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Acts 8:1. Consenting.—Compare Acts 22:20; Luke 11:48; Romans 1:32. Luke had probably often heard this remark from Paul. At that time.—Lit., on that day—viz., of Stephen’s murder, which had been the signal for an outbreak of hostility against the Christians. All.—Not to be taken as if none but the Twelve remained in Jerusalem.
Acts 8:2. Devout men.—Pious Jews (compare John 19:38-39), not Christians, who would have been designated “disciples” or “brethren” (see on Acts 2:5).
Acts 8:3. Made havoc of.—Or, kept on laying waste; the imperfect denoting continuous action.
Acts 8:4. Went everywhere.—Should be “went about”—i.e., from place to place (compare Acts 11:19).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 8:1-4
The Fires of Persecution rekindled; or, Evil overruled for Good
I. The torch that lighted the flame.—This was undoubtedly Stephen’s murder. Like a spark falling into a powder magazine it kindled a fierce conflagration. Like the first taste of blood to a tiger, it awoke the dormant appetite for persecution which until now had slumbered in the bosoms of the high-priest and his confederates. The words “on that day” indicate that Stephen’s executioners proceeded straight from the scene of his martyrdom and commenced their diabolical work of persecuting Stephen’s friends.
II. The miscreant who carried the torch.—There can be little room for question that the person to whom this notoriety belonged was Saul, who at that time was consenting unto Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1; compare Acts 22:20), who, in fact, had been a prominent actor in carrying out the murder of the good deacon (Acts 7:58), and who, though not acting without the authority, or, at least, connivance, of the Sanhedrim, was, on his own confession afterwards made (Acts 26:9-10), the moving spirit in this anti-Christian crusade.
III. The fury with which the flame blazed.—It entered into every house where a “disciple” or “brother” resided. It spared neither man nor woman who bore the hated name of Christian. It stopped not at the spoiling of their goods, when they had any, but attacked their persons, violently dragging them from their homes and consigning them to prison (Acts 8:3; Acts 26:10; compare Hebrews 10:33-34; James 2:6-7). How it happened that the apostles were excepted from this persecution is not explained, and this has been regarded by some expositors (Zeller, Schneckenburger, and others) as a difficulty; but it need not be assumed either that they had dropped into temporary obscurity through having been eclipsed by the brilliant deacon, or that they were not harassed like their humbler brethren, though probably the veneration in which they were still held by the populace in general prevented the Sanhedrim from resorting to extreme measures against them.
IV. The alarm which the fire created.—It scattered the disciples from the city; caused, if not all at least a considerable number, perhaps the majority of those against whom the persecution was directed, to flee for safety beyond the bounds of Jerusalem and even of Judæa (see Acts 11:19). This statement, however, has, like the former, been challenged as improbable (Zeller) on the ground that so long as the apostles remained in the city it is not likely that all their followers would flee. And assuredly if all fled, what is stated in Acts 8:3 about Saul would be impossible. The probability, therefore, is that “all” in Acts 8:1 refers principally to the leading personages in the Christian community like Philip (Acts 8:5), or to the breaking up of the Christian congregations and the dispersion of their members. That the apostles did not retire from their posts in the metropolis, though they might have done so without sin (Matthew 10:23), was only what might have been expected. They were men of a different make from what they had been when they all forsook the Master and fled (Matthew 26:56). That the Spirit directed them to remain in the city and comfort the persecuted Christians who were left (Stier) is not improbable, but cannot be proved. That our Lord before His ascension had commanded them to remain in Jerusalem twelve years, though supported by ancient tradition (Clem. Alex., Strom. VI. v. 3), is most likely imagination.
V. The unexpected good in which it resulted.—It led to the extension of the Church. “They that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word.” Thus it paved the way for the transition of the gospel to the Gentiles. As it were the missionary activity that was carried on in the Judæan provinces and in Samaria formed a bridge for the passage of the heralds of salvation to cross over into regions beyond. So the highest good is oftentimes evolved out of the greatest evil. God can make man’s wrath to praise Him (Psalms 76:10) and cause “all things to work together for good to them that love Him (Romans 8:28).
1. That one sin commonly leads to another. The murder of Stephen to the persecution of the Church. 2. That they who will live godly must suffer persecution. “The servant is not greater than his Master.”
3. That it is not always wrong to flee from persecution. Otherwise Christ would not have counselled His disciples, “When persecuted in one city to flee into another” (Matthew 10:23).
4. That more is expected of the Church’s leaders than of their followers. A higher degree of Christian virtue should be exhibited by them who are set to rule in the Church. 5. That persecution cannot kill religion. It may destroy those who are religious, but others will arise in their stead. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian).
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 8:1. The Church which was in Jerusalem.
I. Living.—A dead Church a misnomer.
II. Growing.—Wherever life is there must be progress.
III. Organised.—It had apostles, deacons, and private members.
IV. Persecuted.—This inevitable if a Church is alive and active.
V. Missionary.—The Church that does not propagate the faith is dead.
Acts 8:2. The Burial of Stephen.
I. The lifeless body.—That of Stephen.
1. A good man.
2. An eloquent preacher.
3. A faithful witness.
4. A noble martyr.
II. The devout pall-bearers.—Pious Jews, perhaps, rather than Christians, who would probably have been called “brethren” or “disciples,” and would not have been permitted to inter their fallen leader. That devout men buried Stephen testified to:
1. Their own goodness.
2. Stephen’s innocence.
3. The Sanhedrim’s guilt.
III. The solemn interment.—No doubt.
1. Hastily, without unnecessary delay; and
2. Plainly, without ostentation or display; but also
3. Reverentially, as was due to the dust of a saint; and
4. Hopefully, in anticipation of a glorious resurrection.
IV. The sorrowful lamentation.—“Great.” Because of, either:
1. Its outward vehemence;
2. Its inward intensity; or
3. Its wide prevalence.
Acts 8:2-3. Stephen and Saul.
I. The end of Stephen.—
1. In the world’s eyes sad.
2. In God’s eyes glorious.
II. The beginning of Saul.—
1. In the world’s eyes glorious.
2. In God’s eyes sad.
Lesson.—God seeth not as man seeth.
Acts 8:3. The Wolf and his Prey.
I. The wolf.—
1. His name, Saul.
2. His race, of the tribe of Benjamin (Genesis 49:27).
3. His ferocity, “Haling men and women he committed them to prison.”
4. His diligence, “entering into every house.”
II. His prey.—Christ’s sheep, “the Church” (Acts 20:28).
1. A little flock (Luke 12:32).
2. A feeble flock (1 Peter 5:10).
3. A purchased flock (Acts 20:28).
Saul and Paul.—The Saul who made havoc of the Church became the Paul who said, “Feed the Church of God.” Remember well the identity of the man, if you would understand fully the import of the doctrine. This change in the heart and life of Paul shows—
I. The marvellous power of the grace of God.—The marvellousness of this power is not always so conspicuous. Every operation of grace is beautiful, but in some cases it is startling and most sublime. Herein let us magnify the grace of God. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” “Ye who sometime were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” “You that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled.” This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. The occurrence of such marvellous instances is most valuable on two grounds:
1. It inspires hope even for the worst. Pray on! Hope on! The hardest rocks have been broken.
2. It renews our sense of the sufficiency of Divine grace. Great victories gladden nations. Great conversions make the Church joyful. This change in the heart and life of Paul shows—
II. The difference between sanctifying human energies and destroying them.—Saul was undoubtedly characterised by peculiar energy; what will Paul be? You will find that the Christian apostle retained every natural characteristic of the anti-Christian persecutor. Who so ardent in love, who so unswerving in service, as the apostle Paul? Was he an active sinner, but an indolent saint? How did he himself bear the treatment which he had inflicted upon others? Hear his words, and feel if they do not quicken the flow of your blood: “Are they ministers of Christ? I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft,” etc. How a man’s sins come back upon him! How sure is the discipline, and how terrible is the judgment of God! Can a man step easily from the rank of persecutor to the honour of apostle? Never! Hear Paul: “Even this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the off-scouring of all things,” etc. We feel in reading such words how inexorable is the law—“With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.” But notice the energy of the apostle as being the same as the energy of the persecutor. Christianity does not destroy our natural temperament. We become sanctified, not deadened.
1. Christians will differ in the tone and measure of their service. He who has had much forgiven will love much. How does an escaped slave talk about liberty? So with preachers. The memory of their past lives will determine their preaching. Do not bind down all men to the same style.
2. Is our Christian energy equal to the energy with which we entered upon the service of the world? When were you kept back from gay engagements by wet, damp, or foggy nights? When did you complain that you could never go to the theatre without paying, or tell the devil that his service was costly? In the light of such inquiries let us examine our Christian temper and service. This change in the heart and life of Paul suggests—
III. The possible greatness of the change which awaits even those who are now in Christ.—The moral distance between Saul and Paul is immense, but what of the spiritual distance between Paul the warrior and Paul the crowned saint? It is the distance between earth and heaven.—J. Parker, D.D.
Acts 8:5. Philip.—Not the apostle, but the deacon (Acts 6:4). The city of Samaria—according to the best MSS.—signifies that the capital built by Omri (1 Kings 16:24), and renamed Sebaste by Herod the Great (Jos., Ant., XX. Acts 6:2), was the place to which Philip went; if with some MSS. the article before city be omitted, then Samaria would mean the province of that name, and the city might be Sychar, the Sichem of the Old Testament (John 4:5).
Acts 8:6. The people.—Better, the multitudes—i.e., of the city.
Acts 8:7. For unclean spirits, etc.—Should be rendered either “For from many of those who had unclean spirits, they—i.e., the spirits—went forth crying with a loud voice,” the genitive πολλῶν being dependent on the ἐξ in the verb compare Acts 16:39; Matthew 10:14 (De Wette, Meyer); or “For from many of those having (sc. them—i.e., unclean spirits) unclean spirits crying with a loud voice went forth (Bengel, Kuinoel). But the best texts (א A B C) read πολλοὶ ἐξήρχοντο; in which case the verse should be translated; “for many of those who had unclean spirits crying with a loud voice went forth”; the writer having probably, when he commenced the sentence, intended to say “were healed,” instead of which he changes the construction, and sets down “went forth,” as if the “unclean spirits” were the nominative (Alford, Holtzmann). It has been remarked (Bengel) that in the Acts the term “demons” is never used of “the possessed,” although in Luke it occurs more frequently than in the other gospels; and the inference drawn that after the death of Christ the malady of possession was weaker (compare 1 John 3:8; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 8:5-8
Philip in Samaria; or, The Gospel Spreading
I. The preacher.—Philip. Not the apostle, as a late Christian tradition, mentioned by Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, in A.D. 198 (Eusebius, III. 31:2, Acts 24:1), affirms, since he remained in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), but the deacon (Acts 6:5) and evangelist (Acts 21:8), who by going down to Samaria—
1. Supplied the place and took up the work of Stephen, his martyred colleague. Christ’s servants dying never want successors.
2. Counteracted the evil machinations of Stephen’s murderers, and of Saul in particular, who hoped to extinguish the faith to which as yet he was a stranger and of which he knew not the vitality; and
3. Evidenced his own confidence in the indestructibility of the gospel, whose preachers and professors might be imprisoned or slain, but whose glorious tidings could not be hindered from flying abroad and one day encircling the earth.
II. The audience.—The inhabitants of the city of Samaria or of Sychar, who were—
1. Numerous, being described as a multitude.
2. Afflicted, containing many diseased and demonised persons.
3. Deluded, being at the time bewitched by or amazed at Simon’s sorceries; and still
4. Eager, with one accord giving heed to Philip, perhaps because of having, in a measure, through Christ’s preaching ten years before (John 4:30; John 4:40), been prepared for the reception of the word.
III. The message.—
1. Its subject. The Christ. Philip entertained his hearers neither with diatribes against the magician who had so long bewitched them, nor with denunciations of the Sanhedrim who had opened against the followers of the new faith the fires of persecution, nor with commiserations of themselves who had so much sickness bodily and mental, in their midst, but with what should ever be the preacher’s theme (1 Corinthians 2:2), proclamations of the Christ—viz., Jesus—who had suffered on the cross, risen from the grave, and ascended into heaven.
2. Its confirmation. The signs which he did—
(1) the works of healing which he performed on the demonised, the palsied, and the lame, attested him a teacher come from God (compareJohn 3:2; John 3:2); and
(2) the cries of the unclean spirits in coming forth from their victims, not shouts of indignation at being ejected from their human lodging, but vociferous declarations of the Messiahship of Jesus or of the truth of the gospel (compareMark 3:11; Mark 3:11; Luke 4:41), were a practical endorsement of his words.
IV. The result.—Great joy. On account of—
1. The glad tidings come to the city. The introduction of the gospel with its glorious announcements of a crucified and risen Lord (Acts 13:32-33), of a finished redemption work (John 17:4), and of a peace established between God and man on the basis of that work (Ephesians 2:14-18), as well as with its sublime possibilities of salvation (Romans 1:16), to a heart, to a city, to a country, a cause of rejoicing than which better can not be imagined (Psalms 89:15).
2. The wonderful deliverances wrought on its inhabitants. The healings done upon the bodies of the citizens of Samaria or Sychar were emblematic of the higher healings the gospel could, and in numberless instances did, effect upon their souls. To-day, as in Philip’s time, the gospel heals all manner of spiritual disease and emancipates souls from the power of sin and Satan (Colossians 1:13), besides indirectly promoting the health of bodies.
1. The true work of a preacher—to proclaim Christ.
2. The true prosperity of a city—the prevalence in it of the Gospel.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 8:5. The Inhabitants of Samaria.
I. What they heard. Christ proclaimed.
II. What they saw. Miracles performed.
III. What they did.
1. Listened to the word.
2. Studied the miracles.
3. Rejoiced in the work of Philip.
Acts 8:8. Joy in Samaria.—Occasioned by four things.
I. The Gospel preached in its streets.
II. Healing brought to its inhabitants.
III. Delusions dispelled from their minds.
IV. Souls saved from the power of sin and death.
Acts 8:5-8. Philip’s Mission to Samaria.
I. The conduct of Philip.—He—
1. Went down to Samaria.
2. Preached Christ to the people.
3. Wrought miracles in the city.
II. The attention of the Samaritans.—They:
1. Heard Philip preach. 2. Were seriously affected.
3. Gave heed to what they heard.
4. Believed what was preached.
III. The effect in the city.—Great joy. Because of:
1. Joyful tidings heard.
2. Wondrous healings experienced.
3. Numerous conversions made.
Acts 8:9. Simon.—Not the Cyprian Jew of that name whom, according to Josephus (Ant., XX. vii. 2), Felix afterwards employed to persuade Drusilla to leave for him her husband. King Azizus of Emesa (De Wette, Neander, Hilgenfeld, Alford), but, according to Justin Martyr (Apol., i. 56; Dial., 120), a Samaritan magician out of Gitthon (Zeller, Holtzmann, Zöckler). The people.—Should be, the nation, τὸ ἕθνος, because Simon’s bewitchery was not confined to the city population.
Acts 8:10. The great power of God, in the best MSS., is the power of God which is called great—i.e., because it is so (Hackett), rather than because it is not so (De Wette). Noticeable that this was the people’s estimate of Simon. In the term “Great” has been found either Gnostic emanation doctrine (Overbeck), or a transliteration of the Samaritan word Magala, Revealer (Klostermann, Wendt).
Acts 8:11. Of long time.—The dative for the ordinary accusative as in Acts 13:20; John 2:20; Romans 16:25. Simon’s influence may have reached back to a period shortly after our Lord’s visit to Samaria (John 4:39-42).
Acts 8:13. Wondered, or was amazed at Philip’s miracles and signs—Rather, signs and great powers—i.e., deeds of power, as previously the crowd had been amazed at his (Simon’s) sorceries (Acts 8:9).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 8:9-13
The Accession of Simon Magus; or, the Reception of a Doubtful Convert
I. The previous history of Simon Magus.—
1. His profession. A sorcerer. According to Justin Martyr (Apol., I. xxvi. 56) belonging to the Samaritan village of Gitton. One of those unscrupulous adventurers who by “an advanced knowledge of natural philosophy, especially of chemistry,” acquired “a strange power and influence over men’s minds,” which they “constantly used to further their own selfish ends” (Spence). Others of the same kidney were Elymas, whom Paul encountered at the court of Sergius Paulus in Paphos (Acts 13:6), and the vagabond Jews, exorcists, whom he met at Ephesus (Acts 19:13). To this fraternity belonged Apollonius, of Tyana, who lived in the time of Christ. A zealous champion of the doctrines of Pythagoras, he was regarded by his contemporaries as a worker of miracles, and claimed for himself insight into futurity. Josephus (Ant., XX. vii. 2) mentions another Simon, also of Cyprus, unless he was identical with the Simon of Samaria, as a magician who persuaded Drusilla to desert her husband and marry Felix (Acts 24:24). That Simon pitched on Samaria as the field of his operations may have been due to the circumstance that it contained a grand heathen temple, which he probably thought would make the city so much the fitter a scene for his magical incantations (see Stokes on Acts, i. 360, note).
2. His practice. He bewitched or amazed the people with his sorceries, either imposed on their credulity by sleight of hand, or dazzled their judgment by feats performed through superior knowledge. What the arts practised by him were is not related. Later tradition represents him as having offered to demonstrate his divinity by flying in the air (Constt. Apost., ii. 14, vi. 9), and as having boasted that he could turn himself and others into brute beasts, and even cause statues to speak (Clem. Hom., iv. c. 4; Recog., ii. 9, iii. 6). Whether he had attempted any such legerdemain in Samaria or not is uncertain; but for a long time (most likely for a number of years) he had cast a spell over their minds and secured their attention to his superstitious and hurtful doctrines. He is said to have denied the resurrection of the dead, and only pretended to believe in a future judgment, to have desired to set Gorizim in place of Jerusalem, and to have allegorically expounded the Old Testament so as to support his own views.
3. His pretension. He gave out “that himself was some great one.” Like Theudas, he boasted that he was somebody (Acts 5:36). According to the Clementine Homilies (ii. 22 ff.) he gave himself out for the Highest Power, from which he distinguished the Creator of the world as an inferior being, and also claimed to be the Messiah. In this he showed himself a precursor of Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Exaltation of self is both an old (Genesis 3:5) and a common (Luke 14:11) sin, against which men in general (Jeremiah 9:23; Daniel 4:37), and Christians in particular (Galatians 6:3), are earnestly warned.
4. His popularity. To him the whole population “gave heed from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is that power of God which is called great.’ ” Few things are more incontestable or sad than the gullibility of mankind. “Gullible, however, by fit apparatus, all publics are, and gulled with the most surprising profit” (Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, p. 68). The remarkable thing is that almost any sort of tomfoolery, mountebankism, and charlatanry will do to cheat men. No imposture is too ridiculous to find adherents. No quack is so vulgar that he cannot draw around him admiring fools: Simon is reported to have visited Rome in the time of Claudius, and by means of his jugglery to have established himself so highly in popular favour that the Senate decreed him divine honours, and a statue on the island of the Tiber (Justin Martyr, Apol., I. xxvi, 56); and it is not a little remarkable that in the exact spot indicated by Justin, in 1574, there was dug up a statue with the inscription “Semoni Sanco Deo Fidio,” though whether this statue was the one referred to by Justin, or another to a Sabine deity, critics are not agreed.
II. The circumstances which led to Simon’s conversion.—
1. The preaching of Philip. It is clear from the narrative that Simon himself must have been amongst Philip’s listeners, since it is stated that he himself also “believed Philip preaching good tidings,” etc. (Acts 8:12-13). “Faith cometh by hearing” (Romans 10:17). Faith that is not based upon the word of God either read or preached lacks a solid foundation, and will ultimately prove unstable and unreal.
2. The faith of the people. The example of the Samaritans operated contagiously on Simon. Observing them falling away from himself and rallying round Philip, he followed in their wake. The event showed he had not been savingly impressed by what he saw and heard, but only superficially stirred. Nevertheless the popular attitude towards Philip appears to have awakened in him something that resembled faith. A similar phenomenon is not unknown in modern religious movements, which draw in and sweep along with them many who are only superficially stirred, not permanently converted.
3. The baptism of the believers. Both men and women avowed the sincerity of their conversion by submitting to the initiatory rite of the Christian religion; and this also must have had its effect upon Simon, and led him to reflect that a greater power than that wielded by himself had arrived upon the scene.
III. The evidence of Simon’s (supposed) conversion.—
1. His profession of faith. He “believed.” This the first requirement in a disciple. Whatever else may be demanded of Christians, they must repose personal credit in the testimony concerning Christ, and personal trust in Christ Himself.
2. His submission to baptism. In the case of an adult who believes for the first time, this also is indispensable (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), though it does not show Infant Baptism to be either unscriptural or unreasonable (see on Acts 2:39).
3. His adherence to Philip. “He continued with” the deacon and those associated with him; in modern phraseology, he joined the Church, or connected himself with the main body of believers. This a third mark of conversion. “The fellowship of saints” all Christ’s followers are expected to cultivate. The Christian life (under certain circumstances) may be successfully maintained in isolation; but in no case without difficulty.
4. His admiration of Philip’s miracles. The works of healing wrought by Philip appeared to convince him that what he only pretended to wield, and what the people imagined he wielded, was wielded by Philip in reality—viz., the great power of God. Whether Simon’s conversion was genuine or not, it had many of the marks of a true work of grace. Note in illustration.—Philetus, a disciple of Hermogenes the conjurer, coming to a dispute with St. James the elder, relied much upon his sophistry; but the apostle preached Christ to him with such powerfulness that Philetus, returning back to his master, told him, “I went forth a conjurer, but am returned a Christian.”
1. That all professors of religion are not true converts.
2. That the gospel has in it something which attracts even bad men.
3. That nothing can so effectually deliver men from this present evil world, with its snares and delusions, as the gospel of Christ.
4. That faith in Christ should ever be accompanied by public confession.
5. That the best arguments in proof of Christianity are the moral and spiritual miracles it performs.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 8:12. A Reformed City.
The conversion of the Samaritans was brought about—
I. By the preaching of the gospel, the good news of salvation.
II. With the concurrence of the people, from the least to the greatest.
III. In spite of the greatest opposition from the powers of darkness.
IV. With the most satisfactory results: numerous baptisms of men and women.
I. Concerning God’s kingdom.—
1. That it had come (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:13).
2. That it might be entered (Matthew 5:20; Matthew 7:13).
3. That all who entered it should be saved (John 10:9).
II. Concerning God’s Son.—
1. That He had been the bringer-in of the kingdom by His death and resurrection (Acts 1:3).
2. That to Him alone belong the keys of the kingdom (Revelation 3:7).
3. That in His hand are all the blessings of the kingdom (2 Peter 1:3).
Acts 8:9-13. The Awakening in Samaria.
I. The obstacles which required to be overcome.—The natural indifference of the human heart to religion. This formed the deepest and least movable barrier.
2. The character of the people. Half-heathen, ignorant, diseased, demonised, the population was hardly likely to be taken up with the interests of the soul:
3. The presence in the city of Simon the sorcerer, who in a manner had pre-engaged their attention and even captivated their hearts, from the least of them to the greatest.
II. The means which led to its arising.—
1. The miracles and signs which Philip did, which convinced the people that a greater power than that of Simon had arrived upon the field.
2. The preaching of the gospel of the kingdom and of Jesus Christ. While these were the means, the Holy Spirit was the agent.
III. The characteristics which attended it.—
1. Great excitement. This was inevitable.
2. Widespread conviction. The whole town seemed to be turned.
3. Numerous baptisms. The magician himself owned the power of the truth, and was baptised.
4. Universal joy. The whole city was in raptures of delight.
The Kingdom of Darkness and the Kingdom of Light in Conflict.
I. The two champions.—
1. Of the kingdom of darkness, Simon, the sorcerer, an old and experienced warrior from the army of Satan (Acts 8:11).
2. Of the kingdom of light, Philip, the Christian deacon, a new and untried soldier from the ranks of the faithful (Acts 6:5).
II. The selected battle-field.—
1. Locally, the city of Samaria.
2. Spiritually, the souls of its inhabitants. As the kingdom of light, so the kingdom of darkness is within a man.
III. The trusted weapons.—
1. Those of Simon, sorcery, witchcraft, magic, legerdemain, sleight-of-hand, and generally the arts of the conjurer and wizard.
2. Those of Philip, the gospel or the good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.
IV. The varying methods.—
1. Simon relied on the power of delusion, or his ability to take advantage of human ignorance and credulity.
2. Philip reposed his confidence alone in enlightenment and conviction by the pure force of truth addressed to heart and conscience.
V. The decisive result.—
1. Simon succeeded for a time in deceiving the people.
2. Philip in the end won them for Christ, and even carried captive (to appearance at least) Simon himself.
Acts 8:9; Acts 8:13; Acts 8:23. Simon Magus.
I. A successful sorcerer.
II. An insincere professor.
III. A baptised hypocrite.
IV. A detected deceiver.
Acts 8:14. Sent.—The mission of the two apostles, Peter and John, is not said to have had as its motive the imparting of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans (Holtzmann), although this was undoubtedly a consequence which flowed from their mission.
Acts 8:15. Prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost.—Not the ordinary converting influences of the Spirit, which they must already have received, since they had believed, but those miraculous endowments which had been conferred upon the Pentecostal believers (Acts 2:4).
Acts 8:16. As yet He was fallen upon none of them.—Contrast the case of Cornelius and his household, upon whom the Spirit fell before baptism (Acts 10:44-48); and compare that of John’s disciples in Ephesus, who were first baptised, and afterwards endowed with the Holy Ghost (Acts 19:1-6).
Acts 8:17. Then laid they, the apostles, their hands on them, and they, the Samaritans, received the Holy Ghost.—That none but the apostles had the power of imparting the Spirit, and that this was the reason why the preaching of Philip did not secure this endowment for the Samaritans (Hofmann), cannot be maintained in face of Acts 9:17 and 1 Timothy 4:14. Still less can the non-descent of the Holy Ghost in this case be ascribed to a difference between Philip’s preaching and that of the apostles (Neander). Possibly the reason lay in this, that as the Samaritans were half-heathen, it was the purpose of the Holy Ghost to mark their reception into the Church (which their endowment with His miraculous gifts attested) by a formal act through the hands of the apostles, which would carry with it all the weight of authorisation. There is no ground for thinking that the Spirit intended here to institute a new rite corresponding to Confirmation.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 8:14-17
The Mission of Peter and John; or, the Confirmation of the Saints
I. The occasion of this mission.—The report about Samaria. The good news could not be kept from spreading. The apostles at headquarters took deep interest in the progress of the cause which for a moment the persecution had seemed to overwhelm. When perhaps the outlook appeared blackest, this information which came to them from Samaria would seem like the breaking forth of a star upon the dark firmament overhead.
II. The authors of this mission.—The Apostles. These had not left Jerusalem, but remained at their post. Not, as some think, because through Stephen’s superior brilliancy they had dropped into obscurity, and so in a manner had become safe from persecution (Stokes), but because, like brave men, they felt it incumbent on them rather to face the peril than to flee. (See on Acts 8:1.)
III. The agents of this mission.—Peter and John, who appear to have been drawn to one another by common affinities and by perceiving each in the other the complement of himself, and to have acted in concert after the resurrection (Acts 3:1; John 20:4) as well as before (Matthew 27:1; Luke 8:51).
IV. The fulfilment of this mission.—
1. They went down to Samaria. Ever ready to “doe the next thing,” and to execute whatever task was laid upon them, they proceeded to Samaria. Regarding the instructions of their colleagues as an expression of the Spirit’s mind, they obeyed. At the same time, their own wisdom and zeal would without doubt concur in the expediency of the journey.
2. They prayed for the converts. These had not yet received the seal of the Holy Ghost—i.e., in His miracle-working endowments—though it need not be questioned they had received the Spirit in His ordinary gracious operations. Accordingly the two apostles prayed that this further seal of conversion might be given them.
3. They laid their hands upon the converts. The result they expected followed. The converts received the Holy Ghost, and doubtless (though it is not so stated) began to speak with tongues and perhaps work miracles of healing, as afterwards the Spirit-endowed believers in the Christian Church did (1 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Corinthians 10:0; 1 Corinthians 10:0). The communication of such gifts was of course only symbolically brought about by the imposition of the apostles’ hands. Their unseen but real bestower was the glorified Christ. (See “Critical Remarks.”)
V. The termination of this mission—
1. When? After they (the apostles) had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, Peter and John neglected no opportunity of either confirming the disciples or making new converts. Neither should their successors in the ministry.
2. How? They returned to Jerusalem. Not directly, but preaching by the way to many villages of the Samaritans—thus bringing on themselves the blessedness of them who sow beside all waters (Isaiah 32:20).
1. The interest which all should take in the spread of the gospel.
2. The true source of spiritual endowments—the Holy Spirit.
3. The unwearied diligence which Christian preachers should ever show.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 8:14. Peter and John; or, the First Apostolic Delegates.
I. Their relation to the apostolic college.—
1. Not the heads, but ordinary members. If in the Church they were reputed to be pillars (Galatians 2:9), they yet claimed no supremacy over their colleagues in the apostleship; not even though they had received distinctions above their brethren in the days before the crucifixion (Mark 5:37; Mark 9:2; Mark 14:33), and after the resurrection (John 21:15-23).
2. Not the senders, but the sent. They manifestly did not regard themselves as invested with authority to command their brethren, but viewed the whole body of the Twelve as of co-ordinate rank. They did not even think of disputing the right of the Twelve to appoint them to such a work as the mission to Samaria.
II. The reasons for their selection.—Why these and not a different pair—say Andrew and James—were deputed to execute this work may with some degree of probability be surmised.
1. Their personal capabilities were most likely such as to mark them out as leaders; and this inference receives ample confirmation from their writings which have been preserved in the New Testament
2. Their spiritual experience through their close and intimate fellowship with the Master was manifestly such as to qualify them beyond others for the execution of a delicate and responsible task like that of visiting and reporting on the great revival in Samaria.
3. Their close friendship of many years’ standing fitted them to act as colleagues on this important mission. They had long been accustomed to act in concert.
4. Their individual temperaments, on the one hand, of energy and impulse, fortitude and decision; on the other hand, of love and gentleness, thoughtfulness and sympathy, supplied the two elements that were specially demanded for the contemplated visitation.
III. The special object of their mission.—This may be gathered from the context.
1. To inspect and report upon the awakening in Samaria. To judge whether it was a genuine work of grace, or only a temporary excitement.
2. If found genuine, to complete it by receiving the baptised into Church fellowship, by laying hands upon them and praying for their endowment with the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 8:14-18. The First Church Visitation.
I. The occasion.—I. There is Christian life to be fostered (Acts 8:14).
2. There is a want in the Church to be supplied (Acts 8:16).
II. The visitors.—
1. Peter: apostolic earnestness and zeal.
2. John: evangelical tenderness and mildness.
III. The functions.—
1. Prayer in the name of the Church (Acts 8:15).
2. Imposition of hands in the name of God (Acts 8:17).
IV. The effects.—
1. The strengthening of the Church (Acts 8:17).
2. The sifting of the Church (Acts 8:18).—Gerok.
Acts 8:17. Receiving the Holy Ghost.
I. A possibility.—Otherwise Peter would not have promised it (Acts 2:38).
II. A necessity.—Otherwise Peter would not have gone to pray for it.
III. A certainty.—Otherwise God’s promise would be falsified and Christ’s prayer for His people would be unanswered, and the lives of believers would be incomplete.
IV. A mystery.—Otherwise we should be able to comprehend it, which we are not.
HOMILETIGAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 8:18-24
The Two Simons; or, the Detection of a Hypocrite
I. Simon Magus’s proposal.—
1. What suggested it. The sight which he beheld. The coming down of the Holy Ghost upon those on whom the Apostle’s hands were laid. This shows that the recipients of the Holy Ghost must in some external fashion—probably through speaking with tongues or working miracles—have indicated their possession of the heavenly gift.
2. What accompanied it. An offer of money. This revealed that Simon had no right conception either of the nature of the miraculous endowment which had been conferred upon the Samaritan believers (and perhaps also upon himself) or of the means which had been used in its bestowment.
3. What composed it. A request that the apostles should impart to him, not the Holy Ghost, which possibly along with others he may have received, but the power of conferring the Holy Ghost with His supernatural gifts upon others. Simon recognised in what Peter and John had effected a power that transcended his own, and wished to secure it for himself, that by its means he might stand on a level with the apostles as a thaumaturge and be able to recover his lost influence with the people.
II. Simon Peter’s Refusal.
1. A terrible denunciation. “Thy money perish with thee!” Literally, may thy silver with thee be for destruction!
(1) The meaning. Hardly an imprecation, which would not have been becoming in a follower of Him who said, “Let your communication be ‘Yea, yea; Nay, nay,’ for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:37), and who taught His disciples to bless and curse not (Matthew 5:41 Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14). Scarcely even a prediction that Simon was destined to perdition, since he afterwards directs Simon how that awful doom might be averted (Acts 8:22). But most likely and best, a strong and solemn asseveration that he, Simon, being in such a state of mind would certainly share that destruction which would eventually overtake his money, as all other earthly goods, which in their nature are perishable (Colossians 2:22). “Gold and silver would perish in the end. Equally valueless and perishable would be the life of an unrighteous man. The corruptible nature of that gold and silver which man prizes so dearly seems to have been ever in Peter’s mind, and to have entered continually into his arguments” (Spence). Compare 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18.
(2) The reason. “Because thou hast thought that the gift of God might be purchased,” or “to obtain the gift of God with money.” The proposal revealed that Simon had not apprehended the true nature of what had taken place. Neither the character of the blessing bestowed—which was a spiritual influence; nor the author of its bestowment—God, and neither Peter nor other man; nor the terms of its bestowment—as a free gift, so that no quantity of gold or silver could purchase it. Compare what is said of wisdom (Job 28:15-19). 2, An alarming declaration. “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter.” Concerning which also must be noted:
(1) The import of it—viz., that Simon had no share either in the word or doctrine of the Gospel which Peter preached, or in the Holy Ghost which God imparted to believers, so that even if apostolic hands had been laid upon him it was wholly in vain, or in the Christian community to which all Spirit-endowed believers belong. This was practically a sentence of excommunication on Simon. It excluded him from the congregation of believing and regenerated men, because his speech disclosed he should never have been reckoned with these.
(2) The ground of it. “Thy heart is not right in the sight of God” or “before God.” There was more at fault with Simon than defective understanding. His heart was not straight (compare2 Kings 10:15; 2 Kings 10:15, LXX.; 2 Peter 2:15), not sincere and upright. Crooked, perverse, and corrupt, it was directed towards not spiritual, but earthly things. It thirsted not for eternal life but for temporal power, sought not God’s glory, but its own fame. Though it might seem otherwise in men’s sight, such was its character in the eyes of God.
3. A solemn exhortation. “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness,” etc. Setting forth
(1) An urgent duty. To repent of his wickedness, since without godly sorrow for past sin moral improvement was impossible. To turn from his wickedness. This also was implied, inasmuch as no repentance could be sincere that did not lead to a changed life. To pray God or the Lord for forgiveness, because even repentance and reformation cannot cancel or atone for past guilt. And such guilt attached to the wicked thought of the heart quite as much as to the evil deed of the hand or sinful word of the mouth (Matthew 15:19).
(2) A fearful uncertainty. “If perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee.” Peter could have no doubt that “all manner of sin could” and would be “forgiven unto men” if they repented and believed (Matthew 12:31), but in this case he appeared uncertain whether the special sin committed did not fall within the category of sins for which no forgiveness can be found either in this life or in that which is to come (Matthew 12:31-32; 1 John 5:16). Peter’s language shows that the power of absolution conferred on the apostles by Christ (John 20:23) was not absolute, and could not be exercised in every or any case except conditionally on the repentance and faith of the individual absolved.
(3) An appalling argument. Peter justifies his uncertainty as to the possibility of Simon’s forgiveness by stating that Simon was “in the gall of bitterness”—i.e., in bitterness, wickedness, hostility, as in gall, “and in the bond of iniquity”—i.e., in unrighteousness as in a chain. Not that he would lapse into such a condition if he did not repent (Stier), but that already he had fallen into and was abiding in it. The gall of noxious reptiles having been considered by the ancients as the seat of their venom, Peter, by the selection of this metaphor, virtually said that Simon was actuated by a spirit of bitter hostility against the Gospel, that the seat of this bitterness was in his corrupt heart, and that this malignity which his evil nature cherished held him fast like a chain, or bond.
III. Simon Magus’s entreaty.
1. What was right about it.
(1) It was good that Simon felt alarmed and thought of prayer, rather than magic, as a means of averting his peril.
(2) It was better that he sought the friendly mediation of Peter to make supplication on his behalf, whereas he might have turned upon Peter with cursing and violence.
(3) It was best that he directed Peter to lay his prayer before the Lord against whom he had sinned. Even of bad men it is right to take the most charitable view, and these thoughts suggest hope for Simon the Magician.
2. What was wrong about it.
(1) That he prayed not himself but merely asked (perhaps mockingly) Peter to pray for him.
(2) That he only wished to elude the threatened punishment of his wickedness, and had no concern about escaping from the wickedness itself.
(3) That he made no mention of feeling sorry for his sin, but only “confessed his fear of punishment, not horror of guilt” (Bengel). In all which he resembled Pharaoh, who entreated Moses to intercede with Jehovah for him (Exodus 8:29; Exodus 9:28; Exodus 10:17), and yet afterwards hardened his heart.
IV. Simon Peter’s silence. It is not said that the apostle complied with the magician’s request. The inference is that he did not.
1. Not because it would have been wrong to pray for another. Intercessory prayer was practised by Old Testament saints, as Abraham (Genesis 17:18; Genesis 17:20; Genesis 18:23-32), Moses (Exodus 8:2; Exodus 8:13; Exodus 8:30-31), Samuel (1 Samuel 7:5-12), and Elijah (1 Kings 17:20-23); was enjoined upon New Testament disciples by Christ (Matthew 5:44), and is still enforced upon believers as a duty (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; James 5:16; 1 John 5:16).
2. Not because the forgiveness of heinous sin was impossible. If Simon Magus’s wickedness was outside the reach of pardon Peter did not know this, else he would not have urged on Magus to pray for forgiveness. But
3. Because the conditions of true prayer were wanting. Simon was not in a proper state of mind to be interceded for, being destitute of both repentance and faith. Peter may have supplicated heaven for his awakening, and perhaps did so in secret; while Simon continued as he was, Peter could not beseech God for the granting of his request. Whether the magician ever repented and reformed cannot be told. Ecclesiastical tradition reports that after his interview with Peter he went back to his old courses like a dog to his vomit, etc. (2 Peter 2:22), and became a bitter opponent of Christianity.
1. That many who profess to be converted are still in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.
2. That heaven’s gifts—whether in providence or in grace—cannot be purchased for money, but must always be accepted free.
3. That the purchase and sale of spiritualities (usually called Simony) is a heinous sin.
4. That “the heart aye’s the past aye, that makes us right or wrong” (Burns).
5. That the first thing to be done with sin is to repent of it, and the second thing to seek its forgiveness.
6. That sinful thoughts and feelings as much require repentance and forgiveness as sinful words and Acts 7:0. That if Peter could read the heart of Magus, much more can God read the hearts of all.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 8:18. Money.
I. Rightly viewed.—God’s gift to man.
1. Because the silver and the gold are Mine saith the Lord (Haggai 2:8).
2. Because no man can possess it except it be given him from above (John 3:27; James 1:17).
3. Because the ability to earn money comes from God (Deuteronomy 8:18).
3. Because God can recall it at any moment (Job 1:21).
II. Wrongly used.—When employed to purchase the Holy Ghost, or salvation.
1. Because the Holy Ghost, a spiritual gift, cannot be purchased by carnal things.
2. Because the Holy Ghost, a heavenly gift, cannot be purchased by earthly things.
3. Because the Holy Ghost, a free gift, cannot be purchased by anything.
Acts 8:21. A Heart not Right with God.
I. When destitute of true faith (Hebrews 11:6).
II. When anxious to make gain of godliness (1 Timothy 6:5).
III. When desirous of purchasing salvation.
IV. When secretly in love with sin (Psalms 66:18).
V. When a veiled enemy of Jesus Christ (Acts 13:10).
Acts 8:22. The Thoughts of the Heart.
I. Naturally wicked (Genesis 6:5).
II. Thoroughly understood (Proverbs 15:11).
III. All forgivable (Matthew 12:31).
IV. Certainly damnable, if not repented of (Luke 13:3).
Acts 8:24. Intercessory Prayer.
I. Commanded (Matthew 5:44; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Timothy 2:1; James 5:16).
II. Exemplified. Abraham (Genesis 17:18; Genesis 19:23); Moses (Exodus 32:31-32); David (2 Samuel 24:17); Paul (Romans 1:9).
III. Solicited.—By Pharaoh (Exodus 8:8; Exodus 8:28); Israelites (Numbers 21:7); Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:6); Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:1-4); Zedekiah (Jeremiah 37:3).
IV. Answered.—For Ishmael (Genesis 17:20); Pharaoh (Exodus 8:12-13; Exodus 8:30-31); Miriam (Numbers 12:13); Aaron (Deuteronomy 9:20); Peter (Acts 12:5-12); etc.
V. Refused.—To Judah (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11) and Simon Magus.
Acts 8:14-25. The Mistakes of Simon.
I. He sought to purchase spiritual gifts with money.—Rich men try to buy the favour of Him whom they have neglected all their lives by great gifts to His cause. Poor men try to do it by some outward service which is not loving sonship. It is the mistake of all who cannot understand that God’s offer is so free. So for penitence, which is only a motive to return to God and to receive His pardon, they substitute some penance which is the offering of our pains of mind or body to Him as the condition on which we ask His grace. It makes but little difference whether it is in a grosser or more spiritual form, whether it by the flagellation of our bodies or the torturing of our souls. God gives pardon; He does not sell it. Sin can earn wages, such as they are, but eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ is the gift of God’s free grace.
II. He sought spiritual gifts that he might use them for selfish ends.—For it is impossible not to suppose that he offered money for money’s worth. He had been a magician, and accustomed to receive the pay as well as the praises of the Samaritans. He desired this apostolic power that by its aid he might be both exalted and enriched. Here again, although the form of Simon’s sin is exceptionally gross, the spirit of it is not unknown even to our modern world. Simon’s sin is that of those who look upon the places of the Christian Church rather as means of support than as opportunities of ministry. But there is a subtler form of this same sin not so easily recognised, nor so easily brought to condemnation. Conceit may move men as well as covetousness. Ambition may be a motive as strong as avarice. They make this same mistake, commit this same sin, who desire to enjoy the dignities of Christian leadership in distinction from simply desiring to do Christian work. But there is a broader application of the principle, to those who desire the benefits of religion without the religion itself. The world is full of men who wish to have the advantage but not the responsibility of spiritual gifts. They would like the peace and joy of believing, but are not willing to accept its restraint and control. Above all, they are willing to be saved from the punishments of sin, but unwilling to be saved from the sin itself. They will join the disciple and be baptised and give their money, as Simon did, and would like all that God has to give them except a new heart; and the old heart is not right in His sight.
III. He sought to substitute the spiritual gifts of others for his own repentance and prayer.—And this was his last mistake, after he had been rebuked for the first two, and so was perhaps the worst and most harmful of all. Peter had turned on this baptised sorcerer with sharp rebuke. God’s gift cannot be purchased. Simon’s money can find no investment in these spiritual gifts. Worst of all, he has shown that his heart is not right in God’s sight; that it is full of wicked thoughts. “Repent of this thy wickedness,” he cries to him, “and pray God if perhaps the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee.” There is no sin so great that true repentance and turning to God may not cover it. But still the mind of the disappointed magician does not take in the remedy proposed and its necessity. He would rather pray them to pray God for him than do it himself. He would rather depend on them than on the Lord. “Pray for me,” he begs. If they would only pray for him, he might be delivered from these threatened evils. Nor is this a mistake confined to the Samaritan sorcerer. How many people are to-day depending on some other person’s goodness to save them, or some other person’s prayers to procure their pardon?—how many who practically hope for some miraculous saving power from the intercessions of others, without their own self-abasement before God, or without making supplication for themselves. There are husbands by scores who, having some general knowledge of the gospel, hope to be saved somehow by the godly living and praying of their wives; children, grown up to manhood and to womanhood in Christian homes, who are relying blindly on the power of their parents with God to secure for them deliverance from sin and a part in his salvation; unrenewed and unrepentant persons in all our congregations who hope that the Church will somehow pray them into heaven, if only at the eleventh hour. Perhaps the Church, in some of its branches at least, is not altogether blameless for this attitude on the part of many. Has it not sometimes encouraged them to ask for the prayers of God’s people without emphasising the need that their own prayers should first be offered up. No Peter by his prayers, devout and apostolic though they be, can save a Simon who does not repent of his sin and pray for his own pardon and purifying. No Monica can save an Augustine by her prayers till God shall teach the wayward son himself to cry to Him for help. There is but one Mediator between God and man—the man Christ Jesus; and not even He makes repentance unnecessary on the sinner’s part. After all, the mistakes of Simon were only the outcome of his mistaken heart. The heart which is not right in the sight of God cannot see anything rightly which relates to God. It does not see itself or Him, or its relation to Him, as it is. The right heart feels its need of that which cannot be procured by money or by its own good works, but only as the gift of God. The right heart recognises that it has no claim upon God’s spiritual gifts for its own sake, but only that it may use them in the new spirit it has received of love to God and love to man. The right heart will not depend on any other to make needless for it sincere repentance and humble prayer.—Monday Club Sermons.
The Natural Heart.—In meditating upon the story of the Samaritan impostor, and studying our own depraved nature in it, we may remark—
I. That the natural heart has no knowledge of Divine things.—We hear a great deal nowadays of the “religious instinct.” It is one of the catchwords by which men would do away with the notions of revelation and a new heart. According to some modern teachings, all men have a religious instinct, all have a desire to worship God—nay, all do worship God in some honest way, which, as he is a kind God, must be acceptable to him. On analysis, we shall find that this, which is called a religious instinct, is either the action of a guilty conscience or of a poetic fancy. But is this religion? Is this knowing and serving God? Is this intelligent action towards a revealed Maker? Is it a movement of will and affections toward a personal Ruler of the universe? Can such a religion as is found in the “religious instinct,” as it is called, satisfy the heart and purify the life? Has it ever done so? Do we find people and nations growing stronger on such diet, more civilised, more attractive? The religious instinct is of no higher character than the eating and drinking instinct, as far as true religion is concerned. One will lead to God as readily as the other. They are both of the earth, earthy. Men are cut off from God by sin, and they can return only by the use of Divine means. Nothing in themselves can be of any avail. The chasm must be bridged from the Divine side. Acceptance of what God has done is salvation. What we do only helps us downward in sin. That which Simon brought out into full relief by reason of his position and boldness was simply the common character of the natural man. Divine things are treated with low, earthly affections, and, of course, as low, earthly things. Simon in trying to buy God’s power was no worse than the many who try to appease God’s anger with a penance or a gift. The one tries to buy God’s power, the other tries to buy God’s pardon.
II. Note, in the second place, that man’s wickedness before God is in the condition of his heart.—Look at the words used in Simon’s case: “Thy heart is not right before God.” And then again, “Repent of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee.” Men have accustomed themselves to posit sin in overt acts, and have failed to explore the pollution of their hearts. Our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount endeavours to correct this fatal error, and shows that the seat of murder and other gross offences is in the heart. He, as a holy God, can receive none to Himself except as the unholy heart is renewed. This fundamental truth is what the poets and philosophers ignore. They would reform man on the basis of the old evil heart. They would make the outer circles of life pure, and leave the core rotten. If, however, they say that the heart of man is pure, how then did it ever produce such universal impurity in life? For surely the life must come from the heart. But some will say, “We believe the heart must be renewed, but why cannot man renew it himself? What is renewal except turning the heart from one object of affection to another, from wrong to right, from the false to the true?” In reply, we make our third remark on our text—
III. That only God’s power can renew the heart.—We accept the definition that renewal is a turning from wrong to right, from the false to the true. But when the affections are in the wrong and the false, how can their own influence take them out? How can love destroy itself? Now, the heart is this love, this love for evil. How can it change itself to love for good? Where is the first impetus to come from when that which forms the force of the life is fixed upon evil? Do you take refuge in the thought that there is some element of good in the heart, and that this at last accomplishes the renewal? Then why does it not always accomplish it? What is there to make exceptional cases? Any exceptional case destroys your theory, for Nature always works in the same way, and if the good element would produce renewal in one heart, it certainly would in all. But, besides that, how could the good element in the heart overcome the bad unless it had a majority? And if it had a majority, how came the heart ever to go wrong? No; the theory will not bear examination. The evil heart cannot renew itself. God alone can do that.
IV. The hope of man is in prayer.—“Pray the Lord,” said Peter, “if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee.” Prayer must have penitence as its spirit (“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord”). It must have a deep conviction of personal sin. Though Simon apparently did not take the road to pardon and to God, we see in Peter’s injunction what the road is. It is prayer to God. The heart needs His forgiving grace.—H. Crosby, D.D.
Acts 8:18. And when Simon saw.—Most likely through hearing the baptised speak with tongues. He offered them money.—From Simon’s name and proposal arose the expression “Simony” for the purchase of spiritual offices. Inde Simoniœ vocabulum (Bengel).
Acts 8:19. To me also.—I.e., “as well as to you”; not “as well as to others,” “since no example of such transfer was known to him” (Hackett).
Acts 8:20. Thy money perish with thee.—Lit., thy silver with thyself be for destruction. Neither an implication nor a prediction, but a strongly expressed negation. May be purchased.—The verb in Greek being active, the clause should be translated, “because thou didst think to acquire,” etc.
Acts 8:21. In this matter.—Or, in this word—i.e., doctrine or gospel which we preach (Olshausen, Neander, Lange, Zöckler, Hackett).
Acts 8:22. For God the best authorities read Lord, as in Acts 8:24, signifying the exalted Christ If perhaps.—Taken in connection with John 20:23, these words show “how completely the apostles themselves referred the forgiveness of sins to, and left it in the sovereign power of God, and not to their own delegated power of absolution” (Alford).
Acts 8:23. Art in the or wilt become gall or a gall root of bitterness.—As in Romans 3:14; Ephesians 4:31; and Hebrews 12:15. And in the bond or a bond of iniquity.—As in Isaiah 58:6.
Acts 8:24. Pray ye to the Lord for me.—Compare the language of Pharaoh to Moses (Exodus 8:28; Exodus 9:28; Exodus 10:17).
Acts 8:25. The imperfects returned or kept returning, and preached or kept preaching, show that the evangelistic activity of the home-returning apostles was not confined to isolated acts of preaching but was continued all along the route.
Acts 8:26. For the read an before angel. Towards the south.—κατὰ μεσημβρίαν might be rendered, but not so well, at noon (compare Acts 22:6). Gaza, the modern Guzzeh, was one of the five cities of the Philistines at the southern boundary of Canaan (Genesis 10:19), about an hour’s journey from the Mediterranean. Originally belonging to Judah (Joshua 15:47) it was subsequently captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:17; Judges 16:1). Gaza “is an important place still, though no vestige of the ancient city remains. It stands on an isolated mound one hundred and eighty feet above the sea, from which it is about two miles distant, and is surrounded by gardens; it is said to have still a population of eighteen thousand” (Palestine, by Rev. A. Henderson, M.A., p. 167). Which, better this or it or the same, is desert; but whether Gaza (Lekebush) or the road is meant, and whether the clause was spoken by the angel (Holtzmann, Zöckler, Alford, Hackett, and others), or by Luke (Bengel Olshausen, Winer, De Wette, and others), is doubtful, though perhaps it is more correct to regard the clause as the angel’s direction to follow the desert or unfrequented road to Gaza. Robinson (Biblical Researches, ii. 514) mentions several routes from Jerusalem to Gaza, the most frequented being by Ramleh, another by Bethshemesh, and a third by Eleutheropolis. A fourth went by Hebron and across the plain, passing through the southern part of Judæa, which in Luke (Luke 1:80) is called “the desert.”
Acts 8:27. A man of Ethiopia.—Or an Ethiopian, but whether a native or only a resident cannot be inferred from this clause, though the former is the more probable. An eunuch.—Not a term of office, but a description of bodily condition (see Tacit., Ann., vi. 31: ademptœ airilitatis. Of great authority.—An official or ruler; in this case a courtier and statesman. According to Oriental custom to employ such persons in high offices of state. Candace.—Not a personal, but a dynastic name, like Pharaoh and Cæsar. Strabo and Dio mention a queen of Ethiopia of this name in the twenty-second or twenty-third year of the reign of Augustus Caesar; while Pliny (Nat. Hist., vi. 35), states that a Candace ruled in Ethiopia in his day. The Ethiopians inhabited the region in the Nile Valley south of Egypt—Meroe, a fertile island, formed by two branches of the Nile, being a portion of their territory, The word for tressure, γάζα, is Persian, and occurs in the LXX. (Ezra 5:17; Ezra 6:1; Esther 4:7). To worship.—Heathen proselytes (John 12:20) as well as foreign Jews were accustomed to perform pilgrimages to Jerusalem for this purpose.
Acts 8:32. The place, or passage, of the Scripture—i.e., of the Old Testament—which he read, or was reading, the verb being imperfect, was this.—The citation, from Isaiah 53:7-8, follows the LXX., and differs from the Hebrew which gives in the 8th verse—“By (or, from) oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living?” or “and his life who shall recount?” etc. (R.V.).
Acts 8:37. Of the A.V. is omitted from the R.V. in accordance with the best authorities, א A. B.
Acts 8:39.—The Alexandrian MS. (A) reads “The Holy Spirit of the Lord fell on the eunuch but an angel of the Lord caught away Philip.” The other codices read as in the text. That Philip’s disappearance was not a natural occurrence, such as an impulsive and hasty withdrawal, but a supernatural removal (compare 1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16), effected by the Spirit, was obviously the view of the historian.
Acts 8:40. Azotus.—Or, Ashdod, originally a seat of the Anakim (Joshua 11:22), became one of the five chief cities of the Philistines (Joshua 13:4; 1 Samuel 6:17), and the principal seat of the Dagon worship (1 Samuel 5:1; 1Ma. 10:83; 1Ma. 11:4). It was handed over to the tribe of Judah at the conquest (Joshua 15:46), but did not continue long in their possession, and after the exile appeared among Israel’s foes (Nehemiah 4:7). It is represented by the present day Esdud, a miserable Mohammedan village, two miles south of Jamnia, and half an hour’s journey from the sea. Philostratus mentions that Apollonius of Tyana was found one day at noon in Rome before the tribunal of Domitian and at evening in Puteoli. Cæsarea.—Six hundred furlongs distant from Jerusalem, built by Herod the Great on a site before called Strato’s Tower, named Cæsarea Sebaste, and inaugurated with great pomp and splendour in the twenty-eighth year of his reign, B.C. 12 (Jos., Ant. XV. ix. 6). As the official residence of the Herodian kings and Roman governors, it soon became the most important city in Palestine, as well as its chief port. Paul visited Cæsarea more than once (Acts 9:30; Acts 18:22; Acts 21:8-16; Acts 22:23-30; Acts 24-26.). In the third century it became the seat of a bishopric and of a public school in which afterwards Origen taught. Eusebius was born in Cæsarea in the fourth century. At the present time “by the sea shore, midway between the Nahr-er-Zerka and the Nahr-Mef-jir, a vast expanse of ground is covered with the almost indistinguishable débris of Herod’s once splendid city.”—Picturesque Palestine, iii., 126).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 8:26-40
The Conversion of the Eunuch; or, the Gospel carried into Ethiopia
I. Occasioned by Providence.—The preparatory steps which led to this remarkable occurrence were seven.
1. The Eunuch’s adhesion to the Hebrew faith. An Ethiopian from the upper valley of the Nile, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians (Ethiopia being at this time ruled by female sovereigns, of whom Candace was the official title), who had charge of all her treasure, who was her Finance Minister—five clauses descriptive of his extraction, his condition, his dignity, his time, and his office—he had in measure at least renounced his original heathen superstitions, having, like so many others about that period, come to realise their inability to satisfy the wants of the soul. It has been supposed indeed that he was a Jew who had risen to eminence in Ethiopia, as Moses had done in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, and Mordecai in Shushan (Stokes), chiefly on the ground that had he been a heathen, Cornelius could not have been designated the first Gentile convert. As an argument, however, this is scarcely convincing, since in the Eunuch’s case no question arose about terms of admission to the Palestinian Church, while if as stated he was a circumcised pagan, his case was sufficiently distinguished from that of Cornelius, who was certainly an uncircumcised Gentile. The probability, therefore, is that he was an African who, having embraced the Jewish faith, was attached to the temple as a proselyte (compareActs 10:2; Acts 10:2; Acts 13:16), but whether of the gate (Alford, Renan) or of righteousness (Plumptre) cannot be determined. Neither can it be ascertained how he had been led to such an act of renunciation and acceptance as this his proselyte relation to Judaism implied. Jews, it is known, had for centuries been settled in Ethiopia; and the Greek or Septuagint translation of the Scriptures was at this time widely diffused throughout the world.
2. The Eunuch’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship. It was the custom for proselytes as well as for foreign Jews to undertake such pilgrimages in order to attend the great annual religious festivals at Jerusalem (Acts 2:10; John 12:20); and the Treasurer of Meroë had manifestly been in the Jewish capital, observing one or other of these feasts; most likely a Pentecost, which was usually attended by the largest numbers. That he had done so had no doubt been of God’s ordering.
3. The Eunuch’s homeward journey through the desert. What particular motive the African statesman had for selecting the desert route to Gaza, viâ Bethlehem and Hebron, in preference to any of the other roads, as for instance that which led through Ramleh or that which ran by Bethshemesh, cannot be conjectured; but it need not be questioned that God’s object in directing him to the choice he made was to secure the quietude necessary for conversation with the messenger of heaven who was about to be despatched to join him.
4. The Eunuch’s meeting with Philip at the moment of his need. According to the story, while his chariot, “a mode of locomotion at all times almost unknown to Syria and Palestine” (Renan), rolled along upon its homeward way, the distinguished traveller, following a custom then quite common, occupied himself in reading. The book which engaged his attention was that of Esaias the prophet. It is not necessary to suppose (Stier) that he had only for the first time procured a copy of the Scriptures when in the Jewish capital. It is more likely that he had long possessed one, but that, having heard in Jerusalem about the death and resurrection of Jesus, he may have been examining the prophecies to ascertain how far these had been fulfilled in Christ’s person and work (Hackett). Anyhow, he had just arrived at a passage in the narrative for which he felt the need of an interpreter when he encountered Philip, whom, the moment before, he could hardly have expected to find in a solitude like that through which he was passing. But this also was of the Lord.
5. The Eunuch’s occupation at the moment of Philip’s appearance. Not merely reading but reading aloud, which furnished Philip with an opportunity and an excuse for striking in with a query—“Understandest thou what thou readest?”—which perhaps he could not otherwise so readily have done.
6. The Spirit’s direction to Philip to approach the Eunuch. Although Philip had been sent to the desert road from Samaria—not from Jerusalem (Zeller)—by an angel, he had not been instructed by the angel as to what was the object of his journey. Even when the opulent African appeared, he could not be certain that his mission related to a personage so great without further instructions. These, however, were conveyed to him by a special inspiration: “The Spirit said to him, Go near and join thyself to this chariot”; and with that, of course, all hesitation vanished. It is worth observe that this is “the first mention in the Acts of that inner prompting of the Spirit which is referred to again, probably in Acts 13:2, but certainly in Acts 1:19, Acts 16:6-7” (Alford). Such inward guidance is not unknown to Christians yet.
7. The Eunuch’s request to Philip to ascend his chariot. Had the Eunuch resented Philip’s inquiry, which from a worldly or at least modern point of view was not remarkably polite, there had been no conversation and no conversion; but being anxious to understand, and perhaps solicitous about salvation, and obviously humble withal, the distinguished official did not discern any lack of courtesy in Philip’s question, or, if he did, he passed it over, and, like one willing to be taught, invited Philip to ascend and sit beside him. And so the providential chain was complete.
II. Effected by the word.—If, as already suggested, the Eunuch’s conversion from heathenism to Judaism was brought about by a believing study of the Old Testament Scriptures, through the same instrumentality was he now to be led over from Judaism to Christianity.
1. By the word read. Or heard. Salvation is not a magical or supernatural transformation to be effected on the soul without intelligent co-operation on its part, but an inward moral and spiritual renewal which can be carried through solely by means of the truth. In accordance with this the Eunuch was engaged in reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah when Philip met him. Modern critics, on what seems to the present writer altogether insufficient grounds, have decided that the passage named was not penned by the son of Amos but by an unknown prophet who lived towards the close of the exile; but it is obvious that this was not the view taken either by the Ethiopian treasurer who was groping his way out of heathen darkness, or by Philip the Christian deacon, who at the moment was under the special guidance of the Holy Ghost, or by Luke the evangelist, whom the Holy Ghost employed to record the incident.
2. By the word understood. Mere reading without intelligent apprehension can effect nothing. Hence the question of the deacon was directed towards ascertaining whether the Eunuch comprehended the import of what his eye followed and his tongue uttered; and on learning that he did not, immediately the deacon undertook the office of expounding to him the sense of the sacred text. The Eunuch could indeed perceive that the prophet spoke of a suffering servant of Jehovah; what was not apparent was whether that suffering servant should be identified with the prophet himself or with another. That he was neither, but, as the newer critical school asserts, the people of Israel, did not occur to either the Eunuch or the Deacon. Both sought him in an individual, and that individual Philip told his distinguished scholar was Jesus, whose death was foreshadowed in the prophet’s language, which pointed out—
(1) the meekness of it on Christ’s part—“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter,” etc.;
(2) the iniquity of it on the part of those by whom it was compassed—“In His humiliation His judgment was taken away,” meaning that “through oppression and a judicial sentence he was taken away”—i.e., the rights of justice and humanity were denied Him, or in other words He was judicially murdered;
(3) the fruitfulness of it in the number of spiritual descendants secured by means of it to Christ—“Who shall declare His generation?” or “Who shall count the number of His posterity?”—a translation which the Hebrew will support, though another rendering makes it equivalent to the preceding thought—“who shall declare the wickedness of His contemporaries?” and
(4) the triumph of it, inasmuch as through it His life was taken away from the earth, not merely by a violent death, but by exaltation to heaven—“for His life is taken from the earth” (Luke’s translation is from the LXX., and every clause in Acts 8:33 has been debated by interpreters; but as all the above renderings are possible, they may be used as representing the course of evangelical instruction through which Philip put the Eunuch).
3. By the word believed. As salvation comes not by reading or hearing where understanding is wanting, so neither does it result from understanding where faith does not ensue. The truth concerning Jesus must be accepted as correct, in so far as it is a testimony, and relied on by the heart’s trust in so far as it is a means of salvation. Faith in Scripture is always more than intellectual assent. It involves as well cordial reliance on Him of whom the testimony speaks. This faith was unquestionably exhibited by the Eunuch.
III. Accompanied by confession.—The particular mode in which the Eunuch avowed his acceptance of Christianity was by submitting to the rite of baptism, concerning which four things may be noticed.
1. The place where the rite was performed. Not otherwise indicated than by the circumstance that in its immediate vicinity was “a certain water,” it cannot now be identified, although Eusebius and Jerome have decided for Bethsur (Joshua 15:58; Nehemiah 3:16), near Hebron, about twenty miles south of Jerusalem, and two from Hebron, against which stands no improbability; but rather for which may be urged that a fountain named Ain-Edh-Dhirweh rises near the town, which still retains the old name in a slightly altered form, Beil-Sur. Other sites have been selected, as Ain-Haniyeh, about five miles south of Jerusalem, and a Wady in the plain near Tell-el-Hasy.
2. The talk before the rite was performed. Drawing attention to the water by the wayside, the Eunuch expressed a wish to be baptised, from which it has been inferred that Philip must have enlightened him concerning the nature and necessity of baptism. Of this, however, he may have learnt in Jerusalem. Philip’s reply must have been something like that contained in Acts 8:37, though by the best MSS. this is omitted. Yet, if spurious, the insertion must have been as old as Irenæus, who cites the words without misgiving. Meyer thinks they have been culled from some baptismal liturgy, to show that the Eunuch was not baptised without a formal profession of his faith (see “Hints on Acts 8:37”).
3. The mode in which the rite was performed. It is commonly asserted that the words “and they went down both into the water” imply that the Eunuch was immersed; but if “into the water” signifies that the Eunuch was immersed then as Philip went down into the water, in company with the Eunuch, Philip also must have been immersed; while if Philip could have gone down into the water without being immersed, it is obvious that the Eunuch could have done the same. The impromptu character of the baptism suggests something simpler than immersion, most likely sprinkling or pouring.
4. What happened after the rite was performed. The Alexandrian text reads, “And the Holy Spirit of the Lord fell on the Eunuch,” which may have been inserted to harmonise the incident with theological requirements (see Acts 1:5), or with what was supposed to have usually occurred after baptism (Acts 2:38); but the Samaritans were not endowed with the Holy Ghost immediately after baptism (Acts 8:16), and the gracious indwelling of the Spirit in the heart of a believer is not necessarily connected with baptism (Ephesians 1:13). What did occur was that Philip was miraculously caught away by the Spirit of the Lord from the Eunuch’s side, as Old Testament prophets had often been supernaturally rapt from the eyes of beholders (1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16), as Paul afterwards was caught up into the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2; 2 Corinthians 12:4), and as the then living believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air at His second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:17). By that (mysterious) departure the Eunuch’s faith could scarcely fail to be confirmed (Bengel), unless indeed it was a purely natural, though sudden and impulsive withdrawal on the part of Philip (Zeller, Hackett, Plumptre, Olshausen, Meyer), in which case its effect upon the Eunuch would rather seem to have been disturbing. But the appended statement that Philip was found at Azotus, or Ashdod, one of the principal cities of the Philistines near the sea-coast, rather points to a miraculous removal (Bengel, Alford, Stier, Spence, Lechler, Holtzmann, Zöckler).
IV. Followed by joy.—Though the Eunuch no more beheld the evangelist he went on his way rejoicing, thus showing that the change which had passed upon him was independent of the agent by whose mediation it had been effected. The causes of the chamberlain’s rejoicing may be set down as four.
1. He had found the true object of worship. This in a manner he had known before, inasmuch as the object of his journey to Jerusalem had been to worship Jehovah, but since meeting with Philip he had learnt that Jehovah had revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “the brightness of His Father’s glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3), as the supreme and sole object of adoration.
2. He had found the key to the Bible. Before he encountered Philip the Bible which he read had been a dark book to him; after his conversation with Philip he discovered that he had obtained a light which enabled him to peruse its prophecies with understanding. “The golden key to the Psalter” says Bishop Alexander, “lies in the pierced hand.” The same key unlocks the mysteries of the law and the prophets. “Moses wrote of Me,” said Christ (John 5:46); and of the prophets Peter affirms “The Spirit of Christ was in them” (1 Peter 1:11).
3. He had found a personal Saviour. The faith professed by the Eunuch was more than a bare intellectual assent to the truths propounded by Philip. It was a heart reception of Jesus whom Philip had set forth as the Redeemer. It was a trust which reposed on His death as a true atonement for sin, and looked to His resurrection as the source of spiritual life for his soul. It was a faith that might have said “I am crucified with Christ,” etc. (Galatians 2:20). A faith which enabled him to rejoice in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3) as his Saviour and friend.
4. He had found a blessed gospel for his countrymen. On his upward journey to Jerusalem he was only treasurer of Candace, the Queen of the Ethiopians; on his downward way he had become a treasurer of the King of kings, and was bearing to his benighted countrymen, in the name of that King, riches more precious than all the wealth of Ethiopia, the joyful tidings that for them, too, had arrived a day of salvation, and a heavenly Saviour who could, and would, rescue them from sin and misery, if only they put their trust in Him. Tradition preserves the Eunuch’s name as Indich, and credits him with being the first to preach the gospel in Ethiopia, even converting Queen Candace, after which he departed to India and taught in Ceylon.
1. That earnest seekers after God will eventually be guided into the truth concerning God.
2. That the best companion for an anxious inquirer after God and salvation is the Bible.
3. That nothing is so effective for conversion work as the story of the death and resurrection of Christ.
4. That Old Testament Scripture was intended to point the way to Christ.
5. That the ordinance of baptism should not be neglected by professed disciples of Jesus Christ.
6. That the mode of Christian baptism may be by sprinkling or pouring as well as by immersion.
7. That no joy can be compared to the joy of salvation.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 8:26. Angels.
I. Their nature.—Spiritual intelligences (Psalms 104:4).
II. Their number.—Practically beyond reckoning (Psalms 68:17; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 5:11).
III. Their dignity.—Superior to man (Psalms 8:5; 2 Peter 2:11), they stand in God’s presence (Psalms 68:7; Zechariah 6:5; Revelation 5:11; Matthew 18:10).
IV. Their character.—
1. Holy (Daniel 4:13; Daniel 4:17; Matthew 25:31; Revelation 14:10).
2. Reverential (Isaiah 6:2).
3. Obedient (Isaiah 6:2; Matthew 6:10).
4. Powerful (Psalms 103:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:7).
V. Their employment.—
1. Worshipping God (Nehemiah 9:6); Psalms 148:2; Luke 2:13; Revelation 4:8).
2. Doing God’s will (Psalms 103:21; Matthew 6:10).
3. Studying the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12).
4. Rejoicing in the conversion of sinners (Luke 15:10).
5. Ministering to the heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14), as, for instance (to mention only cases that occur in the Acts), to the disciples at Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:10-11), to Peter and John (Acts 5:19), to Philip (Acts 8:26), to Cornelius (Acts 10:7), to Peter (Acts 12:8), to the Church in the destruction of Herod (Acts 12:23), to Paul on ship board (Acts 27:23).
Acts 8:27. The Heavenly Treasure.
I. Where it was found. On a solitary way through the desert.
II. The chest that contained it. The Scripture with its dark sayings and seals.
III. The key which opened it. The preaching of Philip.
IV. The jewel which sparkled to him. Christ who died for our sins and rose again for our justification.
V. The seal of possession. Granted to him by baptism.
VI. The joy which it occasioned. That of forgiveness and salvation.—Adapted from Gerok.
Acts 8:28. Bible Reading.—A duty.
I. Divinely commanded.—Even Christians forget this; but see Deuteronomy 6:6; Deuteronomy 16:19; Deuteronomy 31:11; Joshua 1:8; John 5:39; 2 Peter 1:19.
II. Greatly neglected.—Not by the unbelieving world only, but also by the professed followers of Christ.
III. Highly profitable.—Imparting light, strength, and joy to such as practise it (Psalms 19:11; Proverbs 6:23; Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16).
Acts 8:30. Three Questions about the Bible.
I. Readest thou what thou hast?—
1. Thou hast the Bible, which is the word of God, and worthy of being read.
2. It was given thee to be read, and cannot be neglected without sin.
3. If not read it will one day testify against thee.
II. Understandest thou what thou readest?—
1. It supposes that we read the Bible—which is good.
2. It discloses to us our natural blindness—which is better.
3. It excites us to seek the true interpreter and guide—which is best.
III. Obeyest thou what thou understandest?—
1. What is not understood cannot be obeyed. An extenuation of the sins of the heathen and the ignorant.
2. What is understood is designed to be obeyed. Hence arises the responsibility of the enlightened.
3. If what is understood is not obeyed, it will entail upon the disobedient both loss and guilt. No duty can be neglected without inflicting hurt upon the disobedient as well as exposing him to punishment.—Adapted from Gerok.
Acts 8:28-31. Four Marvels.
I. A courtier reads.—Here deplore the sad neglect of education on the part of many and the little attention paid to books even by not a few great men.
II. A courtier reads the Bible.—Comment upon the melancholy want of religious sentiments in mankind and the inattention paid to the Bible.
III. A courtier owns himself ignorant of his subject.—A good sign and a happy omen of coming enlightenment and progress wherever it appears, but one seldom present in those who fill exalted stations in life.
IV. A courtier applies to a minister of Christ for information and follows his counsel. The right thing to be done by such as require instruction, but an example too seldom followed.—Adapted from a well-known incident.
Acts 8:32-33. The Sufferings of Jesus.
I. Foretold in Scripture.—The hope and consolation of Israel.
II. Realised in history.—The atonement for a world’s sin.
III. Preached in the Gospel.—The greatest moral force on earth.
IV. Believed in by a sinner.—The source of his individual salvation.
Acts 8:39. The Ethiopian Eunuch.
I. The character he bore.—
1. A professor of true religion.
2. A man of sincere devotion.
3. A devout lover of the Scriptures.
II. The change he experienced.—
1. Ministerial in its agent.
2. Personal in its principle.
3. Practical in its influence.
III. The happiness he obtained.—A joy of—
1. Heartfelt gratitude.
2. Gracious experience.
3. Glorious anticipation.
1. Religion not confined to any class or condition.
2. The insufficiency of a form of godliness without its power.
3. The influence of piety upon its subjects.
The Joyful Traveller on his way Home.
I. Where did his joy come from?—He had not brought it with him. It came from what he heard from Philip, or rather from what he read in Isaiah. But how did that statement bring him joy? It told him of a Sin-bearer,—long-predicted, come at length. What he read was as blessed as it was true.
II. Where should our joy come from?—From the same testimony to the same finished work. The sinner is not happy. His sin comes between him and joy. That burden must be removed ere he can taste of joy; and it can only be removed by approaching the cross. Why is there so little joy among Christians?
1. Not because God does not wish them to have it. It is not forbidden fruit.
2. Not because joy dishonours Him. Gloom dishonours God; joy honours Him.
3. Not because joy is not safe for us to have. True joy is the safest of all things. It makes a man stedfast and earnest.
4. Not because God’s sovereignty interposes.
5. Not because joy was not meant for these days.
6. Not because it unnerves us for work. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” It is joy from God; joy in God; it is THE JOY OF GOD. To all this we are called. That which we possess is full of joy. The present favour and love of God. That which we hope for is full of joy.—H. Bonar, D.D.
Acts 8:26-39. The Eunuch from Ethiopia; or, Words to Seekers after God.
I. God must be sought where He has graciously been pleased to reveal Himself.—The Eunuch understood this, and sought Jehovah.
1. In the temple at Jerusalem, and,
2. In the sacred Scriptures. And in like manner seekers after God to day must seek Him in Christ, who is the image of the invisible God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15), or, first, in the Scriptures which testify of Christ (John 5:39), and second, in the Christian sanctuary, where believers speak of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2).
II. Seekers after God are never unobserved by Him whom they seek.—As Jehovah saw the Eunuch start upon his journey to Jerusalem and again upon his homeward track, and knew exactly all that was in his heart and what he more particularly required, so does He still behold from heaven every soul that is inquiring after Him, whether within or without the pale of Christendom (Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 32:19; Hebrews 4:13).
III. It is certain that they who seek God with their whole hearts will ultimately find Him.—That, on the word of Jehovah (Jeremiah 29:13), and of Jesus (Matthew 7:7). As Jehovah’s angel (Acts 8:26), servant (Acts 8:26), and Spirit (Acts 8:29) were all set in motion to secure that the rich treasurer should not fail in his quest, so will God by the same Spirit, and if not by the same minister by the same truth which he taught, and if not by visible angels by the same providence meet the earnest soul who is longing after Him (Isaiah 64:5; Matthew 5:4).
IV. When seekers have found God they should make public acknowledgment of the same.—Not hiding their joy in their bosoms, but giving it free expression, letting it be known, not only for the honour of God, but for the encouragement of souls in a similar seeking condition.
Acts 8:27-29. Philip and the Eunuch; or, Meetings on the Highway of Life. Such meetings are—
I. Often accidental.—At least to appearance. When Philip arose and went from Samaria, and the Eunuch se this face toward Ethiopia, neither had the least idea of encountering each other. Many meetings are, of course, purposed at least by one of the parties, as, e.g., that of Melchisedek and the King of Sodom with Abraham (Genesis 14:17-18), that of Joseph with his father (Genesis 46:29), that of Moses with Jethro (Exodus 18:1-7), that of Saul with Samuel (1 Samuel 13:10), and that of the Roman Christians with Paul (Acts 28:15); but probably an equal number are undesigned, like that of Elijah and Obadiah (1 Kings 16:7), that of Paul and Aquila (Acts 18:2), and others.
II. Frequently at most unlikely times and places.—Probably the last place in the world that either Philip or the Eunuch would have expected to meet each other would be the desert road to Gaza. Had intimation been conveyed to them beforehand that they were to cross each other’s paths, it is barely likely that either would have pitched upon the Judæan wilderness for the spot, or after the breaking up of the Jewish festival for the time. But the unexpected is that which mostly happens, so little prescient is man of the future.
III. Always providentially arranged.—“It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). “Man’s goings are of the Lord” (Proverbs 20:24). This was signally illustrated in the experiences of both Philip and the Eunuch, who were brought together not by chance but by heavenly guidance.
IV. Sometimes fraught with momentous consequences.—As was the meeting of Philip and the Eunuch, to the former of whom it presented a glorious opportunity of preaching the gospel, and of leading a soul into the light, and to the latter an equally glorious opportunity of finding that which he sought, the pearl of great price, even Jesus, and with Him the salvation of his soul.
Lesson.—Be on the outlook for life’s chances, study their significance, and endeavour to use them for heaven’s purposes.
Acts 8:26-40. Philip the Deacon; or, the Characteristics of a good Evangelist.—These may be summed up in the motto, semper paratus, or, always ready. Ready—
I. To go where God sends, whether the order comes through a natural or a supernatural channel, whether through a vision, as with Paul (Acts 16:9), or through an angel, as with Philip. “Here am I, send me” (Isaiah 6:8), should be his constant attitude.
II. To listen to the promptings of God’s Spirit, which will come to him as they came to Philip and again to Paul (Acts 16:7), if only he train himself to recognise them and discipline himself to follow them. It is the Holy Spirit’s province to lead the people of God (Romans 8:14), and He never fails to guide them who hearken to His counsels.
III. To take advantage of every opportunity of preaching, or teaching, the gospel that Providence may open, as did Philip when he met the Eunuch, and as did Paul in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:9). The good evangelist will lie in wait for such (2 Timothy 4:2).
IV. To expound whatever portion of Scripture is presented to him, which will require him to be a diligent student of the word of God, as Paul counselled Timothy to be (1 Timothy 4:13-15). Ignorance of Scripture absolutely inexcusable in one whose office it is to instruct others.
V. To direct inquiring souls to Jesus Christ, who is the central theme of Scripture and to bring souls to whom is the end of all preaching. The minister or evangelist that does not know how to point anxious inquirers to Christ has mistaken his calling.
VI. To assist young converts in making public confession of their faith, as Philip did, when he administered the rite of baptism to the Eunuch, whose faith might otherwise have wanted confirmation and eventually declined.
VII. To hide himself behind his Master, as Philip was taught to do, when he was suddenly caught away by the Spirit so that the Eunuch saw him no more. Evangelists are only instruments in conversion; the sole agent is the Spirit. Hence the glory of any conversion belongs not to the evangelist but to the Spirit. Nor does the convert longer need the instrument, while he must never be parted from the Spirit.
Philip and the Ethiopian.
I. Certain characteristics of his work.—
1. His implicit obedience to the Spirit. The angel said, “Arise and go.” He arose and went. His faith must have been severely tested. He was preaching in a city already deeply roused. A revival was in progress. The joy of the new converts was spreading the spiritual fire. The people of Samaria were in just the condition to receive the gospel, and it seemed as if he was the one appointed messenger to proclaim it to them. The angel that commanded him to go from the revived city into the desert did not disclose the object of his journey. But Philip knew whence the message came, and without question into the desert he went. But some things concerning that guidance may be noted. It is always in perfect accord with the Scriptures. Philip might well be prompt. His work was greater than that of the angel.
2. His eagerness to impart the gospel. Those who love souls as Christ did, find opportunities to tell them of Christ’s salvation. Whatever openings we see, we must press into. They are abundant. No one lives where souls are still unsaved, where God does not open a way for him to carry the gospel. Take the first step, and God will point out the next.
3. His usable knowledge of the Scriptures. Philip had made no immediate preparation for that lesson, but he knew what was in it. He had prepared himself for such emergencies, both by experience and study. He seized the heart of it, and opened its meaning to his hearer. This scholar felt that his teacher was in earnest, and in earnest for him. The teacher’s heart was kindled with the presence of the Lord. This is living, potent teaching. The great central theme of it is Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners. It is most effective, even with the indifferent and unbelieving. There are many graces and virtues and duties taught in the Bible as essential to Christian character, but the entire revelation of God is pervaded by one life. As the human body has arteries, veins, muscles, and other organs, but all dependent on the heart’s blood, which supplies the life, so the mighty complex system of revealed truth has for its centre Christ.
II. Some of the Christian labourer’s rewards as illustrated in this lesson.—
1. He finds a heart prepared to receive the truth. He hungered for a new convert. We cannot always judge who are most likely to receive the truth. Sometimes the message is new to an old man who has heard preaching all his life, and to the earnest teacher on the watch for all opportunities is given the inestimable privilege of leading him to Christ. Philip expected immediate results. It was not his purpose to sow the seed and be content to leave it. He led the Eunuch on from willingness to learn to eagerness to be a recognised disciple of Jesus. He found the way to his pupil’s conscience and heart. Such a reward is Divine. We never forget the triumphs of such moments. The pathway of those who turn many to righteousness will be as the shining light in their memories.
2. He found, new evidence of being a co-worker with God. His interest was quickening in one soul; but he was only one link in the chain of God’s mighty purpose to save that soul. The angel, the Holy Spirit, the messenger called aside from a great work, were all intent on one individual. Only occasionally is the curtain lifted for us to view the operations of God’s providence to save men; but He has provided for every inquirer complete satisfaction, and for every faithful worker sufficient help. What a reward is the evidence that God makes the efforts of His faithful servant effective! What a fact is always revealed to the unconverted soul in this lesson! God is not willing that any should perish. He has here for once shown His working while the sinner is seeking. His angel is sent on an errand to earth for the sake of one man. His minister is called away from a revival into the desert. A special word from the Holy Spirit directs that minister on his errand. All this is to show to one soul that Jesus has already died to save him.
3. Philip secured a witness for the gospel. That which he was so eager to make known would now be proclaimed by another also; for, when a miracle of healing had been wrought in the Eunuch, of course he wanted to confess who had healed him. He who believes he is accepted by Christ, will, of course, want to receive baptism and unite with the followers of Christ. There was no presumption in this. It was not a profession of his religion, but a confession of his faith. To lead another soul into real fellowship with this great company is a heavenly reward. They who strive for it prize it above earthly joys.
4. Philip filled a life with joy. The Eunuch went on his way rejoicing. That great desire of his heart was satisfied. But, wherever Philip goes, he leaves a trail of joy behind him. Samaria rejoices in his presence: so did also the desert. He left happy hearts, at peace with God, wherever he went. Could there be a higher reward than this?—Monday Club Sermons.
Acts 8:27-40. Philip and the Ethiopian.
I. Philip’s ready response.—We know not the exact kind of call which brought him from Samaria way—possibly angelic and supernatural; but as the word may mean any messenger, the message may have come from a vision of the night, or by the voice of a friend, or by the inward and yet real compulsion of a spiritual conviction. At any rate Philip knows, as any level-headed Christian man may know, what duty is and where it lies. And he had, what many of us lack, the grace of promptitude in Christian service. Why go to Africa?
1. Because the marching orders say “Go.”
2. And secondarily, because it pays to obey orders—scientifically, archæologically, commercially, socially, historically, and spiritually. Such spontaneous, willing response as Philip’s to this call into desolate Gaza is an index of the healthy, unselfish character of his Christian life. This promptitude of response is not only self-registering as to the quality and quantity of the obedience that is in us, but it is a tremendous advertisement to all lookers-on of the vitality and joy of the gospel itself. To move towards duty-doing with halting steps, as children drag themselves to school in June days, is to lose the zest of service and its reflex influence of soul cheer.
II. God always matches an obedience with an opportunity.—This incident is a concrete illustration of the Divine oversight which is constantly mating wings and air, tins and water, in a world of providence and design, and teaches us that when God sends a call he also blazes a path for our feet—a fact of Christian philosophy which the acts of all Christian apostles, ancient and modern, have verified for nineteen centuries. You speak, after long hesitation and fear, to a friend upon the theme of personal religion, and lo! you find him waiting for your word and ripe for your wish. You walk out upon an unfrequented path of Christian endeavour, and discover that the way was already trodden by unseen feet before you. Philip is called into the desert with no apparent purpose. The way is lonely and the country is desolate—when behold! a royal traveler approaches, troubled over the great question of the ages—what to do with Jesus of Nazareth. Here is Philip’s opportunity. He takes it, and an arrow of light is sent into upper Egypt from this bow, drawn, as we say, at a venture. Obedience is the pivotal thing; God takes care of the rest. This factor of providence in Christian service must not be overlooked, for it will inspire us with courage and a sense of companionship as we go upon out-of-the-way pilgrimages and take up heavy burdens. With this lesson of Divine plan in life and all its ministries, every Divine call will have such large possibility as to warrant no delay or selfish balancing of accounts for the triumphs of the desert. We never know along what road God’s providences are coming, the way of the desert or the way of the cross, in the desolate border town or in “Jerusalem the Golden,” and therefore we must travel all roads.
III. This scene illustrates also the part which the incidental experiences of life play in the interpretation of the truth.—We dwell much upon the light which, in the Leyden pastor’s phrase, shall break forth from the word itself. The truth does grow clearer the longer we look, and multiplies itself as the stars do in the night sky, as every student of God’s Book may testify; but to the rank and file of Christian disciples the sidelights of others’ experiences are more illuminating than their own insight. The Ethiopian was in darkness with the roll of prophecy open before him, until Philip poured the light of his own eyes, and the hopes of his own heart, upon this strange vision of Isaiah, when suddenly a meaningless chapter in a familiar prophet glows with “the light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Thus we all grow in knowledge and in grace, more than we think, through the experiences of our neighbours and the insights of our friends. The chance conversations, the familiar conference and prayer meeting, the Bible class, the passing comment, the public providence and the personal sorrow, are all commentators upon the eternal truths. Besides, these incidental helps are unexpected and therefore the most winsome and abiding. We venture to think that Philip here on the highway was more influential with this stranger than he would have been the preceding Sabbath in the synagogue at Jerusalem. He found his man off guard and natural, as a pastor may find his people in their daily perplexities, or the teacher her scholar in his out-of-door naturalness.
IV. The teachable temper with which this Ethiopian faces new truth.—He hears strange news in Jerusalem, news which blights the most cherished hopes of an ancient race. Suspension of judgment, a patient waiting for light, and an earnest spirit of search, these are the characteristics of this treasurer of Candace—characteristics which we need in the nineteenth century as in the first: for each generation has to travel a new path and solve a new problem, and the Ethiopian, rather than the Pharisee, is the type of the world’s hope.—William H. Davis.
Acts 8:26-40. The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch.
I. Notice the method of the Holy Spirit with the evangelist Philip.
II. We turn now to the Spirit’s method with the Ethiopian Eunuch, for further illustration of our subject.—Here, then, you see the first step in the dealing of the Holy Spirit with the Ethiopian Eunuch. It was to reveal to him the vanity of earthly good as a means of support for the soul; it was to bring the conviction of need, guilt and peril; it was to make him discontented with himself and the world, and to fill his heart with longings for the favour of God and the forgiveness of sin. To this vague yearning for good God has added a deep sense of personal sin, and has led him to the sincere use of means in prayer and the study of His revealed word. In the same way does the Spirit of God now and ever incline sinners to act.
III. Consider the harmony of these two methods of influence in their final adjustment.—As the obedient Christian stands waiting on the highway, and as the anxious heathen comes on in his chariot reading the prophet Isaiah, the well-timed plan of God approaches its consummation. The preacher had been brought there to find his audience, the convicted sinner had been brought there to hear. This subject of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch imparts several practical lessons.
1. We see by it how important it is that Christians should yield prompt obedience to the impulses of the Spirit of God, and especially to those which impel them to present Christ to the impenitent.
2. This lesson shows us the importance of personal guidance for the inquiring and anxious mind.—Had the eunuch turned from Philip or failed to hear the word of counsel from his lips, he would have lost the saving grace of God.
3. Our subject also shows us the simplicity of saving faith. “Believe with thy whole heart,” was Philip’s word, and the Eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Here is the touchstone of all sincere desire. What doth hinder? Nothing but your will stands in the way, and it is your duty to bend that will in an instant submission before God. Mark the blessedness of faith and the joy of pardoned sins as here displayed! See the Eunuch on his way rejoicing with a joy that just begins, and that will go on increasing through eternal ages!—R. R. Booth, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28