Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
17. And the high priest rose, and all that were with him, that is to say, the sect of the Sadducees, and were. filled with zeal, [or indignation.] 18. And they laid hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. 19. And the angel of the Lord opened the door of the prison in the night season, and bringing them out, said, 20. Go, and standing, speak in the temple unto the people all the word, of this life. 21. When they heard this early in the morning, they entered into the temple and taught. But when the high priest came, and those which were with him, they called a council, and all the whole senate of the children of Israel, and sent into the common prison to fetch them. 22. But when the ministers came, they found them not. Therefore they returned and told, saying, 23. The prison truly found we shut with all diligence, and the keepers standing at the door; but when the prison was opened, we found none within. 24. When the chief priest, and the captain of the temple, and the priests, heard these sayings, they doubted of these things, what this would be. 25. Furthermore, a certain man coming told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye had put in prison stand in the temple, teaching the people. 26. Then the captain going with the ministers, brought them without violence. For they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.
17. Luke hath hitherto declared that the Church was wonderfully increased, that it was furnished 254 with divers gifts, that it excelled in miracles; finally, that the kingdom of Christ did flourish there by all means. Now he beginneth to show that the fury of the wicked was kindled with these things, so that they raged sorer afresh. 255 Whence we may gather with what blind fury and rage Satan driveth them forward, when as they are so little terrified with such evident power of God, that they run headlong more boldly, and with greater force, and bend all their force, as it were, to overthrow the very heaven. As this so great blindness is a horrible punishment of Almighty God, so ought it to teach all men to submit themselves betimes to God, lest that they themselves, being taken with the spirit of giddiness, (whilst they run against the hand of God,) be broken in pieces with the same. Nevertheless, let us know that God will so increase his Church with spiritual good things, that yet, notwithstanding, he suffereth the same to be vexed of the wicked. Therefore we must alway be ready for the combat; for our estate at this day is not unlike to theirs. Especially the knowledge of the gifts of God, whereby he testifieth that he is present with us, ought to encourage us, lest the fury and boldness of the wicked do terrify and dismay us. For this is no small comfort, when we know that God is present with us.
Which were with him. He meaneth those which were most familiar, and the highest linked in friendship with the chief priest, whose counsel he was wont to use, and whom he had, being, as it were, gathered and culled out of the whole order, not for judgment, or discretion, but for the love of his faction; as they did then contend among themselves shamelessly, like mortal enemies. Furthermore, Luke saith again, that the Sadducees did bear the greatest swing at that day; to the end we may know that the government was then confused with horrible wasteness; 256 when as such a sect could bear rule. But God suffered the synagogue to be drowned in such extreme reproach, after that he had separated his Church from it, to the end they might have the less excuse, who despising the gospel, did continue in such a sink of filthiness. In the mean season, what did enforce and drive forward those swine, who were touched with no care of the life to come, save only mere ambition, and desire to keep that lordship and pre-eminence which they had gotten?
They were filled with zeal. I had liefer keep the Greek word still (especially seeing it is common enough otherwise) than to translate it emulation (or indignation;) for he speaketh generally of the perverse and violent force wherewith hypocrites are carried and inflamed to maintain their superstitions; whereby it appeareth what account God maketh of zeal, and what praise it deserveth, when as it is not governed by reason and wisdom, that is, when it is not led and guided by the Spirit of God. We see at this day those men moved and stirred with devilish fury, who will be counted the most devout of all men, who rage horribly to shed innocent blood. Nevertheless, let us note that he speaketh not in this place of an unadvised or blind zeal, which was in many of the Jews, as Paul affirmeth, but we understand rather a hot and unbridled violence; for although the wicked be accused of their own consciences, because they wittingly resist godliness, yet do they deceive themselves with a false show of zeal, because it is lawful to prevent new things. 257 So at this day almost in all Popery they boast only of zeal, whereas notwithstanding they are zealous for their belly. But admit we grant that that is true which they pretend, how can this excuse the heat of their cruelty whereunto they are enforced by their blindness? as if this were a chief virtue to grant liberty to their wrath, 258 to be avenged of that which displeaseth them; but this was former in order, to make a difference between good and evil, lest any thing be dissolved 259 unadvisedly.
19. The angel of the Lord. The Lord brought the apostles out of prison, not because he would rid them quite out of the hands of their enemies, for he suffered them afterwards to be brought back again, and to be beaten with rods; but he meant to declare, by this miracle, that they were in his hand and tuition, to the end he might maintain the credit of the gospel; partly that the Church might have another confirmation thereby, partly that the wicked might be left without excuse wherefore we must not hope always, nay, we must not always desire that God will deliver us from death; but we must be content with this one thing, that our life is defended by his hand, so far as is expedient. In that he useth the ministry of an angel, in this he doth according to his common custom; for he testifieth every where in the Scriptures, that the angels are ministers of his goodness towards us. Neither is that a vain speculation, for this is a profitable help for our infirmity, that we know that not only God doth care for us, but also that the heavenly spirits do watch for our safety. Again, this was no small pledge of God’s love towards us, that the creatures of all other most noble are appointed to have regard of our safety. The angel openeth the prison in the night, because he would not work the miracle when the wicked might see him, although he would have the same being wrought known by the event itself.
20. Speak in the temple. This is the end of their deliverance, that they employ themselves stoutly in preaching the gospel, and provoke their enemies courageously, until they die valiantly. For they were put to death at length when the hand of God ceased, after that they had finished their course; but now the Lord openeth the prison for them, that they may be at liberty to fulfill their function. That is worth the marking, because we see many men, who, after they have escaped out of persecution, do afterwards keep silence, as if they had done their duty towards God, (and were no more to be troubled;) other some, also, do escape away by denying Christ; but the Lord doth deliver his children, not to the end they may cease off from the course which they have begun, but rather that they may be the more zealous afterward. The apostles might have objected, It is better to keep silence for a time, forasmuch as we cannot speak one word without danger; we are now apprehended for one only sermon, how much more shall the fury of our enemies be inflamed hereafter, if they shall see us make no end of speaking? But because they knew that they were to live and to die to the Lord, they do not refuse to do that which the Lord commanded; so we must always mark what function the Lord enjoineth us. There will many things meet us oftentimes, which may discourage us, unless being content with the commandment of God alone, we do our duty, committing the success to him.
The words of this life. A singular commendation of the gospel, that it is a lively doctrine, bringing salvation unto men; for the righteousness of God is revealed unto us in it, (Ro 1:17;) and in it Christ offereth himself unto us with the sacrifice of his death, with the Spirit of regeneration, with the earnest of our adoption. And this is spoken expressly to the apostles, to the end they may the more courageously enter all manner of combats for the gospel, forasmuch as they hear that they are ministers of eternal salvation. The demonstrative is added for the more certainty, as if the angel did point out life with his finger, as assuredly we need not to seek the same far, when we have the word in our mouth and in our heart; unless peradventure some man had rather take it by hypallage, the words of this life, for these words, which I do not reject, yet that former sense me thinks is better, for it was a new revelation of Christ wherein they had life present.
21. And when the chief priest came. The chief priest calleth all the council together now, lest, if giving the honor to his own sect, he omit others, and be not able to bear the burden; therefore, he is enforced by fear to call the multitude together, notwithstanding they observe diligently and straitly the form of law. The elders are called who did govern, that nothing may be done but according to the sentence and authority of the council. Who would not have hoped for a moderate end, seeing they began thus? and surely they pretend what color they can, lest they seem to oppress the truth violently and tyrannously; but when they hear that the apostles teach in the temple, howsoever they know that they came not out by deceit of man, but miraculously, yet they hold on still in their purpose; where appeareth, together with the ungodliness of behavior and contempt of God, horrible fury and want of reason. Therefore, the beautiful colors of right and equity 260 do never so cover hypocrites, but that they do at length betray their wickedness. They must need certainly gather by all circumstances, that it is the work of God that the prison was opened, yet they do not doubt openly to rage against God.
These things are also meet for our time. We know how proudly the Papists boast of that maxim of theirs, that lawful councils must be obeyed, because they represent the Church. Moreover, they call those lawful councils, and they will have them so accounted, wherein nothing is wanting touching the external form, and such a council was this whereof Luke speaketh in this place; and yet, notwithstanding, we know that it was gathered to put out 261 the name of Christ; for although the priests did then creep in unto honor by subtlety, or by inordinate suit, 262 to win the favor of men, or by other wicked policies, or whether they burst in unto the same by bribery, or murder, 263 yet the dignity of the priesthood did continue as yet until Christ was revealed. There was in the assembly of the elders a representing of the Church; but where the truth of God is not sought, all outward appearance is nothing else but a mere visor. Therefore, it is in vain for the Papists to cover their abominations with the shadow of this buckler, because it is not sufficient for those to be gathered together who are rulers of the Church, unless they do this in the name of Christ, otherwise forasmuch as it is an usual policy of Satan to transform himself into an angel of light, (2Co 11:14,) we will grant him as fit a covert under the title of the Church as he can wish.
He brought them without violence. We have spoken somewhat before of the captain of the temple. For I do not think 264 that it was lawful for the Jews to set and appoint whom they would to rule the temple, but that the president of the province did appoint one to have the government of the temple. And he saith, that they were brought without violence, that is, that they were not drawn violently, lest any tumult should arise, so that, whereas they neither fear nor reverence God, they are afraid of men. The apostles also do show their modesty in that, that whereas they are guided with a great number of men, yet do they suffer themselves to be led away by the officers, lest they should be authors of any tumult.
“Magnifice ornatum,” magnificently furnished.
“Ut de integro violentius saevirent,” so that they anew become more violently enraged.
“Totem Ecclesiae gubernationem horrenda vastitate tunc fuisse confusam,” that the whole government of the Church was then confused and lying waste.
“Novis rebus,” a revolution.
“Frena iracundiae suae laxare,” to give loose reins to their wrath.
“Atqui hoc ordine prius erat, habere boni et mali discrimen, ne temere quicquam improbetur,” but the first thing in order was to observe the distinction between good and evil, that nothing might be rashly disapproved.
“Speciosi juris praetextus,” the specious pretexts of law.
“Extinguendam,” to extinguish.
“Ambitu,” by intrigue.
“Mutuis caedibus,” mutual slaughter.
“Neque enim mihi probabile est,” for it does not seem to me probable.