The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Almighty God, because thou art full of compassion our lives are spared until now. We are wicked, and deserve not to live, but thy grace is greater than our sin, and thy love enables us to live even amidst the corruption of sin. We have read of thy lovingkindness and thy tender mercies in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament of thy Son we see thy grace and truth and love. The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. He is thy Son. In him shone the fulness of thy glory. He was the express image of thy Person. So we do not only read of thy love: we see it, and touch it, and rest upon it, in the Person of Immanuel. He is all our salvation, and all our desire. In heaven he is the light; of the cities of the earth he is the One Saviour. By his grace he has redeemed all time from contempt, and saved the earth from being swallowed up. The Cross of Christ is our hope, and light, and infinite strength; hidden within its purpose, we know no pain, or shame, or fear: we have peace with God. Enable us continually to realize this sacred truth, and to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Keep us to vital principles. Root us and ground us in the unchangeable truth. Deliver our mind from all influences that are local and temporary, and fix our hearts upon eternal realities. Then shall we be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; not living in our own opinions, but in the broad and full and holy revelation of thy truth. May thy grace glow in our hearts like a hidden fire, which burns but not consumes. In that fire may we find thyself—the God of history and the God of prophecy, the Beginning and the Ending, the First and the Last—filling the one circle which includes infinity. Reveal thyself to us day by day in new aspects, and speak to us with tones that shall surprise even the hearts that are most familiar with that sweet music. Thus shall we have the old and the new, eternity and time, the holy heaven touching with benediction the unholy and transient earth. Thou knowest us altogether. That is our terror and that is our joy! Give unto us according to our sin, necessity, and pain, and enable us in all thy gifts to trace the Image of thy Person. So shall we be consciously near thee, and every occurrence in life shall come to us, not as an accident that shall alarm, but as part of thy purpose which thou art carrying out with all the breadth of infinity, and all the duration and calmness of eternity itself.
We pray for one another: for the heart that is enduring the anguish of its first great sorrow; for the eyes that are looking upon death as they never looked upon it before; for the heart that feels the intolerable coldness of death. Thou dost make us acquainted with the enemy. Some of us thou hast made familiar with his presence, and some of us are now looking upon him for the first time, and the sight affrights us by its infinite ghastliness. Come, thou Spoiler of Death, and bless us with one glance of thine eye, with one smile of love, and all the darkness shall flee away, and the valley of the shadow of death shall be as the sanctuary of thy presence.
Regard those of us also who are in high glee of heart, full of prosperity, and abounding in strength, lest in the rioting of our power we forget that our breath is in our nostrils, and our roots are covered by a very shallow soil. Help us to make prosperity an altar, and success a place of sacred worship. Send messages of comfort to those who are in the sanctuary of home—prisoners for a time, but prisoners of hope; from thy banqueting table send some gift which shall make them glad also, yea, lengthen the table till it reaches from the church lo the house, and makes the banqueting chamber as large as human necessity. Kiss all the children, and give them to feel that thine arms are about them. Find flowers for them in the darkness, and sing songs to them when their little hearts are afraid. Send messages to the despairing; to the men who have broken all the commandments, and torn down the cross, and trampled under foot the blood of the everlasting covenant. We do not know their speech: it is not in our power to say one word to them; but thou dost make speech. Language is but an instrument in thine hand; make new words that shall touch this intolerable desperation. The Lord comfort us, enlarge our inheritance, show us that our estates and riches are in eternity, and away in the fair land where there is no sin, no night, no death. Amen.
1. And certain men came [were not sent; for the kind of men they were, see Acts 15:5. Peter may have preceded them; in that case we have Paul"s opinion of them in Galatians 2:4] down from Judaea and taught the brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised [ Galatians 5:3] after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved [liberal Jews, like Hillel, especially Grecian Jews, accounted devout Gentiles to be true proselytes, although uncircumcised: Pharisees, such as Shammai, would not eat with them; such persons worshipped Jehovah and kept the seven precepts of Noah and were afterwards called proselytes of the gate]. And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, the brethren [ Acts 15:1 and Acts 15:3] appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them , Galatians 2:1] should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question [ Galatians 2:2].
The Christian Magna Charta
THIS is one of the most important chapters in ecclesiastical history. This chapter is the Magna Charta of the Christian Church. I make bold to say that if we could fully master the reasoning of this chapter, and fearlessly reduce it to practice, we should give the Church of Christ a new standing-place in the mind and heart of our age. This is the chapter which the Church either cannot or will not learn. The key to universal confidence and progress is here, and we are afraid to use it. There arose a certain number of men who said to Gentile Christians, "Except ye be circumcised, after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." What has that to do with this age? I reply fearlessly that with this age, and every age, this matter has to do vitally. The voice of the Judæan teachers was clear, and their doctrine was short. Behind it there was an. undoubtedly sacred history, and in the spirit of the men there was what would be regarded, without questioning, as a loyal and filial obedience to law and tradition. Just at this moment the Church needed a kind of man it had not yet fully known. From this point Paul becomes the man that God meant him to be when he elected him as a chosen vessel unto the Gentiles. Paul made history at this moment Just this type of man was wanted. Barnabas was no debater when he was alone. Peter could make a short, distinct, and emphatic speech; but even Peter had not escaped the period of education in which even noble spirits may momentarily dissemble. A new type of man was needed. Paul was a minister without whose presence the Church, humanly speaking, would not have been complete. He was intellectually and spiritually gifted with piercing insight; a man who could lay hold of the essential realities of things and distinguish between the accidental and the permanent. That man is needed in every age. So Paul, having had much dissension and disputation, said, "This matter must go further, and must be settled." The Judaizing teachers said to the Gentiles: "We are quite willing for you to come into the Church: you may believe in Christ as we have done; but you must do more; you must obey Moses as well as Christ; therefore, unless you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved; add circumcision to faith, and then all will be right." That seemed to be a reasonable case. The most difficult positions to assail are those which seem to be supported by-most obvious reasons. How will Paul address himself to this occasion? Compare his speech with others, and see how it rises immeasurably above them in spiritual majesty and moral massive-ness. Peter will make a good speech, but his speech will relate to an incident that occurred in his own life. Peter will relate an anecdote, and found upon it a gracious judgment. Paul will develop a philosophy. That is the difference between the men. This question must be settled upon principle. Any anecdote that can be quoted may be taken as helpful and elucidatory, but we cannot build a great temple of truth upon a personal incident; we must have principles, philosophies, and reasons time can neither change nor impair. At this moment Paul became his very self. "What," said Hebrews, "having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" "By the works of the law no flesh is justified." "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." The men who want you to submit to the Jewish rite of circumcision know not what manner of spirit they are of; they are bondmen, not freemen; they are still in the beggarly elements, they have not advanced to spiritual principle. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Christianity is not a set of rites and ceremonies; it is spiritual; it is a condition of the heart. All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this—"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." That was the grand speech which Paul made. He had no personal anecdotes to quote, beyond giving an account of his missionary journey; but he felt that this was the only right and unchangeable view. We know some things without having been formally instructed in them. The heart is often its own theologian. Deep communion with Christ brings away from the sacred and glowing fellowship a power of insight and exposition which no formal teaching can ever give. But what has this to do with the century in which we live? No man wants us now to be circumcised; all references to circumcision are out of date; we live under new conditions, and the sooner circumcision is forgotten the better. In that view you are mistaken. The Pharisees still live, so do the Judaizers, so does every man who in any age ever sought to add anything to the simplicity and dignity of faith. Probably there are no men who say in so many words, "You must be circumcised, or ye cannot be saved"; but there are men who say, "Except ye be baptized your Christian position is at least doubtful." There are Christian men in this country, but still more in the United States of America, who would not allow us as infant Baptists to sit down with them at the table of the Lord! That is true of a comparatively small community in this country, but it is very broadly true of Christian communions in Transatlantic lands. This is the answer, this is the reply, to which there is no possible answer that can stand, "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh?" The question of baptism does not turn upon Greek terminations and Greek conjugations, or pedantic references to Greek concordances—nothing vital can ever turn upon such mechanics. We need Paul here; the philosophic spirit, the prophet-mind, the piercing genius, the inspired teacher. Paul says, "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh?" You are inverting spiritual sequence; you are changing violently and without right the law of cause and effect! We must remember that beginnings are often reversed by processes, and that at the end they may be turned upside down. Advancing according to God"s method of educating the world—namely, from the natural to the spiritual, from the vulgar to the refined, from the broad to the typical, take this very matter of circumcision. The rite was intended for children eight days old, but it did not begin with them; circumcision began upon a man who was ninety-nine years old! Nothing, therefore, can be argued from the mere point of origin. You must begin somewhere, and it has pleased God often to begin with a man when he meant, in the working out of the process, to get hold of the child. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, but the rite was not meant for adults. Christ said, "And be baptized" to adults, following exactly the analogy of Jewish history. But who dare say, with that analogy fully in view, that he—the very God who ordered the circumcision of Abraham—did not mean in this second instance also to begin with the children? The suggestion is supported by analogy and is vindicated by history; it therefore ought to be answered with something better than contempt.
Unquestionably, Christian baptism began with adults; there is no doubt whatever about that. But the Apostle would say to any man who wished to add baptism to faith, as a necessity of salvation, "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" God moves by the contrary method; first the natural, then the spiritual; first the water, then the Holy Ghost. This is the line along which we, as pædo-Baptists, proceed. Speaking for myself, when the little child is brought to me it is something more than a little child; it is human life, than which there is no greater term but one—it is human immortality. I do not baptize the child a few weeks old; I baptize the child that may never die! I begin thus in the flesh; the perfection is in the spirit. I begin in the typical, knowing that the fulfilment of the thought will come in God"s due time. We can add nothing to faith without insulting Christ. It is not enough to say that at the beginning the relations were such and such; so they were in the case of circumcision, but, apart either from the one view or the other, this is the principle that settles everything—having "begun in the Spirit," we are not to be "made perfect in the flesh." This view of the case, if limited to any one set of Christians, however small, would not be worth discussing if the principle which is involved did not touch every point in the whole circumference of Christian liberty and education. How glorious is this principle! It drives off all door-keepers; it kills the priest, thank God! There are those who would love to keep the door of the Church, and to say, "You may go in. but not you." There are some who like to sit in guard-boxes, and watch-towers, and confessionals, and who like to be able to say, "You may pass into the Church, but that other man must on no account go in." This principle of Paul"s kills the damnable priest, whether he be dissenter, or episcopalian, or baptist, or congregationalist, or presbyterian, for the Pope is in every Prayer of Manasseh, and this principle kills the universal Pope, and therefore to my mind it is true and Divine. The Pope may be in a Nonconformist pulpit! We must never allow that a minister is officially needed to admit people into Christ"s heart. I will not have anything to do with a religion that only a minister can explain. My minister must be my other self—a great-hearted, royal-souled Prayer of Manasseh, who calls me brother, and says, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with US." I will not have the Benediction that is pronounced upon me as somebody out of the ministry; the minister must say "US," and then the communion will be complete. My fear is—and it makes me cold with a deadly chill sometimes—that young men should imagine that by going through certain processes of Song of Solomon -called, or rightly called "education," they become qualified in some magical sense to explain the heart, the love, the grace of Christ; then they will be pedants, tricksters, priests, self-appointed gatekeepers, and against the whole progeny of them, if making such official claims, I launch a protest of fire. It is not the minister who has any priestly rights in this matter; you are all God"s clergy; the Church is a sublime democracy. Certainly there are men amongst us greater than their brethren—"chief men among the brethren" is a phrase in this very chapter—but their greatness is not a question of priestly quality, or magical qualification, or official authority; it is personal: a question of capacity, sympathy, devotedness; a spiritual heroism, not an official elevation. Let us drive the priest away from the Cross! No priest can be saved until he renounces his sacerdotalism. We should drive off all ceremonialists. It pleases us to be a little ceremonial. It suits human nature to go to heaven through one set of antics rather than another. It looks very pretty in the eyes of idiotic infancy of mind to go to heaven down one aisle of the church in preference to another. This is Paul"s answer to ritualism, ceremonialism, formalism, and all the other "isms." Some men are born priests; they are born ecclesiastics; they seem, by some unaccountable mystery of Providence, to have been so shaped as to wear clerical clothes. In any other clothes their nearest and dearest friends would not know them! These are the men who tell us that if we belong to this Church, we are all right, but if we belong to some other Church, in the spirit of charity, they would merely doubt whether we are right or not! Away with their notions!—not themselves. The Lord burn their sophisms, but spare their souls! With the immortal Robertson, of Brighton, I would say with my whole heart, "If any Prayer of Manasseh, or any body of men, stand between us and the living God, saying, "Only through us—the Church—can you approach God; only through my consecrated touch can you receive grace; only through my ordained teaching can you hear God"s voice; and the voice which speaks in your soul in the still moments of existence is no revelation from God, but a delusion and a fanaticism," that man is a false priest. To bring the soul face to face with God, and supersede ourselves, that is the work of the Christian ministry."
In Scotland there were, long ago, two sects—one called the "Lifters," and the other the "Anti-Lifters." The "Lifters" were those who took up the bread on the Lord"s table—who "lifted" it, and brake it. The "Anti-Lifters" were those who let the bread lie on the Lord"s table, and allowed people to come and take it for themselves. These are the people who would have torn up the seamless robe of Christ and sold it at so much a square inch! That Christ"s dear Cross and sacred blood should have been dragged down to so infamous uses is incredible. Let us then "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free." We need no baptism after faith. What can come after faith but love? I wonder not that Paul should have said, "I thank God that I baptized none of you but about as many as I can count on my fingers; for Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel." I speak not about those who do not make baptism essential to salvation; they entirely escape the purpose of my criticism. My remonstrance is addressed in other directions, in which you will find that there are persons unscrupulous and anti-Christian enough to tell you that "except ye be circumcised [or, in modern language, "baptized"], ye cannot be saved." Paul"s answer is complete. It does not turn upon little points of learning and exegesis, of declining Greek nouns and conjugating Greek verbs, but this heaven-wide principle—Having begun in the Spirit, we are not to be made perfect in the flesh.
"It is to this period that we assign the contest of Paul with Peter, which is mentioned in the Epistle to the Galatians. Peter, it would appear, went down from Jerusalem on a visit to the church of Antioch. He had heard so much of its flourishing condition, that he wished to have the pleasure of seeing it himself. He associated freely with the Gentile converts, and his visit was hailed by all as a cause of joy. Some Judaistic teachers, however, came down from Jerusalem. They were strict in their notions of Jewish purity, and held it unlawful to eat with the Gentiles, as by doing so they might be defiled. Peter, carried away for the time being by the same feeling of timidity which induced him to deny his Lord, withdrew from the Gentiles and manifested a sinful compliance with the prejudices of the Jews. His example was contagious. Other Jewish Christians followed, and even Barnabas, one of the apostles of the uncircumcision, was carried away by the current. Again the peace of the church of Antioch was disturbed, and here, unfortunately, by the pernicious example of those who were regarded as the leaders of Christianity. Then it was that Paul came boldly forward and rebuked Peter for his inconsistency; and no doubt the rebuke was well taken, and the fault corrected. Peter, like most impulsive men, was ready to acknowledge the error which he had committed. It is to be observed that no change of opinion is attributed to Peter, but merely an inconsistency of conduct. It was an inconsistency, however, which, if unchecked, might have led to the gravest consequences. Nor is there any trace of a disagreement between these great apostles. Their writings show that they taught the same Gospel, viewing it in the light of their individual peculiarities; and in his last Epistle Peter speaks of the writings of his beloved brother Paul."
Almighty God, as thou hast called us unto love, may we not stop short of the mark to which we are summoned. All the law is fulfilled in one word, "Thou shalt love." Enable us by the grace that is in Christ Jesus to grow up to that great obedience and enjoyment. Deliver us from the littleness of the letter, and draw us, day by day, into the vast-ness and comfort and liberty of the Spirit. Thou hast sent a message to our hearts; may our hearts be open to receive it, and may they have understanding to know the meaning of every word and every tone, and also grace to answer thy message with thankfulness and obedience. Give us the hearing ear and the understanding heart whilst we tarry in thine house. May the Spirit of Christ be in us, ruling us by its gracious authority, and bringing us into subjection to the truth, that being no longer self-satisfied, we may find our one contentment in the revelation of thy kingdom. Prepare us to hear what God the Lord will say, and, without questioning or disputing, may we receive the same with loving hearts, and make the answer of an obedient life. The kingdom of Christ is not a kingdom of the letter, the hard rule, and the righteous law; it is a kingdom of spirit and feeling, of intelligence and sympathy, of glowing love and all-surrendering sacrifice. May those of us who bear the great name of Christ, and take our conduct from the spirit of the Cross, show what his religion is by bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit; not by high controversy in the letter, but by such pureness, meekness, simplicity, truthfulness, and charitableness which can only be wrought in the human heart, and expressed in the human life, by the mighty energy and the tender grace of God the Holy Ghost. Show us that it is devolved upon us to prove the reality and the heavenliness of the Christian religion. Having the evangelical word, may we have also the evangelical spirit; acknowledging the truth in terms, may we live it in obedience; and what is mysterious in our utterance, may it be made simple by the eloquence of a beneficent life.
Send comfort, thou Holy One, to hearts that need it most. Make up the vacancy at the fireside, fill the empty place at the table, supply the necessity which is also an agony in the bewildered and desolate heart. Let death be swallowed up in victory; whatever that death may be, whether loss of friend, or child, or money, or health, may the victory of faith swallow up all the little death of this little time. Guide us during the rest of the road. Sometimes it looks high and difficult, and great rocks frown at the top of it; sometimes it looks long and deep, with abysses yawning at the foot; but whatsoever the way may be, high or low, over rocky heights or through rocky valleys, guide us, and our feet shall get good hold, and, at last, our eyes shall see the city which our hearts have long desired. We hope for the enlightenment of thy Spirit, for the comfort of thy grace, for the sureness of thy pardon, and for the confidence which comes of close communion with thy heart. We ask for the pardon of our sin; day by day the black cloud comes, day by day the violating hand is put forth into the very Holy of Holies, but the Cross of Christ is greater than all the sin of Prayer of Manasseh, the blood of Jesus Christ thy Son cleanseth from all sin, so we will find that the death of our sin is swallowed up in the victory of thy grace. Speak comfortably to us. Say from heaven"s high height, "Thy sins are pardoned; thine iniquities are forgotten." Make every good man stronger in his toil, make every bad man weaker in his purpose; make every trustful man enlarge his faith; and thus bring us, in thine own good time, the old and the young, with every distinction of human personality and human relationship, into one great family, marked with the blood of the Lamb, clothed with the fine linen of the saints, whose being established in thy presence is figured by harping upon harps, and singing eternal anthems, and standing in eternal day. Amen.
3. They therefore, being brought on their way [sent, and accompanied part of the way] by the church, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.
4. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received [formally, as messengers from the church at Antioch] of the church and the apostles and the elders, and they rehearsed all things that God had done with [xiv27] them.
5. But there rose up [in the church meeting] certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them [ Acts 15:1], and to charge them to keep the law of Moses [this had been to subordinate Christ to Moses].
6. And the apostles and the elders were gathered together [ Acts 15:22 and Acts 15:25 show that this consultation took place in the church meeting. Galatians 2:2 refers to other private visits to them paid by Paul] to consider of this matter.
Working on the Road
FOR a little time the noise of controversy ceases; the disputants determined to refer the question to a council to be held in the metropolis. Paul and Barnabas might have taken a much shorter way to Jerusalem than the one which they adopted; but Paul was a man who, like the Master, always wished to do some work on the way. When Jesus Christ was apparently hastening to a particular locality where His interposition was requested, He would often on the road stop a while to do some intermediate miracle. Paul was not a man to waste time in travelling. He said, "We will preach as we go; we will make this journey to Jerusalem a missionary journey; no doubt the question which is agitating us is an important one, but we will do some work on the road, so that we may gather fresh evidence of our calling, and add somewhat to the certitude of our faith"; Song of Solomon, instead of taking the shortest course to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas passed through Phoenicia and Samaria. That was the district where Philip had done his wonderful works. We do not meet Philip often by name, but we do meet him very frequently in his actions. He founded churches, he prepared the way for greater ambassadors than himself; he was the pioneer of the Apostles in Phoenicia and in Samaria (Gentile regions). Paul and Barnabas would find many a trace of the man who had been driven forth from quiet and comfortable quarters by pitiless persecution. We should all leave footprints behind us; people that come afterward should know that we were there first. By instruction given, by stimulus imparted, by comfort breathed upon withered and desolate hearts, they should know that we have passed on before, and have left, it may be, an inadequate but a most sincerely-intentioned testimony to the truth and reality of the Christian kingdom.
Follow the Apostles imaginatively. They find a line of Churches all the way, generally speaking, from Antioch to Jerusalem. There were houses of call on the road. The pioneer had—not in words, but by sacred influence—said, "Other and stronger men will be coming this road some day—be prepared for them." So Paul and Barnabas find a road clear-cut through deserts of heathenism to the great metropolis of Christianity. We, too, walk on roads that have been well-trodden for us; we do not make our own paths. We take the roads of a country as a matter of course, forgetting that without roads a country is a prison, and the civilization of it is little better than a swamp. Who ever thinks of roads, or could suppose that a poet could wax eloquent upon road-making? Yet even so common a thing as a road is essential to commerce, to progress, to the interchange of opinion and good offices. Our roads have all been made for us; and Paul and Barnabas had not to take their spade and mattock, and cut their own way from Antioch to Jerusalem—it had been cut by other hands; so the Apostles found it comparatively easy to move from one metropolis to another. Brethren, we, too, are debtors to the past. We forget the road-makers—we think it easy enough to make, yet in reality there is nothing much more difficult to make than a path—wide, solid, and pleasant to go upon; not a path of a few yards long, but a road that runs through cities and capitals, and makes the whole land but a network of populous and thriving streets.
Surely as they passed along, Paul and Barnabas would often think of Philippians, and would often hear of him in the homes where they lodged. It is pleasant to see, in little wayside houses, the pictures of Wesley and Whitefield, and pastors of humbler name, who have lived in the locality, and done what lay within the compass of their power for its culture and progress. These pictures are texts; they are the starting-points of the most interesting conversations; to have such a picture is to have a sort of centre round which a whole Church may gather, and about which the heart of that little Church may beat with thankfulness. Despise not your forerunners; they may not have been Pauls or Peters, men of greatest force of character, but they had a work to do, and they did it with diligence, so their names must not be held otherwise than with reverence and thankfulness.
What peeps we get into the domestic life of the time! The two men coming into a house turned it at once into an historical temple; the house could never be the same afterward. There are some visits that transfigure the localities in which they are paid. There are some visitors that give a new sanctity to any house in which they eat, or sleep, or pray. What a sensation along all the land through Phoenicia and Samaria! What wonderment about the two travellers! What special interest in one of them! How bright his conversation, how spiritual his remarks!—every look a picture, every speech a Revelation, every prayer an opening of heaven. And the breaking of bread, and the little common feast, and the sort of talk which passes between men and unites men"s hearts! Forget not the little idyls that help to make up the massive poetry of great histories. There were little occasions, as well as great ones, in the development of the Christian story. There were meetings, as we should say, at firesides, at little tables, not spread with dainty feasts, but blessed with heavenly approbation. Hand-grips, and special prayers, and peeps in the sick-chamber, where the weak one lay, and where the tenderest of all supplications were breathed, and still the men passed on, having to argue a great question at Jerusalem, and to maintain a valiant and historical testimony in the face of the first council of the Christian Church.
As they went along the land, what did they talk about?—"Declaring the conversion of the Gentiles." There ought to be great joy when soldiers come from the field of war with the latest news. It is true we care nothing for that news now! We soon rough down, by dumb applause, the stumbling missionary who tries to tell us that the blood-red banner is floating higher than ever in the wind! It is true that he is nothing to us with our horses and carts, and tradings, and progress, and capitals, and balances! In the old time it was something to see the soldiers come home, and to say to them, "What news, comrades?" and to see the soldiers stand up, and say, "The Gentiles are converted!" and that is meat, drink, rest, reward. To have lived in those heroic days would have been almost heroic! The early Christians were full of their subject; we easily slip out of ours. They had but one theme, only it included all other themes, as the firmament holds all the stars. They took pleasure in their work; they liked Sunday better than Monday—nay, they made Sunday seven days long. They kept no black chalk, or white, or red, to mark off the days into ones and twos; there was but one day in the week for the old soldiers; they realized the whole typology of the sun standing still, and the moon, and all the diurnal distinctions were lost because the fight never ceased.
Look at the fourth verse. "And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the Church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them." Note here that the Church is spoken of in its unity. The Church was in those days a well-defined body, the very Body of Christ, the visible shrine of the invisible Spirit. The Apostles were received of the Church. Did the Church stand up to look at them? It may have done so. Did the Church put out its arms in token of welcome and hospitality, fellowship and unity? It may have done so. The Church is one. We have made it into a thousand, and therein may have grieved the heart of its Redeemer and Founder, but we must endeavor, at least in the spirit, to get back to the apostolic days when the Church was one. I do not object to denominations any more than I object to different regiments in the same army; but as I expect all the regiments to bow to one throne, and to honour one law, so I would expect all denominations, whilst preserving their individual distinctions, to have common ground upon which they can meet in common prayer, and to have a common altar, and a hymnology in which there is no discordant note. Is it not even so to a large extent now? When we talk to God, we talk the common language of Christianity; it is only when we talk to one another that we begin to dispute and to dissent. The moral of that fact Isaiah, that we ought to talk less to one another, and more to our common Father. Being received by the Church, the two new speakers stood up to tell their tale. Have we no tale to tell? If not, that is the reason why we are dumb! If a thief broke into your house, you would tell everybody about it whom you met, and with whom you were acquainted. If your house was on fire, all the neighbourhood would know it. A man who has a tale to tell tells it; and he is right in doing so. The reason why we are dumb dogs is that we have forgotten the story; that we have no personal story of conversion, inspiration, and enthusiasm. We are not unwilling to speak, but we have no story to relate. We cannot turn blankness into eloquence; having no history, we dare not awaken imagination, and so the Church, in many of her sections, is dumb. "Paul and Barnabas declared all things that God had done with them." How marvellous the eloquence; how realistic every sentence; what home-thrusts they gave! Keep to what you know, not to what somebody told you about it, and you will speak with clearness, simplicity, and emphasis.
Look at the fifth verse. "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, that it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." Observe the nature of this contention. First: It was Pharisaic. Not many of the Pharisees believed, and those who did believe caused some trouble. It was difficult to say whether they were not greater opponents as believers than as unbelievv. There are hinderers in the Church as well as outside the Church. This position was not only Pharisaic, it was literary; that is to say, it was founded upon a narrow reading of the letter. There are persons who cannot get out of the four corners of any subject; and if the subject itself has not four corners, they will make four. If Christianity is a square with well-defined walls, there are men who could stand in the middle of the square and defend it bravely; but if Christianity is a horizon which recedes as we advance, and which has room enough within it for other universes tenfold larger than our own, they become bewildered, the letter is of little use to them, and there is a demand made upon religious imagination and religious sympathy which they cannot meet, and so they make four corners for themselves, and subside within the prison of a creed. It is difficult for some men to see the bud in the seed. It is impossible for some men to believe that the bud is the same thing as the seed. They say you insult their reason by the suggestion, and you throw suspicion upon their very sight by telling them that the one is the other in a new form. Christianity has its blossom as well as its root, its fruit as well as its blossom. The fruit is the root, the root means the fruit; the type only lives by its little self until the fulfilment comes, and then it passes away—not because of contempt, but because of fulfilment and fruition. Who were they who upheld the Law of Moses? They were Pharisees. How marvellous the providence that a Pharisee of the Pharisees was sent to answer them! The pompous, cultured, refined Pharisees would have made short work of other men, but there arose in the providence of God a man who was a very prince of the blood, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised the eighth day, concerning zeal persecuting the Church, and in his presence they met an unexpected and successful check. A man who knows a smattering of a language may astound the untravelled villagers who never heard of it; but let a man arise who knows the language perfectly, and then the blatant pretender will fall away in shame from his temporary preeminence. It is thus that God grows his own men, so to say. It is in such circumstances that we have an annotation upon the words, "He is a chosen vessel unto me." God will always find his own champions and his own preachers. He knows where the men are; he will bring them up from Asiatic capitals to the Judæan metropolis. He who found water in the rock and honey in the desert will find a minister for every post, a commander for every army, a victory for every contest. Let us rest in the God of truth; he will find its best teachers and expositors; and the truth shall never be in want of a man of adequate capacity and needful eloquence to show its grandeur and enforce its claims.
Almighty God, may Christ thy Son be born in our hearts today, the hope of glory! We remember his birth-time upon the earth, and our prayer is that he may be born in our spirits the Child of our love and our delight, the beginning and the end, the seal and glory of our life. Thou didst make our hearts for him; thou didst intend us to receive him day by day, and to live in him, and thou didst mean him to live in us. As the branch abideth in the vine, so may our hearts abide in Christ; he is the root of all things, in him we have light and growth and hope; without him we can do nothing; may he therefore be our Christ, and may we be his saved ones! He shed his blood for us; may we in return live our life for him. Oh, thou that sittest at the right hand of God, come to us, for we, too, are God"s children, made in his image and likeness, made upright; but we have sought out many inventions. We are children who have run away from the Father"s house; in our hearts there is a longing to return; and this longing is the inspiration of God, and the proof that it will be answered as God answers holy prayers. We would now all return like wanderers to our home. We know we have been far away, and have plucked the fruit from forbidden trees, and have hewed out unto ourselves broken cisterns that can hold no water; but our yearning to return is greater than our shame at having left the house, and this yearning is not of our creation, but of thine, thou who dost afflict the heart with hunger which thou dost mean to satisfy. The years are flying away from us, they are taking with them the delight of our eyes; the staff on which our right hand leaned with trust; the life that made our life twice itself. May we improve the years as they come and go! Thou dost send them to us as new opportunities; may we not return them to thee void of industry and faith and sacrifice! May we grow wiser with the years; may they leave behind them influences that shall give us greater liberty, truer joy, and brighter hope! Thou art making some of us old; thou art causing others of us to see the first point of decline in the setting of the sun. Thou art bringing forward others of us from youth to early manhood, with its passion, enthusiasm, and determination to win; and the little ones are always with us, keeping us from despair, showing us some new light of God, plucking for us some new flower from gardens which we thought had withered; and the rich are here, and the poor, touching one another, yet living at points immeasurably separated. The strong man sits near the man who will die to-night. Thus are we related and mixed for the time being; yet in thy love we find community; in thy Cross we are bound together in noble fellowship; at the Cross we forget all distinctions in the infinity of its love. May the spirit of the Cross rule us! Whilst we are near it, may we know the enlargement of soul which expresses itself in readiness to forgive; and whilst we tarry at the place called Calvary, may we see not only the cross, but the crown; not the Crucified only, but the angel of God, who shall liberate the dead who die in Christ from every tomb! Thus may great sights make us great, thus may tender scenes melt our hearts, and may our lives be great answers of obedience to all the will of thy love! Make our homes happy; make the smallest of them bright as a palace; pour a blessing upon the humblest dinner that shall make it a king"s banquet. May we all eat honest bread, and enjoy the sleep of those who do good! Enable us to see in all the way of thy providence openings into heaven, opportunities of becoming more like thyself; and as the similitude of Christ grows upon us, may men take knowledge of us, and at eventide, in our coming and in our going, may there be a heart-warmth above all the heat of the sun! Now if we may but touch the hem of thy garment, we shall be made whole! We dare not ask for visions that fill the sky, or for radiance that would smite us with momentary blindness, but we do ask that this day, if we may not touch the hem of the garment of the Prayer of Manasseh, we may at least touch the swaddling clothes of the Child. Amen.
7. And when there had been much questioning [general conversational debate], Peter rose up [in the meeting], and said unto them, Brethren, ye know how that a good while ago [G. "in the old days"—i.e, in the old days of this new dispensation, see Acts 10:11. For a similar reckoning of time, see Galatians 2:1] God made choice [from] among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.
8. And God, which knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
9. and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.
10. Now, therefore, why tempt ye God [either to allow his witness to be thus despised, or to punish you his despisers], that ye should put a yoke [comp. its weight, Galatians 5:1, with Christ"s easy yoke, Matthew 11:29] upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
11. But we believe that we [though we also are unable to bear the yoke of the law] shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in like manner as they [note the inversion of the terms—"we as they," not they as we. Peter has turned the tables upon the Pharisees. Here only Peter uses Paul"s common phrase, "the grace of the Lord Jesus," Galatians 2:11-16].
Peter"s Speech on Circumcision
LET us consider Peter"s speech about the question of the circumcision of the Gentiles. We have considered the question itself apart from Peter; we have accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their journey from Antioch to Jerusalem; and in the latter city there has been much disputing. Now we read: "Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles, by my mouth, should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us,; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 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? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." Mark the time when Peter spoke. "And when there had been much disputing." That was the critical moment. Speeches acquire force and value from the time at which they are delivered. Wise men keep back as long as possible from delivering their judgment upon hotly-contested questions. Thus their wisdom goes for twice the value which it would be appraised at did they speak earlier in the discussion. Many a man who is not of first-rate ability acquires at least local and temporary influence by watching his time; he allows all the ready tongues to talk first, to relieve their feelings, to show their weak ability, and to secure what noise, mistakenly called applause, they can. Then when the assembly has fatigued itself, and would be only too thankful for a deliverance from the wordy entanglement and confusion, he rises, puts together, so far as he can patch them, the different opinions which have been expressed, finds the middle line, and invites the controversialists to join along that line of compromise. They hail him as a Daniel, though Daniel he is none! He came in at the right time. Had he joined the fray earlier, he would have been but one amongst many, but, observing how things were going, he came forward at the critical moment, and therefore came with double force, and with a sapience so much the more valued because the people who listened to it were longing for a liberator. This is the way in all great assemblies. The principal speakers will not deliver themselves between the hours; they need not be present to hear the little speeches that will be made, because they knew them all by heart long before one of them was spoken; they will return towards midnight, and then settle the whole controversy, because the people are waiting and willing to have it settled. Peter, then, is growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. There was a time when he would have been heard first. We have not been accustomed to see Peter waiting; we have been accustomed to see him rising instantaneously and putting things in order, as one who occupied a seat of unquestioned and unquestionable authority. Now that he has waited until there has been "much disputing," we begin to feel that Peter has grown in grace, and that perhaps he will make the noblest speech he ever did utter. Presently we shall see.
Peter kept to facts which were known to himself. Over some ground we walk very daintily, because we are not quite sure of it; at any moment a foot may go down so that it cannot be taken up again; but Peter walks upon solid rock. "Men and brethren, ye know," said Hebrews, "this is not a matter in discussion, nor is it a question of a speculative kind; I will ask you to walk with me over a road macadamized with facts." As Christian men, we might have gone farther upon our journey if we had not tried to cut it short by crossing bogs and swamps. The longest way about is often the shortest way home, according to the old proverb. And so it is in spiritual thinking and in moral education. When you go, step from rock to rock; and though your progress may not seem to be rapid, it will prove itself to be sure. How does Peter come to speak this new language? There are tones in this speech we have not detected before—subtle tones, resonant tones. Where has Peter been? He has been in conference with Paul. Privately Paul has had interviews with them "which were of reputation" among the Apostles. There are private processes of education going on in every life and in every house. We feel that Peter has touched somebody. He seems higher in stature; there is a purer light in his eye; his very voice has new expression in it; and as for his talk, it is not the babble of his earlier discipleship, but a broad philosophy. How is this? He has touched the man to whom we owe doctrinal Christianity! He has been in company with the founder of the theological Church; he has known the energy of the mightiest man that ever considered the problems of Deity, Sin, and Redemption. He was an apt scholar. Peter was always impressible; you always knew where he had just been because of the tone of his voice. We feel here that he has been with a man greater than himself. Keep company with the wise if you would grow in wisdom. Always seek to be in the clientele of a man who has yet more to do in life, and who tells you from every mountain-top he climbs that he has not yet begun to ascend. There is no finality in God.
In this little speech you have a whole system of divinity. I know not that there is anything outside this deliverance—if we may avail ourselves not of the letter only, but of the spirit, and of its million-fold inference and suggestion. Here you have the Trinity—God, his Song of Solomon, and the Holy Ghost. A greater Trinity than if it had been named in numbers. The Trinity must assert itself; it does not ask to be proved. Jesus Christ did not attempt to prove; he accepted the facts of life, of being, and of thought. Jesus Christ did not attempt to prove the necessity of prayer. He said, "When ye pray." Who attempts to show that we must, as a matter of obligation, breathe? The physiologist, the teacher of the laws of life, says just what Jesus Christ said—"When ye breathe." So with this great doctrine of the Godhead. The Trinity comes upon us from apostolic eloquence at every gleaming point—God—his Son—the Holy Ghost. And again, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost," and so on. In apostolic speech there is a Trinity declared; there is no attempt to set up a Trinity that can be argued and proved.
And here is also Divine sovereignty. "God made choice." And again, "God gave them the Holy Ghost." And again, "God put no difference between us and them." It was thus with bold and generous emphasis the Apostles used the name of God, not apologetically, but as indicating sovereignty, dominion, authority, final because complete Will. And here not only have we the Trinity and Divine sovereignty, we have the whole scheme of Judaism—"A yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear." The last and completetest definition of Judaism; a yoke which could not be borne, but a yoke which was needful at the time. We must have, chafing before we can have rest. God must show us what the law really is in all its details and tyrannous demand, before we cry out for mercy, pity, and grace. And here we have salvation by grace. "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." We need not systematize these points, and make a formal creed of them; they are better left as necessary parts of our thinking, to come into our speech by inspiration. We had better not cut out the branches in order to carve them into pillars and posts and standards. Do not cut down the tree! I can worship better under its shadow than I can kneel before its polished and carven wood.
Observe, then, how Peter surpasses himself in the breadth of his Christian philosophy. He must have in all his thinking as its vital point Divine action. He calls us back to first principles. He will not have GOD excluded from this reasoning. In fact, he says, "Men and brethren, this is a question that involves the Divine sovereignty, and the Divine mind in all its outgoing and influence; that being Song of Solomon, I start with this fact, that I went to the Gentiles; I went against my convictions—certainly against my prejudice, and, more certainly still, against all my inclinations. I did not want to go—I protested against going—but the law of gravitation drew me; it was GOD that inspired and directed me." The reason why we have so many superficial theories of life is that men exclude Divine action. A philosopher proposes to you what he calls the theory of evolution, but in proposing it he says we take for granted nature and life! That is to say, he takes the whole thing for granted. It is not evolution that perplexes me, but creation; and I find no fuller answer—simpler, deeper, grander—than "God created the heavens and the earth"; an answer I cannot explain. And so in the evolution of circumstances, the development of spiritual and moral history, I cannot consent to begin at some point indicated by a creature as limited as myself. Here, as in the former case, I say, "My difficulty is not with evolution, but with creation; and to that difficulty I find no answer so commanding, so gracious, as, "Men and brethren, ye know that a good while ago—GOD."" This is the echo of the first verse in the Bible. From the first verse in the Bible I cannot get away; all the chapters of the Bible are hewed out of the quarry of its first verse!
Then Peter gives us a doctrine which has become commonplace to us; as uttered from his mouth it was a miracle. These are the words that ought to astound us if we were inspired by the historical genius: "And put no difference between, or distinction between, us and them." We ourselves being the Gentiles received into the Great Abrahamic circle, do not feel the value of the inclusion as we ought to do; but the men who were inside that enclosure, and thought they completed, its circumference, when they saw a rent made in the circle of the covenant, and hordes of uncircumcised Gentiles coming in, were affrighted, appalled, and disgusted. What could you say to such men? Could you propose a theory of social evolution to them? They would have burned you with their angry glances! How will you approach excitement of the Jewish kind? Just as Peter approached it. He went right into the broken circle, and said, "Ye know that a good while ago—GOD!" There are times when we must gather up our whole enthusiasm and reasoning and hope into the Divine name, and hurl it, like an infinite thunderbolt, against all the petty action and all the affronted conceit of a narrow-minded age. Think of a Jew acknowledging that God put no distinction between himself and a barbarian! You do not wonder that Peter should afterward write: "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." When he wrote that sentence he did not inscribe upon his paper a passing sentiment; he drew at full length the portrait of his own development. And what expressions the man uses! He says, "Purify their hearts by faith." That is a result of faith which some of us do not fully realize! Faith refines the heart; faith chains up the passions like so many dogs that may be excellent servants but bad masters; and says, "Walk behind; I lead." The man of great faith cannot be vulgar; he who has sublime faith has sublime refinement. I say not that he is dressed in purple and fine linen, and that he fares sumptuously every day; I say not that his hands are white, and that his appointments are technically correct. I speak of another kind of refinement—inward, spiritual, always seeking expression worthy of its own dignity.
And then how broad again his philosophy becomes when he says, "Why tempt ye God?" This is not a little question of personality—this urging of the law beyond its intended province and compass is a temptation of God. This is not obedience; it is temptation. This is not homage; it is temptation. This is not righteousness; it is temptation. Even Divine ordinances are not to be thrust beyond Divine boundaries. Let us take care lest our pretended homage be but a veiled blasphemy. Paul himself never made a grander speech. Peter in this eloquence is almost Paul. How singularly and wondrously God trains one man until he is almost another! So that when the other and greater man comes he does not bring with him a sense of violence; he rather comes in by a line so graduated that we are scarcely aware of the new sovereignty and the broader influence, because the other man was so nearly of the same spiritual calibre and force. It is in these directions I see the working of Divine providence. Men are always being sent to school to learn the next lesson. In one school we get through all our mistakes. What blunders we committed in that first little dame"s school! The days were mistakes! Every lesson was a new miracle in blundering! Then we passed on, and became a little better; and we went to another school, and became almost noted for a species of wisdom. Now when we look back upon the whole process, we wonder that we were allowed to live one day in any civilized community! So we are, little by little, and day by day, educated, qualified, and refined; so that when this mortal shall put on immortality it shall be as in the twinkling of an eye. So long has been the preparation, so long the discipline, so complete the purifying and the enlargement, that when this corruptible shall put on incorruption it will seem as though we had but just awaked out of a sleep to see the Majesty Divine!
Almighty God, today we bury the year on which we entered with Christian hope. The year has run its course. As coming from thee, and giving unto us opportunities of service and growth and sacrifice, we may say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" The year was thine, thou didst give it unto us; we have written across its face pur daily record. To-night the year goes back again to thee a blighted thing. The judgment is thine; we would the year might, in many a day, be utterly forgotten, but thou dost claim the days; thou dost turn over the leaves of our time, and peruse the record, line by line, and thou dost write upon our work the judgment that is righteousness. We will not hold up the year to thee in a spirit of defiance; we will point to it with a trembling finger because of a misgiving heart; and over every page of the writing we will say—so far as our tears will permit us—"God, be merciful to us sinners!" We are a year nearer to thee; mayhap we are a year farther from thee. Thou dost make us old before we know it; thou dost silently scatter the snow of old age upon our head, and we awake to behold the winter"s white. Thou art carrying out thy purposes throughout all the ages. Thou dost not live in days and moments, in years and centuries—thou breathest eternity, thou dwellest in one perpetual now, thou stretchest thy hand from everlasting to everlasting, and our duration is but as a dying cloud in thy sight. We will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. Through Christ Jesus our living Lord, we will ask to find rest in the pavilion of God"s eternity. Spare us yet a little while, that we may recover strength to say some better prayer, and sing some sweeter hymn, before we are gathered to our fathers. Thou dost not take away the race of men as with a flood; but man by Prayer of Manasseh, one by one—here one, there one—so that the individual taken does not seem to be so much; yet when the year"s death tale is told, behold how many empty places there are, and how many answer not when the life, roll is called ov. Thus thou dost work silently in the night-time, and in unexpected hours, so that we know not when the Lord will come: at the cock-crowing, at the fuller dawn, in the shining midday, in the deep night. Thou dost keep us in this ignorance, that we may be also kept in keen watchfulness, so that when the Lord cometh we may be ready to enter with him into his house. As for the year, the Lord pity it. The work has been clumsily done; our prayers have not all gone to heaven, because they did not all come from the heart. Some deep graves have been dug, and the stone work and the cunning masonry cannot prevent the certain corruption of the flesh. Plant thou Gospel flowers upon human graves, and they will delight and soothe us in the time of impatience and passion. Thou hast made some widows and some fatherless, and some thou hast bereaved of all; so that the year shall never be mentioned but with it there will come the moan of a hollow wind. "Oh, dreary year, worst of all, blackest of all," some will say. Others bless thee for it; they never saw such flowers as it has grown. They never knew the mountains were so high before; they never saw the sea and the river throb with so many millions of silvery spangles; the whole year has been a breath from heaven—business has been success, health has become consolidated strength, and sleep has been as a renewal of life. They will remember the year, and bless it. Now, Lord, if we may see the dawn of another year, may we this time try as we never tried before to know thy will, and to do it all. We would enter upon it in the name of Christ, Lord of all the years, Saviour of all the ages, Priest of all sinners, Alpha, Omega, first, last—in him all things are gathered up in their infinite total. We lay our hand on him, by him we are saved, through him we pray, in him we live, for his sake we forgive as we would be forgiven. Amen.
THAT is an unsatisfactory verse. When Paul speaks we want to know what Paul says. But some men must be their own reporters, for so unusual is their method and tone that it baffles every scribe to catch the one and reproduce the other. That Paul should have made a speech, and that it should be referred to in one brief sentence such as this, considering the gravity and dignity of the subject, cannot be satisfactory. Paul himself goes into the matter; we see, therefore, under Paul"s own sign manual, what he said and what he did. So we turn for the moment from the Acts of the Apostles to the opening verses of Paul"s Epistle to the Galatians. Where Luke contents himself with a summary, Paul passes into minute and instructive detail. Some verses are too condensed; some reports are simple variations of injustice. We do not care for our life to be huddled up in one sentence. By-and-by the master of criticism and detail will take our life to pieces by a just analysis, and will award to every one according to his deeds. We briefly said, "He called and prayed." It seems from that report as if the man did little or nothing. We do not say that he walked miles, and that when he prayed his heart wept. We deal too roughly with one another, and too summarily. We dismiss life too briefly. Thanks be unto, Heaven that judgment will be a criticism of detail, and not an off-hand pronouncement upon the tragedy of human life.
Paul says he went up to Jerusalem "by revelation." Then he went up in high temper—he was greater than the Jerusalem to which he went If he had gone up to Jerusalem awed by its metropolitan position and fame, he would have hesitated in his speech, and would have picked out right dainty words that could offend no one, but, by subtle flattery, might win the ear of many. In reality Paul went from heaven to Jerusalem, and, descending upon it, it withered into contemptibleness under the majesty of the visions from which he had just turned his eyes. Paul lived in a large world. It was no mere handful of dust upon which he set his foot, and within which he performed the little miracles of his power. In Paul"s view the worlds all belonged to one another. The Lord had not made a countless number of links; the Lord had made a chain of planets, a chain of worlds. Touching one link, he sent a thrill through all the band of the constellations. We have dropped the word "revelation" except on the Sabbath day, when we venture to say it sometimes. We have meaner words—such as impression, conviction, feeling, unaccountable desire. These are inoffensive terms; an atheist might use such mock jewelry. The Apostle had no impression, conviction, transient feeling. He said: "I went up by revelation." God said to him, "Go." The angels said, "We will go with thee." It was a great day! "I went up with angel convoys, with banners unfurled by invisible hands, for I knew that the truth was with me, and I was anxious only that Christ"s Cross should be lifted up above cloud and fog and dust, and be seen everywhere as the one way of salvation." Was Paul then afraid of Jerusalem, and "pillars," and "men of reputation," and who spoke ex cathedra? He was twice anointed, yea, with a double unction of the Spirit, so that Jerusalem became but a village to him, and men of illustrious name became brethren and equals. Paul says he was anxious to state the Gospel he had been preaching, so that the leaders of the Church might know exactly what he had been doing. Paul preached privately to them that were of reputation. Could we have heard him then! Speaking to a sympathetic audience, to men who had seen the Lord! They must have thought they were almost looking upon Him again; they had never heard such a voice before. Paul was never so great in any other instance. Speaking from the shrine of Revelation, even the mightiest men in the Church but "seemed to be pillars." Paul had no fear about his Gospel. He said, "I have been preaching to the Gentiles this and that, and I learned my lesson through the Spirit. My one object has been to represent and incarnate our common Master, and to show that he alone can justify the unjust. I have seen that the Gospel is greater than the law, that by superseding it the Gospel abrogates the law, that rites and ceremonies are no longer of any account, but the one thing needful is faith in Christ. I have been preaching salvation by Christ; now, brethren, what say you?"
Coming to the point which was in controversy, Paul"s attitude is one which presents many aspects. In the first place he was not ashamed of his Gentile converts. He took Titus with him. The scene that comes before our imagination is that of a man with a bright eye, a glowing face, a tongue eloquent—if not in fluency, yet in passion—and pointing to a young man (Titus), Paul said, "This is a Gentile convert. He has begun in the Spirit; is he to be made perfect in the flesh?" What does he want with your cuttings and ablutions and ceremonies? Always vindicate your arguments by your converts. If you can produce converts, so that we can see them, they will do more for the Christian cause than can be done upon many minds by the most elaborate and cogent Christian reasoning. Some of us might have our unexpressed wonder, amounting almost to an inexpressible doubt, as to the needfulness and usefulness of Christian missions; but when the other evening I saw in this church—and conversed with—the gentlemen known as the Malagasy Envoys; when I saw them, considered their history, knew that their ancestry were a degraded and debased people; when I heard their gentle voices, and listened to one of them speaking purely and pathetically our mother tongue; when I heard them say in their own speech that they could follow the preacher whenever he mentioned the words Jesus Christ; when they knew nothing that I said but those two words, and when their hearts throbbed under that music, I wanted no man to argue with me about sending the Gospel to the Gentiles, to the uncircumcised, and to the heathen away out on the sea. The missionary cause said, in effect, "This is the kind of work I want to do the whole world over." The response to that appeal could only be of one kind—instantaneous in its spontaneity, and generous in its self-sacrifice. Upon this rock we stand! We always have our Titus with us! There is he who has been converted. Behold the breadth! behold the length! behold, there is in his heart a spirit of confidence, forgiveness, and Christian hope! Does that man need to be circumcised, baptized; to have any Christian magic performed over him? No! Having begun in the Spirit, he is not to be made perfect in the flesh. Let him stand there not as a proof of the antiquity and necessity of circumcision, but as an illustration of the new creating and justifying power of Christian faith. There were men who wished to have Titus circumcised. Paul, in giving an account of the matter, becomes almost incoherent in his speech; the very ripest scholars are at a loss to put together, in a manner absolutely satisfactory, the almost broken sentences which Paul writes in the second chapter of the Galatians regarding this matter of Titus; in fact, there are not wanting men who have suggested that Titus was actually circumcised. I do not base my opinion upon the mere grammar of the text, which is so indistinct as to be disputed, but I base my conclusion upon Paul,—what we have seen of his spirit, character, his whole tone of mind,—and it would seem to me to contradict the man and the very purpose of his mission to acknowledge that Titus was circumcised. Who wanted to have the young man circumcised? Paul answers that they were false brethren. How did such men come to have any voice in the matter? Paul answers—they crept in privily, unawares. What particular object could they have in insisting upon the young man"s circumcision? Paul answers—their object was to spy out our Christian liberty, and to shut us up within the cold iron of the letter. How were such men treated? Paul says, "To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour." He never paltered with the enemy; the spirit of compromise was not in him when such questions were under consideration. He could be pliant, accommodating, courteous; he could speak other people"s language when they could not speak his. Such was the inspiration that fell upon his spirit that he could eat with the Jew as a Jew, and with the Gentile as a Gentile, plainly declaring that his object was a concession to their want of Christian education. But when this was the question, namely, Shall the Cross of Christ have anything added to it by man"s hands? Shall anything follow the chrism of blood? his answer was the "NO" of all the thunders that ever shook the firmament. He did not refer this case. He did not say" Let the elders and superiors of the nation consider it, and decide for me." He said, "This is not a question of expediency, but of essential life; and if the Cross of Christ requires the cutting of a knife, or a drop of water, Christ is dead in vain!" Such a man had a Gospel to preach. No wonder that he preached it so as sometimes to be accounted mad.
In this instance Paul illustrates by anticipation a phrase which has become a commonplace to us. We insist upon what we describe as the right of private judgment. That was exactly the doctrine which Paul asserted on this occasion. He speaks of men "who were of reputation"; he also speaks of men "who seemed to be pillars"; he mentions by name men who were in Christ whilst he himself was a persecutor and a blasphemer; he refers to persons in the Church who "seemed to be somewhat" Was he awed by their authority? Did he say, "Hear the Church"? Did he wait for some other Prayer of Manasseh, or number of men, to give him the doctrine of Christ? Speaking to the false brethren, he says, "To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour." And speaking of those" who seemed to be somewhat," he said, "Whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man"s person." They "added nothing to me." That was a brusque way of adding up and estimating the value of men! Paul said, "You have taught me nothing; you have given me no new light; I see no unfamiliar aspect of the truth in your speech; I do not know that you are more than others!" Where, then, was obedience? Where was submission to the papal authority? Where was the rebuke of individual conscience; and where was the setting aside of private judgment? Here is one man who stands up in the Church, and says, "This is the Gospel which I have received, which I will preach, for which I will live, for which, and in which, I will die," "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." That was the true assertion of private judgment: not the expression of an individual will, but the expression of a personal loyalty to a living Christ.
Paul showed the true nature of real and enduring unity. In effect, he said: We may be one without seeming to be united. Union is a question of sympathy, and not of form. I will tell you what can be done. There are in the world two distinct classes of men, Jews and Gentiles, called the circumcision and the uncircumcision. There are men to whom circumcision is a king of hereditary rite and observance. There are others to whom it would be an intolerable yoke. Now, let us go, the one to the circumcision, and the other to the uncircumcision; for I know that as this Gospel spreads it will be seen at the last that neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision. Do not let a man boast of his uncircumcision any more than the Jew should boast of his circumcision. Do not boast that you have not been baptized, no more than any man should boast that he has been plunged into the stream. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither baptism nor non-baptism, availeth anything, but a new creature. In that sublime faith the Apostles went to their death. So would I say, If your fathers are men who have been baptized, or unbaptized, or who have been accustomed to attend to this ceremony or to that, you may go on with your ministry to the circumcision—only be true to the spirit of Christ; and if I have been called to the people of many languages, to odd men, eccentric thinkers, independent personalities, men who repudiate circumcision, and look upon rite and ceremony with contempt, I will also carry out my ministry. The truth will prosper in the long run in proportion as we are faithful to its statement and exposition.
But the counsel could not break up so. We must have something to do that is visible, and that can be assumed by all minds. "Well, then," said the council unanimously, "one thing shall unite us—that we remember the poor." The poor have ye always with you. So they all—the circumcision—remembered the poor, and they of the uncircumcision also remembered the poor, and in philanthropy they showed their union in the Lord, who live to redeem the human race! This has been my doctrine, for which I have suffered not a little. I have said to contending theologians and controversialists: "Gentlemen, you will never speculatively agree—the more talk the more division. But I will tell you what you can do. You can unite in practical service; you can remember the poor; you can join in carrying out moral and social reformation amongst the people." Speculative theology divides men; practical philanthropy unites them. Let us unite where we can. A union upon these matters may prepare the way for a better understanding, for ultimate conciliation, and for enduring fellowship. Never inquire into the creed of a needy man. The man is hungry; the creed must be bread. When he has eaten his bread you may ask him questions. Again and again I would say to Christian teachers and workers: Begin where you can; do not stand upon technicalities, or insist upon pedantic concessions; but wherever the heart-door is ajar, go in; wherever opportunity is offered, speak the living word or do the helpful deed. Always seek for the centre of union, and always avoid the cause of division or distrust. You would like theological or doctrinal union, and so should I but where that is simply impossible, we must go in other directions for an initial union; and that we may find in being a tongue for the dumb, eyes for the blind, and a tower of refuge for those who have no friend. When the Church is animated by this spirit, she will be surprised to find how many hitherto unknown friends she has, and how many there are who will respond to her philanthropy who cannot pronounce her Shibboleth. Let us be wise in our times, and set high above all party flags bearing mean names the blood-red banner of Calvary, the symbol of reconciliation and security.
Almighty God, we thank thee that thou hast called us to stand still awhile and talk with thee. This is thy day—oh that it might have no night! We would make it a day of elevation of soul, enlargement of faith, and drawing out of our best affections. This is no common time. In the morning of this day we see the Resurrection and the Life. We come to a grave, and find it emptied of the dead. The angels meet us, kind Heaven bows down its arch of light, and, behold,. the earth is touched with the subtle glory of the skies. This is the Lord"s day—thou didst make it; upon it are the marks of thy fingers; this is the day of the opening of the gates of righteousness, and of high fellowship, of liberty, and of hope. To-day we begin the year of Sabbaths; may all the year be one long summer day. Give us the Morning Star. Shine upon us from between the Cherubim. Let the light of the sun be a dim splendour compared with the infinite glory that shall shine upon our inmost life. If thou dost inspire great prayers, it is because thou hast prepared great replies. Our prayer can never be equal to thine answer; where our prayer abounds, thy response doth much more abound—so that we forget our little words in the infiniteness of thy benefactions. But have we not all things in Christ? Have we not in him unsearchable riches of Wisdom of Solomon, truth, grace, consolation, and hope? The Sun of Righteousness never sets; there is no night in his love, there is no slumber-time in all his watchfulness. The God of Israel neither slumbereth nor sleepeth; and as for Christ, he ever liveth to make intercession for us. We are rich, and yet know it not. We have all things, and yet is there a tone of reproach and discontent in our voices. Lord, increase our faith. Carry it onward to assurance, and from assurance to triumph—yea, to victory upon victory, until we know not which is earth and which is heaven, because of the gracious transport which excites and thrills the soul. Grant us seasons of singular joy—yea, of great uplifting and broadening of life—so that we shall look down from high and sacred heights upon the day"s duties and the day"s mean trials and burdens. To every work may we go up by Revelation, and it shall be done ere we touch it; to every suffering may we advance in the spirit of the Cross; then shall we glory in tribulation also. The Lord"s great comfort fill our hearts as the summer light fills the whole sky; may there be in us no darkness at all; may our hope be bright as the morning, and our gladness high as the noontide. We would forget the past except as an inspiration; we would not lay again foundations, but arise and build; we would be better men. We would have deeper holiness, tenderer sympathy, wiser realization of truth and doctrine. Thou knowest our frame, thou rememberest that we are dust, and thou art always fashioning us out of the dust that we may become men in Christ Jesus. He is the Son of man; he is the Saviour of man; he shed his blood for man; may we live through him, in him, and for him, and then, death"s cold shadow past, we shall live with him. Grant to all the old men here a renewal of youth; may they forget their three-score years and more in the warmth of a New Year"s Sabbath morning. Take up all the little children that are here, and kiss them into beauty. Speak to all the men of business who are here, and show them that the bread unleavened with dishonesty makes the best sustenance. Comfort the weak; speak a word to him that is ill at ease; be the counsel of those who are entering upon new schemes, undertaking strange adventures, or entering into unfamiliar enterprises. Go with our loved ones on long journeys by land and sea; keep them, give them gladness of heart by the way, and a safe return to the love that awaits them. Succor those who are so sick that we cannot help them. Come thyself—Maker, Healer, Redeemer of Life—and let thy blessing make up the lack of our ability. Amen.
13. And after they had held their peace [G. became silent] James answered [ Acts 12:17, James, the brother of the Lord—not the son of Alpheus—answers the messengers of Antioch as the president of the meeting. Note how fatally conclusive this whole narrative is against the primacy of Peter], saying, Brethren, hearken unto me:
14. Symeon [ Luke 24:34—Hebrew form of Simon] hath rehearsed how first God did visit 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 these things I will return, and I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen; and I will build again the ruins thereof.
17. and I will set it up: that the residue of men [Luke translates freely from the lxx. The Hebrew text has "residue of Edom," i.e, those whom Amaziah ( 2 Kings 14:7) had left unsubdued. But the idea on which James"s argument rests is supplied by the next clause] may seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord,
18. who maketh these things known from the beginning of the world ["saith the Lord who doeth," i.e, accomplishes "these things," is the Hebrew close of Amos 9:11, Amos 9:12. Either the Hebrew text James quoted from memory, or the lxx. text Luke translated from may have had the addition "things known from the beginning of the world." Or, this may be a remark of James or Luke. The idea Isaiah, that God is doing nothing new or strange to him when he thus brings in the Gentiles].
19. Wherefore my judgment Isaiah, that we trouble [G. "burden"] not them which from among the Gentiles turn to God;
20. but that we write unto them, that they abstain from the pollutions of idols [ Exodus 34:15], and from fornication [so common among Gentile idolaters, that the abstaining therefrom would appear rather a ritual than an ethical change], and from what is strangled, and from blood [( Genesis 9:6). These regulations were not equivalent to the "seven precepts of Noah," observed by "devout" Gentiles, but simply avoidances of heathen ritual rendered necessary by the heathen of that time].
21. For Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath [and so the Jews and devout persons attending these synagogues would be scandalized if these four points were not strictly observed].
22. Then it seemed good to [ Acts 15:25 and Acts 15:28. This commonest of Greek phrases has been made into an ecclesiastical formula by the hierarchists] the apostles and the elders [G. has no comma], with the whole church, to choose men [ Acts 15:25] out of their company [out of the church meeting], and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: namely, Judas called Barsabbas [mentioned only in this passage], and Silas [Silvanus, 1 Peter 5:12], chief men [ Luke 22:26; lit.: leaders] among the brethren:
23. and they [those who chose, i.e, the meeting] wrote thus by them [G. "by their hand," i.e, sent this letter with and by means of them]. The apostles and the elder [hierarchist copiers have omitted the following words "and the" in many MSS. Sahidic34omits also "brethren"; Tischendorf retains "and the brethren"; but our Revisers have followed the hierarchists. Were this unprecedented Greek phrase possible at all, the adjective would be very emphatic. "The Elder brethren."—Or, as the Americans suggest, it may be imagined to mean, "the Elders: brethren," i.e, the Apostles and the Elders in their capacity of brethren (church members)—greet the Gentile brethren (the churches at Antioch, etc.). The meaning given by the Revisers" reading (comp. Acts 15:24) is that the "subverters" having falsely alleged the authority of the Apostles and the Elder brethren, the Antiochian Church sent the deputation to sift this allegation, and now the Jerusalem Church sends back two of its own members, sending with and by them a letter, in which the Apostles and the Elder brethren explicitly deny the "subverters"" report concerning themselves. Tischendorf Isaiah, however, right. Read harmoniously with Acts 15:22, "the Apostles and the Elders and the brethren," i.e, the church] unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting [G. "Rejoice!"].
24. Forasmuch as we have heard that certain which went out from us [ Galatians 2:4, Paul styles them "false brethren." Incontestably they were not either apostles or elders, as the hierarchical gloss of the Revisers implies, but Jerusalem Church members, "From us" is equivalent to "their company" of Acts 15:22] have troubled you with words, subverting your souls; to whom we gave no commandment;
25. it seemed good unto us [the event of Acts 15:22 is being related here] having come to one accord [ Acts 15:7, Acts 15:12], to choose out men and send them unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
26. men that hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
27. We [ Acts 15:22] have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves also shall tell you the same things by word of mouth.
28. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost [G. no comma], and to us [note how similarly Paul, being sent on this errand by the Antiochian Church, says he "went up by revelation." For the question who were the "us," see also Acts 15:20, "that we write," etc, and the "brethren" of Acts 15:13], to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary [i.e, of present necessity; things rendered indispensable by the circumstances of the heathen cities] things;
29. that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols ["concerning" which see1Corinthians8, and, for the general principle of these four temperance pledges, the last verse], and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication [put here separately last, with sense of the graver ethical point involved]; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you. Fare ye well,
The Decision of the Council
WE now come to the conclusion of the whole matter. Some decision must be pronounced upon the vexed question which we have been considering, and that decision cannot but be of vital historical importance. This was a crisis in the history of the Church. The very greatest disasters might have befallen the Christian cause at this critical time. The man who, humanly speaking, saved the Church was Paul. From a human standpoint I have no doubt whatever that the Christian cause would have been lost in that furious debate but for this chosen vessel of the Lord. There was in him a fine spirit of conciliation as to manners and methods and usages; but when it came to the liberty of Christ, and the independence of the Church, he stiffened into inflexibility, and he "gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour." He was no circumcisionist, no baptist, no ritualist; he would let nothing stand between the soul and Christ, or between Christ and the soul; and the soul having begun in the faith, was not allowed to conclude in the letter—having begun in the Spirit, it must not conclude in the flesh. The maxim of Paul was Upward, higher still from one attainment to another, without coming back to do anything that could minister to the desire of the flesh or the vanity of the eye.
The little picture that is before us enables us to look a little into the detail of early Church life. We have seen how high the controversy ran; there was no small dissension and disputing; every man thought he saw the truth and knew it, and sometimes the dust was so vast and" thick that we could scarcely tell how the fight was going. In the fact that there was full discussion of the question, let us recognize the place of human thought and human independence in the consideration of Christian problems. We may all speak; no man is to be put down who speaks upon a question sincerely: every man who is not speaking intelligently or sincerely will put himself down. I know of nothing in the record which would justify us in supposing that men were hooted down on whatever side they were speaking. In modern Christian controversy we have all seen lamentable spectacles in relation to this very matter of putting men down. I have never been ashamed of the Christian cause more deeply and insufferably than when I have heard an orthodox man employ a heterdox tone for the purpose of putting down an opponent. I have listened to the opponent and disagreed with nearly every sentence he uttered, and if the man who interrupted him had spoken, I might probably have agreed with every proposition he was seeking to establish; but, in my soul, having heard the tone of the one man and the tone of the other, I have said the heretic may have the heterodox doctrine, but he has the orthodox soul, and this man has called "time" in a tone which proves him to be a heretic in his heart. Take care how you maintain a good cause. I have seen an infidel display a nobler spirit than has been shown by his nominally Christian antagonist. We stand not in the word only, but in the spirit: the Gospel must be preached in its own key. We may spoil the music of heaven by the harshness of a poor and selfish tone. So far as I can gather from the narrative, then, the discussion was full, impartial, and thorough. In the midst of all this due deference was paid to the apostles and elders, and the decision was pronounced by the President or Bishop. All things were done decently and in order. Decency and order are not accidents in chronology—they belong to the fixed calendar of progress, and are always in date, and when they are wanting the sanctuary is turned into a common place of assembly. Throughout all this intellectual and spiritual tumult there was a line of order, a spirit of decency; every man was heard, and when every man had expressed himself, the proceedings were summed up, and sentence was delivered—not in the terms of the Bishop"s own choosing, but in words which seemed to gather up into themselves the common sentiment of the excited and earnest assembly. That is our notion of the Christian Church.
This little picture marks the beginning of Christian liberty. A wrong step here, and Christian liberty would have been lost. Paul was raised up at the very moment of time. He who made havoc of the Church kept it together; it was an arm terrific,—whether to strike or to build its energy was superhuman. Paul enlightened the whole Church—even James himself became almost a poet under the inspiration of this new voice. James quoted prophecies with a new tone and emphasis; under the teaching and illumination of Paul"s ministry the horizon of James widened, until he dwelt no longer in the ecclesiastical cage, but ranged the whole liberty of God"s boundless firmament! Sometimes the Church needs inspiration more than information. When the grate is full of fuel, what is wanting is not more fuel, but a light. James began to see that Christian liberty was founded on prophecy, "and to this," said Hebrews, "agree the words of the prophets." How did James become so great a man all of a sudden? Because he had touched the Pauline spirit. Great men make great men. He who walketh with the wise becomes wise. No man could become less who held fellowship with Paul. The Apostle always saw some higher height, and always urged the soul on to some nobler liberty. Whilst many wanted to remain behind, cutting themselves with circumcision, washing and plunging and sprinkling themselves in baptism, he seemed to take hold of them, and say, "Halt!" "Why, yes," said Hebrews, parenthetically, "there were one, or two, or three whom I baptized, but the circumstance was so transient that I paid no attention to it, for I have been sent to preach the Gospel." When our leading men become entangled in alphabets, conjugations, tenses, and declinings; when they begin to betake themselves to "standing orders" and "by-laws," I know not in what terms to describe the disaster. Christian liberty was also attested by facts, as well as founded on prophecy. There was no novelty in it; what we think is novelty has been in the Bible all the time. As we have often said, we do not need a new Bible; we need new readers. Inspired books prove their inspiration by always revealing some new aspect of truth, some new phase of beauty. It was actually found that in the Old Testament this very question had been settled. In every synagogue Moses was read, and nobody understood him. Paul did not add one single line to the revelation; he only said, "Brethren read it so." And after he read it, the Bishop of Jerusalem said, "Why, the question has been settled from immemorial time—I see it now." This man has caused the Bishop of the letter to burn with the fire and presence of the spirit. There are no new liberties. Even your Acts of Parliament, in so far as they are good, are only transcripts of the Bible. We may have references in the readings, and marginal notes, but here in God"s Volume is the great stream of thought, doctrine, liberty, out of which all that is good in collateral directions flows.
This little picture not only shows us early Church life, and not only shows us the beginning of Christian liberty, it also shows us the right way of treating new converts. Here we do need instruction. The Apostles taught new converts the doctrine of abstention; according to the teaching of the Apostles, new converts were to begin by not doing things. The trouble with our new converts in some instances Isaiah, that they are converted on Monday, and that on Tuesday they are promoted to eminences compared with which the elevation of Paul was a very small advancement. The Apostle said, "Brethren Gentiles, you will do well to begin by not doing certain things." For example, in every Gentile"s house, other things being equal, there were figures of idols, figures of gods, castings of deities. When the Gentile entered into his house, and passed in, he uncovered his head, or he made obeisance—in some way he acknowledged the stone god that was in his house; he may have held his food before the god prior to eating it himself. The apostles and elders, and the whole Church at Jerusalem, said to the Gentiles, "We do not want you to grind your stone idols to powder, but we want you to abstain from paying any religious attention to them. Regard them as works of art; but let there be no religious distance between them and you—except the distance that ought to intervene between an immortal man and a stony figure." The Gentiles were accustomed to have many wives; the Apostles laid their interdict upon polygamy. The Gentiles were accustomed to follow certain savage rites and customs; the Apostles desired that these arrangements might be abandoned. Therefore, I say, they began with the new converts by imposing a discipline of abstention. That is where we ought to begin. I do not say to a young heart, "Are you perfect?" I should thereby discourage the modest, self-distrustful soul. Rather would I say, "Do you want to be better?" And if the answer is a healthy "Yes; please God, I should like to be better," that will do to begin with. Let no man vex you with words, seeking to subvert your souls by making metaphysical problems of the redeeming blood of Christ and love of God. The Apostles were content if men began by doing that which is well; that is all they said in their letter, which concludes with these words: "from which if ye keep yourselves ye shall do well." We might have lived in the apostolic days, say some of us; we would have felt warmer in soul if we had lived under apostolic rays than under modern criticism. The Apostles would have said to some of us, "You shall abstain from strong drink"; to others of us, "You shall keep away from exciting—we will not say demoralizing—amusements." The Apostles would have said to others of us, "You shall go regularly to church." If this were called legalism, the Apostles were accustomed to be stoned, and they thought nothing of it. If this were called morality, legality, the doctrine of merits, and of self-righteousness, the Apostles would not have been afraid to go to their duty, even though they had to go to it through the dangers of a hail-storm. The men who were accustomed to walk out under tempests of thunderbolts made but small account of hailstones of unintelligent and narrow criticism.
Thus would I speak this New Year Sabbath morning, to some who feel as if they needed a word of encouragement, because they could not go to the inner places of the sanctuary. Will you make me your teacher and drill-master in the sanctuary for one little day? Then I accept the appointment, and I begin in your case by telling you what you are not to do. Come now; I am not a hard task-master, am I? You said you wanted to be better; you supplied the initial ground. I only stand upon it, and instead of burdening you with great weights, and chafing you with unfamiliar yokes, and perplexing you by high intellectual exercises, I begin by saying to you, "Thou shalt not." Come to me at the end of a month, and tell me that you have kept the law, and I shall say, "You have done well." Next month I may appoint you something to do. We must grow; we cannot shoot up into men in one short Sabbath day. Some of us must be fed with milk as babes, because we are children and not men. Do not expect too much of newborn souls. I would rather suspect the newborn souls that are precocious—especially if they turn their precocity into the criticism of their seniors. Men who are newly born into Christ"s kingdom must be treated as little children are; and the first lesson to the child is—"Thou shalt not."
This little picture shows some of the happier aspects of controversy. But for this controversy, who knows when Paul and James might have been brought together? And after the controversy was over, the Bishop writes these words: "Our beloved Barnabas and Paul." That was a happy ending of controversy. James wrote more than that. James looked at the question partly from the characters of the men who had sustained one side of it, and he called them "men that have hazarded their lives for our Lord Jesus Christ." So judge in every controversy. I have never known an infidel who was worthy to be spoken of in the same moment with the Apostle Paul. Against him were men sincere but uninformed, and also false brethren who crept in privily unawares. From them he separates himself by the infinite diameter of self-sacrifice and a heroic devotion to a cause so much greater than himself.
In all such cases ask who the men are? What have they done? What have they suffered? On the other side you will find "men who have hazarded their lives." This proof of devotion must go for something in the exciting controversy. It is not enough to be clever; we must be true. It is not sufficient to imagine speculative difficulties; we must live a life of unselfish devotion. The man who does most to enlighten human darkness, mitigate human distress, and comfort human hearts, is more likely to be true and sound in spiritual philosophy and doctrine than the man who is only critical and not self-sacrificing. The Bible heroes of this kind claim the confidence beyond all other men that have lived—their doctrine, their testimony, brought them martyrdom; they shrank not from the fire which sealed their sincerity and proved their conscientiousness. What have we done for the Lord Jesus? Come now, we will put it down on paper and look at it. I will be scribe, you dictate. I am waiting—what, not one line? Have we not begrudged every penny we ever gave him? Have we not begun our economies by pinching the bread of Christ? Have we not kept Him waiting at the door past midnight when the dews were falling thickly upon him? Have we not neglected his house on the smallest pretexts? We who have stood for hours in the rain to see a man perform a trick and deliver the poetry of another man—have we not neglected Christ"s house because of the weather? We in whose cellars are dozens of choice wine—have we not neglected Christ"s poor? Could we choose an epitaph, what would be so sublime as this: "A man who hazarded his life for the Lord Jesus"? Heaven might be condemned as too short of beauty and light for such a tenant. Methinks God"s omnipotence would be moved to make some nobler heaven for heroism so sublime!
Almighty God, we are thine in Christ Jesus by an everlasting covenant. The law is dead, and has no charge against us in Christ Jesus thy Son. We do not live under the law, for all the law is fulfilled in one word—the sacred word love. Show us how great is thy mercy in Christ. We do not bear burdens, or carry heavy yokes; we are not dragged back as by bit and bridle; nor hast thou set over us a watch, as if we were hirelings in thy field; we are saved by grace; we are redeemed by blood; we live no longer in the letter only, but in the life and breadth and liberty of the spirit. We are crucified with Christ, nevertheless we live; yet not we, but Christ liveth in us. Lo, now we walk before God as children of his love, called by his grace, sanctified by his Spirit; bearing upon our hearts the circumcision of adoption, we are free men, made free by the truth, and therefore made free indeed. May we not use our liberty as a cloak of licentiousness. May we know the meaning of liberty in Christ, that it is the liberty for the branch to abide in the Vine, and for all the lesser lights to revolve around the central Flame. May we know that we are the slaves of Christ, bondmen to him, having a joyous sense of bondage, a realization of captivity of mind, which amounts to thankfulness and rapture. Show us the wonders of the Gospel. We have tarried too long outside, beholding the wondrous provision as related in letters and books. In it we would, by the right of a common life, crowd all thyself, and in tender, loving sympathy with Christ would enter into the sanctuary of the Gospel, into the very Holy of Holies, and by the spirit of a new man would see and realize in happy consciousness and experience the infinite grace and tender love of God. Call us every day to some higher heights, where the dew is fresher, where the light is purer, where the air is healthier, and may our life be a continual ascension, so that, in the last moment, there may be no sense of violent separation, but a passing, as one hour melts into another, until the meridian shine in cloudless light. Few and evil are our days, full of sin and tumult, troubled with strange wonders, vexed by a thousand plans and schemes. We torture ourselves by day, and by night we spoil the sleep that should call back our youth, because of anxiety and fear. And our breath is in our nostrils, we hold everything but for the one moment. Lord, our prayer Isaiah, that we might count our days, one by one, with thoughtful economy, knowing the number and the measure, and wondering even to religiousness what the end can be, and what will happen when we open our eyes after the sleep of death. Comfort us every one with sweet words, bring back all that is tenderest and brightest in the summers of the past, and make us feel today as if walking in the garden of the Lord. Enlighten our minds with a great light, and before our eyes unveil the vision which we know by the tender name of heaven. The Lord enter our houses by right of proprietorship; the Lord make our bed in our affliction, and save our health in decay; the Lord find for us bread when we can find none for ourselves; when the wells are dry and the fields are bare, create for us pools in the desert, and find for us bread that is hidden away. The Lord go with those who must leave us for a time, and bring them back in safety and thankfulness; the presence of the Lord make glad those who remain. The Lord speak comfortably to the old and inspiringly to the young, and may all heaven be so near us today, in Christ Jesus our Lord, that we shall forget the gray, cold, troubled earth; and may we, waiting at the Cross, feeling the warm blood of Christ"s own heart falling upon our shattered lives, be filled with peace and thankfulness and joy; and may our spirits long for the City where the light of the moon is as the sun, and the sun is sevenfold in brightness. Amen.
30. So they, when they were dismissed, came down to Antioch; and having gathered the multitude [the church, Acts 15:22] together, they delivered the epistle.
31. And when they had read it, they rejoiced for the consolation [G, "comfort": contrast with the "trouble" of Acts 15:2 and Acts 15:19].
32. And Judas and Silas, being themselves also [G, "also themselves"] prophets [i.e, speakers as well as letter carriers], exhorted [G, "comforted" by speech, as the letter had] the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.
33. And after they had spent some time there, they were dismissed in peace [ Acts 16:36, usual formula of farewell] from the brethren unto those [sci, those brethren; back again from the one church to the other. The A. V. has here the hierarchist gloss "apostles"] that had sent them forth.
35. But Paul and Barnabas tarried in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also [Peter"s visit, Galatians 2:11, being subsumed here, has led many critics to dispute the authenticity of this whole narrative, see Acts 15:1].
The True Law of Abolition
I DO not wonder that when the letter, sent from Jerusalem, was read at Antioch, the people "rejoiced for the consolation." It was an historical day. Never brighter had shone upon the young Church than when the Gentiles were told that, without any cutting of the flesh or any ceremonial processes, they were by faith in Christ Jesus sons of God and free men of heaven. We can hardly understand their ecstasy; but if we do not make some attempt in that direction, we shall lose one of the broadest opportunities we ever had of understanding the philosophy of the Divine education of the human race, and we shall fall out of the rhythm of Christian progress and advancement. The question was one of circumcision. It is a term which we can only know historically; but there is history enough before us to enable the intelligent mind to grasp the question in all its clearest and most particular bearings. We must think ourselves back a while: let us do so in a body. We must remember that circumcision was not a human invention, and therefore was not to be set aside by human authority. If you miss that point, all that may be said will be without coherence and pith. Circumcision was established by the Almighty himself, as is explained in the seventeenth chapter of Genesis; the doctrinal verse is the tenth, and reads thus: "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised." Language cannot be clearer; no exception was made for infirmity, mishap, or peculiarity of any kind. The language is inclusive, authoritative, final. We wonder how such an institution can ever be set aside, especially as the word "everlasting" occurs in its establishment once and again. That word everlasting needs to be explained. It is not a mere question of time; "eternal," "everlasting," are no arithmetical terms, or numeral quantities; they are expressive of quality. The words are clear: "My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant"; but what of the poor child that had not been circumcised for some reason? "That soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant." We cannot but become extremely excited as to how such an institution can be not only modified but abolished. The sanctity of the Sabbath was not violated by the performance of this rite. Christ Jesus himself founds an argument upon that point. In the seventh chapter of John the Jews are told by Jesus Christ, "Ye on the Sabbath day circumcise a man. If a man on the Sabbath day receive circumcision... are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath day?" You have branded him with a token of the covenant, and I have completed in his flesh God"s purpose of health and strength and typical immortality. The eating of the Passover was a great institution in Israel; no man might eat it except he had been circumcised. The law is laid down in Exodus, the twelfth chapter and forty-eighth verse: "And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land; for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof." So even strangers were to be circumcised. This was the very argument of the Judaizing teachers in the Christian Church. They said: "In the olden time strangers were not admitted to the Passover except they were circumcised; so these Gentile converts cannot be admitted to the liberties and privileges of the Church, unless they have been circumcised too." And the men who reasoned thus seemed to have history and right on their side. Circumcision was not observed during the forty years" wandering in the wilderness. God was pitiful to his people then, for he knew their circumstances and allowed for them; but after the wilderness was past, Joshua was commanded to "make him sharp knives." The people that had been born in the wilderness were not circumcised, but now that process was to be undergone; and when it was accomplished the Lord said unto Joshua, "This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you." And in the evening, as the sun was slowly westering, dying like a king upon a couch of gold, on the fourteenth day of the month, the whole circumcised host of Israel kept the Passover in the plains of Jericho.
We wonder how such an institution, so solemnly organized and so repeatedly introduced, can be possibly set aside. We turn a page in the New Testament, and find John the Baptist was circumcised on the eighth day. We go on a few lines further, and we find that Jesus Christ himself was on the eighth day circumcised. There can therefore be no doubt about the Divine authority of the institution. You will see why I am so importunate about this presently. The mind must fasten itself with intelligent tenacity upon this initial point,—that circumcision was not a human invention, but a Divine institution. Stephen recognized it as such in his great apology. In his Epistle to the Romans Paul also recognized it: "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way; chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." How to escape from this I know not. It is not in us to invent a plan of liberation; there is nothing for it but the knife! How can deliverance arise? The first streak of light is in the second chapter of the Romans and the twenty-fifth verse: "For what profit is there in keeping the law? for if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision." So there is a moral meaning, there is a spiritual suggestion in this. If my flesh is cut, is it not cut once for all? and will not the brand admit me to heaven? Paul says, No; what is done in the flesh is only a sign of what is expected in the spirit—obedience, keeping the law, doing it every whit, and if you fail in obedience, you might as well never have been circumcised at all.
We begin now to see light. In the fifteenth chapter of the Acts, to which we have come, we have what amounts to a formal abolition of circumcision as a condition of entrance into Christian communion and fellowship. The tone of the New Testament is infinitely different from the tone of the Old Testament. A few passages will show this. Take Paul in first Corinthians and seventh chapter: "Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God." How different from what is written in the seventeenth chapter of the book of Genesis, where circumcision is called "my covenant," "an everlasting covenant"! And now Paul rises and says "circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing"! If one man is not to boast that he has been circumcised, neither is another to boast that he has not been circumcised. If you say you have been baptized, and begin to rejoice in it, you do wrong; and he also does wrong who boasts that he has not been baptized. Circumcision (baptism) is nothing, and uncircumcision (unbaptism) is nothing; the real thing, vital and unchangeable, is keeping the commandments of God. In his Epistle to the Galatians Paul says, "If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing... in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." And rebuking a certain sect of mistaken teachers, he said, "As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised."
We now begin to see that circumcision, like every typical rite, had a spiritual signification, and that the moment the spiritual purpose was realized, the mere type or symbol was done away; not done away in the sense of violent abolition, but abolished as the noontide abolishes the dawn, or as summer abolishes spring, or as your manhood has abolished your infancy. There is nothing violent in the dispensations of God. The ages, like the planets, move calmly onward, melting into one another. The days do not contradict the ages that are gone, but ripen them and present them to us in noble maturity.
Here, then, is the law. Now I have the key, I can do many things. If I had not studied the subject of circumcision so closely and so long, I should have been lost at many other points. We have not studied this one question of circumcision for its own sake, but because here we have the key to many a door, and the solution of many a mystery. Take the question of the Sabbath. There can be no doubt of the Divine institution of the Sabbath day. In the Christian Church there can be no debate about this. "The Lord rested on the seventh day and blessed it," and afterward he embodied his purpose concerning it in a formal commandment. The hand of God has been upon the Sabbath day as certainly as it was upon the ordinance of circumcision. But circumcision is abolished, and so is the Sabbath day. But why is circumcision abolished? Because we have entered into the consecration which it implied. Now we do not cut the flesh, we give the life; and now we do not keep the Sabbath day in the Judaic sense of the term, we keep it in the spirit. There are not now twenty-four hours in the Sabbath day; the Sabbath day is seven days long. We do not give up the Sabbath day in the sense of not observing it, but in the sense of enjoying, in happy realization, the Sabbatic spirit all the week long. If circumcision had been violently disannulled as an inconvenience, or an inexpedient thing, the question would have been different, but it was kept long enough before the ages within whose compass it operated to show that God"s meaning was circumcision of the heart—obedience, love, sympathy, identification with the Divine purpose. So the Sabbath day is not a square piece, cut out of the week, but a spirit animating the whole time; not discarding the day, but glorifying every hour of human life. The man who enters into this spirit will not have one Sunday in the week, but seven. He will not honour the day itself, as a mere fraction of time, with less honour, but with the more, that he does it, not according to the narrowness and bondage of the letter, but according to the liberty, the joyousness, and the resurrectional triumph of the spirit.
Take the matter of giving. There can be no doubt that God himself recognized this great institution of giving to himself. There are those who tell us that we ought to give one-tenth of our income to the Church, to charity, or to Christ (put the phrase as you please). There are those amongst ourselves who do this, or I see not how the Church could be maintained, amid the crowd of those who sneer at the Jewish practice. There are others of a still more advanced class who say the very least we ought to give is one-tenth of our income. For myself, I believe that no arithmetical proportion is mentioned in the New Testament; but how to set aside tithes was at all events endorsed by the Almighty under the old covenant.
Here we come back to our lesson. We do not give less if we be in Christ, we give more. We are not circumcised in the foreskin, we are circumcised in the heart. We do not keep the Sabbath day because we are compelled to keep it, but because we love to keep it, and could not live without it. And we do not give a tenth as an arithmetical calculation, but as an oblation of love and an expression of sacrifice. Thus you have the upward way marked out most clearly. Show me where Christianity asks us to do less than circumcision; to keep less than one day in the week; to give less than one-tenth of our income. Christianity has not abolished the old law in any violent sense of befooling it and contradicting it, but in the sense of maturing it, carrying it up to its highest significations, so that those who once served in the bondage of the letter now serve in the liberty of the spirit "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ." We needed all the discipline of formal submission and obedience to break down our rebellious hearts. Having been broken down and saturated by the grace of God, and instructed in principles of the Divine kingdom, we now do not need to read the regulation-bill to see what we have to do next; the Spirit is in us; we are in sympathy with God; we know it without being told. The law of Christ is written, not on tables of stone, but on the fleshly tablets of the heart. The Holy Ghost dwelleth in us, and to be circumcised makes us impatient; we want to give the whole life. To be bound down to keep one day holy—we would give all the days in one grand offering to the Master"s service. And to give a tenth would make us feel that we had fallen below the royalty of our calling, for we have nothing that we have not received, and all we have is God"s.
Song of Solomon, you see, our study of the matter of circumcision was not a narrow study; it led us up to a principle which explains all things. Shall I dare to apply this principle to the literal revelation itself which we call the Bible? I can imagine the time coming when we shall not need a book, a Church, a ministry! I have but to be faithful to the philosophy we have now traced in the Biblical history to see how the time may come when we shall have no need of candle, or moon, or sun, or written book, or preaching voice! Yea, the time will come when he who is our Mediator shall rise, and God shall be All in All! We shall not need them to read a book, for the Spirit will be within us; then our Christianity will not be a question of "chapter and verse," but of inward conviction, spiritual sympathy, or actual life; we shall be swallowed up of love.
So far we have gotten away from circumcision and baptism and the bondage of a merely literal Sabbath which begins at a certain hour, and ends at another ascertained and declared point of time. We are going forward, and the time will come when we ourselves will be Revelation, and when we shall not need the dear old Book itself any more; when in us will be the Word, which is as a well of water springing up into everlasting life, and we shall have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things. But that time has not yet come; that time is far off in the experience and consciousness of many of us. The age itself will close before that end is accomplished. Meanwhile, I need the sacramental bread and wine to help my poor reluctant memory. Meanwhile, I need the dear old church to fix my thoughts, and give a centre around which my best affections may revolve. Meanwhile, I need the friendly preacher, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, who has wrestled with the same temptations, and flung in mighty conflict the same great devils! I need his human voice to say something to me in God"s name, in the darkness and in a strange land. Meanwhile, I need all the Book, every page of it, from Genesis to Revelation, to comfort me, warn me, reprove me, and build me up in sacred doctrine and in noble wisdom. The time will come when there shall be no need of the sun, nor of the moon, nor of the stars. I saw the heavenly Jerusalem, and in it was no temple, no sun, nor light of the moon, for the Lamb is the light thereof.
Let God himself say when we shall do away with the lamps we now need, with the helps which are now essential to our progress; it is not for us to put out a violent hand, and say, "This is the end." Let us obey. Law is never abolished by license. We go forward by the power of the Spirit, until hand-washing becomes heart-cleansing, until obedience becomes grateful acquiescence, until slavery becomes sonship, and until all the law is fulfilled in one word—love; for God is Love. Then shall come to pass the saying that is written, He who is our Intercessor shall close his mediatorial priesthood, shall rise from his seat and deliver up the Kingdom to God and his Father, and God shall be All in All! But we can only understand and enjoy the end by patient submission to every point of the process.
Almighty God, thy river is full of water; we are consumed with thirst. If we drink of thy living water, we shall never thirst again. It shall be in us a well of water springing up into everlasting life. Lord, give us this water. We have tried all wells and streams, and, behold, they cannot quench the thirst of the soul. They mock our thirst; they do but make the fire burn the more intensely. We turn away with disappointment and sorrow and bitter self-reproach, and ask that we may drink of the river which flows fast by the throne of God. There is a river of life, clear as crystal, holding in its depths all beauteous things, and throwing them back in splendid reflection, and so doubling the very heaven of God. The world is full of sin and sorrow, the earth is ripped up with graves,- and the green things that live upon it wither whilst they grow. The air is full of death. Our friendship is broken by sad good-byes. Our joys will not bear drinking to the dregs. Our life is a sharp and fatal pain; but when we turn to thyself, behold, all things are new. Even death is swallowed up in victory. The winter is preparing for the spring, and all the pain of this mortal life is turned into stimulus towards a nobler existence. In Christ we see things as they really are; in Christ we triumph daily. He is the key which opens every door; he is the answer to every question that troubles the soul; he is the Saviour of the world. In his Cross we trust, to his Cross we look, for his blood we wait—there is cleansing in that fountain and in none other.
Help us to grow in knowledge, in love of truth, in devotion to the interests of thy kingdom, and may our latter end be more fruitful than our beginning, and as the years add themselves may they take away nothing from the youthfulness of our souls.
We give thee humble and hearty thanks for all the blessings of this life. We have bread for ourselves, and a portion for him that is hungry. We have houses that are homes, warm with love, and filled with the riches of mutual trust. Upon our business thy sun has shone so that our one talent has become two, and we have ten at the end where we had five at the beginning. Our basket and our store thou hast blessed, as if they were living things, and could love thee for thy smile. What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards us? We will render our whole unbroken daily love, and always urge ourselves to do some better thing than we have yet attempted. Show us what we may see profitably of the future, and keep back from our eyes sights that would make them blind. Let the future come to us a day at a time, and with it send daily force equal to the stress of the occasion. Comfort us when none other may speak to our dejected souls. Open gates for which we have no key; and when the hill is high and bleak, rising far above the summer line, and setting up a testimony of winter all the year long, help us over the rugged summit, and help us on the very top to build an altar unto God.
Remember our dear ones who are not here. Some are on the sea; some are far away in other lands; some are preaching the Gospel to the heathen; some are on beds of pain; some are wandering into a land where there is nothing to eat but stones, where there is nothing but a great wilderness. We call them prodigals, straying ones. Our short prayer cannot reach them, but thy grace is greater than their sin, and may become a Gospel to them without the help of the words of man.
God save the Queen; establish her throne in righteousness, and prolong her reign in personal and imperial comfort. Upon all her house send a plentiful rain of blessing. Guide our legislators, our highest thinkers, our noblest spirits, and baptize all who need a daily baptism and a double portion of thy Spirit, so that the land may prosper and become a blessing to other empires.
We now wait for the touch we cannot mistake, for the warm breath of heaven, for the outlooking from behind the cloud of the eye of Christ. If we might have one glance of that eye, fixed upon our waiting hearts, we would forget time and space, earth and death, sin and fear, and be lost in an infinite joy. Amen.
36. And after some [G. "certain"] days, Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us return now and visit the brethren in every city wherein we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they fare [Paul"s second missionary journey thus began as a simple visitation of the new churches].
37. And Barnabas was minded [wished] to take with them John also, who was called Mark.
38. But Paul thought not good [G. "right"] to take with them him who withdrew from [G. "apostatized for them"] them [ Acts 13:13] from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work [Mark may have vacillated in doctrine also at this juncture, as did Peter].
39. And there arose a sharp contention [" an embittered feeling," Jeremiah 32:37], so that they parted asunder one from the other, and Barnabas took Mark [ Colossians 4:10] with him, and sailed away unto Cyprus;
40. but Paul chose Silas [who had again returned when he had fulfilled his commission of Acts 15:33], and went forth, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord [see also Philemon 1:25 and 2 Timothy 4:11].
41. And he went through Syria and Cilicia [each went towards his native home. 1 Corinthians 9:9] confirming the churches.
The Separation of Paul and Barnabas
WE are now out in the open air again. For some days we have been in a stifling atmosphere, listening to great men debating and determining the vexed question of circumcision. Now we come into another and quieter region. Surely we now feel more at home than in the council of the Apostles listening to contradictory and irreconcilable voices. We feel our need of rest, after the passionate excitement through which we have gone. We will now live amongst friends, and be quiet and trustful, and will grow silently but surely in our apprehension of Divine mysteries and purposes. Yet this is not to be. We come out of one contention into another. This is life all through and through—namely, a series of conflicts. The ground changes, the combatants change their personnel, but the undertone of life is a tone of controversy, disputation, conflict; and a superficial view of life would seem to confirm the suspicion that we do not advance in righteousness, but in mutual distrust and social alienation.
Now, Paul and Barnabas come before us in an undesirable light. Observe Paul"s love of work—"Let us go again." Into that "again" what quiet and throbbing earnestness he threw! It has been well said that Paul was bitten again with mission hunger. He was no stay-at-home; he could hardly be kept within doors; he must go out, either to fight or to build. They only are in the Apostolic succession who are in the Apostolic spirit. Hereditary descent is not to be reckoned with Apostolic succession, in the sense of entering into the very spirit and purpose of Apostolic heroes. He will not have any one with him who has broken down. He says he will take a staff, but it will be a staff that is sound at the core. Paul could not trust a staff that had once snapped in his hands. He himself was earnest; therefore he could not tolerate insincerity. There was no breach in his all but infinite integrity, and therefore a flaw to him was not an accident but a crime in other men.
In his criticism of Mark, Paul gave a criticism of himself. His judgments of other men were revelations of his own spirit. Paul meant his work to be solid and enduring. This was the very purpose he had in view—namely, to consolidate young believers and immature thinkers and students; and to take with him, on such a mission, a man who himself had turned back from the plough, was an irony which vexed his soul. If he had been going out to make experiments, he might have taken with him such instruments as lay ready to his hands; but his purpose was to "confirm the Churches," to make them stronger and stronger; and to be working with an instrument which had already broken down in his hands was not only a contradiction in terms, but a moral irony, from which his very spirit recoiled. Everything depends upon the kind of work you are going to do. For some kinds of work fickle men may serve a useful end. There is a place in the Church for every one, and that is the problem which many Christian communions have not solved. The Papacy has solved it; but the Papacy Isaiah, from a statesman"s point of view, the grandest and mightiest organization on the face of the earth. The Papacy can use all sorts of men; Protestantism can use only one or two kinds. We must learn to employ men in proper departments who do not come up to the Pauline standard of excellence. We may be good men, and yet broken here and there. Do not throw away any man for the sake of one fault, or even two. There may be a great deal of soundness in the apple that has upon it one patch of rottenness. We may be working for Christ without being counted worthy to rank with the "first three."
Barnabas comes out in a new light; he is willing to give a man another chance in life. By so much he was a great man. I love this aspect of his nature. In this respect I love Barnabas more than Paul. From the point of righteous discipline, Spartan sternness, there can be no doubt of the grandeur of Paul; but a man who would give a youth another chance seems to me to have in him the true spirit of the Cross, and to represent the charity of Christ. Some of you are too stern; the sternness may not be righteousness, but selfishness. Take heed how you administer discipline. You turn off your young men because they may injure your business, or jeopardize some of your commercial relations, or hinder you in some purpose in life. Commercially, that is right; but we are not all commercial travellers. We profess to use the balances of the sanctuary, and to imbibe daily the spirit of Christ, and reflect constantly the lovingness of the Gospel. Barnabas may have said in effect, "What you say about my nephew is literally correct, but give him another chance." Thank God for the few men here and there who are willing to try us again! We owe them our lives: we ought to live for them. Could any man say a word against them, we ought to spring instantly with the weight of our whole energy to their protection and vindication. They are, in the truest sense of the word, our helpers and friends and best philosophers. Barnabas was invincible. We have hitherto considered him only a kind, well-disposed, loving Prayer of Manasseh, who would sit down anywhere, or stand up, or go or come, just as some superior nature might suggest or require. Such are often amongst the sternest men. Barnabas said to Paul, "No!" and even Paul could not change that No into a Yes. Afterwards the judgment of Barnabas was vindicated. Barnabas was in this respect a farther-sighted man than Paul. Thank God, Paul was not infallible! We must not preach an infallible Paul. There is only one infallible person in the Church, and he is its Lord; and it is well to find out the failings of even Pauline heroes, that they may sit down in the presence of the One Immaculate Righteousness and Infallible Wisdom. Paul was but a man at the best; he himself said so. "Who then is Paul and who is Apollos," said Hebrews, "but ministers, servants, and slaves of Christ?" In this respect Barnabas was a greater man than Paul. He is the great man who penetrates character, and he is not necessarily a great man at all who only judges by facts which he cannot dispute. He is the true intellectual reader who says about a young Prayer of Manasseh, before the young man does one stroke of work, "He has the Spirit of God in him, and the indestructible seed of the kingdom." And he who, twenty years after, simply gives in to facts is not a man of penetration at all. He simply affirms what he cannot deny. "He was my friend" (the old man may say) "who spoke kindly and hopefully to me before I began my work. Looking at me altogether—for a man is not all head, or hand, or foot—but taking in stature, colors, shape, force, unction, look, voice, he said, "This man will do wonders for Christ."" Another observer says: "We must wait and look and carefully adapt such evidence as the passing days may contribute towards the formation of a judgment." Twenty years after, the second man said, "After all this long service, I am bound to say that he is a better man than I first supposed." That is not a judge of character, nor is that a eulogium, nor is that praise worth having. The man that read the soul was the man of prescience, and the man to whom intellectual honour and moral homage must be paid. Young Prayer of Manasseh, live in the warm sunshine of those who hope the best about you. You owe nothing to the men who affirm your excellence when they cannot deny it. Some men found their judgments on what they call proofs. Barnabas founded his estimate of his nephew upon what he believed to be the inner quality and character of the young man"s soul. I am thus at some pains to strip the Apostle Paul of his imagined infallibility. I repeat, there is only One who judgeth righteous judgment, and that is Christ; and the highest archbishop amongst us, if he know himself, will acknowledge that he is a fallible, sinful, erring creature.
There are mitigating circumstances in this controversy—both men were honest. It is something to have to deal with honest men, even when they oppose you. I respect an honest opponent infinitely more than an insincere friend—nay, he cannot be a friend who is capable of insincerity. Another mitigating circumstance Isaiah, that the contention was not about the Master. Paul and Barnabas did not take two different views of Christ. They are not going to found separate theological sects. Another mitigating circumstance Isaiah, that the work was not abandoned, but was doubled. Instead of one missionary excursion, there were two. Barnabas went to his native land, and the leonine Paul struck out for regions at once unfamiliar and unknown. The destinations they selected were revelations of the spirit of the men. Barnabas goes into obscurity, Paul rises like a sun into a broader firmament. We have already said good-bye to Peter, so far as the acts of the Apostles are concerned, except incidentally; so now we must say good-bye to Barnabas and Mark. At this point they both retire from the Acts of the Apostles. The withdrawment is in a kind of thunderstorm. Surely this cannot be all; surely the night does not settle so suddenly on Christian friendship and Apostolic brotherhood. Barnabas and Saul played together in the streets of Tarsus as boys: Barnabas was a friend, when Christian friends Saul had none. Barnabas took him by the hand when every one entertained concerning him the most inveterate suspicion. They cannot part in this way! The paroxysm was intense; but men like Barnabas and Paul, lifelong friends, must not be rent asunder, the one from the other, by a comparatively trivial incident like this. Is it so that our choicest friendships may die? May love be lost in anger? May comrades part as foes, hot with mutual displeasure? We must know more about this. In first Corinthians, ninth chapter and sixth verse, Paul says, "Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?" There Paul acknowledges that Barnabas, with himself, had acted a noble part in reference to the Churches, because, whilst they had the right to all the Churches could do for them, in the way of temporal support, they declined to accept the legitimate patronage, and resolved to work for their bread with their own hands. And Mark—what became of him? After he had worked with Barnabas in Cyprus, he returned to Peter, his spiritual father; and in his first Epistle, the fifth chapter and thirteenth verse, Peter writes these words: "The Church that is at Babylon... saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son." He was not lost, then. But did Paul know about his restoration? Read Colossians, the fourth chapter and tenth verse, where Paul says, "Marcus, sister"s son to Barnabas, saluteth you. If he come unto you, receive him." This is a touch of love Divine. In writing his short letter to Philemon, Paul says, in what we have marked as the twenty-fourth verse, "Marcus, my fellow-laborer."" They had come together again in service. Now Paul becomes an old Prayer of Manasseh, a grand old warrior; and, writing his second letter to Timothy, he says, in the fourth chapter and the eleventh verse, "Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry." Well done, Mark! Well done, Paul! The position of the Apostle was not an easy one; for he confessed that in the first instance he had at least acted impulsively, though honestly. Few men have moral courage to correct themselves openly, to acknowledge that they were wrong in judgment and to repair wrongs which, however unconsciously, they once inflicted. Now Paul becomes almost infallible; our whole love goes back to him without stint or grudge. Truly, he is now a great man. Once he said to Mark, in effect, "You shall not go, because you are a bruised reed, or a broken staff; having put your hand to the plough, you turned back and showed yourself to be not fit for the kingdom of God." But Mark worked on under gentle auspices, recovered himself, and became, for him, quite a little hero in his own way. Paul said, "This is brave, this is good, this is noble"; and he called Mark his "fellow-labourer," told the Colossians to receive him, and bade Timothy bring Mark with him, because he was profitable to Paul in the ministry.
Acknowledge your faults. If you have done wrong to any young Prayer of Manasseh, or if you were right at the time, and that young man has lived to contradict your judgment, say so frankly to him. Do not take refuge in the mean vanity, the petty and detestable fraud, which will not acknowledge a fault. A young Prayer of Manasseh, then, may redeem his character. I speak to many young men now, and in Christ"s spirit as well as in Christ"s name, I offer them, where they need it, a new chance in life. You did act basely once, but that is no reason why you should continue to act basely to the end of your days. Why not stand up, and frankly acknowledge the baseness, and ask to be forgiven? There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. You once spoke a harsh word, and said you would do no more work for the Church, and give no more money or help to it in any way. Even Apostles have before this spoken in paroxysms and excitement, and then, when they came to their true selves, they did their best to obliterate the unworthy past. What say you? You once told a lie; you need not therefore always be a liar. Here is a new day—the Lord"s day—full of sunlight, and this is God"s house, built within the shadow of Christ"s cross; and here is the Son of God, and he says to each of us, "Try again, do not despair; in my strength pluck up courage and do better next time." Why, I hope that all young men will spring to the noble challenge, and say, "By the help of God, we will rub out the past and live in Christ"s grace and strength; so that at last we will be called his fellow-labourers, and be received, not by Apostles into a temporary home, but by the "general assembly and the Church of the first-born" into our Father"s house."
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 15". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25