23. To the unknown God. I can well grant that this altar was dedicated to all strange gods; yet I cannot yield to that which Jerome saith, that Paul did, by a certain holy wiliness, attribute that to one God which was written of many. For seeing the superscription [inscription] was common in every man’s mouth, there was no place for subtilty, [craft;] why did he then change the plural number? Surely, not that he might deceive the men of Athens, but because the matter did so require, he said, that he brought doctrine concerning an unknown god. And after he hath showed that they are deceived, because they knew not what god thee ought to worship, and had no certain godhood in a great leap of gods, he doth now insinuate himself, and doth purchase favor for his doctrine. Because it was an unjust thing to reject that which was uttered concerning a new god, to whom they had already given over themselves; and it was far better first to know him, than rashly to worship him whom they knew not. Thus doth Paul return again to that principle, that God cannot be worshipped rightly unless he be first made known.
But here may a question be moved: how he saith that God was worshipped at Athens, who doth refuse all worshippings which are not agreeable to the prescript of his law, yea, he pronounceth that all that is idolatry which men invent without his Word? If God allow no worship but that which is agreeable to his Word, how doth Paul give this praise to men, who did dote without measure that they worshipped God? For Christ, in condemning the Samaritans, is content F1146with this one principle, in that they worship God without knowledge, (<430422>John 4:22;) and yet they did boast that they worshipped the God of Abraham. Then, what shall we say of the men of Athens, who, having buried and quite put out the remembrance of the true God, had put in place of him Jupiter, Mercury, Pallas, and all that filthy rabble? I answer, that Paul doth not in the place commend that which the men of Athens had done; but taketh from their affection, though it were corrupt, free matter for teaching.
24. God, who hath made the world. Paul’s drift is to teach what God is. Furthermore, because he hath to deal with profane men, he draweth proofs from nature itself; for in vain should he have cited F1147 testimonies of Scripture. I said that this was the holy man’s purpose, to bring the men of Athens unto the true God. For they were persuaded that there was some divinity; only their preposterous religion was to be reformed. Whence we gather, that the world doth go astray through bending crooks and boughts, yea, that it is in a mere labyrinth, so long as there remaineth a confused opinion concerning the nature of God. For this is the true rule of godliness, distinctly and plainly to know who that God whom we worship is. If any man will intreat generally of religion, this must be the first point, that there is some divine power or godhead which men ought to worship. But because that was out of question, Paul descendeth unto the second point, that true God must be distinguished from all vain inventions. So that he beginneth with the definition of God, that he may thence prove how he ought to be worshipped; because the one dependeth upon the other. For whence came so many false worshippings, and such rashness to increase the same oftentimes, save only because all men forged to themselves a God at their pleasure? And nothing is more easy than to corrupt the pure worship of God, when men esteem God after their sense and wit.
Wherefore, there is nothing more fit to destroy all corrupt worshippings, than to make this beginning, and to show of what sort the nature of God is. Also our Savior Christ reasoneth thus, <430424>John 4:24, “God is a Spirit.” Therefore he alloweth no other worshippers but such as worship him spiritually. And surely he doth not subtilely dispute of the secret substance [essence] of God; but by his works he declareth which is the profitable knowledge of him. And what doth Paul gather thence, because God is the creator, framer, and Lord of the world? to wit, that he dwelleth not in temples made with hands. For, seeing that it appeareth plainly by the creation of the world, that the righteousness, wisdom, goodness, and power of God doth reach beyond the bounds of heaven and earth; it followeth, that he can be included and shut up within no space of place.
Notwithstanding this demonstration seemeth to have been in vain, because they might readily have said, that images and pictures were placed in temples to testify God’s presence; and that none was so gross but that he knew that God did fulfill [fill] all things. I answer, that that is true which I said a little before, that idolatry is contrary to itself. The unbelievers said, that they worshipped the gods before their images; but unless they had tied the Godhead and power of God to images, and had hoped F1148 to be holpen thereby, would they have directed their prayers thither? Hereby it came also to pass, that one temple was more holy than another. They ran to Delphos that they might fet [fetch] the oracles of Apollo thence. Minerva had her seat and mansion at Athens. Now we see that Paul doth touch that false opinion, whereby men have always been deceived; because they feigned to themselves a carnal God.
This is the first entrance into the true knowledge of God, if we go without ourselves, and do not measure him by the capacity of our mind; yea, if we imagine nothing of him according to the understanding of our flesh, F1149 but place him above the world, and distinguish him from creatures. From which sobriety the whole world was always far; because this wickedness is in men, naturally to deform God’s glory with their inventions. For as they be carnal and earthy, they will have one that shall be answerable to their nature. Secondly, after their boldness they fashion him so as they may comprehend him. By such inventions is the sincere and plain knowledge of God corrupt; yea, his truth, as saith Paul, is turned into a lie, (<450125>Romans 1:25.) For whosoever doth not ascend high above the world, he apprehendeth vain shadows and ghosts instead of God. Again, unless we be carried up into heaven with the wings of faith, we must needs vanish away in our own cogitations. And no marvel if the Gentiles were so grossly deluded and deceived, to include God in the elements of the world, after that they had pulled him out of his heavenly throne; seeing that the same befell the Jews, to whom notwithstanding the Lord had showed his spiritual glory. For it is not without cause that Isaiah doth chide them for including God within the walls of the temple, (<236601>Isaiah 66:1.) And we gather out of Stephen’s sermon, that this vice was common to all ages; which sermon is set down by Luke in the 7th chapter and 49th verse.
If any man asked the Jews whose grossness the Holy Ghost reproveth, if they thought that God was included in their temple, they would stoutly have denied that they were in any such gross error. But because they did only behold the temple, and did rise no higher in their minds, and trusting the temple, and did boast that God was as it were bound to them, the Spirit doth for good causes reprehend them, for tying him to the temple as If he were a mortal man. For this is true which I said even now, that superstition is contrary to itself, and that it doth vanish away into divers imaginations. Neither have the Papists at this day any defense, saying that wherewith their errors after a sort. In some, superstition doth feign that God dwelleth in temples made with hands, not that it will shut him up as it were in a prison; F1150 but because it doth dream of a carnal (or fleshly) God, and doth attribute a certain power to idols, and doth translate the glory of God unto external shows.
But if God do not dwell in temples made with hands, (<121915>2 Kings 19:15,) why doth he testify in so many places of Scripture, that he sitteth between the cherubims, and that the temple is his eternal rest? (<198001>Psalm 80:1; 132:14.) I answer, As he was not tied to any place, so he meant nothing less than to tie his people to earthly signs, but rather he cometh down to them that he might lift them up unto himself. Therefore, those men did wickedly abuse the temple and the ark, who did so behold those things that they stayed still upon the earth, and did depart from the spiritual worship of God. Hereby we see that there was great difference between those tokens of God’s presence which men invented to themselves unadvisedly, and those which were ordained by God, because men do always incline downward, that they may lay hold upon [apprehend] God after a carnal manner; but God by the leading of his word doth lift them upward. Only he useth middle signs and tokens, whereby he doth insinuate himself with slow men, F1151 until they may ascend into heaven by degrees (and steps.)
25. Neither is he worshipped with man’s hands.The same question which was answered of late concerning the temple, may now be objected touching ceremonies. For it seemeth that that may be translated unto the worshippings of the law of Moses, which Paul condemneth in the ceremonies of the Gentiles. But we may readily answer, that the faithful did never properly place the worship of God in ceremonies; but they did only count them helps wherewith they might exercise themselves according to their infirmity. When they did slay beasts, offered bread and drink offerings, light torches and other lights, they knew that godliness was not placed in these things, but being holpen by these, F1152 they did always look unto the spiritual worship of God, and they made account of it alone. And God himself saith plainly in many places, that he doth not pass for any external or visible thing, that ceremonies are of themselves of no importance, and that he is worshipped no otherwise but by faith, a pure conscience, by prayer and thankfulness. What did the Gentiles then? to wit, when they erected images, they offered incense, they set forth plays, and laid their cushions before their idols, they thought they had fulfilled the offices of godliness excellent well. Not only the philosophers, but also the poets, do sometimes deride the folly of the common people, because they did disorderly place the worship of God in the pomp and gorgeousness of ceremonies. That I may omit infinite testimonies, that of Persius is well known:
“Tell me, ye priests to sacred rites, what profit gold doth bring? The same which Venus’ puppets fine, certes no other thing. Why give not we to gods that which the blear-eyed issue could Of great Messiah never give from out their dish of gold? Right justly deem’d a conscience clear, and heavenly thoughts of mind, A breast with mildness such adorn’d, as virtue hath assign’d, Let me in temples offer these, Then sacrifice the gods shall please.”
