That is, St. Stephen's, mentioned in the close of the last chapter; how far he consented to his death, the text tells us, He kept the garments of them that stoned him, they laid down their clothes at his feet. Acts 7:58. His hand did not throw one stone at the holy martyr's head, but his will concurred with others in that bloody act: and this denominated him guilty.
Learn hence, That God chiefly inspects the heart, and if the vote be passed there, he looks upon the man as guilty, though he proceeds no farther. 'Tis easy to murder another by silent wish, or passionate desire. In all moral actions God values the will for the deed, and reckons that man an actor, that is an applauder. Consent unto the sins of others makes their guilt our own: Saul was consenting unto his death.
Observe here, 1. How the spite and cruelty of the church's adversaries was not quenched, but rather inflamed by the blood of Stephen: From whence arose a bitter persecution against the church at Jerusalem, upon which the multitude of believers fled from thence. Persecution scatters the professors of religion; but God makes scattering the way to increasing, and what was intended for the hindrance, God over-ruled for the furtherance of the gospel: As God overpowers the devil, so he outwits him too. This scattering persecution at Jerusalem, which was designed to another and suppress the gospel, did propagate and spread it more and more.
Observe, 2. How God sets bounds and limits to this sharp persecution: though the believers were scattered, yet the apostles continued at Jerusalem; They were all scattered, except the apostles. The twelve stay there untouched in the midst of the fiery furnace of persecution, to comfort and cherish the church in that sad and doleful day, maugre the malice of angry men, and of enraged devils; and those who were scattered, carried the light of the gospel among the Gentiles. Thus out of the darkness of persecution, God bringeth forth the light of the gospel, providing at once for the safety of some by their flight, and for the calling home of others by their dispersion: They were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.
Observe here, 1. Though St. Stephen was stoned to death by his bloody persecutors, yet are they not so inhuman as to deny him burial; it is a mercy to have a grave, and a decent burial is a blessing: The body is the garment of the soul; we lay up this garment in the wardrobe of the grave, with assurance that we shall put it on again (when made spiritual and incorruptible) in the morning of the resurrection, and wear it to all eternity.
Observe, 2. The persons described who carried Stephen to the bed of the grave; devout men; That is, truly religious men, men of eminent piety and holy courage also; Devout men carried Stephen to his burial. A noble instance of a generous and Christian courage, that they durst, among such a multitude of persecutors and furious zealots, own their esteem of, and pay their last respects unto, the name and memory of the holy martyr.
Observe, 3. The doleful solemnity of his funeral, They made great lamentation over him; and reason enough there was for it, because of the church's great loss at that time. When any of the ministers of God are snatched away by death, especially by a violent death, from the service of the church, there is just cause for great and solemn lamentation: Devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
"Bloody Saul! was it not enough for thee to see a single saint destroyed, but wilt thou seek to destroy the whole fraternity and communion of saints?" Behold the fiery zeal of this furious persecutor: he spares neither age nor sex, neither men nor women, neither young nor old, but without respect he hales them to prison.
O fury! worse than inhuman, not only to drag men spitefully, but to hale women shamefully to prison. Women in all ages have been exempted from the insults of tyranny, but not always freed from the persecutor's fury. And blessed be God for that masculine courage and constancy which the feebler sex have shewn, when they have been called forth to bear their testimony for Christ; out of weakness they have been made strong. With what wisdom and courage have they answered their examiners, convicted their accusers, confuted their opposers, kissing the stake, hugging the faggots, embracing the flame! Thus can God help the weak things of the world to confound the strong: and teach the foolish to confute the wise.
The severe persecution at Jerusalem, dispersed the whole body of the church, and scattered both members and teachers thereof, except the apostles. Some went to Damascus, some to Samaria, some to Phoenice, Cyprus and Antioch. But God over-ruled this scattering for his church's increasing: he brought good out of evil, light out of darkness, order out of confusion. It is a great and certain truth, that the Holy God would suffer no sort of evil to be, did he not know how to bring some excellent good out of that evil.
Observe here, 1. Amongst the dispersed, who went to Samaria, Philip was one: not Philip the apostle, (for all of them remained at Jerusalem,) but Philip the deacon, who was the second in order after Stephen, among the seven deacons: He comes to Samaria, and preaches there.
Observe, 2. The doctrines which he preached: he preached Christ utno them; that is, Christianity, or the Christian religion; namely, The doctrine of Christ's incarnation, holy life and death, resurrection and ascension, together with remission of sins through faith in his name.
