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In the Regions Beyond
THE apostles and disciples who left Jerusalem during the fierce persecution that raged
there after the martyrdom of Stephen, preached Christ in the cities round about, confining
their labors to the Hebrew and Greek Jews. "And the hand of the Lord was with them:
and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." Acts 11:21.
When the believers in Jerusalem heard the good tidings they rejoiced; and Barnabas,
"a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith," was sent to Antioch, the
metropolis of Syria, to help the church there. He labored there with great success. As the
work increased, he solicited and obtained the help of Paul; and the two disciples labored
together in that city for a year, teaching the people and adding to the numbers of the
church of Christ.
Antioch had both a large Jewish and Gentile population; it was a great resort for lovers
of ease and pleasure, because of the healthfulness of its situation, its beautiful
scenery, and the wealth, culture, and refinement that centered there. Its extensive
commerce made it a place of great importance, where people of all nationalities were
found. It was therefore a city of luxury and vice. The retribution of God finally came
upon Antioch, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
It was here that the disciples were first called Christians. This name was given them
because Christ was the main theme of their preaching, teaching, and conversation. They
were continually recounting the incidents of His life during the time in which His
disciples were blessed with His personal company. They dwelt untiringly upon His
teachings, His miracles of healing the sick, casting out devils, and raising the dead to
life. With quivering lips and tearful eyes they spoke of His agony in the garden, His
betrayal, trial, and execution, the forbearance and humility with which He endured the
contumely and torture imposed upon Him by His enemies, and the Godlike pity with which He
prayed for those who persecuted Him. His resurrection and ascension and his work in heaven
as a Mediator for fallen man were joyful topics with them. The heathen might well call
them Christians, since they preached of Christ and addressed their prayers to God through
Paul found, in the populous city of Antioch, an excellent field of labor, where his great
learning, wisdom, and zeal, combined, wielded a powerful influence over the inhabitants
and frequenters of that city of culture.
Meanwhile the work of the apostles was centered at Jerusalem, where Jews of all tongues
and countries came to worship at the temple during the stated festivals. At such times the
apostles preached Christ with unflinching courage, though they knew that in so doing their
lives were in constant jeopardy. Many converts to the faith were made, and these,
scattering to their homes in different parts of the country, dispersed the seeds of truth
throughout all nations and among all classes of society.
Peter, James, and John felt confident that God had appointed them to preach Christ among
their own countrymen at home. But Paul had received his commission from God, while praying
in the temple, and his broad missionary field had been presented before him with
remarkable distinctness. To prepare him for his extensive and important work, God had
brought him into close connection with Himself, and had opened before his enraptured
vision a glimpse of the beauty and glory of heaven.
Ordination of Paul and Barnabas
God communicated with the devout prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch. "As
they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and
Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." Acts 13:2. These apostles were
therefore dedicated to God in a most solemn manner by fasting and prayer and the laying on
of hands; and they were sent forth to their field of labor among the Gentiles.
Both Paul and Barnabas had been laboring as ministers of Christ, and God had abundantly
blessed their efforts, but neither of them had previously been formally ordained to the
gospel ministry by prayer and the laying on of hands. They were now authorized by the
church not only to teach the truth but to baptize and to organize churches, being invested
with full ecclesiastical authority. This was an important era for the church. Though the
middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile had been broken down by the death of
Christ, letting the Gentiles into the full privileges of the gospel, the veil had not yet
been torn away from the eyes of many of the believing Jews, and they could not clearly
discern to the end of that which was abolished by the Son of God. The work was now to be
prosecuted with vigor among the Gentiles, and was to result in strengthening the church by
a great ingathering of souls.
The apostles, in this, their special work, were to be exposed to suspicion, prejudice, and
jealousy. As a natural consequence of their departure from the exclusiveness of the Jews,
their doctrine and views would be subject to the charge of heresy; and their credentials
as ministers of the gospel would be questioned by many zealous, believing Jews. God
foresaw all these difficulties which His servants would undergo, and, in His wise
providence, caused them to be invested with unquestionable authority from the established
church of God, that their work should be above challenge.
