Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
And Saul was with the disciples which were at Damascus certain days. 20. And by and by he preached Christ, that he was the Son of God. 21. And they were all amazed which heard, and said, Is not this he which at Jerusalem made havock of those who called upon his name, and he [had come] came hither to that end, that he might carry them bound unto the priests? 22. And Saul waxed more strong, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this was Christ. 23. And when many days were past, the Jews took counsel together to put him to death: 24. And their laying in wait was known to Saul. And they kept the gates day and night, that they might slay him: 25. And the disciples having taken him by night, put him down through [by] a wall, and let him down in a basket.
20. Luke declareth now how fruitful Paul’s conversion was, to wit, that he came abroad by and by, 600 and did not only profess that he was a disciple of Christ, but did also set himself against 601 the fury and hatred of the enemies, by defending the gospel stoutly. Therefore, he who of late ran headlong against Christ with furious force, doth now not only submit himself meekly unto his will and pleasure but like a stout standard-bearer fighteth even unto the utmost danger to maintain his glory. Certain it is that he was not so quickly framed by Ananias’ industry, 602 but that so soon as he had learned the first principles by man’s mouth, he was extolled by God unto higher things afterward. He comprehendeth the sum of his preaching briefly, when he saith that Christ was the Son of God. In the same sense, he saith shortly after that he saw Christ. And understand thus much, that when Paul intreated out of the law and the prophets of the true office of the Messiah, he taught also that all whatsoever was promised of, and was to be hoped for, at the hands of the Messiah, was revealed and given in Christ. For the words signify thus much, when he saith that he preached that Christ is the Son of God. That was undoubtedly a principle amongst the Jews, that there should a Redeemer come from God, who should restore all things to a happy estate. Paul teacheth that Jesus of Nazareth is he, which he cannot do, unless he shake off those gross errors which he had conceived of the earthly kingdom of the Messiah. Certain it is that Paul declared how Christ was promised in the law, and to what end; but because all tended to this end, that he might prove that the son of Mary was he of whom the law and the prophets bare witness, therefore Luke is content with this one word only.
21. They were all amazed. This is added, that we may know that the power of God was acknowledged. For seeing that the zeal of Paul against the gospel was openly known, they saw no other cause of such a sudden change but the hand of God. And, therefore, this is also one fruit of the miracle, that they all wonder at him being made a new man so suddenly, so that his doctrine doth the more move their minds. Whereas they say that he raged horribly with great cruelty, and that he came of late to Damascus that he might proceed in his purpose, these circumstances serve to augment the miracle. We must also note the phrase, those which call on his name, which withesseth that the godly did so profess the name of Christ, that they placed all their hope of salvation in him. According to that, these
“men put their trust in chariots, and others in horses, but we will call upon the name of the Lord,”
Finally, whatsoever the Scripture commandeth concerning calling upon the name of God, it agreeth to the person of Christ.
22. And Saul waxed stronger. Luke doth not only in this place commend the bold zeal of Paul in confessing the faith of Christ, but also he telleth us that he had strong reasons to convince the Jews. He waxed strong, saith he, that is, he got the victory in disputation; his confession did carry with it great force and efficacy, 603 because being furnished with testimonies of Scripture, and such other helps of the Holy Ghost, he did, as it were, tread all his adversaries under his feet. 604 For the word confounded, which Luke useth, doth signify, that, forasmuch as Paul did urge them out of measure, they were so stricken that they could not tell where they were. 605 The manner of the confounding is expressed, because Paul proved that Jesus was Christ. For the sense is this, that even when the Jews were most desirous to resist, they were overcome and confounded. So that Paul tried [found] by experience, that that was most true which he himself affirmeth, that the Scripture is profitable to convince, (2Ti 3:16.) Also, he performed that which he required elsewhere of a bishop and teacher, (Titus 1:7;) for he was armed with the word of God to maintain the truth. And Luke setteth down two things, that Paul so got the victory in disputing that he overthrew the Jews; and yet their stubbornness was not broken and tamed that they yielded to the truth, because their consciences rage nevertheless inwardly, and being thrown down from their false opinion, they do not submit themselves to Christ.
Whence had Paul this victory, save only because the Scripture was his sword? Therefore, so often as heretics stand up to resist the true faith, so often as wicked men endeavor to overthrow all godliness, so often as the ungodly do obstinately resist, let us remember that we must fet [seek] armor hence. Because the Papists find no weapons in Scripture, yea, because they see that it maketh quite against them, they fly into this miserable fortress 606 that they must not dispute with heretics, and that there can no certain thing be set down out of Scripture. But if Satan himself be vanquished with the sword of the word, why shall it not be able to put heretics to flight? not that they will submit themselves, or make an end of murmuring, 607 but because they shall lie overcome in themselves. 608 And if so be it we covet to escape this trouble, let us raise no tumults against God, but let us, with a quiet and meek spirit, receive that peace which the Scripture offereth us.
23. When many days were fulfilled. He saith that many days were expired, that we may know that Paul had some space of time granted him wherein he might do good. For although the Jews did resist him even from the first day, yet the Lord did not suffer the course which he had begun well to be broken off so soon, so he doth with his wonderful counsel hinder the purposes of the enemies, stay their endeavors, restrain their malice and madness, whilst that he furthereth 609 the gospel; and also we see what the hatred of the truth doth. For when the wicked see that they are unable to resist, they are carried headlong into bloody fury. They would gladly contemn the word of God if they could; but because they are enforced, whether they will or no, to feel the force thereof, they run headlong, like furious beasts, with blind violence. 610 The unadvised and rash heat of zeal will always almost break out into such cruelty, unless men suffer themselves to be ruled by the word of God. This is, assuredly, horrible blindness. For why are they so mad, save only because their wounded conscience doth vex them? But God doth by this means punish their hypocrisy, who do, therefore, hate sound religion; because, being friends of darkness, they fly the light.
Furthermore, we see how sweetly these preposterous zealous fellows 611 grant themselves liberty to do whatsoever them lusteth, when Satan hath once pricked them forward to persecute the truth. For they fear not to take counsel, under color of zeal, to put a man to death, which they know is mere wickedness, 612 as at this day the Papists think that they may do whatsoever they will, so they can quench the doctrine of the gospel. They rage not only with sword, but they go about by lying in wait, by treachery, and by most execrable means, to destroy us. We must, first, beware that that do not befall us, that we entangle not ourselves in the defense of evil causes; secondly, that we handle those causes well which we know are good. But it is to be thought that they laid wait for Paul privily; that done, when they could do no good this way, it is likely that they came to the governor of the city, and that then the gates were watched, that they might by one means or other catch him. For Paul saith that Aretas, the king’s governor, commanded that which Luke attributeth in this place to the Jews.
25. The disciples having taken him by night. There is a question moved here, whether it were lawful for the disciples to save Paul thus or no? and also, whether it were lawful for Paul to escape danger by this means or no? For the laws say that the walls of cities are holy, [sacred,] and that the gates are holy. Therefore, he ought rather to have suffered death, than to have suffered a public order to be broken for his sake. I answer, that we must consider why it is decreed by the laws that the walls should not be violated; to wit, that the cities may not be laid open to murders and robberies, and that the cities may be free 613 from treason. That reason ceaseth when the question is concerning the delivery of an innocent man. Therefore, it was no less lawful for the faithful to be let down in a basket, than it shall be lawful for any private person to leap over a wall, that he may avoid 614 the sudden invasion of the enemy. Cicero doth handle this latter member, and he setteth down very well, that although the law forbid a stranger to come near the wall, yet doth not he offend who shall go up upon the wall to save the city, because the laws must always be inclined 615 to equity. Therefore Paul is not to be blamed, because he escaped by stealth, seeing that he doth that without raising any tumult amongst the people. Nevertheless, we see how the Lord useth to humble those that be his, seeing that Paul is enforced to steal his life from the watchmen of the city if he will save himself. Therefore, he reckoneth this example amongst his infirmities. He was acquainted betime with the cross 616 with this first exercise.
“Statim prodient in publicum,” immediately appeared in public.
“Se... objecerit,” exposed himself to.
“Opera Ananiae formatum,” formed or trained by the agency of Ananias.
“Vim et energiam conjunctam,” combined force and energy.
“Quasi obruebat,” as it were threwn down, overwhelmed.
“Ut apud se non essent,” that they were out of themselves.
“Obstrependi,” brawling, gainsaying.
“In seipsis convicti,” selfconvicted.
“Donec promoveat,” until he may further.
“Caeco et praecipite impetu,” with blind and headlong impulse.
“Hoc tirocinio ad crucem ferendam mature assuefactus fuit.” He was early trained to bear the cross by this first trial.