5.Shaking off the viper.The shaking off of the viper is a token of a quiet mind. For we see how greatly fear doth trouble and weaken men; and yet you must not think that Paul was altogether void of fear. For faith doth not make us blockish, as brain-sick men do imagine, when they be out of danger. F1514 But though faith doth not quite take away the feeling of evils, yet it doth temperate the same, lest the godly be more afraid than is meet; that they may always be bold and have a good hope. So though Paul understand that the viper was a noisome beast, yet did he trust to the promise which was made to him, and did not so fear her plaguy F1515 biting, that it did trouble him; because he was even ready to die if need had been.
6.Changing their minds, they said.This so wonderful and sudden a change ought to have inwardly touched the men of Melita, and to have moved them to give the glory to the mercy of God, as they did before to vengeance. But as man’s reason is always carried amiss unto extremities, they make Paul at a sudden a god, whom they took before to be a wicked murderer. But if he could not choose but be the one, it had been better for him to be counted a murderer than a god. And surely Paul would rather have wished to be condemned, not only of one crime, but also to have sustained all shame, F1516 and to have been thrust down into the deep pit of hell, F1517 than to take to himself the glory of God, which thing those knew full well who had heard him preach amidst the storms. Notwithstanding, it may be, that, being taught afterward, they did confess that God was the author of the miracle.
Furthermore, let us learn by this history, with patient and quiet minds, to wait for the prosperous event of things, F1518 which seem at the first to tend toward the robbing of God of his honor. Which of us would not have been terrified with this spectacle which did arm the wicked to slander with all manner of slanderous speeches the glory of the gospel? Yet we see how God did in good time prevent this inconvenience; therefore, let us not doubt but that after he hath suffered his to be darkened with clouds of slanders, he will send remedy in his good time, and will turn their darkness into light. In the mean season, let us remember that we must beware of the judgment of the flesh. And because men do always forget themselves, let us beg of God the Spirit of moderation, that he may keep us always in the right mean. Furthermore, let us learn by this how ready the world is to fall to superstition. Yea, this wickedness is in a manner born with us, to be desirous to adorn creatures with that which we take from God.
Wherefore, no marvel if new errors have come abroad F1519 in all ages, seeing every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols. But lest men excuse themselves therewithal, this history doth witness that this is the fountain of superstitions, because men are unthankful to God, and do give his glory to some other.
7. And in those places were the possessions of the chief man of the isle, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us courteously. 8. And so it was, that the father of Publius lay sick of the fever and bloody flux; to whom Paul entered in, and when he had prayed, and had laid his hands upon him, he healed him. 9. Therefore, when he had done thus, the rest also, which had infirmities in the isle, came, and were healed: 10. Who did also give us great honor; and when we departed, they laded us with things necessary. 11. And after three months we sailed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose badge was Castor and Pollux. 12. And when we came to Syracuse, we stayed there three days. 13. And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium: and after one day when the south wind blew, we came the next day to Puteoli: 14. Where we found brethren, and were desired to stay with them seven days: and so we came to Rome.
7. And in those places.Because this name, Publius, is a Roman name, I suspect that this man, of whom mention is made, was rather a citizen of Rome than born in the isle. For the Grecians and other strangers were not wont to borrow their names of the Latins unless they were men of small reputation. And it may be that some of the noble men of Rome came then to see his possessions, and is called the chief man of the isle, not because he dwelt there, but because no man could compare with him in wealth and possessions. And it is scarce probable that all the whole multitude of Grecians was lodged there three days. I do rather think, that, when he entertained the centurion, he did also honor Paul and his companions, because, being admonished by the miracle, he did believe that he was a man beloved of God. Notwithstanding, howsoever it be, his hospitality was not unrewarded. For shortly after the Lord restored his father to health by the hand of Paul, who was indeed sick of a dangerous disease. And by this means he meant to testify how greatly that courtesy, which is showed to men in misery and to strangers, doth please him. Although those who are holpen be unmindful and unthankful for that benefit which they have received, or they be not able to recompense those who have done good to them, yet God himself will abundantly restore to men whatsoever they have bestowed at his commandment; and he hath sometimes appointed, to those which be merciful and given to hospitality, some of his servants, which bring with them a blessing. This was now great honor, in that Publius did lodge Christ in the person of Paul. Notwithstanding, this was added as an overplus, in that Paul came furnished with the gift of healing, that he might not only recompense his courtesy, but also give more than he had received.
