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Acts 16:1-5

1. And he came to Derbe and Lystra; and, behold, there was there a certain disciple named Timotheus, the son of a certain faithful woman, a Jewess, and his father was a Grecian. 2. He was well reported of by the brethren which were at Lystra and Iconium. 3. Paul would have him to go with him; and when he had taken him he circumcised him, because of those Jews which were in those places. For they all knew that his father was a Grecian. 4. And as they passed through the cities, they delivered to them to be kept the decrees which were decreed by the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. 5. And so the churches were confirmed in the faith, and abounded in number daily.


1. Luke doth now begin to declare what were the proceedings of Paul after that Barnabas and he were separate. And first he showeth, that he took to his company at Lystra Timothy to be his companion. But, to the end we may know that Paul did nothing rashly, or without good consideration, Luke saith plainly, that Timothy was such a man as the brethren did well like of, and that they gave testimony of his godliness; for thus doth he speak word for word. And so Paul himself observeth the like choice, which he elsewhere commandeth to be made in choosing ministers, (1 Timothy 3: 7.) Neither is it to be thought, that those prophecies did even then come to light wherewith Timothy was set forth and adorned by the Spirit, as Paul doth testify elsewhere, (1 Timothy 1:18.) But there seemeth to be some disagreement in that, in that Luke saith that Timotheus was well reported of amongst the brethren; and Paul will have him to have a good report of those who are without, who is chosen to be a bishop. I answer, that we must principally look unto the judgment of the godly, as they be sole meet witnesses, and do alone rightly discern well and wisely according to the Spirit of God; and that we ought to attribute no more to the wicked than to blind men. Therefore it appeareth that godliness and holiness of life must be judged according to the will and consent of godly men; that he be counted worthy to be a bishop whom they commend. Notwithstanding, I confess that even this also is required in the second place, that the very infidels be enforced to commend him; lest the Church of God come in danger 172172     “Obnoxia sit,” be subjected to. of their slanders and evil speaking, if it commit [permit] itself to be governed by men of evil report.

3. He circumcised him, because of the Jews. Luke doth plainly express that Timothy was not circumcised, because it was necessary it should be so, or because the religion of that sign did continue as yet, but that Paul might avoid an offense. Therefore there was respect had of men, whereas the matter was free before God. Wherefore, the circumcising of Timothy was no sacrament, as was that which was given to Abraham and his posterity, (Genesis 17:13;) but an indifferent ceremony which served only for nourishing of love, and not for any exercise of godliness.

Now, the question is, whether it were lawful for Paul to use a vain sign, whose signification and force was abolished; for it seemeth a vain thing when there is a departure made from the institution of God. But circumcision was commanded by God to continue only until the coming of Christ. To this question I answer, that circumcision did so cease at the coming of Christ, that, notwithstanding the use thereof was not quite abolished by and by; but it continued free, until all men might know that Christ was the end of the law, by the more manifest revelation of the light of the gospel.

And here we must note three degrees. The first is, that the ceremonies of the law were so abolished by the coming of Christ, that they did neither any longer appertain unto the worship of God, neither were they figures of spiritual things, neither was there any necessity to use them. The second is, that the use thereof was free, until the truth of the gospel might more plainly appear. The third, that it was not lawful for the faithful to retain them, save only so far forth as the use thereof served for edification, neither was there any superstition thereby fostered; though that free power to use them, whereof I have spoken, be not without exception, because there was a divers respect to be had of ceremonies. For circumcision was not in the same place wherein the sacrifices were, which were ordained for the purging [expiating] of sins. Wherefore it was lawful for Paul to circumcise Timotheus; it had not been lawful for him to offer a sacrifice for sin. This is, indeed, a general thing, that all the worship of the law did cease at the coming of Christ, (because it was to continue but for a time,) as touching faith and conscience; but concerning the use we must know this, that it is indifferent, and left in the liberty of the godly for a short time, so far as it was not contrary to the confession of faith. We must note the shortness of time whereof I speak, to wit, until the plain manifestation of the Gospel; because some learned men are grossly deceived in this point, who think that circumcision doth yet take place 173173     “Locum adhuc habere apud Judaeos,” is still binding on the Jews. among the Jews; whereas Paul teacheth, that it is superfluous when we are buried with Christ by baptism, (Colossians 2:11,12.) It was better and more truly said in the old proverb, That the synagogue was to be buried with honor.

Now it resteth that we declare how far forth the use of circumcision was indifferent. That shall easily appear by the manner of the liberty. Because the calling of the Gentiles was not as yet generally known, it was meet that the Jews should have some prerogative granted them. Therefore, until it might be better known that the adoption was deducted from the lineage and kindred of Abraham unto all the Gentiles, it was lawful, so far as edification did require, to retain the sign of difference. For seeing that Paul would not circumcise Titus, and doth avouch that the same was well done, (Galatians 2:3,) it followeth that it was not lawful to use this ceremony always and without choice. Therefore they were to have respect unto edification, and unto the public commodity of the Church. Because he could not circumcise Titus, unless he would betray the doctrine 174174     “Puram doctrinam,” the pure doctrine. of the Gospel, and lay himself open to the slanders of the adversaries, he abstained from the free use of the ceremony, which he did use in Timotheus, when he saw that it was profitable for the Church. Hereby it doth easily appear what horrible confusion doth reign in Popery. There is there a huge heap of ceremonies, and to what end but that they may have instead of one veil of the old temple an hundred. God did abrogate those ceremonies which he had commanded, that the truth of the Gospel might shine more clearly. Men durst take upon them to bring in new, and that without keeping any measure. After this came in a wicked surmise, that all these serve for the worship of God. At length followed the devilish confidence of merit. Now, forasmuch as it is evident enough that such ceremonies are neither veils nor sepulchres wherewith Christ is covered, but rather stinking dunghills wherein faith 175175     “Sincera fides,” sincere faith. and religion are choked, those who make the use thereof generally free do ascribe more to the Pope than the Lord granteth to his law. It is to no end to speak of the mass and of such filthiness which contain in themselves manifest idolatry.

