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1. And Saul. Luke setteth down in this place a noble history, and a history full well worthy to be remembered, concerning the conversion of Paul; after what sort the Lord did not only bring him under, and make him subject to his commandment, when he raged like an untamed beast but also how he made him another and a new man. But because Luke setteth down all things in order as in a famous work of God, it shall be more convenient to follow his text, [context,] that all may come in order whatsoever is worth the noting. When as he saith, that he breathed out threatenings and slaughter as yet, his meaning is, that after that his hands were once imbued with innocent blood, he proceeded in like cruelty, and was always a furious and bloody enemy to the Church, after that he had once made that entrance (569) whereof mention is made in the death of Stephen. For which cause it was the more incredible that he could be so suddenly tamed. And whereas such a cruel wolf was not only turned into a sheep, but did also put on the nature of a shepherd, the wonderful hand of God did show itself therein manifestly.
(569) “ Ab infausto trocinio,” from that ominous commencement.
2. And Luke describeth therewithal that he was furnished with weapons and power to do hurt, when as he saith that he had obtained letters of the highest priest, that he might bring all those bound to Jerusalem whom he should find professing the name of Christ. There is mention made of women, that it may the better appear how desirous he was to shed blood who had no respect of sex whom even armed enemies are wont to spare in the heat of war. Therefore he setteth forth before us a fierce and cruel beast who had not only liberty given him to rage, but had also his power increased to devour and destroy godly men, as if a madman had a sword put into his hand. Whereas I have translated it sect, Luke hath way, which metaphor is common enough in the Scriptures. Therefore Paul’s purpose was quite to put out the name of Christ by destroying all the godly cruelly.
3. As he was in the way. In craving epistles of the high priest, he ran headlong against Christ willingly; and now he is enforced to obey whether he will or no. This is surely the most excellent mercy of God, in that that man is reclaimed unto salvation contrary to the purpose of his mind, whom so great a heat carried headlong into destruction. Whereas the Lord suffereth him to receive letters, and to come near to the city; (whereby we see how well he knoweth the very instants of times to do everything in due time; (570)) he could have prevented him sooner, if it had seemed good to him so to do, that he might deliver the godly from fear and carelessness. (571) But he setteth out his benefits more thereby, in that he tieth the jaws of the greedy wolf, even when he was ready to enter the sheepfold. Also we know that men’s stubbornness increaseth more and more by going forward. Wherefore the conversion of Paul was so much the harder, forasmuch as he was already made more obstinate by continuing his fury.
Shined about him. Because it was no easy matter to pull down (572) so great pride to break such a lofty courage, to pacify such a blind heat of wicked zeal, and, finally, to bridle a most unbridled beast, Christ must needs have showed some sign of his majesty, whereby Paul might perceive that he had to do with God himself, and not with any mortal man;. although there were some respect had of humbling him, (because he was unworthy to have Christ,) to accustom him by and by to obey, by laying upon his neck the meek and sweet yoke of his Spirit. And he was scarce capable of so great gentleness, until his cruelty might be broken. (573) Man’s sense cannot comprehend the Divine glory of Christ as it is; but as God did oftentimes put upon him forms wherein he did show himself, so Christ did now declare and make manifest his divinity to Paul, and showed some token of his presence, that he might thereby terrify Paul. For although the godly be afraid and tremble at the seeing of God, yet it must needs be that Paul was far more afraid when as he perceived that the divine power of Christ was set full against him.
(570) “ Oppportune,” opportunely.
(571) “ Anxietate,” anxiety.
(572) “ Domare,” to tame.
(573) “ Violenter fracta,” forcibly broken.
4. And therefore Luke saith that he fell to the ground. For what other thing can befall man, but that he must lie prostrate and be, as it were, brought to nothing, when he is overwhelmed with the present feeling of God’s glory? And this was the first beginning of the bringing down of Paul, that he might become apt to hear the voice of Christ, which he had despised so long as he sat haughtily upon his horse.
Saul, Saul! Luke compared the light which shined round about Paul to lightning, though I do not doubt but that lightnings did fly in the air. And this voice, which Christ did send out to beat down his pride, may full well be called a lightning or thunderbolt, because it did not only strike him, and make him astonished, but did quite kill him, so that he was now as nobody with himself, who did so much please himself before and did challenge to himself authority to put the gospel to flight. Luke putteth down his name in Hebrew in this place, Saul, Saul! because he repeateth the words of Christ, who spake unto him, undoubtedly, according to the common custom of the country.
5. Who art thou, Lord? We have Paul now somewhat tamed, but he is not yet Christ’s disciple. Pride is corrected in him, and his fury is brought down. But he is not yet so thoroughly healed that he obeyeth Christ; he is only ready to receive commandments, who was before a blasphemer. Therefore, this is the question of a man that is afraid, and thrown down with amazedness. For why doth he not know, by so many signs of God’s presence, that it is God that speaketh? Therefore that voice proceeded from a panting and doubtful mind; therefore, Christ driveth him nigher unto repentance, When he addeth, I am Jesus, let us remember that that voice sounded from heaven. Therefore it ought to have pierced the mind of Paul when he considered that he had made war against God hitherto. It ought to have brought him by and by to true submission, when he considered that he should not escape scot free, if he should continue rebellious against him whose hand he could not escape.
This place containeth a most profitable doctrine, and the profit thereof is made manifold, for Christ showeth what great account he maketh of his gospel, when he pronounceth that it is his cause, from which he will not be separated. Therefore he can no more refuse to defend the same than he can deny himself. Secondly, the godly may gather great comfort by this, in that they hear that the Son of God is partner with them of the cross, when as they suffer and labor for the testimony of the gospel, and that he doth, as it were, put under his shoulders, that he may bear some part of the burden. For it is not for nothing that he saith that he suffereth in our person; but he will have us to be assuredly persuaded of this, that he suffereth together with us, (574) as if the enemies of the gospel should wound us through his side. Wherefore Paul saith, that that is wanting in the sufferings of Christ what persecutions soever the faithful suffer at this day for the defense of the gospel, (Colossians 1:24.) Furthermore, this consolation tendeth not only to that end to comfort us, that it may not be troublesome to us to suffer with our Head, but that we may hope that he will revenge our miseries, who crieth out of heaven that all that which we suffer is common to him as well as to us. Lastly, we gather hereby what horrible judgment is prepared for the persecutors of the Church, who like giants besiege the very heaven, and shake their darts, which shall pierce (575) their own head by and by; yea, by troubling the heavens, they provoke the thunderbolt of God’s wrath against themselves. Also, we are all taught generally, that no man run against Christ by hurting his brother unjustly, and specially, that no man resist the truth rashly and with a blind madness, under color of zeal.
It is hard for thee. This is a proverbial sentence, taken from oxen or horses, which, when they are pricked with goads, do themselves no good by kicking, save only that they double the evil by causing the prick to go farther into their skins. Christ applieth this similitude unto himself very fitly, because men shall bring upon themselves a double evil, by striving against him, who must of necessity be subject to his will and pleasure, will they nill they. Those which submit themselves willingly to Christ are so far from feeling any pricking at his hands, that they have in him a ready remedy for all wounds; but all the wicked, who endeavor to cast out their poisoned stings against him, shall at length perceive that they are asses and oxen, subject to the prick. So that he is unto the godly a foundation whereon they rest, but unto the reprobate who stumble at him, a stone which with his [its] hardness grindeth them to powder. And although we speak here of the enemies of the gospel, yet this admonition may reach farther, to wit, that we do not think that we shall get any thing by biting the bridle so often as we have any thing to do with God, but that being like to gentle horses, we suffer ourselves meekly to be turned about and guided by his hand. And if he spur us at any time, let us be made more ready to obey by his pricks, lest that befall us which is said in the Psalm, That the jaws of untamed horses and mules are tied and kept in with a hard bit, lest they leap upon us, etc.
In this history we have a universal figure of that grace which the Lord showeth forth daily in calling us all. All men do not set themselves so violently against the gospel; yet, nevertheless, both pride and also rebellion against God are naturally engendered in all men. We are all wicked and cruel naturally; therefore, in that we are turned to God, that cometh to pass by the wonderful and secret power of God, contrary to nature. The Papists also ascribe the praise of our turning unto God to the grace of God; yet only in part, because they imagine that we work together. But when as the Lord doth mortify our flesh, he subdueth us and bringeth us under, as he did Paul. Neither is our will one hair readier to obey than was Paul’s, until such time as the pride of our heart be beaten down, and he have made us not only flexible but also willing to obey and follow. Therefore, such is the beginning of our conversion, that the Lord seeketh us of his own accord, when we wander and go astray, though he be not called and sought; that he changeth the stubborn affections of our heart, to the end he may have us to be apt to be taught.
Furthermore, this history is of great importance to confirm Paul’s doctrine. If Paul had always been one of Christ’s disciples, wicked and froward men might extenuate the weight of the testimony which he giveth of his Master. If he should have showed himself to be easy to be entreated, and gentle at the first, we should see nothing but that which is proper to man. But when as a deadly enemy to Christ, rebellious against the gospel, puffed up with the confidence which he reposed in his wisdom, inflamed with hatred of the true faith, blinded with hypocrisy, wholly set upon the overthrowing of the truth, [he] is suddenly changed into a new man, after an unwonted manner, and of a wolf is not only turned into a sheep, but doth also take to himself a shepherd’s nature, it is as if Christ should bring forth with his hand some angel sent from heaven. For we do not now see that Saul of Tarsus, but a new man framed by the Spirit of God; so that he speaketh by his mouth now, as it were from heaven.
(574) “ Eadum ipsum sympathia tangi,” that he is touched with the same sympathy.
(575) “ Reditura,” recoil upon.
6. The fruit of that reprehension followeth, wherewith we have said it was requisite that Paul should have been sore shaken, that his hardness might be broken. For now he offereth himself as ready to do whatsoever he should command him, whom of late he despised. For when he asketh what Christ would have him do, he granteth him authority and power. Even the very reprobate are also terrified with the threatening of God, so that they are compelled to reverence him, and to submit themselves unto his will and pleasure; yet, nevertheless, they cease not to fret and to foster stubbornness within. But as God humbled Paul, so he wrought effectually in his heart. For it came not to pass by any goodness of nature, that Paul did more willingly submit himself to God than Pharaoh, (Exodus 7:13;) but because, being like to an anvil, [Pharaoh] did, with his hardness, beat back the whips of God wherewith he was to be brought under, (even as it had been the strokes of a hammer;) but the heart of Paul was suddenly made a fleshy heart of a stony heart, after that it received softness from the Spirit of God; which softness it had not naturally. The same thing do we also try [experience] daily in ourselves. He reproveth us by his word; he threateneth and terrifieth us; he addeth also light correction, and prepareth us divers ways unto subjection. But all these helps shall never cause any man to bring forth good fruit, unless the Spirit of God do mollify his heart within.
And the Lord said unto him. After that Paul had put his stiff neck under the yoke of Christ, he is now governed by his hand. For doubtless the Lord doth not so bring us into the way, that he leaveth us either before we begin our course, or in the midst thereof; but he bringeth us unto the very mark by little and little. Luke depainteth out unto us in this place this continual course of God’s governance. For He taketh him afterward unto himself to be taught whom He hath made apt to be taught. Neither doth that any whit hinder that he useth man’s ministry ill this point. Because the authority and power remaineth nevertheless in him, howsoever he accomplish his work by man; though it may seem an absurd thing that Christ, who is the Eternal Wisdom of God, doth send a scholar (who was ready to hear, and did gape after instruction) unto another (576) man, that he might learn. But I answer, that that was done not without cause. For the Lord meant by this means to prove Paul’s modesty, when he sendeth him to one of his scholars to be taught; as if he himself would not vouchsafe as yet to speak unto him familiarly, but sendeth him to his servants whom he did of late both so proudly contemn and so cruelly persecute.
And we are also taught humility under his person. For if Christ made Paul subject to the teaching of a common disciple, which of us can grudge to hear any teacher, so that he be appointed by Christ, that is, he declare himself to be his minister in deed? Therefore, whereas Paul is sent to Ananias, let us know that that is done to adorn the ministry of the Church. This is assuredly no small honor whereunto it pleaseth God to exalt mankind, when as he chooseth our brethren from amongst us to be interpreters of his will; when as he causeth his holy oracles to sound in the mouth of man, which is naturally given to lying and vanity. But the unthankfulness of the world betrayeth itself again herein, that no man can abide to hear when God speaketh by the mouth of man. All men could desire to have angels come flying unto them, or that heaven should be now and then cut asunder, and that the visible glory of God should come thence. Forasmuch as this preposterous curiosity springeth from pride and wicked contempt of the Word, it setteth open a gate to many dotings, and breaketh the bond of mutual consent among the faithful. Therefore the Lord doth testify, that it pleaseth him that we should be taught by men, and confirmeth the order set down by himself. And to this purpose serve these titles, “He which heareth you heareth me,” (Luke 10:16;) that he may cause his word to be reverenced as it ought.
It shall be told thee. Christ putteth Ananias in his place by these words, as touching the office of teaching; not because he resigneth his authority to him, but because he shall be a faithful minister, and a sincere preacher of the gospel. Therefore we must always use this moderation, that we hear God alone in Christ, and Christ himself alone, yet as he speaketh by his ministers. And these two vices must be avoided, that the ministers be not proud, under color of such a precious function, or that their base condition impair no whit of the dignity of heavenly wisdom.
(576) “ Suspensum allo,” in suspense, elsewhere.
7. And the men. He speaketh now briefly of the companions of Paul, that they were witnesses of the vision. Yet it seemeth that this narration doth not in all points agree with that of Paul, which we shall see in the 22 chapter, (Acts 22:9.) For he will say there, that his companions were terrified with the light, but they heard no voice. Some there be who think that it was a fault, (577) and that through ignorance of the writer (578) the negation is placed out of its right place. I think that it is no hard matter to answer it; because it may be that they heard the sound of the voice, yet did they not discern either who it was that spake, or what was spoken. “They heard not,” saith he, “the voice of him that spake with me.” Surely this is the meaning of these words, that he alone knew the speech of Christ. It followeth not thereupon, but that the rest might have heard a dark and doubtful voice. Whereas Luke saith in this place that there was a voice heard, and no man seen, his meaning is, that the voice proceeded from no man, but that it was uttered by God. Therefore, to the end the miracle may carry the greater credit, Paul’s companions see a light like to lightning; they see Paul lie prostrate; a voice they hear (though not distinctly (579)) sounding from heaven; and yet, nevertheless, Paul alone is taught what he must do.
(577) “ Esse mendum,” that there is a mistake.
(578) “ Librarii,” the copyist.
(579) “ Articulate,” articulately.
8. He was raised up from the earth. Luke addeth now, that he was taken with so great fear that he could not rise of himself; and not that only, but he was also blind for a time, that he might forget his former wit and wiliness. (580) When as he saith, that after that his eyes were opened, he saw not, it seemeth that it doth not agree with the other words which shall follow by and by, that his eyes were covered, as it were, with scales; but the meaning of this place is, that he was blind indeed, and deprived of his sight for that three days; because when he opened his eyes he saw nothing.
(580) “ Acumen,” acumen.
9. Whereas he saith, that he neither ate nor drank for the space of three days, that is to be counted a part of the miracle. For although the men of the east country endure hunger better than we, yet we do not read that any did fast three days, save only those who had want of victual, or who were constrained by some greater necessity. Therefore we gather that Paul was wonderfully afraid, (581) seeing that being, as it were, dead, he tasted no meat for three days.
(581) “ Expavefactum,” terrified.
10. We have said before that this man was rather chosen than any of the apostles, that Paul, having laid away the swelling of his arrogancy, might learn to hear the least, and that he [might] come down from too great loftiness even unto the lowest degree. And this vision was necessary for Ananias, lest through fear he should withdraw himself from that function which was enjoined him, to wit, to teach Paul. For though he know that the Lord calleth him, yet he slideth back, or, at least, he excuseth himself. Therefore it was requisite that he should have some certain testimony of his calling, that there should happy success be promised to his labor, that he might take that in hand with a joyful and valiant mind which the Lord commanded. Furthermore, as Christ animateth and confirmeth Ananias, by appearing to him in the vision, so he prepareth and maketh Paul ready for all things, that he may receive Ananias reverently, as if he would receive an angel coming from heaven. The Lord could have sent Paul straightway unto Ananias, and have showed him his house, but this was more fit for his confirmation; because he knew the better that the Lord had a care of him. And also the Lord setteth out his grace unto us, that as he stopped Paul before, so now he reacheth him his hand of his own accord, by his minister. And, in the mean season, we are also taught, by his example, to be more ready and careful to seek out the lost sheep.
In a vision. This word vision signifieth some light (582) which was set before the eyes to testify God’s presence. For this is the use of visions, that the majesty of the Word being well proved, it may purchase credit, amongst men; which kind of confirmation God used oftentimes toward the prophets; as he saith, that he speaketh to his servants by a vision or by a dream. He hath, indeed, suffered Satan to deceive the unbelievers with false imaginations and visures. (583) But forasmuch as Satan’s juggling casts are of power only in darkness, God doth lighten the minds of his children so, that they assure themselves that they need not to fear legerdemain. (584) Therefore Ananias answereth, Here am I, Lord, knowing indeed that it was God.
(582) “ Symbolum,” symbol.
(583) “ Fallacibus spectris,” with fallacious specters.
(584) “ Impostura,” imposture.
11. For, behold, he prayeth. Luke showeth that Paul gave himself (585) to prayer those three days; and peradventure this was one cause why he fasted, although it be certain, as I have already said, that he suffered such long hunger, because he was after a sort deprived of sense, as men which are in a trance use to be. Christ doth assuredly speak of no short prayer (586) in this place, but he doth rather show that Paul continued in this kind of exercise until he should be more quiet in mind. For besides other causes of terror, that voice might sound in his ears, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” And it is not to be doubted but that the careful (587) looking for a perfect revelation did marvellously trouble his mind; but this was the reason why the Lord caused him to wait three days, that he might the more kindle in him an earnest desire to pray.
(585) “ Fuisse intentum,” was intent.
(586) “ Precatione momenti,” momentary or ejaculatory prayer.
(587) “ Anxia,” anxious.
12. He saw a man, named Ananias. It is uncertain whether Luke do yet repeat the words of Christ, or he add this of his own. Those which take it in the person of Luke are moved with some show of absurdity, because it is an unlikely thing that Christ used these words. Although this may be easily answered thus, to wit, that Christ confirmeth Ananias after this sort, There is no cause why thou shouldst fear but that he will receive thee willingly, forasmuch as he already knoweth thy shape by a vision. I have also told him thy name, and whatsoever thou shalt do with him. Yet may the reader choose whether he will.
13. Lord, I have heard. In that Ananias objecteth the danger to the Lord, he betrayeth his weakness of faith therein. Therefore we see that the saints and servants of God are afraid of death, which thing keepeth them back from doing their duty; yea, it causeth them sometimes to stagger. Ananias would gladly go to some other place; but this is a point of a good man, that he yieldeth not so much to fear that he withdraweth himself from Christ’s obedience. And, therefore, this is a sign of rare obedience, (588) that although through fear of death he were somewhat slack at the first, yet having forgotten himself by and by, he maketh great haste to go whither Christ called him. And yet, notwithstanding, he refuseth not flatly in these words to do that which he is commanded to do, but useth an excuse (589) very modestly, Lord, what meaneth this, that thou sendest me to the hangman? Therefore we may see a desire to obey mixed with fear.
(588) “ Pietatis,” piety.
(589) “ Obliqua excusatione,” indirect excuse.
14. He hath power to bind. We gather by these words, that the fame of the persecution which Saul went about (590) was spread far and wide; for which cause his conversion was (591) more famous. Nevertheless, the Lord suffered the faithful to be evil entreated, (592) that the benefit of such sudden deliverance might afterwards be the more excellent. We must mark that speech, when he saith that the godly call upon the name of Christ. For whether you understand it, that inasmuch as they professed that they were Christ’s, they rejoiced therefore in him, or that they used to fly to him for succor, invocation cannot be without sure confidence. By both which the divinity of Christ is not only proved, but also if the second be received, which seemeth to be more natural, (593) we are taught by the example of the faithful, to call upon the name of Christ when he is preached to us.
(590) “ Parabat,” was preparing.
(591) “ Debuit,” must have been.
(592) “ Misere cruciari,” miserably tortured.
(593) “ Genuinum,” genuine.
15. Go; because he is an elect instrument. The commandment repeated the second time, and also the promise of success added, taketh away all doubtfulness. Therefore sloth shall want an excuse, if it be never redressed after that many pricks be used; like as we see that very many, who howsoever the Lord cry unto them continually, do not only loiter during their whole life, but do also cherish their slothfulness by all means possible. (594) If any man object that the Lord speaketh not at this day in a vision, I answer, that forasmuch as the Scripture is abundantly confirmed to us, we must hear God thence. (595)
A vessel of election, or, as Erasmus translateth it, an elect instrument, is taken for an excellent minister. The word instrument doth show that men can do nothing, save inasmuch as God useth their industry at his pleasure. For if we be instruments, he alone is the author; the force and power to do is in his power alone. And that which Christ speaketh in this place of Paul appertaineth to all men, both one and other. Therefore how stoutly soever every man labor, and how carefully soever he behave himself in his duty, yet there is no cause why he should challenge to himself any part of praise. Those which dispute subtilely about the word vessel, dote through ignorance of the Hebrew tongue. Luke putteth the genitive ease for the dative and that according to the common custom of the Hebrew tongue. And he meant to express a certain excellency, as if he should have said, that this man shall be no common minister of Christ, but shall be indued with singular excellency above others. Nevertheless, we must note that if any thing be excellent, it dependeth upon the favor of God, as Paul himself teacheth elsewhere. Who is he that separateth thee? to wit, that thou shouldst excel others, (1 Corinthians 4:7.) To conclude, Christ pronounceth that Paul was chosen unto great and excellent things.
To bear my name amongst the Gentiles. To him who went about before to suppress the name of Christ is the same now committed to be borne. If we please to take שנם ( schenos) for a vessel, this should be a continual metaphor, because a minister of the gospel serveth instead of a vessel to publish the name of Christ; but because it signifieth rather amongst the Hebrews any instrument generally, I take these words to carry my name, for to extol the same unto due honor. For Christ is placed after a sort in his princely throne when as the world is brought under his power by the preaching of the gospel.
(594) “ Quibus possunt blanditiis,” by all sorts of blandishment.
(595) “ Quo magis notandum est Anniae exemplum, qui ad secundum mandatum moras omnes abrumpit.” Wherefore it is the more necessary to give heed to the example of Ananias, who, on the second command, breaks off all delay, omitted.
16. And because. Paul could not do this, and have Satan quiet, and the world to yield to him willingly; therefore Luke addeth, that he shall be also taught to bear the cross. For the meaning of the words is, I will accustom him to suffer troubles: to endure reproaches, and to abide all manner [of] conflicts, that nothing may terrify him, and keep him back from doing his duty. And when Christ maketh himself Paul’s teacher in this matter, he teacheth that the more every man hath profited in his school, the more able is he to bear the cross. For we strive against it, and refuse it as a thing most contrary, until he make our minds more gentle. Also this place teacheth, that no man is fit to preach the gospel, seeing the world is set against it, save only he which is armed to suffer. Therefore if we will show ourselves faithful ministers of Christ, we must not only crave at his hands the spirit of knowledge and wisdom, but also of constancy and strength, that we may never be discouraged by laboring and toiling; which is the estate of the godly.
17. Having laid his hands upon. We have said elsewhere that this was a solemn, and, as it were, an ordinary thing amongst the Jews, to lay their hands upon those whom they did commend to God. The apostles translated that custom taken from sacrifices to their use, either when they gave the visible graces of the Spirit or when they made any man minister of the Church. To this end doth Ananias lay his hands now upon Paul, partly that he may consecrate him unto God, partly that he may obtain for him the gifts of the Spirit. And though there be no mention made of doctrine in this place yet it shall appear afterwards by Paul’s narration, that Ananias was also commanded to teach him; and by baptism, which was later in order, we gather that he was instructed in the faith. Let the readers note out of the chapter next going before how this ceremony is effectual to give the Spirit, But seeing Paul received the Spirit by the hand of Ananias, the Papists are more than ridiculous, who will have the bishops alone to lay on their hands.
18. There fell from his eyes as it had been scales. The blindness of Paul, as we have said before did not proceed from fear alone or from amazedness; but by this means was he admonished of his former blindness, that he might quite abandon that boldness and vain confidence wherewith he was puffed up. He boasted that he was taught at the feet of Gamaliel, (Acts 22:3;) and undoubtedly he thought very well of his great wittiness, (596) which was notwithstanding mere blindness. Therefore he is deprived of the sight of his body (597) three days, that he may begin to see with his mind; for those must become fools, whosoever they be, which seem to themselves wise, that they may attain to true wisdom. For seeing that Christ is the Sun of righteousness, in seeing without him we see not; it is he also which openeth the eyes of the mind. Both things were showed to Paul, and to us are they showed in his person; for he hath his eyes covered with scales, that, condemning all his knowledge of ignorance, (598) he may learn that he hath need of new light, which he hath hitherto wanted; and he is taught that he must let [seek] the true light from none other save only from Christ, and that it is given by no other means save only through his goodness. Furthermore, whereas being pined with three days hunger, he maketh no haste to receive meat until he be baptized, thereby appeareth the earnest (599) desire he had to learn, because he refreshed not his body with meat until his soul had received strength.
(596) “ Quin sibi multum placuerit in sua perspicacia,” but he was much pleased with his own perspicacity.”
(597) “ Oculis,” of his eyes, his bodily sight.
(598) “ Ut totum suum acumen ignorantiae damnans,” that confessing all his acuteness to be ignorance.
(599) “ Ferventissimum,” most fervent.
20. Luke declareth now how fruitful Paul’s conversion was, to wit, that he came abroad by and by, (600) and did not only profess that he was a disciple of Christ, but did also set himself against (601) the fury and hatred of the enemies, by defending the gospel stoutly. Therefore, he who of late ran headlong against Christ with furious force, doth now not only submit himself meekly unto his will and pleasure but like a stout standard-bearer fighteth even unto the utmost danger to maintain his glory. Certain it is that he was not so quickly framed by Ananias’ industry, (602) but that so soon as he had learned the first principles by man’s mouth, he was extolled by God unto higher things afterward. He comprehendeth the sum of his preaching briefly, when he saith that Christ was the Son of God. In the same sense, he saith shortly after that he saw Christ. And understand thus much, that when Paul intreated out of the law and the prophets of the true office of the Messiah, he taught also that all whatsoever was promised of, and was to be hoped for, at the hands of the Messiah, was revealed and given in Christ. For the words signify thus much, when he saith that he preached that Christ is the Son of God. That was undoubtedly a principle amongst the Jews, that there should a Redeemer come from God, who should restore all things to a happy estate. Paul teacheth that Jesus of Nazareth is he, which he cannot do, unless he shake off those gross errors which he had conceived of the earthly kingdom of the Messiah. Certain it is that Paul declared how Christ was promised in the law, and to what end; but because all tended to this end, that he might prove that the son of Mary was he of whom the law and the prophets bare witness, therefore Luke is content with this one word only.
(600) “ Statim prodient in publicum,” immediately appeared in public.
(601) “ Se... objecerit,” exposed himself to.
(602) “ Opera Ananiae formatum,” formed or trained by the agency of Ananias.
21. They were all amazed. This is added, that we may know that the power of God was acknowledged. For seeing that the zeal of Paul against the gospel was openly known, they saw no other cause of such a sudden change but the hand of God. And, therefore, this is also one fruit of the miracle, that they all wonder at him being made a new man so suddenly, so that his doctrine doth the more move their minds. Whereas they say that he raged horribly with great cruelty, and that he came of late to Damascus that he might proceed in his purpose, these circumstances serve to augment the miracle. We must also note the phrase, those which call on his name, which withesseth that the godly did so profess the name of Christ, that they placed all their hope of salvation in him. According to that, these“
men put their trust in chariots, and others in horses, but we will call upon the name of the Lord,” (Psalms 20:7.)
Finally, whatsoever the Scripture commandeth concerning calling upon the name of God, it agreeth to the person of Christ.
