Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
The day following Peter went forth with them, and certain of the brethren that were of Joppa accompanied him. 24. And the next day they entered into Cesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, having called his kinsfolks and friends together. 26. And when Peter entered in, Cornelius meeting him, and falling down at his feet, worshipped him. 26. But Peter lifted him up, saying, Arise, I am also a man. 27. And when he had talked with him, he entered in, and he found many assembled together. 28. And he said to them, You know that it is wickedness for a man that is a Jew to join himself to a man that is a stranger, or to enter in unto him; but God hath showed to me that no man must be called common or unclean. 29. For this cause I came without gainsaying, when I was called; therefore, I demand for what cause ye have called me.
The day following he went forth. It should seem that they arrived a little before night 675 because they were not as yet entered the city at noon, and the vision which was showed thrice asked no small time. Therefore, when they had taken their rest all night, they address themselves to return. Again, there was a point of courtesy in that some of the faithful do accompany Peter, who were sent, as it is to be thought, by the whole church, to bring him even to Cesarea. These men journey with Peter for goodwill and honor’s sake; but the Lord bringeth them, that they may be witnesses of his grace. So that they are bountifully rewarded for their thankfulness, when as for confirmation of their faith they see the kingdom of Christ spread abroad even unto the Gentiles.
24. Cornelius waited for them. Luke doth not only commend the godly affection of Cornelius in this point, that he waited earnestly for Peter’s coming, but because he would have his friends and kinsfolks to be companions with him in the faith. This was a thing not without great danger, to call together a company of men, that they might embrace a new kind of religion. And there wanted not reasons, under color whereof he might have flattered [excused] himself; for he was not commanded to call others to accompany him, but rather they were passed over, and he himself was chosen to be made partaker of so great goodness; but he considered with himself how much he was indebted 676 both to the glory of God, and also to the salvation of his brethren. He knew that it was an unjust thing, and a point of discourtesy, to provide for himself alone, and not to regard others. He counted it a point of filthy carelessness 677 to hide the treasure of the gospel under the ground. Therefore, he did that which the Lord requireth of all his by Isaiah and Micah, that every one exhort his brother (taking him as it were by the hand) unto the faith.
Therefore, Cornelius hath taught us by his example, that when God revealeth himself unto us we must not choke the light of his knowledge with sloth or fear, but we must rather endeavor that our faith may shine before others to give light, and to show the way to them; for the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven is not such, that even the least portion can be taken from us, if many be made partakers thereof; but if others be made co-heirs with us, it shall rather increase our glory, Furthermore, we must mark how far he is from vainglory; for he calleth them to be his school-fellows, being himself ready to learn. This is the true study of godliness, when as together with zeal there appeareth such plainness, 678 that we are not ashamed to depend upon the mouth of God. For many are pricked forward with ambition, to employ themselves in teaching the ignorant; and foolish babbling discovereth their folly, when as they huddle out words more earnestly, and they would have none heard but themselves. But this alone ought to be the drift of all men, to bring themselves and all the whole world under God, that when men are subdued unto true humility, he alone may have the preeminence. Let not him which excelleth in the faculty and grace of teaching refuse to teach his brethren, so that he be free from boasting, and proud desire to excel. Let him to whom it was not granted to be a teacher keep himself within his bounds. Let neither of them desire mastership, as James teacheth them; but let one so edify another, that neither the learned, neither the unlearned, be ashamed to be brought into order.
Notwithstanding, it is demanded, 679 what kinsfolks he could have in Judea, seeing that he was an alien, and was come thither only by reason of war, which continued but for a short time? As I affirm nothing, so I embrace this as most probable, that he had some in his garrison which were his kinsmen; for neighbors, and those which were of acquaintance were wont to serve under one captain. And we need not doubt of this, but that Cornelius’ kinsmen were desirous to be under him, forasmuch as he was a centurion. He calleth familiar friends αναγκαιους, as those are called of the Latins, Necessarii, which are nearer together. 680
25. Falling down at his feet, he worshipped. Here is the word προσεκυνησεν, which signifieth to testify honor or worship, either by bowing the knee or ducking down the head, or by any other gesture. Now, the question is, whether Peter refuteth this worship for modesty’s sake only, or he disalloweth it as a thing altogether unlawful? It appeareth that Cornelius’ fact displeased Peter, by the reason which is by and by added, Arise, for even I am a man. For we may gather that there was some divine thing in that worship, because he did ascribe unto mortal man the honor which is due to God alone. But we must not think that Cornelius did count Peter instead of God; for if he translated God’s honor unto mortal man, where is that godliness and religion, with the title whereof he was of late adorned? Therefore, I think that he meant nothing less than to spoil God of his lawful worship, that he might give it to man; but forasmuch as he meant to give singular honor unto the prophet and apostle of Christ, he fell into an immoderate token of reverence, and so he offended in excess.
For it can scarce be expressed in words how prone men are to fall to superstition, when as that honor is given to the ministers of Christ, which hath any small show of divine worship; for we fall easily unawares into that whereof we thought full little. There were less danger in a king or in the chief chieftains of this world; for he which falleth down before a king keepeth himself within the bounds of earthly and civil honor. But the case standeth otherwise in the ministers of Christ; for as their office is spiritual, so if any man fall down at their feet to worship them, this honor hath in it some spiritual thing. For we must put a difference between civil worship, which men use among themselves in respect of civil order, and that under which is contained religion, or which respecteth directly the honor of God; as also between laws which are made for temporal regimen, or which bind the conscience. For certain foolish men are deceived too far, who think that kneeling is in this place condemned simply and of itself. But this is that which I said, Cornelius doth not here salute his proconsul, or the emperor, after any civil sort; but being stricken with wondering when he saw Peter, he honoreth him as he would have honored God, if he had been present; so that he giveth man more than is meet, having, as it were, forgotten himself. He thought nothing less (as I have already said) than to rob God of any part of his honor, that he might give that to man which he took from him. But when as the worship which is given to man hath somewhat which is, as it were, linked with the honor of God, men fall into a fault contrary to their hope and opinion, so that they extol man above his degree, and give him the worship which is due to God.
The Papists, omitting that distinction, snatch only at one member for they handle religious worship only. To the end they may ascribe some part thereof, with some honest color, unto creatures, they cut [subdivide] it into latria, dulia, and hyperdulia. They give latria to God alone; as if they should say, that the adoration of worship is due to him alone. They make dulia common to the dead and their bones, to images and pictures. They assign their hyperdulia to the Virgin Mary, and to the cross whereon Christ hanged. That I may omit to say that they babble through childish ignorance, how many of them do understand that rotten distinction? Neither do I speak only of the common sort, but of the chieftains. Therefore, all their worshippings must needs be infected and corrupt with wicked superstition, seeing they unadvisedly match creatures with God. But Luke saith not in this place that Cornelius gave to Peter latria, (or the honor due to God;) he useth only the general word worshipped, and he addeth, notwithstanding, that he was reproved, because he did wickedly extol man higher than became him. Surely, if that new opinion concerning the adoration which is called dulia had any place, Peter ought to have admonished Cornelius that he should not go beyond dulia. But because no worship whereunto religion is annexed, and the respect of God’s honor, doth leave to God his honor untouched, what man soever it have; therefore, Peter is content with this one only reason that he is a man. Moreover, I would gladly know of the Papists, whether they think that John was so blockish, that he would take the honor due to God, which they call latria, and give it to the angel? Surely, there was nothing else that caused him to worship the angel, save only too much and preposterous reverence, and that in honor of God, whose glory shone in the angel; notwithstanding his fact is condemned. Therefore, to the end we may give God that which is his own, let the spiritual worship, under which is comprehended religion, remain whole and sound to him.
28. Ye know that it is not lawful. This seemeth to be no friendly preface, and such as may rather harden 681 than win their hearts, when as they hear that they are accounted so unclean, that with their familiarity and conference they pollute the saints; which must needs be a great reproach for them. But it was needful for Peter thus to speak, lest they should suspect that he had an evil conscience, because, contrary to the custom delivered by the fathers, he came. 682 But when as he affirmeth that he was sent of God, all such suspicion is taken away and purged. Moreover, he mitigateth very well by these words the offense which did stick in their minds, by reason of an old grudge which was between the Jews and the Gentiles, so that he could by no means have entered his speech better, For he pronounceth that those are now clean who were before unclean, so that they have mutual fellowship now with the saints. Furthermore, whereas he said that it was wickedness for the Jews to go in unto the Gentiles, we must know that this came not so much from the law, as from the observation of the fathers. God had forbidden, indeed, that they should (not) entangle themselves with marriages or covenants, (De 7:3;) they were never forbidden to eat with them, or to use the common businesses of life. But lest that familiarity might entice them into that which was forbidden, they observed the custom delivered by the fathers, so that they did not company together. It is to no end to dispute here whether that tradition did bind men’s consciences; for Peter doth not teach 683 what is lawful according to God, but what was commonly used.
No man. He maketh the sum and end of the vision more plain, when he referreth that unto men which was spoken of meats. And whereas he saith, that no man is unclean, it may not be understood of (all) particular persons; for it is certain that all unbelievers are polluted with uncleanness of conscience, so that they pollute those things which are otherwise pure, when as they do but touch them. Paul also saith that their children remain unclean until they be cleansed by faith. Finally, if faith alone do purge and purify the hearts of men, unbelief doth make the same profane. But Peter 684 compareth the Jews and the Gentiles together in this place; and because the wall of separation was pulled down, and the covenant of life 685 is now common to them both alike, he saith that those are not to be counted aliens who are made partakers of God’s adoption.
29. We must also note that which he addeth, that he came without gainsaying, For this is the holy silence of faith, when as without murmuring against God we receive that meekly which he commandeth, abandoning 686 all contrary reasons which intrude themselves.
“Sub vesperum,” towards evening.
“Quantum... deberet,” how much he owed.
“Foedae socordiae,” shameful sloth.
“Simplicitas,” simplicity, singleness of mind.
“Quaeritur tamen,” it is asked, however.
“Qui arctiore vinculo inter se conjuncti sunt,” who are bound together by a closer tie.
“Quasi legis contemptor,” as if he had been a despiser of the law, omitted.
“Ex professo,” professedly, omitted.
“Tantum,” only, omitted.
“Et salutis,” and salvation, omitted.
“Procul abigendo,” driving far away.