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Commentary On Acts Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Acts 20:14-21

14. And when we were come together at Assos, having received him we came to him.15. And sailing thence the day following we came over against Chios; and on the morrow we arrived at Samos, and having tarried at Trogyllum, we came to Miletus.16. For Paul purposed to sail beyond Ephesus, lest he should spend the time in Asia: for he made haste if it were possible for him to keep the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem.17. And having sent messengers from Miletus to Ephesus, he called the elders of the church.18. Who when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know from the first day wherein I entered into Asia, how 1 have been with you at all seasons, 19. Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which happened to me by the laying in wait of the Jews; 20. So that I have kept nothing back which might be for your profit, but did show to you and teach you publicly and through every house, 21. Testifying both to the Jews and Grecians the repentance which is towards God, and the faith which is toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

16. For Paul purposed. It is not to be doubted but that he had great and weighty causes to make haste; not that he made so great account of the day, but because strangers did then use to come together to Jerusalem out of all quarters. Forasmuch as he did hope that he might do some good in such a great assembly, he would not foreslow [neglect] the opportunity. Therefore, let us know that the worship of the law was not the cause that he made so great haste, but he set before his eyes the edifying of the Church; partly that he might show to the faithful that the kingdom of Christ was enlarged, partly that if there were any as yet strangers from Christ, he might gain them; partly that he might stop the mouths of the wicked. Notwithstanding, we must note, that he did, in the mean season, provide for other churches. For, in sending for the elders of Ephesus to Miletus, he showeth that he did not neglect Asia. And whereas they come together when they be called, it is not only a token of concord, but also of modesty; for they were many; yet doth it not irk them to obey one apostle of Christ, whom they knew to be endued with singular gifts. Moreover, it appeareth more plainly by the text, [context] that those are called elders, not which were grey-headed, but such as were rulers of the Church. And it is an usual thing almost in all tongues, that those be called elders and fathers who are appointed to govern others, though their age be not always accordingly.

18. Ye know. Paul, in this sermon, standeth principally upon this, that lie may exhort those pastors of Ephesus, by his own example, to do their duty faithfully. For that is the true kind of censure, and by this means is authority purchased to doctrine, when the teacher prescribeth nothing which he himself hath not done indeed before. And it was no unseemly thing for Paul to speak of his virtues. There is nothing less tolerable in the servants of Christ than ambition and vanity; but forasmuch as all men knew full well what modesty and humility was in the holy man, he needed not to fear lest he should incur the suspicion of vain boasting; especially, seeing that benign information by necessity, he did declare his faithfulness and diligence, that others might take example thereby. He doth, indeed, greatly extol his labors, patience, fortitude, and other virtues, but to what end? Surely not that he may purchase commendation at the hands of his auditory, but that his holy exhortation may pierce more deeply, and may stick fast in their minds. He did also shoot at another mark, that his integrity and uprightness in dealing might serve afterward to commend his doctrine. And he citeth eye-witnesses, lest he seem to speak of things unknown. I call those witnesses who did not only know all things, but had also a judgment which was pure, and corrupt with no affections.

19. Serving the Lord. He reckoneth up first not only in what straits he was, but most of all his humility, coupled with contempt of the world, and rebukes, and other afflictions; as if he should say, that he was not honorably received or with commendation; but he was conversant among them under the contemptible form of the cross. And this is no small trial, when we faint not, though we see ourselves trodden under foot by the intolerable pride of the world.

Notwithstanding, we must note everything more distinctly. To serve the Lord is taken in this place, not for to worship God in holiness and righteousness, which is common to all the godly; but it doth signify to execute a public function. Therefore, Paul doth not speak of [as] some one private man, but as one made a minister of the Church. And so he doth testify, that he fulfilled the apostleship to him committed with humility and modesty; both because, knowing his own infirmity, he did mistrust himself; and also, because, considering the excellency of his calling, he counted himself very unmeet; and, lastly, because he did willingly submit himself to bear the reproach of the cross. For this humility is set both against vain confidence, and also haughtiness. Secondly, he toucheth his tears, which strifes, diverse assaults of Satan, the rage of wicked men, the inward diseases of the Church, and offenses, had made him shed; at length, he addeth, that he led a fearful life, amidst the layings in wait of the Jews; and he confesseth that he was tempted therewith, as he was not hardened, though he did not faint. For he is not ashamed to confess his infirmity.

