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XV: 1. At this point in the narrative our historian makes a sudden transition from the conflicts of the disciples with the unbelieving world to one almost as serious among themselves. There never was a national antipathy more intense than that felt by the Jews to the whole Gentile world. It was the more intense, from the fact that it was imbedded in their deepest religious sentiments, and was cultivated in all the devotions. In the hearts of the disciples this feeling had, by this time, been so far overcome, that they had admitted the propriety of receiving uncircumcised Gentiles into the Church. But they found it more difficult to convince themselves that Gentiles were to be admitted into social and domestic intimacy. Hence, when Peter returned from the house of Cornelius to Jerusalem, the chief objection urged against him was, not that he had immersed Gentiles, but “Thou didst go into the house of men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.” This was the full extent to which the judaizing party in the Church were prepared, at that time, to push their objections. But when men take an unreasonable and obstinate stand against any cause, they frequently assume more extravagant ground as the cause they are opposing advances. While but a few Gentiles had come into the Church, the pharisaic party objected only to domestic association with them; but now that Paul and Barnabas had succeeded in opening a door of faith to the whole Gentile world, and it was likely that the Jews, who had hitherto constituted almost the whole body of the Church, were soon to become only a small element in its constituency, their fears were excited, and their demands became more exorbitant. Paul and Barnabas were still in Antioch. (1) “And certain men came down from Judea, and taught the brethren, Unless you are circumcised according to the law of Moses, you can not be saved.” As we learn from a subsequent part of this chapter, they were not content with merely enjoining circumcision, but also exacted the observance of all the law of Moses, to which circumcision was only preliminary.322322Acts xv. 24. The success of this party would have perpetuated Judaism, and forever have neutralized those philanthropic principles of the gospel which the experience of the world and the wisdom of God alike had shown to be necessary to the moral renovation of the human race.
2. If Paul and Barnabas had ever been, since their conversion, blinded by these narrow views, their labors among the Gentiles would have wrought a change in their feelings, and prepared them to see the subject in a better light. They opposed the new propositions with all their powers; and though they did not succeed in silencing their opponents, they brought the discussion to a fortunate conclusion. (2) “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of them, should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.”
If the brethren in Antioch had estimated at its proper value the authority of an inspired apostle, they would have yielded implicitly to Paul's decision without this mission to Jerusalem. But they were as yet too little accustomed to reflection upon the profound mystery of apostolic infallibility to properly accredit it; and their deep prejudices on the subject under discussion was a serious obstacle in the way of clear thought. It is probable that apostolic authority is more highly appreciated now than it was then; yet the prejudices of sect and party are so intense, that even now the dictum of a living apostle would prove insufficient, in millions of cases, to convince men of their errors. Like the disciples in Antioch, who had the testimony of Paul, men now are not easily satisfied with a single inspired statement upon a point in dispute, or with the statements of a single apostle, but demand an accumulation of even divine testimonies.
It is probable that Paul would have objected to making this appeal to the other apostles, on the ground of its apparent inconsistency with his own claims to inspired authority, had not the proposition been sustained by an express revelation of the divine will. In the second chapter of Galatians, where Mr. Howson very clearly proves that Paul has reference to this journey,323323Vol. i, p. 227, et seq. he says: “I went up by revelation and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.” It was the divine purpose to settle the question, not for the Church in Antioch alone, but for all the world and for all time.
3. Their journey to Jerusalem, which was accomplished by land, lay through two sections of country which had already been evangelized to a considerable extent. (3) “Being sent forward by the Church, they passed through Phenicia and Samaria, relating the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy to all the brethren.” The Churches in Samaria did not, of course, sympathize with the Jewish prejudices, and although in Phenicia there were doubtless many Jews, yet the Gentile element sufficiently predominated to enable the brethren there, like the Samaritans, to rejoice that the gospel was spreading into the heathen world.
4. After a pleasant journey among rejoicing Churches, they reached Jerusalem. (4) “And when they arrived in Jerusalem, they were received by the Church, and by the apostles and elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.” They proceeded, in Jerusalem, as they had upon their return to Antioch, to give a history of their missionary tour. This was done in the presence of the Church, the apostles also being present.
