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tations to idolatry, which are likewise in the same context. See particularly, 1 Cor. x. 1-22, and 2 Cor. vi. 13-18.
4. There was a happy agreement in the council, and the regulations, now determined, were carried with great unanimity; as appears from the history in the fifteenth chapter of the book of the Acts.
St. Luke intimates, that for a while there was much disputing. It is very likely, that they who were for imposing the law upon the Gentiles, and now appeared before the council laboured to maintain their cause, and carry their point. And, possibly, their arguments at first appeared specious and plausible to some others, who were not engaged with them. But, thut the resolutions, finally determined, were carried with a general consent, is manifest. We have the speech of the apostle Peter, who openly declares against imposing a law upon the Gentiles, as necessary to salvation. James afterwards speaks to the like purpose, sums up the arguments that had been alleged, and concludes the debates. The Epistle itself is written in clear and strong terms. And the judgment upon the point is delivered with the joint authority of all the members of the council.
“ Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas : namely, Judas, surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren. And wrote letters by them after this manner.
The apostles, and elders, and brethren, send greeting unto the brethren, which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia.' Then they pass a censure upon those, who had occasioned the disturbance at Antioch, and say: “ Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain, which went out from among us, have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment.” Thiey proceed. “ It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you, with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.. We have sent therefore unto you Judas and Silas, who shall tell you the same things by mouth.” How affectionate and respectful is all this ! “ For it has seemed good unto the Holy Ghost, and to us,” that is, to us, under divine influence and direction, “ to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things. So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch. And when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle. Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren, and confirmed them.”
Every part of this whole affair shows great unanimity, good temper, and admirable candour and discretion. When the messengers from the church at Antioch came to Jerusalem, and proposed the question ; “ The apostles and elders came together to consider of the matter." Having carefully weighed it, they all agree in one judgment. And when they send the decree away, they make the most honourable mention of Barnabas and Paul, who had preached the gospel in Syria, and other parts. With them they send Judas and Silas, who were some of the most eminent men of the church of Jerusalem, and also prophets themselves : next in knowledge and understanding, and in spiritual gifts, to apostles. Who, when they came to Antioch, “ gathered together the multitude,” or the whole church, and delivered to them the epistle: adding also observations of their own, tending to reconcile them to the regulations contained in it. And the Christians at Antioch were well satisfied, and rejoiced for the consolation afforded them, and for the regard that had been shown to them, in asserting and securing their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial appointments of the law of Moses.
This harmony continued: as appears from the discourses of James and the elders at Jerusalem, when Paul came thither again several years afterwards. “ As touching the Gentiles which believe,” say they, “ we have written, and concluded, that they observe no such thing :” which shows, that this was still the judgment of James himself, and of the elders, and of the church at Jerusalem. Some exceptions there might be: but the determinations of the council were what the church at Jerusalem generally agreed to, and heartily approved of. They did not exact of the Gentile believers an entire conformity to the law of Moses, as necessary to salvation.
Paul readily received these regulations, as prudent counsels, or matters of expedience at that time. And the other apostles intended no more by them.
Paul and Barnabas, Judas and Silas, are the persons, who by name are charged with the epistle by the council. They carry it to Antioch, and deliver it to the church there. And Judas and Silas, moreover, recommend the observation of the things therein ordained: and
doubtless with the approbation of Paul, who was then at Antioch, and continued there some time. When he left Antioch, he chose Silas to accompany him. And St. Luke has assured us, that “as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily," ch. xvi. 4, 5. And, several years after this, as before observed, when Paul came again to Jerusalem, and the elders there, with James, remind him of the several articles of the epistle, they mention them as things with which Paul was well satisfied. Nor does he show any dislike. His accepting of these decisions is also manifest from his epistles above quoted.
Once more, for showing the general consent with which these determinations were made, it ought to be observed, that all the apostles of Christ, or most of them, were present in the council of Jerusalem. For, as formerly shown* at large, there is good reason to think, that none of the twelve apostles left Judea to go and teach either Jews or Gentiles in other countries, until after the council
. It is likely therefore, that they were all at the council where the controversy was fully determined; which was a great advantage. By that means the manner of receiving Gentiles into the church of God was fixed and settled beyond dispute, and beyond opposition. Or, if any opposition should be made afterwards, it could not be successful, nor very troublesome. And we may be assured, that all the apostles, and their disciples, would be harmonious, and preach the same doctrine to Jews and Gentiles wheresoever they went.
