18. Paul took it grievously. It may be that at the first Paul neglected, and did not greatly regard the crying of the maid, because he hoped that there would be no account made thereof, and had rather that it should vanish away of itself. But the continual repetition doth at length make him weary; because, if he had any long dissembled, Satan would have waxed more and more insolent through his silence and patience. Secondly, he ought not to have broken out into this prohibition rashly, until he knew for a certainty that he was furnished with the power of God. For Paul’s commandment F1052 had been foolish and vain without the commandment of God. And this must be noted, lest any man condemn Paul of too great hastiness, because he encountered so valiantly with the unclean spirit. For he did not conceive any grief or indignation, save only that he saw that the stability of Satan would increase, unless he did betimes prevent it; neither did he attempt any thing without the motion of the Spirit; neither did he enter the conflict until he was armed with power from heaven. Notwithstanding, he seemeth to be contrary to himself, seeing that he saith elsewhere that he rejoiceth upon what occasion soever he see the gospel preached, (<500118>Philippians 1:18,) even by wicked men, and such as did study of set purpose to bring him in contempt. I answer, that he had another more apt reason for himself in this place; F1053 because all men would have thought that the spirit of the maid had played with Paul; F1054 so that by that means the doctrine of the gospel should not only have come in [into] suspicion, but should also have come into great contempt. F1055 And to this end was it that Christ also did command the devil to hold his peace, (<410125>Mark 1:25,) whereas notwithstanding he suffered his name to be extolled by unmeet and unworthy men, (<420435>Luke 4:35.)
I command thee. We must note the form of speech; for as the miracle was about to have a double use, namely, that the power of Christ might be known; secondly, that he might declare that he had no fellowship with Satan’s jugglings; so Paul, in giving the authority and power to Christ alone, doth declare that he is only a minister; that done, he doth openly set Christ against the devil, F1056 to the end that, by the conflict, all men may see that they be deadly enemies. For it was profitable that many should be awaked who had been given to such gross seducing, that being well purged, they might come to the true faith.
19. But when her masters. The same devil who of late did flatter Paul by the mouth of the maid, doth now drive her masters into fury, that they may put him to death; so that, having changed his coat, he doth now play a tragedy, who could not speed well before by his fair speech and flattery. And though the heat of zeal wherewith Paul was provoked to anger did raise the whirlwind of persecution, yet is he not therefore to be blamed; neither did it any whit repent Paul that he had wrought the miracle, so that he did wish that were undone which was done, because he knew full well through what motion he had driven the devil out of the maid. Whereby we are taught that we must not rashly condemn things which are well done, and that which is taken in hand at the commandment of God, though an unhappy success follow; because God doth then examine [test] the constancy of those which be his, until a more joyful and prosperous end drive away all sorrow. As touching the men, Luke expresseth the cause why they were so mad upon Paul; to wit, because their hope of filthy gain was gone. But though they were pricked forward with covetousness only to persecute the Gospel and the ministers thereof; yet they pretend a fair color, that it grieveth them that the public state should be perverted, that their ancient laws should be broken, and peace troubled. So, through the enemies of Christ behave themselves wickedly and unhonestly, yet they always invent some cause for their sin. Yea, though their wicked desire appear plainly, yet, with an impudent withal. So at this day those Papists which are more zealous over their law, F1057 have nothing else in their minds besides their gain and government. Let them swear and forswear by all their saints and sacrifices, that they are enforced only with a godly affection; yet the matter itself doth plainly show, that it is the coldness of their kitchens which maketh their zeal so hot, and that ambition is the fan F1058 thereof. For they be either hungry dogs pricked forward with greediness, or furious lions breathing out nothing but cruelty.
20. These men trouble our city. This accusation was craftily composed to burden the servants of Christ. For on the one side they pretend the name of the Romans, than which nothing was more favorable; on the other, they purchase hatred, and bring them in contempt, by naming the Jews, which name was at that time infamous; for, as touching religion, the Romans were more like to any than to the Jewish nation. For it was lawful for a man which was a Roman to do sacrifice either in Asia or in Grecia, or in any other country where were idols and superstitions. I warrant you Satan did agree with himself very well, though he put on divers shapes, but that which was religion only, than which there was no other in the world, was counted among the Romans detestable. They frame a third accusation out of the crime of sedition; F1059 for they pretend that the public peace is troubled by Paul and his company. In like sort was Christ brought in contempt, F1060 (<422305>Luke 23:5) and even at this day the Papists have no more plausible thing wherewith they may bring us to be hated, than when they cry that our doctrine tendeth to no other end but to confusion of all things. But we must valiantly contemn this filthy and false infamy as did Christ and Paul, until the Lord bring to light the malice of our enemies, and refute their impudence.
