Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
29. And Peter and the apostles answering, said, We ought rather to obey God than men. 30. The God of our fathers hath raised up Jesus, whom ye slew, hanging him upon a tree. 31. Him God hath lifted up with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. 32. And we are his witnesses of these words [or things,] and the Holy Ghost also, whom God hath given to them that obey him. 33. And when they heard these things, they were cut in sunder, and would slay them.
29. This is the sum of their answer, It is lawful for them, nay, they ought to prefer God before men. God commandeth us to bear witness of Christ; therefore it is in vain for you to command us to keep silence. But I have declared before in the third chapter, when this sentence taketh place, that we ought rather to obey God than men. God doth set men over us in such sort with power, that he keepeth still his own authority safe and sound. Therefore, we must obey rulers so far, that the commandment of God be not broken. Whereas power and authority is lawfully used, then it is out of season to make comparison between God and man. If a faithful pastor do command or forbid out of the Word of God, it shall be in vain for men which are stubborn to object that we ought to obey God; for God will be heard by man. Yea, man is nothing else but an instrument of God. If a magistrate do his duty as he ought, a man shall in vain say that he is contrary to God, seeing that he dissenteth in nothing; yea, rather the contrary rule is then in force. We must obey God’s ministers and officers if we will obey him. 269 But so soon as rulers do lead us away from the obedience of God, because they strive against God with sacrilegious boldness, their pride must be abated, that God may be above all in authority. Then all smokes of honor vanish away. For God doth not vouchsafe to bestow honorable titles upon men, to the end they may darken his glory. Therefore, if a father, being not content with his own estate, do essay to take from God the chief honor of a father, he is nothing else but a man. If a king, or ruler, or magistrate, do become so lofty that he diminisheth the honor and authority of God, he is but a man. We must thus think also of pastors. For he which goeth beyond his bounds in his office, (because he setteth himself against God:) must be despoiled of his honor, lest, under a color or visor, he deceive. The office of a pastor is very excellent, the authority of the Church is great, yet so that no part of God’s power and Christ’s mastership be diminished. Whence we may easily gather that the pride of the Pope is ridiculous, who, when as he treadeth under foot the whole kingdom of Christ, and doth set himself openly against God, will yet, nevertheless, lie hid under the name of Christ. 270
30. The God of our fathers. They descend unto the matter whereof they are to speak, that they may declare that they made small account of the commandment of the priests, not without cause, nor yet unadvisedly. For (as I have already said) the comparison between God and man taketh no place save only when there is some contrariety. Therefore they prove by this, that they are enforced by the fear of God to refuse the commandment of the priests; because God commandeth that which they forbid. Therefore, first of all, they say that God had raised up Christ, after the common custom of the Scriptures. For this speech is common, that God raised up prophets or judges, or rather ministers, whom he determined to use into some great work; which importeth as much as that all excellency of nature is weak, unless God do furnish those with singular gifts whom he preferreth unto any excellent office. Peradventure, also they allude unto that famous place of Moses, which Peter cited in his first sermon, (De 18:15, above 3:22.) They cite the God of the fathers by name, as the author, that they may declare that they bring in no new form of religion, neither yet will they enforce upon the people any new god. For they were to make answer to that false slander, that they went about to lead away the people from the law and the prophets. Not that they allow all that worship which was used by the fathers, as profane men are content with this only argument, that the fathers taught thus, that they do all things according to the custom and decree of their ancestors; but the apostles speak in this place of those fathers with whom God hath made his covenant, who followeth right and pure doctrine, who embraceth the promise of salvation with true faith; finally, who had their beginning of the heavenly Father, and who, through the only begotten Son of God, were the children of God together with their posterity.
Whom ye. In this member the apostles declare unto them plainly that they were the enemies of God who would have the chief honor given them as unto the governors and prelates of the Church. Whereupon it followeth that they are unworthy even of the smallest authority. Although there is also a prevention, being a token of boldness, when as he speaketh of that thing boldly and freely which they did account a shameful thing, to wit, lest any part of Christ’s glory should seem to be diminished because he suffered a slanderous 271 death upon the cross; as if it had been said, You have slain him. Neither was your cruelty satisfied with a plain and common death; for he was hanged upon a tree. But neither could death extinguish his power; neither could that shame and reproach which he suffered amongst you take away his honor. Therefore the calling of God continueth firm and stable. Therefore, as the apostles hit the priests in the teeth with that wickedness and heinous offense which they had committed, so they prevent, by a granting, to express the manner of the reproachful death which Christ suffered, lest the authors of the wickedness triumph as having gotten the victory.
31. Him has God lifted up. Therefore the apostles do signify that whatsoever the wicked do go about, it did not hinder and keep back Christ from fulfilling his function which was enjoined him by his Father. The right hand of God is taken for his power. Neither is the same metaphor used in this place, which we had before, chapter 2, and which is common elsewhere, when Christ is said to be lift up unto the right hand of the Father; but the meaning of this place is, that Christ, which was slain by the hand of men, was lifted up on high by the power of God, that he might bear rule over angels and men. And this seemeth secretly to be set against all the enterprises of Satan and the world; as if he should say that they shall have no good success, because they shall never climb so high as to hinder the hand of God, whereby he hath both wrought mightily already in his only begotten Son, neither will he ever cease to work. Yet the end is added also, that he may be a captain and Savior. For so often as God did put his people in hope of salvation, he was wont to promise a prince or a king, by whose hand he would restore all things. The apostles do testify that this principality was granted to Christ. Notwithstanding they do more plainly express his office by the other adjunct. 272 The sum is this, that Christ is placed in the highest degree of honor, that he may govern the people of God, and not that only, but that he may show himself to be a saving captain, or the author of salvation.
To give repentance. They show in this place how Christ reigneth to save the people, to wit, when he bringeth his own to repentance, and doth reconcile them unto God through the remission of sins. Furthermore, we know that the sum of the gospel is contained in these two things. Wherefore the apostles do not only stand upon the defense of their cause, but they preach the office of Christ plentifully, 273 that they may win even some of the mortal enemies of Christ, 274 if it may be. Furthermore, we have declared before what the word repentance doth signify, to wit, that it is an inward turning of man unto God, which showeth itself afterwards by external works. For Christ giveth us the Spirit of regeneration for this cause, that he may renew us inwardly; to the end that a new life may afterward follow the newness of the mind and heart. And if it belong to Christ to give repentance, then it followeth that it is not a thing which is in man’s power. And surely, seeing that it is a certain wonderful reformation, (or fashioning again,) which maketh us new creatures, repaireth in us the image of God, bringeth us out of the bondage of sin unto the obedience of righteousness; it is a thing as impossible for men to convert themselves as to create themselves. Repentance is, I grant, a voluntary conversion, but whence have we this will, save only because God changeth our heart, that it may be made fleshy of a stony heart; flexible, of hard and stubborn; and, finally, righteous of wicked, (Eze 11:19.) And this cometh to pass when Christ regenerateth thus by his Spirit. Neither is this given in a moment, but it must be increased daily during our whole life, until we be fully joined to God; which shall be then when we have put off our flesh.
This is, indeed, the beginning of repentance, when a man, who before was turned away from God, renounceth the world and himself, and doth purpose to lead a new life. But because when we have entered the way, we are far from the mark, we must needs go forward continually. We have 275 a both through the benefit of Christ. For as he beginneth repentance in us, so doth he also give us perseverance. This is an inestimable grace; but it should do us but a little good, unless it were coupled with forgiveness of sins. For Christ doth both find us the enemies of God at the first, and also there are always vices remaining in us, which cause disagreement between him and us; so that he may justly be offended with us, rather than merciful unto us. And therein doth our righteousness consist, if God do not impute our sins unto us. Therefore, this latter grace must never be separated from them. Yea, rather the gospel shall be lame 276 and corrupt, unless it consist upon [of] these two members, that is, unless men be taught that they are reconciled to God by Christ by the free imputation of righteousness, and that they are fashioned again unto newness of life by the Spirit of regeneration. So that we understand briefly how we must obtain salvation in Christ.
