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7 Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” 2And Stephen replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ 4Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living. 5He did not give him any of it as a heritage, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as his possession and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child. 6And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and mistreat them during four hundred years. 7‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ”and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ 8Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
Stephen’s Speech to the Council
Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” 2And Stephen replied:
“Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ 4Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living. 5He did not give him any of it as a heritage, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as his possession and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child. 6And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and mistreat them during four hundred years. 7‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ”and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ 8Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
9 “The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, 10and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11Now there came a famine throughout Egypt and Canaan, and great suffering, and our ancestors could find no food. 12But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there on their first visit. 13On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five in all; 15so Jacob went down to Egypt. He himself died there as well as our ancestors, 16and their bodies were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
17 “But as the time drew near for the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Abraham, our people in Egypt increased and multiplied 18until another king who had not known Joseph ruled over Egypt. 19He dealt craftily with our race and forced our ancestors to abandon their infants so that they would die. 20At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful before God. For three months he was brought up in his father’s house; 21and when he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22So Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds.
23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his relatives, the Israelites. 24When he saw one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25He supposed that his kinsfolk would understand that God through him was rescuing them, but they did not understand. 26The next day he came to some of them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you wrong each other?’ 27But the man who was wronging his neighbor pushed Moses aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29When he heard this, Moses fled and became a resident alien in the land of Midian. There he became the father of two sons.
30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. 31When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look. 33Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34I have surely seen the mistreatment of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Come now, I will send you to Egypt.’
35 “It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. 37This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up.’ 38He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living oracles to give to us. 39Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40saying to Aaron, ‘Make gods for us who will lead the way for us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’ 41At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and reveled in the works of their hands. 42But God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
‘Did you offer to me slain victims and sacrifices
forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
No; you took along the tent of Moloch,
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship;
so I will remove you beyond Babylon.’
44 “Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, 46who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. 47But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
The Stoning of Stephen
54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
1. There appeareth as yet some color of equity in the high priest and in the council; and yet, notwithstanding, there is a most unjust prejudice in his words; for he asketh him not what cause he had to teach thus, neither doth he admit him unto the defense of right, (which was, notwithstanding, the chief;) but he demanded precisely whether Stephen uttered these words, whatsoever they were; as the Papists at this day will not demand what doctrine it is, and whether it can be proved out of the Scriptures; but they inquire 364364 “Sed tanum hoc quaerint,” but the only thing they ask is. whether any man durst mutter against their superstitions, that so soon as he is convict, they may forthwith burn 365365 “Vulcano devoveant,” devote him to Vulcan, (to the flames.) him. Furthermore, Stephen’s answer may seem at the first blush absurd and foolish. He beginneth first at the very first beginning; afterwards he maketh a long narration, wherein there is no mention made, in a manner, of the matter in hand; and there can be no greater fault than to utter many words which are nothing appertinent unto the matter; 366366 “Et extra rem vagari,” and wander from the subject. but whosoever shall thoroughly consider this long speech, he shall find nothing therein which is superfluous; and shall full well perceive that Stephen speaketh very ap-pertinently, 367367 “Apposito,” appositely. as the matter requireth. He was accused as an apostate (or revolt,) which did attempt the overthrow of religion and the worship of God; therefore, he beateth in 368368 “Sedulo igitur inculcat,” he therefore strenuously maintains. this diligently, that he retaineth that God which the fathers have always worshipped, so that he turneth away the crime of wicked backsliding; 369369 “Ita impiae defectiones cremen avertit,” he thus repels the charge of impious defection or revolt. and declareth that his enemies were pricked forward with nothing less than with the zeal of the law, for they bear a show that they were wholly determined 370370 “Simulabant enim nihil sibi esse propositum quam,” for they pretended that their only object was. to increase the glory of God; therefore, he wringeth from them this false boasting, and because they had the fathers always in their mouths, because they were puffed up with the glory of their nation, Stephen declareth also that they have no cause to be proud of this, but rather that the corruptions of the fathers were so great and so many, that they ought to be ashamed and humbled.
As concerning the principal state of the cause, because the question was concerning the temple and the ceremonies, he affirmeth plainly that their fathers were elected of God to be a peculiar people before there was any temple, and before Moses was born; and to this end tendeth that exordium or beginning which is so far fet, (fetched.) Secondly, he telleth them that all external rites which God gave by the hand of Moses were fashioned according to the heavenly pattern.
Whereupon it followeth, that the ceremonial law is referred unto another end, and that those deal foolishly and disorderly who omit the truth, and stay only in the signs. If the readers shall refer the whole oration of Stephen unto these points, they shall find nothing therein which agreeth not very well with the cause, as I shall declare again briefly in the end; nevertheless, that scope of the whole oration shall not hinder but that we may discuss all things briefly which are worth the noting.
2. Men, brethren, and fathers. Although Stephen saw that those which sat in the council were, for the most part, the sworn enemies of Christ, yet because the ordinary government of the people did belong to them, and they had the oversight of the Church, which God had not as yet cast off, therefore, he is not afraid, for modesty’s sake, to call them fathers. Neither doth he flatteringly purchase favor hereby; but he giveth this honor to the order and government appointed by God, until such time as the authority should be taken from them, the order being altered. Nevertheless, the reverence of the place which they had doth not hinder him nor stop his mouth; but that he doth freely dissent from them, whereby it appeareth how ridiculous the Papists are who will have us so tied unto bare and vain invented titles, that they may enforce us to subscribe unto their decrees, though they be never so wicked.
The God of glory. By this beginning, he declareth that he doth not disagree or dissent from the fathers in true religion which they followed; for all religion, the worship of God, the doctrine of the law, all prophecies, did depend upon that covenant which God made with Abraham; therefore, when Stephen confessed that God appeared to Abraham, he embraceth the law and the prophets, which flow from that first revelation as from a fountain; moreover, he calleth him the God of glory, that he may distinguish him from the false and reigned gods, who alone is worthy of glory.
When he was in Mesopotamia. It is well known that that is called by this name which lieth between the river Tigris and Euphrates; and he saith before, he dwelt in Charran, because Abraham, being warned by an oracle, fled 371371 “Migravit,” migrated. from Chaldea to Charran, which is a city of Mesopotamia, famous by reason of the slaughter of Crassus and the Roman army; although Pliny saith that it was a city of Arabia; and it is no marvel that Chaldea is in this place comprehended under the name of Mesopotamia, because, although that region, which is enclosed with Tigris and Euphrates, [Mesopotamia,] be properly the country between two rivers, yet those which set down any description of countries 372372 “Geographi,” geographers. do call both Assyria and Chaldea by this name.
The sum is this, that Abraham being commanded by God, did forsake his country, and so he was prevented with the mere goodness of God when as he sought that which was offered him at home of the [its] own accord. Read the last chapter of Joshua; but it seemeth that Moses’ narration doth somewhat disagree with this, for after that, about the end of the 11th chapter of Genesis, he had declared, that Abraham doth [did] go into another country to dwell, having left his house, he addeth, in the beginning of the 12th, that God spake unto Abraham. This is easily answered, for Moses reciteth not in this latter place what happened after the departure of Abraham; but lest any man should think that Abraham wandered into other countries, having unadvisedly forsaken his own house, (as light and indiscreet men 373373 “Leves et inconsiderati homines,” fickle and inconsiderate. used to do sometimes,) he showeth the cause of his departure, to wit, because he was commanded by God to flit into another place. And thus much do the words of the oracle import. For, if he had been a stranger in another country, God could not have commanded him to depart out of his native soil, forsaking his kinsmen and father’s house. Therefore, we see that this place agreeth wondrous well with the words of Moses. For after that Moses hath said that Abraham went to Charran, to the end he may show that this journey was taken in hand, not through any lightness of man, but at the commandment of God, he addeth that afterwards which he had before omitted, which manner of speaking is much used of the Hebrews.
3. Come out of thy country. God useth many words, to the end he may the more wound the mind of Abraham, as if it were not a thing sharp enough of itself to be banished out of his own country. And that served to try his faith; even as that other thing also, that God assigneth him no land wherein he may dwell, but maketh him stand in doubt, and wait for a time. Wherefore the obedience of Abraham was so much the more to be commended, because the sweetness of his native soil keepeth him not back from going willingly, as it were, into exile; and in that he doubteth not to follow God, although there appear no certain resting-place, but is commanded to wander to and fro for a time. Whereas, the showing of the land is deferred, it differeth not much from deceiving of him. 374374 “A frustratione,” from a frustrating of him, from rendering his journey vain.
Furthermore, we learn continually by our own experience how profitable it was for Abraham thus to be exercised, and, as it were, trained by little and little. Many men are carried with a godly affection to attempt great things, but by and by, so soon as their heat is waxen cold, it repenteth them of their purpose, and they would gladly slip their necks out of the collar. 375375 “Ac libentor cursum reflecterent,” and they would willingly retrace their steps. Therefore, lest Abraham should faint when he was in the midst of his course, through the remembrance of those things which he had left behind him, God sifteth and trieth his mind thoroughly, immediately after he had begun, lest he take anything in hand lightly and unadvisedly. To this purpose serveth the parable which Christ setteth before us concerning the building of the tower, (Luke 14:28.) For he teacheth that we must first cast the charges, lest with shame we be enforced to leave off building after we have begun. And though this were a particular thing in Abraham in that he was commanded to go out of his own country, and to go into a far country, in that God carried him from place to place, yet, notwithstanding, there is in these words some figure of the calling of us all. We are not all simply commanded to forsake our country, but we are commanded to deny ourselves; we are not commanded to come out of our father’s house, but to bid adieu to our own will, and to the desires of our own flesh. Again, if father and mother, wife and children, hinder us from following God, we must forsake them all. The commandment is given simply to Abraham to flit; but we are commanded to do the stone upon condition. For if in any place we cannot serve God, we must rather make choice of exile than to stay in our nest, being slothful and sluggish. Therefore, let us have the example of Abraham always before our eyes. He is the father of the faithful, he was tried all manner of ways. Doth he forget his country, his friends, and himself, that he may give over himself unto God? (Romans 4:16,17.) If we will be counted the children of God, we must not degenerate from him.
Which I shall show thee. We must note that which I touched a little before, that Abraham is kept in doubt, to the end his patience may be tried. And this must we also apply to our own use, that we may learn to depend wholly upon God. And surely this is a principal exercise of our faith to put our trust in God, even when we see nothing. God, indeed, will oftentimes show us a land wherein he granteth us an abiding-place; yet, notwithstanding, because we are strangers in the world, we have no certain and continual place of abode anywhere. Again, our life, as Paul saith, is hid, (Colossians 3:3;) and being like unto dead men, we hope for salvation, which is hid in heaven. Therefore, as touching our perpetual habitation, God doth cause us to depend upon his providence alone, when he commandeth us, as it were, to wander in a strange country. Lest such deferring discourage us, we must hold this general rule of faith, that we must go whither God calleth us, howsoever he do not show that which he promiseth.
4. Then going out. The readiness and willingness of faith is commended in these words. For when he is called he maketh no delay, but maketh haste 376376 “Non procrastinat, sed moras omnes rampit,” he does not procrastinate, but breaks off all delay. and subdueth all his affections, that they may obey the holy commandment of God. It is uncertain for what cause he stayed at Charran; yet it may be that the weakness of his father caused him to tarry there, who, as we read, died there shortly after; or else, because he durst go no further, until such time as the Lord had told him whither he should go. It is more like to be true in mine opinion, that he was stayed there a while with the wearisomeness and sickness of his father, because Stephen saith plainly that he was brought thence after the death of his father.
5. We must note three firings in this place; that God exercised the patience of his servant, because, after that he had brought him out of his own country, he dwelt in the land of Canaan as a stranger.
[First,] For Abraham possessed not one foot’s-breadth, save only that which he bought to bury in. And that is counted no possession which serveth not for the uses of this life. Secondly, forasmuch as that field was bought, Stephen doth for good causes say, that God gave Abraham nothing. For that could not be gotten either with money, or by any other means which man could invent, which Abraham did hope for of the promise.
Secondly, we must note, that though God did not show Abraham the thing itself as yet, yet did he uphold him by his word. And this is our stay, when God promiseth that that is laid up for us which as yet we possess not. Therefore, when as the thing, that is, the possession of the land, was wanting, Abraham had for his help and stay the promise of God; and being content with the same alone, he desired nothing in the land of Canaan save only an uncertain resting-place wherein he might sojourn.
For as much as [επαγγελλεσθαι] signifieth simply to promise, I thought there was no cause why, with Erasmus, I should translate it in this place, to promise again. For I resolve it adversatively, although he had promised, that by the way we may note as it were, a show of deceiving, 377377 “Ut oblique species frustrationis,” that a species of frustration may be indirectly noted. unless peradventure some man be disposed to apply it unto the promises which are oftentimes repeated. 378378 “Quod liberum relinquo,” I leave the point open, omitted.
Thirdly, we must note that the promise was such that it did not much differ from a mere mock. God promised the land to the seed of Abraham when he was fourscore years old, and had to wife one that was barren, neither had he any hope to have any issue. This seemeth to be more than frivolous. For why doth he not rather promise that he will give him seed? But this was a notable trial of faith, in that Abraham, without asking any question, or any curious disputation, did obediently and meekly embrace that which he had heard proceed out of the mouth of the Lord. Therefore, let us remember that God doth so lift up and comfort his servant with his word, that he doth not only defer the giving of the thing, 379379 “Exhibitionem,” the exhibition, or manifestation. but also he may seem after a sort to mock him; as he dealeth with us also in some respect. For, although he call us the heirs of the world, (James 2:5,) he suffereth us oftentimes to want even a competent living and necessary helps. And this doth he of set purpose, that he may bring the wisdom of the flesh to nought, seeing that we do not otherwise give due honor to his word.
6. Thy seed shall be a stranger. Stephen putteth the Jews in mind in how miserable and reproachful an estate their fathers were in Egypt; and showeth that this their servitude, wherewith they were oppressed, came not by chance; because it was foretold long before by the oracle of God. This history ought to have been of great force, partly to tame their lofty courages, 380380 “Feroces illorum spiritus,” their fierce tempers. and to teach them modesty; partly to set forth the grace of God, because God had always had a care of that nation. For this is a singular benefit, in that the people are restored wonderfully, as it were, from death to life. In the mean season, the Jews are taught that the Church of God was elsewhere than in the land wherein they dwelt; that the fathers were chosen to be a peculiar people, and that they were kept safe under the tuition of God, before ever the temple was built, or the external ceremonies of the law were instituted.
