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hend, makes little difference; whether these things were such as the circumstances of things obliged the council to require, or the Gentile christians to observe.
4.) None of the christian converts needed to be informed, that they ought to keep themselves from the practice of such things as are immoral, and in their own nature evil, and unreasonable.
Take things sacrificed to idols for idolatry, blood for honnicide, and fornication for uncleanness, or any sins contrary to moral purity : and there was not a Gentile convert to the christian religion, whether converted by Paul, or Barnabas, or any other Jewish preacher of the gospel, but knew his duty in all those respects. Men may need to be exhorted to the practice of wbat they know to be their duty, and to be dissuaded from things wbich they know to be evil. But men do not need to be informed of what they know already.
5.) If the apostles, and elders, and brethren, present in this council, had intended to forbid in their epistle things contrary to morality; they would have added divers other things, beside those here mentioned.
They would, in that case, expressly have forbidden lying, perjury, wrath, evil speaking, theft, robbery, adultery, and all uncleanness. I might add, that if it had been the design of this assembly to remind the converts, to whom they write, of their duties and obligations as christians; they would have exhorted them particularly to persevere in the faith of Christ, and would have recommended to them the duty of bearing the cross, or of patience and fortitude under aftlictions and persecutions for his name's sake.
6.) All the several particulars of the decree must be understood to be of the like kind.
They ought to be all moral, or all indifferent. At least, it appears to me to have a good deal of probability, that the writers of the epistle would not put together things of a different nature, without denoting their difference, or making a distinction between them. That all these things are not moral, or reasonable in themselves, and in their own nature obligatory upon all men, in all times, is apparent. Therefore none are so.
These several considerations, as seems to me, amount to a convincing and satisfactory proof, that nothing in this decree is of a moral nature.
V. THE DECREE EXPLAINED. Here some may say: How then do you understand them? To which I answer, That I am not obliged to explain any of them. Things necessary,
or expedient, in some places, at certain seasons, and upon account of the circumstances of things and persons, need not to be understood by all in all times, or by those, who are under no obligation to observe them. It may be supposed, that they to whom the epistle was sent understood it. And it is unquestionable, that if any articles were obscure, or ambiguous, they who delivered the epistle were able to explain them. And so long as these regulations were necessary, or expedient, to be kept and observed, it is likely that the right sense and design of them were generally understood. But, as that expedient ceased, or abated, the exact meaning of these regulations might be gradually lost, or not distinctly retained by all.
However, I am not unwilling to show the probable meaning of these several articles, according to the best of my ability.
The whole decree consists of four articles. Which, as they are recited three times, are reckoned up in a different order, and in some small variety of expression.
Acts xv. 20. St. James proposeth them in the council after this manner : “ That we write unto them, that they abstain from pollution of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” At ver. 29, in the epistle itself: “ That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornia cation." Afterwards, St. James in his discourse with the apostle Paul at Jerusalem, ch. xxi. 25, “Save only, that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication,” Which is the same order with that in the epistle, and shall be followed by me.
1. Pollutions of idols, or things offered to idols.
The obvious sense of this regulation is, that Gentile christians should abstain from eating meats which had been offered to idols, by heathen people; I mean, in some circumstances. Several things in St. Paul's epistles confirm this interpretation, and may enable us to discern the design of this prohibition. As 1 Cor. ch. viii. throughout, and x. 1423.
But this regulation is now obsolete, there being no longer any heathen idols among us. All the idolatry of ancient heathenism, once so general, and so much delighted in by princes and people, is abolished in this part of the world,
Το απεχεσθαι απο των αλισγηματων των ειδωλων. ver. 20.
--ει μη φυλασσεσθαι αυτ8ς το, τε ειδωλοθυτον.
By the progress of the gospel God hath wonderfully accomplished what he long before said he would perform. Zeph. ii, 11, “ The Lord will be terrible unto them; for he will famish all the gods of the earth. And men sball worship bim, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen."
2. And from blood. This I take to be a prohibition to drink or eat the blood of brute animals alone, or mixed with other things, raw, or dressed and prepared.
It may be of use to us to observe here some of those places in the Old Testament, where the eating of blood is prohibited.
Gen. ix. 3, 4, “ Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh, with the life thereof, wbich is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.”
