And God, who knows the heart, showed His approval by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us.
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.
God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness.
(H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Purifying their hearts by faith.I. ITS NATURE.
1. By the "heart" we must understand the inner, as opposed to the outer, man — the spirit and not the flesh. Circumcision — indeed any external ceremony, even Christian baptism can only affect the outer man. The text, therefore, in opposition to mere ceremonial purity speaks of purity of heart.
2. It is implied that the heart of man is by nature impure (Romans 1:28-32). Perish then the delusion that the human heart is good!
3. It is to the purification of the heart that the text calls attention. Things are commonly said to be pure when they are simple and unmixed; and purity of heart implies sincerity and simplicity, as opposed to the base mixtures of hypocrisy and deceit The work of Christian purity is commenced in regeneration There is "a new creation: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." There are new views, principles, feelings. But these things are at first immature (1 John 2:13). The law of progress is stamped on the whole economy of Christianity. Perfect purity is the goal at which it aims. This implies —(1) A complete deliverance from sin — its pollution and power. This is obviously implied in the word "pure." And here arises the difficulty, whether a perfectly pure state of heart is possible in the present life. Many contend only for the subjugation of sin, and not for its destruction, affirming that whilst the spirit remains in the flesh sin must remain in the spirit. But this is to ascribe some moral power to the flesh which it does not possess; sin is spiritual (Mark 7:21, 22). Now Divine grace either can or cannot counteract this fearful state of things. If it cannot, then the work of human redemption, professedly effected by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, was inadequate. But if the grace of God can counteract the influence of sin, the question is settled. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." "Christ loved the Church...that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." But, say some, the work cannot be completed till death. Now, if this mean by death, it destroys itself, for death is an enemy whose office is simply to separate the soul from the body; if it mean at death, it may soon be exposed — for if Divine grace can purify the heart a moment before death, why not an hour? why not a month? why not a year? why not twenty, or even fifty years? why not now?(2) And because all sin is destroyed, love fills the heart. Hence obedience results from purity; "this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." Every spring of feeling, and all the arcana of thought are sanctified by its magic touch. The wandering eye, the listening ear, the loquacious tongue, the busy hands, the willing feet are all actuated by the ruling principle of love to God.
II. ITS AUTHOR. "The Holy Ghost," as Peter elsewhere says. "Ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit." The Holy Spirit first convinces of the necessity of purity; for it is by His inward illumination that we discover the corrupt state of the heart. If we welcome this discovery we shall sorrow for and hate this indwelling sin. The same Spirit will create a strong desire for deliverance, which if cherished will express itself in earnest, wrestling prayer. This will be followed by the encouraging excitement of humble hope, and the filial confidence that the desire shall be granted. Whoever thus cooperates with the Holy Spirit, the Divine Author of purity of heart, will eventually be brought to the exercise of that faith which casts out sin and purifies the heart. The reason that so few Christians obtain this great salvation will now be manifest. They do not obey the truth, whereas the law of the Spirit is that we are sanctified through the truth. "Ye have purified your souls, in obeying the truth through the Spirit."
III. ITS MEANS. "By faith." All salvation is obtained by faith.
1. Its warrant is the promises, (see Ezekiel 36:25-29; Deuteronomy 30:6; 2 Corinthians 6:16). These are the believer's fulcrum. They do actually supply to him what Archimedes once boasted as his only deficiency to rival Omnipotence. "Give me a place on which to stand and I will move the world." But the promises of God supply the believer with a fulcrum by which he may move both earth and heaven.
2. The object of faith is the "precious blood" of Christ (Acts 26:17, 18).
IV. ITS SCOPE. It is offered to all. Whatever differences or distinctions men may make, God makes none. There is no difference with respect to —
1. Our need of this great change. Throughout the world human nature is the same. "There is none righteous, no, not one."
2. The mode of purification. In every case it is by faith.
(H. J. Booth.)I. PRIDE.
1. This is setting up the honour of self above the honour of God. It is self-worship, and refuses to recognise any righteousness but self-righteousness.
2. What is the very prime object of faith! What do I receive into my heart if I realise Christ's work for me? Is it not this, that the mighty God, He who is greater than the greatest, higher than the highest, laid aside all His glory, and came down into the very depth of humiliation for me? If I live Christ, how can I worship self? When faith has once entered, what room is there for pride? Where is the boasted glory of man before the Eternal Word, who became flesh, and by the very hiding of His glory manifested it — through Him humiliation entered into His exaltation? Where is human merit, when once the fulness of the rich stream of God's unmerited grace is shed over the soul? No; the life of faith is the death of pride.
3. But does faith substitute nothing for self thus dethroned? Far from this. With the sense of a man's own worthlessness comes the sense of his Redeemer's worth — comes love to God, the true answer and return of God's love to him. This last, faith apprehends; that other, faith renders. The humility of those who are born of the Spirit is exactly in proportion to their appropriation of the work of Christ. As He increases in a man's esteem, self decreases. And thus humility is the true work of faith.
II. COVETOUSNESS — the inordinate valuing of created objects — the esteeming self not by self alone, but by the things wherewith self is surrounded and enriched.
1. We have in man all degrees of this sin, from the ambition which grasps empires to the miserly greed which hoards the farthing. And the secret of the sin is the same throughout all — the creature, not the Creator; my own possessions, not God's gifts; my position my promotion, my increased income — not my stewardship before God; it is in every case a direct consequence of the substitution of self for Him.
2. And in every case faith in Christ is as directly opposed to it. If my inner regards are really fixed on Him who gave all He had, yea, Himself, for me, where is there room in me for covetous desires? Will not he whose life is hid with Christ in God be laying up treasures in heaven rather than on earth — be enriching his home rather than his tent in the wilderness?
III. SELF-INDULGENCE — the love of pleasure — the inordinate valuing of our own delights in created objects. How does faith deal with this all but universal tendency? Who is its object? Is it not He who has solemnly told us that none can be His disciple without daily self-denial? Can a man be justified by faith in Him and disregard these His words? Understand me: the Christian who lives by faith in Christ can and does enjoy life in the best and highest sense; but he cannot be a seeker of pleasure — cannot surrender his noble privilege of self-denial for the bondage in which he sees the children of the world fettered.
I. THE AGENT OF HEART PURIFICATION — faith. There was nothing but faith in the case of Cornelius, faith born of hearing, and resting alone on Jesus.
1. Faith purified directly, not by month after month of contemplation; for, to the astonishment of the circumcised believers, the Holy Ghost fell upon them there and then.
2. Water baptism did not aid therein. The Lord will not permit us to mix up even His own ordinances with the work of His Spirit in purifying the heart by faith alone, and God forbid we ever should fall into such an error.
3. Do not, then, be looking for pure hearts within yourselves before you come to Christ by faith. Do not look for the fruits before you have the roots, but look by faith to the great Purifier, however impure you feel your heart to be.
II. THE SECRET OF ITS POWER. Believing other things does not purify the soul; why does believing the gospel? I answer, because —
1. God works by it (ver. 8). You know the old story of the sword of Scanderbeg, with which he used to cleave men in twain from the crown of the head downwards. As one looked at it he declared that he saw nothing about it to make it so fatal a weapon; but the other replied, "You should have seen the arm which was wont to wield it." Now faith looked at of itself appears to be contemptible; but who shall resist the everlasting Arm that wields it? This greater than Hercules careth little for the weakness of the instrument; but, behold, He cleanseth the Augean stable of our nature with no other agency than childlike faith.
2. God is at work in the heart by His Holy Spirit. Now, the Holy Spirit comes as a heavenly fire to consume sin, as a flowing stream to cleanse away evil, and as a rushing mighty wind to chase away all that is foul and polluted in the stagnant air of the soul. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of holiness, and as He always dwells with faith, being its Author, its Strengthener and Guardian, where faith comes the heart will speedily be purified.
III. THE SEAT OF ITS ACTION — the heart. Faith changes the current of our love, and alters the motive which sways us: this is what is meant by purifying the heart. It makes us love that which is good and right, and moves us with motives free from self and sin: this is a great work indeed. Hence the change which faith produces is —
1. Radical and deep. It is a small matter to wash the outside of the cup and of the platter.
2. Thorough and complete. "Rend your hearts and not your garments." Faith lays the axe at the root, and heals the stream at the fountain head.
3. Operative throughout the whole life. A diseased heart means a sickly man all over. Neither can you have the heart right without its telling upon the entire nature.
4. Permanent. Restrain appetites which still remain, and the dog returns to his vomit; purify externals and leave the nature untouched, and the sow that was washed goes back to her wallowing in the mire.
5. Acceptable with God, who searcheth the heart. Man judgeth according to the outward appearance, but God looketh at the heart.
IV. THE MODE OF ITS OPERATION.
1. Faith believes in sin as sin, and sees the horror of it as an offence against a holy and gracious God.
2. Faith delights to set Christ before the heart and to make it gaze upon His side pierced by sin, and therefore hates the sin which slew its best Friend.
3. Faith delighteth much in the Person of Christ, and therefore she sets before the soul His incomparable loveliness, as the well-beloved of saints. Thus is enkindled a vehement flame of love to Him, and this becomes a powerful purifier, for you cannot love Christ and love sin.
4. Faith has a wonderful art of realising her gracious privileges. What manner of persons then ought you to be?
5. Faith has yet further a wondrous power of bringing near the things to come. What could more effectually purify the heart than the vision of heaven which faith presents to us?
6. Power is gained by faith through pleading the promises of God. "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace."
7. Faith daringly lays hold upon the power of God Himself. How she smites the Philistines then!
8. Faith brings us real power to conquer sin by applying the blood of Christ. The blood of Jesus is the life of faith and the death of sin. All the saints overcome through the blood of the Lamb.
9. Faith gives us power against sin by mixing herself with all gospel ordinances — with hearing, communions, prayer, Bible study. Faith will enable you to draw nourishment out of ordinances, and make you vigorous against sin. 10. Faith rouses the new man to intense resistance of sin.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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