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ever was sold in the shambles, and ver. 27. whatever was set before them in the houses of the heathens, asking no question about its having been offered to idols.-Lastly, That in none of the places of Paul's epistles, where he hath spoken of meats, is there the least intimation that the eating of things strangled, and of blood, and of meats offered to idols, except in the idol's temple as an act of worship, is forbidden to Christians. From all which, I conclude, that the prohibition in the decree, related to none of the brethren of the Gentiles, but the converted proselytes only.
Perhaps it will be said, that the four precepts were not enjoined in the decree as things necessary to salvation, but as necessary on account of the prejudices of the Jewish believers ; and that the obligation of these precepts was only temporary. To this I answer, 1. That at the time the apostle Paul in his cpistles declared all meats lawful, the prejudices of the Jewish believers were as strong as ever.—2. That neither in the history of the Acts, nor any where else in the New Testament, is there the least hint of the abrogation of the decree. On the contrary, we are told, Acts xxi. 21, that when Paul came to Jerusalem with the collections, James and the elders told him, the Jewish believers who were zealous of the law, had been informed that he taught all the Jews, who lived among the Gentiles, to forsake Moses; and therefore advised him to quiet their minds, by observing a solemn public rite of the law, in order to convince them, that he himself walked orderly, and kept the law. This advice Paul readily complied with; having never taught that the law of Moses, as the municipal law of Judea, was to be forsaken by the Jews or by the proselytes. What he taught every where, was, that the keeping of the law of Moses, was not ne, cessary to the salvation either of Jews or Gentiles: and, that if any man sought salvation by keeping the law, Christ would profit himn nothing, Gal. v. 2. 4.
To prevent this fourth argument from being misunderstood, it is proper to add, that by restricting the decree to the converted proselytes, and by teaching that it laid no obligation on any other denomination of believers, it is not meant to insinuate that fornication, like the eating of things strangled, and of blood, was by the decree allowed to the converted idolaters. All Christians ever were, and still are bound to abstain from incestuous marriages, unnatural lusts, and every species of fornication. But their obligation to abstain from these vices, doth not arise from their having been forbidden to the Israelites and proselytes by
Moses, but from their being expressly forbidden by Christ and his apostles. At the death of Christ, the law of Moses was abolished in all its parts, to all mankind as a religious institution, Coloss. ii. 14. note 5. Wherefore, no one is obliged to perform any moral duty, because it was enjoined by Moses, but because it is written on men's hearts, and is enjoined by Christ; who in his gospel hath renewed the moral precepts of the law of Moses, with greater efficacy than they were enjoined to the Jews, having established them on better promises than were held forth in the law.
5. That the brethren of the Gentiles, who were bound by the decree, were the converted proselytes alone, may be argued from the reproof which Paul gave to Peter, for refusing to eat with the Gentiles in Antioch.
After the council, Peter followed Paul to Antioch, and did eat with the Gentiles, before certain persons came from James; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself. For this Paul blamed him openly, as compelling the Gentiles to Judaize. I ask, Did Paul mean that Peter compelled the Gentiles to observe the four precepts enjoined in the decree? If the decree was general, we cannot doubt that all the converted Gentiles in Antioch were observing these precepts when Peter withdrew from them, and did not need to be compelled to oba" serve them. And if they were not observing them, Peter did right to compel them; and was not to be blamed for so doing. Or, by Peter's compelling the Gentiles to Judaize, did Paul mean, that he compelled them to receive circumcision, and give obedience to the whole law of Moses? This I think no one will affirm, who recollects what Peter and James declared in the council, that that law was not to be put on the necks of the Gentiles. The truth is, the Judaizing to which Peter compelled the Gentiles, by separating himself from them after the council passed their decree, cannot be understood, on the supposition that their decree related to the whole body of the Gentiles : but it may easily be explained, if it related to the converted proselytes only. For when the converts from idolatry began to multiply in Antioch, through the labours of Paul and Barnabas, it is natural to think, that after the council of Jerusalem had bound the converted proselytes to observe the four precepts as formerly, the zealous Jewish believers in Antioch would insist, that the converts from idolatry ought to be put on the same footing with the converted proselytes, and be obliged to obey the
four precepts: that the brethren of Antioch consulted James on the question, who it would seem sent them word by their messengers, that the converted idolaters were bound by the decree equally with the proselytes: that the idolatrous Gentiles, rightly instructed by Paul, refused to observe these precepts: and that on their refusal, Peter, who happened to be then in Antioch, withdrew from them; although before the messengers returned from James, he had gone into their houses, and eaten with them. This conduct Paul justly condemned, as a compelling the converts from idolatry to Judaize, that is, to obey the four precepts as necessary to salvation, contrary to the truth of the gospel. For the idolatrous Gentiles, having no connection with the commonwealth of Israel, were under no obligation whatever to obey the law of Moses, and theretore, if any part of that law, was bound on them by Peter, it must have been as a term of salvation, contrary to that freedom from the law of Moses wherewith Christ had made the idolatrous Gentiles free...
