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1. Luke declareth here upon what occasion, and to what end, and also with what rite, deacons were first made. He saith, When there arose a murmuring amongst the disciples, it was appeased by this remedy, as it is said in the common proverb, Good laws have taken their beginning of evil manners. And it may seem to be a strange thing, seeing that this is a function so excellent and so necessary in the Church, why it came not into the apostles’ minds at the first, (before there was any such occasion ministered,) to appoint deacons, and why the Spirit of God did not give them such counsel which they take now, being, as it were, enforced thereunto. But that which happened was both better then, and is also more profitable for us at this day, to be unto us an example. If the apostles had spoken of choosing deacons before any necessity did require the same, they should not have had the people so ready; they should have seemed to avoid labor and trouble; many would not have offered so liberally into the hands of other men. Therefore, it was requisite that the faithful should be convict [convinced] by experience that they might choose deacons willingly, whom they saw they could not want; and that through their own fault.
We learn in this history that the Church cannot be so framed by and by, but that there remain somewhat to be amended; neither can so great a building be so finished in one day, that there may not something be added to make the same perfect. Furthermore, we learn that there is no ordinance of God so holy and laudable, which is not either corrupt or made unprofitable through the fault of men. We wonder that things are never so well ordered in the world, but that there is always some evil mixed with the good; but it is the wickedness and corruption of our nature which causeth this. That was, indeed, a godly order, whereof Luke made mention before, when the goods of all men being consecrated to God, were distributed to every man as he had need; (306) when as the apostles, being, as it were, the stewards of God and the poor, had the chief government of the alms. But shortly after there ariseth a murmuring which troubleth this order. Here appeareth that corruption of men whereof I have spoken, which doth not suffer us to use our good things. We must also mark the subtilty (307) of Satan, who, to the end he may take from us the use of the gifts of God, goeth about this continually, that it may not remain pure and sound; but that, being mixed with other discommodities, it may, first, be suspected, secondly, loathed, and, lastly, quite taken away. But the apostles have taught us, by their example, that we must not yield unto such engines (and policies) of Satan. For they do not think it meet (being offended with the murmuring) to take away that ministry which they know pleaseth God; but rather invent a remedy whereby the offense may be taken away, and that may be retained which is God’s. Thus must we do. For what offenses soever Satan raise, (308) we must take good heed that he take not from us those ordinances which are otherwise wholesome.
The number increasing. We ought to wish for nothing more than that God would increase his Church, and gather together many (309) on every side unto his people; but the corruption of our nature hindereth us from having any thing happy in all points. For there arise many discommodities also, even of the increasings of the Church. For it is a hard matter to keep many hypocrites from creeping into the multitude, whose wickedness is not by and by discovered, until such time as they have infected some part of the flock with their infection. Moreover, many wicked, froward, and dissolute persons do insinuate themselves under a false color of repentance. And that I may pass over innumerable things, there is never such agreement amongst many, but that, according to the diversity of their manners, their opinions are also diverse, so that one thing cannot please all alike. This offense causeth many to be desirous to choose a few for a Church; it causeth them to loathe or else to hate a multitude. But no trouble, no irksomeness, ought so much to prevail, but that we must always be desirous to have the Church increased; but that we must study to enlarge the same; but that we must cherish so much as in us lieth unity with the whole body.
A murmuring of the Greeks. Hereby it appeareth that they were not fully regenerate by the Spirit of God, to whom the diversity of nation and country ministereth occasion of disagreement. For in Christ there is neither Jew nor Grecian, (Galatians 3:28.) Therefore, this indignation smelleth (310) of the flesh and the world. Wherefore we must take good heed that the like fault be not found in us. (311) There is another fault in that they declare their indignation by murmuring. Furthermore it is uncertain whether the complaint were true or no. For when Luke saith that the Greeks murmured, because their widows were not honored, he showeth not what was done in deed, but what they thought was done. And it may be that forasmuch as the apostles did prefer the Jews, (312) because they were better known, the Greeks did think (though falsely) that their widows were despised as strangers. And this seemeth to be more like to be true. Furthermore the word ministering may be expounded two manner of ways, actively or passively. For we know that at the first there were widows chosen unto the ministration. (313) Notwithstanding, I do rather think that the Greeks did complain, because their widows were not so liberally relieved as they wished. So that the ministration shall be that daily distribution which was wont to be made.
(306) “ In commune,” in common.
(307) “ Artificium,” artifice.
(308) “ Quotidie,” daily, omitted.
(309) “ Quam plurimos,” as many as possible.
(310) “ Resipit,” savors.
(311) “ Nobis obrepat,” creep in upon us.
(312) “ Judaeas,” the Jewish widows.
(313) “ Ad diaconiam,” for ministering, as deaconnesses.
2. The twelve having the multitude called unto them It is a point [proof] of patience and meekness that the apostles are no more moved. (314) It is a point of prudence and godly carefulness, in that they prevent the evil which began to arise, (315) without deferring the remedy. For after that every dissension and division hath gathered strength, it is a wound hard to be cured. By this assembly it appeareth that the Church was governed by order and reason, so that the apostles had the chiefest authority, and that they did impart their counsels and purposes unto the people. (316) Again, we must note that the faithful, or Christians, are in this place called disciples, in whom that of Isaiah must be fulfilled, “That they were all taught of God.” And again, that of Jeremiah, “They shall all know God, from the least to the greatest.”
It pleaseth not. It is in Greek [ ουκ αρεστον ] By which word, the Grecians do now express every opinion or decree which is better than another, or which is to be preferred as being better. (317) I do rather think that the apostles declare what is profitable, than simply what they have decreed. But if it be not expedient for them to meddle with this business, (318) they seem [now] to acknowledge some fault in that they ministered hitherto. And surely that is true, that use is the father of wisdom. (319) Wherefore there shall be no absurdity if we shall say, that the apostles desire of the Church to be unburdened of that function, after that they have tried [experienced] that it is not meet for them. But if there were any fault, it ought rather to be ascribed unto necessity than unto them; for they took not this burthen upon them greedily, but seeing there was no other way as yet, they had better burthen themselves out of measure than that the poor should be forslowed. (320) And when as they say that it is not meet that they should be occupied in providing for the poor, their meaning is, that are unable to endure both burthens, so that they must needs let the one alone. For it is as if they should say, If thou wilt enjoy our ministry in the preaching of the gospel, deliver us from the charge of the poor, because we are not able to do both. But this seemeth to be spoken out of season by them, because they had not left the charge of teaching before, although they had the oversight of the alms. I answer, forasmuch as the administration was confused, they were so enwrapped, (321) that they could not wholly attend upon doctrine as was meet. Therefore, they refuse that function which draweth them away from the free and perfect (322) charge of teaching. Notwithstanding, we may not think that they had quite cast away all care of the poor, but that they did only seek somewhat to be lightened and eased, that they might attend upon their office. And, in the mean season, they declare that the ministry of the word is so painful (323) that it requireth a whole man, neither will it suffer him to be occupied about any other business; which, if it had been well considered, there had been a far other order taken in the Church.
The Popish bishops did suck (324) up great riches under color of the ministration or deaconship; nevertheless, they entangled themselves in divers businesses, which they were scarce able to overcome, (325) though every one of them had had ten heads. Notwithstanding, such is their wickedness, that they say that there can be no church unless it be drowned in this depth; (326) neither do they cease to brag and boast that they are the successors of the apostles, whereas there is nothing which appeareth to be more contrary. They were careful for this, that they might not be occupied about serving of tables, and so be compelled to leave their own banquets. For whosoever is careful for his own table, he taketh leave to be vacant (327) from other men’s tables.
But omitting these things, let us mark this sentence. We know what a holy thing it is to be careful for the poor. Therefore, forasmuch as the apostles prefer the preaching of the gospel before if we gather thereby that no obedience is more acceptable to God. Notwithstanding, the hardness is also declared, (328) when as they say that they cannot discharge both these duties. Surely we are not better than they. Therefore, let every one of us that is called unto the function of teaching addict himself wholly to order this his estate well. (329) For we are inclined to nothing more than to fall to slothfulness. Again, the flesh ministereth goodly cloaks and colors, so that those men cannot see by and by that they are led away from their calling which enwrap themselves in strange business. Wherefore, to the end ministers may prick forward themselves to do their duty, let them remember this saying of the apostles oftentimes, wherein they declare that, forasmuch as they are called unto the function of teaching, they must not any longer take charge of the poor. Therefore, what excuses have profane affairs (330) (taken in hand even for some private gain) where that is set aside, which is otherwise accounted no small part of the worship of God.
