7. Furthermore, the word of God grew, and the number of the disciples increased greatly at Jerusalem, and a great company of the priests obeyed the faith.8. And Stephen, full of faith and power, wrought wonders and great signs amongst the people.9. But there arose certain of the synagogue, which was called the synagogue of the Libertines and Cyrenians, and of Alexandria, and of those which were of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen.10. And they could not resist the wisdom and spirit wherewith he spake.
Luke setteth forth again the increasing of the Church, to the end he may the better declare the power of God and his grace in the continual going forward thereof. This was an excellent work of God that the Church should suddenly, and, as it were, in a moment, be raised up; but this is worthy no less admiration, in that he furthereth that work which he had begun amidst so many lets, in that the number of these is increased, whom to diminish, and so, consequently, to destroy the whole stock, the world doth so greatly labor. In that he saith that the Word of God did grow, his meaning is, that it was spread further abroad. The Word of God is said to grow two manner of ways; either when new disciples are brought to obey the same, or as every one of us profiteth and goeth forward therein Luke speaketh in this place of the former sort of increasing, for he expoundeth himself by and by, when he speaketh of the number of the disciples. Notwithstanding, he restraineth this so great an increasing of faith unto one city. For although it be to be thought that the disciples were scattered abroad elsewhere, yet was there no certain body save only at Jerusalem.
And a great company. Seeing that (in speaking properly) our faith doth obey the doctrine of the gospel, it is a figurative speech, uttered by metonymia, when Luke saith. That they obeyed the faith; for the word faith is taken by him for the Word of God, and the very profession of Christianity. And he reckoneth up the priests by name, because they were for the most part enemies; for which cause it was a wonderful work of God that some should be converted, and much more wonderful that many. For at the first they raged against Christ with this brag, |Hath any of the rulers believed in him? But this multitude, which knoweth not the law, are accursed.|
8. And Stephen Luke reciteth in this place a new combat of the Church, whereby it appeareth that the glory of the gospel was always joined with the cross and divers troubles. And this is the sum, that the Church was assaulted in the person of one man. Whereby it came to pass that the enemies were the more bold, and being imbrued with innocent blood, did rage sorer than they had wont; for they had not gone as yet beyond the prison and rods. But to the end we may know that the name of Christ was glorified as well in the life as in the death of Stephen, Luke saith at the first, that he was full of faith and power. Whereby he signifieth that his faith was excellent, and that he excelled in power to do miracles. Neither ought we to imagine perfection of faith, because he is said to be full of faith; but this manner of speaking is much used in the Scripture, to call those full of the gifts of God who are abundantly endued with the same. I take power (without question) for ability to do miracles. Faith comprehendeth not only the gift of understanding, but also the ferventness of zeal. Forasmuch as his name was famous by reason of his excellency, it came thereby to pass that the rage of the wicked was bent against him, as it were, with one consent, to overthrow him. For so soon as the force and grace of the Spirit doth show itself, the fury of Satan is by and by provoked.
And it shall appear by the text that Stephen was diligent and courageous in spreading abroad the doctrine of the gospel; but Luke passeth over that, being content to have commended his faith, which could not be slothful and sluggish.
9. And there arose certain. This was the beginning of persecution, because the wicked, after that they have essayed in vain to set themselves against Christ by disputing, when they saw that that former attempt did take none effect, they fly unto slanders, (caviling,) and tumults, and at length they break out into violence and murder. Therefore, Luke meaneth by the word rise, that those of whom he speaketh did assault the gospel with their tongue, and did not, by and by, bring Stephen before the judgment-seat, but did first set upon him, by disputing against him. Furthermore, he signifieth that they were strangers, which lived in Judea, either that they might exercise merchandise, or else get learning. Therefore he saith that some of them were Cyrenians, some of Alexandria, some of Cilicia, some of Asia. He saith that they were all of the synagogue of the Libertines. It is to be thought that the free men of the citizens of Rome had caused a synagogue to be builded of their own charges, that it might be proper to the Jews which came together out of the provinces.
Therefore, those which were brought thither by the grace of God, and ought to have embraced Christ so much the more willingly, assault him first, and inflame the fury of others, as it were with a trumpet. Also Luke will in many other places afterward declare that the Jews, which were scattered abroad in the provinces, were most deadly enemies to sound doctrine: and most venomous in moving tumults. He reckoneth up many, to the end the victory of the truth may be more famous, whilst that in any, gathered of divers countries, depart, being vanquished by one man; and it is not to be doubted but that they were enforced to hold their peace with shame. Stephen had already won great favor, and gotten great dignity by miracles. He answereth the disputers now in such sort that he getteth the upper hand much. He putteth not that wisdom and spirit which he saith his adversaries could not gainstand, as divers things. Therefore resolve these words thus: They could not resist the wisdom which the Spirit of God gave him. For Luke meant to express that they fought not on both sides as men; but that the enemies of the gospel were therefore discouraged and overcome, because they did strive against the Spirit of God, which spake by the mouth of Stephen. And forasmuch as Christ hath promised the same Spirit to all his servants, let us only defend the truth faithfully, and let us crave a mouth and wisdom of him, and we shall be sufficiently furnished to speak, so that neither the wit, neither yet the babbling of our adversaries, shall be able to make us ashamed. So the Spirit was as effectual in our time in the mouth of the martyrs which were burnt, and it uttereth the like force now daily, that though they were ignorant men, (never trained up in any schools,) yet did they make the chief divines which maintained Popery no less astonished with their voice only, than if it had thundered and lightned.