1.Those things which Luke hath reported hitherto did show that that company, which was gathered together under the name of Christ, was rather a company of angels than of men, Moreover, that was incredible virtue, that the rich men did despoil themselves of their own accord, not only of their money, but also of their land, that they might relieve the poor. But now he showeth that Satan had invented a shift to get into that holy company, and that under color of such excellent virtue; for he hath wonderful wiles of hypocrisy to insinuate himself. This way doth Satan assault the Church, when as he cannot prevail by open war. But we must specially in this place have respect unto the drift of the Holy Ghost. For in this history he meant to declare, first, how acceptable singleness of heart is to God, and what an abomination hypocrisy is in his sight; secondly, how greatly he alloweth [approves] the holy and pure policy and govermnent of his Church. For this is the principal point, the punishment wherewith punished Ananias and his wife. As the greatness thereof did at that time terrify them all, so it is unto us a testimony that God cannot abide this unfaithfulness, when as bearing a show of holiness where there is none, we do mock him contemptibly. For if, having weighed all the circumstances, we be desirous to know the sum, Luke condemneth no other fault in Ananias than this, that he meant to deceive God and the Church with a reigned offering. Yet there were more evils packed under this dissimulation: the contempt of God, whom he feareth not, though he knew his wickedness; sacrilegious defrauding, because he keepeth back part of that which he professeth to be holy to God; perverse vanity and ambition, because he vaunteth himself in the presence of men, without having any respect unto God’s judgment; want of faith, because he would never have gone this way to work, unless he had mistrusted God; the corrupting of a godly and holy order; furthermore, the hypocrisy itself was a great offense of itself. (237) The fact of Ananias did bear a goodly show, (238) although he had given only the half of his land. Neither is this a small virtue, for a rich man to bestow the half of his goods upon the poor; but the sacrifices of the ungodly are an abomination to God, (Proverbs 15:8;) neither can any thing please him where the singleness of heart is wanting. For this cause is it that Christ maketh more account of the two mites offered by the widow, than of the great sums of others, who of their great heaps gave some part, (Luke 21:2.) This is the cause why God doth show an example of such sharp punishment in Ananias. Now, let us note every point by itself.He laid it at the feet of the apostles. Lo, what ambition doth! Ananias is ashamed not to be accounted one of the best; therefore, although he be greedy of money, yet to the end he may purchase a name amongst men, he depriveth himself of some part of his riches. In the meanwhile, he doth not consider that he lieth and deceiveth in the sight of God, and that God will punish this lie. So it is, that he honoreth the apostles’ feet more than God’s eyes. Wherefore, we must take good heed, that when we do well, we do not seek to be praised of the bystanders; (239) and it is not without cause that Christ saith, that it is profitable for us when we give our alms, to have the left hand ignorant of that which the right hand doth.
3.And Peter said. How did Peter know Ananias’ fraud (and purloining?) Undoubtedly by the revelation of the Spirit. Therefore, Luke signifieth unto us, that the apostles did after a sort represent God’s person, and supply his room. If the Spirit of God, by the mouth of a mortal man, do so sore urge an hypocrite, being otherwise painted with the beautiful color of virtues, how shall the reprobate abide the voice of God himself, with the sound of the trumpet, when they shall appear before his judgment-seat? Furthermore, Peter pointeth out the cruelness and horribleness of the offense (240) by his question, when he saith, that Satan had filled the heart of Ananias. For there is no man whose heart is not pricked with the pricks of Satan, and all men are also many ways tempted, yea, these temptations pierce into their minds; but where Satan possesseth the heart, he reigneth in the whole man, having, as it were, expelled God. This is a sign of a reprobate, to be so addicted and given over to Satan, that the Spirit of God hath no place. That which followeth afterward concerning lying may have a double sense; either that he did falsely bear a show of the Spirit, or that he lied against the Spirit. And, indeed, it is word for word mentiri Spiritum; but forasmuch as the Greek word [ ψευδεσθαι ] is joined with a double accusative case and that doth better agree with the text [context,] I am rather of this mind, that Ananias is reprehended, because he did lie falsely to the Holy Ghost. Which he confirmeth shortly after, when he upbraideth this unto him, that he hath lied unto God, and not unto men. Wherefore we must take great heed, that hypocrisy reign not in us, which hath this wickedness proper to it, to go about to deceive God, and, as it were cornicum oculos configere. To go about to make blind those which are most wise; (241) which cannot be without a disloyal and unseemly mock. Wherefore it is not without cause that Peter saith, that where this cometh to pass the heart is possessed of Satan. For who durst (unless he were void of reason) so blaspheme God? Therefore Peter asketh him as of some wonder, because such blindness is horrible.
4.Did it not remaining. This amplifieth the offense because he sinned, being enforced by no necessity. For seeing it is no just or lawful excuse to have been provoked by some other means, how much worse is it to run headlong unto wickedness willingly, and, as it were of set purpose to pull down God’s vengeance? We gather out of this, that no man was enforced to sell his goods or lands. For Peter saith, that Ananias had free liberty to keep both his land and his money; because in the second member, the field which was sold is taken for the price itself. Therefore he should nevertheless have been counted faithful, though he had kept that which was his own. Whereby it appeareth that they are men destitute of their right wits, who say that it is not lawful for the faithful to have anything of their own.
Thou hast not lied to men, but to God. Although the words be diversely construed, yet do I not doubt but that this confirmeth the former sentence. For hypocrites do so enwrap themselves in so many shifts, that they think they have nothing to do with God. And Peter speaketh thus expressly, because Ananias had deceived the Church. But he ought to have considered, that
“where two or three be gathered together in the name of Christ, he is present there as the chief governor,”
yea, he ought to have behaved himself no otherwise in that assembly, than if he should have seen God with his eyes. For seeing that God will reign in the Church, if we give him any reverence, we must reverence that rule and government religiously which he exerciseth by his Word. The apostles were indeed men, but not private men, because God had put them in his stead. Furthermore, we must note, that he saith that he lieth to God who doth lie to the Holy Ghost. For the divinity of the Holy Ghost is manifestly proved by this form of speech. In like sort Paul saith, “Ye are the temples of God, because his Spirit dwelleth in you,” (1 Corinthians 3:16.)
5.When Ananias heard these things. The death of Ananias doth, indeed, declare and prove the force of the word, which Paul cloth highly extol; to wit, that it is the savor of death unto death to those which perish, (2 Corinthians 2:16.) He speaketh, indeed, of the spiritual death of the soul, but there was a visible sign in the body of Ananias of that punishment which cannot be seen with the eyes of men. He was not slain with sword, by force, nor hand, but was stricken dead with the only hearing of the voice. When we hear this, let the threatenings of the gospel terrify us, and humble us in time, lest we also feel the like effect. For that which is spoken of Christ,
“He shall slay the wicked with the breath of his mouth.”
doth not only appertain to the head of the wicked, but also to every member. For those which refuse the salvation offered in his word, it must needs be deadly to them, which was naturally wholesome. But and if any man do think it an absurd thing that the apostle did punish Ananias bodily, first, I answer, that this was an extraordinary thing; secondly, that this was one of the gifts of the Spirit, as it appeareth by the 19th chapter of the First to the Corinthians, (verse 10.) After which sort we shall afterward see Elymas, the sorcerer, stricken with blindness by Paul, (Acts 13:8.) Therefore, Peter did nothing which was impertinent to his function, when he did in time shoot that dart which the Holy Ghost had given him. And whereas some think that this was too cruel a punishment, this cometh to pass, because, weighing Ananias’ sin in their own and not in God’s balance, they count that but a light offense which was a most great and grievous crime, being full of such heinous offenses as I have already declared. Other some do think that this was nothing so, because they see many hypocrites escape scot free daily, which do no less mock God than did Ananias; yea, because they themselves being most gross contemners of God, are yet notwithstanding unpunished for their wickedness. But as God hath poured out visible graces upon his Church in the beginning, to the end we may know that he will be present with us by the secret power of his Spirit, yea, he showed that openly by external signs, which we feel inwardly by the experiment of faith; so he declared by the visible punishment of two, how horrible a judgment remaineth for all hypocrites, which shall mock God and his Church.
And there came great fear This was the Lord’s purpose, by punishing one to make the rest afraid, that they might reverently beware of all hypocrisy. And that which Luke saith, thatthey feared, doth appertain unto us also. For God meant to give all ages a lesson at that time, that they may learn to deal sincerely and uprightly with him. In the mean season, the punishment of this wicked person ought to have encouraged the godly hereafter to consecrate their goods more freely to God and the poor; because they might gather how precious alms was in the sight of God, seeing the profaning thereof was so punished. (242)
7.That punishment wherewith the Lord punished Sapphira containeth no new thing, save only that the example was the more confirmed thereby. And it came to pass by the certain providence of God, that the Church should see apart the obstinate wickedness and treacherous mind of them both. Seeing their faults were alike, they might have been known together; but this was more fit and profitable for the Church, that they might severally bewray their own wickedness. Neither was Sapphira provoked by the sight of her husband to dissemble, (as it falleth out oftentimes,) that the fault could be ascribed to shamefacedness, but of her own accord, and being pricked forward by no other means, she seemeth to be no better than her husband. Moreover, their wickedness in lying was like, forasmuch as she may see by Peter’s interrogation that their guile was found out.
8.Tell me. We see that God doth not by and by (243) punish her, but first he trieth the matter thoroughly, lest he should send vengeance upon any save the obstinate, and those which will not be pardoned. (244) For although Sapphira did know that the matter was hidden, she ought to have been stricken with this question of Peter, no otherwise than if she had been cited to appear before the judgment-seat of God. She hath a time granted her to repent; yea, this is, as it were, a pleasant (245) inviting unto repentance. But she, in holding on so carelessly, (246) doth declare that she was incurable, because she is touched with no fear of God.
And hereby are we taught to labor diligently to bring sinners into the way. For the Spirit of God keepeth this moderation; but when as stubbornness and the stubborn contempt of God is added unto the offense, it is now high time to punish. Therefore, those men are too arrogant who are displeased with the immoderate rigor of God. It is rather our duty to consider how we shall in time to come (247) stand before the judgment-seat of God; although this is too much to despise his holy power and majesty, if we will have him mocked freely without any punishment. Moreover, so many circumstances, which before I have gathered, do sufficiently prove that Ananias and Sapphira were not worthy of one death only. For, first of all, hypocrisy is of itself very abominable to God. Secondly, whereas they are determined to lie unto God, this ariseth of great contempt, in that they do not reverence and fear Christ, being the Chief Governor of those amongst whom they were. It is ungodliness joined with impudency; because, so they can escape shame and reproach amongst men, before whom they were determined to vaunt and brag, they pass not to deny their manifest wickedness unto God. Whereas they do stubbornly deny their offense, this doth, as it were, make up the heap and measure. And whereas innumerable hypocrites do no less mock God and the Church daily, who, notwithstanding, are not punished with death, I have already showed why this ought to seem to be no inconvenient thing. (248) Forasmuch as God is the only Judge of the world, it belongeth to him to punish every man at his pleasure, when and how it seemeth good to him. Wherefore we must not prescribe unto him a certain mean and manner of punishment. But the greatness of the spiritual judgment, which is as yet hid, hath been set before us in the bodily punishment of two, as in a mirror. For if we consider what it is to be cast into eternal fire, we shall not judge that this is the greatest evil and punishment of all, to fall down dead before men. Look the 10th chapter of the First to the Corinthians, verse 5.
9.To tempt the Spirit. He uttereth the same thing in other words which he had said before; to wit, that they did mock God unreverently and contemptibly. But he said that they tempted the Spirit, because they had cunningly packed their fraud, as if the Spirit of God were not the knower of the hearts. For it was a point of too great carelessness, seeing the one made the other privy to their wickedness, to make their match between themselves, having, as it were, excluded God. For the Scripture saith, that God is tempted either when his power is taken from him, or the knowledge of all things is denied him. Furthermore, he meaneth that Spirit which governed the Church by the apostles. For when Christ saith, When the Spirit cometh, he shall judge the world, he noteth no other kind of authority than that which he exerciseth by the ministry of the Church.
