Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
14. But Peter, standing with the eleven, lift up his voice, and spoke unto them, Ye men of Judea, and all ye which dwell at Jerusalem, let this be known unto you, and with your ears hear my words. 15. For these men are not drunk as ye suppose; for it is the third hour of the day. 16. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, 17. And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your elders shall dream dreams: 18. Verily, I will pour out of my Spirit in those days upon my servants, and upon mine handmaids, and they shall prophesy. 19. And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs upon the earth beneath, blood and fire, and vapor of smoke. 20. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord do come. 21. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord he shall be saved.
14. And Peter, standing By this word standing he did signify, that there was a grave sermon made in the assembly; for they did rise when they spoke unto the people, to the end they might be the better heard. The sum of this sermon is this, he gathereth that Christ is already revealed and given by the gift of the Holy Ghost, which they saw. Yet, first, he refuteth that false opinion, in that they thought that the disciples were drunk. This refutation consisteth upon a probable argument; because men use not to be drunk betimes in the morning. For, as Paul saith,
“Those which are drunk are drunk in the night,”
For they flee the light for shame. And surely so great is the filthiness of this vice, that for good causes it hateth the light. And yet this argument were not always good; for Esaias doth inveigh in his time against those which did rise early to follow drunkenness. And at this day there be many who, like hogs, so soon as they awake, run to quaffing. But because this is 89 a common custom amongst men, Peter saith, that it is no likely thing. Those which have but even small skill in antiquity do know that the civil day, from the rising of the sun until the going down thereof, was divided into twelve hours; so that the hours were longer in summer, and shorter in winter. Therefore, that which should now be the ninth before noon in winter, and in summer the eighth, was the third hour amongst the old people. 90 Therefore, whereas Peter doth only lightly remove the opinion of drunkenness, he doth it for this cause, because it had been superfluous to have stood about any long excuse. 91 Therefore, as in a matter which was certain and out of doubt, he doth rather pacify those which mocked, than labor to teach them. And he doth not so much refute them by the circumstance of time, as by the testimony of Joel. For when he saith that that is now come to pass which was foretold, he toucheth briefly their unthankfulness, because they do not acknowledge such an excellent benefit promised unto them in times past which they now see with their eyes. And whereas he upbraideth the fault of a few unto all, 92 he doth it not to this end, that he may make them all guilty of the same fault; but because a fit occasion was offered by their mocking to teach them altogether, he doth not foreslow the same. 93
17. It shall be in the last days By this effect he proveth that the Messiah is already revealed. Joel, indeed, doth not express the last days, (Joe 2:29;) but for as much as he intreateth of the perfect restoring of the Church, it is not to be doubted but that that prophecy belongeth unto the last age alone. Wherefore, that which Peter bringeth doth no whit dissent from Joel’s meaning; but he doth only add this word for exposition sake, that the Jews might know that the Church could by no other means be restored, which was then decayed, but by being renewed by the Spirit of God. Again, because the repairing of the Church should be like unto a new world, therefore Peter saith that it shall be in the last days. And surely this was a common and familiar thing among the Jews, that all those great promises concerning the blessed and well-ordered state of the Church should not be fulfilled until Christ, by his coming, should restore all things. Wherefore, it was out of all doubt amongst them, that that which is cited out of Joel doth appertain unto the last time. Now, by the last days, or fullness of time, is meant the stable and firm condition of the Church, in the manifestation or revealing of Christ.
I will pour out my Spirit He intendeth to prove, (as we have already said,) that the Church can be repaired by no other means, saving only by the giving of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, forasmuch as they did all hope that the restoring drew near, he accuseth them of sluggishness, because they do not once think upon the way and means thereof. And when the prophet saith, “I will pour out,” it is, without all question, that he meant by this word to note the great abundance of the Spirit. And we must take I will pour out of my Spirit in the same sense, as if he had said simply, I will pour out my Spirit. For these latter words are the words of the prophet. But Peter followed the Grecians, who translate the Hebrew word ח, (cheth,) απο Therefore, some men do in vain more subtlely play the philosophers; because, howsoever the words be changed, yet must we still retain and keep the prophet’s meaning. Nevertheless, when God is said to pour out his Spirit, I confess it must be thus understood, that he maketh manifold variety and change of gifts to flow unto men from his Spirit, as it were out of the only fountain, the fountain which can never be drawn dry. For, as Paul doth testify, there be divers gifts, and yet but one Spirit, (1Co 12:4.) And hence do we gather a profitable doctrine, that we can have no more excellent thing given us of God than the grace of the Spirit; yea, that all other things are nothing worth if this be wanting. For, when God will briefly promise salvation to his people, he affirmeth that he will give them his Spirit. Hereupon it followeth that we can obtain no good things until we have the Spirit given us. And truly it is, as it were, the key which openeth unto us the door, that we may enter into all the treasures of spiritual good things; and that we may also have entrance into the kingdom of God.
Upon all flesh It appeareth, by that which followeth, of what force this generality is; for, first, it is set down generally, all flesh; after that the partition is added, whereby the prophet doth signify that there shall be no difference of age or kind, but that God admitteth all, one with another, unto the partaking of his grace. It is said, therefore, all flesh, because both young and old, men and women, are thereby signified; yet here may a question be moved, why Clod doth promise that unto his people, as some new and unwonted good thing, which he was wont to do for them from the beginning throughout all ages; for there was no age void of the grace of the Spirit. The answer of this question is set down in these two sentences: “I will pour out,” and, “Upon all flesh;” for we must here note a double contrariety, 94 between the time of the Old and New Testament; for the pouring out (as I have said) doth signify great plenty, when as there was under the law a more scarce distribution; for which cause John also doth say that the Holy Ghost was not given until Christ ascended into heaven. All flesh cloth signify an infinite multitude, whereas God in times past did vouchsafe to bestow such plenty of his Spirit only upon a few.
Furthermore, in both comparisons we do not deny but that the fathers under the law were partakers of the self, same grace whereof we are partakers; but the Lord doth show that we are above them, as we are indeed. I say, that all godly men since the beginning of the world were endued with the same spirit of understanding, of righteousness, and sanctification, wherewith the Lord doth at this day illuminate and regenerate us; but there were but a few which had the light of knowledge given them then, if they be compared with the great multitude of the faithful, which Christ did suddenly gather together by his coming. Again, their knowledge was but obscure and slender, and, as it were, covered with a veil, if it be compared with that which we have at this day out of the gospel, where Christ, the Sun of righteousness, doth shine with perfect brightness, as it were at noon day. Neither doth that any whit hurt or hinder that a few had such an excellent faith, that peradventure they have no equal at this day. For their understanding did nevertheless smell or savor of the instruction and schoolmastership 95 of the law. For that is always true, that godly kings and prophets have not seen nor heard those things which Christ hath revealed by his coming. Therefore, to the end the prophet Joel may commend the excellency of the New Testament, he affirmeth and foretelleth that the grace of the Spirit shall be more plentiful in time thereof; and, again, that it shall come unto more men, (Mt 13:17; Lu 10:24.)
And your sons shall prophesy By the word prophesy he meant to note the rare and singular gift of understanding. And to the same purpose tendeth that partition which followeth afterwards, “your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;” for we gather out of the twelfth chapter of Numbers, that these were the two ordinary ways whereby God did reveal himself to the prophets. For in that place, when the Lord exempteth Moses from the common sort of prophets, he saith,
“I appear unto my servants by a vision, or by a dream; but I speak unto Moses face to face,”
Therefore, we see that two kinds are put after the general word for a confirmation; yet this is the sum, that they shall all be prophets so soon as the Holy Ghost shall be poured out from heaven. But here it is objected, that there was no such thing, even in the apostles themselves, neither yet in the whole multitude of the faithful. I answer, that the prophets did commonly use to shadow under tropes most fit for their time, 96 the kingdom of Christ. When they speak of the worship of God, they name the altar, the sacrifices, the offering of gold, silver, and frankincense. Notwithstanding, we know that the altars do cease, the sacrifices are abolished, whereof there was some use in time of the law; and that the Lord requireth some higher thing at our hands than earthly riches. That is true, indeed; but the prophets, whilst they apply their style unto the capacity of their time, comprehend under figures (wherewith the people were then well acquainted) those things which we see otherwise revealed and showed now, like as when he promiseth elsewhere that he will make priests of Levites, and Levites of the common sort of men, (Isa 66:21,) this is his meaning, that under the kingdom of Christ every base person shall be extolled unto an honorable estate; therefore, if we desire to ]lave the true and natural meaning of this place, we must not urge the words which are taken out of the old order 97 of the law; but we must only seek the truth without figures, and this is it, that the apostles, through the sudden inspiration of the Spirit, did intreat of the heavenly mysteries prophetically, that is to say, divinely, and above the common order.
Therefore, this word prophesy doth signify nothing else save only the rare and excellent gift of understanding, as if Joel should say, Under the kingdom of Christ there shall not be a few prophets only, unto whom God may reveal his secrets; but all men shall be endued with spiritual wisdom, even to the prophetical excellency. As it is also in Jeremiah,
“Every man shall no longer teach his neighbor; because they shall all know me, from the least unto the greatest,”
And in these words Peter inviteth the Jews, unto whom he speaketh, to be partakers of the same grace. As if he should say, the Lord is ready to pour out that Spirit far and wide which he hath poured upon us. Therefore, unless you yourselves be the cause of let, ye shall receive with us of this fullness. And as for us, let us know that the same is spoken to us at this day which was then spoken to the Jews. For although those visible graces of the Spirit be ceased, yet God hath not withdrawn his Spirit from his Church. Wherefore he offereth him daily unto us all, by this same promise, without putting any difference. Wherefore we are poor and needy only through our own sluggishness; and also it appeareth manifestly, that those are wicked and sacrilegious enemies of the Spirit which keep back the Christian common people from the knowledge of God; and forasmuch as he himself doth not only admit, but also call by name unto himself, women and men, young and old.
18. Upon my servants. In these words the promise is restrained unto the worshippers of God. For God doth not profane his Spirit; which he should do, if he should make the stone common to the unbelieving and despisers. It is certain that we are made the servants of God by the Spirit; and that, therefore, we are not, until such time as we have received the same; but, first, whom God hath adopted to be of his family, and whom he hath framed by his Spirit to obey him, those doth he furnish with new gifts afterward. Again, the prophet did not respect that order of thee, but his meaning was to make this grace proper to the Church alone. And forasmuch as the Church was only among the Jews, he calleth them honorably the servants and handmaids of God. But after that God did gather unto himself on every side a Church, the wall of separation being pulled down, so many as are received into the society of the covenant are called by the same name. Only let us remember, that the Spirit is appointed for the Church properly.
19. And I will show wonders We must first see what is meant by this great day of the Lord. Some do expound it of the former coming of Christ in the flesh; and others refer it unto the last day of the resurrection, I do allow neither opinion. For, in my judgment, the prophet comprehendeth the whole kingdom of Christ. And so he calleth it the great day, after that the Son of God began to be revealed in the flesh, that he may lead us into the fulfilling of his kingdom. Therefore, he appointeth no certain day, but he beginneth this day at the first preaching of the gospel, and he extendeth the same unto the last resurrection. Those which restrain it unto the time of the apostles are moved with this reason, because the prophet joineth this member and that which goeth next before together. But in that there is no absurdity at all, because the prophet doth assign the time when these things began to come to pass, howsoever they have a continual going forward even until the end of the world. Furthermore, whereas he saith that the sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon into blood, they are figurative speeches, whereby he doth give us to understand thus much, that the Lord will show tokens of his wrath through the whole frame of the world, which shall bring men even to their wit’s end, as if there should be some horrible and fearful change of nature wrought. For as the sun and moon are unto us witnesses of God’s fatherly favor towards us, whilst that by course they give light to the earth; so, on the other side, the prophet saith, that they shall be messengers to foreshow God’s wrath and displeasure. And this is the second member of the prophecy. For after that he had intreated of the spiritual grace which should be abundantly poured out upon all flesh, lest any man should imagine that all things should be quiet and prosperous together, therewithal he addeth that the estate of the world shall be troublesome, and full of great fear under Christ; as Christ himself doth more fully declare, Matthew 24 and Luke 21.
But this serveth greatly to the setting forth of grace, that whereas all things do threaten destruction, yet whosoever doth call upon the name of the Lord is sure to be saved. By the darkness of the sun, by the bloody streaming of the moon, by the black vapor of smoke, the prophet meant to declare, that whithersoever men turn their eyes, there shall many things appear, both upward and downward, which may make them amazed and afraid, as he hath already said. Therefore, this is as much as if he should have said, that the world was never in a more miserable case, that there were never so many and such cruel tokens of God’s wrath. Hence may we gather how inestimable the goodness of God is, who offereth a present remedy for so great evils; and again, how unthankful they are towards God, and how froward, which do not flee unto the sanctuary of salvation, which is nigh unto them, and doth meet them. Again, it is out of all doubt, that God meaneth by this so doleful a description, to stir up all godly men, that they may with a more fervent desire seek for salvation. And Peter citeth it to the same end, that the Jews may know that they shall be more miserable unless they receive that grace of the Spirit which is offered unto them. Yet here may a question be asked, how this can hang together, that when Christ is revealed, there should such a sea of miseries overflow and break out therewithal? For it may seem to be a thing very inconvenient, 98 that he should be the only pledge of God’s love toward mankind, in whom the heavenly Father doth lay open all the treasure of his goodness, yea, he poureth out the bowels of his mercy upon us, and that yet, by the coming of the same, his Son, his wrath should be more hot than it was wont, so that it should, as it were, quite consume both heaven and earth at once.
