Acts 8

Acts 8  •  1 hr. read  •  grade level: 9
Outwardly also the death of Stephen was the epoch when the murderous spirit, provoked by his solemn and fearless testimony, burst out against all who bore the name of the Lord.
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the assembly that was in Jerusalem; and1 they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judæa and Samaria except the apostles. And devout men buried Stephen and made great wailing over him. But Saul was ravaging2 the assembly, entering throughout the houses, and dragging men and women was delivering [them] to prison. They therefore that were scattered abroad went about evangelizing the word” (vers. 1-4).
Blinded by religious pride and jealousy the Jews were but sealing their guilt irrecoverably, Those who despised the Messiah in humiliation on earth were now rebelling against Him glorified in heaven, rejecting withal the Holy Spirit Whom He had sent down to render a divine testimony to His glory. Man in his best estate is not only vanity but enmity against the God of love. The spirit of the departed martyr they had sent, as one said, to Jesus on high with the message, We will not have this Manta reign over us. So had the Lord once figured the hatred of “the citizens” in the parable of the pounds (or, minas) (Luke 19:11-2711And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. 12He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. 14But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 15And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. 18And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. 20And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. 22And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: 23Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? 24And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. 25(And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) 26For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. 27But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. (Luke 19:11‑27)); and thus were His words punctually verified. That generation has not passed away; nor will it, as He has apprised us, till all things He predicted shall have taken place; and the most tremendous of these woes await the end of the age which He terminates by His appearing in glory.
But the rage then in Jerusalem was so intense and widespread against the assembly there that they were all scattered abroad except the apostles. It was in accordance with the word of the Lord that the testimony of the gospel of grace should begin “at Jerusalem”, and so it did. It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to the Jews; and so it was. “This salvation of God” (1 Sam. 14:4545And the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? God forbid: as the Lord liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he hath wrought with God this day. So the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not. (1 Samuel 14:45)) must be sent unto the Gentiles, and they will also hear: but it must go fully to the Jews first, and this was now being done; and the Jews rejected it with a persecuting obstinacy as yet beyond all example on earth. It was reserved for Popery to outdo that day in unrelenting opposition to the word of God and in sanguinary hatred of His saints. “They were all scattered abroad” (vs. 1) throughout the neighboring regions “except the apostles” (vs. 1): a persecution as remarkable for its success in dispersing the objects of its fury, as for the exception specified; for those who stayed would naturally be the most obnoxious of all.
This is the more striking because the charge in Matt. 10:2323But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. (Matthew 10:23) (“when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next”) was primarily to the twelve; so strange it seems that Canon Humphry should take our chapter as a fulfillment of the command of our Lord, though the closing words point rather to a future testimony in the land before the end of the age. Nor is Calvin more happy who will have it that the apostles remained behind as good pastors for the safety of the flock; for it is evident that the sheep were all gone. Still less tolerable is Bp. Pearson’s idea (Lea. in Acta App. iv. x. p. 62, Opera Pasti. 4to. Land. 1698) that the tradition of the second century, mentioned by Clemens Alex. and Eusebius (H.E.), accounts for it; namely, that our Lord forbade the apostles leaving Jerusalem for twelve years! This very chapter later on disproves it. He bade them go and disciple all the nations, yea, go into the world and preach the gospel to all the creation. Remission of sins was to be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning with Jerusalem. They were to tarry in the city, but it was expressly till they were clothed with power from on high, without a thought of twelve years.
But for the present, in the face of that great persecution, the apostles abide. Divine wisdom ordered all aright. They remain there together unmoved by the storm which dispersed all others, for important purposes which afterward appear; and the spread of the glad tidings falls under the good hand of the Lord to His scattered saints. No man beforehand could have foreseen such a result of such an ebullition. God was rejected not alone in His unity as of old, but also in His Son, and now in His Spirit. His truth was counted a lie, His saints as sheep for the slaughter. But if the apostles abode, the dispersed brethren went in all directions announcing the glad tidings of the word. It is just the action of the Holy Spirit in the gospel which we see as God’s answer to the people’s full and final rejection of His grace; and this was secured in the best and most unmistakable way by the apostles remaining, while all the rest were scattered, with no other external impulse than the last degree of human hatred from rebellious Israel in the city of solemnities itself. The love of Christ constrained: they believed and therefore spoke.
Meanwhile “pious men buried Stephen, and made great wailing over him” (ver. 2). There is nothing in the epithet to necessitate our regarding these as disciples. They were rather God-fearing Jews whose conscience revolted against the lawless end of a trial that began with the form of Jewish law and was carried on with the corruption of suborned testimony which then characterized the chosen nation. Calvin has missed the point of the account by the assumption that it is for us a lesson of the faithful, even in the heat of persecution, not discouraged but zealous in the discharge of those duties which pertain to godliness. Still further did he err in making Luke also commend their profession of godliness and faith in their lamentation, as if they identified themselves with Stephen’s lift and death, and testified withal what great loss the church of God had suffered by his decease. The force of this history lies in the raising up decent burial and exceeding lamentation on the part of Jews who were not of the assembly, when those on whom it would have devolved were not there to pay the last offices of love. There is no need with Meyer to render the particle which introduces the account as an adversative. The writer was inspired to give it as an additional feature of the scene, not without interest and profit to the believer who sees and values the gracious care of God even in such circumstances. A Gamaliel stands up for righteous wisdom at the right moment, and pious men bury the martyr with great wailing where it could be least expected.
The true opposition is in what is not told us of his fanatical and bitter zeal who was afterward to be the most devoted servant of the Lord, who had also to experience what it is in the church to be less loved the more abundantly he loved, spending and spent out most gladly for the souls of men. “But Saul was ravaging the assembly, entering the houses throughout, and dragging both men and women delivered [them] to prison” (ver. 3). Religious rage is of all the most unrelenting; and fresh victims do not satiate but whet its cruel appetite, sex and age being alike disregarded.
It may be well here to remark that εὐαγγελιζεσθαι “to announce the glad tidings” (vs. 25) is ministry of the gospel no less than κηρίσσειν, to “proclaim, or preach”, in ver. 5. After Dr. Hammond, Mr. Brewster in his Lectures on this book gives no valid reason for laying stress on the difference, in order to support what he calls “regular commission”. First, the former word (εὑαγγελιζεσθαι) is used of our Lord Himself (Matt. 11:55The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (Matthew 11:5); Luke 4:18, 43; 7:22; 8:1; 20:118The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, (Luke 4:18)
43And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent. (Luke 4:43)
22Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. (Luke 7:22)
1And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, (Luke 8:1)
1And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders, (Luke 20:1)
); so it is of the apostles (Luke 9:66And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where. (Luke 9:6); Acts 5:42; 13:32; 14:7, 15, 21; 15: 35; 16:10; 17:1842And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. (Acts 5:42)
32And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, (Acts 13:32)
7And there they preached the gospel. (Acts 14:7)
15And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: (Acts 14:15)
21And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, (Acts 14:21)
10And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them. (Acts 16:10)
18Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. (Acts 17:18)
; Rom. 1;15; 10:15; 1 Cor. 1:17; 9:16, 18; 15:1, 2; 217For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
16For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)
18What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:18)
1Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1‑2)
Cor. 10:16;11. 7; Gal. 1:8, 11, 16, 23; 4:138But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8)
11But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. (Galatians 1:11)
16To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: (Galatians 1:16)
23But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. (Galatians 1:23)
13Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. (Galatians 4:13)
; Eph. 3:88Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; (Ephesians 3:8)); surely far more than enough to refute the mean or vague use to which he would confine it. Secondly, the latter word (κηπίσσειν) is so little restricted to an official class, that it is applied to the healed leper and demoniac in their proclaiming what the Lord had done for each of them (Mark 1:45; 5:2045But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter. (Mark 1:45)
20And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel. (Mark 5:20)
), and so to those who published the cure of the deaf and dumb (Mark 7:3636And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; (Mark 7:36)). Again, it (κηρίσσειν) stands side by side with the former word in Luke 4:18, 19, 44; 8:1; 9:218The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18‑19)
44And he preached in the synagogues of Galilee. (Luke 4:44)
1And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, (Luke 8:1)
2And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:2)
; Rom. 10:1515And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Romans 10:15); 1 Cor. 1:23; 9:27; 15:11, 1223But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; (1 Corinthians 1:23)
27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (1 Corinthians 9:27)
11Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. 12Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:11‑12)
; 2 Cor. 11:44For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. (2 Corinthians 11:4). Further, the latter word (κηρίσσειν) not the former, is used of those at Rome, who during the apostle’s imprisonment preached Christ, some even of envy and strife, thinking to raise up affliction for him in his bonds (Phil. 1:15,1615Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: (Philippians 1:15‑16)). Were there an atom of truth in the alleged distinction, there would be just the occasion to employ this supposed expression for mere speaking or irregular work. But it is not so; the apostle describes the preaching of the heartless as well as the true workmen by the term (κηρίσσω) which Mr. B. will have to be distinctive of the duly commissioned official.
The notion is therefore wholly unscriptural. Difference of course no one denies, for the one means to announce glad tidings, the other to proclaim or publish; but this is wholly independent of the desired confinement of preaching to those ordained for the purpose, an idea purely imaginary and opposed to all the evidence of scripture. Those who had the gift were not free but bound to exercise it in responsibility to Christ the Lord. Elders were chosen by apostles or apostolic envoys, and deacons by the multitude but for other objects; nor did they ever preach in virtue of their proper office. They might be evangelists like Philip. Otherwise they were no more authorized than the rest of the saints, like the dispersed before us. Rules and order even in earthly things are of moment, but quite distinct from preaching or teaching for which ordination is unknown to God’s word.
But Dr. Guyse represents another class which limits “all” scattered abroad to “preachers”! This he does by misinterpreting verse 2 of “Stephen’s religious friends”, and those ravaged by Saul in verse 3, so as to deny the general preaching by the turning it into the “remainder of the 120 that was called the apostles’ own company” (Acts 4:2323And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. (Acts 4:23)), and perhaps including several other later converts that had received the gift of the Holy Ghost and went about as evangelists to preach the gospel!3 How sad these evasions of the truth on the part of godly men! Power makes itself felt; and gifted men should be the last to silence any Christian who can evangelize. For it is a question of divine qualification, not of human sanction, which last is really a restraint on the Holy Spirit, a slight of Christ’s grace, and a hindrance, so far as man can be a hindrance, to sinners’ salvation. How blessed the grace of God, Who, without design on the apostles’ part or even a hint from any, turned the world’s dispersion of the assembly into scattering far and wide the seeds of gospel truth!
Among the great host of those that were scattered publishing the word of the Lord one is singled out by the Spirit of God, who achieved a signal victory for grace where law had utterly failed as always. Samaria was won by the gospel to the name of Jesus; and the good soldier who fought was Philip. He was one of the seven chosen by the saints and appointed by the apostles to do diaconal work in Jerusalem. But the ascended Lord had given him as an evangelist, as we may learn expressly from Acts 21:88And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. (Acts 21:8); and here we find him in Samaria engaged in this work for which he had the gift, not in that office to which he had been ordained now that the dispersion of the saints from Jerusalem no longer admitted of its functions. But as gift is in the unity of Christ’s body (Eph. 4:11-1311And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11‑13)), so its exercise is above passing circumstances and has ample scope, where a local charge were out of place, as our chapter abundantly testifies. It is the free action of the Holy Spirit exemplified in the details of an individual, as we have already seen it generally in the dispersed.
“And Philip went down to a city of Samaria and preached to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord gave heed to the things spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did. For [as to] many4 that had unclean spirits, they went out crying with a loud voice, and many palsied and lame were healed. And there was great5 joy in that city” (vers. 5-8).
The worthlessness of tradition is made manifest, though unintentionally, by Eusebius (H.E. iii. 31; ed. Heinichen, i. 261-263), who cites a letter of Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, to Victor, bishop of Rome, before the end of the second century, speaking of Philip as “one of the twelve apostles”, “and his daughters” (Luke 1:55There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. (Luke 1:5)). But what could be expected of a man who could in the same letter interlard the scriptural description of John with “who became priest bearing as he did the miter” or high-priest’s plate? See also Eusebius H.E. v. 24. So rapid was the loss of Christ’s truth, so inexcusable in presence of plain scriptural facts before all readers. They may ridicule Papias; but what of one bishop who reports the fable, and of another (among the most learned in his day) who uses it more than once in his History of the Church? Such are very early Christian fathers, ignorant of scripture to the last degree, yet idolized by superstitious men who profess to receive the Scriptures as inspired of God.
Now the Christ is preached there by one of whom it could be said in all truth-that after serving well as a deacon, he was gaining to himself a good standing, or step in advance, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 3:1313For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:13)). It was meet that both should be rather in Sychar (afterward Neapolis and Nablous), ancient Shechem and Sichem at the foot of Gerizim, the mountain that vainly sought to rival Jerusalem, rather than in the city of Samaria, lately rebuilt or enlarged by Herod the Great, and named Sebaste in honor of Augustus.6 There the Lord deigned to abide two days, deepening the impression produced by the sinful woman saved from death, and giving them to hear Him themselves and to know the truth in Himself.
The enemy seemed now in possession like a flood; but the Spirit of the Lord lifts up a standard against him in the reaching of Philip, confirmed by the signs which he wrought before their eyes. No miracle was needed there when the Lord visited the place and wrought as the great and acknowledged Prophet, though in truth the central object and glorious sum of all prophecy. It was the Father seeking true worshippers through the Son, Who declared Him in a fullness of grace and truth which surmounted the trammels of Judaism; and the word went home in power though not without the Holy Ghost which the Son gives as a divine spring of unfailing enjoyment. But now Satan had sought to efface the truth and set up a rival in sorcery, ever apt to seduce, interest, and alarm those who know not the true God. And the time was also come for God to bear witness in men, the servants of Christ on earth, to His victory over Satan and His glorification on high, as we have seen in previous chapters of this Book. Hence the energy of the Spirit was at work in Samaria in a free herald of the gospel, after the testimony had been refused with an enmity up to death in Jerusalem. On the one hand, the crowds gave heed with one accord to the things spoken by Philip; on the other, from many that were possessed unclean spirits came out with loud outcries, and many palsied and lame were healed. Can we wonder that “there was much joy in the city”? But with Luke 8:1313They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. (Luke 8:13) before me I could not affirm so absolutely as J. Calvin (Opera vi. 71) that the joy must be the fruit of faith. At least the “faith” may not be of God, as we see in the flagrant case which the Holy Spirit brings here before us. Indeed not a few remarks in Calvin’s Commentary seem rash.
Yea, such was the power at work that even the main instrument of Satan fell under the general influence of the multitudes he had so long seduced to his lies. “But a certain man, Simon by name, was before in the city practicing magic and amazing the nation of Samaria, saying that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed from small to great, saying, He is the power of God that is called7 Great. And they gave heed to him, because a long time he had amazed them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip evangelizing8 about the kingdom of God and the name of9 Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women. And Simon also himself believed; and being baptized he continued with Philip and, beholding signs10 and great works of power as they were done, was amazed” (vers. 9-13).
This is the only reliable account of one who prominently figures in the early ecclesiastical writers as a heresiarch most hostile to the truth, but with so much fable surrounding him as to prove how little we can trust their statements. Some object to his being classed with the leaders of heresy, on the ground that he was not a Christian. He certainly was “baptized”, as he is said to have “believed”, and thus had a better title (as far as profession goes) than his Samaritan master Dositheus, who is said to have been a disciple of John the Baptist, but eclipsed in his leadership subsequently by Simon. Even Justin Martyr who had the double advantage of being a native of Flavia Neapolis which arose out of the ruins of Sychar, and of being born not a century after, seems to have fallen into the blunder of confounding the Sabine deity, Semo Sancus (who had a statue erected to his honor), with Simon Magus. Dr. E. Burton in a note to his Bampton Lectures (Oxford, 1829) endeavors to show the impossibility of such a mistake on the part of Justin, and has put together from various learned men what can be said in favor of Simon’s deification at Rome. If it were so, it is of small consequence. The alleged contests between him and the apostle Peter, whether at Caesarea or at Rome, are too absurd to notice, being evidently legends grafted on the inspired history by the unhallowed hands of men whose mind and conscience were alike defiled. Destitute of the truth they betook themselves to marvels of the imagination, which after all rather detract from the solemn effect of sacred history, and add nothing to the dignity of the apostle’s exposure, or to the blind self-condemnatory turpitude of the unhappy man himself.
Whatever the mischievous result of Simon’s sorcery and falsehoods leading to his own blasphemous pretensions—and we are here told of his misleading all around small and great (for what avail rank or education to guard from error?)—all vanished like smoke before the light of the gospel. “The kingdom of God” (vs. 12) and “the name of Jesus” annihilated the vain jugglery and impious frauds of the Samaritan.
But it is instructive to notice that there is a difference in the language of verse 12 as compared with 13, and a difference in favor of the men and women in the former as against the latter. They are said simply to have believed the testimony and to have been baptized; the same is said of Simon with the important addition that he attended closely to Philip, and, while beholding the signs and great works of power as they were done, was amazed. This was what transported him, not the love of God, not the truth of Christ, nor the grace of the gospel even to such a guilty deceitful wretch as himself, but the wondrous power which wrought before his eyes. Its overwhelming reality struck none so deeply as Simon. Others had their eyes drawn to the kingdom and its holy glories; others in spirit fell down and clasped the feet of their unseen Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, lost in wonder, love, and praise. Simon was in ecstasies, beholding the signs and great deeds of power, the character of which was discerned by none more clearly than himself. Be yielded to evidence and believed what approved itself to his mind irrefragably. Not a word implies self-judgment before God; not a word of any gracious action on his heart. Conscience was not plowed up; nor did the affections flow under the sense of God’s immeasurable grace in Christ to save him from his sins. On the other hand, it is not said of the men and women in the verses before that they were “amazed”, as Simon was in his close attendance on Philip, not to hear the truth more fully and grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, but “beholding the signs and great deeds of power as they came to pass.”
The Spirit of God thus lays hare to us in this description, it seems to me, the merely natural source of Simon’s faith as distinguished from others. And such is all faith that is founded on “evidences”, which the mind judges and accepts accordingly. It may not be in the least insincere, and those who so believe may be the readiest to do battle, if it seem necessary, for their creed. But there is no life, as there is no repentance: no link with Christ formed by the Holy Spirit through the reception of the word, because it is God’s word, discovering God to the guilty conscience and delivering withal through Christ dead and risen.
Still Simon may have fully credited himself with honest conviction of the truth; and, in the warmth and haste of so mighty a work in so short a time, not even Philip saw reason to question his confession. In fact, where it is the mind without conscience, progress is much more rapid; and all outwardly looks promising for a little where a soul thus easily passes into the ranks of Christ. We have not long to wait for the circumstances which betrayed unmistakably the unrenewed condition of Simon’s soul, delivered the saints from what had else been a constant incubus, and gave himself the most solemn warning that his heart was not right with God.
The tidings of God’s gracious work in Samaria could not but make a powerful impression on all saints; and of these none would estimate its importance so deeply as the personal companions and most honored servants of the Lord in Jerusalem. His will and glory, as well as love to the objects of His grace that they might be blessed more abundantly, drew their hearts to the spot where God had wrought so manifestly. Indeed the Lord risen (Acts 1:88But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)) had specially named Samaria as a scene of future testimony for the disciples. What a contrast with Jews having no intercourse with Samaritans!
“Now when the apostles that were in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John, the which on coming down, prayed for them that they might receive [the] Holy Spirit; for as yet He had fallen upon none of them: only they had got baptized unto the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (vers. 14-17).
Some important principles of truth, too often overlooked, are illustrated here.
The independency of congregationalism is shown to be as far as possible from the will of God. There was no holding aloof on the part of the chiefs in Jerusalem, though we hear of no request for their intervention on the part of the Samaritans. The apostles felt as members of the one body of Christ for the fresh objects of divine grace; and yet the chosen future exponent of that great mystery was still in his sins and unbelief.
Nor was there the smallest jealousy in Philip, because other servants of Christ came whose place in the assembly was so much higher than his own. Love, the “way of surpassing excellence” (1 Cor. 12:3131But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31)), as yet prevailed; and as the members generally had the same care one for another, in none did this appear so conspicuously as in those whom God set in the church first: for Christ’s sake and according to His word they were in the midst of them serving as bondmen. Nothing was farther from the heart of the chiefs who ruled, than on the one hand to be called Rabbi, Father, and Master, or on the other to affect the lordly style of either patronizing or despising the Gentiles. It was on all sides the power of the life of Christ.
Again, it will be noticed that the apostles sent two of their number, not James (son of Alpheus) and Thaddæus, nor Simon Zelotes and Matthias, but their unquestionably choicest pair, Peter and John. Can any believer be so dull as to conceive that this had no far-reaching purpose in the mind of Him Who dwells in the assembly and knows the end from the beginning and would give the sure light of His word to such as look to Him for guidance? Not even Satan, I am bold to think, yet indulged in the dream of an exclusive11 chair for Peter’s direction of the church as a whole; still less of a present throne in command of the “powers that be” with a triple crown of pretensions over heaven, earth and hell. On the contrary, without a thought of these vanities of ecclesiastical ambition and most profane assumption, the apostles in love and wisdom send, to those that had received the word of God in Samaria, Peter and John. Who better qualified, were it needed, to judge and report truly? Who could be the bearer of better blessings from on high? or who in fine be more jealous for the glory of the “one Shepherd”, in dealing with these “other sheep”, which were not of the Jewish “fold”?
And what could more become servants of Christ when they did come down? They “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 15). God had hitherto withheld this, the great and characteristic privilege of the Christian. But the apostles in Jerusalem were in the current of His will and ways. And Peter and John on the spot perceived the lack and spread it out before God, not out of doubtful mind, but reckoning on His faithfulness to make good the promise of the Spirit. Even at Pentecost Peter was led to look beyond the Jews and their children to all that were afar off, as many as the Lord their God might call to Him (Acts 2:3939For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. (Acts 2:39)). “For as yet He was fallen upon none of them; only they had got baptized unto the name of the Lord Jesus.”
So plainly then is the situation laid before us that doubt is inexcusable. On the one hand these Samaritans believed the word, as they were also thereon baptized; on the other hand not one of them had as yet been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Jewish saints had at once received on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Yet from the days of the so-called Fathers down to the Reformers, and hence till our own day, not merely the superstitious but men beyond most for godliness, ability, and learning, as to this seem at sea, as if they had no chart. It is indeed one of those deep blanks in traditional theology (Catholic or Protestant, Arminian or Calvinist, being here almost equally at fault), which involves incalculable loss practically as well as in spiritual intelligence, and is nowhere more felt than in the worship of God. The soul’s entrance into the truth has commensurate blessing in its train, as those know who have made the transition from ignorance of this truth into the enjoyment of it.
Thus Chrysostom (Cramer’s Cat. Pat., iii. 136) and Œcumenius speak of the Samaritan converts receiving the Spirit for remission, but not for signs: a manifest departure from scripture which never designates the first gospel work of the Spirit in the soul as “the gift of the Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:99To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; (1 Corinthians 12:9)), nor consequently as a question of “reception” (comp. Acts 2:38; 19:238Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)
2He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. (Acts 19:2)
).
But leaving the Fathers, one must content the reader with J. Calvin’s remarks as well as Dr. J. Lightfoot’s as a sufficient sample. The former are purposely cited from Beveridge’s edition of the early English version given in the series of the Calvin Translation Society (Acts i. 338-339). “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; Paul teacheth that our washing is the work of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:55Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing 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 1:22Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:2)). Our old man is crucified in baptism that we may be raised up in newness of life (Rom. 6:66Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (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 (Gal. 3:2727For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (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 these 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 these excellent gifts wherein appeared afterward greater glory of Christ’s kingdom. To conclude, forasmuch as the Samaritans were already endued with the Spirit of adoption, 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 forever the authority of His gospel, and also testify that His Spirit shall be always the governor and director of the faithful.”
This is enough to show where pious and enlightened men are in general as to the truth of the Spirit and indeed of redemption also. They are not aware that the gift (δωρέα) of the Spirit, whilst over and above that communication of life which is common to all saints in Old and New Testament days, is at the same time quite distinct from the gifts (χαρίσματα) and more especially from powers and tongues, the sign-gifts which the Spirit distributed in honor of the risen Lord Jesus when inaugurating that new thing, the church, the body of Christ, here below. Nor is Christian baptism a sign of life, but rather of sins washed away and of death to sin with Christ. That is, it is a sign of salvation, the demand before God of a good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the present clearance of a Christian, and not merely what the heir had in his nonage under law. Then was a perfectly sure promise, now there is full accomplishment for the soul (1 Peter 1:99Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9)) which baptism expresses as a figure. But this is quite distinct from the Spirit, given to the believer as the seal of redemption and earnest of the inheritance; and this distinction in particular the great French Reformer ignored, as people do to this day. Hence in his great anxiety to guard against sacramentalism (though even here his language is unsafe and has been used for evil by the men of that school), he lowers the reception of the Spirit to transient displays of energy and thus involves himself in hopeless antagonism to scripture. The words of John 14-16 go far beyond miracles, healings, or kinds of tongues. They arc to be understood of the far different presence of the Paraclete Himself, Who was to dwell with the disciples and be in them; and this is not for “a time as it were” (ch. 20:16), but to abide forever.
The Samaritan believers were saints then, and children of God, but not yet endued with the Spirit, any more than the Old Testament saints who, though born of the Spirit, never received that great gift, which was not and could not be till redemption, when God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into hearts already renewed, crying, Abba, Father. No doubt sensible gifts then and for a while accompanied the Spirit’s presence thus vouchsafed; but we err greatly if we either confound the gift with the gifts, or deny the new and abiding privilege with what all saints had before redemption.
A brief extract from what our learned Dr. Lightfoot says (Works viii. 125-128, Pitman’s edition) will suffice. “The Holy Ghost thus given meaneth not His ordinary work of sanctification, and confirming grace; but His extraordinary gift of tongues, prophesying, and the like. And this is evident, by the meaning of that phrase, ‘the Holy Ghost’, in the scriptures when it denoteth nο exactly the person of the Holy Ghost or the third person in the ‘Trinity’. Here again we have the same confusion of God’s new and distinctive endowment of the church, the ever-abiding gift of the Holy Ghost, with the gifts, some of which took a visible form and others not. It is admitted that what is called ‘sanctification of the Spirit’ (1 Peter 1:22Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:2)) is different and previous; as it is that vital work of separating a soul to God which takes place in conversion or quickening, and therefore has always been and always must be, as long as God in His grace calls sinners to Himself from among men. This typically is what answered to the washing of the unclean in the Levitical figure; then followed the application of the blood of sacrifice; and lastly the anointing oil, which only is what the New Testament designates the reception of the Spirit, wholly distinct from the new birth (which answers to the water), the blood intermediately being the token of being brought under redemption. The gifts, however important in their place, were quite subordinate, and might be some of them but temporary, though all, of course, were in full force when the Spirit was given at Pentecost.”
Are Christians then grown wiser in our day? Let Dean Alford bear witness (The Greek Test., fifth edit. ii. 88, 89), who, like the rest, takes advantage of the accompanying gifts, which might be seen, to ignore the incomparably more momentous unseen gift of the Holy Ghost. Further, he cites the very remarks of Calvin, as “too important to be omitted”, which we have seen to be a heap of confusion that might with justice be exposed more trenchantly still were this the task in hand. They all agree in the great error of reducing the gift of the Holy Spirit to the outward “miraculous gifts” (1 Cor. 12:2828And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28)), instead of seeing along with these the unprecedented and transcendent privilege of Himself given to be the portion of the saints forever. It is the more inconsistent (and error is apt to be inconsistent) in Dean Alford, inasmuch as he owns in his note on John 16:77Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (John 16:7), “that the gift of the Spirit at and since Pentecost was and is something TOTALLY DISTINCT from anything before that time: a new and loftier dispensation”. His own emphasis is given as he puts it.
One of these objections is that the imposition of hands preceded that gift here as well as in chapter 19., where the apostle Paul laid his hands for a like purpose and with a like result on the twelve disciples at Ephesus. But why should this offend them? They may not like the ritualistic effort to base confirmation on a scripture which gives no real countenance to that ceremony; they may feel grieved at or ashamed of a mere form without power; they may justly censure R. Nelson (or any citing him) for untruly referring to Calvin as if he thought confirmation was instituted by the apostles. For in fact in the Institutes (iv. ch. xix. 76) he disproves the very thought attributed to him. But to deny that it was the Holy Spirit Himself that was communicated at Samaria and Ephesus by imposition of apostolic hands is to fly in the face of God’s word; to construe it into the gifts, and not the gift, of the Spirit, is to prepare the way for the most withering unbelief and the loss of the spring of all true power. For what is the church without the personal presence of the Holy Ghost? and what is the Christian without His indwelling? That which baptizes into unity does not exist otherwise; there is no power adequate to constitute the believer a member of Christ; for both depend on the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Let it be observed that the two main occasions of that gift were to the Jewish believers (Acts 2:44And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4)) and to the Gentiles (Acts 10:4444While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. (Acts 10:44)), on neither of which is there a word expressed or implied about laying on of hands. Indeed one has only to weigh both accounts (Pentecost being, of course, the fullest and chief) to gather that there could be nothing of the sort on either day. The peculiar cases of Samaria and Ephesus, which some would unintelligently erect into a rule to supersede those more general, were but ancillary as events, though the blessing conferred was of course, as far as it went, the same. For on each of these, where the laying on of hands occurred, the principle was, it would seem, to guard against rivalry, to bind the work of God together, and to put the most solemn sign of divine honor, first on the Jewish apostles, and next on the apostle to the uncircumcision. This was of moment to mark; but we do not find it repeated, save for special reasons and with other features, on Timothy personally (1 Tim. 4:1414Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:14); 2 Tim. 1:66Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)). But God had taken care at an early day to anticipate and cut off possible misuse by employing a disciple, not the apostle, in the very conspicuous instance of the great apostle himself (Acts 9:1717And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. (Acts 9:17)), as if to break beyond dispute all thought of a successional chain.
It may be well also to say that the effort to make the anarthrous form mean no more than a special gift or particular operation of the Holy Spirit is not borne out by scriptural usage. For we find πνευμα ἄγιοπν employed with and without the article, so as to demonstrate that this expression in no way excludes His blessed personality, but only falls under the usual principles of the language. Where it is intended to present Him as a distinct object before the mind, the article appears; where it only characterizes, the phrase is, as ever, anarthrous. Here, to go no farther, we have πνευμα ἄγιον in verses 15, 17; but in 18 τὸ πνευμα. Were it merely previous mention, we should have had the article in 17 as well as 18. The true solution, however, is not here contextual, but the intention is not to present objectively. Where this is not so, the accusative of a transitive verb is regularly without the article, as being only the complement of the notion expressed by the verb; where it is sought to present the governed word as an object before the mind, the article is added. The usage therefore is thoroughly exact. So in Acts 19:22He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. (Acts 19:2) we have twice πνευμα ἄγιον without the article, but in verse 6 the article in its emphatic duplication; where in seems vain to contend that the Holy Spirit is not meant in all these cases. Is there then not a difference? Unquestionably; but the difference lies, not in the contrast of a special gift with His general influence, as men say, or even with His person, but in the questioned character of what was received in the one case with the definite object before the mind in the other, most suitably accompanying such a phrase as “came” upon the men described.
This is the true key to Acts 1:2, 52Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: (Acts 1:2)
5For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. (Acts 1:5)
, not the mere circumstance of the preposition (strangely supposed by some to be exceptional) which serves to define; as the phrase in verse 8 brings the Spirit into an objective point of view. But it is the self-same Spirit in each case; and could a mistake be greater than to allow that Christ only gave injunctions by a particular gift, and that the disciples enjoyed Him in all His fullness? Compare also Acts 10:3838How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. (Acts 10:38) with 44. So, on the eventful day when the promise of the Father was fulfilled, we find in Acts 2:44And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4) the Spirit both without and with the article, and there according to the principle enunciated: when used to characterize what filled all, it is designedly anarthrous; when the phrase presents a distinctively objective cast of thought, the article is as correctly inserted. The presence or the absence of the article leaves the Holy Spirit untouched and only affects the aspect meant—person or power. Compare verses 17, 18, 33, 38; 4:8, 31 (a very remarkable expression in the text of the oldest codices); 5:3; 6:5; 7:55; 8:29, 39; 9:17, 31; 10:38, 44, 45, 47; 11:15, 16, 24, 28; 13:2, 4:9, 52; 15:28; 16: 6, 7. The Epistles would only add and confirm by further instances.
Thus were the Samaritans sealed of the Holy Spirit and made members of Christ in full possession of the church’s privileges, no less than the saints at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
The sight of the blessing brought out the true condition of Simon. He was amazed, before the two apostles entered the scene, as he beheld the signs and great deeds of power wrought by Philip. Now that others from among the Samaritans received like power, Satan prompted his unrenewed mind to evil.
“Now Simon, when he saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, offered them money, saying, Give me also this power that, on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive [the] Holy Ghost. But Peter said to him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou thoughtest to obtain the gift of God through money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for thy heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and beseech the Lord if so be the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee, for I sec that thou art in gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity. And Simon said in answer, Beseech ye for me with the Lord that none of the things which ye have spoken come upon me” (vers. 18-24).
Undoubtedly there was somewhat to be “seen”; but this does not hinder the truth that the Spirit was being given inwardly, and not merely “gifts”, still less only what men call the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. They, however, point to the fact that this was through the imposition of the hands of the apostles. But why should not God give the Spirit thus if He pleased? It is for Him to judge His own best methods; and God, Who gave the Spirit at Pentecost without the laying on of hands, was pleased now to honor the apostles as the channel. It is a question of His wisdom as well as sovereignty. For mere bishops to imitate the form without the power is without any basis of truth, and is real presumption. Simon saw, in fact, a means of self-exaltation, perhaps also of gain. Certainly he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power that, on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit.” What an insult to God! What is bought with money may naturally be sold for money. But this divine gift, was it to be a matter of traffic among men?
It is a mistake to suppose that Simon wanted the gift for himself. He wished to buy the power of conferring the Holy Spirit upon others. It is very possible, however, that he may not have received the outward gift even for himself; assuredly he was not sealed of the Holy Ghost, which, as we have seen, implies the new birth previously. And Simon manifests not a thought or feeling in communion with God. He was just a natural man, and a man even debased by all his former ways and character, especially those which profanely abused the name of God. The truth he had heard could never have judged his conscience or reached his heart. It was rather stupefaction in presence of transcendent power, and the keen desire to appropriate this power to his own selfish purposes. He judged, as man habitually does, from himself; not, as the believer does, from God. As money is the great means among men, he supposed it must be so with the apostles. Christ was nothing in his eyes; the power that eclipsed his own was desirable to obtain at any price. This was all that he conceived of the Holy Spirit; and it proved in the most conclusive manner where his own soul was.
Simon’s offer filled Peter with indignation, who said to him, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou thoughtest to obtain the gift of God with money.” Christ alone is the procuring cause, and those alone who rest on His blood by faith receive it. The word of Simon betrayed his ruin. He was, as yet, a lost man. There was no real faith, and consequently no salvation in his case. Baptism is an admirable sign where there is life and faith; without these, it is a most solemn aggravation of man’s natural guilt and ruin. It is to perish with a Saviour in sight, with sin and God’s judgment slighted as well as the Saviour. Simon had no share nor lot in this matter, for his heart was not right before God. This does not mean, in my judgment, a lack of share or lot in the sign-gifts but in the Saviour: the gospel was nothing to him. Had the word of truth reached him, his heart would have been purified by faith, for the grace of God is adequate to save the vilest. But no heart visited by grace could have thought of offering money in order to obtain the power of giving the Holy Spirit. Simon was self-convicted of total strangership to God and His grace. The heart of man, though a baptized man, was as perverse as ever, and had broken out into a more daring sin than was possible before. Outward nearness to grace is of all things the most fatal to him who is not subject to the truth of God.
Yet, as he had taken the place of professing the name of the Lord, Peter calls on him to “repent”. Repentance is the clear duty and imperative call of God for a sinful man. It was always an obligation since the fall; but the gospel, as it sheds a brighter light upon man’s need, so furnishes the mightiest motives to act upon the heart. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:1616For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)). The highest of duties, then, is to own and honor the Son of God, confessing one’s own sins, which brought Him, in divine love, to the cross. On the other hand, he that believes in the Son has everlasting life; whilst he that disobeys the Son, not subject to Him now fully revealed, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
Hence the apostle adds, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and beseech the Lord if so be the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee, for I see that thou art in gall of bitterness and in bond of iniquity.” That there is grace in God and efficacy in the blood of Christ to meet any wickedness of man is certain. Peter would have never thus exhorted him had pardon been an impossibility. But the answer of Simon clearly shows that, though alarmed for the moment, there was no sense in his soul of his shameless sin against God and especially against the Holy Spirit; no real reckoning upon grace in God, according to the revelation of Himself in the death of His Son. Peter did not say, “Beseech” God, but “the Lord”, for in Him and by Him only can God deliver a guilty soul; and now that He has sent His Son, the only sure and adequate way of honoring the Father is in honoring the Son. “He that confesseth the Son hath the Father also.” Confessing the Father only, not the Son, neither saves the sinner nor glorifies God. So here Peter calls on him to beseech the Lord, Who is “the way and the truth, and the life” (John 14:66Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)). But there was no faith any more than repentance in Simon, who said in answer, “Beseech ye (it is emphatic) for me with the Lord, that none of the things which ye have spoken come upon me.”
There was confidence, if we can so say, in the channels of power. He who had no faith in Christ confesses his faith in Peter; as millions since have done in saints, angels, or the virgin Mary. This, however, is not really faith but credulity and superstition; for it has no ground, tither in the nature of the persons, or in the word of God. Faith in the Lord Jesus has alone a divine resting-place; for God sent Him, His only-begotten Son, into the world that we might live through Him—through none other but Him. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as propitiation for our sins.” To all this truly divine and infinite salvation Simon was insensible. But he saw in Peter an instrument of power, without faith in the word he and Philip had preached; and so he entreats the apostles to pray to the Lord for him so that none of the things spoken might befall him. It was future consequences he dreaded, not his present state of ruin and guilt that he felt. Thenceforward, according to scripture, he disappears from our sight; and none could wonder if the worst evil came on the impenitent man. But the reticence of Luke did not suit the ecclesiastical historians who to their own shame detail for their readers accounts which bear the stamp of fable in honor of Peter. And where is the Lord in all this? Wounded, we may say, as so often, in the house of His friends.
But we have a brief word added as to the two apostles. “They therefore, when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem and evangelized12 many villages of the Samaritans” (ver. 25). It was not a mere transient act, as the common text has it, but a continuous work. Their hearts were toward the Lord, Who had created in them a right and fervent spirit, and needed no entreaty to spread amongst small and great the glad tidings of His redemption. The villages of the Samaritans, and many of them, were not beneath the detailed and repeated labors of the apostles.
We have next the history of Philip’s evangelistic service resumed; and full of interest and instruction it is.
“But an angel of [the) Lord spake to Philip, saying, Arise, go southward unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza; this is desert. And he arose and went. And behold a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch in power under Candace, queen of [the] Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure, had come to worship at Jerusalem; and he was returning and, as he sat in his chariot, 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, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I unless some one shall guide 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 slaughter;
And as a lamb dumb before his shearer,
So He openeth not His mouth.
In His humiliation His judgment was taken away.
His13 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 (ἐτέρου) 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?14 And he commanded the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 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 Cæsarea” (vers. 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.15 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 Blesser had been driven away. Samaria is rejoicing in the Saviour 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 chapter 5.; and so we may see yet more clearly in comparing chapter 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 hath 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. 3:1313The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. (Isaiah 3:13), as that which closed the passage in 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”
Wets 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 Saviour.
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 and others. 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 less 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 verse 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. 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. 2:6-116Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6‑11), or of the whole section (3:13-53.), 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 Saviour 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 thus, when they come upon a certain water, the stranger asks what hinders his being baptized, and has the privilege conferred on the spot. So 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 consequence 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 further. 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 forever 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 arc 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 and 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. But Philip was found at Azotus, and passing through he evangelized all the cities till he came to Cæsarea” (vers. 39, 40). 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! and 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 Cæsarea. It is there the inspired history shows him to have lived, and his four daughters, long afterward (Acts 21:88And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. (Acts 21:8)).