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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.