31. As they sought to kill him.Assuredly the force of Satan appeareth therein, in that he driveth the people headlong into such rage, that when they have shut the doors of the temple, being not content with mean punishment, they conspire to put Paul to death. We must thus think with ourselves that Satan doth prick forward the enemies of godliness, lest their rage, how cruel and troublesome soever it be, trouble us. On the other side appeareth the wonderful goodness of God, when as he raiseth up the chief captain at a sudden, that he may deliver Paul from death. He himself thought upon no such thing, but he came to appease the tumult which was raised among the people; but the Lord showeth a more evident token of his providence, because Paul’s life was delivered from such present danger without man’s counsel. Thus doth he suffer the faithful not only to labor, but to be almost oppressed, that he may deliver them from death more wonderfully. Luke calleth him the chief captain [tribune] of the band F1347 improperly, seeing every chief captain was set over a thousand, which cloth also appear by the text, where he saith that the chief captain took with him under captains? F1348
32. And when they saw the chief captain.Those whose fury neither the majesty of God, nor yet the reverence of the temple, could once stay, begin to relent when they see a profane man. Whereby it appeareth that they were set on fire rather with barbarous cruelty than zeal. Now, whereas the chief captain bindeth Paul with chains, he declareth thereby sufficiently that he came not to ease him. The unbelievers would attribute this to fortune; but the Spirit hath depainted out unto us the providence of God as in a table [picture] reigning amidst the confused uproars of men. And though this be very hard that this holy minister of God is so shamefully handled, yet the equity of the chief captain is to be commended if he be compared with the Jews. He bindeth him with chains, as if he were some evil-doer, or some wicked person; yet doth he vouchsafe to hear him when he is bound, whom they did beat unmercifully; neither doth he determine to handle him hardly before he knew his ca, use. Yea, this was the best way to mitigate their cruelty, because they thought [hoped] that Paul should be punished immediately.
34.Some cried one thing, and some another.The madness of the raging people doth betray itself on every side. They make horrible outcries, whereof one is contrary to another. Nevertheless, they desire with one consent to have him put to death who was convicted of no offense. In the mean season, we need not doubt but that they were blinded with a color of holy zeal. But the truth of the cause well known maketh men truly zealous, as it maketh them true martyrs of God, but rage betrayeth devilish madness. Whereas mention is made in this place of the camp or fortress, we must know that the soldiers, which were placed to guard the city, had a place which was trenched and fortified on every side, which they might defend as if it were a castle, and from which they might beat back all assaults, if any sedition were raised. For it had not been good for them to have been dispersed here and there in diverse inns, F1349 seeing the people were treacherous, and the city troublesome. And we gather by this that the place was high, because Luke saith, that when they came to the steps, Paul was carried of [by] the soldiers. And whether the soldiers did lift Paul up on high that they might bring him safe to the station or camp, or he was thus tossed with the violence of the crowd, this was no duty [office] of favor. But the greater the cruelty of those which followed him was, God did more plainly declare that he was favorable to his servant in sparing his life, lest if he should have been murdered in the tumult, his death should have wanted due fruit.
37. May I speak unto thee?Paul offered himself to defend his cause, which all the servants of God must do. For we must do our endeavor to make our integrity known to all men, lest through our infamy the name of God be blasphemed. But when the chief captain demandeth whether Paul be not that Egyptian which was a murderer, which a little before had led away a company of men, F1350 let us learn that how modestly and quietly soever the ministers of Christ behave themselves, and howsoever they be void of all fault, yet cannot they escape the reproaches and slanders of the world. Which thing we must note for this cause, that we may acquaint ourselves with rebukes; F1351 and that in well-doing we may be prepared to be evil-spoken of. When he asketh him concerning the Egyptian, he meaneth not Theudas the sorcerer, as some men falsely suppose; of whom Gamaliel made mention before in the fifth chapter, (<440536>Acts 5:36) and of whom Josephus speaketh more in his twentieth of Antiquities. For, besides that we read there that Theudas carried away only four hundred men, and the chief captain reckoneth up in this place four thousand, and saith that they were all murderers, that is more, in that Theudas raised that faction during the reign of Tiberius or Augustus Caesar; whereof remained only an obscure report, because, so soon as a troop of horsemen was sent after them, they were forthwith destroyed.
Notwithstanding, it seemeth to me that Josephus is deceived in that where he saith, first, that Cuspius Fadus was sent by Claudius, and then he addeth, that Theudas was of him overcome, seeing I have before showed that that former insurrection was made at such time as Claudius was but a private man. Though he disagree much with Luke’s narration, even in the number, seeing he saith that there were about thirty thousand made partners in the sedition, unless happily we expound it thus, that, after he was put to flight by Felix, he fled into the wilderness with four thousand. And it had been an absurd thing that the number should be made ten times greater, as also, that a troop, having no skill in war, or being altogether without courage, should have been defamed with the name of murderers. For as Josephus doth witness, that seducer had deceived the simple and credulous common people with false promises, boasting that he was a prophet of God, which would lead the people dry foot through the midst of Jordan.
But the same Josephus putteth the matter out of doubt when he saith, that an Egyptian, a prophet, did gather together a band of men under Felix the president, and did carry them into Mount Olivet, whereof four hundred were slain, two hundred taken, and the residue dispersed. The history was fresh in memory. Again, forasmuch as the author of the sedition was escaped, and the region filled with murderers, F1352 it is not without cause that the chief captain demandeth of Paul, when he seeth all men so hate him, whether he were that Egyptian. Luke recordeth no longer conference had between the chief captain and Paul; yet it is likely, forasmuch as both of them understood the Greek tongue, that they had farther talk. Whereby it came to pass, that so soon as Paul had well purged himself, he had license granted him to speak to the people. For the chief captain would never have suffered a wicked man to make any public speech in a city which was so sore suspected.
1. Men, brethren, and fathers, hear mine excuse which I make now before you. 2. And when they heard that he spake to them in the Hebrew tongue, they kept the more silence: And he said, 3.I truly am a man, a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, and brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. 4. And I persecuted this way unto death, binding and delivering into prison both men and women. 5. As the chief priest doth bear me witness, and all the older of elders, of whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound to Jerusalem, that they might be punished.
Though we may guess by the beginning of this speech what was Paul’s drift, yet because he was interrupted, we know not certainly what he was about to say. The sum of that part which is refitted is this, that forasmuch as he was well and faithfully instructed in the doctrine of the law, he was a godly and religious worshipper of God in the sight of the world. Secondly, that he was an enemy to the gospel of Christ, so that he was counted among the priests one of the principal maintainers and defenders of the law. Thirdly, that he did not change his sect unadvisedly; but that being tamed and convict by an oracle from heaven, he gave his name to Christ. Fourthly, that he did not embrace unknown things, but that God appointed him a faithful teacher, of whom he learned all things perfectly. Lastly, that when he was returned to Jerusalem, and sought to do good to his countrymen, God did not permit him. So that he brought not the doctrine of salvation unto foreign nations without good consideration, or because he hated his own nation, but being commanded by God so to do.
1. Men, brethren, and fathers.It is a wonder that he giveth so great honor yet to the desperate enemies of the gospel, for they had broken all bond of brotherly fellowship, and by oppressing the glory of God, had spoiled themselves of all titles of dignity. But because Paul speaketh in this place as some one of the people, he speaketh so lovingly unto the body itself, and useth towards the heads words honorable without dissembling. And surely because their casting off was not made known as yet, though they were unworthy of any honor, yet it was meet that Paul should reverently acknowledge in them the grace of God’s adoption. Therefore, in that he calleth them brethren and fathers, he doth not so much regard what they have deserved, as into what degree of honor God had exalted them. And all his oration is so framed that he goeth about to satisfy them, freely indeed, and without flattering, yet humbly and meekly. Therefore, let us learn so to reverence and honor men that we impair not God’s right. For which cause the pope’s pride is the more detestable, who, seeing he hath made himself an high priest without the commandment of God and the consent of the Church, doth not only challenge to himself all titles of honor, but also such tyranny, that he goeth about to bring Christ in subjection; as if when God doth exalt men he did resign up his right and authority to them, and did stoop down to them.
2. That he spake Hebrew.This is indeed an usual thing, that when men which speak diverse languages are together, we hear those more willingly who speak our own language; but the Jews were moved with another peculiar cause, because they imagined that Paul was offended F1353 with his own kindred, so that he did even hate their tongue, or that he was some rogue which had not so much as learned the speech of that nation whereof he said he came. Now, so soon as they heard their own language, they began to have some better hope. Furthermore, it is uncertain whether Paul spake in the Hebrew or in the Syrian tongue; for we know that the speech of the Jews was corrupt and degenerate after their exile, forasmuch as they had much from the Chaldeans and Syrians. For mine own part, I think, that because he spake as well to the common sort as unto the elders, he used the common speech which was at that day usual.
3.I am a Jew.As all things were out of order at that day among the Jews, many rogues and vagabonds, to the end they might have some shroud for their wickedness, did falsely boast that they were Jews. Therefore, to the end Paul may acquit himself of this suspicion, he beginneth at his birth; that done, he declareth that he was known in Jerusalem, because he was brought up there of [from] a child; though this latter thing seemeth to be spoken not only for certainty’s sake, but because it skilled much that this should also be known how well he had been instructed.
There is nothing more bold to cause trouble than unlearned men. And at that day the government of the Church was so decayed, that religion was not only subject to sects, but also miserably mangled and torn in pieces. Therefore, Paul nameth his master, lest any man may think that he had not been nousled up in learning, F1354 and therefore had he forsaken the worship of the fathers; as many men, who are not trained up in learning, forget their nature and grow out of kind. F1355 But Paul saith chiefly that he was well taught in the law, that the Jews may understand that it was not through ignorance (as it falleth out oftentimes) that he causeth such ado, and doth counterfeit their monsters.
It is to be doubted whether this be that Gamaliel of whom mention is made before, (<440534>Acts 5:34). Scholars are said to sit at their masters’ feet, because forasmuch as they be not as‑ yet of strong and sound judgment, they must bring such modesty and aptness to be taught, that they must make all their senses subject to their masters, and must depend upon their mouth. So Mary is said to sit at Jesus’ feet (<421039>Luke 10:39) when she giveth ear to his doctrine. But and if such reverence be due to earthly masters, how much more ought we to prostrate ourselves before the feet of Christ, that we may give ear to him when he teacheth us out of his heavenly throne? This speech doth also put boys and young men in remembrance of their duty, that they be not stout nor stubborn, or that they be not puffed nor lifted up against their masters through some foolish confidence, but that they suffer themselves quietly and gently to be framed by them.
Taught in the law of the fathers.The old interpreter doth translate it word for word, taught according to the truth of the fathers’ law, saving that ajkri>beia is rather a perfect wayF1356 than truth. Notwithstanding the question is, What he meaneth by this perfect way, seeing all of them had one and the same form of the law? He seemeth to me to distinguish that purer form of knowledge wherein he had been trained up from the common instruction, which did more disagree with the true and natural meaning of the law. And although the law of the Lord was then corrupt by many additions, even among the best doctors, yet because religion was altogether there corrupt among many, Paul doth for good causes boast, that he was both well and also diligently instructed in the law of the fathers; or (which is all one) exactly or perfectly, lest any man should think that he had gotten only some small smattering, as if he were one of the common sort.
But because many who are well taught are, notwithstanding, full stuffed with Epicurish contempt of God, he declareth that he was zealous toward God; as if he should say, that the serious study of godliness was annexed to doctrine, so that he meant not to daily in holy things, as profane men do of set purpose confound all things.
But because this his zeal was altogether rash, he maketh himself like to the other Jews for that time. Notwithstanding, this may be taken in good part, that he did long ago no less worship God from his heart than they did then.
4.I persecuted this way. This is the second point, that he was an enemy to Christ’s doctrine, and that he was more fervent in resisting the same than all the rest, until he was pulled back by the hand of God; which thing he saith the chief priests and elders can testify. Therefore, there can be no suspicion in such a sudden change. Whereas he saith, that he had letters given him to deliver to the brethren, it must be referred unto the Jews, as if he had called them his countrymen; but he meant to appease them with a more honorable title. For this is Paul’s drift, that he may declare his natural and lawful beginning which he took of that nation; F1357 and also how desirous he was to be linked with them in friendship.
6. And it happened that as I journeyed and drew near to Damascus about noon, that suddenly a great light shone round about me from heaven. 7. And I fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 8. And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said to me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. 9. And they which were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid: but they heard not the voice of him which talked with me. 10. Then I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said to me, Arise, and go to Damascus; and there it shall be told thee what things be ordained for thee to do. 11. And when I saw not by reason of the glory of the light, being led by the hand by those companions which were with me, I came to Damascus.
6. And it happened.Because this history was expounded more at large in the ninth chapter, I will only briefly touch those things which were there spoken. But this is peculiar to this present place, that Paul reckoneth up his circumstances, that by them he may prove that he was converted by God. And this is the third member of the sermon; otherwise this change should have been thought to have proceeded of inconstancy, or rashness, or else it should not have been void of some infamy. For nothing is more intolerable than to start aside from the course of godliness which men have once entered; and also not to do that which they are commanded to do. Therefore, lest any man might suspect Paul’s conversion, he proveth by many miracles which he bringeth to light, that God was the author thereof. In the night-season there appear oftentimes lightnings, which come of the hot exhalations of the earth; but this was more strange, that about noon a sudden light did not only appear, but did also compass him about like a lightning, so that through fear thereof he fell from his horse, and lay prostrate upon the ground. Another miracle, in that he heard a voice from heaven; another, in that his companions heard it not as well as he. Also, there follow other things, that, after that he was sent to Damascus, the event is correspondent to the oracle; because Ananias cometh to meet him. Also, in that his sight is restored to him in a moment.
I fell to the earth.As Paul was puffed up with Pharisaical pride, it was meet that he should be afflicted and thrown down, that he might hear Christ’s voice. He would not have despised God openly, neither durst he refuse the heavenly oracle; yet his mind should never have been framed unto the obedience of faith, if he had continued in his former state; therefore, he is thrown down by violence, that he may learn to humble himself willingly. Furthermore, there is in Christ’s words only a brief reprehension, which serveth to appease the rage of Paul being so cruelly bent. Nevertheless, we have thence an excellent consolation, in that Christ taking upon him the person of all the godly, doth complain that whatsoever injury was done to them was done to him. And as there can no sweeter thing be imagined to lenify the bitterness of persecution, than when we hear that the Son of God doth suffer not only with us, but also in us, so again, the bloody enemies of the gospel, who being now besotted with pride, do mock the miserable Church, shall perceive whom they have wounded.
9. They which were with me.I showed in the other place, that there is no such disagreement in the words of Luke as there seemeth to be. Luke said there, that though Paul’s companions stood amazed, yet heard they a voice. F1358 But in this place he saith, they heard not the voice of him which spake to Paul though they saw the light. Surely it is no absurd thing to say that they heard some obscure voice; yet so that they did not discern it as Paul himself, whom alone Christ meant to stay and tame with the reprehension. Therefore, they hear a voice, because a sound doth enter into their ears, so that they know that some speaketh from heaven; they hear not the voice of him that spake to Paul, because they understand not what Christ saith. Moreover, they see Paul compassed about with the light, but they see none which speaketh from heaven.
10. What shall I do, Lord?This is the voice of a tamed man, and this is the true turning unto the Lord; when laying away all fierceness and fury, we bow down our necks willingly to bear his yoke, and are ready to do whatsoever he commandeth us. Moreover, this is the beginning of well-doing, to ask the mouth of God; for their labor is lost who think upon repentance without his word. Furthermore, in that Christ appointeth Ananias to be Paul’s master, he doth it not for any reproach, or because he refuseth to teach him; but by this means he meaneth to set forth, and also to beautify the outward ministry of the Church.
And even in the person of one man, he teacheth us F1359 that we must not grudge to hear him speak with the tongue of men. To the same end tendeth that which followeth immediately, that he was blind, until offering himself to become a scholar, he had declared F1360 the humility of his faith. God doth not indeed make blind all those whom he will lighten; but there is a general rule prescribed to all men, that those become foolish with themselves who will be wise to him.
12. And one Ananias, a godly man according to the law, approved by the testimony of all the Jews which dwelt there, 13. Coming unto me, and standing by me, said to me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And I receiving my sight, the same hour saw him. 14. But he said to me, The God of our fathers hath prepared thee that thou mightest know his will, and see the Just, and hear a voice from his mouth. 15. Because thou shalt be his witness before all men of those things which thou hast seen and heard. 16. And now why stayest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, in calling upon the name of the Lord.
12. One Ananias.Paul proceedeth now unto the fourth point, to wit, that he did not only give his name to Christ, being astonished with miracles, but that he was also well and thoroughly instructed in the doctrine of the gospel. I have already said that Ananias met Paul, not by chance, but through the direction of Christ. And whereas he giveth him the title of godliness as concerning the law, and saith that he was well reported of by the whole nation, in these words he preventeth the wrong F1361 opinion which they might conceive. As they loathed the Gentiles, so they would never have allowed any teacher coming from them; and one that had revolted from the law should have been most detestable. Therefore, he witnesseth that he worshipped God according to the law, and that his godliness was known and commended among all the Jews, so that they ought not to suspect him. These words, according to the law, are ignorantly, by some, coupled with the text following, that he was approved according to the law. For Ananias’ religion is rather distinguished by this mark from the superstitions of the Gentiles. Though we must note, that the law is not mentioned to establish the merits of works, that they may be set against the grace of God; but Ananias’ godliness is clearly acquitted of all evil suspicion which might have risen among the Jews. And seeing that he restoreth sight to Paul with one word, it appeareth thereby that he was sent of God, as I have said before.