the First Week of Advent
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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Confession; Converts; Ethiopia; Faith; Gaza; Heart; Jesus Continued; Philip; Preaching; Righteous; Thompson Chain Reference - Christ; Confessing Christ; Confession-Denial, Christ; Confessions, Seven; Conversion; Earnestness; Earnestness-Indifference; Faith; Faith-Unbelief; Heart; Saving Faith; Whole Heart; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Baptism; Faith; Heart, the;
Verse 37. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. — He believed that Jesus, whom Philip preached to him, was THE CHRIST or Messiah, and consequently the Son of God.
This whole verse is omitted by ABCG, several others of the first authority, Erpen's edit. of the Arabic, the Syriac, the Coptic, Sahidic, AEthiopic, and some of the Slavonic: almost all the critics declare against it as spurious. Griesbach has left it out of the text; and Professor White in his Crisews says, "Hic versus certissime delendus," this verse, most assuredly, should be blotted out. It is found in E, several others of minor importance, and in the Vulgate and Arabic. In those MSS. where it is extant it exists in a variety of forms, though the sense is the same.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​acc/​acts-8.html. 1832.
Christianity enters Philistia (8:26-40)
From Samaria Philip headed south towards the region of Philistia on the Mediterranean coast (26). On the way he met another non-Jewish person who responded to his preaching. This man, a government official from Ethiopia in north Africa, was already one of the God-fearers and was reading the Old Testament when Philip met him (27-29). However, he did not understand what he was reading. When Philip explained the Scriptures to him, the man learnt the meaning of Jesus’ death, became a believer and was baptized (30-38). The man was overjoyed as he continued his journey homeward, and no doubt readily spread the good news of Jesus Christ among his fellow Africans. Philip, meanwhile, preached around the towns of Philistia, then moved north along the coast till he came to the provincial capital, Caesarea (39-40).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bbc/​acts-8.html. 2005.
And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
The request for baptism on the part of the eunuch was the immediate and direct result of Philip’s preaching unto him Jesus; and in this is manifest the fact that preaching Jesus means preaching baptism for the remission of sins. There are some in our generation who fancy that they are preaching Jesus, but whose hearers never request baptism; and in that is manifest the fact that such preachers are not preaching Jesus at all. See "What It Means To Preach Christ" under Acts 8:12.
The last two sentences in this passage are Acts 8:37 in the KJV; but, despite the fact of this verse having been left out of the English Revised Version upon what appears to be sufficient textual grounds, it has been included here because it is true, being valuable as commentary, whether or not it belongs in the sacred text. It was the custom from the very earliest Christian times for converts to confess their faith upon the occasion of their baptism, a fact referred to by Paul in Ephesians 5:26 (Goodspeed translation). This writer has never read of any commentator who denied the truth expressed in Acts 8:37.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bcc/​acts-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
And Philip said ... - This was stated by Philip as the proper qualification for making a profession of religion. The terms are:
- “Faith,” that is, a reception of Jesus as a Saviour; yielding the mind to the proper influences of the truths of redemption. See the notes on Mark 16:16.
(2)There is required not merely the assent of the understanding, but a surrender of the “heart, the will, the affections,” to the truth of the gospel. As these were the proper qualifications then, so they are now. Nothing less is required; and nothing but this can constitute a proper qualification for the Lord’s Supper.
I believe ... - This profession is more than a professed belief that Jesus was “the Messiah.” The name “Christ” implies that. “I believe that Jesus the Messiah is the Son of God.” He professed his belief that he was the “Son of God” - showing either that he had before supposed that the Messiah “would be” the Son of God, or that Philip had instructed him on that point. It was natural for Philip, in discoursing on the humiliation and poverty of Jesus, to add also that he sustained a higher rank of being than a man, and was the Son of God. What precise ideas the eunuch attached to this expression cannot be now determined. This verse is missing in a very large number of manuscripts (Mill), and has been rejected by many of the ablest critics. It is also omitted in the Syriac and Ethiopic versions. It is not easy to conceive why it has been omitted in almost all the Greek mss. unless it is spurious. If it was not in the original copy of the Acts , it was probably inserted by some early transcriber, and was deemed so important to the connection, to show that the eunuch was not admitted hastily to baptism, that it was afterward retained. It contains, however, an important truth, elsewhere abundantly taught in the Scriptures, that “faith” is necessary to a proper profession of religion.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bnb/​acts-8.html. 1870.
We are introduced now to one of the chief persecutors. A zealous young Jew, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, whose name is Saul. And he was standing by, consenting to the death of Stephen, holding the coats of the fellows who were throwing the stones. No doubt, cheering them on. But I have no doubt, that what Stephen's death and his reaction to it had such a great effect on Paul that he never got away from it. And I believe that it was ultimately the background of Paul's conversion. For you remember, when Jesus finally apprehended Paul on the road to Damascus to imprison the Christians there, the Lord said, "Paul, it's been hard for you to kick against the goads" ( Acts 9:5 ). And, the death of Stephen was something that was a goad for Paul. Hearing this young man, seeing his face like an angel, and no doubt, that witness that Stephen gave. "Hey, our fathers have been wrong. Joseph was rejected by our fathers, and yet, God had chosen him to be the ruler. Moses was rejected by our fathers, yet God had chosen him to be the ruler. Could it be that we are also guilty of rejecting God's ruler? And, of course, Peter had said, "The Stone that was set at nought by you builders, the same has become the head cornerstone" ( Acts 4:11 ).
When I was speaking at a congress in Jerusalem, in which the purpose was to express the evangelical Christian's support for the nation of Israel, at that congress, before I had a chance to speak, I received a letter from one of the rabbi's from the Mea shureem. They're the ultra orthodox radicals. And the letter was a severe rebuke to me for being involved in a congress that was seeking to promote the peace of Jerusalem. And that's what the congress was called, "The Peace of Jerusalem Congress". This rabbi said, "Israel has no right to exist as a nation. We have no right to exist as a nation until we have our temple again. This nation is not a true nation." And he went on, really coming down on me for supporting the nation of Israel. I have been witnessing to many Jewish people over there who have become friends of the family, and so I took this radical hate-filled letter and I showed it to one of my friends. I said, "Look what one of your rabbis has sent me." And as he read the letter he got all upset. He said, "Don't pay any attention to it; they're crazy. They're a bunch of radicals. They're crazy." I said, "But they are rabbis." "Oh yeah, but they're crazy." And I said, "They are the religious rulers. They are the rabbis." "Oh, it doesn't matter, they're crazy, they're nuts. They don't know what they're talking about." I said, "That is very interesting. Have you ever stopped to think that it was perhaps men, just like these, who rejected Jesus Christ? Radicals, crazies. And you are still following their crazy, radical conclusions?" He didn't have anything to say.
Saul was consenting unto the death of Stephen. 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. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him ( Acts 8:1-2 ).
It is quite possible that these devout men are not Christians or members of the church. And the reason why I say that is because, "They made great lamentation over him." A true understanding of what happens to a child of God at death doesn't really provoke great lamentation. It provokes rejoicing for them, who are now there with the Lord in the Kingdom. It could be that some of the Jews, devout men . . . you see, it doesn't identify them as Christians at all. Just devout men, and the Jew was usually described by his devotedness. Had taken Stephen's body and perhaps they lamented that such a fine young man should be so mistreated by the radical crowd.
And as for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison ( Acts 8:3 ).
So Paul was empowered by the Sanhedrin to imprison those who called upon the Lord, and he was going to the house fellowships and just wrecking havoc among the early church.
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word ( Acts 8:4 ).
And so, far from stamping out the witness of the church, all the persecution did was spread the witness all over the place. For everywhere they went, they were preaching the Word of God, and thus, the Gospel began to spread throughout Judea and Samaria.
Jesus had said to His disciples in the first chapter, (verse Acts 8:8 ), "And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto Me, both in Jerusalem . . . " And remember that they said, "You have filled this city with this Man's doctrine." "And in Judea and in Samaria." And so we find now the next movement of the church as it goes beyond Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria as the result of this persecution. Paul being one of the chief persecutors of the church.
So Philip ( Acts 8:5 )
Now we are introduced to a second of the seven who was appointed to the task of waiting tables in the early church and overseeing the church's welfare program. God is taking another one now, filled with the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom and of good report and is using him now in the ministry of an evangelist. And later on we find, years later, that Philip is living in Caesarea. And he is called there, Philip the evangelist. And we are told that by this time he now has four daughters who possess the gift of prophecy. And as Paul is returning to Jerusalem, he stops and spends a few days with Philip in Caesarea. I imagine that Paul and Philip, as they were there, probably recounted some of the early experiences of Stephen, and of Paul's being there, because Philip was there and around the situation also. And how their paths had crossed earlier in life, only, then they were going different directions. And how God had brought them together in the communion of the Gospel here now, later on in Caesarea.
So Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them ( Acts 8:5 ).
And remember the word "Christ" is the Greek word for "Messiah". So he preached the Messiah unto them.
The Samaritans were looking for the Messiah. You remember when Jesus met the women at the well there near Shechum, she said to Him, "We know that when Messiah has come He is going to teach us all things." They were looking for the Messiah. They knew the scriptures that related to the Messiah and they were looking for the Messiah. And you remember that the woman went into the town and started telling people, "Come and hear a man who had told me everything that I've ever done. Is this not the Messiah?" And they came out and they heard Jesus, and then they said, "Now we believe, not because of what you have told us, because we have heard and seen for ourselves." And so the seed was already planted in Samaria, and so Philip went to proclaim the Messiah unto them.
And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voices, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and those that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city ( Acts 8:6-8 ).
The city of Samaria, the Gospel is now being preached, and the result of the Gospel, in the hearts of the people, is that of great joy. Always the result of the preaching of the Good News.
Now there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and he bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one ( Acts 8:9 ):
There was this fellow, probably a warlock. He used sorcery. He had the people convinced that he had great mystical, magical powers.
And all of the people had given heed to him, from the least of them to the greatest, saying, that this man had a great power of God. And to him they had regard, because for a long time he had been bewitching them with these sorceries. But when they believed Philip and the preaching of the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women ( Acts 8:10-12 ).
They were freed from the bewitching of this Simon and they were brought to the Gospel and baptized.
Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and the signs which were done. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John ( Acts 8:13-14 ):
Peter and John, interesting companions in the Gospel records. Men of different temperaments. Yet, brought together and very closely associated with each other. But it is interesting that this is the last mention of John in the book of Acts. Peter comes in for further mention. The attention will, of course, later on, turn to Paul and to Barnabus and to others, but this interestingly enough, in the book of Acts, is the last mention of John. Now John did outlive the rest of the disciples. And, of course, in the later years wrote his gospel, his three epistles, and the book of Revelation. But later on, as we are dealing with the church in Jerusalem, and the issues that come up before the church counsel, John strangely is not mentioned in any type of a role. The witness is silent concerning John. And I really don't have any real suggestion for that, except that it's just not there, and I don't know why. But as John said in his Gospel, "I suppose that if everything were written that should be written, all of the books in the world could not contain the things that should have been written about these things."
So when the church or the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John. Now that would take away the idea of Peter being the pope, because he was sent by the apostles. He was sent by them. It didn't say, "He had the pontifical authority and was giving the orders." But that he was sent by the apostles.
Who were, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) ( Acts 8:15-16 )
Now it is interesting how that this has been a problem to so many Bible commentators. The fact that they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. That He had not fallen upon them as yet. It is commonly acknowledged that a person is baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ. And no man can call Jesus Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. And the moment a person receives Jesus Christ and is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes into their lives. We know that you cannot receive Jesus without receiving the Holy Spirit into your life. And so this poses a great problem to the majority of Bible commentators when we find that the people in Samaria had believed and were baptized in water, and yet, the apostles sent them down that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for He had not yet fallen upon any of them. I am surprised that with all of these scholars, who are so problemed over this particular text, that they have not noted the Greek preposition. You remember Jesus said concerning the Holy Spirit to His disciples, "For He is with you and shall be in you." But later Jesus said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." Now this is the same Greek preposition epi that is used here. The Holy Spirit had not yet fallen, epi, upon them. So the commentators have difficulty trying to say, "Well, they were not filled with the Spirit; this was some special case in Samaria, because this was the first time out of Jerusalem and all." And they really wrestle and do all kinds of foolish things with this text. Because they do not want to acknowledge that there is an empowering experience of the Holy Spirit apart from conversion. But yet, that is exactly what the text does prove. That yes, we do receive the Holy Spirit in us when Christ comes into our lives. But there is an empowering experience subsequent to our salvation, where our lives are endued with the power of God's Spirit, as He comes upon us, anointing us for power to serve God. And it's a very simple, obvious solution, but it is one that most of the Bible commentators really stumble heavily over this. And I am amused at the various explanations they try to give of this particular text when the answer is so simple.
They had received Jesus Christ; they were baptized, so obviously the Spirit was dwelling in them. But they had not had an empowering experience like the apostles experienced on the day of Pentecost. For He was not yet fallen upon any of them, only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit ( Acts 8:17-19 ).
When Simon saw that through the laying on of hands that the Holy Spirit was imparted, there must have been some kind of visible or audible evidence that they were being empowered with the Holy Spirit, or else, why would he ask for that power? If they would just lay their hands on them and say, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit," and there was nothing visible, or audible to signify that the gift was being imparted, there wouldn't be this great desire by Simon to possess the same kind of power. No doubt, there was some kind of evidence that these people were receiving an empowering of God's Spirit upon their lives. And I really do not doubt but what they were speaking in other tongues, and perhaps, prophesying, as was the case in Ephesus in the nineteenth chapter. So it is not here declared, I personally feel that this probably was the case. And that is why Simon desired to purchase this power. Now his desire to purchase this power, or a position in the church, is where the name for that evil which later permeated the church was originated-simony. That is, the purchase of a position within the church. And unfortunately, the church went through a very dark period of history where positions in the church were auctioned off to the highest bidder. And there were times where the pope and his position was actually auctioned and purchased by the highest bidder. That awful evil known as simony, that did come into the church. That purchasing of position or authority.
This is a common practice among magicians. If a magician has a good trick, other magicians will seek to buy that trick, how it is done. And there are those who are practicing that art of leger de main, the common practice of selling the tricks to one another. And so Simon, being a sorcerer, being a deceiver, bewitching the people, having in his past purchased various types of information thought that he could purchase now this gift of God.
But Peter said unto him, Your money perish with thee, because you have thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money ( Acts 8:20 ).
What a horrible thing.
You neither have part or lot in this matter: for your heart is not right in the sight of God ( Acts 8:21 ).
And so Peter exercising now this gift of discernment begins to really deal with the issue of Simon's heart.
Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity ( Acts 8:22-23 ).
Now, though he had followed Philip and was a great admirer of the works that he was doing, yet within in his heart there was the gall of bitterness. Probably bitter over the fact that he was no longer looked up to by the people as he had once been. Bitter over the fact that the people were now following a new leader, even Jesus Christ, whom Philip had declared unto them. And that his little crowd had turned from him unto another, and that bothered him deep down in his heart. Though outwardly he was there with Philip and followed Philip and was baptized. Inwardly it was eating away. The bond of iniquity, the gall of bitterness. What a terrible thing bitterness is. How sad it is that a person would harbor bitterness in their heart. Bitterness can only hurt you. It only does you harm. You really can't afford bitterness. And he was told, "Pray that God might forgive you of this, for down in your heart you have bitterness, the bond of iniquity."
Then answered Simon, and he said, Pray to the Lord for me, that none of these things that you have spoken will come upon me ( Acts 8:24 ).
He asked for prayer, and I believe that he was sincere.
And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and they preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans ( Acts 8:25 ).
