World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
17 After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.” 4Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 6When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” 8The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, 9and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go. 10 That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. 12Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. 13But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. 14Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. 15Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him. 16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new. 22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
The Uproar in Thessalonica
Paul and Silas in Beroea
Paul in Athens
After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.” 4Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 6When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” 8The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, 9and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.
10 That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. 12Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. 13But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. 14Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. 15Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33At that point Paul left them. 34But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
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 though 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.
5. And being moved with envy. We see how Paul could nowhere erect the kingdom of Christ without some conflict, for so soon as any fruit of doctrine appeared, there arose persecution therewithal; but because he knew that he was to war against Satan and the wickedness of the world, he was not only hardened against all assaults, but he was more encouraged more courageously to proceed. Therefore, all the servants of Christ must be content with this one example of him, if they see that their labor doth yield some fruit, they must recompense all manner of persecutions with this reward. And this place teacheth that the zeal wherewith the unbelievers are carried headlong, and set on fire, is nothing else but furious force, 250250 “Rabiosum... impetum,” a rabid impulse. because it is not governed by the prudence of the Spirit, neither yet with righteousness or equity. And though they do always pretend the name of God for an excuse of their disordered zeal, yet this history doth plainly declare, that mere hypocrisy doth reign inwardly, and that all corners of their hearts are stuffed with poisoned malice. These enemies of Paul did boast that they were defenders of the law of God; and that they did hate Paul, and contend with him only in defense thereof.
Why do they then arm the wicked, and conspire together with them to raise tumult? Why then do they also before a profane magistrate bring the gospel in that contempt which might have redounded to the contempt of the law? Such sedition doth plainly declare, that they were moved with nothing less than desire to please God, to be thus hot against Paul, for to what end do they beset Jason’s house, and strive disorderly 251251 “Tumultuose,” tumtultuously. to pluck out Paul thence, save only that they may set him before the people to be stoned? Therefore, let us know that wicked zeal, which is hot [boils] in superstitious men, is always infected with hypocrisy and malice; and this is the cause that it breaketh out into cruelty without keeping any measure.
Taking to them certain vagabonds. The Greek word which Luke useth doth signify sluggards, and men whereof there ought no account to be made, who, having nothing wherewith they could keep themselves occupied at home, did run up and down idle; 252252 “Per forum,” through the market-place. or bold [audacious] fellows and hungry, who are ready to forswear themselves to raise tumults, and to be at one end of 253253 “Operam suam locare,” hire out their assistance in. every wicked fact. Whereby it doth likewise appear that their own conscience told them that they did amiss, seeing they got wicked men to take their part, and to give them their consent. For seeing the magistrate did favor them, what did move them to raise that tempest, save only because they had no hope to have any success, unless (matters should be out of order and) all should be in an uproar? And Luke describeth how such fans did raise sedition; to wit, they gathered the people together in troops, and spread abroad their poison here and there, until they were strong enough to make an assault; 254254 “Donec ad vim inferendam sufficerent,” until they were able to offer violence. which policy [artifice] is too common among seditions fellows, as those cities which are subject to this mischief do full well know.
6. Those men who have troubled the whole world. This is the state of the gospel, to have those uproars which Satan raiseth imputeth to it. This is also the malicousness of the enemies of Christ, to lay the blame of tumults upon holy and modest teachers, which they themselves procure. Assuredly, the gospel is not preached to this end that it may set men together by the ears; 255255 “Ut homines ad mutuous conflictus accendat,” that it may inflame men to mutual conflict. but rather that it may keep them in peace, being reconciled to God. When Christ doth meekly will us 256256 “Ad se benigne invitet,” benignity invite us to himself. there to come unto him, Satan and the wicked rage; 257257 “Tumultuanture,” make a tumult. therefore, Paul and Silas might easily have defended themselves; but it was requisite for them to suffer this false slander for a time; and so long as they were not heard, to put it up quietly. And the Lord meant by their example to teach us, that we must not give place to slanders and false reports; but we must stand stoutly in maintaining the truth, being ready to hear evil for things done well. Wherefore, away with the perverse wisdom of some, who, to the end they may escape false slanders, cease [hesitate] not to betray Christ and his gospel through their treacherous moderation, as though their good name were more precious than Paul’s and such like, yea, than the sacred name of God, which is not free from blasphemies.
7. All these men, etc. The second point of the accusation of this, that they violate the majesty of the empire of Rome. A great and grievous crime, yet too impudently forged. Paul and Silas sought to erect the kingdom of Christ, which is spiritual. The Jews knew that this might be done without doing any injury to the Roman empire. They knew that they meant nothing less than to overthrow the public estate, or to take from Caesar his authority. Therefore, the Jews catch at the pretense of treason, that they may oppress the innocent with the envy of the crime alone. 258258 “Sed colorem hunc malitiose obtendunt quaerendae invidiae causa. Non tanti erat apud Macedones religio, praesertim Judaica, ut ejus causa homines ignotos, protinus ad caedem raperent;” but maliciously use this pretext for the purpose of producing obloquy. There was not so much religion, especially Jewish, among the Macedonians, that for its sake they would hurry off strangers to execution. Omitted.
Neither doth Satan cease at this day to blear men’s eyes with such smokes and mists. The Papists know full well, and they be sufficiently convict before God, that that is more than false which they lay to our charge, That we overthrow all civil government; that laws and judgments are quite taken away; that the authority of kings if subverted by us; and yet they be not ashamed to the end they may make all the whole world offended with us, falsely to report that the Jews do not only allege that Caesar’s commandments were broken, because Paul and Silas durst presume to alter and innovate somewhat in religion, but because they said there was another king. This crime was altogether forged; but if at any time religion enforces us to resist tyrannical edicts and commandments which forbid us to give due honor to Christ, and due worship to God; we may then justly say for ourselves, that we are not rebellious against kings, for they be not so exalted, that they may go about like giants to pull God out of his seat and throne. That excuse of Daniel was true, that he had not offended the king, whereas notwithstanding he had not obeyed his wicked commandment, neither had he injured mortal man, because he had preferred God before him. So let us faithfully pay to princes the tributes which are due to them, let us be ready to give them all civil obedience; but if, being not content with their degree, they go about to pluck out of our hands the fear and worship of God, there is no cause why any should say that we despise them, because we make more account of the power and majesty of God.
