Acts 15

* The dispute raised by Judaizing teachers. (1-6) The council at

Jerusalem. (7-21) The letter from the council. (22-35) Paul and

Barnabas separate. (36-41)

1-6 Some from Judea taught the Gentile converts at Antioch,

that they could not be saved, unless they observed the whole

ceremonial law as given by Moses; and thus they sought to

destroy Christian liberty. There is a strange proneness in us to

think that all do wrong who do not just as we do. Their doctrine

was very discouraging. Wise and good men desire to avoid

contests and disputes as far as they can; yet when false

teachers oppose the main truths of the gospel, or bring in

hurtful doctrines, we must not decline to oppose them.
7-21 We see from the words "purifying their hearts by faith,"

and the address of St. Peter, that justification by faith, and

sanctification by the Holy Ghost, cannot be separated; and that

both are the gift of God. We have great cause to bless God that

we have heard the gospel. May we have that faith which the great

Searcher of hearts approves, and attests by the seal of the Holy

Spirit. Then our hearts and consciences will be purified from

the guilt of sin, and we shall be freed from the burdens some

try to lay upon the disciples of Christ. Paul and Barnabas

showed by plain matters of fact, that God owned the preaching of

the pure gospel to the Gentiles without the law of Moses;

therefore to press that law upon them, was to undo what God had

done. The opinion of James was, that the Gentile converts ought

not to be troubled about Jewish rites, but that they should

abstain from meats offered to idols, so that they might show

their hatred of idolatry. Also, that they should be cautioned

against fornication, which was not abhorred by the Gentiles as

it should be, and even formed a part of some of their rites.

They were counselled to abstain from things strangled, and from

eating blood; this was forbidden by the law of Moses, and also

here, from reverence to the blood of the sacrifices, which being

then still offered, it would needlessly grieve the Jewish

converts, and further prejudice the unconverted Jews. But as the

reason has long ceased, we are left free in this, as in the like

matters. Let converts be warned to avoid all appearances of the

evils which they formerly practised, or are likely to be tempted

to; and caution them to use Christian liberty with moderation

and prudence.
22-35 Being warranted to declare themselves directed by the

immediate influence of the Holy Ghost, the apostles and

disciples were assured that it seemed good unto God the Holy

Spirit, as well as to them, to lay upon the converts no other

burden than the things before mentioned, which were necessary,

either on their own account, or from present circumstances. It

was a comfort to hear that carnal ordinances were no longer

imposed on them, which perplexed the conscience, but could not

purify or pacify it; and that those who troubled their minds

were silenced, so that the peace of the church was restored, and

that which threatened division was removed. All this was

consolation for which they blessed God. Many others were at

Antioch. Where many labour in the word and doctrine, yet there

may be opportunity for us: the zeal and usefulness of others

should stir us up, not lay us asleep.
36-41 Here we have a private quarrel between two ministers, no

less than Paul and Barnabas, yet made to end well. Barnabas

wished his nephew John Mark to go with them. We should suspect

ourselves of being partial, and guard against this in putting

our relations forward. Paul did not think him worthy of the

honour, nor fit for the service, who had departed from them

without their knowledge, or without their consent: see ch.

#13:13|. Neither would yield, therefore there was no remedy but

they must part. We see that the best of men are but men, subject

to like passions as we are. Perhaps there were faults on both

sides, as usual in such contentions. Christ's example alone, is

a copy without a blot. Yet we are not to think it strange, if

there are differences among wise and good men. It will be so

while we are in this imperfect state; we shall never be all of

one mind till we come to heaven. But what mischief the

remainders of pride and passion which are found even in good

men, do in the world, and do in the church! Many who dwelt at

Antioch, who had heard but little of the devotedness and piety

of Paul and Barnabas, heard of their dispute and separation; and

thus it will be with ourselves, if we give way to contention.

Believers must be constant in prayer, that they may never be led

by the allowance of unholy tempers, to hurt the cause they

really desire to serve. Paul speaks with esteem and affection

both of Barnabas and Mark, in his epistles, written after this

event. May all who profess thy name, O loving Saviour, be

thoroughly reconciled by that love derived from thee which is

not easily provoked, and which soon forgets and buries injuries.
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