Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
7. And after that the angel which spake to Cornelius was departed, he called two of his servants, and a godly soldier, of those which did wait on him: 8. And when he had told them all things, he sent them to Joppa. 9. On the morrow, as they journeyed, and drew nigh to the city, Peter went up into the highest part of the house to pray, about the sixth hour; 10. And he was fasting; therefore he would eat. And in the mean season, while they made ready, there fell upon him an excess of mind. 669 11. He saw heaven open, and a vessel coming down upon him like to a great sheet, knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth; 12. Wherein were all four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and birds of heaven. 13. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. 14. And Peter said, Not so, Lord; because I have never eaten any common or unclean thing. 15. And the voice said to him again, Make not thou those things common which God hath made clean. 16. And this was done thrice; and the vessel was taken up again into heaven.
7. And after that the angel. Luke declareth here how ready Cornelius was to obey when as he maketh no tarriance, but doth that with all diligence which he was commanded to do. And this was the cause that he was so forward, because he believed the promise; as want of faith is the cause why we are so slow to follow God. Angels come not flying to us from heaven that they may appoint us certain men, but that voice of Christ soundeth in all men’s cars.
“Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,”
How is it that of an hundred scarce one or two will stir one foot, that some creep so little that they profit but a little, but because we do not indeed believe the promise? Therefore, let us learn that we must not drive off from day to day, but every man must hasten thither whither he is called, so soon as he heareth the voice of God.
Two of his servants. Cornelius had this reward for being so diligent in teaching his family, that he had faithful and honest servants who were willing to do him service; and also such as that he might commit any thing to them. On the other side, the Lord doth oftentimes punish masters with just punishments who have no regard to instruct their families. For they find those justly stubborn and unfaithful whom they would not frame unto godliness and the fear of God, and also they are afraid of their treachery.
A godly soldier. Forasmuch as this soldier was much conversant with Cornelius, he had also taught him to fear God, as well as his household servants. It is meet that we call to mind here that which I touched before, that there is no kind of life which excuseth us but that we must worship God purely. For a soldier’s life was at that time most corrupt; for they were fallen unto filthy licentiousness, from the ancient discipline, and yet the Spirit of God beareth record in this place of the godliness of soldiers. Wherefore, there is no cause why they should require a calling that is free from worshipping God, under color of warfare, who would by one means or other be free from all righteousness. If they deny that they can serve God because they be soldiers, they shall have these two soldiers meet judges and witnesses against them at the last day, who shall condemn them. And in the mean season, those brain-sick fellows are condemned who cry that it is unlawful for Christians to carry weapons. For these men were warriors, and yet godly, and when they embrace Christ they forsake not their former kind of life; they cast not away their armor as hurtful, nor yet forsake their calling.
8. Whereas Cornelius expoundeth the whole matter to the soldier and his servants, it tendeth to this end, that he may the more encourage them to give ear to the commandment, which they see is rather a commandment of God than of man; and he is not afraid to make known unto them so great a matter whom he had instructed well before.
9. On the morrow, as they journeyed. As Luke declared that Cornelius was admonished by an oracle to send for Peter, so now he setteth down another vision, whereby Peter is commanded to come to him. Whereby it appeareth that all this matter was governed by the wonderful counsel of God, who doth both make Cornelius apt to be taught, yea, he kindleth in him a study and desire to learn and, on the other side, maketh Peter willing to take in hand to teach him. But we must note the circumstances whereby he maketh the history more evident.
Peter went up upon the house, that he might pray alone by himself; for a quiet and lone place is a great help to prayer, which thing Christ himself did not omit, that the mind, being free from all things which might call it away, might be the more earnest and bent toward God. And the Jews had another manner of houses and buildings than we use; for they had walks upon the tops of their houses. The sixth hour was then noon. And it is not to be doubted but that he got himself to prayer then according to his custom. For because we are drawn away with divers businesses, 670 and there is no end of turmoiling, unless we bridle ourselves, it is good to have certain hours appointed for prayer, not because we are tied to hours, but lest we be unmindful of prayer, which ought to be preferred before all cares and business. Finally, we must think the same thing of time which we think of place; to wit, that they are certain remedies whereby our infirmities is holpen; which, if the apostles counted fit for them, how much must more the sluggish and slow use the same?
10. Excess of mind. Because our minds are wholly, as it were, set upon the earth, to the end Peter might the better comprehend the oracle, it was meet that his mind should be, as it were, moved from his place and carried up; and by this means was he prepared to receive the oracle, when as he is carried up above the world after an unwonted manner.
11. The opening of heaven signifieth, in my judgment, another thing in this place than in the seventh chapter. For it is said there that heaven was opened to Stephen, that he did behold the glory of Christ; in this place Peter saw our heaven which we see divided, so that a sheet came thence.
12. If any man ask how he could see a great multitude of living creatures at once, the question is easily answered. For Luke saith, All manner, because there were there divers kinds mixed one with another. Therefore he beginneth not at the first kind, that he may prosecute the number unto the last. Again, we must not measure this seeing according to the manner of men, because the trance gave Peter other eyes. But before we go any farther we must know the end of the vision. Some dispute more subtilely about the same than the place requireth, in my judgment. Therefore, I think that it is generally showed to Peter that the difference which God had made in times past is now taken away. And as he had put difference between living creatures, so, having chosen to himself one people, he counted all nations unclean and profane.
Now the difference between living creatures being taken away, he teacheth by the consequent that there is no such disagreement among men any longer as there was in times past, and that there is no difference between the Jew and the Grecian. Hereby Peter is admonished that he do not abhor the Gentiles as being unclean. Undoubtedly, God meant to encourage Peter to come to Cornelius without fear; but he had separated one people to himself from the rest, as saith Moses in his song, when as the Most High did distribute the nations, he put his lot in Jacob, etc., (De 32:9;) therefore he called it his inheritance and peculiar people.
According to this order, it had not been lawful to Peter to bring the covenant of salvation unto the Gentiles; for that was to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs, (Mt 15:26,) unless, peradventure, they would be circumcised, and embrace the Jewish religion; for it was lawful to receive such as did yield themselves. Wherefore, when as the apostles were sent before to preach the gospel, they were forbidden to turn in unto the Gentiles, (Mt 10:5.) And forasmuch as the preaching of the gospel is a most holy and weighty matter, Peter ought not to have attempted any thing therein with a doubting and wavering mind. Therefore, to the end he may be assured of his calling, God showeth manifestly, as in a picture, that the legal difference between the clean and unclean is abolished; whence he may gather that the wall which was heretofore between the Jews and the Gentiles is now pulled down. And Paul saith, that it is a mystery hid from the beginning of the world, that the Gentiles are made partakers of the same salvation with the people of God, and ingrafted into one body, (Eph 2:16; Eph 3:6.)
Therefore Peter durst never have opened the gate of heaven unto the Gentiles, unless God himself had made a plain way and entrance for all men, by taking away the wall of separation. I said even now that there was no time wherein it was not lawful to admit the Gentiles unto the worship of God, so they were circumcised; but so long as they continued in uncircumcision they were strangers with God. But now God made the covenant of life common to all the whole world, which he had shut up in one nation, as in a treasure. Whence we gather that this vision is not a little profitable for us; for, when as it teacheth that the difference between Jews and Gentiles continued only for a season, it is as much as if God should pronounce from heaven that he receiveth all people of the world into favor, that he may be God over all. Finally, we have an evident proclamation from heaven, which putteth us in hope of eternal life.
But some men will object that Peter was taught before concerning this matter; for he and the rest were commanded to preach the gospel throughout the whole world, (Mr 16:15.) Therefore, he was either ignorant of his calling, or else this vision was superfluous. I answer, that there was such and so great difficulty in the novelty itself, that they could not acquaint themselves therewith by and by. They knew both the prophecies of the prophets, and the late commandment of Christ concerning the calling of the Gentiles by the gospel; but when they come to the push, they doubted nevertheless, being stricken with the strangeness of the thing. Wherefore, it is no marvel if the Lord confirm Peter with a new sign, concerning which thing we must also say somewhat as yet in the next chapter.
13. A voice from heaven. The voice came from heaven as did the sheet, that Peter might know that both came from God; neither had the sight done him any good, unless God had with this voice made clean those things which were before unclean. Whereas some pick an allegory out of the word kill, as if God did signify that men are sacrificed to him by the spiritual sword of the gospel; I do not prosecute that, but plainness pleaseth me better, that God doth take away by this voice the law concerning the choice of beasts, that he may also teach that he rejecteth no people, (Ro 15:16.) For if by the former word be meant sacrificing, what shall eat signify?
14. Not so, Lord. This is the voice of him which doth as well refuse, as also object to God his own commandment; for he is afraid, for good causes, to touch that which he knew was forbidden him in the law of God, (Le 11:21, etc.) Therefore he objecteth to God the law which he himself made, lest he should break the same unadvisedly. There was a certain show of repugnancy between the law and the vision; therefore Peter is not hasty, but desireth first to have his doubt dissolved before he depart from observing the law. Yet it is a strange matter why Peter resisted more in meats than did Abraham in killing his son; for Abraham [might have] had more things to object, (Gen. 22:9, 10.) I dare not here say that that befell Peter which is too common among men, to stand more about outward and small matters than about the chief points of the law; I rather make that answer which is out of doubt, that Abraham’s mind was so persuaded, and that he was furnished with such power of the Spirit, that he overcame with 1ofty and heroical fortitude all those things which might have hindered him. But the Spirit of God wrought slenderly, 671 in Peter; whereby we are taught that every small or light thing doth cause us to doubt, unless the Lord do furnish us with counsel and constancy to overcome all fear. Yet Peter dealeth very godly and very religiously, in that being in doubt amidst divers cogitations, he dare do nothing until it better appear what he ought to follow. Common signifieth in this place profane. For because the Lord (as we have said) had chosen the Jews to be a peculiar people, he had prescribed unto them this rite and manner of living, that it might distinguish them from the profane Gentiles. Therefore, whatsoever the Gentiles did use contrary to the rule of the law, that did they call common, because there was nothing pure or holy but that which God had appointed for the use of his people.
15. God hath made clean. He speaketh of meats; but this sentence must be extended unto all parts of the life. It is word for word, That which God hath made clean, do not thou make profane; but the sense is, It is not for us to allow or condemn any thing; but as we stand and fall by the judgment of God alone, so is he judge of all things, (Ro 14:4.) As touching meats, after the abrogating of the law, God pronounceth that they are all pure and clean. If, on the other side, there start up a mortal man, making a new difference, forbidding certain, he taketh unto himself the authority and power of God by sacrilegious boldness. Of this stamp were the old heretics, Montanus, Priscillianus, the Donatists, the Tatians, and all the Encratites. Afterwards the Pope, to the end he might bind all those sects in a bundle, made a law concerning meats. And there is no cause why the patrons of this impiety should babble that they do not imagine any uncleanness in meats, but that men are forbidden to eat flesh upon certain days, to tame the flesh. For seeing they eat such meats as are most fit, both for delicacy and also for riot, why do they abstain from eating bacon, as from some great offense, save only because they imagine that that is unclean and polluted which is forbidden by the law of their idol? With like pride doth the tyranny of the Pope rage in all parts of life; for there is nothing wherein he layeth not snares to entangle the miserable consciences of men. But let us trust to the heavenly oracle, and freely despise all his inhibitions. We must always ask the mouth of the Lord, that we may thereby be assured what we may lawfully do; forasmuch as it was not lawful even for Peter to make that profane which was lawful by the Word of God.
Furthermore, this is a place of great importance to beat down the frowardness of men, which they use too much in perverse judgments. There is no man almost which doth not grant liberty to himself to judge of other men’s doings. Now, as we are churlish and malicious, we lean more toward the worse part, so that we take from God that which is his. This voice alone ought to suffice to correct such boldness, That it is not lawful for us to make this or that unclean, but that this power belongeth to God alone. And also in these words is given us to understand, that the Jews were not therefore the holy people of the Lord, because they excelled through their own worthiness, but only by reason of God’s adoption. Now, after that God had received the Gentiles into the society of the covenant, they have all equal right.
16. This was done thrice. The repetition of the vision served for the confirmation of Peter, lest any doubt 672 should remain in his mind. Whence we gather how deeply the observing of the law was rooted in his mind. And I know no reason why God left him in a dump, [perplexed,] until, by the event which followed, he might learn the cause of the vision, save only because being astonished he did not desire to know what this thing meant; although it was all in good time, that the messengers of Cornelius should come shortly after to interpret it. The vessel was at length taken up again into heaven, that Peter might be certified that this message came from heaven, [God.]
“Mentis excessus,” a suspension of mind or thought, a trance.
“Totum fere diem,” almost the whole day, omitted.
“Vel anxietas vel scrupulus,” or anxiety or scruple, omitted.