Observe, 3. The success of Philip's doctrine at Samaria; the people with one accord embrace the gospel, Giving heed to the things which he spake: The presence of the Holy Spirit accompanying his ministry, united his hearers' hearts, as well as their ears, to attend diligently to the doctrine of Christ delivered to them. This diligent attention was a blessed preparative to the Samaritans conversion, seeing faith comes by hearing: Yea, they did not only attend to, but acquiesce in all he spake.
Note thence, That were there a more reverent attention to the word, there would be more conversions by it than at this day there are.
Observe, 4. The external ground and reason of Philip's success in his ministry at Samaria; the miracles which he wrought. These were undeniable evidences of the truth of what he spake, and by which he shewed God's authority for what he did and said; he healed disease, and cast out devils, (called unclean spirits, because they delight in sin, that spiritual uncleanness of the soul,) who cried out with a loud voice, as very loath to leave their lodgings, had they not been constrained to it. The miracles which Christ and his apostle wrought were heaven's broad-seal, to confirm the truth of what they taught: The people gave heed to what Philip spake, seeing the miracles which he did.
Observe, lastly, What joy and rejoicing there was among the Samaritans at their receiving and entertaining of the gospel: There was great joy in that city; not only for the cures wrought upon their bodies, but for the doctrine of reconciliation and salvation preached to their souls. As the gospel is in itself a message of joy and glad tidings, so it fills that soul with joy unspeakable, that cordially receives and entertains it. Joy in the Holy Ghost is one of the sweetest effects of the kingdom of God; that is, the gospel, The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost Romans 14:17.
An account is here given of one of Philip's auditors at Samaria, Simon Magus by name, or Simon the sorcerer, a vile man, the blackest Ethiopian that ever baptismal water wet or washed. Notorious for sorcery, for hypocrisy, for final apostacy, and avowed impiety. Ecclesiastical history informs us of the heresies he broached, of the divine honours he assumed, of the statues and images built to him and his strumpet Helen, which lewdly accompanied with him; of an altar erected to him with this blasphemous inscription, Simoni Deo sancto, "To Simonthe holy God:" and of his tragical end, by breaking his neck, when attempting to fly up to heaven, because the people would no longer be cheated with his impostures here below.
From this example, note, 1. That into the most eminent and populous cities do oft-times enter the greatest and vilest impostors, the most atheistical and diabolical sorcerers: There they lurk and lodge, there they seek to set up and play their prizes.
Note, 2. That the vilest impostors, and the worst seducers have yet many, very many followers: The silly multitude is soon deluded: To him they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest.
Note, 3. That such vile deceivers have the confidence to brag, and the deluded multitude have the weakness to believe, that they are very extraordinary persons, and can do extraordinary things. Simon gave it out himself, that he was some great one; and the people cry him up as the great power of God.
Observe here, 1. How long a time this vile sorcerer, by God's permission, and Stan's power, wrought these lying wonders among the pepole: He had of a long time bewitched them with sorceries, Acts 8:11. Deceivers are not always suddenly detected, and drossy hypocrites are not presently discovered; but the vizor will drop off sooner or later.
Observe, 2. That where the true knowledge of God comes, and the clear light of the gospel shines, there gross impieties and impostures, there cheats and delusions will be found out, detested and abhorred: When they believed Philip's preaching, they were baptized, both men and women. Where the light shines, Satan falls as lightning; magic vanishes. This Dragon cannot stand before the ark of God: When the people of Ephesus received the gospel; they soom made a bonfire of their magic books, Acts 19:19.
Observe, 3. The success of the gospel preached by Philip ; the people believed, and were baptized, both men and women.
Mark, 1. Believed, and then baptized; these were adult, or grown persons, not infants, and they were heathenish idolators, strangers to the covenant; and therefore must believe the gospel, and profess their faith in Christ, before their baptism. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him.
Mark, 2. The persons baptized were women as well as men; When they believed Philip, they were baptized both men and women. Women under the gospel are capable of the seal of the covenant as well as men. Under the law they were not; then they were circumcised in the men: Now they are baptized for themselves: They were baptized both men and women.
Observe, 4. A great and sudden change wrought in Simon himself, by the preaching of Philip; He believed also, and was baptized: Behold, the sorcerer is become a professor a believer, a baptized person. The gospel preached may have a common operation upon a soul, where it never produced inward sanctification. All that are by the gospel proselyted are not savingly converted. All are not good fish that are inclosed in the gospel's net; but some fish, some trash. As there will be wheat and tares on the same field, chaff and corn on the same floor; so will there be some saints and some sinners in the purest earthly church.
Observe, lastly, Upon a bare profession of faith, Simon Magus is baptized.
