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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Acts 3:17-21

17. And now, brethren, I know that through ignorance you did it, as did also your rulers. 18. And God hath fulfilled all things which he had spoken by the mouth of his prophets, that Christ should suffer. 19. Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be forgiven, 20. When the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send him that was preached before, Jesus Christ: 21. Whom heaven must contain until the time that all things be restored, which he hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets, since the beginning of the world, [or set before your eyes and represented.]


17. Because it was to be doubted, lest, being cast down with despair, they should refuse his doctrine, he doth a little lift them up. We must so temper our sermons that they may profit the hearers, for unless there be some hope of pardon left, the terror and fear of punishment doth harden men’s hearts with stubbornness; for that of David is true, That we fear the Lord when we perceive that he is unto us favorable, and easy to be pacified, (Ps 130:4.) Thus doth Peter lessen the sin of his nation, because of their ignorance; for it had been impossible for them to have suffered and endured this conscience, if they had denied the Son of God, and delivered him to be slain, wittingly and willingly; and yet will he not flatter them, when as he saith that they did it through ignorance; but he doth only somewhat mitigate his speech, lest they should be overwhelmed and swallowed up of despair. Again, we must not so take the words as if the people did sin simply of ignorance, for under this there did lie hid hypocrisy; but as wickedness or ignorance doth abound, the action is named of the one or the other. This is, therefore, Peter’s meaning, that they did it rather through error and a blind zeal, than through any determined wickedness; but a question may be moved here, if ally man have offended wittingly and willingly, whether he shall surely fall into despair or not? I answer, that he doth not make mention in this place of all manner of sin; but only of the denying of Christ, and of the extinguishing of the grace of God, so much as in them did lie. If any man be desirous to know more concerning this, he may read the first chapter of the First Epistle to Timothy, (1Ti 1:13.)

As did also your rulers. First, this seemeth to be an improper comparison, for the scribes and the priests were carried headlong with a wonderful madness, and they were full of wicked unfaithfulness;  183 but the perverse study and zeal of the law did prick forward the people. Again, the people were incensed against Christ, inasmuch as their rulers did provoke them thereunto. I answer, that they were not all of one mind, for without doubt many of them were like unto Paul, unto whom that doth truly appertain, which he writeth elsewhere of the princes and rulers of this world, if they had known the wisdom of God they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, he speaketh not generally of all the rulers; but if any of them be curable, them doth he invite to repentance.

18. And God Hereby it appeareth more plainly to what end he made mention of ignorance; for when he telleth them that God hath accomplished those things which he had foretold, he doth so touch their offense in the death of Christ, that it turneth to their salvation. Ignorance, saith he, hath made you guilty, yet God hath brought that to pass which he had determined, that Christ should redeem you by his death. This is a most notable consideration, when as we ponder and consider with ourselves, that through the wonderful counsel of God our evils are turned to another end to us, yet this doth no whir excuse us, for so much as in us lieth we cast away  184 ourselves by sinning; but that conversion whereof I have spoken is a notable work of God’s mercy, whereof we must speak, and which we must extol with humility. The Jews did what they could to extinguish all hope of life in the person of Christ; and yet, nevertheless, that death gave life as well to them as to the whole world. We must also remember that which we saw elsewhere, lest there should any false and absurd opinion creep in, that Christ was laid open to the lust of the wicked, that God is made the chief author by whose will his only Son did suffer.

19. Repent We must note, that when he exhorteth unto repentance, he doth also declare that there is remission of sins prepared for them before the face of God. For, as I said of late, no man can be stirred up to repentance, unless he have salvation set before him; but he which doth despair of pardon, being, as it were, given over unto destruction already, doth not ‘fear to run headlong against God obstinately. Hereby it cometh to pass that the Papists cannot deliver the doctrine of repentance. They babble, indeed, very much concerning the same; but because they overthrow the hope of grace, it cannot be that they should persuade their disciples unto the study of repentance. Moreover, I confess that they babble a little touching forgiveness of sins; but because they leave men’s souls in doubt and in fearfulness, and, furthermore, do cast them as it were into a labyrinth, (or place out of which they know not how to come,) this part of the doctrine being corrupt, they confound the other also.

20. That when If we follow Erasmus and the old interpreter, this sentence shall be unperfect,  185 which may be made perfect, thus: When the time of refreshing shall come, you may also enjoy this refreshing; when Christ shall come to judge the world, you may find him a redeemer and not a Judge. But because Beza doth fitly translate it, After that they shall come, it is better to retain that which is not so racked;  186 so you resolve it thus: That sins are so forgiven against the day of the last judgment; because, unless we be cited to appear before God’s judgment-seat we are not greatly careful to pacify God. First of all, we must note, that he setteth before them the day of judgment, to the end the former exhortation may take the greater effect. For there is nothing which doth more prick us, than when we are taught that we must once give an account. For so long as our senses are holden and kept in this world, they are drowned, as it were, in a certain drowsiness,  187 that I may so call it. Wherefore the message of the last judgment must sound as a trumpet to cite us to appear before the judgment-seat of God. For then at last being truly awaked, we begin to think of a new life. In like sort, when Paul preached at Athens, God saith, that he doth now will all men to repent; because he hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world, (Acts 17:30, 31.) The sum is this, that Christ, who is now unto us a Master, when as he teacheth us by the gospel, is appointed of the Father to be a Judge, and shall come in his due time; and that, therefore, we must obey his doctrine betimes, that we may gather the fruit of our faith then.

But some man may object, that Peter speaketh otherwise of the last day. For this doth not serve to make them afraid, when he saith, the time of refreshing. I answer, that there is a double prick, wherewith the faithful are pricked forward when as they are told of the last judgment. For the profit of faith doth not appear in this world, yea rather it seemeth to go well with the despisers of God; but the life of the godly is full of miseries. Therefore our hearts should oftentimes faint and quail, unless we should remember that the day of rest shall come, which shall quench all the heat of our trouble, and make an end of our miseries. The other prick whereof I spoke is this, when as the fearful judgment of God causeth us to shake off delicacy and drowsiness. So Peter mixeth in this place threatenings with promises, partly to the end he may allure the Jews unto Christ, and partly that he may prick them forward with fear. Furthermore, this is a thing much used in the Scripture, as it speaketh either unto the reprobate, or unto the elect, sometimes to make the day of the Lord doleful and fearful, sometimes to make the same pleasant and to be wished for. Peter therefore doth very well, who, whilst that he putteth the Jews in good hope of pardon, doth make the day of Christ pleasant to them, to the end they may desire the same.

And shall send him. He saith expressly that Christ shall be Judge, to the end they may know that the contempt of the gospel shall not be unpunished. For how should not Christ punish the same? In the meanwhile, this doth greatly comfort the faithful, when as they know that it shall be in his hand to give salvation, who doth now promise and offer the same. He addeth, moreover, that he shall come who is now preached unto them. Whereby he taketh away all excuse of ignorance. As if he should say, Christ is preached unto you now before he come to judge the world; to the end that those who will embrace him may receive the fruit of their faith at that day; and to the end that others, who shall refuse him, may be punished for their unbelief. Although the Grecians do read this two ways; for some books  188 have προκεκηρυγμενον, that is, preached before; and other some προκεχειρισμενον, that is, showed, or set before their eyes. But both have one sense, to wit, that Christ is not offered unto them in vain now by the doctrine of the gospel; because he shall be sent the second time by his Father to be a Judge, armed and prepared to render vengeance, unless they embrace him now for their Redeemer.

21. Whom the heaven must contain. Because men’s senses are always bent and inclined towards the gross and earthly beholding of God and Christ, the Jews might think with themselves that Christ was preached, indeed, to be raised up from the dead, yet could they not tell where he was; for no man did show them where he was. Therefore Peter preventeth them, when he saith that he is in heaven. Whereupon it followeth that they must lift up their minds on high, to the end they may seek Christ with the eyes of faith, although he be far from them,  189 although he dwell without the world in the heavenly glory. But this is a doubtful  190 speech; because we may as well understand it that Christ is contained or comprehended in the heavens, as that he doth comprehend the heavens. Let us not therefore urge the word, being of a doubtful signification; but let us content ourselves with that which is certain, that we must seek for Christ nowhere else save only in heaven, whilst that we hope for the last restoring of all things; because he shall be far from us, until our minds ascend high above the world.

Until the time of restoring As touching the force and cause, Christ hath already restored all things by his death; but the effect doth not yet fully appear; because that restoring is yet in the course, and se, consequently, our redemption, forasmuch as we do yet groan under the burden of servitude. For as the kingdom of Christ is only begun, and the perfection thereof is deferred until the last day, so those things which are annexed thereunto do now appear only in part. Therefore, if at this day we see many things confused in the world, let this hope set us upon foot and refresh us, that Christ shall once come that he may restore tall things. In the mean season, if we see the relics of sin hang on us, if we be environed on every side with divers miseries, if the world be full of wasting and scattering abroad, let us bewail these miseries, yet so that we uphold with the hope of restoring. And this is the reason why Christ doth not appear by and by,  191 because the warfare of the Church is not yet full,  192 whose time, seeing it is appointed by God, it is not for us to prevent the same.  193

Which he spoke. I do not expound this of the times alone, but I refer it unto the whole period; so that the sense is this: That whatsoever he had spoken before of the kingdom of Christ is witnessed by all the prophets. Certes, the gospel doth win no small credit hereby, that so soon as God began to show himself to the world, he did always set Christ before them; after that he began to speak unto the fathers, he did always lay this foundation of doctrine. By the same argument Paul commendeth the gospel, both in the beginning of his Epistle to the Romans, (Ro 1:1,) and also in the end, (Ro 16:25,) to wit, that it is no new thing, but promised even from the beginning.  194 This is true antiquity, which is able to purchase credit to doctrine: when as God himself is the author, the holy prophets the witnesses, and the continual course of times confirmeth the testimony. This confirmation was especially necessary for the Jews, who being brought up in the doctrine of the law, ought to admit nothing but that which agreeth therewith. Therefore Peter doth command them only to mind those things which the prophets have testified of Christ.



Perfidia,” perfidy.


Perdimus,” destroy.


Ecliptica,” elliptic.


Coactum,” forced.


Quodam, ut ita loquar veterno obruti sunt,” are oppressed, so to speak, with a kind of lethargy.


Codices,” manuscripts.


Quamvis immensa locorum distamia sit remotus,” although, in respect of place, he is at an immense distance from them.


Ambigua lequtio,” an ambiguous expression.


Statim,” immediately.


Completa,” complete.


Antivertere,” anticipate.


Ab ultima aetate,” from the remotest age.

Next: Acts 3:22-24