Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
4. Therefore, when they were sent forth by the Holy Ghost, they went to Seleucia, and thence they sailed into Cyprus. 5. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they had John, also for their minister. 6. And when they had passed over the island unto Paphos, they found a certain false prophet, a Jew, named Bar-jesus, 7. Who was with Sergius Paulus, the proconsul, a wise wan; who, when he had called Barnabas and Paul, sought to hear the word of God. 8. And Elymas, the sorcerer, (for so is his name expounded,) resisted them, seeking to turn away the proconsul from the faith. 9. And Saul, which was also called Paul, being full of the [Holy] Ghost, and looking steadfastly on him, 10. Said, O thou that art full of all deceit and wickedness, thou son of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, dost thou not cease to pervert the straight ways of the Lord? 11. And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a time. And forthwith there fell upon him mist and darkness, and, going about, he sought some to lead him by the hand. 12. Then the proconsul, seeing what had happened, he believed, wondering at the doctrine of the Lord,
4. Being sent out by the Holy Ghost. There is no mention made here of the election made by the Church, because it was altogether a divine calling; the Church did only receive those who were offered them by the hand of God. He saith, that they came first to Seleucia, which was a city of Syria. There was, indeed, a country of the same name; but it is more likely that Luke speaketh of the city, which was not far from Cyprus by sea.
5. He saith that they began to preach the gospel first in Salamis, a famous city of Cyprus. Notwithstanding, they seem to begin amiss; for whereas they were sent specially to the Gentiles, they preach the word of God, nevertheless, to the Jews, I answer, that they were not so addicted to the Gentiles, that, setting aside the Jews, it stood them upon to go straight to the Gentiles, for when God did make them teachers of the Gentiles, he did not depose them from the office which they had heretofore exercised; so that there was no reason to let them, but that they might take pains, both with Jews and Gentiles; 781 yea, farther, it was meet that they should begin with the Jews, as we shall see in the end of the chapter. Moreover, Luke addeth by the way, that they were helped by John; for his meaning is not that he was their minister for any private use, or for the uses of body; but rather in that he was their helper to preach the gospel, he commandeth his godly study [zeal] and industry; not that the degree of honor was equal, but because the labor was common to all; for which cause he had the less excuse afterward, seeing that he forsook the holy calling.
6. When they had passed over. It is to be thought that this their passage was not altogether without fruit; and, assuredly, Luke would never have passed over with silence a general repulse; but it was sufficient for him to say that they were not idle in the office of teaching in their journey, seeing that he maketh haste unto a famous history, which he will set down immediately. And forasmuch as Salamis, situated upon the east coast, did look toward Syria, it was requisite that Paul and Barnabas should pass through the midst of the island unto the other side, that they might come to Paphos; for Paphos was a city situated upon the sea-coast toward the south. Furthermore though all the island was dedicated to Venus, yet Paphos was the principal seat of the idol. For which cause the goodness of God is more wonderful, in that he would have the light of his gospel to pierce into such a filthy and cruel [dire] den. For we may thereby gather what manner of integrity and chastity, and honesty and temperance, was in that city, in that religion did grant liberty to the inhabitants to commit all manner of shameful and heinous offenses.
They found a certain fake prophet. Seeing that religion was quite corrupt among the Jews, it is no marvel if they fell away unto many wicked superstitions. And forasmuch as they had hitherto professed that they worshipped a certain peculiar god, this was a fair color to deceive withal, seeing that they might pretend the name of the unknown God at their pleasure; but this is a wonder how it was possible for Elymas, with his juggling, to cozen a grave and wise man. For we know that the Jews were at that time hated of all the world, and especially of the Romans, and with hatred was coupled extreme contempt of them.
Now Luke doth not without cause expressly commend Sergius’s wisdom, lest any man should think that his foolishness and lightness was subject to the seducings of the sorcerer. His meaning was, indeed, to show in a clear mirror how frivolous and vain man’s wisdom is, which cannot beware of such gross subtlety of Satan.
And assuredly where the truth of God doth not appear, the more men seem to be wise, the more filthily foolish are they. We see what filthy monsters of superstition did reign amongst the most witty Gentiles, and such as were furnished with all manner of learning. Therefore, there is neither judgment nor wisdom, save only from the Spirit of God. And this is the just vengeance of God upon all idolaters, that being delivered up to a reprobate sense they can discern nothing, (Ro 1:28.) Though it may be that Sergius Paulus, being weary of superstitions, did then begin to desire a more pure worship of God, at such time as he [did] light upon that sorcerer. Which if we receive, it was surely a wonderful judgment of God, that he suffered a man godly-affected to throw himself headlong into the [deadly] snares of Satan. But God doth sometimes so exercise his elect, that he causeth them to wander many ways, before they be directed into the right way.