5. The Judaizers did not hesitate to declare fully their own position. (5) “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, rose up, saying, It was necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” This party is here identified as converts from the old sect of the Pharisees. We have had no account hitherto of any large accessions to the Church from this party; but this incidental remark shows that some of these obstinate opposers of the truth had yielded, and were now occupying positions of influence in the congregation. Paul now once more meets some of his companions in the persecution of the disciples, not to harmonize with them, nor to dispute with them in the synagogues concerning the claims of Christ; but to contend, within the Church itself, against that same disposition to perpetuate the law which had made them formerly fight against the gospel. He had a bad opinion of some of them, which must have been well-founded, or he would not have given the public utterance to it which he did at a subsequent period. He styles them, in the Epistle to the Galatians, “False brethren, unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.”324324Gal. ii. 4. Having witnessed a rapid increase of the congregations under the pressure of the persecutions and disputations to which they had formerly resorted, these wily enemies of the truth determined at length to corrupt and destroy, under the guise of friendship, a cause whose progress they could not impede by open enmity. They well knew, what some of the brethren had failed to discover, that the doctrine of Christ would be rendered powerless if it could only be hampered by bondage to the law. Even to this day the mass of religious teachers have failed to learn this lesson, though the experience of ages has demonstrated its truth. The essential issue between Paul and the Pharisees had reference to the perpetuation of the law of Moses in the Church of Christ, and the same issue has been in debate, under various aspects, from that day to this. Paul defeated the attempt of these Judaizers to fasten circumcision on the Church; but subsequent Judaizers imposed infant immersion, and finally, infant sprinkling as a substitute. What the early Pharisees failed to accomplish in the face of apostolic opposition, the later Pharisees did accomplish under a thin disguise. The unsuccessful attempt of those Pharisees to “spy out the liberty which the disciples had in Christ Jesus, and bring them into bondage” under the law, has been successfully accomplished by these, in teaching men that the Church of Christ originated in Abraham's family, and that the Jewish tribes and the Christian congregations constitute but one identical Church. The Roman apostasy perpetuates the pompous ritual and daily sacrifice of the old temple; religious zealots slaughter Canaanites in the form of modern heretics; professed Christians go to war under the old battle-cry of “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon;” the Latter-day Saints emulate the Turks in the multiplication of wives; and for all these corruptions authority is found in the laws and customs of ancient Israel. The intelligent reader of the New Testament knows scarcely which of these errors is most repugnant to the truth; but must, like Paul, struggle with untiring energy and ceaseless vigilance to uproot them all from the minds of men.
6. After the Pharisees had stated their position, distinctly affirming that the Gentiles should be circumcised and keep the law, it seems that the assembly adjourned to meet up again at another hour. The next meeting is then announced in these words: (6) “Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.” Neither this nor the former meeting was composed exclusively of the apostles and elders, for we have seen, from verse fifth, that the messengers were received by the Church, and we learn, from the twenty-second verse below, that at this second meeting the whole Church were present. There had been, however, previous to either of these, a private interview between Paul and the chief men of the Church, for the purpose of coming to some distinct understanding of the subject before it was laid before the multitude. This we learn from Paul himself, who says: “I communicated to them that gospel which I preached among the Gentiles, but privately to them who were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run in vain.”325325Gal. ii. 2. This language implies that his course was approved by these brethren of reputation, who were, doubtless, the apostles and other inspired men. Their approval of his course shows that the objections afterward urged were preferred by another class of men. The public discussion was not for the purpose of bringing about an agreement among inspired men, for they really did not differ after the facts were stated by Paul and Barnabas. But it was an effort, on the part of the apostles, to bring the other brethren to the same conclusion in which they themselves had already united.
