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Acts 17:1-4

1. And when they had journeyed through Amphipolis and Appollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews. 2. And as his manner was, Paul entered in unto them, and three Sabbaths disputed with 240240     “Disserebat,” discoursed to. them out of the Scriptures. 3. Opening and alleging that Christ must have suffered and rise again from the dead; and that this is Christ, whom, saith he, I preach to you. 4. And certain of them believed, and were joined to Paul and Silas, and of religious Grecians a great multitude, and of chief women not a few.


1. They came to Thessalonica. We know not why Paul attempted nothing at Amphipolis and Appollonia, which were, notwithstanding, famous cities, as appeareth by Pliny; save only because he followed the Spirit of God as his guide; and took occasion by the present matter, as occasion he did also essay to do some good there, but because it was without any good success, therefore Luke passeth over it. And whereas being beaten at Philippos, [Philippi,] and scarce escaping out of great danger, he preached Christ at Thessalonica, it appeareth thereby how courageous he was to keep the course of his calling, and how bold he was ever now and then to enter into new dangers.

This so invincible fortitude of mind, and such patient enduring of the cross, do sufficiently declare, that Paul labored not after the manner of men, but that he was furnished with the heavenly power of the Spirit. And this was all so wonderful patience in him, in that, entering in unto the Jews, whose unbridled frowardness he had so often tried, [experienced,] he proceedeth to procure their salvation. But because he knew that Christ was given to the Jews for salvation, and that he himself was made an apostle upon this condition, that he should preach repentance and faith, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, committing the success of his labor to the Lord, he obeyeth his commandment, (though he had no great hope to do good.) He seemed before to have taken his last farewell of the Jews, when he said, It was behoveful that the kingdom of God should be first preached to you; but because ye receive it not, behold we turn to the Gentiles; but that harder sentence must be restrained to that company who had wickedly rejected the gospel when it was offered unto them, and made themselves unworthy [of] the grace of God. And toward the nation itself Paul ceaseth not to do his embassage; by which example we are taught, that we ought to make so great account of the calling of God, that no unthankfulness of men may be able to hinder us, but that we proceed to be careful for their salvation, so long as the Lord appointeth us to be their ministers. And it is to be thought that even now there were some who on the first Sabbath refused sound doctrine, but their frowardness 241241     “Pravitas,” depravity, perverseness. did not hinder him, but that he came again upon other Sabbaths.

2. He disputed. Luke setteth down first what was the sum of the disputation; to wit, that Jesus, the son of Mary, is Christ, who was promised in times past in the law and the prophets, who, by the sacrifice of his death, did make satisfaction for the sins of the world, and brought righteousness and life by his resurrection; secondly, how he proved that which he taught. Let us handle this second member first. Luke saith that he disputed out of the Scriptures; therefore the proofs of faith must be fet from [sought at] the mouth of God alone. If we dispute about matters which concern men, then let human reasons take place; but in the doctrine of faith, the authority of God alone must reign, and upon it must we depend.

All men confess that this is true, that we must stay ourselves upon God alone; yet there be but a few which hear him speak in the Scriptures. But and if that maxim take place among us, 242242     “Valet inter nos,” is held good among us. that the Scripture cometh of God, the rule either of teaching or of learning ought to be taken nowhere else. Whereby it doth also appear with what devilish fury the Papists are driven, when they deny that there can any certainty be gathered out of the Scriptures; and, therefore, they hold that we must stand to the decrees of men. For I demand of them whether Paul did observe a right order in disputing or no? at least, let them blush for shame, that the Word of the Lord was more reverenced in an unbelieving nation than it is at this day among them. The Jews admit Paul, and suffer him when he disputeth out of the Scriptures; the Pope and all his count it a mere mock when the Scripture is cited; as if God did speak doubtfully there, and did with vain boughts 243243     “Ambagibus,” ambiguities. mock men. Hereunto is added, that there is at this day much more light in the Scriptures, and the truth of God shineth there more clearly than in the law and the prophets. For in the gospel, Christ, who is the Son of righteousness, doth shed out his beam with perfect brightness upon us; for which cause the blasphemy of the Papists is the more intolerable, whilst that they will make the Word of God as yet uncertain. But let us know, as faith can be grounded nowhere else than in the Word of the Lord, so we must only stand to the testimony thereof in all controversies.

3. Opening. In this place he describeth the sum and subject of the disputation, and he putteth down two members concerning Christ, that he must have died and risen again, and that the son of Mary which was crucified is Christ. When the question is concerning Christ, there come three things in question, Whether he be, who he is, and what he is. If Paul had had to deal with the Gentiles, he must have fet his beginning farther; 244244     “Necesse fuisset altius sumere exordium,” it would have been necessary to go farther back with his exordium. because they had heard nothing concerning Christ; neither do profane men conceive that they need a Mediator. But this point was out of doubt among the Jews, to whom the Mediator was promised; wherefore Paul omitteth that as superfluous, which was received by common consent of all men. But because there was nothing more hard than to bring the Jews to confess that Jesus who was crucified was the Redeemer, therefore Paul beginneth with this, that it was meet that Christ should die, that he may remove the stumbling-block of the cross. And yet we must not think that he recited the bare history, but he taketh on undoubtedly principle, that the causes were showed why Christ must have suffered and rise again; to wit, because he preached of the ruin of mankind, of sin and of the punishment thereof, of the judgment of God, and of the eternal curse wherein we are all enwrapped. For even the Scripture calleth us hither, when it foretelleth the death of Christ. As Isaias saith not simply that Christ should die, but plainly expressing, because [that] we have all erred, and every one hath gone his own way, he assigneth the cause of his death, that God hath laid upon him all our iniquities; that the chastisement of our peace is upon him, that by his stripes we may be healed; that by making satisfaction for us, he hath purchased righteousness for us, (Isaiah 53:4-8.) So doth Daniel show the force and fruit of his death in his 9th chapter, (Daniel 9:24,) when he saith that sin must be sealed up, that eternal righteousness may succeed.

And, surely, there is no more apt or effectual way to prove the office of Christ, than when men, being humbled with the feeling of their miseries, see that there is no hope left, unless they be reconciled by the sacrifice of Christ. Then laying away their pride, they humbly embrace his cross, whereof they were before both weary and ashamed. Therefore, we must come unto the same fountains at this day, from which Paul fetteth [fetcheth] the proof of the death and resurrection of Christ. And that definition brought great light to the second chapter. It had not been so easy a matter for Paul to prove, and certainly to gather, that the Son of Mary is Christ, unless the Jews had been taught before what manner of Redeemer they were to hope for. And when that doth once appear, it doth only remain that those things be applied to Christ which the Scripture doth attribute to the Mediator. But this is the sum of our faith, that we know that the Son of Mary is that Christ and Mediator which God promised from the beginning; that done, that we know and understood why he died and rose again; that we do not feign to ourselves any earthly king, but that we seek in him righteousness, and all parts of our salvation; both which things Paul is said to have proved out of the Scriptures. We must know that the Jews were not so blockish, nor so impudent, as they be at this day. Paul might have drawn arguments from the sacrifices and from all the worship of the law, whereat the Jews gnarl at this day like dogs. It is well known how unseemly they rent and corrupt other places of Scripture. At that day they had some courtesy 245245     “Ingenuitas,” ingenuousness. in them; also they did somewhat reverence the Scripture, so that they were not altogether such as would not be taught; at this day the veil is laid over their hearts, (2 Corinthians 3:15,) so that they can see no more in the clear light than moles.

4. Certain of them believed. We see here the fruit of Paul’s disputation. He proved flatly [plainly] that Jesus was for us, and whose resurrection is the life of the world. Yet only certain of the Jews believe; the rest are blind at noonday, and with deaf ears refuse the certain and plain truth. This is also worth the noting, that whereas only a few Jews believed, a great multitude of the Grecians, who were far farther off, came unto the faith. To what end can you say they were nousled [trained] up in the doctrine of the law from their childhood, save only that they might be more estranged from God? Therefore, the Lord doth now begin to show some tokens of that blindness in them which the prophets do oftentimes denounced unto them. Notwithstanding, he declareth by this that his covenant was not in vain, because he did at least gather some of that people unto himself, that the sparkles of the election may shine in the remnant which was saved freely. Luke doth moreover teach, that they did not believe the sayings of Paul, only so far forth that they subscribed unto them with a cold consent, but that they did testify their earnest affection, because they had joined themselves to Paul and Silas as companions, and provoked against themselves the hatred of their nation by the free profession of the gospel. 246246     “Ingenua,” frank, ingenuous. For what meaneth this adjoining, save only because they professed that they allowed [approved] that doctrine which he delivered, and that they took his part? For there is nothing more contrary to faith, than if, when we know [recognize] the truth of God, we stand notwithstanding in doubt, and are loath to join ourselves to any side. If any man had rather expound it, that they did join themselves to Paul and Silas, because they were desirous to learn, that they might be better instructed at home; thereby doth also appear the lively heat of faith; and that doth always continue unmovable, that no man doth truly believe in Christ, save only he which doth give over himself to him, and doth freely and willingly fight over his banner.

Of religious Grecians a multitude. Because they had learned [imbibed] the first principles of godliness, they were nearer to the kingdom of God than others who had always [lain] laid in the filth of superstition. Notwithstanding, the question is, how the Grecians came by religion, who, being bewitched with wicked errors and dotings, were without God? as Paul teacheth, (Ephesians 2:12.) But we must know, that whither soever the Jews were exiled, there went with them some seed of godliness, 247247     “Dispersum fuisse aliquod prelatis semen,” some seed of piety was spread. and there was some smell [savor] of pure doctrine spread abroad. For their miserable scattering abroad was so turned unto a contrary end by the wonderful counsel of God, that it did gather those unto the true faith who did wander in error. And though religion were also corrupt among them with many wicked inventions, yet because most of the Gentiles were weary of their madness, they were by this short sum 248248     “Hoc compendio,” by this compendious argument, viz. enticed unto Judaism, that nothing is more safe than the worship of one and the true God. Therefore, by religious Grecians understood those who had some taste of the true and lawful worship of God, so that they were not any longer given to gross idolatry. Though, as I have said, it is to be thought that it was only a light and obscure taste, which was far from true instruction. Wherefore, Luke doth improperly give them such an honorable title. But as the Spirit of God doth sometimes vouchsafe [to give] some rude beginning and first exercise of faith, or the only [mere] preparation, the name of faith, so they are called in this place religious, who, having taken their leave of idols, had begun to acknowledge one God.

And though that confused or obscure persuasion doth not deserve of itself to be counted religion, yet because it is a step whereby we come nearer unto God, it taketh the name of the consequent, as they call it, or of that which followeth. Yea, the blind and superstitious fear of God is sometimes called religion; not because it is so indeed, but improperly, to note the difference between a mean worship of God, 249249     “Qualemcunque Dei cultum,” any kind of divine worship. and gross and Epicurish contempt. Nevertheless, let us know that the truth and the sound doctrine of the word of God is the rule of godliness, so that there can be no religion without the true light of understanding.

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