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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Acts 8

 

 

Verses 1-40

Acts 8:1. At that time there was a great persecution against the church. With regard to this very tremendous storm which suddenly burst on the infant church, Cardinal Baronius, in his Ecclesiastical Annals, gives us an extract from a discourse of Dorotheus, a priest of Antioch, written in the second century, who states that two thousand persons were at this time massacred in Jerusalem, and in Judea; and that their bodies were mangled, and exposed in the fields to be devoured by vultures and beasts of prey. The fury of the jewish priests seemed to know no bounds. The poets have represented Jupiter as riding on a thunder cloud, and shooting his arrows as a tempest of hail, while the affrighted people fled before him as sheep pursued by the wolves. The like tempest seemed now to burst on the Redeemer’s flock. — But the apostles kept their ground, proving that they were the true shepherds of the sheep. Perhaps this gave rise to the tradition recorded in the fifth book of Eusebius’s history, and at the end of the fifth chapter, that the Lord had commanded the apostles to remain twelve years with the churches in Judea; and no doubt to strengthen and confirm the faithful in Samaria, in Galilee, and Cæsarea. And, it would seem, that they did not leave Palestine, the ground hallowed by the Saviour’s feet, till the twelve years had expired.

Acts 8:3. Saul made havock of the church. This word, when used in war, designates a cry for general carnage. We have English laws in existence prohibiting any soldier from using it in pursuit of a routed army.

Acts 8:4. They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Not only in Syria, and all Roman Asia, but along all the shores of the west. Baronius affirms that fifteen thousand christians left Judea, and established themselves in Spain, in Marseilles, and in Aix. This statement cannot be doubted, for St. Paul purposed to visit the churches in Spain. Romans 15:24; Romans 15:28. With these emigrations Joseph of Arimathea reached the south of France. Ireland likewise, in the apostolic age, received the faith. In the fifth century the Spaniards sent their children to be educated in Ireland, Erin being then called “the land of saints.” The sound of their feet went into all the earth, into all the Roman empire, and their words unto the ends of the world. Romans 10:18. Ireland very early sent missionaries to Cornwall, who planted the churches of Gullzinny, Gurrno, Breage, and Zinny; for these are not Cornish but Irish names. To write Sithnay for Zinny, is a corruption of the ancient pronunciation. Thus this dreadful storm of persecution, which at first seems to becloud the cares of providence over the church, discovered the brightest counsel of heaven. The church of the firstborn in Jerusalem were a chosen generation of prophets, kings, and priests to God. They were protected amidst all their foes by the terrors of God on the crucifiers of their Lord, for the space of almost two years. Now, it was full time for their dispersion. This was as a stroke on the smith’s anvil, which makes the sparks fly in all directions, and kindle wherever they fall. The disciples were driven out from a land accursed for its crimes, to take root among the rich cities of the gentiles, and to flourish in the earth.

Acts 8:5. Then Philip went down to Samaria. Eusebius and all the catholic writers say, that this was Philip the deacon, and that he went to Samaria to enforce celibacy. Chrysostom says it was Philip the apostle; and the distinguished favours of heaven conferred upon him, are worthy of the first of apostles. Philip the deacon is named as an evangelist in chap. Acts 21:8. Eusebius intimates that three of the apostles were married, Peter, Philip, and Paul; and that Philip had four daughters, who prophesied and edified the churches, so as to be entitled to praise in the scriptures. A field of glory opened to Philip in Samaria: the seeds, first sown by the Saviour, now whitened for harvest. John 4:38.

And preached Christ to them, as the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God. Happy for the church that there was this retreat for the saints. The Samaritans embraced the mercy rejected by the Jews. The earth, at God’s command, still helps the woman in her flight. Revelation 12:16.

Acts 8:9. Simon — used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria. He was afterwards baptized, and continued to bear the christian name till the arrival of Peter and John. To them he offered money, to purchase what he thought the magic power of conferring the Holy Ghost. Peter addressed him according to the power of the Spirit of holiness: “Thy money perish with thee.” These words were the curse of excommunication inflicted on him with just indignation: yet not so as to exclude the hope of repentance and forgiveness. From him the word simony, or the purchase of ecclesiastical preferment, is derived.

After this, Simon travelled, and infected the world with his errors. He formed the sect of the Simonites, of which the fathers complain bitterly, because they and the Gnostics gave great annoyance and scandal to the christian name. He affected divinity, that he might command the greater reverence from the rich and the poor. Justin Martyr from Iren. lib. 1. cap. 19. Epiph. heres. 21. Augus. heres. 21.

Acts 8:16. Only they were baptized. Better to say, they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 8:27. Behold, a man of Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians lived on the eastern shore of the Red sea. Zerah was king over those who fought against Asa with a countless army, and was defeated. 2 Chronicles 14:9-12. Some suppose that queen Candace reigned in the island of Moroë, formed by the rivers of Ethiopia. But Gaza, to which the noble eunuch was travelling, is in the direct road for Egypt. Therefore the land of Chush or Ethiopia proper, is here understood. On this subject Eusebius says, “Divine providence brought out of the land of Ethiopia, a man high in office under Candace, queen of that country, for those nations, conformably to ancient usages, are accustomed to be governed by a woman, who being the first of the gentiles that was made partaker of the divine word, was also the first fruits of the faithful among the heathen. On returning to his country, he is reported to have published the knowledge of the great God, and the consoling advent of the Saviour in the flesh. Thus by him was fulfilled the prediction of the prophet: ‘Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands to God.’”

Psalms 68:31.

Acts 8:33. In his humiliation his judgment was taken away. The eunuch uses here the Greek version, for the Greek was then the learned and the travelling language. Dr. Lightfoot notes here, that the words in Hebrew, 1 Samuel 21:7, are, as read by Kimchi, that “Doëg was detained before the Lord” for devotion, which shows the greater injustice done to Christ. He was dragged away from the garden of devotion to their tribunals. He could neither be safe there, nor find equity at the bar of justice. See the whole as illustrated in the fifty third of Isaiah.

Acts 8:37. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This is the glorious confession of faith by voices from heaven, and by witnesses on earth. Matthew 3:17; Matthew 16:18. John 1:1; John 1:14. Romans 1:4; Romans 9:5. Hebrews 1:1-12. How else could the eunuch have been converted to believe in a crucified Redeemer, unless Philip had proved from the prophets that the divinity or fulness of the godhead had dwelt bodily in Him. What then can thy poor dry philosophy, oh socinian, do for thee, or for thy deluded hearers.

REFLECTIONS.

Here is a group of wonders. A man of Ethiopia rising above heathen darkness, and seeking the knowledge and true worship of the Lord. He had heard of his temple and his holy law, and be the costs what they might, he had bought the parchments of the holy scriptures. Here is a man who came from a far country to pray; and while his chariot moved only two miles in the hour through the weary sands, he read the sacred volume. Surely this is the way to seek the truth, and find the Lord. Let all hearers expect the like influence under the sacred word.

He was of a teachable temper, condescending to men of low estate. He desired Philip to sit with him and expound the prophecy; for God will guide the meek in judgment, and the meek he will teach his way.

Divine providence guides the sincere seekers to find the truth. He was reading, and with many thoughts, of whom he should be reading, in that prophecy which had converted many in the faith: and Philip preached what all ministers should preach, Christ Jesus the Lord.

Philip taught salvation by faith in the Son of God. If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest be admitted to baptism. He did so believe, for God had borne witness of the truth, while Philip unfolded the glory of the Lord. Oh christian, why then are you so slow and tardy in confessing the truth? Why do you daily grieve your ministers by supineness, and lukewarmness in religion? May the grace which this man found, perfect what is lacking in you.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 8:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/acts-8.html. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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