5. We may hence perceive the wisdom with which the apostles of Christ were furnished, for behaving in cases of difficulty that came before them; so as might be for the peace of the church, the edification of believers of every rank and capacity, and the preservation of the purity of the Christian doctrine.
I think the regulations of the council at Jerusalem, as just represented and explained, are a proof of this. The first and principal thing to be regarded by the apostles of Christ was the preservation of the purity of the doctrine which they had received from him. The Gentiles were by no means to be brought into subjection to the law of Moses, as necessary to salvation. It behoved the apostles of Christ to assert their freedom from an obligation to observe the peculiarities of the Mosaic dispensation. This is strongly done by Peter, and the others, in the debates at the council. And the rights of the Gentiles are well secured in the epistle written by them.
Nevertheless some regard was due to the Jewish believers. And the Gentiles were to be directed to avoid such such things as might be offensive to their brethren of the circumcision : and likewise to decline such things as might prove dangerous temptations to themselves, and be a means of ensnaring them, and leading them into apostasy.
In a word, one exercise of wise and good men in this world arises from different sentiments, especially in things of religion. We can evidently discern, that there were some differences of opinion, and some controversies among the followers of Jesus Christ, even in the apostolic age. Some thought, that the observation of the law of Moses was necessary for men's salvation, and were for imposing it, as such, upon the believing Gentiles.
Others of the Jewish believers, thought, that the law was obligatory upon themselves and their posterity, as a distinct nation and people, to whom that law had been delivered : whilst they hoped to be justified in the sight of God, and to be eternally saved, by faith in Jesus Christ, and sincere obedience to his precepts. These did not expect the "Gentiles should come under the law of Moses, as necessary to salvation. Nevertheless they still had scruples about meats and drinks, and about conversing with them, who observed no such distinctions. Others there were, as it seems, among the Jews, who thought that the obligation of the law of Moses, as to its peculiarities, had ceased. And they judged no wholesome meat to be unclean ; which was the opinion of the Gentile believers in general.
Hence there arose an obligation to a different conduct. And these last mentioned, whom we reckon the more knowing, and strong, were to practise prudence, condescension, forbearance, compliance. They were to do what lay in their power, as they had opportunity to enlarge the minds of men. In the mean time they were “to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please themselves," Rom. xv. l.
. See vol. III. ch. vi.
But others, who were rigid, and would impose indifferent things, as necessary to salvation, were to be blamed, and reproved, as they are by this council. And every one knows, how they were withstood by the apostle Paul. And all who are attentive in reading the New Testament, may perceive, that the epistle of the council at Jerusalem exactly corresponds with the doctrine of Paul in his epistles, and that the temper of both is one and the same.
Some regard was due to the Jewish nation in general, even to the unbelievers among them, whilst they behaved with decency and civility. For a long time they had been favoured with many religious privileges above other men. As is acknowledged in Rom. ix. 4, 5. And it is the apostle's direction, 1 Cor. x. 32. “ Give no offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:” by the two former plainly meaning such as were unbelievers. And it is said, Acts xvi. 2, 3. that when Paul determined to have l'imothy with him, who was “ the son of a woman that was a Jewess, and believed; he took him, and circumcised him, because of the Jews who were in those quarters; for they all knew, that his father was a Greek.” I think, those Jews were unbelievers. Paul would not offend them; and he might hope to gain some of them. See 1 Cor. ix. 19, 20.
But they were not the men, who occasioned the council of Jerusalem, or the decisions of it. The men, who came to Antioch, and taught the brethren there, “ Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved,” were pharisees who believed, Acts xv. 1. They were men, who went out from the church at Jerusalem, ver. 24. These are now reproved. But whilst the freedom of the Gentiles is asserted from a subjection to the law of Moses, and its appointments, some things are recommended to them as expedient for the time. Which might facilitate converse and communion with all the Jewish believers, who were tractable, and would be also useful for preserving themselves from some temptations to apostasy. in those times.
6. We may hence perceive the reason, why those of the Jewish believers, who were for imposing the law upon the Gentiles, are so severely reproved, and condemned by St. Paul.
