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Acts 17:26-29

26. And hath made of one blood all mankind to dwell upon all the face of the earth, and hath appointed the times before determined, and the bounds of their habitation. 27. That they might seek God, if peradventure they may grope [after] him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us. 28. For in him we live, move, and have our being; as certain of your poets said, For we be also his generation. 29. Therefore, seeing we be the generation of God, we must not think that the Godhead is like to gold, or silver, or to stone, graven by the cunning cogitation of man.

 

26. And he hath made of one blood. Paul doth now show unto the men of Athens to what end mankind was created, that he may by this means invite and exhort them to consider the end of their life. This is surely filthy unthankfulness of men, seeing they all enjoy the common life, not to consider to what end God hath given them life; and yet this beastly blockishness doth possess the more part, so that do not consider to what end they be placed in the world, neither do they remember the Creator of heaven and earth, whose good things they do devour. Therefore, after that Paul hath intreated of the nature of God, he putteth in this admonition in due season, that men must be very careful to know God, because they be created for the same end, and born for that purpose; for he doth briefly assign unto them this cause of life, to seek God. Again, forasmuch as there was not one kind of religion only in the world, but the Gentiles were distract into divers sects, he telleth them that this variety came from corruption. For to this end, in my judgment, tendeth that when he saith, that all were created of one blood. For consanguinity and the same original ought to have been a bond of mutual consent among them; but it is religion which doth most of all join men together, or cause them to fly one another’s company. Whereupon it followeth, that they be revolted from nature who disagree so much in religion and the worship of God; because, wheresoever they be born, and whatsoever place [clime] of the world they inhabit, they have all one Maker and Father, who must be sought of all men with one consent. And surely neither distance of places, nor bounds of countries, nor diversity of manners, neither any cause of separation among men, doth make God unlike to himself. In sum, he meant to teach that the order of nature was broken, when as religion was pulled in pieces among them, and that that diversity, which is among them, is a testimony that godliness is quite overthrown, because they are fallen away from God the Father of all, upon whom all kindred dependeth.

To dwell upon the face of the earth. Luke doth briefly gather, as he useth to do, the sum of Paul’s sermon; and it is not to be doubted, but that Paul did first show that men are set here as upon a theater, to behold the works of God; and, secondly, that he spake of the providence of God, which doth show forth itself in the whole government of the world. For when he saith, that God appointeth the times ordained before, and the bounds of men’s habitations, his meaning is, that this world is governed by his hand and counsel, and that men’s affairs fall not out by chance, as profane men dream. And so we gather out of a few words of Luke, that Paul did handle most weighty matters. For when he saith that the times were ordained before by him, he doth testify that he had determined, before men were created, what their condition and estate should be. When we see divers changes in the world; when we see realms come to ruin, lands altered, cities destroyed, nations laid waste, we foolishly imagine that either fate or fortune beareth the swing in these matters; but God doth testify in this place by the mouth of Paul, that it was appointed before in his counsel how long he would have the state of every people to continue, and within what bounds he would have them contained. But and if he have appointed them a certain time and appointed the bounds of countries, undoubtedly he hath also set in order the whole course of their life.

And we must note, that Paul doth attribute to God not only a bare foreknowledge and cold speculation, as some men do indiscreetly, but he placeth the cause of those things which fall out, in his counsel and beck. For he saith not that the times were only foreseen, but that they were appointed and set in such order as pleased him best. And when he addeth also that God had appointed from the beginning those things which he had ordained before his meaning is, that he executeth by the power of his Spirit those things which he hath decreed in his counsel according to that:

“Our God is in heaven; he hath done whatsoever he would,”
(Psalm 115:3.)

Now, we see, as in a camp, every troop and band hath his appointed place, so men are placed upon earth, that every people may be content with their bounds, and that among these people every particular person may have his mansion. But though ambition have, oftentimes raged, and many, being incensed with wicked lust, have past their bounds, yet the lust of men hath never brought to pass, but that God hath governed all events from out of his holy sanctuary. For though men, by raging upon earth, do seem to assault heaven, that they may overthrow God’s providence, yet they are enforced, whether they will or no, rather to establish the same. Therefore, let us know that the world is so turned over through divers tumults, that God doth at length bring all things unto the end which he hath appointed.

27. That they might seek God. This sentence hath two members; to wit, that it is man’s duty to seek God; secondly, that God himself cometh forth to meet us, and doth show himself by such manifest tokens, that we can have no excuse for our ignorance. Therefore, let us remember that those men do wickedly abuse this life, and that they be unworthy to dwell upon earth, which do not apply their studies to seek him; as if every kind of brute beasts should fall from that inclination which they have naturally, which should for good causes be called monstrous. And, surely, nothing is more absurd, than that men should be ignorant of their Author, who are endued with understanding principally for this use. And we must especially note the goodness of God, in that he doth so familiarly insinuate himself, that even the blind may grope after him. For which cause the blindness of men is more shameful and intolerable, who, in so manifest and evident a manifestation, are touched with no feeling of God’s presence. Whithersoever they cast their eyes upward or downward, they must needs light upon lively and also infinite images of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness. For God hath not darkly shadowed his glory in the creation of the world, but he hath everywhere engraven such manifest marks, that even blind men may know them by groping. Whence we gather that men are not only blind but blockish, when, being helped by such excellent testimonies, they profit nothing.

