« السابقةمتابعة »
in the most engaging colours.—I have often had occasion to remark, that the more useful parts of Scripture are also the more clear-I may here add that they are usually the more beautiful-What for instance, can be more graceful, in point of composition, than the opposite characters of ignorance and knowledge; of vice and virtue; illustrated as they are in the close of the preceding chapter, by the strong contrast of night and day, darkness and light? "Love," or Charity, exclaims the Apostle, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour : therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." a
Equally beautiful in sentiment, and equally clear in direction, is the whole of the present chapter, together with the beginning of the next; although it may not equally command admiration by the vivid grace of imagination or the harmonious flow of numbers. Even a careless observer must be struck with the tone of kindness and good sense, which pervades this whole admonition of the Apostle, respecting the conduct, which the new Christians should observe
a Rom. xiii. 10.
towards each other in matters of a religious nature. Those, who think more deeply, must surely perceive in it a triumphant attestation to the principles of a religion, which for the first time promulgated such truths; and to the fidelity of that Apostle, who, in so marvellous a manner, laid aside the prejudices of a Jew, and was foremost in inculcating upon an astonished world the new doctrine of toleration to the religious errors and infirmities of a brotherChristian.
The full beauty and value of the doctrine thus delivered cannot however be duly appreciated, without referring to the particular circumstances, in which the converts at Rome were placed. Yet be it remembered that, although the necessity for delivering these admonitions arose from particular circumstances, the advice they convey, and the happy consequences that may flow from it, belong to every individual and every age. I will therefore shortly state, to what sources of difference the Apostle alluded, when he embraced this opportunity of inculcating the conduct, which the Gospel requires its members to pursue one towards another; I shall advert to some prominent topics, by which the admonition is enforced; and then bring to a conclusion my remarks upon this very important, but much mis-represented, portion of the sacred records.
1. The Roman Christians, to whom St. Paul wrote, consisted of two different classes; such as had been previously Jews, and such as had been previously Heathens. Now these two classes, although both united by one common bond of belief in the Divine
mission of Jesus Christ, yet still retained many of the peculiarities of their former opinions and habits. The Jew could not relinquish his notion of the value and even necessity of circumcision; of keeping holy certain appointed days; and the duty of abstaining from every thing, that had been in any way connected with an idolatrous ceremony. The Gentile on his part had been accustomed to ridicule the Jew for submitting to so painful a rite, and ascribing importance to one so useless, as circumcision; nor did he regard with less contempt the superstitious reverence of a Jew for the various festivals, which law and custom prescribed to their regular observance. Moreover, although they had consented to embrace the Gospel from a conscientious persuasion of its truth, yet were they more likely to continue on terms of intimacy with their old Heathen friends and connexions, than to contract habits of social intercourse, even if the rigid prejudice of the Jew should permit it, with such, as agreed with them in the general belief of Christianity; but with whom they scarcely held any other sentiment, or cherished any habit, in common. By thus continuing to associate with Heathens, they were frequently led to partake of the flesh of animals, which had been slain in conformity with some idolatrous rite. For you will observe that not only was a certain portion of the animal, slain at the altar, eaten at the residence of the sacrificer or the priest; but it was not unusual for private families to consider an animal, slain for the provision of themselves and their friends, as a victim to some favourite deity. Of this practice every one, who is familiar with the
classical writers, cannot fail to discover traces; particularly in the works of Horace, who affords so clear and pleasing an insight into the habits of domestic life. We need not however pursue our researches farther than the writings of St. Paul himself for a proof that meat, the produce of an Heathen sacrifice, was publicly exposed to sale. It is plain from a passage which has already been adverted to, that meat sold in the public market, or eaten at a private entertainment, was not unfrequently brought from the altar, where it had undergone the customary solemnities. So that it was scarcely possible for any one, who associated much with Heathens, to avoid partaking of food, which had previously been devoted, with all the pomp and circumstance of idolatrous worship, to some imaginary divinity. In the mind of every Jew, such food was indelibly tainted with pollution; even the sight was regarded with abhorrence. But the Gentile, who had embraced Christianity, and who had ceased to have any belief in the power or existence of the once venerated idol, in whose honour beasts were sacrificed, did not consider that he acted improperly in partaking of the victim, provided he took no part in the religious ceremony. Upon all these points then, differences of opinion prevailed between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. And it was an important object with the Apostle, at the close of his Epistle, to put an end, if possible, to such sources of contention; or at least to prevent any ill consequences arising from them.-He therefore strong
a 1 Cor. x. 25.
ly lays down the rule, by which the conduct of Christians should be governed; he places in a variety of engaging lights the duty of practising that "love, which worketh no ill to his neighbour;" and which is in fact," the fulfilling of the law," the essence of all religion. That grand principle of the Gospel prescribes indulgence towards those, who are in error; and moderation towards those, who offend. In conformity with this amiable and salutary principle, the Apostle explains that, in matters not indispensable nor of vital efficacy, it is sometimes requisite to give way to a little unreasonable prejudice; and shew a spirit of accommodation even to notions, which might be unnecessarily rigid. Such deference to the feelings and even practices of a neighbour; who means well, though his judgment may be defective; is surely better than to endanger the security of the Church, or risk the violation of those eternal laws of peace and charity, upon which it is founded. By insisting too peremptorily or too obstinately upon matters, which may be in themselves right or at least not unlawful, a spirit of disunion is cherished, which must be prejudicial to the best interests of religion. "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." This is an exhortation to the Gentile Christian, that he would admit to his society the converted Jew," who, through weakness of understanding, or long subsisting prejudice, was unable to comprehend the doctrine of the gospel concerning meats and days"; but he was to be admitted
a See Macknight.