11.And there came fear. He saith, again, that the punishment of one was a lesson to all. But he plainly expresseth in this place a double fear. He saith that the Church feared, because the faithful do never so perfectly fear God, but that they profit yet more, being admonished by his judgments. Therefore, by all those punishments which we read have been laid upon men in times past, and do daily see to be laid upon them, doth God call us back from the enticements and liberty of sinning. For our flesh must be bridled every now and then after this sort, because one bridle will scarce serve the turn. There was another manner [of] fear in the strangers, yet no such fear as brought them unto the sincere worship of God; yet, notwithstanding, it was such as caused them to give the glory to God.
12.He returneth to miracles of another sort, which are more proper to the gospel; to wit, whereby Christ doth not only declare his power, but also his goodness; to the end he may allure men unto himself with the sweetness of his grace. For he came to save the world, and not to condemn it. Therefore, whereas the sick are healed, and others are delivered from devils, these benefits done to the body do represent the spiritual grace of Christ; and therefore they agree with his natural (249) office that I may so speak. That fearful sign which was showed in Ananias and Sapphira came to pass extraordinarily (250) Luke saith that the Church was increased by miracles, because they serve for faith, (251) (as we have said,) to prepare some, to confirm others. Whereby that is proved again, which I have said elsewhere that miracles must never be separated from the word. Luke showeth the multitude of miracles by this, in that the sick were brought forth everywhere, that they might be healed. For God meant thus to set forth the gospel of his Son, especially at the beginning; that he, might for a certainty testify to the Jews, that that restoring of all things was present, which was so often promised, and in which all their hope was reposed, as they themselves did pretend, (and make semblance.) It is well known that couches were certain little beds in which the men of old were wont to rest at noon. Because they might the more easily carry them out, they laid the sick in them.
And they were all with one accord. He signifieth unto us that they were wont to meet together at certain hours, not only for doctrine and prayers’ sake, but that they might win others unto the Lord, as occasion was given. For every man lived at home at his own house, but they had their meetings there, as assuredly no body of the Church can otherwise continue. For if every man will be his own teacher, and pray apart by himself, and if there be no meetings and assemblies, how excellently soever the Church be ordered and appointed, yet must it needs decay and come to nought. He saith that they were all of one mind, to the end we may know that they did all keep that order willingly, that no man was so disordered as to keep himself at home, (252) neglecting the public assembly. Wherein they showed a token, not only of modesty, but also of constancy. For they could not do this without danger, seeing the place was so famous. For which cause, the agreement of them all to put themselves in hazard was so much the more worthy of commendation.
13.And of other durst no man. This was the second fruit of the miracles, in that these which believed not, being convict with the excellent power of God, dare not despise the apostles, but are rather enforced to reverence the Church. Yet that might seem an absurd thing, that being terrified with miracles, they flee from God and his people. I answer, that they were letted through their own fault from coming; and it is not to be doubted but that God doth call us unto himself by miracles. Therefore, whosoever they be that go not so far, as willingly to embrace the grace of God which shineth in them, they are letted and hindered by their own perverse and evil conscience. Yet this is some fruit, in that God wringeth some fear out of them; although Luke doth ascribe this not only to the miracle, but rather comprehendeth all together which might serve to the increasing of the dignity of the Church. For all things were so ordered, that there shined there a certain divine majesty; for they did no less differ from the other than angels from men.
For there is a certain secret majesty in holy discipline and in sincere godliness, which doth even fast bind the wicked whether they will or no. But we know not at this day of what sort the same is; yea, rather, we cause ourselves to be despised together with the gospel, through our profane liberty of evil living. Furthermore, the punishment of Ananias and his wife did not a little terrify the wicked, and keep them from breaking in unadvisedly into the company of those men, where God had showed himself so sharp a Judge. Yet we must note that he speaketh of men which were indifferent in this place, and of those which were not of the worst sort; for there were at that time many at Jerusalem, whom neither the reverence of signs, neither yet of the angelic holiness of the godly, could move. Therefore Luke meaneth moderate men, in whom there are some seed of the fear of God; like as we see at this day certain, whom the vanity of the world keepeth back from submitting their necks unto the yoke of Christ; yet because they smell out some divine thing in our doctrine, (253) they dare not despise the same; yet we may see also in what deadly grins [gins] Satan insnareth all those which have not the Spirit of Christ, that they do not only fear to provide for themselves, but purposely avoid those remedies which are offered them unto salvation. They both see and allow those things which are both holy and profitable, and yet, notwithstanding, they are either carried headlong unto things which are worse, or else they wax drowsy in their filthiness.
15.The shadow of Peter, as he came. The Papists abuse this text, [as a pretexts] not only to the end they may commend reigned miracles, which they say are done at the graves of martyrs, but also that they may boast of their relics. Why (say they) shall not the grave, or garment, the touching of the bones of Peter, have power to heal, as well as his shadow had this power? I answer, we must not by and by think that that is right which Luke saith was done by ignorant men, and those which knew not the pure faith. Yet we have a more certain answer in readiness than this. For the apostles were endued with such power for this cause, because they were ministers of the gospel. Therefore they used this gift, inasmuch as it served to further the credit of the gospel; yea, God did no less show forth his power in their shadow than in their mouth. Those miracles whereof the Papists babble are so unlike to these, that they are rather altogether contrary. For this is the end of their miracles, to lead away the world from Christ unto saints.
