Chapter 9: Paul Disbelieved Continued.—Jerusalem Visit IV. and Last Invasion Visit. The Purpose Concealed: Opposition Universal; Among His Own Disciples, and Among Those of the Apostles
Section 6: Plan Of the Apostles for Ridding Themselves of Paul
In this important contest, the Holy Ghost of Agabus was predestinated to yield to the irresistible power of Paul's Lord Jesus. He made his entry into Jerusalem, Acts 21:17, and the very next day commenced the storm, by which, after having been on the point of perishing, he was driven, at last, as far as from Jerusalem to Rome, but the particulars of which belong not to the present purpose.
What is to the present purpose, however, is the company, which, upon this occasion, he saw. James, it may be remembered, was one of the three Apostles—out of the whole number, the only three who, on the occasion of the partition treaty, could be prevailed upon to give him the right hand of fellowship. Into the house of this James he entered: and there what he saw was an assembly, met together for the purpose, of giving him the advice, of which more particular mention will be made in its place. It was—to clear himself of the charge,—a charge made against him by the Jewish converts,—of teaching all the Jews, which are among the Gentiles, to forsake Moses, and of inculcating that doctrine by his own example.(See Acts 21:20-24.) Well! at this assembly who were present? Answer—the Elders—all of them: of the Apostles with the single exception of James, at whose house it was held, not one: not even John,—not even Peter:—the two other Apostles, by whom on their part, the treaty had been entered into:—Peter, the chief of the Apostles;—John "the disciple,"(John 19:26; 20:2; 21:7-20.) whom Jesus loved. The nerves of James it appears, from other tokens besides this, were of a stronger texture than those of either of these his two colleagues; he alone stood the brunt. As for Peter, he had been so "withstood to his face" by Paul on the occasion of his first visit, that he had no stomach to be so withstood a second time.
James, it may be remembered, was the Apostle, at whose motion, against the opinion and speech of Peter, the resolution insisting upon certain Jewish observances, on the part of heathen converts to the Church, was carried.
Here then, in support of the proposition maintained, by James,—here, was an assembly of the rulers of the Church convened: the Elders—the elected coadjutors of the Apostles all of them present: of the Apostles themselves, not one: James excepted, whose presence, it is evident, could not, on this occasion, be dispensed with. Of this assembly, the object, and sole object, was—the insisting upon Paul's taking, for the sake of the peace of the Church, a certain measure. Now, the measure thus insisted upon, what was it? The clearing himself of a certain charge then mentioned. And this charge, what was it? A charge—of which, consistently with truth,—of which without such direct falsehood, as if committed would be notorious,—he could not clear himself. In this case, one of two things would absolutely be the result. Either he would be rash enough to commit the falsehood,—in which case his reputation and power of disturbing the peace of the Church would be at an end; or, shrinking from the summons, he would virtually confess himself guilty: in which case likewise, he would find his situation, in the midst of an universally adverse multitude, no longer tenable.
For this clearance, a ceremony was prescribed to him:—a ceremony, the effect of which was—to declare, in a manner, beyond all comparison, more solemn and deliberate than that of anything which is commonly understood by the word oath,—that he had not done anything, of that which he stood charged with having done, and which it could not but be generally known that he had done. Witness those Epistles of his, which in another place we shall see, Ch. 12:—Epistles in which he will be seen, so frequently, and upon such a variety of occasions, and in such a variety of language, not only proclaiming the needlessness of circumcision—its uselessness to salvation,—but, in a word, on all points making war upon Moses.
No course was so rash, that Paul would shrink from it, no ceremony so awful, or so public that Paul would fear to profane it. Of the asseveration, to which he was called upon to give, in an extraordinary form, the sanction of an oath, the purport was universally notorious: the falsity, no less so: the ceremony, a solemnity on which the powers of sacerdotal ingenuity had been exhausted, in the endeavour to render is efficaciously impressive. Place of performance, the most sacred among the sacred: act of entrance, universally public, purpose universally notorious; operations, whatever they were, inscrutably concealed from vulgar eyes: person of the principal actor occasionally visible, but at an awful elevation: time, requisite for accomplishment,(Acts 21:2.) not less than seven days: the whole ceremony, effectually secured against frequent profanation, by "charges" too heavy to be borne by the united power of four ordinary purses.52 With all the ingredients of the most finished perjury in his breast,—perfect consciousness, fixed intentionality, predetermined perseverance, and full view of the sanction about to be violated,—we shall see him entering upon the task, and persevering in it. While the long drama was thus acting in the consecrated theatre, the mind of the multitude was accumulating heat without doors. The seven days necessary, were as yet unaccomplished, when indignation could hold no longer: they burst into the sacred edifice, dragged him out, and were upon the point of putting him to death, when the interference of a Roman officer saved him, and became the first link in that chain of events, which terminated in his visit to Rome, and belongs not to this place.
Thus much, in order to have the clearer view of the plan of the Apostles, and of the grounds of it, from which will be seen the unexceptionableness of it, it seemed necessary for us here to anticipate. But such rashness, with the result that followed—the Apostles, in their situation, how could they have anticipated it?
Baffled, in their former endeavours to keep the invader from entering the holy city—that holy city, with the peace of which his presence was so incompatible, such was the course which they devised and embraced from driving him out of it. For the carrying of this measure into effect, a general assembly of the governing body of the Church was necessary. At this assembly had no Apostle been present, it could not, in the eyes of the Church at large, have been what it was necessary it should appear to be. Though, of the whole number of the Apostles, no more than one was present,—yet, his being the house at which it was held, and the others, whether summoned or no, being expected of course, by the disciples at large, to be likewise present,—the Elders being likewise "all" of them present,—this attendance was deemed sufficient: as to the other Apostles—all of them but the one whose presence was thus indispensable,—abhorrence, towards the man, whose career had in their eyes commenced with murder, continued in imposture, and had recently been stained with perfidy,—rendered the meeting him face to face, a suffering too violent to be submitted to, when by any means it could be avoided.
On this occasion, the opinion, which, as we have seen, cannot but have been entertained by them, concerning Paul and his pretensions to Revelation, and to a share equal to their own in the confidence of Jesus,—must not, for a moment, be out of mind.
The whole fellowship of the Apostles,—all others, to whom, at the time, anything about the matter was known, believed his story to be, the whole of it, a pure invention. In their eyes it was a fabrication: though we, at this time of day—we, who of ourselves know nothing about it, take for granted, that it was all true.
For proving the truth of it, all we have are his own accounts of it: his own accounts, given, some of them, by himself directly: the rest ultimately, his being the only mouth from which the accounts we have seen in the Acts could have been derived. Bearing all this in mind, let us now form our judgment on the matter, and say, whether the light, in which the Apostles viewed his character and conduct, and the course pursued by them as above, was not from first to last, not only conformable to the precepts of their master, but a model of patience, forbearance, and prudence.