Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
37. And when they heard these things, they were pricked in heart, and said unto Peter and to the other apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38. Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39. For the promise appertaineth unto you, and unto your child-ten, and unto all which are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call.
37. They were pricked in heart. Luke doth now declare the fruit of the sermon, to the end we may know that the power of the Holy Ghost was not only showed forth in the diversity of tongues, but also in their hearts which heard. And he noteth a double fruit; first, that they were touched with the feeling of sorrow; and, secondly, that they were obedient to Peter’s counsel. This is the beginning of repentance, this is the entrance unto godliness, to be sorry for our sins, and to be wounded with the feeling of our miseries. For so long as men are careless, they cannot take such heed unto doctrine as they ought. And for this cause the word of God is compared to a sword, (Heb 4:12,) because it doth mortify our flesh, that we may be offered to God for a sacrifice. But there must be added unto this pricking in heart readiness to obey. Cain and Judas were pricked in heart, but despair did keep them back from submitting themselves unto God, (Ge 4:13; Mt 27:3.) For the mind being oppressed with horror, can do nothing else but flee from God. And surely when David affirmeth that a contrite spirit and an humble heart is a sacrifice acceptable to God, he speaketh of voluntary pricking; forasmuch as there is fretting and fuming mixed with the prickings of the wicked. Therefore, we must take a good heart to us, and lift up our mind with this hope of salvation, that we may be ready to addict and give over ourselves unto God, and to follow whatsoever he shall command. We see many oftentimes pricked, who, notwithstanding, do fret and murmur, or else forwardly strive and struggle, and so, consequently, go furiously mad. Yea, this is the cause why they go mad, because they feel such prickings against their will. Those men, therefore, are profitably pricked alone who are willingly sorrowful, and do also seek some remedy at God’s hands.
38. Peter said Hereby we see that those do never go away empty which ask at the mouth of the Lord, and do offer themselves unto him to be ruled and taught; for that promise must needs be true, Knock, and it shall be opened unto you, (Mt 7:7.) Therefore, whosoever shall be rightly prepared to learn, the Lord will not suffer his godly desire to be in vain; for he is a most faithful master, so that he hath scholars which are apt to be taught and studious. Wherefore, there is no cause why he should fear, lest he suffer us to be destitute of sound counsel, if we be attentive and ready to hear him, and do not refuse to embrace whatsoever he shall teach us. And let us suffer ourselves to be governed by the counsel and authority of those men whom he offereth unto us to teach us, for this ready obedience cometh thence so suddenly in those which addict themselves unto the apostles, because they are persuaded that they are sent of God, to show them the way of salvation.
Repent. There is greater force in the Greek word, for it doth signify the conversion of the mind, that the whole man may be renewed and made another man, which thing must be diligently noted, because this doctrine was miserably corrupted in the time of Popery; for they translated the name of repentance almost unto certain external rites. They babble somewhat, indeed, about the reigned contrition of the heart; but they touch that part very slightly, and they stand principally upon the external exercises of the body, which were little worth; yea, though there were in them no corruption; but they urge nothing else in a manner but reigned trifles, wherewith men are wearied in vain. Wherefore, let us know that this is the true repentance, when a man is renewed in the spirit of his mind, as Paul teacheth, (Ro 12:2.) Neither need we to doubt of this; but that Peter did preach plainly of the force and nature of repentance; but Luke doth only touch the chief points, and doth not reckon up the words of the oration which he made. We must, therefore, know thus much, that Peter did at the first exhort the Jews unto repentance; and that done, he lifted them up with hope of pardon; for he promised them forgiveness of sins, which two things are the two parts of the gospel, as we know full well; and, therefore, when Christ will briefly teach what the doctrine of the gospel doth contain, he saith, that repentance and remission of sins (Lu 24:47) must be preached in his name. Furthermore, because we are reconciled unto God only by the intercession of Christ’s death, neither are our sins otherwise purged, 126 and done away, save only by his blood, therefore, Peter calleth us back unto him by name. He putteth baptism in the fourth place, as the seal whereby the promise of grace is confirmed.
Wherefore, we have in these few words almost the whole sum of Christianity, namely, how a man renouncing himself and taking his farewell of the world, may addict himself wholly to God; secondly, How he may be delivered by free forgiveness of sins, and so adopted into the number of the children of God. And forasmuch as we can obtain none of all these things without Christ, the name of Christ is therewithal set forth unto us, as the only foundation of faith and repentance. And we must also note this, that we do so begin repentance when we are turned unto God, that we must prosecute the same during our life; therefore, this sermon must continually sound in the Church, repent, (Mr 1:15;) not that those men may begin the same, who will be counted faithful, and have a place already in the Church; but that they may go forward in the same; although many do usurp the name of faithful men, which had never any beginning of repentance. Wherefore, we must observe this order in teaching, that those which do yet live unto the world and the flesh may begin to crucify the old man, that they may rise unto newness of life, and that those who are already entered the course of repentance may continually go forward towards the mark. Furthermore, because the inward conversion of the heart ought to bring forth fruits in the life, repentance cannot be rightly taught unless works be required, not those frivolous works which are only in estimation amongst the Papists, but such as are sound testimonies of innocence and holiness.
Be baptized every one of you. Although in the text and order of the words, baptism doth here go before remission of sins, yet doth it follow it in order, because it is nothing else but a sealing of those good things which we have by Christ that they may be established in our consciences; therefore, after that Peter had intreated of repentance, he calleth the Jews unto the hope of grace and salvation; and, therefore, Luke well afterwards, in Paul’s sermon, joineth faith and repentance together in the same sense, wherein he putteth forgiveness of sins in this place, and that for good considerations; for the hope of salvation consisteth in the free imputation of righteousness; and we are counted just, freely before God, when he forgiveth us our sins. And as I said before, that the doctrine of repentance hath a daily use in the Church so must we think of the forgiveness of sins, that the same is continually offered unto us; and surely it is no less necessary for us during the whole course of our life, than at our first entrance into the Church, so that it should profit us nothing to be once received into favor by God, unless this embassage should have a continual course; be-reconciled unto God, because
“he which knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in him,”
Moreover, the Papists do so corrupt this other part of the gospel, that they quite exclude the remission of sins, which was to be obtained by Christ. They confess their sins are freely forgiven in baptism, but they will have them redeemed with satisfactions after baptism; and although they mix the grace of Christ together therewithal, yet because they inwrap the same in men’s merits, they do by this means overthrow the whole doctrine of the gospel; for, first, they take from men’s consciences the certainty of faith; that done, forasmuch as they part the forgiveness of sins between the death of Christ and our satisfactions, they do altogether deprive us of Christ’s benefit. For Christ doth not reconcile us unto God in part, but wholly, neither can we obtain remission of sins by him, unless it be whole and perfect. But the Papists are much deceived therein, who restrain baptism unto the nativity and former life, as if the signification and force thereof did not reach even unto death.
Let us know, therefore, that forgiveness of sins is grounded in Christ alone, and that we must not think upon any other satisfaction 127 save only that which he hath performed by the sacrifice of his death. And for this cause, as we have already said, doth Peter express his name, whereby he doth signify unto us, that none of all these things can be rightly taught, unless Christ be set in the midst, to the end the effect of this doctrine may be sought in him. That needeth no long exposition where he commandeth them to be baptized for the remission of sins; for although God hath once reconciled men unto himself in Christ” by not imputing unto them their sins,” (2Co 5:19,) and doth now imprint in our hearts the faith thereof by his Spirit; yet, notwithstanding, because baptism is the seal whereby he doth confirm unto us this benefit, and so, consequently, the earnest and pledge of our adoption, it is worthily said to be given us for the remission of sins. For because we receive Christ’s gifts by faith, and baptism is a help to confirm and increase our faith, remission of sins, which is an effect of faith, is annexed unto it as unto the inferior mean. Furthermore, we must not fetch the definition of baptism from this place, because Peter doth only touch a part thereof. Our old man is crucified by baptism, as Paul teacheth, that we may rise unto newness of life, (Rom. 6:4, 6.) And, again, we put on Christ himself, (1Co 12.) and the Scripture teacheth every where, that it is also a sign and token of repentance, (Ga 3:27.) But because Peter doth not intreat in thin place openly of the whole nature of baptism, but speaking of the forgiveness of sins, doth, by the way, declare that the confirmation thereof is in baptism, there doth no inconvenience follow, if ye do omit the other part. 128
In the name of Christ. Although baptism be no vain figure, but a true and effectual testimony; notwithstanding, lest any man attribute that unto the element of water which is there offered, the name of Christ is plainly expressed, to the end we may know that it shall be a profitable sign for us then, if we seek the force and effect thereof in Christ, and know that we are, therefore, washed in baptism, because the blood of Christ is our washing; and we do also hereby gather, that Christ is, the mark and end whereunto baptism directeth us; wherefore, every one profiteth so much in baptism as he learneth to look unto Christ. But here ariseth a question, Whether it were lawful for Peter to change the form prescribed by Christ? The Papists do think, at least feign so, and thence do they take a color of liberty to change or abrogate the institutions of Christ. They confess that nothing ought to be changed, as touching the substance, but they will have the Church to have liberty to change whatsoever it will in the form. But this argument may easily be answered. For we must first know that Christ did not indite and rehearse unto his apostles magical words for enchanting, as the Papists do dream, but he did, in few words, comprehend the sum of the mystery. Again, I deny that Peter doth speak in this place of the form of baptism; but he doth simply declare that the whole strength 129 of baptism is contained in Christ; although Christ cannot be laid hold on by faith without the Father by whom he was given us, and the Spirit by the which he reneweth and sanctifieth us. The answer consisteth wholly in this, that he intreateth not in this place of the certain form of baptizing, but the faithful are called back unto Christ, in whom alone we have whatsoever baptism doth prefigure unto us; for we are both made clean by his blood, and also we enter into a new life by the benefit of his death and resurrection.
Ye shall receive the gift of the Spirit. Because they were touched with wondering when they saw the apostles suddenly begin to speak with strange tongues, Peter saith that they shall be partakers of the same gift if they will pass over unto Christ. Remission of sins and newness of life were the principal things, and this was, as it were, an addition, that Christ should show forth unto them his power by some visible gift. Neither ought this place to be understood of the grace of sanctification, which is given generally to all the godly. Therefore he promiseth them the gift of the Spirit, whereof they saw a pattern in the diversity of tongues. Therefore this doth not properly appertain unto us. For because Christ meant to set forth the beginning of his kingdom with those miracles, they lasted but for a time; yet because the visible graces which the Lord did distribute to his did shoe, as it were in a glass, that Christ was the giver of the Spirit, therefore, that which Peter saith doth in some respect appertain unto all the whole Church: ye shall receive the gift of the Spirit. For although we do not receive it, that we may speak with tongues, that we may be prophets, that we may cure the sick, that we may work miracles; yet is it given us for a better use, that we may believe with the heart unto righteousness, that our tongues may be framed unto true confession, (Ro 10:10,) that we may pass from death to life, (Joh 5:24) that we, which are poor and empty, may be made rich, that we may withstand Satan and the world stoutly. Therefore, the grace of the Spirit shall always be annexed unto baptism, unless the let be in ourselves.
39. For the promise appertaineth unto you. It was requisite that this should be expressly added, that the Jews might certainly think and persuade themselves that the grace of Christ did belong as well to them as to the apostles. And Peter proveth it thus, because the promise of God was made unto them. For we must always look unto this, because [that] we cannot otherwise know the will of God save only by his word. But it is not sufficient to have the general word, unless we know that the same is appointed for us. Therefore Peter saith, that those benefits which they see in him and his fellows in office were in times past promised to the Jews; because this is required necessarily for the certainty of faith, that every one be fully persuaded of this, that he is comprehended in the number of those unto whom God speaketh. Finally, this is the rule of a true faith, when I am thus persuaded that salvation is mine, because that promise appertaineth unto me which offereth the same. And hereby we have also a greater confirmation, when as the promise is extended unto those who were before afar off. For God had made the covenant with the Jews, (Ex 4:22.) If the force and fruit thereof come also unto the Gentiles, there is no cause why the Jews should doubt of themselves, but that they shall find the promise of God firm and stable.
And we must note these three degrees, that the promise was first made to the Jews, and then to their children, and last of all, that it is also to be imparted to the Gentiles. We know the reason why the Jews are preferred before other people; for they are, as it were, the first begotten in God’s family, yea, they were then separated from other people by a singular privilege. Therefore Peter observeth a good order, when he giveth the Jews the pre-eminence. Whereas he adjoineth their children unto them, it dependeth upon the words of the promise: I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee, (Ge 17:7,) where God doth reckon the children with the fathers in the grace of adoption.
This place, therefore, doth abundantly refute the manifest error of the Anabaptists, which will not have infants, which are the children of the faithful, to be baptized, as if they were not members of the Church. They espy a starting hole in the allegorical sense, 130 and they expound it thus, that by children are meant those which are spiritually begotten. But this gross impudency doth nothing help them. It is plain and evident that Peter spoke thus because God did adopt one nation peculiarly. And circumcision did declare that the right of adoption was common even unto infants. Therefore, even as God made his covenant with Isaac, being as yet unborn, because he was the seed of Abraham, so Peter teacheth, that all the children of the Jews are contained in the same covenant, because this promise is always in force, I will be the God of your seed.
And to those which are afar off. The Gentiles are named in the last place, which were before strangers. For those which refer it unto those Jews which were exiled afar off, (and driven) into far countries, they are greatly deceived. For he speaketh not in this place of the distance of place; but he noteth a difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, that they were first joined to God by reason of the covenant, and so, consequently, became of his family or household; but the Gentiles were banished from his kingdom. Paul useth the same speech in the second chapter to Ephesians, (Eph 2:11,) that the Gentiles, which were strangers from the promises, are now drawn near, through Jesus Christ, unto God. Because that Christ (the wall of separation being taken away) hath reconciled both (the Jews and Gentiles) unto the Father, and coming, he hath preached peace unto those which were nigh at hand, and which were afar off. Now we understand Peter’s meaning. For to the end he may amplify the grace of Christ, he doth so offer the same unto the Jews, that he saith the Gentiles are also partakers thereof. And therefore he useth this word call, as if he should say: Like as God hath gathered you together into one peculiar people heretofore by his voice, so the same voice shall sound everywhere, that those which are afar off may come and join themselves unto you, when as they shall be called by a new proclamation.
“Nihil absurdi est si partem alteram praetereat,” there is no absurdity, there is nothing strange, in his omitting the other part.
“Virtutem,” virtue or efficacy.
“Effugium in allegorico sensu captant,” they attempt evasion by giving an allegorical meaning.