By E. H. Plumptre
From the Book The General Epistles of St. Peter & St. Jude
Life of St Peter. The Work of the Apostle.
No thoughtful reader can pass from the study of the Gospels to that of the Acts, without being struck with the different type of character presented to us in connexion with the name of Simon Peter. The impulsive, wayward, unsteadfast disciple, uttering only a few hasty questions and passionate ejaculations, has become the ruler of a community, able to address the multitude and the Sanhedrin in well-ordered and elaborate harangues. The change is all the more noticeable from the fact that we cannot account for it by the hypothesis of a mere difference of authorship. For the writer of the Acts was also the writer of a Gospel, and the difference is not less striking when we compare the one history with the other, than it is when we take St Matthew's or St Mark's Gospel as a standard of comparison with the Acts. Something, doubtless, is due to the writer's aim and the standpoint from which he wrote; something also to the difference between the writer's informants in the two cases. It was in part, at least, his purpose to present St Peter to his Italian friend Theophilus as the head of a large and influential section of the Church, representing that section not in the spirit of party, but in that of a wise and dignified moderation, aiming at unity and peace. In collecting materials for his two histories he would be dependent for the first on reports which came, directly or indirectly, from Galilean disciples, who had known Simon Bar-jona in the days of our Lord's ministry, whose memory was stored with what we should call the anecdotes of that period of his life. In gathering in formation for the second, his facts would come mainly from the members of the Church at Jerusalem to whom Peter had been a familiar name as one held in honour and esteem, almost indeed in awe (Acts v. 13 - 15). The impression thus formed would tend, in the nature of things, to give a shade of colour to the writer's representations. What he heard now from one hearer and now from another of the Apostle's speeches would have to be set in order and reproduced with something of the writer's own skill and in his own phraseology.
There is, however, a deeper ground of difference, and this is found in the real change that had passed over St Peter's character. That night of cowardice and denial, that terrible experience of his own weakness, that look which drew forth the bitter tears of repentance, was, as his Lord's words had indicated (Luke xxii. 32), as truly the hour of his conversion as the vision on the road to Damascus was the conversion of St Paul. The new man was then born in him to a conscious life. It was strengthened, almost as soon as it was born, by the special powers of the Pentecostal gift. Assuming, even on merely human grounds, that St Luke aimed at reproducing faithfully what he had heard of the two periods of St Peter's life, the difference between them cannot be regarded otherwise than as at once a proof and a measure of the transforming power of the grace of God. Simon Bar-jona is become more fully than he had ever been till now, the Cephas, the Peter, of his Lord's prophetic designation. It is significant that, except in the history of Cornelius (Acts x. 5, 32) and in the speech of James the Lord's brother (Acts xv. 14) the name Simon drops entirely into the back-ground, and he is known as Peter only.
It was, we may believe, due in part to the influence of the "beloved disciple, in part to that of the words spoken by the Christ in John xx. 21 23 xxi. 15 23, that the authority of the Apostle suffered no diminution in consequence of his grievous fall, that no one ever reproached him with having denied his Lord. That that denial found a place in every Gospel record, may be accepted as a proof that he in his turn had no wish to hush it up or veil it in obscurity. It was for him, we may well believe, what a different yet analogous experience was to St Paul, a standing proof of the mercy of God and the power of His grace, that he had risen after so great a fall.
There is a significant calmness in the first act that followed on the Ascension. The disciples, male and female, who formed the nucleus of the future Church, one hundred and twenty in number, were met together. They were addressed for the first time as a community by one to whom they looked as their natural leader. The place left vacant by the death of Judas had to be filled up in order that the Apostles might once again meet Israel as the representatives of the twelve-tribed people. The treachery of the Apostle had to be placed in such a light, that men might see that while it was from one point of view the frustration of a Divine calling, it was, from another, the working out of a Divine purpose. He shewed that he had not studied in vain in his Master's school of prophetic interpretation. The Scriptures that spoke of the righteous sufferer as the victim of a base treachery (Ps. lxix. 25, cix. 8) required to be fulfilled in the case of the ideal sufferer. The disciple who was to be chosen to fill the vacant place must be qualified to be, as the Eleven were, a witness of the Resurrection. In the prayer that precedes the final choice referred to Christ as knowing the hearts of all men" (Acts i. 24) we have a point of contact, with almost the last words of the disciple recorded in the Gospels "Lord, thou knowest all things" (John xxi. 17), with the sub sequent speech of the Apostle when he appealed, at the council in Jerusalem, to "God which knoweth the hearts of all men". (Acts xv. 8).
