Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
18. And when Simon saw that the Holy Ghost was given by the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19. Saying, Give me also this power, that on whom I shall lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. 20. And Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God is obtained with money. 21. Thou hast no part nor inheritance in this business; for thy heart is not right before God. 22. Therefore repent of this wickedness, and pray unto God, if peradventure the cogitation of thy heart may be forgiven thee. 23. For I see that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of unrighteousness. 24. And Simon answering, said, Pray ye for me unto God, that none of these things may happen to me which ye have said. 25. Then when they had testified and spoken the word of God, they returned to Jerusalem, and they preached the gospel in many streets of the Samaritans.
18. And when Simon. Simon’s hypocrisy is now discovered, not because that he had feigned before that he believed; for when he was convicted he gave Christ his hand in earnest, like as many yield unto the gospel, lest they strive against God, but in the mean season they continue like to themselves; whereas the denial of ourselves ought to follow true faith. And this is to mix Christ with Satan, when doctrine pierceth not unto the hidden affections of the heart, but the inward uncleanness lieth hidden there. 518 Therefore God wipeth away that false color now in Simon, lest by professing the name of Christ he deceive both himself and others. For that ambition which was hidden before breaketh out now, when as he desireth to be equal with the apostles. This is now one vice; another is, because while he thinketh that the grace of God is to be sold, he will get some greedy gain thereby. 519 Whereby it appeareth that he is a profane man, and such as had not tasted the first principles of godliness; for he is touched with no desire of God’s glory; yea, he doth not once think what it is to be a minister of God. As he had heretofore gotten gain by his magic, so he thought that it would be gainsome if he might give the graces of the Spirit. For undoubtedly he hunted after riches, and sought to purchase praise in the sight of the world; and he did God great injury also, because he thought that this heavenly power did nothing differ from his magical enchantments. Now we understand briefly what and how many ways Simon offended. In the gifts of the Spirit he doth not adore, neither acknowledge the power of Christ; he doth not confess that the apostles were endued with heavenly power, to set forth Christ’s glory by their ministry; his own ambition driveth and carrieth him headlong, so that he desireth to become excellent; and to make the world subject to himself, setting God apart, he will buy the Holy Ghost, as if he could be bought with money.
20. Peter answered. Peter giveth him the repulse here stoutly, and being not content to chide him, he addeth a bitter curse (or wish,) that Simon and his money may perish together; though he doth not so much wish unto him destruction, as he telleth him that the just vengeance of God hangeth over his head, that he might terrify him. In sum, he showeth what he hath deserved, when he hath made the Spirit of God subject to filthy buying and selling; as if he should have said, Thou art worthy to perish with thy money, 520 when thou dost so blaspheme the Spirit of God. For we may easily gather by that which followeth, that Peter would rather have had Simon saved than destroyed. But as it were supplying the place of a judge, he pronounceth what punishment Simon’s ungodliness deserveth; and it was requisite that he should be thus accused with such vehemence, that he might perceive the greatness of his offense. 521 To the same end tendeth that that he judged his money to perish; for he signifieth that it was as it were infected and polluted with cogitation of wickedness, because it was offered to such a wicked use. And surely we ought rather to wish that all the whole world perish, than that those things should darken the glory of God, which, in comparison thereof, are nothing worth. When he wisheth thus to a sacrilegious man, he doth not so much respect the person as the fact; for we must be offended with the offenses of men in such sort, that we must pity the men themselves. Such are those sentences of God which adjudge adulterers, thieves, drunkards, and wrongful dealers, to destruction, (1Co 6:9; Eph 5:5;) for they do not cut off all hope of salvation from them, but they are only referred unto their present state and declare what end is prepared for them, if they go forward obstinately.
21. Thou hast no part. Some do frame this sentence otherwise, that Simon is not partaker of grace, because he setteth a price thereof. But the other reading which we have followed is more usual, to wit, that that reason be joined to the former member. And surely it is better to knit the two sentences together, thus, Thy money perish with thee, because thou thinkest that the inestimable gift of the Spirit can be bought with money. Whereas the old interpreter had put, in this word; Erasmus translated it more fitly, in this business; for Peter’s meaning is, that that sacrilegious person hath nothing to do in all that administration, who doth wickedly profane the same.
