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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Acts 4:19-23

19. And Peter and John answered them, and said, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than to God, judge ye. 20. For we cannot but speak those things which we have seen and heard. 21. And when they had threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing. for which they might punish them, because of the people; for all men did glorify God because of that which was done. 22. For the man was more than forty years old on whom the sign of healing was showed. 23. Furthermore, when they were let go, they came to their fellows, and told them whatsoever things the priests and elders had said.


19. Whether it be right. Let us remember to whom they make this answer. For this council did undoubtedly represent the Church; but because they do abuse their authority, the apostles say flatly that they are not to be obeyed. And (as men use to do in an evident matter) they refer over the judgment unto their adversaries for a reproach unto them. Furthermore it is worth the noting, that they set the authority of God against their decrees; which thing should be done out of season, unless they were the enemies of God, who notwithstanding, were otherwise the ordinary pastors of the Church. Moreover, the apostles express a farther thing also to wit, that the obedience which men use toward evil and unfaithful pastors, howsoever they hold the lawful government of the Church, is contrary to God. This question doth the Pope answer pleasantly,  213 because he saith that all those things are divine oracles whatsoever it hath pleased him to blunder out un-advisedly.  214 By this means the danger of contrariety is taken away. But the bishops can challenge no more at this day than God had given then to the order of the priests. Therefore, this is a toy too childish, [viz.] that they can command nothing but that which is agreeable to the commandment of God.  215 Yea, rather the thing itself declareth evidently that there shall be no conflict then if they suffer their vain and unbridled lust to range freely, having vanquished and renounced the doctrine of Christ.

Therefore, by what title soever men be called, yet must we hear them only upon this condition, if they lead us not away from obeying God. So that we must examine all their traditions by the rule of the Word of God. We must obey princes and others which are in authority, yet so that they rob not God (who is the chief King, Father, and Lord) of his right and authority. If we must observe such modesty in politic [civil] government, it ought to be of far more force in the spiritual government of the Church. And lest, according to their wonted pride, they think that their authority is abated, when God is extolled above them, Peter draweth them away from such pleasant flattering of themselves, telling them that this matter must be determined before the judgment-seat of God; for he saith plainly before [in the sight of] God; because, howsoever men be blinded, yet will God never suffer any man to be preferred before him. And surely the Spirit did put this answer in the mouth of the apostles, not only to the end he might repress the furiousness of the enemies, but that he might also teach us what we ought to do, so often as men become so proud, that having shaken off the yoke of God, they will lay their own yoke upon us. Therefore, let us then remember this holy authority of God, which is able to drive away the vain smoke of all man’s excellency.

20. For we cannot Many things which are found out by hearing and seeing may, yea, ought to be concealed, when as the question is concerning the redeeming of peace. For this is a point of discourtesy and of wicked stubbornness to move and raise a tumult about unnecessary matters; but the apostles do not speak generally, when as they say they cannot but speak. For the gospel of Christ is now in hand, wherein consisteth both the glory of God and the salvation of men. It is an unmeet thing, and sacrilegious wickedness, that the same should be suppressed by prohibitions and menacings  216 of men; for God commandeth that his gospel be preached, especially since they did know that they were chosen to be witnesses and preachers of Christ, and that God had opened their mouth. Therefore, whosoever putteth them to silence, he endeavoreth so much as he is able to abolish the grace of God, and fordo [destroy] the salvation of men. And if so be that a prohibition so wicked do stop our mouths, woe be to our sluggishness. Now, let all men see what confession God requireth at their hands, lest, when they keep silence because of men, they hear a fearful voice proceed out of the mouth of Christ, whereby their unfaithfulness shall be condemned. And as for those which are called unto the office of teaching, let them be terrified with no threatenings of men, with no color of authority, but let them execute  217 that office which they know is enjoined them by God. Woe be unto me, saith Paul, if I preach not the gospel, because the function is committed unto me, (1Co 9:10.) Neither ought we only to set this commandment of God against the tyrannous commandments of men, but also against all lets which Satan doth oftentimes thrust in to break off and hinder the course of the gospel. For we have need of a strong buckler to bear off such sore assaults, which all the ministers of Christ do feel; but howsoever we speed, this is a brazen wall, that the preaching of the gospel doth please God, and therefore that it can for no cause be suppressed.

21. And when they had threatened them. And here is the end of sedition, that the wicked cease not to breathe out their fury, yet are they bridled by the secret power of God, so that they cannot tell how to do any hurt.  218 How is it that being content with threatenings, they do not also rage against their bodies, save only because the power of God doth bind them as a chain? Not that the fear of God doth prevail with them, for it is the regard of the people alone which hindereth them; but the Lord doth bind them with his bonds, though they be ignorant thereof. Luke commendeth unto us the providence of God in preserving his children; and though it be hidden from the wicked, yet we may behold the same with the eyes of faith, Furthermore, the wonderful counsel of God doth show itself here, in that the glory of Christ is furthered by those which are his most deadly enemies. For whereas the priests do assemble themselves together, it is not done without great rumor. All men wait for some rare and singular event; the apostles depart, being let loose and acquitted. Therefore, the adversaries are not only vanquished, but they confirm the gospel against their will. Notwithstanding, it is expedient for us to mark again, that the faithful do so get the victory, that they are always humbled under the cross. For they are threatened again, and straitly charged, that they teach not henceforth in the name of Christ. Therefore, they do not so get the upper hand that they do not triumph, save only under the reproach of the cross. Whereas Luke saith that they did all glorified God, he noteth the fruit of the miracle now the second time, although it may be that they were not all brought unto the perfect end. For that man which is touched with the feeling of the power of God, and doth not come unto Christ, neither hath his faith confirmed by the miracle he stayeth, as it were, in the midway. Yet this was some thing, though not all, that the power of God was acknowledged in the healing of the man, so that the adversaries being ashamed, did cease off from their fury, or at least give back a little.

23. Furthermore when they were let go. It shall appear by and by to what end they declared to the other disciples what things had befallen them, to wit, that they might be the more emboldened and encouraged by the grace of God hereafter; secondly, that they might arm themselves with prayer against the furious threatenings of their enemies; and thus must the children of God do, one must prick forward another, and they must join hand in hand, that they may vanquish the common adversary fighting under Christ’s banner. They consider  219 with themselves what dangers hang over their heads, to the end they may be the more ready to enter  220 the same, although they see their enemies press sore upon them; yet lest it should grieve them  221 to have a new combat ever now and then, they assure  222 themselves that they shall be invincible  223 through the same power of God whereby they got the victory before. And it is to be thought (although Luke makes no mention thereof) that the apostles being contented with their former answer, did not contend with those furies, [furious men;] and yet we must persuade ourselves that they were not so forgetful of their former constancy that they did submit themselves unto their ungodly decree like slaves.  224



Hanc quaestionem lepide diremit Papa,” the Pope wittily disposes of this question.


Effutire,” to babble forth.


Non posse eos nisi ex Dei mandato praecipere,” that no command can possibly proceed from them without being agreeable to the will of God.


Interdictis,” the interdicts.


Libere,” freely, omitted.


Ut illis nocendi via non pateat,” that they have no means of doing harm.


Reputent,” let them consider.


Obcundis,” to obviate or face them.


Ne pigeat,” let it not grieve them.


Confidant,” let them confide.


Semper inexpugnabiles,” always invincible.


Ut serviliter excipient,” as servilely to submit.

Next: Acts 4:24-31