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Acts 23:6-9

6. And when Paul knew that the one part were of the Sadducees, and the other of the Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: I am judged of the hope and resurrection of the dead. 7. And when he had thus said, there was a dissension among the Pharisees and Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. 8. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, neither angel, neither spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. 9. And there was a great cry: and the scribes of the Pharisees’ sect arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if the spirit or an angel have spoken to him, let us not fight against God.

 

6. And when Paul knew. The policy 529529     “Stratagema,” stratagem. of Paul, whereof Luke maketh mention, doth seem not to beseem the servant of Christ. For the subtilty which he used was inwrapped in dissimulation, which was not far from a lie. He saith that the state of his cause did consist in the resurrection of the dead: but we know that the strife arose about other matters: because he disannulled the ceremonies, because he admitted the Gentiles into the covenant of salvation. I answer, that though these things be true, yet did not he lie. For he doth neither deny that he was accused of other matters, neither doth this make the whole controversy to consist in one point; but he saith truly that the Sadducees were therefore offended with him, because he did hold the resurrection of the dead. He knew that those who had conspired together against him were enemies also one to another. 530530     “Intestinis dissidiis laborare,” were involved in intestine dissensions. He knew that his own conscience was clear; and it had been an easy matter for him to prove his cause good before just judges. Yet because he seeth them cry out on him clamorously, and that he had no place granted to defend himself, he setteth his enemies together by the ears. Whereby it doth also appear, that they were carried away through ignorance and blind zeal. Therefore we must note that Paul did so begin, as that he was desirous truly and plainly to unfold the whole matter; and that he did not craftily refuse to make a pure and sound confession, such as, the servants of Christ ought to make; but because the way was stopt before him, neither could he be heard, he used the last remedy, 531531     “Extremo remedio,” an extreme remedy. to declare that his adversaries were carried headlong with blind hatred. For the end doth show, that those are not guided with reason or judgment, who are carried out of the way by mutual discord.

Now, if any man, which darkeneth the light of doctrine, excuse his craft, by the example of Paul, he is easily refuted. For it is one thing for a man to provide for himself alone with the loss of truth, and another to lead the professed enemies of Christ from resisting him, that they may strive among themselves.

Furthermore, we see the nature of the wicked, though they disagree among themselves like enemies, yet when they are to make war against the gospel, they forget their own garboils [strifes]. For Satan, the father of discord, doth procure this one consent only among his, that they may be of one mind and of one affection, to extinguish godliness. So we see that the factions which are in Popery hot, 532532     “Fervent,” prevail. are quiet only so long as they join hand in hand to oppress the gospel. For which cause, the disciples of Christ must be more courageous to foster and nourish truth, that, being joined together, they may the better resist. Also, we gather by this what manner of peace the Scripture commendeth unto us. Christ saith that the peace-makers are the children of God, (Matthew 5:9) and this is true, that they must do what they can to bring all men that they may grow together 533533     “Fraterne,” like brothers, omitted. under the Lord. Yet this doth not hinder but that we may, (fighting under the banner of the same Lord) as it were, with the sound of the trumpet, stir up the wicked, that they may, like Midianites, one slay another, (Judges 7:22) so that both simplicity of zeal, and the wisdom of the Spirit, direct us hither.

One part were Sadducees. We see here again, as in a glass, how deformed and confused the ruin of the Church was at that day. Faith is the soul of the Church; nothing is more proper to faith than agreement, nothing more contrary than sects. And this thing must needs follow, when every man (setting aside the word of God) did draw his disciples unto his own inventions. For there is no other holy bond of unity than the natural and plain 534534     “Simplex et genuina,” simple and genuine. truth of God. So soon as men depart from that, no marvel if they be dispersed and drawn hither and thither like members pulled asunder.

