The Pulpit Commentary

Acts 8:5 (Acts 8:5)

And for then, A.V. ; proclaimed unto them the Christ for preached Christ unto them, A.V. Philip ; the deacon and evangelist ( Acts 6:7 ; Acts 21:8 ), not the apostle. As regards Samaria, it is always used in the New Testament of the country, not of the city, which at this time was called Sebaste, from σεβαστός , i.e. Augustus Caesar (see Acts 25:21 , Acts 25:26 , etc.; John 4:5 ; and Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 15. John 7:9 ). Whether, therefore, we read with the T.R. πόλιν , or with the R.T. τὴν πόλιν , we must understand Samaria to mean the country, and probably the city to be the capital, Sebaste. Alford, however, with many others, thinks that Sychem is meant, as in John 4:5 .

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Acts 8:1-8 (Acts 8:1-8)

The fruits of persecution.

Persecution is Satan's instrument for checking and, if possible, destroying the truth of God. Our Savior reminds us, in the sermon on the mount, how the prophets, who spake to the people in the Name of God, had been persecuted of old; and foretold how the prophets and wise men and scribes whom he would send should, in like manner, be scourged and persecuted, killed and crucified. And the history of the Church, from the first imprisonment of the apostles related in Acts 4:1-37 . down to the present day, shows the truth of the prediction. Some of the springs and causes of persecution were noted in the homiletics on Acts 4:1-31 . Our attention shall now be turned to the fruits of persecution.

I. THE FIRST EFFECT OF THE PERSECUTION THAT AROSE UPON THE DEATH OF STEPHEN WAS THE DISPERSION OF THE DISCIPLES . In accordance with the Lord's directions ( Matthew 10:23 ), they fled, to save their lives, from the city of Jerusalem to the neighboring cities of Judaea and Samaria. But wherever they went they preached the Word. Thus the immediate effect of the persecution raised at Jerusalem for the extirpation of the faith of Jesus Christ was that that faith was carried into cities and districts and countries where it might never have been heard of but for the persecutions. Samaria heard the gospel; it was deposited in the heart of the eunuch for dissemination in Ethiopia. From Azotus to Caesarea it was proclaimed aloud. It passed on to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch. It took deep root in Antioch, and was passed on from thence through all Asia and on into Europe.

II. ANOTHER EFFECT OF THE PERSECUTION WAS THE BREAKING DOWN OF OPPOSING BARRIERS OF HABIT , OPINION , AND PREJUDICE . If the rulers and priests, the scribes and Pharisees, had accepted the gospel, it might have been a very hard matter to separate it from circumcision and from the temple and from exclusive Judaism. It might have been very long before Jewish Christians would have turned in a spirit of love and brotherhood to their Samaritan neighbors, or sent a messenger to Ethiopia, or planted the first community who called themselves Christians in the great heathen city of Antioch. Endless scruples, hesitations, difficulties, would have barred the way. But persecution quickened with a marvelous impulse the logic of reason and benevolence, ay, and of faith too. By the force of circumstances, the persecuted disciples, expelled from country and home by their own flesh and blood, found themselves drawn into the closest bonds with those who were not Jews, and as it were compelled to tell them of the love of Jesus, and then to feel that that love made them both one. It would have taken generations, perhaps, to do what persecution did in a day. Persecution cut the Gordian knot which the fingers of human reason would, perhaps, never have untied; and the great persecutor himself might never have become the great chief and prince that he was in the Church of the Gentiles, had it not been fur the part that he had played in persecuting it in times past.

III. NOR MUST WE OVERLOOK THE INFLUENCE OF PERSECUTIONS WHEN ENDURED IN THE TRUE MARTYR 'S SPIRIT , IN DEEPENING AND HEIGHTENING THE FAITH , THE ZEAL , AND THE LOVE OF THE DISCIPLE . The fire of the spiritual life in the soul of the saint burns brightest in the darkest hours of earthly tribulation. The love of Christ, the hope of glory, the preciousness of the gospel, are never, perhaps, felt in their living power so fully as when the lights and fires of earthly joy and comforts are extinguished. Then, in the presence, so to speak, of Christ's unveiled power and glory, charity and boldness, zeal and self-sacrifice, are at their highest pitch, and the making known to others the glad tidings of great joy seems to be the only thing worth living for. So that the fruit of persecution is to be seen in a noble army of martyrs and confessors, qualified to the very highest extent, and eager in the very highest degree, to preach far and wide the unsearchable riches of Christ, and in extraordinary accessions to the numbers of the persecuted Church.

IV. OTHER FRUITS OF PERSECUTION , SUCH AS EXHIBITING TO THE EYES OF THE WORLD THE REALITY OF THAT RELIGION WHICH THEY DESPISE , HOLDING UP TO ITS ADMIRATION THE TRUE CHARACTERS OF THOSE WHOM IT PERSECUTES , AND SHOWING THE HOPELESSNESS OF STAMPING OUT THAT FIRE WHICH IS FED FROM THE LIVE COALS OF GOD 'S ALTAR IN HEAVEN , AND MANY MORE , IT WOULD RE EASY TO ENUMERATE .

But these must suffice to teach us that the malice of Satan is no match for the power of God; but that the Church will eventually shine forth in all the brighter beauty of holiness for the efforts that have been made for her disfigurement and utter overthrow.

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Acts 8:5-25 (Acts 8:5-25)

Success and disappointment in Christian work.

I. A LARGE MEASURE OF SUCCESS . We must consider:

1. The special obstacles in the way, viz.

2. The means by which success was gained.

3. The magnitude of the success.

4. Confirmation of it, both human and Divine.

II. A SERIOUS DISCOURAGEMENT . There is no more disheartening blow which can fall on the heart of an earnest Christian worker than to find that his converts have not really changed their mind, but only their creed. Very bitter must have been the cup to the Christian community in Samaria when Simon made the miserable exhibition of himself recorded in the text (verses 18, 19). Either he had been utterly insincere throughout, or, as is more likely, he was convinced that Philip and the apostles were masters of some great powers he had not been able to gain; but completely mistook the character of their mission, thinking they were out on an errand of self-aggrandizement. Whether Simon's was a guilty simulation or a blasphemous error, it was rebuked with an almost terrible severity (verses 20-23), which evidently affected and even affrighted the sorcerer (verse 24). In tones of unwonted sternness, such as the occasion required, Peter rejected the infamous proposal to receive money for the impartation of Divine power, and assured Simon that he was still in the very depth of folly and of sin, from which nothing but repentance could deliver him.

1. We also may have a large measure of success in our work. We have all the materials of success, if we will use them: the needed saving truth; the beneficent agencies which spring from Christian sources, and which commend the Christian cause; the presence in the Church of the Holy Spirit of God.

2. We shall always be liable to disappointment. Some whom we believe to be possessed of the truth and to be brought beneath its vital power will prove to be only just touched by it, or to be mere pretenders and deceivers.

3. Spite of painful drawbacks, we may thank God for good work done. It was with joyous and grateful hearts, we may be sure, that the apostles "returned to Jerusalem" (verse 25). They had not forgotten Simon's defection; they would never forget that disappointing moment when he made his humiliating offer. But, after all, he was in the dark and far background; in front of him and in full view of their gladdened souls was the testimony they had borne for their Master, the Church they had gathered, the good work they had wrought in Samaria.—C.

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Acts 8:1-13 (Acts 8:1-13)

Incidents of persecution and dispersion.

I. A GLIMPSE OF SAUL THE PERSECUTOR . Though brief and passing, it is very significant. He was a party to the execution of Stephen. Saul was full of ignorance and blind passion. What he afterwards felt about his conduct is expressed in 1 Timothy 1:3 . This example should be a standing warning to us against trust in mere feeling and enthusiasm. The fumes of anger and violence are no signs of pure glowing zeal for the truth, but rather of the spirit that is set on fire of hell. It is when we are most passionately excited in the cause of party conflict that we have most need to be on our guard. Bitter was the remorse of Saul of Tarsus for his complicity in the murder of Stephen. Hard was it for him to forgive himself. It was the triumph of Divine love in his heart when he could trust that through it he had been forgiven.

II. THE EFFECTS OF PERSECUTION . It leads to dispersion, and dispersion to the dissemination of the truth. Through the country of Judaea and Samaria the scattered ones went, leaving in every village, in every house and heart, stirring memories, new thoughts. And Saul, like a ravaging wolf, went on his blind course. There is a general historical lesson here. Persecution is ever the symptom of intellectual change. The old dragon is ever ready to devour the child of the woman. The hellish Python would wrestle with the glorious Apollo. Herod would put to death the child Jesus. Saul would slay the infant Church. But the victory of eternal light and love is not doubtful. "They that were scattered in different directions went in different directions evangelizing the world." How beautiful is this! The true weapon with which to meet the sword is the Word. The policy of the persecutor is of all the blindest. He stimulates the movement he aims to crush. In every manly spirit opposition rouses new energy. We love more dearly the truth for which we have to fight and suffer. It is in the laws of the spiritual world that persecutions should ever bring a violent reaction in favor of the principles of the persecuted. When Christianity is patronized it becomes corrupt. When through persecution it is thrown back upon the ground of its first principles, it springs up with new life and vigor.

III. THE WORK OF PHILIP . Well does it stand in contrast with that of Saul in this glimpse of early Christianity. Saul, the wolf amidst the fold, breathing out threats and slaughter; Philip, as the shepherd, feeding and healing and comforting. Again and again we have the repetition of the true effects of Christianity. Good words are spoken, which command attention and do good to the soul; good deeds are done to the suffering body, which are evident "signs" of a Divine presence and power to heal, and therefore of a Divine and loving will. And joy ever breaks out—the reflection of recovered freedom in the body and the soul—in every city. These, then, are the constant evidences of Christianity. No other "apologetic" can be needed, for this is invincible. Without it the subtlest arguments are unavailing.

IV. THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIAINITY OVER SUPERSTITION . Simon the Magus is the type of those who work upon the imagination of the people, as contrasted with the true Christian teacher who appeals to the conscience. What was to decide between the genuine teacher and healer and the eloquent and skilful quack? Close is the shadow to the light in all the course of the gospel. In the individual conscience lies the test. To that God speaks; that in every age is the mirror of the truth. And to the truth and to God the conscience of the impostor bears witness. Simon believed in the word of Philip, and became by baptism a professor of the new creed. It is said that he was astonished at the signs and peat wonders which occurred. What we call" sensationalism" in the mind, the craving for the wonder, is the spurious form of a true instinct. Men must see in order to be convinced; when conviction is attained, they can afterwards walk by faith in regions where sight is not possible. We never change the habit of our thought until we find something inexplicable where before all was plain and simple—something wondrous where we only recognized the commonplace. To ask for belief without giving evidence is to insult the conscience, to refuse belief when the evidence is clear is to deny to one's self the possibility of guidance when the evidence is not altogether clear. Let men take the evidence which is clear to them, and act upon it; that is safe for the time, and the rest will become clearer by-and-by. But the case of Simon shows how void is any kind of mere conviction unless it be followed by the corresponding act of will. Simon was convinced, but not converted. The light penetrated his intelligence, but failed to move his heart.—J.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Acts 8:5-8 (Acts 8:5-8)

Samaria evangelized.

I. The STEPPING - STONE to work among the Gentiles . Half heathen.

II. THE PREPARATION FOR CHRIST . The Pentateuch. The false teaching of Simon and others. Mental and moral degradation.

III. A specimen of SPIRITUAL WANT AND PRIVATION . Unclean spirits. Palsied. Lame. The multitudes under the dominion of physical and spiritual disease. Adaptation of the new message to universal humanity.

IV. THE MEANS EMPLOYED . Preaching the Christ. Signs and wonders. The two great facts—a personal Redeemer the object of faith; a Divine power at hand able to lift up the fallen, to subdue the evil, to heal the sick, to change the world.—R.

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Acts 8:5 (Acts 8:5)

Preaching Christ.

The expression here used is a frequent one in the Acts of the Apostles; e.g. " preaching the gospel;" "preached the Word;" "preaching peace by Jesus Christ;" "ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ;" "preaching the Lord Jesus;" "Jesus whom Paul preached;" "according to the preaching of Jesus." The proper idea of preaching is "heralding," "proclaiming," declaring a message; and the old prophets of Judaism were true preachers; so were the angels at Bethlehem, and so was John the Baptist. Philip the evangelist went to Samaria, where there was quite as intense an expectation of the Messiah as could be found among the Jews, and to the Samaritans Philip proclaimed that Messiah, or Christ, had come, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and that his resurrection—which was abundantly proved—was the crowning attestation and proof that he was the Christ, the Son of the Most High God. What is involved and included in "preaching Christ may best be found by the consideration of a few illustrative cases.

1. Christ preached himself to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus; and his points were the necessity for the sufferings of Christ and his subsequent resurrection, and the absolute truth of the Messiahship and Lordship of Christ.

2. Christ's command," Go into all the world," etc., sends us back to the announcement of the angels at Bethlehem; they preached a Savior, not a salvation.

3. The apostles preached Christ at Pentecost, and at the healing of the lame man, and declared Jesus as both having died and risen again, and being exalted with present saving power.

4. Stephen preached, in his defense, the Messiahship and death of the Lord Jesus, closing with a firm declaration that he was risen.

5. Philip preached unto the eunuch, and his subject was Jesus the Key to the prophecies, suffering and triumphant.

6. St. Paul preached to the Philippian jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." The peculiarity of the early preaching evidently was the presentation to men of a personal, living Savior, with whom men may have personal dealings for their full salvation. Then true preaching must present a living Christ to men as having

that the Man Christ Jesus reveals God to man, and man to himself;

II. ON HIS cross. Or, Christ in sacrifice, the Divine Sufferer. This is the mystery of Calvary. A suffering Savior shows:

1. The intensity of sin: its utmost effort crucified him.

2. The helplessness of sin. It did its worst, and was defeated. " It was not possible that he should be holden of it." A suffering Savior:

3. Attracts men. "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." No persuasions can so urge and win men as those that come from the cross where our Sin-bearer died.

4. Removes out of the way the hindrances to our fellowship with God. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."

III. WITH HIS CROWN . Or, Christ in triumph, the Divine King. This is the mystery of Olivet. The kingly Jesus is:

1. The ἄρχηγον , Leader of his people, "the Captain of their salvation," their Bringer-on.

2. The Head and Lord of the new kingdom, " exalted to give repentance and remission." "Head over all things to his Church."

3. The Bestower of the Holy Spirit, which is his present inward agency, himself abiding with us and in us.

So we preach Christ, the Man; the Divine Man; ours, our Brother; and with this preaching we arouse interest in him. We preach Christ, the Sufferer, who draws us to himself in sympathy and love. "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow." We preach Christ the King, and bid you bow down now and submit to his gracious and holy reign.—R.T.

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