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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Acts 15



Verse 36


‘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.’

Acts 15:36

This was a proposal made by St. Paul to Barnabas after their first missionary journey; he suggested revisiting the Churches they had founded, to see if their members were continuing steadfast in the faith, growing in grace, advancing in the spiritual life—standing still, or falling away.

It was both a wise and useful proposal. And we, nineteen centuries after, may apply it to ourselves; let us ‘consider our ways,’ and find out how things stand between ourselves and God; for if ever self-inquiry in religion was needed, it is needed now.

I. Do we ever think about our souls at all?—Thousands cannot answer satisfactorily. They never give the subject of religion any place in their thoughts. They are absorbed in the pursuit of business, pleasure, politics, money, self-indulgence; and death, judgment, eternity, Heaven and Hell, and the Resurrection, are never seriously regarded. They do not openly oppose or scoff at religion—they are simply indifferent, and are just nothing at all.

II. Do we ever do anything about our souls?—There are multitudes in England who do occasionally think about religion, but never get beyond the thinking. These people are always meaning, purposing, and resolving; they say they ‘know’ what is right, and ‘hope’ to be found right at the last; but there is no actual separation from the service of the world and sin; no ‘doing’ in their religion—they never attain to action.

III. Are we trying to satisfy our consciences with mere formality?—How many are making shipwreck on this rock! They are punctual in the observance of the outward forms and ordinances of religion, even the most solemn; yet all this time there is no secret heart in their Christianity. Of these our Lord’s words are true (Matthew 15:9).

IV. Have we sought and received the forgiveness of our sins?—Forgiveness has been purchased for us by the eternal Son of God, but man must come to him in faith; without believing, there is no forgiveness.

V. Do we know anything by experience of conversion to God?—Without conversion there is no salvation. Sense of sin, deep hatred of it, faith in Christ, and love to Him, ‘hungering and thirsting after righteousness,’ detachment from love of the things of the world—these are some of the signs of true conversion.

VI. Do we know anything of practical Christian holiness?—‘Without holiness no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14). Holiness is not absolute perfection, freedom from all thoughts. That is for heaven and not earth. Yet Christian holiness is a real thing. But it is never attained or maintained without a struggle, a constant conflict.

VII. Do we use and enjoy the ‘means of grace’?—God has graciously appointed certain means to be the channels of Divine Grace to man’s heart, to maintain his spiritual life. Tell me what a man does in the matter of Bible study, private prayer, public worship, attendance at the Holy Communion, and I will soon tell you what he is, and on what road he is travelling.

Bishop J. C. Ryle.

Verse 39


‘And the contention was so sharp between them that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus.’

Acts 15:39

That St. Paul and St. Barnabas erred in this matter, there can be no question. But I wish to make a distinction which is not perhaps sufficiently considered. The error of each of these two men was not that he was angry—‘anger,’ in itself, is not necessarily a wrong thing; anger is an instinct of nature implanted in us, and given us by God for good.

I. Anger is a part of righteous indignation.—We may be angry with the sinner, as well as with the sin. It is the wrong use of anger which turns anger into sin. What we have to do with anger—as with everything else that is good—is to curb it, and mould it, and use it, and sanctify it, so that it may not run into evil, but remain an instrument of good. It is the abuse of anger which is the sin.

(a) In every instance anger should be deliberate, not a thing of passion, but of principle. And therefore there are several passages in the Bible which say, ‘Be slow to anger.’

(b) You may be angry with what a person does to hurt and injure another when you should not be angry with the same thing which is done only against yourself. I find that distinction in the life of Jesus. Your conscience should tell you that you are rightly angry.

(c) Your anger should never be expressed by a hot and provoking word, still less by an impetuous and injurious action. Anger should never be a motive. Anger must never act angrily. Anger must be always short; it trespasses if it is long. It must never pass the first sunset. It must be very ready to be pacified. A very little acknowledgment indeed should remove it altogether. In all things your anger is to imitate, as closely as it can, the anger of God.

II. But if anger be, sometimes, right, quarrelling never is.—Quarrelling lasts. Quarrelling is full of self. Quarrelling is vindictive. Quarrelling never does any good. I can conceive an angel angry; but I cannot think of two angels quarrelling! Anger is God-like; quarrelling is ‘set on fire of hell.’ I could wish that in every household in Christendom these words were set up, and this truth remembered, ‘It is God that maketh men to be of one mind in a house.’ Where there is no religion, in any position of life, there is almost sure to be quarrelling. Peace and piety are such twin sisters that each would die without the other. They live in their own common life. And every Christian should remember the simple adage, ‘It takes two to make a quarrel.’ Neither can say it is the other’s fault. Wherever there is a quarrel both are responsible; both are guilty. Each could have prevented it, if he tried.

III. But you will never conquer or prevent any sin simply by a negative.—There must be the opposite of quarrel. If you determine only that you will not quarrel, it will come to nothing. You must do more—you must love. If you say, ‘I cannot love!’ let me tell you the way: Do the acts of love. Everybody can do that. Do the acts of love, and they will bring the spirit of love. Speak—with whatever effort—speak words of attraction; gently; in a low voice; with a subdued tone. A kind manner; a smile; a joke; a little praise; a change in the channel of conversation; a bringing in a brighter subject—all these will do much, but they will not do alone, Christ must be brought in. ‘He is our Peace.’

It is a relief, and very pleasant to believe, and almost be certain—as we may be—that St. Paul and St. Barnabas afterwards—probably very soon—quite made up their quarrel. For we find Mark with St. Paul in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians, and in the Epistle to Philemon. And St. Paul makes the kindest reference to Barnabas in the Epistle to the Galatians. And in the second Epistle to Timothy we have those loving words of St. Paul, concerning Mark—as if to compensate for what he before had said at Antioch—‘Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry.’

—Rev. James Vaughan.


‘The worst disputes and enmities spring out of wounded and misguided love. Very often the most affectionate persons are those who fall into anger the most quickly, and their anger is the worst! It would lead to a great mistake to think that because you love, you will never quarrel. The love, making you sensitive, in a sense prepares you to quarrel; and therefore, those who are fondest must be the most on their guard against the beginnings of misunderstandings and jealousies. This is the reason why Christians are so often the more irritable, and have the more disputes; and why churches and schools of thought in the same Church, when they differ, run into so much virulence. Religion makes the feelings of the heart very acute, and a religious person is almost sure to be a sensitive person, and he will be sensitive in proportion as he is religious. And most of all this will be on religious subjects, because on religious subjects he feels the most strongly. Thus the very excellence of the feeling leads to its wrongness. Our graces become our snares, and we fall in our strongest.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Acts 15:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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