Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
19. Those, therefore, which were dispersed by reason of the tribulation which happened about Stephen, went into Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to the Jews. 20. And there were certain of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, entering into Antioch, spake with the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21. And the hand of the Lord was with them: Therefore a great number, when they believed, were turned unto the Lord. 22. And the tidings of them came unto the ears of the Church which was at Jerusalem: and they sent Barnabas, that he might go to Antioch. 23. Who, when he was come, and [had] seen the grace of God, he rejoiced, and did exhort all, that with purpose of heart they would continue cleaving to the Lord. 24. Because he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and faith. And there was a great multitude added unto the Lord.
19. Those which were scattered abroad. Luke returneth now unto the former history, (and unto that which followed in the same.) For he had said before that after that Stephen was slain the cruelty of the wicked increased; and many fled hither and thither for fear, so that the apostles were almost left alone at Jerusalem. Whereas the Church was thus torn in pieces, and fear did cause those which were fled to keep silence or else contempt of strangers, 734 he declareth that that event did follow which no man would have hoped for; for as the seed is sown that it may bring forth fruit, so it came to pass through their flight and scattering abroad, that the gospel was spread abroad in nations which were far off, which was included before within the walls of one city, as in a barn. 735 In like sort it came to pass, that the name of Christ, passing over mountains and seas, did flow even unto the farthest parts of the world; and by this means, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, the consumption did abound 736 in righteousness. If so many godly men had not been expelled out of Jerusalem, Cyprus had heard nothing, Phenice had heard nothing of Christ; yea, Italy and Spain, which were farther off, had heard nothing. But the Lord brought to pass, that of many torn members did arise more bodies. For how came it to pass that there were Churches gathered at Rome and at Puteoli, save only because a few exiled men, and such as fled away, 737 had brought the gospel thither with them? And as God did at that time make the endeavors of Satan frustrate after a wonderful sort, so we need not doubt but that even at this day he will make to himself triumphs of the cross and persecution, that the Church may better grow together, though it be scattered abroad. Phenice joineth to Syria, and is nigh to Galilee. Antioch is a most famous city of Syria, at which part it is joined to Cilicia.
Speaking to none. Peradventure they were letted not only with fear of persecution, that they durst not speak to the Gentiles, but also with that foolish religion, in that they thought that the children’s bread was thrown to the dogs, (Mr 16:15;) whereas, notwithstanding, Christ had commanded that the gospel should be preached to all the world after his resurrection.
20. Luke doth at length declare that certain of them brought this treasure even unto the Gentiles. And Luke calleth these Grecians not Ελληνες, but Ελληνισται. Therefore, some say that those came of the Jews, yet did they inhabit Greece; which I do not allow. For seeing the Jews, whom he mentioned a little before, were partly of Cyprus, they must needs be reckoned in that number, because the Jews count Cyprus a part of Greece. But Luke distinguisheth them from those, whom he calleth afterward Ελληνιστας. Furthermore, forasmuch as he had said that the word was preached at the beginning only to the Jews, and he meant those who, being banished out of their own country, did live in Cyprus and Phenice, correcting as it were this exception, he saith that some of them did teach the Grecians. This contrariety doth cause me to expound it of the Gentiles. For Luke’s meaning is, that a few did more freely preach the gospel, 738 because the calling of the Gentiles was not unknown to them. But the constancy of them all deserveth no small praise; because, being delivered, as it were, out of the midst of death, they are not afraid to do their duty toward God even with danger. Whence we gather to what end, and how far forth Christians may fly persecution; to wit, that they may spend 739 the residue of their life in spreading abroad the glory of God. If any man demand how it came to pass that strangers lately coming, and such as might have been suspected among all the Jews, and hated of them, because they were banished out of Jerusalem, were so bold, I answer, that this came to pass through the singular motion of God, and that they consulted suddenly according to the occasion offered them. For this deliberation is not of flesh and blood.
21. The hand of the Lord was. Luke proveth by the success that the gospel was offered unto the Gentiles also by the brethren of Cyprus and Cyrene not rashly nor unadvisedly, because their labor was fruitful and profitable. But such increase should never have followed, unless God had commanded and favored. Therefore, it followeth that it pleased God that the Gentiles should be called. The hand, as it is well known, doth signify power and strength. Therefore, this is Luke’s meaning, that God did testify by his present aid that the Gentiles were called together with the Jews, through his direction, to be made partakers of the grace of Christ. And this blessing of God served not a little to confirm the minds of all men. This place did also teach us, that what pains soever the ministers of God take in teaching, it shall be all vain and void, unless God bless their labors from heaven. For we may plant and water, as Paul teacheth, but the increase cometh from God alone, (1 Corinthians 3,) in whose hand the hearts of men are, that he may bend and frame the same at his pleasure. Therefore, as often as we are to intreat of faith, let us always remember this speech, that God wrought by his ministers, and that he made their doctrine effectual by his hand, that is, by the secret inspiration of the Spirit. Therefore, let the minister attempt nothing trusting to his own wit and industry, but let him commit his labor to the Lord, upon whose grace the whole success dependeth; and where doctrine shall work effectually, let those which shall believe thank God for their faith. Furthermore, we must note that which Luke saith, that many were turned unto God by faith, because he doth very well express the force and nature of faith; that it is not idle and cold, 740 but such as restoreth men (who were before turned away from God) unto his government, and bindeth them unto his righteousness.
22. And the tidings. If this report had been brought before Peter did excuse himself, those good men should have been reproved of many whose ministry notwithstanding God had sealed with the grace of his Spirit; but that superstition was now wiped away out of their minds, forasmuch as God had by evident signs declared that no nation ought to be counted profane. Therefore, they contend no longer, neither do they count it a point of rashness, that some durst preach Christ unto the Gentiles; but by sending help, they testify that they allow that which they had done. Furthermore, this was the cause why they sent Barnabas. The apostles did at that time bear all the burden of the kingdom of Christ; therefore, it was their duty to frame and set in order Churches every where; to keep all the faithful, wheresoever dispersed, in the pure consent of faith; to appoint ministers and pastors wheresoever there was any number of the faithful. The crafty wiliness of Satan is well known. So soon as he seeth a gate set open for the gospel, he endeavoreth by all means to corrupt that which is sincere, [pure;] whereby it came to pass that divers heresies brake out together with Christ’s doctrine. Therefore, the greater gifts every Church hath, the more careful ought it to be, lest Satan mix or trouble any thing amongst the ignorant, and those who are not as yet established in the right faith; because it is the easiest matter in the world to corrupt corn in the blade. To conclude, Barnabas was sent to bring them farther forward in the principles of faith; to set things in some certain order; to give the building which was begun some form, that there might be a lawful state of the Church.
23. When he had seen the grace of God. By these words Luke teacheth, first, that the gospel which they had received was true; secondly, that Barnabas sought nothing else but the glory of Christ. For, when he saith that he saw the grace of God, and that he exhorted them to go forward, hereby we gather that they were well taught. And the joy is a testimony of sincere godliness. Ambition is evermore envious and malicious; so that we see many seek for praise by reproving other men, because they are more desirous of their own glory than of the glory of Christ. But the faithful servants of Christ must rejoice (as did Barnabas) when they see the gospel increase, by whomsoever God shall make his name known. And assuredly those which help one another, so that they acknowledge that all the effect which springeth thence is the work of God, will never envy one another, neither will they seek to carp [at] one another, but will, with one mouth and mind, praise the power of God.
Again, this is worth the noting, that Luke doth attribute the faith of the men of Antioch, and whatsoever was worthy [of] praise there, to the grace of God. He might have reckoned up all those virtues which might make for the commendation of men; but he comprehendeth what excellence soever was in that Church under this word grace. Lastly, we must note Barnabas’ exhortation. We have already said that Barnabas did subscribe to the former doctrine which they had embraced; but lest doctrine fall away, it is most requisite that it be thoroughly imprinted in the minds of the faithful by continual exhortations. For seeing that we have to encounter continually with so many and such strong adversaries, and our minds are so slippery, unless every man arm himself diligently, it will by and by fall away, which thing infinite numbers do show to be true by their falling away. Whereas he setteth down this manner of perseverance, that they continue with purpose of heart we are hereby taught that faith hath taken deep root then when it hath a place in the heart. Wherefore it is no marvel, if scarce one of ten of those who profess faith do stand unto the end, seeing that very few know what the affection and purpose of heart meaneth.
24. For he was a good man. Barnabas is commended with the commendation of the Holy Ghost; yet we must know that there was respect had not so much of him as of us. For all those are condemned of ungodliness and malice who envy other men’s labors, and are grieved when they see the same have good success.
Also we must note the epithet used in the description of a good man, full of the Holy Ghost, full of faith. For after that he had said that he was an upright and good man, he showed from what fountain this goodness did flow; that, abandoning the affections of the flesh, he did, with all his heart, embrace godliness, having the Spirit to be his guide. But why doth he separate faith from the Spirit, whose gift it is? I answer, that it is not named severally, as if it were a diverse thing, but it is rather set forth as a principal token, whereby it might appear that Barnabas was full of the Holy Ghost.
There was a great multitude added. Though the number of the godly was already great, yet Luke saith that it was increased by Barnabas’ coming. Thus doth the building of the Church go forward when one doth help another with mutual consent, and one doth gently allow 741 that which another hath begun.
Transpose thus: “And fear, or else contempt of strangers, did cause those who had fled to keep silence.”
Transpose thus: “The gospel which was before included, etc., was spread abroad,” etc.
“Consumptio exundavit,” the devastation overflowed.
“Pauci exules ac profugi,” a few exiles and fugitives.
“Evangelii doctrinam sparsisse,” did spread the doctrine of the gospel.
“Strenue impendant,” may strenously spend.
“Otiosa frigidaque notitia,” an idle and frigid knowledge.
“Candide... probat,” candidly approves.