Learn thence, That outward profession justly gains admission into the Christian congregation, and gives a person right to external ordinances; De occultis nonjudicat ecclesia. "The church's judgment is a judgment of charity, not of certainty;" of the outward, not of the inward man; of the life, not of the heart. The faith of Simon Magus was no other than a temporary, historical, yea, hypocritical faith: however, Philip baptizes him upon his making profession of it. An heart hypocrite is no hypocrite (in foro ecclesia) in the sight of the church, though most abominable in the sight of God. Simeon the unsound professor was more edious in the sight of God then Simon the sorcerer.
Observe here, 1. How the apostles at Jerusalem, hearing the glad tidings of Samaria's conversion by Philip's ministry, thought fit to send down two of the twelve to confirm the new converts in their faith, and to constitute a church there by their apostolical authority.
Observe, 2. The persons whom the college of the apostles at Jerusalem thought fit to send to Samaria, Peter and John.
Where note, That Peter's being deputed by the rest of the apostles to theis service, is an argument that Peter had no primacy or superiority over the rest of the apostles: Or, if in this employment there was any sign of primacy, John was sharer in that as well as Peter. The apostles sent Peter and John.
Observe, 3. What the apostle Peter and John did when they came to Samaria, They prayed and laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
Where, by the Holy Ghost, is not to be understood the sanctifying graces of the Holy Ghost, which the apostles never did, nor could dispense, but the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, the gifts of tongues and prophecy, and a power to work miracles. These were now conferred on such persons whom the Holy Ghost directed them to lay their hands upon, as persons appointed and chosen to be preachers of the gospel.
Where note, That imposition or laying on of hands has been an ancient rite used by the officers of the church, in their solemn dedicating of persons to the service of God and his church.
Here observe, 1. How infinitely mistaken this wretch was in thinking that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost could be purchased with money.
2. In supposing that the apostles had a power to dispense these gifts, when and where, and to whom they pleased.
3. And that they could enable others to impart this also; which were all very gross conceits. From this deed of Simon's it is called simony, to seek to buy spiritual gifts or offices with money.
Observe, 2. What it was that put Simon upon purchasing this power; doubtless it was covetousness and vain-glory. He hoped make a penny of this privilege, and to render himself famous among his followers by this prerogative.
Learn thence, That cunning and close hypocrites, corrupt and hypocritical professors, do seek to make a gain of godliness and a merchandize of Christianity. Simon had never bid so freely for Holy Ghost, if he had not expected to receive as freely of others for the Holy Ghost: which he desired to buy, but not to keep; and intended to sell, not to give.
Observe, 3. How St. Peter scorns the vile motion made by Simon, and rejects it with the greatest detestation: Thy money perish with thee.
Learn thence, That wicked (though gainful) motions are to be scorned and refused by the godly with the greatest detestation and abhorrence. Our hearts can never rise too high in a just indignation against sin, and against all temptation unto sin; Thy money perish with thee; thou and thy money perish together.
Observe, 4. How plainly St. Peter deals with him; he searches him to the quick, to the heart, sounds the depths of sin: lays open the core of his hypocrisy before his face, and tells him to his teeth, that his heart was rotten and unsound; Thy heart is not right in the sight of God. The baptismal water had washed his outside, but his inwards were unclean. The heart is the worst part of man till it be mended, and then it is best: Where most evil lies, there we must first begin to be good; all will be good, if the heart, which the seat, the sink and seed-plot of all evil, be made good. The life would not be so bad, if the heart were not worse: All the obliquity of our lives proceeds from the impurity of our hearts and nature, as the muddiness of the stream form the foulness of the fountain.
Observe here, 1. The odious character wherewith sin in general, hypocrisy in particular, is branded, it is bitterness and bondage; it is the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.
Learn thence, 1. That sin is an exceeding bitter thing: It is bitter to God, it provokes him to bitter anger; it was bitter to Christ, it laid him under the bitter wrath of God; it was bitter to the angels, it turned them out of heaven, and banished them from the presence of God evermore; it is bitter to good men, it costs them bitter repentance, and it occasions them bitter chastisements: and it will be bitter, eternally bitter to the wicked and impenitent world. Now the bitterness of sin is not a medicinal and wholesome bitterness, but an intoxicating and stupifying bitterness, a poisonous and a baneful bitterness. Sin's bitter draught is a baneful draught.
Learn, 2. That not only bitterness, but bondage attends the service and servants of sin: As sin is the gall of bitterness, so it is the bond of iniquity, and the bondage of sin; it is a shameful and ignominious bondage, a fruitless and unprofitable bondage, a stupifying and insensible bondage, a restless and unwearied bondage, and endless and eternal bondage.
Learn, 3. That every soul before conversion is in and under this deplorable bondage; Thou art in the bond of iniquity.
Observe, 2. The means prescribed and directed to for the soul's delivery out of this deplorable bondage; namely, repentance and prayer. Repent of thy wickedness and pray to God.
1. Repent, Learn thence, That timely and sincere repentance is a special mean, prescribed and appointed by God, for the recovery of the worst sinners out of this deplorable bondage.
2. Pray. Here note, 1. A wicked man may pray, and ought to pray. As bad as Simon Magus was, St. Peter doth not drive him to despair, but directs him to his duty: Pray to God. Prayer is a part of natural worship, which we owe to God: it is the soul's motion Godward: therefore to say a wicked man should not pray, is to say, he should not turn to God.
Note, 2. That all the prayer in the world, without a man's own prayer to God for pardon and remission, will be ineffectual and unavailable to salvation. Simon Magus desired the apostles to pray for him, Acts 8:24. But St. Peter bids him to pray for himself, as ever he hopes for forgiveness with God: Repent of this thy wickedness, and pray to God.
3. The encouragement given to make use of the means prescribed; namely, a probability of forgiveness and acceptance with God. Repent and pray, if perhaps the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee.
Learn thence, That the vilest and worst of sinners upon their repentance, accompanied with prayer and supplication unto God, have good ground of encouragement to hope for pardon of sin and acceptance with him.
Observe, 4. How St. Peter takes most notice of that, of which Simon Magus took least, and that was of the wickedness of his thoughts; That the thoughts of thy heart may be forgiven thee.
Thence learn, That wicked and evil thoughts, lodged and entertained in the heart, ought in a special manner to be repented of, and humbled for, by all that expect forgiveness with God; for sinful thoughts are radical and seminal evils; they were the root of the angels' apostacy and of Adam's apostacy also. A world of sin may be lodged in the thoughts.
Here we have recorded the remarkable conversion of the eunuch by the preaching of Philip; concerning which several circumstances are to be observed; 1. The author or instrument converting, Philip, who was commanded by the angel in a vision to go to Gaza: but not the common way, or ordinary road, but by the way of the desert, a difficult, and perhaps a dangerous way, over mountains and through vallies: Philip knew not whither he was going; but God knew whither, and wherefore he sent him. O Philip! it was worth thy going many steps out of the way, to convert and save a soul: Happy for the eunuch that thou wentest out of the way, and that he as happily met with thee.
Observe, 2. The subject or person converted,
1. An Ethiopian, the most despised of all the Gentiles in the sight of the Jews, Behold! the sanctifying grace of God washing a blackmoor white, and making an Ethiopian clean.
2. A nobleman, a courtier, a treasurer to the queen; yet he concerns himself with religion, and, being a proselyte, travels in his chariot as far a Jerusalem, to worship God in a solemn manner. O how will this example rise up in judgment against ourfreat ones, who have more light, but less heat; more knowledge, but less love!
3. A bookish man, one that delighted in reading, and in reading of the scriptures too, and thus whilst he was riding in his chariot, to lose no time for gaining the knowledge of his duty. If our courtiers and great men read not at all in their coaches, or if so, plays or romances only, this ignorant Ethiopian lord did better, though he knew not so much as these. He read in his chariot in the prophet Esaias.
Observe, 3. The means which God sanctified and blessed for the eunuch's conversion; it was the reading and expounding of the holy scriptures: The word of God, read and preached, is the great instrument in the hand of the Spirit for sinners illumination, conversion, and salvation; and blessed are they that hear and read the word with attention, affection, and application.
Observe, 4. The wonderful modesty and humility of this great man, he thankfully accepts Philip's offer to instruct and teach him, (some would have huffed at it as a rude affront,) but he condescends to learn of one beneath him. Such as are modest and thoroughly humble, are also truly docile and teachable, willing to learn, knowledge, although from the mouth of an inferior: He desired Philip to come up and sit with him.
Observe here, 1. The particular text of holy scripture which God directed the eunuch to read in order to his conversion; It was a prophecy of Christ the promised Messias, recorded in Isaiah 53 : he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before the shearer: Pointing out the innocency, the meekness and patience of the Lord Jesus Christ, in and under all his satisfactory sufferings for our sins: In the day of his humiliation, particularly in the day of his trial and sentence: His judgment was taken away: that is, his right was taken away by the unrighteous judgment of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and no right or justice done him; and who can declare sufficiently the wickedness of that generation, which cut off so innocent a person from the land of the living? This text, Philip informs the eunuch, was truly applicable to the Messias, who was certainly come into the world, and both did and suffered all that was prophesied of him.
