The Church under Persecution; which affords Occasion to Philip to preach Christ in Samaria. Peter and John visit Samaria. The awful History of Simon Magus. Philip preacheth to an Ethiopian, and baptizeth him.
And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. (2) And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. (3) As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. (4) Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. (5) Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. (6) And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. (7) For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. (8) And there was great joy in that city.
he opening of this Chapter, is connected with the history of Stephen, in the preceding. And it appears very plain, from what Paul related to Agrippa, Acts 26:10-11, that Stephen's death was followed with many others, in which Paul took part. And no doubt the Holy Ghost hath caused this record to be made of Paul, purposely to magnify the exceeding riches, and freeness of grace, in such an illustrious display of it, as was manifested in the after conversion of Paul. See also Acts 22:4-5; Galatians 1:13. As to those which were scattered abroad, it should seem to have been some of the seventy disciples, or probably some of the newly converted believers at the day of Pentecost. For we find, verse 1 (Acts 8:1), that the Apostles remained firm at Jerusalem. And, verse 14 (Acts 8:14), they sent Peter and Joh 1-21. Oh! could the enemies of Christ and his Church, but be made sensible, how the Lord overrules their malice to his glory, in causing them to become the very instruments, to bring about the reverse of what they intend, how would they sometimes shudder? Psalms 75:10.
The Reader will recollect, that about four years before, the Lord Jesus had visited Samaria. At which time the Lord had wrought the conversion of many of the people, John 4:39-42. Philip's ministry differed from his Master's, in that Philip wrought miracles in Jesus's name, in confirmation of the truth: but we read of no miracle wrought by Jesus, when there. But I beg the Reader not to overlook, the comprehensive manner of Philip's preaching: Christ. Yes! all preaching is folded up in Christ. Jehovah's Christ; is the One, and the only One Ordinance of heaven, Acts 4:12. And let the Reader further observe, what powerful effects followed Philip's preaching, while Christ was the whole sum and substance; text, sermon, and application! We are told, that unclean spirits came out of many; and palsies, and lameness were healed. And might we not hope, that if the Lord the Spirit were to commission preachers now, as Philip was commissioned then, to preach Christ; would not the same blessed effects, spiritually considered, follow? Oh! ye ministers of the Lord Jesus! see to it, that Philip's plan be your plan; if ye hope the same blessings to follow, Preach Christ to the people! Devils, and all unclean spirits, must be dispossessed, when God the Holy Ghost sends the word, and Christ is preached by his power.
But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: (10) To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. (11) And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. (12) But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (13) Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. (14) Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: (15) Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (16) (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) (17) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. (18) And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, (19) Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. (20) But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. (21) Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. (22) Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. (23) For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. (24) Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me. (25) And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
I pray the Reader not to overlook, how the Church of God, in all ages, was broken in upon, by ungodly men. Here is a Sorcerer, and like another Balaam, one that used enchantment, rising up among the people, and professing great things. And this man carries matters with so good a face, that at the preaching of Philip, he puts on the appearance of being converted; and is said to have believed, that is, in head knowledge, and no further, he was convinced of the truth as it is in Jesus, And so plausible, even to Philip himself, (who was commissioned to work miracles, but not to read hearts,) appeared his conversion; that he was baptized, as well as others. But when Peter, and John came down to Samaria; and the same miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost was poured out upon those whom the Lord had secretly inclined their hearts to the faith that is in Christ Jesus, as were given at Pentecost; then the detection of the hypocrisy of this awful character took place. For, as soon as he saw, through laying on of the hands of the Apostles, that the Holy Ghost was given; he took for granted, that this power, as he conceived the Apostles possessed in themselves, would be more profitable if he could obtain it for gain, than his sham tricks had been, which he had before practiced; and therefore he offered the Apostles money, that he might exercise the same privilege. Reader! pause and contemplate the extreme awfulness of such a character. To what a length men may run, and impose upon others, yea, and through the deceitfulness of sin, impose not unfrequently upon themselves also? How many of the character of Simon Magus, have been, and now are, in the midst of professing Churches, who can calculate? It is a solemn consideration; and enough to excite (as no doubt the Lord the Spirit designed it should) jealousy in every congregation! Neither would any truly faithful souls desire but to be jealous, with a godly jealousy over themselves and others. Gold, never shrinks from the trial of the hottest fire. It is only tinsel, which cannot bear the furnace.
