12. All the multitude held their peace.By these words, Luke giveth us to understand that the Spirit of God did so reign in that assembly, that they yielded forthwith to reason. The disputation was hot before; but now, after that Peter hath laid open the counsel of God, and hath handled the question according to the doctrine of the Scripture, by and by all noise being stayed, they are quiet and whist who did of late unadvisedly defend the error. This is a lively image of a lawful Council, when the truth of God alone, so soon as it is once come to light, maketh an end of all controversies; and assuredly it is effectual enough to appease all discord when the Spirit beareth the chief sway; because he is again a fit governor, as well to moderate their tongues who must speak before others as to keep the rest under obedience, that they be not too much addicted to themselves and wedded to their own wills, but that, laying away stubbornness, they may show themselves obedient to God. Neither is it to be doubted but that there was some few which would not yield, as it falleth out in a great assembly; yet the truth of God had the upper hand, so that the silence whereof Luke speaketh was a manifest testimony of common obedience. And this was no small moderation in Peter, in that having suffered every one to say for himself what he could, he deferred his judgment (lest it should be prejudicial to others) so long, until the question had been thoroughly discussed to and fro.
They heard Barnabas and Paul. We may gather by these words that they were not heard with silence before.: For seeing that the more part was persuaded that they did wickedly admit the profane Gentiles into the Church, there should nothing which they should have said have been patiently received until this false opinion were corrected and reformed; but all should have been taken at the worst. We see what a poison displeasure conceived for no cause is, which doth so possess men’s minds, that it stoppeth the way, so that the truth can never have en, trance. Hereby we learn how true that saying is, All things are sound to the sound, (<560115>Titus 1:15,) for there is nothing so wholesome but corrupt affection do turn the same into that which is hurtful. And to this end tendeth the narration made by Paul and Barnabas, that they may show and prove that God doth allow their apostleship among the Gentiles; forasmuch as it was ratified and confirmed by miracles, which are, as it were, certain seals thereof.
13.James answered, saying.Some old writers of the Church think that this James was one of the disciples, whose surname was Justus and Oblia, whose cruel death is recorded by Josephus in the Twentieth Book of his Antiquities. But would to God the old writers had travailed rather to know the man, than to set forth, with reigned praises, the holiness of a man whom they knew not. It is a childish toy and surmise, in that they say that it was lawful for him alone to enter into the most holy place. For if in that entering in there had been any religion, he had done it contrary to the law of God, forasmuch as he was not the highest priest. Secondly, it was a superstitious thing thus to foster the shadowish worship of the Temple. I omit other trifles. And they are greatly deceived in that they deny that he was one of the twelve apostles. For they are enforced to confess that it is he whom Paul commandeth sohonorably, that he maketh him the chief among the three pillars of the Church, (<480209>Galatians 2:9.) Assuredly, a man inferior in order and degree could never have excelled the apostles so far; for Paul giveth him the title of an apostle. Neither is that worth the hearing which Jerome bringeth, [viz.] that the word is general there, seeing that the dignity of the order is there handled; forasmuch as Christ did prefer the apostles before other teachers of the Church.
Moreover, we may gather out of this place, that they made no small account of James, (<442118>Acts 21:18;) forasmuch as he doth with his voice and consent so confirm the words of Peter, that they are all of his mind. And we shall see afterwards how great his authority was at Jerusalem. The old writers think that this was because he was bishop of the place; but it is not to be thought that the faithful did at their pleasure change the order which Christ had appointed. Wherefore, I do not doubt but that he was son to Alpheus, and Christ’s cousin, in which sense he is also called his brother. Whether he were bishop of Jerusalem or no, I leave it indifferent; neither doth it greatly make for the matter, save only because the impudency of the Pope is hereby refuted, because the decree of the Council is set down rather at the appointment, and according to the authority of James than of Peter. And assuredly Eusebius, in the beginning of his Second Book, is not afraid to call James, whosoever he were, the Bishop of the Apostles. Let the men of Rome go now and boast that their Pope is head of the Universal Church, because he is Peter’s successor, who suffered another to rule him, F976 if we believe Eusebius.
Men and brethren, hear me. James’ oration consisteth upon [of] two principal members; for, first, he confirmeth and proveth the calling of the Gentiles by the testimony of the prophet Amos; secondly, he showeth what is best to be done to nourish peace and concord among the faithful; yet so that the liberty of the Gentiles may continue safe and sound, and that the grace of Christ may not be darkened. Whereas Peter is in this place called Simeon, it may be that this name was diversely pronounced then. Whereas he saith that God did visit to take a people of the Gentiles, it is referred unto the mercy of God, whereby he vouchsafed to receive strangers into his family. It is, indeed, a harsh phrase, yet such as containeth a profitable doctrine; because he maketh God the author of the calling of the Gentiles, and pronounceth that it is through his goodness that they began to be reckoned among his people, when he saith that they were taken by him; but he proceedeth further, when he saith that he did visit that he might take. For this is his meaning, That at such time as the Gentiles were turned away from God he did mercifully look upon them; because we can do nothing but depart farther and farther from him, until such time as his fatherly look prevent us of his own accord.
In his name.The old interpreter hath, To his name, which is almost all one, though the preposition ,it may be otherwise translated, to wit, For his name, or Upon his name. F977 Neither shall the sense disagree, that the salvation of the Gentiles is grounded in the power or name of God, and that God did respect no other thing in calling them but his own glory; yet did I retain that which is more usual; to wit, that, in numbering them among his people, he would have them counted in his name, like as it shall be said shortly after, that his name is called upon by all those whom he gathereth together into his Church. The adverb of time, prwton, may be expounded two ways; if you read it, first, as the old interpreter and Erasmus have it, the sense shall be, that Cornelius and others were, as it were, the first fruits at whom God began the calling of the Gentiles; but it may be taken also comparatively, because there was already some token of the adoption of the Gentiles showed in Cornelius and his cousins, before that Barnabas and Paul preached the gospel to the Gentiles. And I do better like this latter sense.
15.Hereto agree the words of the prophets.We see now how the apostles took nothing to themselves imperiously, but did reverently follow that which was prescribed in the word of God. Neither did it grieve them, neither did they count it any disgrace to them to profess themselves to be the scholars of the Scripture. Also we must here note, that the use of the doctrine of the prophets is yet in force, which some brain-sick men would banish out of the Church. By citing the prophets, in the plural number, to be witnesses, whereas he doth allege one place only, he signifieth that there is such an agreement among them, that that which is spoken by one is the common testimony of them all, because they speak all with one mouth, and every one speaketh as in the person of all, or rather the Spirit of God speaketh in them all. Moreover, the oracles of all the prophets were gathered together, that they might make one body. Wherefore that might worthily and fitly be ascribed to all the prophets in general, which was taken out of some one part of the general book.
16.After these things I will return.Because the place is not cited word for word as it is in the prophet, we must see what difference there is, though it be not necessary to examine straitly what diversity there is in the words, so it appear that the prophecy doth fitly agree with the matter which is in hand. After that God hath promised the restoring of the tabernacle of David, he saith also, that he will bring to pass that the Jews shall possess the remnants of Edom. In all that text, there appeareth nothing as yet whence the calling of the Gentiles can be fet F978 or gathered; but that which followeth immediately after in the prophet, concerning the remnant of the Gentiles which shall call upon the name of the Lord, doth plainly show that the Jews and Gentiles shall make one Church, because that which was then proper to the Jews alone is given to both in general. For God placeth the Gentiles in like degree of honor with the Jews, when he will have them to call upon his name. Those of Idumea, and the people thereabout, were in times past under David subject to the Jews; but though they were tributaries to the people of God, yet were they nevertheless strangers from the Church. Therefore, this was news and a strange thing, in that God reckoneth them up with the holy people, that he may be called F979 the God of them all; seeing that it is certain that they are all made equal in honor among themselves by this means. Whereby it doth plainly appear how well the testimony of the prophet agreeth with the present purpose. For God promiseth to restore the decayed tabernacle, wherein the Gentiles shall obey the kingdom of David, not only that they may pay tribute, or take [to arms] weapon at the king’s commandment, but that they may have one God, and that they may be one family to him.
Yet there may a question be moved, why he had rather cite this prophecy, than many other which contain more plentiful proof of the matter which he hath in hand, of which sort Paul citeth many? (<451509>Romans 15:9, 10, 11.) I answer, first, that the apostles were not ambitious in heaping up places of Scripture; but they did simply aim at this, which was sufficient for them, to wit, that they might prove that their doctrine was taken out of the word of God; secondly, I say that this prophecy of Amos is more plain than it is commonly taken to be. The prophet intreateth of the restoring of an house which was decayed; F980 he describeth the miserable ruin thereof. Therefore, the promise, which is added immediately, that the seat and throne shall be set up again, from of which kings of the posterity of David shall rule over the Gentiles, doth properly appertain unto Christ. Therefore, so soon as the kingdom of Christ is set up, that must needs follow which the prophet saith also, that the Gentiles shall call upon the name of God. Now, we see that James did not unadvisedly make choice of this place; for if the kingdom of Christ cannot be otherwise established, unless God be called upon everywhere throughout the whole world, and the Gentiles grow together to be one with his holy people, it is an absurd thing that they should be driven from hope of salvation, and the middle wall must fall to the ground, wherewith the one was separate from the other under the law, F981 (<490214>Ephesians 2:14.) The first word, I will return,is not in the prophet, but the change of the state which he denounceth is very well expressed by this means.
The tabernacle of David, which was decayed.It is not without cause that that evil-favored wasteness and ruin of the king’s house is set before our eyes by the prophet; for unless the godly should have been persuaded that Christ should notwithstanding come, though the kingdom of David were brought to nought, who should not only restore to their old order things which were decayed, but should exalt even unto the heavens the glory of his kingdom with incomparable success, they should have despaired a hundred times in a day. After they were returned from the exile wherein they lived at Babylon, they were brought by continual destructions almost unto utter destruction. Afterward that which remained was consumed by little and little with civil F982 discord, yea, when God did relieve their miseries, that kind of help which they had was a certain matter of despair; F983 for that rule which the Maccabees took upon them was then taken away from the tribe of Juda. For these causes the Spirit of God doth diligently beat in [inculcate] this by the prophet, that Christ shall not come until the kingdom of David shall perish, that they may not despair of salvation even amidst greatest miseries. So Isaiah saith, that there shall a branch arise out of the contemptible and base stock, F984 (<231101>Isaiah 11:1;) and let us also remember, that God doth observe this wonderful way in restoring the Church, that he doth build it up, F985 when it is decayed.
Furthermore, this place teachers when the Church is best ordered, and what is the true and right constitution thereof, to wit, when the throne of David is set up, and Christ alone hath the preeminence, that all may meet together in his obedience. F986
Though the Pope have oppressed the Church with his sacrilegious tyranny, yet doth he make boast of the title of the Church; yea, he deceiveth men under the vain title of the Church, that he may put out the clear light of sound doctrine. But if we shall come thoroughly to examine the matter, we may easily refute such a gross mock, because he alone beareth rule, having deposed Christ. He doth in word confess that he is Christ’s vicar; but in very deed after that he hath by a beautiful banishment F987 sent Christ into the heavens, he taketh to himself all his power; for Christ reigneth by the doctrine of his gospel alone, which is wickedly trodden under foot by this abominable idol. But let us remember that this shall be the lawful estate of the Church among us, if we do all in general F988 obey Christ, the King of kings, that there may be one sheepfold and one Shepherd, (<431016>John 10:16.)
17. That those which remain may seek.James added this word seekby way of exposition, which is not found nor read in the prophet; and yet it is not superfluous, because, to the end we may be numbered among the people of God, and that he may take us for his own, we must, on the other side, [in our turn,] be encouraged to seek him. And it is to be thought that Luke did summarily comprehend those things whereof James did dispute in his own language among the Jews; whereby it came to pass that the exposition of the matter was mixed with the words of the prophet. Instead of the relics of the Gentiles which Amos useth, Luke, out of the Greek translation, (which was more familiar,) putteth the rest of the men in the same sense, to wit, that there must go before the purging of the filthiness of the world a cutting, or paring, as it came to pass. And this doctrine must be also applied unto our time. For, because the corruption of the world is worse than that it can be wholly brought to obey Christ, he bloweth away, with diverse fans of tribulations, the chaff and weeds, that he may at length gather unto himself that which shall remain.
18. Known from the beginning.This is a prevention, F989 to put away the hatred which might have risen upon the novelty; for the sudden change might have been suspected, and therefore did it trouble weak minds. Therefore James preventeth, showing that this was no new thing with God, though it fell out suddenly otherwise than men thought; because God saw, before the world was created, what he would do, and the calling of the Gentiles was hidden in his secret counsel. Whereupon it followeth, that it must not be esteemed according to the sense of man. Furthermore, James hath respect unto the words of the prophet, when he affirmeth that God, who should do all these things, was also the author of the prophecy. Therefore, his meaning is, that, seeing God speaketh by his prophet, he saw then, yea, from the very beginning, F990 that neither uncircumcision nor anything else should let him, but that he would choose the Gentiles into his family. Nevertheless, there is comprehended under this a general exhortation, that men do not take upon them to measure, with the small measure of their wit, the works of God, the reason whereof is oftentimes known to none but to himself; but rather let them cry, being astonished, F991 that his ways are past finding out, and that his judgments are too deep a depth, (<451133>Romans 11:33.)
19. Wherefore, I think that we ought not to trouble those who of the Gentiles are turned to God: 20. But that we must write unto them, that they abstain. from the filthiness of images, and from fornication, and from strangled, and from blood. 21. For Moses of old time hath those in every city which preach him, when he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.