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“ dows were neglected in the daily ministration. « Then the twelve called the multitude of the dif
ciples unto them, and said, it is not reason that
we should leave the word of God and serve tables “ (to preside over this distribution)—wherefore, bre© thren, look
ye out among you feven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom, whom
we may appoint over this business; but we will “ give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the
ministry of the word.”
This total abdication of all interference with the pecuniary concerns of the society, and even with the felection of the persons appointed to conduct them, was undoubtedly the most effectual measure which prudence could fuggest to honesty, for totally removing every possibility of obloquy and ? fufpicion. But it was such a measure as interested men would not have confented to, and enthusiasts would scarcely have devised
If from these particular transa xions, we turn our attention to the general mode of conducting the af
& If we allow, what seems probable from the names of these deacons, which are all Grecian, and from the country of of them, (Antioch) that several of them were Grecian Proselytes, it will be an argument of prudence and impartiality in the Christians who chose them, and in the apostles who assented to the choice, as such would be sure to see, that the Grecians had justice done them in the distribution of the charity.Vid. Pole's Synopsis, on A&ts vi. 5. and Pyle's Paraphrase.
fairs of the society instituted by the apostles, we fhall observe an order, regularity, and subordination, very remote from the wild and levelling principles of impetuous fanaticism.-We find that the parent church at Jerusalem, over which the apostles constantly presided, preserved a connection, and held occasional correspondence with the focieties formed in the various cities of Asia, Greece, and Italy; that minifters were sent thence, to instruct, to direct, and to preside over the newly instituted churches; that questions of moment were, when necessary, referred to the decifion of this parent church; and that to decide them, the apostles affembled, together with the elders and the great body of the believers at Jerusalem; held regular debates, in which opinions were discussed, facts examined, the testimony of the miracles wrought by the missionaries of the new faith confidered, the authority of the prophecies appealed to, and determinations formed from a combined view of
h Left my argument here fould be misunderstood, I wish it to be observed, that I do not infer that the apostles were free from enthusiasm, merely because they formed societies, in which, as they extended, some degree of connection with the original society, was maintained, and their own authority as founders of that fociety preserved, for something like this has been frequently done by enthusiasts ; no-I argue from the. order, the good sense, and the prudence displayed in the constitution and the government of this society, which I conceive enthu. fiasts would not have observed.
i Vid. Aets xv. the 30 first verses. xxi. from 17 to 26. Allo Acts vi. I to 8-20-17th.
all these various circumstances; which determinations were reduced to writing, authenticated by the names of the apostles, and elders, and brethren, and conveyed by a regular deputation from them to the different churches, for whose use they were designed; by whom these determinations were received as final and decisive. Now, may we not with full confidence assert, that such deliberation and order, as this system of regulation displays, was as inconsistent with the wild and levelling fury of enthusiasm, as reason is inconsistent with frenzy, or, good government with anarchy and misrule? Surely then, such a system could never have originated with, or been at all maintained by senseless fanatics.
The wisdom and
fobriety of mind which the apostles difplayed, in the general government of the church, par. ticularly'exemplified in their conduct as to the circumcision of the Gentiles.
THE important question, “ whether the Gentiles “ converted to Christianity, should be also obliged " to obey the Mosaic law,” was a subject which affected the most deep-rooted prejudices, and roused the strongest passions of every Jewish mind, on which some of the very chief of the apostles seem to have been divided, if not in opinion, yet in some circumstances of their conduct, and to have expressed this difference of sentiment with considerable
* Vid. A&s xv. the first thirty-four verses.
! warmth. This was therefore a case in which, if the folly and the violence of enthusiasm had existed, it would have been almost to a certainty displayed. But if in this instance order and reason, truth and soberness, prevailed, we are, I think, warranted in concluding, that these were the leading principles which uniformly directed, not only the apostles, but the great body of the primitive Christian church.
Gal. ii. 11 and 12 verses, m These differences have sometimes been alledged as a dece five objection against the divine authority of the Christian scheme, but surely without cause. The New Testament no where represents the apostles as infallible or impeccable; it'has drawn one and ONLY ONE PERFECT character, that of their divine LORD; but Christianity derives more strength of evidence from the impartiality with which its historians relate their own and their brethrens occasional errors or faults, than it can suffer injury from any imputation which their conduc may seem to justify. Another fignal advantage from the relation of these divisions is, that it affords the strongest evidence, that the whole scheme was founded on truth, not imposture ; for whenever impostors, and these the very chief conductors of the im. position, fall into contention and dispute, the fallacy is inevitably detected. Not fo with the gospel; though its teachers might in some points for some fort time disagree, these disagreements impeded not in the least the completion of their facred work-for this was conducted by the hand of God.
Now in order to prove that the apostolic decree pro. nounced on this occasion was dictated by reason and sobriety, it does not seem necessary to enter into any minute discussion of the different opinions which have been advanced, as to its precise meaning ; it is sufficient to observe, that in whatever sense it is taken, it bears the clearest marks of such prudent attention to the peace and welfare of the church, and fuch charitable condescension to the prejudices of the wellmeaning, as evidently thews its authors were not impetuous, overbearing fanatics.
If we take the word Gentiles in its obvious sense, to mean all equally, whether devout profelytes or ido. latrous Gentiles, and consider the restrictions from n“ meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from " things strangled, and from forfrication," as addressed to all Gentile converts, we shall find abundant reasons for thefe prohibitions, from the clofe connection between these practices and idolatry.
Participation of the meats either offered in the Pagan temples, or avowedly consecrated to the Pagan gods, would naturally seem a tacit acquiefcence in
* Axs xv. 20, 21, and 29.
• That this was the true reason, why the practices mentioned in this decree were forbidden, is fupported with very strong arguments by the learned Spencer, in his dissertation on A&s xv. 20. annexed to his second book de Legibus Hebreorum ritualibus, vol. i. p. 434. edit. 2.