Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
22. Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man showed towards you of God, by powers and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as you yourselves know: 23. Him, I say, have ye taken, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, by the hands of wicked men, and have slain him, having fastened him to the cross. 24. Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the sorrows of death, forasmuch as it was impossible that he should be holden of it.
22. Jesus of Nazareth Now doth Peter apply unto his purpose the prophecy of Joel; namely, that the Jews may thereby know that the time of restoring was present; and that Christ was given them for this purpose. For this promise was no otherwise to be fulfilled, save only by the coming of the Mediator. And this is the right use of all those gifts which we have by Christ, whilst that they bring us unto Christ, as unto a fountain. But he cometh hither by little and little. For he doth not by and by in the beginning affirm that Jesus was Christ; but he saith only that he was a man sent of God; and that doth he prove by his miracles. Afterward he addeth, that he rose from death when he was slain. Whereby it appeareth more certainly and more fully that he was not one of the prophets, but the very Son of God, who was promised to be the repairer of all things. Let this, therefore, be the first member, that Jesus of Nazareth was a man approved of God by manifest testimonies, so that he could not be despised as some base and obscure person. The old interpreter did not evil 99 translate ὑποδεδειγμενον approved. And Erasmus is deceived, who thinketh that he did read it otherwise; and he himself did not express Luke’s mind, when as he translated it given. 100 For, seeing that word doth signify among the Grecians to show, whereupon the mathematicians also call those arguments whereby they set a thing, as it were, before a man’s eyes, αποδειξεις, or demonstrations, Luke meant to say, that Jesus came not unknown, and without any testimony or approbation, but that those miracles which God showed by him served to this end, that he might be famous and excellent. Therefore he saith that he was showed toward the Jews; because God would have his Son to be accounted excellent and great among them; as if he should say, that miracles were not appointed for other nations, but for the Jews, that they might know that Jesus was sent unto them of God.
By great works. He calleth miracles by these three names. And because God doth show forth his power in them after a new and unwonted sort, or doth, at least, procure greater admiration, they are, for good causes, called great works. 101 For we are commonly more moved when any extraordinary thing doth happen. In which respect they are also called wonders, 102 because they make us astonished. And for this cause are they called signs, because the Lord will not have men’s minds to stay there, but to be lifted up higher; as they are referred unto another end. He put in three words, to the end he might the more extol Christ’s miracles, and enforce the people, by his heaping and laying of words together, to consider the same. Furthermore, he maketh not Christ the chief author, but only the minister; because, as we have already said, he determined to go forward by degrees. Notwithstanding, here may a question be asked, whether miracles do suffice to be a sufficient and just approbation [proof] or no? Because by this means inchanters might cause their legerdemain 103 to be believed. I answer, that the juggling casts of Satan do much differ from the power of God. Christ saith elsewhere, that the kingdom of Antichrist shall be in wonders, but he addeth by and by, in lying wonders, (2Th 2:9.) if any man object, that we cannot easily discern, because he saith that they shall have so great color that they shall deceive (if it could be) the very elect; I answer again, that this error proceedeth only from our own want of wit, because we are so dull; for God doth show his power manifestly enough. Therefore, there is sufficient approbation of the doctrine and of the ministry in the miracles which God doth work, so that we be not blind. And whereas it is not of sufficient force among the wicked, because they may now and then be deceived with the false miracles of Satan, this must be imputed unto their own blindness; but whosoever hath a pure heart, he doth also know God with the pure eyes of his mind, so often as he doth show himself. Neither can Satan otherwise delude us, save only when, through the wickedness of our heart, our judgment is corrupt and our eyes blinded, or at least bleared through our own slothfulness.
23. Him have ye slain. He maketh mention of the death of Christ for this cause chiefly, that the resurrection might the more assuredly be believed. It was a thing full well known among the Jews that Christ was crucified. Therefore, in that he rose again, it is a great and wonderful token of his Divine power. In the mean season, to the end he may prick their consciences with the feeling of sin, he saith that they slew him; not that they crucified him with their own hands, but because the people, with one voice, desired to have him put to death. And although many of the hearers unto whom he speaketh did not consent unto that wicked and ungodly cruelty, yet doth he justly impute the same to the nation; because all of them had defiled themselves either with their silence, or else through their carelessness. Neither hath the cloak and color 104 of ignorance any place, forasmuch as he was showed before of God. This guiltiness, therefore, under which he bringeth them, is a preparation unto repentance.
By the determinate counsel He removeth a stumbling-block; because it seemeth, at the first blush, to be a thing very inconvenient, [unaccountable,] that that man whom God had so greatly adorned, being afterward laid open to all manner of mocking, doth suffer so reproachful a death. Therefore, because the cross of Christ doth commonly use to trouble us at the first sight, for this cause Peter declareth that he suffered nothing by chance, or because he wanted power to deliver himself, but because it was so determined (and appointed) by God. For this knowledge alone, that the death of Christ was ordained by the eternal counsel of God, did cut off all occasion of foolish and wicked cogitation’s, and did prevent all offenses which might otherwise be conceived. For we must know this, that God doth decree nothing in vain or rashly; whereupon it followeth that there was just cause for which he would have Christ to suffer. The same knowledge of God’s providence is a step to consider the end and fruit of Christ’s death. For this meeteth us by and by in the counsel of God, that the just was delivered 105 for our sins, and that his blood was the price of our death.
And here is a notable place touching the providence of God, that we may know that as well our life as our death is governed by it. Luke intreateth, indeed, of Christ; but in his person we have a mirror, which doth represent unto us the universal providence of God, which doth stretch itself throughout the whole world; yet doth it specially shine unto us who are the members of Christ. Luke setteth down two things in this place, the foreknowledge and the decree of God. And although the foreknowledge of God is former in order, (because God doth first see what he will determine, before he doth indeed determine the same,) yet doth he put the same after the counsel and decree of God, to the end we may know that God would nothing, neither appointed anything, save that which he had long before directed to his [its] end. For men do oftentimes rashly decree many things, because they decree them suddenly. Therefore, to the end Peter may teach that the counsel of God is not without reason, he coupleth also therewithal his foreknowledge. Now, we must distinguish these two, and so much the more diligently, because many are deceived in this point. For passing over the counsel of God, wherewith he doth (guide and) govern the whole world, they catch at his bare foreknowledge. Thence cometh that common distinction, that although God doth foresee all things, yet doth he lay no necessity upon his creatures. And, indeed, it is true that God doth know this thing or that thing before, for this cause, because it shall come to pass; but as we see that Peter doth teach that God did not only foresee that which befell Christ, but it was decreed by him. And hence must be gathered a general doctrine; because God doth no less show his providence in governing the whole world, than in ordaining and appointing the death of Christ. Therefore, it belongeth to God not only to know before things to come, but of his own will to determine what he will have done. This second thing did Peter declare when he said, that he was delivered by the certain and determinate counsel of God. Therefore, the foreknowledge of God is another thing than the will of God, whereby he governeth and ordereth all things.
Some, which are of quicker sight, confess that God doth not only foreknow, but also govern with his beck what things soever are done in this world. Nevertheless, they imagine a confused government, as if God did give liberty to his creatures to follow their own nature. They say that the sun is ruled by the will of God, because, in giving light to us, he doth his duty, which was once enjoined him by God. They think that man hath free-will after this sort left him, because his nature is disposed or inclined unto the free choice of good and evil. But they which think so do feign that God sitteth idle in heaven. The Scripture teacheth us far otherwise, which ascribeth unto God a special government in all things, and in man’s actions. Notwithstanding, it is our duty to ponder and consider to what end it teacheth this; for we must beware of doting speculations, wherewith we see many carried away. The Scripture will exercise our faith, that we may know that we are defended by the hand of God, lest we be subject to the injuries of Satan and the wicked. It is good for us to embrace this one thing; neither did Peter mean anything else in this place. Yea, we have an example set before us in Christ, whereby we may learn to be wise with sobriety. For it is out of question, that his flesh was subject to corruption, according to nature. But the providence of God did set the same free. If any man ask, whether the bones of Christ could be broken or no? it is not to be denied, that they were subject to breaking naturally, yet could there no bone be broken, because God had so appointed and determined, (Joh 19:36.) By this example (I say) we are taught so to give the chiefest room to God’s providence, that we keep ourselves within our bounds, and that we thrust not ourselves rashly and indiscreetly into the secrets of God, whither our eyesight doth not pierce.
By the hands of the wicked Because Peter seemeth to grant that the wicked did obey God, hereupon followeth two absurdities; 106 the one, either that God is the author of evil, or that men do not sin, what wickedness soever they commit. I answer, concerning the second, that the wicked do nothing less than obey God, howsoever they do execute that which God hath determined with himself. For obedience springeth from a voluntary affection; and we know that the wicked have a far other purpose. Again, no man obeyeth God save he which knoweth his will. Therefore, obedience dependeth upon the knowledge of God’s will. Furthermore, God hath revealed unto us his will in the law; wherefore, those men 107 do obey God, who do that alone which is agreeable to the law of God; and, again, which submit themselves willingly to his government. We see no such thing in all the wicked, whom God doth drive hither and thither, they themselves being ignorant. No man, therefore, will say that they are excusable under this color, because they obey God; forasmuch as both the will of God must be sought in his law, and they, so much as in them lieth, do 108 to resist God. As touching the other point, I deny that God is the author of evil; because there is a certain noting of a wicked affection in this word. For the wicked deed is esteemed according to the end whereat a man aimeth. When men commit theft or murder, they offend 109 for this cause, because they are thieves or murderers; and in theft and murder there is a wicked purpose. God, who useth their wickedness, is to be placed in the higher degree. For he hath respect unto a far other thing, because he will chastise the one, and exercise the patience of the other; and so he doth never decline from his nature, that is, from perfect righteousness. So that, whereas Christ was delivered by the hands of wicked men, whereas he was crucified, it came to pass by the appointment and ordinance of God. But treason, which is of itself wicked, and murder, which hath in it so great wickedness, must not be thought to be the works of God.
24. Having loosed the sorrows of death. By the sorrows of death I understand some farther thing than the bodily sense or feeling. For those which duly consider the nature of death, because they hear that it is the curse of God, must needs conceive that God is angry in death. Hence cometh marvelous horror, wherein there is greater misery than in death itself. Furthermore, Christ died upon this occasion that he might take upon him our guiltiness. That inward fear of conscience, which made him so afraid that he sweat blood when he presented himself before the throne and tribunal seat of God, did more vex him, and brought upon him greater horror, than all the torments of the flesh. And whereas Peter saith, that Christ did wrestle with such sorrows, and doth also declare that he had the victory, by this it cometh to pass that the faithful ought not now to be afraid of death; for death hath not the like quality now which was in Adam; because by the victory of Christ the curse is swallowed up, (1Co 15:54.) We feel, indeed, yet the pricking of sorrows, but such as do not wholly wound us, whilst that we hold up the buckler of faith against them. He added a reason, because it was impossible that Christ should be oppressed by death, who is the author of life.
“Male,” ill, improperly.
“Suis imposturis fidem facerent magi,” magians might procure credit for their impostures.
“Morti addictum,” subjected to death.
“Ex duobus absurdis alterutrum,” one of two absurdities.
“Peccant,” they sin.