32. And we are his witnesses. After that they have declared that their doctrine came from God, they descend now unto the other part that they speak as they were commanded by God, lest they seem to attempt anything unadvisedly. For this also was a necessary defense, as it is for all the ministers of the gospel, to wit, that they make this openly known to all men that they teach nothing but that which they have received of God. Secondly, that they are called hereunto, so that they cannot avoid the necessity of teaching, unless they will resist God. Luke putteth words in this place, instead of things, according to the Hebrew phrase. Although if any man had rather understand it of the speech itself, I do not deny but that it may be so. The sum is, seeing they are brought forth by God to be witnesses, they may not give back, 277 but they must publish things which he hath commanded.
And also the Spirit. They confirm their calling by the effect; for this was a seal to approve their doctrine, seeing that God gave the Holy Spirit to those which believed. Forasmuch, as it appeared manifestly by this, that he allowed the faith of the gospel, and it was acceptable to him. In that they say to those which obey him, I refer it unto Christ, as if they should have said, those which believe in Christ are plentifully rewarded for their obedience. Therefore God will have Christ obeyed. Wherefore even our ministry doth please him in that thing. Yet here may a question be moved, Seeing that we have saith by the revelation of the Spirit, how is it said in this place, that the same is given after faith? I answer, that the gift of tongues, of prophecy, of interpretation, of healing, and such like, are spoken of in this place, wherewith God did beautiful his Church. As Paul saith, where he asketh the Galatians, whether they received the Spirit by the law, or by the hearing of faith, (Ga 3:2.) Therefore the illumin-ation of the Spirit goeth before faith, because it is the cause thereof; but there follow other graces afterward, that we may go forward, according to that, “To him that hath shall be given,” (Mt 13:12.) And if we will be enriched every now and then with new gifts of the Spirit, let us hold out unto God the lap of faith. 278 But the reward wherewith our want of faith is rewarded at this day is far unlike; 279 for the most part being destitute of the Spirit of God doth neither see nor understand anything.
33. They were cut in sunder. The priests ought to have been thoroughly moved, though they had had hearts of iron, but they burst. 280 Whence we gather that no reasons can prevail with the reprobate, to bring them unto the obedience of Christ; for unless God speak within, the outward doctrine shall be able to do nothing else but to beat the cars. The apostles were able so to overcome their enemies, that they should not have had one word to say; but their fury was so untamed, and unbridled that they do rather go mad. Yet we must therewithal note the force of the word, because although the reprobate are not thereby changed, that they may become better, yet it pierceth into their hearts, so that it urgeth their consciences; for thence springeth their fury, because they saw themselves 281 urged by their judge. They would gladly mock all the gospel, as they attempt whatsoever they can, that they may count it as nothing; but there is in the same a certain hidden majesty, which driveth away mightily all their delicacy. 282 And chiefly when they are cited by the sound of the trumpet to appear before the judgment-seat of God, then appeareth their madness and fury.
“Eadem in parentibus et dominis ratio,” the same holds in parents and masters, omitted in the translation.
“Dei,” of God.
“Pietatis,” of piety.
“Tergiversari,” turn their back, backslide.
“Fidei sinum aperiamus Deo,” let us open a bosom of faith to God.
“Sed longe diversum praemium hodie reportat nostra incredulitas,” but our incredulity in the present day receiveth a very different recompence.
“Sed rumpuntur,” but they burst (with rage.)
“Se sentiunt,” they feel themselves.
“Quae omnes illorum delicias violenter discutit,” which, with a strong hand, dispels all their delights.