Page images
PDF
EPUB

The

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 James, and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry." James, the brother of the Lord, was at this time the head of the mother Church at Jerusalem. elders" 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 "chich 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 primitive 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

6 Be

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. at charges with them,the 24th verse says, that they may shave 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 so doing he might conciliate his countrymen, and thus, by God's grace, save some.

Concerning the expedient thus 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.

"**

most other expedients, answered not fully the end intended. Seven days had not ended before "the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him.

From the whole of this we learn the following things :

First-The early conquest of the Gospel. During the quarter of a century which had elapsed since Paul's first introduction to the mother Church at Jerusalem, what wonders Christianity had wrought! The historic sketch which Paul presented now before James and the elders, the marvels which he had accomplished by his ministry, seemed to fill his hearers with devout amazement : “ When they heard it they glorified the Lord.And there, too, on that occasion, they tell him that “many thousands of Jews believed.The sermon of Peter on the day of Pentecost, and the ministry of Paul and the other Apostles in various parts of Judea, brought thousands of Jews to believe the Messiahship of Christ. These triumphs of the Gospel at the very outset of its career serve several important purposes. (1.) They serve to demonstrate the genuineness of Gospel facis. Those who believed at this period and in Judea had ample opportunities of testing the truth of the facts which were presented to their attention. (2.) They serve to show the amazing force of Christian truth. What other systems of truth could have effected such revolutions, could have won such numbers of Jews, who were so strongly prejudiced against its founder and hero to believe in Him, to the salvation of their souls ? (3.) They serve to show the zeal with which the Apostles prosecuted their ministry. It was through the preaching of the truth that those conquests were won.

From this we learn

Second-The tenacity of early prejudice. Those Jews who believed in Christ could not give up the ritualism of Moses, in which they had been brought up. They were still zealous of the law." Though those whose ministry won them to Christ taught them that the old ritualism was typical and temporary, that Christ was the end of the law, and that faith in Him was all that was necessary for salvation, they held with tenacity to the old rites. Early prejudices, especially in religion, often attain a potent and pernicious hold upon the human mind; they warp the judgment, they exclude the entrance of new light, they impede the progress of the soul in intelligence, liberty, and growth, in manly independency and power. Prejudices give a colour to the glass, through which the soul looks at truth, and thus prevent her from appearing in her own native hue.

From this we learn

Thirdly : The slandering tendency of religious bigotry. We learn that those Jewish Christians, who were thus attracted to the ritual of Moses, had been informed that Paul had taught “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 foul slander, for Paul not only acted indulgently towards the scrupulous (Acts xvi. 3; Rom. i. 4; 1 Cor. viii. 7; x. 27), but in general he disapproved of native Jews relinquishing its observance, and he himself observed too. (1 Cor. vii. 18; ix. 20.) All he rigorously insisted upon was that no prerogative, or claim to salvation, should be built on the observance of the law. And that it should not be imposed as a burden upon Gentile believers. Who fabricated this slander? The bigoted Jews. Religious bigotry has always been libellous; it has an instinct for calumny. Now, as ever, it misrepresents and maligns the men who propound doctrines, transcending its narrow notions. Against such its pulpits, its platforms, and its press are organs of the vilest slander.

From this we learn

Fourthly : The pacific genius of Christianity. How anxious James, the president of that official meeting, and the

to preserve peace on that occasion! They perceive that a schismatic spirit is rife, and they are anxious to destroy it and promote concord. Hence their question, " What is it therefore ?" Meaniny, What is to be done ?

elders were,

« PreviousContinue »