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whether the Gentiles should be circumcised, and made obedient to the law of Moses, which required numerous purifications, abstinence from certain meats, and other burdensome ceremonies.
Certainly they should not be circumcised. Circumcision was the entrance into the Jewish covenant. The time was now come when the promise should be fulfilled, "Behold, saith the Lord, I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and the house of Judah."7 Into this new covenant baptism was the entrance, before which the old was "ready to vanish away."
But let them remember " the will of God, which was their sanctification." God "had called them to holiness." Practices which in their heathen state they had considered lawful, were abominable in the sight of God, and must be utterly renounced and abandoned: "for on account of these things the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience."
Let them abstain, too, from pollutions of idols: from partaking of meats offered to idols. "For the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils and not to God :"8 and the Christian should keep as far as possible from all such defilement of wickedness.
Let them also abstain from things strangled, and from blood. Moses of old time hath in everys city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath-day. This law is honoured by many, and has a just claim to honour. And in that law
7 Jer. xxxi. 31. e ] Cor. x. 20.
it is written, "Flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat." "Be sure that thou eat not the blood; for the blood is the life; and thou must not eat the life with the flesh."9 It may be that this, too, like other ceremonial ordinances which have kept us a separate people, is "decaying and waxing old." But to the Jews who have been brought up under such a rule, to eat of things from which the blood had not been poured out, would be abomination.1 And let not the Gentile grieve his brother. He may be persuaded that "there is nothing unclean of itself," and that the law has no longer force, which made certain meats unclean. But his Jewish brother is not so persuaded. And it is good for the Gentiles to walk charitably, and "neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby his brother stumbleth oris offended."8
Such was the decree of this council. We perceive in it "the inspiration of the Almighty;" guiding the apostles into all truth, and leading them safely through the difficulties which on either side endangered them. It was, at the same time, wisdom to require nothing as contributing to salvation which Christ had not required: and it was charity to conciliate and unite those, whom early prejudices had placed in opposition to each other. u In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any
9 Gen. ix. 4. Deut. xii. 23. 1 Lev. iv. 13.
2 Rom. xiv. 20. See also the whole chapter, together with 1 Cor. viii. throughout.
thing, nor uncircuincision: but faith which worketh by love."3 The important precept was observed, "Give none offence, neither to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink ; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." *
THE DECREE OF THE COUNCIL SENT TO
Acts Xv. 22—31.
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 Barnabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:
23. And they wrote letters by them after this manner .. The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting 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, subverting your souls: saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:
25. It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you, with our beloved Barnabas and Paul;
a Gal. v. 6. 1 1 Cor. x. 32. Rom. xiv. 50.
26. Men that have hazarded their lives far the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the whole of this affair we perceive, on one side, the subtlety of a malicious adversary: on the other, a divine power, frustrating his snares. Satan would '' deceive, if it were possible, the very elect." 1 But lo, "I am with you alway."
May not, then, that reverence for the law of Moses have been sincere, which had occasioned the perplexity? The words of the decree prove the contrary. The attempt was the commencement of that opposition to the true doctrine of Christ which confronted the apostles everywhere, and made their countrymen more dangerous to them than the heathen. Certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment. And this agrees with St. Paul's account, Gal. ii. 4: when he speaks of "certain false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage."
It was, therefore, really opposition to the gospel, though covered under a specious pretext. It was the enemy scattering tares, where the husbandman had sowed good seed in the field.
But if there was the subtlety of Satan on the one side, on the other was the wisdom of the Spirit. No difference of opinion remained among the mem
1 See Matt, xxiv. 24.
bers of the council. But they would not send back Paul and Barnabas alone. These might be supposed to feel a bias towards the judgment which they had all along declared. It seemed good to send with them chosen men, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren. And yet they remind the Christians, what reason they had for trusting Barnabas and Saul, men who have hazarded their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Men, against whom many adversaries had stood up, and against whom, probably, many hard words had been spoken in the course of their disputation. Yet were they men, who had been in labours most abundant, and in peril above measure: who had been the first to confront heathen idolatry, and assail Satan in his strongest holds. Receive such; count such worthy of double honour.
27. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
28. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
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, 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.
Justly might they call it, consolation. In the gospel, they had a clear direction, a certain rule.