8. They raised the multitude. We see how unjustly the holy men were handled. Because they had no place granted them to defend themselves, it was an easy matter to oppress them, though they were guiltless. We see, likewise, that it is no new matter for magistrates to be carried away with the rage of the people as with a tempest, especially when the injury toucheth those who are strangers and unknown, at whose hands they look for no reward; because they will not come in danger for nothing. For then they care not for reason or equity, neither do they hear the matter, 259259 “Nec suscipitur causae cognitio,” nor do theytake cognisance of the cause. but one driveth forward another without any resistance, and all things are done out of order, as when they run unto some great fire. But it came to pass, by the singular goodness of God, that so great heat was stayed by and by; for so soon as the magistrates profess that they will know farther of the matter, the multitude is appeased; assurance [security] is taken; and, at length, the matter is ended.
10. They sent them out to Berea. Hereby it appeareth that Paul’s labor brought forth fruit in a small time; for though the brethren send forth him and Silas, yet they adjoin themselves as voluntary companions to their danger and cross by this duty. But the constancy of Paul is incredible, because, having had such experience of their stubbornness and malice of his nation, he doth never cease to try whether he can bring any to Christ, namely, seeing he knew that he was bound both to Jews and Gentiles, no injury of men could lead him away from his calling. So all the servants of Christ must so wrestle with the malice of the world, that they shake not off Christ’s yoke with what injuries soever they be provoked.
11. Did excel in nobility. Luke returneth again unto the men of Thessalonica. The remembrance of Christ might have been thought to have been buried by the departure of Paul, and surely it is a wonder that that small light, which began to shine, was not quite put out, and that the seed of sound doctrine did not wither away, which had need continually to be watered that it might spring up. But after Paul’s departure, it appeareth how effectual and fruitful his preaching had been. For those who had only tasted of the first principles of godliness do nevertheless profit and go forward, though he be absent, and exercise themselves in the continual reading of the Scripture. And, first, Luke saith that they were of the chief families. For the nobility whereof he maketh mention is referred not unto the mind, but unto the nation. Some think that the men of Berea are compared with the men of Thessalonica, because he saith [ευγενεστερους], and not in the superlative degree [ευγενεστατους]. But I think that that manner of speech is usual and common among the Grecians, which the Latins could not so well digest. 260260 “Quae Latinis auribus esset durior,” which would have sounded harsher to Latin ears. Moreover, he had said a little before, that certain principal women believed at Thessalonica, and it is not to be thought that the men of Berea were preferred before those of this city. And there is a threefold reason why Luke maketh mention of their excellency of birth. We know how hardly men came down from their high degress, what a rare matter it is for those who are great in the world to undertake the reproach of the cross, laying away their pride, and rejoice in humility, as James commandeth, (James 1:10.)
Therefore Luke commendeth the rare efficacy and working of the Spirit of God, when he saith that these noblemen were no whit hindered by the dignity of the flesh, but that embracing the gospel, they prepared themselves to bear the cross, and preferred the reproach of Christ before the glory of the world. Secondly, Luke meant to make known the glory of the world. Secondly, Luke meant to make known unto us, that the grace of Christ standeth open for all orders and degrees. In which sense Paul saith, that God would have all men saved, (1 Timothy 2:4;) lest the poor and those who are base do shut the gate against the rich, (though Christ did vouchsafe them the former place.) Therefore we see that noblemen, and those who are of the common sort, 261261 “Nobiles et plebeios,” that nobles and plebeians. are gathered together, that those who are men of honor, and which are despised, grow together into one body of the Church, that all men, in general, may humble themselves, and extol the grace of God. Thirdly, Luke seemeth to note the cause why there were so many added, and the kingdom of Christ was, in such short time, so spread abroad and enlarged at Thessalonica; to wit, because that was no small help, that chief men, and men of honor, did show other men the way, because the common sort is for the most part moved by authority. And though this were no meet stay for faith and godliness, yet is it no strange thing for God to bring the unbelievers (who wander as yet in error) to himself, by crooked and byways. 262262 “Per obliquas vias,” through winding paths.
Received the word. This is the first thing which he commendeth in the men of Thessalonica, that with a willing and ready desire they received the gospel. Secondly, that they confirmed their faith 263263 “Quotidie,” daily. by diligent inquisition; so that their faith and godliness are commended in the beginning for forwardness, 264264 “Initio a promptitudine,” at the commencement for promptitude or readiness. and in process they are praised for their constancy and fervent desire they had to profit. And surely this is the first entrance into faith that we be ready to follow, and that, abandoning the understanding and wisdom of the flesh, 265265 “Proprio carnis sensu,” our own carnal sense. we submit ourselves to Christ, by him to be taught and to obey him. Also Paul himself, in adorning the Thessalonians with this title, doth agree with Saint Luke, (1 Thessalonians 2:13.)
As touching the second member, this diligence is no small virtue, whereunto Luke saith the faithful were much given for confirmation of their faith. For many who at the first break out 266266 “Ebulliunt,” spring forth. give themselves straightway to idleness, while that they have no care to profit, and so lose that small seed 267267 “Fidei semen,” seed of faith. which they had at the first.
