19. That we must not trouble.He denieth that the Gentiles must be driven from the Church through the disagreement about ceremonies, seeing they were admitted by God; yet it [he] seemeth contrary to himself, when he denieth that they ought to be troubled, and yet prescribeth certain rites. The answer is easy, which I will hereafter more at large prosecute. First, he requireth nothing at their hands but that which they were bound to do by brotherly concord; secondly, these precepts could no whir trouble or disquiet their consciences, after that they knew that they were free before God, and that false and perverse religion was taken away, which the false apostles sought to bring in. The question is now, why James doth enjoin the Gentiles these four things alone? Some say that this was let [derived] from the ancient custom of the fathers, who did not make any covenant F992 with any people which they could enforce to obey them but upon this condition; but because there is no fit author of that thing brought to light, I leave it in doubt and undecided.
But here appeareth a manifest reason why they gave particular commandment concerning things offered to idols, blood, and that which was strangled. They were, indeed, of themselves things indifferent; yet such as had some special thing in them more than other rites of the law. We know how straitly the Lord commandeth to eschew those things which are contrary to the external profession of faith, and wherein there is any appearance or suspicion of idolatry. Therefore, lest there should any blot of superstition remain in the Gentiles, and lest the Jews should see anything in them which did not agree with the pure worship of God, no marvel if, to avoid offense, they be commanded to abstain from things offered to idols.
The word alisghma, which Luke useth, doth signify all manner of profanation; therefore I have not changed the common translation, which hath pollution or filthiness. Yet it is sometimes taken for sacrifices; which sense should not disagree with James’ purpose; and, peradventure, it shall be more plain and natural so to expound it in this place; because, where Luke doth shortly after repeat the same decree, he will put eidwloqhta, or things sacrificed to idols.
As concerning blood and that which was strangled, not only the Jews were forbidden by the law of Moses to eat them, (<051223>Deuteronomy 12:23;) but this law was given to all the world after the flood, (<010904>Genesis 9:4,) whereby it came to pass, that those which were not quite grown out of kind F993 did loathe blood. I do not speak of the Jews, but of many of the Gentiles. I confess, indeed, that even that commandment was but temporal; yet, notwithstanding, it was extended farther than unto one people. No marvel, therefore, if there might arise greater offense thereupon, which to cure seemed good to the apostles. But there ariseth a harder question concerning fornication; because James seemeth to reckon the same among things indifferent, whereof they must beware only in respect of offense; but there was another cause for which he placed fornication among those things which were not of themselves unlawful. It is well known what unbridled liberty to run awhoring did reign and rage everywhere; and this disease had got the upper hand principally among the men of the east country, as they be more given to lust. Assuredly the faith and chastity of wedlock was never less observed and kept any where than among them. Moreover, he doth not intreat indifferently, in my judgment, in this place of all manner [of] fornication or whoredom, as of adultery, and wandering, and unbridled lusts, whereby all chastity is violate and corrupt; but I think he speaketh of concubineship, as they call it; which was so common among the Gentiles, that it was almost like to a law.
Therefore, whereas James reckoneth up a common corruption among things which are of themselves not corrupt, there is therein no inconvenience; F994 so that we know that it was not his meaning to place those things in one order which are very far unlike among themselves. For, whereas unclean men do thereby color and cloak their filthiness, they may easily be refuted. James, say they, coupled eating of blood with whoredom; but doth he compare them together as things that are like, at least which disagree not in any point. Yea, he doth only respect F995 the wicked and corrupt custom of men, which was fallen away from the first law and order of nature appointed by God. As concerning the judgment of God, the knowledge thereof must be let [sought] out of the continual doctrine of the Scripture; and it is nothing doubtful what the Scripture saith; to wit, that whoredom is accursed before God, and that the soul and body are thereby defiled, that the holy temple of God is polluted, and Christ is rent in pieces; that God doth daily punish whoremongers, and that he will once pay them home. F996 The filthiness of whoredom, which the heavenly Judge doth so sore condemn, can be covered with no cloaks by the patrons of whoredom how witty and eloquent soever they be.
