Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
44. Our fathers had the testimony of witness in the wilderness, like as he had appointed, speaking to Moses, that he should make it according to the form which he had seen: 45. Which tabernacle our fathers which succeeded brought with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, which God drove out before the face of our fathers, until the days of David; 46. Who found favor before God, and desired that he might find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. 47. But Solomon built him an house. 48. But the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as the prophet saith, 49. Heaven is My seat, and the earth is my footstool. What house will ye build for me? saith the Lord; or what place is it that ye should rest in? 50. Hath not my hand made all these things?
44. The tabernacle of witness. Stephen showeth here that the blame cannot be laid upon God, because the Jews polluted themselves with divers superstitions, as if God had suffered them to wander freely. 457 For he saith that God had commanded how he would be worshipped by them. Whereupon it followeth that they were entangled in so many errors, because they would not follow that form which God had appointed. Although he girdeth [reprehendeth] them for two causes: Because, being not content with that rule alone which God had prescribed, they invented to themselves strange worships; secondly, because they had no respect unto the right end of the temple, and of the ceremonies which God had appointed. For whereas they ought to have been unto them exercises of the spiritual worship, they apprehended nothing but that which was carnal, according to their carnal nature; 458 that is, they took the shadow for the body.
Therefore we see that the Jews were first reprehended for their boldness, for because that being not content with the plain word of God, they were carried away after their own inventions. Secondly, they are reproved for the preposterous abuse of the true and sincere worship; because they followed the flesh instead of the Spirit. They had, saith he, the tabernacle of witness. Therefore it was their own wantonness and rashness only which caused them to sin. For seeing they were well taught what was the right way and order of worshipping God, all cloak and color of ignorance was taken away.
Which thing is worth the noting. For seeing God doth after a sort bridle us, when he maketh his will known unto us, if after we have received his commandment we turn aside, either unto the right hand or to the left, we be twice guilty; because the servant which knoweth his master’s will, and doth it not, shall suffer more stripes: This is the first mark whereby the Holy Spirit doth distinguish all bastardly and corrupt worshippings from the true and sincere worship. Yea, (to speak more briefly,) the first difference between true worship and idolatry is this: when the godly take in hand nothing but that which is agreeable to the Word of God, but the other think all that lawful which pleaseth themselves, and so they count their own will a law; whereas God alloweth nothing but that which he himself hath appointed. To this end serveth the word witness.
The Hebrew word [מד] (moed) signifieth, indeed, an appointed place and time, or an assembly of men; but the reason expressed in Moses showeth that there is another cause why it is so named. For in Moses this is oftentimes repeated, “I will meet with you there.” Therefore the tabernacle was consecrated by the covenant and the word of the Lord, and his voice was heard there continually, that it might be distinguished from all profane places.
According to the form which he had seen. This is referred unto the second point which I have touched; for it may be that he which shall use the ceremonies only which God appointed, shall notwithstanding worship God amiss. For God careth not for external rites, save only inasmuch as they are of the heavenly truth; therefore God would have the tabernacle to be made like unto the heavenly figure, 459 that the Jews might know that they were not to stay still in the external figures. Furthermore, let him which is disposed read my Commentaries upon the Epistle to the Hebrews, and he shall see what that figure, whereof mention is made Exodus 25, (Ex 25:40; Heb 8:5,) did signify. Stephen doth only briefly tell them in this place that the worship which God commanded the Jews is spiritual, and that they, according to their carnal blockishness, were evil and false interpreters; therefore, as we have said, that God alloweth no worship but that which is grounded in his commandment, so we are taught here that it is requisite in the right use of the commandment, that the spiritual truth be present; which thing being granted, it was the like question which we said did consist principally in this issue, whether the shadows ought to yield to the body or not. Whereas Moses is said to have seen a form or figure, the Spirit of God signifieth thereby that it is unlawful for us to invent forms at our pleasure; but that all our senses must be set upon that form which God showeth, that all our religion may be formed according to it. The word figure signifieth here, in this place, the principal pattern, 460 which is nothing else but the spiritual truth.
45. Which they brought in. This serveth to increase the frowardness 461 of the nation, that whereas the tabernacle did continue with them, and they carried the same whithersoever they went, yet could they not be kept within the bounds of God’s covenant, but they would have strange and profane rites; to wit, declaring that God dwelt amidst them, from whom they were so far distant, and whom they did drive out of that inheritance which he had given them. To this purpose serveth that also, that God did beautify the tabernacle with divers miracles; for the worthiness thereof 462 was established by those victories which the Jews had gotten, as it appeareth by divers places of the holy history; therefore, it must needs be that they were very disobedient, which did not cease oftentimes to start aside from that worship which was so many ways approved.
Until the days of David. Although the ark of the Lord continued long in Shiloh, yet it had no certain place until the reign of David, (1Sa 1:3;) for it was unlawful for men to erect a place for the same, but it was to be placed in that place which the Lord had showed, as Moses saith oftentimes. Neither durst David himself, after he had taken it from the enemies, bring it into the thrashing-floor of Araunah until the Lord had declared, by an angel from heaven, that that was the place which he had chosen, (2Sa 24:16.) And Stephen counteth this a singular benefit of God, not without great cause, that the place was showed to David wherein the Israelites should hereafter worship God; as in the Psalm he rejoiceth as over some notable thing: “I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the Lord; our feet shall be stable in thy courts, O Jerusalem,” (Ps 132:3) The priesthood was coupled with the kingdom; therefore, the stability of the kingdom is showed in the resting of the ark; therefore it is said that he desired this so earnestly that he bound himself with a solemn vow, that he would not come within his house, that his eyes should enjoy no sleep, nor his temples any rest, until he should know a place for the Lord, and a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. Furthermore, the place was showed to David, but it was granted to Solomon to build the temple, (1Ki 5:7.)
47. Solomon built. Stephen seemeth to gird Solomon glancingly 463 in this place, as if he did not regard the nature of God in building the temple; yet did he attempt that work not without the commandment of God. There was also a promise added, wherein God did testify that he would be present with his people there. I answer, that when Stephen denieth that God dwelleth in temples made with hands, that is not referred unto Solomon, who knew full well that God was to be sought in heaven, and that men’s minds must be lifted up thither by faith; which thing he uttered also in that solemn prayer which he made:
“The heaven of heavens do not contain thee,
and how much less this house?”
but he reproveth the blockishness of the people, which abused the temple, as if it had had God tied to it; which appeareth more plainly by the testimony of Isaiah, (Isa 6:6,) which he citeth also; God, saith he, would have Solomon to build him a temple; but they were greatly deceived who thought that he was, as it were, included in such a building; as he complaineth by his prophet that the people do him injury, when as they imagine that he is tied to a place; but the prophet doth not for that cause only inveigh against the Jews, because they worshipped God superstitiously, thinking that his power was tied to the temple, but because they did esteem him according to their own affection, and, therefore, after that they had ended 464 their sacrifices and external pomp, they imagined that he was pleased, and that they had brought him indebted to them. This was almost a common error in all ages; because men thought that cold ceremonies were sufficient enough for the worship of God. The reason is, because forasmuch as they are carnal, and wholly set upon the world, they imagine that God is like to them; therefore, to the end God may take from them this blockishness, he saith that he filleth all things.
49. For whereas he saith, that heaven is his seat, and the earth his footstool, it must not be so understood as if he had a body, or could be divided into parts, after the manner of men; but because he is infinity, therefore he saith that he cannot be comprehended within any spaces of place; therefore, those men are deceived who esteem God or his worship according to their own nature; and because the prophet had to deal with hypocrites, he doth not only dispute about the essence of God, but also teacheth generally, that he is far unlike to men, and that he is not moved with the vain pomp of this world as they are. Here ariseth that question also, why the prophet saith that the Lord hath no place of rest in the world, whereas, notwithstanding, the Spirit affirmeth the contrary elsewhere, “This is my rest for ever,” (Ps 132:14.) Moreover, Isaiah doth adorn the Church with this self-same title, that it is the glorious rest of God, alluding unto the temple, I answer, that when God appointed signs of his presence ill the temple, and sacrifices in times past, he did not this to the end he might settle and fasten himself and his power there; therefore, the Israelites did wickedly, who, setting their minds wholly upon the signs, did forge to themselves an earthly God. They dealt also ungodly, who under this color took to themselves liberty to sin, as if they could readily and easily pacify God with bare ceremonies. Thus doth the world use to mock God.
When God doth declare, by the external rites, that he will be present with his, that he may dwell in the midst of them, he commandeth them to lift up their minds, that they may seek him spiritually. Hypocrites, which are entangled in the world, will rather pluck God out of heaven; and whereas they have nothing but vain and bare figures, they are puffed up with such foolish confidence, that they pamper themselves in their sins carelessly, so, at this day, the Papists include Christ in the bread and wine in their imagination; that done, so soon as they have worshipped their idol with foolish worship, they vaunt and crack as if they were as holy as angels. We must diligently note these two vices, that men do superstitiously forge to themselves a carnal and worldly God which doth so come down unto them, that they remain still having their minds set upon the earth, and that they rise not up in mind to heaven. Again, they dream that God is pacified with frivolous obedience; hereby it cometh to pass, that they are besotted in the visible signs; and, secondly, that 465 they go about to bring God indebted to them after a childish manner, and with things which be nothing worth.
Now we understand in what sense the prophet saith that God hath no place of rest in the world. He would, indeed, that the temple should have been a sign and pledge of his presence, yet only to the godly, which did ascend into heaven in heart, which did worship him spiritually with pure faith; but he hath no place of rest with the superstitious, who, through their foolish inventions, tie him unto the elements of the world, or do erect unto him an earthly worship; neither yet with hypocrites, who are puffed up with drunken confidence, as if they had done their duty towards God well, after that they have played in their toys. In sum, the promise received by faith doth cause God to hear us in his temple, as if he were present to show forth his power in the sacraments; but unless we rise up unto him by faith, we shall have no presence of his. Hereby we may easily gather, that when he dwelleth amidst those that be his, he is neither tied to the earth, neither comprehended in any place, because they seek him spiritually in heaven.
50. Hath not mine hand? The prophet telleth the people in these words, that God hath no need either of gold, either of precious furniture of the temple, either of the sacrifices; whereupon it followeth that his true worship is not contained in ceremonies. For he desireth none of all these things which we offer unto him, for his own sake, but only that he may exercise us in the study of godliness; which argument is handled more at large, Psalm 1. For although this be a shameful foolishness to go about to feed God with sacrifices, yet unless hypocrites were drowned in the same, they would make no such account of toys, because all that is unsavory before God which dissenteth from the spiritual worship; therefore, let us know that God seeketh us and not ours, which we have only at pleasure; and hereby it appeareth also what great difference there is between true religion and the carnal inventions of men.
“Sine freno,” without a curb.
“Pro crasso suo ingenio nihil nisi terrenum et carnale apprehenderent,” in accordance with their gross disposition, they apprehend nothing but what was earthly and carnal.
“Archetypum,” archetype, model.
“Primarium exemplar,” the primary pattern, the original model.
“Illius dignitas,” its dignity.
“Videtur hic oblique Stephanus Solomonem perstringere,” Stephen here seemeth indirectly to rebuke Solomon.
“Defuncti sunt,” performed.
“Neglecta pietate,” neglecting a piety, omitted.