7. And whereas Sergius Paulus, desiring some better thing than that which he had learned from his childhood, was unaptly drawn aside unto diverse superstitions, I gather hereby that he sendeth for Paul and Barnabas of his own accord, to teach him. Therefore, he had conceived a certain reverence and fear of God, though he knew him not as yet; and forasmuch as he was persuaded that that was the true God which was worshipped in Judea, he desired to know out of his word a pure and certain rule of godliness. So soon as he hath tasted of the dotings of the false prophet he standeth in doubt. And it is not to be doubted, but that God doth solicit his mind, that he may not be altogether stayed in vanity, though he suffered himself to be deceived for a time by a wicked man.
8. To turn away the deputy from the faith. No marvel if the seducer seek to put away the light, whereby he saw his own darkness driven away. 782 The same stour [contest] have we at this day with a number of babblers, who use to sell their smokes, and to shut, by all shifts possible, the eyes of the simple, that they may not behold the Sun of righteousness, being now risen. We must wrestle with such lets; for as there be [not] always and everywhere magicians present, which procure us some business, 783 Satan thrusteth in lets 784 enough, which possess our minds to drive away Christ, which the flesh is too ready to receive. Finally, both the enticements of the world and the wicked affections of our flesh are as many charms, whereby Satan ceaseth not to overthrow the faith.
9. And Saul, who was also called Paul. Luke showeth now how God brake the bond wherein the deputy was bound. For seeing that he was too much addicted to the magician, he could not embrace true doctrine as one that was free and at liberty; for the devil keepeth those minds (which he hath entangled) in his slavery after a wonderful and incredible manner, that they cannot see even the most plain truth; but so soon as he was once vanquished, Paul could easily enter in unto the deputy. And mark what Luke saith, that the faith is overthrown when the word of God is resisted. Whence we may gather that faith is so grounded in the word, that without this shore 785 it fainteth at every assault; yea, that it is nothing else but the spiritual building of the word of God.
10. O thou full of deceit. It was not without a cause that Paul was thus hot and angry; for he had no hope to do any good if he should deal after some moderate and mild sort. We must always begin with doctrine, and those are also to be admonished, exhorted, and pricked forward, who do not as yet appear to be altogether obstinate. Neither doth Paul so vehemently inveigh against the sorcerer at the first dash; but when he seeth him maliciously and manifestly fight against the doctrine of godliness, he handleth him like a bond-slave of Satan. Thus must we deal with the desperate enemies of the gospel, in whom appeareth open contumacy and wicked contempt of God, especially when they stop the way before others, And lest any man should think that Paul was out of measure angry, Luke saith plainly that the inspiration of the Spirit was his guide. Wherefore this heat of zeal is not only not to be reprehended, but it ought to make the profane condemners of God sore afraid, who fear not to rebel against his word; forasmuch as this judgment is given upon them all not by mortal man, but by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of Paul.
As touching the words, this place refuteth their error who think that Paul took his name of the deputy, as if he had set up some token of victory. There may many reasons be brought, and those strong enough, on the contrary; but this one place is sufficient, where Luke showeth that at such time as the deputy was not brought to the faith he had two names. And it is not to be doubted but that he retained his own name 786 amongst the Jews; and we know that this was a usual thing, that those who were citizens of Rome should borrow some Italian name. Luke joineth subtlety with deceit, which is contrary to sincerity; to wit, whilst crafty men transform their wit hither and thither, so that they have in them no simplicity; though the Greek word which Luke useth signifieth ready boldness to do hurt; but the former signification agreeth better. By the son of the devil is meant a reprobate and desperate man. Such are all those which resist maliciously, and as it were of set purpose, that which is just and right; therefore Paul addeth, that he is a great enemy of all righteousness.
Dost thou not cease to pervert? He calleth all that means whereby the Lord bringeth us unto himself the ways of the Lord. He testifieth that this is plain and straight; and he accuseth the sorcerer for making the same crooked, full of turnings, and doubtful, with his boughts and turns. Whence may be gathered a profitable doctrine, that it cometh to pass through the subtlety of Satan that we do not readily, with straight course, go unto the Lord. For he showeth us in his word a plain way, and such as is not thorny. Wherefore we must take good heed of seducers, which trouble the way with their ditches or thorns, or else make the same hard and unpleasant.
And it shall be convenient to repeat here that which I touched before, that the servants of Christ must not be blamed if they do sore inveigh against the professed enemies of sound doctrine, unless we will accuse the Holy Ghost of intemperance. Neither am I ignorant how easily men may fall in this point; for which cause godly teachers must take so much the more heed, first, that they favor not the affections of the flesh too much under the color of zeal; secondly, that they break not out with headlong and unseasonable heat where there is yet place for moderation; thirdly, that they give not themselves over to foolish and uncomely railing, but only that they express the unseemliness of the thing by gravity and weight of words. Such was the vehemency of holy zeal and of the Spirit in the prophets, which if dainty and soft men judge troublesome and raging, they consider not how dear and precious God’s truth is to him.
Now there riseth not one Elymas to subvert the faith but many, and those which are far more wicked. For we see with what sacrilegious boldness they despoil God of all honor; with what filthy corruptions they profane all religion; how cruelly they throw miserable souls headlong into eternal destruction; how unseemly they mock Christ; how filthily they disfigure all the whole worship of God; with what cruel reproaches they rend the holy truth of God; with what barbarous tyranny they lay waste the Church of God; so that you would say that they tread God under foot. And yet there be many crabbed philosophers who would have these furious giants flattered and clawed by the back. 787 But forasmuch as it doth evidently appear that such did never taste what that meaneth, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up,” (Ps 69:9,) let us, bidding adieu to their coldness, or rather sluggishness, be most hot, 788 as becometh us, in maintaining the glory of God.
11. Behold the hand. The hand is put here to punish; 789 a whereby he doth signify that God is the author of this punishment, and that he is only the minister. Furthermore, I think that this hability is that which Paul calleth δυναμις, or power, (1Co 12:28.) For as they did excel in power of the Spirit to help the faithful with miracles, so had they the whip in their hand to tame the rebellious and obstinate withal. Such vengeance of God did Peter show upon Ananias and Sapphira, (Ac 5:5.) But because miracles ought, for the most part, to resemble the nature of Christ, who is all gentle, sweet, bountiful, and merciful; therefore he would seldom have the apostles to show examples of the contrary power. Neither must we think that they were endued with this power to punish any man so often as it seemeth good in their own eyes, but the same Spirit of God, which did thus arm them, did direct them unto the lawful and right use. Therefore we must remember that which we had before, that Paul spake by inspiration of the Spirit. Furthermore, it was a very fit kind of punishment. For seeing that the sorcerer essayed to darken the sun, and to take from others the benefit of the light, he was, by good right, cast into horrible darkness.
But now, forasmuch as many of the Papists do far exceed this sorcerer at this day in ungodliness, it is a wonder why they be suffered to be so bold without being punished. Is the hand of God weakened? Is he less careful for his glory? Hath he no care to revenge the gospel? I answer, that this visible punishment which was once laid 790 upon the sorcerer, and such as this, are perpetual examples of God’s wrath against all those who are not afraid either to corrupt and deprave, or openly with slanders to resist the pure doctrine of the gospel. For we do know that miracles were wrought for a time to this end, that they may continually be in force, and be fresh before our eyes, and that they may give us light to behold the judgments of God, which we cannot see so plainly; but it is not for us to prescribe God this or that way to punish his enemies. Sergius Paulus, who, before he came to man’s estate, had no taste of true religion, who, from his childhood, was infected with diverse superstitions, and had very hard lets, which kept him back from embracing the faith; lastly, who was bewitched with the dotings of the sorcerer, that he could scarce come to the faith, had need of no small helps. Hereby it came to pass that God did, as it were, reach his hand out of heaven manifestly, though he helped us all in his person; for the same gospel, the authority whereof was then established, is at this day preached to us, and yet, notwithstanding, God doth not so linger, but that he showeth his fearful power diverse ways against the enemies of the gospel, unless our eyes were so dull when he showeth his judgments that we cannot see.
12. Then when the deputy saw This is that which I said, that the snares were broken wherein Elymas kept him entangled, for he was brought by the miracle unto faith, because the reverence of doctrine is the beginning of faith, and the preparation. Therefore, forasmuch as he saw an evident token of the power of God, he knew that Paul was sent of God, and so he began to reverence his doctrine, whereof he did doubt before. If God do now miraculously strengthen in the minds of many the faith of the gospel, which is shaken with so many and such strong engines; if he bring to pass, after an incredible manner, that the course of faith doth pass through a thousand lets, being content with this his grace, let us not murmur against him, or reason the matter with him, as if our condition were worse, if he do not daily show such miracles as we would desire.
“Ita nulla ratio prohibuit quin Judaeis promiscue et Gentibus operam suam conferrent,” so nothing prevented them from bestowing their labor promiscuously on Jews and Gentiles.
“Nam ut non semper et ubique praesto sint magi qui negotium nobis facessant,” for though magicians are not always and everywhere present to give us trouble.
“Fultura,” prop or support.
“Gentile... nomen,” his family name.
“Blanditiis mulceri,” soothed by flattery.
“Usque ad summum fervorem efferamur, “let us be carried even to the highest pitch of fervour.
“Ad plagam infligendam,” for inflicting a blow.