So John and Peter became evangelists. And as they were returning back to Jerusalem, they stopped in the villages of Samaria and preached the Gospel unto many.
And the angel of the Lord spoke unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south, unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. 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, was returning, and sitting in his chariot reading Isaiah the prophet ( Acts 8:26-28 ).
Now this is interesting in several respects. First of all, it is interesting because it gives us an insight into how God leads us by His Spirit. So many times I have people say, "I wish I knew what the will of God was for my life." And usually by that, they are saying, "I wish God would, sort-of, show me on a screen my future. I like to know what my future holds. I would like to know what God has planned for me. Then I can determine whether or not I want to do it." But in wanting to know the will of God, usually we want to know the next year, five years from now. We want our five-year program, our ten-year program, our twenty-year program. "Now, God, you know, lay it out." But God only said to Philip, "Go down to the road that is going from Jerusalem to Gaza, toward the desert." He didn't tell him anymore. That's the first step in the will of God.
God did not speak unto him again until he had taken the first step. So many times when God has given us the first step we don't want to go until He gives us the second step and the third step and the fourth step. We are prone to say, "Lord, why in the world do you want me to go to Gaza? There's nobody down there. That's a desert area, Lord. Why would you want me to leave this great meeting here in Samaria? Lord, you're making a serious mistake here. There are hundreds of people that are being saved. They're coming and they're listening to the Gospel. This is exciting, Lord. Why should I go to Gaza?" And I want the Lord to tell me why He has given me the first step. I want to know the whole plan, the whole program that God is doing. But God, so often, only gives us step one. And step two does not come until step one had been taken. And I am certain that, had he stayed in Samaria, arguing with God, seeking to have further clarification of this call, that he would have never received it. God would've sent someone else to meet that Ethiopian eunuch. One step at a time, that's how God usually directs our lives. That's how God has directed my life. Just one step at a time. It used to bother me. It used to bother me severely that God would only lead me one step at a time. Now I find it rather exciting. And I always like it when it's God's move.
You know, when I make my move, and then I say, "Okay, Lord, it's Your move," I'm obedient to what the Lord told me to do and now I wait to see what the next instruction is from Him. I don't like it so much when it's my move. I have difficulty many times with my move. But it's always great when I've made my move and I turn and say, "Okay now, Lord, Your move again."
Philip obeyed the first move. He left. No doubt he had many questions in his mind, but he left Samaria, the great revival, and he went down to this area, from going from Jerusalem to Gaza to the desert place.
Notice that this man had been to Jerusalem to worship God and was returning, sitting in his chariot, reading Isaiah the prophet. I believe that this man was a sincere seeker for God. In his heart he was really seeking after the Lord. For, no doubt, the Spirit had been drawing him. And in his search for God he came to Jerusalem, the center of the worship. Coming from Ethiopia they were familiar with Judaism. Because when the Queen of Sheba returned from her visit with Solomon, she took back to Ethiopia the Hebrew religion. There began then, in Ethiopia, the fillan jess movement. Those Ethiopians who were Jewish in their faith and practices. According to their traditions, the Queen of Sheba also took back to Egypt, in her womb, a son of Solomon. Who, they aptly called "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah." And Hal-e-so-lassie the . . . recently, a few years back, deposed leader of Ethiopia, did claim to be a direct descendent of Solomon and the king of Judah and the head over this faction in Ethiopia who followed Judaism. Thus, Judaism was well known in Ethiopia, and Jerusalem was the center of Judaism.
In the search of this man for God, it would only be natural that his search would bring him to Jerusalem. The tragedy is that while in Jerusalem, he did not find what he was searching for. And now he is returning to Ethiopia just as empty as he came. A heart still yearning after God. But God saw the yearning heart. I believe that God sees every yearning heart. And that God will take measures to bring His love and truth to every true seeker after God. If a person is genuinely seeking after God in his heart, I believe that God will reveal the truth even by miracles or whatever. And I think such is the case. God saw this man, and so He stirred the heart of Philip in the midst of the revival and said, "Go down to the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza, that desert place." When he got there, he saw the chariot, and the man sitting in the chariot, and the Lord said unto him,
Go near, and join yourself to this chariot ( Acts 8:29 ).
Step two, but step two did not come until he was fully obedient to step one.
And Philip ran up to him, and he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, Do you understand what you read? And he said, How can I, unless some man should guide me? And he requested that Philip would come up and sit with him [there in the chariot]. And the place in the scripture where 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: in his humiliation his judgement was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the eaRuth ( Acts 8:30-33 ).
Isaiah 53 , that prophecy of Isaiah, of the Servant of God, who would be despised and rejected. The Servant of God whose life would be taken away. Who would be slain as a sheep without really responding to the charges.
And the eunuch said, I pray thee, whom is the prophet speaking this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and he began [at that verse] the same scripture, and he preached unto him Jesus ( Acts 8:34-35 ).
And as we pointed out this morning, it wouldn't have made any difference where the man was reading in the Old Testament, it would've been possible at that very scripture or to start from anywhere in the Old Testament and preach Jesus. For the Old Testament is the story of Jesus from beginning to end. Jesus said, "You do search the scriptures for in them you think you have life. But actually, they are testifying of me. I have come, in the volume of the book it is written of Me, O Lord."
But he opened at that scripture and began to preach unto him Jesus. Jesus expounded to the disciples on the road to Emmaus all that Moses and the prophets said of the things concerning Himself. How He must suffer and die and rise.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what does hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And so he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both of them into the water ( Acts 8:36-38 ),
I guess he didn't just sprinkle him.
both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, that the eunuch saw him no more: but he went his way rejoicing ( Acts 8:38-39 ).
Philip had a ministry that brought joy to people. You remember in Samaria the result of the ministry. The city was filled with joy. Now he's ministered to this man who continues his journey, no longer searching. He has found, as a result of finding a real relationship with God, he is rejoicing. And from that time in history, there has always been a church in Ethiopia. He had, no doubt, a great influence on the establishing of the Gospel and the church in Ethiopia. "He went his way rejoicing."
Now here's a interesting thing about Philip: "The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip." Now, by what means, I don't know. There have been times that I have wished that the Spirit of the Lord would catch me away. When I'm facing a long hike back and you're weary and tired.
But Philip was found at Azotus ( Acts 8:40 ):
It would appear from the language that it was sort of a miraculous catching away. That's what the language would indicate. But, of course, nothing is really mentioned as far as the methods. So to speculate is worthless. Why make guesses? Who knows? We don't!
But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all of the cities, till he came to Caesarea ( Acts 8:40 ).
In a chapter or two, we're going to find Peter going down to preach to the church in Lydda and healing a certain man by the name of Aeneas who had been in bed for several years. And then we find that the church in Joppa, when they hear that Peter was in Lydda, sent to him a request that he would come quickly to Joppa because a certain woman, Dorcas, had died. And so Peter went then to Joppa and ministered to Dorcas. Now how is it that there was a church in Lydda and in Joppa? If you will look at that the map and find Gaza, and then Azotus, and we are told that he went from Azotus, in all of the cities preaching till he came to Caesarea. I believe that these churches in Joppa and Lydda were probably established by the evangelist Philip, because these are some of the cities that he would be passing through going from Azotus to Caesarea. I think that his ministry there resulted in the birth of these churches. In these same areas that Peter had come down and minister to.
It seems that when he came to Caesarea, that he made Caesarea his home. I can surely understand why. It is a beautiful seaport city, sitting on the Mediterranean. The water on the Mediterranean takes on a very special blue, the beaches are gorgeous, and if I had a choice of places to live, Caesarea wouldn't be a bad choice at all.
And so, Philip stayed there in Caesarea establishing his home there. Years later, Paul visited with Philip there in Caesarea, remaining with him there in his home before he continued his journey to Jerusalem. We'll come back to Philip's house in Caesarea later on in the book of Acts. We'll return to his house, and we'll visit for awhile with Paul. That's why I emphasize his house in Caesarea, because we are coming back to this house before we're through with the book of Acts.
As we go on into chapter nine next week, we will get to the conversion of Paul, and the interesting aspects of his conversion. Then, Peter's visit to Lydda and to Joppa, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in chapter ten on the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius in Caesarea, where Philip ends up. It is interesting that God would call Peter for this work. It could be that Philip was not in Caesarea at this time, or it could be that again he had planted seed, and that's why Cornelius was such a devout man.
Father, we thank You for Your Word and the excitement that it has generated in our hearts when we see men so used of the Holy Spirit. And we realize that they are just common men like us. And so, Lord, we desire that our lives be used by the Holy Spirit to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world around us. Lord, we offer You tonight our lives, our bodies as living sacrifices that we might, O God, be instruments in Your hands doing Your work, touching the needy world around us. O Lord, we recognize that we need that power of Your Holy Spirit to do any work that is truly effective. So Lord, anoint us with Your power in Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
May the Lord bless and give you a beautiful week, fill you with His love and Spirit, and may He use your life as His instrument accomplishing His work, in Jesus' name. "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​csc/​acts-8.html. 2014.
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.
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest: There is some question among scholars as to whether this statement by Philip is actually in the original text.
Verse 37 is left out of the Standard Version, but a footnote is inserted, saying that"some ancient authorities insert, wholly or in part, verse 37."It was found in one manuscript in the latter half of the second century, as it was quoted by"Irenaeus, "who was active from the year A.D. 170 to A.D. 210. It is supposed that this verse was written in the margin and later was transcribed as a part of the original text. Even if the verse be an interpolation, and should be left out, it does not change in any way the thought; nothing is added by retaining the verse so far as doctrine is concerned, and nothing certainly is lost by omitting the verse. However, the early records that contain it show that very early in the history of the church such a question was asked and such an answer was given (Boles 138-139).
And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God: Here is a man who has been all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship God as directed under the Old Testament. He needs to know Jesus as his Saviour. He has just heard Jesus preached. How is Philip to know whether this stranger is a believer in Jesus or not? This Ethiopian nobleman from the depths of his heart makes this blessed statement, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.""For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:10).
Are there any more questions? This man is now ready to be baptized. The pattern established in this example was practiced by Christians in the first century and is practiced right on up to this day. In response to the question, "what do you believe, "the candidate for baptism makes the same"good confession"the eunuch made. Jesus explains in Matthew 10:32 : "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven."
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 8:37". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​ctf/​acts-8.html. 1993-2022.
2. Philip’s ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch 8:26-40
Luke recorded this incident to show the method and direction of the church’s expansion to God-fearing Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism at this time. The Ethiopian eunuch had visited Jerusalem to worship, was studying the Old Testament, and was open to instruction by a Jew. Therefore he was much more sympathetic to the Christians’ gospel than the average Gentile. This man appears to have been the first full-fledged Gentile that Luke recorded being evangelized in Acts, though he could have been a diaspora Jew.
"The admirably-told story of the Ethiopian is probably in Philip’s own words, passed on to the author when he and Paul were entertained in the evangelist’s house at Caesarea, twenty years later (xxi. 8). As a piece of narrative it ranks with the stories of the Lord’s own personal work (e.g. John iii and iv)." [Note: Blaiklock, pp. 80-81.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​acts-8.html. 2012.
The road on which this conversation took place crossed several stream beds that empty water from the higher elevations into the Mediterranean Sea during the wetter months. Even though the land generally was desert, water was not entirely absent at some times of the year. The Ethiopian may have already known about water baptism since he had an interest in Judaism. The Jews required water baptism of Gentile converts. Philip may have instructed him further on the importance of baptism (cf. Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12). In any case the official was eager to submit to it. The Jews did not baptize physical eunuchs and take them in as proselytes of Judaism (Deuteronomy 23:1). If he was a physical eunuch, perhaps this is why the official asked if there was some reason he could not undergo baptism as a Christian.
Obviously there was enough water for Philip to immerse the Ethiopian, the normal method of baptism in Judaism and early Christianity. Some interpreters have argued, however, that the two men may have stood in the water while Philip poured water over or sprinkled the Ethiopian. This is a possible but, I think, it is improbable. The normal meaning of the Greek word baptizo (to baptize) is to immerse, and this was the common custom. The Ethiopian official testified to his faith in Jesus as the Messiah by submitting to water baptism (cf. Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​acts-8.html. 2012.
THE FIRST OF THE MARTYRS ( Acts 7:54-60 ; Acts 8:1 )
8:1 As they listened to this their very hearts were torn with vexation and they gnashed their teeth at him. But he was full of the Holy Spirit and he gazed steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God's right hand. So he said, "Look now, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at God's right hand." They shouted with a great shout and held their ears and launched themselves at him in a body. They flung him outside the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man called Saul. So they stoned Stephen as he called upon God and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Kneeling down he cried with a loud voice, "Lord, set not this sin to their charge." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul fully agreed with his death.
A speech like this could only have one end; Stephen had courted death and death came. But Stephen did not see the faces distorted with rage. His gaze had gone beyond time and he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. When he said this it seemed to them only the greatest of blasphemies; and the penalty for blasphemy was stoning to death ( Deuteronomy 13:6 ff.). It is to be noted that this was no judicial trial. It was a lynching, because the Sanhedrin had no right to put anyone to death.
The method of stoning was as follows. The criminal was taken to a height and thrown down. The witnesses had to do the actual throwing down. If the fall killed the man good and well; if not, great boulders were hurled down upon him until he died.
There are in this scene certain notable things about Stephen. (i) We see the secret of his courage. Beyond all that men could do to him he saw awaiting him the welcome of his Lord. (ii) We see Stephen following his Lord's example. As Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of his executioners ( Luke 23:34) so did Stephen. When George Wishart was to be executed, the executioner hesitated. Wishart came to him and kissed him. "Lo," he said, "here is a token that I forgive thee." The man who follows Christ the whole way will find strength to do things which it seems humanly impossible to do. (iii) The dreadful turmoil finished in a strange peace. To Stephen came the peace which comes to the man who has done the right thing even if the right thing kills him.
The first half of the first verse of chapter 8 goes with this section. Saul has entered on the scene. The man who was to become the apostle to the Gentiles thoroughly agreed with the execution of Stephen. But as Augustine said, "The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen." However hard he tried Saul could never forget the way in which Stephen had died. The blood of the martyrs even thus early had begun to be the seed of the Church.
THE CHURCH REACHES OUT ( Acts 8:1-4 )
Acts 8:1-40 is an important chapter in the history of the Church. The Church began by being a purely Jewish institution. Acts 6:1-15 shows the first murmurings of the great debate about the acceptance of the Gentiles. Stephen had had a mind far above national delimitations. Acts 8:1-40 shows the Church reaching out. Persecution scattered the Church abroad and where they went they took their gospel. Into Acts 8:1-40 comes Philip who, like Stephen, was one of the Seven and who is to be distinguished from the Philip who was one of the Twelve. First, Philip preached to the Samaritans. The Samaritans formed a natural bridge between Jew and Gentile for they were half Jew and half Gentile in their racial descent. Then comes the incident of the Ethiopian eunuch in which the gospel takes a step out to a still wider circle. As yet the Church had no conception of a world mission; but when we read this chapter in the light of what was soon to happen, we see her unconsciously but irresistibly being moved towards her destiny.
HAVOC OF THE CHURCH ( Acts 8:1-4 continued)
8:1-4 At that time a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem. They were all scattered abroad throughout the districts of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. Pious men carried Stephen away to bury him, and they mourned greatly over him. As for Saul, he ravaged the church. He went into house after house and dragged out both men and women and put them under arrest.
The death of Stephen was the signal for an outbreak of persecution which compelled the Christians to scatter and to seek safety in the remoter districts of the country. There are two specially interesting points in this short section.
