Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
16. And Paul rose, and when he had given a token of silence with the hand, he said, Men and brethren, which fear God, hear. 17. The God of this people did choose our fathers, and exalted the people, when they were strangers in the land of Egypt; and he brought them thence with an high arm. 18. And about forty years he suffered their manners in the wilderness. 19. And having destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land for an inheritance. 20. After these things, about four hundred and fifty years, he gave them judges, until Samuel the prophet. 21. Afterward they required a king, and God gave them Saul, the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, forty year’s. 22. And when he had taken him away, he raised up to them David to be king, of whom bearing witness, he said, I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man according to my heart, who shall do all my will. 23. Of whose seed God, according to promise, raised to Israel the Savior, Jesus.
16. We must note the state of this sermon, lest we think that he uttered words in vain. Paul seemeth, indeed, to begin even at the very first beginning, but he speaketh nothing but that which is most convenient for the present purpose. His purpose is to bring the Jews unto the faith of Christ; and that he may the better do this, it is needful to declare that they excel other nations in this one thing, because the Savior was promised them, whose kingdom is their principal and only felicity. This is, therefore, Paul’s beginning, that whereas they were chosen in times past to be the peculiar people of God; whereas they had so many benefits bestowed upon them from time to time, though they showed themselves most unworthy, this did depend upon the promise of the Messiah, and did tend to that end, that God might govern them by the hand of the Messiah; and that therefore they have nothing whereof they may boast, unless they be gathered under their Head; yea, that unless they receive him when he is offered, the covenant of life which God had made with their fathers shall be void, and the adoption shall be frustrate. This is the drift of the first part of the sermon: that this is the principal point of the law and the foundation of God’s covenant, that they have Christ for their Captain and Governor, that he may restore all things among them; that without him religion cannot stand, and that they shall be most miserable without him. Thence Paul passeth unto another member, that Jesus, whom he preacheth, is Christ indeed, through whom salvation is offered to the people; also he declareth the means of the redemption purchased by him. Furthermore, he intreateth of his power and office, that they may know what good things they ought to hope for at his hands. The conclusion containeth a chiding; for he threateneth to them horrible judgment, if they refuse the author of salvation, who offereth himself, even of his own accord, whom earnestly to desire the law and prophets provoke. This is, in a manner, the sum; now let us discuss every point by itself.
Men and brethren. Because Paul knew that there were many bastardly sons of Abraham, or such as were grown out of kind, 798 he calleth the Jews to whom he speaketh by a double name. First, he calleth them brethren, having respect unto common kindred, notwithstanding he showeth therewithal that they shall be true Israelites if they fear God, and that even then they are likewise true hearers, because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In like sort he maketh the faithful attentive, and purchaseth audience among them, as if he should say, Seeing many boast that they are sons of Abraham, who were unworthy of such honor, show yourselves to be no bastardly seed. Let us learn by this that it is not a fault common to one age only, that good and sincere worshippers being mixed with hypocrites, have the name of the Church common among them. But we must have a great care hereof, that we be indeed that which we are called; which thing the true fear of Almighty God will bring to pass, and not the external profession alone.
17. The God of this people. This preface did witness that Paul did go about no new thing, which might lead away the people from the law of Moses. There is but one God, who is God of all nations; but he calleth him God of that people, to whom he had bound himself, and who was worshipped amongst the posterity of Abraham, amongst whom alone true and pure religion was to be found. To the same end tendeth that which is added immediately, He chose our fathers. For he testifieth by these words that he seeketh nothing less 799 than that they may fall away from the true and living God, who hath separated them from the residue of the world. Neither do I doubt but that he did more manifestly express that he did not preach to them an unknown or strange God, but the same who revealed himself long ago to their fathers; so that he doth briefly comprehend the sound knowledge of God, grounded in the law, that their faith, conceived out of the law and prophets, may continue firm.
Notwithstanding, he doth, in the mean season, commend and set forth the free love of God toward that people. For how came it to pass that only the children of Abraham were the Church and inheritance of God, save only because it pleased God to dissever them from other nations? For there was no worthiness to distinguish them; but the difference began at the love of God, wherewith he did freely love Abraham.
Of this free love of God, Moses doth oftentimes put the Jews to mind, as Deut. 4:7, 8, 10, 14, 32, 34, and in other places; wherein God did set before us a mirror of his wonderful counsel, in that finding no excellence in Abraham, an obscure person and miserable idolater, he doth, notwithstanding, prefer him before all the world. Furthermore, this election was common to all the people, as was also circumcision, whereby God did adopt to himself the seed of Abraham; but there was also a more hidden election, whereby severing to himself a few of many children of Abraham, he did declare, that not all who came of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh are reckoned in the spiritual stock.
He did drive out a people. Paul teacheth that all those benefits which God bestowed afterwards upon the Jews, did proceed and flow from that free favor which he did bear toward their fathers. For this was the cause that they were delivered by the wonderful power of God, and brought by his hand into the possession of the land of Canaan, after that he had driven out so many nations for their sake. For it is no small matter for the land to be deprived of her inhabitants, that she might receive strangers. This is the fountain and root of all good things whereunto Paul calleth us, that God chose the fathers. This was the reason and cause which moved God to so great patience, that he would not cast off that rebellious people, who should otherwise have destroyed themselves a thousand times with their own wickedness. Therefore, where the Scripture maketh mention that their sins were pardoned, it saith that God remembered his covenant. He saith that they were exalted, though they were strangers, that they may remember how worthy and gorgeous their deliverance was.
18. He suffered their manners. The compound verb hath greater force and grace in the Greek, whereby the mercifulness of God is expressed in suffering the people, whom he knew to be stubborn and disobedient. And Paul giveth us to understand again, that the election of God was the cause that his goodness did strive with the wickedness of the people. 800 Notwithstanding, we must note that God did so take pity upon his elect people, whilst that he will continue firm in his purpose, that he did, notwithstanding, sharply punish the rebellious and wicked. He spared the people indeed, so that he did not quite destroy them, as he might by good right; but he found also means that their wickedness might not remain unpunished. And so that of Isaiah was fulfilled,
“If the multitude shall be as the sand of the sea,
a remnant shall be saved,” (Isa 10:22.)
20. He gave them judges. Under this name the Scripture comprehendeth rulers and governors; and here is another testimony of the infinite goodness of God toward the Jews, in that he pardoned so many backslidings in them. For it is likely that Paul handled those things more at large, which Luke gathereth briefly. And we know what was the estate of the people during all that time, seeing that through untamed wantonness they did ever now and then shake off the yoke. They were often punished with most grievous plagues, yet so soon as they were once humbled, God delivered them from the tyranny of their enemies. So that he saved the body thereof alive, amidst many deaths, four whole ages and one-half. And hereby it appeareth how unworthy they were of the favor of God, which they did despise and reject so often, unless the constancy of the election had gotten the victory. For how is it that God is never wearied, but that he keepeth promise with those who are truce-breakers an hundred times, save only because turning his eyes toward his Christ, he hath not suffered his covenant, grounded in him, to decay or perish?
21. Afterward they desire. And this change was all one as if they would quite and manifestly overthrow the government which he had appointed, whereof God himself complaineth in Samuel, (1 Sam. 8:5, 7.) But the stability of the election saved them from being punished as such madness did deserve; yea, the wicked and unlawful desire of the people was to God a new and incredible occasion to erect the kingdom whence Christ should afterward come. For how is it that the scepter came to the tribe of Judah, save only because the people were desirous to have a king? And assuredly the people dealt wickedly; but God, who knoweth how to use evil things well, turned that offense into safety. Whereas Saul was thrown down from the kingdom, it served to reprove the fault of the people, (1Sa 15:28,) but immediately when the kingdom is established in David’s family the prophecy of Jacob was verified, (Ge 49:10.)
22. I have found David, my servant. This title was not so much cited in praise of the person, as that Paul might make the Jews more attentive to receive Christ. For the Lord doth testify that his mind was thoroughly set upon David for no light cause, but he commandeth in him some singular thing; and by extolling him so highly, his intent is to lift up the minds of the faithful unto Christ in his person. The place is taken out of the fourscore and ninth Psalm, (Ps 89:20.) Only Paul putteth in that which is not there to be found, that David was the son of Isai, [Jesse,] which amplifieth the grace of God. For seeing that Isai [Jesse] was a breeder of cattle, it was a wonderful work of God to take the least of his sons from the sheepfolds, and to place him in the throne of the kingdom. By the word found, God meaneth that he had gotten such a man as he would. Not that David had brought to pass by his own travel and industry that he should meet God, being such a one, but the phrase is taken from the common custom of men.
But the question is, Seeing that David fell so grievously, how God giveth testimony of his continual obedience? We may answer two ways; for God had respect rather unto the continual course of his life, than unto every of his particular actions. Secondly, he did thus set him forth, not so much for his own merit as for his Christ’s sake. Assuredly he had deserved, by one wicked fact, eternal destruction for him and his, and, so much as in him lay, the way of the blessing of God was shut up, that there might nothing but vipers’ seed come of Bathsheba. But that so filthy a fact, in the death of Uriah, (2Sa 11:27) turneth to a contrary end by the wonderful counsel of God, because Solomon is born and cometh of that unlooked-for wedlock, which was full of treachery, and, finally, polluted with many spots. And though David sinned grievously, yet because he followed God all the course of his life, he is praised without exception, that he showed himself obedient to God in all things; though (as I have said before) the Spirit carrieth us into a farther thing; yea, the common calling of all the faithful in Christ, the head, is here depicted out to us.
23. According to promise. This clause doth also prove that which I have already said elsewhere, that in sending Christ, the Lord had respect only unto his own faithfulness and goodness; for he sent him because he had promised so to do. And as the promise doth testify that salvation was free, so it doth also purchase no small credit to the gospel; because it appeareth by this that Christ came not at a sudden, of whom there was never anything spoken; but that he who was promised from the beginning was now given in his time. But the promises which Luke here toucheth by the way are famous and well known. And they were so common among the Jews, that they called Christ commonly by no other name but the Son of David, (Mt 22:42; Mt 15:22.) He saith that Jesus was raised up to Israel; because, though salvation belong to the whole world, yet was he first a minister of circumcision to fulfill the promises made to the fathers, (Ro 15:8.) He translated the Hebrew name Jesus into σωτηρ in Greek. So that he uttered one thing twice, and yet here is no superfluous repetition; because he meant to declare that Christ is indeed and doth perform that which the name given him by God, by the voice of the angel, doth import.
“Nihil se minus captare,” that there is nothing he less desires.
“Sustinendo populo,” in sustaining the people.