The ordination by the laying on of hands was, at a later date, greatly abused;
unwarrantable importance was attached to the act, as though a power came at once upon
those who received such ordination, which immediately qualified them for any and all
ministerial work, as though virtue lay in the act of laying on of hands. We have, in the
history of these two apostles, only a simple record of the laying on of hands, and its
bearing upon their work. Both Paul and Barnabas had already received their commission from
God Himself; and the ceremony of the laying on of hands added no new grace or virtual
qualification. It was merely setting the seal of the church upon the work of God--an
acknowledged form of designation to an appointed office.
The First General Conference
Certain Jews from Judea raised a general consternation among the believing Gentiles by
agitating the question of circumcision. They asserted, with great assurance, that none
could be saved without being circumcised and keeping the entire ceremonial law.
This was an important question, and one which affected the church in a very great degree.
Paul and Barnabas met it with promptness, and opposed introducing the subject to the
Gentiles. They were opposed in this by the believing Jews of Antioch, who favored the
position of those from Judea. The matter resulted in much discussion and want of harmony
in the church, until finally the church at Antioch, apprehending that a division among
them would occur from any further discussion of the question, decided to send Paul and
Barnabas, together with some responsible men of Antioch, to Jerusalem, to lay the matter
before the apostles and elders. There they were to meet delegates from the different
churches, and those who had come to attend the approaching annual festivals. Meanwhile all
controversy was to cease, until a final decision should be made by the responsible men of
the church. This decision was then to be universally accepted by the various churches
throughout the country.
Upon arriving at Jerusalem the delegates from Antioch related before the assembly of the
churches the success that had attended the ministry with them, and the confusion that had
resulted from the fact that certain converted Pharisees declared that the Gentile converts
must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved.
The Jews had prided themselves upon their divinely appointed services; and they concluded
that as God once specified the Hebrew manner of worship, it was impossible that He should
ever authorize a change in any of its specifications. They decided that Christianity must
connect itself with the Jewish laws and ceremonies. They were slow to discern to the end
of that which had been abolished by the death of Christ, and to perceive that all their
sacrificial offerings had but prefigured the death of the Son of God, in which type had
met its antitype, rendering valueless the divinely appointed ceremonies and sacrifices of
the Jewish religion.
Paul had prided himself upon his Pharisaical strictness; but after the revelation of
Christ to him on the road to Damascus the mission of the Saviour and his own work in the
conversion of the Gentiles were plain to his mind, and he fully comprehended the
difference between a living faith and a dead formalism. Paul still claimed to be one of
the children of Abraham, and kept the Ten Commandments in letter and in spirit as
faithfully as he had ever done before his conversion to Christianity. But he knew that the
typical ceremonies must soon altogether cease, since that which they had shadowed forth
had come to pass, and the light of the gospel was shedding its glory upon the Jewish
religion, giving a new significance to its ancient rites.
Evidence of Cornelius' Experience
The question thus brought under the consideration of the council seemed to present
insurmountable difficulties, viewed in whatever light. But the Holy Ghost had, in reality,
already settled this problem, upon the decision of which depended the prosperity, and even
the existence, of the Christian church. Grace, wisdom, and sanctified judgment were given
to the apostles to decide the vexed question.
Peter reasoned that the Holy Ghost had decided the matter by descending with equal power
upon the uncircumcised Gentiles and the circumcised Jews. He recounted his vision, in
which God had presented before him a sheet filled with all manner of four-footed beasts,
and had bidden him kill and eat; that when he had refused, affirming that he had never
eaten that which was common or unclean, God had said, "What God hath cleansed, that
call not thou common."
He said, "God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy
Ghost, even as He did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their
hearts by faith. Now 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?"
This yoke was not the law of the Ten Commandments, as those who oppose the binding claim
of the law assert; but Peter referred to the law of ceremonies, which was made null and
void by the crucifixion of Christ. This address of Peter brought the assembly to a point
where they could listen with reason to Paul and Barnabas, who related their experience in
working among the Gentiles.
James bore his testimony with decision--that God designed to bring in the Gentiles to
enjoy all the privileges of the Jews. The Holy Ghost saw good not to impose the ceremonial
law on the Gentile converts; and the apostles and elders, after careful investigation of
the subject, saw the matter in the same light, and their mind was as the mind of the
Spirit of God. James presided at the council, and his final decision was, "Wherefore
my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to
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
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 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. The four servants of God were sent to Antioch with the
epistle and message, which put an end to all controversy; for its 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 faultfinding, proposing new plans and
seeking to pull down the work of the experienced 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.
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