They were for imposing the law, and its observances, upon the Gentiles, as necessary to salvation. Which should be always attended by us, when we read St. Paul's epistles, and observe the tartness of his expressions. So says St. Luke very clearly. Ch. xv. 1. “ Certain men which came down from Judea, taught the brethren: Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” See also ver. 5. And are not these men tartly reproved by the apostles and elders in their epistle, ver. 24 ? “ Forasmuch as we have heard, say they, “ that certain, which went out from us, have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law.”
And justly does St. Paul say of Peter, and the rest, who separated themselves from the Gentile Christians at Antioch, that " they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel,” Gal. ii. 14. And as justly does he exhort, and argue, Gal. v. 1-4.
« Stand fast therefore in the liberty, wherewith Christ has made us free. And be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised,” esteeming it necessary to salvation, “ he is a debtor to the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law. Ye are fallen from grace.” Which now must be all clear. It can need no farther explication.
7. We may now discern, wherein lay the fault of the apostle Peter, and others, who complied too far with the rigid part of the Jewish believers.
The only place of scripture, where this is mentioned, is Gal. ii. 11-16. “ But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles. But when they were come, he withdrew, and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews likewise dissembled with him : insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw, that they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all : If thou being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews; why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews ? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ,
that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law. For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."
The fault of Peter lay in this, that his conduct implied the necessity of the Gentiles being circumcised, and keeping the ordinances of the Mosaic law, in order to their being saved. “ Why* compellest thou the Gentiles to judaize!” that is, to become Jews, and live according to the law of Moses, and that, in order to salvation. This was the meaning of his behaviour. The Gentiles at Antioch had believed in Jesus Christ, and heartily embraced his doctrine. Nevertheless Peter now behaved toward them, as if they were unworthy of converse, or communion with himself, or other Jewish believers. They were not yet of the church and people of God: but must, if they would be saved, be circumcised, and obey the law of Moses, as the Jewish people did.
This is what Paul blames Peter for. It is apparent from St. Paul's whole argument in this place. It follows next after the words just cited : “ We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing, that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law.” Which plainly shows, that St. Paul is speaking of imposing the law, as necessary to acceptance with God: or, in other words, that he is speaking of justification, and salvation. And St. Peter says the same thing at the council, in almost the same words. Acts xv. 10, 11. “ Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers, nor we, were able to bear? For we believe, that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved, even as they."
We see therefore, that Peter was now guilty of dissimulation. He acted contrary to his own judgment. And did what implied the necessity of the Gentiles receiving the law of Moses, in order to salvation. Thus he acted, “ fearing them of the circumcision.” I transcribe Augustin below, who speaks exactly to the same purpose.
Some have been unwilling to think, that the apostle Peter should have exposed himself to this censure after the council of Jerusalem : though the order of St. Paul's narration, in the chapter just cited, implies as much. But the difference is not great. Peter's guilt may be aggravated thereby. But whether before, or after that council, he was now guilty of dissimulation. For he did eat, and converse for a while with the Gentiles at Antioch : and afterwards separated himself from them, “ fearing them of the circumcision." And a part of Paul's argument is to this purpose : “ If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles,” that is, sometines, as he had lately done, and probably at some other times likewise, “and not as do the Jews; why compellest thou the Gentiles to judaize ? Or, as Mr. Locke: If thou, being a Jew, takest the liberty sometimes to live after the manner of the Gentiles, not keeping to those rules, which the Jews observe ; why doest thou constrain the Gentiles to conform themselves to the rites, and manner of living of the Jews ?'
Moreover, we know, that long before the council of Jerusalem, Peter had been at the house of Cornelius at Cesarea, and received him, and his company, though Gentiles, into the church by baptism. And, when he returned to Jerusalem, and there were some, “who contended with him, because he had gone to men uncircumcised, and did eat with them:" he having rehearsed the whole matter to them, they were satisfied, “and glorified God, saying: Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life,” Acts x. and xi, 1–8. Of which St. Peter takes particular notice in his speech at the council, Acts xv. 7-9.
This action of Peter therefore was hypocrisy, or dissimulation, as St. Paul justly calls it, a mean compliance, contrary to judgment, through fear of the displeasure of unreasonable men, And this was the fault of all the rest who joined him in that behaviour. " And the other Jews,' says St. Paul, “dissembled with him : insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation."
