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Acts 17:30-34

30. And though God have winked at the times of this ignorance hitherto, he willeth all men everywhere to repent now: 31. Because he hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath appointed; having fulfilled his promise to all men, when he raised him up. from the dead. 32. And when they had heard the resurrection, of the dead, some mocked; and other some said, We will hear thee of this again. 33. So Paul went out from among them; 34. yet certain joining themselves to him believed: among whom was both Dionysius, Areopagita, and a woman named Dam ark, and others with them.

 

30. And the times of this ignorance Because that is commonly thought to be good which hath been used of long time, and is approved by the common consent of all men; it might have been objected to Paul, why dost thou disannul those things which have been received, and used continually since the beginning of the world? and whom canst thou persuade that the whole world hath been deceived so long? as is no kind of abomination so filthy, which the Papists do not think to be well fortified with this buckler. Paul preventeth 302302     “Anticipat,” anticipates. this question; showing that men went astray so long therefore, because God did not reach out his hand from heaven, that he might bring them back again into the way. It may seem an inconvenient [a strange] thing, that men endued with reason and judgment should err so grossly and filthily in a most weighty matter. But Paul’s meaning is, that men do never make an end of erring, until God do help them. And now he assigneth no other cause why he did not redress this any sooner, save only his good pleasure.

And assuredly we be not able to comprehend the reason why God did at a sudden set up the light of his doctrine, when he suffered men to walk in darkness four thousand years; at least seeing the Scripture doth conceal it, let us here make more account of sobriety than of preposterous wisdom. For they go about to bring God within bounds, which is a most unseemly thing, and contrary to nature herself, whosoever they be that will not suffer him to speak or hold his peace at his pleasure. Again, those that will not be content with his wisdom and secret counsel, must needs murmur against Paul, who teacheth manifestly that ignorance did reign in the world, so long as it pleased God to wink at it. Other some interpret it otherwise, that God did spare ignorance, as if he did wink, being unwilling to punish it; but that surmise is altogether contrary to Paul’s meaning and purpose, who meant not to lessen man’s fault, but to magnify the grace of God which did appear at a sudden, and it is proved to be false out of other places, because those who have sinned without law shall notwithstanding perish without law, (Romans 2:12.)

In some, Paul’s words carry with them this meaning only, that men were set upon blindness, until God did reveal himself unto them; and that we ought not too curiously and boldly to demand and require the cause why he put away darkness no sooner; but that whatsoever pleased him ought seem to us right and equal without making any more ado. For though this be a hard speech that men were miserably deceived long time, whilst that God made as though he saw it not, yet must we be content with, and stay ourselves upon his providence. And if at any time there come upon us a vain and perverse desire to know more than is meet for us, let us straightway call to mind that which Paul teacheth in many places, that it was a mystery hid since the beginning of the world, in that the light of the gospel did appear to the Gentiles at a sudden, (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:9;) and that this is a token of the manifold wisdom of God, which swalloweth up all the senses of men. Again, let us remember that it doth not lessen the fault of men, because God would not heal their errors; forasmuch as their own conscience shall always hold them convict, that they cannot escape just damnation. And Paul (not that he might lay the fault and blame upon God, but that he might cut off occasion of curious and hurtful questions) said, that the world did err whilst God did wink. And hereby we learn how reverently we ought to think of God’s providence, lest any man should be so bold, as man’s nature is proud, to demand a reason of God of his works.

Furthermore, this admonition is no less profitable for us than for the men of that time. The enemies of the gospel, when it beginneth to spring again, count it a great absurdity that God did suffer men to go astray so long under the apostasy of the Pope, as if (though there appear no reason) it were not as lawful for him now to wink at men’s ignorance as in times past. And we must principally note to what end he saith this; to wit, that the ignorance of former times may not hinder us from obeying God without delay when he speaketh. Most men think that they have a fair color for their error, so they have their fathers to keep them company, or so they get some patronage or defense by long custom; yea, they would willingly creep out here, 303303     “Imo libenter et cupide hoc captant effugium,” nay, they willingly and eagerly catch at this subterfuge. that they may not obey the word of God. But Paul saith, that we not fet [seek] an excuse from our fathers’ ignorance when God speaketh unto us; because, though they be not guiltless before God, yet our sluggishness is more intolerable if we be blind at noonday, and lie as deaf, or as if we were asleep, when the trumpet of the gospel doth sound. 304304     “Clangente evangelii tuba,” during the clang of the gospel trumpet.

Now he willeth all men. In these words Paul teacheth that we must give ear to God so soon as he speaketh, as it is written, “Today, if ye will hear his voice harden not your hearts,” (Psalm 95:7,8; Hebrews 3:7,8.) For the stubbornness of those men is without excuse, who foreslow [neglect] this opportunity when God doth gently call them unto him. Also, we gather out of this place to what end the gospel is preached, to wit, that God may gather us to himself from the former errors of our life. Therefore, so oft as the voice of the gospel doth sound in our ears, let us know that God doth exhort us unto repentance. We must also note that he attributeth to God the person of the speaker, though he do it by man. For otherwise the gospel hath not so full authority as the heavenly truth deserveth, save only when our faith doth look unto him who is the governor of the prophetical function, and doth depend upon his mouth.

31. Because he hath appointed a day. He maketh mention of the last judgment, that he may awake them out of their dream. For we know how hard a matter it is for men to deny themselves. Therefore, they must be violently enforced unto repentance, which cannot be done better than when they be cited to appear before God’s judgment-seat, and that fearful judgment is set before them, which they may neither despise nor escape. Therefore, let us remember that the doctrine of repentance doth then take place, when men, who would naturally desire to flatter themselves, are awaked with fear of God’s judgment and that none are fit teachers of the gospel but those who are the criers or apparitors of the highest Judge, who bring those who are to come the Judge to plead their cause, and denounce the judgment hanging over their heads, even as if it were in their own hand. Neither is this added in vain, in righteousness, or righteously. For though all men in the world confess that God is a just Judge, yet we see how they, for the most part, pamper and flatter themselves; for they will not suffer God to demand an account farther than their knowledge and understanding doth reach. Therefore, Paul’s meaning is, that men do profit themselves nothing by vain flattery; because they shall not prejudice God’s justice by this means, which showeth that all that is an abomination before God which seemeth goodly in the sight of men, because he will not follow the decrees of men, but that form which himself hath appointed.

By the man whom he hath appointed. It is not to be doubted but that Paul spake more largely concerning Christ, that the Athenians might know that he is the Son of God, by whom salvation was brought to the world, and who had all power given him in heaven and earth; otherwise this speech, which we read here, should have had but small force to persuade. But Luke thought it sufficient to gather the sum of the sermon briefly. Yet is it to be thought that Paul spake first concerning the grace of Christ and that he did first preach him to be the Redeemer of men, before he made him a Judge. But because Christ is oftentimes contemned, when he offereth himself to be a Redeemer, Paul denounceth that he will once sharply punish such wicked contempt, because the whole world must be judged by him. The word [ὁριζειν] may be referred, as well unto the secret counsel of God, as unto external manifestation. Yet because the former exposition is more common, I do willingly embrace the same; to wit, that God, by his eternal decree, hath ordained his Son to be the Judge of the world; and that to the end the reprobate, who refuse to be ruled by Christ, may learn that they strive but in vain against the decree of God, which cannot be broken. But because nothing seemeth more strange to men, than that God shall judge in the person of man, Paul addeth afterward, that dignity of Christ, which were hard to be believed, was approved by his resurrection.

The will of God alone ought to be so reverenced among us, that every man for himself subscribe to his decrees without delay. Because the cloak and color of ignorance useth oftentimes to be objected, therefore Paul saith plainly, that Christ was by his resurrection openly showed to be the Judge of the world, and that that was revealed to the eyes of men, which God had before determined with himself concerning him. For that point of doctrine, which Luke toucheth briefly in few words, was handled by Paul at large. He said not only in a word that Christ rose from death, but he did also intreat of the power of his resurrection as was meet. For to what end did Christ rise, but that he might be the first fruits of those which rise again? (1 Corinthians 15:23.) And to what end shall we rise again, but either to life or death? Whereupon it followeth, that Christ by his resurrection is declared and proved to be the Judge of the world.

32. Some mocked. By this we see how great the carelessness of men is, whom neither the tribunal-seat of God, nor the majesty of the highest [supreme] Judge, doth make afraid, (Acts 26:23.) We have said that this is a most sharp prick, wherewith men’s minds are pricked forward to fear God, when his judgment is set before their eyes; but there is such unspeakable hardness in the contemners, that they are not afraid to count that a fable or lie which is spoken concerning the giving of an account of our life once. 305305     “De reddenda semel vitae ratione,” about one day rendering an account of our lives. Notwithstanding, there is no cause why the ministers of the gospel should omit. 306306     “Supersedant,” supersede. the preaching of the judgment which is enjoined them. Though the wicked do laugh and mock, yet this doctrine, which they go about to make of none effect, shall so gird them, that they shall at length perceive that they have striven in vain with their snare. 307307     “Laqueo,” snare or fetter. And no marvel if this point of Paul’s doctrine were derided at Athens; for it is a mystery hid from men’s minds, whereon the chiefest philosophers did never think, neither can we otherwise comprehend it, than when we lift up the eyes of faith unto the infinite power of God. And yet Paul’s sermon was not altogether without fruit; because there were some of the hearers which were desirous to profit and go forward. For when they say that they will hear him again, their meaning is, that though they were not as yet thoroughly persuaded, yet had they some taste, which did provoke them to be desirous to profit. Surely this desire was contrary to loathsomeness. 308308     “Fastidio,” fastidiousness or disdain.

34. Among whom was also Dionysius. Seeing that Luke doth name one man and one woman only, it appeareth that there was but a small number of those which believed at the first. For those other of whom he maketh mention remained indifferent; because they did neither wholly despise Paul’s doctrine, neither were they so thoroughly touched, that they joined themselves unto him that they might be his scholars. Luke maketh mention of Dionysius above the rest, because he was in no small authority among his citizens. Therefore, it is likely that Damaris was also a woman of some renown, [rank.]

Furthermore, it is ridiculous in that the Papists [have] made of a judge an astrologer. But this is to be imputed partly to their ignorance, partly to their boldness, 309309     “Audaciae,” effrontery. who, seeing they knew not what Areopagus or Mars’ Street meant, took to themselves liberty to feign whatsoever they would. And their rudeness is too gross, who ascribe the books of the heavenly and ecclesiastical hierarchy, and of the names of God, to this Dionysius. For the heavenly hierarchy is stuffed not only with many doltish and monkish trifles, but also with many absurd inventions, and wicked speculations. And the books of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy do themselves declare that they were made many years after, when as the purity of Christianity was corrupt with an huge heap of ceremonies. As for the book of the names of God, though it have in it some things which are not altogether to be despised, yet it doth rather breathe out subtilties than sound godliness.


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