Acts 7: 5-8
5. And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not the breadth of a foot; and promised that he would give it to him to possess, and to his seed after him, when as he had no son. 6. And God spake after this manner, Thy seed shall sojourn in a strange land; and they shall bring it into bondage, and shall evil entreat it four hundred years. 7. But the nation whom they shall serve will I judge, said God. And afterwards they shall come out, and shall worship me in this place. 8. And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so he begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.
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.
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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, 3 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.
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 5 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, 6 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 7 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.
1 "Ut oblique species frustrationis," that a species of frustration may be indirectly noted.
2 "Quod liberum relinquo," I leave the point open, omitted.
3 "Exhibitionem," the exhibition, or manifestation.
4 "Feroces illorum spiritus," their fierce tempers.
5 "Retractare," to retract.
6 "Per innumeros anfractus," though innumerable wanderings.
7 "Inhumaniter," inhumanly.
8 "Degeneres," degenerate.