Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 6: Jew and Gentile.
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James, in this instance, seems to have been
chosen to decide the matter which was brought
before the council. It was his sentence that the
ceremonial law, and especially the ordinance of
circumcision, be not in any wise urged upon the
Gentiles, or even recommended to them. James
sought to impress the fact upon his brethren
that the Gentiles, in turning to God from idolatry,
made a great change in their faith; and that
much caution should be used not to trouble their
minds with perplexing and doubtful questions,
lest they be discouraged in following Christ.
The Gentiles, however, were to take no course
which should materially conflict with the views
of their Jewish brethren, or which would create
prejudice in their minds against them. The apostles
and elders therefore agreed to instruct the
Gentiles by letter to abstain from meats offered
to idols, from fornication, from things strangled,
and from blood. They were required to keep the
commandments, and to lead holy lives. The Gentiles
were assured that the men who had urged
circumcision upon them were not authorized to
do so by the apostles.
Paul and Barnabas were recommended to them [p. 70] as men who had hazarded their lives for the Lord.
Judas and Silas were sent with these apostles to
declare to the Gentiles, by word of mouth, the
decision of the council: "For it seemed good to
the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no
greater burden than these necessary things; that
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." The four servants of God were sent to
Antioch with the epistle and message, which put
an end to all controversy; for it was the voice of
the highest authority upon earth.
The council which decided this case was
composed of the founders of the Jewish and Gentile
Christian churches. Elders from Jerusalem, and
deputies from Antioch, were present; and the
most influential churches were represented. The
council did not claim infallibility in their
deliberations, but moved from the dictates of
enlightened judgment, and with the dignity of a church
established by the divine will. They saw that
God himself had decided this question by favoring
the Gentiles with the Holy Ghost; and it was
left for them to follow the guidance of the Spirit.
The entire body of Christians were not called
to vote upon the question. The apostles and
elders—men of influence and judgment—framed
and issued the decree, which was thereupon
generally accepted by the Christian churches.
All were not pleased, however, with this decision;
there was a faction of false brethren
who assumed to engage in a work on their own
responsibility. They indulged in murmuring
and fault-finding, proposing new plans, and
seeking to pull down the work of the experienced [p. 71] men whom God had ordained to teach the doctrine
of Christ. The church has had such obstacles
to meet from the first, and will ever have
them to the close of time.
Jerusalem was the metropolis of the Jews, and
there were found the greatest exclusiveness and
bigotry. The Jewish Christians who lived in
sight of the temple would naturally allow their
minds to revert to the peculiar privileges of the
Jews as a nation. As they saw Christianity departing
from the ceremonies and traditions of
Judaism, and perceived that the peculiar sacredness
with which the Jewish customs had been
invested would soon be lost sight of in the light
of the new faith, many grew indignant against
Paul, as one who had, in a great measure, caused
this change. Even the disciples were not all prepared
to willingly accept the decision of the council.
Some were zealous for the ceremonial law,
and regarded Paul with jealousy, because they
thought his principles were lax in regard to the
obligation of the Jewish law.
When Peter, at a later date, visited Antioch,
he acted in accordance with the light given him
from Heaven, and the decision of the council.
He overcame his natural prejudice so far as to sit
at table with the Gentile converts. But when
certain Jews who were most zealous for the ceremonial
law came from Jerusalem, he changed his
deportment toward the converts from paganism
in so marked a degree that it left a most painful
impression upon their minds. Quite a number
followed Peter's example. Even Barnabas was
influenced by the injudicious course of the apostle;
and a division was threatened in the church.
But Paul, who saw the wrong done the church [p. 72] through the double part acted by Peter, openly
rebuked him for thus disguising his true sentiments.
Peter saw the error into which he had fallen,
and immediately set about repairing it as far as
possible. God, who knoweth the end from the
beginning, permitted Peter to exhibit this weakness
of character, in order that he might see that
there was nothing in himself whereof he might
boast. God also saw that in time to come some
would be so deluded as to claim for Peter and his
pretended successors, exalted prerogatives which
belong only to God; and this history of the apostle's
weakness was to remain as a proof of his
human fallibility, and of the fact that he stood in
no way above the level of the other apostles.
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