Also, we know not whether he learned the first principles of faith, as miracles do for the most part win the rude and unbelievers unto faith, F1520 Luke mentioneth the kind of disease that he may the better set forth the grace of God. For seeing it is an hard matter to cure a bloody flux, F1521 especially when the ague is joined therewith, the old man was cured thus suddenly only by the laying on of hands and prayer, not without the manifest power of God.
8. And had laid his hands upon him. Paul declareth by prayer that he himself is not the author of the miracle, but only the minister, lest God be defrauded of his glory. He confirmeth this self-same thing by the external sign. For, as we saw before, in other places, the laying on of hands was nothing else but a solemn rite of offering and presenting. Wherefore, in that Paul doth offer the man to God with his own hands, he professed that he did humbly crave his life of him. By which example, not only those who have excellent gifts of the Spirit given them are admonished to beware, lest by extolling themselves they darken the glory of God, but also we are all taught in general that we must so thank the ministers of the grace of God that the glory remain to him alone. It is said, indeed, that Paul healed the man which had the bloody flux; but it is plainly expressed by the circumstances which are added, that it was God which bestowed this benefit, making him the minister thereof. Whereas Luke saith afterwards, that others which were sick in the isle were cured, he doth not extend it unto all; but his meaning is, that the power of God, which appeared evidently enough, was proved by many testimonies, that the apostleship of Paul might be thereby ratified. Neither need we doubt but that Paul sought as well to cure their souls as their bodies. Yet Luke doth not declare what good he did, save only that the barbarians gave him and his fellows victual and necessary things when they loosed from the haven. In the mean season, we must note, that though Paul might have withdrawn himself, and have escaped many ways, yet was the will of God to him instead of voluntary fetters, because he was often cited by the heavenly oracle to appear before the judgment-seat of Nero to bear witness of Christ. Again, he knewthat if he should run away, he could no longer have preached the gospel, but should have lurked in some corner during his whole life.
11. In a ship of Alexandria.By these words, Luke giveth us to understand, that the former ship was either drowned, or else so rent and beaten, that it served for no use afterward; whereby the greatness of the shipwreck doth the better appear. And he setteth down expressly that the badge of the ship of Alexandria, wherein they were carried to Rome, was Castor and Pollux, that we may know that Paul had not liberty granted to sail with such as were like to himself; but was enforced to enter into a ship which was dedicated to two idols. The old poets did feign that Castor and Pollux came of Jupiter and Leda; for which cause they are called in Greek dioskouroi; which word Luke useth in this place, as if you should say, Jupiter’s sons. Again, they said F1522 that they are the sign in the zodiac called Gemini. There was also another superstition among the mariners, that those fine exhalations which appear in tempests are the very same. Therefore, in times past, they were thought to be gods of the seas, and were therefore called upon as at this day, Nicholas and Clement, and such like. Yea, as in Popery, they retain the old errors, changing the names only; so at this day they worship these exhalations under the name of Saint Hermes, or Saint Ermus. And because if one exhalation appear alone, it is a doleful token; but if two together, (as Pliny writeth) then they foreshow a prosperous course. To the end the mariners of Alexandria might have both Castor and Pollux to favor them, they had both for the badge of their ship. Therefore, as touching them, the ship was polluted with wicked sacrilege; but because Paul did not make choice thereof, of his own accord, he is not polluted thereby.
And surely seeing an idol is nothing, it cannot infect the creatures of God, but that the faithful may use them purely and lawfully. And we must needs think thus, that all those blots wherewith Satan doth go about to stain the creatures of God through his juggling, are washed away by no other means but by a good and pure conscience, whereas the wicked and ungodly do defile those things which are of themselves pure, though they do but touch them. Finally, Paul was no more defiled by entering into this ship, than when he did behold the altars at Athens; because, being void of all superstition, he knew that all the rites of the Gentiles were mere illusions. Again, the men could not think that he did agree to that profane error; for if he had been to do any worship to Castor and Pollux, though it had been only for fashion’s sake, he would rather have died a thousand deaths than once have yielded.
Therefore, because he needed not to fear any offense, he entereth the ship without any more ado; and undoubtedly he did this heavily, and with inward sorrow; because he saw the honor which is due to God alone given to vain inventions. Therefore, this ought to be numbered among his exercises, in that he had those to be his guides, who thought that they were governed of idols, and had committed their ship to their tuition.
12.When we were come to Syracuse.Luke prosecuteth the residue of the course of their sailing, that they arrived first in Sicilia. And after that they set a compass F1523 by reason of the tempest and raging of the sea, and sailed over into Italy. And as that haven whereof Luke speaketh in this place is the most famous haven of all Sicilia, so is it farther from the coast of Italy than is that of Messina, over against which is Rhegium, whereof he maketh mention. And it is in the country of the Brutians, as is Puteoli, a city of Campania. But forasmuch as the brethren kept Paul at Puteoli seven days, by this we gather how favorably and gently the centurion handled Paul. Neither do I doubt but that the holy man would have made him a faithful promise that he would always return in due time. But he was persuaded of his uprightness, so that he was not afraid that he would deceive him. And now we gather out of this place, that the seed of the gospel was then sown abroad, seeing there was some body of the Church even at Puteoli.
15. And when the brethren had heard of us from thence, they came out to meet us at Appii Forum, and at The three Taverns; whom when Paul saw, he gave thanks to God, and waxed bold. 16. And when we were come to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the chief captain of the host; but Paul was suffered to dwell alone with a soldier which kept him. 17. And after three days Paul called together the chief of the Jews; and when they were come, he said to them, Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against the people, or ordinances of the elders, yet was I delivered a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18. Which, when they had examined me, they would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. 19. But when the Jews spake contrary, I was enforced to appeal to Caesar: not as if I have anything to accuse my nation of. 20. For this cause, therefore, have I sent for you, that I might see you, and speak to you; for the hope of Israel am I bound with this chain.
15. When the brethren heard.God did comfort Paul by the coming of the brethren who came forth to meet him, that he might the more joyfully make haste to defend the gospel. And the zeal and godly care of the brethren appeareth therein, in that they inquire for Paul’s coming, and go out to meet him. For it was at that time not only an odious thing to profess the Christian faith, but it might also bring them in hazard of their life. Neither did a few men only put themselves in private danger, because the envy redounded to the whole Church. But nothing is more dear to them than their duty wherein they could not be negligent, unless they would be counted sluggish and unthankful. It had been a cruel fact to neglect so great an apostle of Jesus Christ, especially seeing he labored for the common salvation.
And now forasmuch as he had written to them before, and had of his own accord offered his service to them, it had been an unseemly thing not to repay to him brotherly goodwill and courtesy. Therefore, the brethren did, by this their dutifulness, testify their godliness toward Christ; and Paul’s desire was more inflamed, because he saw fruit prepared for his constancy. For though he were endued with invincible strength, F1524 so that he did not depend upon man’s help; yet God, who useth to strengthen his by means of men, did minister to him new strength by this means. Though he were afterward forsaken when he was in prison, as he complaineth in a certain place, (<550416>2 Timothy 4:16) yet he did not despair; but did fight no less valiantly and manfully under Christ’s banner, than if he had been guarded with a great army. But the remembrance of this meeting did serve even then to encourage him, seeing he did consider with himself that there were many godly brethren at Rome, but they were weak, and that he was sent to strengthen them. And there is no cause why we should marvel that Paul was emboldened at this present when he saw the brethren, because he did hope that the confession his faith would yield no small fruit. For so often as God showeth to his servants any fruit of their labor, he doth, as it were, prick them forward with a goad, that they may proceed more courageously in their work.
16.The centurion delivered the prisoners.Luke doth signify that Paul had more liberty granted him than the rest; for his condition and estate was peculiar. For he was suffered to dwell in an house by himself, having one keeper with him, whereas the rest were shut up in the common prison. For the general captain F1525 knew by Festus’ report that Paul was guiltless; and the centurion, as it is likely, did faithfully rehearse such things as might serve to bring him into favor. Notwithstanding, let us know that God did govern F1526 from heaven the bonds of his servant; not only that he might ease him of his trouble, but that the faithful might have freer access unto him. For he would not have the treasure of his faith shut up in prison, but he would have it laid open, that it might enrich many far and wide. And yet Paul was not so at liberty, but that he did always carry a chain. Luke calleth the general captain stratopedarchv, who was appointed over the army which kept the city, as histories make mention. F1527
17.And after three days.Paul’s humanity F1528 was wonderful, in that, though he had suffered such cruel injuries of his nation, he studied, notwithstanding, to appease the Jews which are at Rome, and he excuseth himself to them, lest they hate his cause, because they hear that the priests do hate him. He might well have excused himself before men, if he passed over these Jews and turned himself to the Gentiles. For though he had continually, in divers places, essayed to bring them to Christ, yet they were more and more nettled and moved; F1529 and yet he had omitted nothing, neither in Asia, nor in Greece, neither at Jerusalem, which might mitigate their fury. Therefore, all men would have justly pardoned him, if he had let those alone whom he had so often tried [experienced] to be of desperate pride. F1530 But because he knew that his Master was given of his Father to be the minister of the Jews, to fulfill the promises whereby God had adopted to himself the seed of Abraham to be his people; he looketh unto the calling of God, and is never weary. He saw that he must remain at Rome, seeing he had liberty granted to teach, he would not that they should be deprived of the fruit of his labor. Secondly, he would not have them moved through hatred of his cause to trouble the Church; because a small occasion might have caused great destruction. Therefore, Paul meant to beware, lest, according to their wonted madness, they should set all on fire. F1531
I have done nothing against the people.These two things might have made the Jews hate him; either because he should have done hurt to the commonwealth of his nation, as some runagates did increase their bondage, which was too cruel, through their treachery; or because he should have done somewhat against the worship of God; for though the Jews were grown out of kind, F1532 and religion was depraved and corrupted among them with many errors, yet the very name of the law and the worship of the temple were greatly reverenced. Furthermore, Paul denieth not but that he did freely omit those ceremonies whereto the Jews were superstitiously tied; yet he cleareth himself of the crime of revolting whereof he might be suspected. Therefore, understand those ordinances of the fathers, whereby the children of Abraham, and the disciples of Moses ought, according to their faith, to have been distinguished from the rest of the Gentiles. And surely in that he did cleave so holily to Christ, who is the soul and perfection of the law, he is so far from impairing the ordinances of the fathers, that none did better observe the same.
19.I was enforced to appeal.This appeal was full of hatred and envy for this cause, because the authority and liberty of the Jewish nation did seem to be sore opprest, who could have been content to have lived with their own laws. Secondly, because his defense was joined with infamy and loss of all the people. Therefore he answereth this objection also, because he was enforced with the stubbornness of his enemies to fly to this fortress [asylum]. For he is excused by necessity, because he had no other way to escape death. And after that he had excused that which was done already, he promiseth that he will so handle his matter hereafter, F1533 that he will not labor against the Jews.
20. For the hope of Israel.We must understand much more under these words than Luke expresseth; as we gather out of the answer, where the Jews speak of the sect; to wit, repeating his speech, which Luke omitteth. Therefore Paul intreated of Christ, that it might plainly appear that neither the law nor the temple did profit the Jews anything without him; because the covenant of adoption is grounded in him, and the promise of salvation is in him confirmed. Neither did they doubt but that the restoring of the kingdom did depend upon the coming of the Messias; and even at that time their misery and decay did increase the hope and desire of him. Wherefore Paul saith, for good causes, that he is bound for the hope of Israel. Whereby we be also taught, that no man doth hope aright, but he which looketh unto Christ and his spiritual kingdom; for when he placeth the hope of the godly in Christ, he excludeth all other hopes.
21. But they said unto him, We neither received letters from Judea touching thee, neither did any of the brethren come and show us or speak any evil of thee. 22. But we will hear of thee what thou thinkest; for as concerning that sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere. 23. And when they had appointed him a day, many came to him to his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, and persuaded them of Jesus out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till night. 24. And certain believed those things which were spoken, but certain believed not.
21. Neither by letters.The priests and scribes did not hold their peace, because they were become more gentle towards Paul, or to the end they might spare him; that proceeded rather of contempt, or else of despair, because they neither knew how to oppress him when he was so far from them, and his carrying into Italy was F1534 to them instead of a grave. For they did lord it no less carelessly than proudly, so that nobody did trouble them at home. Furthermore, though the Jews come not altogether rightly prepared to hear, yet they show some desire to learn, when as they do not refuse to hear the defense of his doctrine, which is spoken against everywhere. For many do stop the way before themselves with this prejudice, because they cannot abide to hear that which is refused by common judgment, but subscribe to the opinion of other men to the condemning of doctrine which they know not. Nevertheless, this is not without fault (as I said) that they object gainsaying to cause hatred, or to procure evil suspicion; as if it had not been said before by Isaiah, that God should be a stone of offense to all the people. It is uncertain, whether upon the day appointed Paul disputed all the day, or they reasoned one with another; save only, because we may guess, by the circumstance of time, that Paul did not continue speaking still. F1535 For he could scarce have framed a speech which could have continued from morning to night. Wherefore I do not doubt, but that after the apostle had briefly expounded the sum of the gospel, he granted liberty to the hearers to propound questions, F1536 and did make answer to the questions which were objected to him.
But we must note the state of the disputation, which Luke saith is double. For Paul taught first, after what sort the kingdom of God was amongst them, and principally what manner [of] chief felicity and glory that was which was promised to them, which the prophets do so highly extol. For seeing that many of them did dream of a frail estate of the kingdom of God in the world, and did place the same falsely in idleness, pleasure, and in plenty of present good things, it was necessary that it should be rightly defined, that they might know that the kingdom of God is spiritual, whose beginning is newness of life, and the end thereof blessed immortality and the heavenly glory. Secondly, Paul exhorted them to receive Christ, the author of the promised felicity.
And, again, this second point had two members, for it could not be handled profitably and soundly unless he did expound the office of the promised Redeemer; secondly, unless he did show that he is already given, and that the Son of Mary is he in whom the fathers hoped. It was indeed a common maxim among the Jews, that the Messias should come and restore all things into perfect order.
But Paul labored another point, which was not so well known; that the Messias was promised, who should, with the sacrifice of his death, make satisfaction for the sins of the world; who should reconcile God to men; who should purchase eternal righteousness; who should fashion men after the image of God, being regenerate with his Spirit; who should, finally, make his faithful servants heirs with him of eternal life; and that all those things were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ crucified. He could not intreat of those things; but he must needs call back the Jews from gross and earthly inventions into heaven, and also take away the stumbling-block of the cross, seeing he taught that there was no other way or means whereby we are reconciled with God.
And let us note, that (as Luke doth testify) Paul took all that which he spake of Christ out of the law and prophets. For true religion differeth from all feigned religions, because the word of God alone is the rule thereof. Also the Church of God differeth from all profane sects in this, because it heareth him speak alone, and is governed by his commandment. And now by this we see the agreement that is between the Old and the New Testaments to establish the faith of Christ; secondly, that double profit of the Scripture which the same Paul commendeth in another place, to wit, that it is sufficient as well to instruct those which are willing to learn, as to refute the stubbornness of those which set themselves against the truth (<550316>2 Timothy 3:16; <560109>Titus 1:9). Therefore, let those who desire to be wise with sobriety, and to teach others well, appoint themselves these bounds, that they utter nothing but out of the pure fountain of the word. The philosophers deal otherwise, who contend only with reasons, because they have no sound authority, whom the Papists imitate too much, who set apart the oracles of God, and lean only to the inventions of man’s brain, that is, to mere folly.