Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. And the apostles and brethren which were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had embraced the word of God. 2. And when Peter was gone up to Jerusalem, those which were of the circumcision reasoned with him, 3. Saying, Thou wentest in unto men uncircumcised, and hast eaten with them. 4. And Peter began, and expounded to them in order, saying, 5. I was in the city Joppa praying; and being in a trance, I saw a vision, to wit, A certain vessel coming down from heaven like a great sheet, tied by the four corners, which came even unto me: 6. Which, when I considered earnestly, I saw then four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and birds of the heaven. 7. And I heard a voice saying to me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. 8. Then I said, Not so, Lord: Because there never entered into my mouth any common or unclean thing. 9. And the voice answered me the second time from heaven, Profane not thou those things which God hath made clean. 10. And this was done thrice: and they were all received into heaven again. 11. And, behold, the same hour three men stood nigh the house wherein I sat, being sent unto me from Cesarea. 12. And the Spirit commanded me to go with them, doubting nothing. And they came with me, and these six brethren, and we entered the man’s house. 13. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing at his house, and saying to him, Send men to Joppa, and fetch Simon, whose surname is Peter; 14. Who shall speak to thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. 15. Furthermore, when I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell down upon them, even as upon us at the beginning. 16. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, John truly hath baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. 17. Therefore, seeing that God had given them the like gift as unto us, which was believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that could let [hinder] God? 18. When they had heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also given unto the Gentiles repentance unto life.
1. And the apostles. Whereas Luke declareth that the fame of one house which was converted was spread abroad everywhere amongst the brethren, that did arise by reason of admiration; for the Jews accounted it as a monster that the Gentiles should be gathered unto them as if they should have heard that there had been men made of stones. Again, the immoderate love of their nation did hinder them from acknowledging the work of God. For we see that through this ambition and pride the Church was troubled; because the equality which did diminish their dignity was not tolerable. For which cause they did contend stoutly to bring the necks of the Gentiles under the yoke. But forasmuch as it was foretold by so many prophecies of the prophets, that the Church should be gathered of all people after the coming of the Messiah, and forasmuch as Christ had given commandment to his apostles touching the preaching of the gospel throughout the whole world, how can it be that the conversion of a few men should move some, as some strange thing, and should terrify other some, as if it were some monster? I answer, that whatsoever was foretold touching the calling of the Gentiles, it was so taken as if the Gentiles should be made subject to the law of Moses, that they might have a place in the Church. But the manner of the calling, the beginning whereof they saw then, was not only unknown, but it seemed to be quite contrary to reason. For they did dream that it was impossible that the Gentiles could be mixed with the sons of Abraham, and be made one body with them, (the ceremonies being taken away,) but that there should be great injury done to the covenant of God; for to what end served the law save only to be the mid wall to note out the disagreement? Secondly, because they were acquainted with that difference during their whole life, the unlooked-for newness of the thing doth so pierce them, that they did forget all that which ought to have quieted their minds. Finally, they do not straightway comprehend the mystery, which, as Paul teacheth, was unknown to the angels from the creation of the world.
2. They reasoned with him. Obstinacy doth for the most part accompany error. This was now a fault having in it too gross ignorance, in that they did not quietly receive the Gentiles into their bosom, united to them by the same Spirit of faith. But they do not only leap back, but also contend with Peter contentiously, and blame him for his fact, which deserved great praise. They hear that the Gentiles have embraced the Word of God; what letteth them then from embracing them, that they may be coupled together 724 under the government of one God? For what more holy bond can there be, than when all men, with one consent, are coupled and joined to God? And why should not those grow together into one body who make the Messiah of God their head? But because they saw the external form of the law broken, they thought that heaven and earth did go together. 725
And note, that although Luke said before that the apostles and brethren had heard this fame, yet he spake nothing of offense; but he bringeth in now, as it were, a new sect of men, which did contend with Peter. The brethren, saith he, heard, and there an end; it followeth, When Peter was come to Jerusalem, those which were of the circumcision did contend with him, who were undoubtedly unlike to the first; again, these words περιτομης, do not simply signify the Jews, but those who were too much addicted to keeping the ceremonies of the law. For there were none of Jerusalem in Christ’s flock at that time, save only those which were circumcised. From whom, then, could he distinguish those men? Lastly, it seemeth to be a thing unlike to be true that the apostles, and those which were moderate being of the number of the faithful, did attempt this combat. For though they had been offended, yet they might have conferred with Peter privately, and have demanded some reason of his fact. By these reasons am I moved to think that those are said to be of the circumcision who did make so great account of circumcision, that they granted no man a place in the kingdom of God, unless he took upon him the profession of the law, and, being admitted into the Church by this holy rite, did put off uncleanness.
3. Unto men being uncircumcised. This was not forbidden by the law of God, but it was a tradition which came from the fathers. And yet, notwithstanding, Peter doth not object that they dealt too hardly 726 with him in this point, and that he was not bound by the necessity of man’s law. He omitteth all this defense, and doth only answer, that they came first unto him, and that they were offered unto him, as it were, by the hand of God. And here we see the rare modesty of Peter, because whereas, trusting to the goodness of the cause, he might have justly despised unskillful men, who did trouble him unjustly, yet doth he mildly excuse himself as it becometh brethren. This was no small trial in that he was unworthily accused, because he had obeyed God faithfully. But because he knew that this law was enjoined the whole Church, that every man be ready to give an account of his doctrine and life so often as the matter requireth, and he remembered that he was one of the flock, he doth not only suffer himself to be ruled, but submitteth himself willingly to the judgment of the Church. Doctrine, indeed, if it be of God, is placed above the chance and die of man’s judgment; but because the Lord will have prophecy judged, his servants must not refuse this condition, that they prove themselves to be such as they will be accounted. But we shall see anon how far the defense both of doctrine, as also of facts, ought to extend.
For this present we must know this, that Peter doth willingly answer for himself when his fact is reproved. 727 And if the Pope of Rome be Peter’s successor, why is not he bound by the same law? Admit we grant that this submission was voluntary, yet why doth not the successor imitate such an example of modesty showed unto him? Although we need no long circumstance 728 here; for if that be true which the Popes spew out in their sacrilegious decrees, Peter did treacherously betray and forsake the privileges of their seat, [See,] and so he betrayed the See of Rome. For, after that they have made the Pope the judge of all the whole world, affirming that he is not subject to man’s judgment; after that they have lifted him up above the clouds, that, being free from giving an account, his will and pleasure may stand for a reason, [law,] they make him forthwith patron of the apostolic seat, [See,] stoutly to defend the privileges thereof. Of what great sluggishness shall Peter then be condemned, if he did lose his right given him of God, by yielding so cowardly? [easily.] Why did not he at least object that he was free from the laws, and exempt from the common sort? But he useth no such preface, but entereth [on] the cause without making any delay. And let us remember, that there is nothing which hindereth us from contemning that idol safely, seeing that usurping such unbridled tyranny, he hath blotted himself out of the number of the bishops.
And Peter beginning. Because this narration is all one with [that] which we had in the chapter next (going before,) and because it is repeated almost in the very same words, if any thing need to be expounded let the readers repair thither. The purpose of Peter, and all the whole sum of his speech, shall appear by the conclusion. Yet, before I come thither, we must briefly mark that he maketh the preaching of the gospel the cause of salvation. Thou shalt hear (saith he) words wherein thou mayest have salvation, not because salvation is included in man’s voice, but because God, offering his Son there unto eternal life, doth also cause us to enjoy him by faith. This is assuredly wonderful goodness of God, who maketh men ministers of life, who have nothing but matter of death in themselves, and which are not only subject to death in themselves, but are also deadly to others. Nevertheless, the filthy unthankfulness of the world betrayeth itself in this point, which, loathing true and certain salvation offered unto it, and forsaking it when it lieth at the feet, doth imagine divers and vain salvations, in seeking which, it had rather gape being hungry, 729 than to be filled with the grace of God which meeteth it and is present.
16. I remembered the word of the Lord. We have sufficiently declared in the first chapter, that when Christ uttered that sentence, he did not make a comparison between two baptisms; but that he intended to declare what difference there was between him and John, (Ac 1:5.) For, as we distinguish the sign from his [its] truth, so it is good to distinguish the minister from the author, lest mortal man challenge 730 that which is proper to God. Man hath the sign in his hand; it is Christ alone which watereth and regenerateth. For it skilleth much whither men’s minds be directed in seeking the graces of God, because they shall not receive one drop without Christ. Therefore, there is this general difference between Christ and all the ministers of the Church, because they give the external sign of water, but he fulfilleth and performeth the effect of the sign by the power of his Spirit. The readers were to be admonished of this thing again in this place, because many do falsely infer that John’s baptism and ours are not all one, whilst that Christ, challenging to himself the Spirit, doth leave nothing for John save water alone.
But if any man trusting to this testimony do make baptism a cold spectacle, and void of all grace of the Spirit, he shall be also greatly deceived. For the Holy Scripture useth to speak two manner of ways of the sacraments. For because Christ is not unfaithful in his promises, he doth not suffer that to be vain which he doth institute; but when as the Scripture doth attribute to baptism strength to wash and regenerate, it ascribeth all this to Christ, and doth only teach what he worketh by his Spirit by the hand of man and the visible sign. Where Christ is thus joined with the minister, and the efficacy of the Spirit with the sign, there is so much attributed to the sacraments as is needful, (Titus 3:5;) but that conjunction must not be so confused, but that men’s minds, being drawn from mortal and frail things, and things like to themselves, and from the elements of the world, they must learn to seek for salvation at Christ’s hand, and to look unto the power of his Spirit alone; because he misseth the mark of faith, whosoever turneth aside even but a little from the Spirit unto the signs; and he is a sacrilegious person who taketh even but an inch of Christ’s praise, that be may deck man therewith. And we must also remember that Christ did comprehend under the word Spirit, not only the gift of tongues, and such like things, but all the whole grace of our renewing; but because these gifts were an excellent argument of Christ’s power, this sentence may well be applied unto them. I will make this more plain; seeing that Christ did bestow upon the apostles the visible graces of the Spirit, he did plainly declare that the Spirit was in his hand; so that by this means he did testify, that he is the alone author of cleanness, righteousness, and of the whole regeneration. And Peter applieth it unto his purpose thus, that forasmuch as Christ did go before, carrying with him the force of baptism, it became him to follow with the addition, 731 that is, the outward sign of water.
17. Who was I? Now do we see to what end Peter made that narration; to wit, that he might declare that God was the author and governor of all the whole matter; therefore, the state of the question consisteth in [turneth upon] the authority of God, whether meat be not of more weight than men’s counsels. 732 Peter affirmeth that he did nothing but that which was rightly and orderly done, because he obeyed God; he showeth that he preached the doctrine of the gospel, neither amiss, neither rashly, where Christ bestowed the graces of his Spirit. The approbation of our doctrine, and also our deeds, must be brought to this rule so often as men call us to an account; for whosoever stayeth himself upon the commandment of God, he hath defense enough. If men be not content, there is no cause why he should pass for their judgments any more. 733 And hereby we gather that the faithful ministers of God’s word may in such sort give an account of their doctrine, that they may no whit impair the credit and certainty thereof; to wit, if they show that it was given them by God: but if they shall deal with unjust men, who will not be enforced with the reverence of God to yield, let us let them alone with their obstinacy, appealing unto the day of the Lord.
And we must also note, that we do not only resist God by striving against him, but also by lingering, if we do not that which our calling requireth, and which is proper to it. For Peter saith that he cannot deny baptism and brotherly fellowship to the Gentiles, but that he should be [without being] an enemy to God. But he should have essayed nothing which was manifestly contrary to the grace of God. That is true indeed; but he which doth not receive those whom God offereth, and shutteth the gate which God openeth, he hindereth the work of God so much as in him lieth; as we say at this day, that those men make war against God who are set against the baptizing of infants; because they most cruelly exclude those out of the Church whom God hath adopted into the Church, and they deprive those of the outward sign whom God vouchsafeth to call his children. Like unto this is that kind of resisting, in that many dissemblers, who, whilst they be magistrates, ought to assist, according to their office, the martyrs of Christ, go about to stop their mouths, and to take from them their liberty. For because they hate the truth, they would have it suppressed.
18. When they heard these things they were quieted. The end doth show that those were not moved with malice which did contend with Peter; for this is an evident sign of godliness, in that being thoroughly instructed touching the will of God, they cease forthwith to contend. By which example we are taught, that those are not to be despised who, being offended through unadvised zeal, reprove any thing wrongfully; but that their consciences must be appeased by the Word of God, which are troubled by error, and that their docility is tried at least thus far forth. As touching us, we do hereby, in like sort, learn whereupon our judgment must depend, namely, upon the sole and simple beck of God. For this honor is due to him, that his will be to us the certain and principal rule of truth and justice. So often as it is requisite for us to know the cause of any thing, the Lord doth not conceal the same from us; but to the end he may accustom our faith unto just obedience, he telleth us sometimes simply and plainly that this or that thing pleaseth him. He which granteth liberty to himself to inquire farther, and taketh a delight in his curiosity, doth nothing else but throw himself headlong with devilish boldness. And Luke doth not only declare that these men held their peace, but that they gave glory also to God. Some are enforced by shame to hold their peace, who, notwithstanding, keep in that in their minds which they dare not utter. That is rather a dissemblance of modesty than docility. But these men do so thoroughly submit themselves to God, that they are not afraid nor ashamed to recant by and by, [forthwith.]
Then hath God. Luke doth briefly declare in these words what the gospel containeth, and to what end it tendeth, to wit, that God may reconcile men to himself, being renewed by his Spirit. The word repentance alone is expressed in this place, but when he addeth unto life, it appeareth plainly that it is not separated from faith. Therefore, whosoever will rightly profit in the gospel, let him put off the old man, and think upon newness of life, (Eph 4:22;) that done, let him know for a certainty that he is not called in vain unto repentance, but that there is salvation prepared for him in Christ. So shall it come to pass, that the hope and assurance of salvation shall rest upon the free mercy of God alone, and that the forgiveness of sins shall, notwithstanding, be no cause of sluggish security. This member, to give repentance, may be expounded two manner of ways; either that God granted to the Gentiles place for repentance, when as he would have his gospel preached to them; or that he circumcised their hearts by his Spirit, as Moses saith, (De 30:6,) and made them fleshy hearts of stony hearts, as saith Ezekiel, (Eze 11:19.) For it is a work proper to God alone to fashion and to beget men again, that they may begin to be new creatures; and it agreeth better with this second sense; it is not so much racked, and it agreeth better with the phrase [phraseology] of Scripture.
“Societam colant,” may cultivate communion.
“Misceri,” were confounded.
“Petrum ad causam dicendam libenter descendere quum ejus factum improbatur,” that Peter readily condescends to plead his cause when his act is impugned.
“Famelicus inhiare mavult,” it prefers gaping famished.
“Ad se trahat,” arrogate to himself.
“Cum accessione,” with the accessary.
“Annon praeponderet cibus humanis consiliis,” whether meat do not preponderate in man's counsels.
“Non est quod perversa eorum judicia amplius moretur,” there is no reason why he should any longer regard their perverse judgments.