But two inconveniences 268268 “Absurdo,” absurdities. may be in this place objected; for it seemeth to be a point of arrogancy in that they inquire that they may judge; and it seemeth to be a thing altogether disagreeing with that readiness whereof he spake of late; secondly, forasmuch as inquisitions is a sign of doubtfulness, it followeth that they were before endued with no faith, which hath always assurance and certainty joined and linked with it. Unto the first objection I answer, that Luke’s words ought not so to be understood, as if the Thessalonians took upon them to judge, or as though they disputed whether the truth of God were to be received; they did only examine Paul’s doctrine by the rule and square of the Scripture, even as gold is tried in the fire; for the Scripture is the true touchstone whereby all doctrines must be tried. If any man say that this kind of trial is doubtful, forasmuch as the Scripture is oftentimes doubtful, and is interpreted divers ways, I say, that we must also add judgment of the Spirit, who is, not without cause, called the Spirit of discretion, [discernment.] But the faithful must judge of every doctrine no otherwise then out of, and according to, the Scriptures, having the Spirit for their leader and guide. And by this means is refuted that sacrilegious quip [quibble] of the Papists, Because there can be nothing gathered certainly out of the Scriptures, faith doth depend only upon the determination of the Church. For when the Spirit of God doth commend the men of Thessalonica, he prescribeth to us a rule in their example. And in vain should we search the Scriptures, unless they have in them light enough to teach us.
Therefore, let this remain as a most sure maxim, that no doctrine is worthy to be believed but that which we find to be grounded in the Scriptures. The Pope will have all that received without any more ado, whatsoever he doth blunder out at his pleasure; but shall he be preferred before Paul, concerning whose preaching it was lawful for the disciples to make inquisition? And let us not that this is not spoken of any visured [pretended] Council, but of a small assembly of men, whereby it doth better appear that every man is called to read the Scriptures. So likewise, making of search doth not disagree with the forwardness of faith; for so soon as any man doth hearken, and being desirous to learn, doth show himself attentive, he is now bent and apt to be taught, though he do not fully 269269 “Statim plane,” plainly, and at once. give his consent. For example’s sake, an unknown teacher shall profess that he doth bring true doctrine: I will come, being ready to hear, and my mind shall be framed unto the obedience of the truth. Nevertheless, I will weigh with myself what manner [of] doctrine it is which he bringeth; neither will I embrace anything but the certain truth, and that which I know to be the truth. And this is the best moderation, when, being fast bound with the reverence of God, we hear that willingly and quietly which is set before us, as proceeding from him. Nevertheless, we beware of the seducing subtilty of men; neither do our minds throw themselves headlong with a blind rage 270270 “Caeco levitatis impetu,” with a blind and giddy impulse. to believe every thing without advisement. Therefore, the searching mentioned by Luke doth not tend to that end that we may be slow and unwilling to believe, but rather readiness with judgment is made the mean between lightness and stubbornness.
Now must we answer the second objection. Faith is contrary to doubtfulness: he which inquireth doubteth; therefore it followeth, that forasmuch as the Thessalonians inquire and make search touching the doctrine of Paul, they were void of faith as yet. But the certainty of faith doth not hinder the confirmation thereof. I call that confirmation when the truth of God is more and more sealed up in our hearts, whereof, notwithstanding, we did not doubt before. For example’s sake, I hear out of the gospel that I am reconciled to God through the grace of Christ, and that my sins are purged [expiated] through his holy blood: there shall be some testimony uttered which shall make me believe this. If afterward I examine and search the Scriptures more thoroughly, I shall find other testimonies oftentimes which shall not only help my faith, but also increase it and establish it, that it may be more sure and settled. In like sort, as concerning understanding, faith is increased by reading the Scriptures. If any man object again, that those men do attribute but small authority to Paul’s doctrine, who search the Scriptures whether these things be so, I answer, that such are the proceedings of faith, that they sometimes seek for that in the Scripture whereof they are already persuaded by God, and have the inward testimony of the Spirit. And Luke doth not say that the faith of the Thessalonians was in all points perfect; but he doth only declare how they were brought to Christ, 271271 “Qualiter initiati fuerint Christo,” how they were initiated in Christ. and how they did profit in faith, until the absolute building of godliness might be erected among them.
12. And many believed. This is not referred unto the sentence next going before, as if those of whom he spake began to believe, making choice of some of them: for that were an absurd thing. But Luke’s meaning is, because many were added by their example, the Church was increased in that city. And hitherto hath Luke declared the first beginning of the church of Thessalonica, lest any man should think that Paul’s labors did perish through his sudden and violent departure; for unless I be much deceived, he showeth for this purpose what fruit his preaching brought forth in the other city, before he came to the exile of Berea.
13. And when the Jews. We see how the Jews were carried to and fro with such hatred of the gospel as could never be appeased. For they do not only expel Christ furiously when he is offered unto them at home; but when they hear that he is preached elsewhere, they run thither like mad men. But we must not so much in this place consider the fury of the nation as the desperate malice of Satan, who pricketh forward those which be his to trouble the kingdom of Christ, and to destroy man’s salvation; and he useth them as fans to raise sedition. Wherefore, let us know, that when at this day so many furious enemies do set themselves against the faithful ministers of Christ, it is not men which procure the war, but it is Satan, the father of lying, who doth go about all these things that he may overthrow the kingdom of Christ. (John 8:44.) And though there be not always the same form in fighting and encountering, yet will Satan never cease to make weary those whom he knoweth to serve Christ faithfully, either with open war, or secret lying in wait, or domestical combats.
