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3. The several regulations of this decree were expedient and useful, (as bas been already hinted several times, on one or both these accounts. 1. To prevent offence in the believing Jews, and facilitate civil converse, and religious communion between believing Jews and Gentiles. And, 2. To secure the Gentile converts themselves, the more effectually from apostasy, or a return to idolatry, by keeping them out of the way of some dangerous snares and temptations.
That the former was one ground and reason of these reguJations, may be reckoned evident from the history in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts, and from many things in St. Paul's epistles; where he shows the expediency of forbearing some meats, when there was any hazard of offending a christian brother. As Rom xiv. and xv. at the beginning, and 1 Cor. chap. viii, and x. 25–33. That the latter was another ground and reason of the counsels here given, may be also argued to be very probable from St. Paul's exhortations to avoid dangerous temptations to idolatry, which are likewise in the same context. See particularly, 1 Cor.
1–22, and 2 Cor. vi, 13_18.
4. There was a happy agreement in the council, and the regulations, now determined, were carried with great unanimity; as appears from the history in the fifteenth chapter of the book of the Acts.
St. Luke intimates, that for a while there was much disputing. It is very likely, that they who were for imposing the law upon the Gentiles, and now appeared before the council, laboured to maintain their cause, and carry their point. And, possibly, their arguments at first appeared specious and plausible to some others, who were not engaged with them. But, that the resolutions, finally determined, were carried with a general consent, is manifest. We have the speech of the apostle Peter, who openly declares against imposing a law upon the Gentiles, as necessary to salvation. 'James afterwards speaks to the like purpose, sums up the arguments that had been alleged, and concludes the debates. The epistle itself is written in clear and strong terms. And the judgment upon the point is delivered with the joint authority of all the members of the council. “ Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas, surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren. And wrote letters by them after this manner. The apostles, and
See particularly, p. 320, note *.
elders, and brethren, send greeting unto the brethren, which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia." Then they pass a censure upon those, who had occasioned the disturbance at Antioch, and say ;
“ Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain, which went out from among us, have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying; Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment.” They proceed : " It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you, with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore unto you Judas and Silas, who shall tell you the same things by mouth.” How affectionate and respectful is all this ! “ For it has seemed good unto the Holy Ghost, and to us," that is, to us, under divine influence and direction,“ to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things--So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch. And when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle. Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren, and confirmed them."
Every part of this whole affair shows great unanimity, good temper, and admirable candour and discretion. When the
messengers from the church at Antioch came to Jerusalem, and proposed the question; “ The apostles and elders came together to consider of the matter.” Having carefully weighed it, they all agree in one judgment. And when they send the decree away, they make the most honourable mention of Barnabas and Paul, who bad preached the gospel in Syria, and other parts. With them they send Judas and Silas, who were some of the most eminent men of the church of Jerusalem, and also prophets themselves : next in knowledge and understanding, and in spiritual gifts, to apostles. Who, when they came to Antioch, “ gathered together the multitude," or the whole church, and delivered to them the epistle : adding also observations of their own, tending to reconcile them to the regulations contained in it. And the christians at Antioch were well satisfied, and rejoiced for the consolation afforded them, and for the regard that had been shown to them, in asserting and securing their freedom from the yoke of the cereinonial appointments of the law of Moses.
This barmony continued : as appears from the discourses of James and the elders at Jerusalem, when Paul came
thither again several years afterwards. “As touching the Gentiles which believe,” say they, " we have written, and concluded, that they observe no such thing:" which shows, that this was still the judgment of James himself, and of the elders, and of the church at Jerusalem. Some exceptions there might be: but the determinations of the council were what the church at Jerusalem generally agreed to, and heartily approved of. They did not exact of the Gentile believers an entire conformity to the law of Moses, as necessary to salvation.
Paul readily received these regulations, as prudent counsels, or matters of expedience at that time. And the other apostles intended no more by them.
Paul and Barnabas, Judas and Silas, are the persons who by name are charged with the epistle by the council. They carry it to Antioch, and deliver it to the church there. And Judas and Silas, moreover, recommend the observation of the things therein ordained : and doubtless with the approbation of Paul, who was then at Antioch, and continued there some time. When he left Antioch, he chose Silas to accompany him. And St. Luke has assured us, that was they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily," ch. xvi. 4, 5, And, several years after this, as before observed, when Paul came again to Jerusalem, and the elders there, with James, remind him of the several articles of the epistle, they mention them as things with which Paul was well satisfied. Nor does he show any dislike. His accepting of these decisions is also manifest from bis epistles above quoted.
Once more, for showing the general consent with which these determinations were made, it ought to be observed, that all the apostles of Christ, or most of them, were present in the council of Jerusalem. For, as formerly showno at large, there is good reason to think, that none of the twelve apostles left Judea to go and teach either Jews or Gentiles in other countries, until after the council. It is likely therefore, that they were all at the council where the controversy was fully determined; which was a great advantage. By that means the manner of receiving Gentiles into the church of God was fixed and settled beyond dispute, and beyond opposition. Or, if any opposition should be made afterwards, it could not be successful, nor very troublesome. And we may be assured, that all the apos
• Sce Vol, v. ch. vi.
tles, and their disciples, would be barmonious, and preach the same doctrine to Jews and Gentiles, wheresoever they went.
5. We may bence perceive the wisdom with which the apostles of Christ were furnished, for behaving in cases of difficulty that came before them; so as might be for the peace of the church, the edification of believers of every rank and capacity, and the preservation of the purity of the christian doctrine.
I think the regulations of the council at Jerusalem, as just represented and explained, are a proof of this. The first and principal thing to be regarded by the apostles of Christ was the preservation of the purity of the doctrine which they had received from him. The Gentiles were by no means to be brought into subjection to the law of Moses, as necessary to salvation. It behoved the apostles of Christ to assert their freedom from an obligation to observe the peculiarities of the Mosaic dispensation. This is strongly done by Peter, and the others, in the debates at the council. And the rights of the Gentiles are well secured in the epistle written by them.
Nevertheless some regard was due to the Jewish believers- -And the Gentiles were to be directed to avoid such things as might be offensive to their brethren of the circumcision ; and likewise to decline such things as might prove dangerous temptations to themselves, and be a means of ensnaring them, and leading them into apostasy.
In a word, one exercise of wise and good men in this world arises from different sentiments, especially in things of religion. We can evidently discern, that there were some differences of opinion, and some controversies among the followers of Jesus Christ, even in the apostolic age. Some thought, that the observation of the law of Moses was necessary for men's salvation, and were for imposing it, as such, upon the believing Gentiles.
Others of the Jewish believers thought, that the law was obligatory upon themselves and their posterity, as a distinct nation and people, to whom that law had been delivered ; whilst they hoped to be justified in the sight of God, and to be eternally saved, by faith in Jesus Christ, and sincere obedience to his precepts. These did not expect the Gentiles should come under the law of Moses, as necessary to salvation. Nevertheless they still bad scruples about meats and drinks, and about conversing with them, who observed no such distinctions. Others there were, as it seems, among the Jews, who thought that the obligation of the law of
Moses, as to its peculiarities, had ceased. And they judged no wbolesome meat to be unclean; which was the opinion of the Gentile believers in general.
Hence there arose an obligation to a different conduct. And these last mentioned, whom we reckon the more knowing, and strong, were to practise prudence, condescension, forbearance, compliance. They were to do what lay in their power, as they bad opportunity, to enlarge the minds
In the mean time they were “to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please themselves,” Rom. xv. 1.
But others, who were rigid, and would impose indifferent things, as necessary to salvation, were to be blamed, and reproved, as they are by this council. And every one knows, how they were withstood by the apostle Paul. And all who are attentive in reading the New Testament, may perceive, that the epistle of the council at Jerusalem exactly corresponds with the doctrine of Paul in bis epistles, and that the temper of both is one and the same.
Some regard was due to the Jewish nation in general, even to the unbelievers among them, wbilst they behaved with decency and civility. For a long time they had been favoured with many religious privileges above other men. As is acknowledged in Rom. ix. 4, 5. And it is the apostle's direction, I Cor. x. 32, “ Give no offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God;" by the two former plainly meaning such as were unbelievers. And it is said, Acts xvi. 2, 3, that when Paul determined to have Timothy with him, who was “ the son of a woman that was a Jewess, and believed; he took him, and circumcised bim, because of the Jews who were in those quarters; for they all knew, that his father was a Greek.” I think, those Jews were unbelievers. Paul would not offend them; and he might hope to gain some of them. See 1 Cor. ix. 19, 20.
But they were not the men, who occasioned the council of Jerusalem, or the decisions of it. The men, who came to Antioch, and taught the brethren there, “ Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved," were pharisees who believed, Acts xv. 1. They were men, who went out from the church at Jerusalem, ver. 24. These are now reproved. But whilst the freedom of the Gentiles is asserted from a subjection to the law of Moses and its appointments, some things are recommended to them as expedient for the time. Which might facilitate converse and communion with all the Jewish believers, who were tract