paul was to be condemned, his failure was the shadow of his intensity. Such was the entirety of his devotedness, such the intensity of his zeal, such the strenuousness of his soul, that he could not brook anything which looked like half-heartedness. And so far as Barnabas was to blame, his fault was the shadow of his kind-heartedness, his willingness to give another chance to a young man, his reluctance to exclude from noble service a man who had made one mistake. Each was animated by a commendable spirit, though each may have gone too far in his own course. Often when we unsparingly condemn, it would be well to remind ourselves and others that the faults of good men are usually but the shadow of their virtues.
IV. THAT GOD JUDGES THE GOOD BY THEIR ABIDING SPIRIT, AND NOT BY THEIR OCCASIONAL DISPOSITIONS: so also should we. These two men were not the less servants of God, ambassadors of Jesus Christ, because they were betrayed into temporary ill humor. God appraised them by their essential, abiding spirit of love and devotion; he forgave their passing ebullition. In the same way we must take care to estimate men, not by an occasional outburst which is not really characteristic and is no true criterion, but by the "spirit of their mind " - that which really shapes and colors their life and character.
V. THAT THIS FAULT OF THE APOSTLES HAD, AS BECAME THE MEN, A CHRISTIAN ENDING. Paul afterwards wrote kindly of Barnabas, and actually sent for Mark, declaring that he was "profitable for [the] ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11). The sun should not go down upon our wrath. If any man has a quarrel against any, he is to "forbear and to forgive" (Colossians 3:13). - C.
1. The fact of it. Paul judged severely of Mark on moral grounds. His desertion of him and Barnabas (Acts 13:13) on a former occasion was to his mind a strong proof of inconstancy. But Mark had fallen away from them, not from Christ. And Barnabas would lean to the side of leniency and clemency towards the young disciple. The contention became sharp. Both thought themselves to be contending for Christ; both were unconsciously contending for self. Both were in the right, each from his own point of view aiming at the good of the young man and the furtherance of the kingdom.
2. The consolation of it.
(1) With reference to the person concerned. Chrysostom says that the strife was of great service to Mark; for the sternness of Paul brought a change in his mind, while the kindness of Barnabas suffered him not to feel abandoned.
(2) With reference to us. We may be encouraged by the thought that these holy men were of like passions with ourselves, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Divine love triumphs over and is made perfect in human weakness. Apart from that, man's very virtues become faults; the mildness of Barnabas degenerates into softness, the severity of Paul into harshness. Divine love converts faults into blessings. Mark is humiliated, and thereby raised in Christian manhood. The separation of the apostles divides the stream of saving grace into two streams, and so the more widely spreads it in the world. - J.
1. The sincerity and simplicity of the Christian writers. An impostor would never have inserted such a fact.
2. The overruling grace of God. The treasure in earthen vessels. Infirmities in the agents magnifies him who, notwithstanding, accomplishes his proposes. Notice -
I. THE TRUE PRINCIPLE OF CHRISTIAN WORK. Constant watchfulness and inspection. "See how they fare;" for encouragement and confirmation; for maintenance of order for advancement in teaching. "Visit the brethren." Not only in each Church, but in the outlying districts; maintain brotherly sympathy. The true conception of the Church is that of a society resting on a spiritual basis of mutual confidence and love.
II. SUBORDINATION OF PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS to the highest interests of Christ's kingdom. Barnabas thought more of his nephew than the work. He was most in the wrong. The Church, by their commendation of Paul in prayer, plainly expressed their sympathy with his side of the controversy. At the same time, as Mark proved himself faithful, events showed that Paul might have yielded for the sake of peace without injury to the cause of truth. His strong will tempted him.
