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the worship of these base idols, would neceffarily of fend the fcrupulous Chriftian, and might perhaps feduce the yet unfteady profelyte.-The ufe of blood, and therefore of things ftrangled to retain the blood, was conceived by the Heathens to be one mode of P-holding communication with the invisible dæmons whom they adored; and every conceivable abomination of impurity was perpetrated by the worshippers of those foul and vicious monsters, whom what has been termed the "elegant Mythology of the "Greeks," had exalted into gods, in the very temples of thefe gods, in imitation of their actions, in honour of their memory; nay, as parts of their worfhip. Hence this laft, though naturally fo much fu-. perior in its guilt, was, in this view, forbidden, toge ther with the former indulgencies, as the worst companion of idolatry, and the strongest temptation to it.
Another reafon for uniting thefe prohibitions may be found in the prejudices of the Jews, in whofe law these various practices had been forbidden together, and who held them in fuch abhorrence, that they could not converse freely, or even participate at the table of the Lord with those who ufed any of them,
P Vid. Spencer ut Supra, p. 451, and Patrick on Leviticus,
Vid. Spencer, ib. p. 451.
s Vid. Leviticus xvii. and xviii. with Patrick's Commentary; alfo Leviticus xix. verfé 26. ib.
Vid. Gibbon's History of
and would not believe any who perfevered in one of them to be fincere converts from Paganism; perhaps alfo, in order to confult the peace of the church, by not offending the prejudices of the over-fcrupulous Jews, the fornication here forbidden may have extended, not only to prevent every species of impurity in general, but particularly to prevent marriage. within those degrees of confanguinity in which it was prohibited by the Levitical law,
In this view all these prohibitions may have been neceffary, under the circumftances then exifting; and whenever thefe circumftances fhould cease to exist, by the abolition of the Jewish polity, and the general disuse of Heathen idolatry, Chriftians could be at no loss to distinguish between the temporary obligation to abstain from meats offered to idols, from blood, and things strangled, and the eternal obligation to abstain from every fpecies of impurity. Their Lord had exprefsly marked out this important diftinction," not that which entereth into the mouth "defileth a man, but that which cometh out, even "from the heart; for out of the heart proceed evil
t Matt. xv. 10 to 20. That all fuch obfervances are in themfelves indifferent, and compliance with them inculcated merely for the fake of avoiding offence and difunion, is beautifully il luftrated by the apostle Paul. Vid. the epiftle to the Romans, the xivth. ch. and beginning of the xvth. and in the ft. Corinthians, viiith. and xth. chapters, to which I refer the readers, and which will be more particularly confidered when we come to confider the moral doctrines of the apoftles.
* thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications; thefts, “false witness, blafphemies; these are they which "defile a man"; but to eat with unwashen hands (and on the fame ground to eat in any manner probibited by the Levitical law) defileth not a man.
If on the other hand we adopt the " opinion of those who confine the obligation of this decree to fuch of the Gentiles as had been previously converted from idolatry, and had embraced the worship of the true God, as taught by the Jewish religion, without however adopting circumcifion, and its other burthenfome ceremonies, another reafon for these prohibitions
This opinion is fupported by most refpectable authorities, vid. Lord Barrington's Mifcellanea Sacra, vol. ii. p. 255. London 1770; his effay on the apoftolic decree. Dr. Benson's History of Christianity, b. iii. ch. iii. fect. 4, 5, and 6. and Dr. M'Knight in his preface to the epiftle to the Galatians, fect. 4. vol. iii. p. 220. of that edition, confifting of four volumes. One of the grand arguments used by these learned writers, viz. "that if this decree was directed to the profelytes from amongst the idolatrous Gentiles, it is ftill binding on all Christians in every part of it," feems to me inconclufive: the neceffity of abstaining from meats offered to idols, and from things strangled, and from blood, arose from these being parts of idolatrous worship, or at least fo connected with it, as to afford occafion of fufpicion and offence to the Jewish profelytes, and to all weaker Chriftians; (vid. Spencer, and the paffages cited from St. Paul) confequently, where idolatrous worship has wholly ceased, and no fuch ground for suspicion and offence can poffibly exift, these prohibitions lofe their force, and the ufe of things ftrangled, and of blood, becomes, what it is in its own nature, a matter of indifference; but I perfectly agree with thefe learned writers in the fentiment quoted in my text.
arifes from the political privileges to which these devout Gentiles (or profelytes of the gate, as they were termed) were entitled, under the Jewish state, viz. a liberty of fettling or fojourning in Palestine, frequenting the Jewish fynagogues, offering facrifices in the temples, and enjoying the cities of refuge-privileges which required on their part the observance of these prohi bitions, as a test not only of their religious, but their political obedience, and which the gofpel could not free them from fo long as the Jewish polity continued, and these privileges were claimed under it; for Chriftianity in no cafe interfered with the political fituation, or affected the civil duties or rights of any of its converts. * "Hence the apostles themselves obeyed "the Jewish law, and advised the converts from
ડ amongst the Jews, and the devout profelytes, to ❝continue to do the fame, not as a neceffary condi"tion of falvation, but merely as a matter of politi❝cal obligation."
Such was the general substance of the decree, which evidently fteers a wife medium between the violent partizans of the oppofite opinions; fecuring the perpetual freedom of Chriftians in general from the burthen of the Mofaic law, but carefully guarding against the seductions of idolatry, or at least yielding to the violent prejudices of the Jews, and the political connection of the devout Gentiles with the Jewish
* M'Knight as quoted above, p. 227.
ftate, fo far as to inculcate the obfervance of fuch of the Levitical precepts as could not be disregarded without interrupting the harmony of the church, fo long as these prejudices and that connection contitinued to exift. Surely fuch a decree was not dictated by an extravagant and fenfelefs fanaticifm.
But befides the general nature of the decree, if we obferve the manner in which it was conveyed, this alfo difplays the fame prudent and vigilant attention to the peace of the church.
The advocates for the obfervance of the Jewish law had violently oppofed Barnabas and Paul, and probably calumniated them as preaching a gofpel different from that taught by the original apoftles of Christ. The preamble of the decree, without directly rebuking these misguided zealots, obviates the ill effect of their mifreprefentations, by defcribing Paul and Barnabas as "the beloved brethren who "had hazarded their lives for the name of the "Lord Jefus Chrift;" but if these apostles alone had been the bearers of the decree, their oppofers might perhaps have raised some fufpicion of its authenticity and ftrict correctnefs; the council therefore fent with them two other preachers, of fignal reputation and piety, Judas and Silas, who had never been engaged in the conteft, and would there
y Acts xv. 25.