Furthermore both the Papists, and also the old divines, have disputed much concerning simony; but that which the Papists call simony doth not agree with Simon’s fact. Simon would have bought the grace of the Spirit with money; the Papists apply the crime of simony unto their idle revenues; and yet I speak not this that I may extenuate those horrible sins which reign at this day in Popery, in buying and selling spiritual promotions. Now, this wickedness is filthy enough of itself, in that they hold such a mart in the Church of God. And in the mean season, we must note the true definition of simony, to wit, that it is a wicked buying and selling of the gifts of the Spirit, or some other such like thing, whilst that a man abuseth them unto ambition or other corruptions. Though I confess that all those imitate Simon who strive to attain unto the government of the Church by unlawful means; which thing we see committed at this day without shame, as if it were lawful; and we can scarce find one priest in all Popery which is not manifestly a simoniacal person in this respect; because none can put up his head amongst them, 522 but he must creep in by indirect means. Although we must confess, (which thing even children see, to our great shame,) that this vice is too common even amongst the false professors of the gospel.
But let us remember, first, to the end we may be free from the infection of Simon, that the gifts of the Spirit are not gotten with money, but that they are given of the free and mere goodness of God, and that for the edifying of the Church; that is, that every man may study to help his brethren according to the measure of his ability; that every man may bestow 523 that about the common good of the Church which he hath received; and that the excellency of no man may hinder, but that Christ may excel all. Notwithstanding, it may seem a marvelous matter, that Peter excludeth Simon from being a partaker of the Spirit, as concerning special gifts; because his heart is not right before God. For the wickedness of Judas did not let him from having the gifts of the Spirit in great measure; neither had the gifts of the Spirit been so corrupted amongst the Corinthians, if their heart had been right in the sight of God. Therefore that reason which Peter allegeth seemeth insufficient; because many men excel oftentimes in the gifts of the Spirit, who have an unclean heart. But, first of all, there followeth no absurdity, if God give such graces to men which are unworthy thereof. Secondly, Peter prescribeth no general rule in this place, but because the Church alone is for the most part made partaker of the gifts of the Spirit, he pronounceth that Simon, who is a stranger to Christ, is unworthy to have the same graces given him, (which are bestowed upon the faithful,) as if he were one of God’s household. Moreover, he had blasphemed those gifts whereof he is deprived.
22. Repent, therefore. Whereas he exhorteth him unto repentance and prayer, he putteth him in some hope of pardon thereby; for no man shall ever be touched with any desire of repentance, save only he which shall believe that God will have mercy upon him; on the other side, despair will always carry men headlong unto boldness. Furthermore, the Scripture teacheth that God is not called upon aright save only by faith. Therefore, we see how Peter raiseth up Simon now unto hope of salvation, whom he had thrown down before with the cruel lightnings and thunderbolts of words; and yet Simon’s sin was no small sin. But, if it could be, we ought to pluck men even out of hell.
Therefore, until such time as even the most wicked men do by manifest signs betray themselves to be reprobates, no one of them is to be handled so sharply but that remission of sins is to be set before him. Yea, we must so deal with those for whom sharp chiding is profitable, by reason of their hardness and stubbornness, that we throw them down with one hand, and set them on foot with the other; for the Spirit of God doth not suffer us to accurse them 524 But Peter seemeth to bring him into some fear and doubt, when he saith, if peradventure. And the Papists go about to prove by this place and such like, that we must pray with doubtful minds; because men may unadvisedly promise themselves certain success in their petitions. But we may readily answer them; for the word ει αρα signifieth as much as if a man should say, If by any means thou must obtain pardon of God. Peter useth this word, not that he may leave Simon’s mind in a perplexity, but that he may the more prick him forward to be earnest in prayer. For the very difficulty doth not a little serve to stir us up; because when we see the thing at hand, we are too careless and sluggish. Therefore Peter doth not terrify Simon, that he may overthrow or trouble all hope of obtaining in his heart, but putting him in sure hope if he shall crave pardon humbly and from his heart, he telleth him only that pardon is hard to be gotten, by reason of the greatness of his offense, to the end he may provoke him unto ferventness; for it is requisite that we may be lightened by faith when we go unto God, yea, that she be the mother of prayer.