These things appertain unto the general scope or drift of the sermon. But hence may we gather a profitable admonition. Bondage is of itself hard and bitter; but when cruelty of masters is added thereunto, it seemeth to be intolerable. Wherefore, it must needs be that the mind of the godly man was sore wounded, when he heard that his seed should serve, and be villanously and cruelly entreated, Moreover, this was no small trial; forasmuch as these things were, to look to contrary—the inheritance of the land of Canaan which was now promised, and bondage in a strange country. For who would not have thought that God had, as it were, forgotten his former promise, when as he telleth Abraham that his seed shall endure miserable bondage? He saith, at the first, that he will give his seed the land. But he had as yet no seed; yea, all hope of seed was now cut off. But when doth he promise that he will give it? After his death. By and by he saith, that that seed should be carried away to another place, that it may serve strangers. And how long? Four hundred years. Doth he not seem, by this means, to pull back his hand, that he may not perform that which he had promised?
Let us know that this was done, (not once only,) for God dealeth oftentimes with us thus, so that he may seem contrary to himself; and he speaketh also in such sort as that he may seem to call back 381381 “Retractare,” to retract. that which he had promised. Therefore, it cannot be but that flesh will judge that he is contrary to himself; but faith doth know that his words do agree well together amongst themselves, and with his works. And this is the purpose of God, to the end he may extend the sight of our faith the farther, to show his promises afar off, as it were, a long place [space] being put between. Therefore it is our duty to go forward, and to strive to attain unto that salvation which is set before us through many straits, 382382 “Per innumeros anfractus,” though innumerable wanderings. through divers lets, through long distance, through the midst of deeps, and, finally, through death itself. Furthermore, seeing that we see that the people which God had chosen did serve the Egyptians, and was uncourteously 383383 “Inhumaniter,” inhumanly. afflicted, we must not be discouraged if the like condition be prepared for us at this day. For it is no new thing, neither any unwonted thing, for the Church of God to lie oppressed under tyranny, and to be, as it were, trodden under foot of the wicked.
7. The nation whom they shall serve. This judgment is joined with the deliverance of the people. For, whereas God doth punish the cruelty and tyranny of the wicked Egyptians, he doth that for his people’s sake, whom he took into his tuition, that it may be seen that he is the deliverer of his Church. Therefore, so often as we are unjustly afflicted by the wicked, let us remember that God is the Judge of the world, who will let no injuries be unpunished. Let every man thus think with himself, Seeing that I am under the tuition of God, who is the Judge of the world, and to whom it belongeth to punish all injuries, those shall not escape his hand who trouble me now. There is the like place in Deuteronomy 32:43, where God saith that vengeance is his. Whence Paul gathereth that we must give place to wrath, (Romans 12:19;) as if he should say, that this ought to serve to reform impatience, and to bridle our evil affections, in that God promiseth that he will revenge; for he which revengeth himself doth take God’s office from him. And let us still remember that which I have already said, that God is touched with an especial care to revenge injuries done to his children, as it is in the Psalm, “Hurt not mine anointed, and be not troublesome to my prophets.”
They shall come thence and serve me. Therefore their deliverance went before the temple and the worship of the law; whereupon it followeth, that the grace of God was not tied to ceremonies. Nevertheless, Stephen noteth the end of their deliverance, that God chose both a peculiar people and a peculiar place for the true worship of his name. Whence we gather again, that we must regard what he commandeth and alloweth. Other nations also were determined to worship God; but because their rites were corrupt and bastardly, 384384 “Degeneres,” degenerate. God doth separate the Jews from the rest, and assigneth them a place where he will have them to worship him sincerely and duly as they ought. This place teacheth us, that God’s benefits must be referred to this end, that men might be brought to addict and give over themselves wholly to him. Now, since that God hath dispersed the treasures of his grace throughout the whole world, we must endeavor to sanctify him, by worshipping him purely and holily, in what country soever we dwell.
8. He gave him the covenant. When as he confesseth that circumcision is the covenant of God, he cleareth himself sufficiently of that crime which was laid to his charge; but, in the mean season, he showeth that the Jews deal amiss, if they place the beginning of their salvation in the external sign. For if Abraham was called, and the land and redemption promised to his seed before such time as he was circumcised, it appeareth that the glory of the whole stock cloth not depend upon circumcision. Paul useth the same argument in the 4th chapter to the Romans, (Romans 4:11.) For, seeing that Abraham obtained righteousness, and pleased God before he was circumcised, he gathereth thence that circumcision is not the cause of righteousness. Therefore we see that Stephen frameth no vain and idle narration; because this was very much appertinent unto the cause, that the Jews might remember how God had adopted them with their fathers, and it is to be thought that Stephen did plainly express both things; that although circumcision was given by God, that it might be a sign of grace, yet was the adoption before it both in order and in time. But we have no need to dispute any longer in this place concerning the nature and force of circumcision. Only let us note this, that God doth first promise those things to Abraham which he confirmeth afterward by circumcision, that we may know that the signs are vain and nothing worth, unless the word go before. Let us also note, that there is a profitable doctrine contained in the word covenant, to wit, that God maketh his covenant with us in the sacraments, that he may declare his love toward us; which thing, if it be true, first, they are not only works of external profession amongst men, but they gave great force inwardly before God, to confirm the faith. Secondly, they are no vain figures; because God, who is true figureth nothing there which he doth not perform.
9. Now followeth the greatest wickedness of the nation of Israel, that they conspired 385385 “Impia et nefaria conspiratione,” by a nefarious and impious conspiracy. together to oppress their innocent brother, which cruelty is contrary 386386 “Abhorret,” is abhorrent from. to nature. Neither could the Jews object that it was a private fault of a few; for the infamy reacheth unto all the people. Forasmuch as all the patriarchs, Benjamin excepted, had polluted themselves with that treachery; therefore in that Stephen vouchsafeth to give them an honorable name that redoundeth to the greater reproach of the nation. They boasted proudly of their fathers; he showeth what manner [of] persons the chief of them were; to wit, murderers of their brother, 387387 “Fratricidae,” fratricides. so much as in them laid. For, besides that slavery was a kind of death, we know what they went about at the first and, secondly, what cruel punishments Joseph suffered, of all which his brethren were guilty. Hereby it appeareth that God was bountiful and merciful to those which were, as it were unwilling, and which did resist him. For him (who was about to be the author of health and help 388388 “Salutis minister,” the minister or instrument of their safety. ) would they have destroyed. Wherefore they did what they could to renounce all the benefits of God. So he will declare afterward that Moses was rejected when he was offered of God to be a redeemer. Therefore, the Jews have small cause to brag of the excellency of their kindred; but this alone remaineth for them, that, being ashamed, 389389 “Pudore confusi,” confounded with shame. they confess that whosoever they are, they have the same through the mere mercy of God, and that they consider that the law was given to set forth the same.
God was with him. God was not so with him that he did always show forth his power in helping him. For that is no small thing which is said in the Psalm, (105:18,) “That the iron went through his soul.” Surely, it must needs be that he was in great heaviness, 390390 “Ingenti moerore confundi,” overwhelmed with deepest sorrow. when, being destitute of all help, he suffered reproach also together with bonds and the punishment of an ungodly and wicked man; but God useth oftentimes to be present with his in such sort, that he lieth hid for a time. And the end was an evident 391391 “Illustre,” illustrious. token of his presence, which Joseph saw not at the first. Furthermore, we ought to remember this every now and then, that Joseph was not delivered because he had called upon God in the [a] temple but afar off in Egypt.
10. Stephen addeth the means, because God gave him favor in the sight of Pharaoh. God could have delivered him by some other means, but his counsel had respect unto a farther thing, that Joseph, being ruler of the kingdom, might entertain his father and all his family. In these two words, favor and wisdom, there is the figure hypalloge. For the wisdom wherewith Joseph was endued was the cause that he found favor; although I confess that they were two distinct benefits. For, though Joseph were a faithful interpreter of dreams, and did excel in divine wisdom, yet the proud tyrant would never have brought him to so great honor, unless God had bent the mind of Pharaoh unto a certain unwonted love; yet, notwithstanding, we must consider that order whereby God useth to bring him into favor. 392392 “Illi Deus gratiam conciliat,” procureth favor for him. Wisdom doth not only signify the gift of prophecy in interpreting dreams, but prudence in giving counsel; for Moses putteth in both. That which Stephen reporteth of one man in this place is extended unto all. For what aptness and readiness 393393 “Dexteritas,” dexterity. soever is in men, it ought to be reckoned amongst the gifts of God, and that his special gifts. 394394 “Pro modo inaequali,” according to the unequal mode of distribution, omitted. And it is he that giveth good success as it pleaseth him, that his gifts may be profitable to that end for which it seemed good to him to give them. Therefore, although Joseph be made chief ruler of Egypt by Pharaoh, yet is he lifted up to so great honor properly by the hand of God. 395395 “Non nisi Dei manu,” by nought but the hand of God.
11. There came a famine. Hereby it appeareth that the deliverance of Joseph was such a benefit as was common to all the family of Jacob. For, seeing the famine drew on, 396396 “Ventura esset,” was about to come. Joseph was sent before in due time to provide sustenance to feed the hungry; as he himself doth acknowledge the wonderful counsel of God in that point. Nevertheless, the free goodness of God appeareth plainly in the person of Joseph, whilst that he is appointed to nourish and feed his brethren, who had sold him, and by that means sent him far away, and thought that he was gone away quite 397397 “Prorsus exterminatum,” completely exterminated. out of the world. He putteth meat in their mouths who had thrown him into a pit, and had deprived him of the air and the common breath. Finally, he nourisheth and preserveth their life who were not afraid 398398 “Non dubitaverant,” had not hesitated. to take from him his life. In the mean season, Stephen putteth the Jews in mind of this, that the patriarchs were enforced to depart out of that land which was given them for an heritage, and that they died in another place. Therefore, forasmuch as they were sojourners in it, they are at length banished out of the same. 399399 “Exulant,” become exiles.
14. Whereas he saith that Jacob came into Egypt with seventy-five souls, it agreeth not with the words of Moses; for Moses maketh mention of seventy only. Jerome thinketh that Luke setteth not down, word for word, those things which Stephen had spoken, or that he took this number out of the Greek translation of Moses, (Genesis 46:27,) either because he himself, being a proselyte, had not the knowledge of the Hebrew tongue, or because he would grant the Gentiles this, who used to read it thus. 400400 “Apud quas recepta erat illa lectio,” among whom that reading was received. Furthermore, it is uncertain whether the Greek interpreters set down this number of set purpose, or whether it crop [crept] in afterward through negligence, [mistake;] which (I mean the latter) might well be, forasmuch as the Grecians used to set down their numbers in letters. Augustine, in his 26th book of City of God, [De Civitate Dei,] thinketh that Joseph’s nephews and kinsmen 401401 “Nepotes ac pronepotes,” grandsons and great-grandsons. are comprehended in this number; and so he thinketh that the words went down doth signify all that time which Jacob lived. But that conjecture can by no means be received. For, in the mean space, the other patriarchs also had many children born to them. This seemeth to me a thing like to be true, that the Seventy Interpreters did translate that truly which was in Moses. And we cannot say that they were deceived; forasmuch as [in] Deuteronomy 10, where this number is repeated, they agree with Moses, at least as that place was read without all doubt in the time of Jerome; for those copies which are printed at this day have it otherwise. Therefore, I think that this difference came through the error of the writers which wrote out the books. 402402 “Librariorum,” copyists. And it was a matter of no such weight, for which Luke ought to have troubled the Gentiles which were accustomed with the Greek reading. And it may be that he himself did put down the true number; and that some man did correct the same amiss out of that place of Moses. For we know that those which had the New Testament in hand were ignorant of the Hebrew tongue, yet skillful in 403403 “Familiariter,” familiar with. the Greek,
Therefore, to the end [that] the words of Stephen might agree with the place of Moses, it is to be thought that that false number which was found in the Greek translation of Genesis was by them put in also in this place; concerning which, if any man contend more stubbornly, let us suffer him to be wise without measure. Let us remember that it is not without cause that Paul doth forbid us to be too curious about genealogies. This, so small a number, is purposely expressed, to the end the power of God may the more plainly appear, in so great an enlarging of that kindred, which was of no long continuance. For such a small handful of men could not, by any human manner of engendering, grow to such an infinite multitude as is recorded in Exodus 12:37, within two hundred and fifty years. We ought rather to weigh the miracle which the Spirit commendeth unto us in this place, than to stand long about one letter, whereby the number is altered. There arise other questions (and those which are more hard to be answered) out of the rest of the text, [context.]
16. Stephen saith, that the patriarchs were carried into the land of Canaan after they were dead. But Moses maketh mention only of the bones of Joseph, (Genesis 1:13.) And Joshua 24:32, it is reported, that the bones of Joseph were buried without making any mention of the rest. Some answer, that Moses speaketh of Joseph for honor’s sake, because he had given express commandment concerning his bones, which we cannot read to have been done of the rest. And, surely, when Jerome, in the pilgrimage of Paula, saith, that she came by Shechem, he saith that she saw there the sepulchres of the twelve patriarchs; but in another place he maketh mention of Joseph’s grave only. And it may be that there were empty tombs 404404 “[Κενοτάφια],” ceonotaphs. erected to the rest. I can affirm nothing concerning this matter for a certainty, save only that this is either a speech wherein is synecdoche, or else that Luke rehearseth this not so much out of Moses, as according to the old fame; as the Jews had many things in times past from the fathers, which were delivered, as it were, from hand to hand. And whereas he saith afterward, they were laid in the sepulcher which Abraham had bought of the sons of Hemor, it is manifest that there is a fault [mistake] in the word Abraham. For Abraham had bought a double cave of Ephron the Hittite, (Genesis 23:9,) to bury his wife Sarah in; but Joseph was buried in another place, to wit, in the field which his father Jacob had bought of the sons of Hemor for an hundred lambs. Wherefore this place must be amended.
17. Stephen passeth over unto the deliverance of the people, before which 405405 “Cujus praeludium,” as a prelude to which. went that innumerable issue which had increased beyond the ordinary manner in no long space of time. Therefore, he setteth down this as a singular gift of God, that the people was increased, to the end we may know that that came not to pass according to the common or wonted custom of nature. But, on the other side, God seemeth to take from the Jews all hope, because Pharaoh doth tyrannously afflict them, and their bondage groweth greater daily. And when as they are commanded to cast out their male infants, it seemeth that the destruction of the whole nation was present. There is another token of deliverance given, when Moses cometh abroad; but because he is by and by refused and enforced to fly into exile, there remaineth nothing but mere despair. The sum is this; that God, being mindful of his promise, did increase the people in time, that he might perform that which he had sworn to Abraham; but the Jews (as they were unthankful and froward) did refuse the grace of God, so that they did what they could to shut up the way before themselves. Furthermore, we must note the providence of God in this place, whilst that he doth so order the course of times, that his works have always their opportunity. But men who make haste disorderly in their desires cannot hope patiently, and be at rest, until such time as God showeth forth his hand; for this cause, because they take no heed to that moderation whereof I have spoken. And to the end God may exercise the faith of his children so often as he appeareth with joyful tokens of grace, he setteth other things against those on the other side, which cut off suddenly the hope of salvation. For who would not have said of the Hebrews, that they were utterly undone, when as the king’s commandment appointed all the men children to be put to death? For which cause the meditating upon that doctrine is the most [more] necessary for us, that God doth kill and restore to life; he leadeth unto hell, and bringeth back again.
19. Dealt subtilely. The old interpreter did not translate this amiss, to deceive. 406406 “Circumvenire,” to circumvent. For Stephen meaneth that the king of Egypt did craftily invent new shifts and wicked pretenses, that he might every now and then lay heavier burdens upon the people, like as almost all tyrants do; for how unjustly soever they vex their subjects, they are [but] too witty to invent excuses. And it is not to be doubted but that Pharaoh abused this honest color, that it was not meet that the Jews, who were sojourners, should have a place of abode in his realm for nought, and that they should be free from all burthens, seeing they did enjoy great commodities. Therefore, he deceitfully made them vile bondslaves of free-men. When Stephen saith that this tyrant knew not Joseph, hereby it appeareth how soon the remembrance of benefits passeth away among men, For although we do all with one consent detest unthankfulness, yet is there no vice more common amongst us.
Lest they should be increased. Erasmus translateth this improperly, in my judgment. For [Ζωογονεισθαι] expresseth more than lest their children should live. For the word is fet [fetched] thence, because the people doth all always remain alive in the offspring. And, furthermore Stephen doth not reckon up all the parts of their evil-entreating, but putteth down one example of extreme cruelty. Whence we may easily gather how near the whole seed of Abraham was to destruction. For Pharaoh seemed to have murdered them all with that commandment as with one stroke of a sword. But such violent barbarism did the more set forth the unlooked-for and incredible power of God; because when Pharaoh hath, by all means possible, striven against God, yet all is in vain.
20. It is not without cause that Stephen noteth the circumstance of time. Moses was born at the very same time when the king had commanded that all the men children should be cast out. Therefore, it seemeth that the minister of deliverance is dead before he is born. But that time is most fit for God to work in, when there is no hope or counsel to be looked for at man’s hands. And it appeareth also most plainly how God doth make perfect his power in man’s weakness, (2 Corinthians 41:9.) Moses is kept three months, but at length his parents (that they may save their own lives) are enforced to cast him out into the river. Only they put him into a little coffer, 407407 “Arculam,” a little chest, a basket. that he may not by and by [immediately] perish. When as Pharaoh’s daughter taketh him up, he escaped death indeed, yet so that he goeth into another nation, being cut off from the kindred of Israel. Yea, he was like to be a most troublesome adversary to his nation, unless God had restrained his mind. It is forty years before he showeth any token of brotherly good-will.
22. Whereas Luke reporteth that he was taught in all wisdom of the Egyptians, he putteth that in his commendation as a point of excellency. Notwithstanding, it might have so fallen out, as it doth oftentimes, that being puffed up with profane sciences, he might have despised the base common people; yet because God had determined to redeem his people, he doth, in the mean season, frame both the mind of Moses and all other things to finish his work. The reason of man’s flesh 408408 “Carnis ratio,” carnal reason. should murmur in this place, Why doth God wink at so long miseries of the people? Why doth he suffer Pharaoh to rage more cruelly daily? Why doth he not suffer Moses to grow up amongst his own people? Why doth he after a sort cut him off from the kindred of Israel, being adopted by the king’s daughter? Why will he suffer him to remain amidst courtly pleasures, 409409 “Ad annum quadragesimum,” till his fortieth year. and doth not rather pull him thence? But the end itself is so wonderful, that we are enforced to confess that all these things were governed by singular counsel and order to set forth the glory of God.
Whereas I said that Luke speaketh in this place of the learning of the Egyptians for honor’s sake, I would not have it so taken as if there were in the same no corruption. Forasmuch as astrology 410410 “Astrologia,” astrology, or, more properly here, astronomy. doth consider the wonderful workmanship of God, not only in the placing of the stars, and in such excellent variety, but also in their moving, force, and secret offices, it is a science both profitable and worthy of praise. The Egyptians bestowed great study in this, but being not content with the simple order of nature, they wandered also into many foolish speculations, as did the Chaldeans. It is uncertain whether Moses was infected with these superstitions or no. Yet, howsoever it be, we see how sincerely and plainly he setteth that before us to be considered in the frame of the world, which is appertinent unto godliness. Surely this was excellent modesty, in that he which could reason with learned and witty men of the secrets of nature, doth not only omit higher subtleties, but doth also descend unto the common capacity of every most simple man, and doth, in a common style, set forth unto men unlearned those things which they perceive by experience. When Justinian [Justin] babbleth concerning Moses, he maketh him a magician, which, with juggling and enchantments, made passage for the people through the Red Sea; so that Satan did not only go about to bury the power of God, but also to blaspheme the same. But we know that Moses did not strive with the enchanters by magic, but did that only which God had enjoined him.
Furthermore, the Egyptians had mystical divinity, wherewith they colored their doting inventions and monstrous abominations, as if they would prove that they went mad not without reason: as the Papists, whereas they delude and mock men like stage-players, in their mass and other foolish rites, yet they invent mysteries, that they may persuade men that there is nothing there but that which is divine. The common sort of priests cannot climb so high, but those which amongst them will be accounted more cunning 411411 “Perspicaces,” clear-sighted. do omit no rite, how foolish and childish soever it be, affirming that there is some spiritual mystery in every [one] of them. There is extant concerning this matter a most foolish mingle-mangle, which they call the Rationall [Rationale] of Divine Offices. But forasmuch as sacrificing priests alone did use such dotings amongst themselves, it is not to be thought that Moses spent any time in these, whose bringing up was princely, but that he was taught in liberal arts.
He was mighty. This phrase doth express among the Hebrews a double excellency, when as he which doth excel in wit and learning, is also apt to attempt and bring to pass great and weighty matters. 412412 “Ad res praeclaras gerendas aptus est,” is fitted for greater exploits. Stephen’s meaning is, therefore, that Moses was furnished with rare gifts, so that they did all confess that he was a singular man. But seeing he was in such estimation, the Israelites had the less hope that he should be the minister which should work their deliverance.
23. When the time was fulfilled. Many gather by this that Moses was never estranged in mind from his nation; but the words of Stephen incline rather toward the contrary, to wit, that the Spirit of God did at length awake his mind, as it were out of sleep, that he might at length go visit his brethren, whom he had long time neglected. It is to be thought that he was not ignorant of what stock he came, seeing he had some token thereof in his flesh, and seeing the rumor thereof was spread abroad in the court, because the king’s daughter could not adopt him to be her son without some suspicion of wickedness, unless his kindred had been known; yet was it long before he was of such courage that he durst make known the love which he bare toward his kindred. And this serveth not a little to set forth the glory of God, that Moses, being ignorant of his calling, doth remain a long time idle in the king’s court, and is afterward called of the Lord contrary to the hope of all men, and his own also. Therefore, this new care for his brethren which came into his mind, proceeded from a new and unwonted motion of God’s Spirit.
24. When he saw a certain man. Moses came not to this spectacle by chance, but forasmuch as God had appointed him to be the deliverer of his people, he would have him show forth this token, and, as it were, make this beginning. For Stephen doth plainly express that he did attempt nothing unadvisedly, but did that which became him that was appointed to be a deliverer of the people, knowing that he was thereunto called. For unless God had armed him, (and made him puissant,) it had been a thing altogether unlawful for him to kill any man, how wicked soever he had been. It is a godly deed, and praiseworthy, for a man to set himself against the wicked, to defend the good against the injuries of the wicked, to bridle their violence; but it is not for a private person to punish, (or take vengeance.) Therefore, it was unlawful for Moses to slay the Egyptian, save only inasmuch as the Lord had put the sword in his hand according to the right of his calling. But this heroical courage and nobleness of heart 413413 “Haec heroica animi magnitudo,” this heroic magnanimity. was a work of the Holy Ghost; because God doth mightily show forth his power in those whom he appointeth unto great matters, that they may be able to fulfill their function. In sum, Stephen meaneth that Moses was even then offered to be the minister of deliverance when the day was at hand, according to the covenant made with Abraham, yet did the people hope for nothing less.
26. The day following he appeared. Stephen declareth now that the fathers did not only neglect, but maliciously reject the grace of God. For although the evil which he mentioneth did proceed from one man only, yet doth he by right assign the fault unto them all. For if they had been thankful to God, they would all with one consent have repressed his forwardness. 414414 “Proterviam,” petulance. But they are whisht, 415415 “Tacent omnes,” they are all silent. and suffer that good turn which Moses had done to be upbraided unto him; and, so much as in them lieth, they bring them into extreme danger whom they ought to have defended by endangering themselves. 416416 “Oppositas suis capitibus,” by exposing their own hands. Therefore, his drift is this, that the people themselves were in the fault, that they were no sooner delivered and eased. 417417 “Nonnisi per populum stetisse quominus levationem citius sentiret,” that is was owing entirely to the people themselves that they did not sooner obtain some alleviation. So the wickedness of men doth oftentimes hinder God from doing that [which] he would do. He is ready to help those that be his in due time, but we keep back his hand from ourselves with divers lets, and afterwards we complain of his slowness, but unjustly. Furthermore, this unthankfulness was too wicked against God, and too cruel against Moses. They were to thank God for giving such a faithful patron in the king’s court. They were to love and reverence Moses; but they rewarded him full evil 418418 “Atqui pessimam et iniquissimam mercedem reportat,” but he receiveth a very bad and most iniquitous recompense, viz. with threatenings and reproaches. Furthermore, inasmuch as the fact was brought to the king’s ears, we must needs impute that to the treachery of the people. Therefore, as when afterward the people could see the land of Canaan, they did through their own folly keep themselves from entering in; so now, refusing the grace of God in the person of one man, they cause the time of their deliverance to be deferred forty years. For although God had determined what he would do, yet those are justly blamed for the delay which hinder 419419 “Impediunt ac turbant,” impede and disturb. Moses in his office.
Men ye are brethren. There is, indeed, amongst men a general conjunction, so that they ought to use great courtesy one toward another, and to abstain from all injuries; but this is more unmeet and intolerable, when those hurt one another who are nearer linked together. Therefore, Moses doth not only use a general reason, that it may revoke 420420 “Quae ad aequitatem revocet,” which may call back or dispose to equity. their minds which were desirous to do harm, but he mentioneth their kindred and fellowship of blood to mollify their cruelty. Yet all in vain; for he which had done injury to his neighbor doth forwardly thrust him from him, and addeth thereunto threatening. And this is a common thing amongst men; for an evil conscience doth drive men into fury, and the worse every man’s cause is, the more boldly and cruelly doth he extol himself. But under what color doth he which hath the worst cause set himself so stubbornly against Moses? He saith he is no judge; but he did not reprove them according to authority, but did only friendly admonish them. Is it the duty of a judge alone to admonish us when we do amiss? But this is a common vice, used of all stubborn and unruly persons, to give place to no admonitions, save only when they are enforced by violence and authority; yea, they are like frantic [phrenzied] men who rail upon 421421 “Furiose impetunt,” furiously assault. their physicians. For which cause we must be the more careful to bridle our lust, lest we run headlong with such blind fury against those which are desirous to cure our vices. Furthermore, we are taught by this example, that the servants of God cannot so do their duty in reproving such vices of men, but they shall suffer many injuries, offend many, and incur dangers; and chiefly when they do well, they shall surely hear evil. But they must swallow up the unworthiness of these evils, 422422 “Sed horum malorum indignitas illis est devoranda,” but the indignity of these evils must be devoured by them, (overlooked or submitted to.) that they may not therefore cease to do that which the Lord commanded them, and which he alloweth. 423423 “Proinde ei probari,” and is therefore approved by him. Moses is burdened here with a cruel false accusation that he usurpeth the authority of a ruler, and by this means they lay treason to his charge. Secondly, it is objected unto him reproachfully that he slew an Egyptian; both these were very odious. Whereby we may gather with how dangerous a temptation the mind of the holy man was stricken. And forasmuch as we see that he was neither discouraged by exile, neither by any other evils, so that it did not repent him of his well-doing, let us also learn by his example to bear a valiant and strong mind and courage against all such assaults of Satan,
30. And when forty years were expired. As Moses was no blockish man, 424424 “Homo... stupidus,” a stupid man. every one of us may easily gather how many things might have come into his mind which might have caused him to mistrust his calling. The shifts and sleights of Satan are captious. We are more than bent naturally to distrustfulness; 425425 “Nos ad diffidentiam natura plusquam propensi,” we are by nature too prone to distrust. what doubts soever arise in our minds concerning the word of God we do easily admit the same. It was a hard exchange to be thrust from earthly delights and a sumptuous life unto the painful and base office of feeding sheep; and especially forasmuch as Moses saw so much time spent, and being in the mean season sent into the wilderness, what other thing could he imagine with himself but that that was vain and a plain mock which the Lord had promised? Forasmuch as being now fourscore years of age, he was occupied about the feeding of his father-in-law’s sheep, when could he have hoped that there should have been any use of him in delivering the people? It is good for us oftentimes to call to mind these combats of the godly until they be thoroughly imprinted in our memory, lest our minds faint, and our hearts fail us, if the Lord make us stay longer than we could wish. Again, Moses giveth a notable example of modesty, seeing that in all that time he attempteth nothing; he raiseth no tumults, neither intrudeth himself any way to bear rule, as troublesome men use to do; but employeth himself in his shepherd’s function as diligently as if he should never have been called unto any greater charge. But whilst he tarrieth the Lord’s leisure so patiently, he [the Lord] appeareth unto him at length.
