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Acts 8:26-31

26. And an angel of the Lord spake to Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south, to the way which goeth down from Jerusalem to Gaza; it is waste. 27. And when he arose, he went. And, behold, a man, an Ethiopian, an eunuch, a man of great authority with Candace, queen of Ethiopia, which had the rule of all her treasure, which carne [had come] to Jerusalem to worship 28. And as he returned, and sat in his chariot, he read Esaias the prophet. 29. And the Spirit said to Philip, Draw near, and be thou joined to this chariot. 30. And as Philip ran unto it, he heard him reading the prophet Esaias, and he said, Understandest thou what thou readest? 31. He said, How can I, unless some man direct me? And he requested Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

 

26. And the angel. Luke passeth over unto a new history, to wit, how the gospel came even unto the Ethiopians. For though he reporteth there was but one man converted unto the faith of Christ, yet because his authority and power was great in all the realm, his faith might spread abroad a sweet smell far and wide. For we know that the gospel grew of small beginnings; and therein appeared the power of the Spirit more plainly, in that one grain of seed did fill a whole country in a small space. Philip is first commanded by the angel to go toward the south; the angel telleth him not to what end. And thus doth God oftentimes use to deal with those that be his, to prove their obedience. He showeth what he will have them to do; he commandeth them to do this or that, but he keepeth the success hidden with himself. Therefore let us be content with the commandment 527527     “Simplici Dei imperio,” with the simple command of God. of God alone, although the reason of that which he enjoineth, or the fruit of obedience, appear not by and by. 528528     “Statim,” instantly. For although this be not plainly expressed, yet all the commandments of God contain a hidden promise, that so often as we obey him, all that work which we take in hand must needs fall out well. Moreover, this ought to be sufficient for us, that God doth allow our studies, when as we take nothing in hand rashly or without his commandment. If any man object, that angels come not down daily from heaven to reveal unto us what we ought to do, the answer is ready, that we are sufficiently taught in the Word of God what we ought to do, and that they are never destitute of counsel who ask it of him, 529529     “Illius os,” at his mouth. and submit themselves to the government of the Spirit. Therefore nothing doth hinder and keep us back from being ready to follow God, save only our own slothfulness and coldness 530530     “Incuria,” carelessness. in prayer.

To the way which goeth down to Gaza. All the learned grant that that is called Gaza here which the Hebrews call Haza. Wherefore, Pomponius Mela is deceived, who saith that Cambyses, king of Persia, called that city by this name, because when he made war against the Egyptians, he had his riches laid up there. It is true, indeed, that the Persians call treasure or plenty, Gaza; and Luke useth this word shortly after in this sense, when as he saith that the eunuch was the chief governor of the treasure of Candace; but because that Hebrew word was used before such time as Cambyses was born, I do not think but that it was corrupt afterwards, the letter ה (heth) being changed into g, which thing we see was done in all others almost. The epitheton waste is added for this cause, because Alexander of Macedonia laid waste that old Gaza. Also Luke refuteth those who make Constantinus the builder of the second and new Gaza, who affirmeth that it was an hundred and fifty years before; but it may be that he beautified and enlarged the city after it was built. And all men confess that this new Gaza was situate on the seacoast, distant twenty furlongs from the old city.

27. Behold, a man, an Ethiopian. He calleth him a man, who he saith shortly after was an eunuch; but because kings and queens in the East were wont to appoint eunuchs over their weighty affairs, thereby it came to pass that lords of great power were called generally 531531     “Promiscue,” promiscuously. eunuchs, whereas, notwithstanding, they were men. Furthermore, Philip findeth indeed, now at length, that he did not obey God in vain. Therefore, whosoever committeth the success to God, and goeth on forward thither whither he biddeth him, he shall at length try 532532     “Experietur,” will experience. that all that falleth out well which is taken in hand at his appointment. 533533     “Ejus auspiciis et mandato,” under his auspices, and by his command. The name Candace was not the name of one queen only; but as all the emperors of Rome were called Caesars,, so the Ethiopians, as Pliny withesseth, called their queens Candaces. This maketh also unto the matter that the writers of histories report that that was a noble and wealthy kingdom, because it may the better be gathered by the royalty and power thereof how gorgeous the condition and dignity of the eunuch was. The head and principal place 534534     “Primaria sedes,” metropolis. was Meroe. The profane writers agree with Luke, who report that women used to reign there.

Came [had come] to worship. Hereby we gather that the name of the true God was spread far abroad, seeing he had some worshippers in far countries. Certes, it must needs be that this man did openly profess another worship than his nation; for so great a lord could not come into Judea by stealth, and undoubtedly he brought with him a great train. And no marvel if there were some everywhere in the East parts which worshipped the true God, because that after the people were scattered abroad, there was also some smell 535535     “Odor,” savour. of the knowledge of the true God spread abroad with them throughout foreign countries; yea, the banishment 536536     “Exilium populi,” the exile of the people, the captivity of the Jews. of the people was a spreading abroad of true godliness. Also, we see that though the Romans did condemn the Jewish religion with many cruel edicts, yet could they not bring to pass but that many, even on [in] heaps, would profess the same. 537537     “Turmatim multi ad eam transirent,” from going over, becoming proselytes, to it in crowds These were certain beginnings 538538     “Praeludia,” preludes to. of the calling of the Gentiles, until such time as Christ, having with the brightness of his coming put away the shadows of the law, might take away the difference which was between the Jews and the Gentiles; and having pulled down the wall of separation, he might gather together from all parts the children of God, (Ephesians 2:14.)

Whereas the eunuch came to Jerusalem to worship, it must not be accounted any superstition. He might, indeed, have called 539539     “Deum precari,” have prayed to God. upon God in his own country, but this man would not omit the exercises which were prescribed to the worshippers of God; and, therefore, this was his purpose, not only to nourish faith privily 540540     “Et clanculum,” and stealthily, omitted. in his heart, but also to make profession of the same amongst men. And yet, notwithstanding, he could not be so divorced 541541     “Divortium facere,” differ from. from his nation, but that he might well know that he should be hated of many. But he made more account of the external profession of religion, which he knew God did require, than of the favor of men. And if such a small sparkle of the knowledge of the law did so shine in him, what a shame were it for us to choke the perfect light of the gospel with unfaithful silence? If any do object that the sacrifices were even then abrogated, and that now the time was come wherein God would be called upon everywhere without difference of place, we may easily answer, that those to whom the truth of the gospel was not yet revealed, were retained in the shadows of the law without any superstition. For whereas it is said that the law was abolished by Christ, as concerning the ceremonies, it is thus to be understood, that where Christ showeth himself plainly, those rites vanish away which prefigured him when he was absent. Whereas the Lord suffered the eunuch to come to Jerusalem before he sent him a teacher, it is to be thought that it was done for this cause, because it was profitable that he should yet be framed by the rudiments of the law, that he might be made more apt afterward to receive the doctrine of the gospel. And whereas God sent none of the apostles unto him 542542     “Neminem ex apostolis illi Deus obtulerit,” God cast none of the apostles in is way. at Jerusalem, the cause lieth hid in his secret counsel, unless, peradventure, it were done that he might make more account of the gospel, as of some treasure found suddenly, and offered unto him contrary to hope; or because it was better that Christ should be set before him, after that being separated and withdrawn from the external pomp of ceremonies and the beholding of the temple, he sought the way of salvation quietly at such time as he was at rest. 543543     “Liberius in otio et quiete,” more freely in ease and quiet.

