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Seven Chosen to Serve


Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” 5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

7 The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

The Arrest of Stephen

8 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

3. Therefore, brethren, look out. Now we see to what end deacons were made. The word itself is indeed general, yet is it properly taken for those which are stewards for the poor. Whereby it appeareth how licentiously the Papists do mock God and men, who assign unto their deacons no other office but this, to have the charge of 331331     “Tractent,” to handle. the paten and chalice. Surely we need no disputation to prove that they agree in no point with the apostles. But if the readers be desirous to see any more concerning this point, they may repair unto our Institution, chapter 8. As touching this present place, the Church is permitted to choose. For it is tyrannous if any one man appoint or make ministers at his pleasure. 332332     “Constituat suo arbitrio,” constitute at his own pleasure. Therefore, this is the (most) lawful way, that those be chosen by common voices 333333     “Elegi communibus suffragiis,” be elected by the common suffrages. who are to take upon them 334334     “Obidentia,” are to perform. any public function in the Church. And the apostles prescribe what manner [of] persons ought to be chosen, to wit, men of tried honesty and credit, 335335     “Probate fidei,” of tried faith. men endued with wisdom 336336     “Prudentia,” wisdom or prudence. and other gifts of the Spirit. And this is the mean between tyranny and confused liberty, 337337     “Licentiam,” licentious freedom. that nothing be done without 338338     “Nisi ex,” except by. the consent and approbation of the people, yet so that the pastors moderate and govern (this action, 339339     “Pastores tamen moderentur,” let pastors, however, moderate. ) that their authority may be as a bridle to keep under the people, 340340     “Ad cohibendos plebis impetus,” to curb the impetus (precipitancy or violence) of the people. lest they pass their bounds too much. In the mean season, this is worth the noting, that the apostles prescribe an order unto the faithful, lest they appoint any save those which are fit. For we do God no small injury if we take all that come to hand 341341     “Si fortuito quoslibet accipimus, “if we receive all persons whatsoever fortuitously. to govern his house. Therefore, we must use great circumspection that we choose none 342342     “Summa religio ne quis sumatur,” the greatest care that none be chosen. unto the holy function of the Church unless we have some trial of him first. The number of seven is applied 343343     “Accommodatus fuit,” was accommodated. unto the present necessity, lest any man should think 344344     “Ne quis putet,” let no man suppose. that there is some mystery comprehended under the same. Whereas Luke saith, full of the Spirit and wisdom, I do interpret it thus, that it is requisite that they be furnished both with other gifts of the Spirit, and also with wisdom, 345345     “Prudentia.” without which that function cannot be exercised well, both that they may beware of the leger-demain 346346     “Imposturis et fraudibus,” the imposition and fraud. of those men, who being too much given unto begging, require 347347     “Exsugunt,” suck up. that which is necessary for the poverty of the brethren, and also of their slanders, who cease not to backbite, though they have none occasion given them. For that function is not only painful, but also subject to many ungodly murmurings. 348348     “Non laboriosa modo, sed obnoxia sinistris murmuribus,” is not only laborious, but liable to sinister murmurings.

4. And we will give ourselves unto prayer. They show again that they have too much business otherwise, wherein they may exercise themselves during their whole life. For the old proverb agreeth hereunto very fitly, which was used sometimes in the solemn rites, do this. Therefore, they use the word [προσκαρτερησαι] which signifieth to be, as it were, fastened and tied to anything. Therefore, pastors must not think that they have so done their duty that they need to do no more when they have daily spent some time in teaching. There is another manner of study, another manner of zeal, another manner of continuance 349349     “Aliud studium, alius fervor, alia assiduitas exigitur,” another kind of zeal, another kind of fervor, another kind of assiduity, is required. required, that they may 350350     “Possint,” may be able to. indeed boast that they are wholly given to that thing. They adjoin thereunto prayer, not that they alone ought to pray, (for that is an exercise common to all the godly,) but because they have peculiar causes to pray above all others. There is no man which ought not to be careful for the common salvation of the Church. How much more, then, ought the pastor, who hath that function enjoined him by name to labor carefully [anxiously] for it? So Moses did indeed exhort others unto prayer, but he went before them as the ringleader 351351     “Antesignanus,” as a standard-bearer or leader. (Exodus 17:11.) And it is not without cause that Paul doth so often make mention of his prayers, (Romans 1:10.) Again, we must always remember that, that we shall lose all our labor bestowed upon plowing, sowing, and watering, unless the increase come from heaven, (1 Corinthians 3:7.) Therefore, it shall not suffice to take great pains in teaching, unless we require the blessing at the hands of the Lord, that our labor may not be in vain and unfruitful. Hereby it appeareth that the exercise of prayer 352352     “Precandi studium,” zeal in prayer. is not in vain commended unto the ministers of the word.

