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Bible Commentaries
Acts 8

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

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Verse 1

1.At that day. The persecution began at Stephen, after that, when their madness was thereby set on fire, it waxed hot against all, both one and other. For the wicked are like brute beasts, for when they have once tasted blood they are more desirous thereof, and become more cruel through committing murder. For Satan, who is the father of all cruelty, doth first take from them all feeling of humanity when they are once imbrued with innocent blood; that done, he stirreth up in them an unquenchable thirsting after blood, whence those violent assaults to commit murder come; so that when they have once begun, they will never make an end with their will. Moreover, when they have power once granted them to do hurt, their boldness increaseth in tract of time, so that they are carried headlong more immoderately, which thing Luke also noteth when he saith, The persecution was great. Undoubtedly the Church had but small rest before, neither was it free from the vexation of the wicked; but the Lord spared his for a time, that they might have some liberty, and now they began to be sorer set on.

These things must be applied unto our time also. If the furiousness of our enemies seem at any time to be as it were fallen on sleep, so that it casteth not out flames far, let us know that the Lord provideth for our weakness; yet, let us not in the mean season imagine that we shall have continual truce, but let us be in readiness to suffer sorer brunts, as often as they shall break out suddenly. Let us also remember, that if at any time the constancy of one man have whetted the cruelty of our enemies, the blame of the evil is unjustly ascribed to him. For Luke doth not defame Stephen, (494) when as he saith, that by means of him the Church was sorer vexed than before; but he rather turneth this to his praise, because he did valiantly, as the standard-bearer, encourage others with his example to fight courageously. When he calleth it the Church which was at Jerusalem, his meaning is not that there were Churches elsewhere, but he passeth over unto these things which ensued thereupon. For whereas there was but this one only body of the godly in all the world, it was rent in pieces through flight; yet there sprung up more Churches by and by of those lame members which were dispersed here and there, and so the body of Christ was spread abroad far and wide, whereas it was before shut up within the walls of Jerusalem,

They were all scattered abroad. It is certain that they were not all scattered abroad, but the Scripture useth an universal note, for that which we say, Every where or abroad. (495) The sum is this, that not only a few were in danger; because the cruelty of the enemies raged throughout the whole Church. Many do oftentimes take themselves to their feet, through faintness of heart, even when they hear any light rumor, but these are in another case. For they fled not unadvisedly, being discouraged, (496) but because they saw no other means to pacify the fury of the adversaries. And he saith, that they were scattered not only through divers places of Judea, but that they came even unto Samaria; so that the middle wall began to be pulled down, which made division between the Jews and the Gentiles, (Ephesians 2:14.) For the conversion of Samaria was, as it were, the first fruits of the calling of the Gentiles. For although they had circumcision, as had the people of God, yet we know that there was great dissension, and that not without great cause, forasmuch as they had in Samaria only a forged worship of God, as Christ affirmeth, because it was only an unsavory emulation. (497) Therefore God set open the gate for the gospel then, that the scepter of Christ, sent out of Jerusalem, might come unto the Gentiles. He exempteth the apostles out of this number, not that they were free from the common danger, but because it is the duty of a good pastor to set himself against the invasions of wolves for the safety of his flock.

But here may a question be asked, forasmuch as they were commanded to preach the gospel throughout the whole world, (Mark 16:16,) why they stayed at Jerusalem, even when they were expelled thence with force and hand? I answer, that seeing Christ had commanded them to begin at Jerusalem, they employed themselves there until such time as being brought into some other place by his hand, they might know, for a surety, that he was their guide. And we see how fearfully they proceeded to preach the gospel; not that they foreslowed [shunned] that function which was enjoined them, but because they were amazed at a new and unwonted thing. Therefore, seeing they see the gospel so mightily resisted at Jerusalem, they dare go to no other place until such time as they have broken that first huge heap of straits. Assuredly, they provide neither for their ease, nor yet for their own commodities either for being void of care by staying at Jerusalem; for they have a painful charge, they are continually amidst divers dangers they encounter with great troubles. Wherefore, undoubtedly, they are purposed to do their duty; and especially, whereas they stand to it when all the rest fly, that is an evident testimony of valiant constancy. If any man object that they might have divided the provinces amongst them, that they might not all have been occupied in one place, I answer, that Jerusalem alone had business enough for them all.

In sum, Luke reckoneth up this as a thing worthy of praise, that they followed not the rest into voluntary exile to avoid persecution; and yet he doth not reprehend the flight of those men whose state was more free. For the apostles did consider what particular thing their calling had; to wit, that they should keep their standing, seeing the wolves did invade the sheepfold. The rigor of Tertullian, and such like, was too great, who did deny indifferently that it is lawful to fly for fear of persecution. Augustine saith better, who giveth leave to fly in such sort that the churches, being destitute of their pastors, be not betrayed into the hands of the enemies. This is surely the best moderation, which beareth neither too much with the flesh, neither driveth those headlong to death who may lawfully save their lives. Let him that is disposed read the 180th Epistle to Honoratus.

That I may return to the apostles, if they had been scattered here and there with fear of persecution, even at the beginning, all men might have rightly called them hirelings. How hurtful and filthy had the forsaking of the place been at the present time? How greatly would it have discouraged the minds of all men? What great hurt should they have done with their example among the posterity? It shall sometimes so fall out indeed, that the pastor may also fly; that is, if they invade him alone, if the laying waste of the Church be not feared if he be absent. (498) But and if both his flock and he have to encounter with the adversary, he is a treacherous forsaker of his office if he stand not stoutly to it even until the end. Private persons have greater liberty.

(494)Neque enim Stephanum ignominia notat Lucas,” for Luke does not fix a stigma on Stephen.

(495)Vulgo,” commonly.

(496)Consternati,” in consternation.

(497)Insipida... aemulatio,” an insipid, senseless rivalship.

(498)Propter ejus absentiam,” on account of his absence.

Verse 2

2.They dressed Stephen. Luke showeth, that even in the heat of persecution the godly were not discouraged, but being always zealous, they did those duties which did belong to godliness. Burial seemeth to be a matter of small importance; rather than they will foreslow [neglect] the same, they bring themselves in no small hazard of life. And as the circumstance of time doth declare, that they contemned death valiantly, so again, we gather thereby that they were careful to do this thing not without great and urgent cause. For this served greatly to exercise their faith, that the body of the holy martyr should not be left to the wild beasts, in whom Christ had triumphed nobly according to the glory of his gospel. Neither could they live to Christ, unless they were ready to be gathered unto Stephen into the society of death. Therefore the care they had to bury the martyr was unto them a meditation unto invincible constancy of professing the faith. Therefore they sought not in a superfluous matter, with an unadvised zeal, to provoke their adversaries. Although that general reason, which ought always and every where to be of force amongst the godly, was undoubtedly of great weight with them. For the rite of burying doth appertain unto the hope of the resurrection, as it was ordained by God since the beginning of the world to this end.

Wherefore, this was always counted cruel barbarism to suffer bodies to lie unburied willingly. Profane men did not know why they should account the rite of burial so holy; but we are not ignorant of the end thereof, to wit, that those which remain alive may know that the bodies are committed to the earth as to a prison, (499) until they be raised up thence. Whereby it appeareth that this duty is profitable rather for those which are alive than those which are dead. Although it is also a point of our humanity to give due honor to those bodies to which we know blessed immortality to be promised.

They made great lamentation. Luke doth also commend their profession of godliness and faith in their lamentation. For a doleful and unprosperous end causeth men, for the most part, to forsake those causes wherein they were delighted before. But, on the other side, these men declare by their mourning, that they are no whit terrified with the death of Stephen from standing stoutly in the approbation of their cause; considering therewithal what great loss God’s Church suffered by the death of one man. And we must reject that foolish philosophy which willeth all men to be altogether blockish that they may be wise. It must needs be that the Stoics were void of common sense who would have a man to be without all affection. Certain mad fellows would gladly bring in the same dotings into the Church at this day, and yet, notwithstanding, although they require an heart of iron of other men, there is nothing softer or more effeminate than they. They cannot abide that other men should shed one tear; if anything fall out otherwise than they would wish, they make no end of mourning. God doth thus punish their arrogancy jestingly, (that I may so term it,) seeing that he setteth them to be laughed at even by boys. But let us know that those affections which God hath given to man’s nature are, of themselves, no more corrupt than the author himself; but that they are first to be esteemed according to the cause; secondly, if they keep a mean and moderation. Surely that man which denieth that we ought to rejoice over the gifts of God is more like a block than a man; therefore, we may no less lawfully sorrow when they be taken away. And lest I pass the compass of this present place, Paul doth not altogether forbid men mourning, when any of their friends are taken away by death, but he would have a difference between them and the unbelievers; because hope ought to be to them a comfort and a remedy against impatience. For the beginning of death caused us to sorrow for good causes; but because we know that we have life restored to us in Christ, we have that which is sufficient to appease our sorrow. In like sort, when we are sorry that the Church is deprived of rare and excellent men, there is good cause of sorrow; only we must seek such comfort as may correct excess.

(499)Velut in custodiam,” as it were in custody.

Verse 3

3.But Saul. We must note two things in this place, how great the cruelty of the adversaries was, and how wonderful the goodness of God was, who vouchsafed to make Paul a pastor of so cruel a wolf. For that desire to lay waste the Church wherewith he was incensed did seem to cut away all hope. Therefore his conversion was so much the more excellent afterward. And it is not to be doubted but that this punishment was laid upon him by God, after that he had conspired to put Stephen to death, together with the other wicked men, that he should be the ringleader of cruelty. For God doth oftentimes punish sins more sharply in the elect than in the reprobate.

Verse 4

4.And they were scattered abroad. Luke declareth in this place also, that it came to pass by the wonderful providence of God, that the scattering abroad of the faithful should bring many unto the unity of faith; thus doth the Lord use to bring light out of darkness, and life out of death. For the voice of the gospel, which was heard heretofore in one place only, doth now sound everywhere; in the mean season, we are taught by this example that we must not yield unto persecutions, but rather be encouraged unto valiantness; for, when the faithful flee from Jerusalem, they are not afterward discouraged either with exile or with their present miseries, or with any fear, that they degenerate into slothfulness; (500) but they are as ready to preach Christ even in the midst of their calamity as if they had never suffered any trouble. Moreover, Luke seemeth to note that they led a wandering life in that they changed their lodgings often. Therefore, if we desire to be counted their brethren, let us prick forward ourselves so diligently, that no fear or bitterness of cross discourage us, but that we go forward in showing forth the profession of faith; and that we never be weary of furthering the doctrine of Christ; for it is an absurd thing that exile and flight, which are the first exercises of martyrdom, should make us dumb and fainthearted.

(500)Ad ignaviam vel tarditatem,” unto sloth or cowardice.

Verse 5

5.Luke said that they all preached the Word of God, now he maketh mention of Philip alone, both because his preaching was more fruitful and effectual than the preaching of the rest, and also because there followed notable histories, which he will add afterward. He put the city of Samaria for the city Samaria which was laid waste by Hyrcanus, and built again by Herod, and called Sebaste. Read Josephus, in his Thirteenth and Fifteenth Books of Antiquities. When he saith that Philip preached Christ, he signifieth that the whole sum of the gospel is contained in Christ. The other speech which he useth shortly after is more perfect; yet it all one in effect. He joineth the kingdom of God and the name of Christ together; but because we obtain this goodness through Christ, to have God to reign in us, and to lead an heavenly life, being renewed into spiritual righteousness, and dead to the world, therefore the preaching of Christ containeth this point also under it. But the sum is this, that Christ doth repair with his grace the world, being destroyed; which cometh to pass when he reconcileth us to the Father. Secondly, when he regenerateth us by his Spirit, that the kingdom of God may be erected in us when Satan is put to flight. Moreover, whereas he declared before, that the apostles did not stir one foot from Jerusalem, it is to be thought that he speaketh of one of the seven deacons in this place, whose daughters did also prophesy.

Verse 6

6.And the multitude gave ear. Luke declareth how the Samaritans did embrace Philip’s doctrine. For he saith that they heard, whereby they took some taste; there was also another prick whereby they were pricked forward, and that was miracles; at length there followed attentiveness. This is the right going forward unto faith; for those which refuse that doctrine which they have not heard, how is it possible that they should ever come unto faith, which cometh by hearing? (Romans 10:14.) Therefore, whereas they were ready to hear, that was the first step unto reverence and attentiveness. And therefore it is no marvel if faith be so rare, and almost none in the world; for how many be there which vouchsafe to hearken when God speaketh? whereby it cometh to pass that the more part rejecteth the truth before they know the same, and have not so much as lightly tasted it. And as hearing is the beginning of faith, so it should not be sufficient of itself, unless the majesty of doctrine should also move the hearts. And surely, whosoever considereth that he hath to do with God, cannot hear him contemptuously when he speaketh; and the very doctrine which is contained in his word shall purchase authority for itself, so that attentiveness shall flow of itself from hearing. As touching miracles we know that there is a double use thereof; they serve to prepare us to hear the gospel, and to confirm us in the faith thereof. The adverb, with one accord, may be joined as well with hearing as with attentiveness. This latter doth like me better, that they were attentive with one accord; and therein doth Luke commend the force and efficacy of Philip’s preaching, because a great number of men was suddenly won to hear attentively with one consent.

Verse 7

7.Unclean spirits. He toucheth certain kinds briefly, that we may know with what miracles they (501) were brought to attribute any authority to Philip. That crying wherewith the unclean spirits cried was a token of resistance. Wherefore this served not a little to set forth the power of Christ, that he did bind the devils with his commandment, though they resisted stubbornly.

(501)Samaritae,” the Samaritans.

Verse 8

8.The joy whereof he speaketh is a fruit of faith. For it cannot be but that so soon as we know that God will be favorable and merciful our minds shall be wrapt with incomparable joy, and such as doth far pass all understanding, (Philippians 4:7.)

Verse 9

9.A certain man named Simon. This was such a let that it might seem that the gospel could have no passage to come unto the Samaritans; for the minds of them all were bewitched with Simon’s jugglings. And this amazedness was grown to some strength by reason of long space of time. Furthermore experience teacheth what a hard matter it is to pluck that error out of the minds of men which hath taken root through long continuance and to call them back unto a sound and right mind who are already hardened. Superstition made them more obstinate in their error, because they counted Simon not only as a prophet of God, but even as the Spirit of God.

Verse 10

10.For the surname, great power, tendeth to this end, that whatsoever should otherwise be divine might wax vile through this greatness. Therefore the power of Christ appeareth hereby more plainly, in that Philip brake through these lets; which thing Luke amplifieth,

Verse 11

11.When he saith that they were astonied, from the least to the greatest. For seeing all men, of what estate soever they were, were deluded, what entrance could the gospel have, especially since it was no mean seducing? for all their senses were besotted. And besides that we see thereby how mighty the truth is, there is also set before us an example of constancy in Philip, who, though he saw no way, yet doth he set hand to the Lord’s work with a valiant courage, waiting for the success which God should give. And thus must we do, we must valiantly attempt whatsoever the Lord commandeth, even when our endeavors seem to be vain. Furthermore, whereas Satan did bewitch the Samaritans, let us know that it is the common punishment of infidelity. All men are not bewitched, indeed, with the jugglings of enchanters, neither are there Simons everywhere, which can so seduce and deceive; but my meaning is, that it is no wonder, (502) if Satan do mock men diversely in the dark; for they are subject to all errors whosoever are not governed by the Spirit of God. Furthermore, when Luke saith that they were all seduced one with another, we are taught that neither wit, neither all that reason and wisdom which we have, are sufficient to avoid the craftiness of Satan withal. And surely we see in what foolish and doting errors they were entangled, who were counted in the world wiser than others.

The great power of God. Therefore Satan abused the name of God to deceive, which is the most pestilent kind of deceiving, so far is it from being any excuse. It hath been said before, that Simon did take to himself the name of the principal power of God, that he might suppress and surpass whatsoever was elsewhere divine, as the sun darkeneth all the stars with his light. This was wicked and ungodly profaning of the name of God. But we read of nothing which was done here, which is not done as yet daily; for men are bent to nothing more than to translate that to Satan which is proper to God. They pretend religion; but what did this pretense help the Samaritans? Therefore it goeth well with us when God setteth forth to us his power in Christ, and declareth therewith that we must not seek the same anywhere else, and doth discover the sleights and juggling casts of Satan, which we must avoid, to the end he may keep us still in himself.

(502)Non esse mirum aut insolens,” that it is not strange or unusual.

Verse 12

12.When they had believed. That is the miracle whereof I spake because they heard Philip, who were altogether made astonied with the illusions of Simon; in that they were made partakers of the heavenly wisdom who were blockish and dull. So that they were, after a sort, brought from hell to heaven. Whereas baptism followed faith, it agreeth with Christ’s institution, as concerning strangers, (Mark 16:47 [sic ],) and those which were without. For it was meet that they should be engrafted into the body of the Church before they should receive the sign; but the Anabaptists are too foolish, whilst they endeavor to prove by these places that infants are not to be baptized. Men and women could not be baptized without making confession of their faith; but they were admitted unto baptism upon this condition, that their families might (503) be consecrated to God; for the covenant goeth thus:

“I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed,”
(Genesis 17:7.)

(503)Simul,” at the same time.

Verse 13

13.Simon also himself. He which had besotted the whole city with his witchery receiveth the truth together with others. He which had boasted himself to be the principal power of God submitteth himself to God, [Christ; ] though he were brought to the knowledge of the gospel, not so much for his own sake alone, as for the whole country’s sake, that that offense might be taken out of the way which might have hindered the unskillful. And to this end tendeth that which Luke setteth down afterward, that he wondered at the signs. For God meant to triumph over this man, whom the Samaritans counted a petit God; (504) which cometh to pass whilst he is enforced to give glory to the true miracles, after that his vain boasting is taken away. And yet he giveth not himself over sincerely to Christ; for then his ambition, and that wicked and profane account which he made of the gifts of God, should not break out. And yet I am not of their mind who think that he made only a semblance of faith, seeing he did not believe. Luke saith plainly that he believed, and the reason is added, Because he was touched with wondering. How, then, doth he shortly after betray himself to be but a hypocrite? I answer, That there is some mean between faith and mere dissimulation. The Epicures [Epicureans] and Lucianists do profess that they believe, whereas notwithstanding they laugh inwardly, whereas the hope of eternal life is unto them a vain thing; finally, whereas they have no more godliness than dogs or swine.

But there be many who howsoever they be not regenerate with the Spirit of adoption, and do not addict themselves unto God with the true affection of the heart, being overcome with the power of the Word, do not only confess that that is true which is taught, but are also touched with some fear of God, so that they receive doctrine; for they conceive that God must be heard; that he is both the author and also the judge of the world. Therefore, they make no semblance of faith before men, which is none, but they think that they believe. And this faith continueth only for a time, whereof Christ speaketh in Mark, (Mark 4:0; Luke 8:13;) to wit, when the seed of the Word conceived in the mind is, notwithstanding, choked forthwith with divers cares of the world, or with wicked affections, so that it never cometh to any ripeness; yea, rather, it groweth out of kind unto unprofitable corn nothing worth. Such, therefore, was Simon’s faith; he perceiveth that the doctrine of the gospel is true, and he is enforced to receive the same with the feeling of his conscience; but the groundwork is wanting; that is, the denial of himself. Whereupon it followed that his mind was enwrapped in dissimulation, which he uttereth forthwith. But let us know that his hypocrisy was such as he deceived himself in; and not that gross hypocrisy whereof Epicures and such like make boast; (505) because they dare not confess the contempt of God.

He was baptized. It appeareth plainly, by this example of Simon that all men have not that grace given them in baptism, which grace is there figured. The opinion of the Papists is this, That unless mortal sin be the cause of let, (506) all men receive the truth and effect with the signs. So that they attribute unto the sacraments magical force, as if they did profit without faith, But let us know that the Lord offereth to us by the sacraments, whatsoever the annexed promises do sound; (507) and that they are not offered in vain, so that (508) being directed unto Christ by faith, we set [seek] from him whatsoever the sacraments do promise. And although the receiving of baptism did profit him nothing then, yet if conversion followed afterward, as some men suppose, the profit was not extinguished nor abolished. For it cometh to pass oftentimes that the Spirit of God worketh afterward after a long time, that the sacraments may begin to show forth their force. (509)

Did cleave to Philip. Whereas Philip admitted him into his company, it appeareth thereby how hard a matter it is to know hypocrites. And this is a trial of our patience. So Demas was a companion of Paul for a time; afterward he became an unfaithful revolt (510) (2 Timothy 4:10,) Finally, we cannot escape this evil, but that wicked men and deceitful will sometimes join themselves unto us; and if at any time the wicked creep craftily into our company, proud censors burden us unjustly, as if we were to answer for their misdeeds. Though we must take heed of facility, which causeth the gospel to be slandered oftentimes, and we must be so much the more vigilant, that we admit none without great choice, forasmuch as we hear that great men have been deceived. He saith that he was made astonied with the greatness of the signs; that we may know that that great power, whereof he boasted, was nothing else but juggling and smokes. And Luke speaketh not in this place of any plain wondering, but of a damp or trance which causeth a man to forget what he doth. (511)

(504)Semideo,” a demigod.

(505)Venditant,” make a display of.

(506)Ponat obicem,” interpose an obstacle.

(507)Sonant,” mean.

(508)Modo,” provided that.

(509)Efficaciam,” efficacy.

(510)Desertor,” deserter.

(511)Neque enim simplex admlratio hie notatur, sed ecstasis, quae hominem extra se rapit,” for the thing here denoted is not simple wonder, but ecstacy, by which a man is rapt (carried out of himself.)

Verse 14

14.Luke describeth, in this place, the proceedings of the grace of God in the Samaritans, as he useth to enrich the faithful continually with greater gifts of his Spirit, for we must not think that the apostles took that counsel whereof Luke speaketh, without the instinct of the same God who had already begun his work in Samaria by the hand of Philip; and he useth his instruments diversely unto divers parts of his work, according to his good pleasure. He used Philip as an instrument to bring them unto the faith; now he ordaineth Peter and John to be ministers to give the Spirit and thus doth he foster the unity of his Church when one helpeth another, and not only knit man and man together, but whole churches also. He could have finished that which he had begun by Philip; but to the end the Samaritans might learn to embrace brotherly fellowship with the first Church, he meant to bind them herewith as with a band; secondly, he meant to grant the apostles (whom he had commanded to preach the gospel throughout the whole world — Mark 16:15) this privilege, that they might the better all grow together into one faith of the gospel; and we know that it was otherwise dangerous, lest, seeing the Jews and Samaritans were much unlike in mind and manners, being so divided, they should by this means divide Christ, or at least feign to themselves a new Church.

In the mean season, we see how careful the apostles were to help their brethren; for they stay not until they be requested, but they take this charge upon them of their own accord. The apostles do not this through any distrust, as if they did suspect that Philip did not his duty so uprightly as he ought; (512) but they set to their hand to help him in his work, and Peter and John came not only to help him, and to be partakers of his labors, but also to approve the same. Again, Philip is not grieved because other men finish that building which he had begun, but they one help another full gently and faithfully; and surely it is ambition alone which will not suffer holy fellowship and mutual imparting of duties to enter. (513) Whereas Luke saith that Peter was sent by the rest, we may hereby gather that he was not the chief ruler over his fellows in office; (514) but did so excel amongst them, that yet, notwithstanding, he was subject to, and did obey the body.

Which were at Jerusalem. This may carry a double meaning, either that all the apostles were at Jerusalem then, or that there were certain resident there when the rest went hither and thither; and I do rather allow this latter, for it is to be thought that they did so divide themselves, that always some of the number might take upon them divers embassages, as occasion was offered, that some might stay at Jerusalem, as in the principal standing. (515) Again, it may be that after every man had spent some time in his voyage, they were wont to assemble themselves there. It is certain, indeed, that that time which they spent at Jerusalem was not spent in idleness; and, secondly that they were not tied to some one place, forasmuch as Christ had commanded them to go over all the world (Mark 16:15.)

(512)Minus dextre quam par esset,” less dexterously than was meet.

(513)Quae sanctae communicatione januam claudit,” which shuts the door against holy communion.

(514)Non exercuisse in collegas imperium,” did not exercise authority over his colleagues.

(515)Statione,” station.

Verse 15

15.They prayed. Undoubtedly they taught first, for we know that they were no dumb persons; but Luke passeth over that which was common to them and Philip, and declareth only what new thing the Samaritans had by their coming, to wit, that they had the Spirit given them then.

Verse 16

16.But here ariseth a question, for he saith that they were only baptized into the name of Christ, and that therefore they had not as yet received the Holy Ghost; but baptism must either be in vain and without grace, or else it must have all the force which it hath from the Holy Ghost. In baptism we are washed from our sins; but Paul teacheth that our washing is the work of the Holy Ghost, (Titus 3:5.) The water used in baptism is a sign of the blood of Christ; but Peter saith, that it is the Spirit by whom we are washed with the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:2.) Our old man is crucified in baptism, that we may be raised up unto newness of life, (Romans 6:6;) and whence cometh all this save only from the sanctification of the Spirit? And, finally, what shall remain in baptism if it be separate from the Spirit? (Galatians 3:27.) Therefore, we must not deny but that the Samaritans, who had put on Christ, indeed, in baptism, had also his Spirit given them; and surely Luke speaketh not in this place of the common grace of the Spirit, whereby God doth regenerate us, that we may be his children, but of those singular gifts wherewith God would have certain endued at the beginning of the gospel to beautify Christ’s kingdom. Thus must the words of John be understood, that the disciples had not the Spirit given them as yet, forasmuch as Christ was yet conversant in the world; not that they were altogether destitute of the Spirit, seeing that they had from the same both faith, and a godly desire to follow Christ; but because they were not furnished with those excellent gifts, wherein appeared afterwards greater glory of Christ’s kingdom. To conclude, forasmuch as the Samaritans were already endtied with the Spirit of adoptioni the excellent graces of the Spirit are heaped upon them, in which God showed to his Church, for a time as it were, the visible presence of his Spirit, that he might establish for ever the authority of his gospel, and also testify that his Spirit shall be always the governor and director of the faithful.

They were only baptized. We must not understand this as spoken contemptuously of baptism; but Luke’s meaning is, that they were only endued then with the grace of common adoption and regeneration, which is offered to all the godly in baptism. As for this, it was an extraordinary thing that certain should have the gifts of the Spirit given them, which might serve to set forth the kingdom of Christ and the glory of the gospel; for this was the use thereof, that every one might profit the Church according to the measure of his ability. We must note this, therefore, because, while the Papists will set up their feigned confirmation, they are not afraid to break out into this sacrilegious speech, that they are but half Christians upon whom the hands have not been as yet laid. This is not tolerable now because, whereas this was a sign which lasted only for a time, they made it a continual law in the Church, as if they had the Spirit in readiness to give to whomsoever they would. We know that when the testimony and pledge of God’s grace is set before us in vain, and without the thing itself, it is too filthy mockery; but even they themselves are enforced to grant that the Church was beautified for a time only with these gifts; whereupon it followeth that the laying on of hands which the apostles used had an end when the effect ceased. I omit that, that they added oil unto the laying on of hands, (Mark 6:13;) but this, as I have already said, was a point of too great boldness, to prescribe a perpetual law to the Church, that that might be a general sacrament, which was peculiarly used amongst the apostles, (Galatians 3:7; Romans 6:6;) that the sign might continue still after that the thing itself was ceased; and with this they joined detestable blasphemy, because they said that sins were only forgiven by baptism, and that the Spirit of regeneration is given by that rotten oil which they presumed to bring in without the Word of God. The Scripture doth testify that we put on Christ in baptism, and that we are engrafted into his body, that our old man may be crucified, and we renewed into righteousness. These sacrilegious robbers have translated that to adorn the false visor of their sacrament which they have taken from baptism. (516) Neither was this the invention of one man only, but the decree of one council, whereof they babble daily in all their schools.

(516)Detracta baptismo spolia,” the spoils taken from baptism.

Verse 17

17.When they had laid their hands. The laying on of hands followeth prayers, whereby they testify that the grace of the Spirit is not included in the external ceremony, which they crave humbly at the hands of another. And yet when they confess that God is the author, they neglect not the ceremony which was delivered them by God to this use; and because they usurp it not rashly, the effect is also annexed. This is the profit and efficacy of signs, because God worketh in them, and yet he remaineth the only giver of grace and distributeth the same according to his good pleasure; but let us remember that the laying on of hands was the instrument of God, at such time as he gave the visible graces of the Spirit to his, and that since the Church was deprived of such riches, it is only a vain visor without any substance. (517)

(517)Inane duntaxat esset spectrum,” it was only an empty specter.

Verse 18

18.And when Simon. Simon’s hypocrisy is now discovered, not because that he had feigned before that he believed; for when he was convicted he gave Christ his hand in earnest, like as many yield unto the gospel, lest they strive against God, but in the mean season they continue like to themselves; whereas the denial of ourselves ought to follow true faith. And this is to mix Christ with Satan, when doctrine pierceth not unto the hidden affections of the heart, but the inward uncleanness lieth hidden there. (518) Therefore God wipeth away that false color now in Simon, lest by professing the name of Christ he deceive both himself and others. For that ambition which was hidden before breaketh out now, when as he desireth to be equal with the apostles. This is now one vice; another is, because while he thinketh that the grace of God is to be sold, he will get some greedy gain thereby. (519) Whereby it appeareth that he is a profane man, and such as had not tasted the first principles of godliness; for he is touched with no desire of God’s glory; yea, he doth not once think what it is to be a minister of God. As he had heretofore gotten gain by his magic, so he thought that it would be gainsome if he might give the graces of the Spirit. For undoubtedly he hunted after riches, and sought to purchase praise in the sight of the world; and he did God great injury also, because he thought that this heavenly power did nothing differ from his magical enchantments. Now we understand briefly what and how many ways Simon offended. In the gifts of the Spirit he doth not adore, neither acknowledge the power of Christ; he doth not confess that the apostles were endued with heavenly power, to set forth Christ’s glory by their ministry; his own ambition driveth and carrieth him headlong, so that he desireth to become excellent; and to make the world subject to himself, setting God apart, he will buy the Holy Ghost, as if he could be bought with money.

(518)Quasi sepulta,” as it were buried.

(519)Vult eam ad lucrum prostituere,” he wishes to prostitute it to gain.

Verse 20

20.Peter answered. Peter giveth him the repulse here stoutly, and being not content to chide him, he addeth a bitter curse (or wish,) that Simon and his money may perish together; though he doth not so much wish unto him destruction, as he telleth him that the just vengeance of God hangeth over his head, that he might terrify him. In sum, he showeth what he hath deserved, when he hath made the Spirit of God subject to filthy buying and selling; as if he should have said, Thou art worthy to perish with thy money, (520) when thou dost so blaspheme the Spirit of God. For we may easily gather by that which followeth, that Peter would rather have had Simon saved than destroyed. But as it were supplying the place of a judge, he pronounceth what punishment Simon’s ungodliness deserveth; and it was requisite that he should be thus accused with such vehemence, that he might perceive the greatness of his offense. (521) To the same end tendeth that that he judged his money to perish; for he signifieth that it was as it were infected and polluted with cogitation of wickedness, because it was offered to such a wicked use. And surely we ought rather to wish that all the whole world perish, than that those things should darken the glory of God, which, in comparison thereof, are nothing worth. When he wisheth thus to a sacrilegious man, he doth not so much respect the person as the fact; for we must be offended with the offenses of men in such sort, that we must pity the men themselves. Such are those sentences of God which adjudge adulterers, thieves, drunkards, and wrongful dealers, to destruction, (1 Corinthians 6:9; Ephesians 5:5;) for they do not cut off all hope of salvation from them, but they are only referred unto their present state and declare what end is prepared for them, if they go forward obstinately.

(520)Nundinationi,” trafficking.

(521)Sceleris sui atrocitatem,” the atrocity of his crime.

Verse 21

21.Thou hast no part. Some do frame this sentence otherwise, that Simon is not partaker of grace, because he setteth a price thereof. But the other reading which we have followed is more usual, to wit, that that reason be joined to the former member. And surely it is better to knit the two sentences together, thus, Thy money perish with thee, because thou thinkest that the inestimable gift of the Spirit can be bought with money. Whereas the old interpreter had put, in this word; Erasmus translated it more fitly, in this business; for Peter’s meaning is, that that sacrilegious person hath nothing to do in all that administration, who doth wickedly profane the same.

Furthermore both the Papists, and also the old divines, have disputed much concerning simony; but that which the Papists call simony doth not agree with Simon’s fact. Simon would have bought the grace of the Spirit with money; the Papists apply the crime of simony unto their idle revenues; and yet I speak not this that I may extenuate those horrible sins which reign at this day in Popery, in buying and selling spiritual promotions. Now, this wickedness is filthy enough of itself, in that they hold such a mart in the Church of God. And in the mean season, we must note the true definition of simony, to wit, that it is a wicked buying and selling of the gifts of the Spirit, or some other such like thing, whilst that a man abuseth them unto ambition or other corruptions. Though I confess that all those imitate Simon who strive to attain unto the government of the Church by unlawful means; which thing we see committed at this day without shame, as if it were lawful; and we can scarce find one priest in all Popery which is not manifestly a simoniacal person in this respect; because none can put up his head amongst them, (522) but he must creep in by indirect means. Although we must confess, (which thing even children see, to our great shame,) that this vice is too common even amongst the false professors of the gospel.

But let us remember, first, to the end we may be free from the infection of Simon, that the gifts of the Spirit are not gotten with money, but that they are given of the free and mere goodness of God, and that for the edifying of the Church; that is, that every man may study to help his brethren according to the measure of his ability; that every man may bestow (523) that about the common good of the Church which he hath received; and that the excellency of no man may hinder, but that Christ may excel all. Notwithstanding, it may seem a marvelous matter, that Peter excludeth Simon from being a partaker of the Spirit, as concerning special gifts; because his heart is not right before God. For the wickedness of Judas did not let him from having the gifts of the Spirit in great measure; neither had the gifts of the Spirit been so corrupted amongst the Corinthians, if their heart had been right in the sight of God. Therefore that reason which Peter allegeth seemeth insufficient; because many men excel oftentimes in the gifts of the Spirit, who have an unclean heart. But, first of all, there followeth no absurdity, if God give such graces to men which are unworthy thereof. Secondly, Peter prescribeth no general rule in this place, but because the Church alone is for the most part made partaker of the gifts of the Spirit, he pronounceth that Simon, who is a stranger to Christ, is unworthy to have the same graces given him, (which are bestowed upon the faithful,) as if he were one of God’s household. Moreover, he had blasphemed those gifts whereof he is deprived.

(522)Quando nullus illuc emergere potest,” since no man can rise there.

(523)Modeste conferat,” may modesty bestow.

Verse 22

22.Repent, therefore. Whereas he exhorteth him unto repentance and prayer, he putteth him in some hope of pardon thereby; for no man shall ever be touched with any desire of repentance, save only he which shall believe that God will have mercy upon him; on the other side, despair will always carry men headlong unto boldness. Furthermore, the Scripture teacheth that God is not called upon aright save only by faith. Therefore, we see how Peter raiseth up Simon now unto hope of salvation, whom he had thrown down before with the cruel lightnings and thunderbolts of words; and yet Simon’s sin was no small sin. But, if it could be, we ought to pluck men even out of hell.

Therefore, until such time as even the most wicked men do by manifest signs betray themselves to be reprobates, no one of them is to be handled so sharply but that remission of sins is to be set before him. Yea, we must so deal with those for whom sharp chiding is profitable, by reason of their hardness and stubbornness, that we throw them down with one hand, and set them on foot with the other; for the Spirit of God doth not suffer us to accurse them (524) But Peter seemeth to bring him into some fear and doubt, when he saith, if peradventure. And the Papists go about to prove by this place and such like, that we must pray with doubtful minds; because men may unadvisedly promise themselves certain success in their petitions. But we may readily answer them; for the word ει αρα signifieth as much as if a man should say, If by any means thou must obtain pardon of God. Peter useth this word, not that he may leave Simon’s mind in a perplexity, but that he may the more prick him forward to be earnest in prayer. For the very difficulty doth not a little serve to stir us up; because when we see the thing at hand, we are too careless and sluggish. Therefore Peter doth not terrify Simon, that he may overthrow or trouble all hope of obtaining in his heart, but putting him in sure hope if he shall crave pardon humbly and from his heart, he telleth him only that pardon is hard to be gotten, by reason of the greatness of his offense, to the end he may provoke him unto ferventness; for it is requisite that we may be lightened by faith when we go unto God, yea, that she be the mother of prayer.

(524)Anathemate ferire,” to strike with anathema.

Verse 23

23.In the gall of bitterness. Peter doth sharply reprove Simon again, and striketh him with God’s judgment. For unless he had been compelled to descend into himself, he would never have been turned in good earnest unto God. For there is nothing more deadly for men which are blockish than when we flatter them, or when we do but a little scrape the skin, whereas they ought rather to be thrust through. Therefore, until such time as a sinner shall conceive sorrow and true heaviness by reason of his sin, we must use such severity as may wound his mind; otherwise the rotten sore shall be nourished within, which shall by little and little consume the man himself. Yet let us always observe this mean, that we provide for men’s salvation so much as in us lieth. Moreover, there be two excellent fine metaphors in Peter’s words; the one whereof seemeth to be taken out of Moses, where he forbiddeth that there be not in us any root, from which springeth gall and wormwood, (Deuteronomy 29:0.) By which speech is noted the inward wickedness of the heart; when as it hath so conceived the poison of ungodliness, that being therewith infected, it can bring forth nothing but bitterness. To the same end tendeth the binding of iniquity: to wit, when the whole heart is kept bound and tied by Satan. For it falleth out sometimes that men which are otherwise given very godlily, do break out into evil works, who have not their heart corrupt inwardly with poison. We know that hypocrisy is engendered in man’s nature; but when as the Spirit of God doth shine, we are so blinded in our vices, that we nourish them within as if it were some hidden bundle. Therefore Peter’s meaning is, that Simon fell not only in one point, but that his very heart root was corrupt and bitter; that he fell into Satan’s snares not only in one kind of sin, but that all his senses were ensnared, so that he was wholly given over to Satan, and was become the bond-slave of iniquity. In the mean season, we are taught that the greatness of offenses is esteemed not so much according to the fact (525) which appeareth, as according to the affection of the heart.

(525)Flagitio,” flagitiousness.

Verse 24

24.Simon answered. Hereby we gather that he did not so take that which Peter had threatened unto him, but that he did consider that his salvation was sought. And though Peter alone spake, yet he attributeth the speech unto all by reason of the consent. Now ariseth a question what we ought to think of Simon. The Scripture carrieth us no farther, save only unto a conjecture. Whereas he yieldeth when he is reproved, and being touched with the feeling of his sin, feareth the judgment of God; and that done, flieth unto the mercy of God, and commendeth himself to the prayers of the Church; these are assuredly no small signs of repentance; therefore we may conjecture that he repented. And yet the old writers affirm with one consent, that he was a great enemy to Peter afterward, and that he disputed with him by the space of three days at Rome. The disputation is also extant in writing under the name of Clement, but it hath in it such filthy dotings, that it is a wonder that Christian ears can abide to hear them. Again, Augustine, writing to Januarius, saith, that there were divers and false rumors spread abroad in Rome in his time concerning that matter. Wherefore, nothing is more safe than bidding adieu to uncertain opinions, simply to embrace that which is set down in the Scriptures. That which we read elsewhere of Simon may justly be suspected for many causes.

Verse 25

25.And they testified. In these words Luke teacheth that Peter and John came not only that they might enrich the Samaritans with the gifts of the Spirit, but also that they might establish them in the faith which they had already received, by approving Philip’s doctrine. For thus much doth the word testify import; as if he should say, that it came to pass by their testimony, that the word of God had full and perfect authority, and that the truth was of force, as being well testified and authentic. Notwithstanding Luke teaeheth therewithal that they were faithful witnesses of God, when he addeth that they uttered the word of God. This was, therefore, the sum of the apostles’ doctrine, faithfully to utter those things which they had learned of the Lord, and not their own inventions, or the inventions of any man else. He saith, that they did this not only in the city, but also in villages. Therefore we see that they were so inflamed to further the glory of Christ, that whithersoever they came they had him in their mouth. So that the seed of life began to be sown throughout the whole region, after that it was preached in the city. (526)

(526)Ab una urbe,” from one city.

Verse 26

26.And the angel. Luke passeth over unto a new history, to wit, how the gospel came even unto the Ethiopians. For though he reporteth there was but one man converted unto the faith of Christ, yet because his authority and power was great in all the realm, his faith might spread abroad a sweet smell far and wide. For we know that the gospel grew of small beginnings; and therein appeared the power of the Spirit more plainly, in that one grain of seed did fill a whole country in a small space. Philip is first commanded by the angel to go toward the south; the angel telleth him not to what end. And thus doth God oftentimes use to deal with those that be his, to prove their obedience. He showeth what he will have them to do; he commandeth them to do this or that, but he keepeth the success hidden with himself. Therefore let us be content with the commandment (527) of God alone, although the reason of that which he enjoineth, or the fruit of obedience, appear not by and by. (528) For although this be not plainly expressed, yet all the commandments of God contain a hidden promise, that so often as we obey him, all that work which we take in hand must needs fall out well. Moreover, this ought to be sufficient for us, that God doth allow our studies, when as we take nothing in hand rashly or without his commandment. If any man object, that angels come not down daily from heaven to reveal unto us what we ought to do, the answer is ready, that we are sufficiently taught in the Word of God what we ought to do, and that they are never destitute of counsel who ask it of him, (529) and submit themselves to the government of the Spirit. Therefore nothing doth hinder and keep us back from being ready to follow God, save only our own slothfulness and coldness (530) in prayer.

To the way which goeth down to Gaza. All the learned grant that that is called Gaza here which the Hebrews call Haza. Wherefore, Pomponius Mela is deceived, who saith that Cambyses, king of Persia, called that city by this name, because when he made war against the Egyptians, he had his riches laid up there. It is true, indeed, that the Persians call treasure or plenty, Gaza; and Luke useth this word shortly after in this sense, when as he saith that the eunuch was the chief governor of the treasure of Candace; but because that Hebrew word was used before such time as Cambyses was born, I do not think but that it was corrupt afterwards, the letter ה (heth) being changed into g, which thing we see was done in all others almost. The epitheton waste is added for this cause, because Alexander of Macedonia laid waste that old Gaza. Also Luke refuteth those who make Constantinus the builder of the second and new Gaza, who affirmeth that it was an hundred and fifty years before; but it may be that he beautified and enlarged the city after it was built. And all men confess that this new Gaza was situate on the seacoast, distant twenty furlongs from the old city.

(527)Simplici Dei imperio,” with the simple command of God.