III. THE ERRORS OF GOOD MEN are not suffered to hinder the work of God. More good done by the division of labor. Introduction of Silas. Mark probably best under the sole guidance of Barnabas. The divisions in the Christian Church viewed in the light of this primitive contention. Not wholly injurious. Partly due to the natural differences of intellect and temper. Overruled to develop the variety of Christian character. Will be at last, like discords resolved into harmony, the source of glory to God. Yet, as at first, so always, remembrance of the infirmity and fallibility of great and good men should keep us near the throne of grace. - R.
this cuts into that. The great dissension in the matter of circumcision and the new Gentile converts filled larger space under the eye; but how often has it faded away from the mental gaze of even the most devout reader when the present dissension has come immediately after upon his view, and with unwelcome semi-fascination riveted attention! Faithful, we may well say, as the "Spirit of all truth" is his Book. The sins and failings of apostles are not concealed. Nor are they even glossed over, though it was the very moment when men of devout sympathies would have given anything to veil them from view and withdraw them from any permanent record. The record lies here, and it must be for use. A certain indefiniteness characterizes it where it would have particularly suited our curiosity to have exact detail and pronounced verdict. That very incompleteness is sure to shelter valuable hints. We shall do well, then, to notice as simply as possible the track of the narrative, and keep near it. We are taught -
I. ONE ELEMENT OF THE RESPECT DUE TO SCRIPTURE. This is to compare Scripture with Scripture. The slight hint of Acts 13:13 lies for a while like a chance seed dropped in chance soil. But now it has appeared above ground, and it takes shape and color, and buds with meaning. Acts 20:39 furnishes us with another kind of instance of the value of reading Scripture in this way, where we glean a beautiful saying of "the Lord Jesus," not recorded elsewhere, though the apostle calls on those to whom he was speaking to "remember it as a thing they had heard or read.
II. SCRIPTURE'S EXAMPLE AS TO OCCASIONAL RETICENCE. Here was a quarrel undoubtedly. There was, without doubt, Divine reason for writing certain facts of it on the page of inspiration. But how frugal the language is! How utterly absent the least symptom of satisfaction in the narrating of it! And there is not an attempt to dilate or expatiate upon it.
III. SCRIPTURE'S EXAMPLE AS TO PASSING JUDGMENT AND MEASURING OUT PRAISE AND BLAME. If Scripture is thus cautious, with all the resources, amounting often as in this case to certainty of knowledge, which it possesses, how much more careful should we be to avoid a course for which our nature seems often to manifest a strong predilection! It is our very disappointment here that blame is not apportioned between Paul and Barnabas, nor any final verdict pronounced. But, on second thoughts, is that disappointment of worthy sort?
IV. HOW TWO UNDOUBTEDLY CHRISTIAN MEN MAY TAKE VERY DIFFERENT VIEWS OF DUTY IN SOME ONE PRACTICAL MATTER.
1. It is even pleasant and suggestive to note that the difference was none of doctrine. The unity of the faith," at all events, is not wounded in the house of its friends.
2. It is even possible, though perhaps scarcely probable, that this difference of opinion was abundantly legitimate, and that it proceeded from as much excellence of one kind in Barnabas as of another in Paul. Barnabas may have leaned to John in compassion and forgivingness and desire to give him another trial, instead of shutting him out from it for one offence. And strong, trenchant Paul may have been so stricken with the "memory of the words of the Lord Jesus" about the man who "put his hand to the plough, and looked back," and like words, that he could not feel it was a case for human kindness as against Divine fidelity, and could not entertain two opinions upon it. Paul also may have rightly estimated the incalculable disgrace and reproach it would bring upon the work of Christ if at some more unfortunately critical point than before Mark should fail. It must be admitted that both of these good men way have been justified in thinking that the matter was not a little matter and not a matter for yielding, but for allowing conscience "to have her perfect work."
V. HOW TREMBLINGLY CAREFUL GOOD MEN SHOULD BE IN DIFFERING TO GOVERN TEMPER AND RESTRAIN ALL BITTERNESS. However possibly motives may have been unimpeachable on this occasion, and justifiable room have existed for two opinions, yet it is impossible to escape the conviction that difference degenerated into dispute. The passage-at-arms was not altogether that of brethren, but it was "so sharp" that the sacred phraseology uses an equivalent not less forcible than the word "exasperation."
VI. HOW MUCH BETTER IT IS TO SEPARATE, AND BOTH WORK RATHER THAN FIGHT AND BOTH STOP WORK. The separation of tiffs place may be regarded as the typical instance of the New Testament, as the separation of Abram and Lot (Genesis 13:5-18) is that of the old, with consequences not altogether dissimilar. For from this point the star of Paul is more and yet more in the ascendant, as it was with Abram, but of Barnabas henceforth the sacred record fails to tell.