28. He read Esaias. The reading of the prophet showeth that the eunuch did not worship a God unadvisedly, according to the understanding of his own head, whom he had reigned to himself, but whom he knew by the doctrine of the law. And surely this is the right way to worship God, not to snatch at bare and vain rites, but to adjoin the word thereunto, otherwise there shall be nothing but that which cometh by chance and is confused. And certainly the form of worshipping prescribed in the law differeth nothing from the inventions of men, save only because God giveth light there by his word. Therefore, those which are God’s scholars do worship aright only, that is, those who are taught in his school. But he seemeth to lose his labor when he readeth without profit. For he confesseth that he cannot understand the prophet’s meaning, unless he be helped by some other teacher. I answer, as he read the prophet with a desire to learn, so he hoped for some fruit, and he found it indeed. Therefore, why doth he deny that he can understand the place which he had in hand? For because 544544     “Nempe... agnoscit,” namely, he acknowledgeth. he manifestly confesseth his ignorance in darker places. There be many things in Isaiah which need no long exposition, as when he preacheth of the goodness and power of God, partly that he may invite men unto faith, partly that he may exhort and teach them to lead a godly life. Therefore, no man shall be so rude an idiot 545545     “Idiota,” unlearned. which shall not profit somewhat by reading that book, and yet, notwithstanding, he shall, peradventure, scarce understand every tenth verse. Such was the eunuch’s reading. For seeing that, according to his capacity, he gathered those things which served to edification, he had some certain profit by his studies. Nevertheless, though he were ignorant of many things, 546546     “Si multa eum latebant,” though many things escaped him, were hidden from him. yet was he not wearied, so that he did cast away the book. Thus must we also read the Scriptures. We must greedily, and with a prompt mind, receive those things which are plain, and wherein God openeth his mind. As for those things which are hid from us, we must pass them over until we see greater light. And if we be not wearied with reading, it shall at length come to pass that the Scripture shall be made more familiar by continual use.

31. How should I? Most excellent modesty of the eunuch, who doth not only permit Philip who was one of the common sort, to question with him, but doth also willingly 547547     “Ultro et ingenue,” spontaneously and ingenuously. confess his ignorance. And surely we must never hope that he will ever show himself apt to be taught who is puffed up with the confidence of his own wit. Hereby it eometh to pass that the reading of the Scriptures doth profit so few at this day, because we can scarce find one amongst a hundred who submitteth himself willingly to learn. For whilst all men almost are ashamed to be ignorant of that whereof they are ignorant, every man had rather proudly nourish his ignorance than seem to be scholar to other men. Yea, a great many take upon them haughtily to teach other men. Nevertheless, let us remember that the eunuch did so confess his ignorance, that yet, notwithstanding, he was one of God’s scholars when he read the Scripture. This is the true reverence of the Scripture, when as we acknowledge that there is that wisdom laid up there which surpasseth 548548     “Superet ac fugiat,” surpasses and escapes. all our senses; and yet notwithstanding, we do not loathe it, but, reading diligently, we depend upon the revelation of the Spirit, and desire to have an interpreter given us.

He prayed Philip that he would come up. This is another token of modesty, that he seeketh an interpreter and teacher. He might have rejected Philip according to the pride of rich men; for it was a certain secret upbraiding of ignorance when Philip said, Understandest thou what thou readest? But rich men think that they have great injury done them if any man speak homely to them. And, therefore, they break out by and by into these speeches, What is that to thee? or, What hast thou to do with me? But the eunuch submitteth himself humbly to Philip that by him he may be taught. Thus must we be minded if we desire to have God to be our teacher, whose Spirit resteth upon the humble and meek, (Isaiah 66:2.) And if any man, mistrusting himself, submit himself to be taught, the angels shall rather come down from heaven 549549     “Ad nos docendos,” to teach us, omitted. than the Lord will suffer us to labor in vain; though (as did the eunuch) we must use all helps, which the Lord offereth unto us, for the understanding of the Scriptures. Frantic men require inspirations and revelations 550550     “Ενθουσιασμοὺς,” enthusiasms or inspirations. from heaven, and, in the mean season, they contemn the minister of God, by whose hand they ought to be governed. Other some, which trust too much to their own wit, will vouchsafe to hear no man, and they will read no commentaries. But God will not have us to despise those helps which he offereth unto us, and he suffereth not those to escape scot free which despise the same. And here we must remember, that the Scripture is not only given us, but that interpreters and teachers are also added, to be helps to us. For this cause the Lord sent rather Philip than an angel to the eunuch. For to what end served this circuit, that God calleth Philip by the voice of the angel, and sendeth not the angel himself forthwith, save only because he would accustom us to hear men? This is, assuredly, no small commendation of external preaching, that the voice of God soundeth in the mouth of men to our salvation, when angels hold their peace. Concerning which thing, I will speak more upon the ninth and tenth chapters.


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