Paul's spirit, which was much depressed, as we have seen, by anticipations of coldness and distrust on the part of the Church at Jerusalem, must have been lightened by his kind reception. Paul seems to have spent the evening of his arrival with these sympathizing brethren; but on the morrow, a more formidable ordeal awaited him.
On the morrow Paul must encounter the assembled Presbyters of the Church in Jerusalem. He might well doubt whether even the substantial proof of loving interest in their welfare, of which he was the bearer, would overcome the antipathy with which (as he was fully aware) too many of them regarded him. The experiment, however, must be tried; for this was the very end of his coming to Jerusalem at all, at a time when his heart called him to Rome (Acts 19:21, Romans 1:10 - 15, 15:22 - 29).
The Apostle Paul's purpose was to endeavor to set himself right with the Church of Jerusalem, to overcome the hostile prejudices which had already so much impeded his labors, and to endeavor, by the force of Christian love and forbearance, to win the hearts of those whom he regarded, in spite of all their weaknesses and errors, as brethren in Christ Jesus.
Accordingly, when the morning came, the Presbyters or Elders of the Church were called together by James to receive Paul and his fellow-travelers, the messengers of the Gentile Churches.
We have already seen how carefully Apostle Paul had guarded himself from the possibility of suspicion in the administration of his trust, by causing deputies to be elected by the several churches whose alms he bore, as joint trustees with himself of the fund collected. These deputies now entered together with him into the assembly of the Elders, and the offering was presented, - a proof of love from the Churches of the Gentiles to the mother Church, whence their spiritual blessings had been derived.
The travelers were received with that touching symbol of brotherhood, the kiss of peace, which was exchanged between the Christians of those days on every occasion of public as well as private meeting. Then the main business of the assembly was commenced by an address from Apostle Paul. This was not the first occasion on which he had been called to take a similar part, in the same city, and before the same audience.
Our thoughts are naturally carried back to the days of the Apostolic Council, when Paul first declared to the Church of Jerusalem the Gospel which he preached among the Gentiles, and the great things which God had wrought thereby. The majority of the Church had then, under the influence of the Spirit of God, been brought over to Paul's side, and had ratified his views by their decree. But the battle was not yet won; he had still to contend against the same foes with the same weapons.
Fruits of the Gospel
We are told that Paul now gave a detailed account of all that "God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry" (Acts 21:19) since he last parted from Jerusalem four years before.
The foundation of the great and flourishing Church of Ephesus doubtless furnished the main interest of Paul's narrative; but he would also dwell on the progress of the several Churches in Phrygia, Galatia, and other parts of Asia Minor, and likewise those in Macedonia and Achaia, from whence he was just returned. In such a discourse, he could scarcely avoid touching on subjects which would excite painful feelings, and rouse bitter prejudice in many of his audience.
The Apostle Paul could hardly speak of Galatia without mentioning the attempted perversion of his converts there. He could not enter into the state of Corinth without alluding to the emissaries from Palestine, who had introduced confusion and strife among the Christians of that city.
Yet we cannot doubt that Apostle Paul, with that graceful courtesy which distinguished both his writings and his speeches, softened all that was disagreeable, and avoided what was personally offensive to his audience, and dwelt, as far as he could, on topics in which all present would agree. Accordingly, we find that the majority of the assembled Elders were favorably impressed by his address, and by the tidings which he brought of the progress of the Gospel.
The first act of the assembly was to glorify God for the wonders Paul had wrought. They joined in solemn thanksgiving with one accord; and the Amen (1Corinthians 14:16) which followed the utterance of thanks and praise from apostolic lips was swelled by many voices.
Thus the hope expressed by Apostle Paul on a former occasion (2Corinthians 9:12) concerning the result of this visit to Jerusalem, was in a measure fulfilled. But beneath this superficial show of harmony there lurked elements of discord, which threatened to disturb it too soon. We have already had occasion to remark upon the peculiar composition of the Church at Jerusalem, and we have seen that a Pharisaic faction was sheltered in its bosom, which continually strove to turn Christianity into a sect of Judaism.
We have seen that this faction had recently sent emissaries into the Gentile Churches, and had endeavored to alienate the minds of Apostle Paul's converts from their converter. These men were restless agitators, animated by the bitterest sectarian spirit; and although they were numerically a small party, yet we know the power of a turbulent minority. But besides these Judaizing zealots, there was a large proportion of the Christians at Jerusalem, whose Christianity, though more sincere than that of those just mentioned, was yet very weak and imperfect.
The "many thousands of Jews which believed" had by no means all attained to the fulness of Christian faith. Many of them still knew only a Christ after the flesh, a savior of Israel, a Jewish Messiah. Their minds were in a state of transition between the Law and the Gospel, and it was of great consequence not to shock their prejudices too rudely, lest they should be tempted to make shipwreck of their faith, and renounce their Christianity altogether. Their prejudices were most wisely consulted in things indifferent by James; who accommodated himself in all points to the strict requirements of the Law, and thus disarmed the hostility of the Judaizing bigots.
Had its councils been less wisely guided, had the Gospel of Apostle Paul been really repudiated by the Church of Jerusalem, it is difficult to estimate the evil which might have resulted. This class of Christians was naturally very much influenced by the declamation of the more violent partisans of Judaism. Their feelings would be easily excited by an appeal to their Jewish patriotism. They might, without difficulty, be roused to fury against one like Paul whom they were taught to regard as a despiser of the Law, and a reviler of the customs of their forefathers.
Against Apostle Paul their dislike had been long and artfully fostered; and they would from the first have looked on him perhaps with some suspicion, as not being, like themselves, a Hebrew of the Holy City of Jerusalem, but only a Hellenist of the Dispersion.