The angel of the Lord appeared unto him. It is first demanded who this angel was? and, secondly, why he appeared in such a form? For after that Luke had called him an angel, he bringeth him in immediately speaking thus: I am the God of Abraham, etc. Some answer, As God doth sometimes attribute and impart unto his ministers those things which are most proper to himself, so it is no absurd or inconvenient thing, if they have his name given them; but seeing this angel affirmeth manifestly that he is the eternal God, who alone is, and in whom all things have their being, we must needs restrain this title unto the essence of God; for it can by no means agree to the angels. It might be said more fitly, that because the angel speaketh in the name of the Lord, he taketh upon him his person, as if he declared his commandments word for word, as out of the mouth of God, which manner of speaking is usual in the prophets; but when Luke shall say afterwards, that this was the same angel through whose assistance and guiding Moses delivered the people: and Paul, in the 10th chapter of the First to the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 10:4) doth affirm that Christ was that guide, there is no cause why we should now wonder that the angel taketh to himself that which is proper to God alone.
Therefore, let us, first of all, set down this for a surety, that there was never since the beginning any communication between God and men, save only by Christ; for we have nothing to do with God, unless the Mediator be present to purchase his favor for us. Therefore, this place doth plentifully prove the divinity of Christ, and teacheth that he is of the same essence with the Father. Furthermore, he is called an angel, not only because he had the angels always to bear him company, and to be, as it were, his apparitors: 426426 “Quasi apparitores,” as it were his officers. but because that deliverance of the people did shadow the redemption of us all, for whose sake Christ was to be sent of his Father, that he might take upon him the shape of a servant together with our flesh. It is certain, indeed, that God did never appear unto men as he is, but under some shape agreeable to their capacity; notwithstanding, there is another reason why Christ is called by this name, because he being appointed by the eternal counsel of God to be unto men the minister of salvation, doth appear unto Moses to this end. Neither is that contrary to this doctrine, which is written in the 2nd chapter to the Hebrews, (Hebrews 2:16) that Christ never took the angels, but the seed of Abraham; for although he took upon him the shape of an angel for a time, yet did he never take the nature of angels, as we know that he was made very man.
It resteth that we speak somewhat of the burning bush. That is common, that God doth apply the signs unto the things by a certain likelihood, and this is almost the common order and way of the sacraments. Furthermore, this was the fittest thing that could have been shown to Moses, to confirm his faith in the present business. He knew in what state he had left his nation. Although there were a greater 427427 “Ingens numerus,” a vast number. number of men, yet were they not unlike to a bush. For the thicker the bush is, and the more store of shrubs it hath, 428428 “Et compactis arbustis magis abundat,” and the more numerous and compact its twigs are. the more subject is it to take fire, that it may burn on every side; so the people of Israel were but a weak band, and such as was laid open to all injuries; and this unwarlike multitude being pressed down even with their own weight, had incensed the cruelty of Pharaoh only with the prosperous success of increasing. Therefore, the people being oppressed with cruel tyranny, is, as it were, a pile of wood set on fire at every corner, neither is there any thing which keepeth it from being consumed to ashes, save this, because the Lord sitteth in the midst thereof; and although the [an] undoubted 429429 “Insoltus,” unwonted. fire of persecution did then burn, yet because the Church of God is never free from afflictions in the world, the continual estate thereof is after a sort painted out in this place. For what other thing are we but fuel for fire? And there fly abroad innumerable fire-brands of Satan continually, which set on fire both our bodies and also our minds; but the Lord delivereth and defendeth us, by his wonderful and singular goodness, from being consumed. Therefore, the fire must needs burn, that it may burn us in this life; but because the Lord dwelleth in the midst of us, he shall so preserve us that afflictions shall do us no harm, as it is also said in the 46th Psalm, (Psalm 46:5.)
31. He wondered at the vision. Let us know that God did use thus to deal with our fathers, that they might assuredly know his majesty; for he meant to make a manifest distinction between the visions which he showed, and the juggling casts of Satan. And this certainty is more necessary, for what credit should the oracles of God otherwise carry, wherein the covenant of eternal life is contained? Therefore, forasmuch as this alone is the true stay of faith, to have God to be the author thereof, that he may [he must needs] undoubtedly declare that it is he that speaketh. Again, forasmuch as Satan walketh about continually, and doth by many and strange shifts insinuate himself, and hath so many ways to deceive, and especially seeing he doth pretend the name of God craftily, we must take great heed of his mocks. We see how in times past he deluded all nations, and [how he deludes] the Papists also. For all the monsters of superstitions, all the dotings of errors which were in times past, and do as yet reign in Popery, did proceed from dreams, visions, and false revelations; yea, furthermore, even the Anabaptists have their illusions thence. Therefore, this is the only remedy that God do distinguish by certain marks those visions which he showeth; for then are we without danger of erring, when he hath revealed his majesty unto us. For this cause was the mind of Moses stricken with admiration, and then afterwards he draweth near to consider; after that he is come nearer, the Lord toucheth him with a more lively feeling of [I confess indeed] his presence, so that he is afraid. For I confess that there are none of all these things which Satan cannot imitate, yet falsely like an ape. And the Lord doth not only show himself by such signs, but helping our dullness, he doth also open our eyes that we may not be deceived. Again, the Holy Ghost doth imprint in our minds certain marks and tokens of God’s presence, that there may no doubt remain.
32. I am the God of thy fathers. Now, we see to what end the vision was offered to Moses; to wit, that the word of God might have his [its] authority. For bare visions should do but little good, unless doctrine were joined therewithal; and it is joined with them not as an inferior part, but as the cause of all visions and the end. And whereas he calleth himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, there is a double reason why he calleth himself so. As the majesty of God is infinite, if we will comprehend it, it doth rather swallow up our senses; if we endeavor to ascend unto it we vanish away; therefore, he adorneth himself with titles under which we may comprehend him. But we must mark that God maketh choice of such titles, as that he may by them call us back unto his word. For he is called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for this cause, because he committed unto them the doctrine of salvation, that he might thereby be known to the world. But God had respect properly unto the present circumstance when he spake to Moses on this wise; for both this vision, and the hope of the delivery of the people, and the commandment which he was about to give to Moses, did depend upon the covenant which he had made in times past with the fathers. So that the suspicion of novelty is taken away, and the mind of Moses is lifted up to hope for redemption, which was grounded in the whole 430430 “In veteri,” on the old. promise.
Therefore, this title is as much as if God had said, I, which have promised in times past to your fathers, that I have a care of your safety, which have taken the kindred of Abraham to my tuition by a free covenant, yea, which have appointed this time for an end of your bondage, I appear now unto thee, that I may perform that which I promised, like as at this day all the promises of God must lean and be stayed upon this foundation, that they may be sure and certain to us, that God hath adopted us in Christ, and hath promised that he will be our God and our Father. And Christ gathereth out of this place by good reason that the godly live after they be dead, (Matthew 22:32;) for if the whole man perish in death, this were an unfitting speech, 431431 “Inepta esset loquutio,” the expression were inept. I am the God of Abraham. Let us suppose that there is no Rome, shall not he be laughed at which shall call himself consul of Rome? For this is requisite in relation, that the members be answerable between themselves. 432432 “Hoc enim exigit relatio ut membra inter se respondeant,” for relation requires that the members (related) correspond to each other. There is also another reason to be considered, that forasmuch as God hath in his hand both life and death, without all doubt he preserveth those alive whose father he will be, and whom he counteth his children; therefore, though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died, concerning the flesh, yet do they live in spirit with God.
And Moses being afraid. This might seem to be an absurd thing, that a voice full of consolation doth rather terrify Moses than make him glad; but it was good for Moses to be thus terrified with the presence of God, that he might frame himself unto the greater reverence; neither doth the voice of God alone strike his mind, but his majesty, whereof he saw a sign in the burning bush. And what marvel is it, if man be afraid when he seeth God? and especially let us remember that men’s minds are by this means prepared unto fear and reverence as in Exodus 20:22,
“Thou hast seen signs, thou hast heard the sound of the trumpet, that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord.”
But some will say, Why dare not Moses now for fear consider, who was not afraid to draw near before? I answer, that the nearer we draw unto God, the more his glory doth appear, so are we the more afraid, and that by right. And God maketh Moses afraid for none other cause, save only that he may make him obedient unto him. This fear was a preparation not unfit for greater boldness; and to this end tendeth that which followeth, Put off thy shoes from thy feet; for he is admonished by this sign with reverence to receive the commandments of God, and to give him due glory by all means.
33. Because the place wherein. The Lord meant by this commendation which he giveth to the place, to lift up the mind of Moses into heaven, that he might not think upon any earthly thing. And if so be that Moses was to be pricked forward with so many pricks, that having forgotten the earth, he might hearken to God, must not we have our sides even, as it were, digged through, 433433 “Annon quasi fodiendi sumus,” must not we be, as it were, stabbed. seeing we are an hundred times more slow than he? Notwithstanding, here may a question be asked, how this place became so holy? for it was no more holy than other places before that day. I answer, that this honor is given to the presence of God, and not to the place, and that the holiness of the place is spoken of for man’s sake. For if the presence of God do make the earth holy, how much more force thereof ought men to have? 434434 “Quanto majorem vim ab hominibus percipi aequium est,” how much more forcibly ought man to feel it? Notwithstanding, we must also note, that the place was thus beautified only for a time, so that God did not fix his glory there, as Jacob erected an altar to God in Bethel, after that God had showed some token of his presence there, (Genesis 35:7.) When as his posterity did imitate the same afterward, it was such worship as was reproved. 435435 “Perversus cultus fuit,” it was perverted worship. Finally, the place is called holy for Moses’ sake only, that he may the better address himself to fear God and to obey him. Forasmuch as God doth now show himself unto us everywhere in Christ, and that in no obscure figures, but in the full light and perfect truth, we must not only put off our shoes from our feet, but strip ourselves stark-naked of ourselves. 436436 “Sed nos totos exuere,” but divest ourselves entirely.
34. In seeing I have seen. God promiseth now that he will deliver his people, that he may appoint Moses to be his minister afresh, because the former objection was taken away by so long space of time. For God is said to see our miseries when he hath respect to us, and is careful for our safety; as he is said again to shut his eyes, and turn his back, when as he seemeth to set light by our cause. In like sort is he said to come down. He needeth not to move out of his place to help us, for his hand reacheth throughout the heaven and earth; but this is referred unto our understanding. For, seeing that he did not deliver his people from their affliction, he might seem that he was afar off, and was busied about some other thing in heaven. Now he saith that the Israelites shall perceive that he is nigh unto them. The sum tendeth to this end, that Moses knowing the will of God, may not doubt to follow him as a guide, and the more boldly to employ himself about the delivery of the people, which he knew was the work of God. For we must note that he saith that he heard the mourning of the people. For although he hath respect unto those which are in misery and unjustly oppressed, yet when we lay our mournings and complaints in his lap, he is especially moved to have mercy; although this word may be taken for those blind and confused complaints which are not directed unto God, as it is taken oftentimes elsewhere.
35. Stephen passeth over many things, because he maketh haste unto this stun, that the Jews may understand that the fathers were not delivered therefore, because they had deserved that with their godliness, but that this benefit was bestowed upon them, being altogether unworthy; and, secondly, that there is some more perfect thing to be hoped for of these beginnings. When Moses, being ordained of God to be their revenger and deliverer, was now in a readiness, they stopped the way before him; therefore God doth deliver them now, as it were against their will. That which is added touching miracles and wonders, serveth as well to the setting forth of the grace of God, as to make known the calling of Moses. It is surely a strange thing, that God doth vouchsafe to declare his power by divers wonders, for such an unthankful people’s sake. But in the mean season, he bringeth his servant in credit. Therefore, whereas the Jews set less by him afterward, whereas they essay sometimes to drive him away by railing, whereas they scold sometimes, sometimes murmur, sometimes set upon him outrageously, they bewray thereby both their wickedness, and also their contempt of the grace of God. Their unthankfulness and ungodliness was so increased always, that God must needs have striven with wonderful patience with such a froward and stubborn people.
A ruler and a deliverer. We must understand the contrarieties 437437 “Subaudiendae sunt antitheses,” we must supply the antitheses. which augment the fault. They would have obeyed Moses if a tyrant had appointed him to be a judge, but they contemn him proudly, and refuse him disdainfully, being appointed of God, and that to be a deliverer. Therefore, in despising him, they were wicked; and in rejecting grace, unthankful. And whereas Moses hath such an honorable title given him, God doth not so give and resign unto man that honor which is due to himself, that he loseth any whit of his authority thereby. For doubtless Moses was not called a redeemer or deliverer in any other respect save only because he was the minister of God. And by this means the glory of the whole work remaineth in the power of God wholly. Therefore let us learn that so often as men have the titles which belong to God given them, God himself is not despoiled of his honor; but because the work is done by their hands, they are by this means commended. To this end tendeth that which Stephen saith, that this charge was committed to Moses in the hand of the angel. For by this means Moses is made subject to Christ, that under his conduct and direction he may obey God. For hand is taken in this place not for ministry, but for principality. Wherefore, God did so use the service of Moses, that the power of Christ did surpass him, as he is even at this day the chief governor, in accomplishing the salvation of the Church; yea, he useth the ministry of men in that sort, that the force and effect dependeth upon him alone.
37. A Prophet shall God raise up. Stephen endeavoreth undoubtedly to prove by these words that Christ is the end of the law; although he doth not express the same in plain words. And assuredly, (as we have already said,) Luke reciteth not word for word all those things which Stephen uttered; but it is sufficient for him to note the principal points of matters. Furthermore, we have said before in the third chapter, that this testimony is so applied to Christ, that notwithstanding it agreeth to the other prophets also. For after that Moses had forbidden the people to be carried to and fro with the wicked superstitions of the Gentiles, he showeth what ought to follow. There is no cause (saith he) why thou shouldst desire magicians and enchanters; for God will never suffer thee to want prophets to teach thee faithfully. And now it is certain that the ministry of the prophets was temporal, as was also the ministry of the law; until Christ should bring the full perfection of wisdom into the world. Therefore Stephen’s speech tendeth to this end, that Moses doth not keep the people fast bound to himself alone when as he setteth before them and commendeth unto them another teacher. The prophets were indeed, interpreters of the law and all their doctrine was, as it were, an addition or appurtenance 438438 “Appendix,” an appendix. of those things which were uttered by Moses; but forasmuch as this was also certain, that Christ should bring a more perfect kind of doctrine, because he should make an end of all the prophecies, it followeth, that he is made the chief; and that the principal mastership (that I may so call it) is his, lest the faith of the gospel should be doubtful. Now we know to what end Stephen intermingled Moses’ testimony, to wit, that he may prove that the Jews did no less contemn him, (of whom they made boast with open mouth to be their only teachers) even now when he is dead, than they did in times past, whilst he lived, wickedly and frowardly reject him. For whosoever believeth Moses, he will not refuse to be the disciple of Christ, whose messenger and crier he was, (John 5:46.) For the rest 439439 “Reliqua pete,” for the rest see. out of the third chapter.
38. Stephen proceedeth to set forth the frowardness 440440 “Pravitate,” depravity. of the people, who though they were provoked [stirred up] with so many benefits of God, yet did they never cease maliciously to reject him. If they had been disobedient and unthankful to God before, yet this so wonderful a deliverance ought to have brought them into a better mind; but he declareth that they were always like themselves. It was meet that so many miracles should not only have stuck fast in their minds, but also have continued still before their eyes. But having forgotten all, they fly back suddenly unto the superstitions of Egypt. The memorial of their cruel servitude was yet fresh, which they had escaped by passing over the Red Sea; and yet they prefer those tyrants by whom they were more than cruelly handled, before their deliverer, This was, therefore, a heap of ungodliness most desperate, that their stubbornness could not be broken or overcome with so many benefits of God, but that they did always return unto their nature. This doth greatly augment the greatness of the offense, where Stephen saith that Moses was then with them in the wilderness. For besides that there appeareth here rare goodness and long-sufferance of the Lord, in bearing with them, they make themselves to be without all excuse, whilst that being beset on every side with so many straits, being brought into so great distress; having Moses to be their guide in their journey, and the faithful keeper of their life, they fall away nevertheless treacherously from God, Finally, it appeareth that they were like untamed beasts, whom God could not keep in obedience with so many bands. Therefore, inasmuch as Moses left not off to govern them even through the wilderness, under the conduct and aid of the angel, it is an easy matter to gather by this circumstance of time, how incurable and obstinate their frowardness was; as it was a point of monstrous rebellion, not to be humbled with miseries, 441441 “Tot malis,” so many miseries. and even with the very sight of death.
Whereas he saith, that Moses was with the angel and the fathers, there is a contrary respect. 442442 “Longe diversa est ratio,” the explanation (of the two things) is very different. He was present with the fathers, that he might be their guide according to the commandment of the Lord; he was with the angel as a minister. Whereupon it followeth that he was no private person to whom this injury was done, but it was done to the governance of God, when the people could be kept back, with the reverence of neither, from running headlong into wicked rebellion. We have already spoken of the angel. But the participle [λαλουντος] or which spake, hath a double meaning. For it may be understood either of the first vision, whereby Moses was called to redeem the people, or of that speech which God had with Moses, after they were come over the Red Sea. And because Christ declared both ways, that he was the author of their deliverance, it is no great matter whether we choose; yea, there is no let but that it may be extended unto both. For he which began to speak to Moses from the beginning, that he might send him into Egypt, did continue the tenor of his speech afterward, until the work was finished.
Which received lively oracles. Erasmus translated it lively speech; but those which are expert in the Greek tongue, they shall know that I have more truly translated the words of Stephen. For there is greater majesty in Oracles than in Speech, I speak only of the word; for I know that whatsoever proceedeth out of the mouth of God, the same is an oracle. Moreover, he purchaseth authority for the doctrine of Moses in these words, because he uttereth nothing but that which proceeded from God, Whereupon it followeth, that they did not so much rebel against Moses as against God; whereby their stubbornness 443443 “Ferrea improbitas,” their stubborn wickedness. is more discovered, And this is a general way to establish doctrine, when men teach nothing but that which is commanded them by God. For what man dare make Moses inferior to him, who (as the Spirit affirmeth) ought only to be believed for this cause, because he faithfully unfolded and delivered the doctrine which he had received of God? But some men may ask this question, Why he called the law a living speech? For this title seemeth to disagree much with the words of Paul, where he saith that the law is the ministry of death, and that it worketh death, and that it is the strength of sin, (1 Corinthians 3:7.) If you take lively speech for that which is effectual, and cannot be made frustrate by the contempt of men, there shall be no contrariety; but I interpret it as spoken actively, for that which maketh to live. 444444 “Vivifica,” vivifying. For seeing that the law is the perfect rule of godly and holy life, and it showeth the righteousness of God, it is counted, for good causes, the doctrine of life and salvation. And to this purpose serveth that solemn protestation of Moses, when he calleth heaven and earth to witness, that he hath set before them the way of death and life. In which sense the Lord himself complaineth, that his good law is broken, and his good commandments, whereof he had said, “He which shall do these things shall live in them,” (Ezekiel 20) Therefore the law hath life in itself. Yet if any man had liefer take living for that which is full of efficacy and strength, I will not greatly stand in contention.
And whereas it is called the ministry of death, that is accidental to it, because of the corrupt nature of man; for it doth not engender sin, but it findeth it in us. It offered life, but we, which are altogether corrupt, can have nothing but death by it. Therefore, it is deadly in respect of men alone. Though Stephen had respect unto a farther thing in this place; for he doth not only speak of the bare commandments, but comprehendeth all Moses’ doctrine, wherein the free promises are included, and so consequently, Christ himself, who is the only life and health of men. We must remember with what men Stephen had to do. They were such as were preposterously zealous of the law, who stayed only in the dead and deadly letter of the law; and, in the mean season, they raged against Stephen, because he sought Christ in the law, who is, indeed, the soul thereof. Therefore, by touching their perverse ignorance glancingly, he giveth them to understand that there is some greater and some more excellent thing hidden in the law than they have hitherto known. For as they were carnal, and content with an outward show, they sought no spiritual thing in it, yea, they would not so much as suffer the same to be showed them.
That he might give them to us. This serveth to refute the false accusation wherewith he was falsely burthened. For seeing he submitteth his neck to the yoke of the law, and professeth that he is one of Moses’ scholars, he is far from discrediting him amongst others. Yea, rather he turneth back the fault which was laid to his charge upon those which were the authors of the slander. That was, as it were, a common reproach for all the people, because the fathers would not obey the law. And therewithal he telleth them that Moses was appointed to be a prophet, not only for his time, but that his authority might be in force with the posterity, even when he was dead. For it is not meet that the doctrine of God should be extinguished together with ministers, or that it should be taken away. For what is more unlikely 445445 “Minus consentaneum,” less befitting. than that that should die whereby we have immortality? So must we think at this day. As the prophets and apostles spake unto the men of their time, so did they write unto us, and (that) the force of their doctrine is continual, because it hath rather God to be the author thereof than men. In the mean season, he teacheth that if any reject the word appointed for them, they reject the counsel of God.
39. They refused, and were turned away. He saith that the fathers rejected Moses; and he showeth the cause also, because they gave themselves rather unto the superstitions of Egypt; which was horrible, and more than blind fury, to desire the customs and ordinances of Egypt, where they had suffered such grievous things of late. He saith that they were turned away into Egypt in their hearts; not that they desired to return thither, (bodily,) but because they returned in mind unto those corruptions, which they ought not so much as to have remembered without great detestation and hatred. It is true, indeed, that the Jews did once speak of returning; but Stephen toucheth not that history now. Furthermore, he doth rather express their stubbornness, when he saith that they were turned away. For after that they had taken the right way, having God for their guide and governor, they start aside suddenly, as if a stubborn unbroken horse, not obeying his rider, should frowardly run backward.
40. Make us. Though the Jews be turned back divers ways, yet Stephen maketh choice of one notable example above all the rest, of their filthy and detestable treachery, to wit, when they made themselves a calf, that they might worship it instead of God. For there can no more filthy thing be invented 446446 “Nihil... fingi potest,” nothing can be imagined. than this their unthankfulness. They confess that they were delivered out of Egypt; neither do they deny that this was done by the grace of God and the ministry of Moses; yet, notwithstanding, they reject the author of so great goodness, together with the minister. And under what color? They pretend they cannot tell what is become of Moses. But they know full well that he is in the mount. They saw him with their eyes when he went up thither, until such time as the Lord took him unto himself, by compassing him about with a cloud. Again, they know that Moses is absent for their health’s sake, who had promised that he would return, and bring unto them the law which God should give. He bade them only be quiet a while. They raise mad uproars suddenly within a small time, and without any cause; yet to the end they may cover their madness with the color of some reason, they will have gods present with them, as if God had showed unto them no token of his presence hitherto; but his glory did appear daily in the cloud and pillar of fire. Therefore we see what haste they make to commit idolatry through wicked contempt of God, that I may, in the mean season, omit to declare how filthy and wicked their unthankfulness was, in that they had so soon forgotten those miracles which they ought to have remembered even until the end of the world. Therefore, by this one backsliding, it appeareth sufficiently what a stubborn and rebellious people they were.
Moreover, it was more expedient for the cause which Stephen had in hand, to recite this history of their rebellion than the other. 447447 “Quam alias referri,” than to refer to any other. For the people doth quite overthrow the worship of God; they refuse the doctrine of the law; they bring in a strange and profane religion. And this is a notable place, because it pointeth out the fountain from which all manner of superstitions did flow since the beginning, and especially what was the first beginning of making idols; to wit, because man, which is carnal, will, notwithstanding, have God present with him, according to the capacity of his flesh. This is the cause why men were so bold in all ages to make idols. 448448 “Tanta in fingendis idolis, hominum lascivia fuerit,” there was such wantonness in men in forming idols. And God doth, indeed, apply 449449 “Accommodat,” accommodate. himself to our rudeness thus far, that he showeth himself visible, after a sort, under figures; for there were many signs under the law to testify his presence, And he cometh down unto us, even at this day, by baptism and the supper, and also by the external preaching of the word. But men offend two manner of ways in this; for, first, being not content with the means which God hath appointed, they boldly get to themselves new means. This is no small fault, because their fingers itch always to have new inventions without keeping any mean, and so they are not afraid to pass the bounds which God hath appointed them. But there can be no true image of God, save that which he appointed. Therefore, what images soever are reigned and invented by man besides his word, they are false and corrupt.
There is also another vice no less intolerable, that as man’s mind conceiveth nothing of God but that which is gross and earthly, so it translateth all tokens of God’s presence unto the same grossness. Neither doth man delight in those idols only which he himself hath made, but also doth corrupt whatsoever God hath ordained, by wresting it unto a contrary end. God cometh down unto us, indeed, as I have already said, but to this end, that he may lift us up into heaven with him. But we, because we are wholly set upon the earth, will, in like sort, have him in the earth. By this means is his heavenly glory deformed, and that fulfilled altogether which the Israelites say here, Make us gods. For whosoever he be that doth not worship God spiritually, he maketh unto himself a new god; and yet if ye thoroughly weigh all things, the Israelites will not have a god made of set purpose by them, but they think rather that they have the true and eternal God under the shape of the golden calf. For they are ready to offer the appointed sacrifice, and they approve that with their consent which Aaron saith, that those are the gods by whom they were brought out of Egypt. But God pusseth not for those frivolous imaginations; but he complaineth that men put strange gods in his place, so soon as they depart even a very little from his word.
41. And they made a calf. We may easily gather by that which goeth before, why they were more delighted in that figure than in any other. For although Egypt did swarm with innumerable idols, yet it is well known that they made the greatest account of an ox. And whence is it that they are so desirous to have an idol, save only because they were turned back into Egypt, as Stephen hath already said? We must note the speech when he saith that they offered sacrifice to the idol. Aaron commandeth the people to assemble themselves together to worship God; they come all together. Therefore they testify that they mean nothing less [any thing rather] than to defraud God of his worship, howsoever they translate the same unto the calf; yea, rather, they are determined to worship God in the image of the calf. But because they forsook the true God, by making an idol, whatsoever followeth afterward it is judged to be given to the idol, because God refuseth all wicked worshipping. For it is not meet to account that as bestowed upon him which he hath not commanded; and because he forbids them expressly to erect any visible image unto him, that is mere sacrilege whatsoever is done afterward in honor thereof.
They rejoiced over the works. This speech is taken out of Isaiah, yet, out of the prophets, who, in like sort, upbraid unto the Jews that they were delighted in their own inventions. And surely it is wonderful madness, when men arrogate unto themselves anything in God’s matters. I take this rejoicing to be that solemn dancing whereof Moses speaketh, in the thirty-second chapter of Exodus. Yet Stephen toucheth a common vice, wherewith idolaters are infected. For although it be altogether unlawful for men to attempt anything in religion which God hath not appointed, yet do they invent everything unadvisedly, and setting light by the Word of God, they make choice of the works of their own hands; but Stephen showeth that while they take such pleasure in this liberty, they displease God so much the more. But if we will have God to allow our worship, we must abstain from the works of our hands, that is, from our own inventions; for all that which men invent of themselves is nothing else but sacrilegious profanation. The idol is properly so called reproachfully, as it were a thing nothing worth, because no reason doth suffer man to make God. 450450 “Deum... fabricari,” to fabricate a god.
Stephen will here declare that the Jews did never make an end of sinning, but that they wandered farther in their froward errors; so that that first fall of theirs was unto them as it were an entrance into a labyrinth. And this doth he assign unto the just vengeance of God, that after that time their madness grew so, that they gat for one idol infinity. This example teacheth us to be careful to follow the rule which God hath set down; because, so soon as we are turned even but a little aside from the same, we must needs be carried to and fro with divers dotings, we must needs be entangled in many superstitions, and be utterly drowned in the huge sink of errors; which punishment God in justice layeth upon men which refuse to obey his word. Therefore Stephen saith that God was turned away; which word imported as much as if he should say, that he turned his back. For he had fastened his eyes after a sort upon the people, when he showed his singular care which he took in governing them; being offended with their falling away, now he turneth his face another way.
We may also hereby gather that we can no otherwise follow the right way, save only when the Lord watcheth over us to govern us; but so soon as his face is turned away, we run by and by into errors. The Israelites were forsaken of God even then when they made the calf; but Stephen meant to express the greatness of the punishment, as if he should have said, that they were altogether cast off into a reprobate sense then; as Paul also teacheth, that those which gave not glory to God when he had showed himself unto them, were, by the just judgment of God, given up unto blindness and blockishness, and unto shameful lusts, (Romans 1:28.) Hereby it came to pass, that after that religion began to be corrupt, innumerable abominations succeeded a few superstitions, and gross monsters of idolatry came in place of light corruptions. For because men neglected the light which was set before them, they became altogether blockish by the just judgment of God, so that they had no more judgment than brute beasts. Idolatry surely is very fertile, that of one reigned god there should by and by come an hundred, that a thousand superstitions should flow from one. But this so great madness of men springeth hence, because God revengeth himself by delivering them to Satan; because, after he hath once in hand to govern us, there is no change in his part, but he is plucked away 451451 “Distrahitur,” torn asunder, withdrawn. from us by our rash lightness.
Have ye offered unto me slain beasts and sacrifices? This place is taken out of the fifth chapter of Amos, (Amos 5:25.) The speech which Stephen useth showeth that all the prophecies were gathered into one body; and Amos addeth, (after that he had inveighed against the idolatry and sundry sins of the people,) that this is no new evil, that the Jews are rebellious against God, because their fathers had fallen away from true godliness even in the wilderness. Furthermore, he denieth that they offered slain beasts to him, not because there were there no sacrifices at all, but because God refused their corrupt worship; like as he reproveth and chideth the people in Isaiah, because they honored him with no sacrifice,
“Thou,” (saith he,) “O Jacob, hast not called upon me, neither hast thou honored me with thy sacrifices, neither have I made thee serve in offering or incense. Thou hast not bought for me calamus, neither hast thou filled me with fatness. But thou hast been burdenous [burdensome] unto me in thy sins, and hast caused me to serve in thine iniquities,” (Isaiah 43:22.)
Assuredly the Jews did all these things daily, but God accepteth not the obedience of the wicked, neither doth he approve the same. Again, he abhorreth all that which is polluted with such mingle-mangles as are added. 452452 “Adventitiae mixturae,” adventitious mixtures. Thus doth Amos speak of the fathers which were revolts. 453453 “De patribus apostatis,” of the apostate fathers. That which is added forthwith may be referred either unto them or unto their posterity.
43. You took to you the tabernacle of Moloch. Some take the copulative for the adversative [particle,] as if he should say, Yea, rather, ye worshipped the idol. It may be resolved also into the conjunction causal, thus, You did not offer sacrifices to me, because ye erected a tabernacle to Moloch. But I expound it somewhat otherwise, to wit, that God doth first accuse the fathers for the more vehemency; and then afterwards he addeth, that their posterity did increase the superstitions, because they gat to themselves new and diverse idols; as if the prophet had spoken thus in the person of God, If I shall rip up from the beginning, (O house of Jacob,) how your kindred hath behaved itself toward me; your fathers began to overthrow and corrupt, even in the wilderness, that worship which I had commanded; but you have far passed their ungodliness, for you have brought in an infinite company of gods. And this order is fitter for Stephen’s purpose; for he intendeth to prove, (as we have already said,) that after the Israelites felt away unto strange and bastardly rites, they never made an end of sinning, but being stricken with blindness, they polluted themselves every now and then with new idolatries, until they were come even unto the last end 454454 “Ad extermum,” to the extreme. of impiety. Therefore, Stephen confirmeth this sentence fitly with the testimony of the prophet, that the Jews, descending of wicked and rebellious fathers, had never ceased to wax worse and worse. And although the prophet’s words be somewhat unlike to these, yet is the sense all one. It is to be thought that Stephen, who had to deal with the Jews, did repeat word for word in their tongue that which is in the prophet; Luke, who wrote in Greek, did follow the Greek interpreter. The prophet saith, Ye honored Succoth your king, and Chiun your image, the star of your gods. The Greek interpreter made a noun common of a noun proper, because of the alliance 455455 “Affinitatem,” its affinity to. of the word Succoth, which signifieth a tabernacle. Furthermore, I cannot tell whence he fetcheth that his Remphan, unless it were because that word was more used in that time.
And figures which ye made. The word image, which is in the prophet, doth of itself signify no evil thing. Moreover, the word [τυπος]; is taken amongst the Grecians in good part. For the ceremonies which God appointed are called [τυποι]; notwithstanding the prophet condemneth expressly the figures [types] which the Jews had made. Why so? Because God will not be worshipped under a visible and external form. If any man object that he speaketh in this place of stars; that is true, I confess; but I stand only upon this, that although the prophet doth give their idols some honest name, yet doth he sharply condemn their corrupt worship; whereby the foolish and childish caviling of the Papists is refuted. Because they deny that those images which they worship are idols, they say, that that mad worship of theirs is, [εικονοδουλεια], or serving of images, and not [ειδολοδουλεια], or worshipping of idols. Seeing they mock God sophistically, there is no man that is endued even but with common understanding, which doth not see that they are more than ridiculous even in such toys. For although I move no question about the word, it is certain that the word [τυπος]; is more honorable than [εικων]. But those same [τυποι], or figures, are simply condemned in this place, which men make to themselves, not only [προς την λατρειαν], or that they may worship them, but [προς την προσκυνησιν], that is, that they may give them even any reverence at all. Therefore that filthy distinction falleth flat to the ground, wherein the Papists think they have a crafty starting-hole. 456456 “Effugium,” evasion.
Beyond Babylon. The prophet nameth Damascus; neither doth the Greek interpretation dissent from the same. Wherefore it may be that the word Babylon cropt [crept] in here through error; though in the sum of the thing there be no great difference. The Israelites were to be carried away to Babylon; but because they thought that they had a sure and strong fortress in the kingdom of Syria, whose head Damascus was, therefore the prophet saith that Damascus shall not help them, but that God shall drive them farther; as if he should say, So long as you have Damascus set against your enemies, you think that you are well fenced; but God shall carry you away beyond it; even into Assyria and Chaldea.
44. The tabernacle of witness. Stephen showeth here that the blame cannot be laid upon God, because the Jews polluted themselves with divers superstitions, as if God had suffered them to wander freely. 457457 “Sine freno,” without a curb. For he saith that God had commanded how he would be worshipped by them. Whereupon it followeth that they were entangled in so many errors, because they would not follow that form which God had appointed. Although he girdeth [reprehendeth] them for two causes: Because, being not content with that rule alone which God had prescribed, they invented to themselves strange worships; secondly, because they had no respect unto the right end of the temple, and of the ceremonies which God had appointed. For whereas they ought to have been unto them exercises of the spiritual worship, they apprehended nothing but that which was carnal, according to their carnal nature; 458458 “Pro crasso suo ingenio nihil nisi terrenum et carnale apprehenderent,” in accordance with their gross disposition, they apprehend nothing but what was earthly and carnal. that is, they took the shadow for the body.
Therefore we see that the Jews were first reprehended for their boldness, for because that being not content with the plain word of God, they were carried away after their own inventions. Secondly, they are reproved for the preposterous abuse of the true and sincere worship; because they followed the flesh instead of the Spirit. They had, saith he, the tabernacle of witness. Therefore it was their own wantonness and rashness only which caused them to sin. For seeing they were well taught what was the right way and order of worshipping God, all cloak and color of ignorance was taken away.
Which thing is worth the noting. For seeing God doth after a sort bridle us, when he maketh his will known unto us, if after we have received his commandment we turn aside, either unto the right hand or to the left, we be twice guilty; because the servant which knoweth his master’s will, and doth it not, shall suffer more stripes: This is the first mark whereby the Holy Spirit doth distinguish all bastardly and corrupt worshippings from the true and sincere worship. Yea, (to speak more briefly,) the first difference between true worship and idolatry is this: when the godly take in hand nothing but that which is agreeable to the Word of God, but the other think all that lawful which pleaseth themselves, and so they count their own will a law; whereas God alloweth nothing but that which he himself hath appointed. To this end serveth the word witness.
The Hebrew word [מד] (moed) signifieth, indeed, an appointed place and time, or an assembly of men; but the reason expressed in Moses showeth that there is another cause why it is so named. For in Moses this is oftentimes repeated, “I will meet with you there.” Therefore the tabernacle was consecrated by the covenant and the word of the Lord, and his voice was heard there continually, that it might be distinguished from all profane places.
According to the form which he had seen. This is referred unto the second point which I have touched; for it may be that he which shall use the ceremonies only which God appointed, shall notwithstanding worship God amiss. For God careth not for external rites, save only inasmuch as they are of the heavenly truth; therefore God would have the tabernacle to be made like unto the heavenly figure, 459459 “Archetypum,” archetype, model. that the Jews might know that they were not to stay still in the external figures. Furthermore, let him which is disposed read my Commentaries upon the Epistle to the Hebrews, and he shall see what that figure, whereof mention is made Exodus 25, (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5,) did signify. Stephen doth only briefly tell them in this place that the worship which God commanded the Jews is spiritual, and that they, according to their carnal blockishness, were evil and false interpreters; therefore, as we have said, that God alloweth no worship but that which is grounded in his commandment, so we are taught here that it is requisite in the right use of the commandment, that the spiritual truth be present; which thing being granted, it was the like question which we said did consist principally in this issue, whether the shadows ought to yield to the body or not. Whereas Moses is said to have seen a form or figure, the Spirit of God signifieth thereby that it is unlawful for us to invent forms at our pleasure; but that all our senses must be set upon that form which God showeth, that all our religion may be formed according to it. The word figure signifieth here, in this place, the principal pattern, 460460 “Primarium exemplar,” the primary pattern, the original model. which is nothing else but the spiritual truth.
45. Which they brought in. This serveth to increase the frowardness 461461 “Pervicaciam,” perverseness. of the nation, that whereas the tabernacle did continue with them, and they carried the same whithersoever they went, yet could they not be kept within the bounds of God’s covenant, but they would have strange and profane rites; to wit, declaring that God dwelt amidst them, from whom they were so far distant, and whom they did drive out of that inheritance which he had given them. To this purpose serveth that also, that God did beautify the tabernacle with divers miracles; for the worthiness thereof 462462 “Illius dignitas,” its dignity. was established by those victories which the Jews had gotten, as it appeareth by divers places of the holy history; therefore, it must needs be that they were very disobedient, which did not cease oftentimes to start aside from that worship which was so many ways approved.
Until the days of David. Although the ark of the Lord continued long in Shiloh, yet it had no certain place until the reign of David, (1 Samuel 1:3;) for it was unlawful for men to erect a place for the same, but it was to be placed in that place which the Lord had showed, as Moses saith oftentimes. Neither durst David himself, after he had taken it from the enemies, bring it into the thrashing-floor of Araunah until the Lord had declared, by an angel from heaven, that that was the place which he had chosen, (2 Samuel 24:16.) And Stephen counteth this a singular benefit of God, not without great cause, that the place was showed to David wherein the Israelites should hereafter worship God; as in the Psalm he rejoiceth as over some notable thing: “I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the Lord; our feet shall be stable in thy courts, O Jerusalem,” (Psalm 132:3) The priesthood was coupled with the kingdom; therefore, the stability of the kingdom is showed in the resting of the ark; therefore it is said that he desired this so earnestly that he bound himself with a solemn vow, that he would not come within his house, that his eyes should enjoy no sleep, nor his temples any rest, until he should know a place for the Lord, and a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. Furthermore, the place was showed to David, but it was granted to Solomon to build the temple, (1 Kings 5:7.)
47. Solomon built. Stephen seemeth to gird Solomon glancingly 463463 “Videtur hic oblique Stephanus Solomonem perstringere,” Stephen here seemeth indirectly to rebuke Solomon. in this place, as if he did not regard the nature of God in building the temple; yet did he attempt that work not without the commandment of God. There was also a promise added, wherein God did testify that he would be present with his people there. I answer, that when Stephen denieth that God dwelleth in temples made with hands, that is not referred unto Solomon, who knew full well that God was to be sought in heaven, and that men’s minds must be lifted up thither by faith; which thing he uttered also in that solemn prayer which he made:
“The heaven of heavens do not contain thee,
and how much less this house?”
(1 Kings 8:23;)
but he reproveth the blockishness of the people, which abused the temple, as if it had had God tied to it; which appeareth more plainly by the testimony of Isaiah, (Isaiah 6:6,) which he citeth also; God, saith he, would have Solomon to build him a temple; but they were greatly deceived who thought that he was, as it were, included in such a building; as he complaineth by his prophet that the people do him injury, when as they imagine that he is tied to a place; but the prophet doth not for that cause only inveigh against the Jews, because they worshipped God superstitiously, thinking that his power was tied to the temple, but because they did esteem him according to their own affection, and, therefore, after that they had ended 464464 “Defuncti sunt,” performed. their sacrifices and external pomp, they imagined that he was pleased, and that they had brought him indebted to them. This was almost a common error in all ages; because men thought that cold ceremonies were sufficient enough for the worship of God. The reason is, because forasmuch as they are carnal, and wholly set upon the world, they imagine that God is like to them; therefore, to the end God may take from them this blockishness, he saith that he filleth all things.
49. For whereas he saith, that heaven is his seat, and the earth his footstool, it must not be so understood as if he had a body, or could be divided into parts, after the manner of men; but because he is infinity, therefore he saith that he cannot be comprehended within any spaces of place; therefore, those men are deceived who esteem God or his worship according to their own nature; and because the prophet had to deal with hypocrites, he doth not only dispute about the essence of God, but also teacheth generally, that he is far unlike to men, and that he is not moved with the vain pomp of this world as they are. Here ariseth that question also, why the prophet saith that the Lord hath no place of rest in the world, whereas, notwithstanding, the Spirit affirmeth the contrary elsewhere, “This is my rest for ever,” (Psalm 132:14.) Moreover, Isaiah doth adorn the Church with this self-same title, that it is the glorious rest of God, alluding unto the temple, I answer, that when God appointed signs of his presence ill the temple, and sacrifices in times past, he did not this to the end he might settle and fasten himself and his power there; therefore, the Israelites did wickedly, who, setting their minds wholly upon the signs, did forge to themselves an earthly God. They dealt also ungodly, who under this color took to themselves liberty to sin, as if they could readily and easily pacify God with bare ceremonies. Thus doth the world use to mock God.