They all knew this. Luke telleth us that this was Paul’s drift, to make an entrance for Timotheus unto the Jews, lest they should abhor him as a profane man. They knew all (saith he) that his father was a Grecian. Therefore, because the mothers had no power over their children, they were fully persuaded that he was uncircumcised. Let the readers not here by the way, how miserable the bondage of the people of God was then. Eunice, mother to Timotheus, was one of the small remnant which the very Jews themselves counted a monster, and yet, being married to a man which was an infidel, she durst not consecrate her children to God. No, she durst not so much as give them the external sign of grace, and yet she ceased not therefore to instruct her son of a child holily in the fear of God, and in his true worship—an example surely worthy to be followed of women, whom their husbands affray with their tyrannous government, from keeping and training up their children and families chastely in true godliness. Grecian is taken in this place for a Gentile, after the old and common custom of the Scripture.

4. They delivered them the decrees to keep. In these words Luke doth signify unto us how desirous Paul was of peace. The best and strongest bond to keep and foster peace among the churches, was to keep that which was set down by the apostles. When Paul taketh great pains about that, he taketh great heed lest through his fault there arise any trouble. And let us remember that that continued but for a time. Because, so soon as he seeth the danger of offense cease, he doth quite unburthen the churches, and setting apart the decree, he maketh that free which the apostles had their forbidden. And yet doth he not cancel or violate by that abrogation that which the apostles had decreed, or contemn the authors themselves; because they were not determined to establish a perpetual law, but only to mitigate for a short time that which might hurt weak consciences; as I did more at large declare in the former chapter. Whereby the folly of the Papists is sufficiently refuted, who do grievously lay to our charge that we be far unlike Paul, because we will have the consciences of the godly governed by the Word of God alone, setting light by the decrees of the Church, as they call them, and not to be subject to the will of men. But, as I have already said, Paul meant nothing less than to ensnare men’s consciences in the snare of necessity, for he is not contrary to himself, when he crieth in other places, that

“all things are clean to the clean,”
(Titus 1:15.)

And again,

“He which is clean eateth all things,”
(Romans 14:2.)

And again,

“The kingdom of God is not meat and drink,”
(Romans 14:17.)

And again,

“Meat doeth not commend us to God,”
(1 Corinthians 8:8.)


“Eat all things which are sold in the shambles, asking no question for conscience sake,”
(1 Corinthians 10:25.)

But in one word he reconcileth those things which might otherwise seem to disagree, when he commanded to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, for another’s man conscience sake. Nevertheless, he taketh great heed that he bind not godly souls with the laws of men.

Therefore we attempt nothing at this day which is contrary to or disagreeing with Paul. But the Papists mock us too grossly when they compare their laws with the decrees of the apostles. The apostles invented no new worship of God, they had erected no new spiritual government; but for the desire they had to maintain peace, they exhorted the Gentiles that they would yield a little to the Jews. Before the Pope can excuse his laws under this color, he must first change them wholly. And as for us, seeing that the Papists do place the spiritual worship of God in man’s inventions, and translate the right which belongeth to God alone unto men, that they may reign as lords over souls; we are enforced manfully to withstand them, unless through treacherous silence we will betray the grace gotten by the blood of Christ. Now, what likelihood can there be between three decrees set down for the help and comfort of the weak, and an infinite heap of laws, which doth not only oppress miserable souls with the weight thereof, but also swallow up faith? We know the complaint of Augustine writing to Januarius, that the Church was wickedly laden even then with too great a burden of traditions. Could he, I pray you, suffer the bondage of these times, which is almost a hundred times harder and heavier?

5. The churches were confirmed. By this we gather, that that which Luke setteth down, or rather touched concerning the decrees of the apostles, was, as it were, put in by the way, being not much appertinent unto the matter. 176176     “Accessorium,” accessory. For he commendeth a far other fruit of Paul’s doctrine, when he saith that the churches were confirmed in the faith. Therefore Paul did so order external things, that he was principally careful for the kingdom of God, which consisteth in the doctrine of the gospel, and doth far surpass and surmount external order. Therefore those decrees were mentioned, inasmuch as they were expedient for maintaining concord, that we might know that the holy man had a care thereof. But religion and godliness hath the former place, whose sole foundation is faith; which again doth stay itself upon the pure Word of God, and doth not depend upon men’s laws. Now, by this example, Luke pricketh us forward to proceed continually, lest, at the beginning, sloth or neglect of profiting come upon us. Also the way to increase faith is expressed, to wit, when the Lord doth stir us up by the industry of his servants; as at that time he used the labor and diligence of Paul and his companions. When he addeth immediately that they were also increased in number, he commendeth another fruit of preaching, and yet he doth therewithal signify unto us, that the more those profit in faith who are first called, the more do they bring unto Christ; as if faith did creep abroad unto others by branches. 177177     “Propagine,” by propagation.

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