Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
34. And Peter opening his mouth said, Of a truth I find that God is no accepter of persons: 35. But in every nation he that feareth him, and doth righteousness, is accepted of him. 36. Concerning the thing which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ; (he is Lord of all:) 37. Ye know how the word was spread throughout all Judea, beginning at Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 38. How that God hath anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost, and with power; who went doing good, and healing all those which were holden by the devil, because God was with him.
34. Opening his mouth. We have already said, that the Scripture useth this phrase when it doth signify that there was any grave or weighty oration or speech made. In the fifth of Matthew, (Mt 5:1,) it is said that Jesus opened his mouth when he would preach to his disciples, and intreat of most weighty matters, as if a man should say in Latin, he began to speak, having first well bethought himself what he would speak.
In truth I find. Καταλαμβανεσθαι is to apprehend, or to gather by reasons, signs, and conjectures. Cornelius was a Gentile born, yet God heareth his prayers; he vouchsafeth to show him the light of the gospel; he appointed and sendeth an angel to him particularly; thereby doth Peter know that, without respect of persons, those do please God which live godly and innocently. For before, (being wholly possessed with this prejudice, that the Jews alone were beloved of God, as they alone were chosen out of all people,) [nations,] he did not think that the grace of God could come unto others. He was not, indeed, so gross that he thought that godliness and innocency of life were condemned because they were in a man that was a Gentile; but, seeing he did simply snatch at that, 696 that all those were estranged from the kingdom of God, and were profane, which were uncircumcised, he entangleth himself unawares in that so filthy an error, that God did despise his pure worship and an holy life, where there was no circumcision; because uncircumcision made all virtues unsavory to the Jews. By which example, we are taught how greatly we ought to beware of prejudices, which make us oftentimes judge amiss.
Furthermore, we must note what the word person doth signify, because many are thereby deceived, whilst that they expound it generally, that one man is preferred before another. So Pelagius denied in times past that some are chosen and some are [re]proved 697 of God; because God did not accept persons. But by this word we must understand the external state or appearance, as they call it; and whatsoever is about man himself, which doth either bring him in favor, or cause him to be hated; riches, nobility, multitude of servants, honor, do make a man to be in great favor; poverty, baseness of lineage, and such like things, make him to be despised. In this respect, the Lord doth oftentimes forbid the accepting of persons, because men cannot judge aright so often as external respects do lead them away from the matter. 698 In this place, it is referred unto the nation; and the meaning is, that circumcision is no let, but that God may allow 699 righteousness in a man that is a Gentile. But it shall seem by this means that God did respect persons for a time. For, when as he did choose the Jews to be his people, passing over the Gentiles, did he not respect persons? I answer, that the cause of this difference ought not to be sought in the persons of men, but it doth wholly depend upon the hidden counsel of God. For, in that he rather adopted Abraham, that with him he might make his covenant, than the Egyptians, he did not this being moved with any external respect, but (all) the whole cause remained in his wonderful counsel. Therefore, God was never tied to persons.
Notwithstanding, the doubt is not as yet dissolved, 700 because it cannot be denied but that circumcision did please God, so that he counted him one of his people who had that token of sanctification. But we may easily answer this also that circumcision followed after the grace of God, forasmuch as it was a seal thereof. Whereupon it followeth that it was no cause thereof. Nevertheless, it was unto the Jews a pledge of free adoption; in such sort, that uncircumcision did not hinder God, but that he might admit what Gentiles he would unto the society of the same salvation. But the coming of Christ had this new and especial thing, that after that the wall of separation was pulled down, (Ephesians. 2:14,) God did embrace the whole world generally. And this do the words in every nation import. For so long as Abraham’s seed was the holy inheritance of God, the Gentiles might seem to be quite banished from his kingdom; but when Christ was given to be a light of the Gentiles, the covenant of eternal life began to be common to all alike.
35. He which feareth God, and doth righteousness. In these two members is comprehended the integrity of all the whole life. For the fear of God is nothing else but godliness and religion; and righteousness is that equity which men use among themselves, taking heed lest they hurt any man, and studying to do good to all men. As the law of God consisteth upon [of] these two parts, (which is the rule of good life) so no man shall prove himself to God but he which shall refer and direct all his actions to this end, neither shall there be any sound thing in all offices, [duties,] unless the whole life be grounded in the fear of God. But it seemeth that this place doth attribute the cause of salvation unto the merits of works. For if works purchase favor for us with God, they do also win life for us which is placed in the love of God towards us. Some do also catch at the word righteousness, that they may prove that we are not justified freely by faith, but by works. But this latter thing is too frivolous. For I have already showed that it is not taken for the perfect and whole observing of the law, but is restrained unto the second table and the offices of love. Therefore it is not the universal righteousness whereby a man is judged just before God, but that honesty and innocency which respecteth men, when as that is given to every man which is his.
