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where Paul and Barnabas continued to exercise their ministry, together with many other of the Lord's appointed servants.
The circumstances recorded in this portion, inform us of the result of that struggle which had been going on in the minds of the Jews, ever since the beginning of the christian church amongst them; and they shew us the gradual and tender way in which God is pleased to draw his
people from those prejudices, which belong to their remaining infirmity. We have seen that it was never supposed by the first disciples, that any Gentile could become a christian, without receiving the Mosaic rites together with christianity. All the apostles seem to have understood our Lord's command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature," as necessarily to involve that they should execute this commission as Jews, and make proselytes of the Gentiles, in order to their becoming disciples of Christ. However, even this thought did not stir them up to go beyond the limits of the original stock of Jews by birth, until after seven years they were driven forth through persecution; when the preaching of the gospel from Jewish lips was extended no farther than to Hellenist Jews and proselytes. During three years more, the whole church remained satisfied with this little step; until the Lord plainly shewed, that the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile was so effectually broken down, that persons of every nation in the world were as free to receive the unencumbered gospel, as were the Jews themselves. This further manifestation of the will of God with respect to the Gentiles, was allowed quietly to work for seven years more: until the minds of the apostles, and of the Hebrew christian church in general, had been gradually brought to overcome the powerful prejudice nurtured by the ordinances of the Mosaic law; so that the solemn decision of the church at Jerusalem came to be at last, that they should “not trouble those who from among the Gentiles were turned to God.” Yet still in arriving at this decision, the greatness of the effort to the Jewish heart is manifested by the nature of the restrictions which were attached to this concession. These were intended to guard the scarcely healed wound of the Jewish pride from being exposed to too severe a trial, lest it should burst out afresh, and be more difficult to cure. While therefore the Gentiles were allowed entire freedom from the bondage of Jewish rites, they we commanded so to use this liberty, that it should not become an occasion of offence to their elder brethren, who still continued “zealous for the law.” It must be remarked that these restrictions upon Gentile liberty were imposed, not merely by the authority of a council consisting of Jews, and therefore liable to act under Jewish feelings; but “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost,” as well as to the Jewish church, to place a consideration for Hebrew prejudices amongst "the necessary things” of Gentile christian love. And St. Paul afterwards shews how necessary it was for the purpose for which it was appointed, when after making a detailed application of the point involved in the decision of the Jewish council, he sums up his teaching of the christians at Rome by saying, “if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” (Rom. xiv. 15.)
If this has been the course pursued by the Spirit of God himself, it plainly points out the path in which christians should walk one with another; while it exhibits to us a striking instance of the difficulties to overcome man's prejudice, and the gentle forbearance of God in dealing with such difficulties by grace. It is not the way of God to require sudden alterations in long settled prejudices. The views of many christians with respect to matters of secondary importance, are often very erroneous; while on the other hand, the opinions of another class of christians respecting such of their brethren as continue to hold these views, are often very harsh and very uncharitable. While the mistaken views of the former class lead them to shun the latter, these last on the other hand, have no notion that it is their duty to remove any stumblingblock out of the other's way. The spirit of the decision of the council at Jerusalem, is as directly applicable to such cases amongst individual members of the church, as the letter of it was to
the binding up in love of the two great branches of the church for whom it was given.
For what reasons do I consider that any persons, who profess to be christians, are not really so? Do I require of necessity an immediate conformity to all points which I see to be right? or do I wait with forbearance for a gradual opening of their minds? How far do I think it necessary for love's sake to do some things which God has not made necessary to salvation ?
Merciful God, whose tender love towards mankind has been manifested in the gift of thy dear Son, and whose gentleness and forbearance is displayed in the working of thy blessed Spirit amongst men; be pleased so to convince
of my own infirmities, that by the same Spirit I may be forbearing and compassionate to the infirmities of others. Dispose me to feel so lovingly towards my fellowchristians, that I may be preserved from judging harshly of them, and may feel it necessary to deny myself, rather than give occasion that my brother should offend. I ask this for the sake, and through the mediation of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
Contention between Paul and Barnabas. PLACE.—Antioch. TIME.--- About May, A.D. 49.
May God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, give me the Holy Spirit, that I inay understand this portion of His Holy Word, and profit by it. Amen.
Acts, chap. XV. verses 36 to 40. And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, “ Let us go again and 36 visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.” And Barnabas determined to take with 37 them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to 38 take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and
39 went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp
between them, that they departed asunder one from the other : and so 40 Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas,
and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.
EXPLANATION. As soon as the alarm of the Gentile christians respecting the law of Moses had been quieted, and the church at Antioch had regained its peace, Paul invited Barnabas to accompany him in a journey to all those places where they had preached the gospel and gathered churches, in order that they might exanine into their condition. Barnabas agreed to this proposal, and meant to take with them his nephew (Col. iv. 10) John Mark. Paul objected to this; he did not think it right that John should be allowed now to join them, in revisiting those churches which had been planted in their former journey, from the dangers and difficulty of which it would seem that this man had shrunk, since he went no further than the shores of Pamphylia, returning from thence and leaving the apostles to go on their missionary work alone. (Acts xiii. 13. See
174.) Barnabas sought to excuse his nephew; and Paul was the more earnest in objecting to his company.
Unhappily this matter produced such a difference of opinion between these two apostles, that they considered it better not to make this journey together. Barnabas appears to have been determined on carrying out his original plan; for taking Mark with him, he took ship to the island of Cyprus, which was the track of the former journey. Paul on the other hand took the road by land, which led directly to Derbe ; which was the extreme point to which the former journey had extended. Paul selected Silas as his companion, and they set forth upon their journey; while the christians at Antioch put up their prayers, recommending him to the grace of God.
APPLICATION. It is truly painful to observe the working of the indwelling corruption of fallen nature, in the contention which took place between two such eminent servants of the Lord as Paul and Barnabas. How powerfully this illustrates the truth, that “the infection of original sin remains, yea in them that are regenerated.” It may be, that Barnabas allowed his judgment to be improperly influenced by partiality towards his sister's son (Col. iv. 10); and it
may be that Paul on his part formed too severe an opinion as to the previous conduct of the young man : but whether either or both of these suppositions be correct, it is plain that the contention was sharper thun accorded with the perfectness of christian love. And yet there were many reasons, why such love should bave existed between these two apostles especially. Barnabas had been the means of softening the minds of the christians at Jerusalem, when they were so suspicious of Paul's being really a convert as to be backward in receiving him (Acts ix. 27); and the same christian feeling had induced Barnabas to go to Tarsus, in order to associate Paul with himself in the apostolic office at Antioch; where they had continued together for a whole year, and from whence they had together set forth upon the first missionary enterprise of the christian church. (Acts xi. 25, 26; xiii. 1–4.) We shall however perceive in following the history that, though the occasion of the separation of these two missionaries sprang from “a root of bitterness" in them, yet the result of it was overruled of God; who can make all things work together for good, and employ even the workings of a sinful nature to further the great purpose of gathering his elect. In consequence of this division between Barnabas and Paul, the gospel was more largely extended by the means of both in separate directions, than would have been the case if they had continued to act upon their original intention. Barnabas with John Mark went forth to the west: whilst Paul with Silas proceeding to the north, confirmed and established the churches in that direction; from whence they were led by the Holy Spirit to plant new churches in countries beyond the sphere of their former journey; and were divinely directed to stretch forward from Asia into Europe, as we shall find in the next portion. In all this, the infirmities of the instruments made it more plain, that the glory of the results was to be given to God alone.