(528)Statim,” instantly.

(529)Illius os,” at his mouth.

(530)Incuria,” carelessness.

Verse 27

27.Behold, a man, an Ethiopian. He calleth him a man, who he saith shortly after was an eunuch; but because kings and queens in the East were wont to appoint eunuchs over their weighty affairs, thereby it came to pass that lords of great power were called generally (531) eunuchs, whereas, notwithstanding, they were men. Furthermore, Philip findeth indeed, now at length, that he did not obey God in vain. Therefore, whosoever committeth the success to God, and goeth on forward thither whither he biddeth him, he shall at length try (532) that all that falleth out well which is taken in hand at his appointment. (533) The name Candace was not the name of one queen only; but as all the emperors of Rome were called Caesars,, so the Ethiopians, as Pliny withesseth, called their queens Candaces. This maketh also unto the matter that the writers of histories report that that was a noble and wealthy kingdom, because it may the better be gathered by the royalty and power thereof how gorgeous the condition and dignity of the eunuch was. The head and principal place (534) was Meroe. The profane writers agree with Luke, who report that women used to reign there.

Came [had come] to worship. Hereby we gather that the name of the true God was spread far abroad, seeing he had some worshippers in far countries. Certes, it must needs be that this man did openly profess another worship than his nation; for so great a lord could not come into Judea by stealth, and undoubtedly he brought with him a great train. And no marvel if there were some everywhere in the East parts which worshipped the true God, because that after the people were scattered abroad, there was also some smell (535) of the knowledge of the true God spread abroad with them throughout foreign countries; yea, the banishment (536) of the people was a spreading abroad of true godliness. Also, we see that though the Romans did condemn the Jewish religion with many cruel edicts, yet could they not bring to pass but that many, even on [in] heaps, would profess the same. (537) These were certain beginnings (538) of the calling of the Gentiles, until such time as Christ, having with the brightness of his coming put away the shadows of the law, might take away the difference which was between the Jews and the Gentiles; and having pulled down the wall of separation, he might gather together from all parts the children of God, (Ephesians 2:14.)

Whereas the eunuch came to Jerusalem to worship, it must not be accounted any superstition. He might, indeed, have called (539) upon God in his own country, but this man would not omit the exercises which were prescribed to the worshippers of God; and, therefore, this was his purpose, not only to nourish faith privily (540) in his heart, but also to make profession of the same amongst men. And yet, notwithstanding, he could not be so divorced (541) from his nation, but that he might well know that he should be hated of many. But he made more account of the external profession of religion, which he knew God did require, than of the favor of men. And if such a small sparkle of the knowledge of the law did so shine in him, what a shame were it for us to choke the perfect light of the gospel with unfaithful silence? If any do object that the sacrifices were even then abrogated, and that now the time was come wherein God would be called upon everywhere without difference of place, we may easily answer, that those to whom the truth of the gospel was not yet revealed, were retained in the shadows of the law without any superstition. For whereas it is said that the law was abolished by Christ, as concerning the ceremonies, it is thus to be understood, that where Christ showeth himself plainly, those rites vanish away which prefigured him when he was absent. Whereas the Lord suffered the eunuch to come to Jerusalem before he sent him a teacher, it is to be thought that it was done for this cause, because it was profitable that he should yet be framed by the rudiments of the law, that he might be made more apt afterward to receive the doctrine of the gospel. And whereas God sent none of the apostles unto him (542) at Jerusalem, the cause lieth hid in his secret counsel, unless, peradventure, it were done that he might make more account of the gospel, as of some treasure found suddenly, and offered unto him contrary to hope; or because it was better that Christ should be set before him, after that being separated and withdrawn from the external pomp of ceremonies and the beholding of the temple, he sought the way of salvation quietly at such time as he was at rest. (543)

(531)Promiscue,” promiscuously.

(532)Experietur,” will experience.

(533)Ejus auspiciis et mandato,” under his auspices, and by his command.

(534)Primaria sedes,” metropolis.

(535)Odor,” savour.

(536)Exilium populi,” the exile of the people, the captivity of the Jews.

(537)Turmatim multi ad eam transirent,” from going over, becoming proselytes, to it in crowds

(538)Praeludia,” preludes to.

(539)Deum precari,” have prayed to God.

(540)Et clanculum,” and stealthily, omitted.

(541)Divortium facere,” differ from.

(542)Neminem ex apostolis illi Deus obtulerit,” God cast none of the apostles in is way.

(543)Liberius in otio et quiete,” more freely in ease and quiet.

Verse 28

28.He read Esaias. The reading of the prophet showeth that the eunuch did not worship a God unadvisedly, according to the understanding of his own head, whom he had reigned to himself, but whom he knew by the doctrine of the law. And surely this is the right way to worship God, not to snatch at bare and vain rites, but to adjoin the word thereunto, otherwise there shall be nothing but that which cometh by chance and is confused. And certainly the form of worshipping prescribed in the law differeth nothing from the inventions of men, save only because God giveth light there by his word. Therefore, those which are God’s scholars do worship aright only, that is, those who are taught in his school. But he seemeth to lose his labor when he readeth without profit. For he confesseth that he cannot understand the prophet’s meaning, unless he be helped by some other teacher. I answer, as he read the prophet with a desire to learn, so he hoped for some fruit, and he found it indeed. Therefore, why doth he deny that he can understand the place which he had in hand? For because (544) he manifestly confesseth his ignorance in darker places. There be many things in Isaiah which need no long exposition, as when he preacheth of the goodness and power of God, partly that he may invite men unto faith, partly that he may exhort and teach them to lead a godly life. Therefore, no man shall be so rude an idiot (545) which shall not profit somewhat by reading that book, and yet, notwithstanding, he shall, peradventure, scarce understand every tenth verse. Such was the eunuch’s reading. For seeing that, according to his capacity, he gathered those things which served to edification, he had some certain profit by his studies. Nevertheless, though he were ignorant of many things, (546) yet was he not wearied, so that he did cast away the book. Thus must we also read the Scriptures. We must greedily, and with a prompt mind, receive those things which are plain, and wherein God openeth his mind. As for those things which are hid from us, we must pass them over until we see greater light. And if we be not wearied with reading, it shall at length come to pass that the Scripture shall be made more familiar by continual use.

(544)Nempe... agnoscit,” namely, he acknowledgeth.

(545)Idiota,” unlearned.

(546)Si multa eum latebant,” though many things escaped him, were hidden from him.

Verse 31

31.How should I? Most excellent modesty of the eunuch, who doth not only permit Philip who was one of the common sort, to question with him, but doth also willingly (547) confess his ignorance. And surely we must never hope that he will ever show himself apt to be taught who is puffed up with the confidence of his own wit. Hereby it eometh to pass that the reading of the Scriptures doth profit so few at this day, because we can scarce find one amongst a hundred who submitteth himself willingly to learn. For whilst all men almost are ashamed to be ignorant of that whereof they are ignorant, every man had rather proudly nourish his ignorance than seem to be scholar to other men. Yea, a great many take upon them haughtily to teach other men. Nevertheless, let us remember that the eunuch did so confess his ignorance, that yet, notwithstanding, he was one of God’s scholars when he read the Scripture. This is the true reverence of the Scripture, when as we acknowledge that there is that wisdom laid up there which surpasseth (548) all our senses; and yet notwithstanding, we do not loathe it, but, reading diligently, we depend upon the revelation of the Spirit, and desire to have an interpreter given us.

He prayed Philip that he would come up. This is another token of modesty, that he seeketh an interpreter and teacher. He might have rejected Philip according to the pride of rich men; for it was a certain secret upbraiding of ignorance when Philip said, Understandest thou what thou readest? But rich men think that they have great injury done them if any man speak homely to them. And, therefore, they break out by and by into these speeches, What is that to thee? or, What hast thou to do with me? But the eunuch submitteth himself humbly to Philip that by him he may be taught. Thus must we be minded if we desire to have God to be our teacher, whose Spirit resteth upon the humble and meek, (Isaiah 66:2.) And if any man, mistrusting himself, submit himself to be taught, the angels shall rather come down from heaven (549) than the Lord will suffer us to labor in vain; though (as did the eunuch) we must use all helps, which the Lord offereth unto us, for the understanding of the Scriptures. Frantic men require inspirations and revelations (550) from heaven, and, in the mean season, they contemn the minister of God, by whose hand they ought to be governed. Other some, which trust too much to their own wit, will vouchsafe to hear no man, and they will read no commentaries. But God will not have us to despise those helps which he offereth unto us, and he suffereth not those to escape scot free which despise the same. And here we must remember, that the Scripture is not only given us, but that interpreters and teachers are also added, to be helps to us. For this cause the Lord sent rather Philip than an angel to the eunuch. For to what end served this circuit, that God calleth Philip by the voice of the angel, and sendeth not the angel himself forthwith, save only because he would accustom us to hear men? This is, assuredly, no small commendation of external preaching, that the voice of God soundeth in the mouth of men to our salvation, when angels hold their peace. Concerning which thing, I will speak more upon the ninth and tenth chapters.

(547)Ultro et ingenue,” spontaneously and ingenuously.

(548)Superet ac fugiat,” surpasses and escapes.

(549)Ad nos docendos,” to teach us, omitted.

(550)Ενθουσιασμοὺς,” enthusiasms or inspirations.

Verse 32

32.The sentence of Scripture. It is properly a text or period. Let us know that he lighted not upon this place by chance but that it came to pass by the wonderful providence of God, that Philip should have a proposition or principle from which the whole sum of Christianity might be set. (551) Therefore, first, he hath matter of full instruction brought to his hand by the secret direction of the Spirit; secondly, the form is plainly applied to the ministry of man. This is an excellent prophecy of Christ, and above all others to be remembered; because Isaiah saith plainly there (552) that such should be the manner of redeeming the Church, that the Son of God do by his death purchase life for men, that he offereth himself in sacrifice to purge (553) men’s sins, that he be punished with the hand of God, and that he go down even unto the very hell, that he may exalt us unto heaven, having delivered us from destruction. In sum, this place teacheth plainly how men are reconciled to God, how they obtain righteousness, how they come to the kingdom of God, being delivered from the tyranny of Satan, and loosed from the yoke of sin; to be brief, whence they must fetch all parts of their salvation.

Notwithstanding, I will only expound those things which Luke here citeth, and there be, indeed, two members. In the former, he teacheth that Christ, to the end he may redeem the Church, (554) must needs be so broken, that he appear like to a man which is cast down and past hope. Secondly, he affirmeth that his death shall give life, and that there shall a singular triumph issue out of great despair. Whereas he compareth Christ to a lamb, which suffereth itself to be led and slain, and to a sheep, which offereth herself meekly to be shorn; his meaning is, that the sacrifice of Christ shall be voluntary. And surely this was the way to appease God’s wrath, in that he showed himself obedient. He spake, indeed, before Pilate, (John 18:34,) but not to save his life, but rather that he might willingly offer himself to die, (555) as he was appointed by the Father, and so might bring that punishment upon himself which was prepared for us. Therefore the prophet teacheth both things, that Christ must needs have suffered that he might purchase life for us, and that he was to suffer death willingly, that he might blot out the stubbornness of men by his obedience. And hence must we gather an exhortation unto godliness, (556) as Peter doth; but that doctrine of faith which I have already touched is former (557) in order.

(551)Apte deduci,” aptly deduced.

(552)Sine involucris,” without circumlocution, unequivocally.

(553)Expiandis,” to expiate.

(554)Et restituat in vitam,” and restore her to life, omitted.

(555)In victimam,” as a victim.

(556)Ad patientiam,” to patience.

(557)Praecedit,” precedes.

Verse 33

33.In his humility his judgment. The eunuch had either the Greek volume, or else Luke did set down the reading which was then used, as he useth to do. The prophet saith that Christ was exalted out of sorrow and judgment, by which words he signifieth a wonderful victory, which immediately ensued his casting down. For if he had been oppressed with death, there could nothing have been hoped for at his hands.

Therefore, to the end the prophet may establish our faith in Christ, after that he had described him to be stricken with the hand of God, and to be subject to be slain, (558) he putteth upon him a new person now; to wit, that he cometh up out of the depth of death as a conqueror, and out of the very hell, being the author of eternal Life. I know, indeed, that this place is diversely expounded. Some there be which understand by this, that he was carried from the prison to the cross; other some there be who think that to be taken away doth signify as much as to be brought to nought. And, indeed, the signification of the Hebrew word, לחה (lachah) is doubtful, (559) as is also the signification of the Greek word αιρεσθαι. But he which shall thoroughly weigh the text, [context,] shall agree with me in that which I have said, that he passeth now from that doleful and unseemly sight which he had set before our eyes, unto the new beginning of unlooked-for glory. Therefore the Greek interpretation differeth not much from the words of the prophet in the sum of the matter. For Christ’s judgment was exalted in his humility or casting down; because at such time as he might seem to be cast down and oppressed, the Father maintained his cause. After this sort judgment shall be taken in this place (as in many other) for right. But it signifieth condemnation in the Hebrew text. For the prophet saith, that after that Christ shall be brought into great straits, and shall be like unto a condemned and lost man, he shall be lifted up by the hand of the Father. Therefore the meaning of the words is, that Christ must first have suffered death, before the Father should exalt him unto the glory of his kingdom; which doctrine must be translated unto the whole body of the Church; because all the godly ought wonderfully to be lifted up with the hand of God, that they be not swallowed up of death. But when God appeareth to be the revenger of his, he doth not only restore them to life but also, getteth to them excellent triumphs of many deaths, as Christ did triumph most gloriously upon the cross; whereof the apostle maketh mention in the Colossians 2:0.

His generation. After that the prophet hath set forth the victorious death of Christ, he addeth now that his victory shall not last only for a small time, but shall go beyond all number of years. For the exclamation of the prophet importeth as much as if he should deny that the perpetuity of Christ’s kingdom can be expressed by the tongue of men. But interpreters have wrested this place miserably. Whereas the old writers have endeavored hereby to prove the Eternal Generation of the Word of God against Arius, it is too far dissenting from the prophet’s mind. Chrysostom’s exposition is never a whit truer, who referreth it unto the human generation. Neither do they understand the prophet’s meaning, which suppose that he inveigheth against the men of that age. Other some think better, who take it to be spoken of the Church, save only that they are deceived in the word generation, which they think doth signify a posterity or issue. But the word דר, (dor,) which the prophet useth, signifieth, amongst the Hebrews, an age, or the continuance of man’s life. Therefore, undoubtedly this is the prophet’s meaning, that Christ’s life shall endure for ever, when as he shall be once delivered by his Father’s grace from death; although this life, which is without end, appertaineth unto the whole body of the Church; because Christ rose, not that he may live for hlmself, but for us. Therefore, he extolleth now in the members (560) the fruit and effect of that victory which he placed in the Head. Wherefore every one of the faithful may conceive sure hope of eternal life out of this place; secondly, the perpetuity of the Church is rather avouched in the person of Christ.

Because his life is taken from the earth. This is, to look to, (to be) a very absurd reason, that Christ doth reign with such renown in heaven and earth, because he was cut off. For who can believe that death is the cause of life? But this was done by the wonderful counsel of God, that hell should be a ladder, whereby Christ should ascend into heaven; that reproach should be unto him a passage into life; that the joyful brightness of salvation should appear out of the horror and darkness of the cross; that blessed immortality should flow from the deep pit of death. Because he humbled himself, therefore the Father exalted him, that every knee may bow before him, (Philippians 2:10,) etc. Now must we bethink ourselves what fellowship we have with Christ, that it may not be troublesome to any to go the same way.

(558)Et mactationi subjectum,” and subjected to slaughter.

(559)Ambigua,” ambiguous, equivocal.

(560)In membris omnibus,” in all the members.

Verse 34

34.The eunuch said to Philip. Here it appeareth what an earnest desire the eunuch had to learn. He wandereth in divers prophecies of Isaiah as through doubtful boughts, (561) and yet he is not weary of reading. And whilst that he arrogateth nothing to himself, he getteth far more, contrary to his hope, even at a sudden, than he could get during his whole life by taking great pains, if he had brought all his quickness of wit. So the Lord will be unto us a Master, though we be but small, if, acknowledging our ignorance, we be not loth to submit ourselves to learn. And as the seed, covered with earth, lieth hid for a time, so the Lord will illuminate us by his Spirit, and will cause that reading which, being barren and void of fruit, causeth nothing but wearisomeness, to have plain light of understanding. The Lord doth never keep the eyes of his so shut, but that so soon as they are once entered, the way of salvation appeareth unto them in the Scripture; but that they profit ever now and then a little by reading. Yet doth he suffer them to stick fast oftentimes, and permitteth their course to be hindered by some bar which is laid in the way, both that he may try patience of faith in them, and also that he may teach them humility, by putting them in mind of their ignorance, that he may make them more attentive after that they have shaken off drowsiness; that he may make them more fervent in prayer; that he may prick them forward to love the truth more dearly; that he may set forth the excellence of his heavenly wisdom, which is otherwise not so esteemed as it ought. But howsoever the faithful do not attain unto the mark of perfect knowledge, yet they shall always perceive that their labor is not in vain, so that they stop not the way before themselves with proud loathsomeness. (562) Let this going forward suffice us until the time of full revelation do come, that even a small taste of knowledge doth drip (563) into us the fear of God and faith.

(561)Per dubias ambages,” through dubious, winding paths.

(562)Superbo fastidio,” by proud disdain, fastidiousness.

(563)Instillat,” instil.

Verse 35

35.Philip, opening his mouth. To open the mouth is taken in Scripture for, to begin a long speech concerning some grave and weighty matter. Therefore Luke’s meaning is, that Philip began to intreat [discourse] of Christ, as it were, with full mouth. He saith that he began with this prophecy, because there is no one which depainteth out Christ more lively; (564) and it was then brought (565) to his hand. Therefore, after that Philip had showed, by the prophet’s words, after what sort Christ should come, and what was to be hoped for at his hands, he conferred the thing itself afterward, that the eunuch might know that that Christ which was promised was already revealed and given, and that he might understand his power. Where we translate it, that he preached Christ, Luke saith that he preached the gospel. The sense is, that he taught that of Christ which he uttered in his gospel himself, and commanded to be taught; whereby we gather, that when Christ is known, we have the sum of the gospel.

(564)Clarius,” more clearly.

(565)Commode,” conveniently, omitted.

Verse 36

36.What letteth me? The eunuch’s baptism ensueth now, whence we gather how greatly he profited in a small time, seeing he offereth himself willingly to give Christ his name. For it must needs be that faith was after a sort ripe in his heart, seeing that he brake out into external profession with such desire. I like not that which Chrysostom noteth, that he was kept back with modesty from requiring baptism plainly; for that interrogation hath greater vehemency than if he should simply have said to Philip, I will have thee to baptize me. But we see that Christ was preached to him in such sort, that he knew that baptism was a sign of new life in him, and that therefore he would not neglect the same, because it was added to the word, and such an addition as was inseparable. Therefore, as he embraced that willingly which he heard concerning Christ, so now he breaketh out with a godly zeal into the external confession of faith; neither doth he think it sufficient for him to believe inwardly before God, unless he testifieth before men that he is a Christian. There might many things have come into his mind, which might have kept him back from being baptized, lest that he should lay himself open to the hatred and rebukes both of the queen, and also of the whole nation. But he denieth that any of these things doth hinder him from desiring to be numbered amongst the disciples of Christ. If being instructed but a few hours he came to this point, how filthy is the sluggishness of those men who suppress the faith which they have conceived, having been taught five, ten, or twenty years?

If thou believest with all thy heart. Whereas the eunuch is not admitted to baptism, until he have made confession of his faith, we must fetch a general rule hence, That those ought [not] to be received into the Church, who were estranged from the same before, until they have testified that they believe in Christ. For baptism is, as it were, an appurtenance of faith, and therefore it is later in order. Secondly, if it be given without faith whose seal it is, it is both a wicked and also too gross a profaning. But frantic fellows do both unskillfully and also wickedly impugn baptizing of infants under color hereof. Why was it meet that faith should go before baptism in the eunuch? To wit, because seeing that Christ marketh those alone which are of the household of the Church with this note and mark, they must be ingrafted unto the Church who are to be baptized. And as it is certain that those who are grown up are ingrafted by faith, so I say that the children of the godly are born the children of the Church, and that they are accounted members of Christ from the womb, because God adopteth us upon this condition, that he may be also the Father of our seed. Therefore, though faith be requisite in those which are grown up, yet this is untruly translated unto infants whose estate is far unlike. But certain great men have abused this place, when as they would prove that faith hath no confirmation by baptism. For they reasoned thus, The eunuch is commanded to bring perfect faith unto baptism, therefore there could nothing be added. But the Scripture taketh the wholeheart oftentimes for a sincere and unfeigned heart, whose opposite is a double heart. So that there is no cause why we should imagine that they believe perfectly who believe with the whole heart, seeing that there may be a weak and faint faith in him who shall, notwithstanding, have a sound mind, and a mind free from all hypocrisy. Thus must we take that which David saith, That he loveth the Lord with all his heart. Philip had, indeed, baptized the Samaritans before, and yet he knew that they were yet far from the mark. Therefore, the faith of the whole heart is that which, having living roots in the heart, doth yet notwithstanding desire to increase daily.

I believe that Jesus Christ. As baptism is grounded in Christ, and as the truth and force thereof is contained there, so the eunuch setteth Christ alone before his eyes. The eunuch knew before that there was one God, who had made the covenant with Abraham, who gave the law by the hand of Moses, which separated one people from the other nations, who promised Christ, through whom he would be merciful to the world. Now he confesseth that Jesus Christ is that Redeemer of the world, and theSon of God; under which title he comprehendeth briefly all those things which the Scripture attributeth to Christ. This is the perfect faith whereof Philip spake of late, which receiveth Christ, both as he was promised in times past, and also showed at length, and that with the earnest affection of the heart, as Paul will not have this faith to be feigned. Whosoever hath not this when he is grown up, in vain doth he boast of the baptism of his infancy. For to this end doth Christ admit infants by baptism, that so soon as the capacity of their age shall suffer, they may addict themselves to be his disciples, and that being baptized with the Holy Ghost, they may comprehend, with the understanding of faith, his power which baptism doth prefigure.

Verse 38

38.They went down into the water. Here we see the rite used among the men of old time in baptism; for they put all the body into the water. Now the use is this, that the minister doth only sprinkle the body or the head. But we ought not to stand so much about such a small difference of a ceremony, that we should therefore divide the Church, or trouble the same with brawls. We ought rather to fight even an hundred times to death for the ceremony itself of baptism, inasmuch as it was delivered us by Christ that that we should suffer the same to be taken from us. But forasmuch as we have as well a testimony of our washing, as of newness of life, in the figure of water; forasmuch as Christ representeth unto us his blood in the water as in a glass, that we may fet (566) our cleanness thence; forasmuch as he teacheth that we are fashioned again by his Spirit, that being dead to sin, we may live to righteousness; it is certain that we want nothing which maketh to the substance of baptism. Wherefore the Church did grant liberty to herself, since the beginning, to change the rites somewhat, excepting this substance. For some dipped them thrice, some but once. Wherefore there is no case why we should be so straitlaced in matters which are of no such weight; (567) so that external pomp do no whit pollute the simple institution of Christ.

(566)Petamus,” seek.

(567)Non ita necessariius,” not absolutely necessary.

Verse 39

39.When they were come up. To the end Luke may at length conclude his speech concerning the eunuch, he saith that Philip was caught away out of his sight. And that was of no small weight to confirm him, forasmuch as he saw that that man was sent unto him by God like to an angel, and that he vanished away before he could offer him any reward for all his pains; whence he might gather that it was no gainful insinuation, seeing that he was vanished away before he had one halfpenny given him. Whereas Philip had no reward at the eunuch’s hand, let the servants of Christ learn hereby to serve him freely, or rather let them so serve men for nothing that they hope for a reward from heaven. The Lord granteth leave, indeed, to the ministers of the gospel to receive a reward at their hands whom they teach, (1 Corinthians 9:9,) but he forbiddeth them therewithal to be hirelings which labor for lucre’s sake, (John 10:12.) For this must be the mark whereat they must shoot, to gain the men themselves to God.

Rejoicing. Faith and the knowledge of God bring forth this fruit always of themselves. For what truer matter of joy can be invented than when the Lord doth not only set open unto us the treasures of his mercy, but poureth out his heart into us, (that I may so speak,) and giveth us himself in his Son, that we may want nothing to perfect felicity? The heavens begin to look clear, and the earth beginneth to be quiet then; the conscience being then delivered from the doleful and horrible feelings of God’s wrath, being loosed from the tyranny of Satan, escaping out of the darkness of death, beholdeth the light of life. Therefore it is a solemn thing amongst the prophets to exhort us to be joyful and to triumph, so often as they are about to speak of the kingdom of Christ. But because those men whose minds are possessed with the vain joys of the world, cannot lift up themselves unto this spiritual joy, let us learn to despise the world and all vain delights thereof, that Christ may make us merry indeed.

Verse 40

40.He was found at Azotus. It is well known, out of the book of Joshua 11:22, that Azotus was one of the cities out of which the sons of Anak could not be expelled. It is distant from Ascalon almost two hundred furlongs; the Hebrews call it Ashdod. Thither was Philip carried; there began he to take his journey on foot after the manner of men, sowing the seed of the gospel wheresoever he became, [passed.] This is surely rare and wonderful stoutness, (568) that he spreadeth the name of godliness in his journey. And whereas Luke saith expressly that he preached in all cities until he came to Cesarea, and doth not declare that he returned to Samaria, we may thereby conjecture that he staid at Cesarea for a time; and yet I leave this indifferent.

(568)Strenuitas,” strenuousness, activity.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Acts 8". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/acts-8.html. 1840-57.
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