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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.

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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.