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15. The Council at Jerusalem

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. 3And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 4And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. 5But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.

6And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. 7And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

12Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

13And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 18Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. 19Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 21For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. 22Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: 24Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: 25It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. 30So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: 31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. 32And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. 33And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. 34Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still. 35Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

36And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. 37And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. 38But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. 39And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; 40And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. 41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

10. Now, therefore, why tempt ye? This is the other part of the sermon wherein Peter showeth how deadly that doctrine is which Paul’s enemies sought to bring in; to wit, which might drown godly souls in despair. He inferreth and gathereth out of the former member, that God is tempted if the Gentiles be enforced to keep the law of necessity; 104104     “Ad necessitatem servandae logis,” to a necessity of observing the law. he riseth higher, and pierceth even unto the very fountain. For he reasoneth hitherto, that the Gentiles should have injury done them if there be more required at their hands than God will; and seeing that he made them equal with the holy people, and did vouchsafe them the honor of adoption, it was. an unmeet and inconvenient [absurd] matter that they should be rejected, and so his liberality should be restrained. For he saith last of all, that this faith is sufficient for them, though they want ceremonies. And now he taketh an higher principle, that those who tie men’s salvation to the works of the law leave them no good hope; but rather throw the whole world headlong into horrible destruction, if it can obtain salvation by no other means but by keeping the law. With what arguments he proveth this we shall see in their place. As touching the words, seeing the Scripture saith, that God is tempted diverse ways, Peter’s meaning is, in this place, that God is provoked as it were of set purpose, when there is an heavier burden laid upon men than they be able to bear; and that his power is brought within bounds 105105     “Circumscribi,” is circumscribed. when that yoke is bound which he doth loose, which is nothing else but by striving against nature to match ourselves with giants, as they say.

That the yoke should be laid upon their necks. The meaning of the words is plain, that God is tempted when there is laid upon men’s consciences a sorer burden than they are able to bear, and by this means the salvation of men’s souls is sore shaken; seeing that they must needs by this means be drowned in despair, which cannot be without their destruction. But that injury which is done to God is no whit more tolerable, when as he is robbed of his right that he may not have liberty to deliver us. But we may easily gather out of the thing itself that he doth not speak of the ceremonies only. The servitude of the old training up under the law was hard and laborious; but yet it were too absurd to call it a yoke that cannot be borne; and we know that not only holy men, but also even most hypocrites, did well and exactly accomplish the outward observation of the rites.

Moreover, it were not any hard matter to satisfy the moral law, if it were content with corporeal obedience only, and did not require spiritual righteousness; for it is granted to many to bridle their hands and feet; but to moderate all the affections so that there may reign perfect abstinence and purity, as well in the soul as in the body, this is too hard a matter.

Therefore, those be too foolish who restrain unto ceremonies Peter’s words, whereby the weakness of men to perform the righteousness of the heart is expressed; which doth not only far pass their strength, but is altogether contrary to nature. These men were, I warrant you, deceived by one reason, because the question was moved concerning ceremonies only; but they do remember that Peter did more attentively and more wisely consider as became him, what a labyrinth this error (to look to, but light) did bring with it. The false apostles did avouch, that no man could attain unto salvation unless he did keep the ceremonies. If man’s salvation be tied to works, it shall be no longer grounded in the grace of Christ, and so, by this means, free reconciliation shall fall flat to the ground. Now, seeing that man’s strength is unable to keep the law, all men are subject to the curse which the Lord there denounceth against the transgressors; and so, by this means, all men shall come in danger of despair, seeing that they see themselves guilty of eternal death by the law. Peradventure the false apostles understood these things craftily. But Peter pierceth the very fountain, that he may bring to light the deadly poison of that doctrine; and thus must we do, so often as Satan doth craftily thrust in wicked errors.

At this day we seem to some to be too contentious, when as we do so stoutly stand in this, that men must not pray for the dead; for it is both a most ancient custom, neither is it a thing to look to very dangerous, though men pour out superfluous prayer; yet [nay] it is a plausible opinion, because it carrieth some color of human godliness.

Furthermore, unskillful men judge thus, because they seek. not out the head spring. For, if we grant that men may pray for the dead, we must also admit this, that they are now punished by the judgment of God, because they made not satisfaction in this life for their sins. And so, by this means the force of Christ’s satisfaction is translated unto the works of men. Secondly, the rule of praying aright is overthrown, if men may pray at all adventure, without the word of God. This is also a greater absurdity than that we ought lightly to pass over it. In sum, we can never give true judgment of any question, unless, having thoroughly ripped up the fountain of that doctrine which is called in question, we deduct all consequences which it bringeth with it. Therefore, it is no marvel if Peter, to the end he may pull the false apostles out (by the ears,) as it were out of their lurking dens, do generally dispute touching the whole law; because he doth nothing else but open the matter itself, whereof the simple were ignorant; that they may all see what a deadly doctrine it is, which doth both extinguish the grace of Christ, and drown souls in the horrible dungeon of despair. 106106     “In horrendae desperationis abyssum,” in the abyss of horrible despair.

Neither we nor our fathers. Peter doth not only dispute what men have done indeed, but what they were able to do; neither doth he speak only of the common riff-raff, 107107     “Vulgo hominum.” of the vulgar. but of the holy fathers. Seeing that he denieth that they were able to bear the yoke of the law, it is manifest that the law cannot possibly be kept. I know that Jerome’s saying is so generally received, that it is, as it were, an undoubted and most certain maxim, If any man say that it is a thing impossible to keep the law, let him be accursed; but we must not hearken to any voice of man which is contrary to the judgment of the Spirit of God. We hear what the Spirit pronounceth in this place by the mouth of Peter, not concerning the will and works of men, but touching their ability and power. And hereunto agreeth Paul, affirming that it was an impossible thing that the law should give us life, forasmuch as it was weak through the flesh. Indeed, if any man were able to fulfill the law, he should find the life which is there promised; but forasmuch as Paul denieth that life can be gotten by the law, it followeth that there is farther and higher righteousness required there than man is able to perform. I confess, indeed, that Jerome doth not wholly grant to the strength of nature power to fulfill the law, but partly also to the grace of God, as he doth afterward expound himself, that a faithful man, holpen by the grace of the Spirit, may be said to be able to fulfill the law. But even that mitigation is not true. For, if we do weigh the strength of nature only, men shall not only be unable to bear the yoke of the law, but they shall not be able to move so much as a finger to perform the least jot of the law. And surely if that be true, that all the cogitations of man’s mind are wicked from his childhood, (Genesis 8:21;) that all the understandings of flesh 108108     “Carnis sensus,” carnal propensities. are enemies to God, (Romans 8:7;) that there is none which seeketh after God, (Psalm 14:3;) and other such places, which are common in the Scripture, tending to the same end, but especially which are cited by Paul in the third to the Romans, (Romans 3:11,) man’s power and ability to fulfill the law shall not only be weak and lame, but altogether none to begin. 109109     “Sed ad inchoandum prorsus nulla,” but that he shall have no power at all to begin.

Therefore, we must thus think, that even the very faithful, after they being regenerate by the Spirit of God, do study to attain unto the righteousness of the law, do perform, notwithstanding, but the half, and far less than half, not the whole. For doubtless Peter speaketh not in this place of the epicure 110110     “Do Epicuro,” of Epicurus. or profane men; but of Abraham, of Moses, and of other holy fathers which were the most perfect in the world; and yet he saith that these fainted under the burden of the law, because it did pass their strength. It is hatefully objected that the Spirit of God is blasphemed when as ability to fulfill the law is taken away from his grace and help; but we may readily answer, because the question is not what the grace of the Spirit is able to do, but what that measure of grace is able to do which God doth divide to every one in this life. For we must always consider what God doth promise to do; neither let us unadvisedly ask this question, whether that can be done which he himself doth testify shall never be, and which he will not have done? He promiseth the grace and aid of the Spirit to the faithful, whereby they may be able to resist the lusts of the flesh, and to subdue them; yet shall they not quite abolish and drive them away. He promiseth them grace, whereby they may walk in newness of life; yet shall they not be able to run so swiftly as the law requireth. For he will have them kept under during their whole life, that they may fly to beg pardon. If it be unlawful to separate from the power of God’s counsel, and the order by him set down, it is a foolish and vain cavil, whereby the adversaries go about to burden us, when as they say that we diminish the power of God; nay rather, they transform God, when they hold that his counsel and purpose can be altered.

