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Acts 16:16-22

16. And it happened, as we went to prayer, a certain maid, having a spirit of divination, did meet us, which brought her masters much gain by divining. 17. She followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which preach to us the way of salvation. 18. And this she did many days. And Paul, taking it grievously, and turning back, said to the spirit, I command thee, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that thou come out of her. And he came out the same hour. 19. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone, having taken Paul and Silas, they drew them into the market-place to the rulers. 20. And when they had presented them to the magistrates, they said, These men trouble our city, seeing they be Jews: 21. And they preach ordinances, which we may not receive nor keep, seeing we are Romans. 22. And the multitude came together against them; and when the magistrates had rent their garments, they commanded them to be beaten with rods.

 

16. Luke prosecuteth the increase of the Church; for though he do not straightway in a word express that thing, yet is it easily gathered out of the text, that many were brought into the faith, or at least that the Church was somewhat augmented, and Paul did not frequent the assemblies in time of prayer in vain. Notwithstanding, Luke doth also report that Satan did interrupt this course; to wit, because after that the apostles were beaten with rods, and cast in [into] prison, they were at length enforced to depart the city; yet we shall see in the end of this chapter, that when Satan had done his worst, there was some body of the Church gathered before they did depart.

Having a spirit of divination, (or of Python.) The poets do feign that the serpent called Python was slain with the dart of Phoebus; hereupon rose another invention; 191191     “Figmento,” fiction. that they said, that those who were possessed were inspired with the spirit of Python, and, peradventure, they were thereupon called Phoebades, in honor of Apollo. But Luke followeth the common custom of speaking, because he showeth the error of the common people, and not through what inspiration the maid did prophesy. For it is certain that the devil did deceive men under the visor of Apollo, as all idolatry and subtilty was invented and forged in his shop. But some men may marvel that the devil (through whose motion and persuasion the maid did cry) was the author of such an honorable commendation, wherewith she adorned Paul and Silas, and the rest. For, seeing that he is the father of lying, how could the truth proceed from him? Secondly, how is it that he gave place willingly to the servants of Christ, by whom his kingdom was destroyed? how can this hang together, that he prepared the minds of the people to hear the gospel, whose mortal enemy he is? Assuredly, there is nothing more proper to him than to turn away the minds of the people from the word of the gospel, which he doth now will and wish them to hear.

Whence cometh such a sudden change, or unwonted emotion? But the devil is the father of lying in such sort, that he covereth himself under the ale and deceivable color of truth. There he played another person through his crafty subtilty, than was agreeable to his nature; 192192     “Egit igitur callido artificio aliam personam quam ferret ejus natura,” there with cunning artifice he played a character different from that which naturally belonged to him. that by creeping in craftily he might do the more hurt; and, therefore, whereas he is called the father of lies, we must not so take it as if he did always lie manifestly and without any color. Yea, rather we must beware of his crafty subtilty, lest when he pretendeth the color of truth he deceive us under a vain show. We see, also, how he useth like subtilty daily. For what can bear a fairer show than the Pope’s titles, wherein he doth not boast himself to be the adversary of Christ, but he doth not boast himself to be the adversary of Christ, but his vicar? What can be more plausible than that solemn preface, In the name of the Lord, Amen? Notwithstanding we know, that whilst the hypocritical ministers of Satan do thus pretend the truth, they corrupt it, and, with a deadly corruption, infect it. Seeing that Satan hath a double way to resist the gospel, to wit, because he doth sometimes rage openly, and sometimes he creepeth in craftily under lies, he hath also two kinds of lying and deceiving, either when he overthroweth the Word of God with false doctrines and gross superstitions, or else when he doth craftily feign that he is a friend of the Word, and so doth insinuate himself subtilely; 193193     “Quasi per cuniculos obrepit,” creeps in as if by burrowing. yea, he doth never hurt more deadly than when he transformeth himself into an angel of light. Now, we perceive to what end that so gorgeous a title did tend, wherewith he did extol Paul and his companions, namely, because it was not so convenient for him to make open war against the gospel, he went about to overthrow the credit thereof by secret shifts. For if Paul had admitted that testimony, there should have been no longer any difference between the wholesome 194194     “Salvificam,” saving. doctrine of Christ and the mocks of Satan. The light and brightness of the gospel should have been entangled in the darkness of lying, and so quite put out.

But the question is, why God doth grant Satan so great liberty, as to suffer him to deceive miserable men, and to bewitch them with true divinations? For, omitting the disputations which some men move concerning his foresight, I take this for a plain case, that he doth prophesy and foretell things to come, and which are hidden only through God’s sufferance. But God seemeth by this means to lay open men who are reckless or careless to his subtilty, so that they cannot beware. For seeing that prophecies breathe out divine power, men’s minds must needs be touched with reverence so often as they come abroad, unless they contemn God. I answer, that Satan hath never so much liberty granted him of God, save only that the unthankful world may be punished, which is so desirous of a lie, that it had rather be deceived than obey the truth. For that is a general evil, whereof Paul complaineth in the first chapter to the Romans,(Romans 1:21,) That men do not glorify God, being known naturally by the creation of the world, and that they suppress his truth unjustly.

It is a just reward for so great unthankfulness, that Satan hath the bridle given him, that through divers jugglings he may work the ruin of those who turn away maliciously from the light of God. Therefore, so often as you read the divinations of Satan, think upon the just judgment of God. Now, if God so sharply punish the contempt of his light in the profane Gentiles, who have no other teachers but the heaven and earth, how much more sharp punishment do those deserve who wittingly and willingly choke the pure doctrine of salvation, revealed to them in the law and the gospel? No marvel, therefore, if Satan have long bewitched the world so freely with his subtilty, since that the truth of the gospel hath been wickedly contemned, which was made most manifest. But it is objected again, that no man is free from danger when false divinations fly to and fro so fast. For even as well the good as the evil seem to be subject to the cozenage of Satan when the truth is darkened and overcast. The answer is ready, though Satan set snares for all men in general, yet are the godly delivered by the grace of God, lest they be caught together with the wicked. There is also a more manifest distinction set down in the Scripture, because the Lord doth by this means try the faith and godliness of his, and doth make blind the reprobate, that they may perish as they be worthy. Therefore Paul saith plainly, that Satan hath not leave granted him to lead any into error save those who will not obey God and embrace the truth, (2 Thessalonians 2:11,12.)

Whereby is also reproved their wicked ungodliness, who, under this color, excuse the profane contempt of all doctrine; whither shall we turn ourselves, (say they,) seeing that Satan is so expert to deceive? Therefore, it is better for us to live without any religion at all, than, through the desire of religion, to run headlong into destruction. Neither do they object and pretend this fear for their excuse in earnest; but, seeing they desire nothing more than to wander carelessly, like beasts, without any fear of God, they can be content with any excuse, so they be not tied to any religion. I confess, indeed, that Satan doth no less craftily than wickedly abuse the sacred name of God; and that that proverb is too true which Papistry hath brought forth, that, the Lord doth pronounce that he will be the teacher of the humble, and hath promised that he will be nigh to those which are right in heart; seeing that Paul teacheth that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit; seeing that he doth testify that those who are well-grounded in the faith of the gospel are not in danger to be seduced by man; seeing that Peter calleth the Scripture a light shining in a dark place; seeing that courteous exhortation, or inviting of Christ, can never deceive us, “Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you;” let Satan do what he can, and let the false prophets seek to darken the truth so much as they are able, we need not be afraid lest the Spirit of wisdom and discretion [discernment] forsake us, who ruleth 195195     “Compescit,” quelleth. Satan at his pleasure, and maketh us triumph over him by the faith of his word.

18. Paul took it grievously. It may be that at the first Paul neglected, and did not greatly regard the crying of the maid, because he hoped that there would be no account made thereof, and had rather that it should vanish away of itself. But the continual repetition doth at length make him weary; because, if he had any long dissembled, Satan would have waxed more and more insolent through his silence and patience. Secondly, he ought not to have broken out into this prohibition rashly, until he knew for a certainty that he was furnished with the power of God. For Paul’s commandment 196196     “Impreccatio,” impreccation, anathema. had been foolish and vain without the commandment of God. And this must be noted, lest any man condemn Paul of too great hastiness, because he encountered so valiantly with the unclean spirit. For he did not conceive any grief or indignation, save only that he saw that the stability of Satan would increase, unless he did betimes prevent it; neither did he attempt any thing without the motion of the Spirit; neither did he enter the conflict until he was armed with power from heaven. Notwithstanding, he seemeth to be contrary to himself, seeing that he saith elsewhere that he rejoiceth upon what occasion soever he see the gospel preached, (Philippians 1:18,) even by wicked men, and such as did study of set purpose to bring him in contempt. I answer, that he had another more apt reason for himself in this place; 197197     “Hic diversam rationem,” that here there was a different reason. because all men would have thought that the spirit of the maid had played with Paul; 198198     “Colludere puellae daemonum cum Paulo,” that the demon of the damsel was in collision with Paul. so that by that means the doctrine of the gospel should not only have come in [into] suspicion, but should also have come into great contempt. 199199     “Sed recidisset in merum ludibrium,” but became a mere laughing-stock. And to this end was it that Christ also did command the devil to hold his peace, (Mark 1:25,) whereas notwithstanding he suffered his name to be extolled by unmeet and unworthy men, (Luke 4:35.)

I command thee. We must note the form of speech; for as the miracle was about to have a double use, namely, that the power of Christ might be known; secondly, that he might declare that he had no fellowship with Satan’s jugglings; so Paul, in giving the authority and power to Christ alone, doth declare that he is only a minister; that done, he doth openly set Christ against the devil, 200200     “Opponit Christum daemoni,” he opposes Christ to the demon. to the end that, by the conflict, all men may see that they be deadly enemies. For it was profitable that many should be awaked who had been given to such gross seducing, that being well purged, they might come to the true faith.

19. But when her masters. The same devil who of late did flatter Paul by the mouth of the maid, doth now drive her masters into fury, that they may put him to death; so that, having changed his coat, he doth now play a tragedy, who could not speed well before by his fair speech and flattery. And though the heat of zeal wherewith Paul was provoked to anger did raise the whirlwind of persecution, yet is he not therefore to be blamed; neither did it any whit repent Paul that he had wrought the miracle, so that he did wish that were undone which was done, because he knew full well through what motion he had driven the devil out of the maid. Whereby we are taught that we must not rashly condemn things which are well done, and that which is taken in hand at the commandment of God, though an unhappy success follow; because God doth then examine [test] the constancy of those which be his, until a more joyful and prosperous end drive away all sorrow. As touching the men, Luke expresseth the cause why they were so mad upon Paul; to wit, because their hope of filthy gain was gone. But though they were pricked forward with covetousness only to persecute the Gospel and the ministers thereof; yet they pretend a fair color, that it grieveth them that the public state should be perverted, that their ancient laws should be broken, and peace troubled. So, though the enemies of Christ behave themselves wickedly and unhonestly, yet they always invent some cause for their sin. Yea, though their wicked desire appear plainly, yet, with an impudent withal. So at this day those Papists which are more zealous over their law, 201201     “Acerrimi zelotae legis suae,” the fiercest zealots for their law. have nothing else in their minds besides their gain and government. Let them swear and forswear by all their saints and sacrifices, that they are enforced only with a godly affection; yet the matter itself doth plainly show, that it is the coldness of their kitchens which maketh their zeal so hot, and that ambition is the fan 202202     “Flabellum,” bellows. thereof. For they be either hungry dogs pricked forward with greediness, or furious lions breathing out nothing but cruelty.

20. These men trouble our city. This accusation was craftily composed to burden the servants of Christ. For on the one side they pretend the name of the Romans, than which nothing was more favorable; on the other, they purchase hatred, and bring them in contempt, by naming the Jews, which name was at that time infamous; for, as touching religion, the Romans were more like to any than to the Jewish nation. For it was lawful for a man which was a Roman to do sacrifice either in Asia or in Grecia, or in any other country where were idols and superstitions. I warrant you Satan did agree with himself very well, though he put on divers shapes, but that which was religion only, than which there was no other in the world, was counted among the Romans detestable. They frame a third accusation out of the crime of sedition; 203203     “Tertiam calumniam ex crimine seditionis concinnant,” they concoct a third calamny out of the charge of sedition. for they pretend that the public peace is troubled by Paul and his company. In like sort was Christ brought in contempt, 204204     “Odiose traductus fuit,” was hatefully traduced. (Luke 23:5) and even at this day the Papists have no more plausible thing wherewith they may bring us to be hated, than when they cry that our doctrine tendeth to no other end but to confusion of all things. But we must valiantly contemn this filthy and false infamy as did Christ and Paul, until the Lord bring to light the malice of our enemies, and refute their impudence.

21. Ordinances which. They lean to a prejudice, lest the cause should come to be disputed; as the Papists deal with us at this day, this was decreed in a General Council; it is a more ancient and common opinion, than that is may be called in question; custom hath long time approved this; this hath been established by consent more than a thousand years ago. But to what end tend all these things, save only that they may rob the Word of God of all authority? They make boast of man’s decrees, but in the mean season they leave no place at all for the laws of God. We may see only this place what force these prejudices ought to have. The laws of the Romans were excellent, but religion doth depend upon the Word of God alone. Therefore in this matter we must take great heed, that men being brough under, the authority of God alone do prevail, and that he make all things which in the world are excellent subject to him.

22. The multitude came together. When Luke declareth that there was great encourses of the people made, after that a few men of no reputation, to wit, such as did juggle and cozen to get gain, and whose filthiness was well known, had made some stir; he reacheth with what fury the world rageth against Christ. Foolishness and inconstancy are indeed common vices among all people, and almost continual, but the wonderful force of Satan doth therein betray itself, in that those who are in other matters modest and quiet, are for a matter of no importance in a heat, 205205     “Repente effervent,” suddenly effervesce, break out. and became companions of most vile persons, when the truth must be resisted. There was never a whit more modesty to be found in the judges themselves, if we consider what was their duty. For they ought, by their gravity, to have appeased the fury of the people, and to have set themselves stoutly against their violence, they ought to have aided and defended the guiltless; but they lay hands on them outrageously, and renting their garments, they command them to be stripped naked and whipt before they know the matter. Surely the malice of men is to be lamented; 206206     “Deploranda,” desperate, deplorable. whereby it came to pass, that almost all the judgment-seats of the world, which ought to have been sanctuaries of justice, have been polluted with the wicked and sacrilegious oppugning of the gospel.

Notwithstanding, the question is, why they were cast in prison, seeing that they were already punished, for the prison was ordained for the keeping of men? They used this kind of correction, until they might know more; and so we see the servants of Christ more sharply handled than adulterers, robbers, and other most vile persons. 207207     “Et alios quosvis sceleratos,” and villains of any description. Whereby appeareth more plainly that force of Satan in stirring up the minds of men, that they observe no show of judgment in persecuting the gospel. But though the godly be more hardly handled for defending the truth of Christ, than are the wicked for their wickedness; yet it goeth well with the godly, because they triumph gloriously before God and his angels in all injuries which they suffer. They suffer reproach and slander; but because they know that the marks of Christ are in greater price and more esteemed in heaven than the vain pomps of the earth, the more wickedly and reproachfully the world doth vex them, the greater cause have they to rejoice. For if profane writers did so honor Themistocles, that they preferred his prison before the seat and court of judges; how much more honorably must we think of the Son of God, whose cause is in hand so often as the faithful suffer persecution for the gospel? Therefore, though the Lord suffered Paul and Silas to be scourged and imprisoned by the wicked judges, yet he did not suffer them to be put to any shame, but that which turned to their greater renown. For seeing that those persecutions, which we must suffer for the testimony of the gospel, are remnants of the sufferings of Christ; like as our Prince turned the cross, which was accursed, into a triumphant [triumphal] chariot, so he shall, in like sort, adorn the prisons and gibbets of his, that they may there triumph over Satan and all the wicked.

Renting their garments. Because the old interpreter had truly translated this, it was evil done of Erasmus to change it, that the magistrates did rent their own garments. For this was Luke’s meaning only, that the holy men were outrageously 208208     “Tumultuose,” tumultuously. beaten, the lawful order of judgment being neglected, and that they laid hands on them with such violence that their garments were rent. And this had been too far disagreeing with the custom of Romans, for the judges to cut [rend] their own garments publicly in the market-place; especially seeing the question was concerning an unknown religion, for which they did not greatly care; but I will not long stand about a plain matter.


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