22. And Saul waxed stronger. Luke doth not only in this place commend the bold zeal of Paul in confessing the faith of Christ, but also he telleth us that he had strong reasons to convince the Jews. He waxed strong, saith he, that is, he got the victory in disputation; his confession did carry with it great force and efficacy, (603) because being furnished with testimonies of Scripture, and such other helps of the Holy Ghost, he did, as it were, tread all his adversaries under his feet. (604) For the word confounded, which Luke useth, doth signify, that, forasmuch as Paul did urge them out of measure, they were so stricken that they could not tell where they were. (605) The manner of the confounding is expressed, because Paul proved that Jesus was Christ. For the sense is this, that even when the Jews were most desirous to resist, they were overcome and confounded. So that Paul tried [found] by experience, that that was most true which he himself affirmeth, that the Scripture is profitable to convince, (Titus 3:16.) Also, he performed that which he required elsewhere of a bishop and teacher, (Titus 1:7;) for he was armed with the word of God to maintain the truth. And Luke setteth down two things, that Paul so got the victory in disputing that he overthrew the Jews; and yet their stubbornness was not broken and tamed that they yielded to the truth, because their consciences rage nevertheless inwardly, and being thrown down from their false opinion, they do not submit themselves to Christ.
Whence had Paul this victory, save only because the Scripture was his sword? Therefore, so often as heretics stand up to resist the true faith, so often as wicked men endeavor to overthrow all godliness, so often as the ungodly do obstinately resist, let us remember that we must fet [seek] armor hence. Because the Papists find no weapons in Scripture, yea, because they see that it maketh quite against them, they fly into this miserable fortress (606) that they must not dispute with heretics, and that there can no certain thing be set down out of Scripture. But if Satan himself be vanquished with the sword of the word, why shall it not be able to put heretics to flight? not that they will submit themselves, or make an end of murmuring, (607) but because they shall lie overcome in themselves. (608) And if so be it we covet to escape this trouble, let us raise no tumults against God, but let us, with a quiet and meek spirit, receive that peace which the Scripture offereth us.
(603) “ Vim et energiam conjunctam,” combined force and energy.
(604) “ Quasi obruebat,” as it were threwn down, overwhelmed.
(605) “ Ut apud se non essent,” that they were out of themselves.
(606) “ Asylum,” asylum.
(607) “ Obstrependi,” brawling, gainsaying.
(608) “ In seipsis convicti,” selfconvicted.
23. When many days were fulfilled. He saith that many days were expired, that we may know that Paul had some space of time granted him wherein he might do good. For although the Jews did resist him even from the first day, yet the Lord did not suffer the course which he had begun well to be broken off so soon, so he doth with his wonderful counsel hinder the purposes of the enemies, stay their endeavors, restrain their malice and madness, whilst that he furthereth (609) the gospel; and also we see what the hatred of the truth doth. For when the wicked see that they are unable to resist, they are carried headlong into bloody fury. They would gladly contemn the word of God if they could; but because they are enforced, whether they will or no, to feel the force thereof, they run headlong, like furious beasts, with blind violence. (610) The unadvised and rash heat of zeal will always almost break out into such cruelty, unless men suffer themselves to be ruled by the word of God. This is, assuredly, horrible blindness. For why are they so mad, save only because their wounded conscience doth vex them? But God doth by this means punish their hypocrisy, who do, therefore, hate sound religion; because, being friends of darkness, they fly the light.
Furthermore, we see how sweetly these preposterous zealous fellows (611) grant themselves liberty to do whatsoever them lusteth, when Satan hath once pricked them forward to persecute the truth. For they fear not to take counsel, under color of zeal, to put a man to death, which they know is mere wickedness, (612) as at this day the Papists think that they may do whatsoever they will, so they can quench the doctrine of the gospel. They rage not only with sword, but they go about by lying in wait, by treachery, and by most execrable means, to destroy us. We must, first, beware that that do not befall us, that we entangle not ourselves in the defense of evil causes; secondly, that we handle those causes well which we know are good. But it is to be thought that they laid wait for Paul privily; that done, when they could do no good this way, it is likely that they came to the governor of the city, and that then the gates were watched, that they might by one means or other catch him. For Paul saith that Aretas, the king’s governor, commanded that which Luke attributeth in this place to the Jews.
(609) “ Donec promoveat,” until he may further.
(610) “ Caeco et praecipite impetu,” with blind and headlong impulse.
(611) “ Zelotae,” zealots.
(612) “ Nefarium,” nefarious.
25. The disciples having taken him by night. There is a question moved here, whether it were lawful for the disciples to save Paul thus or no? and also, whether it were lawful for Paul to escape danger by this means or no? For the laws say that the walls of cities are holy, [sacred,] and that the gates are holy. Therefore, he ought rather to have suffered death, than to have suffered a public order to be broken for his sake. I answer, that we must consider why it is decreed by the laws that the walls should not be violated; to wit, that the cities may not be laid open to murders and robberies, and that the cities may be free (613) from treason. That reason ceaseth when the question is concerning the delivery of an innocent man. Therefore, it was no less lawful for the faithful to be let down in a basket, than it shall be lawful for any private person to leap over a wall, that he may avoid (614) the sudden invasion of the enemy. Cicero doth handle this latter member, and he setteth down very well, that although the law forbid a stranger to come near the wall, yet doth not he offend who shall go up upon the wall to save the city, because the laws must always be inclined (615) to equity. Therefore Paul is not to be blamed, because he escaped by stealth, seeing that he doth that without raising any tumult amongst the people. Nevertheless, we see how the Lord useth to humble those that be his, seeing that Paul is enforced to steal his life from the watchmen of the city if he will save himself. Therefore, he reckoneth this example amongst his infirmities. He was acquainted betime with the cross (616) with this first exercise.
(613) “ Tuti,” safe.
(614) “ Propulset,” repel.
(615) “ Flectandae,” bent.
(616) “ Hoc tirocinio ad crucem ferendam mature assuefactus fuit.” He was early trained to bear the cross by this first trial.
26. When Saul was. These were yet hard entrances (617) for Paul, who was as yet but a freshwater soldier, in that, when he had hardly escaped the hands of the enemies, the disciples would not receive him. For he might have seemed to have been so tossed to and fro, as it were, in mockery, that he could have no resting place. All his own nation was set against him for Christ’s cause. The Christians refuse him. Might he not have been quite discouraged and out of hope as one expelled out of men’s company? First, what remaineth but that he fall away from the Church, seeing he is not received? But when he remembereth the life which he had led aforetime he marvelleth not that they are afraid (618) of him. Therefore, he doth patiently suffer the brethren to refuse his company, seeing they had just cause of fear. This was true conversion, that whereas he raged horribly before, he doth now valiantly suffer the storms of persecutions; and, in the mean season, when as he cannot be admitted into the company of the godly, he waiteth with a quiet mind until God reconcile them unto him. We must diligently note what he desireth, to wit, that he may be numbered amongst the disciples of Christ. This can he not obtain. Here is no ambition, but he was to be instructed by this means to make more account even of the lowest place amongst the disciples of Christ than of all masterships in corrupt and revolted (619) synagogues, And from this submission was he exalted unto the highest degree of honor, that he might be the principal doctor of the Church, even unto the end of the world. But no man is fit to be a teacher in the Church save only he who willingly submitteth himself, (620) that he may be a fellow disciple with other men.
(617) “ Dura et aspera Paulo adhuc tironi rudimenta haec fuerunt,” this was rough and harsh training for Paul, who was as yet a tyro.
(618) “ Se horrori esse,” that he is a terror to them.
(619) “ Apostaticis,” apostate.
(620) “ Qui sponte in ordinem se cogit,” who spontaneously reduces himself into insubordination.
27. When Barnabas had taken him. Whereas the disciples fled so fast from Paul, that was, peradventure, a point of too great fearfulness, (621) and yet he speaketh of none of the common sort, but of the apostles themselves. But he doth either extenuate or lighten their fault, because they suspected him for just causes, whom they had found and tried (622) to be such a deadly enemy; and, it was to be feared, lest they should rashly endanger themselves if they should have showed themselves to be so easy to entreat. Therefore, I think that they are not to be blamed for that fear which they conceived for just cause, or that they deserve to be even accused for the same. For if they had been called to give an account of their faith, they would have provoked (623) not Paul only, but also all the furies of hell, without fear. Whence we gather that every fear is not to be condemned but such as causeth us to turn aside from our duty. The narration which Luke addeth may be referred as well unto the person of Barnabas as of Paul. Yet I think rather that Paul declareth to the apostles what had befallen him; and yet the speech may be well applied to Barnabas, especially when as mention is made of Paul’s boldness.
(621) “ Id nimiae forsan timiditatis fuit,” that, perhaps, was owing to too great timidity.
(622) “ Experti sunt,” experienced.
(623) “ Provocassent,” challenged or defied.
28. Luke saith afterwards that Paul went in and out with the disciples, which speech signifieth amongst the Hebrews familiarity, as the inhabitants of cities are said to go in and out at the gates of the city. Therefore after that Paul was commended by the testimony of Barnabas, he began to be counted one of the flock, that he might be thoroughly known to the Church. Luke saith again that he dealt boldly in the name of the Lord, by which words he commendeth his (stoutness and) courage in professing the gospel. For he durst never have whispered amidst so many lets, unless he had been endowed with rare constancy. Nevertheless, all men are taught what they ought to do; to wit, every man according to the measure of his faith. For though all be not Pauls, yet the faith of Christ ought to engender in our minds so great boldness, that we be not altogether dumb when we have need to speak. I take the name of the Lord in this place for the profession of the gospel; in this sense, that Paul defended Christ’s cause manfully.
29. He disputed with the Grecians. Erasmus noteth well in this place that those are here called Grecians, not which came (624) of Grecians, but rather those Jews who were scattered throughout divers parts of the world. Those men were wont to come together (625) to Jerusalem to worship. And it is to be thought that Paul disputed rather with strangers and aliens, (626) than with those who dwelt at Jerusalem, (627) because this latter sort would never have abidden him, neither had it been wisely done to come in their sight. Therefore being excluded from those who knew him before he tried whether there were any hope to do good amongst men whom he knew not, so that he did most stoutly whatsoever concerned the duty of a valiant soldier.
They would have slain him. Behold, again, fury instead of zeal; and it cannot otherwise be, but that hypocrisy and superstition will be cruel and fierce. The godly must be incensed with an holy wrath, when they see the pure truth of God corrupted with false and wicked opinions; yet, so that they moderate their zeal, that they set down nothing until they have thoroughly weighed the cause; and, secondly, that they essay to bring those into the way who wander out of the same. Lastly, that if they see their stubbornness to be past hope, they themselves take not the sword in hand, because they must know that they have no authority granted them of the Lord to (punish or) revenge. But hypocrites are always ready to shed blood before they know the matter; so that superstition is bloody, through blind and headlong fury. But Paul, who of late ran up and down to vex the godly, can abide nowhere now. (628) And yet this estate was far better for him, than if he should have reigned in peace and quietness, driving the godly everywhere out of their places.
(624) “ Qui oriundi essent ex Graecis,” who were of Greek extraction.
(625) “ Ex suis provinciis,” from their different provinces.
(626) “ Advenis... hospitibus,” with guests and strangers.
(627) “ Indigenis,” with natives.
(628) “ Fidem figere,” rest his foot.
30. In that he went to Tarsus, he did it undoubtedly to this end, that he might carry the doctrine of the gospel thither, because he hoped that he should have some favor and authority in his country, where he was famous; yet was he brought thither by the brethren, that they might deliver him from the lying in wait.
31. Then the Churches. Luke’s meaning is, that the enemies of the gospel were greatly provoked by Paul’s presence. For why was there such peace made suddenly by his departure, save only because the very sight of him did provoke the fury of the enemies? And yet this is no reproach to him, as if he had been, as it were, some trumpet in war; but Luke doth rather commend him for this, because he made the wicked run mad, only with the smell of him when he was near them. For Christ meant so to triumph in him, that he might be no less a trouble than an ornament to his Church.
Therefore we are taught by this example that those are not by and by (629) to be condemned, who inflame the madness of the wicked more than others; which admonition is not a little profitable. For as we are too dainty and too much besotted with the love of our own rest, so we be also sometimes angry with the best and most excellent servants of Christ, if we think that through their vehemency the wicked are pricked forward to do hurt; and by this means we do injury to the Spirit of God, whose force and speech kindleth all that flame.
And whereas Luke saith, that the Churches had peace, let us know that it was not continual, but because the Lord granted his servants some short breathing. For thus doth he bear with (630) our infirmity, when he appeaseth or mitigateth the winds and storms of persecutions, lest if they should hold on still, they should urge us out of measure. And this blessing is not to be despised, neither is it any common blessing, when as the Churches have peace. But Luke addeth other things, which are of far more value; to wit, that the Churches were edified, they walked in the fear of God, and they were filled with the consolation of the Spirit. For as we are wont to riot and exceed in time of peace, the Churches are more happy, for the most part, amidst the tumults of war, than if they should enjoy what rest they would desire. But and if holy conversation, and the consolation of the Spirit, whereby their state doth flourish, be taken away, they lose not only their felicity, but they come to nought. Therefore, let us learn not to abuse external peace in banqueting and idleness; but the more rest we have given us from our enemies, to encourage ourselves to go forward in godliness whilst we may. And if at any time the Lord let loose the bridle to the wicked to trouble us, let the inward consolation of the Spirit be sufficient for us. Finally, as well in peace as in war, let us always joyfully go forward toward him who hath a reward for us. (631)
Edification may be taken either for increase; to wit, whilst the Churches are augmented with the number of the faithful, or for their going forward who are already in the flock; to wit, whilst they have new gifts given them, and have greater confirmation of godliness. In the first signification it shall be referred unto the persons; in the second unto the gifts of the Spirit. I embrace both willingly; that there were some every now and then gathered unto the Church who were strangers before, and those who were of the household of the Church did increase in godliness and other virtues. Furthermore, the metaphor of a building is very convenient, because the Church is the temple and house of God, and every one of the faithful is also a temple, (Titus 3:15; 1 Corinthians 3:16.) The two things which follow, that they walked in the fear of God, and that they were filled with the consolation of the Spirit, are parts of that edification. Therefore, though the Churches had peace, yet they were not drunken with delights and earthly joy, but, trusting to God’s help, they were more emboldened to glorify God.
(629) “ Protinus,” forthwith.
(630) “ Indulget,” is indulgent to.
(631) “ Ad nostrum agnotheten,” to him who judges our combat.
32. Luke setteth down how the Church was increased by miracles. And he reciteth two miracles: That a man who had been bedrid eight years, having the palsy, was suddenly healed; and that a certain woman was raised from death. First, he saith, that as Peter walked throughout all, he came to Lydda. And by all understand not Churches, but the faithful, because it is in Greek of the masculine gender, though that skilleth not much for the sense. And it was meet that the apostles, who had no certain place of abode, should wander hither and thither as occasion was offered. Wherefore, whilst they are all occupied in divers parts, Peter took upon him this charge, whereby the foolishness of the Papists is refuted, who gather Peter’s primacy by the authority which he had to visit; as if the rest of the apostles did live idly at Jerusalem like private men, when Peter did visit the Churches. Again, admit we grant that Peter was the chief apostle, which thing the Scripture showeth oftentimes, doth it thereupon follow that he was the head of the world? But would to God the bishop of Rome, who will be counted Peter’s successor, would travel as he did to animate the brethren, and would every where prove indeed that he is the apostle of Christ. Now, he which out of his throne doth with more than tyrannous lordship oppress all the Churches, pretendeth that Peter did visit the Churches with great pains.
Which dwelt at Lydda. Lydda, which was afterward called Diospolis, was situated not far from the Mediterranean Sea, being a renowned city as well for antiquity as also for many gifts. Joppa was nigh to this city, which had a famous haven, though very full of rocks. The city itself stood upon a high cliff, whence they might see to Jerusalem. At this day there is nothing to be seen there but the ruinous walls of the old city, save only that the haven remaineth, which they call most commonly Japhet. It should seem that Luke nameth Assaron as some town or city. Jerome mentioneth Saron, and thinketh that thereby is meant the whole plain lying between Cesarea and Joppa. But because Jerome showeth no reason why he should change the reading which is commonly used, I admit that willingly which Luke’s text showeth me, to wit, that it was a city hard by. But I do not contend about this matter; as I do not ambitiously gather those things which may serve for a vain brag, because it shall be sufficient for the godly readers to know those things which make to Luke’s meaning.
34. Jesus Christ maketh thee whole. It is certain that the apostles would never have attempted the doing of miracles, unless they had been first certified of the will of God, whereupon the effect did depend. For they had no such power of the Spirit given them that they could heal whatsoever sick persons they would; but as Christ himself used a measure in his miracles, so he would have his apostles to work no more than he knew were profitable. Therefore Peter did not rashly break out into these words; because he might have set himself to be laughed at, unless he had already known the will of God. It may be that he prayed apart. The Spirit who was the author of all miracles, and which wrought by the hand of Peter, did even then direct his tongue, and did move his heart by a secret inspiration. And in these words Peter showeth plainly that he is only the minister of the miracle, and that it proceedeth from the power of Christ; that he may by this means extol the name of Christ alone.
Make thy bed. These circumstances do amplify the glory of the miracle, in that he doth not only recover strength to rise, but is also able to make his own bed, who could move no member before. To the same end tendeth the continuance of the disease; for a palsy of eight years’ continuance is not easily cured. In like sort is he said to have laid in his bed, that we may know that all his members were lame; for it was a little bed wherein they were wont to rest at noon. Whereas AEneas was so ready to make trial of his members, he thereby declared the obedience of his faith. For although he perceived the strength which was given him, (632) yet he was most of all moved with the efficacy of the words, to rise.
(632) “ Redditum sibi vigorem,” that his vigor was restored.
35. And all those. His meaning is, that the miracle was published abroad, and was known throughout the whole city. For when the Scripture saith all, it doth not comprehend every one how many so ever it noteth; but it putteth all for the more part, or for many, or for the common sort of men. Therefore, the sense is, that whereas there was but a small number of godly men there, a great part of the people became members of the Church. And in this clause is expressed the fruit of the miracle, because they embraced Christ and his gospel. Wherefore those men corrupt miracles, whosoever they be, which look only upon men, and do not turn their eyes toward this end, that being instructed concerning the power and grace of Christ, they may stick only to him. Therefore that token of Christ’s divine power which he showed was the beginning of turning to him. (633)
(633) “ Initium et praeparatio conversionis ad ipsum,” was a preparation and commencement of conversion to him.
36. There followeth a more famous token of Christ’s power, by how much it is more hard to restore life to a dead body, than to restore health to a man that is sick. But Luke doth first commend the person of Tabitha on whom the miracle was showed, and that with a double title; to wit, that she was Christ’s disciple, and that she approved her faith with good works and alms. He hath oftentimes already put this word disciple for a Christian man; and lest we should think that that name was proper to men only, he attributeth the same to a woman. And this title teacheth us that Christianity cannot be without doctrine; and that that form of learning is prescribed, that the same Christ may be Master to all. This is the chiefest praise, this is the beginning of holy life, this is the root of all virtues, to have learned of the Son of God the way to live, and the true life. The fruits of good works proceed afterward from faith. By good works I mean the duties of love, wherewith our neighbors are helped; and Luke placeth the chief kind in alms. The commendation of liberality is great, because, as the Holy Ghost doth witness, it containeth in itself the sum of a godly and perfect life. Now we see what titles Tabitha hath. For religion toward God or faith goeth first; secondly, that she exercised herself in helping the brethren, and specially in relieving the poverty of the poor. For by use it is come to pass, that all that help wherewith the poor, and those which are in misery, are helped, is called ελεημοσυνη. Tabitha is rather a Syrian word than an Hebrew, which Luke did turn into Greek, that we might know that it was not like to the virtues of the holy women, and that she was debased in such a simple name; (634) for Dorcas signifieth a goat; but the holiness of her life did easily wipe away the blot of a name not very seemly.
(634) “ Ut sanctae mulieris virtutibus non fuisse conforme sciremus, et in nomine parum honorifico fuisse quasi dejectam,” that we might know that it was not suitable to the virtues of a holy woman, and that she was, as it were, degraded by a name far from honorable.
37. It happened that she was sick. He saith in plain words that she was sick, that he may the more plainly express her death which followed. To the same end he saith that the corpse was washed and laid in an upper chamber; therefore, these circumstances serve to make the miracle to be believed. Whereas they carry her not straightway to the grave, but lay her in the upper part of the house, that they may keep her there, we may thereby gather that they had some hope of recovering her life. It is likely that the rite of washing, whereof Luke maketh mention, was most ancient; and I do not doubt but that it came from the holy fathers by continual course of times, as if it had been delivered from hand to hand, that in death itself some visible and of the resurrection might comfort the minds of the godly, and lift them up unto some good hope; to wit, seeing the manifestation of eternal life was not so evident, yea, seeing that Christ, the pledge and substance of eternal life, was not as yet revealed, it was requisite that both the obscurity of doctrine, and also the absence of Christ, should be supplied by such helps. Therefore they washed the bodies of the dead, that they might once (635) stand before the judgment-seat of God, being clean. (636) Finally, there was the same reason for washing the dead which was for the living; the daily washing put them in mind of this, that no man can please God save he who should be purged from his filthiness. So, in the rite of burying, God would have some sign extant whereby men might be admonished that they went polluted out of this life by reason of that filthiness which they had gathered in the world. Washing did no more help those which were dead than burial, but it was used to teach the living; (637) for because death hath some show of destruction, lest it should extinguish the faith of the resurrection, it was requisite that contrary shows should be set against it, that they might represent life in death. The Gentiles also took to themselves this ceremony, for which cause Ennius saith, A good woman did wash and anoint Tarquinius’s corpse. But (their) imitation was but apish (638) in this thing, as in all other ceremonies. And Christians also have taken to themselves this example unadvisedly, as if the observation of a figure used under the law ought to continue always; for at the beginning of the gospel, although the necessity were abolished, yet the use was lawful, until such time as it might grow out of use in tract of time. But the monks do at this day no less imitate Judaism than did the Gentiles in times past, without choice and judgment, for they wash corpses, that they may bury Christ in shadows, which, being buried with him in his grave, ought never to have been used any more.
