8. The Sadducees say.Though Luke maketh mention of three points wherein these sects did dissent, yet shortly after he bringeth F1392 them to two, because there is like respect to be had of spirits and of angels. Therefore, he saith that the Pharisees did confess both; to wit, that the dead shall rise again, and that human and angelical spirits are immortal. And here Luke declareth in what sense the apostle professed himself to be a Pharisee, not because he did subscribe to all their inventions, but only in the resurrection of the dead. We know how sharply Christ reproveth their errors, (<402229>Matthew 22:29) therefore, it had been good that some exception had been added, F1393 lest any man might think that Paul was one with them in all things. Now, though the Sadducees did deny the resurrection, yet may we not think that they were altogether like to the Epicures, [Epicureans]. For they did confess that the world is governed by the providence of God, and that every man is rewarded for his works. In this point they were sounder than the Epicures, [Epicureans]. But they did dote too grossly, when they included the rewards of righteousness and the punishments of wickedness in this life. For that I may omit the Scripture, experience doth teach, that as well the godly as the ungodly are either punished with many miseries, or else gently F1394 dealt withal; and that the wicked do oftentimes live in wealth and pleasures, when as the worshippers of God are oftentimes miserably tormented; as it is <197304>Psalm 73:4. Therefore, whosoever esteemeth the judgment of God by the present estate of men, whether it be good or bad, he must needs fall away from faith at length unto Epicurish contempt of God.
Now, this is beastly blockishness to rest in an uncertain and transitory life, and not to be wise above F1395 the earth. For which cause we must flee from that error as from a detestable monster. For though godliness have the promises of the earthly life also, yet because we be most miserable if our hope stay still in this world, the children of God must begin with this, that they may lift up their eyes toward heaven, and think continually upon the glory of the last resurrection.
Neither angel nor spirit.This place is expounded two manner of ways. F1396 Many refer it unto the Holy Ghost, which seemeth to be unlikely. For howsoever the Sadducees be to be holden excused in other errors, yet because the Scripture doth so often repeat the name of the Spirit, I will scarce believe that they denied that which the Pharisees believed only lightly and obscurely. For even these men had no distinct faith concerning the Holy Spirit, that they did acknowledge the proper person of the Spirit in the substance of God. F1397 Some will have angel and spirit to signify one thing, F1398 as if one thing were spoken twice. But to what end was it to repeat a thing which was plain enough? I warrant you, that member which followeth did deceive them, where Luke seemeth to make no distinction. But we showed the reason before; because, seeing the souls of men and angels are of one and the same nature and substance, they be both placed in one order. Therefore, I do not doubt but that this is Luke’s true meaning, that the Sadducees did deny angels, and also all manner of spirits.
Now, forasmuch as Paul crieth that he is a Pharisee in this point of doctrine, he doth flatly condemn all brain-sick fellows, who at this day are in the same error. For there be certain profane and unlearned men who dream that angels and devils are nothing else but good and evil inspirations; and lest they want some color, they say that all that came from the heathen which the Scripture hath concerning good and evil angels, whereas that opinion which was common in the world had his [its] beginning from the heavenly doctrine. But the heathen did with their lies pollute that doctrine which they had from the Fathers. As touching men’s souls, because even at this day certain miscreants do feign that the souls do vanish away in death until the day of the resurrection, their madness is likewise refuted by the testimony of Luke.
9. There was a great cry.That sedition whereof Luke spake a little before is more plainly expressed in this place; to wit, that they were not only of diverse opinions, but did strive clamorously with outcries. Wherefore, vasiv doth signify somewhat more than dissension. Furthermore, this place doth teach what mischief disagreements bring with them. For because they take their beginning for the most part of ambition, men proceed thence unto contention, and straightway stubbornness breaketh out. When they be come thither, because there is no place left either for judgment or moderation, they can no longer judge of the cause. Those who did detest Paul begin at a sudden to defend him. It was well done, if they had done it with judgment. But because they inveigh against the Sadducees, they are so inflamed with hatred against them, that they be blind in Paul’s matter. For which cause we must beware of heat of contention, which disturbeth all things.
If the Spirit.This ought undoubtedly to be expounded of the Holy Ghost. And nothing could be spoken either more godly or modestly. For so soon as it is apparent that any doctrine is revealed from heaven, those do wickedly resist God who do not receive the same. But how is it that the scribes do so suddenly count Paul a prophet of God whom they were once ready to have murdered — whom they had condemned with their prejudice until the contention arose? F1399 Furthermore, as they did cut their own throats with these words as with a sword, so God would have them to be to us teachers to instruct us, that we despise not the oracles which come from heaven. Notwithstanding, we see again that those stand in doubt who take not good heed, and are not careful to mark the word of God; and that they waver so often as any thing is brought to light, because they be unworthy to understand the certain truth. Wherefore, if we be desirous to have our studies governed by the spirit of discretion, let us apply ourselves to learn.
10. And when there arose a sore dissension among them, the chief captain feared lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces by them, and he commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him from them, and to bring him into the camp, 11. And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, lie of good courage, Paul: for as thou hast borne witness of me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness of me at Rome also. 12. And when it was day, certain of the Jews gathered themselves together, and bound themselves with a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. 13. And there were more than forty men which had made this conspiracy. 14. And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves with a curse, that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul. 15. Now therefore signify ye to the chief captain and council that he bring him forth to you tomorrow, as if ye would know somewhat more certainly of him: and we, before he come near, are ready to kill him. 16. But when Paul’s sister’s son heard of the lying in wait, he came and entered into the camp, and told Paul.
10. We see again what a cruel mischief contention is, which so soon as it doth once wax hot, hath such violent motions, that even most wise men are not well in their wits. Therefore, so soon as any beginning shall show itself, let us study to prevent it in time, lest the remedy be too late in bridling it when it is in the middle, because no fire is so swift as it. As for the chief captain, as he was appointed to be the minister of God’s providence to save Paul’s life, so he delivereth him now the second time by his soldiers from death. For though the chief captain defend F1400 him so diligently, for no other purpose save only that he may prevent uproars and murder; yet the Lord, who from heaven provided and appointed help for his servant, doth direct his blind hands thither.
11. And the night following.Luke declareth that Paul was strengthened with an oracle, that he might stand courageously against terrible assaults when things were so far out of order. Surely it could not be but that he was sore afraid, and that he was sore troubled with the remembrance of things to come. Wherefore, the oracle was not superfluous. Those former things whereby he was taught that God cared for him, ought to have sufficed to nourish his hope, and to have kept him from fainting; but because in great dangers Satan doth oftentimes procure new fears, that he may thereby (if he cannot altogether overwhelm God’s promises in the hearts of the godly) at least darken the same with clouds, it is needful that the remembrance of them be renewed, that faith, being holpen with new props and stays, may stand more steadfastly. But the sum is, that Paul may behave himself boldly, because he must be Christ’s witness at Rome also. But this seemeth to be but a cold and vain consolation, as if he should say, Fear not, because thou must abide a sorer brunt; for it had been better, according to the flesh, once to die, and with speed to end his days, than to pine away in bands, and long time to lie in prison. The Lord doth not promise to deliver him; no, he saith not so much as that he shall have a joyful end; only he saith, that those troubles and afflictions, wherewith he was too sore oppressed already, shall continue long. But by this we gather better of what great importance this confidence is, that the Lord hath respect unto us in our miseries, though he stretch not forth his hand by and by to help us.
Therefore, let us learn, even in most extreme afflictions, to stay ourselves upon the word of God alone; and let us never faint so long as he quickeneth us with the testimony of his fatherly love. And because oracles are not now sent from heaven, neither doth the Lord himself appear by visions, we must meditate upon his innumerable promises, whereby he doth testify that he will be nigh unto us continually. If it be expedient that an angel come down unto us, the Lord will not deny even this kind of confirmation. Nevertheless, we must give this honor to the word, that being content with it alone we wait patiently for that help which it promiseth us.
Moreover, it did profit some nothing to hear angels which were sent down from heaven; but the Lord doth not in vain seal up in the hearts of the faithful by his Spirit those promises which are made by him. And as he doth not in vain beat them in and often repeat them, F1401 so let our faith exercise itself diligently in the continual remembrance of them. For if it were necessary that Paul’s faith should be oftentimes set and stored up with a new help, there is none of us which needeth not many more helps. Also, ourminds must be armed with patience, that they may pass through the long and troublesome circuits of troubles and afflictions.
12. And when it was day.By this circumstance, Luke showeth how necessary it was for Paul to gather new and fresh strength of faith, that he might not quake in most great and sudden danger. For being told of this so desperate madness of his enemies, he could not otherwise think but that he should lose his life. This vow whereof Luke speaketh was a kind of curse. The cause of the vow was, that it might not be lawful for them to change their purpose, nor to call back that which they had promised. There is always, indeed, in an oath a secret curse, F1402 if any man deceive or forswear, but sometimes to the end men may the more bind themselves, they use certain forms of cursing; F1403 and they make themselves subject to cruel torments, to the end they may be the more afraid. Thishistory doth teach that zeal is so bloody in hypocrites, that they weigh not what is lawful for them, but they run carelessly whithersoever their lust doth carry them. Admit we grant that Paul was a wicked man, and worthy to die, yet who had given private men leave to put him to death? Now, if any man had asked why they did so hate Paul, they would quickly have answered, because he was a revolt [apostate] and schismatic; but it was but a foolish opinion, and an opinion conceived of an uncertain report concerning this matter which had rashly possessed their minds.
The same blindness and blockishness doth at this day prick forward the Papists, so that they think nothing unlawful for them in destroying us. Hypocrisy doth so blind their ears, that as men freed from the laws of God and merit they are carried by their zeal sometimes unto treachery, sometimes unto guile, sometimes unto intolerable cruelty, and, finally, to attempt whatsoever they will. Moreover, we see in this history how great the rashnessof the wicked is. They bind themselves with a curse that they will eat no meat till they have slain Paul, as if his life were in their hands. Therefore, these brain-sick men take to themselves that which the Lord doth so often in Scripture say is his, to wit,
“To have the life and death of those men whom he hath created in his hand,” (<053208>Deuteronomy 32:89).
Moreover, there be not only two or three who are partners in this madness, but more than forty. Whence we do also gather how willing and bent men are to do mischief, seeing they run together thus on heaps. F1404
Furthermore, seeing Satan doth drive them headlong into their own destruction, how shameful is then our sluggishness, when as we scarce move one finger in maintaining the glory of God? We must use moderation, that we attempt nothing without the commandment of God; but when God calleth us expressly, our loitering is without excuse.
14. They came to the chief priests.Seeing that the priests agree to such a wicked and ungodly conspiracy, by this they prove that there was in them neither any fear of God, neither yet any humanity. They do not only allow [approve] that which is brought before them concerning the murdering of the man by laying wait, but also they are ready to be partners in the murder, that they may deliver him into the hands of the murderers, whom they would have made away some way, they pass not how. For what other thing was it to take a man out of the hands of the judge and to slay him, than like murderers to rage even in the very place of judgment? The priests surely would never have allowed [approved] such a wicked purpose if there had been in them any drop of godly and right affection, or of humane feeling. Moreover, they did what they could to bring destruction upon all the people and themselves also. But the Lord did by this means disclose their wicked impiety, which lay hid under a color of honor.
16.Paul’s sister’s son.We see in this place how the Lord doth cross the purposes of the ungodly. He permitteth them to attempt many things, and he suffereth their wicked endeavors, but at length he showeth even in the twinkling of an eye F1405 that he doth from heaven deride whatsoever men go about upon earth.
“There is no wisdom,” saith Solomon, “there is no counsel against the Lord,” (<202130>Proverbs 21:30).
Whereto that of Isaiah doth answer,
“Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought: speak the word, and it shall not stand,” (<230810>Isaiah 8:10).
This is set before our eyes to be considered, in this present history, as in a glass. The matter was almost dispatched, that Paul should come out on the morrow to be slain as an avowed sacrificed. F1406 But the Lord doth show that his life is most safely kept, so that whatsoever men go about all is in vain. As for us, let us not fear but that his providence, whereof he showed some token then, reacheth even unto the defending of us, because this promise continueth sure,
“There shall not an hair fall from your heads,” etc.
Moreover, it is worth the noting, that he worketh sometimes by means unlooked for to save those that be his, that he may the better exercise our faith. Who would have thought that a boy would have disclosed their lying in wait, which those who were partners in the conspiracy thought was known to none but to themselves? Therefore, let us learn to lean unto and stay ourselves upon the Lord, though we see no ordinary way to save ourselves, who shall find a way even through places where nothing can pass.
17. And when Paul had called unto him one of the centurions, he saith, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to show him. 18. And he took him, and led him unto the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and desired me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath somewhat to say to thee. 19. And the chief captain took him by the hand, and went aside with him, and asked him, What is it that thou hast to say to me? 20. And he said, The Jews have conspired together to desire thee that thou bring forth Paul into the council tomorrow, as if they would know somewhat more certainly of him. 21. But do not thou obey them: F1407 for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, who have bound themselves with a curse, that they will neither eat nor drink until they have slain him: and now they be ready waiting that thou shouldst promise. 22. Therefore the chief captain let the young man go, and commanded him, Tell no man that thou hast told me these things. 23. And when he had called unto him two under captains, he said, Make ready two hundred soldiers that they may go to Cesarea, and horsemen seventy, and two hundred with darts, F1408 [or javelins] at the third hour of the night. 24. And make ready beasts, that they may set Paul thereon, and bring him safe to Felix the governor.
17. Calling unto him.Paul was not so desirous of life, but he would have made haste to die, if the Lord had thought it good so to be; but because he knoweth that he serveth Christ upon that condition, that he may no less live than die to him, he doth not neglect to avoid the danger which was revealed to him. And though he be fully persuaded that God is the keeper of his life, yet he doth not wait until God put forth his hand out of heaven to work a miracle, but doth rather use the remedy which is offered him; : nothing doubting but that it is appointed by God.
Thus must all the ministers of Christ deal, that being furnished with invincible constancy, so far as their calling requireth, they fear not danger, and yet that they cast not away themselves through rashness. Let them call upon the name of the Lord cheerfully, even amidst the pikes; F1409 and yet let them not contemn those helps which are offered; otherwise they shall be injurious to God, in that they are not only not moved with his promises, F1410 but also despise the means which he hath appointed for their deliverance.
19. Taking him by the hand.In that the chief captain did show himself so courteous to the young man, in that he led him by the hand into a secret place, in that he vouchsafeth to hear him so gently, all this must be attributed to the grace of God, who promised to give his people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, (<020321>Exodus 3:21) who useth to mollify hard hearts, to tame fierce spirits, and to fashion those unto all humanity, whom he hath determined to use as means to help those that be his. A man trained up in the wars might no less have given this young man the repulse, whom he knew not, than have despised Paul’s suit. Therefore, the Lord, who hath in his hand the hearts of men, did frame the profane man to give ear unto him. Also, it was well that he knew before how furiously they raged against Paul, that he might the more willingly succor a miserable and forsaken man. Those who are in authority are taught by this example what a great virtue courtesy is. If it had been a hard matter to come to him, F1411 he might, through ignorance, have delivered Paul to the Jews to be put to death. So oftentimes magistrates do fall into many and great offenses through their own pride, because they will not admit those who would give them good counsel.
CalIing unto him.And here we see the providence of God yet more manifestly; for though this be the drift of the chief captain: to prevent a public uproar, whereof he should have given an account before the governor, yet he executeth the counsel of God in delivering Paul. For he was to gather soldiers together; also, the city must needs be stripped of the garrison, and the voyage required some cost. Therefore: we must so consider the wisdom of the chief captain, that our faith lift up her eyes into heaven: and understand that God doth guide the heart of a profane man by a secret instinct, and that he is at length a guide to Paul and the soldiers, that he may come safe to Cesarea. The third hour of the night was the end of the first watch. Therefore, it is all one as if the chief captain did command that the soldiers be in readiness at the second watch. Luke calleth those who carried darts lancearios, who being more lightly weaponed, were placed in the wings, when as the soldiers which pertained unto the legions were more fit for set war. F1412
25. And he wrote a letter after this sort: 26. Claudius Lysias to the most mighty ruler, [prefect] Felix, sendeth greeting. 27. This man being taken of the Jews, and almost killed of them, did I rescue, coming upon them with soldiers, after that I knew that he was a Roman. 28. And being desirous to know the cause for which they did accuse him, I brought him into their council: 29. Whom I perceived they accused of questions of their law, having in him no crime worthy of death or of bonds. 30. And when I was certified of the laying await of the Jews, I sent him straightway unto thee, and gave commandment to his accusers, that they should tell those things before thee what they have against him. Farewell. 31. And the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul, and brought him by night unto Antipatris. 32. And on the morrow when they had sent away the horsemen that they might go with him, they returned to the camp. 33. When they were come to Cesarea, and had delivered the epistle to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34. And when the governor had read it, and had asked of what province he was, and had known that he was of Cilicia; 35. I will hear thee, saith he, when thine accusers are come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s judgment-hall.