These arguments, if I am not mistaken, prove that the brethren of the Gentiles, about whom the apostles and elders in Jerusalem deliberated, and concerning whom they passed their decree, were not converted idolaters, but converted proselytes. And I have been at the more pains to establish this fact, First, Because it shews us that the four precepts enjoined in the decree, were, as they are called in the decree, necessary things to the converted proselytes only; not however as terins of salvation, but to entitle them to those political privileges which were granted to them by the law of Moses, as inhabitants of Canaan ; consequently that these were not religious, but political precepts, whose obligation was confined to the converted proselytes, and expired when that class of men ceased to exist. Secondly, Because this decree, contrary to the intention of those who framed it, affording a plausible pretence to the Judaizers for insisting, that all the Gentile brethren were bound to observe the law of Moses, the right knowledge of the persons who were bound by that decree, will make us sensible that the controversy concerning the obligation of the law of Moses, which rent all the Gentile churches in the first age, was determined by the apostle Paul, according to the mind of his brethren apostles, and according to truth, when he taught, that after the death of Christ, the obligation which lay on the Jews themselves to obey the law of Moses, arose merely from its being the municipal law of Judea.Thirdly, The right knowledge of the purpose for which the four precepts, mentioned in the apostolical decree, were enjoined on the converted proselytes, will convince us, that Paul's practice, with respect to the law of Moses, was perfectly consistent with his doctrine concerning that law, and with the truth of the gospel, which made mo alteration in any person's political state. His doctrine was, that every one ought to continue in the political state wherein he had been called. Wherefore, when he exhorted the Jewish converts to continue subject to the law of Moses, it was only because it was the municipal law of Judea, which as good citizens they were bound to obey. For the same reason, he himself always obeyed the law whilst he resided in Judea. And even in the Gentile countries where the Jews were numerous, he observed the distinction of meats and days appointed by Moses, that he might gain the Jews to Christ. And when he came to Jerusalem with the collections, because a report prevailed, Acts xxi. 21. that he taught all the Jews who were among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying, That they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs, he, by the advice of James, assisted certain Nazarites to discharge their vow; and thereby shewed the falsehood of the report which was spread concerning him. The truth is, he no where taught any of the Jews to forsake the law of Moses, but always inculcated the obligation of that law as the law of their state. What he taught was, that no person could be justified by the law of Moses, and that whoever sought salvation by obedience to that law, separated himself from Christ, and was fallen from grace. Wherefore, when he himself obeyed the law, and advised others to do so, it was not as a term of salvation, but merely as a matter of political obligation.
In giving to the assembly of the apostles, and elders, and brethren of the church of Jerusalem, who met to deliberate concerning the circumcision of the converted Gentiles, the appellation of The Council of Jerusalem, I have followed the ancient ecclesiastical writers, who generally gave it that name. Nor is the appellation improper. For though it was inferior to those assemblies, which in after times were dignified with the title of Councils, in this respect, that it was composed of members from one church only, it far surpassed them all in the quality of its members, and in the authority of its decisions. It was composed of all the apostles who were then in Jerusalem, men en. dowed with the continued inspiration of the Spirit of God ; and of the elders of the church of Jerusalem, most, if not all of them,
men upon whom the Holy Ghost fell on the memorable day of Pentecost; and of the brethren of the greatest note in that church, chosen by the different bodies of the faithful in Jerusalem who assembled in separate places for the worship of God. Hence these brethren are called, in the preamble to the decree, Acts xv. 22. 25. chosen men ; and ver. 22. Chief men among the brethren. In short, the Council of Jerusalem, consisting of such men, was a more respectable assembly than any council which hath met since, or which will ever meet again. And its decisions are, without doubt, of greater authority than the decisions of those councils, who have called themselves Oecumenical, because composed of members gathered from the greatest part of the Christian world ; and Holy, on the feigned pretence that their decisions were dictated by the Holy Ghost.