And, undoubtedly, the Lord caused profane men to utter such speeches, that they might take away all color of ignorance. But it doth plainly appear, that those who spake thus did straightway slide back again unto common madness; yea, that they did never thoroughly understand what this meant. For though those who pass the common people in wit be enforced to confess that bare ceremonies are in no estimation, yet it is impossible to pull from them this persuasion, but that they will think that they be a part of the divine worship. Therefore, the more diligently they give themselves to such vanities, they do not doubt but that they do the duties of godliness well. Therefore, because all mortal men, from the highest to the lowest, do think that God is pacified with external things, and they will, with their own works, fulfill their duty towards him, that doth Paul refute. There is also a reason added, because, seeing he is Lord of heaven and earth, he needeth nothing, because, seeing that he giveth bread and life to men, he can receive nothing of them again. For what can they bring of their own, who, being destitute of all good things, have nothing but of his free goodness, yea, who are nothing but by his mere grace, who shall forthwith be brought to nought, if he withdraw the Spirit whereby they live? Whereupon it followeth, that they are not only dull, but too proud, if they thrust in themselves to worship God with the works of their own hands.
For whereas he saith, that alms and the duties of love are sweet-smelling sacrifices, that must be distinguished from the matter which we have now in hand, where Paul doth only intreat of the ceremonies which the unbelievers put in place of the spiritual worship of God. By life and breath is mean the life which men live so long as the soul and body are joined together. Touching the end of the sentence, though some Greek books F1153 agree in this reading, [kata panta], “through all things;” yet that seemeth to me more agreeable which the old interpreter hath, [kata panta], “and all things,” because it is both plainer, and doth also contain a more perfect and full doctrine. For thence we do better gather that men have nothing of their own; and also certain Greek copies agree thereto.
26. And hath made of one blood all mankind to dwell upon all the face of the earth, and hath appointed the times before determined, and the bounds of their habitation. 27. That they might seek God, if peradventure they may grope [after] him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us. 28. For in him we live, move, and have our being; as certain of your poets said, For we be also his generation. 29. Therefore, seeing we be the generation of God, we must not think that the Godhead is like to gold, or silver, or to stone, graven by the cunning cogitation of man.
26. And he hath made of one blood.Paul doth now show unto the men of Athens to what end mankind was created, that he may by this means invite and exhort them to consider the end of their life. This is surely filthy unthankfulness of men, seeing they all enjoy the common life, not to consider to what end God hath given them life; and yet this beastly blockishness doth possess the more part, so that do not consider to what end they be placed in the world, neither do they remember the Creator of heaven and earth, whose good things they do devour. Therefore, after that Paul hath intreated of the nature of God, he putteth in this admonition in due season, that men must be very careful to know God, because they be created for the same end, and born for that purpose; for he doth briefly assign unto them this cause of life, to seek God. Again, forasmuch as there was not one kind of religion only in the world, but the Gentiles were distract into divers sects, he telleth them that this variety came from corruption. For to this end, in my judgment, tendeth that when he saith, that all were created of one blood. For consanguinity and the same original ought to have been a bond of mutual consent among them; but it is religion which doth most of all join men together, or cause them to fly one another’s company. Whereupon it followeth, that they be revolted from nature who disagree so much in religion and the worship of God; because, wheresoever they be born, and whatsoever place [clime] of the world they inhabit, they have all one Maker and Father, who must be sought of all men with one consent. And surely neither distance of places, nor bounds of countries, nor diversity of manners, neither any cause of separation among men, doth make God unlike to himself. In sum, he meant to teach that the order of nature was broken, when as religion was pulled in pieces among them, and that that diversity, which is among them, is a testimony that godliness is quite overthrown, because they are fallen away from God the Father of all, upon whom all kindred dependeth.
To dwell upon the face of the earth.Luke doth briefly gather, as he useth to do, the sum of Paul’s sermon; and it is not to be doubted, but that Paul did first show that men are set here as upon a theater, to behold the works of God; and, secondly, that he spake of the providence of God, which doth show forth itself in the whole government of the world. For when he saith, that God appointeth the times ordained before, and the bounds of men’s habitations, his meaning is, that this world is governed by his hand and counsel, and that men’s affairs fall not out by chance, as profane men dream. And so we gather out of a few words of Luke, that Paul did handle most weighty matters. For when he saith that the times were ordained before by him, he doth testify that he had determined, before men were created, what their condition and estate should be. When we see divers changes in the world; when we see realms come to ruin, lands altered, cities destroyed, nations laid waste, we foolishly imagine that either fate or fortune beareth the swing in these matters; but God doth testify in this place by the mouth of Paul, that it was appointed before in his counsel how long he would have the state of every people to continue, and within what bounds he would have them contained. But and if he have appointed them a certain time and appointed the bounds of countries, undoubtedly he hath also set in order the whole course of their life.
And we must note, that Paul doth attribute to God not only a bare foreknowledge and cold speculation, as some men do indiscreetly, but he placeth the cause of those things which fall out, in his counsel and beck. For he saith not that the times were only foreseen, but that they were appointed and set in such order as pleased him best. And when he addeth also that God had appointed from the beginning those things which he had ordained before his meaning is, that he executeth by the power of his Spirit those things which he hath decreed in his counsel according to that:
“Our God is in heaven; he hath done whatsoever he would,”
Now, we see, as in a camp, every troop and band hath his appointed place, so men are placed upon earth, that every people may be content with their bounds, and that among these people every particular person may have his mansion. But though ambition have, oftentimes raged, and many, being incensed with wicked lust, have past their bounds, yet the lust of men hath never brought to pass, but that God hath governed all events from out of his holy sanctuary. For though men, by raging upon earth, do seem to assault heaven, that they may overthrow God’s providence, yet they are enforced, whether they will or no, rather to establish the same. Therefore, let us know that the world is so turned over through divers tumults, that God doth at length bring all things unto the end which he hath appointed.
27. That they might seek God.This sentence hath two members; to wit, that it is man’s duty to seek God; secondly, that God himself cometh forth to meet us, and doth show himself by such manifest tokens, that we can have no excuse for our ignorance. Therefore, let us remember that those men do wickedly abuse this life, and that they be unworthy to dwell upon earth, which do not apply their studies to seek him; as if every kind of brute beasts should fall from that inclination which they have naturally, which should for good causes be called monstrous. And, surely, nothing is more absurd, than that men should be ignorant of their Author, who are endued with understanding principally for this use. And we must especially note the goodness of God, in that he doth so familiarly insinuate himself, that even the blind may grope after him. For which cause the blindness of men is more shameful and intolerable, who, in so manifest and evident a manifestation, are touched with no feeling of God’s presence. Whithersoever they cast their eyes upward or downward, they must needs light upon lively and also infinite images of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness. For God hath not darkly shadowed his glory in the creation of the world, but he hath everywhere engraven such manifest marks, that even blind men may know them by groping. Whence we gather that men are not only blind but blockish, when, being helped by such excellent testimonies, they profit nothing.
Yet here ariseth a question, whether men can naturally come unto the true and merciful F1154 knowledge of God. For Paul doth give us to understand, that their own sluggishness is the cause that they cannot perceive that God is present; because, though they shut their eyes, yet may they grope after him. I answer, that their ignorance and blockishness is mixed with such frowardness, that being void of right judgment, they pass over without understanding all such signs of God’s glory as appear manifestly both in heaven and earth. Yea, seeing that the true knowledge of God is a singular gift of his, and faith (by which alone he is rightly known) cometh only from the illumination of the Spirit, it followeth that our minds cannot pierce so far, having nature only for our guide. Neither doth Paul intreat in this place of the ability of men, but he doth only show that they be without excuse, when as they be so blind in such clear light, as he saith in the first chapter to the Romans, (<450120>Romans 1:20.) Therefore, though men’s senses fail them in seeking out God, yet have they no cloak for their fault, because, though he offer himself to be handled and groped, they continue, notwithstanding, in a quandary; F1155 concerning which thing we have spoken more in the fourteenth chapter, (<441417>Acts 14:17.)
Though he be not far from every one of us.To the end he may the more touch the frowardness of men, he saith that God is not to be sought through many crooks, neither need we make any long journey to find him; because every man shall find him in himself, if so be that he will take any heed. By which experience we are convicted that our dullness is not without fault, which we had from the fault of Adam. For though no corner of the world be void of the testimony of God’s glory, yet we need not go without ourselves to lay hold upon him. For he doth affect and move every one of us inwardly with his power in such sort, that our blockishness is like to a monster, in that in feeling him we feel him not. In this respect certain of the philosophers called man the little world, [a microcosm;] because he is above all other creatures a token of God’s glory, replenished with infinite miracles.
28. For in him.I grant that the apostles, according to the Hebrew phrase, do oftentimes take this preposition in for per, or by or through; but because this speech, that we live in God, hath greater force, and doth express more, I thought I would not change it; for I do not doubt but that Paul’s meaning is, that we be after a sort contained in God, because he dwelleth in us by his power. And, therefore, God himself doth separate himself from all creatures by this word Jehovah, that we may know that in speaking properly he is alone, and that we have our being in him, inasmuch as by his Spirit he keepeth us in life, and upholdeth us. For the power of the Spirit is spread abroad throughout all parts of the world, that it may preserve them in their state; that he may minister unto the heaven and earth that force and vigor which we see, and motion to all living creatures. Not as brain-sick men do trifle, that all things are full of gods, yea, that stones are gods; but because God doth, by the wonderful power and inspiration of his Spirit, preserve those things which he hath created of nothing. But mention is made in this place properly of men, because Paul said, that they needed not to seek God far, whom they have within them.
Furthermore, forasmuch as the life of man is more excellent than motion, and motion doth excel essence, [mere existence,] Paul putteth that in the highest place which was the chiefest, that he might go down by steps unto essence or being, thus, We have not only no life but in God, but not so much as moving; yea, no being, which is inferior to both. I say that life hath the pre-eminence in men, because they have not only sense and motion as brute beasts have, but they be endued with reason and understanding. Wherefore, the Scripture doth for good causes give that singular gift which God hath given us, a title and commendation by itself. So in John, when mention is made of the creation of all things, it is added apart, not without cause, that life was the light of men, (<430104>John 1:4.)
Now, we see that all those who know not God know not; because they have God present with them not only in the excellent gifts of the mind, but in their very essence; because it belongeth to God alone to be, all other things have their being in him. Also, we learn out of this place that God did not so create the world once that he did afterward depart from his work; but that it standeth by his power, and that the same God is the governor thereof who was the Creator. We must well think upon this continual comforting and strengthening, that we may remember God every minute.
Certain of your poets.He citeth half a verse out of Aratus, not so much for authority’s sake, as that he may make the men of Athens ashamed; for such sayings of the poets came from no other fountain save only from nature and common reason. Neither is it any marvel if Paul, who spake unto men who were infidels and ignorant of true godliness, do use the testimony of a poet, wherein was extant a confession of that knowledge which is naturally engraven in men’s minds. The Papists take another course. For they so lean to the testimonies of men, that they set them against the oracles of God; and they do not only make Jerome, or Ambrose and the residue of the holy fathers, masters of faith, but they will no less tie us to the stinking [vile] answers of their Popes than if God himself should speak. Yea, that which more s, they have not been afraid to give so great authority to Aristotle that the apostles and prophets were silent in their schools rather than he.
Now, that I may return unto this sentence which I have in hand, it is not to be doubted but that Aratus spake of Jupiter; neither doth Paul, in applying that unto the true God, which he spake unskillfully of his Jupiter, wrest it unto a contrary sense. For because men have naturally some perseverance of God, F1156 they draw true principles from that fountain. And though so soon as they begin to think upon God, they vanish away in wicked inventions, and so pure seed doth degenerate into corruptions; yet the first general knowledge of God doth nevertheless remain still in them. After this sort, no man of a sound mind can doubt to apply that unto the true God which we read in Virgil touching the reigned and false joy, that All things are full of joy. Yea, when Virgil meant to express the power of God, through error he put in a wrong name.
As touching the meaning of the words, it may be that Aratus did imagine that there was some parcel of the divinity in men’s minds, as the Manichees did say, that the souls of men are of the nature of God. F1157 So when Virgil saith concerning the world, The Spirit doth nourish within, and the mind being dispersed through all the joints, doth move your whole huge weight, he doth rather play the philosopher, and subtilely dispute after the manner of Plato, than purely mean that the world is supported by the secret inspiration of God. But this invention ought not to have hindered Paul from retaining a true maxim, though it were corrupt with men’s fables, that men are the generation of God, because by the excellency of nature they resemble some divine thing. This is that which the Scripture teacheth, that we are created after the image and similitude of God, (<010127>Genesis 1:27.) The same Scripture teacheth also, in many places, that we be made the sons of God by faith and free adoption when we are engrafted into the body of Christ, and being regenerate by the Spirit, we begin to be new creatures, (<480326>Galatians 3:26.) But as it giveth the same Spirit divers names because of his manifold graces, so no marvel if the word sons be diversely taken. All mortal men are called sons in general, because they draw near to God in mind and understanding; but because the image of God is almost blotted out in them, so that there appear scarce any slender lines, [lineaments,] this name is by good right restrained unto the faithful, who having the Spirit of adoption given them, resemble their heavenly Father in the light of reason, in righteousness and holiness.