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EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL
WRIT IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 63, OF NERO IX.
SYNOPSIS. Our Saviour had, so openly and expressly, declared, to his disciples, the destruction of the temple, that they could, by no means, doubt of it; nor of this consequence of it, viz. that the on, customs or rites of the mosaica! law, as they are called, Acts vi. 14, and xxi. 21, were to cease with it. And this St. Stephen, by what is laid to his charge, Acts vi. 13, 14, seems to have taught. And upon this ground it might very well be, that the apostles and church of Jerusalem required no more of the convert gentiles, than the observance of such things as were sufficient to satisfy the jews, that they were not still heathens and idolaters. But, as for the rest of the mosaical rites, they required not the convert gentiles (to whom the mosaical law was not given) to observe them. This being a very natural and obvious consequence, which they could not but see, that if by the destruction of the temple and worship of the jėws, those rites were speedily to be taken away, they were not observances necessary to the people of God, and of perpetual obligation. Thus far, it is plain, the other apostles were instructed, and satisfied of the freedom of the gentile converts from complying with the ritual law. But, whether it was revealed to them, with the same clearness as it was to St. Paul, that the jews too, as well as the gentiles, who were converted to the christian faith, were discharged from their former obligation to the ritual law of Moses, and freed from those observances, may be doubted: because, as we see, they had not at all instructed their converts of the circumcision, of their being set at liberty from that yoke; which, it is very likely, they would not have forborn to have done, if they had been convinced of it themselves. For; in all that discourse concerning this question, Acts xv. 1-21, there is not one syllable said, of the jews being discharged, by faith in the Messiah, from the observance of any of the mosaical rites. Nor does it appear, that the apostles of the circumcision ever taught their disciples, or suggested to them, any such thing, which one can scarce imagine, they could have neglected, if it had been revealed to them, and so given them in charge. It is certain, their converts had never been taught any such thing. For St. James himself acquaints us, Acts xxi. 20, that the
many thousands, that believed, were all zealous of “ the law.” And what his own opinion of those rites, was, may be seen, ver. 24, where he calls keeping this part of the law, “ walking orderly:" and he is concerned to have St.Paul thought a strict observer thereof. All which could not have been, if it had been revealed to him, as positively and expressly as it was to St. Paul, that all believers, in the Messiah, jews as well as gentiles, were absolved from the law of Moses, and were under no obligation to observe those ceremonies any longer, they being now no longer necessary to the people of God, in this his new kingdom, erected under the Messiah; nor indeed was it necessary, that this particular point should have been, from the beginning, revealed to the other apostles, who were sufficiently instructed for their mission, and the conversion of their brethren, the jews, by the Holy Ghost bringing to their minds (as was promised) all that our Saviour had said unto them, in his life-time here, amongst them, in the true sense of it. But the sending them to the jews with this message, that the law was abolished, was to cross the very design of sending them; it was to bespeak an aversion to their doctrine ; and to stop the ears of the jews, and turn their hearts from them. But St. Paul, receiving his whole knowledge of the gospel, immediately from heaven, by revelation, seems to have this particular instruction added, to fit him for the mission he was chosen to, and make him an effectual messenger of the gospel, by furnishing him presently with this necessary truth, concerning the cessation of the law, the knowledge whereof could not but come in time to the other apostles, when it should be seasonable. Whether this be not so, I leave it to be considered.
This, at least, is certain, that St. Paul alone, more than all the rest of the apostles, was taken notice of to have preached, that the coming of Christ put an end to the law, and that, in the kingdom of God, erected under the Messiah, the observation of the law was neither required, nor availed aught; faith in Christ was the only condition of admittance, both for jew and gentile, all, who believed, being now equally the people of God, whether circumcised, or uncircumcised. This was that, which the jews, zealous of the law, which they took to be the irrevocable, unalterable charter of the people of God, and the standing rule of his kingdom, could by no means bear. And therefore, provoked by this report of St. Paul, the jews, both converts as well as others, looked upon him as a dangerous innovator, and an enemy to the true religion, and, as such, seized on him in the temple, Acts xxi. upon occasion whereof it was, that he was a prisoner at Rome, when he writ this epistle, where he seems to be concerned, lest now, he, that was the apostle of the gentiles, from whom alone the doctrine of their exemption from the law had its rise and support, was in bonds, upon that very account, it might give an opportunity to those judaizing professors of christianity, who contended that the gentiles, unless they were circumcised after the manner of Moses, could not be saved, to unsettle the minds, and shake the faith of those, whom he had converted. This being the controversy, from whence rose the great trouble and danger that, in the time of our apostle, disturbed the churches collected from among the gentiles. That, which chiefly disquieted the minds, and shook the faith of those, who from heathenism were converted to christianity, was this doctrine, that, except the converts from paganism were circumcised, and thereby subjected themselves to the law and the jewish rites, they VOL. VII