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Acts 23:10-16

10. And when there arose a sore dissension among them, the chief captain feared lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces by them, and he commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him from them, and to bring him into the camp, 11. And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, lie of good courage, Paul: for as thou hast borne witness of me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness of me at Rome also. 12. And when it was day, certain of the Jews gathered themselves together, and bound themselves with a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. 13. And there were more than forty men which had made this conspiracy. 14. And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves with a curse, that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul. 15. Now therefore signify ye to the chief captain and council that he bring him forth to you tomorrow, as if ye would know somewhat more certainly of him: and we, before he come near, are ready to kill him. 16. But when Paul’s sister’s son heard of the lying in wait, he came and entered into the camp, and told Paul.

 

10. We see again what a cruel mischief contention is, which so soon as it doth once wax hot, hath such violent motions, that even most wise men are not well in their wits. Therefore, so soon as any beginning shall show itself, let us study to prevent it in time, lest the remedy be too late in bridling it when it is in the middle, because no fire is so swift as it. As for the chief captain, as he was appointed to be the minister of God’s providence to save Paul’s life, so he delivereth him now the second time by his soldiers from death. For though the chief captain defend 544544     “Succurrit,” succour. him so diligently, for no other purpose save only that he may prevent uproars and murder; yet the Lord, who from heaven provided and appointed help for his servant, doth direct his blind hands thither.

11. And the night following. Luke declareth that Paul was strengthened with an oracle, that he might stand courageously against terrible assaults when things were so far out of order. Surely it could not be but that he was sore afraid, and that he was sore troubled with the remembrance of things to come. Wherefore, the oracle was not superfluous. Those former things whereby he was taught that God cared for him, ought to have sufficed to nourish his hope, and to have kept him from fainting; but because in great dangers Satan doth oftentimes procure new fears, that he may thereby (if he cannot altogether overwhelm God’s promises in the hearts of the godly) at least darken the same with clouds, it is needful that the remembrance of them be renewed, that faith, being holpen with new props and stays, may stand more steadfastly. But the sum is, that Paul may behave himself boldly, because he must be Christ’s witness at Rome also. But this seemeth to be but a cold and vain consolation, as if he should say, Fear not, because thou must abide a sorer brunt; for it had been better, according to the flesh, once to die, and with speed to end his days, than to pine away in bands, and long time to lie in prison. The Lord doth not promise to deliver him; no, he saith not so much as that he shall have a joyful end; only he saith, that those troubles and afflictions, wherewith he was too sore oppressed already, shall continue long. But by this we gather better of what great importance this confidence is, that the Lord hath respect unto us in our miseries, though he stretch not forth his hand by and by to help us.

Therefore, let us learn, even in most extreme afflictions, to stay ourselves upon the word of God alone; and let us never faint so long as he quickeneth us with the testimony of his fatherly love. And because oracles are not now sent from heaven, neither doth the Lord himself appear by visions, we must meditate upon his innumerable promises, whereby he doth testify that he will be nigh unto us continually. If it be expedient that an angel come down unto us, the Lord will not deny even this kind of confirmation. Nevertheless, we must give this honor to the word, that being content with it alone we wait patiently for that help which it promiseth us.

Moreover, it did profit some nothing to hear angels which were sent down from heaven; but the Lord doth not in vain seal up in the hearts of the faithful by his Spirit those promises which are made by him. And as he doth not in vain beat them in and often repeat them, 545545     “Inculcat,” inculcates. so let our faith exercise itself diligently in the continual remembrance of them. For if it were necessary that Paul’s faith should be oftentimes set and stored up with a new help, there is none of us which needeth not many more helps. Also, our minds must be armed with patience, that they may pass through the long and troublesome circuits of troubles and afflictions.