21. Ordinances which. They lean to a prejudice, lest the cause should come to be disputed; as the Papists deal with us at this day, this was decreed in a General Council; it is a more ancient and common opinion, than that is may be called in question; custom hath long time approved this; this hath been established by consent more than a thousand years ago. But to what end tend all these things, save only that they may rob the Word of God of all authority? They make boast of man’s decrees, but in the mean season they leave no place at all for the laws of God. We may see only this place what force these prejudices ought to have. The laws of the Romans were excellent, but religion doth depend upon the Word of God alone. Therefore in this matter we must take great heed, that men being brough under, the authority of God alone do prevail, and that he make all things which in the world are excellent subject to him.
22. The multitude came together. When Luke declareth that there was great encourses of the people made, after that a few men of no reputation, to wit, such as did juggle and cozen to get gain, and whose filthiness was well known, had made some stir; he reacheth with what fury the world rageth against Christ. Foolishness and inconstancy are indeed common vices among all people, and almost continual, but the wonderful force of Satan doth therein betray itself, in that those who are in other matters modest and quiet, are for a matter of no importance in a heat, F1061 and became companions of most vile persons, when the truth must be resisted. There was never a whit more modesty to be found in the judges themselves, if we consider what was their duty. For they ought, by their gravity, to have appeased the fury of the people, and to have set themselves stoutly against their violence, they ought to have aided and defended the guiltless; but they lay hands on them outrageously, and renting their garments, they command them to be stripped naked and whipt before they know the matter. Surely the malice of men is to be lamented; F1062 whereby it came to pass, that almost all the judgment-seats of the world, which ought to have been sanctuaries of justice, have been polluted with the wicked and sacrilegious oppugning of the gospel.
Notwithstanding, the question is, why they were cast in prison, seeing that they were already punished, for the prison was ordained for the keeping of men? They used this kind of correction, until they might know more; and so we see the servants of Christ more sharply handled than adulterers, robbers, and other most vile persons. F1063 Whereby appeareth more plainly that force of Satan in stirring up the minds of men, that they observe no show of judgment in persecuting the gospel. But though the godly be more hardly handled for defending the truth of Christ, than are the wicked for their wickedness; yet it goeth well with the godly, because they triumph gloriously before God and his angels in all injuries which they suffer. They suffer reproach and slander; but because they know that the marks of Christ are in greater price and more esteemed in heaven than the vain pomps of the earth, the more wickedly and reproachfully the world doth vex them, the greater cause have they to rejoice. For if profane writers did so honor Themistocles, that they preferred his prison before the seat and court of judges; how much more honorably must we think of the Son of God, whose cause is in hand so often as the faithful suffer persecution for the gospel? Therefore, though the Lord suffered Paul and Silas to be scourged and imprisoned by the wicked judges, yet he did not suffer them to be put to any shame, but that which turned to their greater renown. For seeing that those persecutions, which we must suffer for the testimony of the gospel, are remnants of the sufferings of Christ; like as our Prince turned the cross, which was accursed, into a triumphant [triumphal] chariot, so he shall, in like sort, adorn the prisons and gibbets of his, that they may there triumph over Satan and all the wicked.
Renting their garments. Because the old interpreter had truly translated this, it was evil done of Erasmus to change it, that the magistrates did rent their own garments. For this was Luke’s meaning only, that the holy men were outrageously F1064 beaten, the lawful order of judgment being neglected, and that they laid hands on them with such violence that their garments were rent. And this had been too far disagreeing with the custom of Romans, for the judges to cut [rend] their own garments publicly in the market-place; especially seeing the question was concerning an unknown religion, for which they did not greatly care; but I will not long stand about a plain matter.
23. And when they had given them many stripes, they did cast them into prison, commanding the keeper of the prison to keep them safe; 24. Who, seeing he had received such commandments, did put them in the inner prison, and made fast their feet in the stocks. 25. And at midnight Paul and Silas praying, did praise God; and those which lay bound heard them. 26. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and by and by all the doors were opened, and all their hands [chains] were loosed. 27. And when the keeper of the prison awaked, and saw all the prison doors open, drawing out his sword, he was about to slay himself, thinking that those which lay bound were fled. 28. And Paul cried with a loud voice, Do thyself no harm: for we be all here.
23. That he should keep them safe. Whereas the magistrates command that Paul and Silas should be kept so diligently, it was done to this end, that they might know more of the matter. For they had already beaten them with rods to appease the tumult. And this is that which I said of late, that the world doth rage with such blind fury against the ministers of the gospel, that it doth keep no mean in severity. But as it is very profitable for us, for example’s sake, to know how uncourteously and uncomely the witnesses of Christ were entertained in times past; so it is no less profitable to know that which Luke addeth immediately concerning their fortitude and patience. For even when they lay bound with fetters, he saith that in prayer they lauded God, whereby it appeareth that neither the reproach with they suffered, nor the stripes which made their flesh smarter, nor the stink of the deep dungeon, nor the danger of death, which was hard at hand, could hinder them from giving thanks to the Lord joyfully and with glad hearts.
We must note this general rule, that we cannot pray as we ought, but we must also praise God. For though the desire to pray arise of the feeling of our want and miseries, and therefore it is, for the most part, joined with sorrow and carefulness; F1065 yet the faithful must so bridle their affections, that they murmur not against God; so that the right form of prayer doth join two affections together, (to look too contrary,) [viz.] carefulness and sorrow, by reason of the present necessity which doth keep us down, and joyfulness, by reason of the obedience whereby we submit ourselve to God, and by reason of the hope which, showing us the haven high at hand, doth refresh us even in the midst of shipwreck. Such a form doth Paul prescribe to us. Let your prayers (saith he) be made known to God with thanksgiving, (<500406>Philippians 4:6.) But in this history we must note the circumstances. For though the pain of the stripes were grievous, though the prison were troublesome, though the danger were great, seeing that Paul and Silas cease not to praise God, we gather by this how greatly they were encouraged to bear the cross. So Luke reported before that the apostles rejoiced, because they were counted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of the Lord, (<440541>Acts 5:41.)
And those which lay bound. We must know that Paul and Silas prayed aloud, that they might make the boldness of a good conscience known to others who were shut up in the same prison; for they might have made their prayer with secret groaning and sighing of heart as they were wont, or they might have prayed unto the Lord quietly and softly. Why do they then exalt their voice? Assuredly, they do not that for any ambition; but that they may profess, that, trusting to the goodness of their cause, they fly without fear unto God. Therefore, in their prayers was included a confession of faith, which did appertain unto a common example, and prepared as well the malefactor’s as the jailer’s house to consider the miracle.
26.There was an earthquake. The Lord, in showing this visible sign, meant chiefly to provide for his servants, that they might more manifestly know that they prayers were heard; yet he had respect also of the rest. He could have loosed the fetters of Paul and Silas without an earthquake, and also have opened the gates. But that addition served not a little to confirm them, seeing that the Lord, for their sakes, did shake both the air and also the earth. Again, it was requisite that the keeper of the prison and the rest should feel the presence of God, lest they should think that the miracle came by chance. Neither is it to be doubted, but that the Lord did then show a token of his power, which should be profitable for all ages; so that the faithful may fully assure themselves that he will be nigh unto them so often as they are to enter F1066 combats and dangers for the defense of the gospel. Nevertheless, he doth neither always keep the same course, to testify his presence by manifest signs; neither is it lawful for us to prescribe him a law. For he did help his by manifest miracles then for this cause, that we may be content with his hidden grace at this day; concerning which matter we have spoken more upon the second chapter.
27.When the keeper of the prison was awaked. He would have slain himself that he might prevent punishment; for it had been a foolish answer to have said that the doors were opened of their own accord. But this question may be asked, Seeing that Paul seeth that they might have some hope to escape if he should slay himself, why doth he hinder him? for he seemeth by this means to refuse the deliverance which was offered by God; yea, it seemeth to have been a mere toy, F1067 in that the Lord would have the jailer awaked, lest there should be any use F1068 of the miracle. I answer, that we must in this place have respect unto his counsel and purpose. For he did not loose Paul and Silas, and the rest, from their fetters, neither did he, therefore, open the doors, that he might straightway let them go free; but that, by showing the power of his hand, he might seal up the faith of Paul and Silas, and might make the name of Christ glorious among others. Therefore, he doth so yield to the petitions of Paul and Silas, that he showeth that he is able enough to deliver them so often as he shall think it good; and that nothing can hinder him, but that he is able to enter not only into prisons, but also into graves, that he may deliver those that be his. F1069 He opened the gates of the prison to Peter to another end, as we saw in chapter twelve. But now, forasmuch as he had another way in readiness to deliver Paul and Silas, he meant not so much to deliver them for the present time by miracle, as to confirm them against the time to come. Again, we must call that to mind which I said of late, that the opening of the prison appertained unto others, that it might be known to many witnesses that God did favor the doctrine, which was now burthened with an unjust prejudice. Undoubtedly, Paul perceived this; and therefore, though his hands were loosed, he did not once wag from his place. F1070 He might have gone away, if he had been so disposed. Why doth he not? Was it because he contemned the grace of God? or because, through his slothfulness, he will make the miracle frustrate? None of all these is probable; whence we gather that he was holden by God, as the Lord useth to direct the minds of those which be his in doubtful matters, that they may follow sometimes ignorantly, sometimes wittingly, that which is expedient to be done, and not pass their bounds.
29. And calling for a light he sprang in, and, trembling, he fell down at the feet of Paul and Silas. 30. And when he had brought them forth, he saith, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31. And they said, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy household. 32. And they spake to him the word, and to all that were in his house. 33. And taking them at the same hour of the night, he washed their stripes; and was himself baptized, and all his household, forthwith. 34. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them; and he rejoiced that he and all his whole house believed in God.
29. Being astonished, he fell down. This keeper was no less brought under with fear to show obedience to God than with the miracle prepared. F1071 Hereby it appeareth what a good thing it is for men to be thrown down from their pride, that they may learn to submit themselves to God. He was hardened in his superstitions; therefore, he might with a lofty stomach F1072 have despised whatsoever Paul and Silas should have said, whom he had reproachfully F1073 thrust into the innermost part of the prison. Now, fear maketh him apt to be taught and gentle. Therefore, so often as the Lord shall strike us or cast us down, F1074 let us know that this is done that we may be brought in [to] order from our too much haughtiness.
But it is a wonder that he was not reproved for falling down at their feet. For why did Paul wink at that which (as Luke recordeth) Peter would not suffer in Cornelius? (<441026>Acts 10:26.) I answer, that Paul doth therefore bear with the keeper, because he knoweth that he was not moved with superstition, but with fear of God’s judgment so to humble himself. It was a kind of worship common enough; but chiefly among the Romans it was a solemn thing when they would humbly crave any thing, or crave pardon, they fell down at their knees to whom they put their supplication. Therefore, there was no cause why Paul should be displeased with a man whom he saw simply humbled of God. For if there had been any thing committed contrary to the glory of God, he had not forgotten that zeal which he showed before among the men of Lycaonia. Therefore, by his silence, we gather that in this kind of worship there was nothing contrary to godliness or the glory of God.
30. Sirs, what must I do? He doth so ask counsel, that he showeth therewith that he will be obedient. By this we see that he was thoroughly F1075 touched, so that he was ready to do what they should command him, whom not many hours before he had bound uncourteously. The wicked oftentimes when they see wonders, though they tremble for a time, yet are they straightway made more obstinate, as it befell Pharaoh, (<020808>Exodus 8:8, 32;) at least they are not so tamed that they give over themselves to God. But in this place the keeper (acknowledging the power of God) was not only a little afraid, so that he returned straightway unto his former cruelty, but he showeth himself obedient to God, and desirous of sound and wholesome doctrine. He demandeth how he may obtain salvation; whereby it appeareth more plainly that he was not suddenly taken with some light F1076 fear of God only, but truly humbled to offer himself to be a scholar to his ministers. He knew that they were cast in prison for no other cause, save only because they did overthrow the common estate of religion. Now he is ready to hear their doctrine which he had before contemned.
31.Believe in the Lord Jesus. This is but a short, and, to look to, a cold and hungry definition of salvation, and yet it is perfect to believe in Christ. For Christ alone hath all the parts of blessedness and eternal life included in him, which he offereth to us by the gospel; and by faith we receive them, as I have declared, (<441509>Acts 15:9.) And here we must note two things; first, that Christ is the mark F1077 whereat faith must aim; and, therefore, men’s minds do nothing else but wander when they turn aside from him. Therefore, no marvel if all the divinity of Popery be nothing else but an huge lump F1078 and horrible labyrinth; because, neglecting Christ, they flatter themselves in vain and frivolous speculations. Secondly, we must note, that after we have embraced Christ by faith, that alone is sufficient to salvation. But the latter member, which Luke addeth by and by, doth better express the nature of faith, Paul and Silas command the keeper of the prison to believe in the Son of God. Do they precisely stay in this voice [word] only? Yea, it followeth in Luke, in the text, [context,] that they preached the word of the Lord. Therefore, we see how the faith is not a light or dry opinion concerning unknown things, but a plain and distinct knowledge of Christ conceived out of the gospel. Again, if the preaching of the gospel be absent, there shall no faith remain any longer. To conclude, Luke coupleth faith with preaching and doctrine; and after that he hath briefly spoke of faith, he doth, by way of exposition, show the true and lawful way of believing. Therefore, instead of that invention of entangled faith, whereof the Papists babble, let us hold faith unfolded in the word of God, that it may unfold to us the power of Christ.