Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
5. And when Philip came into the city of Samaria, he preached Christ to them. 6. And the multitude gave ear to those things which Philip spake, hearing with one consent, and seeing the signs which he showed. 7. For whereas many were possessed with unclean spirits, they came out, crying with a loud voice; and many that had the palsy, and which were lame, were healed; 8. So that there was great joy in that city. 9. And a man, named Simon, had been before in the city, exercising the art magic, and bewitching the people of Samaria, saying that he was some great man: 10. To whom they all gave heed, both small and great, saying, This man is the great power of God. 11. And they had given heed unto him, because they had been bewitched long time with his witchcraft. 12. But as soon as they believed Philip preaching concerning the kingdom of God, and in the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13. And Simon himself believed, and being baptized, did cleave to Philip; and when he saw the signs and great powers which were done, he wondered.
5. Luke said that they all preached the Word of God, now he maketh mention of Philip alone, both because his preaching was more fruitful and effectual than the preaching of the rest, and also because there followed notable histories, which he will add afterward. He put the city of Samaria for the city Samaria which was laid waste by Hyrcanus, and built again by Herod, and called Sebaste. Read Josephus, in his Thirteenth and Fifteenth Books of Antiquities. When he saith that Philip preached Christ, he signifieth that the whole sum of the gospel is contained in Christ. The other speech which he useth shortly after is more perfect; yet it all one in effect. He joineth the kingdom of God and the name of Christ together; but because we obtain this goodness through Christ, to have God to reign in us, and to lead an heavenly life, being renewed into spiritual righteousness, and dead to the world, therefore the preaching of Christ containeth this point also under it. But the sum is this, that Christ doth repair with his grace the world, being destroyed; which cometh to pass when he reconcileth us to the Father. Secondly, when he regenerateth us by his Spirit, that the kingdom of God may be erected in us when Satan is put to flight. Moreover, whereas he declared before, that the apostles did not stir one foot from Jerusalem, it is to be thought that he speaketh of one of the seven deacons in this place, whose daughters did also prophesy.
6. And the multitude gave ear. Luke declareth how the Samaritans did embrace Philip’s doctrine. For he saith that they heard, whereby they took some taste; there was also another prick whereby they were pricked forward, and that was miracles; at length there followed attentiveness. This is the right going forward unto faith; for those which refuse that doctrine which they have not heard, how is it possible that they should ever come unto faith, which cometh by hearing? (Ro 10:14.) Therefore, whereas they were ready to hear, that was the first step unto reverence and attentiveness. And therefore it is no marvel if faith be so rare, and almost none in the world; for how many be there which vouchsafe to hearken when God speaketh? whereby it cometh to pass that the more part rejecteth the truth before they know the same, and have not so much as lightly tasted it. And as hearing is the beginning of faith, so it should not be sufficient of itself, unless the majesty of doctrine should also move the hearts. And surely, whosoever considereth that he hath to do with God, cannot hear him contemptuously when he speaketh; and the very doctrine which is contained in his word shall purchase authority for itself, so that attentiveness shall flow of itself from hearing. As touching miracles we know that there is a double use thereof; they serve to prepare us to hear the gospel, and to confirm us in the faith thereof. The adverb, with one accord, may be joined as well with hearing as with attentiveness. This latter doth like me better, that they were attentive with one accord; and therein doth Luke commend the force and efficacy of Philip’s preaching, because a great number of men was suddenly won to hear attentively with one consent.
7. Unclean spirits. He toucheth certain kinds briefly, that we may know with what miracles they 501 were brought to attribute any authority to Philip. That crying wherewith the unclean spirits cried was a token of resistance. Wherefore this served not a little to set forth the power of Christ, that he did bind the devils with his commandment, though they resisted stubbornly.
8. The joy whereof he speaketh is a fruit of faith. For it cannot be but that so soon as we know that God will be favorable and merciful our minds shall be wrapt with incomparable joy, and such as doth far pass all understanding, (Php 4:7.)
9. A certain man named Simon. This was such a let that it might seem that the gospel could have no passage to come unto the Samaritans; for the minds of them all were bewitched with Simon’s jugglings. And this amazedness was grown to some strength by reason of long space of time. Furthermore experience teacheth what a hard matter it is to pluck that error out of the minds of men which hath taken root through long continuance and to call them back unto a sound and right mind who are already hardened. Superstition made them more obstinate in their error, because they counted Simon not only as a prophet of God, but even as the Spirit of God.
10. For the surname, great power, tendeth to this end, that whatsoever should otherwise be divine might wax vile through this greatness. Therefore the power of Christ appeareth hereby more plainly, in that Philip brake through these lets; which thing Luke amplifieth,
11. When he saith that they were astonied, from the least to the greatest. For seeing all men, of what estate soever they were, were deluded, what entrance could the gospel have, especially since it was no mean seducing? for all their senses were besotted. And besides that we see thereby how mighty the truth is, there is also set before us an example of constancy in Philip, who, though he saw no way, yet doth he set hand to the Lord’s work with a valiant courage, waiting for the success which God should give. And thus must we do, we must valiantly attempt whatsoever the Lord commandeth, even when our endeavors seem to be vain. Furthermore, whereas Satan did bewitch the Samaritans, let us know that it is the common punishment of infidelity. All men are not bewitched, indeed, with the jugglings of enchanters, neither are there Simons everywhere, which can so seduce and deceive; but my meaning is, that it is no wonder, 502 if Satan do mock men diversely in the dark; for they are subject to all errors whosoever are not governed by the Spirit of God. Furthermore, when Luke saith that they were all seduced one with another, we are taught that neither wit, neither all that reason and wisdom which we have, are sufficient to avoid the craftiness of Satan withal. And surely we see in what foolish and doting errors they were entangled, who were counted in the world wiser than others.
The great power of God. Therefore Satan abused the name of God to deceive, which is the most pestilent kind of deceiving, so far is it from being any excuse. It hath been said before, that Simon did take to himself the name of the principal power of God, that he might suppress and surpass whatsoever was elsewhere divine, as the sun darkeneth all the stars with his light. This was wicked and ungodly profaning of the name of God. But we read of nothing which was done here, which is not done as yet daily; for men are bent to nothing more than to translate that to Satan which is proper to God. They pretend religion; but what did this pretense help the Samaritans? Therefore it goeth well with us when God setteth forth to us his power in Christ, and declareth therewith that we must not seek the same anywhere else, and doth discover the sleights and juggling casts of Satan, which we must avoid, to the end he may keep us still in himself.
12. When they had believed. That is the miracle whereof I spake because they heard Philip, who were altogether made astonied with the illusions of Simon; in that they were made partakers of the heavenly wisdom who were blockish and dull. So that they were, after a sort, brought from hell to heaven. Whereas baptism followed faith, it agreeth with Christ’s institution, as concerning strangers, (Mark 16:47 [sic],) and those which were without. For it was meet that they should be engrafted into the body of the Church before they should receive the sign; but the Anabaptists are too foolish, whilst they endeavor to prove by these places that infants are not to be baptized. Men and women could not be baptized without making confession of their faith; but they were admitted unto baptism upon this condition, that their families might 503 be consecrated to God; for the covenant goeth thus:
“I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed,”
13. Simon also himself. He which had besotted the whole city with his witchery receiveth the truth together with others. He which had boasted himself to be the principal power of God submitteth himself to God, [Christ; ] though he were brought to the knowledge of the gospel, not so much for his own sake alone, as for the whole country’s sake, that that offense might be taken out of the way which might have hindered the unskillful. And to this end tendeth that which Luke setteth down afterward, that he wondered at the signs. For God meant to triumph over this man, whom the Samaritans counted a petit God; 504 which cometh to pass whilst he is enforced to give glory to the true miracles, after that his vain boasting is taken away. And yet he giveth not himself over sincerely to Christ; for then his ambition, and that wicked and profane account which he made of the gifts of God, should not break out. And yet I am not of their mind who think that he made only a semblance of faith, seeing he did not believe. Luke saith plainly that he believed, and the reason is added, Because he was touched with wondering. How, then, doth he shortly after betray himself to be but a hypocrite? I answer, That there is some mean between faith and mere dissimulation. The Epicures [Epicureans] and Lucianists do profess that they believe, whereas notwithstanding they laugh inwardly, whereas the hope of eternal life is unto them a vain thing; finally, whereas they have no more godliness than dogs or swine.
But there be many who howsoever they be not regenerate with the Spirit of adoption, and do not addict themselves unto God with the true affection of the heart, being overcome with the power of the Word, do not only confess that that is true which is taught, but are also touched with some fear of God, so that they receive doctrine; for they conceive that God must be heard; that he is both the author and also the judge of the world. Therefore, they make no semblance of faith before men, which is none, but they think that they believe. And this faith continueth only for a time, whereof Christ speaketh in Mark, (Mr 4; Lu 8:13;) to wit, when the seed of the Word conceived in the mind is, notwithstanding, choked forthwith with divers cares of the world, or with wicked affections, so that it never cometh to any ripeness; yea, rather, it groweth out of kind unto unprofitable corn nothing worth. Such, therefore, was Simon’s faith; he perceiveth that the doctrine of the gospel is true, and he is enforced to receive the same with the feeling of his conscience; but the groundwork is wanting; that is, the denial of himself. Whereupon it followed that his mind was enwrapped in dissimulation, which he uttereth forthwith. But let us know that his hypocrisy was such as he deceived himself in; and not that gross hypocrisy whereof Epicures and such like make boast; 505 because they dare not confess the contempt of God.
He was baptized. It appeareth plainly, by this example of Simon that all men have not that grace given them in baptism, which grace is there figured. The opinion of the Papists is this, That unless mortal sin be the cause of let, 506 all men receive the truth and effect with the signs. So that they attribute unto the sacraments magical force, as if they did profit without faith, But let us know that the Lord offereth to us by the sacraments, whatsoever the annexed promises do sound; 507 and that they are not offered in vain, so that 508 being directed unto Christ by faith, we set [seek] from him whatsoever the sacraments do promise. And although the receiving of baptism did profit him nothing then, yet if conversion followed afterward, as some men suppose, the profit was not extinguished nor abolished. For it cometh to pass oftentimes that the Spirit of God worketh afterward after a long time, that the sacraments may begin to show forth their force. 509
Did cleave to Philip. Whereas Philip admitted him into his company, it appeareth thereby how hard a matter it is to know hypocrites. And this is a trial of our patience. So Demas was a companion of Paul for a time; afterward he became an unfaithful revolt 510 (2Ti 4:10,) Finally, we cannot escape this evil, but that wicked men and deceitful will sometimes join themselves unto us; and if at any time the wicked creep craftily into our company, proud censors burden us unjustly, as if we were to answer for their misdeeds. Though we must take heed of facility, which causeth the gospel to be slandered oftentimes, and we must be so much the more vigilant, that we admit none without great choice, forasmuch as we hear that great men have been deceived. He saith that he was made astonied with the greatness of the signs; that we may know that that great power, whereof he boasted, was nothing else but juggling and smokes. And Luke speaketh not in this place of any plain wondering, but of a damp or trance which causeth a man to forget what he doth. 511
“Samaritae,” the Samaritans.
“Non esse mirum aut insolens,” that it is not strange or unusual.
“Simul,” at the same time.
“Semideo,” a demigod.
“Venditant,” make a display of.
“Ponat obicem,” interpose an obstacle.
“Modo,” provided that.
“Neque enim simplex admlratio hie notatur, sed ecstasis, quae hominem extra se rapit,” for the thing here denoted is not simple wonder, but ecstacy, by which a man is rapt (carried out of himself.)