When God doth declare, by the external rites, that he will be present with his, that he may dwell in the midst of them, he commandeth them to lift up their minds, that they may seek him spiritually. Hypocrites, which are entangled in the world, will rather pluck God out of heaven; and whereas they have nothing but vain and bare figures, they are puffed up with such foolish confidence, that they pamper themselves in their sins carelessly, so, at this day, the Papists include Christ in the bread and wine in their imagination; that done, so soon as they have worshipped their idol with foolish worship, they vaunt and crack as if they were as holy as angels. We must diligently note these two vices, that men do superstitiously forge to themselves a carnal and worldly God which doth so come down unto them, that they remain still having their minds set upon the earth, and that they rise not up in mind to heaven. Again, they dream that God is pacified with frivolous obedience; hereby it cometh to pass, that they are besotted in the visible signs; and, secondly, that 465465 “Neglecta pietate,” neglecting a piety, omitted. they go about to bring God indebted to them after a childish manner, and with things which be nothing worth.
Now we understand in what sense the prophet saith that God hath no place of rest in the world. He would, indeed, that the temple should have been a sign and pledge of his presence, yet only to the godly, which did ascend into heaven in heart, which did worship him spiritually with pure faith; but he hath no place of rest with the superstitious, who, through their foolish inventions, tie him unto the elements of the world, or do erect unto him an earthly worship; neither yet with hypocrites, who are puffed up with drunken confidence, as if they had done their duty towards God well, after that they have played in their toys. In sum, the promise received by faith doth cause God to hear us in his temple, as if he were present to show forth his power in the sacraments; but unless we rise up unto him by faith, we shall have no presence of his. Hereby we may easily gather, that when he dwelleth amidst those that be his, he is neither tied to the earth, neither comprehended in any place, because they seek him spiritually in heaven.
50. Hath not mine hand? The prophet telleth the people in these words, that God hath no need either of gold, either of precious furniture of the temple, either of the sacrifices; whereupon it followeth that his true worship is not contained in ceremonies. For he desireth none of all these things which we offer unto him, for his own sake, but only that he may exercise us in the study of godliness; which argument is handled more at large, Psalm 1. For although this be a shameful foolishness to go about to feed God with sacrifices, yet unless hypocrites were drowned in the same, they would make no such account of toys, because all that is unsavory before God which dissenteth from the spiritual worship; therefore, let us know that God seeketh us and not ours, which we have only at pleasure; and hereby it appeareth also what great difference there is between true religion and the carnal inventions of men.
51. Forasmuch as Stephen doth not expressly answer the points of the accusation, I am of their mind who think that he would have said more, if his oration had not been broken off with some uproar. For we know what a session of judges he had; therefore, no marvel if they enforced him to hold his peace with noise and outcries. And we see, also, that he did use long insinuation of set purpose, that he might tame and appease them who were like brute beasts most cruel; but it is likely that their madness was then incensed, when he proved that they had most wickedly corrupted the law, that the temple was polluted with their superstitions, and that there is nothing sincere amongst them; because, whilst they did stick in bare figures, they did not worship God spiritually, because they did not refer the ceremonies unto the heavenly figure; but though Stephen did not enter the cause straightway, but essayed to make their fierce minds somewhat more gentle by little and little, yet did he reason very fitly, to purge himself of the crime laid to his charge.
These two things, as we have said, were the principal points of the question, that Stephen had blasphemed God and his temple; that he went about to disannul the law. That Stephen might clear himself of both these false slanders, he began at the calling of Abraham, and declareth that the Jews excelled the Gentiles, not of their own nature, not by any right of their own, not by any merits of works, but by a free privilege, because God had adopted them in the person of Abraham. This is also very pertinent to the cause, that the covenant of salvation was made with Abraham before any temple or ceremonies were, yea, before circumcision was appointed. Of which things the Jews did so boast, that they said there was no worship of God without them, neither any holiness. After that he set down how wonderful and manifold the goodness of God was towards Abraham’s stock, and again how wickedly and frowardly they had refused, so much as in them lay, the grace of God; whereby it appeareth that it cannot be ascribed to their own merits that they are counted God’s people, but because God did choose them of his own accord, being unworthy, and did not cease to do them good, though they were most unthankful. Their lofty and proud spirits might by this means have been subdued, tamed, and humbled, that being emptied of that wind of foolish glory they might come unto the Mediator. Thirdly, he declared that the Angel was the governor and chief, in giving the law and delivering the people, and that Moses did so serve in his function, that he taught that there should come other prophets hereafter, who should, notwithstanding, have one which should be the chief of them, that he might make an end of all prophecies, and that he might bring the perfect accomplishment of them all. Whereby it is gathered that those are nothing less than Moses’ disciples, who reject that kind of doctrine which was promised and commended in the law, together with the author thereof.
Last of all, he showeth that all the old worship which was prescribed by Moses is not to be esteemed of itself, but that it ought rather to be referred to another end, because it was made according to the heavenly pattern; and that the Jews have always been wicked interpreters of the law, because they conceived nothing but that which was earthly. Hereby is it proved that there is no injury done to the temple and the law when Christ is made, as it were, the end and truth of both, But because the state of the cause did consist chiefly in this, that the worship of God doth not properly consist in sacrifices and other things, and that all ceremonies did nothing else but shadow Christ, Stephen was purposed to stand upon this point if the Jews would have permitted him; but because, when he was come to the pith of the matter, they cannot abide to hear any more, (they were so incensed with fury,) the application of those things which he had said, unto this cause which he had in hand, is wanting. And he is enforced to use a sharp reprehension for a conclusion, Ye of an hard neck, saith he, (Exodus 32:9; 33:3,5.) We see how soon he is offended with them with an holy zeal, but because he saw that he spake many things to small end, especially before deaf men, he breaketh off his doctrine. This is a metaphor taken from horses or oxen, which Moses useth often, when he will say that his people is a rebellious people, and disobedient to God, and also unruly.
The upbraiding which followeth was of greater force with them. Circumcision was unto them a vail and covering to cover all vices. Therefore, when he calleth them uncircumcised in heart, he doth not only mean that they are rebellious against God and stubborn, but that they were found treacherous and covenant-breakers, even in that sign whereof they did so greatly boast; and so he turneth that back most fitly to their shame, whereof they made boast to their glory. For this is all one, as if he should have said that they had broken the covenant of the Lord, so that their circumcision was void and profane. This speech is taken out of the law and the prophets. For as God hath appointed the sign, so he would have the Jews know to what end they were circumcised; to wit, that they might circumcise their hearts and all their corrupt affections to the Lord, as we read, “And now circumcise your hearts to the Lord,” Wherefore, the letter of circumcision, as Paul calleth it, is a vain visor with God, (Romans 2:28.) So, forasmuch as at this day the spiritual washing is the truth of our baptism, it is to be feared, lest that may well be objected to us, that we are not partakers of baptism, because our souls and flesh are polluted with filthiness.
Ye have always resisted. At the first Stephen vouchsafed to call these men fathers and brethren, against whom he inveigheth thus sharply, Therefore, so long as there remained any hope that they might be made more gentle, he dealt not only friendly with them, but he spake honorably unto them. Now, so soon as he espieth their desperate stubbornness, he doth not only take from them all honor, but lest he should have any fellowship with them, he speaketh unto them as unto men of another kindred. You, saith he, are like to your fathers, who have always rebelled against the Spirit of God. But he himself came of the same fathers; and yet that he may couple himself to Christ, he forgetteth his kindred, inasmuch as it was wicked. And yet for all this, he bindeth them not all in one bundle, as they say, but he speaketh unto the multitude.
And those are said to resist the Spirit who reject 466466 “Contumaciter rejicient,” contumaciously reject. him when he speaketh in the prophets. Neither doth he speak in this place of secret revelations, wherewith God inspireth every one, but of the external ministry; which we must note diligently. He purposeth to take from the Jews all color of excuse; and, therefore, he upbraideth unto them, that they had purposely, and not of ignorance, resisted God. Whereby it appeareth what great account the Lord maketh of his word, and how reverently he will have us to receive the same. Therefore, lest, like giants, we make war against God, let us learn to hearken to the ministers by whose mouth he teacheth us.
52. Which of the prophets? Forasmuch as they ought not to bear their fathers’ fault, Stephen seemeth to deal unjustly, in that he reckoneth this amongst their faults unto whom he speaketh; but he had just causes so to do. First, because they did vaunt that they were Abraham’s holy progeny, it was worth the labor to show unto them how great vanity that was, as if Stephen should say, that there is no cause why they should vaunt of their stock, forasmuch as they come of those who were wicked murderers of the prophets. So that he toucheth that glancingly which is more plainly set down by the prophets, that they are not the children of prophets, but a degenerate and bastardly issue, the seed of Canaan, etc. Which thing we may at this day object to the Papists, when as they so highly extol their fathers. Furthermore, this serveth to amplify withal, whereas he saith that it is no new thing for them to resist the truth, but that they have this wickedness, as it were, by inheritance from their fathers. Furthermore, it was requisite for Stephen by this means to pluck from their faces the visor of the Church, wherewith they burdened him. 467467 “Gravabant,” burdened, brought a charge against him, or threw obloquy on him. This was an unmeet prejudice against the doctrine of the gospel, in that they boasted that they are the Church of God, and did challenge this title 468468 “Hunc qui titulum sibi... arrogabant,” and arrogated this title to themselves. by long succession. Therefore, Stephen preventeth them on the contrary, and proveth that their fathers did, no less than they, rage against the prophets, through wicked contempt and hatred of sound doctrine. Lastly, this is the continual custom of the Scripture to gather the fathers and children together 469469 “Aggregare,” to sum up, include. under the same guiltiness, seeing they pollute themselves with the same offenses, and that famous sentence of Christ answereth thereto, “Fulfill the measure of your fathers, until the just blood come upon you, from Abel unto Zacharias.”
Who have foretold. Hereby we gather that this was the drift of all the prophets, to direct their nation unto Christ, as he is the end of the law, (Romans 10:4.) It were too long to gather all the prophecies wherein the coming of Christ was foretold. Let it suffice to know this generally, that it was the common office of all the prophets to promise salvation by the grace of Christ. Christ is called in this place the Just, not only to note his innocency, but of the effect, because it is proper to him to appoint justice in the world. And even in this place doth Stephen prove that the Jews were altogether unworthy of the benefit of redemption, because the fathers did not only refuse that in times past, which was witnessed unto them by the prophets, but they did also cruelly murder the messengers of grace, and their children endeavored to extinguish the author of righteousness and salvation which was offered unto them. By which comparison Christ teacheth that the wicked conspiracy of his enemies was an heap of all iniquities.
53. Who have received the law. They called that fury wherewith they raged against Stephen zeal of the law, as if he had been a forsaker of the law, and a revolt 470470 “Apostata,” an apostate. and had enforced others to fall away in like sort. Although he was determined to clear himself of this false accusation, yet he did not go through with his answer. For he could not be heard, and it was to no end to speak to deaf men. Therefore, he is content, at a word, to take from them their false color and pretense. It is evident, saith he, that you lie, when you pretend the zeal of the law, which you transgress and break without ceasing; and as he objected unto them in the words next going before, the treacherous murder of the Just, so now he upbraideth unto them their revolting from the law. Some man will say that Stephen’s cause is no whit bettered hereby, because the Jews break the law. But as we have already said, Stephen doth not so chide them, as if his defense did principally consist in this issue, but that they may not flatter themselves in their false boasting. For hypocrites must be handled thus, who will, notwithstanding, seem to be most earnest defenders of God’s glory, though indeed they condemn him carelessly. And here is also a fit antistrophe, because they made semblance that they received the law which was committed to them, which was, notwithstanding, reproachfully despised by them.
In the dispositions of angels It is word for word, into the dispositions, but it is all one. Furthermore, we need not seek any other interpreter of this saying than Paul, who saith that the law was disposed or ordained by angels, (Galatians 3:16;) for he useth the participle there whereof this noun is derived. And his meaning is, that the angels were the messengers of God, and his witnesses in publishing the law, that the authority thereof might be firm and stable.
Therefore, forasmuch as God did call the angels to be, as it were, solemn witnesses when he gave the Jews his law, the same angels shall be witnesses of their unfaithfulness. 471471 “Perfidiae,” perfidy. And to this end doth Stephen make mention of the angels, that he may accuse the Jews in presence of them, and prove them guilty, because they have transgressed the law. Hereby we may gather what shall become of the despisers of the gospel, which doth so far excel the law, that it doth, after a sort, darken the glory thereof, as Paul teacheth, (2 Corinthians 3.)
54. When they heard. The beginning of the action had in it some color of judgment; but at length the judges cannot bridle their fury. First, they interrupt him with murmuring and noise, now they break out into envious and deadly cryings, 472472 “Infestis clamoribus,” hostile clamor. lest they should hear any one word. Afterward they hale the holy man (out of the city,) that they may put him to death. And Luke expresseth properly what force Satan hath to drive forward the adversaries of the word. When he saith that they burst asunder inwardly, he noteth that they were not only angry, but they were also stricken with madness. Which fury breaketh out into the gnashing of the teeth, as a violent fire into flame. The reprobate, who are at Satan’s commandment, must needs be thus moved with the hearing of the word of God; and this is the state of the gospel, it driveth hypocrites into madness who might seem before to be modest, as if a drunken man who is desirous of sleep be suddenly awakened. Therefore, Simeon assigneth this to Christ, as proper to him, to disclose the thoughts of many hearts, (Luke 2:35.) Yet, notwithstanding, this ought not to be ascribed to the doctrine of salvation, whose end is rather this, to tame men’s minds to obey God after that it hath subdued them. But so soon as Satan hath possessed their minds, if they be urged, their ungodliness will break out. Therefore, this is an accidentary [accidental] evil; yet we are taught by these examples, that we must not look that the word of God should draw all men unto a sound mind.
Which doctrine is very requisite for us unto constancy. Those which are teachers cannot do their duty as they ought, but they must set themselves against the contemners of God. And forasmuch as there are always some wicked men, which set light by the majesty of God, they must ever now and then have recourse unto this vehemency of Stephen. For they may not wink when God’s honor is taken from him. And what shall be the end thereof? Their ungodliness shall be the more incensed, so that we shall seem to pour oil into the fire, (as they say.) But whatsoever come of it, yet must we not spare the wicked, but we must keep them down mightily, although they could pour out all the furies of hell. And it is certain that those which will flatter the wicked do not respect the fruit, 473473 “Qui impiorum aures deliciis mulceri volunt, non tam respicere profectum,” who would pour soothing wrods into the ears of the wicked, look not so much to their profit. but are faint-hearted through fear of danger. But as for us, howsoever we have no such success as we could wish, let us know that courage in defending the doctrine of godliness is a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God.
55. Forasmuch as he was full. We cannot almost express into what straits the servant of Christ was brought, when he saw himself beset round with raging enemies; the goodness of his cause was oppressed, partly with false accusations and malice, partly with violence and outrageous outcries; he was environed with stern countenances on every side; he himself was haled unto a cruel and horrible kind of death; he could espy succor and ease no where. Therefore, being thus destitute of man’s help, he turneth himself toward God. We must first note this, that Stephen did look unto God, who is the judge of life and death, (turning his eyes from beholding the world,) when he was brought into extreme despair of all things, whilst that there is nothing but death before his eyes. This done, we must also add this, that his expectation was not in vain, because Christ appeared to him by and by. Although Luke doth signify, that he was now armed with such power of the Spirit as could not be overcome, so that nothing could hinder him from beholding the heavens; therefore Stephen looketh up toward heaven, that he may gather courage by beholding Christ; that dying he may triumph gloriously, having overcome death. But as for us, it is no marvel if Christ do not show himself to us, because we are so set and tied upon the earth. Hereby it cometh to pass, that our hearts fail us at every light rumor of danger, and even at the falling of a leaf. And that for good causes; for where is our strength but in Christ? But we pass over the heavens, as if we had no help any where else, save only in the world, Furthermore, this vice can be redressed by no other means than if God lift us up by his Spirit, being naturally set upon the earth. Therefore, Luke assigneth this cause, why Stephen looked up steadfastly toward heaven, because he was full of the Spirit. We must also ascend into heaven, having this Spirit to be our director and guide, so often as we are oppressed with troubles. And, surely, until such time as he illuminate us, our eyes are not so quick of sight, that they can come unto heaven. Yea, the eyes of the flesh are so dull, that they cannot ascend into heaven.
He saw the glory of God. Luke signifieth, as I have said, that Christ appeared forthwith to Stephen so soon as he lifted up his eyes towards heaven. But he telleth us before, that he had other eyes given him than the fleshly eyes, seeing that with the same 474474 “Quorum perspicacia,” by their perspicacity. he flieth up unto the glory of God. Whence we must gather a general comfort, that God will be no less present with us, if, forsaking the world, all our senses strive to come to him; not that he appeareth unto us by any external vision, as he did to Stephen, but he will so reveal himself unto us within, that we may indeed feel his presence. And this manner of seeing ought to be sufficient for us, when God doth not only, by his power and grace, declare that he is nigh at hand, but doth also prove that he dwelleth in us.
56. Behold, I see the heavens. God meant not only privately to provide for his servant, but also to wring and torment his enemies; as Stephen doth courageously triumph over them, when he affirmeth plainly that he saw a miracle. And here may a question be moved, how the heavens were opened? For mine own part, I think that there was nothing changed in the nature of the heavens; but that Stephen had new quickness of sight granted him, which pierced through all lets, even unto the invisible glory of the kingdom of heaven. For admit we grant that there was some division or parting 475475 “Scissuram,” rent or opening. made in heaven, yet man’s eye could never reach so far. Again, Stephen alone did see the glory of God. For that spectacle was not only hid from the wicked, who stood in the same place, but they were also so blinded within themselves, that they did not see the manifest truth. 476476 “Apertam veritatis lucem,” the open light of truth. Therefore, he saith that the heavens are opened to him in this respect, because nothing keepeth him from beholding the glory of God. Whereupon it followeth that the miracle was not wrought in heaven, but in his eyes. Wherefore, there is no cause why we should dispute long about any natural vision; because it is certain that Christ appeared unto him not after some natural manner, but after a new and singular sort. And I pray you of what color was the glory of God, that it could be seen naturally with the eyes of the flesh? Therefore, we must imagine nothing in this vision but that which is divine. Moreover, this is worth the noting, that the glory of God appeared not unto Stephen wholly as it was, but according to man’s capacity. For that infiniteness cannot be comprehended with the measure of any creature.
The Son of man standing. He seeth Christ reigning in that flesh wherein he was abased; so that in very deed the victory did consist in this one thing. Therefore, it is not superfluous in that Christ appeareth unto him, and for this cause doth he also call him the Son of man, as if he should say, I see that man whom ye thought ye had quite extinguished by death enjoying the government of heaven; therefore, gnash with your teeth as much as you list: there is no cause why I should fear to fight for him even unto blood, who shall not only defend his own cause, but my salvation also. Notwithstanding, here may a question be moved, why he saw him standing, who is said elsewhere to sit? Augustine, as he is sometimes more subtle than needs, saith, “that he sitteth as a judge, that he stood then as an advocate.” For mine own part, I think that though these speeches be diverse, yet they signify both one thing. For neither sitting, nor yet standing, noteth out how the body of Christ was framed; but this is referred unto his power and kingdom. For where shall we erect him a throne, that he may sit at the right hand of God the Father, seeing God doth fill all things in such sort, that we ought to imagine no place for his right hand?
Therefore, the whole text is a metaphor, when Christ is said to sit or stand at the right hand of God the Father, and the plain meaning is this, that Christ hath all power given him, that he may reign in his Father’s stead in that flesh wherein he was humbled, and that he may be next him. And although this power be spread abroad through heaven and earth, yet some men imagine amiss that Christ in every where in his human nature. For, though he be contained in a certain place, yet that hindereth no whit but that he may and doth show forth his power throughout all the world. Therefore, if we be desirous to feel him present by the working of his grace, we must seek him in heaven; as he revealed himself unto Stephen there. Also, some men do affirm ridiculously out of this place, that he drew near unto Stephen that he might see him. 477477 “Ut videri posset ab eo,” that he might be seen by him. For we have already said, that Stephen’s eyes were so lifted up by the power of the Spirit, 478478 “Per fidem,” through faith, omitted. that no distance of place could hinder the same. I confess, indeed, that speaking properly, that is, philosophically, there is no place above the heavens. But this is sufficient for me, that it is perverse doting to place Christ any where else save only in heaven, and above the elements of the world.
57. Crying with a loud voice. This was either a vain show of zeal, as hypocrites are almost always pricked forward with ambition to break out into immoderate heat; as Caiaphas when he heard Christ say thus, After this ye shall see the Son of man, etc., did rent his clothes in token of indignation, as if it were intolerable blasphemy; or else certainly the preaching of the glory of Christ was unto them such a torment, that they must needs burst through madness. And I am rather of this mind; for Luke saith afterward, that they were carried violently, as those men which have no hold of themselves use to leap out immoderately. 479479 “Subito et intemperanter prosilire,” break out suddenly and intemperately.
58. They stoned. God had appointed this kind of punishment in the law for false prophets, as it is written in the 13th chapter of Deuteronomy; but God doth also define there who ought to be reckoned in that number; to wit, he which doth attempt to bring the people unto strange gods; therefore the stoning of Stephen was both unjust and also wicked, because he was unjustly condemned; so that the martyrs of Christ must suffer like punishment with the wicked. It is the cause alone which maketh the difference; but this difference is so highly esteemed before God and his angels, that the rebukes of the martyrs 480480 “Martyrum probra,” the ignominy. do far excel all glory of the world. Yet here may a question be moved, How it was lawful for the Jews to stone Stephen, who had not the government in their hands? For in Christ’s cause they answer, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death. I answer, that they did this violently and in an uproar. And whereas the president did not punish this wickedness, it may be that he winked at many things, 481481 “In populo turbulento et prope indomito,” in a turbulent and almost untameable people, omitted. lest they should bring that hatred upon his own head which they bare against the name of Christ. We see that the Roman presidents did chiefly wink at the civil discords of that nation, even of set purpose; that when one of them had murdered another, 482482 “Ut mutuo confecti,” that having mutually destroyed each other. they might the sooner be overcome afterward.
And the witnesses. Luke signifieth, that even in that tumult they observed some show of judgment. This was not commanded in vain that the witnesses should throw the first stone; because, seeing they must commit the murder with their own hands, many are holden with a certain dread, who otherwise are less afraid to cut the throats of the innocent with perjury of the tongue. But in the mean season, we gather how blind and mad the ungodliness of these witnesses was, who are not afraid to imbrue their bloody hands with the blood of an innocent, who had already committed murder with their tongues. Whereas he saith, that their clothes were laid down at the feet of Saul, he showeth that there was no let in him, but that being cast into a reprobate sense he might have perished with the rest. 483483 “Per eum non stetisse quominus in sensum reprobum conjectus, cum aliis periret,” that it was not owing to himself that he did not fall into a reprobate mind, and perish with the rest (of the Jews.) For who would not think that he was a desperate, [desperado,] who had infected his youth with such cruelty? 484484 “Tirocenio,” training. Neither is his age expressed to lessen his fault, as some unskillful men go about to prove; for he was of those years, that want of knowledge could no whit excuse him. And Luke will shortly after declare, that he was sent by the high priest to persecute the faithful. Therefore he was no child, he might well be counted a man. Why, then, is his youth mentioned? That every man may consider with himself what great hurt he might have done in God’s Church, unless Christ had bridled him betimes. And therein appeareth a most notable token both of God’s power and also of his grace, in that he tamed a fierce and wild beast in his chief fury, even in a moment, and in that he extolled a miserable murderer so highly who through his wickedness was drowned almost in the deep pit of hell.
59. Calling on. Because he had uttered words enough before men, though in vain, he turneth himself now unto God for good causes, and armeth himself with prayer to suffer all things. For although we have need to run unto God’s help every minute of an hour during our whole warfare, yet we have greatest need to call upon God in the last conflict, which is the hardest.
And Luke expresseth again how furious mad they were, because their cruelty was not assuaged even when they saw the servant of Christ praying humbly. Furthermore, here is set down a prayer of Stephen having two members. In the former member, where he commendeth his spirit to Christ, he showeth the constancy of his faith. In the other, where he prayeth for his enemies, he testifieth his love towards men. Forasmuch as the whole perfection of godliness consisteth upon [of] these two parts, we have in the death of Stephen a rare example of a godly and holy death. It is to be thought that he used many more words, but the sum tendeth to this end.
Lord Jesus. I have already said, that this prayer was a witness of confidence; and surely the courageousness and violentness 485485 “Animi magnitudo,” magnanimity. of Stephen was great, that when as he saw the stones fly about his ears, wherewith he should be stoned by and by; when as he heareth cruel curses and reproaches against his head, he yet stayeth himself meekly 486486 “Secure,” securely. upon the grace of Christ. In like sort, the Lord will have his servants to be brought to nought as it were sometimes, to the end their salvation may be the more wonderful, And let us define this salvation not by the understanding of our flesh, 487487 “Non carnis nostrae sensu,” not by our carnal senses. but by faith. We see how Stephen leaneth not unto the judgment of the flesh, but rather assuring himself, even in very destruction, that he shall be saved, he suffereth death with a quiet mind. For undoubtedly he was assured of this, that our life is hid with Christ in God, (Colossians 3:3.)
Therefore, casting off all care of the body, he is content to commit his soul into the hands of Christ. For he could not pray thus from his heart, unless, having forgotten this life, he had cast off all care of the same.
It behoveth us with David (Psalm 31:6) to commit our souls into the hands of God daily so long as we are in the world, because we are environed with a thousand deaths, that God may deliver our life from all dangers; but when we must die indeed, and we are called thereunto, we must fly unto this prayer, that Christ will receive our spirit. For he commended his own spirit into the hands of his Father, to this end, that he may keep ours for ever. This is an inestimable comfort, in that we know our souls do not wander up and down 488488 “Fortuito,” fortuitously. when they flit out of our bodies, but that Christ receiveth them, that he may keep them faithfully, if we commend them into his hands. This hope ought to encourage us to suffer death patiently. Yea, whosoever commendeth his soul to Christ with an earnest affection of faith, he must needs resign himself wholly to his pleasure and will. And this place doth plainly testify that the soul of man is no vain blast which vanisheth away, as some frantic fellows imagine dotingly, 489489 “Ut quidam phrenetici delirant,” as some phrenzied persons rave. but that it is an essential spirit which liveth after this life. Furthermore, we are taught hereby that we call upon Christ rightly and lawfully, because all power is given him of the Father, for this cause, that all men may commit themselves to his tuition. 490490 “Un ejus fidem,” to his faith.
60. Kneeling down, he cried. This is the other part of his prayer, wherein he joineth the love of men with faith in Christ; and surely if we desire to be gathered to Christ for our salvation, we must put on this affection. Whereas Stephen prayeth for his enemies, and those most deadly, and even in the very instant when their cruelty might provoke him unto desire of revenge, he declareth sufficiently what affection he beareth toward all other men.
And we know that we are all commanded 491491 “A Christo,” by Christ, omitted. to do the same which Stephen did; 492492 “Quod autem Stephanum fecisse narrat Lucas,” which Luke relates that Stephen did. but because there is nothing more hard than so to forgive injuries, that we will wish well to those who would have us undone, (Matthew 5:43, 44;) therefore we must always set Stephen before our eyes for an example. He crieth indeed with a loud voice, but he maketh show of nothing before men which was not spoken sincerely and from the heart, as God himself doth witness. Yet he crieth aloud, that he may omit nothing which might serve to assuage the cruelty of the enemies. The fruit appeared not forthwith, yet undoubtedly he prayed not in vain; and Paul is unto us a sufficient testimony 493493 “Illustre documentum,” an illustrious proof. that this sin was not laid to all their charges. I will not say as Augustine, that unless Stephen had prayed the Church should not have had Paul; for this is somewhat hard; only I say this, that whereas God pardoned Paul, it appeareth thereby that Stephen’s prayer was not in vain. Here ariseth a question, how Stephen prayeth for those which he said of late did resist the Holy Ghost; but this seemeth to be the sin against the Spirit which shall never be forgiven? We may easily answer, that that is pronounced generally of all which belongeth to many everywhere; therefore, he called not the body of the people rebellious in such sort that he exempted none. Again, I have declared before what manner of resisting he condemned in that place; for it followeth not by and by, that they sin against the Holy Ghost who resist him for a time. When he prayeth that God will not lay the sin to their charge, his meaning is, that the guiltiness may not remain in them.
And when he had said thus, he fell on sleep. This was added, that we may know that these words were uttered even when he was ready to yield up the ghost, which is a token of wonderful constancy; also this word sleep noteth a meek kind of death. Now, because he made this prayer when he was at the point of death, he was not moved with any hope of obtaining pardon, to be so careful to appease his enemies, but only that they might repent. When this word sleep is taken in the Scripture for to die, it must be referred unto the body, lest any man imagine foolishly with unlearned men, that the souls do also sleep.