(i) The apostles stood fast. Others might flee but they braved whatever perils might come; and this for two reasons. (a) They were men of courage. Conrad tells that, when he was a young sailor learning to steer a sailing-ship, a gale blew up. The older man who was teaching him gave him but one piece of advice. "Keep her facing it," he said. "Always keep her facing it." The apostles were determined to face whatever dangers threatened. (b) They were good men. Christians they might be, but there was something about them that won the respect of all. It is told that once a slanderous accusation was leveled against Plato. His answer was, "I will live in such a way that all men will know that it is a lie." The beauty and the power of the lies of the apostles were so impressive that even in a day of persecution men hesitated to lay their hands upon them.
(ii) Saul, as the King James Version says, "made havoc" of the church. The word used in the Greek denotes a brutal cruelty. It is used of a wild boar ravaging a vineyard and of a wild animal savaging a body. The contrast between the man who was savaging the church in this chapter and the man who surrendered to Christ in the next is intensely dramatic.
IN SAMARIA ( Acts 8:5-13 )
8:5-13 Those who were scattered abroad went throughout the country telling the message of the good news. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. The crowds listened attentively to what Philip had to say, as they heard his story and saw the signs which he performed. Many of them had unclean spirits, and the spirits, shouting loudly, came out of them; and many who were paralysed and lame were cured; and there was much rejoicing in that city.
A man called Simon was in the habit of practising magic in the city and of bewildering the people of Samaria. He alleged that he was someone great. Everyone, small and great alike, was greatly impressed by him, for they said, "This man is the power of God called Great." They were impressed by him because they had been bewildered by his magical deeds for some considerable time. Both men and women were baptized when they believed Philip, as he told them the good news of the kingdom of God and of the name of Jesus Christ. Even Simon himself believed, and, after he had been baptized, he was constantly in Philip's company; and he was amazed when he saw the signs and great deeds of power which were happening.
When the Christians were scattered abroad, Philip, who had emerged into prominence as one of the Seven, arrived in Samaria; and there he preached. This incident of the work in Samaria is an astonishing thing because it was proverbial that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans ( John 4:9).
The quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans was centuries old. Back in the eighth century B.C. the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom whose capital was Samaria. As conquerors did in those days, they transported the greater part of the population and settled strangers in the land. In the sixth century the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom with its capital at Jerusalem and its inhabitants were carried away to Babylon; but they completely refused to lose their identity and remained stubbornly Jews. In the fifth century B.C. they were allowed to return and to rebuild their shattered city under Ezra and Nehemiah. In the meantime, those of the Northern Kingdom who had been left in Palestine had intermarried with the stranger races who had been brought in. When the people of the Southern Kingdom returned and set to build their city, these people round Samaria offered their help. It was contemptuously refused because they were no longer pure Jews. From that day onwards there was an unhealed breach and a bitter hatred between Jews and Samaritans.
The fact that Philip preached there and that the message of Jesus was given to these people shows the Church all unconsciously taking one of the most important steps in history and discovering that Christ is for all the world. We know very little about Philip but he was one of the architects of the Christian Church.
We must note what Christianity brought to these people. (i) It brought the story of Jesus, the message of the love of God in Jesus Christ. (ii) It brought healing. Christianity has never been a thing of words only. (iii) It brought, as a natural consequence, a joy that the Samaritans had never known before. It is a counterfeit Christianity which brings an atmosphere of gloom; the real thing radiates joy.
THINGS WHICH CANNOT BE BOUGHT AND SOLD ( Acts 8:14-25 )
8:14-25 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they despatched Peter and John to them. They came down and prayed for them, so that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet the Holy Spirit had fallen on no one. It was in the name of the Lord Jesus that they had been baptized. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he brought money to them and said, "Give me too this power so that he on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you because you thought to obtain the gift of God for money; you have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray God if it may be that the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of wickedness." Simon answered, "Do you pray to the Lord for me, so that none of the things you spoke of may come upon me."
So after they had borne their witness and spoken the word of God, they returned to Jerusalem, telling the good news to many villages of the Samaritans on the way.
Simon was by no means an unusual type in the ancient world. There were many astrologers and soothsayers and magicians, and in a credulous age they had a great influence and made a comfortable living. There is little to be surprised at in that when even the twentieth century has not risen above fortune-telling and astrology, as almost any popular newspaper or magazine can witness. It is not to be thought that Simon and his fellow-practitioners were all conscious frauds. Many of them had deluded themselves before they deluded others and believed in their own powers.
To understand what Simon was getting at we have to understand something of the atmosphere and practice of the early Church. The coming of the Spirit upon a man was connected with certain visible phenomena, in particular with the gift of speaking with tongues (compare Acts 10:44-46). He experienced an ecstasy which manifested itself in this strange phenomenon of uttering meaningless sounds. In Jewish practice the laying on of hands was very common. With it there was held to be a transference of certain qualities from one person to another. It is not to be thought that this represents an entirely materialistic view of the transference of the Spirit, the dominating factor was the character of the man who laid on the hands. The apostles were men held in such respect and even veneration that simply to feel the touch of their hands was a deeply spiritual experience. If a personal reminiscence may be allowed, I myself remember being taken to see a man who had been one of the Church's great scholars and saints. I was very young and he was very old. I was left with him for a moment or two and in that time he laid his hands upon my head and blessed me. And to this day, more than fifty years afterwards, I can still feel the thrill of that moment. In the early Church the laying on of hands was like that.
Simon was impressed with the visible effects of the laying on of hands and he tried to buy the ability to do what the apostles could do. Simon has left his name on the language for simony still means the unworthy buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices. Simon had two faults.
(i) He was not interested in bringing the Holy Spirit to others so much as in the power and prestige it would bring to himself. This exaltation of self is ever the danger of the preacher and the teacher. It is true that they must kindle at the sight of men; but it is also true as Denney said--that we cannot at one and the same time show that we are clever and that Christ is wonderful.
(ii) Simon forgot that certain gifts are dependent on character; money cannot buy them. Again, the preacher and the teacher must take warning. "Preaching is truth through personality." To bring the Spirit to others a man must be not a man of wealth but one who himself possesses the Spirit.
CHRIST COMES TO AN ETHIOPIAN ( Acts 8:26-40 )
8:26-40 The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip and said, "Rise and go to the south by the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza; that is Gaza in the desert." So he arose and went. Now, look you, an Ethiopian eunuch, an influential official of Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasury and who had gone to worship in Jerusalem, was on his way home. As he sat in his chariot he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, "Go and join yourself to this chariot." So Philip ran up and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He said, "How could I do that unless someone were to guide me?" He invited Philip to get up and to sit with him. The passage of scripture which he was reading was this--He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before his shearer is dumb, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he received no justice. Who will recount his lineage because his life is taken from the earth? The eunuch said to Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet speaking about? Is it about himself? Or about someone else?" Philip opened his mouth, and, taking his start from this passage of scripture, told him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road they came to some water, "Look," said the eunuch, "here is water. What is to stop me being baptized?" And he ordered the chariot to stand still. So both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away and the eunuch no longer saw him, but he travelled along his road rejoicing. Philip was found at Azotus. He went through all the cities and preached the good news to them until he came to Caesarea.
There was a road from Jerusalem which led via Bethlehem and Hebron and joined the main road to Egypt just south of Gaza. There were two Gazas. Gaza had been destroyed in war in 93 B.C. and a new Gaza had been built to the south in 57 B.C. The first was called Old or Desert Gaza to distinguish it from the other. This road which led by Gaza would be one where the traffic of half the world went by. Along in his chariot came the Ethiopian eunuch. He was the chancellor of the exchequer of Candace. Candace is not so much a proper name as a title, the title which all the queens of Ethiopia bore. This eunuch had been to Jerusalem to worship. In those days the world was full of people who were weary of the many gods and the loose morals of the nations. They came to Judaism and there found the one God and the austere moral standards which gave life meaning. If they accepted Judaism and were circumcised they were called proselytes; if they did not go that length but continued to attend the Jewish synagogues and to read the Jewish scriptures they were called God-fearers. This Ethiopian must have been one of these searchers who came to rest in Judaism either as a proselyte or a God-fearer. He was reading Isaiah 53:1-12; and beginning from it Philip showed him who Jesus was.
When he became a believer he was baptized. It was by baptism and circumcision that the Gentile entered the Jewish faith. In New Testament times baptism was largely adult baptism. It was not that there was anything against infant baptism, but in those early days men and women were coming in from other faiths and the Christian family had not had time to develop. To the early Christians baptism was, whenever possible, by immersion and in running water. It symbolized three things. (i) It symbolized cleansing. As a man's body was cleansed by the water, so his soul was bathed in the grace of Christ. (ii) It marked a clean break. We are told how one missionary when he baptized his converts made them enter the river by one bank and sent them out on the other, as if at the moment of baptism a line was drawn in their lives which sent them out to a new world. (iii) Baptism was a real union with Christ. As the waters closed over a man's head he seemed to die with Christ and as he emerged he rose with Christ (compare Romans 6:1-4).
Tradition has it that this eunuch went home and evangelized Ethiopia. We can at least be sure that he who went on his way rejoicing would not be able to keep his newfound joy to himself.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dsb/​acts-8.html. 1956-1959.
While many modern versions omit this verse, I am somewhat skeptical of the MSS evidences that omit it. The NIV at least inserts it in brackets.
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One is hard pressed, on this evidence, to dispute the conclusion of Scrivener when he wrote, "We cannot safely question the spuriousness of this verse, which all the critical editions condemn, . . ." Also, one is impressed by the words of McGarvey who said, "In regard to scarcely any reading are the textual critics more unanimously agreed, or on better manuscript evidence, than the rejection of this verse as an interpolation."12
However, one is given pause in accepting this conclusion by several facts. First, the verse was clearly alluded to by Iranaeus who was active from 170-200/210 A.D., well before the earliest manuscripts noted above were copied. Also, Cyprian, who died in 258, apparently quoted this verse well before the earliest copy we have of the manuscripts. Brents, who advised caution in accepting the decision of the textual critics, used the quotation by Iranaeus to contend that the arguments against he verse, while strong, were not to his mind conclusive.13 Second, one is made to wonder at the context if the verse is omitted. Brents put the matter in this way:
Are we to believe that Philip said nothing in answer to the question? and yet the eunuch commanded the chariot to be stillthat both got out of it and went down into the water in silence. Can any sane man believe it? Is there not a perceivable blank which the sense requires to be filled with just such language as we find in the verse in question. 14
The force of this contextual consideration is clear in the words of David Lipscomb,
In reference to this, it is claimed by the textuary critics generally that the confession there recorded is an interpolation. The context and circumstances would indicate that just such a confession was made. It is also clear that Philip was not seeking a formal confession, but evidence of faith.
Whatever confession was made came in response to this seeking. The natural evidence of faith in the heart is the confession with the mouth. When Philip said, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest," the natural response would be: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.""
It is interesting to note the words of F. F. Bruce, who rejects the verse as spurious. But, when he dealt with the contextual force for the confession he stated, "Philip surely must have satisfied himself first of the genuineness of the Ethiopian’s faith. (No doubt he did so satisfy himself, but there are some minds that cannot be content to leave such things to be inferred)." (18) This shows his necessity to accept the argument for inclusion by virtue of the context.
It seems best, then, to be very cautious in the decision for or against this verse. The testimony of the textual critics is, with only rare exception, unanimous in rejecting it. But, one must admit the force of the material stated by Brents and Lipscomb and clearly implied in the conclusion by Bruce. One would be hard pressed to prove the verse is original on the basis of textual critical material, but there is some basis for questioning whether textual critical material alone resolves the issue in this verse.
- William Woodson, pg 44,45, Difficult Texts of the New Testament Explained, edited by Wendell Winkler, (The Fourth Annual "Fort Worth" Lectures, the Brown Trail Church of Christ, Bedfort, TX) 1981.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​gbc/​acts-8.html. 2021.
And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest,.... Intimating, that if he did not believe, he had no right to that ordinance; though he was a proselyte to the Jewish religion, a serious and devout man, and was employed in a religious way, when Philip came up to him, and was very desirous of being instructed in the knowledge of divine things; and yet notwithstanding all this, he had no right to the ordinance of baptism, unless he had faith in Christ, and made a profession of it; nor would Philip administer it to him without it; from whence it appears, that faith in Christ, and a profession of it, are necessary prerequisites to baptism: and this faith should not be a mere historical and temporary faith, nor a feigned one, but a believing in Christ with the heart unto righteousness; or such a faith by which a soul relinquishes its own righteousness, and looks and goes unto Christ for righteousness, life, and salvation, and rests and relies upon him for them; and it should be a believing in him with the whole heart, which does not design a strong faith, or a full assurance of faith, but an hearty, sincere, and unfeigned one, though it may be but weak, and very imperfect. And that this is necessary to baptism is manifest, because without this it is impossible to please God; nor can submission and obedience to it be acceptable to him: nor indeed can the ordinance be grateful and pleasing to unbelievers; for though it is a command that is not grievous, and a yoke that is easy, yet it is only so to them that believe; nor can any other see to the end of this ordinance, or behold the burial, and resurrection of Christ represented by it, or be baptized into his death, and partake of the benefits of it; and besides, whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God: which though a short, is a very comprehensive summary of the articles of faith respecting the person, offices, and grace of Christ; as that he is a divine person, truly and properly God, the only begotten of the Father, of the same nature with him, and equal to him; that he existed from all eternity, as a divine person with him, and distinct from him; and that he is the Christ, the anointed of God, to be prophet, priest, and King; and is Jesus, the only Saviour of lost sinners, in whom he trusted and depended alone for righteousness, life, and salvation. This whole verse is wanting in the Alexandrian copy, and in five of Beza's copies, and in the Syriac and Ethiopic versions; but stands in the Vulgate Latin and Arabic versions, and in the Complutensian edition; and, as Beza observes, ought by no means to be expunged, since it contains so clear a confession of faith required of persons to be baptized, which was used in the truly apostolic times.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​geb/​acts-8.html. 1999.
|Philip and the Ethiopian.|
26 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 Esaias 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 Esaias, 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 Cæsarea.
We have here the story of the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch to the faith of Christ, by whom, we have reason to think, the knowledge of Christ was sent into that country where he lived, and that scripture fulfilled, Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands (one of the first of the nations) unto God,Psalms 68:31.
I. Philip the evangelist is directed into the road where he would meet with this Ethiopian, Acts 8:26; Acts 8:26. When the churches in Samaria were settled, and had ministers appointed them, the apostles went back to Jerusalem; but Philip stays, expecting to be employed in breaking up fresh ground in the country. And here we have, 1. Direction given him by an angel (probably in a dream or vision of the night) what course to steer: Arise, and go towards the south. Though angels were not employed to preach the gospel, they were often employed in carrying messages to ministers for advice and encouragement, as Acts 5:19; Acts 5:19. We cannot now expect such guides in our way; but doubtless there is a special providence of God conversant about the removes and settlements of ministers, and one way or other he will direct those who sincerely desire to follow him into that way in which he will own them: he will guide them with his eye. Philip must go southward, to the way that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza, through the desert or wilderness of Judah. He would never have thought of going thither, into a desert, into a common road through the desert; small probability of finding work there! Yet thither he is sent, according to our Saviour's parable, fore-telling the call of the Gentiles, Go you into the highways, and the hedges,Matthew 22:9. Sometimes God opens a door of opportunity to his ministers in places very unlikely. 2. His obedience to this direction (Acts 8:27; Acts 8:27): He arose and went, without objecting, or so much as asking, "What business have I there?" Or, "What likelihood is there of doing good there?" He went out, not knowing whither he went, or whom he was to meet.