(314) “ Quod non magis excandescunt apostoli,” that the apostles are not more inflamed or offended.
(315) “ Quod mature nascenti malo occurrunt,” that they quickly meet the growing evil.
(316) “ Cum plebe tamencommunicarent sua consilia,” yet did communicate with the people as to their purpose.
(317) “ Quo nominie Graeci nunc quod aliis praestat, et tanquam melius praeferendum est nunc quodvis placitum designant,” by which term the Greeks designate sometimes “whatever is better than, or is to be preferred to, other things;” and at others, “any thing whatever that pleases,” or “any decree.”
(318) “ Hac cura involvi,” to be involved in such business.
(319) “ Prudentiae usum esse patrem,” that use (or experience) is the parent of prudence.
(320) “ Negligi,” neglected.
(321) “ Sic fuisse implicitos,” were so encumbered by it.
(322) “ Solida,” entire.
(323) “ Operosum,” laborious.
(324) “ Ingurgitarunt,” ingulf, swallow up.
(325) “ Quibus vix sufficerent,” for which they could hardly suffice.
(326) “ Abysso,” abyss.
(327) “ Vacationem sibi sumit,” keepeth himself free.
(328) “ Difficultas monstratur,” the difficulty is shown.
(329) “ Spartae suae ornandae, (ut est in proverbio,”) to adorn his own Sparta, (as the proverb expresses it.)
(330) “ Occupationes,” occupation.
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 (331) 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. (332) Therefore, this is the (most) lawful way, that those be chosen by common voices (333) who are to take upon them (334) 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, (335) men endued with wisdom (336) and other gifts of the Spirit. And this is the mean between tyranny and confused liberty, (337) that nothing be done without (338) the consent and approbation of the people, yet so that the pastors moderate and govern (this action, (339)) that their authority may be as a bridle to keep under the people, (340) 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 (341) to govern his house. Therefore, we must use great circumspection that we choose none (342) unto the holy function of the Church unless we have some trial of him first. The number of seven is applied (343) unto the present necessity, lest any man should think (344) 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, (345) without which that function cannot be exercised well, both that they may beware of the leger-demain (346) of those men, who being too much given unto begging, require (347) 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. (348)
(331) “ Tractent,” to handle.
(332) “ Constituat suo arbitrio,” constitute at his own pleasure.
(333) “ Elegi communibus suffragiis,” be elected by the common suffrages.
(334) “ Obidentia,” are to perform.
(335) “ Probate fidei,” of tried faith.
(336) “ Prudentia,” wisdom or prudence.
(337) “ Licentiam,” licentious freedom.
(338) “ Nisi ex,” except by.
(339) “ Pastores tamen moderentur,” let pastors, however, moderate.
(340) “ Ad cohibendos plebis impetus,” to curb the impetus (precipitancy or violence) of the people.
(341) “ Si fortuito quoslibet accipimus, “if we receive all persons whatsoever fortuitously.
(342) “ Summa religio ne quis sumatur,” the greatest care that none be chosen.
(343) “ Accommodatus fuit,” was accommodated.
(344) “ Ne quis putet,” let no man suppose.
(345) “ Prudentia.”
(346) “ Imposturis et fraudibus,” the imposition and fraud.
(347) “ Exsugunt,” suck up.
(348) “ 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 (349) required, that they may (350) 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 (351) (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 (352) is not in vain commended unto the ministers of the word.
(349) “ Aliud studium, alius fervor, alia assiduitas exigitur,” another kind of zeal, another kind of fervor, another kind of assiduity, is required.
(350) “ Possint,” may be able to.
(351) “ Antesignanus,” as a standard-bearer or leader.
(352) “ Precandi studium,” zeal in prayer.
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; (353) 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.
(353) “ Occulti fraudis recessus,” hidden recesses of guile.
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.”
8. And Stephen Luke reciteth in this place a new combat of the Church, whereby it appeareth that the glory of the gospel was always joined with the cross and divers troubles. And this is the sum, that the Church was assaulted in the person of one man. Whereby it came to pass that the enemies were the more bold, and being imbrued with innocent blood, did rage sorer than they had wont; for they had not gone as yet beyond the prison and rods. But to the end we may know that the name of Christ was glorified as well in the life as in the death of Stephen, Luke saith at the first, that he was full of faith and power. Whereby he signifieth that his faith was excellent, and that he excelled in power to do miracles. Neither ought we to imagine perfection of faith, because he is said to be full of faith; but this manner of speaking is much used in the Scripture, to call those full of the gifts of God who are abundantly endued with the same. I take power (without question) for ability to do miracles. Faith comprehendeth not only the gift of understanding, but also the ferventness of zeal. Forasmuch as his name was famous by reason of his excellency, it came thereby to pass that the rage of the wicked was bent against him, as it were, with one consent, to overthrow him. (354) For so soon as the force and grace of the Spirit doth show itself, the fury of Satan is by and by provoked.
And it shall appear by the text that Stephen was diligent and courageous in spreading abroad the doctrine of the gospel; but Luke passeth over that, being content to have commended his faith, which could not be slothful and sluggish.
(354) “ Uno quasi impetu in eum versa fuerit,” was, as it were, with one impulse directed against him.
9. And there arose certain. This was the beginning of persecution, because the wicked, after that they have essayed in vain to set themselves against Christ by disputing, when they saw that that former attempt did take none effect, they fly unto slanders, (caviling,) and tumults, and at length they break out into violence and murder. Therefore, Luke meaneth by the word rise, that those of whom he speaketh did assault the gospel with their tongue, and did not, by and by, bring Stephen before the judgment-seat, but did first set upon him, by disputing against him. Furthermore, he signifieth that they were strangers, which lived in Judea, either that they might exercise merchandise, or else get learning. Therefore he saith that some of them were Cyrenians, some of Alexandria, some of Cilicia, some of Asia. He saith that they were all of the synagogue of the Libertines. It is to be thought that the free men of the citizens of Rome had caused a synagogue to be builded of their own charges, that it might be proper to the Jews which came together out of the provinces. (355)
Therefore, those which were brought thither by the grace of God, and ought to have embraced Christ so much the more willingly, assault him first, and inflame the fury of others, as it were with a trumpet. Also Luke will in many other places afterward declare that the Jews, which were scattered abroad in the provinces, were most deadly enemies to sound doctrine: and most venomous (356) in moving tumults. He reckoneth up many, to the end the victory of the truth may be more famous, whilst that in any, gathered of divers countries, depart, being vanquished by one man; and it is not to be doubted but that they were enforced to hold their peace with shame. Stephen had already won great favor, and gotten great dignity by miracles. (357) He answereth the disputers now in such sort that he getteth the upper hand much. He putteth not that wisdom and spirit which he saith his adversaries could not gainstand, as divers things. Therefore resolve these words thus: They could not resist the wisdom which the Spirit of God gave him. For Luke meant to express that they fought not on both sides as men; but that the enemies of the gospel were therefore discouraged and overcome, because they did strive against the Spirit of God, which spake by the mouth of Stephen. And forasmuch as Christ hath promised the same Spirit to all his servants, let us only defend the truth faithfully, and let us crave a mouth and wisdom of him, and we shall be sufficiently furnished to speak, so that neither the wit, neither yet the babbling of our adversaries, shall be able to make us ashamed. So the Spirit was as effectual in our time in the mouth of the martyrs which were burnt, and it uttereth the like force now daily, that though they were ignorant men, (never trained up in any schools,) yet did they make the chief divines which maintained Popery no less astonished with their voice only, than if it had thundered and lightned. (358)
(355) “ Quae peculiaris esset Judaeis qui Jerosolymam ex provinciis comeabant,” that it might be appropriated to Jews coming to Jerusalem form the provinces.
(356) “ Virulentos,” virulent.
(357) “ Fides et miracula,” faith and miracles.
(358) “ Ut quum homines essent idiotae, summos Papatus theologes sola voce non minus quam fulmine attonitos redderent,” that though they were unlearned men, they, by their voice alone, astonished the chief theologians of the Papacy, as much as if it had been by a thunderbolt.
12. Being overcome with the power of the Spirit, they give over disputing, but they prepare false witnesses, that with false and slanderous reports, they may oppress him; whereby it appeareth that they did strive with an evil conscience. For what can be more unmeet than in their cause to lean unto lies? (359) Admit he were a wicked man, and guilty, yet he must not have false witness borne against him. (360) But hypocrites, which shroud themselves under zeal, do carelessly grant themselves leave to do that. We see how the Papists at this day corrupt manifest places of Scripture, and that wittingly, whilst that they will falsely wrest testimonies against us. I confess, indeed, that they offend for the most part through ignorance; yet can we find none of them which doth not grant himself liberty to corrupt both the sense and also the words of the Scripture, that they may bring our doctrine into contempt; (361) yea, they slander us monstrously even in the pulpit. If you ask these Rabbins, whether it be lawful to slander a man or no, they will deny that it is lawful generally; but when they come unto us, good zeal doth excuse them, because they think that nothing is unlawful which may burden us or our cause; therefore they flatter themselves in lying, falsehood, and dogged impudence. Such hypocrisy did also blind them of whom Luke speaketh in this place, which used false witness to put Stephen to death; for when Satan reigneth, he doth not only prick forward the reprobate unto cruelty, but also blind their eyes, so that they think that they may do whatsoever they will. We are specially taught by this example, how dangerous the color of good zeal is, unless it be governed by the Spirit of God; for it breaketh out always into furious madness, and, in the mean season, it is a marvelous visor to cover all manner of wickedness.
(359) “ Quam in mendaciis causae suae praesidium constituere,” than to place the defense of their cause in lies.
(360) “ Non tamen falsis testimoniis est oppremendus,” he ought not to be borne down with false testimony.
(361) “ Ut doctrinam nostram reddant odiosam,” that they may bring odium on our doctrine.
14. We have heard It shall full well appear by Stephen’s defense, that he never spake anything touching Moses or the temple without reverence; and yet, notwithstanding, this was not laid to his charge for nothing, for he had taught the abrogating of the law. But they are false witnesses in this, and suborned to lie, because they corrupt purposely those things which were well and godly spoken. So Christ was enforced to clear himself, that he came, not to destroy the law, but to fulfill the law; because, when he had preached of abrogating the ceremonies, the wicked wrested this unto another purpose, as if he meant to abolish and take away the whole law. Furthermore, they wrested that wickedly unto the temple of Jerusalem, which he spake of his body. What, was it not objected to Paul, that he taught, “That evil is to be done, that good may come thereof?”
Therefore, there is no cause why we should wonder at this day that that is so falsely misconstrued which we teach godly, well, and profitably; yea, we must rather persuade ourselves thus, that the doctrine of the gospel can never be handled so warily and moderately, but that it shall be subject to false accusations; for Satan, who is the father of lying, doth always bestir himself in his office. Again, because there be many things which are contrary to the reason of the flesh, men are inclined to nothing more than to admit false reports, which corrupt the true and sincere sense of doctrine. This malice of Satan, and the sleights, ought to make us more wary and more circumspect that no preposterous thing, or anything that is improperly spoken, escape us, wherewith they may be armed to fight against us; for we must carefully cut off from the wicked that occasion whereat they snatch. And if we see that, doctrine, which is by us well and godly delivered, corrupted, deformed, and torn in pieces with false reports, we must not repent that we have begun, neither yet is there any cause why we should be more slack hereafter; for it is not meet that we should be flee from the poisoned and venomous bitings of Satan, which the Son of God himself could not escape. In the mean season, it is our part and duty to dash and put away those lies wherewith the truth of God is burdened, like as we see Christ free the doctrine of the gospel from unjust infamy. Only let us so prepare ourselves that such indignity and dishonest dealing may not hinder us in our course.
Because we teach that men are so corrupt, that they are altogether slaves unto sin and wicked lusts, the enemies do thereupon infer this false accusation, that we deny that men sin willingly, but that they are enforced thereunto by some other means, so that they are not in the fault, neither bear any blame; yea, they say farther, that we quench altogether all desire to do well. Because we deny that the works of holy men are for their own worthiness meritorious, because they have always some fault or imperfection in them, they cavil that we put no difference between the good and the evil. (362) Because we say that man’s righteousness consisteth in the grace of God alone, and that godly souls can find rest nowhere else, save only in the death of Christ; they object that by this means we grant liberty to the flesh, (to do whatsoever it will,) that the use of the law may no longer remain. When as we maintain the honor of Christ, which they bestow as it pleaseth them here and there, after that they have rent it in a thousand pieces like a prey; they feign that we are enemies to the saints, they falsely report that we seek the licentiousness of the flesh instead of the liberty of the Spirit. Whilst that we endeavor to restore the Supper of the Lord unto his pure and lawful use; they cry out impudently that we overthrow and destroy the same. Others also which take away all things, as did the Academics, because that doth not please them which we teach concerning the secret predestination of God, and that out of the Scriptures, lay to our charge despitefully, that we make God a tyrant which taketh pleasure in putting innocent men to death, seeing that he hath already adjudged those unto eternal death which are as yet unborn, and other such things as can be said on this behalf; whereas, notwithstanding, they are sufficiently convicted that we think reverently of God, and that we speak no otherwise than he teacheth with his own mouth. It is a hard matter to endure such envy, yet must we not therefore cease off to defend a good cause. For the truth of God is precious in his sight, and it ought also to be precious unto us, although it be unto the reprobate the savor of death unto death, (2 Corinthians 2:16.)
But now I return unto Stephen’s accusation, the principal point whereof is this, that he blasphemed God and Moses. They do, for good considerations, make the injury common to God and to Moses, because Moses had nothing in his doctrine which was his own or separated from God. They prove this, because he spake blasphemously against the temple and the law; furthermore, they make this the blasphemy, because he said that the coming of Christ had made an end of the temple and the ceremonies. It is not credible that Stephen spake thus as they report; but they maliciously wrest those things which were spoken well and godly, that they may color their false accusation; but although they had changed nothing in the words, yet Stephen was so far from doing any injury to the law and the temple, that he could no way better and more truly praise the same. The Jews did suppose that the temple was quite dishonored, unless the shadowy estate thereof should endure for ever, that the law of Moses was frustrate and nothing worth, unless the ceremonies should be continually in force. But the excellency of the temple and the profit of the ceremonies consist rather in this, whilst that they are referred unto Christ as unto their principal pattern. Therefore, howsoever the accusation hath some color, yet is it unjust and wicked. And although the fact come in question, that is, whether the matter be so as the adversaries lay to his charge, notwithstanding the state [of the question] is properly [one] of quality, for they accuse Stephen, because he taught that the form of the worship of God which was then used should be changed; and they interpret this to be blasphemy against God and Moses; therefore the controversy is rather concerning right (as they say) than the fact itself; for the question is, Whether he be injurious and wicked against God and Moses, who saith, that the visible temple is an image of a more excellent sanctuary, wherein dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead, and who teacheth that the shadows of the law are temporal?
This Jesus of Nazareth. They speak thus of Christ disdainfully, as if the remembrance of him were detestable. Nevertheless, it may be gathered out of their accusations, that Stephen did, in the abrogating of the law, set the body against the shadows, and the substance against the figure; for if ceremonies be abolished by Christ, their truth is spiritual. The Jews, which would have them continue for ever, did consider nothing in them but that which was gross, carnal, earthly, and which might be seen with the eyes. Briefly, if the use of ceremonies were continual, they should be frail and should vanish away, because they should have nothing but the only external show, so that they should have no soundness. Therefore, this is their true perpetuity, when as they are abrogated by the coming of Christ; because it followeth hereupon that the force and effect thereof doth consist in Christ.
Shall change the ordinances. It is out of all doubt that Stephen meant this of the ceremonial part only; but because men are wont to be more addicted to external pomp, these men understand that which was spoken, as if Stephen would bring the whole law to nothing. The principal precepts of the law did indeed concern the spiritual worship of God, faith, justice, and judgment; but because these men make more account of the external rites, they call the rites which are commanded concerning the sacrifices, ordinances of Moses, by excellency. This was bred by the bone from the beginning of the world, and it will never out of the flesh so long as it lasteth. (363) As at this day the Papists acknowledge no worship of God save only in their visors; although they differ much from the Jews, because they follow nothing but the frivolous invention of men for the ordinances of God.
(362) “ Bonorum et malorum discrimen a nobis tolli,” that we destroy the distinction between good and evil.
(363) “ Hoc ab initio mundi fuit ingenium, et erit usque in finem,” this has been the disposition from the beginning of the world, and will be even to the end.
15. And when they had beheld. Men do commonly in places of judgment turn their eyes toward the party arraigned, when as they look for his defense. He saith that Stephen appeared like to an angel; this is not spoken of his natural face, but rather of his present countenance. For whereas the countenance of those which are arraigned useth commonly to be pale, whereas they stammer in their speech, and show other signs of fear, Luke teacheth that there was no such thing in Stephen, but that there appeared rather in him a certain majesty. For the Scripture useth sometimes to borrow a similitude of angels in this sense; as 1 Samuel 24:9; 2 Samuel 14:17; 2 Samuel 19:27
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Acts 6". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34