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Acts 15:1-21 - Homilies By R.a. Redford

The first council: spiritual liberty established.

The controversy between a corrupt Judaism and the gospel of Christ certain to be brought to a crisis. The conversion of Saul, taken in connection with his special mission to the Gentiles, forced the matter on the attention of the Church. The scene of the controversy was Antioch, where Paul would have many supporters. But Jerusalem was the proper place for a settlement—not because any authority was assigned to the spot, but because there could be gathered a more really representative assembly of the whole Church. Notice—

I. THE FACTS THEMSELVES are never questioned, but gladly acknowledged. The acceptance of the Gentiles, the blessing on the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed on others than the Jewish believers.

II. THE POINT OF CONTENTION is the claim asserted by a small section of the Jewish Church, of Pharisaic spirit, to impose on the new Gentile converts the obligations of the Mosaic Law, particularly circumcision. This showed that they regarded Christ as only a Reformer of the Law, not as substituting the gospel for the Law.

III. THE WHOLE CHURCH is the body of referees. The apostles and ciders are the speakers and leaders, but the multitude is present, and to them ( Acts 15:22 ) the decision is referred.

IV. THE TESTIMONY OF THE SPIRIT in the facts rehearsed, the signs and wonders wrought, is plainly the voice of God to the apostles. Both Peter and James stand firmly on that foundation—God hath called them. Therefore we must obey his voice. The witness of the facts agrees with the witness of the word.

V. THE RESTRICTIONS which were deemed necessary were simply the dictates of brotherly love. Stumbling-blocks should not be thrown in the way of weak brethren. Let the Gentiles use their liberty, only let them respect the feelings of Jews and the moral demands of the Law.

VI. THE CONTENTIOUS PARTY must have been a mere handful of men. They are condemned by the letter sent to Antioch. The effect of the epistle was to silence them and produce a happy peace. Which representation entirely overthrows the statement of such critics as Baur, that there was a Pauline element in the Church opposed by the Petrine.

VII. THE CAUSE OF STRIFE IS BURIED in the depth of zealous labor for Christ and souls. Judas and Silas, the messengers from Jerusalem, soon forgot the trouble in much higher topics and co-operation with the Church at Antioch in their evangelistic efforts. Thus this first occasion of ecclesiastical settlement shows the Church pervaded with the spirit of brotherly love and faith. They had no conception of Church authority apart from the voice of God's Spirit. They came together in perfect equality. They reverenced age and spiritual distinction, and the mind of the brethren gathered together in conference, but their chief dependence was on the promise of the Holy Ghost and his guidance, so that they could say, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us. " R.

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