Therefore the question remaineth as yet, whether works win the favor of God for us? which that we may answer, we must first note that there is a double respect of God in loving men. For seeing we be born the children of wrath, (Eph 2:3,) God shall be so far from finding any thing in us which is worthy of his love, that all our whole nature causeth him rather to hate us; in which respect, Paul saith that all men are enemies to him until they be reconciled by Christ, (Ro 5:10.) Therefore the first accepting of God, whereby he receiveth us into favor, is altogether free; for there can as yet no respect of works be had, seeing all things are corrupt and wicked, and taste of [bespeak] their beginning. Now, whom God hath adopted to be his children, them doth he also regenerate by his Spirit, and reform in them his image: whence riseth that second respect. For God doth not find man bare and naked then, and void of all grace, but he knoweth his own work in him, yea, himself. Therefore, God accepteth the faithful, because they live godly and justly. And we do not deny that God accepteth the good works of the saints; but this is another question, whether man prevent the grace of God with his merits or no, and insinuate himself into his love, or whether he be beloved at the beginning, freely and without respect of works, forasmuch as he is worthy of nothing else but of hatred. Furthermore, forasmuch as man, left to his own nature, can bring nothing but matter of hatred, he must needs confess that he is truly beloved; whereupon, it followeth that God is to himself the cause that he loveth us, and that he is provoked [actuated] with his own mercy, and not with our merits. Secondly, we must note, that although the faithful please God after regeneration with good works, and their respects of works, yet that is not done with the merit of works. For the cleanliness of works is never so exact that they can please God without pardon; yea, forasmuch as they have always some corruption mixed with them, they are worthy to be refused. Therefore, the worthiness of the works doth not cause them to be had in estimation, but faith, which borroweth that of Christ which is wanting in works.
36. Concerning the matter. Because the Greek text is abrupt, some think that the accusative case is put instead of the nominative; and that the sense is this, This is the word which God hath sent unto the children of Israel. Other some refer it unto the word ye know, which followeth afterward; and they think that there was another word added to make the sentence more pleasant. For Luke putteth λογον in the former place, and afterward ρημα. But forasmuch as it is common and familiar amongst the Grecians to understand 701 the prepositions; this sense, which I have set down, seemeth to me more agreeable, though, if the harshness of the speech can be any better mitigated, I will willingly yield. Therefore I take this member to be a preface, which appertaineth unto this worthy work of God, which he showed amongst the children of Israel, preaching peace by Christ. That done, there is added a narration. At length, in the conclusion of his speech, Peter showeth to what end Christ was sent into the world. Furthermore, he beginneth with this commemoration not without cause, That God sent his word unto the children of Israel. And speech is put for thing in the Hebrew phrase. The eternal covenant which God had made with that people was at that time famous. There was nothing more commonly known among the Jews than that there was a Redeemer promised in times past to the fathers, who should restore things which were decayed unto a flourishing and blessed estate. This did those also know who were familiarly conversant with the Jews. Therefore, to the end Peter may purchase greater credit, he saith that he will speak of no new or unknown thing, but of the restoring of the Church, which did depend upon the eternal covenant of God, and which was now manifestly showed, and almost in every man’s mouth.
Preaching peace. Peter teacheth here what manner [of] rumor and thing that was which was spread abroad; to wit, such as that it did make peace. I take peace in this place for the reconciling of men and God, which, notwithstanding, hath in it the perfect 702 salvation of the Church. For, as horrible confusion, and, as it were, a huge lump, 703 do follow after that God is once estranged from us; so, so soon as his fatherly favor doth once appear, he gathereth his Church together, and true felicity ariseth. Therefore, this is Peter’s meaning, that God showed himself merciful to his people in Christ, and that he received into favor Abraham’s children again, (whom he seemed to have cast away for a time,) that he might establish among them a flourishing estate. And as he maketh God the author of this peace, so he placeth Christ in the midst as the pledge thereof, that it may be certain and holy. He coupleth peace and preaching expressly together, because this is one way whereby the fruit of the reconciliation, purchased by Christ, cometh unto us. In like sort, after that Paul had taught that Christ is our peace, he addeth immediately, that he came to preach peace unto those who were nigh at hand and far off, (Eph 2:17.)
37. Ye know how the word. This sermon of Peter consisteth upon [of] two members principally; for in the former he reciteth an history; secondly, he descendeth unto the fruit of the history). For seeing that the coming of Christ into the world, his death and resurrection, are the matter of our salvation, Christ cannot otherwise be set before us to salvation, than if we first know that he hath put on our flesh; that he was in such sort conversant amongst men; that he proved himself, by certain testimonies, to be the Son of God; that he was at length nailed upon the cross, and raised up from the dead by the power of God. Again, lest the knowledge of the history be unprofitable and cold, we must also show the end why he came down from his heavenly glory into the world, why he suffered such a death so reproachful amongst men, and accursed by the mouth of God. The cause of his resurrection must be showed, whence the effect and fruit of all these things is gathered; to wit, that Christ was humbled, that he might restore us unto perfect blessedness who were quite lost; and also that he put on brotherly love together with our flesh; that by taking upon him our infirmities, he unburdened us thereof; that he made satisfaction for our sins, by the sacrifice of his death, that he might purchase the Father’s favor for us; that when as he had gotten the victory of death, he purchased for us eternal life; that he set heaven open for us by his entrance into the same; that all the power of the Spirit was poured out upon him, that he might enrich us with his abundance, (Isa 61:1.)
This order of teaching doth Peter observe when he beginneth with the history of the gospel; and afterward showeth what we have by Christ’s descending into the earth, by his death and resurrection. First, he saith, that Jesus of Nazareth came abroad after John’s baptism. For because John was appointed to this end, by the counsel of God, that he might lift up the minds of the people to wait for Christ, it was not meet that this point should be omitted. He was counted an excellent prophet of God; therefore his authority was of great importance to make Christ to be believed, especially amongst the ignorant and those which were but novices. We must note the phrase, that John preached baptism. For Luke comprehendeth, indeed, under the word baptism, all the whole ministry of John; nevertheless he showeth that it was no dumb sign, and void of doctrine. And assuredly this is the chiefest thing in all sacraments, that the Word of God may appear engraven there, and that the clear voice may sound. For which cause, that wicked profanation which is seen in Papistry is so much the more to be detested, because, burying preaching, they do only charm the sacraments with magical enchantment,
38. Jesus of Nazareth. He calleth him a Nazarite here, not because he was born there, but because he came thence to execute his office; again, because he was surnamed thus commonly. He saith that he was anointed with the Spirit and power by hypallage. For the power wherein Christ exceeded proceeded from the Spirit alone. Therefore, when as the heavenly Father anointed his Son, he furnished him with the power of his Spirit. Peter saith immediately after, that this power appeared in miracles; although he expresseth one kind only in plain words, that Christ testified that he was endowed with power of the Holy Ghost that he might do good in the world. For it was not meet that the fearful power of God should be showed forth in him, but such as might allure the world with the sweet taste of goodness and grace to love him and to desire him. The metaphor of anointing is usual so often as mention is made of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. It is now applied unto the person of Christ, because by this means he was consecrated a king and priest by his Father. And we know that in time of the law, oil was a solemn token of consecration. The going of Christ is taken for the course of his calling, as if he should say, that he fulfilled his function until the time appointed before. The similitude is taken from travelers which go forward in their journey until they come unto the appointed place; although he showeth therewithal that he walked through Judea in three years, so that no corner was without his good deeds.
Those which were holden of devils. This also was a more manifest token of God’s power in Christ, that he did not only heal men of common diseases, but did also cure desperate evils. All diseases are indeed light punishments 704 wherewith God doth punish us; but when as he dealeth more gently with us according to his fatherly kindness, he is said to strike us with his hand then; but in more grievous scourges he useth Satan as the minister of his wrath, and as it were an hangman. And we must diligently mark this distinction; for it were an absurd thing to say that he is tormented of the devil who is sick of an ague, or of some other common kind of disease; but the alienating of the mind, 705 furious madness, and other, as it were, monstrous griefs, [evils,] are fitly and properly attributed to Satan. And, in this respect, the Scripture useth to call men who are so taken and carried headlong with such madness that they have no hold of themselves, so that they seem to be turned almost into beasts, men possessed of devils.
Because God was with him. Peter noteth briefly to what end those powers did tend which were showed 706 by the hand of Christ, to wit, that tie might purchase credit among men, who did behold God as it were present; and this was the true use of miracles, as we have said already elsewhere, and as we shall see again hereafter when we come to it. For we must stay ourselves upon this principle, that we diminish the majesty of God unless we embrace and reverence those whom he marketh with the mark of his servants. Therefore, forasmuch as powers [miracles] did plainly prove that Christ descended from heaven, his dignity is placed without the lot of man’s judgment.
“Illud arriperet,” laid hold of the fact.
“Judicem a causa abducunt,” lead the judge away from the cause.
“Gratam habeat ac probet,” may approve and be pleased with.
“Nondum tamen soluta est difficultas,” the difficulty, however, is not yet solved.
“Subaudire,” to supply.
“Solidam et perfectam,” the perfect and entire.
“Tetrum chaos,” a dire chaos.
“Totidem ferulae,” so many rods.
“Mentis alienatio,” mental alienation.
“Editae,” exhibited, performed.