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

Acts 12:6-11

6. And when Herod was about to bring him forth, the same night slept Peter between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and the keepers kept the prison before the door. 7. And, behold, the angel of the Lord stood, and a light shined in the habitation: and he smote Peter’s side, saying, Arise straightway; and his chains felt from his hands, 8. And the angel said to him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And he did so. Then he saith to him, Put thy garment about thee, and follow me. 9. And going out, he followed him, neither understood he that that was true which was done by the angel; but he thought that he saw a vision. 10. And when they were past the first watch, and the second, they came to the iron gate, which leadeth into the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and when they were come out, they passed through one street, and by and by the angel departed from him. 11. Then Peter returning to himself, said, Now of a truth I know that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the waiting of the people of the Jews.


6. When he was about to bring him forth. It seemeth at the first blush that the Church prayeth to small purpose, for the day was now appointed wherein Peter should be put to death, and he is within one night of death, and yet the faithful cease not to pray, because they know that when the Lord doth purpose to deliver his, he taketh his time oftentimes in the last and farthest point of necessity, and that he hath in his hand diverse ways to deliver. Secondly, we may think that they did not so much pray for Peter’s life, as that the Lord would arm him with invincible fortitude, for the glory of the gospel, and that God would [not] set the gospel of his Son open to the reproaches and slanders of the wicked.

That night he slept. All these circumstances do more set forth the wonderful power of God, for who would not have thought that Peter was already swallowed up of death? for though he drew breath as yet, yet he had no chinch [chink] to creep out at, for as much as he was beset with many deaths. Therefore, whereas he escapeth from amidst deaths, whereas he goeth safely among the hands of his hangmen, whereas the chains are molten and are loosed, whereas the iron gate openeth itself to him; hereby it appeareth that it was a mere divine kind of deliverance, and it was profitable for Peter to be thus taught by these signs, that he might with more assurance forthwith declare unto men the grace of God thus known. Again, it appeareth by this strait keeping that Herod meant nothing less  757 than to let Peter go away alive.

7. A light shined, It is to be thought that Peter alone saw this light, and that the soldiers did either sleep so soundly, or else were so amazed, that they neither felt nor perceived any thing, And there might be two causes why God would have the light to shine; either that Peter might have the use thereof, and that the darkness might be no hindrance to him, or that it might be to him a sign and token of the heavenly glory. For we read oftentimes that the angels appeared with glistering brightness, even when the sun did shine, Assuredly, Peter might have gathered by the strange light that God was present, and also he ought to have made his profit thereof. When as the angel smiteth Peter’s side, it appeareth hereby what a care God hath for his, who watcheth over them when they sleep, and raiseth them when they are drowsy. And surely there were nothing more miserable than we, if the continuance of our prayers alone did keep God in his watching over us; for such is the infirmity of our flesh that we faint and quail, and we stand most of all in need of his help when our minds, being drawn away, do not seek him. Sleep is a certain image of death, and doth choke and drown all the senses, what should become of us if God should then cease to have respect to us? But forasmuch as when the faithful go to sleep, they commit their safety to God, it cometh to pass by this means, that even their sleep doth call upon God.

Whereas he saith, that immediately after the angel had said the word the chains were loosed, we gather by this, that there is power enough in the commandment of God alone to remove all manner [of] lets, when all ways seem to be stopt on all sides, so that if he intend to appease the motions and tumults of war, although the whole world were appointed in armor, their spears and swords shall forthwith fall out of their hands; on the other side, if he be determined to punish us and our sins with war, in a moment, (in the twinkling of an eye,) their minds, which were before given to peace, shall wax hot, and they shall lay hand on their swords. Whereas Luke setteth down severally both the words of the angel, and also the course of the matter, it serveth for the more certainty of the history, that it may in every respect appear that Peter was delivered by God.

9. He knew not that it was true. He did not think that it was a vain or false visor, as Satan doth oftentimes delude men with jugglings; but true is taken in this place for that which is done naturally and after the manner of men. For we must note the contrariety [antithesis] that is between the thing itself and the vision. Furthermore, though he think that it is a vision, yet doth he willingly obey; whereby his obedience is proved, whilst that being content with the commandment of the angel alone, he doth not inquire nor reason what he must de, but doth that which he is commanded to do.

10. When they were past. God was able to have carried Peter away in the turning of an hand;  758 but he overcometh diverse straits one after another, that the glory of the miracle might be the greater. So he created the world in six days, (Genesis 1.) not because he had any need of space of thee, but that he might the better stay us in the meditating upon his works, (Ex 20:11,) for he applieth the manner of doing unto our capacity, and unto the increase of faith. If Peter had at a sudden been carried unto the house where the brethren were assembled, then should one only deliverance have been acknowledged, but now we see, as it were with our eyes, that he was delivered more than ten times.

11. Then Peter returning to himself. It is word for word, being made in himself, because, being before astonied with a strange and incredible thing, he was, as it were, without himself. But now at length, as it were after a trance, he knoweth that he is delivered from death. His words set down by Luke contain a thanksgiving; for he extolleth with himself the benefit of God which he had tried, [experienced,] and whereof he had tasted, and he doth highly commend it with himself, until he find some other witnesses. He saith that the angel was sent of God, according to the common meaning of the godly, who hold that the angels are appointed to be ministers, to be careful for, and to take charge of their safety; for unless he had been thus persuaded, he would not have spoken of the angel. And yet he doth not commend the angel as the author of the grace, but he ascribeth all the whole praise of the work to God alone, neither do the angels help us to this end, that they may derive unto themselves even the least jot of God’s glory. Whereas he saith that he was delivered out of the hand of Herod, he amplifieth the goodness and benefit of God, by the power of his enemy. To the same end tendeth that which he addeth of the Jews; for the greater the number of the enemies was, the more excellent was the grace of God toward his servant; for it is a great matter that God alone being favorable, the deadly hatred of all the whole world should come to nought.



Nihil Herocli fuisse minus in animo,” that there was nothing Herod less intended.


Momento uno,” in one moment.

Next: Acts 12:12-19