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Stephen’s Speech to the Council
Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?”
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.