15. Men, why do ye those things?They begin with a reprehension, as the matter did require; that done, they show to what end they were sent. Afterward they preach concerning the only God, and show that he was unknown to the world. Lastly, that they may more strongly pluck out of their hearts the deceits and sleights of the devil, they teach that this ignorance was without excuse. Therefore the first part of the sermon is a reprehension, wherein the men of Lystra are condemned for worshipping mortal men preposterously instead of God. Though the reason which they allege seemeth to be cold. For it were an easy matter to gather thence, that it is not unlawful to worship those who are delivered from human miseries by death. By this means all the superstitions of the Gentiles should stand untouched, which were wont to count none gods but those who were dead. With the same color also have the Papists colored their idolatry, who worship rather the dead men’s bones, stones and wood, than living men in whose nostrils is breath. F886 I answer, that Paul and Barnabas drew this argument from the matter which was now in hand, We be miserable men; therefore you do falsely and filthily imagine us to be gods, and worship us as gods. If idolatry be handled generally, this shall be a perpetual reason to condemn it, and shall alone be sufficient enough, that the perfect and whole worship of godliness is due to God alone, and that therefore it is profaned, so soon as it is in any point given to creatures, whether they be angels, or men, or stars. But occasion shall oftentimes be offered, that many things may be spoken against one kind of idolatry, which do not appertain unto another, (neither are agreeable to the same;) and yet shall they be of no small force for the matter which is in hand, as Paul and Barnabas, by confessing that they be mortal men, subject to diverse calamities, had a fit reason to reprove the fury and madness of the people.
We preach to you.An argument drawn from contraries. For here they show that the end of their coming was quite contrary; to wit, that they might remove superstitions, which had hitherto reigned. For it is all one as if they had said, Doth the miracle move you? Then give credence to our words. And the sum of our embassage is, that all reigned godheads wherewith the world hath hitherto been deceived may be done away and perish. And this is a general doctrine, whereby they do not only appease the present madness, but also reprehend all manner [of] superstitions, and whatsoever was contrary to, or disagreeing with, the rule of godliness. For without doubt they call all that vain which men have invented to themselves of their own brain. And we must mark this definition, that all religion is vain which departeth and degenerateth from the pure and simple Word of God. There is no express mention made indeed of the Word, because they spake to the Gentiles. But because God is no otherwise rightly worshipped than according to his appointment, it followeth out of Paul’s words, that so soon as men depart from that worship which God hath commanded and doth allow, [approve,] they are wearied foolishly and vainly with a vain and unprofitable labor. For that religion wherein God hath not the preeminence is nothing worth, neither hath it any truth or soundness.
And this was the cause that sincere and perfect godliness was never found, neither did it ever flourish in the more part of the world. For they stood only about the removing of the old idolatry; and the other thing was in the mean season foreslowed, [neglected,] to bring men unto the true God alone, after that they had forsaken idols. They turned, indeed, the name of an idol sometimes into the name of God, but under that color they did nevertheless cherish the old errors, which they should have endeavored to redress. So the priests of France begat the single life of great Cybele. F887 Nuns came in place of the vestal virgins. The church of All Saints succeeded Pantheon, (or the church of All Gods; F888) against ceremonies were set ceremonies not much unlike. At length came in the multitude of gods, who they thought would be lawful and tolerable if they had once decked [masked] them with the titles of saints. Corruptions are not by this means purged, neither are the stables, both profane and full of filth, turned into the temple of God; but the name of God is mixed with profane pollutions, and God himself is brought into a filthy stall. Wherefore, let us remember that the apostles did not only employ themselves to overthrow idolatry which had long time reigned in former ages, but did also take great heed that pure religion might reign afterward, having put all corruptions to flight.
Who hath made heaven and earth. We know that the order of teaching doth require that we begin with things which are better known. Seeing that Paul and Barnabas spake to the Gentiles, they should have in vain essayed to bring them F889 unto Christ. Therefore, it was expedient for them to begin with some other point, which was not so far separate from common sense, [perception,] that after that was confessed they might afterward pass over unto Christ. The minds of the men of Lystra were possessed with that error, that there be more gods than one. Paul and Barnabas show, on the contrary, that there is but one Creator of the world. After that that reigned number and multitude of the gods was taken away, there was passage now made unto the second member, that they might teach what that God was who was the Creator of heaven and earth. The case standeth otherwise at this day between us and the Papists; they confess that there is but one God, and they admit the Scripture. Therefore, it remaineth that we prove to them out of the Scripture what God is, and after what sort he will be worshipped of men.
16.In times past.Because the men of Lystra might object that that God was unknown hitherto, Paul and Barnabas prevent them and say, that all men wandered indeed in darkness, and that all mankind was stricken with blindness, but that they deny that any prejudice must be made F890 according to the perverse ignorance of the world. These were two no small lets for the unbelievers, long antiquity of time, and the consent almost of all nations. Paul and Barnabas remove both in this place, If, say they, men have erred many years, [ages,] and if the world have wandered without reason and judgment, let not, therefore, the truth of God, when it appeareth, be less precious to you. For seeing that it is eternal, and is not changed, it is an unmeet thing that the long prescription of years should be set against it. They prove that there is no more aid or patronage to be found in the number of men. There is no cause (say they) why the conspiracy of all the whole world should keep you from coming to the right way. Blindness hath got the upper hand among all people; but God doth now (appear and) give light to you. Therefore, your eyes must be open, and you must not slumber and sleep in darkness, though all people have been drowned therein hitherto.
Their ways.If he had only said that men were deceived until that time through God’s sufferance, we might easily gather thereby that all men can do nothing else but err, so long as they be not governed of God. Yet he speaketh far more plainly when he calleth errors the ways of men. For we are plainly taught by this what the wisdom and understanding of man’s mind can do in beholding and keeping the way of salvation. All people [nations] (saith he) have walked in their own ways; that is, they have wandered in darkness and death. It is all one as if he should say, that there is no sparkle of true reason in all the whole world.
Therefore, there is but one rule of true godliness, that is, that the faithful, casting from them all confidence in their own wit, do submit themselves to God. For the ways of men are now as they were in times past; and the examples of all times teach how miserably blind those men be who have not the word of God to give them light, though they think they can pass other men in quickness of sight. Immediately after the beginning of the world, the more part fell away unto diverse superstitions and wicked worshippings. Whence came that, save only because it pleased them to follow their own imaginations? When it might have seemed that the world was purged with the flood, it fell again [relapsed] straightway to the same vices. Therefore, there is nothing more deadly than to lean to our own wisdom.
But Paul and Barnabas show no cause here why the Lord suffered the world to err so long; and assuredly we must count the will of God alone the chiefest law of equity. God hath always a good reason for his worlds; but because it is oftentimes hid from us, it is our duty reverently to wonder at his secret counsel. We must, indeed, confess that the world was worthy of [deserved] such destruction; but there can no other reason be brought why the Lord had mercy rather on one age than on another, save only because it seemed good to him that it should be so. Therefore, Paul calleth that time which was appointed of God for preaching the gospel, the time of fullness, (<480404>Galatians 4:4,) lest any other opportunity be sought. And we must remember that which we had in the first chapter, that it is not for us to know the times and seasonswhich the Father hath placed in his own power. So that the cavil of the Papists is refuted, who say that it cannot be that God suffered his Church to err so long. For whence,I pray you, came the Gentiles but from the ark of Noah, when there was a certain singular purity of the Church? (<010909>Genesis 9:9.) Also, the posterity of holy Shem, together with others, did degenerate. Yea, Israel, the peculiar people of the Lord, was also left for a long time. Wherefore, it is no marvel if God did punish the contempt of his word with the same blindness under the reign of his Son as he did in times past.
17. Notwithstanding, he did not suffer himself to be without witness.Paul and Barnabas take from the Gentiles in this place the cloak [pretext] of ignorance. For how greatly soever men please themselves in their own inventions, being at length convicted of error, they fly unto this fortress, [asylums] that they ought to bear no blame; F891 but that God was rather cruel, who did not vouchsafe so much as. with one hiss to call those back whom he saw perish, [perishing.] Paul and Barnabas cut off F892 this frivolous objection, when they show that God lay hid in such sort, that he [still] bare witness of himself and his divinity. Notwithstanding, we must see how these two things can hang together; for if God bare witness of himself, he did not suffer (so much as in him lay)the world to err. I answer, that this kind of testimony, whereof mention is made, was such as that it made men without excuse, and yet was it not sufficient to salvation. For that of the apostle is true, that by faith it is understood that the worlds were ordained by the word of God, (<581103>Hebrews 11:3.) But faith is not conceived by the bare beholding of the heaven and earth, but by the hearing of the word. Whereupon it followeth, that men are brought by the direction of the word alone unto that knowledge of Almighty God which bringeth salvation. And yet this letteth not but that they may be made without excuse, even without the word, who, though they be naturally deprived of light, are blind notwithstanding, through their own malice, as Paul teacheth in the first chapter to the Romans.
Giving rain and fruitful seasons.God hath, indeed, revealed himself to all mankind by his word since [from] the beginning. But Paul and Barnabas show that there was no age on which God did not bestow benefits, which might testify that the world is governed by his government (and commandment;) and because the light of doctrine had been buried long thee, therefore they say only, that God was showed by natural arguments, [evidences.] And it is to be thought that they did, in such sort, set forth the magnificence and greatness of the works of God as became them; but it was sufficient for Luke to touch the (sums and) chief points of matters. Neither do I so understand it, that they intreated subtlety, and after the manner of the philosophers,of the secrets of nature, for they spake unto an unlearned multitude; therefore it behooved them to set that before them plainly which the most ignorant did know. Notwithstanding they take this principle, that in the order of nature there is a certain and evident manifestation of God, in that the earth is watered with rain; in that the heat of the sun doth comfort it; F893 in that there cometh such abundance of fruit out of the same yearly, it is thereby gathered for a surety, that there is some God who governeth all things. For even the heaven and earth are not moved or governed by their own motion, and much less by fortune. Therefore it remaineth, that this wonderful workmanship of nature doth manifestly show the providence of God; and those who said that the world was eternal spake not as they thought, but they went about by malicious and barbarous unthankfulness [ingratitude] to suppress the glory of God, wherein they betrayed their impudence.
Filling with meat and gladness.The ungodliness of men is more convict in that, if they knew not God, because he cloth not only set before their eyes testimonies of his glory in his works, but doth also appoint all things for their use. For why doth the sun and stars shine in the heavens, save only that they may serve men? Why doth the rain fall from heaven? Why doth the earth bring forth her increase, save only that they may minister food to men? Therefore, God hath not set man upon earth that he may be an idle beholder of his work, as being set upon a theater, but to exercise himself in praising the liberality of God, whilst that he enjoyeth the riches of heaven and earth. And now, is it not more than filthy forwardness [depravity] not to be moved with so great goodness of God in the manifold abundance of things? To fill the hearts with meat, doth signify nothing else but to give food which may satisfy the desires of men. By this word gladness,Paul and Barnabas do mean that God doth give more to men, according to his infinite goodness, than their necessity doth require; as if it had been said, that men have meat given them not only to refresh their strength, but also to make their hearts merry.
If any man do object that it falleth out so oftentimes that men do rather mourn, being hungry, then rejoice, being full; I answer, that that cometh to pass contrary to the order of nature; namely, when the Lord shutteth his hand because of the sins of men. For the liberality of God should flow unto us abundantly of his [its] own accord, as it is here described by Paul and Barnabas, unless it were kept back by the lets of our vices. And yet there was never so great barrenness wherein the blessing of God in feeding men did quite wither away. It was, indeed, well said of the prophet, Open thy mouth, and I will fill it, (<198110>Psalm 81:10,) that we may know that we be hungry through our own fault, whilst that we do not admit the goodness of God. But how unworthy soever we be and straight, F894 yet the fatherly love of God breaketh through even unto the unworthy. Especially the generality of mankind doth testify that the benefits of God do never cease, wherein he appeareth to be our Father.
18.When they had said thus.Luke said before that they did not only use words, but they ran also with violence into the multitude. F895 Now he addeth, that the fury of the people was scarce appeased F896 with that vehemency, whereby appeareth how mad and untamed the heat of the world is toward idolatry. For if they believe the [them] gods, why do they not believe their word, whereby they put from them false honor? But all idolaters are sick of this disease, that they are oftentimes ready to shake off the yoke, unless religion be subject to their will and pleasure. Wherefore, no marvel if the prophets say oftentimes that men are carried into the blind affection of superstitions, even as brute beasts are carried into their lust.
19. And there came from Antioch and Iconium Jews, by whom the multitudes were persuaded, and when they had stoned Paul, they cast him out without the city, thinking that he was dead. 20. And as the disciples stood about him, he arose and entered into the city: and on the morrow he went forth with Barnabas to Derbe. 21. And when they had preached the gospel to this city, and had framed malay disciples, they returned to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, 22. Strengthening the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many afflictions we must enter into the kingdom of heaven.