1. And the chief priest said, Are these things so? 2. He answered, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, 3. And he said unto him, Come out of thy country, and from amongst thy kindred, and come into the land which I will show thee.4. Then he came out of the land of the Chaldees, and dwelt in Charran. After that his father was dead, God brought him thence into this land, wherein ye now dwell.
1. There appeareth as yet some color of equity in the high priest and in the council; and yet, notwithstanding, there is a most unjust prejudice in his words; for he asketh him not what cause he had to teach thus, neither doth he admit him unto the defense of right, (which was, notwithstanding, the chief;) but he demanded precisely whether Stephen uttered these words, whatsoever they were; as the Papists at this day will not demand what doctrine it is, and whether it can be proved out of the Scriptures; but they inquire whether any man durst mutter against their superstitions, that so soon as he is convict, they may forthwith burn him. Furthermore, Stephen's answer may seem at the first blush absurd and foolish. He beginneth first at the very first beginning; afterwards he maketh a long narration, wherein there is no mention made, in a manner, of the matter in hand; and there can be no greater fault than to utter many words which are nothing appertinent unto the matter; but whosoever shall thoroughly consider this long speech, he shall find nothing therein which is superfluous; and shall full well perceive that Stephen speaketh very ap-pertinently, as the matter requireth. He was accused as an apostate (or revolt,) which did attempt the overthrow of religion and the worship of God; therefore, he beateth in this diligently, that he retaineth that God which the fathers have always worshipped, so that he turneth away the crime of wicked backsliding; and declareth that his enemies were pricked forward with nothing less than with the zeal of the law, for they bear a show that they were wholly determined to increase the glory of God; therefore, he wringeth from them this false boasting, and because they had the fathers always in their mouths, because they were puffed up with the glory of their nation, Stephen declareth also that they have no cause to be proud of this, but rather that the corruptions of the fathers were so great and so many, that they ought to be ashamed and humbled.
As concerning the principal state of the cause, because the question was concerning the temple and the ceremonies, he affirmeth plainly that their fathers were elected of God to be a peculiar people before there was any temple, and before Moses was born; and to this end tendeth that exordium or beginning which is so far fet, (fetched.) Secondly, he telleth them that all external rites which God gave by the hand of Moses were fashioned according to the heavenly pattern.
Whereupon it followeth, that the ceremonial law is referred unto another end, and that those deal foolishly and disorderly who omit the truth, and stay only in the signs. If the readers shall refer the whole oration of Stephen unto these points, they shall find nothing therein which agreeth not very well with the cause, as I shall declare again briefly in the end; nevertheless, that scope of the whole oration shall not hinder but that we may discuss all things briefly which are worth the noting.
2. Men, brethren, and fathers. Although Stephen saw that those which sat in the council were, for the most part, the sworn enemies of Christ, yet because the ordinary government of the people did belong to them, and they had the oversight of the Church, which God had not as yet cast off, therefore, he is not afraid, for modesty's sake, to call them fathers. Neither doth he flatteringly purchase favor hereby; but he giveth this honor to the order and government appointed by God, until such time as the authority should be taken from them, the order being altered. Nevertheless, the reverence of the place which they had doth not hinder him nor stop his mouth; but that he doth freely dissent from them, whereby it appeareth how ridiculous the Papists are who will have us so tied unto bare and vain invented titles, that they may enforce us to subscribe unto their decrees, though they be never so wicked.
The God of glory. By this beginning, he declareth that he doth not disagree or dissent from the fathers in true religion which they followed; for all religion, the worship of God, the doctrine of the law, all prophecies, did depend upon that covenant which God made with Abraham; therefore, when Stephen confessed that God appeared to Abraham, he embraceth the law and the prophets, which flow from that first revelation as from a fountain; moreover, he calleth him the God of glory, that he may distinguish him from the false and reigned gods, who alone is worthy of glory.
When he was in Mesopotamia. It is well known that that is called by this name which lieth between the river Tigris and Euphrates; and he saith before, he dwelt in Charran, because Abraham, being warned by an oracle, fled from Chaldea to Charran, which is a city of Mesopotamia, famous by reason of the slaughter of Crassus and the Roman army; although Pliny saith that it was a city of Arabia; and it is no marvel that Chaldea is in this place comprehended under the name of Mesopotamia, because, although that region, which is enclosed with Tigris and Euphrates, [Mesopotamia,] be properly the country between two rivers, yet those which set down any description of countries do call both Assyria and Chaldea by this name.
The sum is this, that Abraham being commanded by God, did forsake his country, and so he was prevented with the mere goodness of God when as he sought that which was offered him at home of the [its] own accord. Read the last chapter of Joshua; but it seemeth that Moses' narration doth somewhat disagree with this, for after that, about the end of the 11th chapter of Genesis, he had declared, that Abraham doth [did] go into another country to dwell, having left his house, he addeth, in the beginning of the 12th, that God spake unto Abraham. This is easily answered, for Moses reciteth not in this latter place what happened after the departure of Abraham; but lest any man should think that Abraham wandered into other countries, having unadvisedly forsaken his own house, (as light and indiscreet men used to do sometimes,) he showeth the cause of his departure, to wit, because he was commanded by God to flit into another place. And thus much do the words of the oracle import. For, if he had been a stranger in another country, God could not have commanded him to depart out of his native soil, forsaking his kinsmen and father's house. Therefore, we see that this place agreeth wondrous well with the words of Moses. For after that Moses hath said that Abraham went to Charran, to the end he may show that this journey was taken in hand, not through any lightness of man, but at the commandment of God, he addeth that afterwards which he had before omitted, which manner of speaking is much used of the Hebrews.
3. Come out of thy country. God useth many words, to the end he may the more wound the mind of Abraham, as if it were not a thing sharp enough of itself to be banished out of his own country. And that served to try his faith; even as that other thing also, that God assigneth him no land wherein he may dwell, but maketh him stand in doubt, and wait for a time. Wherefore the obedience of Abraham was so much the more to be commended, because the sweetness of his native soil keepeth him not back from going willingly, as it were, into exile; and in that he doubteth not to follow God, although there appear no certain resting-place, but is commanded to wander to and fro for a time. Whereas, the showing of the land is deferred, it differeth not much from deceiving of him.
Furthermore, we learn continually by our own experience how profitable it was for Abraham thus to be exercised, and, as it were, trained by little and little. Many men are carried with a godly affection to attempt great things, but by and by, so soon as their heat is waxen cold, it repenteth them of their purpose, and they would gladly slip their necks out of the collar. Therefore, lest Abraham should faint when he was in the midst of his course, through the remembrance of those things which he had left behind him, God sifteth and trieth his mind thoroughly, immediately after he had begun, lest he take anything in hand lightly and unadvisedly. To this purpose serveth the parable which Christ setteth before us concerning the building of the tower, (Luke 14:28.) For he teacheth that we must first cast the charges, lest with shame we be enforced to leave off building after we have begun. And though this were a particular thing in Abraham in that he was commanded to go out of his own country, and to go into a far country, in that God carried him from place to place, yet, notwithstanding, there is in these words some figure of the calling of us all. We are not all simply commanded to forsake our country, but we are commanded to deny ourselves; we are not commanded to come out of our father's house, but to bid adieu to our own will, and to the desires of our own flesh. Again, if father and mother, wife and children, hinder us from following God, we must forsake them all. The commandment is given simply to Abraham to flit; but we are commanded to do the stone upon condition. For if in any place we cannot serve God, we must rather make choice of exile than to stay in our nest, being slothful and sluggish. Therefore, let us have the example of Abraham always before our eyes. He is the father of the faithful, he was tried all manner of ways. Doth he forget his country, his friends, and himself, that he may give over himself unto God? (Romans 4:16,17.) If we will be counted the children of God, we must not degenerate from him.
Which I shall show thee. We must note that which I touched a little before, that Abraham is kept in doubt, to the end his patience may be tried. And this must we also apply to our own use, that we may learn to depend wholly upon God. And surely this is a principal exercise of our faith to put our trust in God, even when we see nothing. God, indeed, will oftentimes show us a land wherein he granteth us an abiding-place; yet, notwithstanding, because we are strangers in the world, we have no certain and continual place of abode anywhere. Again, our life, as Paul saith, is hid, (Colossians 3:3;) and being like unto dead men, we hope for salvation, which is hid in heaven. Therefore, as touching our perpetual habitation, God doth cause us to depend upon his providence alone, when he commandeth us, as it were, to wander in a strange country. Lest such deferring discourage us, we must hold this general rule of faith, that we must go whither God calleth us, howsoever he do not show that which he promiseth.
4. Then going out. The readiness and willingness of faith is commended in these words. For when he is called he maketh no delay, but maketh haste and subdueth all his affections, that they may obey the holy commandment of God. It is uncertain for what cause he stayed at Charran; yet it may be that the weakness of his father caused him to tarry there, who, as we read, died there shortly after; or else, because he durst go no further, until such time as the Lord had told him whither he should go. It is more like to be true in mine opinion, that he was stayed there a while with the wearisomeness and sickness of his father, because Stephen saith plainly that he was brought thence after the death of his father.