17.Luke hath hitherto declared that the Church was wonderfully increased, that it was furnished (254) with divers gifts, that it excelled in miracles; finally, that the kingdom of Christ did flourish there by all means. Now he beginneth to show that the fury of the wicked was kindled with these things, so that they raged sorer afresh. (255) Whence we may gather with what blind fury and rage Satan driveth them forward, when as they are so little terrified with such evident power of God, that they run headlong more boldly, and with greater force, and bend all their force, as it were, to overthrow the very heaven. As this so great blindness is a horrible punishment of Almighty God, so ought it to teach all men to submit themselves betimes to God, lest that they themselves, being taken with the spirit of giddiness, (whilst they run against the hand of God,) be broken in pieces with the same. Nevertheless, let us know that God will so increase his Church with spiritual good things, that yet, notwithstanding, he suffereth the same to be vexed of the wicked. Therefore we must alway be ready for the combat; for our estate at this day is not unlike to theirs. Especially the knowledge of the gifts of God, whereby he testifieth that he is present with us, ought to encourage us, lest the fury and boldness of the wicked do terrify and dismay us. For this is no small comfort, when we know that God is present with us.
Which were with him. He meaneth those which were most familiar, and the highest linked in friendship with the chief priest, whose counsel he was wont to use, and whom he had, being, as it were, gathered and culled out of the whole order, not for judgment, or discretion, but for the love of his faction; as they did then contend among themselves shamelessly, like mortal enemies. Furthermore, Luke saith again, that the Sadducees did bear the greatest swing at that day; to the end we may know that the government was then confused with horrible wasteness; (256) when as such a sect could bear rule. But God suffered the synagogue to be drowned in such extreme reproach, after that he had separated his Church from it, to the end they might have the less excuse, who despising the gospel, did continue in such a sink of filthiness. In the mean season, what did enforce and drive forward those swine, who were touched with no care of the life to come, save only mere ambition, and desire to keep that lordship and pre-eminence which they had gotten?
They were filled with zeal. I had liefer keep the Greek word still (especially seeing it is common enough otherwise) than to translate it emulation (or indignation;) for he speaketh generally of the perverse and violent force wherewith hypocrites are carried and inflamed to maintain their superstitions; whereby it appeareth what account God maketh of zeal, and what praise it deserveth, when as it is not governed by reason and wisdom, that is, when it is not led and guided by the Spirit of God. We see at this day those men moved and stirred with devilish fury, who will be counted the most devout of all men, who rage horribly to shed innocent blood. Nevertheless, let us note that he speaketh not in this place of an unadvised or blind zeal, which was in many of the Jews, as Paul affirmeth, but we understand rather a hot and unbridled violence; for although the wicked be accused of their own consciences, because they wittingly resist godliness, yet do they deceive themselves with a false show of zeal, because it is lawful to prevent new things. (257) So at this day almost in all Popery they boast only of zeal, whereas notwithstanding they are zealous for their belly. But admit we grant that that is true which they pretend, how can this excuse the heat of their cruelty whereunto they are enforced by their blindness? as if this were a chief virtue to grant liberty to their wrath, (258) to be avenged of that which displeaseth them; but this was former in order, to make a difference between good and evil, lest any thing be dissolved (259) unadvisedly.
19.The angel of the Lord. The Lord brought the apostles out of prison, not because he would rid them quite out of the hands of their enemies, for he suffered them afterwards to be brought back again, and to be beaten with rods; but he meant to declare, by this miracle, that they were in his hand and tuition, to the end he might maintain the credit of the gospel; partly that the Church might have another confirmation thereby, partly that the wicked might be left without excuse wherefore we must not hope always, nay, we must not always desire that God will deliver us from death; but we must be content with this one thing, that our life is defended by his hand, so far as is expedient. In that he useth the ministry of an angel, in this he doth according to his common custom; for he testifieth every where in the Scriptures, that the angels are ministers of his goodness towards us. Neither is that a vain speculation, for this is a profitable help for our infirmity, that we know that not only God doth care for us, but also that the heavenly spirits do watch for our safety. Again, this was no small pledge of God’s love towards us, that the creatures of all other most noble are appointed to have regard of our safety. The angel openeth the prison in the night, because he would not work the miracle when the wicked might see him, although he would have the same being wrought known by the event itself.
20.Speak in the temple. This is the end of their deliverance, that they employ themselves stoutly in preaching the gospel, and provoke their enemies courageously, until they die valiantly. For they were put to death at length when the hand of God ceased, after that they had finished their course; but now the Lord openeth the prison for them, that they may be at liberty to fulfill their function. That is worth the marking, because we see many men, who, after they have escaped out of persecution, do afterwards keep silence, as if they had done their duty towards God, (and were no more to be troubled;) other some, also, do escape away by denying Christ; but the Lord doth deliver his children, not to the end they may cease off from the course which they have begun, but rather that they may be the more zealous afterward. The apostles might have objected, It is better to keep silence for a time, forasmuch as we cannot speak one word without danger; we are now apprehended for one only sermon, how much more shall the fury of our enemies be inflamed hereafter, if they shall see us make no end of speaking? But because they knew that they were to live and to die to the Lord, they do not refuse to do that which the Lord commanded; so we must always mark what function the Lord enjoineth us. There will many things meet us oftentimes, which may discourage us, unless being content with the commandment of God alone, we do our duty, committing the success to him.
The words of this life. A singular commendation of the gospel, that it is a lively doctrine, bringing salvation unto men; for the righteousness of God is revealed unto us in it, (Romans 1:17;) and in it Christ offereth himself unto us with the sacrifice of his death, with the Spirit of regeneration, with the earnest of our adoption. And this is spoken expressly to the apostles, to the end they may the more courageously enter all manner of combats for the gospel, forasmuch as they hear that they are ministers of eternal salvation. The demonstrative is added for the more certainty, as if the angel did point out life with his finger, as assuredly we need not to seek the same far, when we have the word in our mouth and in our heart; unless peradventure some man had rather take it by hypallage, the words of this life, for these words, which I do not reject, yet that former sense me thinks is better, for it was a new revelation of Christ wherein they had life present.
21.And when the chief priest came. The chief priest calleth all the council together now, lest, if giving the honor to his own sect, he omit others, and be not able to bear the burden; therefore, he is enforced by fear to call the multitude together, notwithstanding they observe diligently and straitly the form of law. The elders are called who did govern, that nothing may be done but according to the sentence and authority of the council. Who would not have hoped for a moderate end, seeing they began thus? and surely they pretend what color they can, lest they seem to oppress the truth violently and tyrannously; but when they hear that the apostles teach in the temple, howsoever they know that they came not out by deceit of man, but miraculously, yet they hold on still in their purpose; where appeareth, together with the ungodliness of behavior and contempt of God, horrible fury and want of reason. Therefore, the beautiful colors of right and equity (260) do never so cover hypocrites, but that they do at length betray their wickedness. They must need certainly gather by all circumstances, that it is the work of God that the prison was opened, yet they do not doubt openly to rage against God.
These things are also meet for our time. We know how proudly the Papists boast of that maxim of theirs, that lawful councils must be obeyed, because they represent the Church. Moreover, they call those lawful councils, and they will have them so accounted, wherein nothing is wanting touching the external form, and such a council was this whereof Luke speaketh in this place; and yet, notwithstanding, we know that it was gathered to put out (261) the name of Christ; for although the priests did then creep in unto honor by subtlety, or by inordinate suit, (262) to win the favor of men, or by other wicked policies, or whether they burst in unto the same by bribery, or murder, (263) yet the dignity of the priesthood did continue as yet until Christ was revealed. There was in the assembly of the elders a representing of the Church; but where the truth of God is not sought, all outward appearance is nothing else but a mere visor. Therefore, it is in vain for the Papists to cover their abominations with the shadow of this buckler, because it is not sufficient for those to be gathered together who are rulers of the Church, unless they do this in the name of Christ, otherwise forasmuch as it is an usual policy of Satan to transform himself into an angel of light, (2 Corinthians 11:14,) we will grant him as fit a covert under the title of the Church as he can wish.
He brought them without violence. We have spoken somewhat before of the captain of the temple. For I do not think (264) that it was lawful for the Jews to set and appoint whom they would to rule the temple, but that the president of the province did appoint one to have the government of the temple. And he saith, that they were brought without violence, that is, that they were not drawn violently, lest any tumult should arise, so that, whereas they neither fear nor reverence God, they are afraid of men. The apostles also do show their modesty in that, that whereas they are guided with a great number of men, yet do they suffer themselves to be led away by the officers, lest they should be authors of any tumult.
28.The chief priest layeth two crimes to the charge of the apostles, for he accuseth them of contumacy or stubbornness, (265) because they obeyed not the decree of the council. In the second member he betrayeth an evil conscience, or, at least, he showeth that he handled rather a private business than any public cause, for he complaineth that the apostles will cause the priests and the scribes to be hated for the death of Christ. Behold, therefore, what that is which nettleth them, because they fear the revenge and punishment of wicked murder. He pretendeth, at the first, doctrine; but we may gather out of the end that he was not so careful for doctrine. In the mean season, he accuseth the apostles of sedition; for he taketh that for a thing which all men, for the most part, did grant, (266) that Christ was put to death justly. Notwithstanding this is the principal point of the accusation, that they did not obey the commandment of the priests. It was an heinous offense not to obey the chief priest; how much more heinous was it, then, to despise the whole order? But the chief priest doth not consider what is his duty towards God and the Church; (267) he abuseth his authority tyrannously, as if the same were not under any laws, as the Pope dealeth with us at this day; for seeing that he taketh to himself an unbridled authority and government, he feareth not to condemn us for schismatics, so soon as he seeth us refuse his decrees; for he catcheth at these sentences: “He which despiseth you despiseth me,” (Luke 10:16;) and thereupon he concludeth that we will rebel (268) against God. But if he will be heard as the ambassador of Christ, he must speak out of the mouth of Christ.
Now, forasmuch as he doth manifestly play the minister of Satan, he borroweth authority, without shame and color, of the name of Christ; yea, the very form of speech which the chief priest useth doth prove how carelessly spiritual tyrants who usurp such authority and lordship as is not subject to the word of God, dare grant liberty to themselves to attempt whatsoever pleaseth them. With a commandment (saith he) have we commanded. Whence cometh such strait rigor, save only because they think that all that must be received without exception which they shall command?
29.This is the sum of their answer, It is lawful for them, nay, they ought to prefer God before men. God commandeth us to bear witness of Christ; therefore it is in vain for you to command us to keep silence. But I have declared before in the third chapter, when this sentence taketh place, that we ought rather to obey God than men. God doth set men over us in such sort with power, that he keepeth still his own authority safe and sound. Therefore, we must obey rulers so far, that the commandment of God be not broken. Whereas power and authority is lawfully used, then it is out of season to make comparison between God and man. If a faithful pastor do command or forbid out of the Word of God, it shall be in vain for men which are stubborn to object that we ought to obey God; for God will be heard by man. Yea, man is nothing else but an instrument of God. If a magistrate do his duty as he ought, a man shall in vain say that he is contrary to God, seeing that he dissenteth in nothing; yea, rather the contrary rule is then in force. We must obey God’s ministers and officers if we will obey him. (269) But so soon as rulers do lead us away from the obedience of God, because they strive against God with sacrilegious boldness, their pride must be abated, that God may be above all in authority. Then all smokes of honor vanish away. For God doth not vouchsafe to bestow honorable titles upon men, to the end they may darken his glory. Therefore, if a father, being not content with his own estate, do essay to take from God the chief honor of a father, he is nothing else but a man. If a king, or ruler, or magistrate, do become so lofty that he diminisheth the honor and authority of God, he is but a man. We must thus think also of pastors. For he which goeth beyond his bounds in his office, (because he setteth himself against God:) must be despoiled of his honor, lest, under a color or visor, he deceive. The office of a pastor is very excellent, the authority of the Church is great, yet so that no part of God’s power and Christ’s mastership be diminished. Whence we may easily gather that the pride of the Pope is ridiculous, who, when as he treadeth under foot the whole kingdom of Christ, and doth set himself openly against God, will yet, nevertheless, lie hid under the name of Christ. (270)
30.The God of our fathers. They descend unto the matter whereof they are to speak, that they may declare that they made small account of the commandment of the priests, not without cause, nor yet unadvisedly. For (as I have already said) the comparison between God and man taketh no place save only when there is some contrariety. Therefore they prove by this, that they are enforced by the fear of God to refuse the commandment of the priests; because God commandeth that which they forbid. Therefore, first of all, they say that God had raised up Christ, after the common custom of the Scriptures. For this speech is common, that God raised up prophets or judges, or rather ministers, whom he determined to use into some great work; which importeth as much as that all excellency of nature is weak, unless God do furnish those with singular gifts whom he preferreth unto any excellent office. Peradventure, also they allude unto that famous place of Moses, which Peter cited in his first sermon, (Deuteronomy 18:15, above 3:22.) They cite the God of the fathers by name, as the author, that they may declare that they bring in no new form of religion, neither yet will they enforce upon the people any new god. For they were to make answer to that false slander, that they went about to lead away the people from the law and the prophets. Not that they allow all that worship which was used by the fathers, as profane men are content with this only argument, that the fathers taught thus, that they do all things according to the custom and decree of their ancestors; but the apostles speak in this place of those fathers with whom God hath made his covenant, who followeth right and pure doctrine, who embraceth the promise of salvation with true faith; finally, who had their beginning of the heavenly Father, and who, through the only begotten Son of God, were the children of God together with their posterity.
Whom ye. In this member the apostles declare unto them plainly that they were the enemies of God who would have the chief honor given them as unto the governors and prelates of the Church. Whereupon it followeth that they are unworthy even of the smallest authority. Although there is also a prevention, being a token of boldness, when as he speaketh of that thing boldly and freely which they did account a shameful thing, to wit, lest any part of Christ’s glory should seem to be diminished because he suffered a slanderous (271) death upon the cross; as if it had been said, You have slain him. Neither was your cruelty satisfied with a plain and common death; for he was hanged upon a tree. But neither could death extinguish his power; neither could that shame and reproach which he suffered amongst you take away his honor. Therefore the calling of God continueth firm and stable. Therefore, as the apostles hit the priests in the teeth with that wickedness and heinous offense which they had committed, so they prevent, by a granting, to express the manner of the reproachful death which Christ suffered, lest the authors of the wickedness triumph as having gotten the victory.
31.Him has God lifted up. Therefore the apostles do signify that whatsoever the wicked do go about, it did not hinder and keep back Christ from fulfilling his function which was enjoined him by his Father. Theright hand of God is taken for his power. Neither is the same metaphor used in this place, which we had before, chapter 2, and which is common elsewhere, when Christ is said to be lift up unto the right hand of the Father; but the meaning of this place is, that Christ, which was slain by the hand of men, was lifted up on high by the power of God, that he might bear rule over angels and men. And this seemeth secretly to be set against all the enterprises of Satan and the world; as if he should say that they shall have no good success, because they shall never climb so high as to hinder the hand of God, whereby he hath both wrought mightily already in his only begotten Son, neither will he ever cease to work. Yet the end is added also, that he may be a captain and Savior. For so often as God did put his people in hope of salvation, he was wont to promise a prince or a king, by whose hand he would restore all things. The apostles do testify that this principality was granted to Christ. Notwithstanding they do more plainly express his office by the other adjunct. (272) The sum is this, that Christ is placed in the highest degree of honor, that he may govern the people of God, and not that only, but that he may show himself to be a saving captain, or the author of salvation.
To give repentance. They show in this place how Christ reigneth to save the people, to wit, when he bringeth his own to repentance, and doth reconcile them unto God through the remission of sins. Furthermore, we know that the sum of the gospel is contained in these two things. Wherefore the apostles do not only stand upon the defense of their cause, but they preach the office of Christ plentifully, (273) that they may win even some of the mortal enemies of Christ, (274) if it may be. Furthermore, we have declared before what the word repentance doth signify, to wit, that it is an inward turning of man unto God, which showeth itself afterwards by external works. For Christ giveth us the Spirit of regeneration for this cause, that he may renew us inwardly; to the end that a new life may afterward follow the newness of the mind and heart. And if it belong to Christ to give repentance, then it followeth that it is not a thing which is in man’s power. And surely, seeing that it is a certain wonderful reformation, (or fashioning again,) which maketh us new creatures, repaireth in us the image of God, bringeth us out of the bondage of sin unto the obedience of righteousness; it is a thing as impossible for men to convert themselves as to create themselves. Repentance is, I grant, a voluntary conversion, but whence have we this will, save only because God changeth our heart, that it may be made fleshy of a stony heart; flexible, of hard and stubborn; and, finally, righteous of wicked, (Ezekiel 11:19.) And this cometh to pass when Christ regenerateth thus by his Spirit. Neither is this given in a moment, but it must be increased daily during our whole life, until we be fully joined to God; which shall be then when we have put off our flesh.
This is, indeed, the beginning of repentance, when a man, who before was turned away from God, renounceth the world and himself, and doth purpose to lead a new life. But because when we have entered the way, we are far from the mark, we must needs go forward continually. We have (275) a both through the benefit of Christ. For as he beginneth repentance in us, so doth he also give us perseverance. This is an inestimable grace; but it should do us but a little good, unless it were coupled with forgiveness of sins. For Christ doth both find us the enemies of God at the first, and also there are always vices remaining in us, which cause disagreement between him and us; so that he may justly be offended with us, rather than merciful unto us. And therein doth our righteousness consist, if God do not impute our sins unto us. Therefore, this latter grace must never be separated from them. Yea, rather the gospel shall be lame (276) and corrupt, unless it consist upon [of] these two members, that is, unless men be taught that they are reconciled to God by Christ by the free imputation of righteousness, and that they are fashioned again unto newness of life by the Spirit of regeneration. So that we understand briefly how we must obtain salvation in Christ.
32.And we are his witnesses. After that they have declared that their doctrine came from God, they descend now unto the other part that they speak as they were commanded by God, lest they seem to attempt anything unadvisedly. For this also was a necessary defense, as it is for all the ministers of the gospel, to wit, that they make this openly known to all men that they teach nothing but that which they have received of God. Secondly, that they are called hereunto, so that they cannot avoid the necessity of teaching, unless they will resist God. Luke putteth words in this place, instead of things, according to the Hebrew phrase. Although if any man had rather understand it of the speech itself, I do not deny but that it may be so. The sum is, seeing they are brought forth by God to be witnesses, they may not give back, (277) but they must publish things which he hath commanded.
And also the Spirit. They confirm their calling by the effect; for this was a seal to approve their doctrine, seeing that God gave the Holy Spirit to those which believed. Forasmuch, as it appeared manifestly by this, that he allowed the faith of the gospel, and it was acceptable to him. In that they say to those which obey him, I refer it unto Christ, as if they should have said, those which believe in Christ are plentifully rewarded for their obedience. Therefore God will have Christ obeyed. Wherefore even our ministry doth please him in that thing. Yet here may a question be moved, Seeing that we have saith by the revelation of the Spirit, how is it said in this place, that the same is given after faith? I answer, that the gift of tongues, of prophecy, of interpretation, of healing, and such like, are spoken of in this place, wherewith God did beautiful his Church. As Paul saith, where he asketh the Galatians, whether they received the Spirit by the law, or by the hearing of faith, (Galatians 3:2.) Therefore the illumin-ation of the Spirit goeth before faith, because it is the cause thereof; but there follow other graces afterward, that we may go forward, according to that, “To him that hath shall be given,” (Matthew 13:12.) And if we will be enriched every now and then with new gifts of the Spirit, let us hold out unto God the lap of faith. (278) But the reward wherewith our want of faith is rewarded at this day is far unlike; (279) for the most part being destitute of the Spirit of God doth neither see nor understand anything.
33.They were cut in sunder. The priests ought to have been thoroughly moved, though they had had hearts of iron, but they burst. (280) Whence we gather that no reasons can prevail with the reprobate, to bring them unto the obedience of Christ; for unless God speak within, the outward doctrine shall be able to do nothing else but to beat the cars. The apostles were able so to overcome their enemies, that they should not have had one word to say; but their fury was so untamed, and unbridled that they do rather go mad. Yet we must therewithal note the force of the word, because although the reprobate are not thereby changed, that they may become better, yet it pierceth into their hearts, so that it urgeth their consciences; for thence springeth their fury, because they saw themselves (281) urged by their judge. They would gladly mock all the gospel, as they attempt whatsoever they can, that they may count it as nothing; but there is in the same a certain hidden majesty, which driveth away mightily all their delicacy. (282) And chiefly when they are cited by the sound of the trumpet to appear before the judgment-seat of God, then appeareth their madness and fury.
34.Luke showeth now after what manner God brought to nought the fury of the wicked. They were purposed to put the apostles to death; Gamaliel standeth up amidst them, to break off that mad consultation. Furthermore, he noteth the circumstances, to the end we may know how it could be, that one man could prevail so much against so many. He saith he was a Pharisee which sect was in great estimation, as we know. He saith that he was in price, or honored amongst the people; and they feared the people. Hereby it cometh to pass that they are the more afraid to do any thing contrary to his mind. So God doth oftentimes set sudden terrors against his enemies, (when they look not for them,)to stay their violence. Furthermore, Gamaliel commandeth the apostles to go aside, lest they should be the more emboldened by his words. For we must not think that he spake thus, because he did allow (283) the doctrine of the gospel, or that he meant to defend the same; but because he saw all the rest inflamed with fury, he being a man moderate and courteous, doth with sober speech temper that excess.
But if we consider all things well, this judgment and opinion is unmeet for a wise man. I know that many count it as an oracle, but it appeareth sufficiently hereby that they judge amiss, because by this means men should abstain from all punishments, neither were any wicked fact any longer to be corrected. Yea, all helps of life were to be refused, which we cannot prolong one moment. (284) Both things are true, that no endeavor of men can destroy that which is of God; and that that which is of men is not so strong that it can stand. But he gathereth amiss hence, that men must sit still and say nothing in the mean season. We must rather mark what God commandeth us to do, and he will have us to restrain wickedness. To this end hath he appointed magistrates, and armed them with the sword; to this end hath he set elders over his Church, to bring the froward in order, and that they may not suffer sin licentiously to rage without punishment. Therefore it is gathered amiss that we must refrain from punishing, because God is sufficient of himself to take away evils. Although his whole counsel is such, Gamaliel willeth the scribes and elders to take heed that they make not open war against God. And he speaketh as it were touching a doubtful matter; whereby it appeareth that he hath no certainty from the foundation, when as he doubteth in the quality of the cause, neither dare set down whether it be good or evil, but doth only command to defer it for a time, until the cause appear more plainly.
In sum, Gamaliel setteth an evil consequent from true grounds; (285) because he applieth that amiss unto the external office and manner of doing which ought to serve for faith only. On the other side, let this be our logic, That which is of God must needs stand, though all the world say nay; therefore faith must stand without all fear, against all the assaults of Satan and men, seeing faith is under-propped and supported with the eternal truth of God; although heaven fail, our salvation is safe, which hath God to be the author and keeper thereof; because God doth defend the kingdom of Christ, it can never be overthrown with any violence; because the doctrine of the gospel is grounded in God, howsoever men resist or shake the same, yet shall it nevertheless continue firm. Again, although the wicked attempt whatsoever they can, and seek all means (286) to destroy the Church, although they furiously strive against Christ and his Church so much as they are able, yet they shall not prevail, because it is the property of God to bring the counsels of men to nought; and by this means doth he punish their rashness. We see that both members are well applied to faith. But, in the mean season, there is no cause why the servants of Christ should be less diligent in maintaining the truth; why they should suffer the Church to decay through their fault; (287) why they should carelessly wink at their wickedness who endeavor to turn all things topsy-turvy.
36.There arose one Theudas. If we credit Josephus, Gamaliel altereth in this place the true course of the history. For he reporteth that Judas Gaulanites, who was born in Gamala, at such time as Quirinius, or Cyrenius, was proconsul, did raise a tumult with his adherents, because they would not have their goods taxed; (288) and that Theudas, at such time as Cuspius Fadus was procurator, did boast that he was a prophet of God. And Fadus was sent into Judea by Claudius Caesar. The former history is recorded in the Eighteenth Book of Antiquities; and the other in the Twentieth. But I think that when Luke saith, After him was there one Judas, he meant not to note the course of time, as if he were the latter; but forasmuch as Gamaliel brought in two like examples, he might put the one in place of the other, (289) without having respect of time. Therefore the word post is as much as moreover, or besides.
Furthermore, even these examples wherewith Gamaliel confirmeth his opinion do not sufficiently agree with the present cause. For, because they did not by and by resist Judas, that sedition which he had raised was the occasion of many murders, and at length he was vanquished with hand and weapon. Theudas also had done far more hurt, unless he had been put to flight in time by Cuspius Fadus. But Gamaliel hath respect unto this alone, that men have unlucky success when as they advance themselves un-advisedly; and that cometh to pass by the just judgment of God. But because the priests refuse to hearken when God giveth them good counsel, they are worthy to be made amazed by man with frivolous reasons, wavering hither and thither through foolish perplexity. Furthermore, if we cast the time, we shall find that it was twelve years at least after the death of Christ before the apostles were beaten. For unto the five years which remained of the government of Tiberius, we must add three and a half which Caligula reigned. Fadus was not sent by Claudius into Judea before the second or third year of his reign. Gamaliel rehearsed not the act within a day or two after. Therefore that space of time is complete whereof I spake. Wherefore the constancy of the apostles was the more excellent, who, though they be so evil rewarded for those long pains which they had endured, yet are they not discouraged, neither do they cease to hold on as they had begun.
That he was some great man. Some books (290) have, Saying that he was somebody; yet both carry one sense. For he boasted that he was such a prophet that he could dry up Jordan, that those which were with him might go over dry foot. Nevertheless, we see how far Gamaliel is from true knowledge, who compareth the holy ministers of Christ unto seducers and robbers; although he mitigateth his words afterward, and, inclining toward the better part, leaveth it indifferent whether they have taken this matter in hand, having God for their author or no. Yet he speaketh doubtfully, because he provideth (291) only for quietness, all inquiry being set apart. This is only to be allowed (292) in his speech, that he feareth [deterreth] the wicked from wicked boldness, because there is nothing more to be feared than to strive against God.
40.Having beaten them, they commanded. He saith that Gamaliel’s counsel was allowed; yet the apostles are beaten, and forbidden to preach. (293) Hereby we gather how great the rage of the enemies was, who being now pacified, or at least mitigated, do yet, notwithstanding, rage immoderately. (294) And it appeareth also what evil success those doubtful counsels have, wherein men alone are respected, and the truth of God set aside. Gamaliel obtaineth thus much, that the lives of the apostles may be saved; (295) but, in the mean season, the Son of God is blasphemed and slandered in their person; the truth of the gospel is buried in eternal silence, so much as in the enemies lieth, God surely doth by this means wonderfully spread abroad his word; yet that counsel ceaseth not to be evil. Which we must note for this cause, because most men at this day do think, that they do not a little obey God, if they save the lives of those men which come in hazard for the doctrine of the gospel, or somewhat appease (296) the enemies who are otherwise bloody. In the mean season, they are not afraid to drive them unto the wicked denial of Christ, the confessing of whom is far more precious in the sight of God than the life of all men. But what could they do who, casting away all care of godliness, go about to redeem God’s favor with the duty of courtesy? (297)
41.Then they went rejoicing. We must not think that the apostles were so senseless but that they felt some shame and did also lament, when they felt the punishment; for they had not quite put off nature; (298) but when they considered the cause, then joy got the upperhand. So the faithful must be two manner of ways affectioned so often as they suffer persecution for the gospel; they must be touched with the bitterness of punishments, (299) yet so that they overcome this sorrow with spiritual joy. For they should have (changed their mind, and) stricken sail by and by, unless they had been strengthened and encouraged by that joy. (300) And it is not to be doubted, but that even death was sweet, and pleasant to Peter on this fashion, which, notwithstanding the Lord doth testify shall be bitter unto him. Let us, therefore, learn that we must wrestle with sorrow and care, (301) that we hold on courageously to suffer the cross, and that we bear the same when it is laid upon us.
That they were counted worthy. This might seem at the first blush absurd, in that Luke placeth honor in reproach; (302) but the disagreement which is between God and the world causeth this, that that which is counted amongst men most reproachful, excelleth in dignity and glory in the sight of God and his angels. We know that the kind of death which Christ suffered was of all other most shameful, and yet did he triumph most nobly upon the cross; so, when we are made like unto him, we may worthily boast that it is a point of singular excellency, that we suffer rebuke in the sight of the world. Thus doth Paul boast of the marks of Christ, (Galatians 6:17.) For we must here respect the cause which doth associate us unto Christ, (303) who doth not only swallow up the shame of the world with his glory, but doth also turn reproaches, slanders, and mocks of the world, into great honor. Wherefore, it is no marvel that there be so few found which are strong and stout to bear the cross, because we are almost all drowned and overwhelmed with the sense of the flesh; and there is scarce one amongst an hundred which considereth that the reproach of Christ doth far excel all the triumphs of the world, which is the only matter of comfort. Wherefore, we must use the greater diligence in thinking upon this sentence; that we are at this day made partakers (304) of the sufferings of Christ, that we may be partakers of his glory.
42.They ceased not. Constancy did also accompany their Joy. For how is it that we are discouraged with persecution, save only because none lifteth up himself unto Christ, that he may in mind lay hold upon the fruit of victory, and so be pricked forward unto patience? But that man which thinketh with himself that he is happy when he suffereth for Christ’s sake, shall never faint, though he must suffer hard conflicts. Therefore the apostles are, after a sort, armed with stripes, so that they valiantly make haste unto death. Therefore, woe be to our daintiness, who, having suffered a little persecution, do by and by resign up the light (305) to another, as if we were now old worn soldiers.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Acts 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany