“Who in times, past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, Though he left not himself without witness, doing good, giving to us from heaven rain and fruitful times, replenishing with food and gladness our hearts.” Acts 14:16, 17.
Giving rain and fruitful seasons. God hath, indeed, revealed himself to all mankind by his word from the beginning. But Paul and Barnabas show that there was no age on which God did not bestow benefits, which might testify that the world is governed by his government and because the light of doctrine had been buried long, therefore they say only, that God was showed by natural evidences. And it is to be thought that they did, in such sort, set forth the magnificence and greatness of the works of God as became them; but it was sufficient for Luke to touch the chief points of matters. Neither do I so understand it, that they entreated subtlety, and after the manner of the philosophers, of the secrets of nature, for they spake unto an unlearned multitude; therefore it behooved them to set that before them plainly which the most ignorant did know. Notwithstanding they take this principle, that in the order of nature there is a certain and evident manifestation of God, in that the earth is watered with rain; in that the heat of the sun doth comfort it; in that there comes such abundance of fruit out of the same yearly, it is thereby gathered for a surety, that there is some God who governs all things. For even the heaven and earth are not moved or governed by their own motion, and much less by fortune. Therefore it remains, that this wonderful workmanship of nature doth manifestly show the providence of God.
The ungodliness of men is convicted because he doth not only set before their eyes testimonies of his glory in his works, but doth also appoint all things for their use. For why doth the sun and stars shine in the heavens, save only that they may serve men? Why doth the rain fall from heaven? Why doth the earth bring forth her increase, save only that they may minister food to men? God hath not set man upon earth that he may be an idle beholder of his work, as being set upon a theater, but to exercise himself in praising the liberality of God, whilst that he enjoys the riches of heaven and earth. And now, is it not more than filthy depravity not to be moved with so great goodness of God in the manifold abundance of things? To fill the hearts with meat, doth signify nothing else but to give food which may satisfy the desires of men. By this word gladness, Paul and Barnabas do mean that God doth give more to men, according to his infinite goodness, than their necessity doth require; as if it had been said, that men have meat given them not only to refresh their strength, but also to make their hearts merry.
If any man do object that it falls out so oftentimes that men do rather mourn, being hungry, then rejoice, being full; I answer, that that comes to pass contrary to the order of nature; when the Lord shuts his hand because of the sins of men. For the liberality of God should flow unto us abundantly of its own accord, as it is here described by Paul and Barnabas, unless it were kept back by our vices. And yet there was never so great barrenness wherein the blessing of God in feeding men did quite wither away. It was, indeed, well said of the prophet, Open thy mouth, and I will fill it, that we may know that we be hungry through our own fault, whilst that we do not admit the goodness of God. But how unworthy soever we be and straight, yet the fatherly love of God breaks through even unto the unworthy.