5. Stephen, full of faith. Luke doth not, therefore, separate faith from the Spirit, as if it also were not a gift of the Spirit; but by Spirit he meaneth other gifts wherewith Stephen was endued, as zeal, wisdom, uprightness, brotherly love, diligence, integrity of a good conscience; secondly, he expresseth the principal kind. Therefore, he signifieth that Stephen did excel first in faith, and, secondly, in other virtues; so that it was evident that he had abundance of the grace of the Spirit. He doth not so greatly commend the rest, because undoubtedly they were inferior to him. Moreover, the ancient writers do, with great consent, affirm that this Nicholas, which was one of the seven, is the same of whom John maketh mention in the Revelation, (Revelation 2:15,) to wit, that he was an author of a filthy and wicked sect; forasmuch as he would have women to be common. For which cause we must not be negligent in choosing ministers of the Church. For if the hypocrisy of men do deceive even those which are most vigilant and careful to fake heed, what shall befall the careless and negligent? Notwithstanding, if when we have used such circumspection as is meet, it so fall out that we be deceived, let us not be troubled out of measure; forasmuch as Luke saith that even the apostles were subject to this inconvenience. Some will ask this question, then, what good shall exhortation do? to what use serveth prayer, seeing that the success itself showeth that the election was not wholly governed by the Spirit of God? I answer, that this is a great matter that the Spirit directed their judgments in choosing six men; in that he suffereth the Church to go astray in the seventh, it ought to seem no absurd thing. For it is requisite that we be thus humbled divers ways, partly that the wicked and ungodly may exercise us; partly that, being taught by their example, we may learn to examine ourselves thoroughly, lest there be in us any hidden and privy starting-corners of guile; 353353     “Occulti fraudis recessus,” hidden recesses of guile. partly that we may be more circumspect to discern, and that we may, as it were, keep watch continually, lest we be deceived by crafty and unfaithful men. Also it may be that the ministry of Nicholas was for a time profitable, and that he fell afterward into that monstrous error. And if so be it he fell in such sort from such an honorable degree, the higher that every one of us shall be extolled, let him submit himself unto God with modesty and fear.

6. Having prayed, they laid their hands upon them. Laying on of hands was a solemn sign of consecration under the law. To this end do the apostles now lay their hands upon the deacons, that they may know that they are offered to God. Notwithstanding, because this ceremony should of itself be vain, they add thereunto prayer, wherein the faithful commend unto God those ministers whom they offer unto him. This is referred unto the apostles, for all the people did not lay their hands upon the deacons; but when the apostles did make prayer in the name of the Church, others also did add their petitions. Hence we gather that the laying on of hands is a rite agreeing unto order and comeliness, forasmuch as the apostles did use the same, and yet that it hath of itself no force or power, but that the effect dependeth upon the Spirit of God alone; which is generally to be thought of all ceremonies.

Luke setteth forth again the increasing of the Church, to the end he may the better declare the power of God and his grace in the continual going forward thereof. This was an excellent work of God that the Church should suddenly, and, as it were, in a moment, be raised up; but this is worthy no less admiration, in that he furthereth that work which he had begun amidst so many lets, in that the number of these is increased, whom to diminish, and so, consequently, to destroy the whole stock, the world doth so greatly labor. In that he saith that the Word of God did grow, his meaning is, that it was spread further abroad. The Word of God is said to grow two manner of ways; either when new disciples are brought to obey the same, or as every one of us profiteth and goeth forward therein Luke speaketh in this place of the former sort of increasing, for he expoundeth himself by and by, when he speaketh of the number of the disciples. Notwithstanding, he restraineth this so great an increasing of faith unto one city. For although it be to be thought that the disciples were scattered abroad elsewhere, yet was there no certain body save only at Jerusalem.

And a great company. Seeing that (in speaking properly) our faith doth obey the doctrine of the gospel, it is a figurative speech, uttered by metonymia, when Luke saith. That they obeyed the faith; for the word faith is taken by him for the Word of God, and the very profession of Christianity. And he reckoneth up the priests by name, because they were for the most part enemies; for which cause it was a wonderful work of God that some should be converted, and much more wonderful that many. For at the first they raged against Christ with this brag, “Hath any of the rulers believed in him? But this multitude, which knoweth not the law, are accursed.”

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