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the worship of these base idols, would necessarily of fend the fcrupulous Christian, and might perhaps seduce the yet unsteady profelyte. The use of blood, and therefore of things strangled to retain the blood, was conceived by the Heathens to be one mode of Pholding communication with the invisible dæmons whom they adored ; and every conceivable abomination of impurity was perpetrated by the worshippers of those foul and vicious monsters, whom what has been termed the '“ elegant Mythology of the “ Greeks," had exalted into gods, in the very temples of these gods, in imitation of their actions, in honour of their memory; nay, as parts of their wor, ship. Hence this last, though naturally fo much fuperior in its guilt, was, in this view, forbidden, together with the former indulgencies, as the worst com panion of idolatry, and the strongest temptation to it.
Another reafon for uniting these prohibitions may be found in the prejudices of the Jews, in whose law these various practices had been forbidden together, and who held them in such abhorrence, that they could not converse freely, or even participate at the table of the Lord with those who used any of them,
p Vid. Spencer ut Supra, p. 451, and Patrick on Leviticus, xix. 26. 9 Vide Spencer, ib. p. 451.
* Vid. Gibbon's History of the Roman Empire, vol. ii. ch. v.
s Vid. Leviticus xvii. and xviii. with Patrick's Commentary; also Leviticus xix. versé 26. ib.
and would not believe any who persevered in one of them to be sincere converts from Paganism ; perhaps also, in order to consult the peace of the church, by. not offending the prejudices of the over-scrupulous Jews, the fornication here forbidden may have extended, not only to prevent every species of impurity in general, but particularly to prevent marriage within those degrees of consanguinity in which it was prohibited by the Levitical law,
In this view all these prohibitions may have been necessary, under the circumstances then existing ; and whenever these circumstances should cease to exist, by the abolition of the Jewish polity, and the general difuse of Heathen idolatry, Christians could be at no loss to distinguish between the temporary.obligation to abstain from meats offered to idols, from blood, and things strangled, and the eternal obligation to abstain from every species of impurity. Their Lord had expressly marked out this important distinction, 's not that which entereth into the mouth 66 defileth a man, but that which cometh out, even. 6 from the heart; for out of the heart proceed evil
t Matt. xv. 10 to 20.
That all such observances are in themfelves indifferent, and compliance with them inculcated merely for the sake of avoiding offence and disunion, is beautifully il. lustrated by the apostle Paul. Vid. the epistle to the Romans, the xivth. ch. and beginning of the xvth. and in the ift. Corinthians, viiith. and xth. chapters, to which I refer the readers, and which will be more particularly considered when we come to consider the moral doctrines of the apostles.
thoughts thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, “ false witness, blasphemies; these are they which “ defile a man”; but to eat with unwashen hands (and on the same ground to eat in any manner prohibited by the Levitical law) defileth not a man.
If on the other hand we adopt the opinion of those who confine the obligation of this decree to fuch of the Gentiles as had been previously. converted from idolatry, and had embraced the worship of the true God, as taught by the Jewish religion, without how ever adopting circumcision, and its other burthensome ceremonies, another reason for these prohibitions arises from the political privileges to which these devout Gentiles (or profelytes of the gate, as they were termed) were entitled, under the Jewish state, viz. a liberty of settling or fojourning in Palestine, frequenting the Jewish fynagogues, offering sacrifices in the temples, and enjoying the cities of refuge-privileges which required on their part the observance of these prohi. bitions, as a test not only of their religious, but their political obedience, and which the gospel could not free them from so long as the Jewish polity continued, and these privileges were claimed under it; for Christianity in no case interfered with the political situation, or affected the civil duties or rights of any of its converts. *« Hence the apostles themselves obeyed " the Jewish law, and advised the converts from
u This opinion is supported by most respectable authorities, vid. Lord Barrington's Miscellanea Sacra, vol. ii. p. 255. London 1770 ; his essay on the apostolic decree. Dr. Benson's History of Christianity, b. iii. ch. iii. sect. 4, 5, and 6. and Dr. M-Knight in his preface to the epistle to the Galatians, sect. 4. vol. iii. p. 220. of that edition, consisting of four volumes. One of the grand arguments used by these learned writers, viz. " that if this decree was directed to the profelytes from amongst the idolatrous Gentiles, it is still binding on all Christians in every part of it," seems to me inconclusive: the necessity of abstaining from meats offered to idols, and from things strangled, and from blood, arose from these being parts of idolatrous worship, or at least fo connected with it, as to afford occasion of suspicion and offence to the Jewish profelytes, and to all weaker Christians ; (vid. Spencer, and the passages cited from St. Paul) consequently, where idolatrous worship has wholly ceased, and no such ground for fufpicion and offence can possibly exist, these prohibitions lose their force, and the use of things strangled, and of blood, becomes, what it is in its own nature, a matter of indifference; but I perfectly agree with thefe learned writers in the sentiment quoted in my text.
amongst the Jews, and the devout proselytes, to “ continue to do the fame, not as a neceffary condi« tion of salvation, but merely as a matter of politi“ cal obligation.”
Such was the general substance of the decree, which evidently steers a wise medium between the violent partizans of the opposite opinions ; securing the perpetual freedom of Christians in general from the burthen of the Mofaic law, but carefully guarding against the seductions of idolatry, or at least yielding to the violent prejudices of the Jews, and the political connection of the devout Gentiles with the Jewish
* M.Knight as quoted above, p. 227.
state, so far as to inculcate the obfervance of fuch of the Levitical precepts as could not be disregarded without interrupting the harmony of the church, so long as these prejudices and that connection conti. tinued to exist. Surely such a decree was not dietated by an extravagant and senseless fanaticism.
But besides the general nature of the decree, if we observe the manner in which it was conveyed, this also displays the same prudent and vigilant attention to the peace of the church.
The advocates for the observance of the Jewish law had violently opposed Barnabas and Paul, and probably calumniated them as preaching a gospel different from that taught by the original apostles of Christ. The preamble of the decree, without directly rebuking these misguided zealots, obviates the ill effect of their misrepresentations, by describing Paul and Barnabas as “Y the beloved brethren who 6 had hazarded their lives for the name of the “ Lord Jesus Christ ;” but if these apostles alone had been the bearers of the decree, their opposers might perhaps have raised fome fufpicion of its authenticity and strict correctness; the council therefore sent with them two other preachers, of signal reputation and piety, Judas and Silas, who had never been engaged in the contest, and would there
y Acts XV. 25.