Acts 8:26-40

Acts 8:26‑40  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 9
We have now the history of Philip's evangelistic service resumed; and full of interest and instruction it is.
“But an angel of [the] Lord spoke to Philip, saying, Arise, go southward unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza; this is desert. And he arose and wont. And behold a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch in power under Candace, queen of [the] Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure,1 had come to worship at Jerusalem; and he was returning and, as he sat in his chariot,2 was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, Approach and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip running up heard him reading the prophet Isaiah,3 and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I unless some one shall guide4 me? And he besought Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this—
As a sheep He was led to the slaughter;
And as a lamb dumb before His shearers,
So He opened not His mouth.
In His5 humiliation His judgment was taken away.
His6 generation who shall declare?
For His life was taken away from the earth.
And the eunuch answering Philip said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself or of some other? And Philip opened his mouth, and, beginning from this scripture, preached to him Jesus. And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch said, Behold, water: what hindereth me to be baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.7 But when they came up out of the water, [the] Spirit of [the] Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no more, for he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus, and passing through he evangelized all the cities till he came unto Caesarea” (ver. 26-40).
A fresh step is taken by Philip. Jehovah's angel directs him; for there were two roads, and an evangelist would not have chosen the one that was a desert.8. But the object of God's grace was traveling by this one; and an angel is employed as ever in God's providence, here objectively that we might not forget the truth or take account only of thoughts and feelings. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth for service on account of those that inherit salvation?” The ready servant of God's will, Philip leaves the rejoicing multitude to whom he had been blessed in Samaria, and goes promptly, though he only knows the seemingly strange direction of his journey, not as yet its aim. It was a proselyte returning from Jerusalem, unsatisfied but wistful and groping his way in the prophetic word. The blessing is not now in the city of solemnities; the blessed had been driven away. Samaria is rejoicing in the Savior of the world. The Ethiopian is soon to stretch out his hands to God, not in prayer only but in praise and conscious blessedness; though Ethiopia must wait till He comes who is already ascended on high and has led captivity captive. But here it is not an angel but “the Spirit” that said to Philip, Approach and join thyself to this chariot. Angels have to do with circumstances, the Spirit leads as to souls. So we saw in chap. v.; and so we may see yet more clearly in comparing chap. 12 with 13. The reality is as true now as ever, though it was then manifested and is written in God's word that we be not faithless but believing.
With alacrity the evangelist answers to the Spirit's call, and runs to Candace's treasurer as he sat in the chariot reading Isaiah, and puts the searching question, Understandest thou what thou readest? Alas! it was then as now in Christendom. The vision of Him who came to make God known, otherwise unknowable, is handed about from learned to unlearned, as if the divine solution of all riddles were itself the one insoluble riddle. The learned man, when asked to read, says, I cannot; for it is sealed; and on the same appeal the unlearned excuses himself, I am not learned. Faith alone can understand: so it is, and so it ought to be. So it was now that grace took up the returning stranger; for the passage was Isa. 53:7, 87He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. (Isaiah 53:7‑8); and when the answer betrayed his sheer ignorance of the gospel, Philip let him hear the glad tidings of Jesus.
It was not without God that the then passage of Isaiah set out the holy suffering Messiah. Other parts of this very strain, both before and after, bear witness to His exaltation; but here it is sufferings simply—the main difficulty to a Jew, who thought exclusively of His glorious kingdom. Hence the propriety of the name of “Jesus in Philip's application of the prophecy (ver. 35): the more striking because the inspiring Spirit had said (ver. 5) that Philip proclaimed “the Christ” or Messiah to the Samaritans. Ignorance, learned or unlearned, slights these distinctions, censures those who point them out as refining on Scripture, and thus really loses the force of the truth. For God has not written one word in vain; and spiritual intelligence gleans its sweetest fruit in that too neglected field. The Samaritans needed to hear that the Christ was come; the Ethiopian to know that the despised and suffering Jesus was beyond doubt the Messiah, whom the prophet introduced with a trumpet note as lofty in Isa. 52:1313Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. (Isaiah 52:13), as that which closed the passage in ch. 53:12. Everywhere are bound together His sufferings and His glories after these; but nowhere more than here do we find His meek submission to the wanton cruelty of His guilty people. Now “Jesus” was the right word for this; for on the one hand it expresses what He became in manhood, so as to be the object of contempt to rebellious creatures, and on the other it tells out His intrinsic glory who for us stooped so low. He was Jehovah the Savior.
The difference in the language from the Old Testament in our hands is due to the Septuagint, or Greek Version, then in common use, and especially among the Egyptians, &c. The sense remains substantially the same. But we are not to infer that Philip confined himself to this scripture: that he “began” from it more justly implies and warrants that he did not end there but expounded others also, But this was of extreme importance to one in the state of soul which the whole preceding account gives us to see in the treasurer; and it was blessed to the letting in of a flood of divine light into his heart!
Yet the scripture which detected the darkness of the Ethiopian's mind, before Philip sounded the glad tidings of Jesus in his ears that he by faith might ever after be a child of light in the Lord, has fared ill, not merely at the hands of the fathers of old, but hardly Jess with Calvin and the like in Reformation times and since. For the great French commentator (to dwell on no others) will have these verses to teach that our Lord was so broken that He appears like a man dejected beyond hope, as is evident, but also that He comes out of the depth of death as a conqueror, and out of hell itself as the author of eternal life. But to draw this last sense from the words cited in ver. 33 (or from the original in Isa. 53:88He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. (Isaiah 53:8)) is quite unfounded. The prophet is as far as possible from here saying that Christ should be lifted up from His great straits by the hand of the Father. This is in no way taught by His judgment being taken away. The new beginning of unlooked-for glory is found elsewhere, but not here. Nor does the exclamation of the prophet in, the following clause ("His generation who shall declare?") import that His victory shall go beyond all number of years, instead of lasting only a little while. Sundry old interpreters were not justified in proving hereby the eternal generation of the Word, any more than others who understood it of His miraculous Incarnation. But no perversion seems worse than the deduction from such words as these, that Christ's life shall endure forever; for the entire passage refers exclusively to His humiliation. The first clause of 33 appears to express the mockery of all righteousness in His judgment; the second, the unspeakable wickedness of that generation; the third, the violent end of His life on earth to which He bowed, which is its proof. Were it a question of Phil. 2 or of the whole section (52:13-53), and not of these two verses only, Calvin would have been right as now he is demonstrably wrong. And this is confirmed by the Hebrew, which here no more admits of a thought of exaltation than does the Greek. The suffering Messiah is seen only in Jesus, at all cost to Himself the Savior of the sinful man who believes in Him, let His own people gainsay as they may the blessed report of the faithful.
Baptism follows the hearing of faith. And so, when they come upon a certain water, the stranger asks what hinders his being baptized, and has the privilege conferred on the spot; as Peter asked, in Cornelius' house, if any one could forbid it, when the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit, even as the believing Jews before them. For the outer mark, worse than worthless without the heart's subjection to the Lord and His grace, has its importance in ways neither few nor small; as the loss of the truth represented is as manifest in those that despise as in those that idolize it. They fail to see that life is never attributed to baptism: but salvation is set forth in it, the washing away of sins and death to sin, the blessed portion to which the gospel bears witness, in Christ dead and risen, for the believer. Life the Old Testament saints had, when there was no such thing as Christian baptism. Abel and Abram had it, no less than the Christian; but the Christian by virtue of Christ's accomplished work has soul-salvation, as he waits for his body to be saved and changed at Christ's coming. Of this salvation meanwhile, which no Old Testament saint could have, baptism is the sign, to which therefore the believer now submits, as a confession not only that Jesus is Lord, but of deliverance through His death and resurrection. Those who make all subjective, like the Friends, or who make all objective like the Catholics, suffer the consequences of their errors. Neither one nor other owns dogmatically the true present privilege of the Christian as in Christ delivered from all condemnation, freed from the law of sin and death, perfected forever by the one offering of Christ. This truth to the Quaker and the Papist is dangerous doctrine, both holding, though on different grounds, that whoever is justified is sanctified, and that, as far as he is sanctified, he is so far justified, and no farther. Both therefore slight the word of God, and preaching, and faith; as both are wholly ignorant of the gift of the Spirit sealing the believer to the day of redemption, the one crying up ordinances and priesthood to the glorification of the church, the other resting for all on what he calls the inward light, which he contends is given to every man. Jew or heathen, Mahommedan or Christian, whose destiny for over turns on the use he makes of it. Neither allows eternal life in Christ to faith; neither sees, founded on Christ's work, that quittance of our old state as children of Adam, and entrance into the new state of the Second Man, of which baptism is not the channel but the emblem. Hence they ignore, if they do not falsify even in quotation, such scriptures as Col. 1:12, 1312Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: (Colossians 1:12‑13). They are striving to be made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; they are hoping to be translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love. Had they read baptism aright, they would be rejoicing in the sense of a present and everlasting deliverance to the praise of Him in whom they believe.
If true, they are certainly feeble, believers. With the Ethiopian all was simple and assured. For they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him (ver. 38). There was no thought of going before the assembly in Samaria. Baptism is individual, no matter how many souls might be baptized. The church has nothing to do with it. The Lord directed His servants (not the church as such) to baptize; and for this they are responsible to Him, as they are for the preaching of the word. The church does not baptize, any more than preach or teach. The evangelist does, though he may ask another to do it for him, as Peter when he directed Cornelius and the rest to be baptized in the name of the Lord on a later day.
“And when they came up out of the water, [the] Spirit of [the] Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no more, for he went on his way rejoicing” (ver. 39). The miracle only established the new convert's faith, as doubtless it was wrought of God to do; for there is not a hint that Philip wished it, still less sought it in prayer. It was God for the honor of His Son in virtue of that Spirit's power which was working on earth; but surely not without a wise and gracious intent for the witness of it (and he was not alone) returning to his native land with the gospel of salvation. Abyssinia was thus to have the glad tidings of God concerning His Son; as Philip transported to Azotus (or Ashdod) abides the same simple-hearted indefatigable preacher of divine grace (ver. 40). For passing through he was evangelizing all the cities till he came to Caesarea. It is there the inspired history shows him to have lived, and his four daughters, long afterward.