Lev. xvii. 10–14, “ And whatsoever man there is of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will set my face against that man that eateth blood, and will cut hiin off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood. And I have given it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your
souls. For it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul; therefore I said unto the children of Israel, no soul of you shall eat blood; neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. And whatever inan there is of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, who hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust; for it is the life of all flesh. The blood of it is for the life thereof. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh. For the life of all flesh is the blood thereof. Whosoever eateth it, shall be cut off.”
That law in Leviticus, and the like elsewhere, are given to the house of Israel, and likewise to the strangers that joined themselves to them: for no others could offer sacrifices; nor could any others be cut off for transgressing these laws, but such as were of that people. The reason here assigned, that the blood was appointed to make atonement upon the altar, can affect none but Jews, and other men circumcised after the manner of Moses.
Eating blood cannot be reckoned an immorality. And, if it is not, this prohibition, in the decree, cannot be binding upon all men in all times; but only at some seasons, when the circumstances of things render the forbearing it expedient.
All wholesome food is lawful in itself, and under the gospel-dispensation. As St. Paul says, Rom. xiv. 14, 15, “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” And ver. 19, “ Let us therefore follow after the things which inake for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” See also what there follows, and I Cor. vji. 11–13.
However, I must add, that blood appears to me very unwholesome. Indeed I esteem it filthy, and highly disagreeable; so that I cannot bear the thought of eating it. If it ever comes to me in food, it is more than I know. And I suppose it is never brought, neither alone nor mixed with other things, to the tables of polite people.
There seem to me to be two reasons for this prohibition, even in the law of Moses. One reason is that above mentioned, that it was to make atonement for them, that is, for offences against the law. The other reason is thus expressed : " It is the life of all flesh. The blood of it is for the Life thereof." That is, it is the nourishment of the animal, and not fit for your nourishment. And because it was not fit for food, and was useless and offensive; therefore it was to be poured out upon the earth, or covered with dust, that is, buried in the earth : which order is frequently repeated. So in ver. 13, of the fore-cited seventeenth chapter of Leviticus, and Deut. xii. 16, “ Only ye shall not eat the blood. Ye shall pour it upon the earth as water.”
the earth as water.” And again, ver. 24, and ch. xv. 23.
The prohibition of blood was like the prohibition of fat. Lev. iii. 15–17, “ And the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them-it shall be taken away. And the priest shall burn them upon the altar. It is the food of the offering made by fire, for a sweet savour. All the fat is the Lord's. It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood.” And ch. vii. 25, “ For whosoever eateth the fat of the beast, of which men offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord, shall be cut off from his people.” That is the reason which is expressed, and for which the penalty is so great.
But another reason may be implied, wbich is, that the fat cleaving to the kidneys of animals is notd wholesome.
Those ordinances answered two ends and purposes. They kept the Jewish people separate from other nations, and also proinoted their bodily health and vigour. And for all their labour and self-denial, they had a present reward. In the frequent washings and purifications appointed the
people, I suppose their health was consulted; as it was likewise in the directions concerning creatures clean and unclean.
Lev, xi. 3, “ Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.” See also Deut. xiv. 4-8. And it must be allowed, that such beasts as have both those properties, are preferable for food to others; as the ox, the sheep, the goat, and the deer of every kind. And though we do eat some animals which have but one of those properties, as the coney, the hare, the swine; we never eat those which have neither of those properties; that is, wbich neither chew the cud, nor divide the hoof. Nor do we use for food any of the birds, or fowls, forbidden in that long list, Lev. xi. 13—20, and Deut. xiv. 12-20.
In ancient times there were among all people two sorts of creatures, clean and unclean. This distinction obtained and was general before the flood. Noah, therefore, coinmanded to take with him into the ark of every clean beast by sevens, the male and the female; and of the beasts that are not clean, by two, the male and the female," Gen. vii. 1-3.
This distinction related as much to food as to sacrifice. For the worshipper, as well as the priest, partook of the altar, excepting in the case of whole burnt-offerings. Every living creature tberefore, which was clean for sacrifice, was also clean for food.
This article was inserted in the epistle, out of regard to the Jewish believers; that the Gentile converts might not give them offence. As there are now no Jewish believers, to take offence at our eating of blood, we may do as we see good. We may avoid it, if we please, for the sake of health ; but are not obliged to forbear it upon a religious account, which would be no better than superstition.
3. And from things strangled, that is, from the flesh of
4 And when they killed any of these, or other clean creatures, for their food at home, still they were to forbear to eat the suet ; partly out of reverence to God, whose portion it was at the altar; and partly, because it was heavy, and too strong a food, as Maimonides takes it Patrick upon Levit. iii. 16.