When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying…
The worst hindrances to the spread of Christianity and to its hold upon the world have always been found to be, not so much the native opposition of the human heart, nor the direct conflict with Satan and with sin, but those indirect conflicts which are entailed by:
1. The inconsistencies of Christians in their individual life.
2. The "contentions of Christians in their mutual or collective life. We have before us a threatening instance of this latter kind, and an agreeable example of the way in which it was averted. Notice -
I. A THREATENING INSTANCE OF CONTENTION AMONG A BODY OF CHRISTIANS. We read that when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him." Though the more unfavorable turn of the word as now used by us need not be pressed, yet it certainly implies, as it stands, dissatisfaction with what he had done, and not the gentlest or suavest manner exhibited in calling him to account for it.
1. Contentions within Christian communities are in their simplest principle and beginning justifiable. It need not be said of them, as of offences, "Woe to him by whom they come!" though it may, nay, almost must, be said of them, that they "will come." It is for this reason, because the Church on earth is, as amongst its own members, its own guardian. It acknowledges the headship of Christ. It acknowledges the rule of the Spirit. It does not acknowledge any earthly lord, any vicar of Christ, any earthly sovereign authority. Hence it is answerable for its own doctrine and for its own discipline within its own pale. And investigation, debate, yea, all the formality of judicial trial (so that neither motives, methods, nor weapons are carnal), are within its province.
2. Contentions within Christian communities very generally arise on some plausible ground, to say the least. It was certainly so now. It is highly important to discriminate as far as possible between what is really legitimate and what is merely plausible. Of the first are -
(1) zeal of scriptural doctrine and revealed fact;
(2) zeal of a holy and consistent life.
But of the second are
(1) mere love of precedent;
(2) ascription of motives;
(3) generally scant charity.
3. Contentions within Christian communities fix stern responsibility on those who stir them, only second to that of those who cause them, when this is really done.
4. Contentions within Christian communities demand as much, as solemnly as any position whatsoever in life, singleness of eye and a pure conscience. Feeling, personal feeling, party feeling priestly feeling, and even the perfection of ignorant prejudice, have, in probably the saddest preponderance of history, profanely trampled on the ground and made it mournfully all their own. Nor is there any more hollow hypocrisy, more miserable mockery, more insulting blasphemy, than when these counterfeit zeal for the Lord of hosts and a pure and sensitive conscience.
II. A GRATEFUL EXAMPLE OF THE METHOD BY WHICH IT WAS AVERTED. It takes two persons to make a bargain, and two to make a quarrel; and, if a reconciliation is to be genuine and have in it the elements of lasting, both parties must do their share. It was so now.
1. Peter did what lay in him to remove cause of offence and to explain difficulty.
(1) He seems to have been taxed in a somewhat point-blank style. Yet he does not rein himself up, though he does rein temper in. He does not stand on his dignity, and refuse any account of himself and doings till he is addressed in a somewhat milder and more deferential style.
(2) He does not assert simply that what he had done he had done under an overpowering conviction "of duty" - a phrase among the worst abused of moral phrases.
(3) He does not assert positively, even though he had good right to know it, that what he had done was right and all right, and no two opinions about it with any man of understanding and principle.
(4) Discarding all irritating and aggravating beginnings, he even waives any expression of claim to the confidence of "the brethren," and instead, at once conciliating tells his tale. He tells it all from the beginning to the end succinctly. He narrates the revelations made to him (vers. 5-10). He states the facts, which could be easily disproved if incorrect (ver. 11). He instances his "six brethren" companions, who were witnesses of all he had done, and were now in the position of witnesses for him (ver. 12). He tempts out their memory by just quoting his own (ver. 16). And in closing even he does not pronounce a dogmatic verdict for self, but rather asks a verdict, and whether his hearers think the case admits of any verdict different from what he had in his conduct practically given. It is well worthy of notice how different the result might have been if Peter had at all, in a hectoring tone, begun with this question. But he did not begin with it; and when, with Christian gentleness, he now closes with it, all are ready in their answer to acquit him of blame. They see with his eye and are one with him.
2. On the other hand, those who had at first possibly rather peremptorily challenged Peter's conduct may be observed with some commendation now. Presumably these were some of his fellow "apostles and brethren" (vers. 1, 2). And of their disposition it is to be noted favorably that:
(1) If they had begun by putting themselves a little in the wrong so far as their tone was concerned, they do not therefore persist in it. The injurer is often the last to give in and forgive. So frequent is the occurrence and so fraught with mischief, that this may be called one of the "devices of Satan," that even Christian men will cleave to the thing they have said, let alone quite the subject of it, because they have once said it in a wrong manner. Eye and mind and heart get sealed up in deference to one humiliating fact, that they have uttered so much sound in wrong tone. Well, this was not the case now with those who called Peter to account.
(2) They give Peter a patient, and no doubt what soon became a riveted, hearing.
(3) They accept unquestioningly every statement that he makes, so far as it purported to be a statement of fact. There is no quibbling nor attempt at cross-questioning. This was Peter's due under any circumstances. But even fellow-Christians are chary sometimes in the matter of justice to one another.
(4) At the right yielding-point they do yield heartily. To "hold their peace" was a very victory of goodness. Better than this, while they "hold their peace" from blaming Peter, they open their mouth to "glorify God," Their mode of yielding bespeaks truth and honesty in them at the first, if even these manifested themselves forth in a manner a trifle unceremonious. Doubt, perplexity, a little vexation, clouded brow, all went in a moment. Pent-up anxiety and distrust are relieved. They are glad to hear and be persuaded by the things now "rehearsed to them" of Peter. They are not envious and still exclusive, but welcome the admission of the large Gentile brotherhood to the family of God and to "repentance unto life." And the end of that meeting was peace and joy - yes, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. We may give our better feelings leave to flow and our higher imagination to play while we think of the reconciliation, hearty and unfeigned, that those happy moments witnessed between Peter and the brethren. Nor shall we doubt that, for his fidelity and unflinching consistency in a moment's trying "ill report," he is henceforth held in higher honor and surer trust by those same brethren. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.