Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
38. Therefore, be it known unto you, 822 that through him remission of sins is promised to you: 39. And from all things, from which ye could not be justified in the law of Moses. 40. Whosoever believeth in this man is justified. 41. Therefore, take heed, lest that befall you which is said in the prophets; 42. Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and vanish away; because I do a work in your days, a work which ye shall not believe, if a man tell it you.
38. Therefore, be it known unto you. After that he hath declared the mean whereby salvation is purchased through Christ, he doth now intreat of his office and power. And this is the principal point, to know what good things we have by the coming of Christ, and what we are to hope for at his hands. And although Luke setteth down in a word that Paul preached of the benefits of Christ, yet there is no cause why any man should doubt but that so great matters were handled weightily, and only according as their dignity did require. By this word, Be it known unto you, Paul meaneth that nothing should hinder them from knowing such an excellent and plain matter, save only sloth; and that, therefore, it was an absurd thing that those benefits of God should be hidden from the faithful which were offered by Christ. For he was sent with the shrill preaching of the gospel, which our faith ought to hear, that it may enter into the sure possession of his good things; for we must know what he is, that we may enjoy him truly. Forgiveness of sins is set first, whereby God doth reconcile us unto himself. That which God will have preached to all his people doth he show to be necessary for all men; for Paul speaketh not to one or two, but to all the Jews which were at Antioch.
Therefore, we must first mark that we be all enemies to God through sin, (Col 2:13.) Whereupon it followeth that we are all excluded from the kingdom of God, and are given over to eternal death, until God receive us to favor by the free forgiveness of sins. We must also note this, that God doth pardon to us our sins, and that he is reconciled through the Mediator, because like as without him there is no satisfaction, so neither is there any pardon or forgiveness of guiltiness. These be principles of our faith which are not learned in the schools of the philosophers, that all mankind is condemned and drowned in sin, that there is in us no righteousness which is able to reconcile us to God; that the only hope of salvation resteth in his mercy, whilst that he doth freely forgive us; and that those remain under the guilt which fly not unto Christ, and seek not forgiveness 823 in his death.
And from all things. He doth secretly prevent that which might seem contrary to the former doctrine. For look how many ceremonies of the law there were, so many exercises were there to obtain remission of sins. Therefore, the Jews might readily object, If he alone do reconcile God to us, our sins being done away, to what end serve so many washings and sacrifices, which we have hitherto used according to the prescript of the law? Therefore, lest the ceremonies of the law hinder the Jews, Paul teacheth that Christ doth that which they were not able to do. Not that Paul spake so briefly and compendiously, (for he did not hope that the Jews would at the first come unto Christ, casting from them suddenly the affiance which they had in the righteousness of the law;) but it was sufficient for Luke briefly to collect 824 the sum of those things which he then taught in just and due order. His meaning is, that the Mediator took away that let from the Jews wherein they did stick. The ceremonial law ought indeed to have been a schoolmaster to lead them by the hand unto Christ; all rites commanded by God were helps to help and further their faith; but as men use preposterously to corrupt the holy ordinances of God, they stop the way before themselves by their ceremonies, and they shut the gate of faith, that they could not come to Christ. They thought they had righteousness in sacrifices; that by washings was gotten true cleanness; that God was pleased with them so soon as they had ended their external pomp: in sum, forsaking the body, they laid hold upon vain shadows. God did indeed appoint no unprofitable or vain thing in the law; wherefore ceremonies were sure and undoubted testimonies of remission of sins. For God did not lie in these words, Let the sinner do sacrifice, and his iniquity shall be purged. But as Christ was the end of the law, and the heavenly pattern of the tabernacle, so the force and effect of all ceremonies did depend upon him; whereby it is proved that they were vain shadows, when he was set aside, (Heb 8:5.) Now we see Paul’s drift and purpose; to wit, that he meant to draw away the Jews from the false and perverse confidence which they reposed in the law; lest being puffed up, they should think that they had no need of Christ’s help, or lest they should seek only external felicity in him.
Be justified in the law. This place doth plainly show what the word justified doth import in all other places where it is used; to wit, to be delivered and acquitted. There was mention made of remission of sins; Paul affirmeth that there is no other way whereby we can obtain the same but the grace of Christ. Lest any man should object that there be remedies to be found in the law, he answereth that there was in them no force. Therefore the sense is plain, that they cannot be justified from sin in the law, because the rites of the law were neither just nor lawful prices to remove guiltiness; they were nothing worth of themselves to deserve righteousness, neither were they sufficient recompenses to appease God. Certainly, it cannot be denied (but wickedly) that that justification annexed to remission of sins is, as it were, the means and way to obtain the same. For what else doth Paul go about but to confirm that saying, that our sins are forgiven us through the benefit of Christ, by answering contrary objections? And he proveth it, because neither satisfactions, neither all the rites of the law, call justify us from sin. Therefore he is justified by Christ, who is freely loosed from the guilt and judgment of eternal death to which he was subject. This is the righteousness of faith, whilst that God counteth us just, by not imputing our sins.
This only propriety of the word is sufficient to refute the cavils of the Papists, who hold that we are not justified by pardon or by free accepting, but by habit and infused righteousness. Therefore, let us not suffer them to rend in pieces unworthily and wickedly this text of Paul, when he saith that they are justified from all things, that we may be assured of remission of sins. And now we must know that the law of Moses is set against Christ, as the principal mean to obtain righteousness, if there had been any besides Christ. Paul disputeth, indeed, of ceremonies; but we must note that there was nothing omitted in them which might serve to purge sins and to appease God. Yet there was not one of all the ceremonies of the law which did not make man guilty, as a new handwriting; as Paul teacheth, Col 2:14. What then? Assuredly God meant to testify that men are justified by the death of his Son alone, because he made him sin for us who did [knew] no sin, that we might have righteousness in him, (2Co 5:21.) Whereupon it followeth that whatsoever satisfactions are invented by men, they tend to rob Christ of his honor. In the law and in Christ signify as much as by the law and by Christ, according to the Hebrew phrase.
From all things. By this member is refuted the wicked invention of the Papists, who teach that only original sin and actual sins committed before baptism are clearly and freely forgiven by Christ, and that others are redeemed by satisfactions. But Paul saith plainly that we are justified from sins by Christ throughout the whole course of our life. For we must remember that the ceremonies [rites] of the law were committed to the Jews, that as well the profit as the use thereof might flourish daily in the Church; that is, that the Jews might indeed understand that their sacrifices and washings were not continually reiterated in vain. If the truth and substance of them be found in Christ, it followeth that there is no other satisfaction or sacrifice to put away sins but his death; otherwise there should be no analogy or proportion between this and the old figures. The Papists call us back unto repentance and the keys, as if the ceremonies of the law were not exercises to think upon repentance, and as if the power of the keys were not annexed unto them. But the faith of the godly was holpen by such helps, that they might fly unto the grace of the Mediator alone. Therefore, let this remain sure and certain that the righteousness which we have in Christ is not for one day or a moment, but it is everlasting, as the sacrifice of his death doth daily reconcile us to God.
39. Every one that believeth. Paul showeth how men obtain the righteousness of Christ; to wit, when they receive it by faith; and that which faith doth obtain is not obtained by any merits of works. Wherefore, Paul’s opinion is plain, that we are justified by faith alone, which, notwithstanding the Papists oppugn [oppose] and strive against no less obstinately than bitterly, nevertheless, it is requisite that we know what the word believe doth import, which is made unsavory to the Papists through ignorance. There be also other benefits of Christ which we reap by faith; for when he regenerateth us by his Spirit, he restoreth in us the image of God; and after that the old man is crucified he fashioneth us unto newness of life. But it was enough for Luke to express this one thing, how men return into favor with God, from whom they be estranged by sin, because we may easily pass thence unto the residue.
40. Take heed that that come not upon you. Because he had to do with stiff-necked men, or at least there were diverse in the company which were stiff-necked (as if he meant with a hammer to soften their stubbornnesses) he addeth a chiding unto doctrine. For if the Jews had been obedient and willing to obey, undoubtedly he would have sought sweetly to allure them unto Christ. But it was either their sluggishness, or else their willfulness, that caused him to be more angry; like as all those must be cited to appear before God’s judgment-seat who contemn the grace of Christ and the horrible judgment of eternal death must be denounced to those. He signifieth, indeed, that there is yet place left for repentance, when he willeth 825 them to take heed; yet, notwithstanding, he telleth them therewithal, that unless they beware in time, the horrible vengeance of God is not far off.
Which is said in the prophets. The place which is cited is taken out of the first chapter of Habakkuk, (Hab 1:5;) but because all prophecies were gathered into one volume or body, Paul saith that it is written in the prophets.
41. And yet he doth not recite word for word the words of Habakkuk, which go thus, “Behold, ye Gentiles, and see and wonder, and be astonished; because a work shall be done in your days which no man shall believe when it shall be told him.” Paul saith, “Behold, ye despisers,” that the Jews may know that the vengeance which was once brought upon their fathers is common to the despisers of the word; as if he should say, God doth at this day make no less account of his word, the contempt whereof he did once punish so sharply. Therefore, the prophet’s denunciation doth appertain unto all ages, so that the despisers cannot hope that they can escape that vengeance now whereof others have tasted. They boasted of the temple; they vaunted that they were the people of God; being puffed up with wicked pride, they despised all threatenings. Therefore Paul putteth them in mind of that which God by his prophets doth threaten to the despisers.
A work in your days. The sense is, Those who refuse to believe the word of God shall feel his hand, that being at length with plagues convicted, they may know that he spake in earnest. It is a common proverb, that experience is the mistress of fools. So the Lord doth indeed punish the wicked, 826 that being tamed with miseries, they may begin to confess his power. And what manner [of] punishment doth he denounce? Because you (saith he) do not believe my word, I will show an example among you which no man will believe; by which words he meaneth, that he will punish them, so that the world shall be afraid to see it. For as rebellion against God is a detestable monster, so it is no marvel if of itself it beget monsters of punishments. Therefore, we must beware, lest, if we cease to give credence to God’s word, we feel his hand more mighty than all our senses do comprehend, and even unto the astonying [astonishment] of all the whole world; and lest even we be made astounded through fear. Habakkuk prophesieth of the destruction brought upon them by the Chaldeans; but the punishment whereby God revenged the contempt of his gospel was more cruel, [severe.] Therefore, let us accustom ourselves to fear God and reverently embrace his word, lest some such things befall us.
“Viri fratres,” brethren, omitted.
“Expiationem... peccati,” expiation of sin.
“Perstringere,” glance at.
“Re ipsa impios coarguit,” convicts the wicked by the reality.