21. For Moses hath.This place, in my judgment, hath been badly expounded, and drawn into a contrary sense. For interpreters think that James addeth this, because it were superfluous to prescribe anything to the Jews, who were well acquainted with the doctrine of the law, and to whom it was read every Sabbath-day; and they pick out this meaning, Let us be content to require these few things at the hands of the Gentiles, which are not accustomed to bear the yoke of the law; as touching the Jews they have Moses, out of whom they may learn more. Some do also gather out of this place, that circumcision, with its appurtenances, ought to be observed even at this day among the Jews. But they reason unfitly and unskillfully, though that exposition which I have set down F997 were true. But James had a far other meaning; to wit, he teachers that it cannot be that ceremonies can be abolished so quickly, as it were, at the first dash; because the Jews had now a long time been acquainted with the doctrine of the law, and Moses had his preachers; therefore, it stood them upon to redeem concord for a short thee, until such time as the liberty gotten by Christ might, by little and little, appear more plainly. This is that which is said in the common proverb, That it was meet that the old ceremonies should be buried with some honor. Those who are skillful in the Greek tongue shall know that that last member, When he is read every Sabbath-day in the synagogues, was by me changed not without cause, for avoiding of doubtfulness. F998
22. Then it seemed good to the apostles and elders, with thewhole church, to send chosen men of them to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas, Judas, surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren. 23. Sending letters by their hands after this form: The apostles, and elders, and brethren, to those brethren which areat Antioch, and in Syria and Gilicia, which are of the Gentiles, greeting: 24. Because we have heard that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, commanding you to be circumcised, and to keep the law, to whom we gave no commandment; 25. It seemed good to us, being gathered together with one mind, to send chosen men to you, with our beloved Barnabas and Paul; 26. Men which have ventured their souls for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27. Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and us, to lay no greater burden upon you than these necessary things, 29. That ye abstain from those things which are sacrificed to images, and from blood, and from that which is strangled, and from fornication; from which things, if you shall keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
22. It pleased the apostles.That tempest was made calm not without the singular grace of God, so that after the matter was thoroughly discussed, they did all agree together in sound doctrine. Also the modesty of the common people is gathered by this, because, after that they had referred the matter to the judgment of the apostles and the rest of teachers, they do now also subscribe to their decree; and, on the other side, the apostles did show some token of their equity, in that they set down nothing concerning the common cause of all the godly without admitting the people. For assuredly, this tyranny did spring from the pride of the pastors, that those things which appertain unto the common state of the whole Church are subject (the people being excluded) to the will, will not say lust, of a few. F999 We know what a hard matter it is to suppress the slanders of the wicked, to satisfy most men who are churlish and forward, to keep under the light and unskillful, to wipe away errors conceived, to heal up hatred, to appease contentions, [and] to abolish false reports. Peradventure, the enemies of Paul and Barnabas might have said that they had gotten letters by fair and flattering speeches; they might have invented some new cavil; the rude and weak might, by and by, have been troubled; but when chief men come with the letters, that they may gravely dispute the whole matter in presence, all sinister suspicion is taken away.
24. Certain which went out from us.We see that there was no respect of persons among these holy men, which doth always corrupt sound and right judgments. They confess that there were knaves of their own company; and yet they do no whit flatter them, or, through corrupt favor, incline to cover their error; yea, rather in condemning them freely, they spare not even themselves. And, first, they pluck from their faces that visure [mask] which they had abused, to deceive withal. They boasted that they were privy to the meaning of the apostles. F1000The apostles reprove them, and condemn them of and for lying in that false pretense, when they utterly deny that they did command any such thing. Again, they accuse them far more sharply, that they troubled the Church and subverted souls. For by this means they bring them in contempt and detestation with the godly, because they cannot be admitted but to their destruction. But false teachers are said to subvert souls, because the truth of God doth edify or build them up, and so this speech containeth a [this] general doctrine, Unless we will willingly have our souls drawn headlong from being any longer temples of the Holy Ghost, and unless we desire their ruin, we must beware of those which go about to lead us away from the pure gospel. That which they say touching the keeping of the law doth only appertain unto ceremonies, though we must always remember, that they did so intreat of ceremonies; that [as if] both the salvation and also the righteousness of men did therein consist. For the false apostles did command that they should be kept, as if righteousness came by the law and salvation did depend upon works.