16. Was sore grieved. Though Paul, whithersoever he came, did stoutly execute that function of teaching which he knew was enjoined with him, yet Luke showeth that he was more incensed and moved at Athens, because he saw idolatry reign more there than in any other place for the most part. The whole world was then full of idols; the pure worship of God could be found nowhere; and there were everywhere innumerable monsters of superstitions, but Satan had made the city of Athens more mad than any other city, so that the people thereof were carried headlong with greater madness unto their wickedness and perverse rites. And this example is worth the noting, that the city, which was the mansion-house of wisdom, the fountain of all arts, the mother of humanity, did exceed all others in blindness and madness. We know with what commandments witty and learned men did set forth the same, and she had conceived so great good liking of herself that she counted those rude 272272 “Barbaros,” barbarians. whom she had not polished. But the Holy Ghost condemning the whole world of ignorance and blockishness, saith that those masters of liberal sciences were bewitched with an unwonted madness. Whence we gather what man’s wit can do in matters which concern God. Neither need we doubt of this, but that the Lord suffered the men of Athens to fall into extreme madness, that all the world might learn by them, and that they might teach all ages that the foresight and wit of man’s mind being holpen with learning and instruction, doth altogether dote, and is mere foolishness when it cometh to the kingdom of God. They had undoubtedly their cloaks and colors, wherewith they did excuse their worshippings, how preposterous and corrupt soever they were. And yet, notwithstanding, it is certain that they did not only deceive men with childish and frivolous toys, but that they themselves were deluded shamefully with gross and filthy jugglings, as if they were deprived of common sense, and were altogether blockish and brutish. And as we learn what manner [of] religion proceedeth from man’s understanding, and that man’s wisdom is nothing else but a shop of all errors, so we may know that the men of Athens, being drunk with their own pride, did err more filthily than the rest. The antiquity, the pleasantness, and beauty of the city, did puff them up, so that they did boast that the gods came thence. Therefore, forasmuch as they did pull down God from heaven, that they might make him an inhabitant of their city, it was meet that they should be thrust down into the nethermost hell. Howsoever it be, the vanity of man’s wisdom is here marked with eternal infamy by the Spirit of God; because, where it was principally resident, there was the darkness more thick. Idolatry did reign most of all there; and Satan carried men’s minds to and fro more freely by his mocks and juggling.
Now, let us come unto Paul. Luke saith, forasmuch as he saw the city so given to idolatry, his spirit waxed hot, or was moved. Where he doth not attribute unto him indignation only, neither doth he only say that he was offended with that spectacle, but he expressed the unwonted heat of holy anger, which sharpened his zeal, so that he did address himself more fervently unto the work. And here we must note two things. For in that Paul was wroth when he saw the name of God wickedly profaned, and his pure worship corrupted, he did thereby declare, that nothing was to him corrupted, he did thereby declare, that nothing was to him more precious than the glory of God. Which zeal ought to be of great force among us, as it is in the Psalm, (Psalm 69:9,) “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” For it is a common rule of all the godly, that so soon as they see their heavenly Father blasphemed, they be sore vexed, as Peter teacheth that the godly man Lot, because he could not cure most filthy facts, did vex his heart, (2 Peter 2:8.) And teachers must, above all others, be fervent, as Paul saith, that he is jealous that he may retain the Church in true chastity, (2 Corinthians 11:2.) And those who are not touched when they see and hear God blasphemed, and do not only wink thereat, but also carelessly pass over it, are not worthy to be counted the children of God, who at least do not give him so much honor as they do to an earthly father. Secondly, we must note that he was not so grieved, that being cast down through despair, he was quite discouraged, as we see most men to be far from waxing hot, or being moved, when they see the glory of God wickedly profaned, that in professing and uttering sorrow and sighing, they do, notwithstanding, rather wax profane with others than study to reform them. Nevertheless, they have a fair cloak for their sluggishness, that they will not procure any tumult when they are like to do no good. 273273 “Quod nolint sine profectu tumultuare,” that they are unwilling to excite tumult to no good purpose. For they think that their attempts shall be in vain if they strive against the wicked and violent conspiracy of the people. But Paul is not only not discouraged with wearisomeness, neither doth he so faint by reason of the hardness of the matter, that he doth cast from him his office of teaching; but he is pricked forward with a more sharp prick to maintain godliness.
17. With the Jews and religious men. It was an ordinary thing with Paul, wheresoever the Jews had synagogues, there to begin, and to offer Christ to his own nation. After that he went to the Gentiles, who, having tasted of the doctrine of the law, though they were not as yet thoroughly nousled up in [imbued with] true godliness, did, notwithstanding, worship the God of Israel, and being desirous to learn, did not refuse those things which they knew were taken out of Moses and the prophets; and because such aptness to be taught was an entrance unto faith, yea, was a certain beginning of faith, the Spirit vouchsafeth them an honorable title, who being only lightly sprinkled with the first rudiments, drew nearer unto the true God; for they be called religious. But let us remember that all the religion of the world may be brought to nought. Those are called worshippers of God spiritually who gave their name to the God of Israel. Religion is attributed to them alone; therefore there remaineth nothing else for the rest but the reproach of atheism, howsoever they toil and moil 274274 “Anxie se torqueant,” anxiously torment themselves. in superstition. And that for good considerations; for of whatsoever pomp the idolaters make boast, if their inward affection be examined, there shall be nothing found there but horrible contempt of God, and it shall appear that it is a mere feigned color wherewith they go about to excuse their idols.
18. They reasoned with him. Luke addeth now that Paul had a combat with the philosophers; not that he set upon them of set purpose, forasmuch as he knew that they were even born only to brawl and cavil; but he was enforced to enter such a conflict contrary to his purpose, as Paul himself commandeth godly teachers to be furnished with spiritual weapons, wherewith they may valiantly defend the truth if any enemies set themselves against it, (Titus 1:9.) For it is not always in our choice to make choice of those with whom we will deal; but the Lord doth often suffer stubborn and importunate men to arise to exercise us, that by their gainsaying the truth may more plainly appear. Neither is it to be doubted but that the Epicures, [Epicureans,] according to their wonted frowardness, did trouble the holy man; and that the Stoics, trusting to their subtile quips and cavils, did stubbornly deride him; 275275 “Contumaciter insultaverint,” did contumaciously insult him. yet the end shall show that he did not dispute sophistically, neither was he carried away unto any unprofitable and contentious disputation, but did observe that modesty which he himself commandeth elsewhere. And thus must we do, that by refuting meekly and modestly vain cavillings, we may utter that which is sound and true; and we must always avoid this danger, that ambition or desire to show our wit do not unwrap us in superfluous and vain contentions.
Furthermore, Luke maketh mention of two sects, which, though they were the one contrary to the other, 276276 “Ex diametro inter se essent oppositae,” were diametrically opposed to each other. had, not withstanding, their contrary vices. The Epicures [Epicureans] did not only despise liberal arts, but were also open enemies to them. Their philosophy was to feign that the sun was two feet broad, that the world was made ex atomis, [of atoms,] (or of things which were so small that they could not be divided or made smaller,) and by deluding men thus, to blot out the wonderful workmanship which appeareth in the creation of the world. If they were a thousand times convict, they were as impudent as dogs. Though they did, in a word, confess that there be gods, yet they did imagine that they were idle in heaven, and that they were wholly set upon pleasure, and that they were blessed only because they were idle. As they did deny that the world was created by God, as I have said of late, so they thought that man’s affairs were tossed to and fro without any governing, and that they were not governed by the celestial providence. Pleasure was their felicity, 277277 “Summum bonum,” the supreme good. not that unbridled and filthy pleasure; yet such as did more and more corrupt men by her enticements, being already, of their own accord, bent to pamper the flesh. They counted the immorality of their souls but a fable, whereby it came to pass that they gave themselves liberty to make much of their bodies.
As for the Stoics, though they said that the world was subject to the providence of God, yet did they afterwards, through a most filthy surmise, or rather doting, corrupt that point of their doctrine. For they did not grant that God did govern the world by counsel, justice, and power, but they forged a labyrinth of the compass or agreement of the causes, that God himself being bound with the necessity of fate or destiny, might be carried violently with the frame of heaven, as the poets do tie and fetter their Jupiter with golden fetters, because the Fates or Destinies do govern when he is about something else. Though they placed felicity [the chief good] in virtue, they knew not what true virtue was, and they did puff up men with pride, 278278 “Superba confidentia,” with proud confidence. so that they did deck themselves with that which they took from God. For though they did all abase the grace of the Holy Ghost, yet was there no sect more proud. They had no other fortitude, but a certain rash and immoderate fierceness. 279279 “Ferrea immanitus,” iron-hearted cruelty.
Therefore there was in Paul wonderful force of the Spirit, who standing amidst such beasts, which sought to pull him to and fro, stood firm in the sound sincerity of the gospel, and did valiantly withstand and endure, as well the dogged malapertness [petulance] of the former sect, as the pride and crafty cavillings of the other. And hereby we see more plainly what small agreement there is between the heavenly wisdom and the wisdom of the flesh. For though the whole multitude were offended with the gospel, yet the philosophers were captains and standard-bearers in assaulting the same. For that did principally appear in them which Paul himself speaketh of the wisdom of the flesh, that it is an enemy to the cross of Christ, (1 Corinthians 1:26,) so that no man can be fit to learn the principles of the gospel unless he first abandon the same.
Other some said. Luke setteth before us two sects of men, which both were far from godliness; and yet the one sort is worse than the other. Those who are desirous to hear that again which they call new, first, they are moved not with any desire to learn, but with vain curiousity; secondly, they think unhonorably of the Word of God, is that the count it profane novelty; yet because they give ear, and that being in doubt until they may know farther of the matter, they are not quite past hope. But the rest who proudly refuse that which is offered, yea, condemn it reproachfully, do shut the gate of salvation against themselves. For this railing did proceed from monstrous pride; what meaneth this babbler? Because they neither vouchsafe to hear Paul, and also reproachfully refuse him, as if he were some common jester. 280280 “Trivialis nugator,” silly or paltry trifler. Moreover, they do not loathe his doctrine through rash zeal, but do openly tread under foot that which is brought unto them concerning religion, though as yet they know it not; because these are ashamed to learn any thing of a base and obscure fellow, who had hitherto professed themselves to be teachers of all the whole world.
A declarer of new devils. They do not take devils [deities] in evil part, as the Scripture useth to do; but for the lesser gods or angels, who they thought were in the midst between the highest God and men, whereof Plato maketh mention oftentimes. As touching the sum of the matter, we must note that those things which Paul spake concerning Christ and the resurrection seemed to them to be new devils. Whence we gather, that our faith is principally distinguished and discerned from the superstitions of the Gentiles by these marks; because it setteth forth Christ to be the sole Mediator; because it teacheth us to seek for salvation only at his hands; because it commandeth us to seek remission of our sins in his death, whereby we may be reconciled to God; because it teacheth that men are renewed and fashioned again by his Spirit, who were before profane, and slaves to sin, that they may begin to live righteously and holy. Again, because from such beginnings as do plainly declare that the kingdom of God is spiritual, it lifteth up our minds at length unto the hope of the resurrection to come. For as concerning other things, though the philosophers do not reason purely, yet they say somewhat. Yea, they speak much concerning eternal life and the immortality of the soul; but as touching faith, which showeth free reconciliation in Christ; and regeneration, whereby the Spirit of God doth restore in us the image of God; concerning calling upon God, and the last resurrection, not a word.
19. They brought him to Mars’ Street. Though this verse a place appointed for judgment, yet Luke doth not mean that Paul was brought before the seat of the judges, that he might plead his cause before the judges of Mars’ Street. 281281 “Areopagitis,” the Areopagites. But that he was brought thither, where was most commonly a great assembly of people, that the serious disputation might be had before a great and famous audience. And admit we grant that he was brought before the judgment-seat, yet the end doth declare that he was not presented to the judges, but that he had free liberty to speak as before an audience. And that which followeth shortly after, touching the nature and conditions [manners] of the men of Athens, doth sufficiently declare that their curiosity was the cause; that Paul had such audience given him, that he had such a famous place granted him to preach Christ in, that so many came together. For in any other place it had been a crime worthy of death, to speak in the market or in any other public place, having gathered a company of people together; but there, because those who did carry about trifles had liberty granted them to prate, by reason of the immoderate desire they had to hear news, Paul was permitted to intreat of the mysteries of faith, being requested.
Gave themselves to nothing else. The two vices which Luke reciteth do almost go together. For it falleth out seldom that those who are desirous of novelties are not also babblers. For that saying of Horace is most true, “Fly a demander of questions, for the same is also a blab.” And surely we see that curious men are like rent barrels. 282282 “Doliis pertusis,” broken, leaking casks. Furthermore, both vices came of idleness; not only because the philosophers spent whole days in disputing, but because the common sort was too much set upon novelty; neither was there any craftsman so base there, which would not thrust in himself to set in order the status of Grecia. And surely that which Luke saith here is witnessed by all writers, both Greek and Latin, that there was nothing more light, covetous, or froward than that people. Wherefore, there could never be any certain government set down in that city, which was, notwithstanding, the mistress of sciences. Therefore, in principal power, 283283 “In summa potentia,” though in supreme power, (an independent state.) they had, notwithstanding, no long liberty; neither did they ever cease off from attempting things and making many hurly-burlies, until they brought themselves and all Grecia to utter ruin. For when their state was decayed, yet did not they forsake their boldness. Therefore, Cicero doth laugh at their folly, because they did no less fiercely set forth their decrees then, than when they were lords over Grecia. Now, though there were small hope to do any good among curious men, yet Paul did not neglect the opportunity, if, peradventure, he might gain some of a great company to Christ. Neither was this any small praise for the gospel in the most noble place of the city, and, as it were, in a common theater, to refute and openly to reprove all forged and false worshippings, which had reigned there even until this day.
22. Men of Athens. We may divide this sermon of Paul into five members. For though Luke doth only briefly touch those things which he set down in many words, yet I do not doubt but that he did comprehend the sum, so that he did omit none of the principal points. First, Paul layeth superstition to the charge of the men of Athens, because they worship their gods all at a very venture; 284284 “Fortuito,” fortuitously. secondly, he showeth by natural arguments who and what God is, and how he is rightly worshipped; thirdly, he inveigheth against the blockishness of men, who, though they be created to this end, that they may know their Creator and Maker, yet do they wander and err in darkness like blind men; fourthly, he showed that nothing is more absurd than to draw any portraiture of God, 285285 “Deum statuis vel picturis figurare,” to figure God by picture or statues. seeing that the mind of man is his true image; in the first place, he descendeth at length unto Christ and the resurrection of the dead. For it was requisite to handle those four points generally, before he did descend unto the faith of the gospel.
As it were, more superstitions. The Grecians do oftentimes take [δεισιδαιμονια] in good part; notwithstanding it doth sometimes signify immoderate fear, wherewith superstitious men do carefully torment themselves, whilst that they forge to themselves vain doubts. And this seemeth to be the meaning of this place, that the men of Athens pass all measure in worshipping God, or that they do not perceive what manner [of] work moderation should be; as if he should say, that they deal very undiscreetly in that they weary themselves in going byways. Thus much touching the words; now to the matter. He proveth by this one reason, that all the worshippings of the men of Athens are corrupt, because they be uncertain what gods they ought to worship, because they take in hand rashly and unadvisedly divers rites, and that without measure. For in that they had set up an altar to the unknown God, it was a token that they knew no certainty. They had, indeed, a great company of gods whereof they spake much, but when they know nothing of the true divinity. Furthermore, whosoever doth worship God without any certainty, he worshippeth his own inventions instead of God. Howsoever credulous men do flatter themselves, yet neither doth God allow any religion without knowledge and truth, neither ought it to be counted holy and lawful. Yea, how proud soever they be, yet because they doubt 286286 “Perplexi haerent,” remain perplexed. in their consciences, they must needs be convict by their own judgment. For superstition is always fearful, and doth ever know and then coin some new thing.
Therefore we see how miserable their condition is who have not the certain light of the truth, because they do both always doubt in themselves, and lose their labor before God. Notwithstanding, we must note that the unbelievers, whilst that they sometimes make themselves blind through voluntary stubbornness, and are sometimes amidst divers and manifold doubts, [yet] strive and fight with themselves. Oftentimes they do not only flatter themselves, but if any man dare mutter against their folly, they rage cruelly against him; the devil doth so bewitch them, that they think nothing to be better than that which pleaseth them. Nevertheless, if there arise any doubt, if any seducer put up his head, if any new folly [delirium] begin to appear, they do not only waver, being in doubt, but also of their own accord offer themselves to be carried hither and thither. Whereby it appeareth, that neither in judgment, neither in quiet state of mind, they stay and rest in the common custom of worshipping God, but that they droop like drunken men. But carefulness and doubtfulness, [anxiety,] which doth not suffer the unbelievers to flatter and please themselves, is better than amazedness. 287287 “Tali stupore magis tolerabilis est,” is more tolerable than such stupor. Finally, though superstition be not always fearful, yet forasmuch as it is inwrapt in divers errors, it disquieteth men’s minds, and doth prick them with divers blind torments. This was the cause that the men of Athens did mix their domestical gods (whom they thought they knew, because in their vain opinion they had invented them) with unknown gods. For thereby appeareth their unquietness, because they confess that they have not as yet done as they ought, when they have done sacrifice to the familiar 288288 “Popularibus,” popular. gods, which they had received of their fathers, and whom they called their country gods. 289289 “Indigetas et patrios,” native and country gods. Therefore, to the end Paul may pluck out of their minds all vain and false persuasions, he taketh this maxim, that they know not what they worship, neither have they any certain divine power, [deity.] For if they had known any god at all, being content with him, they would never have fallen away unto unknown gods, forasmuch as the knowledge of the true God alone is sufficient for the abolishig of all idols.
23. To the unknown God. I can well grant that this altar was dedicated to all strange gods; yet I cannot yield to that which Jerome saith, that Paul did, by a certain holy wiliness, attribute that to one God which was written of many. For seeing the superscription [inscription] was common in every man’s mouth, there was no place for subtilty, [craft;] why did he then change the plural number? Surely, not that he might deceive the men of Athens, but because the matter did so require, he said, that he brought doctrine concerning an unknown god. And after he hath showed that they are deceived, because they knew not what god thee ought to worship, and had no certain godhood in a great leap of gods, he doth now insinuate himself, and doth purchase favor for his doctrine. Because it was an unjust thing to reject that which was uttered concerning a new god, to whom they had already given over themselves; and it was far better first to know him, than rashly to worship him whom they knew not. Thus doth Paul return again to that principle, that God cannot be worshipped rightly unless he be first made known.
But here may a question be moved: how he saith that God was worshipped at Athens, who doth refuse all worshippings which are not agreeable to the prescript of his law, yea, he pronounceth that all that is idolatry which men invent without his Word? If God allow no worship but that which is agreeable to his Word, how doth Paul give this praise to men, who did dote without measure that they worshipped God? For Christ, in condemning the Samaritans, is content 290290 “Nititur et contentus est,” founds on, and is contented with. with this one principle, in that they worship God without knowledge, (John 4:22;) and yet they did boast that they worshipped the God of Abraham. Then, what shall we say of the men of Athens, who, having buried and quite put out the remembrance of the true God, had put in place of him Jupiter, Mercury, Pallas, and all that filthy rabble? I answer, that Paul doth not in the place commend that which the men of Athens had done; but taketh from their affection, though it were corrupt, free matter for teaching.
24. God, who hath made the world. Paul’s drift is to teach what God is. Furthermore, because he hath to deal with profane men, he draweth proofs from nature itself; for in vain should he have cited 291291 “Pugnasset,” contended with them by citing. testimonies of Scripture. I said that this was the holy man’s purpose, to bring the men of Athens unto the true God. For they were persuaded that there was some divinity; only their preposterous religion was to be reformed. Whence we gather, that the world doth go astray through bending crooks and boughts, yea, that it is in a mere labyrinth, so long as there remaineth a confused opinion concerning the nature of God. For this is the true rule of godliness, distinctly and plainly to know who that God whom we worship is. If any man will intreat generally of religion, this must be the first point, that there is some divine power or godhead which men ought to worship. But because that was out of question, Paul descendeth unto the second point, that true God must be distinguished from all vain inventions. So that he beginneth with the definition of God, that he may thence prove how he ought to be worshipped; because the one dependeth upon the other. For whence came so many false worshippings, and such rashness to increase the same oftentimes, save only because all men forged to themselves a God at their pleasure? And nothing is more easy than to corrupt the pure worship of God, when men esteem God after their sense and wit.
Wherefore, there is nothing more fit to destroy all corrupt worshippings, than to make this beginning, and to show of what sort the nature of God is. Also our Savior Christ reasoneth thus, John 4:24, “God is a Spirit.” Therefore he alloweth no other worshippers but such as worship him spiritually. And surely he doth not subtilely dispute of the secret substance [essence] of God; but by his works he declareth which is the profitable knowledge of him. And what doth Paul gather thence, because God is the creator, framer, and Lord of the world? to wit, that he dwelleth not in temples made with hands. For, seeing that it appeareth plainly by the creation of the world, that the righteousness, wisdom, goodness, and power of God doth reach beyond the bounds of heaven and earth; it followeth, that he can be included and shut up within no space of place.
Notwithstanding this demonstration seemeth to have been in vain, because they might readily have said, that images and pictures were placed in temples to testify God’s presence; and that none was so gross but that he knew that God did fulfill [fill] all things. I answer, that that is true which I said a little before, that idolatry is contrary to itself. The unbelievers said, that they worshipped the gods before their images; but unless they had tied the Godhead and power of God to images, and had hoped 292292 “An inde sperassent,” could they have hoped? to be holpen thereby, would they have directed their prayers thither? Hereby it came also to pass, that one temple was more holy than another. They ran to Delphos that they might fet [fetch] the oracles of Apollo thence. Minerva had her seat and mansion at Athens. Now we see that Paul doth touch that false opinion, whereby men have always been deceived; because they feigned to themselves a carnal God.
This is the first entrance into the true knowledge of God, if we go without ourselves, and do not measure him by the capacity of our mind; yea, if we imagine nothing of him according to the understanding of our flesh, 293293 “Pro sensu carnis nostrae,” according to our carnal sense. but place him above the world, and distinguish him from creatures. From which sobriety the whole world was always far; because this wickedness is in men, naturally to deform God’s glory with their inventions. For as they be carnal and earthy, they will have one that shall be answerable to their nature. Secondly, after their boldness they fashion him so as they may comprehend him. By such inventions is the sincere and plain knowledge of God corrupt; yea, his truth, as saith Paul, is turned into a lie, (Romans 1:25.) For whosoever doth not ascend high above the world, he apprehendeth vain shadows and ghosts instead of God. Again, unless we be carried up into heaven with the wings of faith, we must needs vanish away in our own cogitations. And no marvel if the Gentiles were so grossly deluded and deceived, to include God in the elements of the world, after that they had pulled him out of his heavenly throne; seeing that the same befell the Jews, to whom notwithstanding the Lord had showed his spiritual glory. For it is not without cause that Isaiah doth chide them for including God within the walls of the temple, (Isaiah 66:1.) And we gather out of Stephen’s sermon, that this vice was common to all ages; which sermon is set down by Luke in the 7th chapter and 49th verse.