But we must first mark, that because men are too slow to receive Christ, they must be constrained by divers afflictions, as it were with whips. Secondly, forasmuch as Christ doth call unto himself all those which are heavy laden and labor, (Mt 11:28,) we must first be tamed by many miseries, that we may learn humility. For through great prosperity men do set up the horns of pride. And he cannot but despise Christ fiercely, whosoever he be, that seemeth to himself to be happy. Thirdly, because we are, more than we ought, set upon the seeking of the peace of the flesh, whereby it cometh to pass that many tie the grace of Christ unto the present life, it is expedient for us to be accustomed to think otherwise, that we may know that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual. Therefore, to the end God may teach us that the good things of Christ are heavenly, he doth exercise us, according to the flesh, with many miseries; whereby it cometh to pass that we do seek our felicity without the world. Moreover, men do bring miseries upon themselves through their unthankfulness; for the servant which knoweth his master’s will, and doth not obey, is worthy of greater and more stripes, (Lu 12:47.) The more familiarly that God doth communicate with us in Christ, the more doth our ungodliness grow and break out into open contumacy, so that it is no marvel if, when Christ is revealed, there appear many tokens of God’s vengeance on the other side, forasmuch as men do hereby more grievously provoke God against them, and kindle his wrath through wicked contempt. Surely, in that the day of Christ is fearful, it is an accidental thing; whether God will correct our slothfulness, to bring us under, which [who] are yet inapt to be taught, or whether he will punish our unthankfulness. For it bringeth with it of itself nothing but that which is pleasant; but the contempt of God’s grace doth provoke him to horrible anger not without cause.
21. Whosoever shall call upon An excellent place. For as God doth prick us forward like sluggish asses, with threatenings and terrors to seek salvation, se, after that he hath brought darkness upon the face of heaven and earth, yet doth he show a means whereby salvation may shine before our eyes, to wit, if we shall call upon him. For we must diligently note this circumstance. If God should promise salvation simply, it were a great matter; but it is a far greater when as he promiseth the same amidst manifold dungeons of death. Whilst that (saith he) all things shall be out of order, and the fear of destruction shall possess all things, only call upon me, and ye shall be saved. Therefore, howsoever man be swallowed up ill the gulf of miseries, yet is there set before him a way to escape. We must also note the universal word, whosoever For God admitteth all men unto himself without exception, and by this means doth he invite them to salvation, as Paul gathereth in the tenth chapter to the Romans, and as the prophet had set it down before,
“Thou, Lord, which hearest the prayer,
unto thee shall all flesh come,”
Therefore, forasmuch as no man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men; neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief. I speak of all unto whom God doth make himself manifest by the gospel. But like as those which call upon the name of the Lord are sure of salvation, so we must think that, without the same, we are thrice miserable and undone. And when as our salvation is placed in calling upon God, there is nothing in the mean season taken from faith, forasmuch as this invocation is grounded on faith alone. There is also another circumstance no less worthy the noting; in that the prophet doth signify, that the calling upon God doth properly appertain and agree unto the last days. For although he would be called upon in all ages, notwithstanding, since that he showed himself to be a Father in Christ, we have the more easy access unto him. Which thing ought both the more to embolden us, and to take from us all sluggishness. As he himself doth also reason, that by this privilege our forwardness to pray is doubled to us: “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in nay name; ask, and ye shall receive;” as if he should say, theretofore, although I did not yet appear to be a mediator and advocate in the faith, yet did ye pray; but now, when you shall have me to be your patron, with how much more courage ought ye to do that?
“Abhorret,” differs from.
“Veteribus,” the ancients.
“Anxia excusatio,” anxious excuse.
“Quod autem omnibus exprobrat paucorum vitium,” as to his upbraiding all with the fault of a few.
“Eam non negligit,” he does not neglect it.
“Suo seculo,” for their own age.