His drift is, that those to whom he speaketh may not faint, through like tribulations; and that, being void of all ambition, they may do their duty carefully and reverently; and that they may not only with a patient mind suffer themselves to be despised of men, but that they may be cast down in themselves. Because, that man can never be rightly framed to obey Christ whose looks are lofty, and whose heart is proud. And (as men cannot long bear a show of virtue) to the end it may appear manifestly, that he behaved himself sincerely and from his heart, he maketh mention of his constancy which lasted three years, wherein he had still kept one course. Ye know (saith he) how I have behaved myself since the first day until this time. To conclude, this is the true trial of the servants of Christ, not to be changed as the times change; but to continue like to themselves, and always to keep a straight course.

20. I have kept back nothing. He commendeth his faithfulness and diligence in teaching in three respects, that he instructed his scholars thoroughly and perfectly, so that he omitted nothing which might make for their salvation; that being not content with general preaching, he did also endeavor to do every man good. Thirdly, he reciteth a brief sum of all his whole doctrine, that he exhorted them unto faith in Christ and repentance. Now, forasmuch as he depainteth out unto us a pattern of a faithful and good teacher, whosoever they be who are desirous to prove their industry to the Lord, they must set before their eyes the edifying of the Church, as he commandeth Timotheus in another place, to consider what things be profitable, that he may be instant in delivering those things (1 Timothy 4:7, 8). And surely the Scripture (according to whose rule all manner of teaching must be examined, yea, which is the only method of teaching aright) doth not contain profound speculations, to delight men when they have nothing else to do; but as the same Paul doth testify, it is all profitable to make the man of God perfect.

But Paul prescribeth such a desire to edify, that the pastor must omit nothing, so much as in him lieth, which is profitable to be known. For they be bad masters who do so keep their scholars in the first principles, that they do never come unto the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7). And surely the Lord doth not teach us in his word only to [by] halves, (as they say) but he delivereth perfect wisdom, and such as is in all points absolute. Whereby it appeareth how impudently those men boast themselves to be ministers of the word, who do not only cloak and foster the ignorance of the people with their silence, but do also wink at gross errors and wicked superstitions; as at this day in Papistry, many send out some sparks of sound doctrine, but they dare not drive away the darkness of ignorance, and whereas the wicked fear of the flesh doth hinder them, they pretend that the people is not capable of sound doctrine.

Indeed, I confess that all things cannot be taught at one time, and that we must imitate Paul's wisdom, who did apply himself unto the capacity of the ignorant. But what moderation is this when they suffer the blind to fall into the ditch, when they leave miserable souls under the tyranny of antichrist, and whereas they see idolatry rage, the worship of God corrupt, his law broken, and, finally, all holy things profaned, they do either with silence pass over such filthy confusion, or else they show it underhand, sparingly and obscurely, like men that be afraid? Therefore, we must note Paul's word, when as he saith that he kept back nothing, but did show whatsoever things were profitable for the people; for by this we gather that the pure and free profession of sound doctrine is required at the hands of the servants of Christ, wherein there must be no boughts nor crooks, and that nothing is more unseemly in them than oblique insinuations, and such as are inwrapped in crafty dissimulation.

Publicly, and throughout every house. This is the second point, that he did not only teach all men in the congregation, but also every one privately, as every man's necessity did require. For Christ hath not appointed pastors upon this condition, that they may only teach the Church in general in the open pulpit; but that they may take charge of every particular sheep, that they may bring back to the sheepfold those which wander and go astray, that they may strengthen those which are discouraged and weak, that they may cure the sick, that they may lift up and set on foot the feeble, (Ezekiel 34:4) for common doctrine will oftentimes wax cold, unless it be holpen with private admonitions.

Wherefore, the negligence of those men is inexcusable, who, having made one sermon, as if they had done their task, live all the rest of their time idly; as if their voice were shut up within the church walls, seeing that so soon as they be departed, thence they be dumb. Also, disciples and scholars are taught, that if they will be numbered in Christ's flock, they must give place to their pastors, so often as they come unto them; and that they must not refuse private admonitions. For they be rather bears than sheep, who do not vouchsafe to hear the voice of their pastor, unless he be in the pulpit; and cannot abide to be admonished and reproved at home, yea, do furiously refuse that necessary duty.

21. Testifying both to Jews. Descending now unto the third point, he setteth down the sum of this doctrine in a few words, to wit, that he exhorted all men unto faith and repentance, as it was said before, that the gospel consisteth upon [of] these two points only. Whence we do also gather wherein the true edifying of the Church doth properly consist, the care and burden whereof doth lie upon the pastor's shoulders, and whereunto we must apply all our study, if we be desirous to profit profitably in God's school. We have already said that the word of God is profaned, when the readers of the same do occupy themselves in frivolous questions. But to the end we may not read the same wanderingly, we must note and aim at this double mark which the apostle setteth before us. For whosoever he be that turneth unto any other thing, in taking great pains, he shall do nothing else but walk in a circuit. By the word testify he expresseth great vehemency, as if he should have said that by testifying he did commend, that the excuse of ignorance might not remain. For he alludeth unto the custom used in courts, where testifying is used to take away all doubt. As men are not only to be taught, but also to be constrained to embrace salvation in Christ, and to addict themselves to God, to lead a new life. And though he affirm that he was wanting to none, yet doth he place the Jews in the first place; because, as the Lord hath preferred them in the degree of honor before the Gentiles, so it was meet that Christ and his grace should be offered them until they should quite fall away.

Repentance toward God. We must first note the distinction of faith and repentance, which some do falsely and unskillfully confound, saying, that repentance is a part of faith. I grant, indeed, that they cannot be separate; because God doth illuminate no man with the Spirit of faith whom he doth not also regenerate unto newness of life. Yet they must needs be distinguished, as Paul doth in this place. For repentance is a turning unto God, when we frame ourselves and all our life to obey him; but faith is a receiving of the grace offered us in Christ. For all religion tendeth to this end, that, embracing holiness and righteousness, we serve the Lord purely, also that we seek no part of our salvation anywhere else save only at his hands, and that we seek salvation in Christ alone. Therefore, the doctrine of repentance containeth a rule of good life; it requireth the denial of ourselves, the mortifying of our flesh, and meditating upon the heavenly life. But because we be all naturally corrupt, strangers from righteousness, and turned away from God himself. Again, because we fly from God, because we know that he is displeased with us, the means, as well to obtain free reconciliation as newness of life, must be set before us.

Therefore, unless faith be added, it is in vain to speak of repentance; yea, those teachers of repentance who, neglecting faith, stand only upon the framing of life, and precepts of good works, differ nothing, or very little from profane philosophers. They teach how men must live; but, forasmuch as they leave men in their nature, there can no bettering be hoped for thence, until they invite those who are lost unto hope of salvation; until they quicken the dead, promising forgiveness of sins; until they show that God doth, by his free adoption, take those for his children who were before bond-slaves of Satan; until they teach that the Spirit of regeneration must be begged at the hands of the heavenly Father, that we must draw godliness, righteousness, and goodness, from him who is the fountain of all good things. And hereupon followeth calling upon God, which is the chiefest thing in the worship of God.

We see now how that repentance and faith are so linked together that they cannot be separate. For it is faith which reconcileth God to us, not only that he may be favorable unto us, by acquitting us of the guiltiness of death, by not imputing to us our sins, but also that by purging the filthiness of our flesh by his Spirit, he may fashion us again after his own image. He doth not, therefore, name repentance in the former place, as if it did wholly go before faith, forasmuch as a part thereof proceedeth from faith, and is an effect thereof; but because the beginning of repentance is a preparation unto faith. I call the displeasing of ourselves the beginning, which doth enforce us, after we be thoroughly touched with the fear of the wrath of God, to seek some remedy.

Faith toward Christ. It is not without cause that the Scripture doth everywhere make Christ the mark whereat our faith must aim, and as they say commonly, set him before us as the object. For the majesty of God is of itself higher than that men can climb thereunto. Therefore, unless Christ come between, all our senses do vanish away in seeking God. Again, inasmuch as he is the Judge of the world, it must needs be that the beholding of him without Christ shall make us afraid. But God doth not only represent himself unto us in Christ's image, but also refresh us with his Fatherly favor, and by all means restore us to life. For there is no part of our salvation which may not be found in Christ. By the sacrifice of his death he hath purged our sins; he hath suffered the punishment that he might acquit us; he hath made us clean by his blood; by his obedience he hath appeased his Father's wrath; by his resurrection he hath purchased righteousness for us. No marvel, therefore, if we said, that faith must be fixed in the beholding of Christ.

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