The company were gathered together as before, presumably the hundred and twenty, (but possibly, as some have thought, the Twelve only), who had been mentioned in Acts i. 15. They were in an attitude of intense spiritual expectation, waiting till they should be "endued with power from on high." Day by day the streets of the city were more thickly thronged with pilgrims from all parts of the world to keep the coming Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, of Ingathering, of Lev. xxiii. 15; Deut. xvi. 9. It was a day connected in Jewish tradition with one great revelation, with the utterance of the great Ten Words, or Laws, on Sinai. The night before the Pentecost was specially appropriated in Jewish usage, for a solemn thanksgiving for that revelation of the Divine Will (Schottgen, Hor. Hebr. on Acts ii. 1). At such a moment prayer would naturally be more earnest and intense than ever. Their Lord's words "How much more shall your heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" (Luke xi. 13) would be ringing, as it were, in the ears of Peter and his brother Apostles. And so the promise was fulfilled. They looked and saw, as it were, a shower of tongues of fire hovering over them, so distributed (this and not " cloven" is the meaning of the Greek word) that none was left without his portion of the lambent flame. They heard the sound, not now of the whispered, hushed breath, which had before been the outward symbol of the Spirit's silent working (John xx. 22), but the sound of a rushing mighty wind sweeping round and over them. And this outward wonder was but the token of a sudden startling change in their spiritual consciousness. They burst into an ecstasy of adoration such as they had never known before. Blessings, praises, doxologies, such as they may have listened to before as they stood in the courts of the Temple, and heard the devotions of the pilgrims from many lands, but had never till then attempted to join in, now burst from their lips with a marvellous fluency. They were conscious of new sympathies with those worshippers from afar. They called on them to join in their hymns of praise as they told of the great deeds that God had wrought for them. The "utterance" would seem to have been different in character from that of ordinary speech, and was not used as an instrument of teaching. The analogies to which St Paul refers in 1 Cor. xiii. 1, xiv. 7, 8, suggest the thought that the words of ecstatic adoration were uttered in the tones of praise, and that what the multitude heard was of the nature of a jubilant chant1. Some, as they listened, asked seriously what was the meaning of this unlooked-for rapture. Some, looking at the outward manifestations of a mood so different from the cold level of ordinary worshippers, rushed to the cynical conclusion that the men who thus spoke were "full of new wine," and knew not what they did2. (Acts ii. 1 - 13.)
When the sign and wonder had done its work of drawing together a crowd of eager listeners, answering in this respect to the account which St Paul gives of the end for which the gift of Tongues had been bestowed (1 Cor. xiv. 22, 23), St Peter rose, as the acknowledged leader of the company, and speaking, either in the Aramaic which was the common speech of Jerusalem, or, as seems more probable, in the Greek with which, as a Galilean, he was probably familiar, and which was the natural medium of communication with the Hellenistic Jews of the dispersion, appeared in his new character. The "prophetic word: was now in him, and he had been taught to understand that word as it had been uttered by the older prophets. (Comp. 2 Pet. i. 19 - 21.) With a courage which presented an almost miraculous contrast to his recent cowardice he pressed home upon the consciences of rulers and of people the sin of which they had been guilty in condemning and crucifying Him who was indeed their Lord. He bore his witness that that Lord had been raised from the dead, because it was not possible that He should beholden by the bands of death, or that the Holy One should see corruption and be left in Hades. He called them to repentance and baptism. He proclaimed to them the remission of sins and promised that they too should receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. We may trace the lessons taught by that day's experience in the words in which he speaks, at the close of his life, of the Spirit's work. For him the "prophetic word," as a living and abiding power, was more even than the "excellent" glory which he had seen on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Pet. i. 19). He had learnt that prophecy did not come at any time by the will of man, but that holy men of God spoke, as he himself had spoken, their human conscious ness co-operating but not originating, as they were "borne on" (the very word used of the "rushing mighty wind") by the Holy Ghost (2 Pet. i. 21). The large increase in the number of the disciples that followed, the necessity for organising and guiding the life of a large community, must have called for and developed other spiritual gifts, such as those of the "helps" and "governments" of 1 Cor. xii. 28, of a more permanent character. The Galilean fisherman became, in one sense, the originator of the polity and ritual of the Church, "binding" and "loosing" according to the wisdom given to him. There was, however, no abrupt break in the outward continuity of his life. The old habit of devotion still continued, and the accustomed Services of the Temple in which his Master had delighted, and which He had twice striven to restore to their ancient purity (John ii. 14 - 16, Matt. xxi. 12) still saw him among the crowd of worshippers. Nor was the old friendship with the son of Zebedee to whom he had turned in the bitterness of his repentant sorrow, less intimate than before. "Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour (Acts iii. i). The healing of the cripple at the gate of the Temple that is called Beautiful, shewed that the power which his Lord had given him to cure diseases was not diminished. He had learnt that it was not by "silver or gold" that the wants of men, whether bodily or spiritual, were to be removed, but by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who had healed the cripple at Bethesda (John v. 2, 14) and who was present to heal now, just as he afterwards taught that it was not "by silver and gold" that men were ransomed from the power of an evil life, but by "the precious blood of Christ" (1 Pet. i. 18, 19). In speaking of that work of healing he disclaimed its being due to any power or piety of his own. It was the work of "the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob" (we note the disciple's use of the self same name as that with which his Master had rebuked the un belief of the Sadducean priesthood (Matt. xxii. 32)), who had thus "glorified His Son Jesus," as He had before glorified Him in the days of His ministry (John v. 20, xii. 28) by like works of healing. Once again he pressed home upon the people who had been drawn together by the report of the miracle thus wrought their guilt in denying the Holy One and the Just (comp. 1 Pet. iii. 18, for a like use of the same epithet), and preferring to him such an one as Barabbas, and he spoke to them, in the power of his new "prophetic word" of the "times of refreshing" which were at hand for those who sought them and might be hastened by repentance, of the "restitution of all things" which lay in a distant future which he would not venture to define. St Luke's report of his words is, it will be noted, in exact agreement with his own later teaching when he urges the believers in Christ to "look for and hasten the coming of the day of God," and declares that he and they are looking for a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Pet. iii. 12, 13). In both passages we find an echo of the words which had been heard only by Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, "Elias truly shall come first and shall restore all things" (Matt. xvii. 11). In this expectation he saw himself in harmony with the long line of prophets who had spoken of these things (Comp. 2 Pet. iii. 2).
The faithful witness thus borne led to its natural results. The two disciples were brought before the Sadducean priests who could not endure the testimony thus given to the Resurrection of the Christ, and now the courage of Peter did not fail him, and he was ready to go even to prison, and, it might be, to death for his Lord's sake (Luke xxii. 33). When he was brought on the following day before the Court that had tried and condemned his Lord, he was strengthened by a new consciousness that the Spirit which he had received was speaking through him. Now he understood what it was not to "take anxious thought" or to "premeditate" when brought face to face even with the rulers of his people (Matt. x. 19). And with a boldness which may well have startled them he reproduces the very words which, when they came from our Lord's lips, had roused the very frenzy of hatred. The chief priests and Pharisees heard once more that "the stone which the builders rejected had become the head of the corner" and that they were the builders on whom lay the guilt of that rejection. (Acts iv. 11. Matt. xxi. 42.) That imagery, so closely connected with his own name, was fixed on his memory to the end (1 Pet. ii. 7) That they heard such a rebuke from these peasants of Galilee, "unlearned and ignorant men" who filled no office and had never sat at the feet of any Rabbi in Jerusalem, amazed them. Who were these speakers? They looked and recognised the features of the only two disciples who had entered the High Priest's palace on the morning of the crucifixion (John xviii. 15) and whom they may then probably have seen there. In their amazement they took what seemed to them a middle course. They could not deny the miracle; they would not punish the Apostles. It would be enough to threaten them, and command silence for the future as far as the hated name of Jesus was concerned. They find what must have seemed to them a resolute defiance. Those disciples had a duty imposed on them and from that duty they could not shrink. It was not right to hearken unto men more than unto God (Acts iv. 19, 20). They left the Judgment Hall with the full assertion of their freedom, and when they rejoined the company of the disciples, and told what had happened to them, they burst out into what St Luke records as the Church's first hymn of praise, an echo, as it were, of the Pentecostal chant, a "spiritual song" (Eph. v. 19; Col. iii. 16) in the sense of being the unpremeditated utterance of the Spirit that gave them the new "tongues" which were the instruments of a new power of exulting joy and praise. In the hymn itself we noisome interesting coincidences. The "Lord" with which it opens, is not the ordinary Kyrios, but the Despotes which we find in 2 Pet. ii. 1. The "child Jesus" is none other than the "servant of the Lord" of the later prophecies of Isaiah (xlii. 1, lii. 13), whom the Apostle had now learnt to identify both in his sufferings and his glory with the Lord whom he served. His view of the relations between man's freedom and God's fore ordaining purpose is the same as that expressed in his earlier speeches in the Acts (i. 16, ii. 23, iv. 28) and in his latest utterance in his Epistles (1 Pet. ii. 8).
The history of Ananias and Sapphira need not be further dwelt on than as indicating the power to forgive or retain sins which Peter exercised in the full consciousness of its reality, when the pardon or condemnation expressed the insight into character which he had received through the illumination of the Spirit (John xx. 23). The punishment which he was the agent in inflicting was necessary to preserve the infant community from that greed of gain which had led Judas to his destruction. How far that punishment extended, it was not for him, nor is it for us to say. It is enough to note that the dominant idea of all such punishments as exercised by the Apostles was that the offender was " delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the Spirit might be saved in the day of the the Lord Jesus " (1 Cor. v. 5), that he himself, in dwelling on the marvellous mercies of the Father of all spirits, speaks of those who "are judged according to men in the flesh" and yet "live to God in the Spirit" (1 Pet. iv. 6). The natural result of the punishment thus inflicted was seen in a new awe and reverence of which the Apostle was the object. The Eastern portico of the Temple, known as Solomon's, as containing, it was believed, part of the original structure of the first Temple, in which he had of old walked with his Master as He taught (John x. 23), was now, for a time, almost, as it were, appropriated to him and his brother Apostles, by a common consent, which the priests and Levites did not dare to resist, as a place where they might meet and teach the people (Acts v. 12). The very "shadow of Peter" became, as the hem of Christ's garment had been, a means of healing to those who brought with them the intensity of faith which, in its turn, brought them within the range of the divine power to heal.
This expansion of influence brought on the next stage of persecution. Threats, it seemed, were not enough, and more stringent measures had to be taken. Once again the Apostles (now, it would seem, the whole company of the Twelve) were called before the tribunal of the Sadducean priesthood, and were committed to the dungeon of the public prison. Released by an angel of the Lord, they appeared in the Temple carrying on the work of teaching. Summoned once more before the Council, Peter, as the spokesman of the rest, proclaimed his steadfast adherence to the rule that it was right to obey God rather than man, and so to bear their witness that Jesus had risen from the dead. The prudent advice of Gamaliel, as representing the more moderate section of the Pharisees, prevailed for the time, but though acquitted of the charge of blasphemy, they were dealt with as disturbers of the Temple, and suffered the Jewish penalty of being beaten with rods (Acts v. 17 - 42).
Peter's wisdom and moderation were as conspicuous in the next stage of the Church's growth as his courage and prophetic power had been hitherto. The distribution of alms to the distressed widows of the community was the occasion of serious difficulties. He and the rest of the Twelve were Galileans, but the Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jews had now become an important section, and they thought themselves passed over in favour of the Hebrews, with whom the Galilean Apostles were supposed to have greater sympathy. The difficulty was met by no assertion of supremacy, but by a wise and generous concession. The multitude of the disciples were to elect seven officers for this special purpose; the Apostles would confine themselves to the higher work of teaching and of prayer. The Greek names of the seven who were elected make it probable that they were chosen as representing the several sections of the Hellenistic Jews of the dispersion (Acts vi. 17).
With the character and work of Stephen, and with the persecution of which he was the object we are not now concerned, except so far as the latter indicates that his teaching presented features that roused a hostility which had not been caused by the preaching of St Peter, and that the hostility came from a different quarter. The persecutors of the Apostle had been the Sadducees, who hated him for the witness which he bore to the resurrection of Jesus. He had been protected by the temporizing policy of the more moderate section of the Pharisees represented by Gamaliel. In the case of Stephen we have a coalition between the more violent section of those Pharisees headed by Gamaliel's pupil and the Sadducean priesthood. And the charges against him, interpreted by the tenor of his own apologia, shew why this was so. He had dwelt more than the Twelve had done, on the wider thoughts which in the teaching of our Lord had been presented as in their germinal state and had been developed by the teaching of the Spirit. That the Temple was to pass away, that its sacrifices had ceased to have any value for the deliverance of man's soul from the power or penalty of evil, that the customs which Moses had delivered, the whole body of outward ceremonial ordinances, were about to pass away before the coming of a better order, this Stephen saw more clearly and proclaimed more earnestly than Peter had as yet done (Acts vi. 13, 14). And therefore it was that while the storm of persecution fell on him and the whole body of believers, specially, it is obvious, on his six colleagues and those who followed his teaching, the Twelve were able to remain at Jerusalem and carried on their work without further molestation. They were not again exposed to the fiery trial of persecution till they had taken one or two decisive steps in the path in which Stephen had led the way.
The first of those steps was brought about by a fellow- worker of Stephen's, like in character and feeling. Though the Twelve had been told that they were to be witnesses for their Lord in Samaria as well as in Jerusalem and Judaea (Acts i. 8), they had as yet acted as if the rule given on their first mission were still binding, and had not entered into " any city of the Samaritans" (Matt. x. 5). Philip, forced to leave Jerusalem by the hostility of both the ruling parties, found a refuge in the unnamed city of Samaria, probably, i.e. in Sychar. The way had been prepared for him, and for his teaching, partly by the announcement of the Christ to the woman of Samaria, and through her, to her people, that the Mountain of Gerizim and the Temple at Jerusalem were alike among the things that were decaying and waxing old, and were ready to vanish away (John iv. 21 - 24), partly by the counterfeit of Divine Truth preached by the teacher who, as Simon the Sorcerer, became in the next century the hero of the romance of heresy. The Apostles in Jerusalem welcomed the tidings that the Samaritans had received the Gospel, and the two friends Peter and John were sent to confirm their faith by imparting to them, through the laying on of hands, the gift of the Holy Spirit. They had not been in that region since one of them had desired to call down fire from heaven on those who would not receive his Master (Luke ix. 54). Now he had learnt what manner of Spirit claimed him as its own, and came to give them that Spirit whose mighty presence was as a baptism of fire. Then for the first time, though, if we follow the traditions of the second century, by no means for the last, the two Simons stood face to face in all the contrast of their characters, the one true, faithful, impetuous; the other greedy of gain and trading on the credulity of his followers (Acts viii. 9 - 24). In him, accompanied as he was, by his mistress Helena, it is not difficult to believe, he saw the typical representative of the false teachers whom he paints in such dark colours in his second Epistle as " having eyes full of an adulteress and that cannot cease from sin, beguiling unstable souls, having a heart exercised with covetous practices" (see Notes on 2 Pet. ii. 12 - 14). In the boast of Simon that he was " the great power of God" (Acts viii. 9, 10) we recognise the "great swelling words of vanity" of 2 Pet. ii. 18; in the sentence passed on the sorcerer, " Thy money go with thee to destruction " (Acts viii. 20), we have the foreshadowing of the final doom of those "who shall utterly perish in their own corruption" (2 Pet. ii. 12). The very word which describes the state of those who had forsaken the right way (2 Pet. ii. 15) is that which he had used of Simon, " Thy heart is not right in the sight of God " (Acts viii. 21). It had been better for him, as for them, "not to have known the way of righteousness," and his latter end, like theirs, was worse than the beginning (2 Pet. ii. 20)
The two Apostles continued their mission work in Samaria and returned to Jerusalem. When they reached it they found that the storm of persecution had ceased. It may be that they heard that a strange change had come over him, the zealot of Tarsus, who had been so prominent as its leader. Soon the minds of their countrymen were agitated by a danger from another quarter. The Emperor Caius (more commonly known by his nickname of Caligula) was bent on anticipating, while yet alive, the apotheosis which had been decreed by the obsequious Senate to his predecessors on their death, and had given orders that his statue, in colossal proportions, should be set up in the Temple at Jerusalem. He was deterred from the insane project by the remonstrances of his friend Agrippa (grandson of Herod the Great and brother of the Herodias of the Gospel history), whom he had made King of Judaea, and of Petronius, the Governor of Syria, but while the alarm lasted, it absorbed the attention of the people, and so far was favourable to the silent growth of the Churches of Judaea and Galilee and Samaria "in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Ghost" (Acts ix. 31, Joseph. Ant. xviii. 8).
In the meantime, some three years after the death of Stephen, the Apostle met for the first time the teacher whose name was in after ages and in many ways to be closely associated with his own. Saul of Tarsus came from Damascus to Jerusalem with the express purpose of conferring with Peter (Gal. i. 18), and communicating to him the new phase of truth which had been revealed to him, as Peter's had been of old, not by flesh and blood, but by his Father in Heaven (Gal. i. 11, 12), as to the unity of mankind in Christ, and the breaking down of the wall of partition that divided Jew from Gentile. The visit was, however, but a short and hurried one. Peter and James the brother of the Lord were the only two representatives of the Church of Jerusalem whom the new preacher saw (Gal. i. 19). They shrank at first from receiving him as remembering his old hostility, and when they yielded to the witness which Barnabas, probably as having been his friend in past years, bore to his sincerity, it was as yet, it may be, without the full unreserved confidence which is the condition of a free inter change of thoughts (Acts ix. 21). Enough, however, had been done, to sow the seeds of new thoughts, to wake questions which were in due course to receive a solution, to quicken the expectations of the Apostle as to the time and manner when the Gentiles should be admitted to the Kingdom.
The mission work of Peter led him from Jerusalem towards the West. At Lydda, and in the region known as the Saron ( = the woodland, or, as we might say, the Weald), Churches were founded or were strengthened. At Joppa, even prior to his arrival, there was a Christian Church, with its organised charity, its widows and its sisterhood of workers. Dorcas, or Tabitha (the double form of the name indicates the union of Hellenistic and Hebrew believers there) had probably points of contact with the Jews of the Western dispersion3. The town, as the chief centre of trade for the south of Palestine, must have been as full of motley groups of sailors and traders as Tyre or Sidon. As he looked out from the harbour on the waters of the Great Sea, the question must have been in his mind, when and how the Isles of the Gentiles, the Isles of Chittim, should acknowledge Christ as their Lord. In taking up his abode with "one Simon a tanner," whom we can scarcely think of as other than a fellow-disciple, there was at least one step towards breaking down the traditions of the elders, for from the stand-point of those traditions, the trade was one which brought with it an immediate and inevitable uncleanness (Acts ix. 32 - 43).
Solitude, prayer, fasting, the natural resource of a spirit under the pressure of such thoughts became for him the channel of a new revelation. The hunger of the body became a parable of the hunger of the soul. The "all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts and creeping things" were symbols of the Gentile nations, whom he had hitherto looked on as common and unclean. He might afterwards learn to see that in their coming down from Heaven and being taken up to it again, there was shadowed forth the truth that Humanity had been redeemed in the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Ascension. The command, "Arise, Peter, kill and cat," was soon interpreted by events (Acts x. 1 - 18). He was not to let any previous scruples as to what was common or unclean hinder him from seeing in the Gentiles those who might satisfy, even as they were, his yearning for the extension of his Master's kingdom. He was taught where to find the other sheep which were not of the fold of Israel, whom also it was his to feed (John x. 16, xxi. 15 - 17). Incidentally we may note as characteristic of the man, the impetuous "Not so, Lord," reminding us of his "Thou shalt never wash my feet" (John xiii. 8), the threefold repetition of the whole vision reminding us at once of the threefold denial, and the threefold question and command of John xxi. 15 17. He was not slow to understand and act on the meaning of the symbolic vision as it was interpreted by the sequence of events. He too had learnt to "honour all men" (1 Pet. ii. 17) and to see that in the Kingdom of God a "respect of persons" based on distinctions of race was as contrary to the mind of Christ as that based on distinctions of wealth or rank (James ii. 1 - 4), and so had to supply, as it were, another minor premiss to St James's general principle. He had been taught that "in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him" (Acts x. 34, 35). He had been led almost to the very platform of St Paul, that "circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing," but that "faith working by love" is all in all (Gal. v. 6). When the gift of the Spirit, the new exulting and enthusiastic joy fell upon the friends of Cornelius, anticipating in this case the outward baptism which usually preceded it, he was ready with the question to which there could be but one answer, " Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptised, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts x. 44 - 48.) Traces of the teaching of those eventful days meet us at every stage in his Epistles. "The Gospel," he tells his readers, "had been preached to them with the witness of the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven" (1 Pet. i. 12). He reminds them that "the Father without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work" (1 Pet. i. 17), that purification of the soul comes by "obeying the truth through the Spirit" (1 Pet. i. 22). During the remainder of that visit to Caesarea, he lived as freely as St Paul afterwards did, in the house of an uncircumcised Gentile.
On his return to Jerusalem he was confronted by the hostility of those who were now recognised as the party of the Circumcision, insisting on its indispensable necessity. The mere statement of the fact that he had gone in to men uncircumcised and had eaten with them seemed to them at first enough. Their deference for his personal authority and for the vision that had come to him from God, made them withdraw their objection for the time, and the great bulk of the party, re presented, we may believe, by James the brother of the Lord, glorified God for thus giving to the Gentiles repentance unto life (Acts xi. 1 - 18). Afterwards, it would seem, the ultra-zealots of the section came to persuade themselves that the case of Cornelius was altogether exceptional and was an exception that proved the rule.
It seems probable, though not absolutely certain, that Peter shared in the joy of the Church of Jerusalem when tidings came that Gentiles had been admitted to baptism at Antioch as they had been at Cęsarea, and in the action which gave Barnabas a special mission to guide and organise the community that had thus been formed (Acts xi. 22). If he remained at Jerusalem after Agabus had predicted the famine which in the early years of Claudius (A.D. 413) pressed on the Church there, he must have rejoiced in the proof given of the love and pity of the Gentiles in the contribution sent for their relief from the Christians of Antioch by the hand of Barnabas and Saul (Acts xi. 27 - 30) The stress laid on the fact that this was sent to the "elders," and the absence of any reference to this visit in St Paul's review of his conferences with St Peter (Gal. i. 18) are, however, all but decisive in favour of the inference that he was at the time engaged in some unrecorded mission work away from Jerusalem.
The arrival of the new king Agrippa, and the rigorous measures which he took, in order to court the favour of priests and people, against the Church at Jerusalem, drew the Apostle back to the post of danger. James the son of Zebedee, the companion of his early years, was put to death, the protomartyr of the Apostolic company. He himself was thrown into prison as sentenced to a like doom when the Passover, then impending, should be over. From that doom he was rescued, as before, by the intervention of an angel of the Lord, and he, for whom the Church was praying in the house of Mary, the kinswoman of Barnabas, and mother of John surnamed Mark (both probably converted by his preaching, 1 Pet. v. 13), suddenly appeared in the midst of them. It was, however, necessary for his safety to leave Jerusalem, and leaving the Church in the charge of James the brother of the Lord, he went as St Luke records to "another place" (Acts xii. 1 - 17). Where this was we have no data for determining, probably Lydda or Joppa, or some other town in Judaea where he would be welcomed and protected. The assumption that the "other place" was Rome and that this was the beginning of his twenty-five years Episcopate, though adopted by many Roman Catholic writers, scarcely calls for a serious refutation.
From this time forth, however, the Acts of the Apostles be come more and more exclusively the Acts of St Paul alone, and five or six years pass over during which we have no record of St Peter's work. James, the brother of the Lord, assumed more and more the position of the Bishop of the Church at Jerusalem. Peter, and probably John also, may have been employed in exercising their Apostolic office in the other Churches of Judaea. The revival of the question as to the conditions on which Gentile converts were to be admitted into the Church, which arose first at Antioch, and was referred for settlement to the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem, at all events drew him back to that city. The part he took in the discussion which took place in the Synod or Conference that was thus held was consistent at once with the lessons impressed on him by the history of Cornelius, and with the later teaching of his Epistles (Acts xv. 1 - 11). His position, however, was distinctly that of a debater, not of a judge. Though his position gives him a natural authority, there is no assumption of primacy, still less of an unerring power to judge. He reasons from past experience as the witness of a divine purpose. He dwells on the fact that true purity belonged to the heart, and not to the flesh, and was wrought not by circumcision and the law of ordinances, but by faith. As if reminding them of the words of the Master whom they all owned as Lord, he tells them that they are putting an intolerable yoke, a yoke which even they and their fathers had found intolerable, on the neck of the Gentile converts (Acts xv. 10, Matt, xxiii. 4) instead of His easy yoke (Matt. xi. 30). In words which have in them the very tones and accents of St Paul's teaching he declares that his hopes of salvation rest on "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" and on that alone (Acts xv. 7 - 11). St Paul's report of what passed, as it were, behind the scenes, in connexion with this debate throws light on its course and on its result4. On arriving at Jerusalem he sought for a private conference with the acknowledged leaders, those who were known as the "pillars" of the Church at Jerusalem. To them he set forth in its fulness the Gospel which he preached among the Gentiles, and they, as indeed the Epistles of St Peter and St John shew beyond the shadow of a doubt, accepted that Gospel without reserve. On that point he would not leave room for the shadow of an uncertainty. It was agreed either that the Apostles of Circumcision should support St Paul in his firm resolve to resist the Pharisee section of the Church in their efforts to compel him to circumcise Titus, whom he had brought to Jerusalem apparently as a representative instance of what a Gentile convert could be in purity and holiness, or else that Titus should accept the sign of the covenant of Israel as a voluntary act for the sake of peace, and not as yielding to compulsion, or regarding it as the indispensable condition of his admission into fellowship with the Church of Christ5. In that conference, however, St Paul asserted his independence as a teacher. He had nothing to learn from Peter and James and John. They had, perhaps, something to learn from him, and they learnt it willingly. They were content to give to him and to Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, and to accept a partition treaty of the wide field of mission labour, they confining them selves to the Circumcision while he and his fellow-worker went as before to the Gentiles. It was further settled as a means of uniting the two sections of the Church that he should continue his work of collecting alms for the suffering disciples at Jerusalem (Gal. ii. 1 - 10). The whole programme of the public conference was thus, apparently, arranged beforehand, and when James proposed that the so-called precepts of Noah, abstinence from "things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication," which had hitherto been considered sufficient for the "proselytes of the gate" in their status of incomplete union with Israel, should now be accepted as enough for the complete union of Gentile converts who were baptized, with the true Israel of God, St Paul accepted the proposal readily and without reserve (Acts xv. 13 - 30). It was for him, however, distinctly of the nature of a temporary concordat. He never appealed to its restrictive authority, though he published and rested on its concessions. He preferred, as in the long discussion of the question in 1 Cor. viii. - x., to argue the lawfulness of eating, or not eating, things that had been sacrificed to idols on entirely independent grounds.
As far as the writer of the Acts is concerned, we entirely lose sight of St Peter after the Council of Jerusalem, and the New Testament gives us but the scantiest information as to the fourteen or fifteen years that followed before his death. The one distinct fact of which we get a glimpse is a somewhat painful one. He went down to Antioch at some uncertain interval after the Council in Jerusalem, and for a time acted in the full spirit of the words he had then spoken, and as he had acted in the case of Cornelius, eating and drinking with the Gentiles, both in their common meals, and in their Agapae and the more sacred "breaking of bread." Some of the circumcision party, however, came down from Jerusalem, and claiming (probably, as before, without ground) to speak in the name of James, pro tested against his action. This, they seem to have said, was going beyond the terms of the Concordat. They were willing to leave the Gentiles in the undisturbed exercise of their freedom, but they did not care to see their own Apostle of the Circumcision renounce the traditions of the elders, and no longer walk after the customs. The old weakness of nature which had shewed itself in the high-priest's palace displayed itself yet once more. He yielded to the pressure from without and took up a position of invidious separation from the Gentiles. In doing so he both shut them out from free and complete communion, and he tacitly condemned St Paul, who continued to do the very thing from which he had thus withdrawn. What made the matter worse was that Barnabas also was persuaded to follow his example. The current of public feeling, at least among the Gentile Christians, was strongly roused against him, and of that feeling the Apostle of the Gentiles made himself the mouthpiece and rebuked the chief of the Apostles sternly for his vacillating inconsistency (Gal. ii. 1 1 14). The abrupt and fragmentary ac count of the matter which St Paul gives hinders us from knowing how St Peter received the rebuke there given. We may well believe, however, that he accepted it with all the frankness of a noble and generous nature. His name might be used by embittered partisans and set up in rivalry against St Paul, but Cephas himself was never a member of the Cephas party at Corinth or elsewhere. Not a trace of bitterness is found in his Epistles, and to a large extent, as the notes will shew, they reproduce St Paul's teaching as freely as they do that of St James or St John. Writing to those who owed their knowledge of the Gospel mainly to St Paul and his companions, he testifies that they are standing "in the true grace of God" (1 Pet. v. 12), that they already know the things of which he puts them in remembrance and are "established in the present truth" (2 Pet. i. 12). Paul is with him his "beloved brother," and he recognises the wisdom that had been given him (2 Pet. iii. 15). He becomes a diligent student of the Epistles that contain that wisdom, and places them on the same level of authority as the other Scriptures, though he finds in them some things hard to be understood and open to misconstruction (2 Pet. iii. 16).
After the scene at Antioch the Epistles that bear his name are our only source of information as to the later years of St Peter. It may be inferred from them that his work as an Apostle took him eastward to the city on the Euphrates, which was near the site and had inherited the name of the ancient Babylon; that Mark, his early convert, had joined him after working with Barnabas and visiting St Paul at Rome (1 Pet. v. 13, Col. iv. 10), that Silvanus, also the friend and fellow-worker of both Apostles, had come to him from the Asiatic Churches, and had reported the sufferings to which they were exposed. With less certainty we may infer that now, as before (1 Cor. ix. 5), his wife shared his journeys and his labours. (See note on 1 Pet. v. 13.) When he wrote his second Epistle it was with the foreboding that the sudden and violent death of which his Lord had told him was not far off and that it was necessary to make provision for it by taking steps for perpetuating the teaching which hitherto had been chiefly oral (2 Pet. i. 15).
Here, as far as the New Testament is concerned, our know ledge of St Peter ends. It remains for us to examine the mass of traditions and legends which have gathered round the close of his life and to ascertain, as far as we can, what fragments of definite historical fact can be disengaged from them. The silence of Scripture is, however, not without its significance as bearing on the claims which have been asserted by the Roman Church as resting on the name of Peter. Was it likely, we may ask, if her theory were true, if the whole well-being of the Church were identified with its submission to the Bishop of Rome and his successors, as inheriting his primacy, supremacy, infallibility, that not one word in the Canonical Books of Scripture should even suggest the thought that he had ever been at Rome?
1) It would be out of place here to enter at any length into a discussion as to the nature of the Gift of Tongues, and I content myself with referring to the Article on that subject in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.
2) It may be noted as an interesting coincidence, that St Paul contrasts what we may venture to call the two forms of stimulation. "Be not drunk with wine, . . . but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. v. 18).
3) It is not without interest to note that the name Dorcas appears in the Columbarium of Livia at Rome as belonging to an Ornatrix ( lady's maid, or, perhaps, needle-woman) of the Empress's house hold.
4) I assume, with the great majority of commentators, that St Paul refers in Gal. ii. 1 to the visit of Acts xv., and not, as some few have thought, to that of Acts xviii. 22.
5) I state the two alternative views which have been taken of the somewhat ambiguous language of Gal. ii. 3 ("not even Titus. . . was compelled to be circumcised"), but the former seems to me every way the most probable.