VII. HOW GRATEFULLY WE SHOULD ACKNOWLEDGE THE GOODNESS AND THE PITY THAT STILL USE SINFUL, IMPERFECT MEN, AND OUT OF ALL THE TANGLE OF HUMAN STRIFE BRING TO PASS DIVINE PURPOSES AND THE SALVATION OF MEN. For when all else is said, and our whole brief narrative in these few verses is surveyed, we most gratefully gather this residuum of good and of comfort.
1. The purpose that visited Paul's heart and his sharing of it with Barnabas - a purpose that rose from a heart's deep and high love, and that was nothing daunted by the prospect of danger and suffering.
2. The outspoken and honest objection taken by Paul to the company of Mark. That this objection, with its blunt honesty, finds room given to it on the page may be taken as some indication that the right lay with Paul. Nothing is breathed to detract from the propriety of his firm veto of Mark as a companion.
3. The prayers of the brethren who send Paul forth, and their "recommending him to the grace of God." These three things are welcome reliefs in the midst of a scene not attractive in its main aspects. Would that as much redeeming impression could be found in other cases of "sharp contention" among Christian brethren and fellow-laborers in the same vineyard! - B.
his will; but it has to be followed up by a continuous Divine work which renews the mind, character, temper, habits, and relations; and we must not be surprised if, at any particular point of that work, there remain frailties and infirmities. Evidently no idea of absolute perfection of character and disposition can be entertained concerning either Barnabas - "a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost" - or of Paul, who had been called to the apostleship. A close survey of the relations between these two missionaries reveals a gradual drifting apart, a kind of widening distance between them, which probably neither of them consciously recognized or in any way encouraged. When they started out, Barnabas, as the elder man and the elder Christian, took the leading place; but circumstances brought Paul to the front. There was force of character, power on others, natural leadership, which men soon recognized, in spite of his somewhat insignificant appearance; and as he gradually subsided into the second place, Barnabas could very naturally cherish the idea that Paul had better go alone, or with companions of his own choosing. Actual grounds of separation usually follow on a period of secretly divided feeling, and the difficulty that arose over John Mark need not have been so serious if there had been no previous unconscious drifting asunder. Difficulties and dissensions occur only too often in family and Chinch life, but they seldom are mere sudden storms which cannot be accounted for; they follow on a condition of atmosphere which has necessitated them sooner or later. Olshansen says, on this contention between Barnabas and Paul, "Paul appears, although indeed this cannot be imagined, to have permanently violated the principle of love, for on account of a single fault he entirely threw off Mark; and of Barnabas it might be feared that love for his relative, more than a conviction of his fitness, was the motive for taking him as a companion on his missionary journey. But on closer consideration these surmises are seen to be perfectly groundless." These considerations prepare the way for a closer examination of the "contention" and the consequent separation of these two good friends and fellow-laborers.
I. THE SUBJECT OF THE CONTENTION. Give some account of Mark; his probable youthfulness; his mother's dependence on him; his particular office as minister or attendant on the two missionaries. The difficulties and dangers of traveling in those times required that several should go together; and as men of good family and associations, both Barnabas and Paul would be accustomed to, and dependent on, the daily offices of servants or attendants. Ministry to such a person as St. Paul we would count honorable indeed.
II. THE ARGUMENTS OF THE CONTENTION. These may easily be imagined. Each man took his own point of view and pressed it too hard. Each had good show of reason, but each manifested self-will in presenting it. The arguments were of little avail towards producing satisfactory results, because the divergence was rather one of sentiment and feeling than of deliberate judgment. Arguments seldom help the settlement of disputes that really arise from diversity of feeling. Christian principle and Christian charity and brotherliness can do more in such cases than the most convincing arguments.
III. THE RESULTS OF THE CONTENTION. These may be shown so far as they affected
(1) St. Paul,
It may be shown that St. Paul's severity with Mark did not influence his personal affection for him; and that if, as a matter of judgment, he declined his service, he did not take up a permanent prejudice against him. In conclusion, lessons may be learnt from this incident concerning
(1) the insidious growth of feelings that tend to separate "very friends;"
(2) the hopelessness of settling the disputes which arise between men by mere argument;
(3) the hope that lies in the exercise of mutual forbearance, kindly yielding of our own, anxiety to find common ground, and the true Christian brotherliness, to preserve us from separating contentions, and to heal them when they arise. - R.T.