Here note, How wonderfully the divine providence did work in a concurring tendency towards the eunuch's conversion. God moves his heart to read, to read the scriptures, to read this scripture, which informed him of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, and sends Philip out of his way to meet him, and he meets him just as he was regarding that portion of scripture which most concerned him: He wanted to be informed concerning Christ, and Philip is at his elbow at that very juncture, to instruct him in a most fundamental truth in order to his conversion and salvation.
O the wonderful love, and manifold wisdom of God, in finding out ways and methods for bringing home souls to himself! If his providence brings not them under the means, it will bring the means to them.
This eunuch wanted the ordinary means of knowledge; but being desirous of spiritual knowledge, God steps out of the ordinary road to meet him, though an Ethiopian, commanly esteemed the meanest of mankind; and thereby shews, that as there is no respect of persons, so no difference of nations with him; but whoever feareth God and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him.
In the close, Philip preaches a gospel sermon to him, displays Jesus Christ before him, and by the blessing of God upon the ordinance, saving faith was effectually wrought in the eunuch's soul.
Observe here, 1. The eunuch is instructed before baptized, and he desireth baptism of Philip; it was not forced upon him by Philip against his will, The eunuch said, What hinders me to be baptized? To drive men to baptism, as they drive beasts to watering, and force Christianity upon them against their wills, to send forth booted apostles with javelins in their hand, and crosses on their breasts, as the Romish church doth to dragon men into Christianity, is the way to make hypocrites, but not proselytes; for it is not whole armies that can besiege my reason, nor cannons batter my will. It is conviction, not compulsion, that must induce assent.
Observe, 2. The eunuch after instruction desired baptism, See, here is water; let me be baptized. As if he had said, "O Philip! as thou hast instructed me, I pray thee also baptize me. Now that I have received the benefit of thy doctrine, let me not want the comfort of the sacrament." Where the heart is truly touched by the ministry of the word, and the soul thoroughly converted unto God, there is a desire to be partaker of the sacraments.
Observe, 3. The condition required of the eunuch before he was baptized, namely, A profession of his faith in the promised Messias; If thou believest, thou mayest be baptized. There is a necessity of faith, to render man a meet partaker of the holy sacraments: If we come to any of the sacraments without faith, we are sure to depart without fruit.
Observe, 4. The qualification of that faith which gives a right to the holy sacrament: If thou believest with all thine heart: only that faith gives a right to baptism, and intitles to salvation, which is with all the heart. The eunuch believed with his whole heart, that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. This gave him at once a right to baptism, and a title to heaven.
Observe, 5. The manner of the administration of baptism to the eunuch: he went down into the water and was baptized by Philip: In those hot countries it was usual so to do, and we do not oppose the lawfulness of dipping in some cases, but the necessity of dipping in all cases. In sacraments, it is not the quantity of the elements, but the significancy of them that ought to be attended to; as in circumcision, it was not the quantity of the flesh cut off, and in the Lord's supper, it is not the quantity of the bread, and wine taken down; so in baptism, a few drops of water poured upon me, doth signify and seal, and convey and confirm to me a right and interest in all the benefits of my Saviour's death and resurrection, as fully as if, with Jonah, I were plunged into the main ocean.
Observe, 6. What followed upon the eunuch's baptizing and coming out of the water.
1. The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; by the ministry of an angel he was carried out of his sight, that the eunuch might be the more assured of the truth of those things which were taught him by Philip's ministry; and that he was a person sent of God to direct him in the way to true happiness.
2. The eunuch went on his way rejoicing, as well he might; it was the happiest journey he ever took, to meet with Christ and conversion in his way, and heaven and salvation at his journey's end. A converted man hath great cause of rejoicing; the gospel proclaimed, much more, heartily embraced, is matter of great joy. Behold the fruit of faith, joy and rejoicing; the eunuch is instructed, believed, is baptized, and goes home rejoicing. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Observe lastly, Philip was found at Azotus, or Ashdod, thirty-four miles from Gaza, so far had the ministry of the angels carried him, and there safely set him down.
Learn, How good it is to obey God in the most difficult command. Philip had a hard and tiresome journey from Samaria to Gaza, footing it through a desert, in untrodden paths, and running as fast as the eunuch's chariot, to join himself unto it at the command of God. But now from Gaza to Azotus he has a swifter and easier passage, he rides in an angelical flying chariot. When we attend the execution of God's commands, the holy angels shall attend us, and take care of us, and administer necessary help unto us; like tender nurses, they keep us fast whilst we live, and bring us home in their arms to our Father's house when we die. Blessed be God for the ministry of his holy angels.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Acts 8". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany