THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
To the intent that all godly men may, with more diligence, read this history, and also be more desirous thereof, it shall not be without profit briefly to note what commodity they shall reap thereby.
This is the chiefest praise that a profane history hath, namely, that it is the mistress of life. If that narration of famous deeds, which only teacheth men what they ought to follow, or what they ought to eschew, in their common actions, deserve such a title, of how great praise are the divine histories worthy, which do not only frame the outward life of man that he may win praise by virtue, but also (which is more) which declare unto us that God, from the beginning, hath had a special regard always of his Church, (and faithful congregation,) that he hath been always a most just revenger of all wrongs done unto those that have betaken themselves unto his tuition, and have committed themselves unto his custody; that he hath showed himself favorable and merciful unto most miserable and wretched sinners; and, lastly, by teaching us faith, raised us high above the heavens. I say nothing of this, that they do everywhere set forth the providence of God, that they distinguish the true worship of God from the false, and never err in the difference of vice and virtue; although I omit now also those worthy praises which used most commonly to be attributed unto the sacred histories, intending only shortly to touch those which are proper to this book which we have taken in hand.
Those things which Luke setteth before us in this place to be learned are not only great, but also of rare profit; for, first, in that he showeth that the Spirit of God was sent unto the apostles, he doth not only prove that Christ was faithful (and true) in keeping his promise made unto his apostles; but also he certifieth us, that he is always mindful of his, and a perpetual governor of his Church, because the Holy Spirit did descend from heaven to this end; whereby we learn that the distance of place doth no whit hinder Christ from being present with those that be his at all times. Now, here is most lively painted out the beginning of Christ's kingdom, and as it were the renewing of the world; for although the Son of God had gathered together, by his preaching, a certain Church, before such time as he departed out of the world, yet, nevertheless, that was the best form of the Church which began then, when as the apostles, having new power given them from above, began to preach that that only Shepherd did both die and also rise again, that through his conduct all those which were dispersed, far and wide, (upon the face of the whole earth,) might be gathered unto one sheepfold. Here is, therefore, set down both the beginning and also the increasing of the Church of Christ after his ascension, whereby he was declared to be King both of heaven and earth.
Furthermore, therein appeareth, as well the marvelous power of Christ, as the great force and efficacy of the gospel itself; for in that Christ, by a sort of simple souls, (and of no reputation amongst men,) being indued also with no eloquence at all, hath subdued the whole world so easily, by the only voice of the gospel, whereas, notwithstanding Satan did resist him with so many lets, he hath showed a most manifest token of his divine power and might therein. And also, we see in the same the incredible force of the gospel, that it did not only come forth and show itself, although the whole world did say nay, but also with great glory and majesty, make all that which did seem stubborn to be obedient unto Christ. Therefore, these few and simple creatures did more prevail against the troublesome tumults of the world, with the base and simple sound of their mouth, than if God should openly have thrown down lightnings from heaven. And, on the other side, the Spirit of God teacheth us, that the kingdom of Christ beginneth never sooner to flourish, but by and by Satan opposeth himself most furiously against the same, and useth all his engines either utterly to overthrow or sore to shake the same. Neither are we only taught, that Satan doth resist Christ as an enemy, but also that the whole world doth furiously rage together against him, that he may not reign over them. Yea, furthermore, that is to be set down as a thing most certain, that wicked men, whilst they do so rage against the gospel, do both fight under Satan's banner, and are pricked forward by him into so blind fury. Hereupon do arise so many uproars, so many plaguy conspiracies, so many devilish endeavors of the reprobate to overthrow the gospel, (and to hinder the free passage of the same,) which Luke setteth down almost in every place.
Lastly, like as the apostles have indeed tried, that the doctrine of the gospel is a fire and a sword, so may we learn by their experience that it will always come to pass, not only by the obstinate malice of Satan, but also by the fatal stubbornness of men, that the gospel shall suffer many conflicts, and that thereby many tumults shall be raised. But, on the other side, he declareth that the apostles, (with a stout stomach,) with a lively courage and invincible violentness [force] of mind, did, notwithstanding, execute the office which they knew was enjoined them by God; and also, what innumerable troubles they suffered with great perseverance, what wearisomeness they passed over, how patiently they sustained most cruel persecution; and, lastly, how meekly they suffered reproach, sorrow, and calamity of all sorts. And we must learn patience by such examples, seeing the Son of God hath pronounced that the cross and tribulation shall always accompany his gospel; we must not pamper and cherish ourselves with a vain hope, as though the state and condition of the Church should be quiet (prosperous) and flourishing here upon earth. Let us, therefore, address ourselves to suffer the like things. And that is added as no small comfort for us, that as God hath marvelously delivered his Church in times past, being afflicted and oppressed so many ways, so he will at this day be present with us also. For, surely, seeing that in this book is declared how that God, by his mighty hand and outstretched arm alone, doth continually defend his Church, being amidst continual deaths: God himself, by this means, setteth before our eyes his continual providence in procuring the safety thereof.
Furthermore, here are set down certain sermons of the apostles which intreat in such sort of the great mercies of God, of the grace of Christ, of the hope of blessed immortality, of the calling upon God, of repentance and the fear of God, and also of other principal points of Christian doctrine, that we need not seek the whole sum of godliness anywhere else.: But that I may now omit the declaration of sound and pure doctrine, -- if that be a thing most needful to be known, namely, to understand how the Church of Christ first began; how the apostles began to preach the gospel; what success they had in the same; what cruel combats they suffered; how manfully they passed through so many lets and impediments; how courageously they triumphed over all the pride of the world under the reproach of the cross; how wonderfully God was present with them: then must we highly esteem of this book, which, unless it were extant, the knowledge of so great things should either be quite buried, or greatly obscured, or wrapped in divers doubts. For we see that Satan used all his engines, that he might so bring to pass, that never any of the acts of the apostles might come to light, but such only as were mixed with lies; to the end he might bring into suspicion what thing soever was spoken of them, and so by that means might pluck out of the minds of the godly all the remembrance of that age. For he always raised up, either doting fools or crafty flouters, that they might spread abroad a sort of filthy fables under the names of other men; the blockishness whereof did much discredit even the true histories.
So in those books of Peter and Paul, which are reigned to be of Linus his doing, are contained such a sort of stinking trifles, that they cause the wicked to laugh at them, and the godly to loathe them. So that reigned disputation of Peter with Simon Magus is so ridiculous, that it doth discredit the name of a Christian. The same opinion must we have of all that mingle-mangle, which is set before the Recognitions and Councils of Clement, and recited of Gratianus in his Fragments. They beguile the unskillful under color of ancient names; the wicked boast of those as of oracles, no less boldly than impudently, when as, indeed, they are filthy toys. Satan did use such liberty to lie, that we might have no certain thing left us after Christ's ascension. So that unless this work of Luke were extant, it might seem that Christ being taken up into heaven, left no fruit of his death or resurrection upon earth. For all should have vanished away with his body. We should not know that Christ was so received into his celestial glory, that, nevertheless, he beareth rule in all the world; we should not know that the gospel was published by the apostles, and so came from them unto us, though by the means of others; we should not know that they were inspired by the Holy Ghost, lest they should teach anything but that which was divine, to the end our faith might be grounded only upon the infallible verity of God. Last of all, we should not know that that prophecy of Esaias was fulfilled, wherein he foretold that the law should come out of Sion, and the Word of the Lord out of Jerusalem.
Seeing this book proceeding, no doubt, from the Spirit of God, taketh from us all doubting of these things, we must count the same as a great treasure, as I have said before not without cause, and now again confirm the same.