The Pelagians did in times past, in like sort, burden 111111     “Premebant,” pressed. Augustine. He answereth, that though it be a thing possible that the law should be fulfilled, yet is that sufficient for him, that no man did ever fulfill it, and that the Scripture doth not testify that it shall be fulfilled until the end of the world. By which words he delivereth himself from their importunate subtlety. But there was no cause why he should doubt, but freely and flatly grant that it might be fulfilled, the Holy Ghost being the author. For we must limit the grace of the Spirit, that it may agree with the promises. Furthermore, we have already declared how far the promises reach. There is no man which moveth any question concerning this, whether God be not able if he will to make men perfect; but they dote foolish which separate his power from his counsel, whereof they have an evident and plain testimony in the Scripture. God doth plainly declare a hundred times what he will, and what he hath determined to do: to go any farther is sacrilege.

Jerome was enforced by reason of philosophy to hurl out the thunderbolt of his curse against Peter and Paul; 112112     “Ut sui anathematis fulmen Petro et Paulo infligeret,” to thunder out an anathema against Peter and Paul. because the laws must be applied unto their hability for whom they be appointed; which, as I confess to take place in man’s laws, so I utterly deny that it is good as touching the law of God, which, in exacting righteousness, doth not respect what man is able to do, but what he ought to do.

Though here ariseth a harder question, “Whether the law were not given to this end, that it might enforce men to obey God? And this should be in vain, unless the Spirit of God should direct the faithful to keep it; and that the solemn protestation of Moses seemeth to put the matter out of doubt, when he saith that he giveth precepts to the Jews, not such as they may read, but indeed fulfill, (Deuteronomy 30:12;) whence we gather that the yoke was laid upon the neck of the Jews when the law was given, that it might make them subject to God, that they might not live as them lusted.” I answer, that the law is counted a yoke two ways. For, inasmuch as it bridleth the lusts of the flesh and delivereth a rule of godly and holy life, it is meet that the children of God take this yoke upon them; but, inasmuch as it doth exactly prescribe what we owe to God, and doth not promise life without adding the condition of perfect obedience, and doth again denounce a curse if we shall in any point offend, it is a yoke which no man is able to bear. I will show this more plainly.

The plain doctrine of good life, wherein God doth invite us unto himself, is a yoke which we must all of us willingly take up; for there is nothing more absurd than that God should not govern man’s life, but that he should wander at pleasure without any bridle. Therefore, we must not refuse the yoke of the law, if the simple doctrine thereof be considered. But these sayings do otherwise qualify (that I may so term it) the law.

“He which shall do these things shall live in theme” etc.
(Leviticus 18:5.)


“Cursed is he which continueth not in all things which are written,”
(Deuteronomy 27:26,)

that it may begin to be a yoke which no man can bear.

For, so long as salvation is promised to the perfect keeping of the law alone, and every transgression is called into judgment, mankind is utterly undone. In this respect doth Peter affirm that God is tempted, when man’s arrogance doth burden the consciences of men with the law; for it is not his purpose to deny but that men must be governed by the doctrine of the law, and so he granteth that they be under the law 113113     “Jugo,” yoke. not simply 114114     “Verum quia legis officium est.” but because it is the office of the law. Omitted. to teach, but also to humble men with the guilt of eternal death. Considering that that quality was annexed unto doctrine, he affirmeth that the souls of the godly must not be tied with the yoke of the law, because by this means it should of necessity come to pass that they should be drowned in eternal destruction. But, when as not only the grace of the Holy Spirit is present to govern us, but also free forgiveness of sins to deliver and acquit us from the curse of the law; then is that of Moses fulfilled, that the commandment is not above us, (Deuteronomy 30:11;) and then do we also perceive how sweet the yoke of Christ is, and how light his burden is, (Matthew 11:30.) For, because we know that through the mercy of God that is forgiven us, which is wanting through the infirmity of the flesh, we do cheerfully, and without any grief, 115115     “Sine molestia,” without trouble,repugnance. take upon us that which he enjoineth us. Wherefore, so that the rigor of the law be taken away, the doctrine of the law shall not only be tolerable, but also joyful and pleasant; neither must we refuse the bridle which doth govern us mildly, and cloth not urge us sorer than is expedient.

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