« PreviousContinue »
he does strenuously throughout this epistle insist, upon his own original inspiration. He who could speak of the very chiefest of the apostles in such terms as the following—“ of those who seemed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were it maketh no matter to me, God accepteth no man's person), for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me”—he, I say, was not likely to support himself by their decision.
2. The epistle argues the point upon principle : and it is not perhaps more to be wondered at, that in such an argument St. Paul should not cite the apostolic decree, than it would be that, in a discourse designed to prove the moral and religious duty of observing the sabbath, the writer should not quote the thirteenth canon.
3. The decree did not go the length of the position maintained in the epistle ; the decree only declares that the apostles and elders at Jerusalem did not impose the observance of the Mosaic law
upon the Gentile converts, as a condition of their being admitted into the Christian church. Our epistle argues that the Mosaic institution itself was at an end, as to all effects upon a future state, even with respect to the Jews themselves.
4. They whose error St. Paul combated, were not persons who submitted to the Jewish law, because it was imposed by the authority, or because it was made part of the law of the Christian church; but they were persons who, having already become Christians, afterwards voluntarily took upon themselves the observance of the Mosaic code, under a notion of attaining thereby to a greater perfection. This, I
think, is precisely the opinion which St. Paul opposes in this epistle. Many of his expressions apply exactly to it: “ Are ye so foolish ? having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh ?” (Chap. iii. 3.) “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” (Chap. iv. 21.) “How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage ?" (chap. iv. 9.) It cannot be thought extraordinary that St. Paul should resist this opinion with earnestness; for it both changed the character of the Christian dispensation, and derogated expressly from the completeness of that redemption which Jesus Christ had wrought for them that believed in him. But it was to no purpose to allege to such persons the decision at Jerusalem ; for that only showed that they were not bound to these observances by any law of the Christian church : they did not pretend to be so bound; nevertheless they imagined that there was an efficacy in these observances, a merit, a recommendation to favour, and a ground of acceptance with God for those who complied with them. This was a situation of thought to which the tenor of the decree did not apply. Accordingly, St. Paul's address to the Galatians, which is throughout adapted to this situation, runs in a strain widely different from the language of the decree; “ Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law;" (chap. v. 4) i. e. whosoever places his dependence upon any merit he may apprehend there to be in legal observances. The decree had said nothing like this; therefore it would have been useless to have produced the decree in an argument of which this was
the burden. In like manner as in contending with an anchorite, who should insist upon the superior holiness of a recluse, ascetic life, and the value of such mortifications in the sight of God, it would be to no purpose to prove that the laws of the church did not require these vows, or even to prove that the laws of the church expressly left every Christian to his liberty. This would avail little towards abating his estimation of their merit, or towards settling the point in controversy *.
* Mr. Locke's solution of this difficulty is by no means satisfactory. - St. Paul,” he says,
“ did not remind the Galatians of the apostolic decree, because they already had it.” In the first place, it does not appear with certainty that they had it; in the second place, if they had it, this was rather a reason, than other. wise, for referring them to it. The passage in the Acts, from which Mr. Locke concludes that the Galatic churches were in possession of the decree, is the fourth verse of the sixteenth chapter : “And as they" (Paul and Timothy) “went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem." In my opinion, this delivery of the decree was confined to the churches to which St. Paul came, in pursuance of the plan upon which he set out, “of visiting the brethren in every city where he had preached the word of the Lord;" the history of which progress, and of all that pertained to it, is closed in the fifth verse, when the history informs that, “ so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily." Then the history proceeds upon a new section of the narrative, by telling us, that “when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they assayed to go into Bithynia." The decree itself is directed to “ the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia; that is, to churches already founded, and in which this question had been stirred. And I think the observation of the noble author of the Miscellanea Sacra is not only ingenious but highly probable, viz. that there is, in this place, a
Another difficulty arises from the account of Peter's conduct towards the Gentile converts at Antioch, as given in the epistle, in the latter part of the second chapter; which conduct, it is said, is consistent neither with the revelation communicated to him, upon the conversion of Cornelius, nor with the part he took in the debate at Jerusalem. But, in order to understand either the difficulty or the solution, it will be necessary to state and explain the
“ When Peter was come to Antioch,
dislocation of the text, and that the fourth and fifth verses of the sixteenth chapter ought to follow the last verse of the fifteenth, so as to make the entire passage run thus : “And they went through Syria and Cilicia,” (to the Christians of which country the decree was addressed) “confirming the churches, and as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem ; and so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.” And then the sixteenth chapter takes up a new and unbroken paragraph : “ Then came he to Derbe and Lystra, &c.” When St. Paul came, as he did into Galatia, to preach the Gospel, for the first time, in a new place, it is not probable that he would make mention of the decree, or rather letter, of the church of Jerusalem, which presupposed Christianity to be known, and which related to certain doubts that had arisen in some esta. blished Christian communities.
The second reason which Mr. Locke assigns for the omission of the decree, viz. “ that St. Paul's sole object in the epistle was to acquit himself of the imputation that had been charged upon him of actually preaching circumcision," does not appear to me to be strictly true. It was not the sole object. The epistle is written in general opposition to the Judaizing inclinations which he found to prevail among his converts. The avowal of his own doctrine, and of his steadfast adherence to that doctrine, formed a necessary part of the design of his letter, but was not the whole of it.
I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed ; for, before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision; and the other Jews dissembled likewise with him, insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation ; but when I saw they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the Gospel, I said unto Peter, before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews ?” Now the question that produced the dispute to which these words relate, was not whether the Gentiles were capable of being admitted into the Christian covenant; that had been fully settled : nor was it whether it should be accounted essential to the profession of Christianity that they should conform themselves to the law of Moses ; that was the question at Jerusalem : but it was, whether, upon the Gentiles becoming Christians, the Jews might henceforth eat and drink with them, as with their own brethren. Upon this point St. Peter betrayed some inconstancy; and so he might, agreeably enough to his history. He might consider the vision at Joppa as a direction for the occasion, rather than as universally abolishing the distinction between Jew and Gentile; I do not mean with respect to final acceptance with God, but as to the manner of their living together in society: at least he might not have comprehended this point with such clearness and certainty, as to stand out upon it against the fear of bringing upon himself the censure and