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But fortunately for the Christians, the Jews soon became involved in a struggle with the Romans, which so occupied and absorbed the public mind, that the Christians were overlooked, and enjoyed a season of repose.
But hardly was one difficulty removed, before another sprang up. Christianity was in peril of being identified with Judaism, of being fettered by its national and peculiar rites, and thus, instead of being fitted to be a universal religion, it was threatened with sharing the fate of that local and temporary dispensation. Many of the Jews were converted to the Christian faith, but they did not cease to be Jews on that account. They had no idea that their new religion absolved them from the obligations of the old. A new religion they believed to have been set up by divine authority, but the old one had not been formally abrogated. That had been established by Moses amid the fire and, smoke of Sinai, it had been recognised by a long succession of prophets. Its sacred rites had been maintained, with few interruptions, for fifteen hundred years. The temple was still standing, nay, it had lately been rebuilt with greater magnificence than ever. There was then no outward indication that Judaism might not still flourish for centuries, apparently a religion recognised and sanctioned by Heaven. The unity of the Jewish nation, though under the dominion of foreign conquerors, was still unbroken, the national feasts were kept, the Levites still ministered in the temple, and the successors of Aaron offered up the morning and the evening sacrifice to the God of Israel, according to divine appointment. The Almighty had not descended in cloud and flame to abrogate the law, which he had once established. Jesus had said nothing of abolishing the law and the prophets. On the contrary, he had said, that he came not to destroy but to fulfil them. He had said nothing about the Jewish ritual. He had merely left it out of his religion; he had passed it over in silence, or merely said in general terms, that the day was coming, in which men would worship the Father neither on Mount Gerizzim nor yet at Jerusalem, but the true worshippers should be those, who should worship him in spirit and in truth. This great truth was left to be developed partly by particular communication to the Apostles, by which they were to be led into all the truth, and partly by the course of things, by great and emphatic events in the providence of God, which could not be misunderstood. The chief and most conclusive was the destruction of Jerusalem itself, in about thirty-seven years from the crucifixion of Christ, the demolition of the temple, and the entire cessation of their national ritual. That event left the Christian religion the only religion recognized by God on earth. Then, in the sublime and highly figu
rative language of prophecy, Christ came with power and great glory, when the stars of the Jewish nation were fallen, and the powers of heaven, the whole hierarchy, was overthrown.
But during the lives of most of the Apostles these things had not taken place, and while they preached the Gospel to the Jews alone, this amalgamation of Christianity with Judaism created no difficulty. The conversion of Paul in the year thirtyseven, four years after the ascension of Christ, with an especial commission to preach to the heathen, created no agitation of the question as to the relation of the converts from Judaism and Paganism to each other, for he did not return to Jerusalem, nor make the acquaintance of the other Apostles for three years. About the time of his return to Jerusalem, in the year forty, the truth was fully made known to Peter by a vision at Joppa, that the heathen were to be admitted into the Christian church without subjecting them to the ritual of Moses. In obedience to this vision, he goes to Cæsarea, and admits Cornelius into the church by baptism, on profession of his faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
By these two visions of Paul and Peter, the question was settled, as far as the Apostles were concerned, and wherever they went they afterward preached the Gospel indiscriminately to Jews and heathens. And a circumstance which facilitated the introduction of the Gospel among the heathen was, that there were attached to the Jewish synagogues, wherever they were established in heathen lands, a class of persons who were called proselytes of the gate. They were originally heathens, but becoming acquainted with the Jews and their religion, were so far pleased with them as to abandon idolatry, and addict themselves to the worship of the true God. Still they did not incorporate themselves with the nation by circumcision, and the adoption of the ritual of that people. They however attended the worship of the synagogue, and listened to the public instructions, and were required, the Rabbins say, to observe what were called the seven precepts. 1. To abstain from idolatry. 2. To fear and worship God. 3. To do no murder. 4. Not to commit adultery. 5. Not to steal. 6. To respect magistrates. 7. Not to eat things with the blood. These precepts will in some measure explain the requirements of the Apostles, which they agreed to enjoin on the Christian converts from Paganism. These proselytes were made distinct subjects of address by the Apostles whenever they entered a synagogue out of Palestine, under the denomination of those who fear God.” Thus, when Paul came to Antioch in Pisidia, he entered into the synagogue, and being invited by the rulers, he stood up and said: “ Ye men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience;" that is, Jews and proselytes.
These proselytes, you perceive, occupied a middle ground between the Jews and the heathen; and with them, free from national prejudices as they were, the Gospel found a more ready acceptance even than among the ancient people of God. From them it was easily propagated among those upon whom the light of revelation had shed no ray. Thus it was in those churches which Paul gathered in Asia Minor, in Macedonia, and in Greece, the new communities, although formed within the synagogue, soon found a separate and a substantive existence out of it, and the church and the synagogue moved on, each in its own sphere, without clashing with the other. Within the bounds of Judea the case was different. The mass of the church were Jews, both before and after their conversion. Instead of merging Judaism in Christianity, they were disposed to merge Christianity in Judaism.
Under the impression that Christianity was to be a national religion, that the kingdom of heaven belonged of right to them, they imagined that the heathen were first to become Jews before they could be Christians, and submit to all the cumbersome ritual prescribed by Moses. The Christian church then was composed of two discordant elements, the Jews of Palestine, still adhering to the institutions of Moses, and the Christian commu