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The best comment upon these words will be found in what is recorded of St. Paul by his companion and fellow-labourer St. Luke, and in the general tenor of his own writings.
The Decree of the memorable Synod at Jerusalemb (in which St. Paul himself bore a part) was conceived in the same spirit of forbearance and conciliation that is here expressed. It disclaimed the necessity of circumcision to the Gentile converts, but did not expressly prohibit it to Jewish proselytes; nor did it, on the other hand, prohibit to the Gentiles
any customs but such as gave to the whole ritual of Heathen worship a character of the grossest enormity, or such as were peculiarly abhorrent to Jewish feelings. A rule was thus established, which, while it tended gradually to extinguish, on both sides, practices inconsistent with the pure and perfect spirit of the Gospel, tended also to bring both Jew and Gentile nearer to each other, in temper, in habits, in disposition, and in principle.
Conformably with the spirit of these injunctions, St. Paul allowed Timothy, born of a Jewish parent, to be circumcised'; but forbade it to Titus, born of Heathen parents d. In the former case, the omission of the rite
b Acts xv. 23—29.
c Acts xvi. 1-3.
d Gal. ii. 3.
would have given offence to the Jews; in the latter, a compliance with it would no less have offended the Heathen: and by refusing it in the one case, and granting it in the other, the great principle was secured, that in neither was it a matter of necessity, or of any actual validity. In like manner, the Apostle performed himself, and joined with others in performing, certain vows made in conformity with the Jewish law": but he failed not to insist, in his discourses and his writings, upon the virtual abrogation of these rites, and their total inefficacy to Salvation ; teaching expressly, that“ neither circumcision
nor uncircumcision” would now “avail any
thing” towards acceptance with God; and that they who laid any such stress upon them, “ made the Gospel of none effect f.” Thus were these concessions carefully guarded against misapprehension, or reasonable ground of offence.
The discourses and writings of the Apostle evince a similar kind of caution, and of discrimination, in adapting his reasonings to the different conceptions of those to whom they were addressed.
Immediately after his conversion, “he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he e Acts xviii. 18. and xxi. 23—26. f Gal. v. 2–6.
" is the Son of God;" and he “ confounded “ the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving 6 that this is THE VERY CHRIST 8."
No mention is made of any preparatory instruction, to enable them to apprehend this truth; the preacher having to contend with those who already expected the Christ, and to whom even the appellation of the Son of God was by no means strange or unusual, as applied to the Messiah. Probably, therefore, his mode of proving this position was similar to that by which our Lord convinced those whom he first called to be his disciples, that they had “ found Him, of whom Moses in “ the Law, and the Prophets, did write";"—a proof, derived wholly from those sacred writings which every Jew professed to believe.
Again ; at Antioch, the purport of his discourse in the synagogue was to shew, “ that “ the promise which was made to the Fa“ thers,”—to the Prophets and the Patriarchs,
“ God had fulfilled the same to them, their “ children i;” proofs, which could be drawn only from the books of the Old Testament.
At Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews, “ Paul, as his manner was,” says St. Luke, “went in unto them, and three sabbath-days reasoned with them out of the g Acts ix. 20-22.
i Acts xiii. 32, 33.
h John i. 45
Scriptures k.” At Berea, it appears that he did the same; and it is mentioned to the credit of the Bereans, that “they received " the word with readiness, and searched the
Scriptures daily whether these things were “ so!”
The very same mode of reasoning occurs also in his addresses to Ananias, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, before each of whom he was specially accused of doing many things contrary to the law of Moses"; and again, in the last account of him, when he arrived prisoner at Rome; where, to his brethren of Judæa, he expounded and testified “ the kingdom of “ God, persuading them concerning Jesus, “ both out of the Law of Moses, and out of “ the Prophets, from morning till evening.”
Now, it is evident that such reasoning as this would have been altogether misplaced in preaching to the Gentiles. To impress them with any reverence for the Jewish Scriptures, an entirely different process would be necessary; and to give them any adequate conceptions of the nature and design of Christianity, or of its Divine pretensions, not only much preparatory instruction would be requisite, but an almost total change in their religious
k Acts xvii. 2.
| Acts xvii. 11.
views and sentiments. How, then, did St. Paul conduct himself in this most arduous part of his office ?
When the ignorant multitude at Lystra, astonished at the miracle wrought by Paul and Barnabas, would have done sacrifice to them as gods, what arguments do the Apostles use to dissuade them from such wretched impieties? They exhort them to “turn from “ these vanities to the living God, which made
heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things “ that are therein,” and who had never “ left
himself without witness, in that he did good, “ and gave them rain from heaven, and fruit“ ful seasons, filling their hearts with food " and gladness o." These were proofs, from the works of Creation and Providence, level even with the grossest understandings, when set before them in their true and proper light.
When, again, at Athens, he found himself surrounded by a more enlightened audience, the learned frequenters of the Areopagus, and the teachers of philosophy and morals, he opened his commission in a similar way ;“ declaring” that “UNKNOWN GOD,” whom they ignorantly “worshipped ;" setting forth His power as Creator, His spiritual nature,
0 Acts siv. 15–17.