If any man asked the Jews whose grossness the Holy Ghost reproveth, if they thought that God was included in their temple, they would stoutly have denied that they were in any such gross error. But because they did only behold the temple, and did rise no higher in their minds, and trusting the temple, and did boast that God was as it were bound to them, the Spirit doth for good causes reprehend them, for tying him to the temple as If he were a mortal man. For this is true which I said even now, that superstition is contrary to itself, and that it doth vanish away into divers imaginations. Neither have the Papists at this day any defense, saying that wherewith their errors after a sort. In some, superstition doth feign that God dwelleth in temples made with hands, not that it will shut him up as it were in a prison; 294294 “In ergastulis,” in houses of hard labor. but because it doth dream of a carnal (or fleshly) God, and doth attribute a certain power to idols, and doth translate the glory of God unto external shows.
But if God do not dwell in temples made with hands, (2 Kings 19:15,) why doth he testify in so many places of Scripture, that he sitteth between the cherubims, and that the temple is his eternal rest? (Psalm 80:1; 132:14.) I answer, As he was not tied to any place, so he meant nothing less than to tie his people to earthly signs, but rather he cometh down to them that he might lift them up unto himself. Therefore, those men did wickedly abuse the temple and the ark, who did so behold those things that they stayed still upon the earth, and did depart from the spiritual worship of God. Hereby we see that there was great difference between those tokens of God’s presence which men invented to themselves unadvisedly, and those which were ordained by God, because men do always incline downward, that they may lay hold upon [apprehend] God after a carnal manner; but God by the leading of his word doth lift them upward. Only he useth middle signs and tokens, whereby he doth insinuate himself with slow men, 295295 “Familiariter... se insinuet,” he may familiarly insinuate himself. until they may ascend into heaven by degrees (and steps.)
25. Neither is he worshipped with man’s hands. The same question which was answered of late concerning the temple, may now be objected touching ceremonies. For it seemeth that that may be translated unto the worshippings of the law of Moses, which Paul condemneth in the ceremonies of the Gentiles. But we may readily answer, that the faithful did never properly place the worship of God in ceremonies; but they did only count them helps wherewith they might exercise themselves according to their infirmity. When they did slay beasts, offered bread and drink offerings, light torches and other lights, they knew that godliness was not placed in these things, but being holpen by these, 296296 “Talibus rudimentis,” by such rudiments. they did always look unto the spiritual worship of God, and they made account of it alone. And God himself saith plainly in many places, that he doth not pass for any external or visible thing, that ceremonies are of themselves of no importance, and that he is worshipped no otherwise but by faith, a pure conscience, by prayer and thankfulness. What did the Gentiles then? to wit, when they erected images, they offered incense, they set forth plays, and laid their cushions before their idols, they thought they had fulfilled the offices of godliness excellent well. Not only the philosophers, but also the poets, do sometimes deride the folly of the common people, because they did disorderly place the worship of God in the pomp and gorgeousness of ceremonies. That I may omit infinite testimonies, that of Persius is well known:
“Tell me, ye priests to sacred rites, what profit gold doth bring? The same which Venus’ puppets fine, certes no other thing. Why give not we to gods that which the blear-eyed issue could of great Messiah never give from out their dish of gold? Right justly deem’d a conscience clear, and heavenly thoughts of mind, A breast with mildness such adorn’d, as virtue hath assign’d, Let me in temples offer these, Then sacrifice the gods shall please.”
And, undoubtedly, the Lord caused profane men to utter such speeches, that they might take away all color of ignorance. But it doth plainly appear, that those who spake thus did straightway slide back again unto common madness; yea, that they did never thoroughly understand what this meant. For though those who pass the common people in wit be enforced to confess that bare ceremonies are in no estimation, yet it is impossible to pull from them this persuasion, but that they will think that they be a part of the divine worship. Therefore, the more diligently they give themselves to such vanities, they do not doubt but that they do the duties of godliness well. Therefore, because all mortal men, from the highest to the lowest, do think that God is pacified with external things, and they will, with their own works, fulfill their duty towards him, that doth Paul refute. There is also a reason added, because, seeing he is Lord of heaven and earth, he needeth nothing, because, seeing that he giveth bread and life to men, he can receive nothing of them again. For what can they bring of their own, who, being destitute of all good things, have nothing but of his free goodness, yea, who are nothing but by his mere grace, who shall forthwith be brought to nought, if he withdraw the Spirit whereby they live? Whereupon it followeth, that they are not only dull, but too proud, if they thrust in themselves to worship God with the works of their own hands.
For whereas he saith, that alms and the duties of love are sweet-smelling sacrifices, that must be distinguished from the matter which we have now in hand, where Paul doth only intreat of the ceremonies which the unbelievers put in place of the spiritual worship of God. By life and breath is mean the life which men live so long as the soul and body are joined together. Touching the end of the sentence, though some Greek books 297297 “Codices,” manuscripts. agree in this reading, [κατα παντα], “through all things;” yet that seemeth to me more agreeable which the old interpreter hath, [κατα παντα], “and all things,” because it is both plainer, and doth also contain a more perfect and full doctrine. For thence we do better gather that men have nothing of their own; and also certain Greek copies agree thereto.
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,”
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.
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.