II. An account is given of this eunuch (Acts 8:27; Acts 8:27), who and what he was, on whom this distinguishing favour was bestowed. 1. He was a foreigner, a man of Ethiopia. There were two Ethiopias, one in Arabia, but that lay east from Canaan; it should seem this was Ethiopia in Africa, which lay south, beyond Egypt, a great way off from Jerusalem; for in Christ those that were afar off were made nigh, according to the promise, that the ends of the earth should see the great salvation. The Ethiopians were looked upon as the meanest and most despicable of the nations, blackamoors, as if nature had stigmatized them; yet the gospel is sent to them, and divine grace looks upon them, though they are black, though the sun has looked upon them. 2. He was a person of quality, a great man in his own country, a eunuch, not in body, but in office-lord chamberlain or steward of the household; and either by the dignity of his place or by his personal character, which commanded respect, he was of great authority, and bore a mighty sway under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who probably was successor to the queen of Sheba, who is called the queen of the south, that country being governed by queens, to whom Candace was a common name, as Pharaoh to the kings of Egypt. He had the charge of all her treasure; so great a trust did she repose in him. Not many mighty, not many noble, are called; but some are. 3. He was a proselyte to the Jewish religion, for he came to Jerusalem to worship. Some think that he was a proselyte of righteousness, who was circumcised, and kept the feasts; others that he was only a proselyte of the gate, a Gentile, but who had renounced idolatry, and worshipped the God of Israel occasionally in the court of the Gentiles; but, if so, then Peter was not the first that preached the gospel to the Gentiles, as he says he was. Some think that there were remains of the knowledge of the true God in this country, ever since the queen of Sheba's time; and probably the ancestor of this eunuch was one of her attendants, who transmitted to his posterity what he learned at Jerusalem.
III. Philip and the eunuch are brought together into a close conversation; and now Philip shall know the meaning of his being sent into a desert, for there he meets with a chariot, that shall serve for a synagogue, and one man, the conversion of whom shall be in effect, for aught he knows, the conversion of a whole nation.
1. Philip is ordered to fall into company with this traveller that is going home from Jerusalem towards Gaza, thinking he has done all the business of his journey, when the great business which the overruling providence of God designed in it was yet undone. He had been at Jerusalem, where the apostles were preaching the Christian faith, and multitudes professing it, and yet there he had taken no notice of it, and made no enquiries after it--nay, it should seem, had slighted it, and turned his back upon it; yet the grace of God pursues him, overtakes him in the desert, and there overcomes him. Thus God is often found of those that sought him not,Isaiah 65:1. Philip has this order, not by an angel, as before, but by the Spirit whispering it in his ear (Acts 8:29; Acts 8:29): "Go near, and join thyself to this chariot; go so near as that gentleman may take notice of thee." We should study to do good to those we light in company with upon the road: thus the lips of the righteous may feed many. We should not be so shy of all strangers as some affect to be. Of those of whom we know nothing else we know this, that they have souls.
2. He finds him reading in his Bible, as he sat in his chariot (Acts 8:28; Acts 8:28): He ran to him, and heard him read; he read out, for the benefit of those that were with him, Acts 8:30; Acts 8:30. He not only relieved the tediousness of the journey, but redeemed time by reading, not philosophy, history, nor politics, much less a romance or a play, but the scriptures, the book of Esaias; that book Christ read in (Luke 4:17) and the eunuch here, which should recommend it particularly to our reading. Perhaps the eunuch was now reading over again those portions of scripture which he had heard read and expounded at Jerusalem, that he might recollect what he had heard. Note, (1.) It is the duty of every one of us to converse much with the holy scriptures. (2.) Persons of quality should abound more than others in the exercises of piety, because their example will influence many, and they have their time more at command. (3.) It is wisdom for men of business to redeem time for holy duties; time is precious, and it is the best husbandry in the world to gather up the fragments of time, that none be lost, to fill up every minute with something that will turn to a good account. (4.) When we are returning from public worship we should use means in private for the keeping up of the good affections there kindled, and the preserving of the good impressions there made, 1 Chronicles 29:18. (5.) Those that are diligent in searching the scriptures are in a fair way to improve in knowledge; for to him that hath shall be given.
3. He puts a fair question to him: Understandest thou what thou readest? Not by way of reproach, but with design to offer him his service. Note, What we read and hear of the word of God it highly concerns us to understand, especially what we read and hear concerning Christ; and therefore we should often ask ourselves whether we understand it or no: Have you understood all these things?Matthew 13:51. And have you understood them aright? We cannot profit by the scriptures unless we do in some measure understand them, 1 Corinthians 14:16; 1 Corinthians 14:17. And, blessed by God, what is necessary to salvation is easy to be understood.
4. The eunuch in a sense of his need of assistance, desires Philip's company (Acts 8:31; Acts 8:31): "How can I understand, says he, except some one guide me? Therefore pray come up, and sit with me." (1.) He speaks as one that had very low thoughts of himself, and his own capacity and attainments. He was so far from taking it as an affront to be asked whether he understood what he read, though Philip was a stranger, on foot, and probably looked mean (which many a less man would have done, and have called him an impertinent fellow, and bid him go about his business, what was it to him?) that he takes the question kindly, makes a very modest reply, How can I? We have reason to think he was an intelligent man, and as well acquainted with the meaning of scripture as most were, and yet he modestly confesses his weakness. Note, Those that would learn must see their need to be taught. The prophet must first own that he knows not what these are, and then the angel will tell him, Zechariah 4:13. (2.) He speaks as one very desirous to be taught, to have some one to guide him. Observe, He read the scripture, though there were many things in it which he did not understand. Though there are many things in the scriptures which are dark and hard to be understood, nay, which are often misunderstood, yet we must not therefore throw them by, but study them for the sake of those things that are easy, which is the likeliest way to come by degrees to the understanding of those things that are difficult: for knowledge and grace grow gradually. (3.) He invited Philip to come up and sit with him; not as Jehu took Jonadab into his chariot, to come and see his zeal for the Lord of hosts (2 Kings 10:16), but rather, "Come, see my ignorance, and instruct me." He will gladly do Philip the honour to take him into the coach with him, if Philip will do him the favour to expound a portion of scripture to him. Note, In order to our right understanding of the scripture, it is requisite we should have some one to guide us; some good books, and some good men, but, above all, the Spirit of grace, to lead us into all truth.
IV. The portion of scripture which the eunuch recited, with some hints of Philip's discourse upon it. The preachers of the gospel had a very good handle to take hold of those by who were conversant with the scriptures of the Old Testament and received them, especially when they found them actually engaged in the study of them, as the eunuch was here.
1. The chapter he was reading was the fifty-third of Isaiah, two verses of which are here quoted (Isaiah 53:7; Isaiah 53:8; Acts 8:32; Acts 8:33), part of the seventh and eighth verses; they are set down according to the Septuagint version, which in some things differs from the original Hebrew. Grotius thinks the eunuch read it in the Hebrew, but that Luke takes the Septuagint translation, as readier to the language in which he wrote; and he supposes that the eunuch had learned from the many Jews that were in Ethiopia both their religion and language. But, considering that the Septuagint version was made in Egypt, which was the next country adjoining to Ethiopia, and lay between it and Jerusalem, I rather think that translation was most familiar to him: it appears by Isaiah 20:4 that there was much communication between those two nations--Egypt and Ethiopia. The greatest variation from the Hebrew is that what in the original is, He was taken from prison and from judgment (hurried with the utmost violence and precipitation from one judgment-seat to another; or, From force and from judgment he was taken away; that is, It was from the fury of the people, and their continual clamours, and the judgment of Pilate thereupon, that he was taken away), is here read, In his humiliation his judgment was taken away. He appeared so mean and despicable in their eyes that they denied him common justice, and against all the rules of equity, to the benefit of which every man is entitled, they declared him innocent, and yet condemned him to die; nothing criminal can be proved upon him, but he is down, and down with him. Thus in his humiliation his judgment was taken away; so, the sense is much the same with that of the Hebrew. So that (Isaiah 53:7; Isaiah 53:8; Acts 8:32; Acts 8:33 foretold concerning the Messiah, (1.) That he should die, should be led to the slaughter, as sheep that were offered in sacrifice--that his life should be taken from among men, taken from the earth. With what little reason then was the death of Christ a stumbling-block to the unbelieving Jews, when it was so plainly foretold by their own prophets, and was so necessary to the accomplishment of his undertaking! Then is the offence of the cross ceased. (2.) That he should die wrongfully, should die by violence, should be hurried out of his life, and his judgment shall be taken away--no justice done to him; for he must be cut off, but not for himself. (3.) That he should die patiently. Like a lamb dumb before the shearer, nay, and before the butcher too, so he opened not his mouth. Never was there such an example of patience as our Lord Jesus was in his sufferings; when he was accused, when he was abused, he was silent, reviled not again, threatened not. (4.) That yet he should live for ever, to ages which cannot be numbered; for so I understand those words, Who shall declare his generation? The Hebrew word properly signifies the duration of one life,Ecclesiastes 1:4. Now who can conceive or express how long he shall continue, notwithstanding this; for his life is taken only from the earth; in heaven he shall live to endless and innumerable ages, as it follows in Isaiah 53:10, He shall prolong his days.
2. The eunuch's question upon this is, Of whom speaketh the prophet this?Acts 8:34; Acts 8:34. He does not desire Philip to give him some critical remarks upon the words and phrases, and the idioms of the language, but to acquaint him with the general scope and design of the prophecy, to furnish him with a key, in the use of which he might, by comparing one thing with another, be led into the meaning of the particular passage. Prophecies had usually in them something of obscurity, till they were explained by the accomplishment of them, as this now was. It is a material question he asks, and a very sensible one: "Does the prophet speak this of himself, in expectation of being used, being misused, as the other prophets were? or does he speak it of some other man, in his own age, or in some age to come?" Though the modern Jews will not allow it to be spoken of the Messiah, yet their ancient doctors did so interpret it; and perhaps the eunuch knew this, and did partly understand it so himself, only he proposed this question, to draw on discourse with Philip; for the way to improve in learning is to consult the learned. As they must enquire the law at the mouth of the priests (Malachi 2:7), so they must enquire the gospel, especially that part of the treasure which is hid in the field of the Old Testament, at the mouth of the ministers of Christ. The way to receive good instructions is to ask good questions.
3. Philip takes this fair occasion given him to open to him the great mystery of the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, and him crucified. He began at this scripture, took this for his text (as Christ did another passage of the same prophecy, Luke 4:21), and preached unto him Jesus,Acts 8:35; Acts 8:35. This is all the account given us of Philip's sermon, because it was the same in effect with Peter's sermons, which we have had before. The business of gospel ministers is to preach Jesus, and this is the preaching that is likely to do good. It is probable that Philip had now occasion for his gift of tongues, that he might preach Christ to this Ethiopian in the language of his own country. And here we have an instance of speaking of the things of God, and speaking of them to good purpose, not only as we sit in the house, but as we walk by the way, according to that rule, Deuteronomy 6:7.
V. The eunuch is baptized in the name of Christ, Acts 8:36-38; Acts 8:36-38. It is probable that the eunuch had heard at Jerusalem of the doctrine of Christ, so that it was not altogether new to him. But, if he had, what could that do towards this speedy conquest that was made of his heart for Christ. It was a powerful working of the Spirit with and by Philip's preaching that gained the point. Now here we have,
1. The modest proposal which the eunuch made of himself for baptism (Acts 8:36; Acts 8:36): As they went on their way, discoursing of Christ, the eunuch asking more questions and Philip answering them to his satisfaction, they came unto a certain water, a well, river, or pond, the sight of which made the eunuch think of being baptized. Thus God, by hints of providence which seem casual, sometimes puts his people in mind of their duty, of which otherwise perhaps they would not have thought. The eunuch knew not how little a while Philip might be with him, nor where he might afterwards enquire for him. He could not expect his travelling with him to his next stage, and therefore, if Philip think fit, he will take the present convenience which offers itself of being baptized: "See, here is water, which perhaps we may not meet with a great while again; what doth hinder me to be baptized? Canst thou show any cause why I should not be admitted a disciple and follower of Christ by baptism?" Observe, (1.) He does not demand baptism, does not say, "Here is water and here I am resolved I will be baptized;" for, if Philip have any thing to offer to the contrary, he is willing to waive it for the present. If he think him not fit to be baptized, or if there be any thing in the institution of the ordinance which will not admit such a speedy administration of it, he will not insist upon it. The most forward zeal must submit to order and rule. But, (2.) He does desire it, and, unless Philip can show cause why not, he desires it now, and is not willing to defer it. Note, In the solemn dedicating and devoting of ourselves to God, it is good to make haste, and not to delay; for the present time is the best time, Psalms 119:60. Those who have received the thing signified by baptism should not put off receiving the sign. The eunuch feared lest the good affections now working in him should cool and abate, and therefore was willing immediately to bind his soul with the baptismal bonds unto the Lord, that he might bring the matter to an issue.
2. The fair declaration which Philip made him of the terms upon which he might have the privilege of baptism (Acts 8:37; Acts 8:37): "If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest; that is, If thou believest this doctrine which I have preached to thee concerning Jesus, if thou receivest the record God has given concerning him, and set to thy seal that it is true." He must believe with all his heart, for with the heart man believeth, not with the head only, by an assent to gospel truths in the understanding; but with the heart, by a consent of the will to gospel terms. "If thou do indeed believe with all thy heart, thou art by that united to Christ, and, if thou give proofs and evidences that thou dost so, thou mayest by baptism be joined to the church."
3. The confession of faith which the eunuch made in order to his being baptized. It is very short, but it is comprehensive and much to the purpose, and what was sufficient: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He was before a worshipper of the true God, so that all he had to do now was to receive Christ Jesus the Lord. (1.) He believes that Jesus is the Christ, the true Messiah promised, the anointed One. (2.) That Christ is Jesus--a Saviour, the only Saviour of his people from their sins. And, (3.) That this Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he has a divine nature, as the Son is of the same nature with the Father; and that, being the Son of God, he is the heir of all things. This is the principal peculiar doctrine of Christianity, and whosoever believe this with all their hearts, and confess it, they and their seed are to be baptized.
4. The baptizing of him hereupon. The eunuch ordered his coachman to stop, commanded the chariot to stand still. It was the best baiting place he ever met with in any of his journeys. They went down both into the water, for they had no convenient vessels with them, being upon a journey, wherewith to take up water, and must therefore go down into it; not that they stripped off their clothes, and went naked into the water, but, going barefoot according to the custom, they went perhaps up to the ankles or mid-leg into the water, and Philip sprinkled water upon him, according to the prophecy which this eunuch had probably but just now read, for it was but a few verses before those which Philip found him upon, and was very apposite to his case (Isaiah 52:15): So shall he sprinkle many nations, kings and great men shall shut their mouths at him, shall submit to him, and acquiesce in him, for that which had not before been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they consider. Observe, Though Philip had very lately been deceived in Simon Magus, and had admitted him to baptism, though he afterwards appeared to be no true convert, yet he did not therefore scruple to baptize the eunuch upon his profession of faith immediately, without putting him upon a longer trial than usual. If some hypocrites crowd into the church, who afterwards prove a grief and scandal to us, yet we must not therefore make the door of admission any straiter than Christ has made it; they shall answer for their apostasy, and not we.
VI. Philip and the eunuch are separated presently; and this is as surprising as the other parts of the story. One would have expected that the eunuch should either have stayed with Philip, or have taken him along with him into his own country, and, there being so many ministers in those parts, he might be spared, and it would be worth while: but God ordered otherwise. As soon as they had come up out of the water, before the eunuch went into his chariot again, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip (Acts 8:39; Acts 8:39), and did not give him time to make an exhortation to the eunuch, as usual after baptism, which it is probable the one intended and the other expected. But his sudden departure was sufficient to make up the want of that exhortation, for it seems to have been miraculous, and that he was caught up in the air in the eunuch's sight, and so carried out of his sight; and the working of this miracle upon Philip was a confirmation of his doctrine, as much as the working of a miracle by him would have been. He was caught away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but, having lost his minister, returned to the use of his Bible again. Now here we are told,
1. How the eunuch was disposed: He went on his way rejoicing. He pursued his journey. Business called him home, and he must hasten to it; for it was no way inconsistent with his Christianity, which places no sanctity nor perfection in men's being hermits or recluses, but is a religion which men may and ought to carry about with them into the affairs of this life. But he went on rejoicing; so far was he from reflecting upon this sudden revolution and change, or advancement rather, in his religion, with any regret, that his second thoughts confirmed him abundantly in it, and he went on, rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory; he was never better pleased in all his life. He rejoiced, (1.) That he himself was joined to Christ and had an interest in him. And, (2.) That he had these good tidings to bring to his countrymen, and a prospect of bringing them also, by virtue of his interest among them, into fellowship with Christ; for he returned, not only a Christian, but a minister. Some copies read Acts 8:39 thus: And, when they were come up out of the water, the Holy Spirit fell upon the eunuch (without the ceremony of the apostle's imposition of hands), but the angel of the Lord caught away Philip.
2. How Philip was disposed of (Acts 8:40; Acts 8:40): He was found at Azotus or Ashdod, formerly a city of the Philistines; there the angel or Spirit of the Lord dropped him, which was about thirty miles from Gaza, whither the eunuch was going, and where Dr. Lightfoot thinks he took ship, and went by sea into his own country. But Philip, wherever he was, would not be idle. Passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Cesarea, and there he settled, and, for aught that appears, had his principal residence ever after; for at Cesarea we find him in a house of his own, Acts 21:8; Acts 21:8. He that had been faithful in working for Christ as an itinerant at length gains a settlement.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Acts 8:37". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​mhm/​acts-8.html. 1706.
We are now arrived at a turning-point in the history, not merely of the church, but of the unfolding of the truth of God, and the manifestation of His ways. The death of Stephen, therefore, has in various points of view a great significance. And no wonder. His was the first spirit that departed to be with Christ after the Holy Ghost was given. But it was not merely one who departed to be with the Lord, which was far better; it was by the act of the Jews in the infuriate spirit of persecution. The very same people had done it who had so lately received with the utmost favour (not the truth, nor the grace of God, which is inseparable from His truth, but), at any rate, the mighty impress of the grace as well as of the truth which had produced unwonted largeness of heart, unselfishness of spirit, and joy and liberty, that struck the minds of the Jews accustomed to the coldness of death in their own system.
But now all was changed. What was most sweet soon became bitter, as it often is in the things of God. And when they understood the bearing of that which God had wrought here below that it judged man; that it gave no countenance to the religiousness in which they boasted; that it showed most convincingly, and so much the more bitterly because convincingly, what God all through His testimony with them had expressly intimated, by the prophets as well as in the types of the law itself, that He had deeper purposes; that nothing on earth could satisfy Him; that it was in His mind, on the proved ruin of Israel, to bring in heaven and its things for a heavenly people even while here below: now that this was made manifest, above all, in the testimony that Stephen had rendered to the very man that they had rejected and crucified, seen in glory at the right hand of God, it was unbearable. Could it be otherwise, when, spite of proud unbelief and conceit of distinctive privilege, they were forced to feel that they were none the less the constant resisters of the Holy Ghost like their fathers, who had been guilty themselves, and suffered the consequence of their guilt in their prostration to the Gentiles; to feel now that they themselves were no better, but rather worse; that there was the same unbelief bringing out its effects even more tremendously; that they were guilty of the blood of their own Messiah, who was now risen and exalted in the highest seat of heaven? All these things were pressed home by Stephen; indeed, I have simply touched on a very small part of his most telling address.
But the close lets us see more than this. There was the revelation now of Christ as an object for the Christian in heaven, and the revelation of Him too in a way entirely outside the narrow boundaries of Judaism. Stephen speaks of Him as Son of man. This is an essential feature of Christianity. Unlike the law, it addresses all; there is no narrowness in a rejected heavenly Christ. By the Holy Ghost there is imparted all the firmness of a divine bond, and all the intimacy of a real living relationship of the nearest kind. At the same time, along with this is seen universality in the going out of both the truth and grace of God, which could not but be foreign to the law. And although its character had to be yet more brought out by another and far greater witness of divine things who was still in the blindness of Jewish unbelief at this very moment himself taking his own miserable part, though with a good natural conscience, in the death of Stephen, all told powerfully upon the Jews, but lacerated their feelings to the utmost.
I have already touched upon the practical effects, and therefore will not enlarge on these now. My object, of course, is simply to give a sketch of the important book now before us, endeavouring to connect (as, indeed, evidently the chapter does connect) what was coming with what was past. Saul was consenting unto Stephen's death, and Saul was the expression of Jewish feeling in its best aspect. It was now guilty of resisting unto blood, not merely as their fathers had done, but the heavenly testimony of Jesus. Nevertheless the God that vindicated the honour of the crucified Jesus did not forget the martyred Stephen; and though there was an outburst of persecution, which scattered abroad throughout the region of Judea and Samaria all the believers that were in Jerusalem except the apostles, devout men were not wanting who carried Stephen to his burial. Clearly they were not Christians; but God has all hearts in His keeping. And they "made great lamentation over him." This was suitable to them. Theirs was not the joy that saw into the presence of God. They felt in a measure, and justly, the tremendous deed that had been done. And as there was reality at least in their feeling, they made suitable lamentation. But "as for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and dragging off men and women, committed them to prison." Religious persecution is invariably ruthless and blind even to the commonest feelings of humanity.
"Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word;" for the God who not only has hearts at His command, but controls all circumstances, was now about to accomplish that which He had always at heart, making the disciples to be witnesses of Jesus to the very ends of the earth, though first of all to Judea and Samaria. Accordingly we find, as the testimony had gone forth throughout Jerusalem at least, so now the old rival of Jerusalem comes within the dealings of God. Philip, who had been appointed by the apostles at the choice of the multitude of the disciples to care for the distribution to the poor, goes down to the cities of Samaria preaching Christ. This did not at all flow from his ordination. His appointment was to take care of the tables. His preaching Christ was the fruit of the Lord's call. Where man chooses for human things, we have the Lord recognising it. He would have His people, where they give, to have a voice. He would meet them in grace, stopping complaints, and showing that He honours and confides in their suitable choice. But not so in the ministry of the word or testimony of the Lord. Here the Lord alone gives, alone calls, alone sends forth. Philip, besides being one of the seven, was an "evangelist," as we are told expressly in another part of this very book (Acts 21:8). It is important to distinguish between the two things one, the charge to which man appointed him; the other, the gift which the Lord conferred. (Ephesians 4:1-32) I merely make the remark in passing; though it will not be needed for most here, it may be for some.
Philip goes down, then, preaching Christ; "and the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did." But the testimony of miracles is apt to act upon the flesh. They are, indeed, a sign to unbelievers, and that such is the result we find shown us by the Spirit of God in the chapter before us. However graciously given of the Lord as a token to attract the careless minds of men, they are dangerous when they are made the resting-place and the object of the mind; and this was the fatal mistake made then, and not merely there but by many millions of souls from that day to this. Faith never rests on any other ground than God's word. All else is vain, and apt to accredit. as well as entice man. There was indeed the unmistakable action of the Spirit of God on this occasion the power that cast out unclean spirits and healed the sick, as well as the means of spreading joy throughout that city for the souls of men. Evidently it was power in external display, then so richly manifested, which acted on the fleshly mind of Simon, himself having the reputation of a great one, and before this the vessel of some kind of demoniacal power the miserable power of Satan, with which he dazzled the eyes of men. But now finding himself eclipsed, like a wily man, his object was to avail himself of this superior energy if it were possible. His aim was not Christ; it was all for himself. He wished to gain fresh influence, not to lose his old: why not, by this new method, if possible, turn things to his own account?
Accordingly, among the train of those that received the gospel and were baptized, Simon is found. Philip had not the discernment to see through him: evangelists are apt to be sanguine. It may be that the Lord had not allowed the true character of Simon to be manifested to every eye at that moment. It did not escape the discerning eyes of Peter a little afterward. But as we are told here, "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; and Simon himself believed also." Scripture does show, though it does not sanction as divine, a faith that is founded on evidence. And it continues still. So John often speaks of it; and the very one that tells us most of the divinely given character of true faith who most of all lets us into its secret power and blessedness, even eternal life as bound up with it, that same John is the one who more than any other furnishes instances of a mere humanly produced faith. Such was the faith of Simon. The gospel of Luke also describes what is similar; that is to say, a faith not insincere but human, not wrought of the Spirit but founded on the mind yielding to reasons, proofs, evidences, which are to it overpowering; but there is nothing of God in it: there is no meeting between the soul and God. Without this, faith is good for nothing, nor is God Himself honoured in His own word. Power was what struck Simon's mind himself a devotee of power, who in times past had sunk indeed low, even to the enemy of God and man in order from any source to be the vessel of a power beyond man. He could not deny the might that proved itself without effort superior to anything he had ever wielded. This was what attracted him; and, as it is said here, "he continued with Philip" (there was no other bond of connection), "and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done." A believer would have wondered more at the grace of God, and bowed in adoration before Him. Conscience would have been searched by the truth of God; and the heart would have been filled with praise at the grace of God. Neither one nor other ever entered into the thoughts or feelings of Simon.
And "when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John." It was of the greatest importance that unity should be kept up practically, not merely that there should be proclaimed the truth that there is unity, but that there should be the maintenance of it in practice. Accordingly Peter and John, two of the chiefs among the apostles, come down from Jerusalem. But there was another reason too. It was so ordered of God that the Holy Ghost should not at first be conferred on the disciples at Samaria: I do not mean merely on such as Simon or false brethren, but even on those that were true. Undoubtedly they could not have believed the gospel, had there not been the quickening operation of the Holy Ghost; but we must distinguish between the Holy Ghost giving life and the Holy Ghost Himself given.
Another thing too let me again and again remark: the gift of the Holy Ghost never means those mighty wonders of power which had acted on the greedy and ambitious mind of Simon Magus. The gift of the Spirit is not at all the same thing as the gifts. These gifts, at least such as were of an extraordinary sort, were the outward signs of that gift in early days; and it was of great importance that there should be a decisive palpable testimony to it. The presence of the Holy Ghost was a new and quite unexampled thing even among believers. Hence it is there were mighty powers that wrought by those who were employed by the Holy Ghost; as, for instance, by Philip himself; afterwards also by the disciples, when Peter and John came down and laid their hands upon them with prayer. The Holy Ghost came upon them, not merely, it will be observed, certain spiritual powers, but the Holy Ghost Himself. They had not those powers only, but this divine person given to them. Scripture is clear and unequivocal as to the truth of the case. I can understand difficulties in the minds of believers; and no one would wish to force or hurry the convictions of any; nor would it be of the slightest value to receive even a truth without the faith that is produced, and exercised, and cleared by the word of God. But at the same time to my own mind it seems to be only homage to God's word to affirm positively that of which I am sure.
I therefore must say that the gift of the Holy Ghost here is, in my judgment, clearly distinct from anything in the way of either a spiritual gift for souls or a miraculous power, as it is called. There followed also such signs, or outward powers; but the Holy Ghost was given Himself, according to the Lord's word the promise of the Father, a promise which, as all know, was in the first instance assured to those who were already believers, and which was made good to them because they were believers, not to make them so. When redemption was accomplished, it was the seal of the faith and the life which they already had. There can be no doubt that the facts at Samaria were analogous; but this remarkable feature is to be noticed, that the Holy Ghost was here conferred by (not, as at Jerusalem, apart from) the laying on of the hands of the apostles. Of this we heard nothing in the divine history of the day of Pentecost; and I think that scripture is abundantly plain that there could have been nothing of the kind then and there. First of all, the apostles and the disciples themselves received it as they were waiting. The Holy Ghost came down upon them suddenly, with no previous sign whatever, except that which was suitable to the Holy Ghost when sent down from heaven the mighty rushing wind, and then the tokens of His presence upon each were manifested. Yet there was no such requirement as imposition of hands in order to be the medium of it. But it would seem that special reasons operated at Samaria to make it necessary there. It was of all moment to keep up the links practically between a work which might have looked to many there, as now, not a little irregular. It was wrought not by those that had previously been always the great spiritual witnesses; for we hear of none ministering but the apostles, and indeed not even of all the apostles speaking, though it may be that they did. But here we have clearly a man who had been chosen for another and an external purpose by the church, but whom the Lord uses elsewhere for a new and higher purpose, for which He had qualified him by the Holy Ghost.
Nevertheless, care was taken to hinder all appearance of independence or indifference to unity. There was the freest action of the Holy Ghost, sovereignly free, and it is impossible to maintain this too stringently; and there was the utmost care that all should be left open for the Holy Ghost to act according to His own will, not only within the church, but also by evangelizing outside. For all that God took precaution to bind up together the work at Samaria with that which He had wrought at Jerusalem. Hence though Philip might preach and they receive the gospel, the apostles come down, and with prayer lay their hands upon them, and then they receive the Holy Ghost. To a reflecting believer it will be plain that the reasons for this do not hold at the present time. I merely make this remark lest any should draw from this the inference that there is a necessity for men commissioned from God to lay on hands now in order to confer such a spiritual blessing.
The fact is, that the notion of imposition of hands being a universal medium of conveying the Holy Ghost is certainly a mistake. On the greatest occasions, when the Holy Ghost was given, we have no ground to believe that hands were laid on any. There were two exceptional occasions on which one or more of the apostles so acted, but at times of more general interest and importance nothing of the sort was heard of. Take, as the most solemn moment of all, the day of Pentecost. Who that honours scripture can pretend that hands were laid on any then? Yet the Holy Ghost was given in especial power on that day. But what is more to the purpose for us Gentiles, when Cornelius and his household were brought in, not only no appearance of it is visible, but positive proof to the contrary. Peter was present, but he certainly laid no hand of his on a single soul that day before the Holy Ghost was given. So far from it, as we shall find by and by inActs 10:1-48; Acts 10:1-48, the Holy Ghost was given while he was yet speaking, before they were so much as baptized. On the day of Pentecost they were baptized first, and then they received the gift of the Holy Ghost. At Samaria they had been baptized for some time, as we know. On believing they were baptized, as we are told in Acts 8:1-40; but they received the Holy Ghost after an interval, through the action of the apostles.
I refer to this just to show how far scripture is from countenancing the cramped ideas of men, and that the only way of truth is to believe all the word of God, searching out the special principle of God by which He instructs us in the different characters of His action. Surely He is always wise and consistent with Himself. It is we who by confounding matters lose consequently the blessedness and beauty of the truth of God.
Now the reason, as it appears to me, why divine wisdom led to this striking difference at Samaria, was the necessity of hindering that independence to which even Christians are so liable. There was special exposure to this evil which called for so much the greater guard against it at Samaria. How painful must it be to the Spirit of God if the old pride of Samaria were to rise up against Jerusalem! God would cut off the very appearance of this. There was the free action of His Spirit towards Samaria without the apostles, but the Holy Ghost was given by the laying on of their hands. This solemn act was not merely an ancient sign of divine blessing, but of identification also. Such, I suppose, therefore, was the principle that lay at the bottom of the difference of the divine action on these two occasions.
Then we find Simon struck not so much by an individual's endowment with miraculous power, as by the fact that others received it by the apostles' laying on of hands. At once, with the instinct of flesh, he sees a good 'opportunity for himself, and, judging of others' hearts by his own, presents money as the means of acquiring the coveted power. But this detects the man. How often our words show where we are! How continually too where we least think they do! It is not only in cases of our judgment (for there is nothing that so often judges a man as his own judgment of another); but also where the desire goes out after that which we have not got. How all-important for our souls that we should have Christ before us, and that we should have no desire but for His glory! Not a ray of the light of Christ had entered the heart of Simon, and so Peter at once detects the false heart. With that energy which characterized him he says, "Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God." At the same time there is the pity that belongs to one who knew the grace of God, and saw the end of all in His judgment. "Repent, therefore, of this thy wickedness, and pray God if, perhaps, the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee; for I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner. Simon can only answer, "Pray ye to the Lord for me." He had no confidence in the Lord for himself not a particle; for just as those who have confidence in the Lord have not an atom in man, his sole hope of blessing for his soul lay in the influence of another man, not in Christ's grace. "Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of those things which ye have spoken come upon me."
The apostles then, after preaching in the various villages of the Samaritans, return to Jerusalem. But not so the word of God. The gospel goes forth elsewhere; it is in no way bound to Jerusalem. On the contrary, the grand bearing of this chapter is that now the tide of blessing is flowing away from Jerusalem. The holy city had rejected the gospel. It was not enough that they had rejected the Messiah, nor even that He was made Lord and Christ on high. They refused utterly the Holy Ghost's testimony to the Son of man glorified in heaven, and slew or scattered the witnesses, Who then was specially used as the instrument of the free action of the Holy Ghost elsewhere, without plan, without thought of man, and apparently the simple result of circumstances, but in truth God's hand directing all? Philip is told by the angel of the Lord to arise and go towards the south towards "Gaza, which is desert." "And he arose and went." Strikingly, beautiful it is to see the devoted simplicity with which he answers to the call of his Master. I will not pretend to say that it cost him little, but am sure it would have been a heavy trial to many a man of God to leave that which was so bright, where He had wrought powerfully in using himself for His own glory. But he is truly a bondman, and at once is ready to go at the bidding of the Lord, who had given him to reap in joy where He had Himself tasted the firstfruits in the days of His own ministry here below. Samaria, which had held out against the truth, was now yielding the harvest that a greater than Philip had sown; and there was joy in that very Samaria where greater works were now done according to His own word.
But this was not enough for God. A man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the queen of the Ethiopians, was returning after having gone up to Jerusalem to worship. He was going, back without the blessing that his earnest heart yearned after. He had gone up to the great city of solemnities, but the blessing was no longer to be found there. Jehovah's house had been left doubly desolate; Jerusalem had this added to her other sins that, when the blessing had come down from heaven, she would not have it. She despised the Holy Ghost as she had despised the Messiah; and no wonder therefore that he who had gone up to Jerusalem to worship was returning with the yearnings of his heart still unsatisfied. And not the angel but the Spirit guides now. The angel had to do with providential circumstances, but the Spirit with that which directly deals with spiritual need and blessing. So says the Spirit to Philip, "Go near and join thyself to this chariot." Philip acts at once, with alacrity hears the eunuch read the prophet Isaiah, and puts the question whether he understood what was read. The answer is, "How can I, except some man should guide me?" Thereon Philip is invited to come up and sit with him, Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 53:1-12 being, as we know, the portion in question; and the eunuch asks of whom the prophet spoke these words "of himself or some other man?" so gross was his darkness even as to the general point of the chapter. "Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the very same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus." It was enough. That one name, through faith in it, what could it not accomplish? The facts were notorious; but of this we may be sure, that never had they been put together before the mind of the Ethiopian as then, never connected with the living Word and His grace. They were now put in contact with his wants, and all was instantly light in his soul. Oh, what a blessing it is to have and know such a Saviour! What a joy to be warranted to proclaim Him to others without stint, even to a soul as dark as the Ethiopian, who was then and there baptized!
Remember that verse 37 is only an imaginary conversation between him and Philip. The man just now so ignorant is not the channel that God was about to use for bringing out the remarkable confession that is introduced prematurely here. It was reserved for another of whom we shall read in the next chapter. This scene does show the stranger discovering the predicted Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah suffering, no doubt, but accomplishing atonement. Certainly the Ethiopian received the truth; but verse 37 had better be passed by in your minds, at least in this connection. All who are informed in these matters are aware that the best authorities reject the entire verse.
"He went on his way rejoicing." Though the Spirit of the Lord catches away Philip, so full is his heart of the truth that we may be sure all that occurred confirmed it in his eyes. How could anything seem too great and good to him whose heart had just made the acquaintance of Jesus? Did he not feel so much the more settled in Jesus as there was no other object now before his soul? It was the Lord that had brought Philip, and it was His Spirit that bad taken him away; but it was He too who had given him and left him Jesus for ever. Philip is found at Azotus, and passing through he preaches elsewhere.
At this point we come to the history of the call of another and yet more honoured witness of divine grace and Christ's glory. Saul of Tarsus was yet breathing out his threats and slaughter when the Lord was pursuing His onward gracious work among the Samaritans and strangers. The returning treasurer of Queen Candace was a proselyte, I suppose, from the Gentiles, living among them, not as a Gentile himself, but practically a Jew, whatever the place of his birth and residence. The time for the call of the Gentiles strictly was not yet come, though the way is being prepared. The Samaritans, as you know, were a mongrel race; the stranger may have been possibly a proselyte from among the Gentiles; but the apostle of the Gentiles is now to be called. Such is the unfolding of the ways of God at this point.
Acts 9:1-43. Saul in his zeal had desired letters giving him authority to punish the Christian Jews, and was found on his way journeying near the Gentile city that he sought. "Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord?" All depended upon this. "And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." What a revolution this word caused in that mighty heart! Confidence in man, in self, was overthrown to its foundations all that his life had been zealously building up. "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." It was the Lord undoubtedly, and the Lord declared He was Jesus, and Jesus was Jehovah. He dared not doubt longer: to him it was self-evident. If Jesus was Jehovah, what then had his religion been? what had high priest or Sanhedrim done for him? Was it not then God's high priest, God's law? Unquestionably it was. How then could so fatal an error have been committed? It was the fact. Man, Israel, not merely Saul, was altogether blinded: the flesh never knows God. The despised and hated name of Jesus is the only hope for man, Jesus is the only Saviour and Lord. His glory burst on the astonished eyes of Saul, who surrenders immediately. It was not without the deepest searching of heart, though smitten down at once; for how could there be a question as to the divine power? How could its reality be doubted? As little could there be a question as to the grace exercised toward him, though the manner was not after that of man. The light that shone suddenly on him was from heaven. But it was God's way. The voice that said, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" was from Jesus. "Who art thou, Lord?" he cried, and hears, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." How could he resist the heavenly vision?
Observe that, although the next words are beyond a question scriptural, and so far the case differs from verse 37 referred to in the last chapter, the last clause of verse 5 and the first of verse 6 belong properly speaking to two other chapters (Acts 22:1-30, Acts 26:1-32) rather than to this. I do not therefore comment upon these additions here: they will remain for their own real and suitable places. But Saul does arise from the earth. "And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man." But he had heard the voice of His mouth, and His words were spirit and life, eternal life, to his soul. Three days and nights he neither eats nor drinks. The profound moral work of God proceeded in that converted heart. Nevertheless even he, apostle though he were, must enter by the same lowly gate as another. And so we have the story of Ananias, and the ways of the Lord, not of some great apostle, nor even of Philip, but a disciple at Damascus named Ananias, to whom the Lord spoke in a vision. And he goes, the Lord communicating another vision to the apostle himself, in which he sees Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him that he might receive his sight.
The Spirit puts us in presence of the freedom of the servant, as he pleads with the Lord, for neither man nor even the child of God ever reaches up to the height of His grace. Ananias, wholly unprepared for the call of such an enemy of the gospel, slow of heart to believe all, expostulates, as it were, with the Saviour. "Lord," says he, "I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name." But the Lord said unto him, "Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel."
Even here the intimation is sufficiently plain that the Gentiles were in the foreground of the work designed for Saul of Tarsus. But this was not all. It was to be emphatically a witness of grace in suffering for Christ's name: "For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." And so it was. Ananias goes, puts his hand on him, addresses him by the sweet title of relationship Christ began, consecrated, and has given, telling him how the Lord, even Jesus, had appeared unto him. How confirmatory it must have been to the apostle's heart to learn that Ananias was now sent by the same Lord Jesus, without the slightest intimation from without, whether of Saul himself or any other man! "The Lord hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." And every word was made good. "Saul arose and was baptized, and when he had received meat he was strengthened, and remained with the disciples for some time."
In due time follows the further development of the truth as to Christ in testimony. "He preached in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God." Such was the emphatic and characteristic presentation of His person assigned to the apostle, and this at once. It was not that Peter did not know the same, we are all aware how blessedly he confessed Him to be (not Messiah only, but) the Son of the living God while Jesus was here below. Nor is it that the other disciples had not the same faith. Surely it was true of all who really believed and knew His glory. Nevertheless "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh;" and he who loves to present the Lord in the depth of His personal grace, and the height of His glory, has surely a spiritual fitness for the expression of the heart's joy in that which faith has created within. Thus, although the others no doubt had the same Saviour taught them by the Holy Ghost, still there was not in every case the same measure of entrance or appreciation. Paul had it not more suddenly than with a heavenly splendour which was peculiar to himself; and thus there was a vast work soon wrought. There was a bringing out of that which belonged to Christ, not merely the place which Christ took, but that which He is from all eternity, consequently that which is most of all intrinsically precious. He preached Him, and this boldly in the synagogue too, "that he is the Son of God." All that heard were amazed. "But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews that dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ." The doctrine of His Sonship did not in the smallest degree, of course, set aside the Messiahship. This remained; but he preached Him rather in His own personal glory, not as the Son of David, the servant, which was the great burden of Peter's preaching, made Lord and Christ; not that He was the Son of man in heaven, as Stephen witnessed; but that this Jesus, the Christ, is the Son of God, clearly therefore more particularly bound up with the divine nature, or godhead glory of Himself.
After this comes no slight discipline for Saul. As the Jews watched the gates to kill him, the disciples took him by night and let him down the wall in a basket. Thus we find the utmost simplicity and quietness. There is no show of doing great things; nor do we read of daring in any way: what is there of Christ in the one or the other? Contrariwise, we see that which outwardly looks exceedingly weak; but this was the man that was in another day to say that he gloried in his infirmities. He acts on that of which he afterwards wrote. He was led of God.
Then we learn another important lesson. "When Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple." God did not clothe him with such overwhelming influence that doors were thrown open to him though the greatest of the apostles. Oh why should any confessor of Christ why should any child of God shrink from rendering godly satisfaction to those that seek it? Why so much haste and impatience? Why should there be unwillingness to meet and submit to others when it is a question of reception? What earnest desire should there not be to bow to all that which is. due to the church of God? Here we find not even the apostle Paul was above it.
Not on the other hand that there ought to be a spirit of suspicion or distrust in the church or any Christian. I am far from saying that it was comely on their part to indulge in hesitation touching this wondrous display of divine grace. But what I want to press for our profit, beloved brethren, is that at any rate he who is the object of grace can afford to be gracious. Nor is there a more painful want of it than that kind of restiveness which is so ready to take offence at the smallest fear or anxiety on the part of others. Surely to shrink from their enquiries is nothing but self on our part. If Christ were the object of our souls, we should bow as one did called of God with incomparably better tokens of the Lord's favour than any other, this blessed man, Saul of Tarsus. But if the church were distrustful, the Lord was not unmindful, and knew how to give courage to the heart of His servant. There was among them a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, of whom we have had a happy report before, as we shall hear many (though not altogether unmingled) good tidings to the end. For indeed he was but man. Nevertheless, being a good man and full of the Holy Ghost, he seeks out and takes Saul to the apostles when others stood aloof, and declared unto them "how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus; and he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem." Grace can credit grace easily, understands the ways of the Lord, and disarms suspicion. it is beautiful to see how the Lord thus, even in the history of that which was unprecedented and might seem to lie outside Christian wants, provides in His blessed word for the every day difficulties we have to prove in such a day of weakness as ours.
After this wonderful working of God the church had rest. I say, "the church; " for there need be no doubt, I think, that such is the true form* of what is given us in verse 31. The common text and translations have "the churches;" but I believe that this faulty form crept in here, because the sense of the oneness of the church so speedily passed away. Hence people could not understand that it was one and the same church throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria. It was plain enough to see the Christian assembly in a city, even if it were as numerous as in Jerusalem, where it must have met in not a few different localities and chambers. The church, not merely in a city but in a province or country, is intelligible enough to man; but it soon became more difficult to see its unity in various and differing provinces. The change of reading here seems to prove it was too much for the copyists of this book. The reading sanctioned by the best and most ancient authorities is the singular not the churches, but "the church." "Then had the church rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria." Undoubtedly throughout these districts churches existed; but it was all one and the same church too, and not different bodies.
* The external authority is very decidedly for the singular against the plural. Thus all the first-rate Uncials, the Sinai, Vatican, Alexandrian, and Palimpsest of Paris, supported by some of the best cursives and all the best ancient versions, oppose the vulgar reading.
The following extract from the late Dr. Carson's Letters in reply to Dr. John Brown's Vindication of Presbyterianism will show how far an able and excellent man went astray in defending Congregationalism through not knowing that his argument was based, not on God's word, but on man's corruption of it. I quote from the original edition (Edinburgh, 1807): "Acts 11: 31. 'Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria,' etc.
Here I would be glad to know how this can be interpreted upon any other principle than that church in the single number was solely appropriated to a single congregation, when applied to an assembly of Christ's disciples. It is not the church of Judea, the church of Galilee, and the church of Samaria, but the churches of Judea, etc. Way, more, had these been Presbyterians, all under the same government, the phraseology would not have been even the church of Judea, and the church of Galilee, and the church of Samaria, but all these would have been in one church, and even then but a small part of a church. This phraseology would have been somewhat like this, 'The church had rest throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria,' i.e., the part of the church that lies in these countries." (p. 378.) How startled this good man but excessively keen controversialist must have been, had he learnt that, beyond all just question, the only tenable text here is destructive of the notion of independent churches, and in reality gives the appellation to the entire body of the disciples throughout these regions, as standing on one common ground, and enjoying full intercommunion, though in these different districts. But that branch of criticism which consists in a full knowledge of the sources, a nice discrimination of the various readings, and a sound judgment in deciding the preferable text, as it is rarely found, so it certainly was not the forte of Dr. C. One hundred and fifty years ago, Dr. E. Wells, in his "Help for the more easy and clear understanding of the Scriptures" (Oxford, 1718), not only adopted the singular in his Greek text and his English paraphrase, but pointed out in his Annotations the great weakness of the argument drawn by dissenters from the plural ἐκκλησίαι , as if it favoured their system of separate churches.
The end of the chapter shows us the progress of Peter. He visits round about. It was no longer a question of Jerusalem only even for Peter, but without being called to the same largeness of work practically as the apostle Paul, he nevertheless passes throughout "all quarters" of Palestine, and comes down to the saints at Lydda, and is seen by those of Saron. At Joppa too was wrought a still more striking miracle of the Lord in Tabitha's case, already dead, than in that of Eneas, who had been paralysed for years. On these I need only remark how grace used them for the spread of the testimony. "All that dwelt in Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord." "It was known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord." But at this point a still more important step was about to be taken; and the Lord enters on it with due solemnity, as we shall see in the following chapter. (Acts 10:1-48)
Little did the great apostle of the circumcision anticipate what was before him as he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner. For hence the Lord called him to a new sphere a task which, to a Jewish mind, was beyond measure strange. It would be a mistake to suppose that God had not wrought on the heart of Gentiles. We see such in the gospels. Cornelius was one of those who, among the Gentiles, had abandoned idolatry; but more than this was sometimes found. There were Gentiles who truly looked to the Lord, and not to self or man; who had been taught of Him to look for a coming Saviour, though they quite rightly connected that Saviour with Israel; for such was the burden of the promise. As there was a Job in the Old Testament, independent of the law and perhaps before it, so we find a Cornelius before the glad tidings in the New Testament had been formally sent to the nations. All know that there were Jews waiting for the Saviour. It is of interest to see, and should be better known, that among the Gentiles were not wanting such as worshipped no idols but served the true and living God. No doubt their spiritual condition was defective, and their outward position must have seemed anomalous; but Scripture is decisive that such godly Gentiles there were.
It is a fallacy then to suppose that Cornelius had no better than merely natural religion. He was assuredly, before Peter went, a converted man. To regard him as unawakened at that time is to mistake a great deal of the teaching of the chapter. Not that one would deny that a mighty work was then wrought in Cornelius. We must not limit, as ignorant people do, the operation of the Holy Spirit to the new birth. No man in his natural state could pray, nor serve God acceptably, as Cornelius did. One must be born again; but, like many others who had really been quickened in those days (and it may be even now, I presume), a soul might be born again, and yet far from resting in peace on redemption, far indeed from a sense of deliverance from all questions as to his soul. There is this difference, no doubt, between such cases now and that of Cornelius then, that, before the mission of Peter, it would have been presumptuous for a Gentile to have pretended to salvation; now it is the fruit of unbelief for a believer to question it. A soul that now looks to Jesus ought to rest without question on redemption; but we must remember that at this time Jesus was not yet publicly preached to the Gentiles not yet freely and fully proclaimed according to the riches of grace. Therefore, the more godly Cornelius was, the less would he dare to put forth his hand for the blessing before the Lord told him to stretch it out. He did what, I have no doubt, was the right thing. He was truly in earnest before God. As we are told here and the Spirit delights to give such an account "he was a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway."
Such was the man to whom God was about to send the gospel by Peter. Thus we must carefully remember that the gospel brings more than conversion to God. It is the message of life, but it is also the means of peace. Before the gospel was preached to every creature, a new nature was communicated to many a soul; but till then there was not and could not be peace. The two things are both brought us in the gospel life brought to light, and the peace preached that was made by the blood of the cross. At the same time scripture shows there might be and often was an interval after the gospel did go forth. So from experience we know there is many a man that you cannot doubt to be truly looking to the Lord, yet far from resting in the peace of God. Cornelius, I apprehend, was just in this case. He would no more have perished, had it pleased God to have taken him away in this state, than any Old Testament saint, whether Jew or Gentile. No believer could be so ignorant of God and His ways of old as to imagine there ought to be any doubt about those who nevertheless were full of anxieties and troubles, and through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Even now, although it is the gospel that God sends out, we know well how many, through a misuse of Old Testament teaching, plunge themselves into distress and doubt. God does not suggest a doubt of His own grace to them, or of the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice for them: unbelief does. It was not so with Cornelius. He was not entitled to take the peace of the gospel till God warranted Peter to bring it to him. This was precisely what God was now doing; and the remarkable fact appears, that God did not wait for the apostle of the Gentiles to bring the good news to Cornelius. Is not this interlacing after a divine sort? It was not to be done by mere systematic rule of a human pattern. But just as the great apostle of the Gentiles was the one that wrote the final word of testimony to the Christian Jews in the epistle to the Hebrews, so the great apostle of the Jews was the one sent to fling open the door to the Gentile. It was Peter, not Paul, who was sent to Cornelius. The chapter itself proves that he had to be forced to go. He seems to have lost sight of the words of the Lord Jesus that he was told by Jesus risen from the dead to preach the gospel to every creature. There was to be a testimony to an the nations. The promise was not merely to them and to their children, but to all "afar off, as many as the Lord their God should call." At any rate, the Lord now graciously interferes, and as he gives Cornelius to see a vision most instructive to him, so next day also there is to Peter another vision from the Lord.
Answering to the vision, messengers bring the apostle to the household of Cornelius, and Peter opens his mouth to the following effect: "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) that word, I say, ye know." I call your attention to this. Cornelius was not in ignorance of the gospel going out to the children of Israel, but it was precisely because he was a lowly-minded believer that he did not therefore arrogate the blessing to himself. The very essence of faith is that you do not run before God, but receive what and as He sends to you. God had published it already to the sons of Israel, and the good man rejoiced in it. But for himself and his household, what could he do but pray till the rich blessing came? He valued the ancient people of God; nor is he indeed the only centurion that loved their nation. We are told of another who also built for the Jews their synagogue. Thus Cornelius was aware that God had sent the gospel to the Jews; but there was precisely where he necessarily stopped short. Was that word for him?
"That word ye know," says Peter, "which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him . . . whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly" (not to all the people, but) "unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people." Clearly the Jew is meant. "He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever," etc.
Here comes the telling word for him that feared the Lord and bowed to His word, though he was a Gentile. "Whosoever believeth on him shall receive remission of sins." Peter had not long learnt it himself. Had he not read or heard those words in the prophets? No doubt he had read them many a time, but no better than we have read them, and many other words likewise; and how little we understood any of them to profit until the mighty power of God gave it efficacy in our souls! In this case Peter had God's own direct warrant in the vision, not of the church (for this was not the meaning of the sheet let down from heaven), but decidedly of the call of the Gentiles. It was the obliterating of mere fleshly distinction between Jew and Gentile. God was meeting sinners as such, whatever they might be, giving no doubt a heavenly character to what had a heavenly source with a heavenly result. But there is not yet the revealed truth of the body, though involved in the word of the Lord to Saul of Tarsus when he said, "Why persecutest thou me?" Here it is not this, but simply the indiscriminate. grace of God to sinners of the Gentiles as certainly as to the Jews to those who, in the judgment of the Jews, were nothing but refuse, vile, and unclean.
Peter then, with this new-born conviction in his soul, reads the prophets with entirely fresh light and other eyes. Full of the truth himself, he speaks with the utmost simplicity to Cornelius, who with his household hears the blessed word. "To him give all the prophets witness." It was one concurrent evidence. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him." There is no question of a Jew, but "Whosoever believeth in him." Alas! the Jews did not believe in Him; but whosoever did, let him be Jew or Gentile, "shall receive remission of sins." This precisely Cornelius had not known, nor could any one have known it till the work of redemption was done. The Old Testament saints were just as safe before the work of Christ as they were afterwards, but this work put them on a ground of conscious salvation before God. It was not a question of being saved in the day of judgment; nor is this the meaning of the term "salvation" in the New Testament. Salvation means that the heart enters into deliverance by grace as a present known public standing in the world. Nobody could have this till the gospel, and even after its publication God Himself sent specifically to the Gentiles; for He has His ways, as well as His times and seasons. God will always be Himself, and cannot be other than Sovereign.
Thus we see God had allowed things apparently to take their course. Israel had the truth presented to them as it was afterwards to all. It was their responsibility now as ever to accept the gracious offer of God. If Israel would have received, the Lord would have given. It was even, and urgently, pressed on them, but they refused with disdain the message, and rejected the messengers to blood. Accordingly the rejection of the very witness of Christ, speaking by the Holy Ghost the rejection of Him to heaven becomes the turning-point; and then by the Lord from heaven is now called forth the witness of grace as well as of the glory of Christ. Finally, after the call of Saul of Tarsus, Peter himself (as well for other reasons as in order to cut off the semblance of discord in the various instruments of His grace) is brought in to show the perfect balance of divine truth and the wonderful harmony of His ways. Thus the church would still retain its substantial character, and the testimony of God still bear the same common likeness, while room was left for whatever speciality of form God might be pleased to give the truth, and the unfolding of the ways in which God might employ one or another. Peter was the one then, not Paul, that announced the gospel to Cornelius, who by the Holy Ghost received it, and was not merely safe but saved. It was no longer simply a cleaving to a God of goodness who could not deceive and would not disappoint the soul that hoped in His mercy, "but the conscious joy of knowing his sins all one, and himself distinctly put on the ground of accomplished redemption as a known present thing for his own soul in this world. Such is salvation.
"While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost." Thus on the great Gentile occasion, as before on the Jewish at Pentecost, the medium of man completely disappears. It was as thoroughly according to God that the apostle should not lay his hands on any this day, as it was according to His wisdom that they should lay their hands on the Samaritans. It is granted that man sees difficulty in this: there is what he cannot reconcile; but be assured that the great point is, first, to believe. Settle it invariably that God is wiser than we. Is this too much to ask? After all, though it seems so simple as to be a truism, though nothing can well be conceived more certain; nevertheless, practically it is not always the plainest and surest truth that carries all before it in our souls. But to believe is the secret of real growth in the revealed wisdom of God.
On this occasion they of the circumcision see that the Gentiles receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; for they hear them speak with tongues and magnify God, and they were astonished. Then Peter says to them, "Can any man forbid water?" It was a public privilege he was warranted to confer on the Gentiles thus baptized of the Spirit. Water baptism is neither slighted nor is it put forward as a command or condition. The previous gift of the Spirit without the intervention of any human hand was the most effectual stopper on the mouths of the brethren of the circumcision who were ever prone to object, and would surely have forbidden water, if God had not undeniably given them the unspeakable gift of the Spirit. But this manifestation and fruit of gracious power silenced even the unruly and hard spirits of the circumcision. "And he commanded them to be baptized."
It may be observed passingly, that thus plainly baptizing is in no way a necessarily ministerial act. It may be all right and in perfect keeping that one preaching the gospel should baptize; but occasion might well arise where he who preached would avoid it himself. We know that Paul thanked God that so it was with himself at Corinth; and we see that Peter here did not baptize, but simply "commanded them to be baptized." God is always wise. It is too familiar how soon human superstition perverted this blessed institution of the Lord into a sacramental means of grace, duly administered by one in the line of succession.
The next chapter (Acts 11:1-30) shows us Peter having to give an account of himself before those who had not witnessed the effects of the mighty power of God in the house of Cornelius. When the matter is rehearsed, the great argument is this, "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?" This brought the question to a simple issue; but here again, let it be noticed that the gift of the Holy Ghost belongs to those that believe. It is not His operation in enabling souls to believe, but a precious boon given to such as believed. "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." The Spirit of God alone quickens a person by faith in Christ. Without the action of the Holy Ghost faith is impossible; but this capacitating power and the gift of the Holy Ghost are two very different things, and the latter consequent on the former. If God had given them the Holy Ghost, as was manifest in sensible results, it was very evident that they must have by God's grace had repentance unto life. The Spirit given to the believer was a privilege over and above faith, and supposed, therefore, their repentance unto life.
Then follows another grave fact. It appears that the scattered men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who had gone in consequence of the persecution everywhere, and among other places to Antioch, preaching the word to none but the Jews, took courage now and spoke (not to the Grecians - for this had been done long ago, but) unto the Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus." Those to whom they addressed themselves were really Gentiles. The word "Grecians" does not mean "Greeks," but rather Greek-speaking Jews; to whom the gospel had been preached long before, as the cases of Stephen, for instance, and Philip clearly testify. Acts 6:1-15; Acts 6:1-15 shows us the party in question murmuring. They were in the church already. But the point here is lost in our English version. There is a mistake, not only in our vernacular Bible, but also in the common Greek text which is equally faulty as the authorized version. The true text,* which has sufficient if not the most ancient authority, tells us that they spoke to Greeks or Gentiles. Thus we see the Lord was working, and, as so constantly happens, it was not only that He called out Paul for the Gentiles; it was not only that He sent Peter to a Gentile; but now these men, who might have been despised as irregular labourers, were in the current of the same work of God, even if they knew nothing of it, save by divine instinct.
*The copyists of old seem to have confounded in writing, as the Latin and most other ancient translators did in rendering, Ἕλληνας (Greeks) and Ἑλληνιστὰς (Hellenists), here and elsewhere. Thus it might seem incredible, if it were not the notorious fact, that the only two known manuscripts in favour of that which is here most certainly requisite are the Alexandrian and the Cambridge Graeco-Latin of Beza. The Vatican and all others, uncial and cursive (as far as collated and known), support the error. Of the fathers, Eusebius among the Greek, and Cassiodorus among the Latins, are in favour of the true; others are in strange conflict, their text having the wrong reading (perhaps through mistaken scribes), and their comment correcting it. The reading of the Sinai MS. ( εὐαγγελιστὰς ) is a mere blunder, not uncommon in that most ancient but not very accurate document, arising from confusion through a contiguous word; it would give the sense of "unto the preachers, preaching the Lord Jesus." But the correction confirms the true reading.
The importance of closer attention to the text is well shown by Calvin's remarks on this verse. He was led into no small perplexity by the reading current in his day, and, to the shame of Christendom, still tolerated as the received reading. Yet his masculine good sense held to the truth, though he did not know the solid basis on which it here stands. I cite from the Calvin Tr. Society's edition of his Comm. on the Acts, i. pp. 466, 467. "Luke doth at length declare that certain of them brought this treasure even unto the Gentiles. And Luke calleth these Grecians not Ἑλληνες but Ἑλληνισται [?]. Therefore some say that those came of the Jews, yet did they inhabit Greece [and these would be right if the reading had been really Ἑλληνιστὰς and not Ἑλληνὰς ]; which I do not allow. For seeing the Jews, whom he mentioned a little before, were partly of Cyprus, they must needs be reckoned in that number, because the Jews count Cyprus a part of Greece. But Luke distinguisheth them from those, whom he calleth afterward Ἑλληνιστας [this is precisely where he is mistaken; his reasoning is sound, but his knowledge defective]. Furthermore, forasmuch as he had said that the word was preached at the beginning only by the Jews, and he meant those who, being banished out of their own country, did live in Cyprus and Phenice, correcting this exception, he saith that some of them did teach the Grecians. This contrariety doth cause me to expound it of the Gentiles." Quite right: only the true text delivers from the need of wresting the force of a word, and is as simply as possible Greeks, not Grecians, and means Gentiles without the smallest difficulty or discussion.
But it is still more strange as evidence of the slipshod criticism of the Reformers that Beza, who was more of a scholar than his predecessors, uniformly edits Ἑλληνιστὰς , and writes a blundering note to the effect that it is here used in the sense of Ἑλληνάς . And yet he had in his possession that famous Graeco-Latin Uncial (D) which he presented to the University of Cambridge in 1581, which MS. supports the Alexandrian.
How blessed it is to see the free activity of the Holy Ghost without any kind of communication of man! It is always thus in the ways of God. It is not only that God uses one and another: this He does and we may bless Him that so He does; but the God who employs means is also above them, and He needs now only to draw out by circumstances the souls of some simple Christian men who had faith and love to seek the Gentiles without requiring the same vigorous and extraordinary means, under His mighty hand, as even the apostle did. Great workman as Peter was, he required the intervention of God in a vision to send him to do a work that these unnamed brethren undertook in their confidence of His grace, without any vision or sign whatsoever. It seems to have been the working of divine grace in their souls, and nothing else. At first they were more timid; they spoke only to Jews. By and by the power of the gospel and the action of the Holy Ghost fill their souls with desires as to the need of others. The Gentiles were sinners: why should they not dare to speak to the Gentiles? "And the hand of the Lord was with them," as we are told, "and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord." But what a rebuke is this to those that would make the church to be merely a creature of government, or in any wise to be of man's will, which is still worse, How blessed to see that it is a real organic whole, not only a living thing, but that He who is the spring of its life is the Holy Ghost Himself a divine person, who cannot but answer to the grace of the Lord Jesus whom He is come down to glorify.
Next we find Barnabas stirred up to another and a characteristic enterprise. He had before this delivered Saul from the effects of undue anxiety and distrust in the minds of the disciples. He would have Saul to return good for what I may venture to call a measure of evil towards him. As there was need in the church at Antioch, he goes and finds him. He had a conviction that this was the instrument the Lord would use for good. Thus we see that, while we have the angel of the Lord in certain cases, the Spirit of the Lord expressly in others, we have also simply the holy judgment of the gracious heart. This is all quite right. It is not to be treated as mere human arrangement. It was not only right, but recorded of God that we might see and profit by it. Barnabas was quite justified in seeking Saul. "And it came to pass that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." The place once so famous for its nicknames was now to give a name that will never perish a name of incalculable sweetness and blessing, connecting Christ as it does with those that are His. It was, no doubt, a Gentile title. There would be no particular force in giving it to Jews, for all Jews professed to be looking for Christ. What a wonderful change for these poor Gentiles to know Christ for themselves, and to be called after Christ! All was ordered of God.
Then we find that if the church at Jerusalem had become impoverished, the Gentiles minister of their carnal things to them. Saul (as he is still called) and Barnabas are made the channels of bringing the contributions to the elders not named before. How these elders were appointed, if indeed they were so formally, does not appear. Among the Gentiles we know that they were installed, as we shall see a little later, by apostolic choice. Whether this was the ease among the Jews scripture does not say; but that there were persons who had this responsible place among them, as among the Gentile churches afterwards, we see clearly.
Finally, and in few words (for I do not intend to say more on Acts 12:1-25 tonight), we have the completing of this second part of our narrative in this chapter. We are given a striking prefiguration of the evil king that will be found in the latter day; he that will reign over the Jews under the shadow and support of the Gentiles as Herod was, and not less but more than his prototype bent on the murder of the innocents, and with his heart full of evil for others who will be rescued by the goodness of the Lord.
James sheds his blood, as Stephen had before; for this Peter was destined by man, but the Lord disappointed him. The disciples gave themselves to prayer, yet they little believed their own prayers. Nevertheless we learn hence that they had prayer-meetings in those days; and so they gave themselves up to this special prayer for the servant of the Lord, who did not fail to appear by an agent of His providential power. All this confirms its having a Jewish aspect, regarded as a type, and was very natural in James and Peter, who had to do specially with the circumcision.
It is needless now to dwell on the scene, more than just to point out that which is familiar, no doubt, to many that are here the manner in which the Lord judged the apostate; for Herod owned shortly after by the people whom he had sought to please, disappointed in one place, but exalted in another was hailed as a god; and at that moment the angel of the Lord deals with his pride, and he is devoured of worms a sad image of the awful judgment of God that will fall upon one who will sit "in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God."
In the portion which follows we shall see the manner of the Spirit of God's working by the great apostle of the Gentiles.
It may be interesting to many readers to read as follows from Mr. Edward A. Litton's work on "The Church of Christ in its Idea, Attributes, and Ministry; with a particular reference to the Controversy between Romanists and Protestants." There are, of course, imperfect expressions, inasmuch as the truth itself is but partially apprehended; but one is glad to see views so decidedly in advance of ordinary evangelicalism, with equal decision against more churchism.
"In the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, the Christian dispensation is seen in actual operation; for that with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that dispensation properly commences will probably be admitted by all parties. Moreover, in these chapters the Church of Christ is first spoken of as in actual existence. What in our Lord's discourses is a matter of anticipation or prophecy, here appears as a matter of fact. Though not at first fully aware of the great change which had taken place in their religious standing, still less of its ultimate consequences, the first believers at once formed a separate community in the bosom of the Jewish theocracy; a community having, for its distinctive marks, adherence to the twelve Apostles, baptism in the name of Christ, and the celebration of the Lord's Supper.* Thenceforth the Church becomes a matter of history; and its history is nothing less than that of the vicissitudes, prosperous and adverse, which the kingdom of God upon earth has in the lapse of ages passed through.
*Is it not distressing to find, in this thoughtful production of one in much above the traditions of men and the bias of party, the palpable omission of the grandest and most momentous distinction of the church, namely, the presence of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven? Unbelief here is alas! characteristic of Christendom.
"It has already been remarked that, far from intending to establish a mere invisible fellowship of the Spirit, our Lord contemplated His Church as having a visible existence, His followers as collected into societies [that society called the Church or assembly of God]. With this view He Himself instituted certain external badges of Christian profession, to come into use when they should be needed, and took measures to qualify a small and select company of believers, by attaching them constantly to His person while His earthly ministry lasted, and giving them a formal commission with extraordinary powers, when He left the world, to preside over the affairs and direct the organisation of Christian societies. These essential conditions of the existence of any regular society we find from the very first in being in the Church: the Apostles were the officers, and, collectively, the organ of the community; members were admitted into it by baptism; and they testified their continuance therein by participating in the sacrament of Christ's body and blood. As we advance farther in the inspired history, we find additions made to these simple elements of social fellowship; the organisation of the Christian society becomes more complex and systematic; questions of polity and order occupy no small portion of the apostolic epistles; and we have every reason to believe, if not from Scripture alone, yet from the unanimous voice of authentic history, that towards the close of the apostolic age Christianity had almost everywhere crystallised itself into a certain, definite, and well known form of ecclesiastical polity" (pp. 192, 193).
"St. Paul, in chap 14 of the first epistle to the Corinthians, presents us with a graphic picture of the mode in which Christians in the first age of the Church celebrated public worship. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper constituted the visible symbol of their profession, and the pledge of their union with Christ and with each other; but the governing function in the assembly was the ministry of the Word, whether it assumed the extraordinary forms of 'tongues' or a 'revelation,' or 'prophecy,' or 'the interpretation of tongues,' or consisted of the stated instruction of regular pastors and teachers. Among the various spiritual gifts then common in the Church, the chief place was to be assigned to prophecy; 'for he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.' Of any typical or sacrificial element, St. Paul makes no mention: the whole service, with the exception of the Lord's Supper, was manifestly homiletic or verbal. That the gifts mentioned in the chapter were, for the most part, extraordinary, and in process of time were to cease, makes no difference as regards the argument; for it is the essential character of Christian worship, not the particular vehicle of its expression, that is the point now under consideration" (pp. 256, 257),
"The Church of Christ was not properly in existence before the day of Pentecost; much less did she, before that era, go forth on her mission to evangelize* the world. A body of believers indeed had been by Christ gathered out of the Jewish people to be the first recipients of the Pentecostal effusion; but before that event, this body could not be called distinctively His Church. It is, then, nothing but the fact, that the invisible Church, or rather that which in the Church is invisible, preceded that which is visible. The spiritual power which wrought so wonderful a change in the Apostles must first descend from heaven, and give to the Church its inner form as its spiritual characteristic! afterwards the Apostles preach and organize. First, there are saints, or men in whom Christ is formed by an invisible operation of His Spirit, whose origin, however, is not unknown; then these saints proceed to execute their appointed mission" (p. 272).
* It is well to avoid a figure which churchism has ever turned to its own aggrandisement and the Lord's dishonour. The Church neither preaches nor teaches, but Christ sends those who evangelize the world and teach the Church.
"Were the question put to a person of plain understanding, unacquainted with the controversies which have arisen on the subject, What, according to the Apostolic Epistles, is a Christian Church, or, how is it to be defined? he would probably, without hesitation or difficulty, reply, that a Christian Church as it appears, for example, in St. Paul's epistles is a congregation or society of faithful men or believers, whose unseen faith in Christ is visibly manifested by their profession of certain fundamental doctrines, by the administration and reception of the two sacraments, and by the exercise of discipline. He would direct attention to the fact, that the ordinary greeting of St. Paul, at the beginning of each epistle, is to the 'saints and faithful brethren' constituting the Church of such a place, fellow-heirs with himself of eternal life; and that throughout these compositions, the members of the Church are presumed to be in living union with Christ, reasonings and exhortations being addressed to them, the force of which cannot be supposed to be admitted, except by those who are led by the Spirit of God; in short, that the members of the Corinthian or the Ephesian Church are addressed as Christians; and a Christian is one who is in saving union with Christ."
"In proportion to the apparent simplicity of the question, would be his surprise to hear it affirmed that he is mistaken, and that, in addressing a Christian society as a congregation of Christians, St. Paul merely regards it as a society of men professing the same faith, and participating outwardly in the same sacraments (it being immaterial to the idea whether they possess saving faith or not); a society invested with spiritual privileges, but not necessarily realizing those privileges, and that, consequently, we must lower the import of the terms, 'saints' and 'faithful in Christ Jesus,' to signify outwardly dedicated to God, and professing with the lips the doctrines of Christianity . . . . . That the mode of interpretation alluded to involves a deviation from the obvious meaning of the New Testament phraseology is not, indeed, sufficient reason for at once rejecting it; but it does warrant us in requiring that the necessity for such deviation shall be clearly made out. And in the present case this requirement is the more reasonable from the circumstance that the Apostles uniformly identify themselves, as regards their Christian standing and hopes, with those to whom they write. 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ;' 'that I may be comforted by the mutual faith both of you and me;' did St. Paul, when he thus wrote, regard himself as but nominally interested in the blessings of redemption? Was his faith nothing more than a profession of Christian doctrine? If he must have meant something more than this; if his own faith and his own sanctity were living and real, the effect of the Holy Spirit's operation; then, inasmuch as he makes no distinction as regards this point between himself and those whom he addresses, we must suppose that he looked upon them also as real saints and believers. The language of the inspired writers of the New Testament is the expression of that Christian experience, or conscious participation in the blessings vouchsafed through Christ, which the Holy Ghost had shed abroad in their hearts: their idea therefore of a saint, or a believer, being derived from their own spiritual consciousness, must have been the highest of which the words will admit. But in the sense in which they supposed themselves to be Christians, do they, to all appearance, apply that title to those to whom they write" (pp. 280-283).
To the argument drawn from the use of similar terms under the Mosaic covenant in a merely national and external sense to prove that they mean the same, and nothing more, under the gospel., our author answers, "Here, in fact, is the real source of the error. While the typical character of the Mosaic institution in general is recognised, it has not been sufficiently borne in mind that the Jewish nation itself in its external or political aspect, was a type, and nothing more, of the Christian Israel . . . . . . We have only to extend this undoubted principle of interpretation to the Jewish people itself in its national that is, its legal-character, to perceive that the terms by which, in the Old Testament, its privileges are expressed, assume, when applied to Christians, a different meaning, or rather betoken the spiritual realities of which the former were but the types" (pp. 286, 287).
"To all this, however, it will be replied, that the nature of a visible church, which we know must in all cases be a body of mixed character, as well as the actual state of several of the churches to whom St. Paul addressed his epistles, forbid the supposition that, in terming them communities of saints and believers, he could have used these words in their highest signification. This is the second difficulty which it is conceived lies in the way of our interpreting the apostle's language literally. But a moment's reflection will show that the difficulty is only imaginary. We must recollect that in the Apostolic Church an effective discipline the very idea of which seems to be lost amongst us existed. By means of this discipline, they having been separated from the society whose overt acts were contrary to their Christian profession, the apostle, not being endowed with the divine prerogative of inspecting the heart, was compelled to take the rest at their profession, and to deal with them as real Christians so long as there was no visible, tangible proof to the contrary . . . . . Without pronouncing upon the state of individuals in the sight of God, he assumed the whole body to be what they professed to be a body of real Christians. For it must be remembered that, however far his profession may be from being a true one, every professor of Christianity professes to be a true, not a mere nominal, Christian. Except on this assumption the apostle could not have proceeded to enforce Christian duties by Christian motives" (pp. 298, 299).
"Nor is there any weight in the objection that many of these primitive Churches were very defective in doctrine or in, practice, or in both; that St. Paul speaks of the Corinthians as being, on account of their divisions, 'carnal,' and not 'spiritual,' as 'babes in Christ,' and sharply reproves them for their laxity of discipline in the case of the incestuous person, and their want of discipline in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. For it is not maintained that the first Christians, any more than those of our own day, were or could be perfect; and all that can be fairly gathered from what St. Paul says of the Corinthians is, that they were imperfect and inconsistent. In the remarks sometimes made upon this subject it seems to be assumed that there is no medium between our affirming of persons that they are not perfect Christians, and that they are not Christians at all; whereas in fact there is no Christian, however holy, who comes up to the ideal of Christian practice. . . . To return to the case of the Corinthians: on what principle, let us ask, did St. Paul reprove them for their inconsistencies? Did he address them as absolutely destitute of the vital principle of grace, or as possessing it, but needing exhortation to walk conformably thereto? The latter is, unquestionably, the ground which he takes" (pp. 302, 303).
"Christianity, as it appears in the New Testament, knows nothing of the atomistic theory of modern independentism. There can be little doubt that, even in the apostolic age, the church of each considerable city such as Rome or Ephesus consisted, not of one congregation, but of several, who were collectively styled the church of that place; certain it is that such was the case towards the close of the first century. It could not be otherwise. The expansive power of Christianity called it to break forth on all sides; and speedily the original congregation, or in modern language the mother church, of each city gave birth to other societies of Christians in the surrounding neighbourhood. . . . No notion is more at variance with the spirit of apostolic Christianity than that of societies of Christians existing in the same neighbourhood, but not in communion with each other, and not under 'common government'" (pp. 449, 450).
It is a perilous mode of reasoning and likely to lead to universal scepticism, to maintain, for the sake of theoretical consistency, that the visible fruits of the Spirit do not possess a sufficiently distinctive character to enable us to pronounce where they are and where they are not: not to mention that the sin of denying the evident operation of the Holy Spirit is spoken of by our Lord in terms far too awful not to make us tremble at the thought of verging towards it. The fruits of the Spirit, whether they be produced within our own inclosure or beyond it, are always the same, and always to be recognized; otherwise our Lord would never have given us the simple test whereby we are to distinguish false from true prophets 'by their fruits ye shall know them.' If men profess themselves not to be able to do so, they simply profess that they have neither consciences nor moral sense." [Alas! the power of the Spirit to this end is lost sight of.] . . .
"One visible manifestation, then, of the sanctity of the Church is the holy walk and conversation of individual Christians; but there is another, and more formal, mode in which she professes herself to be holy, and that is, by the exercise of discipline. The personal holiness of the Christian is a property of the individual, not of the society as such; hence a professing Christian society, however large a proportion of holy men it may contain, does not predicate of itself that it is a part of Christ's holy Church as long as it exercises no formal official act implying that assumption. The exercise of discipline is the true and legitimate expression of the sanctity of a visible Church considered as a society. Hence the great importance of discipline. It is not merely that the absence of it operates injuriously upon the tone and standard of piety within the Church; it affects the claims of the society as such to be a legitimate member of the visible Church Catholic. A Christian society which should openly profess to dispense with discipline, and tolerate on principle open and notorious evil doers [or still worse heretics, Antichrists, or their abettors] within its pale, would thereby renounce its title to one of the essential attributes of the Church; it would sever all ostensible connection between itself and the true Church [or rather Christ and His sacrifice: see1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 ], of which sanctity is an inseparable property; in short, it would unchurch itself. For every particular church is so, called on the supposition of its being a manifestation, more or less true, of the one holy Church the body of Christ. . . . How essential to the idea of a Church the exercise of discipline is, may be seen from the embarrassing contrarieties between theory and practice which the virtual suspension of it in the Church of England is constantly occasioning" (pp. 515-517).
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Acts 8:37". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​wkc/​acts-8.html. 1860-1890.