Excerpts from Calvin's Commentaries
First Peter


The purpose of this paper is to present a selection of quotations from John Calvin's commentary on First Peter. These excerpts represent exceptional insights either on the text itself or on Christian living. John Calvin was one of the great theologians of the Protestant Reformation. All excerpts are from the Baker edition in 22 volumes.


"Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently" (1 Pet. 1:10)

He hence commends the value of salvation because the prophets had their minds intensely fixed on it; for it must have been a great matter, and possessing peculiar excellency, which could have thus kindled in the prophets a spirit of inquiry respecting it. But still more clearly does God's goodness toward us shine forth in this case, because much more is now made known to us than what all the prophets attained by their long and anxious inquiries. At the same time he confirms the certainty of salvation by this very antiquity; for from the beginning of the world it had received a plain testimony from the Holy Spirit.

These two things ought to be distinctly noticed: he declares that more has been given to us than to the ancient fathers in order to amplify by this comparison the grace of the gospel; and then, that what is preached to us respecting salvation cannot be suspected of any novelty, for the Spirit had formerly testified of it by the prophets. When, therefore, he says that the prophets searched and sedulously [diligently] inquired, this does not belong to their writings or doctrine, but to the private desire with which everyone boiled over. What is said afterwards is to be referred to their public office.

But that each particular may be more evident, the passage must be arranged under certain propositions. Let the first then be this--that the Prophets who foretold of the grace which Christ exhibited at his coming diligently inquired as to the time when full revelation was to be made. The second is--that the Spirit of Christ predicted by them of the future condition of Christ's kingdom, such as it is now and such as it is expected yet to be, even that it is destined that Christ and his whole body should through various sufferings enter into glory. The third is--that the prophets ministered to us more abundantly than to their own age, and that this was revealed to them from above; for in Christ only is the full exhibition of those things which God then presented only as an obscure image. The fourth is--that in the Gospel is contained a clear confirmation of prophetic doctrine, but also a much fuller and plainer explanation; for the salvation which he formerly proclaimed, as it were, at a distance by the prophets, he now reveals openly to us and, as it were, before our eyes. The last proposition is--that it hence appears evident how wonderful is the glory of that salvation promised to us in the Gospel, because even angels, though they enjoy God's presence in heaven, yet burn with the desire of seeing it. Now all these things tend to show this one thing, that Christians, elevated to the height of their felicity [happiness], ought to surmount all the obstacles of the world; for what is there which this incomparable benefit does not reduce to nothing?


"The sufferings of Christ" (1Pet. 1:11)

That they might bear submissively their afflictions, he reminds them that they had been long ago foretold by the Spirit. But he includes much more than this, for he teaches us that the Church of Christ has been from the beginning so constituted that the cross has been the way to victory, and death a passage to life, and that this had been clearly testified. There is, therefore, no reason why afflictions should above measure depress us, as though we were miserable under them, since the Spirit of God pronounces us blessed.

The order is to be noticed. He mentions sufferings first, and then adds the glories which are to follow. For he intimates that this order cannot be changed or subverted; afflictions must precede glory. So there is to be understood a twofold truth in these words--that Christians must suffer many troubles before they enjoy glory, and that afflictions are not evils because they have glory annexed to them. Since God has ordained this connection, it does not behoove us to separate the one from the other. And it is no common consolation that our condition, such as we find it to be, has been foretold so many ages ago.

Hence we learn that it is not in vain that a happy end is promised to us; secondly, we hence know that we are not afflicted by chance but through the infallible providence of God; and lastly, that prophecies are like mirrors to set forth to us in tribulations the image of celestial glory.

Peter, indeed, says that the Spirit had testified of the coming afflictions of Christ; but he does not separate Christ from his body. This, then, is not to be confined to the person of Christ, but a beginning is to be made with the head, so that the members may in due order follow, as Paul also teaches us, that we must be conformed to him who is the firstborn among his brethren. In short, Peter does not speak of what is peculiar to Christ but of the universal state of the Church. But it is much fitted to confirm our faith when he sets forth our afflictions as viewed in Christ, for we thereby see better the connection of death and life between us and him. And, doubtless, this is the privilege and manner of the holy union that he suffers daily in his members, that after his sufferings shall be completed in us glory also may have its completion.


"That ye should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness"
(1 Pet. 2:9)

He carefully points out the end of our calling that he might stimulate us to give the glory to God. And the sum of what he says is that God has favored us with these immense benefits, and constantly manifests them that his glory might by us be made known: for by praises, or virtues, he understands wisdom, goodness, power, righteousness, and everything else in which the glory of God shines forth. And further, it behooves us to declare these virtues or excellencies not only by our tongue, but also by our whole life. This doctrine ought to be a subject of daily meditation, and it ought to be continually remembered by us, that all God's blessings with which he favors us are intended for this end, that his glory may be proclaimed by us.

We must also notice what he says, that we have been called out of darkness into God's marvelous or wonderful light; for by these words he amplifies the greatness of divine grace. If the Lord had given us light while we were seeking it, it would have been a favor; but it was a much greater favor to draw us out of the labyrinth of ignorance and the abyss of darkness. We ought hence to learn what is man's condition before he is translated into the kingdom of God. And this is what Isaiah says, "Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but over thee shall the Lord be seen, and his glory shall in thee shine forth" (Isa. 60:2). And truly we cannot be otherwise than sunk in darkness after having departed from God, our only light.


"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether it be to
the king . . ." (1 Pet. 2:13)

As obedience with regard to magistrates is a part of honest or good conversation, he draws this inference as to their duty--"Submit yourselves," or, Be ye subject; for by refusing the yoke of government they would have given to the Gentiles no small occasion for reproaching them. And, indeed, the Jews were especially hated and counted infamous for this reason, because they were regarded on account of their perverseness as ungovernable. And as the commotions which they raised up in the provinces were causes of great calamities, so that everyone of a quiet and peaceable disposition dreaded them as the plague, this was the reason that induced Peter to speak so strongly on subjection. Besides, many thought the gospel was a proclamation of such liberty that everyone might deem himself as free from servitude. It seemed an unworthy thing that God's children should be servants, and that the heirs of the world should not have a free possession, no, not even of their own bodies. Then there was another trial--All the magistrates were Christ's adversaries, and they used their own authority so that no representation of God, which secures the chief reverence, appeared in them. We now perceive the design of Peter: he exhorted the Jews, especially for these reasons, to show respect to the civil power.

Obedience is due to all who rule, because they have been raised to that honor not by chance but by God's providence. For many are wont to inquire too scrupulously by what right power has been attained; but we ought to be satisfied with this alone, that power is possessed and exercised. And so Paul [in Romans 13] cuts off the handle of useless objections when he declares that there is no power but from God. And for this reason it is that Scripture so often says that it is God who girds kings with a sword, who raises them on high, who transfers kingdoms as he pleases.


"For the punishment of evil doers" (1 Pet. 2:14)

This is the second reason why it behooves us reverently to regard and to respect civil authority, and that is, because it has been appointed by the Lord for the common good of mankind. For we must be extremely barbarous and brutal if the public good is not regarded by us. This then, in short, is what Peter means, that since God keeps the world in order by the ministry of magistrates, all they who despise their authority are enemies to mankind.


"Not rendering evil for evil" (1 Pet. 3:9)

In these words every kind of revenge is forbidden, for in order to preserve love we must bear with many things. At the same time he does not speak here of mutual benevolence, but he would have us to endure wrongs when provoked by ungodly men. And though it is commonly thought that it is an instance of a weak and abject mind not to avenge injuries, yet it is counted before God as the highest magnanimity. Nor is it indeed enough to abstain from revenge, but Peter requires also that we should pray for those who reproach us; for to bless here means to pray, as it is set in opposition to the second clause. But Peter teaches us in general that evils are to be overcome by acts of kindness. This is indeed very hard, but we ought to imitate in this case our heavenly Father, who makes his sun to rise on the unworthy


"For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous" (1 Pet. 3:12)

It ought to be a consolation to us, sufficient to mitigate all evils, that we are looked upon by the Lord so that he will bring us help in due time. The meaning then is, that the prosperity which he has mentioned depends on the protection of God; for were not the Lord to care for his people, they would be like sheep exposed to wolves. And that we for little reason raise a clamor, that we suddenly kindle unto wrath, that we burn with the passion of revenge, all this doubtless happens because we do not consider that God cares for us, and because we do not acquiesce in his aid. Thus in vain we shall be taught patience except our minds be first imbued with this truth, that God exercises such care over us that he will in due time help us. When, on the contrary, we are fully persuaded that God defends the cause of the righteous, we shall first attend simply to innocence, and then, when molested and hated by the ungodly, we shall flee to the protection of God. And when he says that the ears of the Lord are open to our prayers, he encourages us to pray.


"And be ready always to give an answer to every man" (1 Pet. 3:15)

Though this is a new precept, it yet depends on what is gone before, for he requires such constancy in the faithful as boldly to give a reason for their faith to their adversaries. And this is a part of that sanctification which he had just mentioned. For we then really honor God when neither fear nor shame hinders us from making a profession of our faith. But Peter does not expressly bid us to assert and proclaim what has been given us by the Lord everywhere, and always and among all indiscriminately, for the Lord gives his people the spirit of discretion so that they may know when and how far and to whom it is expedient to speak. He bids them only to be ready to give an answer, lest by their sloth and the cowardly fear of the flesh they should expose the doctrine of Christ, by being silent, to the derision of the ungodly. The meaning then is, that we ought to be prompt in avowing our faith, so as to set it forth whenever necessary lest the unbelieving through our silence should condemn the religion we follow.

But it ought to be noticed that Peter here does not command us to be prepared to solve any question that may be mooted [disputed]; for it is not the duty of all to speak on every subject. But it is the general doctrine that is meant, which belongs to the ignorant and the simple. Then Peter had in view no other thing than that Christians should make it evident to unbelievers that they truly worshipped God and had a holy and good religion. And in this there is no difficulty, for it would be strange if we could bring nothing to defend our faith when anyone made inquiries respecting it. For we ought always to take care that all may know that we fear God, and that we piously and reverently regard his legitimate worship.


"And above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover
the multitude of sins" (1 Pet. 4:6)

He commends charity or love as the first thing, for it is the bond of perfection. And he bids it to be fervent, or intense, or vehement, which is the same thing. For whosoever is immoderately fervent in self-love, loves others coldly. And he commends it on account of its fruit, because it buries innumerable sins, than which nothing is more desirable.

But the sentence is taken from Solomon, whose words are found in Prov. 10:12: "Hatred discovers reproaches, but love covers a multitude of sins." What Solomon meant is sufficiently clear, for the two clauses contain things which are set in contrast the one with the other. And then he says in the first clause that hatred is the cause why men traduce [malign] and defame one another, and spread whatever is reproachful and dishonorable. So it follows that a contrary effect is ascribed to love, that is, that men who love one another kindly and courteously forgive one another. Hence it comes that in willingly burying each other's vices, one seeks to preserve the honor of another. Thus Peter confirms his exhortation, that nothing is more necessary than to cherish mutual love. For who is there that has not many faults? Therefore all stand in need of forgiveness, and there is no one who does not wish to be forgiven.


"And if it [judgment] first begin with us, what shall the end be of those who obey
not the gospel of God?" (1 Pet. 4:17)

When the faithful see that it is well with the wicked, they are necessarily tempted to be envious. And this is a very dangerous trial, for present happiness is what all desire. Hence the Spirit of God carefully dwells on this in many places, as well as in the thirty-seventh Psalm, lest the faithful should envy the prosperity of the ungodly. The same is what Peter speaks of, for he shows that afflictions ought to be calmly borne by the children of God, when they compare the lot of others with their own. But he takes it as granted that God is the judge of the world, and that, therefore, no one can escape his hand with impunity. He hence infers that a dreadful vengeance will soon overtake those whose condition seems now favorable. The design of what he says, as I have already stated, is to show that the children of God should not faint under the bitterness of present evils, but that they ought, on the contrary, calmly to bear their afflictions for a short time as the issue will be salvation, while the ungodly will have to exchange a fading and fleeting prosperity for eternal perdition.

But the argument is from the less to the greater. For if God spares not his own children whom he loves and who obey him, how dreadful will be his severity against enemies and such as are rebellious! There is, then, nothing better than to obey the Gospel, so that God may kindly correct us by his paternal hand for our salvation.


"Casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7)

As soon as we are convinced that God cares for us, our minds are easily led to patience and humility. Lest, then, the wickedness of men should tempt us to a fierceness of mind, the Apostle prescribes to us a remedy, and also David does in the thirty-seventh Psalm, so that having cast our care on God we may calmly rest. For all those who repose not on God's providence must necessarily be in constant turmoil and violently assail others. We ought the more to dwell on this thought that God cares for us, in order, first, that we may have peace within, and, secondly, that we may be humble and meek towards men.

But we are not thus bidden to cast all our care on God, as though God wished us to have strong hearts and to be void of all feeling, but lest fear or anxiety should drive us to impatience. In like manner the knowledge of divine providence does not free men from every care that they may securely indulge themselves; for it ought not to encourage the torpidity of the flesh, but to bring rest to faith.


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