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arbitrary and assuming, and to defend the cause of truth. The apostolic age was not exempt from contention, and the world still enjoys the benefit of the firmness and resolution of the preachers of the gospel. Had no disputes then taken place, we must at this time have been observers of the law of Moses, and not Christians at all, being Jewish Christians.* Had no disputes taken place at a subsequent period, we must have been what our ancestors were, idolaters and papists. If the same zeal in opposing error and usurpation had been manifested in all ages, which was displayed by the apostles, popery would never have raised its head; but some becoming indifferent to the truth, while others were zealous in propagating error, a huge mass of Jewish ceremonies or heathen superstitions were added to Christianity, which destroyed every appearance of the original system. Let us not, therefore, lay aside weapons of defence, because they have sometimes been applied to a bad purpose ; let disputes be conducted with candour and good temper, and we shall have nothing to fear from them : they will become the source of liberty and knowledge.
13. And after they, i. e. Paul and Barnabas, had held their peace, James answered, saying, Brethren, hearken unto me:
14. Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name; referring to the conversion of Cornelius by Peter.
15. And to this agree the words of the prophets. Peter had already mentioned a very powerful argument in favour of the admission of Gentiles to the privileges of the Christian church, without conformity to the law, the circumstance of their receiving the Holy Spirit, or miraculous powers, upon faith in Christ alone. This afforded a strong presumption that God did not require from them the observance of Jewish rites, since the marks of his favour were bestowed without them. The apostle James has recourse to another argument of no small weight, upon the same subject, the circumstance of the call of the Gentiles being foretold by the prophets.
As it is written,
16. After this, I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down, and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up.
17. That the residue of inen might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is
* Galatians, v. 2.
called. 66 who are called by name,” i. e. who are called my people, saith the Lord, who doth all these things.
18. Known unto God are all his works* from the beginning of the world.
These words are taken from the book of Amos, in which the recovery of the glory of the house of David by some illustrious person of that family, and, by his means, the conversion of the Gentiles, are foretold. It seems to be foretold, likewise, that they would be the people of God without becoming Jews; for Gentiles are spoken of in it as called by his name. The apostle subjoins to his quotation, that known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. This may prevent all surprise at such predictions, since God foresees all things, the minutest events as well as the most important.
19. Wherefore my sentence is, “ my opinion is," that we trouble not them which from among the Gentiles are turned to God;
20. But that we write unto them that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
21. For Moses of old time hath in every city, them that preach him, being read in the synagogue every sabbath day. : “From pollutions of idols," i. e. from things relating to idols, which cause pollution. By these, the apostles evidently mean meats offered to idols; for it is so expressed in the letter which was written on his recommendation Persons might partake in two ways of meats offered to idols, according to the current forms of idolatry which prevailed in the heathen world; for sometimes one of the company took part of the flesh, and threw it into the fire, accompanied with libations of wine, as an offering to some god, who was invoked upon the occasion; at other times, those who had offered sacrifice in the temple, invited their friends to partake with them of the flesh of the victim, at an entertainment which they had provided, or sent it to them to their own houses. To partake of entertainments in either of these ways, which had so evident a relation to idolatry, was by the Jews justly considered as participating in idolatrous worship, and as producing pollution ; and they felt exceedingly averse from associating with those who had been guilty of it. To prevent offence from being given to the Jews, the Gentiles are advised to abstain from such entertainments.
“ And from fornication." By fornication in this place, some understand that irregular intercourse between the sexes, which took place in heathen temples, and made a part of their worship; but I con
* The words esti Ta
W T UTHL til upya autoU are omitted by Griesbach.-Editor.
ceive that the word is here to be understood, not in its natural, but in its metaphorical sense, and that it refers to every species of idolatry.
It is well known, that in the Jewish Scriptures the connexion between God and his people Israel is compared to the marriage contract, and that any violation of it, by a regard shown to the heathen gods, is spoken of as adultery and fornication. Hence it came to pass that the word fornication was in familiar use amongst the Jews for idolatry. Thus we find them saying to Christ, when he told them that they were of their father, the devil, " we be not born of fornication ; we have one Father, even God;" i.e. we are not idolaters, but the people of God. In the same metaphorical sense, is this word used in the book of Revelation.*
When, therefore, the apostle James proposes, that it should be recommended to the Gentile churches, to abstain from fornication, after mentioning eating things offered to idols, he must mean every species of idolatry, or rather, what might appear to countenance or support it, of which partaking of meat offered to idols was only one instance.
“And from things strangled, and from blood.” These two things are closely connected together, as well as the two preceding. To eat an animal that is strangled, is to eat its blood, a thing which was strictly prohibited to the Jews, but generally practised by the heathens. To prevent the horror which this would occasion, and to enable the two bodies of people to coalesce into one church, they are now directed to abstain from it.
The reason assigned for these prohibitory recommendations is, that Moses has those who preach him in every city; that is, there are Jews in every place, to whom such things would be highly offensive. This shows that what the apostle recommended was adapted to the times, and only regarded as temporary.
22. 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;
The latter became the intimate friend and companion of Paul, as we find from this history. Some, indeed, have supposed that he is the author of the history.t
23. And they wrote letters by them after this manner: The apostles, and elders, and brethren send greeting, 6 wish health,” unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia :
24. Forasmuch as we have heard that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, " with doctrines,” subverting your souls, "un
* Schleusneri Lexicon, Verb. IIoguela. + Evanson's Dissonance, p. 106, &c. first edition.
settling your minds," saying ye must be circumcised, and keep the law, to whom we gave no such commandment:
It seems hence, as if they had pretended to speak in the name of the church at Jerusalem.
25. It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
26. Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, i. e. for the sake of his religion...
27. We have sent you, therefore, Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
28. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us, our own natural reason and the miraculous powers communicated to us convince us that it is proper, to lay upon you no greater burthen than these necessary things; not necessary to salvation, but to the peace of the charch;
29. That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication ; from which, if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
30. So when they were dismissed, " when they departed,” they came to Antioch, and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle,
31. Which, when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation, "for this encouragement.”
32. And Judas and Silas, being prophets, " teachers," also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.
The word prophets, in this passage, evidently means no more than teachers, and not persons who predicted future events, as the term is generally understood; for all that they did, was exhorting and confirming the brethren, which was a work of instruction, and not of prophecy.
33. And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go, “they departed,” in peace from the brethren unto the apostles.
They were received at first with joy, and now departed from them on the best terms: so far were they from taking offence at what had been done.
34. Notwithstanding, it pleased Silas to abide there still.
This he did from attachment to Paul, as it afterwards appeared; for he accompanied him in his travels.
35. Paul also and Barnabas, continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others.
1. Christians may learn instructions from the caution with which the Jews avoided every action which might be construed into an approbation of idolatry. They would not partake of those things which were offered to idols, although sent to their own houses, because they were regarded by the heathen as connected with religion ; much less would they appear to countenance the worship of the temples, by honouring them with their attendance. Similar conduct becomes Christians of the present day, in respect to that fundamental article of religion, the worship of one God, every deviation from which, in modern, as well as in ancient times, has been followed by many debasing superstitions, and a great corruption of morals: we cannot, therefore, be too careful in guarding against a practice which has always been followed by such pernicious consequences. The first and great commandment is, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shalt love him with all thy heart; there is one God, and none other but he ;" when false objects of worship are joined with the true, the affections must necessarily be divided, and the heart estranged.
2. Christians would do well to learn an example of moderation from the conduct of the apostles and early Christians. Although they observed the law themselves, because accustomed to it from their earliest infancy, they did not require the observance of it from others, who had not been bred in the same habits, and to whom it would have proved painful and burthensome. Of some degree of conformity to the law, indeed, they approved; such as might be complied with without trouble, and would tend to soften the prejudices of the zealous Jews: but this conformity they do not authoritatively enjoin, but only recommend. Those who comply, do well, but those who refuse, are not condemned. “ This gentle manner of concluding their letter," says Dr. Doddridge, “ was worthy of the apostolic wisdom and goodness. Too soon did succeeding councils, of inferior authority, change it for the style of anathemas; forrus which have, I doubt not, proved an occasion of consecrating some of the worst passions of the human mind under sacred names, and which,