Yet here ariseth a question, whether men can naturally come unto the true and merciful 298298     “Liquidam,” clear. knowledge of God. For Paul doth give us to understand, that their own sluggishness is the cause that they cannot perceive that God is present; because, though they shut their eyes, yet may they grope after him. I answer, that their ignorance and blockishness is mixed with such frowardness, that being void of right judgment, they pass over without understanding all such signs of God’s glory as appear manifestly both in heaven and earth. Yea, seeing that the true knowledge of God is a singular gift of his, and faith (by which alone he is rightly known) cometh only from the illumination of the Spirit, it followeth that our minds cannot pierce so far, having nature only for our guide. Neither doth Paul intreat in this place of the ability of men, but he doth only show that they be without excuse, when as they be so blind in such clear light, as he saith in the first chapter to the Romans, (Romans 1:20.) Therefore, though men’s senses fail them in seeking out God, yet have they no cloak for their fault, because, though he offer himself to be handled and groped, they continue, notwithstanding, in a quandary; 299299     “Attoniti,” in stupid amazement. concerning which thing we have spoken more in the fourteenth chapter, (Acts 14:17.)

Though he be not far from every one of us. To the end he may the more touch the frowardness of men, he saith that God is not to be sought through many crooks, neither need we make any long journey to find him; because every man shall find him in himself, if so be that he will take any heed. By which experience we are convicted that our dullness is not without fault, which we had from the fault of Adam. For though no corner of the world be void of the testimony of God’s glory, yet we need not go without ourselves to lay hold upon him. For he doth affect and move every one of us inwardly with his power in such sort, that our blockishness is like to a monster, in that in feeling him we feel him not. In this respect certain of the philosophers called man the little world, [a microcosm;] because he is above all other creatures a token of God’s glory, replenished with infinite miracles.

28. For in him. I grant that the apostles, according to the Hebrew phrase, do oftentimes take this preposition in for per, or by or through; but because this speech, that we live in God, hath greater force, and doth express more, I thought I would not change it; for I do not doubt but that Paul’s meaning is, that we be after a sort contained in God, because he dwelleth in us by his power. And, therefore, God himself doth separate himself from all creatures by this word Jehovah, that we may know that in speaking properly he is alone, and that we have our being in him, inasmuch as by his Spirit he keepeth us in life, and upholdeth us. For the power of the Spirit is spread abroad throughout all parts of the world, that it may preserve them in their state; that he may minister unto the heaven and earth that force and vigor which we see, and motion to all living creatures. Not as brain-sick men do trifle, that all things are full of gods, yea, that stones are gods; but because God doth, by the wonderful power and inspiration of his Spirit, preserve those things which he hath created of nothing. But mention is made in this place properly of men, because Paul said, that they needed not to seek God far, whom they have within them.

Furthermore, forasmuch as the life of man is more excellent than motion, and motion doth excel essence, [mere existence,] Paul putteth that in the highest place which was the chiefest, that he might go down by steps unto essence or being, thus, We have not only no life but in God, but not so much as moving; yea, no being, which is inferior to both. I say that life hath the pre-eminence in men, because they have not only sense and motion as brute beasts have, but they be endued with reason and understanding. Wherefore, the Scripture doth for good causes give that singular gift which God hath given us, a title and commendation by itself. So in John, when mention is made of the creation of all things, it is added apart, not without cause, that life was the light of men, (John 1:4.)

Now, we see that all those who know not God know not; because they have God present with them not only in the excellent gifts of the mind, but in their very essence; because it belongeth to God alone to be, all other things have their being in him. Also, we learn out of this place that God did not so create the world once that he did afterward depart from his work; but that it standeth by his power, and that the same God is the governor thereof who was the Creator. We must well think upon this continual comforting and strengthening, that we may remember God every minute.

Certain of your poets. He citeth half a verse out of Aratus, not so much for authority’s sake, as that he may make the men of Athens ashamed; for such sayings of the poets came from no other fountain save only from nature and common reason. Neither is it any marvel if Paul, who spake unto men who were infidels and ignorant of true godliness, do use the testimony of a poet, wherein was extant a confession of that knowledge which is naturally engraven in men’s minds. The Papists take another course. For they so lean to the testimonies of men, that they set them against the oracles of God; and they do not only make Jerome, or Ambrose and the residue of the holy fathers, masters of faith, but they will no less tie us to the stinking [vile] answers of their Popes than if God himself should speak. Yea, that which more s, they have not been afraid to give so great authority to Aristotle that the apostles and prophets were silent in their schools rather than he.

Now, that I may return unto this sentence which I have in hand, it is not to be doubted but that Aratus spake of Jupiter; neither doth Paul, in applying that unto the true God, which he spake unskillfully of his Jupiter, wrest it unto a contrary sense. For because men have naturally some perseverance of God, 300300     “Aliquo Dei sensu imbuti sunt,” are imbued with some knowledge of God they draw true principles from that fountain. And though so soon as they begin to think upon God, they vanish away in wicked inventions, and so pure seed doth degenerate into corruptions; yet the first general knowledge of God doth nevertheless remain still in them. After this sort, no man of a sound mind can doubt to apply that unto the true God which we read in Virgil touching the reigned and false joy, that All things are full of joy. Yea, when Virgil meant to express the power of God, through error he put in a wrong name.

As touching the meaning of the words, it may be that Aratus did imagine that there was some parcel of the divinity in men’s minds, as the Manichees did say, that the souls of men are of the nature of God. 301301     “Ex traduce Dei,” are transferred from God. So when Virgil saith concerning the world, The Spirit doth nourish within, and the mind being dispersed through all the joints, doth move your whole huge weight, he doth rather play the philosopher, and subtilely dispute after the manner of Plato, than purely mean that the world is supported by the secret inspiration of God. But this invention ought not to have hindered Paul from retaining a true maxim, though it were corrupt with men’s fables, that men are the generation of God, because by the excellency of nature they resemble some divine thing. This is that which the Scripture teacheth, that we are created after the image and similitude of God, (Genesis 1:27.) The same Scripture teacheth also, in many places, that we be made the sons of God by faith and free adoption when we are engrafted into the body of Christ, and being regenerate by the Spirit, we begin to be new creatures, (Galatians 3:26.) But as it giveth the same Spirit divers names because of his manifold graces, so no marvel if the word sons be diversely taken. All mortal men are called sons in general, because they draw near to God in mind and understanding; but because the image of God is almost blotted out in them, so that there appear scarce any slender lines, [lineaments,] this name is by good right restrained unto the faithful, who having the Spirit of adoption given them, resemble their heavenly Father in the light of reason, in righteousness and holiness.

29. Therefore seeing that. He gathereth that God cannot be figured or resembled by any graven image forasmuch as he would have his image extant in us. For the soul wherein the image of God is properly engraven cannot be painted; therefore it is a thing more absurd to go about to paint God. Now, we see what great injury they do to God which give him a bodily shape; when as man’s soul, which doth scarce resemble a small sparkle of the infinite glory of God, cannot be expressed in any bodily shape.

Furthermore, forasmuch as it is certain that Paul doth in this place inveigh against the common superstition of all the Gentiles, because they would worship God under bodily shapes, we must hold this general doctrine that God is falsely and wickedly transfigured, and that his truth is turned into a lie so often as his Majesty is represented by any visible shape; as the same Paul teacheth in the first chapter to the Romans, (Romans 1:23.) And though the idolaters of all times wanted not their cloaks and colors, yet that was not without cause always objected to them by the prophets which Paul doth now object that God is made like to wood, or stone or gold, when there is any image made to him of dead and corruptible matter. The Gentiles used images that, according to their rudeness, they might better conceive that God was nigh unto them. But seeing that God doth far surpass the capacity of our mind, whosoever attempteth with his mind to comprehend him, he deformeth and disfigureth his glory with a wicked and false imagination. Wherefore, it is wickedness to imagine anything of him according to our own sense. Again, that which worse is, it appeareth plainly that men erect pictures and images to God for no other cause, save only because they conceive some carnal thing of him, wherein he is blasphemed.

The Papists also are at this day no whit more excusable. For what colors soever they invent to paint and color those images, whereby they go about to express God, yet because they be enwrapped in the same error, wherein the men of old time were entangled, they be urged with the of the prophets. And that the heathen did use the same excuses in times past, wherewith the Papists go about to cover themselves at this day, it is well known out of their own books. Therefore, the prophets do not escape the mocks of certain, as if they laid too great grossness to their charge, yea, burthen them with false accusations; but when all things are well weighed, those who will judge rightly shall find, that whatsoever starting holes [evasions] even the most witty men have sought, yet were they taken with this madness, that God is well pleased with the sacrifice done before images. Whereas we, with Erasmus, translate it numen, Luke putteth [θειον] in the neuter gender for divinity or godhead. When Paul denieth that God is like to gold, or silver, or stone, and addeth afterward, graven by cunning or invention of man, he excludeth both matter and form, and doth also condemn all inventions of men, which disfigure the true nature of God.


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