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tation for him." Such men were the best fitted for the kind office here spoken of. Wisdom, or discretion, and circumspection, appear to be included in the verb, as used in Acts xxiii. 10, and Heb. xi. 7. And observe likewise the nour substantive in Heb. v. 7.
IV. THE OCCASION AND DESIGN OF THE DECREE. The other question concerning the apostolic decree, at the head of this Dissertation, is, whether it was perpetual.
I now therefore intend to consider the occasion of it, and then to explain it. Wherein will be contained a sufficient answer to the question proposed above.
I begin with laying down these several following propo
1. This epistle, or decree, was designed for the use and direction of all the Gentile converts to christianity at that time. This was shown before; and needs no enlargement here.
2. The several regulations of the council at Jerusalem relate to things in their own nature indifferent.
1.) The point in controversy relates to things in their own nature indifferent. Therefore it is likely, that the determination of the question should be of the like kind. The rise of the controversy, and all the debates upon the occasion, lead us to think, that the regulations of the council should concern things indifferent, ritual, and ceremonial. There never was a question, whether believers from among the Gentiles should obey the moral precepts of righteousness and true holiness. But the dispute was, whether they should be circumcised, and observe the ritual ordinances of the law of Moses, as the Jews did.
They who have any doubt about this, should do well to attend to the history of this council, and particularly the occasion of it, at the beginning of the fifteenth chapter of the book of the Acts, and throughout. However, I shall transcribe below the sentiments of divers learned and judicious commentators, who speak to the like purpose. To whom, possibly, some others may be added in the process of this argument.
P Non censet, monendos pios ex Gentibus de iis, quæ satis didicerant: Deum colendum unum verum, non falsos; ei omnem exhibendam reverentiam; abstinendum a cædibus, a rapinis, injuriis, adulteriis, et incestis jure Gentium cognitis: jus cuique reddendum. Sed de iis monet, quæ disputationem recipere videbantur, et quæ Judæos poterant offendere, et impedire, quo minus pii ex Gentibus cum piis Hebræis in unam ecclesiam coalescerent. Grot. in Act. xv. 20. sub in.
Hæc ille [Tertullianus] a scopo aberrans, cum nulla hic sit nisi rerum suâpte naturâ mediarum mentio. Bez. annot. in Act. xv. 20.
2.) The apostles and elders call what they recommend in their epistle, a burden, Bapos. Ver. 28, "It seemed good unto the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden, than these necessary things."
Which word may lead us to think, they intend not such things as are in themselves reasonable, and always obligatory.
Burden,' say Beausobre and L'Enfant, in their note upon this place, is the same with "yoke," mentioned, ver. 10. 'These expressions show, that the discourse is about cere'monial observances, which are considered as a yoke and burden, in opposition to moral precepts, which ought not 'to be reckoned burdensome; since the reason and con'sciences of men teach them, that they are obligatory in 'themselves.'
Rev. ii. 24, 25,-"I will put upon you no other burden,” Bapos, “ But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come." Where, I think, our exalted Lord refers to this decree of the apostles. And he graciously declares, that this burden should not always lie upon his people; but should be taken off from them, when his religion had made greater progress in the world.
Our Lord inviting men to receive his instructions, as the rule of life, in order to their obtaining everlasting salvation, says, Matt. xi.. 30," My yoke is easy, and my burden [70 DOPTION is light." But he therein intends to say, as I apprehend, that his requirements are not burdensome at all, and that observing them will afford great pleasure and delight.
So St. John says, 1 John v. 3, "And his commandments are not grievous.' They are not grievous, or burdensome, because they are in themselves reasonable, and approve themselves to the judgment and understanding of all men.
As the things recommended in this epistle are so distinctly spoken of, as a burden, it is likely they were not then understood to be in themselves reasonable.
3.) Another character of these regulations of the council is, that they are necessary things. By which I think ought to be understood such things as are expedient.
Undoubtedly, moral virtues are of all things the most necessary, according to the general use of the word among Both reason and revelation assure us of their absolute necessity. To promote real holiness is the great design of
Necessaria autem hic intellige ad pacem ecclesiæ, quæ tum erat, per tolerantiam infirmorum; non autem necessaria per se, et simpliciter, exceptâ scortatione. Piscator, in Act. xv. 28.
all true religion. Nor is any institution so well suited to make men truly and eminently virtuous and holy, as the christian. Nevertheless in the language of the New Testament, moral virtues are not usually called necessary things, nor holiness said to be of necessity. I am not aware of more than one text, in which any moral virtue is recommended under that character. It is Rom. xiii. 5, "Wherefore' ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake." In other places the meaning of the word is expedient, fit, proper, convenient in certain seasons and circumstances. Says St. Paul to the Corinthians : "Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go before unto you, to make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before," 2 Cor. ix. 5.
To the Philippians: "Yet I supposed it necessary to send unto you Epaphroditus, my brother," ch. ii. 25. And, "nevertheless to abide in the flesh" is more needful for you," ch. i. 24. In the epistle to the Hebrews: "It was therefore necessary that the patterns of the things in the heavens should be purified with these," ch. ix. 23. St. Luke in the Acts: "Then Paul and Barnabas waxed hold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken unto you," Acts xiii. 46. In all which places, as seems to me, this expression denotes what is expedient, highly proper and convenient, considering the circumstances of things and persons. And so the phrase is understood here by some very judicious com
I would however observe, that they original phrase in this place is somewhat particular. And, instead of these necessary things, some rather understand such things as it was needful for the apostles to impose. But this, as I appre
r Διο ανάγκη. κ. λ.
Αναγκαιον δε ήγησαμην
=-αναγκαιοτερον δι' ὑμας.
Αναγκη εν τα μεν ὑποδειγματα των εν τοις κρανοις, τετοις καθαρίζεσθαι.
* Necessaires.'] Il s'agit ici d'une nécessitè relative aux circonstances des temps, des personnes, et des lieux, pour dégager les gentils de toute participation à l'idolatrie, et pour marquer aux Juifs autant d' égards qu'il se pouvoient, sans blesser la liberté Chrétienne. L'Enf. et Beaus. sur Actes xv. 28.
Αναγκαιον εν ἡγησάμην.
y Πλην των επαναγκης τετων. 2 Non imponeremus hæc, nisi necesse esset ea imponere. Non dicunt: Imponimus hæc necessaria, sed imponimus hæc, quæ necesse est, scilicet, imponere. Comment. Practicus Caspar. Streson. in Act. Ap. p. 568. Amst. 1658.
The Latin Vulgate is hæc necessaria.' Beza translates, præter necessaria ⚫ista.' But in his Annotations says, Id est, ad quæ nos adigit præsens necessitas, nempe quod aliter non possint Judæi lucrifieri, non quod ista per se ad salutem roquirerentur. Bez. in xv. 28.
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 homicide, 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 what they know to be their duty, and to be dissuaded from things which 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 aйlictions 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 fornication." 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.
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.
* Τε απέχεσθαι απο των αλισγημάτων των ειδωλων. ver. 20.
αυτας το, τε ειδωλόθυτον.
-ει μη φυλασσεσθαι