Acts 11:1


It was not to be expected that so great an innovation as that of free communion with a Gentile would pass unchallenged in Jerusalem. Nor did it escape the criticism and condemnation of the "apostles and brethren" there (vers. 1, 2). From the interesting and animated scene described in the text, we conclude -

I. THAT GOOD MEN ARE OCCASIONALLY FOUND DOING THAT WHICH SEEMS HIGHLY CENSURABLE TO THE GODLY. We can hardly realize the intensity of the indignation which breathed and glowed in the accusing words, "Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them (ver. 3). Peter had done an act which was wholly irregular and positively unlawful. What did he mean by it? We know that he had simply followed the instructions which he had received from Christ, and that he could not possibly have acted otherwise without downright disobedience How many times, in what various spheres, under what different conditions, have good men found themselves placed by their very faithfulness in a position of contention" (ver. 2) with their brethren, either respecting

(1) a point of doctrine (e.g. "the Reformation"), or

(2) a matter of Church government (e.g. the way in which the Church should be officered, or the relation in which it should stand to the civil power), or

(3) a method of evangelization, or

(4) the position which should be taken toward other Christian communities! In these and similar matters the best and wisest of men have occasionally found themselves compelled to confront the strong censures of those with whom they were in communion. It is a most painful position to have to excite the indignation of good men, but it may be our plain and bounden duty so to do.

II. THAT OFTEN A SIMPLE NARRATION OF THE FACTS IS THE BEST POSSIBLE DEFENCE. "Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order" (ver. 4). He told the whole story in its simplicity (vers. 5-16). That was enough: it disarmed his accusers; they had nothing to reply; they accepted his defense; "They held their peace" (ver. 18). If some of them went no further than ceasing to complain, others acknowledged that a new step was taken, and that the Church was warranted in "going forward." It is often, if not always, the wisest of all plans to let the simple facts speak for us. If our complaining brethren knew as much as we know, they would not condemn. We have but to let in the light, and we shall be acquitted and perhaps commended.

III. THAT GOD WILL VINDICATE HIS OWN. Peter's one great argument was that he had done everything under Divine direction (see vers. 5, 9, 12, 15, 16). He summed it all up in the strong, overwhelming consideration, "What was I that I could withstand God?" (ver. 17). By his marked and manifest interposition, God had sustained his servant, and had given him the means of justifying his conduct when it came before the tribunal of his fellows. If wisdom is not always justified of her children at once, it will be in time. Unto the upright there will arise light in the darkness (Psalm 112:4). God may desire his servant to place himself in an attitude of opposition to his friends, and to bear the pain of their blows; but he will at length - later, if not sooner - vindicate that servant, and give him the greater honor for the shame he bore at his bidding.

IV. THAT WE SHOULD KEEP OURSELVES FREE FOR THE EXCULPATION OF MEN AND FOR OUR OWN SPIRITUAL ENLARGEMENT. The apostles and brethren had to own that Peter was right, and, at the same time, to receive into their mind a larger and nobler view of Christian truth. Happily they were free to do so; otherwise there would have been a bitter separation and an injurious rupture.

1. However wrong good men may seem to us to be, let us remember that it is possible that it is we and not they who are mistaken. We may be very confident we are right, but it is the most positive who are the most fallible of men.

2. Let us be ready to enlarge our view as God gives us light. "He has yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word." Wisdom does not dwell with us. Out of the heavenly treasury there are riches of truth still to be dispensed. A docile Church will ever be learning and acquiring. There are some men who, by their guilty stubbornness, will block the way of the chariot of God; there are others who will take up the stones and prepare the path that it may go swiftly on its benignant course. Let ours be the spirit of the apostles and brethren at Jerusalem, who, when they had listened and learned, said, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." - C.









And the apostles and brethren...heard...And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him.
Biblical Museum.
Learn —

1. That even among God's saints no one has been without blemish and folly.

2. That we must not put down the faults of the saints to wickedness.

3. That when we truly recognise and experience the universal love of God we shall be able to judge better of many events in God's kingdom though they occur without the limits of our own Church.

(Biblical Museum.)

These are here represented —

I. FOR HUMILITY — in order to observe from them the power of the enemy, who never neglects to sow tares among the wheat.

II. FOR COMFORT — in order to recognise in them that nothing new befalls the Church in the divisions of the present day.

III. FOR DOCTRINE — in order to see from them how the rents are to be healed by the power of evangelical truth and love.

(K. Gerok.)

We have here —

I. A STRIKING IMPERFECTION IN THE FIRST CHURCH. "The apostles and brethren heard"; and the point to be considered is the highly improper state of mind which the information produced. Instead of rejoicing at the event, and congratulating Peter, they called him to account as a criminal. This imperfection teaches us —

1. That antiquity does not confer infallibility. There are churches which are constantly referring us to the ancient and patristic for the final settlement of theological questions. Nay, there are men of antiquarian proclivities in every Church who refer to the past for the unerring and the perfect. Now, the fact that the Apostolic Church was imperfect exposes this folly.

2. That Christianity does not perfect its disciples at once. Some of these men had attained the rank of apostles, and yet had many errors to correct and habits to overcome. Christian excellence is a growth only, the germ of which is given at conversion; and unless the soil is well looked after, and the noxious weeded out, it will continue a frail and imperfect thing. Christians must "grow in grace," etc.

II. A GREAT MAN CENSURED FOR A FEEBLE WORK; which teaches us —

1. That Peter was not regarded as an infallible dictator in spiritual matters. The circumstance that he was called to account by the whole body of Christians goes against the assumption that he was vicar of Christ — the pope. "Call no man rabbi: one is your Master, even Christ."

2. That men's works must not be determined by the judgment of contemporaries. The best works have generally met with contemporary censure. Men ahead of their time awaken envy and alarm. The greatest theologians have been the heretics of their age, and the greatest heroes its martyrs.

III. AN INSPIRED APOSTLE CONCILIATING HIS BRETHREN. There was nothing of the haughtiness of modern primacy about Peter. He might have heard in silence and withdrawn in contempt, or denounced their ingratitude and narrowness. Instead of that he listens attentively, and offers a calm, generous, dignified reply.

1. He recites facts — those of the previous chapter, with the exception of his sermon which was productive of such mighty results. He bases his defence, not on what he said, but on what God did, which —

(1)Indicates his own modesty;

(2)rebukes vanity in preachers.

2. He makes an appeal (ver. 17). This is the logic of his address — God had unmistakably indicated His will; who was he that he should oppose it?

III. A GLORIOUS VICTORY OVER AN OLD PREJUDICE (ver. 18).

1. They heartily acquiesced in the fact: "They held their peace," feeling that the apostle had done the right thing.

2. They devoutly rejoiced in the fact: "They glorified God." That which had pained them now filled them with delight.

3. They joyfully declared the fact: "Then hath God," etc.

(1)Salvation is the life of man.

(2)Repentance is essential to salvation.

(3)Repentance is the gift of God through the gospel ministry.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

1. The Divine injunction of which he is conscious.

2. The eyes of men under which he acted.

3. The tranquillity of spirit with which he can vindicate himself.

4. The fruits of his work to which he is permitted to point.

(K. Gerok.)

is the devil's harvest.

(Fontaine.)

I recollect on one occasion conversing with a marine, who gave me a good deal of his history. He told me that the most terrible engagement he had ever been in was one between the ship to which he belonged and another English vessel, when, on meeting in the night, they mistook each other for enemies. Several persons were wounded and both vessels were much damaged by the firing. When the day broke great and painful was the surprise to find the English flag hoisted from both ships. They saluted each other, and wept bitterly together over their mistake.

(W. Williams.)

What a circumstance is that, that in 1624, at the request of the University of Paris, and especially of the Sorbonne, persons were forbidden by an arret of Parliament, on pain of death, to hold or teach any maxim contrary to ancient or approved authors, or to enter into any debate but such as should be approved by the doctors of the faculty of theology. So, again, after the telescope had been invented, many of the followers of Aristotle positively refused to look through the instrument because it threatened the overthrow of their master's doctrines and authority; and so when Galileo had discovered the satellites of Jupiter some persons were infatuated enough to attempt to write down these unwelcome additions to the solar system.

(Paxton Hood.)

Sir Humphry Davy, when he introduced his "safety lamp," which has saved so many valuable lives, declined to take out a patent for it, saying that his sole object was to serve the cause of humanity. What of men who claim prescriptive rights to the gospel of Jesus Christ!

(W. Baxendale.)

1. The importance of the centurion's baptism rested not simply on its being the issue of a series of Divine interpositions, but on its being accepted as the commencement of a new era. Its recognition by the Church, however, hinged on its having been brought about by God. Hence Peter's narrative was necessary before the new conditions of membership could be welcomed.

2. The news reached Jerusalem before Peter, and in an imperfect form, viz., that Peter had been treating uncircumcised men ecclesiastically and socially as though they were circumcised. Why they did not know, and hence they hardly knew whether to be glad or vexed.

3. Peter gave his report when "they of the circumcision were disputing with him," i.e., those who afterwards came to form, and had when Luke was writing formed, the Judaizing party. The strong Jewish prejudice which was to work such mischief must have already been latent in the minds of many baptized Jews. This was the first occasion on which that prejudice was stirred into activity. The apostles would have inquired into the spiritual side of the transaction — the reception of Christ by heathen — whereas the question raised was merely that of "eating." Nor would the heads of the Church have used the phrase rendered softly "men uncircumcised," an untranslated expression of rude and displeased contempt.

4. Peter met the question with a calm and careful narrative of facts. It can hardly fail to startle those who know how his name has been used to cover the most unbounded claims, that he should be reduced to justify his apostolic action. Yet this is in perfect accord with the whole New Testament. The Church is never represented as a close oligarchy, much less as an empire with an infallible head. Before the assembly of the faithful this "Prince of the apostles," this Rock Man, to whom Jesus had given the keys, was content to plead, and that on a matter which could justify itself, and to disputatious brethren whom he might have treated with contempt.

5. Peter passed over matters already known to detail the circumstances which prepared him for the reception of Cornelius — the vision, the coincident arrival of the messengers, the monition of the Holy Ghost — a threefold strand spun by a celestial hand, which drew him with a force he dared not withstand. So far the incident had been personal; now came the corroborative evidence of the six brethren who were witnesses that the Master's promise to baptize His disciples with the Divine Spirit was fulfilled. Nay, more; God had bestowed that Spirit on the original disciples, not because of their Jewish birth or circumcision, but simply because they had believed on Christ. To the Gentiles, therefore, who believed had now come the very same "free gift," to prove that "neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision." In Peter's words there lies, as in a seed, the whole doctrine of free grace and justification by faith, and no better commentary on them can be found than in Galatians 2:15, 16, which was addressed to Peter when he renounced for a time the position that he here defends.

6. The general enthusiasm over this new-won freedom and the happy consciousness of a wider brotherhood broke forth in praise. It might have been hoped that the Church would now pass from its subordination to the Mosaic law into the spiritual freedom of Christ. Alas! the rise of a Gentile Church at Antioch soon after came to be viewed with rivalry, and a synod at Jerusalem could not compose the strife. Upon Peter's vacillation Paul became the rock which turned aside from the Gentile Churches a current which would have swept Christianity into Mosaic legalism and exclusiveness. Yet in their convictions the two apostles were one.

7. The limitation which for so many centuries confined God's favour to one tribe was one which must have forever shut out us and our fathers. In His wise pleasure He bad elected Israel, and might have let the election stand. But the very election contemplated ultimate catholicity. Israel was made a guarded focus of light just that it might one day enlighten the Gentiles. But, in spite of their prophets, they kept to their tribes what God had given to mankind. Thus it came that the grace of life had to tear itself away from their grip to overspread the globe. Yet it was by the hands of Jews after all that the grace of God was first conveyed to Gentiles in Caesarea, and by Jewish missionaries that the gospel has at length reached ourselves.

(J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

1. This differs from the previous speeches of the apostle (except the first), in that it is not an appeal to men to become Christians, but an explanation to Christians of a fresh course of action taken in the service of Christ.

2. While Peter tarried at Caesarea the apostles and brethren heard with surprise of this unexpected victory of the gospel. He was well aware of the necessity for a full explanation, and therefore went straight to Jerusalem, and with excellent judgment took the six Jewish Christians from Joppa who had baptized the believing Gentiles, who could corroborate his story.

3. "They that were of the circumcision contended with him," not apparently about the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, or even their baptism, but about his eating with them. They were displeased that an apostle had broken a tradition of strict Judaism.

4. Such a condition of mind we regard with wonder and pity; and yet something very like it is far too common in modern Christendom. Who has not seen Christian faith miserably united with small-minded prejudices? And this also we see, that narrowness of sympathy goes with dulness of perception. These Jews could not see anything more important than the question whether Peter did well or ill in sitting at table with the uncircumcised. So now: the more that men make of external restriction in religion, the more they incapacitate their minds for appreciating what is spiritual and permanent. Note —

I. THE POSITION TAKEN BY EVEN THE LEADING APOSTLE.

1. The name of Peter has been used to cover the claim of supremacy advanced by the Pope. But here we see that the brethren were not afraid to "contend with him"; and he made no attempt to silence the objectors by dint of authority, but patiently explained his action till he won their approval. Is it not plain that there was no such thing as Popedom known to St. Peter? There was not even oligarchic government by the apostles. The Church had leaders and guides; but the wisdom of Christ was imparted to the whole body, not to a few conspicuous members only.

2. It is not well that anyone should reckon himself above question from the brethren. It is quite possible that they may find fault through ignorance; but in such a case Christ's servant must not give way to irritation, but calmly explain what they have misunderstood. Let him tell the unvarnished truth, and leave it to the heavenly Master to vindicate him.

II. THE BEST WAY TO REMOVE MISUNDERSTANDINGS AMONG BRETHREN.

1. Nine-tenths of the fault finding comes of defective information. The objectors here knew but very partially what Peter's conduct had been, and none of the reasons. They heard that he had been living among Gentiles, but nothing of the visions or of the spiritual results. They certainly laid themselves open to a sharp reproof. But the apostle did not even make complaint. He wished to conciliate their better judgment, and preserve peace in the Church.

2. This, too, conveys, a most valuable lesson to those who find their course of action called into question. It will be often found that fault finders proceed on most inaccurate information; and, by doing so, they lay themselves open to retort. But the object of Christ's servant should be not to triumph over an unreasonable brother, but to gain victories for the truth and maintain peace and charity.

III. THE MOST EFFECTIVE ANSWER TO STICKLERS ON POINTS OF ORDER.

1. St. Peter did not enter into an argument upon the permanence of those restrictions which had separated the Jews from the Gentiles. He was himself scarcely prepared for such an argument, though a new light had been cast into his mind by the vision. No such light, however, had fallen on those at Jerusalem; and it would have been worse than useless to argue. Peter took them on ground which no Christian could call in question. As the Word of life was being preached to the Gentiles the Holy Ghost fell on them, just as on the Jews at Pentecost. Did not that one momentous fact settle all questions, overcome all misgivings?

2. This way of handling a difficulty makes short work with many Church controversies about holy orders, correct ritual, and the like. In ways that we consider exceptional, and through the labours of persons whose ordination has but an uncertain validity, thousands have been converted from sin to righteousness. This seems to us to be matter of fact which only a desperate bigotry can ignore? Surely when we see that sinners are turned from their evil ways our simple duty is to acknowledge the work of God whenever and wherever He pleases to work and give Him thanks.

IV. THE TRUE PLACE AND JUSTIFICATION OF BAPTISM. The Gentiles at Caesarea having been baptized with the Holy Ghost, it was impossible to deny to them baptism with water. Indeed, there are not two baptisms, but one, having an outer form and inner sense. The former requires water, the latter the grace of the Holy Spirit. Superstition holds that the former always involves the latter, and therefore urges people to be baptized, or to have their infants baptized, in order that by that rite they may receive the Holy Ghost. This is "Christening" of which the Bible knows nothing. It is enough to trace the dispensation of baptism through these early chapters. At Jerusalem they that received the Word of salvation were baptized. At Samaria they that believed the good tidings were baptized. On the road to Gaza the Ethiopian treasurer first received Philip's preaching of Jesus, and then was baptized. At Damascus, Saul, through the intervention of Ananias, was filled with the Holy Ghost. Then "he arose, and was baptized." So here. Conclusion:

1. Peter's speech had a marked success. The Jewish brethren "glorified God, saying, Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance into life." Would that they had cherished this mood! What controversies would have been avoided! What trouble might have been spared to Paul!

2. These disciples had a clear conception of repentance —(1) In its origin as the gift of God's grace;(2) in its issue as "unto life." And with this doctrine ought "the fallow ground" of men's hearts to be broken. It is God's command; it is God's gift; it is God's encouragement: "Turn ye; why will ye die?"

(D. Fraser, D. D.)

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