23. In the gall of bitterness. Peter doth sharply reprove Simon again, and striketh him with God’s judgment. For unless he had been compelled to descend into himself, he would never have been turned in good earnest unto God. For there is nothing more deadly for men which are blockish than when we flatter them, or when we do but a little scrape the skin, whereas they ought rather to be thrust through. Therefore, until such time as a sinner shall conceive sorrow and true heaviness by reason of his sin, we must use such severity as may wound his mind; otherwise the rotten sore shall be nourished within, which shall by little and little consume the man himself. Yet let us always observe this mean, that we provide for men’s salvation so much as in us lieth. Moreover, there be two excellent fine metaphors in Peter’s words; the one whereof seemeth to be taken out of Moses, where he forbiddeth that there be not in us any root, from which springeth gall and wormwood, (De 29.) By which speech is noted the inward wickedness of the heart; when as it hath so conceived the poison of ungodliness, that being therewith infected, it can bring forth nothing but bitterness. To the same end tendeth the binding of iniquity: to wit, when the whole heart is kept bound and tied by Satan. For it falleth out sometimes that men which are otherwise given very godlily, do break out into evil works, who have not their heart corrupt inwardly with poison. We know that hypocrisy is engendered in man’s nature; but when as the Spirit of God doth shine, we are so blinded in our vices, that we nourish them within as if it were some hidden bundle. Therefore Peter’s meaning is, that Simon fell not only in one point, but that his very heart root was corrupt and bitter; that he fell into Satan’s snares not only in one kind of sin, but that all his senses were ensnared, so that he was wholly given over to Satan, and was become the bond-slave of iniquity. In the mean season, we are taught that the greatness of offenses is esteemed not so much according to the fact 525 which appeareth, as according to the affection of the heart.
24. Simon answered. Hereby we gather that he did not so take that which Peter had threatened unto him, but that he did consider that his salvation was sought. And though Peter alone spake, yet he attributeth the speech unto all by reason of the consent. Now ariseth a question what we ought to think of Simon. The Scripture carrieth us no farther, save only unto a conjecture. Whereas he yieldeth when he is reproved, and being touched with the feeling of his sin, feareth the judgment of God; and that done, flieth unto the mercy of God, and commendeth himself to the prayers of the Church; these are assuredly no small signs of repentance; therefore we may conjecture that he repented. And yet the old writers affirm with one consent, that he was a great enemy to Peter afterward, and that he disputed with him by the space of three days at Rome. The disputation is also extant in writing under the name of Clement, but it hath in it such filthy dotings, that it is a wonder that Christian ears can abide to hear them. Again, Augustine, writing to Januarius, saith, that there were divers and false rumors spread abroad in Rome in his time concerning that matter. Wherefore, nothing is more safe than bidding adieu to uncertain opinions, simply to embrace that which is set down in the Scriptures. That which we read elsewhere of Simon may justly be suspected for many causes.
25. And they testified. In these words Luke teacheth that Peter and John came not only that they might enrich the Samaritans with the gifts of the Spirit, but also that they might establish them in the faith which they had already received, by approving Philip’s doctrine. For thus much doth the word testify import; as if he should say, that it came to pass by their testimony, that the word of God had full and perfect authority, and that the truth was of force, as being well testified and authentic. Notwithstanding Luke teaeheth therewithal that they were faithful witnesses of God, when he addeth that they uttered the word of God. This was, therefore, the sum of the apostles’ doctrine, faithfully to utter those things which they had learned of the Lord, and not their own inventions, or the inventions of any man else. He saith, that they did this not only in the city, but also in villages. Therefore we see that they were so inflamed to further the glory of Christ, that whithersoever they came they had him in their mouth. So that the seed of life began to be sown throughout the whole region, after that it was preached in the city. 526
“Quasi sepulta,” as it were buried.
“Vult eam ad lucrum prostituere,” he wishes to prostitute it to gain.
“Sceleris sui atrocitatem,” the atrocity of his crime.
“Quando nullus illuc emergere potest,” since no man can rise there.
“Modeste conferat,” may modesty bestow.
“Anathemate ferire,” to strike with anathema.
“Ab una urbe,” from one city.