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FORTY-THIRD PORTION. Paul's conformity to the Jewish ceremonies. PLACE.Jerusalem.
TIME.—May, A.D. 56.
May God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, give me the Holy Spirit, that I may
understand this portion of His Holy Word, and profit by it.
Acts, chap. XXI. verses 18 to 26. 18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the 19 elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared parti
cularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his minis20 try. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said uuto
him, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are 21 which believe ; and they are all zealous of the law : and they are
informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the
Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their 22 children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore ? the
multitude must needs come together : for they will bear that thou art 23 come. Do therefore this that we say to thee : We have four men which 24 have a vow on them ; them take, and purify thyself with them, and be
at charges with them, that they may shave their heads : and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are
nothing ; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the 25 law. As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and con
cluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep them
selves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, 26 and from fornication.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day
purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
EXPLANATION. Upon the day after Paul's arrival at Jerusalem, he and all the christian brethren whom he had brought with him attended an assembly of the presbyters of the church, which the apostle James seems to have convened for the purpose. After having greeted these brethren with a christian salutation, Paul gave a detailed account of the success with which God had been pleased to bless his ministry amongst the Gentiles. This called forth an expression of much thankfulness to the Lord, to whom they gave glory on this behalf.
While they did this heartily themselves, it was evident that the old prejudices of the Jewish christians were not overcome, for the body of ministers pointed out to Paul, that there were now many thousands of Jews who had become converted to christianity, and who still warmly maintained the propriety of Jews at least continuing to observe many rites of the law, even after their baptism into the christian church. They also acquainted him with the fact, that reports had reached Jerusalem, that he had been endeavouring to persuade all the Hellenist Jews in the countries he had passed through to abandon the law of Moses altogether, teaching them that there was no occasion either to circumcise their children, or to follow the other appointed ordinances and accustomed cereinonies. What should be done under these circumstances? Some step must be taken in the matter; for of course the whole body of christians would hear of Paul's arrival, and they would certainly assemble upon the occasion. Suppose that Paul were to anticipate their objections thus.
There happened to be four members at that time with them, who were under a vow of separation as Nazarites, just in the same way as Aquila was in Cenchrea. (Acts xviii. 18; see page 247.) The presbyters advised Paul to join himself to these for the purification required by the law of Moses; and to go to the expense of providing the proper offerings to be given in the temple, in order that they might all shave their heads, in token of the accomplishment of the time of separation. (Num. vi. 13—21.) By this public act, all the Jewish christians would clearly perceive that there was no foundation for the reports concerning Paul, but that he acted with propriety as a Jew, and by his conduct shewed that he himself kept the law. This had reference to the Jewish christians only; for with respect to the Gentile members of the church, the former decision of the council at Jerusalem had settled the course to be pursued by them. It was not required that they should observe the law of Moses at all; but only that they should not place stumbling blocks in the way of the Hebrew christians, which might prevent brotherly intercourse and com
munion; and therefore that they should keep themselves free from all defilement by meats and other things employed in idolatrous worship; as also from the use of blood as food, including such animals as having been prepared for food by strangling, died without shedding blood : of course avoiding that which was inseparably connected with the feasts and sacrifices of many heathen deities—the crime of fornication. (Acts xv. 19, 20, 28, 29; see page 95.)
Paul agreed to this proposal, and acted upon it. He joined the four Nazarites; and on the next day he entered upon the Mosaic rites of purification with them. For this purpose he went into the temple and stated to the proper priests the day on which his vow would terminate, which he made to agree with the closing period of the other men's vows, that the necessary sacrifices should be offered for them all at the same time. It appears from what follows in the next portion, that the number of days fixed for his own Nazarite vow was seven.
We have St. Paul's own statement of the principle on which he acted, in order to do all that in him lay for the fulfilling of his ministry, and to gain more souls for Christ. (1 Cor. ix. 1927.) In this statement he declares that unto the Jews he became a Jew that he might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law as under the law, that he might gain them that are under the law. Several instances have already occurred in the course of his missionary history, which illustrate his mode of acting upon this principle (Acts xviii. 18; see page 247); but perhaps the most striking that is recorded is that of which we read in this portion. The Nazarite vow was a voluntary obligation; and to take it, was a plain proof of the highest reverence for the law of Moses. Paul had made a bold stand against every attempt to impose the observance of that law upon christians as a necessary duty; and his endeavours obtained complete success.
With this success he was satisfied ; and when it became a question whether he should offend the prejudices of the Jews, by pushing his victory so far as to depreciate that which they so greatly valued, he as readily condescended to the infirmity of his weak brethren amongst the Jews, as he had manfully maintained free liberty for the infirmities of what were considered the weak brethren among the Gentiles. This power of adapting the principle to apparently opposing cases is a high and rare exercise of christian wisdom. Those who have maintained a contest upon right grounds for some especial point are too apt to carry out their principle beyond its needful limit; and under an alarm lest they should be supposed to forsake the principle for which they had fought, they too often sacrifice charity to a false notion of consistency.
QUESTION. What is my view of the meaning of becoming all things to all men? In what instances can I feel that I have applied the principle it involves ? How far have I forborne to press my own opinions, in condescension to what I consider the weakness of others? How far have I pressed them, where it was not essential, for fear of exciting a charge of inconsistency against me?
O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst give thy life for sinners, give me of thy Spirit, that I may be able to deny myself, and forbear to maintain my own views, where thy glory requires it not, and where the weak would stumble at my liberty. May I never use my christian liberty as an occasion of the fesh; but teach me rather so to become all things to all men, that by all means I may gain some, for the glory of the precious name of Jesus, our Lord. AMEN. FORTY-FOURTH PORTION.
Paul assailed by the multitude, and rescued. PLACE.-Jerusalem.
TIME.—May, A.D. 56.
May God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, give me the Holy Spirit, the may understand this portion of His Holy Word, and profit by it. Amen.
THE SCRIPTURE. Acts, chap. XXI. verses 27, to XXII. 29. 27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of
Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and 28 laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help: This is the man,
that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and
this place : and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath 29 pulluted this holy place." (For they had seen before with him in the
city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought 30 into the temple.) And all the city was moved, and the people ran toge
ther : and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple : and forth31 with the doors were shut. And as they went about to kill him, tidings
came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an 32 uproar. Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down
unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they 33 left bcating of Paul. Then the chief captain came near, and took him,
and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who 34 he was, and what he had done. And some cried one thing, some
another, among the multitude : and when he could not know the cer
tainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle. 35 And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the 36 soldiers for the violence of the people. For the multitude of the people 37 followed after, crying, “ Away with him." And as Paul was to be led
into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, “ May I speak unto thee?" 38 Who said, “ Canst thou speak Greek ? Art not thou that Egyptian,
which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the 39 wilderness four thousand men that were murderers ?” But Paul said,
“I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no
mean city : and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people." 40 And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and
beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a
great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying, 22
Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now 2 unto you. (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue