What fatal advice was that which was given by Gamaliel, the famous doctor of the law, to his fellow-councillors, in reference to the work of God that was being accomplished by the apostles!
He said, “If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39).
Now, Christ declares, “He that is not with Me is against Me” (Matt. 12:30). He shows that there is no middle ground.
Gamaliel, on the other hand, pleads for that middle ground in his advice; he advocates neutrality. He does not urge an honest investigation into the true nature of the work, in order to learn whether it be of God or man; and herein lay his clever but fatal mistake.
When the truth is in question neutrality becomes opposition. Everyone is morally bound to know the truth and follow it, for he will be judged according to the amount of light in which he has walked, and the measure of privilege he has enjoyed. If he reject that light, and neglect that privilege, his condemnation is but the greater, but his responsibility is co-extensive with his light.
To shut your eyes to light, or to prefer darkness, is not neutrality, it is opposition, it is wilful obstinacy.
Gamaliel cited two cases as precedents to his position. He mentioned one “Theudas,” who boasted himself to be somebody (who or what we are not told), and who had a considerable following; but his boast was transparent, and his imposture self-evident. He was slain, and his dupes brought to nought. In this case there was not truth, but only a “boast.”
Then he instanced “Judas of Galilee,” who rose in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him. But he perished, on account, doubtless, of opposition to Caesar, and his followers were dispersed. In this case it was not truth, but sedition.
Think of producing such faulty examples as reasons why “these men” should be let alone!
What similarity was there between them and the case of Jesus of Nazareth? Did He “boast that He was somebody”? No! He did not need to boast, or assume a character, He was altogether what He said. What He was expressed itself in His words and ways. Devils confessed Him, if man did not. Heaven acknowledged Him, if earth refused Him. He did not boast.
Again, Did He object to Caesar’s taxation? No. “Render to Caesar,” He loudly proclaimed, “the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” A seditious word never escaped the lips of Him who, withal, was “born King of the Jews.”
Between the cases of these two men and that of Jesus there is no resemblance. The folly and rebellion displayed by them demanded their rejection. The grace and truth that came by Him called for allegiance. Moral judgment should have refused the first, and espoused the other. But Gamaliel, purblind doctor of the law, places them on a par. Is that all that learning could do for him? Is that all that his religious training and wide reputation could supply? What a fearful lack! Where is the mysterious “one thing” to be found that the most profound human erudition cannot furnish? How comes it that these “ignorant and unlearned men” were more wise than this sage councillor? What had they that he had not? He had all that learning and scholarship and observation could give, and yet he was far behind them! They, like Daniel of old, who by the favour of his God knew more than all the magicians of Chaldea, were in the secret. They were the babes to whom these things had been revealed, as they were not to the wise and prudent; and they had, by grace, espoused a cause which was destined to survive the enmity of eighteen centuries, and which bears the stamp of being both a counsel and a work of God.
“Refrain from these men,” said Gamaliel. He had not even the eyes of Rahab the harlot, who distinguished in the two spies the forerunners of victorious Israel, and who at once threw in her lot with them. Rahab was not neutral. Hers was the faith that made her identify herself with God’s work and counsel. Not so Gamaliel. “Let them alone,” said he. He was prompted by the caution of unbelief and the wisdom of this world. Where was his determination to discover the truth? Where the zeal, the commendable zeal, that actuated one of his school to come to Jesus by night, and learn, in the shades of obscurity, the love of God in the gift of His Son, and of the lifting up of that Son, in order that, through faith in Him, eternal life might be had? Where was there a trace of a similar energy? “Let them alone,” was his fatal advice. “And to him they agreed.” Suicidal agreement! But the vessel thus let alone by them is sailing in triumph still, as upborne on the waste by the infinite grace of her exalted Lord. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
And the council, guided for the time by the advice of Gamaliel, let the work alone, closed their ears to the testimony it bore, and shut their eyes to the blessed results it accomplished. They took no pains to find out whether God was in it or not. Theirs was the inaction of apathy. But the work stands whilst they have perished. God has placed the seal of indestructibility on that insignificant seed then sown by such unlearned and ignorant hands. Yonder massive creation will pass away, but “unto Him will be glory in the Church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end.”
Oh, the more than folly of being neutral on such a battle-field, of endeavouring to occupy middle ground amid such antagonisms, to be lukewarm when Christ bids you to be either cold or hot! But, in fact, neutrality is impossible; for, again to quote His solemn words “He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with, He scattered abroad,” is only to prove that anything but whole-hearted decision for Him is determined opposition to Him.