Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
23. Then they presented two, Joseph, whose sirname was Barsabas, which was called Justus, and Matthias. 24. And when they had prayed, they said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen, 25. That he may take the room of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas is fallen, that he might go unto his place. 26. And they gave in their lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was by common consent counted with the eleven apostles.
23. They were to choose one only into the room of Judas; they present two. Here may a question be asked, Why they were not contented with one only? Was it because they were so like, that they could not discern whether was more fit? This truly had been no sufficient reason why they should suffer it to be decided by lots. And also it seemeth that Joseph was of greater estimation otherwise; or was it because they were diversely affectioned? But this seemeth scarce probable, neither is this to be admitted as true, because of that most excellent testimony which Luke did give a little before of their unity and agreement. Lastly, It had been very absurd for them to have polluted the election of the apostle with such strife and contention. 70 But for this cause did they use the casting of lots, that it might be known that Matthias was not only chosen by the voices of men, but also that he was made by the determination and judgment of God.
For there was this difference between the apostles and the pastors, that the pastors were chosen simply by the Church, the apostles were called of God. In which respect Paul, in the preface of his Epistle to the Galatians, (Ga 1:2,) doth profess himself to be an apostle, “neither of men, neither made by man.” Therefore, like as the dignity of this function was excellent, so was it meet that in the choosing of Matthias, the chief judgment should be left unto God, howsoever men did their duty. Christ by his own mouth did appoint the rest; therefore, if Matthias had been chosen only by man to be one of them, he should have had less authority than they. This was very orderly done, 71 that the disciples should present unto God those whom they thought to be the best; and he should choose to himself whom he knew to be most fit, so that God, by the fall of the lot, doth pronounce that he did allow of the apostleship of Matthias. But the apostles might seem to have dealt very rashly and disorderly, which laid so great and weighty a matter upon a lot; for what certainty could they gather thereby? I answer, that they did it only as they were moved thereunto by the Holy Spirit; for although Luke doth not express this, yet, because he will not accuse the disciples of rashness, but rather doth show that this election was lawful and approved of God; I say, therefore, that they went this way to work, being moved by the Spirit, like as they were directed in all the action by the same Spirit. But why do they not pray that God would choose whom he would out of the whole multitude? Why do they restrain his judgment unto two? Is not this to rob God of his liberty, when as they tie him, and, as it were, make him subject unto their voices and consents? 72 But whosoever shall quietly ponder the matter shall plainly perceive, by the drift of Luke, that the disciples durst do nothing but that which they knew was their duty to do, and was commanded them by the Lord. As for the contentious, let them go shake their ears. 73
24. In praying, they said. Word for word it is, Having prayed, they said; but there is no obscurity in the sense, because his meaning was to speak as followeth, that they prayed; and yet he doth not reckon up all the words, being content briefly to show the sum. Therefore, although they were both of honest conversation, yea, although they did excel in holiness and other virtues, yet because the integrity of the heart, whereof God is the alone knower and judge, is the chief, the disciples pray that God would bring that to light which was hidden from men. The same ought to be required even at this day in choosing pastors; for howsoever we are not to appoint two for one, yet because we may oftentimes be deceived, and the discerning of spirits cometh of the Lord, we must always pray unto God, that he will show unto us what men he will have to be ministers, that he may direct and govern our purposes. Here we may also gather what great regard we must have of integrity and innocency in choosing pastors, without which both learning and eloquence, and what excellency soever can be invented, are as nothing. 74
25. 75 Of the ministry and apostleship. Because the word ministry was base, he addeth apostleship, wherein there is greater dignity; although the sense shall be more plain if you expound it, “the ministry of the apostleship.” For the figure hypallage is common in the Scriptures. Assuredly Luke meant to join with the burden the excellency of the office, that it might have the greater reverence and authority; and yet this was his intent also, to declare that the apostles are called unto a painful function.
26. They gave in their lots We will not, in this place, make any long disputation about lots. Those men who think it to be wickedness to cast lots at all, offend partly through ignorance, and partly they understand not the force of this word. There is nothing which men do not corrupt with their boldness and vanity, whereby it is come to pass that they have brought lots into great abuse and superstition. For that divination or conjecture which is made by lots is altogether devilish. But when magistrates divide provinces among them, and brethren their inheritance, it is a thing lawful. Which thing Solomon doth plainly testify, when he maketh God the governor of the event.
“The lots (saith he) are cast into the bosom, and the judgment of them cometh forth from the Lord,” (Pr 16:33.)
This ordinance or custom is no more corrupt and depraved by corruption, than the corrupt vanity of the Chaldeans doth corrupt true and natural astrology. Whilst the Chaldeans go about, with the name of astrology, to cloak and color their wicked curiosity, they defame a science both profitable and praiseworthy. The same do those which tell men their destinies (as they call them) by casting lots; but it is our duty to discern the lawful use from the corruption. He saith the lots were given, that being put into a pot, or one of their laps, they might afterwards be drawn out. And here we must also note that this word lot is diversely taken in this place; for when he said before that Judas had obtained a lot of the ministry, his meaning was, (according to the common custom of the Scripture,) that he had a portion given him of the Lord. He speaketh afterwards properly, and without any figure of a lot, yet is it likely, forasmuch as the word גראל, (goral) is commonly used by the Hebrews for both things, that Peter meant to allude unto that which they were about to do, and that Luke had respect unto the self-same thing.
The lot fell upon Matthias. It came to pass as no man would have looked for; for we may gather by that which goeth before, that there was not so great account made of Matthias as of the other; for, besides that Luke gave him the former place, the two sirnames which Barsabas had do show that he was in great estimation. He was called Barsabas, (that is, the son of an oath, or of rest,) of the thing itself, as if he were some mirror, either of faithfulness and innocency, or of a quiet and modest nature. The other sirname did import singular honesty. This man, therefore, in men’s judgment, was the former, [superior;] but God did prefer Matthias before him. Whereby we are taught that we must not glory if we be extolled unto the skies in the opinion of men, and if by their voices and consents 76 we be judged to be most excellent men; but we must rather have regard of this, to approve ourselves unto God, who alone is the most lawful and just judge, by whose sentence and judgment we stand or fall. And we may oftentimes mark this also, that God passeth over him which is the chiefest in the sight of men, that he may throw down all pride which is in man. In that he addeth, that he was reckoned amongst the rest, he wipeth away all sinister note of rashness from the casting of lots, because the Church did embrace him as chosen by God on whom the lot fell.
“Tali dissidio,” with such dissension.
“Medium fuit temperamentum.” a middle course was adopted.
“Suis suffragiis,” their suffrages.
“Valere sinamus,” let us leave them alone, bid them good day.
“In fumum abeunt,” go to smoke.
There is here a transposition in the translation. The 26th verse precedes the 25th.
“Eorum suffragiis,” by their suffrages.