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HOMILETIO GLANCE AT THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
Experience," and follow with interest the downward steps of John Henry Newman, and others of his school, groping, as they think honestly, though vainly, after Truth, and, in all earnestness and sincerity, crying, like children, for the light. But the story of the Galatian Church throws much light upon the mystery of such a fruitless “ feeling after God” by those who have been once enlightened, but, in the restlessness of an unchastened spirit, have sought to be wise above that which was written. Paul agonizes for the reconversion of those gropers in the dark, who could wilfully leave their first love ; and, had he lived in our own day, would have told us, with tears, how hard a thing it was for these lapsed priests of the Anglican community to recover their firm footing on the Rock of Ages. For the promise is not to those who, having found the right way, desire some other, but to those who, with all the love and trust of little children, commit the keeping of their souls at once and altogether to God, as unto a Faithful Creator.
1 Homiletic Glance at the Acts of the
Able expositions of the Acts of THE APOSTLES, describing the manners, customs, and localities described by the inspired writers; also interpreting their words, and harmonizing their formal discrepancies, are, happily, not wanting amongst us. But the eduction of its WIDEST truths and highest suggestions is still a felt desideratum. To some attempt at the work we devote these pages. We gratefully avail ourselves of all exegetical helps within our reach; but to occupy our limited space with any lengthened archæological, geographical, or philological remarks, would be to miss our aim ; which is not to make bare the mechanical process of the study of Scripture, but to reveal its spiritual results.
SUBJECT : Paul's final visit to Jerusalem. " And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James ; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gen
tiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law; and they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, nor to walk after the customs. Wbat is it therefore ? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads : and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them."-Acts xxi. 17—26.
ERE we have an account of Paul's fifth and final visit
to Jerusalem, the metropolis of Judea, and the mother Church of Christendom. His previous four visits have occupied our attention, and are elsewhere recorded (Chapters ix. 26 ; xi. 30 ; xv. 4; xviii. 21, 22). The verses now under consideration reveal to us the treatment he met with in the holy city by the evangelical Christians, the ritualistic Jews, and the Roman authority.
I. His TREATMENT
EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS. (1.) They welcomed him. “ And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.” The word "we" includes Paul, Luke the historian, and those seven mentioned in the fourth verse of the preceding chapter. The“ brethren" includes those Christian believers whom they met immediately on their arrival ; these, we are told, received Paul and his companions “gladly.” They rejoiced in their advent, as fellow believers in the Messiahship of Christ, and as the representatives of Gentile Christianity, and as the bearers of charitable contributions from distant churches to relieve those
of their brethren who were suffering from want in the Church at Jerusalem. We may be sure the apostle and his companions were welcomed heartily, both on the first night of their arrival in the city, and on the next day, in more formal and more general way, but not the less cordial and warm. (2.) They listened in assembly to his apostolic reports.
“ And the day following Paul went in with us unto Jomes, and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.” James, the brother of the Lord, was at this time the head of the mother Church at Jerusalem. elderz" were those official members of the Church who assisted in the conduct of its affairs, and the promotion of its spiritual interest. To the house of James, Paul and his companions now resort, and an official session of the Church is held to receive them. The most leading men of the Christian community are there. After Paul had “saluted' (greeted) in words of kindness and respect, he commences his address, and the subject of his address was God's work by him among the Gentiles. “He declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry." The word, "particularly" indicates the minuteness with which he entered into details ; he declared each one of the things "achich God did in the nations. No doubt he captivated their attention, and filled them with transports of delight. (3.) They glorified God on his account. “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord.” At the intelligence of his triumph, they praised not Paul, but the Lord. Paul represented the work as so manifestly not his own achievements, but the Lord's, that to Him they at once ascribed the praise. (4.) They intorm Paul of a disastrous prejudice. “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe ; and they are all zealous of the law."
“ Thou seest, brother"—though probably James had uttered these words, they are the expression of the assembly, for he spoke in their name.
“ Brother"-an expression both of personal affection and official recognition, the highest title given in the primi
tive Church, even to apostles. The fact brought under the attention of the apostle is that there were thousands, literally myriads, meaning an indefinite multitude of Jews, who believed in Christianity, but were still zealots concerning the law of Moses. Whitby quotes various authors to show how intense was the zeal of the Jews generally for their law, and that they would rather die than forfeit their character as its faithful observers. (5.) They reported a current slander against himself. “ And they are informed of thee that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.” This was a baseless calumny-for had not Paul circumcised Timothy, observed a religious vow, and come now to Jerusalem in order to attend one of the great national feasts? It is true that the apostle had denied the necessity of Mosaic observances for personal salvation, but he had never represented them as worthless or unlawful while the Temple was still standing; indeed, in consideration of Jewish attachments to Jewish forms, he had carried expediency to the farthest point in order to conciliate their prejudices. (6.) They propounded to him a method of conciliation. “ What is it therefore ? The multitude must needs come together : for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee. We have four men which have a vow on them; them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads : and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law." “ The assembled elders," says an accomplished scholar and able Biblical expositor, “knew what St. Paul was and was not, and, aware, too, of this general misconception of his teaching, recommended to him the following expedient Let him show, by a practical proof, that he did not object to a Jew being a Jew still. There were four men, Jewish Christians, at that moment in Jerusalem, bound by a Nazarite's vow. That vow, made commonly at a time of personal danger by
land or sea, by disease or accident, bound the person undertaking it to abstain from wine, and to let his hair grow uncut for a certain period, at the end of which particular sacrifices were to be offered, which were not always within the command of a poor man's purse. It was by no means unusual for richer men to bear the expense of those sacrifices in behalf of the poor. The Christian elders recommend St. Paul to do this : to include himself for a few days in the Nazarite's vow of these four Jewish Christians, and then to pay the cost of the prescribed offerings for all. “Be at charges with them,” the 24th verse says, “ that they may share their heads,"—that is, bear the charge, pay the expense, of those sacrifices which must be offered before they can rid themselves of their vow, and cut the hair off their heads in sign of its termination. The advice was friendly, and St. Paul followed it. He who had said in one of his letters, “ To the Jew I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews,” acted now upon the principle. He had never made it a principle of doctrine that Jews should abandon their ceremonial law. He was a Jew: therefore he might perform one of those ceremonies with a safe conscience, if by 30 doing he might conciliate his countrymen, and thus, by God's grace, save some.'
Concerning the expedient tlus recommended, two things are worthy of notice. (1.) Paul adopted it. “Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them." Whether Paul, with his deep insight into the spirituality of the Gospel, and his love of spiritual liberty, was thoroughly satisfied with this advice or not, he followed it, and thus with the “weak became weak.” His conciliation compromised no principle, and was for the good of others, not for the interest of himself. (2.) The expedient was unsuccessful. It was well projected, well carried out, but, like
See “Church of the First Days," vol. ii. p. 194, by Dr. C. J. Vaughan.