1. And there were in the church which was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon, called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod and Saul. 2. And as they ministered unto the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate to me Barnabas and Saul unto the work whereto I have called them. 3. Then after they had fasted and prayed, and laid the hands upon them, they let them go.
Here followeth an history, not only worthy to be remembered, but also very profitable to be known, how Paul was appointed the teacher of the Gentiles; for his calling was, as it were, a key whereby God opened to us the kingdom of heaven. We know that the covenant of eternal life was properly concluded with the Jews, so that we had nothing to do with God's inheritance, forasmuch as we were strangers, (Ephesians 2:12;) and the wall of separation was between, which did distinguish those of the household from strangers. Therefore it had profited us nothing, that Christ brought salvation unto the world, unless, the disagreement being taken away, there had been some entrance made for us into the Church. The apostles had already received commandment touching the preaching of the gospel throughout the whole world, (Mark 16:16,) but they had kept themselves until this time within the borders of Judea. When Peter was sent to Cornelius, it was a thing so new and strange, that it was almost counted a monster, [prodigy.] Secondly, that might seem to be a privilege granted to a few men extraordinarily; but now, forasmuch as God doth plainly and openly appoint Paul and Barnabas to be apostles of the Gentiles, by this means he maketh them equal with the Jews; that the gospel may begin to be common as well to the one as to the other. And now the wall of separation is taken away, that both those who were far off and those which were nigh hand may be reconciled to God; and that being gathered under one head, they may grow together to be one body. Therefore Paul's calling ought to be of no less weight amongst us, than if God should cry from heaven in the hearing of all men, that the salvation, promised in times past to Abraham, and to the seed of Abraham, (Genesis 22:17) doth no less appertain unto us at this day, than if we had come out of the loins of Abraham. For this cause is it that Paul laboreth so much 1 in defense and avouching of his calling, (Galatians 1:17, 12-24;) that the Gentiles may assuredly persuade themselves that the doctrine of the gospel was not brought to them by chance, neither by man's rashness, but, first, by the wonderful counsel of God; secondly, by express commandment, whilst that he made that known to men which he had decreed with himself.
So even in our time God doth so enrich certain churches more than others, that they be seminaries to spread abroad the doctrine of the gospel. It must needs be that Manaen, who was brought up with Herod, came of some noble family. And this doth Luke recite of purpose that he may set forth to us his godliness who, despising worldly pomp, had coupled himself to the simple and despised flock of Christ. He might, indeed, have been a principal courtier if he had been ruled by ambition; but that he may wholly addict himself to Christ, he refuseth not to change those smokes of honor with [for] reproach and ignominy. For if we consider in what state the Church stood then, he could not give his name to the gospel, unless he should make himself subject 2 to common infamy. Therefore the Lord meant to teach us, by his example, to despise the world, that those may learn with a valiant and lofty mind to despise the world, who cannot otherwise be true Christians, unless they cast away those things which are precious to the flesh, as hurtful lets and hindrances.
Furthermore, there is no need that the Spirit should cry to us out of heaven, that he is called of God about whom we are, 4 because we receive those, as it were, from hand to hand, (as they say,) whom God hath furnished with necessary gifts, forasmuch as they are framed and made fit by his hand. But whereas Luke saith in this place, that Paul was appointed by the voices and consents 5 of the Church; it doth seem not to agree with Paul's own words, where he doth deny that he was called of men, or by men, (Galatians 1:1.) I answer, that he was made an apostle long before, (and that by no voices [suffrages] of men,) before such time as he was sent unto the Gentiles; and he had now already executed the office of an apostle many years, when he was called to go unto the Gentiles by a new oracle. Wherefore, that he may have God for the author of his apostleship, it is not without cause that he excludeth men. And he doth not now command that he be ordained by the Church therefore, [viz.] that his calling may depend upon men; but God publisheth that his decree, which was as yet known to a few, and that with a public commandment, and he commandeth that it be sealed with the solemn subscription of the Church. Therefore, this is the meaning of the words, That this is the time wherein Paul must preach the gospel among the Gentiles, and the wall being pulled down, he must gather a Church of the Gentiles, who were before strangers from the kingdom of God, (Ephesians 2:14.) For although God had used him hitherto at Antioch and elsewhere, this was now added as a peculiar thing, that God did intend to adopt the Gentiles into the same inheritance of life with the Jews. But and if he were thus created a teacher of the Church from the beginning, he should not then have been called at that time by men. For, seeing the Lord doth pronounce that he had called him, what doth he leave for the Church, save only that they subscribe obediently? For men's judgment is not here put as in a doubtful matter, neither have their voices and consents any freedom. But we must mark what I have already said, that Paul and Barnabas are not now only appointed teachers, but they have an extraordinary office enjoined them, that they may begin to bring the grace of God commonly unto the Gentiles. And that do the words import, when it is said,
But how is Barnabas in this place appointed to be Paul's companion and fellow in office, who, as far as we can read, did never execute the office of teaching? yea, who did always give Paul leave to teach, without saying anything himself? I answer, that he had occasions enough offered him to speak in Paul's absence, so that they had both of them enough to do. For one could not always be present in all places. It is not to be doubted but that he did faithfully discharge that duty which God had enjoined him, and that he was no dumb looker on. And why should we wonder that Luke doth not set down his sermons in plain words, seeing that he scarce repeateth one of a thousand of Paul's?
"And now, behold, the Lord hath sent me, and his Spirit,"
Furthermore, we must note out of these words, that he is a person truly subsisting in God; for if we admit Sabellius's invention, that the word Spirit importeth no person, 7 but that it is a bare adjunct, [epithet] that shall be a foolish and absurd speech, that the Holy Ghost hath said, 8 Isaias also should foolishly ascribe to him the sending of a prophet.
The laying on of hands which Luke reckoneth up, in the third place, was a kind of consecration, as we have said, (Acts 6:6.) For the apostles retained the ceremony which was used amongst the Jews, according to the old custom of the law; as also kneeling, and such rites, which were profitable to exercise godliness. In sum, this is the end why they laid their hands upon Barnabas and Paul, that the Church might offer them to God, and that they might with their consent declare that this office was enjoined them by God; for the calling was properly God's alone, but the external ordaining did belong to the Church, and that according to the heavenly oracle.
1 "Multis locis," in many passages, omitted.
2 "Quin se . . . subjiceret," without subjecting himself.
3 "Dubium est," it is doubtful.
4 "Divinitus vocatum esse eum de quo agitur," that he of whom we treat (whose election is in question) is divinely called.
5 "Suffragiis," by the suffrages.
6 "Tergiversandi causa," for the sake of tergiversation.
7 "Hypostasin non designet," does not designate a hypostasis.
8 "Inepta et absurda erit loqutio, quod Spiritus Sanctus dixerit," the expression, "that the Holy Spirit said," will be absurd and inept.
9 "Ut det pares servis suis humeros," that he may make the shoulders of his servants equal to the burden, may fit them for the office.