Therefore, the beginning of sects among the Jews was the corruption of the law; like as the Lord did revenge the profanation of his word, which was corrupt with diverse inventions of men, with like punishment in Popery. Wherefore, we must the more fear, lest horrible and more lamentable scatterings hang over our heads than was that which was in time of Popery, whereof there appear some tokens. And no marvel, seeing we provoke the Lord to wrath so many ways with our unthankfulness. But though the face of the Church be blotted and blurred with many spots and blots; and what manner of deformity soever fall out hereafter, let us comfort ourselves with this, that as God was careful then to deliver the Church wonderfully from destruction, so through his grace there shall always some seed continue. It cannot be, indeed, but that godly minds will somewhat despair, when they see things so far out of order; but let us learn straightway to hold up that buckler, that the Lord, who, in such a thick mist of errors, in such a heap of superstitions, in the unbridled licentiousness of sects, did preserve his Church among the Jews, will never suffer the same to be quite put out wholly in the world.

The same thing did likewise happen in Popery. For when as the worship of God was overthrown there, the doctrine of salvation was oppressed, the kingdom of Christ was thrown down, and ungodliness did openly reign, yet God did save certain hidden remnants, and there was always some wheat in the chaff. It is very profitable to confer these examples together. When as we inveigh at this day against Popery, the hired patrons thereof cry out on the other side, that nothing is more absurd than that we should imagine that the Church of God was extinguished during many ages, as if we did imagine that God had no people left, when those had forsaken him who ought to have maintained his pure worship. Yea, we complain that those tyrants did corrupt the Church, that the temple was by them profaned, so that it did not greatly differ from an hog’s-sty, that the flock of Christ was scattered abroad, and his sheepfold broken down. Finally, that the Church was hidden from the eyes of men, yet so that the Lord knew his elect, though they were dispersed, and did brood them under his wings. And by this it appeareth how foolishly the Papists brag and boast of the titles of honor, in that not the common sort, or any private men, but the priests themselves did in times past divide the Jewish church by deadly dissension.

Wherefore, there is no cause why we should be afraid stoutly to resist the pride of the Pope and of all his adherents, with whom we have the same combat which the prophets and apostles had with the priests of their time. And as the reverence of the Church did not keep back holy men, but that they did molest the tyranny of the wicked priests, so we must not be terrified with vain visures, [masks] under which the Papists do vainly boast, seeing they have, notwithstanding, cast from them the doctrine of godliness. It is certain that the people were then divided into three sects; but Luke doth only make mention of the Pharisees and Sadducees, omitting the Essenes, because it was most fit for his purpose thus to do. And though this be the common opinion concerning their names, that the former took their name of separating, because they withdrew themselves from the company of other men, by reason of their reigned holiness; and that the second sort took their name of righteousness, as if they were called zeduchim; notwithstanding, for mine own part, as I have said elsewhere, I am rather of their mind who say that the Pharisees took their name of interpreting. For phrus signifieth exposition, whereupon also interpreters are called phruschim; and we know that the Pharisees, being not content with the natural doctrine of the law and prophets, did put in many inventions which they said they received 535535     “Per marius tradita jactabant,” boasted, bad been handed down. of the fathers.

8. The Sadducees say. Though Luke maketh mention of three points wherein these sects did dissent, yet shortly after he bringeth 536536     “Restringit, it,” restricts. them to two, because there is like respect to be had of spirits and of angels. Therefore, he saith that the Pharisees did confess both; to wit, that the dead shall rise again, and that human and angelical spirits are immortal. And here Luke declareth in what sense the apostle professed himself to be a Pharisee, not because he did subscribe to all their inventions, but only in the resurrection of the dead. We know how sharply Christ reproveth their errors, (Matthew 22:29) therefore, it had been good that some exception had been added, 537537     “Itaque addenda fuit exceptio,” therefore, it was necessary to add the exception. lest any man might think that Paul was one with them in all things. Now, though the Sadducees did deny the resurrection, yet may we not think that they were altogether like to the Epicures, [Epicureans]. For they did confess that the world is governed by the providence of God, and that every man is rewarded for his works. In this point they were sounder than the Epicures, [Epicureans]. But they did dote too grossly, when they included the rewards of righteousness and the punishments of wickedness in this life. For that I may omit the Scripture, experience doth teach, that as well the godly as the ungodly are either punished with many miseries, or else gently 538538     “Benigne et indulgenter,” kindly and indulgent1y. dealt withal; and that the wicked do oftentimes live in wealth and pleasures, when as the worshippers of God are oftentimes miserably tormented; as it is Psalm 73:4. Therefore, whosoever esteemeth the judgment of God by the present estate of men, whether it be good or bad, he must needs fall away from faith at length unto Epicurish contempt of God.

Now, this is beastly blockishness to rest in an uncertain and transitory life, and not to be wise above 539539     “Nec sapere,” and not have a feeling or relish. the earth. For which cause we must flee from that error as from a detestable monster. For though godliness have the promises of the earthly life also, yet because we be most miserable if our hope stay still in this world, the children of God must begin with this, that they may lift up their eyes toward heaven, and think continually upon the glory of the last resurrection.

Neither angel nor spirit. This place is expounded two manner of ways. 540540     “Tribus modis,” in three ways. Many refer it unto the Holy Ghost, which seemeth to be unlikely. For howsoever the Sadducees be to be holden excused in other errors, yet because the Scripture doth so often repeat the name of the Spirit, I will scarce believe that they denied that which the Pharisees believed only lightly and obscurely. For even these men had no distinct faith concerning the Holy Spirit, that they did acknowledge the proper person of the Spirit in the substance of God. 541541     “Propriam Spiritus hypostasin... in Dei essentia,” the proper personality of the Spirit in the divine essence. Some will have angel and spirit to signify one thing, 542542     “Synonnyma esse,” to be synonymous. as if one thing were spoken twice. But to what end was it to repeat a thing which was plain enough? I warrant you, that member which followeth did deceive them, where Luke seemeth to make no distinction. But we showed the reason before; because, seeing the souls of men and angels are of one and the same nature and substance, they be both placed in one order. Therefore, I do not doubt but that this is Luke’s true meaning, that the Sadducees did deny angels, and also all manner of spirits.

Now, forasmuch as Paul crieth that he is a Pharisee in this point of doctrine, he doth flatly condemn all brain-sick fellows, who at this day are in the same error. For there be certain profane and unlearned men who dream that angels and devils are nothing else but good and evil inspirations; and lest they want some color, they say that all that came from the heathen which the Scripture hath concerning good and evil angels, whereas that opinion which was common in the world had his [its] beginning from the heavenly doctrine. But the heathen did with their lies pollute that doctrine which they had from the Fathers. As touching men’s souls, because even at this day certain miscreants do feign that the souls do vanish away in death until the day of the resurrection, their madness is likewise refuted by the testimony of Luke.

9. There was a great cry. That sedition whereof Luke spake a little before is more plainly expressed in this place; to wit, that they were not only of diverse opinions, but did strive clamorously with outcries. Wherefore, ςασις doth signify somewhat more than dissension. Furthermore, this place doth teach what mischief disagreements bring with them. For because they take their beginning for the most part of ambition, men proceed thence unto contention, and straightway stubbornness breaketh out. When they be come thither, because there is no place left either for judgment or moderation, they can no longer judge of the cause. Those who did detest Paul begin at a sudden to defend him. It was well done, if they had done it with judgment. But because they inveigh against the Sadducees, they are so inflamed with hatred against them, that they be blind in Paul’s matter. For which cause we must beware of heat of contention, which disturbeth all things.

If the Spirit. This ought undoubtedly to be expounded of the Holy Ghost. And nothing could be spoken either more godly or modestly. For so soon as it is apparent that any doctrine is revealed from heaven, those do wickedly resist God who do not receive the same. But how is it that the scribes do so suddenly count Paul a prophet of God whom they were once ready to have murdered — whom they had condemned with their prejudice until the contention arose? 543543     “Cum Pharisaeis,” with the Pharisees. Furthermore, as they did cut their own throats with these words as with a sword, so God would have them to be to us teachers to instruct us, that we despise not the oracles which come from heaven. Notwithstanding, we see again that those stand in doubt who take not good heed, and are not careful to mark the word of God; and that they waver so often as any thing is brought to light, because they be unworthy to understand the certain truth. Wherefore, if we be desirous to have our studies governed by the spirit of discretion, let us apply ourselves to learn.


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