(635) “ Ut pura aliquando ad Dei tribunal sisterentur,” that they might one day stand pure at the judgmentseat of God.
(636) “ Quotidianae ablutiones,” their daily ablutions.
(637) “ Superstites,” survivors.
(638) “ Praepostera,” preposterous.
38. The disciples, which had heard, The washing of the corpse showeth that the disciples knew not what would come to pass, for by this means they make the corpse ready to be buried. Yet this is some token of hope, that they lay her in an upper chamber, and send to Peter. Furthermore, they murmur not against God, neither do they cry out that it is an unmeet thing; but they humbly crave God’s help, not that they will make Tabitha immortal, but their only desire is to have her life prolonged for a time, that she may yet profit the Church.
39. And Peter arose. It is doubtful whether the messengers declared to Peter the (matter and) cause why they fet [sent for] him; yet it is more like to be true, that they requested him absolutely that he would come to work a miracle. But there ariseth another question, whether he knew God’s purpose or not? First, if he should mistrust the success, he should go with them unadvisedly? I answer, although he did not yet know what the Lord would do, yet can he not be blamed for yielding to the request of the brethren. Also, there were other reasons why he should come; to wit, to mitigate their sorrow; to strengthen them with godly exhortations, lest they should faint, being discouraged with the death of one woman; to establish the Church, which was as yet tender, and but as it were an infant. Lastly, this one thing ought to have been sufficient for him, because in refusing he should have been thought proudly to despise his brethren, notwithstanding we must know this also, that so often as the Lord determined to work some miracle by his apostles, he did always direct them by the secret motion of the Spirit. I do not doubt but that although Peter were not yet certain of the life of Tabitha, yet did he undoubtedly perceive that God was his guide and conductor in that journey, so that he addressed himself to go not unadvisedly, though being uncertain of the event. (639)
All the widows. Luke expresseth in this place the cause for which Tabitha was raised from death; to wit because God pitied the poor, and did at their desire restore the woman to life. There were also other ends. For seeing she liveth two lives, those virtues which Luke commended before are adorned in her person, but the chief end is, that the glory of Christ may be set forth. For God could have kept her alive longer; neither doth he change his purpose, as being moved with repentance when he doth restore her to life again, but because many of the disciples were weak and novices, who had need of confirmation, God declareth by the second life of Tabitha, that his Son is author of life. Therefore God did respect the poor and widows in such sort, that, by relieving their poverty, he established in their minds the faith of his gospel; for in this miracle he gave ample matter of profiting.
(639) “ Suspensus licet atque... incertus,” though in suspense and uncertain.
40. When they were all put forth. When as he taketh a time to pray, he seemeth as yet to doubt what will be the end. When he healed AEneas he brake out into these words, without making any stop, AEneas, Jesus Christ make thee whole. But as the operation of the Spirit is not always alike and the same, it may be that though he knew the power of God, yet he went forward unto the miracle by degrees. Yet it seemeth to be an absurd thing, that he putteth all the saints out of the chamber, for whom it had been better to have seen it with their eyes. But because the Lord had not as yet revealed the time when, and the manner how, he would show forth his power, he desired to be alone, that he might the more fitly pray. Also it might be, that he knew some other reason which moved him to do this, which we know not. It is recorded in the Sacred History, (Genesis 17:23,) that Elias did the same. For he being alone, and not so much as the mother of the child with him, doth stretch himself thrice upon the dead corpse. For the Spirit of God hath his vehement motions, which, if any man will square out according to the common use of men, or measure by the sense of the flesh, he shall do wickedly and unjustly. We must this think, when as Peter, as it were doubting, seeketh a by place, he preventeth superstition, lest any man should ascribe to his power the work of God, whereof he was only a minister, For he which withdrew himself from company, and did pray so instantly, did plainly confess that the matter was not in his own hand. Therefore, when Peter wisheth to know what pleaseth the Lord, he confesseth that he alone was the author of the work. Kneeling in time of prayer is a token of humility, which hath a double profit, that all our members may be applied unto the worship of God, and that the external exercise of the body may help the weakness of the mind; but we must take heed so often as we kneel down, that the inward submission of the heart be answerable to the ceremony, that it be not vain and false. (640)
Turning towards the corpse. This seemeth also to be contrary to reason, that he speaketh unto a corpse without feeling; but this speaking unto the dead corpse was one point of the vehemency whereunto the Spirit of God enforced Peter. And if any man desire a reason, this form of speech doth more lively express the power of God in raising the dead, than if it should be said in the third person, let this body receive life again and live. Therefore, when as Ezekiel doth shadow the deliverance of the people under a figure of the resurrection:“
O dead bones,” (saith he,) “hear the word of the Lord,” (Ezekiel 37:4.)
And Christ saith,“
The time shall come when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God,” (John 5:25.)
For this was indeed the voice of Christ, which was uttered by the mouth of Peter, and gave [back] breath to the body of Tabitha. The circumstances following serve to confirm the certainty of the miracle.
(640) “ Ne fallax sit ac lusoria,” that it be not elusory and fallacious.
41. Luke repeateth, again, in the end that she was showed openly to the disciples; whence we gather that she was raised again, rather for other men’s sake than for her own. Brain-sick fellows, (641) who dream that the soul of man is only a blast which vanisheth away until the day of the resurrection, snatch at this place to prove their doting withal. To what end was it (say they) to call back the soul of Tabitha into the prison of the body, where it should suffer such misery, if it were received into blessed rest? As if it were not lawful for God to have respect of his glory as well in death as in life; and as if this were not the true felicity of the godly to live and die to him, yea, as if Christ were not to us a vantage, as well by living as dying, (Philippians 1:21,) when we dedicate ourselves to him. Therefore, there shall no inconvenience follow, if the Lord had greater respect to his own glory than to Tabitha, although, as the commodity (642) of the faithful is always annexed to the glory of God, this turned to her greater good that she revived, that she might be a more excellent instrument of God’s goodness and power.
(641) “ Fanatici quidam,” certain fanatics.
(642) “ Utilitas,” advantage, interest.
42. And many believed. Now appear manifold fruits of the miracle, for God comforted the poor, a godly matron was restored to the Church, in whose death it suffered great loss, and many are called unto the faith; for although Peter were [had been] a minister of so great power, yet he keepeth not the men in [on] himself; but doth rather direct them unto Christ.
43. When as he saith that Peter dwelt with a tanner, we may hereby gather of what manner of men the church of Joppa did consist, for if the chieftains of the city had been converted to Christ, some one of them would have lodged Peter; for it had been too cruel a thing to suffer an apostle of Christ to be so despised. Therefore, the Lord did gather together there, as every where, a church of the common sort of men, that he might throw down the pride of the flesh; and also thereby appeareth Peter’s courtesy, in that he vouchsafeth to lodge with a man of that calling; although it seemeth that he was rather a merchant of some good estimation, than one of the basest sort of workmen. For Luke will say afterwards that there were there some which ministered unto Peter, whereby it appeareth that he was well and honestly used.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Acts 9". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany