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Philip: Deacon and Evangelist
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
'THE more we are mown down by you, the more we multiply among you,' said Tertullian in his proud Apology. 'Every single drop of our blood springs up, in some thirty, in some sixty, and in some an hundred-fold.' And thus it was that the banishment of Philip from Jerusalem was the salvation of Samaria, and thus it was also that the martyrdom of Stephen was the conversion of Saul. Semen est sanguis Christianorum.
Stephen was the first martyr, and Philip was the first missionary. The deaconship adorned itself and did nobly in those early days. Stephen and Philip were not apostles to begin with; they were simply deacons. They were not ordained, like the apostles, to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. But you cannot limit, and narrow, and bind down to the serving of tables two powerful and original men like Stephen and Philip. Paul had Stephen and Philip in his mind when he said to Timothy long afterwards, that they who have used the office of a deacon well, purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. All of which both Stephen and Philip had emphatically done.
"And," writes Luke to Theophilus, "at that time there was a great persecution against the Church which was at Jerusalem; so that they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. And Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And there was great joy in that city." Now, just suppose for a moment that you had been Philip. Suppose that you had been scattered abroad like Philip and his colleagues. And suppose that you had escaped with the Gospel in your hands, and were chased into some half-heathen city that had just been touched on the surface with the knowledge of Christ. You would be sure to seek out those who had been so touched, and you would throw yourself on their hospitality and protection. And thus it was that Philip would certainly seek out the woman of Samaria that all the world knows about now, and in whose heart, and in whose house, there was now a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. Peter and John would give Philip an introduction to her; and to reassure him about his reception, they would tell him, John especially, all about that oft-remembered day when their Master must needs go through Samaria, and when, being wearied with His journey, He sat thus on the well. And the woman would welcome Philip, and would say to him, Come in, thou blessed of the Lord, for when I was thirsty He gave me drink. And when Philip said to her, Sit down, woman, sit down and eat, she only served his table all the more hospitably, and said, I have meat to eat that thou knowest not of. Come to my house, she said also to all her neighbours, and see and hear a man who has come to my house from the very risen Christ Himself. And, taking his text from the woman's words, Philip preached the risen Christ in Sychar till there was great joy in that city. Luke is a scholar, and so is Theophilus. Luke is a student and an artist in his words, and Theophilus attends to what Luke writes. And thus it is that when Luke tells Theophilus that Philip preached 'Christ' to the Samaritans, and then that the same evangelist preached 'Jesus' to the Ethiopian eunuch, it is not for nothing; it is not of no consequence what Luke says, or how he says it. It is not without good reason that such a scrupulous composer as Luke is selects his names and his titles in this exact way for our Lord. Bengel is the very commentator for such a composer as Luke. And Bengel writes with his needle-pointed pen and says that "from the Old Testament point of view, progress is made from the knowledge of Christ to the knowledge of Jesus; while from the New Testament point of view, the progress is made from the knowledge of Jesus to the knowledge of Christ." "Not a single syllable," says Basil, "of all that is written concerning Jesus Christ should be left uninvestigated. The men who trace the hidden meaning of every word and even of every letter in the New Testament are those who understand best the end and nature of our Scriptural calling." Let our theological students, then, study out the fact of Philip's preaching 'Christ' in the city, and 'Jesus' in the desert, and make an Ellicott-like thesis for themselves and for their people on this subject taking in Romans 8:11.
Now, I must stop for a moment at this point to say how much I feel both impressed and rebuked by the noble conduct of Peter and John. Both Stephen and Philip were by far the subordinates or Peter and John. And there is no sin that so easily besets some of us ministers as just the sudden success of those who are by far our subordinates. There is nothing that more tries us and brings to the surface what we are made of at heart than just to be outstripped and extinguished by those who but yesterday were mere boys beside us. And it takes the strongest man among us and the holiest man all his might to behave himself with humility and with generosity to his late subordinates at such a time. But let us stop at this point and see how well both Peter and John came out of that furnace of theirs. They did not grudge, nor resent, nor suspect, nor despise the success of Stephen in Jerusalem, nor of Philip in Samaria. They did not say, The deacon has his proper place. They did not complain that he had so soon left the serving of tables. They did not say that Philip should attend to his proper work, and let preaching alone. They did not shake their heads and forecast that it would soon turn out to be all so much Samaritan excitement. They did not have it reported to them every word that Philip had at any time spoken that was out of joint. Far no. To their great honour be it told, they behaved themselves in all this temptation of theirs in a way altogether worthy of their apostolic office. They did not wait to see if the awakening was real and would last, as we would have done. But the twelve sent down Peter and John, their two best men, to assist Philip to gather in the results of his so suddenly successful mission. And Peter and John set to work with all their might to found a church out of Philip's converts, to be called the Church of the Evangelist, after the name of their deacon and subordinate. I, for one, must lay all that Samaria episode well to heart. I, for one, must not forget it.
Both Stephen and Philip have made this impression also upon me that they were born preachers, as we say. Born, not made. Born, not collegebred. Born, and not simply ordained. And if a man is a born preacher, you may set him to serve tables, or, for that matter, to make tables, but he will preach in spite of you. You may suborn men to bear him down. You may banish him away to Samaria, but I defy you to shut his mouth. Stephen and Philip were born with such a fire in their bones that no man could put it out. There is a divine tongue in their mouth that you cannot silence. The more you persecute them and cast them out, and the more tribulation you pass them through, they will only preach all that the better. Now, that there were two men of such rare genius among the first seven deacons is a remarkable proof of the insight of the congregation that elected them, as well as of the wealth of all kinds of talent in the Apostolic Church. I have often wished that I could have been one of the two Emmaus-men whose hearts burned within them as their risen Lord expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. And, then, after that I would fain have been the servant of the Ethiopian eunuch, so as to have sat beside him and heard him reading the prophet Esaias till Philip came up and said to him, Understandest thou what thou readest? How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. And Philip opened his mouth, and began at the 53 rd of Isaiah, and preached unto him Jesus. All this took place in the primitive, simple, unsophisticated east, and we must not measure any part of all this history by our western habits of intercourse. It would be resented as the height of intrusion and incivility among us if one man were to say to another over his book on the deck of a steamer or in a railway carriage, Are you understanding what you are reading? But look at it in this way. Suppose you sat beside a foreigner who was struggling with one of our English guide-books, and was evidently missing the sense, till he was starting off in a wrong direction; it would be no intrusion or impertinence if you made up to him and said to him something like this: 'I fear our barbarous tongue is not easily mastered by foreign scholars, but it is my native language, and I may be able to be of some use to you in it.' "How can I?" said the humble-minded eunuch, "except some man should guide me?" Now, we all think, because we know the letters of it, and are familiar with the sounds of it, that we understand the Bible: Isaiah, and John, and Paul. But we never made a more fatal mistake. There is no book in all the world that is so difficult to read, and to understand, and to love, as the Bible. Not having begun to understand it, some of you will turn upon me and will tell me that even a little child can understand it. And you are perfectly right. "A lamb can wade it," said a great Greek expositor of it. But he went on to add that "an elephant can swim in it." And thus it was that, over and above the apostles, all the deacons of intellect and experience were drawn on to expound the Scriptures, first to the learned Council of Jerusalem, then to the sceptical men of Samaria, and then to the Ethiopian neophyte in his royal chariot. And thus it is still that the Church collects into her colleges the very best minds she can lay hold of in all her families, and trains them up under her very best teachers, and then when they are ready says to them, Go join thyself to this and that vacant pulpit, and make the people to understand what they read. And you must often have both felt it and confessed it to be so. How different the most superficially familiar chapter looks to us ever after some great expounder, by tongue or by pen, has opened it up to us! A book of the Bible read in routine chapters in the pulpit or at family worship, how dull, and unmeaning, and immediately forgotten it is! Whereas, let an interpreter, one of a thousand, open it up to us, and we never forget either the chapter or him. "The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the expounding of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation." "It is mainly by the institution of expounding and preaching," says John Foster, "that religion is kept a conspicuous thing, a public acknowledged reality. If we are told that we should rather say that it is public worship that has this effect, we have to answer that public worship, apart from expounding and preaching, has a very small effect in favour of religion. It is quite certain that where the conductors of that worship have not knowledge and religion enough to expound and preach, that worship will be little more than a ceremonial routine of idle forms."
Years and years and years pass on. Philip has for long been a married man, and is now the father of four grown-up daughters. His wife is a good woman. She is a grave woman, as Paul exhorted her to be. And, between them, Philip and his grave and faithful wife both ruled themselves well, and thus their four extraordinarily-gifted daughters. And with such a father and such a mother, I do not wonder that when such things were abroad in those days as gifts of tongues, and gifts of healing, and gifts of prophecy, and many other operations of the Holy Ghost, a double portion of some of those miraculous things came to Philip's four daughters. Luke has a quick eye for everything of that kind, and thus it is that he interpolates this footnote in his history of Paul. "And the next day we came to Cæsarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come to us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle," and so on. And thus it was that this strange Agabus was the last sanctification of Philip and his wife and his four prophetical daughters. To begin with, his own children had been gifted and employed and honoured far above Philip himself. And then Agabus arrived just at the moment to be gifted and employed and honoured far above them all. In the rich grace and manifold wisdom of God, outwardly and ostensibly and on the surface, Agabus's errand was to foretell Paul about his future arrest at Jerusalem. But, far deeper than that, Agabus had a finishing work of the Holy Ghost to perform on Philip, and on his four daughters, and on their mother, that grave woman. A work of humility. A work of resignation. An evangelical work. A work far above the best prophecy. A work of lowly-mindedness. A work of esteeming others better than themselves. A work of saying, Agabus must increase, and I must decrease. And a work that, no doubt, began by reproaches and rebukes and charging Gold foolishly, like this. 'Why were not my prophetical daughters employed to deliver this prophecy to Paul? Why was a stranger brought in over our heads in this way? We cannot ever again have the same standing and esteem in Cæsarea after this so open slight. What a strength it would have been to us in our pulpit and pastoral work had my daughters been honoured of the Holy Ghost to utter this prophecy concerning the Apostle. It would have established us and honoured us in our work in Cæsarea like nothing else.' Agabus was an evil enough messenger to Paul; but he was such a staggering blow to Philip and to his whole household that it took all Paul's insight, and skill in souls, and authority with Philip, and power with God, to guide and direct Philip so as that he should get all God's intended good to himself and to all his house out of it.
Now, Agabus does not come to your house and mine in such open and such dramatic ways as he came to Philip's house; but he comes. Agabus of Jerusalem came to Jonathan Edwards's grave and godly wife in Northampton in the shape of a young preacher. "On Monday night, Mr. Edwards being gone that day to Leicester, I heard that Mr. Buell was coming to this town. At that moment I felt the eye of God on my heart to see if I was perfectly resigned with respect to Mr. Buell's expected success among our people. I was sensible what great cause I had to bless God for the use He had made of my husband hitherto, and I thought that if He now employed other ministers more I could entirely acquiesce in His will. On Tuesday night there seemed to be great tokens of God's presence at Mr. Buell's meeting; and when I heard of it, I sat still in entire willingness that God should bless his labours among us as much as He pleased, even though it were to the refreshing of every saint and the conversion of every sinner in the whole town. These feelings continued afterwards when I saw his great success. I never felt the least rising of heart against him, but my submission to God was even and uniform and without interruption or disturbance. I rejoiced when I saw the honour God had put upon him, and the respect paid to him by the people, and the greater success attending his preaching than had now for some time past attended my husband's preaching. I found rest and rejoicing in it, and the sweet language of my soul continually was, Amen, Lord Jesus. Amen, Lord Jesus. I had an overwhelming sense of the glory of God, and of the happiness of having my own will entirely subdued to His will. I knew that the foretaste of glory I then had in my soul came from God, and that in His time I shall be with Him, and be, as it were, swallowed up in Him." Agabus, and Mr. Buell, and another. But who is that other? And what is his name?
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Philip: Deacon and Evangelist'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​p/philip-deacon-and-evangelist.html. 1901.