12. And when it was day. By this circumstance, Luke showeth how necessary it was for Paul to gather new and fresh strength of faith, that he might not quake in most great and sudden danger. For being told of this so desperate madness of his enemies, he could not otherwise think but that he should lose his life. This vow whereof Luke speaketh was a kind of curse. The cause of the vow was, that it might not be lawful for them to change their purpose, nor to call back that which they had promised. There is always, indeed, in an oath a secret curse, 546546     “Tacita execratio,” a tacit execration. if any man deceive or forswear, but sometimes to the end men may the more bind themselves, they use certain forms of cursing; 547547     “Anathematis,” of anathema. and they make themselves subject to cruel torments, to the end they may be the more afraid. This history doth teach that zeal is so bloody in hypocrites, that they weigh not what is lawful for them, but they run carelessly whithersoever their lust doth carry them. Admit we grant that Paul was a wicked man, and worthy to die, yet who had given private men leave to put him to death? Now, if any man had asked why they did so hate Paul, they would quickly have answered, because he was a revolt [apostate] and schismatic; but it was but a foolish opinion, and an opinion conceived of an uncertain report concerning this matter which had rashly possessed their minds.

The same blindness and blockishness doth at this day prick forward the Papists, so that they think nothing unlawful for them in destroying us. Hypocrisy doth so blind their ears, that as men freed from the laws of God and merit they are carried by their zeal sometimes unto treachery, sometimes unto guile, sometimes unto intolerable cruelty, and, finally, to attempt whatsoever they will. Moreover, we see in this history how great the rashness of the wicked is. They bind themselves with a curse that they will eat no meat till they have slain Paul, as if his life were in their hands. Therefore, these brain-sick men take to themselves that which the Lord doth so often in Scripture say is his, to wit,

“To have the life and death of those men whom he hath created in his hand,”
(Deuteronomy 32:39).

Moreover, there be not only two or three who are partners in this madness, but more than forty. Whence we do also gather how willing and bent men are to do mischief, seeing they run together thus on heaps. 548548     “Turmatim,” in crowds.

Furthermore, seeing Satan doth drive them headlong into their own destruction, how shameful is then our sluggishness, when as we scarce move one finger in maintaining the glory of God? We must use moderation, that we attempt nothing without the commandment of God; but when God calleth us expressly, our loitering is without excuse.

14. They came to the chief priests. Seeing that the priests agree to such a wicked and ungodly conspiracy, by this they prove that there was in them neither any fear of God, neither yet any humanity. They do not only allow [approve] that which is brought before them concerning the murdering of the man by laying wait, but also they are ready to be partners in the murder, that they may deliver him into the hands of the murderers, whom they would have made away some way, they pass not how. For what other thing was it to take a man out of the hands of the judge and to slay him, than like murderers to rage even in the very place of judgment? The priests surely would never have allowed [approved] such a wicked purpose if there had been in them any drop of godly and right affection, or of humane feeling. Moreover, they did what they could to bring destruction upon all the people and themselves also. But the Lord did by this means disclose their wicked impiety, which lay hid under a color of honor.

16. Paul’s sister’s son. We see in this place how the Lord doth cross the purposes of the ungodly. He permitteth them to attempt many things, and he suffereth their wicked endeavors, but at length he showeth even in the twinkling of an eye 549549     “Ipso articulo,” at the very nick of time that he doth from heaven deride whatsoever men go about upon earth.

“There is no wisdom,” saith Solomon, “there is no counsel against the Lord,”
(Proverbs 21:30).

Whereto that of Isaiah doth answer,

“Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought: speak the word, and it shall not stand,”
(Isaiah 8:10).

This is set before our eyes to be considered, in this present history, as in a glass. The matter was almost dispatched, that Paul should come out on the morrow to be slain as an avowed sacrificed. 550550     “Devota victima,” a devoted victim. But the Lord doth show that his life is most safely kept, so that whatsoever men go about all is in vain. As for us, let us not fear but that his providence, whereof he showed some token then, reacheth even unto the defending of us, because this promise continueth sure,

“There shall not an hair fall from your heads,” etc.
(Luke 21:18).

Moreover, it is worth the noting, that he worketh sometimes by means unlooked for to save those that be his, that he may the better exercise our faith. Who would have thought that a boy would have disclosed their lying in wait, which those who were partners in the conspiracy thought was known to none but to themselves? Therefore, let us learn to lean unto and stay ourselves upon the Lord, though we see no ordinary way to save ourselves, who shall find a way even through places where nothing can pass.


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