Ministers of Christ ought never to be discouraged, when at any time, unprincipled characters, like Simon Magus, creep in among the faithful. Christ himself had a Judas in his twelve. And Philip here baptized an infidel. In all ages of the Church, it hath been so; yea, it is profitable to the Lord's people, that it should be so. Such detections of hypocrites, when they take place, make the faithful truly jealous over themselves. And seeing that men, even the greatest men, like Philip, cannot discover hearts, the humble believer is hereby led to look to the Lord. And his language is: Search me, 0 God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting, Psalms 139:23-24.
Reader! are you truly in earnest to know the ground upon which you stand? Though men cannot judge for you, the Lord's grace will enable you to judge for yourself. Look inward for divine teaching; and judge not by things outward, how promising soever they may appear. The witness of God the Holy Ghost, in the heart and conscience, by his regenerating grace is, in the place of a thousand arguments void of it. A man may learn, as Simon Magus did, by the preaching of Christ, who Christ is; and in head knowledge soar very high. But a soul-renewing apprehension of Christ can only be learnt from God the Holy Ghost. And when any one of those precious souls, whom the Father hath given to the Son, hath been awakened from the death of sin, by the regenerating power of the Holy Ghost: when from feeling, and knowing, by that Almighty Teacher, the plague of his own heart, he hath passed under the rod of the Covenant; the sentence of death in himself, and the sentence of condemnation under God's holy law, which he is conscious he hath broken; when these precious effects are inwrought in the soul, by the power of the Holy Ghost: there can be no deception here. And when he that thus convinceth of sin, hath convinced also of Christ's righteousness; when Jesus in his person, grace, and glory, is set up in the soul; and the heart is secretly and sweetly led to look to him, and to rely upon him for salvation: no soul deceptions can take place here, for such an apprehension of Christ, brings with it a sweet communion with Christ; and the believer is made to abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost, Romans 15:13.
I must not take leave of the awful character of Simon Magus, whose history hath given occasion to the observations I have offered upon it, without first remarking to the Reader, what Peter said to this man, after he had told him, that he had no part, nor lot, in this matter; that is, no part nor lot in Christ, neither in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle bid him repent of this his wickedness; meaning his awful offer of money, to purchase the gifts of the Holy Ghost: concluding, (as it should seem,) that, added to the natural state of original and actual sin in the Adam-nature of universal apostasy, this sin of his was little short of the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Let the Reader pause over this view of the subject. And then let him ask, what tremendous judgment may be supposed to follow in the numberless cases of modern times, where the sale of ministerial appointments (and from this man's history called Simony,) have been carried on for money!
One word more on this awful instance of hypocrisy, in the case of Simon Magus. When Peter bid him repent of this sin, the Apostle could not mean, that he had power to change his own heart; or that he could practice a Christian grace, which alone comes from God's gift, and Christ is exalted to bestow. Neither could he mean, that one, whom he had before said had neither part nor lot in this matter of Christ, would even receive repentance unto life. But the repentance Peter spake of was the repentance of this particular sin; for he puts a perhaps upon it: that this aggravated transgression might not bring a further load of guilt upon his head. And what Simon Magus in the answer he gave to Peter said, is to the same effect. He desired, as Pharaoh desired Moses, that he would pray for him. But, like Pharaoh, the heart remained hardened. He dreaded the punishment likely to follow, and would have avoided it. But we hear no cry of soul in either, for a change of heart, Exodus 10:17.
And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. (27) And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, (28) Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Isaiah the prophet. (29) Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. (30) And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Isaiah, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? (31) And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. (32) The place of the Scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: (33) In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. (34) And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? (35) Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. (36) And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? (37) And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (38) And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. (39) And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. (40) But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.
We have great cause to be thankful, for the insertion of this very interesting record in this book of God; as it forms so beautiful a comment upon that part of Isaiah's writings, what hath been, and ever must be, dear to the Church: I mean the fifty-third Chapter of his Prophecy (Isa 53). Though we might have discovered, under divine teaching, much of Christ, in what the Prophet hath there written; yet we might have hesitated, in decidedly asserting, as we now do, and from an authority not to be questioned, that the Prophet wholly referred to the Lord Jesus Christ, in all that he hath there delivered. And was it not gracious then in God the Spirit, to put the matter beyond all doubt, when he commissioned Philip, and taught him from the same Scripture, to preach Jesus?
By the ministry of an Angel Philip is directed to go towards the wilderness of Judaea. It is very blessed, when ministers are sent forth by an immediate call of the Holy Ghost. It becomes the most infallible testimony of success, Acts 16:9-14; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. The wilderness, in this case, shall blossom as the rose, Isaiah 35:1. This Ethiopian, though he had been at Jerusalem, was returning as dark, and ignorant, as he came. But the Lord, though he found not Christ in the temple, was pleased to send a special messenger after him, that he might find him in the desert. And frequently the Lord throws a damp upon ordinances, in order to teach his people, that it is not by means of grace only, the Lord doth always work. The Lord hath blessed, and doth bless the means: and his people are commanded to make use of them, and attend them: but they are not unfrequently led to see, that the Lord works without them, as well as with them, according to the purposes of his own holy will and pleasure.
Everything in the relation of this sweet scriptural record is beautiful and interesting. The Holy Ghost directing Philip to go near to the chariot, and converse with the Ethiopian: the teachable mind which the Lord had given to this man: the having the Prophecy of Isaiah with him in his chariot, that Philip might preach from; and the portion which the man had been reading: all these, were in the predisposing circumstances of the Lord, to bring about the great event, which the Lord all along had intended. And it is very blessed sometimes to see, how corresponding things are made to meet together, in the accomplishment of the Lord's purpose. It were unnecessary to offer any comment upon this blessed portion of Isaiah's prophecy. The whole life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, and especially the concluding scenes of both, at his crucifixion and death, are direct in point; and so complete a paraphrase of the prophecy, as if it had been written after the events took place, instead of a prediction, so many hundred years before.
The question of the Ethiopian, to whom it referred, was highly proper, and which gave occasion to Philip to preach Jesus yet more fully. He took for his text these words of the prophet: but no doubt he amplified the subject, and held forth the Lord in all the endearing features of character. But what I chiefly wish may be impressed on the Reader's mind is, what God the Holy Ghost hath said, and on which too much emphasis cannot be laid, then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. Reader! do not overlook the whole burden of Philip's preaching was Jesus. This was his text and sermon in the city of Samaria (Acts 8:5) and the same was his text and sermon in the desert of Judaea. He found enough in this one text, and subject, for every preaching. Oh! that all modern Preachers could, and would, do the same.
What a short but comprehensive system of faith Philip made of it; And yet how very full, and to the point. In the belief of Jesus Christ the Son of God, is contained all the grand and leading doctrines of the everlasting Covenant. The separation of Philip from the Eunuch is very striking: and serves to teach us, that when the Lord's purposes are accomplished, it matters not how the instrument performing the Lord's will is removed. Philip was found at Azotus, about thirty miles distant, if, (as some suppose,) Ashdod was the same place, 1 Samuel 6:17. And the Eunuch went on his way rejoicing. A new light shined in upon him; and a new life the Lord enabled him to enter upon. Well might he rejoice in hope of the glory of God!
Reader! behold in this chapter a true representation of the church of Jesus in all ages. In one view persecuted, and while the friends of the bridegroom are cast down, the enemy triumphing with an high hand. In another, like Samaria, where the word of God is faithfully preached, and graciously received, there is great joy in that place. See, opposed to the faithfulness of Peter and John, the sorcery and hypocrisy of Simon Magus; and mark in all churches similar effects, from the contrast of grace and corruption; Christ and Belial.
Blessed Jesus! let the sweet view here afforded, of thy watchful eye over this Ethiopian, who came from a vast distance led by thy grace to seek the Lord, in sending a special messenger after him, be uppermost in the thoughts of thy people. Jesus hath said, and this sweet scripture confirms it, all that the Father hath given him shall come to him. And rather than one of Christ's little ones shall perish for lack of knowledge, the Lord will meet them in the desert; and when ordinances fail, the Lord will work without them. Oh! for grace, that all the ministers of the Lord's sending, may, like Philip, preach Christ to the people. And oh! that all, to whom the Lord shall reveal himself, as to this Ethiopian may, like him, go on their way rejoicing!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 8". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany