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4. 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.
The assembly at Jerusalem which received the embassy from Antioch, and the persons who formed the deputation, were alike proofs of the grace of God, accomplishing his merciful designs. Here at Jerusalem, where less than twenty years ago Jesus had been put to death, was a large and established body of Christians, who trusted in his atonement, and were living in obedience to his laws. To these came Paul and Barnabas from Antioch. Paul, now the preacher of that faith which for awhile in the very city where he now was, he strained every nerve to destroy. Barnabas, a man of property, who had devoted himself and all he had to the cause of the gospel, and had not repented of his choice;7 but was now exhorting all with whom he had intercourse to do the same. These, as they travelled, had been brought on their way by numbers of fellow Christians They had passed through Phenice and Samaria, and there had found other christian churches, rejoicing to receive them, and to hear what God had wrought in the country which they had left, in bringing the Gentiles to himself, through the preaching of the gospel. And now when they reached their destination, and were received of the church and of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, they had to declare glad tidings of great joy. They had to tell of the accomplishment of the prophecy, how "the people that walked in 7 Chap. iv. 36.
darkness had seen a great light; they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them had the light shined."8 They had to tell of idolaters by birth and habit, who had cast aside their "vanities, and turned to the true and living God." They had to tell of those who having been long "dead in trespasses and sins, were now quickened to a new life," "renewed in the spirit of their minds," walking before God in righteousness and holiness, and waiting for his Son from heaven.
Such were the things which God had done with them: had brought to pass through their agency. And now the brethren from Antioch and the brethren of Jerusalem were present together, to "thank the Lord for his goodness," and to say, "This hath God wrought," and "it is marvellous in our eyes." He had fulfilled all that had been foretold. He had "given knowledge of salvation to his people, the Jews, by the remission of their sins." "He had opened the blind eyes" of the Gentiles, "to bring out the prisoners from the prison."9 We may naturally suppose that the words of Simeon would occur to them, and be better understood, perhaps, than they once had been: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." 1
8 Is. ix. 20. 9 Luke i. 77. Is. xlii. 7.
1 Luke ii. 29.
THE APOSTLES DISCUSS THE QUESTION CONCERNING THE OBSERVANCE OF THE LAW OF MOSES—A. D. 51.
Acts Xv. 5—11,
5. 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.
6. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
The first salutations were now over on the coming of Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, and the surprising intelligence had been communicated, that christian churches were rapidly springing up in heathen Asia. And now the subject must be discussed, which had been the occasion of their journey. Was it needful to bring the Gentiles into covenant with God by the rite of circumcision? Such had been the original ordinance of the Jewish law, for every Jew, and for every stranger.1 And certain of the sect of the Pharisees, though they had embraced the faith of Christ, maintained that it was needful still. And this matter the apostles and elders came together to consider.
7. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how
1 Exodus xii. 48, &c.
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.
8. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
9. And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
10. 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?
11. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Such is the course of reasoning by which Peter meets the question raised here by the Pharisees. There were no words of the Lord Jesus, by which he had positively set aside the law of Moses. He had indeed uttered words which the Pharisees might turn to their own use. He had said, "I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil." He had said, "One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."2 We know what these assertions mean; but the Pharisees might naturally employ them to support their own opinion. Peter therefore meets the question upon more general grounds. The Pharisees said, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." He answered : You argue that conformity to the law of Moses is needful, in order that a man be saved; be accepted of God. But a man who is not accepted of God, cannot have the special and best gifts of God. These men have the special
■ Matt. v. 17, 18.
and best gifts of God. God who knoweth the heart, bare them witness: testified that he received the Gentiles who repented, and were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. He bare them witness, and put no difference between us and them, giving them the Holy Ghost, and purifying their hearts by faith. If they could not be saved, if he had not "appointed them to obtain salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ,"3 they could not have enjoyed that which was the special purchase of his death: that Holy Ghost, whom, when he ascended, he promised to send down upon his disciples, that He might abide with them for ever, to comfort, to strengthen, to direct them. If they had not been justified, they would not have been sanctified. But he who purified their hearts by faith, showed that they were justified in his sight: had inherited that promise of the Lord, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."
Plainly, therefore, might it be seen that nothing more was needful to them, though they were not circumcised, and did not observe the law of Moses. There was clear proof that the kingdom of heaven was open to them, because God had admitted them to a preparation for that kingdom. And if this was evident, let them beware how they disturbed a work which God had wrought, or closed a door which he had opened. The law was burthensome even to the Jews who had been brought up in it. Placed on the neck of the Gentile converts, it would prove an intolerable yoke. Why should they be 3 1 Thess. v. 9.