Saul persecutes the church. (1-4) Philip's success at Samaria. Simon the sorcerer baptized. (5-13) The hypocrisy of Simon detected. (14-25) Philip and the Ethiopian. (26-40)
Verses 1-4 Though persecution must not drive us from our work, yet it may send us to work elsewhere. Wherever the established believer is driven, he carries the knowledge of the gospel, and makes known the preciousness of Christ in every place. Where a simple desire of doing good influences the heart, it will be found impossible to shut a man out from all opportunities of usefulness.
Verses 5-13 As far as the gospel prevails, evil spirits are dislodged, particularly unclean spirits. All inclinations to the lusts of the flesh which war against the soul are such. Distempers are here named, the most difficult to be cured by the course of nature, and most expressive of the disease of sin. Pride, ambition, and desire after grandeur have always caused abundance of mischief, both to the world and to the church. The people said of Simon, This man is the great power of God. See how ignorant and thoughtless people mistake. But how strong is the power of Divine grace, by which they were brought to Christ, who is Truth itself! The people not only gave heed to what Philip said, but were fully convinced that it was of God, and not of men, and gave up themselves to be directed thereby. Even bad men, and those whose hearts still go after covetousness, may come before God as his people come, and for a time continue with them. And many wonder at the proofs of Divine truths, who never experience their power. The gospel preached may have a common operation upon a soul, where it never produced inward holiness. All are not savingly converted who profess to believe the gospel.
Verses 14-25 The Holy Ghost was as yet fallen upon none of these coverts, in the extraordinary powers conveyed by the descent of the Spirit upon the day of Pentecost. We may take encouragement from this example, in praying to God to give the renewing graces of the Holy Ghost to all for whose spiritual welfare we are concerned; for that includes all blessings. No man can give the Holy Spirit by the laying on of his hands; but we should use our best endeavours to instruct those for whom we pray. Simon Magus was ambitious to have the honour of an apostle, but cared not at all to have the spirit and disposition of a Christian. He was more desirous to gain honour to himself, than to do good to others. Peter shows him his crime. He esteemed the wealth of this world, as if it would answer for things relating to the other life, and would purchase the pardon of sin, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and eternal life. This was such a condemning error as could by no means consist with a state of grace. Our hearts are what they are in the sight of God, who cannot be deceived. And if they are not right in his sight, our religion is vain, and will stand us in no stead. A proud and covetous heart cannot be right with God. It is possible for a man to continue under the power of sin, yet to put on a form of godliness. When tempted with money to do evil, see what a perishing thing money is, and scorn it. Think not that Christianity is a trade to live by in this world. There is much wickedness in the thought of the heart, its false notions, and corrupt affections, and wicked projects, which must be repented of, or we are undone. But it shall be forgiven, upon our repentance. The doubt here is of the sincerity of Simon's repentance, not of his pardon, if his repentance was sincere. Grant us, Lord, another sort of faith than that which made Simon wonder only, and did not sanctify his heart. May we abhor all thoughts of making religion serve the purposes of pride or ambition. And keep us from that subtle poison of spiritual pride, which seeks glory to itself even from humility. May we seek only the honour which cometh from God.
Verses 26-40 Philip was directed to go to a desert. Sometimes God opens a door of opportunity to his ministers in very unlikely places. We should study to do good to those we come into company with by travelling. We should not be so shy of all strangers as some affect to be. As to those of whom we know nothing else, we know this, that they have souls. It is wisdom for men of business to redeem time for holy duties; to fill up every minute with something which will turn to a good account. In reading the word of God, we should often pause, to inquire of whom and of what the sacred writers spake; but especially our thoughts should be employed about the Redeemer. The Ethiopian was convinced by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, of the exact fulfilment of the Scripture, was made to understand the nature of the Messiah's kingdom and salvation, and desired to be numbered among the disciples of Christ. Those who seek the truth, and employ their time in searching the Scriptures, will be sure to reap advantages. The avowal of the Ethiopian must be understood as expressing simple reliance on Christ for salvation, and unreserved devotion to Him. Let us not be satisfied till we get faith, as the Ethiopian did, by diligent study of the Holy Scriptures, and the teaching of the Spirit of God; let us not be satisfied till we get it fixed as a principle in our hearts. As soon as he was baptized, the Spirit of God took Philip from him, so that he saw him no more; but this tended to confirm his faith. When the inquirer after salvation becomes acquainted with Jesus and his gospel, he will go on his way rejoicing, and will fill up his station in society, and discharge his duties, from other motives, and in another manner than heretofore. Though baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with water, it is not enough without the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Lord, grant this to every one of us; then shall we go on our way rejoicing.
Acts 8:1-4 . PERSECUTION CONTINUED, IN WHICH SAUL TAKES A PROMINENT PART--HOW OVERRULED FOR GOOD.
1. Saul was consenting unto his death--The word expresses hearty approval.
they were all scattered abroad--all the leading Christians, particularly the preachers, agreeably to their Lord's injunctions ( Matthew 10:23 ), though many doubtless remained, and others (as appears by Acts 9:26-30 ) soon returned.
except the apostles--who remained, not certainly as being less exposed to danger, but, at whatever risk, to watch over the infant cause where it was most needful to cherish it.
2. and devout men--pious Jews, probably, impressed with admiration for Stephen and secretly inclined to Christianity, but not yet openly declared.
3. Saul . . . entering into every house--like as inquisitor [BENGEL].
haling men and women, &c.--See his own affecting confessions afterwards ( Acts 22:4 , Acts 26:9 Acts 26:10 , 1 Corinthians 15:9 , Galatians 1:13 , Philippians 3:6 , 1 Timothy 1:13 ).
4. they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching--Though solemnly enjoined to do this ( Luke 24:47 , Acts 1:8 ), they would probably have lingered at Jerusalem, but for this besom of persecution which swept them out. How often has the rage of Christ's enemies thus "turned out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel" (see Philippians 1:12 Philippians 1:13 ).
Acts 8:5-25 . SUCCESS OF PHILIP'S PREACHING IN SAMARIA--CASE OF SIMON MAGUS.
5. Then Philip--not the apostle of that name, as was by some of the Fathers supposed; for besides that the apostles remained at Jerusalem, they would in that case have had no occasion to send a deputation of their own number to lay their hands on the baptized disciples [GROTIUS]. It was the deacon of that name, who comes next after Stephen in the catalogue of the seven, probably as being the next most prominent. The persecution may have been directed especially against Stephen's colleagues [MEYER].
the city of Samaria--or "a city of Samaria"; but the former seems more likely. "It furnished the bridge between Jerusalem and the world" [BAUMGARTEN].
6-8. the people with one accord gave heed to . . . Philip--the way being prepared perhaps by the fruits of our Lord's sojourn, as He Himself seems to intimate the providence of God in sending a Grecian, or a Hellenistic Jew, to a people who from national antipathy would have been unlikely to attend to a native of Judea" [WEBSTER and WILKINSON].
8. great joy in that city--over the change wrought on it by the Gospel, as well as the cures which attested its divine character.
9-13. used sorcery--magical arts.
some great one . . . the great power of God--a sort of incarnation of divinity.
10. To whom all gave heed . . . because of long time he had bewitched them--This, coupled with the rapidity with which they deserted him and attached themselves to Philip, shows the ripeness of Samaria for some religious change.
12. were baptized, both men and women--the detection of Simon's frauds helping to extend and deepen the effects of Philip's preaching.
13. Then Simon himself believed also--Left without followers, he thinks it best to join the man who had fairly outstripped him, not without a touch of real conviction.
and . . . was baptized--What a light does this throw on what is called Baptismal Regeneration!
he continued with Philip--"was in constant attendance upon" him.
14-17. the apostles . . . sent Peter and John--showing that they regarded Peter as no more than their own equal.
15, 16. prayed . . . they might receive the Holy Ghost. (For only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus)--As the baptism of adults presupposed "the renewing of the Holy Ghost" ( Titus 3:5-7 , 1 Corinthians 12:13 ), of which the profession of faith had to be taken for evidence, this communication of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the apostles' hands was clearly a superadded thing; and as it was only occasional, so it was invariably attended with miraculous manifestations (see Acts 10:44 , where it followed Peter's preaching; and Acts 19:1-7 , where, as here, it followed the laying on of hands). In the present case an important object was served by it--"the sudden appearance of a body of baptized disciples in Samaria, by the agency of one who was not an apostle, requiring the presence and power of apostles to perform their special part as the divinely appointed founders of the Church" [ALFORD]. Beautiful, too, was the spectacle exhibited of Jew and Samaritan, one in Christ.
18-24. offered them money--Hence the term simony, to denote trafficking in sacred things, but chiefly the purchase of ecclesiastical offices.
19. that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost--Spiritual ambition here shows itself the key to this wretched man's character.
20. Thy money perish with thee--that is, "Accursed be thou and thy money with thee." It is the language of mingled horror and indignation, not unlike our Lord's rebuke of Peter himself ( Matthew 16:23 ).
21. Thou hast neither part nor lot . . . thy heart is not fight, &c.--This is the fidelity of a minister of Christ to one deceiving himself in a very awful manner.
22. Repent . . . pray . . . if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven--this expression of doubt being designed to impress upon him the greatness of his sin, and the need of alarm on his part.
23. in the gall of bitterness and . . . bond of iniquity--expressing both the awfulness of his condition and the captivity to it in which he was held.
24. Pray ye to the Lord for me--Peter had urged him to pray for himself: he asks those wonder-working men to do it for him; having no confidence in the prayer of faith, but thinking that those men possessed some peculiar interest with heaven.
that none of these things dome upon me--not that the thought of his wicked heart might be forgiven him, but only that the evils threatened might be averted from him. While this throws great light on Peter's view of his melancholy case, it shows that Christianity, as something divine, still retained its hold of him. (Tradition represents him as turning out a great heresiarch, mingling Oriental or Grecian philosophy with some elements of Christianity.)
25. and they--Peter and John.
when they had . . . preached--in the city where Philip's labors had been so richly blessed.
returned . . . and preached . . . in many villages of the Samaritans--embracing the opportunity of their journey back to Jerusalem to fulfil their Lord's commission to the whole region of Samaria ( Acts 1:8 ).
Acts 8:26-40 . THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH.
"With this narrative of the progress of the Gospel among the Samaritans is connected another which points to the diffusion of the doctrine of the Cross among the remotest nations. The simplicity of the chamberlain of Meroe forms a remarkable contrast with the craft of the magician just described" [OLSHAUSEN].
26-28. the angel of the Lord--rather, "an angel."
go . . . south, the way that goeth down from Jerusalem to Gaza--There was such a road, across Mount Hebron, which Philip might take without going to Jerusalem (as VON RAUMER'S'S Palæstina shows).
which is desert--that is, the way; not Gaza itself, which was the southernmost city of Palestine, in the territory of the ancient Philistines. To go from a city, where his hands had been full of work, so far away on a desert road, could not but be staggering to the faith of Philip, especially as he was kept in ignorance of the object of the journey. But like Paul, he "was not disobedient to the heavenly vision"; and like Abram, "he went out not knowing whither he went" ( Acts 26:19 , Hebrews 11:8 ).
27. a man of Ethiopia--Upper Egypt, Meroe.
an eunuch of great authority--Eunuchs were generally employed for confidential offices in the East, and to some extent are still.
Candace--the family name of the queens of Upper Egypt, like Pharaoh, Cæsar, &c. (as appears from classic authors).
had come to Jerusalem to worship--that is, to keep the recent feast of Pentecost, as a Gentile proselyte to the Jewish faith. (See Isaiah 56:3-8 , and John 12:20 ).
28. Was returning--Having come so far, he not only stayed out the days of the festival, but prolonged his stay till now. It says much for his fidelity and value to his royal mistress that he had such liberty. But the faith in Jehovah and love of His worship and word, with which he was imbued, sufficiently explain this.
and sitting in his chariot, read Esaias--Not contented with the statutory services in which he had joined, he beguiles the tedium of the journey homeward by reading the Scriptures. But this is not all; for as Philip "heard him read the prophet Esaias," he must have been reading aloud and not (as is customary still in the East) so as merely to be audible, but in a louder voice than he would naturally have used if intent on his own benefit only: evidently therefore he was reading to his charioteer.
29-31. the Spirit said--by an unmistakable voice within, as in Acts 10:19 , Acts 16:6 Acts 16:7 .
go near and join this chariot--This would reveal to Philip the hitherto unknown object of his journey, and encourage him to expect something.
30. Understandest thou what thou readest?--To one so engaged this would be deemed no rude question, while the eager appearance of the speaker, and the question itself, would indicate a readiness to supply any want of insight that might be felt.
31. How can I, except some man guide me?--Beautiful expression at once of humility and docility; the invitation to Philip which immediately followed, to "come up and sit with him," being but the natural expression of this.
32, 33. The place . . . was this, He was led as a sheep, &c.--One cannot but wonder that this, of all predictions of Messiah's sufferings in the Old Testament the most striking, should have been that which the eunuch was reading before Philip joined him. He could hardly miss to have heard at Jerusalem of the sufferings and death of Jesus, and of the existence of a continually increasing party who acknowledged Him to be the Messiah. But his question to Philip, whether the prophet in this passage meant himself or some other man, clearly shows that he had not the least idea of any connection between this prediction and those facts.
34-38. And the eunuch answered, I pray thee, &c.--The respect with which he here addresses Philip was prompted by his reverence for one whom he perceived to be his superior in divine things; his own worldly position sinking before this.
35. Then Philip opened his mouth--(See on Mt 5:2 ).
began at the same scripture--founding on it as his text.
preached unto him Jesus--showing Him to be the glorious Burden of this wonderful prediction, and interpreting it in the light of the facts of His history.
36. See, here is water--more simply, "Behold water!" as if already his mind filled with light and his soul set free, he was eagerly looking out for the first water in which he might seal his reception of the truth and be enrolled among the visible disciples of the Lord Jesus.
what doth hinder me to be baptized?--Philip had probably told him that this was the ordained sign and seal of discipleship, but the eunuch's question was likely the first proposal of its application in this case. ( Acts 8:37 is wanting in the principal manuscripts and most venerable versions of the New Testament. It seems to have been added from the formularies for baptism which came into current use).
38. they went down both into the water, and he baptized him, &c.--probably laving the water upon him, though the precise mode is neither certain nor of any consequence.
39, 40. the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip--To deny [as MEYER, OLSHAUSEN, BLOOMFIELD] the miraculous nature of Philip's disappearance, is vain. It stands out on the face of the words, as just a repetition of what we read of the ancient prophets, in 1 Kings 18:12 , 2 Kings 2:16 . And the same word (as BENGEL remarks) is employed to express a similar idea in 2 Corinthians 12:2 2 Corinthians 12:4 , 1 Thessalonians 4:17 .
the eunuch saw him no more--nor, perhaps, for very joy, cared to see him [BENGEL].
and he went on his way rejoicing--He had found Christ, and the key to the Scriptures; his soul was set free, and his discipleship sealed; he had lost his teacher, but gained what was infinitely better: He felt himself a new man, and "his joy was full." Tradition says he was the first preacher of the Gospel in Ethiopia; and how, indeed, could he choose but "tell what the Lord had done for his soul?" Yet there is no certainty as to any historical connection between his labors and the introduction of Christianity into that country.
40. Philip was found--that is, "found himself," "made his appearance": an expression confirming the miraculous manner of his transportation.
at Azotus--the ancient Ashdod.
preached in all the cities--along the coast, proceeding northward.
till he came to Cæsarea--fifty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem, on the Mediterranean, just south of Mount Carmel; and so named by Herod, who rebuilt it, in honor of Cæsar Augustus. Henceforth we lose sight of zealous and honored Philip, as by and by we shall lose sight even of Peter. As the chariot of the Gospel rolls on, other agents are raised up, each suited to his work. But "he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rejoice together."