• Τι τα εθνη αναγκαζεις μεδαίζειν ;
etiam post Domini adventum necessaria saluti forent; quod • The word is explained at large in vol. III. ch. xii. vehementer per apostolatum Pauli veritas dissuasit. Nec
Quapropter non ideo Petrum emendavit, quod paternas apostolus Petrus hoc ignorabat. Sed id faciebat ; timens eos traditiones observaret; quod si facero vellet, nec mendaciter qui ex circumcisione erant. Itaque et ipse vere correctus est, nec incongrue faceret. Quamvis enim jam superflua, tamen et Paulus vera narravit. Augustin. ad Hieron. ap. Hieron. solita non nocerent. Sed quoniam Gentes cogebat judaïzare; Ep. 67, T. IV. P. II. p. 605. quod pullo modo posset, nisi ea sic ageret, tamquam adhuc
The apostle Peter, as is manifest, submitted, and acquiesced. And we may reasonably believe, that he never after showed the like unsteadiness, but was firm against the like temptation. The same may be well supposed of Barnabas, and most of the other Jews, who were now faithfully and openly reproved by St. Paul.
8. We may now be able to vindicate the conduct of the apostle Paul in complying, as he did at Jerusalem, with the advice of James, and the elders there. As related Acts xxi. 17-30.
I do not know, that we are bound to justify the conduct of any man, not even of an apostle, in all things. Nay, we cannot but acknowledge, that some of the most eminent of that order failed in some instances. We have just now been observing upon a faulty conduct of Peter. And it is likely, that in the contention between Paul and Barnabas, there was on each side a sharpness not to be justified. Acts xv. 36—11. Paul might be too much offended with Mark, “who departed from them from Pamphylia.”. And he might be too much exasperated at Barnabas, who had dissembled with Peter, when he separated himself from those, with whom he had before lived familiarly. But Paul was reconciled to both afterwards, and makes honourable mention of them in his epistles. Paul likewise seems to have been too much moved by the indignity offered him by the high-priest, Ananias, Acts xxiii. 1-5.
But we cannot willingly allow of many instances of misconduct in apostles. And we may be disposed to vindicate any men, so far as we reasonably can, especially men of eminence and extensive usefulness, whose usual conduct entitles them to esteem and reverence.
And, excepting the instances just mentioned, St. Paul's conduct, so far as we know, was free from censure. Indeed, I think, that his doctrine and his conduct, as a Christian and an Apostle, were always uniform, and harmonious; and that he never practised any compliances, - but such as were agreeable to his avowed principles.
However, it is fit, that we should particularly consider what we find related in Acts xxi. 17-30.
This relation, as seems to me, is brought in to informn us, how, and in what manner, Paul was apprehended : that we might know the occasion of that imprisonment of the apostle, which was of so long continuance, and was attended with many incidents of importance. And as the apostle's imprisonment was a necessary part of his history, the occasion of it could not be omitted by a faithful and judicious historian, as St. Luke certainly is.
And there appear so many tokens of candour and good temper, wisdom and discretion in James and the elders of the church at Jerusalem, that, as one would think, men of ingenuity should be little disposed to surmise, that any thing was now proposed to Paul, or complied with by him, which was at all dishonourable to him, or derogatory to the true principles of religion, or to the interests, either of believing Jews or Gentiles.
But it is not to be expected, that all should be contented with such general observations. We will therefore observe every paragraph of this narration.
Ver. 17. “ And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren,” meaning the church in general, “received us gladly.” The presence of Paul was acceptable to them, and in a friendly and affectionate manner they congratulated him upon his safe arrival among them.
Ver. 18, 19. “ And the day following Paul went in with us unto James: and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly, what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.
The original phrase, neb Ev tragov, imports the exactness, and particularity of the accounts which Paul gave of his successes in the several cities and countries in which he had been, since he was last at Jerusalem. And here we cannot forbear to observe the frankness and openness, and also the humility of the apostle, in giving so full an account of himself: where he had been, and what he had done, and what tokens of divine approbation had been afforded to him, and to his endeavours. This resembles the account which Paul and Barnabas gave to the church of Antioch, upon their return thither, after they had fulfilled the work to which they had been appointed in an especial manner, Acts xiv. 26, 27. and compare ch. xii, 1–4. The main difference is, that there “ they gathered the church together, and rehearsed all that God had done with them.” Here Paul speaks to James and the elders only of the church at Jerusalem.
Ver. 20. “ And when they heard it they glorified the Lord.” A proof of the truly Christian and charitable disposition of the chief men at Jerusalem. They rejoiced and were thankful to God for the progress of the gospel among the Gentile people, as preached to them by Paul.