Acts 21:17
Paul's gospel was that of salvation by Christ Jesus alone, as contrasted with the principle of salvation by legal obedience. But he did not contend against the Law and against Mosaism as such - only against the doctrine that the observance was indispensable to salvation. The spirit of evangelical freedom made him tolerant of the observance in the case of born Jews, while at the same time he contended for the emancipation of the Gentile Christians from the claims of the Law (1 Corinthians 7:18, 19).

I. As EXAMPLE OF CHRISTIAN PRUDENCE IN GENERAL. It is necessary to study and consider human nature as it is. No acting as if in a vacuum, no trying to carry out abstract principles, regardless of men's habit of thinking and acting, can be either right or successful. The followers of Christ were to be "wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves." Want of tact is often a greater hindrance to success than want of greater gifts of head and heart. Men are repelled by disregard of their feelings, and often won over by trifling concessions, which cost nothing important to those who make them or to the cause of truth. But serious cases of conscience may arise under these conditions; and prudence ceases to be a virtue whenever it is practiced at the expense of truth or of truthfulness.

II. AN EXAMPLE OF CONCESSION TO THE PREJUDICES OF THE WEAK, In these difficult cases love must be the great guiding principle (Romans 15:1). Christian love "endureth all things." It has a delicate intelligence of the needs of the weak; it practices a fine self-denial, condescends to the lowlier in word and in deed. In such weakness there is true strength. It demands intellectual strength, to distinguish between form and contents, between the shell and the kernel; and firmness of character, to hold fast to the main matter, while those of subordinate importance are given up; constancy and faithfulness, not to deny the law of Christ, while promoting love amongst his disciples. In things indifferent we may take a part, provided we clearly see the way to promote the kingdom of God in so doing; but at the same time, we must do nothing to favor the opinion that such things are necessary to salvation. In the whole episode we may see the victory of love that "seeketh not her own" over bigotry and narrow-mindedness; thus a forecast of the union of Israel and the heathen world in Christ, and a triumph of the Divine counsel in the extension of his kingdom and the diffusion of his thoughts of salvation. With reference to Paul, it illustrates his saying, "To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to those under the Law, as under the Law, that I might gain those under the Law." - J.







And when we were come to Jerusalem the brethren received us gladly.
Note here —

I. THE EARLY CONQUESTS OF THE GOSPEL. During the quarter of a century which had elapsed since Paul's first introduction to the Church at Jerusalem, what wonders Christianity had wrought! The historic sketch which he now presented caused his hearers to glorify the Lord, and they tell him that "many thousands of Jews believed." These triumphs serve to demonstrate —

1. The genuineness of gospel facts. There were ample opportunities of testing their truth.

2. The amazing force of Christian truth. What other system could have effected such revolutions?

3. The zeal with which the apostles prosecuted their ministry.

II. THE TENACITY OF EARLY PREJUDICE. Those Christian Jews could not give up the ritualism in which they had been brought up. "They were still zealous of the law." Early prejudices, especially in religion, warp the judgment, exclude the entrance of new light, impede the progress of the soul in intelligence, manly independency, and power. Prejudices give a colour to the glass through which the soul looks at truth, and thus prevents her from appearing in her own native hue.

III. THE SLANDEROUSNESS OF RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY. (ver. 21). Paul not only acted indulgently towards the scrupulous (Acts 16:3; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Corinthians 10:27), but in general disapproved of Jews relinquishing the observance of the law, and observed it himself (1 Corinthians 7:18; 1 Corinthians 9:20). All he insisted upon was, that no prerogative or claim to salvation should be built on legal observance, and that it should not be imposed upon Gentile believers. Who fabricated the slander? The bigoted Jews. Religious bigotry now, as ever, maligns the men whose doctrines transcend its narrow notions — in its pulpits, platforms, and press.

IV. THE CONCILIATORY GENIUS OF CHRISTIANITY.

1. James and the elders perceive that a schismatic spirit is rife, and they are anxious to promote concord. Hence their question (ver. 22), How shall this false impression, be removed? And they proposed the expedient of vers. 23, 24. He who does not strive to harmonise social discords has not the true love within him. Love is ever bearing the olive branch over the tumults of the world.

2. This conciliatory spirit of Christianity is further developed in the conduct of Paul. "Paul is among the Nazarites," says Lange —(1) Not as a slave of human ordinances, but in the light of evangelical liberty, which had power over all things that promote the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:12).(2) Not as a dissembler before the people, but in the ministry of brotherly love, which bears the infirmities of the weak (Romans 15:1).(3) Not as a fugitive from the cross, but in the power of apostolic obedience, which knows to deny itself from love to the Lord (Luke 9:23). Bold and invincible as was the apostle, his spirit of conciliation was very remarkable (1 Corinthians 9:1). Fidelity to principle is not inconsistent with a studious endeavour to avoid giving offence to our fellow men.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

S. S. Times.
I. MET BY FRIENDS.

1. Paul was glad to visit Jerusalem, and the brethren were glad to receive him. They and he were too good Christians to raise a loud lament because immortal duty doing had led the apostle into a place of mortal danger.

2. Paul rehearsed the things which God had wrought, humbly making of himself a mere instrument in God's hand. Naturally, then, the brethren glorified not Paul, but God.

3. Paul spoke much of results, and but little of difficulties and dangers and privations. It matters more to the true missionary what God does by him than what God does with him.

4. Paul worked abroad — and the brethren worked at home, etc., and rejoiced in each other's successful efforts. The cause of Foreign Missions and the cause of Home Missions should have the fullest mutual sympathy and support.

II. MISREPRESENTED BY ENEMIES.

1. No earnest Christian but meets with misrepresentation, and it usually increases just in proportion as his earnestness does.

2. No earnest Christian but will find that "they have been informed" of all sorts of imaginary errors in his teaching.

3. No form of opposition is more difficult for the earnest Christian to face than this anonymous misrepresentation. "They have been informed," and they — in the church or outside of it — hasten to spread the warning that Paul does not believe in the Old Testament.

4. Anonymous contributions are not everywhere rejected if they assail the teachings of a good and earnest man. Therefore the devil usually chooses to do his work anonymously.

III. MISREPRESENTATION MET.

1. It was well for Paul to vindicate himself for the Master's cause suffers so long as there is an imputation upon the servant.

2. It is well for the servant of Christ to concede a point provided no principle is sacrificed.

3. It is well for one to vindicate himself from a false charge as Paul did, by deeds rather than by words.

4. It is well to treat different men differently. There is a way in which to reach a Jew, and a way in which to reach a Gentile, and the two ways are not identical.

5. It is well to subordinate minor questions of Church polity, individual preference, denominational peculiarities to the great paramount object of soul saving. "All things to all men, that I may by all means save some."

(S. S. Times.)

Notice —

I. THE IMPORTANCE OF ORDER IN THE CHURCH. Paul was an apostle, but he respects the officers of the local church, consults their feelings, respects their judgment, and strengthens their hands. Under the specious statement that the work of God is the main thing, many belittle Christian organisation, as if it were not the very way to do the work of God. "Free lances " are often an hindrance to the Christian army, and their "freeness " is all too often mainly in the liberties they take with Christian truth and agencies. God's work is best done in God's way.

II. HOW DEXTROUS THE ENEMIES OF THE TRUTH ARE IN MISREPRESENTING CHRISTIAN ACTION. This policy need not surprise us. If men allege that we undervalue good works because we deny their saving power; that our views of God's sovereignty mean "fatalism"; that we have no Church because we do not hold "apostolical succession" — they are only misrepresenting us as Paul was misrepresented.

III. THAT IT IS FIT THAT GOD'S PEOPLE SHOULD IN ALL FITTING WAYS CLEAR THEMSELVES AND THEIR TESTIMONY OF SUCH INJURIOUS IMPUTATIONS. We are of little account personally, but the truth is great. There is a silly weakness that revolts from honest defence of the truth, and wants nothing but conventional commonplace.

IV. THAT THERE IS SOMETHING DUE TO THE HONEST READERS OF SCRIPTURE, EVEN IF WE INTERPRET DIFFERENTLY. When men set up fashion, antiquity, aesthetics, "Christian consciousness," or the like, it is one thing; when they honestly defer to the Divine Word as they understand it, it is another. So it was with these. So it is with good men who think David's psalms the only fitting material for praise; with "Friends " as to forms and titles; with Baptists who believe themselves bound to immerse.

V. THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTIAN GRACES IN PROMOTING AND PRESERVING PEACE. Paul is modest and forgetful of self. The elders rejoice over him; at the same time they frankly tell him the facts of the case. Honesty and frankness are great conservators of harmony. Christian forbearance triumphing over selfishness is a grace of a high order. There are many who will go all lengths to meet the world, who look with lofty scorn on Christians who take different methods. Between believers "weak in the faith " and worldliness with no faith at all, there is a wide difference. In all things harmless let us go a long way to meet the one class and satisfy them; they are Christ's friends and ours. Concession to the others is not to be made of one "jot or tittle," because they are not friends, but enemies.

(J. Hall, D. D.)

or what appertains to bearing the infirmities of the weak: —

I. CHRISTIAN LOVE which is willing to bear them, while it has a tender feeling for the wants of the weak, and exercises a noble self-denial in condescending to them in word and deed.

II. CHRISTIAN STRENGTH, which is able to bear them, possesses freedom of spirit to distinguish between form and essence, the shell and the kernel, and has strength of character not to surrender with subordinate matters the chief thing, and not to deny the Lord from love to man.

(K. Gerok.)

I. NECESSARY. As such —

1. Practised by our Lord Himself.

2. Employed by His apostles.

3. Indispensable to us.

II. SALUTARY.

1. Without God's forbearance the world would be lost.

2. By the apostle's forbearance much weakness was gained;

3. By Christian forbearance, we do not indeed gain all, but we promote peace, and thus the kingdom of God in general.

(Lisco.)

1. "The brethren received them gladly." I am not sure about that; they never before have been received gladly, and the gladness now admitted of being stated in one half-line. I have no particular faith in that sort of gladness. When did Paul content himself with half a line when he was recognising his friends? Read his letter to the Philippians! The fact is they never liked Paul at Jerusalem. He was too big for them.

2. Then it is said that when they heard Paul "they glorified the Lord." Presently we shall know the meaning of that. They might have said something to Paul. There is a way of turning from a man that you may pray, when you ought first to have thrown your arms around him and said, "God bless thee, grand old soldier of the Cross; come, let us pray together." A little more humanity at Jerusalem would have done no harm; but Jerusalem is forgotten: Paul remains. A little humanity would do the Church no harm. A little recognition of merit, a kindly reference to loving service done by man to man, helps the wheel of life to run round more smoothly. It would be so at home if you would say how pleased you are with what has been done for you.

3. They could not have been so greatly occupied with the glory of God, for they instantly proposed to Paul a compromise, and said with such whining voices, "Thou seest, brother," etc. There the Church goes down. That spirit is still abroad, and we are saying of men of free spirit and Pauline heart, and as for us, we are all right with regard to them; but there is a general impression abroad that they are not orthodox." "Be quiet, or say something, or attend a service." Was there ever such a craven-hearted thing as a Church with this note in its throat? The men who are buried in a crowd were to dictate the policy of the world's greatest Christian prince and hero! But James had lived a long time in the metropolis; he seldom went from home; he could not bear a noise, and he would offer on the altar of prejudice this oblation. It was not right, but Paul will not hinder the great cause; he was willing to become "all things to all men," that he might by any means save some. We can imagine the smile of the heart as he consented to be "one of five," to go through certain customs and ceremonies in order to prove himself orthodox. Orthodoxy does not consist in doing certain things, but in doing something in the soul.

4. Now mark what follows. The Jews which were of Asia laid hands on him, crying, "This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the law," etc. In the very act of attempting to prove himself orthodox, to people who had no right to judge his orthodoxy, he was seized as a hypocrite. The temple was no protection. It suits some men to believe others to be hypocrites rather than to give them credit for good intentions, instead of saying, "We have been misinformed about this man; here he is submitting to the law of Moses." You cannot satisfy blackmailers; pay them what you like today, they will return tomorrow. There are blackmailers in the Church as well as in the world. You can never live holy enough to put an end to their diabolism of spirit. Never treat with them; stand upon the eternal right and say, "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?" What applies to character applies also to argument. When you have satisfied Aristotle with your logic, you have not begun to touch the blackmailer; he does not want the logic, he wants to torment the logician.

5. It will go badly with Paul then but for the State. James and the elders will not do much for Paul now, for, dear old gentlemen, they did not like noise! There is a time when the State must assert its authority. And when the mob "saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul." Cowards! And these were the men that Paul was asked to conciliate! To be recognised by them was an intolerable patronage. "Then the chief captain came near, and took him," etc. The State knows nothing about Christian ministers. It seems comical to hear the chief captain. "Art thou not that Egyptian," etc. You don't suppose the chief captains know anything about prayer meetings, or ministers' or deacons' prayer meetings? There is no rebuke perhaps more humbling than an inquiry as to your identity by men whom you thought respected you, and knew all about you. It would be amusing to Paul to be mistaken for an Egyptian. He, who had not been ashamed of the gospel of Christ; he who died daily for Christ, coming back from the wars, was mistaken by the State for an Egyptian, which had led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers. Never mind; Paul owed the State a good deal in this instance. The State will see justice done to us. The State will not allow this property with which we ourselves are associated to be diverted from its proper purpose. So with human life. Thank God for civilised States.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

And when he had saluted them.
1. A victory of love which seeks not its own in carnal narrowness and self-will.

2. An earnest of the future union of Israel and the Gentile world under the Cross of Christ.

3. A triumph of the wonderful ways of God in the spread of His kingdom, and in the realisation of His plan of salvation.

(K. Gerok.)

They are informed of thee
In every scandal there is the warp and the woof; it is seldom that some ground cannot be had to work upon. The woof may be a fact wholly perverted, but upon it the liar may weave his warp, his figure of detraction and scandal; and it comes out all in one piece, and no man can say that there is not some truth in it, though if the truth were picked out, the lie would stand by itself, a clean and absolute lie. Mr. Wilberforce relates an instance regarding himself. He found himself held up to public ridicule in an unfriendly journal, the author of the slander having given the following instance of Mr. Wilberforce's Phariseeism. "He was seen lately walking up and down the Pump Room reading his prayers like his predecessors of old who prayed at the corners of streets to be seen of men." Wilberforce remarks, "As there is generally some light circumstance which perverseness turns into a charge of reproach, I began to reflect, and I soon found the occasion of the calumny. I was walking in the Pump Room in conversation with a friend: a passage was quoted from Horace, the accuracy of which was questioned; and as I had a Horace in my pocket I took it out and read the words. This was the bit of wire which factious malignity sharpened into a pin to pierce my reputation."

(G. B. Cheerer, D. D.)

The tongue of the slanderer is a devouring fire, which tarnishes whatever it touches; which exercises its fury on the good grain equally as on the chaff, on the profane as on the sacred; which, wherever it passes, leaves only desolation and ruin; digs even into the bowels of the earth, and fixes itself on things the most hidden; turns into vile ashes what only a moment before had appeared to us so precious and brilliant; acts with more violence and danger than ever in the time when it was apparently smothered up and almost extinct; which blackens what it cannot consume, and sometimes sparkles and delights before it destroys.

(J. Massillon.)

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