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forced to comply with that, which, after all, could do nothing towards their salvation; which was but a course of discipline to bring men to the real grounds of acceptance with God 1 For even we who have kept the law, do not any longer look to that for salvation; but to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is "the .end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."* We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved even as they.
So the apostle Peter dealt with this question ; and his mode of treating it, has rendered the subject profitable to every age.
No one would now contend, that "except a man keep the law of Moses he cannot be saved." But it is a question which personally concerns every one, whether he shall be himself saved: whether he has an interest in the covenant of grace, is within the number of the chosen. Peter here instructs us where to look for the answer; viz. to the heart, whether it is purified by faith, to the practice, whether it is governed by the Holy Spirit. God has given to the Gentiles the Holy Ghost—so the apostle argues—even as he did unto us. He will not cast off those, whom he has made a holy temple to himself. He has purified their hearts by faith. They need no further qualification. He who is saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, is purified through the faith which he holds.
1 Rom. x. 4.
For there is that in faith, which purifies; which leads to sanctification. It shows the consequence of sin, eternal death. It shows the vastness of the inheritance, eternal life. And thus it makes sin hateful; a thing to be dreaded and resisted; and raises the affections from things below to things above. If it does not this, it is not the faith which saves. It is not justifying faith, if it is not sanctifying faith. But God justifies those whom the Holy Spirit sanctifies; and to this inherent test we must look, far more than to any outward distinction or ordinance, when the question is asked. Who shall be saved?
O for higher measures of that faith! That faith which sets Christ crucified before us; crucified that he might make atonement for transgression! That faith that sets before us the same Mediator interceding for our sins, negligences, and ignorances! That faith which shows that any trials, any sacrifices, any mortifications which we must submit to here, are "not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed." Such is the faith which cleanses the heart from corrupt works "to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven." And living and dying in this faith, we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved even as they who met in the assembly at Jerusalem, and were the first fruits of the gospel of Christ.
THE DECREE OF THE COUNCIL IS GIVEN BY JAMES, CONCERNING THE LAW OF MOSES.—
a. d. 51.
Acts Xv. 12—21.
12. Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.
Tidings had before been brought to Jerusalem, that "God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life." In the eleventh chapter we had the account of the surprise which Peter occasioned by the intelligence which he brought back from Joppa. But now the work had proceeded much further. Cornelius, though a Gentile, had renounced idolatry before he embraced the gospel. The report which Paul and Barnabas could relate, would tell of far greater miracles and wonders. The prophet had asked, "Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods ?" 1 Now, nations had done this: had "cast away their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which their own hands had made unto them for sin."2 Now, they who had lived "without God in the world," "unto every good work reprobate," had been quickened into spiritual life; had
i Jer. ii. 11. 2 Is. xxxi. 7.
been "sanctified, had been justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God." This the apostles who had witnessed it now declared, confirming the argument of Peter, that God had shown his favour towards them, purifying their hearts by faith.
And now James, as chief leader of the church at Jerusalem, confirms the opinion which Peter had declared, and settles it by a formal decree.
13. And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:
14. Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.3
15. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
16. After this I will return, and tvill build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down ; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:
17. That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.4
18. Known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world.
These words of James explain to us the reasoning by which he was led to the decision which he afterwards declares.
Simeon, he says, (Simon Peter,) has reminded you how God ten years ago selected him to be the first who should make known the gospel to a heathen company. That company heard and believed. God thus showed his design to visit the Gentiles, and take out of them a people for his name.
3 Ch. x. 4 Amos ix. LI, 12.
We were surprised at this: Peter himself was astonished, and was only convinced by signs and proofs, to withstand which would be to " withstand God."5
And yet we may perceive that such was the divine intimation from the beginning. For to this agree the words of the prophets; speaking of a time when God should repair what had fallen, and restore what had been destroyed, that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles after whom my name is called.
This then is "the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God," " according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus," "that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel."6 For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. His counsels are fixed from everlasting.
Upon which he concludes,
19. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
20. But that we write unto them, that they abstain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
21. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbathday.
Such was James's decision, and the reasoning on which it was founded. The question had been,
» Ch. xi. .2, 16, 17. e Eph. iii. 6-9.