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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.

37. And Barnabas gave counsel. Luke doth here set down that doleful disagreement which ought to make all the godly afraid for just causes. The society of Paul and Barnabas was consecrated by the heavenly oracle. They had long time labored, being of one mind, under this yoke whereunto the Lord had tied them; they had, by many experiences, tried [felt] the excellent favor of God, yea, that wonderful success mentioned heretofore by Luke was a manifest blessing of God. Though they had been almost drowned so often in so many tempests of persecution, and were set upon so sore 165165     “Subinde,” ever and anon. by infinite enemies, though domestical sedition were everywhere kindled against them, yet they were so far from being pulled in sunder, that their agreement was then most of all tried, [proved.] But now, for a light matter, and which might easily have been ended, they break that holy bond of God’s calling.

This could not fall out without great perturbance to all the godly. Seeing that the heat of the contention was so great and vehement in these holy men, who had long time accustomed themselves to suffer all things, what shall befall us, whose affections being not as yet so brought to obey God, do oftentimes rage 166166     “Subinde lasciviant,” do every now and then wanton. without modesty? Seeing that a light occasion did separate them, who had long time, amidst so great trials, retained unity holily, how easily may Satan cause those to be divided who have either none, or, at least, a cold desire to foster peace? What great pride was it for Barnabas, who had no more honorable thing than to be Paul’s companion, that he might behave himself like a son towards his father, so stubbornly to refuse his counsel? Peradventure, also, some might think that Paul was not very courteous in that he did not forgive a faithful helper this fault. Therefore, we be admonished by this example, that unless the servants of Christ take great heed, there be many chinks through which Satan will creep in, to disturb that concord which is among them.

But now we must examine the cause itself, for some there be who lay the blame of the disagreement upon Paul; 167167     “Nimio Pauli rigori,” on Paul’s excessive rigor. and, at the first hearing, the reasons which they bring seem probable. John Mark is rejected, because he withdrew himself from Paul’s company; but he fell not away from Christ. A young man, being as yet unacquainted with bearing the cross, returned home from his journey. He was somewhat to be borne with for his age, being a fresh-water soldier [a tyro] he fainted in troubles even at the first dash; he was not, therefore, about to be a slothful soldier during his whole life. Now, forasmuch as his returning to Paul is an excellent testimony of repentance, it seemeth to be a point of discourtesy 168168     “Minime humanum,” contrary to humanity. to reject him; for those must be handled more courteously, who punish themselves for their own offenses of their own accord. There were also other causes which ought to have made Paul more courteous. The house of John Mark was a famous inn, 169169     “Celebre erat Ecclesiae hospitium,” was celebrated for its hospitality to the Church. (Acts 12:12;) his mother had entertained the faithful in most grievous persecution; when Herod and all the people were in a rage, they were wont to have their secret meetings there, as Luke reported before. Surely he ought to have borne with such a holy and courageous woman, lest immoderate rigor should alienate her. She was desirous to have her son addicted to preach the gospel; now, what a great grief might it have been to her that his pains and industry should be refused 170170     “Ejus operam respui,” that his assistance should be spurned away. for one light fault? And now whereas John Mark doth not only bewail his fault, but in very deed amend the same, Barnabas hath a fair color why he should pardon him. 171171     “Speciosum colorem... cur ignoscat,” a specious excuse for pardoning him.

Yet we may gather out of the text, that the Church did allow Paul’s counsel. For Barnabas departeth, and with his companion he saileth into Cyprus. There is no mention made of the brethren, (as if he had departed privily without taking his leave;) but the brethren commend Paul in their prayers to the grace of God; whereby appeareth that the Church stood on his side. Secondly, whereas God showeth forth the power of his Spirit in blessing Paul, and doth bless his labors with happy success of his grace, and leaveth Barnabas, as it were, buried, there may a probable reason be drawn thence, that it pleased him that such an example of severity should be showed. And surely the offense of John Mark was greater than it is commonly taken for. He slid not back, indeed, from the faith of Christ, yet did he forsake his calling, and was a revolt [apostate] from the same; therefore, it was a matter which might have given evil example, if he had been straightway received again into the calling from which he was slid back. He had given himself over to serve Christ upon this condition, that he should be free no longer. It was no more lawful for him to break his promise made in this behalf, than it is for a husband to leave his wife, or for a son to forsake his father. Neither doth infirmity excuse his unfaithfulness, whereby the holiness of the calling was violated.

And we must note, that he was not altogether rejected of Paul; he counted him as a brother, so he would be content with the common order; he refused to admit him unto the common [public] function of teaching, from whence he fell filthily through his own fault. And there is no great difference between these two, whether he which hath offended be quite excluded from pardon, or he have only public honor denied him; though it may be that they did both exceed measure, as accidents do oftentimes mar a matter which is otherwise good. It was well done of Paul, and according to the right of discipline profitably, not to admit him to be his companion, whose inconstancy he had once tried, [experienced;] but when he saw Barnabas so importunate, he might have yielded to his desire. We ought to make more account of the truth than of the favor of all the whole world; but it is convenient that we ponder wisely what great weight there is in the matter which is in hand. For if, in a matter of no weight or edification, a man vaunt of his constancy, prepare himself for the conflict, and cease not to defend that until the end, wherein he did once take delight it shall be but foolish and perverse obstinacy. There was also some middle way and means whereby Paul might have granted somewhat to the importunateness of his fellow [colleague] in office, and yet have not revolted from the truth. It was not for him to flatter Mark, or to cloak his offense, yet was he not letted by religion, but that after he had freely professed what he thought, he might suffer himself to be overcome in that matter, which did neither indamage true doctrine, nor endanger man’s salvation; which I say for this cause, that we may learn to moderate our desire, even in the best causes, lest it pass measure, and be too fervent.


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