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"dows were neglected in the daily ministration. "Then the twelve called the multitude of the dif"ciples unto them, and faid, it is not reason that we fhould leave the word of God and ferve tables "(to prefide over this diftribution)—wherefore, bre"thren, look ye out among you seven men of honest << report, full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom, whom • we may appoint over this bufinefs; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the "miniftry of the word."
This total abdication of all interference with the pecuniary concerns of the fociety, and even with the felection of the perfons appointed to conduct them, was undoubtedly the most effectual measure which prudence could fuggeft to honefty, for totally removing every poffibility of obloquy and fufpicion. But it was fuch a measure as interefted men would not have confented to, and enthufiafts would fcarcely have devised.
If from these particular tranfations, we turn our attention to the general mode of conducting the af
8 If we allow, what seems probable from the names of these deacons, which are all Grecian, and from the country of one them, (Antioch) that several of them were Grecian Profelytes, it will be an argument of prudence and impartiality in the Christians who chose them, and in the apostles who affented to the choice, as fuch would be fure to fee, that the Grecians had juftice done them in the diftribution of the charity.— Vid, Pole's Synopfis, on Acts vi. 5. and Pyle's Paraphrase.
fairs of the fociety instituted by the apostles, we shall obferve an order, regularity, and fubordination, very remote from the wild and levelling principles of im-` petuous fanaticism.-We find that the parent church at Jerufalem, over which the apoftles conftantly prefided, preferved a connection, and held occafional correfpondence with the focieties formed in the various cities of Afia, Greece, and Italy; that minifters were fent thence, to inftruct, to direct, and to prefide over the newly inftituted churches; i * that questions of moment were, when neceffary, 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 Jerufalem; held regular debates, in which opinions were dif cuffed, facts examined, the teftimony of the miracles wrought by the miffionaries of the new faith confidered, the authority of the prophecies appealed to, and determinations formed from a combined view of
Left my argument here fhould be mifunderfood, I wifh it to be observed, that I do not infer that the apostles were free from enthusiasm, merely because they formed focieties, in which, as they extended, fome degree of connection with the original fociety, was maintained, and their own authority as founders of that fociety preferved, for fomething like this has been frequently done by enthusiasts; no-I argue from the, order, the good fenfe, and the prudence difplayed in the conftitution and the government of this fociety, which I conceive enthu fiafts would not have obferved.
¡Vid. Acts xv. the 30 firft verfes. xxi. from 17 to 26. Alfo Acts vi. I to 8—20-17th.
all these various circumftances; 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 defigned; by whom these determinations were received as final and decifive. Now, may we not with full confidence affert, that fuch deliberation and order, as this system of regulation displays, was as inconfiftent with the wild and levelling fury of enthufiafm, as reason is inconsistent with frenzy, or good government with anarchy and mifrule? Surely then, fuch a system. could never have originated with, or been at all maintained by fenfelefs fanatics.
The wisdom and fobriety of mind which the apostles dif played, in the general government of the church, particularly exemplified in their conduct as to the circumcifion of the Gentiles.
THE important question," whether the Gentiles "converted to Chriftianity, fhould be alfo obliged "to obey the Mofaic law," was a fubject which
* Vid. Acts xv. the first thirty-four verses.
affected the moft deep-rooted prejudices, and roused the strongest paffions of every Jewish mind, on which fome of the very chief of the apoftles feem to have been divided, if not in opinion, yet in fome circumftances of their conduct, and to have expreffed this difference of fentiment with confiderable warmth. This was therefore a cafe in which, if the folly and the violence of enthusiasm had existed, it would have been almost to a certainty difplayed. But if in this inftance order and reafon, truth and fobernefs, 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 Chriftian church.
Gal. ii. 11 and 12 verses.
Thefe differences have, fometimes been alledged as a deci five objection against the divine authority of the Christian fcheme, but furely without caufe. The New Testament no where reprefents the apoftles 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 occafional errors or faults, than it can suffer injury from any imputation which their conduct may seem to justify. Another fignal advantage from the relation of these divifions is, that it affords the ftrongest evidence, that the whole scheme was founded on truth, not imposture; for whenever impoftors, and these the very chief conductors of the im pofition, fall into contention and difpute, the fallacy is inevitably detected. Not fo with the gospel; though its teachers might in fome points for fome fort time difagree, these difagreements impeded not in the leaft the completion of their facred work-for this was conducted by the hand of God.
Now in order to prove that the apoftolic decree pronounced on this occafion was dictated by reason and fobriety, it does not seem neceffary to enter into any minute difcuffion of the different opinions which have been advanced, as to its precife meaning; it is fufficient to obferve, 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 condefcenfion to the prejudices of the wellmeaning, as evidently fhews 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 idolatrous Gentiles, and confider the restrictions from "" meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from "things ftrangled, and from fornication," as addreffed to all Gentile converts, we fhall find abundant reafons for thefe prohibitions, from the clofe connection between these practices and idolatry.
Participation of the meats either offered in the Pagan temples, or avowedly confecrated to the Pagan gods, would naturally feem a tacit acquiefcence in
n AЯs xv. 20, 21, and 29.
• That this was the true reason, why the practices mentioned in this decree were forbidden, is fupported with very ftrong ar guments by the learned SPENCER, in his differtation on Acts xv. 20. annexed to his fecond book de Legibus Hebreorum ritualibus, vol. i. p. 434. edit. 2.