7–11. Luke does not report all that was said, but only those speeches that were decisive, and that brought the controversy to a close. Merely alluding, therefore, to the first part of the discussion, he says: (7) “And when there had been much discussion, Peter arose and said to them, Brethren, you know that, a good while ago, God made choice among us that the Gentiles through my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe. (8) And God, who knows the heart, bore witness for them, giving to them the Holy Spirit even as he did to us. (9) He made no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. (10) Now, then, why do you put God to the proof, by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? (11) But we believe that we shall be saved through the favor of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the same manner as they.” The position of the Pharisees not only condemned the course of Paul and Barnabas, but also involved a censure of Peter, who was the first of all the apostles, as he here asserts, to preach the Word to Gentiles. When arraigned once before for his conduct in the case of Cornelius, he had vindicated his procedure by relating the miraculous evidences of God's will which had been his guide; and now, to accomplish the same end with these brethren, he adduces the most decisive of those miracles, the gift of the Holy Spirit to uncircumcised Gentiles. Having given to them the same gift as to the apostles on Pentecost, and having imposed upon them none of the purifying rites of the law, but simply purifying their hearts by faith, he assumes that God had made no difference between them and the Jewish brethren. Now, to attempt to impose the law upon them, in the face of these evidences of God's will to the contrary, would be putting God to the proof of his determination to maintain his own authority. It would, moreover, be imposing a yoke which the Jews themselves had never been able to bear successfully. This yoke is not circumcision, for there is no difficulty in submitting to that; but it was the law, under whose provisions no man could live without incurring its condemnation. His concluding statement, that “We believe that we shall be saved through the favor of the Lord Jesus, in the same manner as they,” involves two important conclusions: First, That it is not through the merit of obedience to the law that we are to be saved, but through the favor of the Lord Jesus Christ. This favor is extended in the pardon of sins. Second, That the Gentiles are saved in the same manner as the Jews. By using the plural we believe, instead of I believe, he doubtless intended to express not only the conviction of his own mind, but that of the party with whom he acted, including the other apostles. It was a decision of the inspired teachers against the Pharisees.
12. This brief statement of facts had so good an effect upon the multitude, that Barnabas and Paul determined to follow it by a rehearsal of similar facts in the history of their own labors among the Gentiles. (12) “Then all the multitude kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul relating what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through them.” Their remarks on this occasion were not a repetition of what they had said in the former meeting, when they had set forth “all that God had done with them,” but were confined to the “signs and wonders” by which God had indicated his approbation of their ministry.326326Compare Acts xiv. 3. The reversal of the order in which Luke now habitually names these two brethren indicates that Barnabas, whose name is first, was the first speaker. This gave Paul the closing argument on those events.
13–21. So far as recent indications of God's will were concerned, the argument was now complete and unanswerable; but the Jewish mind was prone to an underestimate of passing events, while they looked back with superior reverence to the law and the prophets. The Apostle James, knowing that they would reject all possible cotemporaneous evidences, if they appeared to conflict with the written word, determined to close up this avenue of escape from the argument already presented by sustaining it with the authority of the prophets. (13) “And, after they were silent, James answered, saying, Brethren, hear me. (14) Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name, (15) and to this agree the words of the prophets, as it is written, (16) After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins, and set it upright, (17) that the residue of men may seek after the Lord, even all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, says the Lord, who does all these things.327327Amos ix. 11, quoted from the Septuagint. (18) Known to God from eternity are all his works. (19) Therefore, my judgment is, not to trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God; (20) but to write to them that they abstain from the pollutions of idols. and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. (21) For Moses, for generations past, has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” In this speech James shows that God, who knows from eternity what his own works would be, had foretold, through the prophet, the work which he was then performing through the labors of Peter, Barnabas, and Paul. He had said that he would rebuild the tabernacle of David, in order that the residue of men, who had not known the Lord before, “even all the Gentiles, upon whom his name is called,” should seek after the Lord; and now, he had, through these apostles, selected from among the Gentiles “a people for his name.” The prophesy clearly covered all the ground claimed for it, and made the argument complete.
There was room for no other conclusion than the one which James deduced, that they should impose on the Gentiles, so far as the class of restrictions under consideration were concerned, only those necessary things which were necessary independent of the Mosaic law. Idolatry, with all the pollutions connected with it, was known to be sinful before the law of Moses was given; and so was fornication. The eating of blood, and, by implication, of strangled animals, whose blood was still in them, was forbidden to the whole world in the family of Noah.328328Gen. ix. 4. In the restrictions here proposed by James, therefore, there is not the slightest extension of the law of Moses, but a mere enforcement upon the Gentiles of rules of conduct which had ever been binding, and were to be perpetual. They are as binding to-day as they were then. To deny this would be to despise the combined authority of all the apostles, when enjoining upon the Gentile world, of which we form a part, restrictions which they pronounce necessary. One would be surprised that it was thought necessary to mention to Gentiles, who had turned to the Lord, the sinfulness of fornication, did we not know that among heathen nations of antiquity it was deemed innocent, and even sometimes virtuous.
The controversy now pending, in reference to the identity of the Jewish Church with the Church of Christ, renders it necessary that we should here pay some special attention to one remark made by James in this speech. He applies the prophesy concerning the rebuilding of the “tabernacle of David” to the reception of the Gentiles into the Church, and it is hence argued that this prophesy contemplated a reconstruction and extension of the dilapidated Jewish Church, and not the construction of a new one. The whole argument turns upon the meaning of the expression “tabernacle of David.” If the metaphorical word tabernacle here means the Jewish Church, the argument would have force. But the Mosaic institution never sustained such a relation to David that it could, with propriety, be styled the “tabernacle of David.” If such had been the reference, the expression would undoubtedly have been, the tabernacle of Moses, which would have been unambiguous. But David was a king, and had a promise from God, that his “throne should be established forever;”3293292 Sam. vii. 16. that there should not fail him a man on the throne of Israel.3303301 Kings ii. 4. This promise God confirmed with an oath, saying, “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn to David my servant, Thy seed will I establish forever, and build up thy throne to all generations.”331331Ps. lxxxix. 3, 4. According to the apparent meaning of this promise, it had long since failed; for it had been many generations since a descendant of David had occupied his throne. It was during this period, in which the royal house of David was in ruins, that Amos uttered the prophesy, “I will return, and build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen down; I will build again the ruins thereof, and set it upright.” The term tabernacle, therefore, must be put for the family who dwell in the tabernacle, and the reconstruction of it the re-establishment of the royal dignity which the family had lost. Hence, when the birth of Jesus was announced to Mary, the angel said: “The Lord shall give to him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”332332Luke i. 32, 33. Thus, the promise, when properly understood, is seen to refer neither to a continuous line of Jewish kings, descended from David, nor to a reconstruction of the Jewish Church, but to the perpetual reign of Jesus, the “seed of David according to the flesh.”333333Rom. i. 3. When, therefore, Jesus sat down upon his throne in heaven, the tabernacle of David was rebuilt, and now, by the labors of Peter, Barnabas, and Paul, the remainder of the prophesy of Amos was being fulfilled, by the extension of his kingdom among the Gentiles.
The closing paragraph of this speech appears, at first glance, to have no immediate connection with the preceding argument. But it was, doubtless, designed to anticipate an objection. The Pharisees might object, If you thus ignore the statue of Moses, his writings will fall into contempt, or be neglected by the people. No danger of this, says the speaker, for Moses is preached in every city, and read in the synagogues every Sabbath, and has been for generations past.
22–29. The speech of James brought the discussion to a close. The will of God upon the subject was now so clearly exhibited that the opposition was totally silenced, and it remained only to determine the best method of practically carrying out the proposition submitted by James. (22) “Then it pleased the apostles and the elders, with the whole Church, to send chosen men from among themselves with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch; Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, (23) writing by their hand these words: The apostles, and elders, and brethren, to the brethren from the Gentiles, in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia, greeting: (24) Since we have heard that certain persons who went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, telling you to be circumcised and to keep the law, to whom we gave no such commandment, (25) it seemed good to us, being of one mind, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, (26) men who have hazarded their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (27) We have sent, therefore, Judas and Silas, who also will tell you the same things orally. (28) For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things, (29) that you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which, if you keep yourselves, you will do well. Farewell.”
By the construction of the Greek, we learn that it was Paul and Barnabas, and not Judas and Silas, who are commended in this letter as “men who have hazarded their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
30, 31. The object of sending Judas and Silas with Paul and Barnabas was doubtless that they, having been entirely unconnected with the conversion of Gentiles, and above suspicion of undue partiality toward them, might use their personal influence with the Jewish brethren to induce them to accept the teaching of the epistle. Their journey, and the effect of the epistle, are thus stated: (30) “So, then, being sent away, they went to Antioch, and having assembled the multitude, they gave them the epistle. (31) When they read it, they rejoiced for the consolation.” The brethren residing in Antioch had not become partisans in the controversy, but had been distressed by the conflict between Paul and Barnabas and the Pharisees from Jerusalem, and desired only a satisfactory settlement of the question. The epistle, therefore, afforded them “consolation,” and they cheerfully yielded to its requirements.
The triumph of Paul and Barnabas over their pharisaic opponents was most signal and complete. And it appeared all the more signal to the brethren in Antioch, from a fact not recorded by Luke. We learn from Paul's own account of the visit to Jerusalem, that Titus, who was a Gentile, went with him, and that strenuous efforts were there made to have him circumcised; but Paul returned to Antioch, with Titus still uncircumcised, and with his whole course indorsed by the apostles, the elders, and the whole Church. This ought to have settled the controversy forever.
Before dismissing the subject of this appeal to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, we must notice briefly the use that is made of it by the advocates of representative assemblies in the Church, for judicial and legislative purposes. Romanists, and the advocates of episcopacy generally, find in the assembly in Jerusalem the first “general council,” and have styled it “The Council of Jerusalem.” The Presbyterians find in it the first synod; and others still appeal to it in general terms, as authority for assemblies of brethren to decide questions of doctrine and discipline. In order that it may properly be used as a precedent for any of these assemblies, it must be made to appear analogous to them in its essential features. But its essential features are: First, That it was occasioned by an appeal from one congregation to certain parties in one other congregation, in reference to a disputed question which the first felt unable to decide. Second, That the parties to whom the appeal was made were inspired men, who could say of their decision, when made, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us;” i. e., to the Holy Spirit as the divine arbiter, and to us as obedient subjects of his authority. It was the inspiration, and, consequently, the infallibility of the party appealed to, that suggested and that justified the appeal. In both these peculiarities all the councils and synods of Catholic and Protestant history are essentially deficient, for, instead of being called together at the request of some congregations, to decide some question presented, they consist of representatives from a number of congregations, or districts of country, assembled for the purpose of discussing and deciding whatever questions may come up among them; and instead of being infallible, their decisions are nothing but the fallible opinions of uninspired men, in reference to which it would be the height of profanity to say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us.” Not till we have an assembly under the guidance of inspired men can we allow them to authoritatively decide religious questions after the precedent of this assembly in Jerusalem. All the duties, responsibilities, and privileges of disciples have already been authoritatively propounded by inspired men; and for men now to meet together for the authoritative decision of such questions, is to assume a prerogative that belongs exclusively to inspired apostles and prophets, and, at the same time, is to assume that there are deficiencies in their infallible teachings to be supplied by uninspired men.
In arguing thus upon the merits of all judicial and legislative assemblies among the Churches, we must not be understood as condemning the co-operation of different congregations, or of individuals from them, in performing duties which are imposed by divine authority. The essential difference between assemblies for these two purposes is, that in the latter we are simply uniting our energies to perform duties appointed by the word of God; while, in the former, we undertake to decide what truth and duty are—a work which none but inspired men can perform.
32–34. We have said above, that the purpose for which Judas and Silas were sent to Antioch was to enforce, by their personal influence, the authority of the epistle. We find this statement confirmed by the further account of their labors. (32) “And Judas and Silas, being themselves also prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. (33) And when the had remained some time, they were dismissed in peace from the brethren to the apostles. (34) But it pleased Silas to remain there.”
The manner in which Luke connects the fact that these brethren were prophets, with the statement that they exhorted the brethren and confirmed them, shows that the chief work of the New Testament prophets was not to foretell the future, but to exhort and confirm the brethren. He says, “being also themselves prophets, they exhorted the brethren and confirmed them;” which form of expression makes the fact of being prophets account for their exhortations. They differed from the Old Testament prophets only in that the latter gave their chief attention to foretelling future events. Still, even the predictions of the old prophets were made to answer the purpose of exhortations to their cotemporaries; so that the difference between the two is very slight.
35. The city of Antioch still continued to be a profitable field for apostolic labor, and the scene of interesting events. (35) “Paul and Barnabas also continued in Antioch, with many others, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord.” It is during this period that the most judicious commentators locate the visit of Peter to Antioch, and the rebuke administered to him by Paul, as recorded in the second chapter of Galatians; “When Peter came to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before the coming of certain persons from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation.”334334Gal. ii. 11–13.
It has been erroneously supposed that Peter, in this affair, acted in direct conflict with the epistle which he had just united in addressing to the Gentile brethren. The harshness of this supposition has led some writers to hastily conclude that his improper conduct must have occurred at a period antecedent to the issuing of that epistle. It is also urged in favor of an earlier date of the incident, that, if it had occurred subsequent to the publication of that epistle, Paul would naturally have appealed to it in the controversy with Peter, which he seems not to have done. Both of these suppositions spring from a mistake as to the exact fault of which Peter was guilty. He did not insist that the Gentiles should be circumcised, or that they should keep the law; which were the points discussed in the apostolic epistle. But, still admitting the right of the uncircumcised to membership and its privileges, his fault was in refusing to eat with them in their private circles, although he had himself been the first to do so in the family of Cornelius, and had done so, for a time, even since he came to Antioch. In opposing such conduct, it would not have answered Paul's purpose to appeal to the epistle from Jerusalem; for it merely asserted the freedom of the Gentiles from the yoke of the law, without prescribing the intercourse that should exist between the circumcised and uncircumcised brethren. The course of argument which he did pursue was the only one available. He convicted Peter of inconsistency, saying, “If you, being a Jew, live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew, why do you require the Gentiles to live like Jews?”335335Gal. ii. 14. He had lived like a Gentile while eating with them; but now, by withdrawing from them, he was virtually saying to them, You must live like the Jews. This was inconsistent, and made it appear that either he was now a transgressor, while building up the Jewish prejudices, or had formerly been, while seeking to break them down. “For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”336336Gal. ii. 18.
But the proof of inconsistency in an opponent never settles a question of truth or duty. After you have proved your opponent inconsistent, you have still to prove that his present course differs from what truth requires, as well as from his former course. Moral inconsistency convicts a man as a transgressor, but whether a transgressor now, or formerly, is still an open question. Paul, therefore, proceeded to prove Peter's present conduct improper, by stating as an undisputed fact, “I, through the law, am dead to the law, that I might live to God;”337337Gal. ii. 19. that is, by the limitation which the law prescribes to itself, it has ceased to bind me, and I have ceased to live under it. This fact was decisive, because all the distinction assumed to exist between the circumcised and uncircumcised was based upon the supposition that the former, at least, were still under the law.
This is the last passage in Acts connected with the Apostle Peter. Before leaving it, we must notice one fact in connection with this unhappy incident in his life which far outweighs the dissimulation rebuked by Paul. It is the manner in which he received this rebuke. There is not the least evidence of any resentment on his part, either for the rebuke itself, or for the subsequent publication of it to the Churches in Galatia. Most men become offended when thus rebuked by their equals, and would regard it as an unpardonable offense to give unnecessary publicity to a fault of this kind. But Paul knew so well the goodness of Peter's heart, that he did not hesitate to speak of it to the world and to future generations. That he did not overestimate the meekness of Peter, is evident from the fact that the latter subsequently spoke most affectionately of Paul, with direct allusion to his epistles, and with a publicity equal to that which his own sin had received.3383382 Peter iii. 15, 16.. This excellence of Peter's character was known to other brethren besides Paul, as is evident from the freedom with which all the four evangelists speak of his denial of the Lord. They might have omitted this incident from their narratives, if they had been influenced by that pride and sensitiveness which prompt men to hide the faults of their leaders, or if they had thought that the publication of it would give serious offense to Peter. But they knew Peter, and, we must presume, they knew that he was willing for any fault of his, however discreditable, to be published to the world, if it would do any good. This is the spirit of self-sacrifice with which every servant of God should offer himself to the cause of Christ.
36–41. We have lingered long upon the interval spent by Paul and Barnabas in Antioch. We are now to follow the former upon his second missionary tour. (36) “But after some days, Paul said to Barnabas, Let us return and visit our brethren in every city in which we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. (37) And Barnabas determined to take with them John surnamed Mark. (38) But Paul thought proper not to take with them him who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and did not go with them to the work. (39) Then there was a contention, so that they separated one from the other: and Barnabas took Mark and sailed into Cyprus. (40) But Paul chose Silas, and departed, having been commended to the favor of God by the brethren; (41) and went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the Churches.” This journey, it should be observed, was undertaken for the prime purpose of revisiting the Churches where these brethren had previously labored, and not, primarily, to preach to the heathen. This shows that the solicitude with which the apostles watched for the welfare of the congregations was not less ardent than their zeal in spreading a knowledge of the gospel.
The desire of Barnabas to take John with them was, doubtless, prompted, in part, by partiality, arising from the relationship which existed between them.339339Col. iv. 10. John, of course, desired to go, and Barnabas wished to give him an opportunity to atone for his former dereliction. Paul's reason for refusing to let him go was based upon a want of confidence in one who would, either through fear or love of ease, desert him in a trying hour.340340See Com. xiii. 13. Each considered the reason for his own preference a good one; and as neither was willing to yield for the sake of remaining with the other, they ought to have parted in perfect peace. But some unpleasant feeling was aroused by the controversy, which Luke expresses by the term paroxusmos, of which contention is rather a tame rendering, though paroxysm which we have derived from it, would express too high a degree of passion. This incident shows that the best of men may differ about matters of expediency, and that, in contending for their respective conclusions, they may be aroused to improper feelings. But the good man, under such circumstances, will always be distinguished by the readiness with which such feelings will be repressed, and by the absence of all subsequent malice. We know that Paul afterward felt very differently toward John; for, during his first imprisonment at Rome, he mentions him to Philemon as a fellow-laborer there present;341341Phil. 24. and to the Colossians as one who had been a comfort to him;342342Col. iv. 11. and, during his second imprisonment, he writes to Timothy: “Take Mark and bring him with you; for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”3433432 Tim. iv. 11. The slight heat engendered between Barnabas and Paul also subsided in a short time; for Paul afterward speaks of him in most friendly terms, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians.3443441 Cor. ix. 6.
By returning with Mark to his native land, Barnabas revisited a portion of the brethren to whom he and Paul had preached, while Paul visited another portion of them by a different route. Thus, notwithstanding their disagreement and separation, they did not allow the good cause to suffer, but accomplished separately the whole of the proposed work. The separation of Barnabas and Paul is our separation from Barnabas. His name is not mentioned again by Luke. But as we bid him farewell, the sails are spread which are to bear him over the sea, that he may make the islands glad with a knowledge of salvation. The further incidents of his life will yet be known to all who shall sit down with him in the everlasting kingdom.
We turn with Luke to follow the history of him who was in labors more abundant and in prisons more frequent than all the apostles, and to form a better acquaintance with his new companion. The statement that Paul and Silas were “commended to the favor of God by the brethren,” does not imply, as many writers have supposed, that they refused thus to commend Barnabas and Mark, or that the brethren sided with Paul against Barnabas in their contention. It is sufficiently accounted for by the fact that the attention of the writer is fixed upon the detail of Paul's history rather than that of Barnabas. No doubt the prayers of the brethren followed them both to their distant and dangerous fields of labor.
By a northern route through Syria, and then a westerly course through Cilicia, Paul approached the extremity of his recent tour in the interior of Asia Minor. He was not altogether a stranger along the journey, for he had spent some time in Syria and Cilicia before his first visit to Antioch;345345Comp. Gal. i. 21 with Acts ix. 30 and xi. 25. and it is most probable that he now revisited, in these districts, Churches which he had planted by his own labors.
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