25. With our beloved Barnabas and Paul. They set these praises against the slanders wherewith the false apostles had essayed to bring Paul and Barnabas out of credit. F1001 And, first, to the end they may remove the opinion of disagreement which had possessed the minds of many, they testify their consent; secondly, they commend Paul and Barnabas for their ferventness in zeal and most manlike courage, that they were not afraid to venture or lay down their souls for Christ’s sake. And this is an excellent virtue in a minister of the gospel, and which deserveth no small praise, if he shall not only be stout and courageous to execute the office of teaching, but also be ready to enter danger which is offered in defense of his doctrine. As the Lord doth thus try the faith and constancy of those which be his, so he doth, as it were, make them noble with the ensigns of virtue, that they may excel in his Church. Therefore, Paul holdeth forth the marks of Christ which he did bear in his body, (<480617>Galatians 6:17) as a buckler to drive back those knaves which did trouble his doctrine. And though it do not so fall out with most stout and courageous teachers and preachers of the gospel, that they strive for the gospel until they come in danger of life, because the matter doth not so require, yet is this no let but that Christ may purchase authority for his martyrs, so often as he bringeth them into worthy and renowned conflicts.
Nevertheless, let even those who are not enforced to enter combat by any necessity be ready to shed their blood, if God see it good at any time that it should be so. But the apostles commend the fortitude of Paul and Barnabas only in a good cause; because, if it were sufficient to enter dangers manfully, the martyrs of Christ should nothing differ from troublesome and frenzied men, from cutters and roysters. F1002 Therefore, Paul and Barnabas are commended, not because they laid open themselves simply to dangers, but because they refuse not to die for Christ’s sake. Peradventure, also, the apostles meant to nip F1003 those knaves by the way, who, having never suffered any thing for Christ’s sake, came out of their roust and dainties F1004 to trouble the churches, which cost the courageous soldiers of Christ dearly.
28. It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.Whereas the apostles and elders match and join themselves with the Holy Ghost, they attribute nothing to themselves apart therein; but this speech importeth as much as if they should say, that the Holy Ghost was the captain, guide, and governor, and that they did set down, and decreed that which they write as he did indite it to them. F1005 For this manner of speech is used commonly in the Scripture, to give the ministers the second place after that the name of God is once expressed. When it is said that the people believed God and his servant Moses, (<021431>Exodus 14:31,) faith is not rent in pieces, as if it did addict itself partly to God, and partly to mortal man. What then? to wit, whereas the people had God for the sole author of their faith, they believed or gave credence to his minister, from whom he could not be separate. Neither could they otherwise believe God than by believing the doctrine set before them by Moses, as they did shake off the yoke of God after that they had once rejected and despised Moses. Whereby the wickedness of those men is also refuted, who, making boast of faith with full mouth, do no less wickedly than proudly contemn the ministry. For, as it were a sacrilegious partition, if faith should depend even but a very little upon man, so those men do openly mock God who feign that they have him to be their teacher, when they set nought by the ministers by whom he speaketh. Therefore, the apostles deny that they invented that decree of their own brain which they deliver to the Gentiles, but that they were only ministers of the Spirit, that they may, with the authority of God, make them commendable, which (proceeding from him) they do faithfully deliver. So, when Paul maketh mention of his gospel, he doth not enforce upon them a new gospel, which is of his own inventing, but he preacheth that which was committed to him by Christ.
And the Papists are doltish who go about, out of these words, to prove that the Church hath some authority of her own; yea, they are contrary to themselves. For, under what color do they avouch that the Church cannot err, save only because it is grounded immediately by the Holy Spirit? Therefore, they cry out with open mouth, that those things be the oracles of the Spirit which we prove to be their own inventions. Therefore, they do foolishly urge this cause, it seemed good to us;because, if the apostles decreed any thing apart from the Spirit, that principal maxim shall fall to ground, that Councils decree nothing but which is indited by the Spirit.
Besides these necessary things.The Papists do forwardly triumph under color of this word, as if it were lawful for men to make laws which may lay necessity upon the conscience. That (say they) which the Church commandeth must be kept under pain of mortal sin, because the apostles say that that must necessarily be observed which they decree. But such a vain cavil is quickly answered. For this necessity reached no farther than there was any danger lest the unity should be cut asunder. So that, to speak properly, this necessity was accidental or external; which was placed not in the thing itself, but only in avoiding of the offense, which appeareth more plainly by abolishing of the decree. For laws made concerning things which are of themselves necessary must be continual. But we know that this law was foredone F1006 by Paul so soon as the tumult and contention was once ended, when he teacheth that nothing is unclean, (<451414>Romans 14:14;) and when he granteth liberty to eat all manner [of] meats, yea, even such as were sacrificed to idols, (<461025>1 Corinthians 10:25.) Wherefore, in vain do they gather any cloak or color out of this word to bind men’s consciences, seeing that the necessity spoken of in this place did only respect men in the external use lest there should any offense arise thereupon, and that their liberty before God might stand whole and sound. Also, in vain do they gather out of all the whole place, and in vain do they go about out of the same to prove that the Church had power given to decree anything contrary to the word of God. The Pope hath made such laws as seemed best to him, contrary to the word of God, whereby he meant to govern the Church; and that not ten or twenty, but an infinite number, so that they do not only tyrannously oppress souls, but are also cruel torments to vex and torment them.
To the end the hired brabblers [wranglers] of the Pope may excuse such cruelty, they do object that even the apostles did forbid the Gentiles that which was not forbidden in the word of God. But I say flatly, that the apostles added nothing unto the word of God; which shall plainly appear if we list to mark their drift. I said of late that they meant nothing less F1007 than to set down a perpetual law, whereby they might bind the faithful. What then? They use that remedy which was fit for the nourishing of brotherly peace and concord among the Churches, that the Gentiles may for a time apply themselves F1008 to the Jews. But if we will grant anything, we must assuredly confess that this is according to the word of God, that love bear the sway in things indifferent; that is, that the external use of those things which are of themselves free be bent unto the rule of charity.
In sum, if love be the bond of perfection and end of the law; if God command that we study to preserve mutual unity among ourselves, and that every man serve his neighbor to edify, no man is so ignorant which doth not see that that is contained in the word of God which the apostles command in this place, only they apply a general rule to their time. Furthermore, let us remember that which I said before, that it was a politic law which could not ensnare the conscience, neither bring in any reigned worship of God; which two vices the Scripture condemneth everywhere in men’s traditions. But admit we should grant (which is most false) that that did not accord with the word of God which was decreed in that council, yet that maketh nothing for the Papists. Let the councils decree anything contrary to [beyond, in addition to] the express word of God, according to the revelation of the Spirit; yet none but lawful councils may have this authority given them. Then let them prove that their councils were godly and holy, to the decrees whereof they will have us subject. But I will not any farther prosecute this point, because it was handled in the beginning of the chapter. Let the readers know (which is sufficient for this present place) that the apostles pass not the bounds of the word of God when they set down an external law, as time requireth, whereby they may reconcile the Churches among themselves.
30. Therefore, when they were let go, they came to Antioch: and when they had assembled the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: 31. Which, when they had read, they rejoiced over the consolation. 32. And Judas and Silas, seeing they were also prophets, did with many words exhort [or they did comfort] the brethren, and strengthened them. 33. And they tarried there for a time, and then they were let go by the brethren in peace unto the apostles. 34. But it seemed good to Silas to stay there. 35. And Paul and Barnabas stayed at Antioch, teaching and preaching with many more the word of the Lord.
30. When the multitude was gathered.Thiswas the most lawful kind of dealing to admit the whole multitude unto the reading of the epistle. For if there fall out any controversy in the doctrine of faith, it is meet that the judgment be referred over unto the learned and godly, and to such as are exercised in the Scripture; and, chiefly, to the pastors rightly ordained. Notwithstanding, because it belongeth to all alike to know for a surety what they must hold, the godly and learned teachers must make known F1009 to the whole Church what they have set down out of the word of God. For there is nothing more unfitting for holy and Christian order than to drive away the body of the people from common doctrine, as if it were a herd of swine, as they use to do under the tyranny of Popery. For because the Pope and the horned bishops did think that the people would never be obedient enough until they were brought into gross ignorance, they imagined that this was the best summary of faith, to know nothing, but to depend wholly upon their decrees. But, on the contrary, there must be a mean observed, that lawful governments may continue; F1010 and that, on the other side, the people may have that liberty which unto them belongeth, lest they be oppressed like slaves.
31. They rejoiced over the consolation.Seeing that the epistle is so short, and containeth nothing but a bare narration, what consolation could they have by it? But we must note, that there was no small matter of consolation therein, because, when they knew the consent of the apostles, they were all pacified, and also whereas before there was variance among them, they are now reconciled one to another. Seeing there went a false report about, that all the apostles were against Paul and Barnabas, this same had shaken some who were too light of belief, many did stand in doubt; the wicked abused this occasion to speak evil; others some were pricked forward F1011 with love of novelty and with curiosity, and one was set against another. But now, after that they see that the judgment of the first Church doth agree with the doctrine of Paul and Barnabas, they obtain that for which the children of God ought most to wish, that being established in the right faith, and being of one mind among themselves, they may with quiet minds have peace one with another.