Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
46. And when Paul and Barnabas had taken liberty, [or boldness,] they said, It was necessary that we should. first preach the word of God to you. And after that ye reject it, and do not judge yourselves worthy of eternal life, behold, we turn unto the Gentiles. 47. For thus hath the Lord commanded us: I have made thee a light of the Gentiles, that thou mayest be the salvation unto the end of the earth. 48. And when the Gentiles heard, they rejoiced, and glorified the word of the Lord; and they believed, as many as were ordained unto eternal life. 49. And the word of the Lord was spread abroad throughout the whole region. 50. And the Jews stirred certain religious and honest women, and the chief men of the city, and they raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. 51. And they shaked up the dust of their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost.
46. When they had taken liberty. Luke showeth that the servants of Christ were so far from being discouraged with the stubbornness of the enemies, that they began, therefore, to inveigh against them afresh more freely. For though they had sharply pricked them, yet they did yet spare them a little; but now, when they see Christ obstinately rejected by them, they 832 excommunicate them and deprive them of the kingdom of God. And by this example are we taught that we must not use extreme severity, save only against those who are quite past hope. And the more bold the reprobate are to oppress the truth, the more courage ought we to take to ourselves. For the servants of God must be armed with invincible constancy of the Spirit, that they may never give place to the devil, nor to his ministers; as the Lord commandeth Jeremiah to encounter with the reprobate with a face of iron.
It was necessary. He accuseth them of unthankfulness, because, whereas they were chosen by God out of all people, that Christ might offer himself unto them, they refuse so great a benefit maliciously. And in the former member he setteth down the degree of honor and excellency whereunto God had exalted them; afterward followeth the upbraiding, because they do willingly cast from them so great grace; whereupon he concludeth that it is now time that the gospel be translated unto the Gentiles. In that he saith, that it was meet that it should first be preached to them, it doth properly appertain unto the time of Christ’s kingdom. For under the law, before Christ was given, the Jews were not only the first, but alone. Therefore was it that Moses called them a priestly kingdom, and the peculiar people of God, (Exod. 19:5, 6.) But the adoption of God rested then with them alone upon this condition, (the Gentiles being omitted,) that they should be preferred as yet before the Gentiles by the coming of Christ. For though Christ reconciled the world to his Father, yet they were former in order, who were already near unto God, and of his family. Therefore, that was the most lawful order, that the apostles should gather the Church first of the Jews, afterward of the Gentiles, as we saw in the first chapter, (Ac 1:18,) and in other places, so that the fellowship of the Gentiles did not take from the Jews the right of the first-begotten, but that they were always the chief in the Church of God. In this respect Paul saith, that the righteousness of God is made manifest in the gospel, first to the Jews, then to the Grecians, (Ro 1:16.) Such greatness of grace which God vouchsafed to bestow upon them, doth exaggerate and increase the greatness of their sin, whilst that they reject that which is so mercifully offered unto them. Therefore he addeth that they give judgment of themselves, that they are unworthy of eternal life. For seeing that the rejecting of the gospel is the denial of the righteousness of God, we need no other judge to condemn the unbelievers.
And after that ye reject. Paul seemeth to reason unfitly. For, first it was not of necessity that the Jews should be excluded, that the Gentiles might be admitted unto the hope of salvation; secondly, this was more convenient, that, after the Jews had embraced the gospel, they should grant the second place to the Gentiles. And Paul speaketh in like sort as if they could not grow together into one body, and as if the gospel could not come unto the Gentiles unless it were rejected of the Jews. And now was he not ordained to be the apostle of the Gentiles before he found such stubbornness in the Jews? 833 I answer, that there is great force in the words we are turned For his meaning is, that he is now turned away from the Jews, that he may addict and give over himself wholly to the Gentiles. If they had remained in their degree such turning had not followed, but he should have drawn the Gentiles also with a continual course, after that the Jews were received into the bosom; and he should have embraced them both together, know, forasmuch as the Jews turn their backs, and withdraw themselves from his ministry, he cannot look upon them and the Gentiles both at once. Therefore, taking his leave of them, he is enforced to translate his care unto the Gentiles. Therefore, unless the Jews had estranged themselves from the Church, the calling of the Gentiles should have been such as is by the prophets described: “In that day shall seven strangers take hold of the cloak of a man that is a Jew, and shall say, we will walk with you; because God is with you.” But now the Gentiles are called after a new and accidental manner; because, when the Jews were rejected, they entered into the empty possession. They ought to have been gathered unto the Jews; but after that they fell away, and were driven out, they came in their place. So that their death was the life of the Gentiles, and the natural branches being cut off, the wild olives were ingrafted into the holy root, until God do at length restore them also unto life, being ingrafted into their former root, that the Israel of God being gathered together from all quarters may be saved.
47. As he hath commanded. The place is taken out of Isaiah, where, notwithstanding, God doth rather speak unto his Son than unto the apostles. But we must note, that many things which the Scripture attributeth to Christ do appertain unto his ministers. I say many things; not all things: for there be certain titles proper to the person of Christ, wherewith to adorn the ministers were wicked sacrilege. Christ is called our Righteousness, because he was the only purging sacrifice, 834 and hath reconciled the Father to us by his death, and did rise again afterward, that, having overcome death, he might purchase for us eternal life. Therefore the whole substance of our salvation is in Christ’s person; but inasmuch as he worketh by his ministers, by resigning to them his office, he doth also impart with [to] them his titles. Of this sort is the preaching of the gospel. He alone was appointed by the Father to be our teacher; but he hath put in his place pastors and doctors, who speak, as it were, out of his mouth. So that the authority remaineth wholly to him, and he is nevertheless heard in his ministers. Therefore Paul doth fitly apply unto himself the testimony of Isaiah, where he intreateth of the preaching of the gospel.
I have made thee a light. It should seem that he speaketh in that place of such a calling of the Gentiles as doth not carry with it the casting off of the old people. For God doth rather associate strangers unto the Jews, who were before of the household. It is but a small matter, saith he, that thou be my minister in teaching Israel, because I have made thee a light to the Gentiles. God doth seem to begin his Church among the children of Abraham, and, that done, to reach out his hand to the Gentiles, that they may both make one Church by one consent of faith. But Paul doth in such sort cite the prophecy, as if it could not be fulfilled unless the Jews had been cast off. For he signifieth that the light of Christ was lighted to the Gentiles, after that they were cast into the darkness of death. I answer, that this cannot be necessarily proved out of the text, that Paul doth affirm that the Gentiles could not have been illuminated before the light of the Jews had been put out. For this may be the sense, Forasmuch as you have deprived yourselves of eternal life, there is no cause why ye should think that the grace of God is profaned, if, leaving you, we take care and charge of the Gentiles; for the Messiah is not given to you alone, but he is appointed to be the Savior of the whole world; as it is written, “I have made thee,” etc.; although, if you weigh the place of the prophet more thoroughly, you shall find the casting off of the old people included therein. For God pronounceth that he will be glorious and renowned in the ministry of Christ, though Israel be not gathered together. He addeth afterward, by way of exposition, that the power of Christ shall not be restrained unto one people only, because his light shall shed abroad his beams unto the farthest parts of the world unto salvation. It seemeth that Paul noteth this occasion of calling the Gentiles, namely, because, seeing he found no matter to exercise himself in among the Jews, he gave himself wholly to the Gentiles. We must note this by the way, in the words of the prophet, that salvation is put after light, according to that saying of Christ,
“This is eternal life, to know thee, the true God,” etc.
For if the knowledge of God alone bring to us salvation, it is likewise the only resurrection from destruction of eternal death, for us to be illuminated into the faith of Christ, after that we be delivered from the darkness of ignorance.
48. And when the Gentiles heard. The matter of the Gentiles’ joy was this, [viz.] when they heard that they were not called to salvation at a sudden, as if this had not been decreed before by God, but that that is now at length fulfilled which was foretold many years before. For doubtless it was small confirmation of their faith, because salvation was promised to them by the coming of Christ, whereby it did also come to pass that they did with more earnest desire and reverence embrace the gospel. To glorify the word of God may be expounded two manner of ways, either that they did confess that it was true which was prophesied by Isaiah, or that they embraced the doctrine which was set before them with faith. Assuredly there is a full subscription noted out, because they dispute or doubt no longer, so soon as they saw that Paul had gotten the victory. And surely we do then honor the word of God as we ought, when we submit ourselves obediently to it by faith; as it cannot be more grievously blasphemed than when men refuse to believe it. And here we see how the Gentiles were not hindered, by that stubbornness which they saw in the Jews, from giving their name to Christ. With like courage 835 must we despise and tread under foot the pride of the wicked, when, by their obstinacy, they study to stop the way before us.
And they believed. This is an exposition of the member next going before, at least in my judgment.: For Luke showeth what manner [of] glory they gave to the word of God. And here we must note the restraint, [reservation,] when he saith that they believed, (but) not all in general, but those who were ordained unto life. And we need not doubt but that Luke calleth those τεταγμενους, who were chosen by the free adoption of God. For it is a ridiculous cavil to refer this unto the affection of those which believed, as if those received the gospel whose minds were well-disposed. For this ordaining must be understood of the eternal counsel of God alone. Neither doth Luke say that they were ordained unto faith, but unto life; because the Lord doth predestinate his unto the inheritance of eternal life. And this place teacheth that faith dependeth upon God’s election. And assuredly, seeing that the whole race of mankind is blind and stubborn, those diseases stick fast in our nature until they be redressed by the grace of the Spirit, and that redressing floweth from the fountain of election alone. For in that of two which hear the same doctrine together, 836 the one showeth himself apt to be taught, the other continueth in his obstinacy. It is not, therefore, because they differ by nature, but because God doth lighten [illumine] the former, and doth not vouchsafe the other the like grace. We are, indeed, made the children of God by faith; as faith, as touching us, is the gate and the first beginning of salvation; but there is a higher respect of God. For he doth not begin to choose us after that we believe; but he sealeth his adoption, which was hidden in our hearts, by the gift of faith, that it may be manifest and sure. For if this be proper to the children of God alone to be his disciples, it followeth that it doth not appertain unto all the children of Adam in general. No marvel, therefore, if all do not receive the gospel; 837 because, though our heavenly Father inviteth all men unto the faith by the external voice of man, yet doth he not call effectually by his Spirit any save those whom he hath determined to save. Now, if God’s election, whereby he ordaineth us unto life, be the cause of faith and salvation, there remaineth nothing for worthiness or merits.
Therefore, let us hold and mark that which Luke saith, that those were ordained before unto life, who, being in-grafted into the body of Christ by faith, do receive the earnest and pledge of their adoption in Christ. Whence we do also gather what force the preaching of the gospel hath of itself. For it doth not find faith in men, save only because God doth call those inwardly whom he hath chosen, and because he draweth those who were his own before unto Christ, (Joh 6:37.) Also Luke teacheth in the same words, that it cannot be that any of the elect should perish. For he saith not that one or a few of the elect did believe, but so many as were elect. For though God’s election 838 be unknown to us until we perceive it by faith, yet is it not doubtful or in suspense in his secret counsel; because he commendeth all those whom he counteth his to the safeguard and tuition of his Son, who will continue a faithful keeper even unto the end. Both members are necessary to be known. When election is placed above faith, there is no cause why men should challenge to themselves any thing in any part of their salvation. For if faith, wherein consisteth salvation, which is unto us a witness of the free adoption of God, which coupleth us to Christ, and maketh his life ours, whereby we possess God with his righteousness, and, finally, whereby we receive the grace of sanctification, be grounded without us in the eternal counsel of God; what good things so ever we have, we must needs acknowledge that we have received it of the grace of God, which doth prevent us of its own accord. Again, because many entangle themselves in doubtful and thorny imaginations, whilst that they seek for their salvation in the hidden counsel of God, let us learn that the election of God is therefore approved by faith, that our minds may be turned unto Christ as unto the pledge of election, and that they may seek no other certainty save that which is revealed to us in the gospel; I say, let this seal suffice us, that
“whosoever believeth in the only-begotten Son of God hath eternal life,”
49. The word of the Lord was spread abroad. Luke doth in this place declare the proceeding 839 of the gospel; wherein appeareth how true the parable of Christ is, when he saith that it is like to leaven, (Lu 13:21.) We heard before that there was great concourse of people, so that the seed of true doctrine was sown throughout the whole city. Luke saith now that it was spread farther, to wit, throughout the whole country.
50. Nevertheless, he declareth that that was done not without great pains and trouble. Therefore, the beginning of the calling of the Gentiles was joyful and prosperous, neither could Satan hinder the course of the grace of God; but in the mean season, it stood Paul and Barnabas upon (whom God had brought forth into the field 840 ) to strive. And we must mark what Luke saith, that the religious and honest women, together with the chief men of the city, were enforced to persecute the servants of Christ. For this was no small offense to the rude, and those who were as yet scarce begotten in Christ, when they saw all those men and women which were of any account or estimation set against Christ, and also whatsoever was praise-worthy according to men. A great multitude of men received Christ, but it was but the multitude and the offscourings of men. Against them were set the chief men of the city, who with their pomp did easily oppress the base and obscure multitude. That might also cause doctrine to be suspected, yea, to be hated, in that godly and honest matrons to look to were enemies to it. If wicked, ungodly, and mischievous men should have issued out of their taverns and dens; if companies of whores should break out of their brothel-house, it should be no reproach to the gospel; yea, rather the dignity thereof should thereby appear more plainly; but now, what may the weak think with themselves, but that the doctrine which hath such adversaries is not of God? Therefore it was expedient that not only the faithful, who were as yet weak, should be confirmed by the Lord, lest their faith should fall, but also that the hand should be reached out to Paul and Barnabas, lest, being discouraged, they should leave off.
And by this example the Lord meant to teach us that we must valiantly resist such lets; 841 and that we must beware lest the vain visors of virtue 842 do blind our eyes, so that we cannot see the glory of Christ which shineth in the gospel. For it is certain that all that virtue and honesty which is in men is mere hypocrisy where they set themselves against. Christ; though it may be that those who are rashly carried against Christ for a time may afterwards repent. Notwithstanding, we must thus think with ourselves, that whatsoever fair show of holiness those bear who resist the gospel, they are neither endued with the perfect fear of God, neither are they any thing else but a vain shadow, how greatly soever they boast of their virtue. Neither is it without cause that Christ hath this title given him, that he revealeth the cogitations of many hearts, (Lu 2:35.)
Religious. And what manner [of] religion could that be where there was no reverence of the Word of God? We must note that there be four kinds of men: as there be few which worship God sincerely and from the heart, so there be few who openly profess the manifest and gross contempt of him. These be two sorts. And the more part is neither quite without religion, neither is it altogether void of the common worship of God; but yet, notwithstanding, whilst they do coldly, and, as it were, overfields 843 play with God, if they be thoroughly examined they be but profane; like as, at this day, the ungodliness of many is after a sort shrouded under ceremonies, and the reigned profession of the worship of God. So that in all ages there have been certain worshippers of God who have worshipped him like stage-players, 844 whose holiness did wholly consist in gestures and vain pomps. In Paul’s time, even as at this day, a peculiar study of godliness was to be found in a few, whose religion, though it were impure, and their heart reigned, deceitful, and double, yet are they counted after a sort religious, in respect of their zeal. But hereby appeareth what account we may make of bare religion, which driveth headlong, through unadvised heat, the professors thereof, to resist the kingdom of God, and to oppress his glory. Furthermore, it is to be thought that though these matrons had not altogether given their name to Judaism, neither had they been nousled 845 in the doctrine of the law, yet were they half Jewesses, and that was the cause that they did so willingly take upon them the defense of the nation. For thus are women led about captive, being laden with sins, as Paul witnesseth.
51. When they had shaken of the dust of their feet. We may also gather, even by the commandment of Christ, (Mt 10:14; Luke 9:5, Luke 10:11,) that this was a token of cursing among the Jews. For it is not to be thought that Christ meant to have his [disciples] use an unknown sign, forasmuch as it was his purpose to terrify the gross and professed condemners of his doctrine. Furthermore, he meant by this means to declare that God doth so detest the wicked, that we must take meat heed that we have no fellowship with them, lest we be infected with their uncleanness. All the wicked are said, indeed, to pollute the ground whereon they tread; but the Lord did never command that any, save only the condemners of his word, should be so rejected with such execration. If any adulterer or whoremonger, if any perjured person, if any drunkard, 846 were to be excommunicate, this sign was not used. Therefore, it appeareth how intolerable the contempt of the word of God is in his sight; because, when as he commandeth that the dust of the feet be shaken off, it is as much as if he should pronounce that they are the bond-slaves of Satan, men past hope, and worthy to be banished 847 from off the earth. Wherefore, let this so great;, severity teach us to reverence the gospel. Also the ministers of the word are taught with how great ferventness of zeal they must maintain the majesty of the word, that they do not coldly dissemble and wink at the contempt thereof.
52. The disciples were filled with joy This member may be expounded two manner of ways; That they were filled with joy and the Spirit, by hypallage, thus, With joy of the Spirit, or (which is all one) with spiritual joy; because there is no quietness, peace, or joy of conscience, but it cometh of the Spirit of God, in which respect Paul saith that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit, (Ro 14:17;) or that the word Spirit may contain under it other virtues and gifts. Yet this pleaseth me better, that they were filled with joy; because the grace of the Holy Spirit reigned in them, which alone doth so make us glad, truly and perfectly, that we are carried up above the whole world. For we must mark Luke’s drift, that the faithful were so far from being troubled and shaken with those stumbling-blocks, how great soever they were, with the reproach of their teachers, with the disquieting of the city, with terrors and threatenings, also with fear and dangers hanging over their heads, that they did with the loftiness of their faith despise valiantly the gorgeousness, as well of their reigned holiness as of their power. And assuredly, if our faith shall be well grounded in God, and shall be thoroughly rooted in his word; and, finally, if’ it shall be well fortified with the aid of the Spirit as it, ought, it; shall nourish peace and joy spiritual in our minds, though all the world be in an uproar.
“Vicissim,” in their turn.
“Cur ergo nunc demum ad gentes se convertit, quasi earurn vocatio ex electi populi infidelitate pendeat,” why then does he now only turn to the Gentiles, as if their calling depended on the infidelity of the chosen people? omitted.
“Victima expiatrix,” expiatory victim
“Animi magnitudine,” magnanimity.
“Progressum,” the progress.
“Athletas in arenam,” as wrestlers into the arena.
“Offendiculos,” petty scandals.
“Inanes virtutum larvae.” empty masks or shows of virtue.
“Defunctorie,” in a perfunctory manner.
“Histrionici Dei cultores,” histrionic worshippers of God.
“Imbutae,” imbued with.
“Si quis homicida,” if any murderer, omitted.
“Qui exterminentur,” to be exterminated.