The acts of the apostles by john calvin edited from the original english translation of

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9. And he put no difference. There was indeed some difference, because the Gentiles who were uncircumcised were suddenly admitted unto the covenant of eternal life; whereas the Jews were prepared by circumcision unto faith. But Peter’s meaning is, that they were both chosen F958 together by God unto the hope of the same inheritance, and that they were extolled into the like degree of honor, that they might be the children of God and members of Christ, and, finally, the holy seed of Abraham, a priestly and princely generation. Whereupon it followeth, that they cannot without sacrilege be counted unclean, sithence God hath chosen them to be a peculiar people, and hath consecrated them to be holy vessels of his temple. For the wall of separation being pulled down, whereby the Gentiles and Jews were divided among themselves, he hath joined the Gentiles to the Jews, that they might grow together into one body, (<490214>Ephesians 2:14;) and that I may so say, he hath mixed circumcision and uncircumcision together, that as well those of the household as strangers may be one in Christ, and may make one Church; and that there may not be any longer either Jew or Grecian.

Seeing that by faith he hath purified. This member is answerable to that former adjunct which he applieth to God; as if he should say, that God, who knoweth the hearts, did inwardly purge the Gentiles, when he vouchsafed to make them partakers of his adoption, that they might be endued with spiritual cleanness. But he addeth farther, that this purity did consist in faith. Therefore he teacheth, first, that the Gentiles have true holiness without ceremonies, which may suffice before God’s judgment-seat. Secondly, he teacheth that this is attained unto by faith, and from it doth it flow. In like sort, Paul gathereth, that uncircumcision doth not hinder a man but that he may be counted holy and just before God, (<450410>Romans 4:10;) because circumcision did follow after righteousness in the person of Abraham, and by order of time it was latter, [posterior.]

But here ariseth a question, whether that purity which the fathers had in times past were unlike to that which God gave now to the Gentiles? For it seemeth that Peter distinguisheth the Gentiles from the Jews by this mark, because, being content with the cleanness of the heart alone, they need no help of the law. I answer, that the one of them differ from the other, not in substance, but in form, [only.] For God had respect always unto the inward cleanness of the heart; and the ceremonies were given to the old [ancient] people only for this cause, that they might help their faith. So that cleanness, as touching figures and exercises, was only for a time, until the coming of Christ, which hath no place among us at this day; like as there remaineth from the very beginning of the world unto the end the same true worship of God, to wit, the spiritual worship; yet is there great difference in the visible form. Now, we see that the fathers did not obtain righteousness by ceremonies, neither were they therefore pure before God, but by the cleanness of the heart. For the ceremonies of themselves were of no importance to justify them; but they were only helps, which did accidentally (that I may so term it) purge them; yet so that the fathers and we had the same truth. Now, when Christ came, all that which was accidental did vanish away; and, therefore, seeing the shadows be driven away, there remaineth the bare and plain pureness of the heart.

Thus is that objection easily answered which the Jews think cannot possibly be answered. Circumcision is called the eternal covenant, or of the world, (<011713>Genesis 17:13;) therefore, say they, it was not to be abolished. If any man shall say that this is not referred unto the visible sign, but rather unto the thing figured, it shall be well answered; but there is another answer besides this. Seeing that the kingdom of Christ was a certain renewing of the world, there shall no inconvenience follow if he made an end of F959 all the shadows of the law, forasmuch as the perpetuity of the law is grounded in Christ. I come now unto the second member, where Peter placeth the cleanness [purity] of the Gentiles in faith. Why doth not he say, In perfection of virtues, or holiness of life, save only because men have righteousness from another, and not from themselves? For, if men, by living well and justly, should purchase righteousness, or if they should be clean before God by nature, this sentence of Peter should fall to the ground. Therefore, the Spirit doth in these words plainly pronounce that all mankind is polluted, and with filthiness defiled; secondly, that their blots can by no other means be wiped away than by the grace of Christ. For, seeing that faith is the remedy whereby the Lord doth freely help us, it is set as well against the common nature of all men, as against every man’s own merits. When I say that all mankind is polluted, my meaning is, that we bring nothing from our mother’s womb but mere filthiness, and that there is no righteousness in our nature which can reconcile us to God. Man’s soul was indeed endued with singular gifts at the first; but all parts thereof are so corrupt with sin, that there remaineth in it no drop of pureness any longer; therefore we must seek for cleanness without ourselves.

For if any man allege that it may be recovered by merits of works, there is nothing more absurd than to imagine that wicked and coward nature can deserve anything. Therefore, it resteth that men seek elsewhere for that which they shall never be able to find within themselves. And surely it is the office of faith to translate that unto us which is proper to Christ, and to make it ours by free participation. So that there is a mutual relation between faith and the grace of Christ. For faith doth not make us clean, as a virtue or quality poured into our souls; but because it receiveth that cleanness which is offered in Christ. We must also note the phrase, that God purifieth the hearts; whereby Luke doth both make God the author of faith, and he teacheth also that cleanness is his benefit. To make short, he signifieth unto us, that that is given to men by the grace of God which they cannot give to themselves. But forasmuch as we said that faith taketh that of Christ which it transpoureth [transferreth] into us; we must now see how the grace of Christ doth make us clean, that we may please God. And there is a double manner of purging, because Christ doth offer and present us clean and just in the sight of his Father, by putting away our sins daily, which he hath once purged by his blood; secondly, because, by mortifying the lusts of the flesh by his Spirit, he reformeth us unto holiness of life. I do willingly comprehend both kinds of purging under these words; because Luke doth not touch one kind of purging only, but he teacheth that the whole perfection thereof consisteth without the ceremonies of the law.

10. Now, therefore, why tempt ye? This is the other part of the sermon wherein Peter showeth how deadly that doctrine is which Paul’s enemies sought to bring in; to wit, which might drown godly souls in despair. He inferreth and gathereth out of the former member, that God is tempted if the Gentiles be enforced to keep the law of necessity; F960 he riseth higher, and pierceth even unto the very fountain. For he reasoneth hitherto, that the Gentiles should have injury done them if there be more required at their hands than God will; and seeing that he made them equal with the holy people, and did vouchsafe them the honor of adoption, it was. an unmeet and inconvenient [absurd] matter that they should be rejected, and so his liberality should be restrained. For he saith last of all, that this faith is sufficient for them, though they want ceremonies. And now he taketh an higher principle, that those who tie men’s salvation to the works of the law leave them no good hope; but rather throw the whole world headlong into horrible destruction, if it can obtain salvation by no other means but by keeping the law. With what arguments he proveth this we shall see in their place. As touching the words, seeing the Scripture saith, that God is tempted diverse ways, Peter’s meaning is, in this place, that God is provoked as it were of set purpose, when there is an heavier burden laid upon men than they be able to bear; and that his power is brought within bounds F961 when that yoke is bound which he doth loose, which is nothing else but by striving against nature to match ourselves with giants, as they say.

That the yoke should be laid upon their necks. The meaning of the words is plain, that God is tempted when there is laid upon men’s consciences a sorer burden than they are able to bear, and by this means the salvation of men’s souls is sore shaken; seeing that they must needs by this means be drowned in despair, which cannot be without their destruction. But that injury which is done to God is no whit more tolerable, when as he is robbed of his right that he may not have liberty to deliver us. But we may easily gather out of the thing itself that he doth not speak of the ceremonies only. The servitude of the old training up under the law was hard and laborious; but yet it were too absurd to call it a yoke that cannot be borne; and we know that not only holy men, but also even most hypocrites, did well and exactly accomplish the outward observation of the rites.

Moreover, it were not any hard matter to satisfy the moral law, if it were content with corporeal obedience only, and did not require spiritual righteousness; for it is granted to many to bridle their hands and feet; but to moderate all the affections so that there may reign perfect abstinence and purity, as well in the soul as in the body, this is too hard a matter.

Therefore, those be too foolish who restrain unto ceremonies Peter’s words, whereby the weakness of men to perform the righteousness of the heart is expressed; which doth not only far pass their strength, but is altogether contrary to nature. These men were, I warrant you, deceived by one reason, because the question was moved concerning ceremonies only; but they do remember that Peter did more attentively and more wisely consider as became him, what a labyrinth this error (to look to, but light) did bring with it. The false apostles did avouch, that no man could attain unto salvation unless he did keep the ceremonies. If man’s salvation be tied to works, it shall be no longer grounded in the grace of Christ, and so, by this means, free reconciliation shall fall flat to the ground. Now, seeing that man’s strength is unable to keep the law, all men are subject to the curse which the Lord there denounceth against the transgressors; and so, by this means, all men shall come in danger of despair, seeing that they see themselves guilty of eternal death by the law. Peradventure the false apostles understood these things craftily. But Peter pierceth the very fountain, that he may bring to light the deadly poison of that doctrine; and thus must we do, so often as Satan doth craftily thrust in wicked errors.

At this day we seem to some to be too contentious, when as we do so stoutly stand in this, that men must not pray for the dead; for it is both a most ancient custom, neither is it a thing to look to very dangerous, though men pour out superfluous prayer; yet [nay] it is a plausible opinion, because it carrieth some color of human godliness.

Furthermore, unskillful men judge thus, because they seek. not out the head spring. For, if we grant that men may pray for the dead, we must also admit this, that they are now punished by the judgment of God, because they made not satisfaction in this life for their sins. And so, by this means the force of Christ’s satisfaction is translated unto the works of men. Secondly, the rule of praying aright is overthrown, if men may pray at all adventure, without the word of God. This is also a greater absurdity than that we ought lightly to pass over it. In sum, we can never give true judgment of any question, unless, having thoroughly ripped up the fountain of that doctrine which is called in question, we deduct all consequences which it bringeth with it. Therefore, it is no marvel if Peter, to the end he may pull the false apostles out (by the ears,) as it were out of their lurking dens, do generally dispute touching the whole law; because he doth nothing else but open the matter itself, whereof the simple were ignorant; that they may all see what a deadly doctrine it is, which doth both extinguish the grace of Christ, and drown souls in the horrible dungeon of despair. F962

Neither we nor our fathers. Peter doth not only dispute what men have done indeed, but what they were able to do; neither doth he speak only of the common riff-raff, F963 but of the holy fathers. Seeing that he denieth that they were able to bear the yoke of the law, it is manifest that the law cannot possibly be kept. I know that Jerome’s saying is so generally received, that it is, as it were, an undoubted and most certain maxim, If any man say that it is a thing impossible to keep the law, let him be accursed; but we must not hearken to any voice of man which is contrary to the judgment of the Spirit of God. We hear what the Spirit pronounceth in this place by the mouth of Peter, not concerning the will and works of men, but touching their ability and power. And hereunto agreeth Paul, affirming that it was an impossible thing that the law should give us life, forasmuch as it was weak through the flesh. Indeed, if any man were able to fulfill the law, he should find the life which is there promised; but forasmuch as Paul denieth that life can be gotten by the law, it followeth that there is farther and higher righteousness required there than man is able to perform. I confess, indeed, that Jerome doth not wholly grant to the strength of nature power to fulfill the law, but partly also to the grace of God, as he doth afterward expound himself, that a faithful man, holpen by the grace of the Spirit, may be said to be able to fulfill the law. But even that mitigation is not true. For, if we do weigh the strength of nature only, men shall not only be unable to bear the yoke of the law, but they shall not be able to move so much as a finger to perform the least jot of the law. And surely if that be true, that all the cogitations of man’s mind are wicked from his childhood, (<010821>Genesis 8:21;) that all the understandings of flesh F964 are enemies to God, (<450807>Romans 8:7;) that there is none which seeketh after God, (<191403>Psalm 14:3;) and other such places, which are common in the Scripture, tending to the same end, but especially which are cited by Paul in the third to the Romans, (<450311>Romans 3:11,) man’s power and ability to fulfill the law shall not only be weak and lame, but altogether none to begin. F965

Therefore, we must thus think, that even the very faithful, after they being regenerate by the Spirit of God, do study to attain unto the righteousness of the law, do perform, notwithstanding, but the half, and far less than half, not the whole. For doubtless Peter speaketh not in this place of the epicure F966 or profane men; but of Abraham, of Moses, and of other holy fathers which were the most perfect in the world; and yet he saith that these fainted under the burden of the law, because it did pass their strength. It is hatefully objected that the Spirit of God is blasphemed when as ability to fulfill the law is taken away from his grace and help; but we may readily answer, because the question is not what the grace of the Spirit is able to do, but what that measure of grace is able to do which God doth divide to every one in this life. For we must always consider what God doth promise to do; neither let us unadvisedly ask this question, whether that can be done which he himself doth testify shall never be, and which he will not have done? He promiseth the grace and aid of the Spirit to the faithful, whereby they may be able to resist the lusts of the flesh, and to subdue them; yet shall they not quite abolish and drive them away. He promiseth them grace, whereby they may walk in newness of life; yet shall they not be able to run so swiftly as the law requireth. For he will have them kept under during their whole life, that they may fly to beg pardon. If it be unlawful to separate from the power of God’s counsel, and the order by him set down, it is a foolish and vain cavil, whereby the adversaries go about to burden us, when as they say that we diminish the power of God; nay rather, they transform God, when they hold that his counsel and purpose can be altered.

The Pelagians did in times past, in like sort, burden F967 Augustine. He answereth, that though it be a thing possible that the law should be fulfilled, yet is that sufficient for him, that no man did ever fulfill it, and that the Scripture doth not testify that it shall be fulfilled until the end of the world. By which words he delivereth himself from their importunate subtlety. But there was no cause why he should doubt, but freely and flatly grant that it might be fulfilled, the Holy Ghost being the author. For we must limit the grace of the Spirit, that it may agree with the promises. Furthermore, we have already declared how far the promises reach. There is no man which moveth any question concerning this, whether God be not able if he will to make men perfect; but they dote foolish which separate his power from his counsel, whereof they have an evident and plain testimony in the Scripture. God doth plainly declare a hundred times what he will, and what he hath determined to do: to go any farther is sacrilege.

Jerome was enforced by reason of philosophy to hurl out the thunderbolt of his curse against Peter and Paul; F968 because the laws must be applied unto their hability for whom they be appointed; which, as I confess to take place in man’s laws, so I utterly deny that it is good as touching the law of God, which, in exacting righteousness, doth not respect what man is able to do, but what he ought to do.

Though here ariseth a harder question, “Whether the law were not given to this end, that it might enforce men to obey God? And this should be in vain, unless the Spirit of God should direct the faithful to keep it; and that the solemn protestation of Moses seemeth to put the matter out of doubt, when he saith that he giveth precepts to the Jews, not such as they may read, but indeed fulfill, (<053012>Deuteronomy 30:12;) whence we gather that the yoke was laid upon the neck of the Jews when the law was given, that it might make them subject to God, that they might not live as them lusted.” I answer, that the law is counted a yoke two ways. For, inasmuch as it bridleth the lusts of the flesh and delivereth a rule of godly and holy life, it is meet that the children of God take this yoke upon them; but, inasmuch as it doth exactly prescribe what we owe to God, and doth not promise life without adding the condition of perfect obedience, and doth again denounce a curse if we shall in any point offend, it is a yoke which no man is able to bear. I will show this more plainly.

The plain doctrine of good life, wherein God doth invite us unto himself, is a yoke which we must all of us willingly take up; for there is nothing more absurd than that God should not govern man’s life, but that he should wander at pleasure without any bridle. Therefore, we must not refuse the yoke of the law, if the simple doctrine thereof be considered. But these sayings do otherwise qualify (that I may so term it) the law.

“He which shall do these things shall live in theme” etc.
(<031805>Leviticus 18:5.)


“Cursed is he which continueth not in all things which are written,” (<052726>Deuteronomy 27:26,)

that it may begin to be a yoke which no man can bear.

For, so long as salvation is promised to the perfect keeping of the law alone, and every transgression is called into judgment, mankind is utterly undone. In this respect doth Peter affirm that God is tempted, when man’s arrogance doth burden the consciences of men with the law; for it is not his purpose to deny but that men must be governed by the doctrine of the law, and so he granteth that they be under the law F969 not simply F970 to teach, but also to humble men with the guilt of eternal death. Considering that that quality was annexed unto doctrine, he affirmeth that the souls of the godly must not be tied with the yoke of the law, because by this means it should of necessity come to pass that they should be drowned in eternal destruction. But, when as not only the grace of the Holy Spirit is present to govern us, but also free forgiveness of sins to deliver and acquit us from the curse of the law; then is that of Moses fulfilled, that the commandment is not above us, (<053011>Deuteronomy 30:11;) and then do we also perceive how sweet the yoke of Christ is, and how light his burden is, (<401130>Matthew 11:30.) For, because we know that through the mercy of God that is forgiven us, which is wanting through the infirmity of the flesh, we do cheerfully, and without any grief, F971 take upon us that which he enjoineth us. Wherefore, so that the rigor of the law be taken away, the doctrine of the law shall not only be tolerable, but also joyful and pleasant; neither must we refuse the bridle which doth govern us mildly, and cloth not urge us sorer than is expedient.

11. By the grace of Jesus Christ. Peter compareth these two together as contrary the one to the other; to have hope F972 in the grace of Christ, and to be under the yoke of the law; which comparison doth greatly set out the justification of Christ, inasmuch as we gather thereby, that those are justified by faith who, being free and quit from the yoke of the law, seek for salvation in the grace of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I said before that the yoke of the law is made of two cords. The former is, “He which doth these things shall live in them;” the other is, “Cursed is every one which doth not continue in all the commandments.” Let us return unto the contrary member. If we cannot otherwise attain unto salvation by the grace of Christ, unless the yoke of the law be taken away, it followeth that salvation is not placed in keeping the law, neither are those which believe in Christ subject to the curse of the law; for if he could be saved through grace, who is as yet enwrapped in the yoke of the law, then should Peter’s reasoning be but foolish, which is drawn from contraries: thus, We hope for salvation by the grace of Christ; therefore we are not under the yoke of the law. Unless there were a disagreement between the grace of Christ and the yoke of the law, Peter should deceive us. F973

Wherefore, those must needs depart from the righteousness of the law, whosoever desire to find life in Christ; for this contrariety appertaineth not unto doctrine, but unto the cause of justification.

Whereby is also refuted their surmise, F974 who say that we are justified by the grace of Christ, because he regenerateth us by his Spirit, and giveth us strength to fulfill the law. Those who imagine this, though they seem to ease the yoke of the law a little, yet they keep souls bound with the cords thereof. For this promise shall always stand in force, He which shall do these things shall live in them; on the other side, The curse shall come upon all which shall not absolutely fulfill the law. Wherefore, we must define the grace of Christ far otherwise (whereunto the hope of salvation leaneth) than they dream; to wit, that it be free reconciliation gotten by the sacrifice of his death; or, which is all one, free forgiveness of sins, which, by pacifying and appeasing God, doth make him of an enemy or severe judge, F975 and which cannot be pleased nor entreated, a merciful Father. I confess, indeed, that we be regenerate into newness of life by the grace of Christ; but when we are about assurance of salvation, then must we call to mind the free adoption alone, which is joined with the purging [expiation] and forgiveness of sins. For, if works be admitted, that they may make us righteous in part only, the yoke of the law shall not be broken, and so Peter’s contrariety [antithesis] shall fall to the ground, or else be dissolved.

Even as they. Peter doth testify in this place, that though the servitude of the law were laid upon the fathers as touching the external shoe, yet were their consciences free and quit; whereby is put away that absurdity, which might otherwise have troubled godly minds not a little. For, seeing that the covenant of life is eternal, and the same which God made with his servants from the beginning until the end of the world, it were an absurd thing, and intolerable, that any other way to obtain salvation should be taught at this day than that which the fathers had in times past. Therefore, Peter affirmeth that we agree very well with the fathers, because they no less than we reposed hope of salvation in the grace of Christ; and so, reconciling the law and the gospel together, as touching the end of the doctrine, he taketh from the Jews the stumbling-block which they reigned to themselves by reason of the discord.

Whereby it appeareth that the law was not given to the fathers that they might thereby purchase salvation, neither were the ceremonies added, that, by the observing thereof, they might attain unto righteousness; but this was the only end of all the whole law, that, casting from them all confidence which they might repose in works, they might repose all their hope in the grace of Christ. Whereby is also refuted the doting of those who think that the old people, inasmuch as they were content with earthly goods, did think no whit of the heavenly life. But Peter maketh the fathers partners with us of the same faith; and doth make salvation common to both; and yet there be some which delight in that brain-sick fellow, Servetus, with his so filthy sacrileges. Furthermore, we must note that Peter teacheth that the faith of the fathers [ancients] was always grounded in Christ, seeing that they could neither find life anywhere else, neither was there any other way for men to come unto God. Therefore, this place agreeth with that saying of the apostle,

“Christ yesterday, and today, and for ever,”
(<581308>Hebrews 13:8.)

Acts 15:12-18

12. And all the multitude kept silence, and heard Barnabas and Paul declare what signs and wonders God had wrought by them among the Gentiles. 13. And after they had done speaking, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hear me: 14. Simeon hath showed how at the first God hath visited, that he might take of the Gentiles a people in his name. 15. And hereunto agree the words of the prophets, as it is written, 16. After these things will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is decayed; and will restore the ruins thereof, and will set it up; 17. That the, men which remain may seek the Lord, and all nations which call upon my name, saith the Lord, which doth all these things. 18. Known from the beginning [to God] are all his works.

Directory: files -> english -> texts -> calvin -> commentaries
texts -> Ante-nicene fathers
texts -> Henry wace, D. D
texts -> Philip schaff, D. D., LL. D., Professor of church history in the union theological seminary, new york. In connection with a number of patristic scholars of europe and america
commentaries -> The book of joshua by john calvin translated from the original latin, and collated with
texts -> Philip schaff, D. D., LL. D., Professor in the union theological seminary, new york. In connection with a number of patristic scholars of europe and america
texts -> Philip schaff, D. D., LL. D., Professor in the union theological seminary, new york. In connection with a number of patristic scholars of europe and america
texts -> Ante-nicene fathers
commentaries -> The acts of the apostles by john calvin edited from the original english translation of

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