God had wonderfully owned Philip in his work as an evangelist at Samaria, but he could do no more than an evangelist; there were some peculiar powers reserved to the apostles, for the keeping up of the dignity of their office, and here we have an account of what was done by two of them there—Peter and John. The twelve kept together at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), and thither these good tidings were brought them that Samaria had received the word of God (Acts 8:14), that a great harvest of souls was gathered, and was likely to be gathered in to Christ there. The word of God was not only preached to them, but received by them; they bade it welcome, admitted the light of it, and submitted to the power of it: When they heard it, they sent unto them Peter and John. If Peter had been, as some say he was, the prince of the apostles, he would have sent some of them, or, if he had seen cause, would have gone himself of his own accord; but he was so far from this that he submitted to an order of the house, and, as a servant to the body, went whither they sent him. Two apostles were sent, the two most eminent, to Samaria, 1. To encourage Philip, to assist him, and strengthen his hands. Ministers in a higher station, and that excel in gifts and graces, should contrive how they may be helpful to those in a lower sphere, and contribute to their comfort and usefulness. 2. To carry on the good work that was begun among the people, and, with those heavenly graces that had enriched them, to confer upon them spiritual gifts. Now observe,
I. How they advanced and improved those of them that were sincere. It is said (Acts 8:16), The Holy Ghost was as yet fallen upon none of them, in those extraordinary powers which were conveyed by the descent of the Spirit upon the day of pentecost. They were none of them endued with the gift of tongues, which seems then to have been the most usual immediate effect of the pouring out of the Spirit. See Acts 10:45, 46. This was both an eminent sign to those that believed not, and of excellent service to those that did. This, and other such gifts, they had not, only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and so engaged in him and interested in him, which was necessary to salvation, and in this they had joy and satisfaction (Acts 8:8), though they could not speak with tongues. Those that are indeed given up to Christ, and have experienced the sanctifying influences and operations of the Spirit of grace, have great reason to be thankful, and no reason to complain, though they have not those gifts that are for ornament, and would make them bright. But it is intended that they should go on to the perfection of the present dispensation, for the greater honour of the gospel. We have reason to think that Philip had received these gifts of the Holy Ghost himself, but had not a power to confer them; the apostles must come to do this; and they did it not upon all that were baptized, but upon some of them, and, it should seem, such as were designed for some office in the church, or at least to be eminent active members of it; and upon some of them one gift of the Holy Ghost, and upon others another. See 1 Cor. 12:4, 8; 14:26. Now in order to this, 1. The apostles prayed for them, Acts 8:15. The Spirit is given, not to ourselves only (Luke 11:13), but to others also, in answer to prayer: I will put my Spirit within you (Ezek. 36:27), but I will for this be enquired of, Ezek. 36:37. We may take encouragement from this example in praying to God to give the renewing graces of the Holy Ghost to those whose spiritual welfare we are concerned for—for our children, for our friends, for our ministers. We should pray, and pray earnestly, that they may receive the Holy Ghost; for this includes all blessings. 2. They laid their hands on them, to signify that their prayers were answered, and that the gift of the Holy Ghost was conferred upon them; for, upon the use of this sign, they received the Holy Ghost, and spoke with tongues. The laying on of hands was anciently used in blessing, by those who blessed with authority. Thus the apostles blessed these new converts, ordained some to be ministers, and confirmed others in their Christianity. We cannot now, nor can any, thus give the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; but this may intimate to us that those whom we pray for we should use our endeavours with.
II. How they discovered and discarded him that was a hypocrite among them, and this was Simon Magus; for they knew how to separate between the precious and the vile. Now observe here,
1. The wicked proposal that Simon made, by which his hypocrisy was discovered (Acts 8:18, 19): When he saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given (which should have confirmed his faith in the doctrine of Christ, and increased his veneration for the apostles), it gave him a notion of Christianity as no other than an exalted piece of sorcery, in which he thought himself capable of being equal to the apostles, and therefore offered them money, saying, Give me also this power. He does not desire them to lay their hands on him, that he might receive the Holy Ghost himself (for he did not foresee that any thing was to be got by that), but that they would convey to him a power to bestow the gift upon others. He was ambitious to have the honour of an apostle, but not at all solicitous to have the spirit and disposition of a Christian. He was more desirous to gain honour to himself than to do good to others. Now, in making this motion, (1.) He put a great affront upon the apostles, as if they were mercenary men, would do any thing for money, and loved it as well as he did; whereas they had left what they had, for Christ, so far were they from aiming to make it more-- (2.) He put a great affront upon Christianity, as if the miracles that were wrought for the proof of it were done by magic arts, only of a different nature from what he himself had practised formerly. (3.) He showed that, like Balaam, he aimed at the rewards of divination; for he would not have offered money for this power if he had not hoped to get money by it. (4.) He showed that he had a very high conceit of himself, and that he had never his heart truly humbled. Such a wretch as he had been before his baptism should have asked, like the prodigal, to be made as one of the hired servants. But, as soon as he is admitted into the family, no less a place will serve him than to be one of the stewards of the household, and to be entrusted with a power which Philip himself had not, but the apostles only.
2. The just rejection of his proposal, and the cutting reproof Peter gave him for it, Acts 8:20-23.
(1.) Peter shows him his crime (Acts 8:20): Thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money; and thus, [1.] He had overvalued the wealth of this world, as if it were an equivalent for any thing, and as if, because, as Solomon saith, it answers all things, relating to the life that now is, it would answer all things relating to the other life, and would purchase the pardon of sin, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and eternal life. [2.] He had undervalued the gift of the Holy Ghost and put it upon a level with the common gifts of nature and providence. He thought the power of an apostle might as well be had for a good fee as the advice of a physician or a lawyer, which was the greatest despite that could be done to the Spirit of grace. All the buying and selling of pardons and indulgences in the church of Rome is the product of this same wicked thought, that the gift of God may be purchased with money, when the offer of divine grace so expressly runs, without money and without price.
(2.) He shows him his character, which is inferred from his crime. From every thing that a man says or does amiss we cannot infer that he is a hypocrite in the profession he makes of religion; but this of Simon’s was such a fundamental error as could by no means consist with a state of grace; his offering money (and that got by sorcery too) was an incontestable evidence that he was yet under the power of a worldly and carnal mind, and was yet that natural man which receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them. And therefore Peter tells him plainly, [1.] That his heart was not right in the sight of God, Acts 8:21. “Though thou professest to believe, and art baptized, yet thou art not sincere.” We are as our hearts are; if they be not right, we are wrong; and they are open in the sight of God, who knows them, judges them, and judges of us by them. Our hearts are that which they are in the sight of God, who cannot be deceived; and if they be not right in his sight, whatever our pretensions be, our religion is vain, and will stand us in no stead: our great concern is to approve ourselves to him in our integrity, for otherwise we cheat ourselves into our own ruin. Some refer this particularly to the proposal he made; what he asked is denied him, because his heart is not right in the sight of God in asking it. He does not aim at the glory of God nor the honour of Christ in it, but to make a hand of it for himself; he asks, and has not, because he asks amiss, that he may consume it upon his lusts, and be still thought some great one. [2.] That he is in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity: I perceive that thou art so, Acts 8:23. This is plain dealing, and plain dealing is best when we are dealing about souls and eternity. Simon had got a great name among the people, and of late a good name too among God’s people, and yet Peter here gives him a black character. Note, It is possible for a man to continue under the power of sin, and yet to put on a form of godliness. I perceive it, saith Peter. It was not so much by the spirit of discerning, with which Peter was endued, that he perceived this, as by Simon’s discovery of it in the proposal he made. Note, The disguises of hypocrites many times are soon seen through; the nature of the wolf shows itself notwithstanding the cover of the sheep’s clothing. Now the character here given of Simon is really the character of all wicked people. First, They are in the gall of bitterness—odious to God, as that which is bitter as gall is to us. Sin is an abominable thing, which the Lord hates, and sinners are by it made abominable to him; they are vicious in their own nature. Indwelling sin is a root of bitterness, that bears gall and wormwood, Deut. 29:18. The faculties are corrupted, and the mind embittered against all good, Heb. 12:15. It intimates likewise the pernicious consequences of sin; the end is bitter as wormwood. Secondly, They are in the bond of iniquity—bound over to the judgment of God by the guilt of sin, and bound under the dominion of Satan by the power of sin; led captive by him at his will, and it is a sore bondage, like that in Egypt, making the life bitter.
(3.) He reads him his doom in two things—
[1.] He shall sink with his worldly wealth, which he overvalued: Thy money perish with thee. First, Hereby Peter rejects his offer with the utmost disdain and indignation: “Dost thou think thou canst bribe us to betray our trust, and to put the power we are entrusted with into such unworthy hands? Away with thee and thy money too; we will have nothing to do with either. Get thee behind me, Satan.” When we are tempted with money to do an evil thing, we should see what a perishing thing money is, and scorn to be biassed by it—It is the character of the upright man that he shakes his hands from holding, from touching bribes, Isa. 33:15. Secondly, He warns him of his danger of utter destruction if he continued in this mind: “Thy money will perish and thou wilt lose it, and all that thou canst purchase with it. As meats for the belly and the belly for meats (1 Cor. 6:13), so goods for money and money for goods, but God shall destroy both it and them—they perish in the using; but this is not the worst of it: thou wilt perish with it, and it with thee; and it will be an aggravation of thy ruin, and a heavy load upon thy perishing soul, that thou hadst money, which might have been made to turn to a good account (Luke 16:9), which might have been laid at the apostles’ feet, as a charity, and would have been accepted, but was thrust into their hands as a bribe, and was rejected. Son, remember this.”
[2.] He shall come short of the spiritual blessings which he undervalued (Acts 8:21): “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; thou hast nothing to do with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, thou dost not understand them, thou art excluded from them, hast put a bar in thine own door; thou canst not receive the Holy Ghost thyself, nor power to confer the Holy Ghost upon others, for thy heart is not right in the sight of God, if thou thinkest that Christianity is a trade to live by in this world, and therefore thou hast no part nor lot in the eternal life in the other world which the gospel offers.” Note, First, There are many who profess the Christian religion, and yet have no part nor lot in the matter, no part in Christ (John 13:8), no lot in the heavenly Canaan. Secondly, They are those whose hearts are not right in the sight of God, are not animated by a right spirit, nor guided by a right rule, nor directed to the right end.
(4.) He gives him good counsel, notwithstanding, Acts 8:22. Though he was angry with him, yet he did not abandon him; and, though he would have him see his case to be very bad, yet he would not have him think it desperate; yet now there is hope in Israel. Observe,
[1.] What it is that he advises him to: He must do his first works. First, He must repent,—must see his error and retract it—must change his mind and way—must be humbled and ashamed for what he has done. His repentance must be particular: “Repent of this, own thyself guilty in this, and be sorry for it.” He must lay a load upon himself for it, must not extenuate it, by calling it a mistake, or misguided zeal, but must aggravate it by calling it wickedness, his wickedness, the fruit of his own corruption. Those that have said and done amiss must, as far as they can, unsay it and undo it again by repentance. Secondly, He must pray to God, must pray that God would give him repentance, and pardon upon repentance. Penitents must pray, which implies a desire towards God, and a confidence in Christ. Simon Magus, as great a man as he thinks himself, shall not be courted into the apostles’ communion (how much soever some would think it a reputation to them) upon any other terms than those upon which other sinners are admitted—repentance and prayer.
[2.] What encouragement he gives him to do this: If perhaps the thought of thy heart, this wicked thought of thine, may be forgiven thee. Note, First, There may be a great deal of 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. Secondly, The thought of the heart, though ever so wicked, shall be forgiven, upon our repentance, and not laid to our charge. When Peter here puts a perhaps upon it, the doubt is of the sincerity of his repentance, not of his pardon if his repentance be sincere. If indeed the thought of thy heart may be forgiven, so it may be read. Or it intimates that the greatness of his sin might justly make the pardon doubtful, though the promise of the gospel had put the matter out of doubt, in case he did truly repent: like that (Lam. 3:29), If so be there may be hope.
[3.] Simon’s request to them to pray for him, Acts 8:24. He was startled and put into confusion by that which Peter said, finding that resented thus which he thought would have been embraced with both arms; and he cries out, Pray you to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken come upon me. Here was, First, Something well—that he was affected with the reproof given him, and terrified by the character given of him, enough to make the stoutest heart to tremble; and, this being so, he begged the prayers of the apostles for him, wishing to have an interest in them, who, he believed, had a good interest in heaven. Secondly, Something wanting. He begged of them to pray for him, but did not pray for himself, as he ought to have done; and, in desiring them to pray for him, his concern is more that the judgments he had made himself liable to might be prevented than that his corruptions might be mortified, and his heart, by divine grace, be made right in the sight of God; like Pharaoh, who would have Moses entreat the Lord for him, that he would take away this death only, not that he would take away this sin, this hardness of heart, Exod. 8:8; 10:17. Some think that Peter had denounced some particular judgments against him, as against Ananias and Sapphira, which, upon this submission of his, at the apostle’s intercession, were prevented; or, from what is related, he might infer that some token of God’s wrath would fall upon him, which he thus dreaded and deprecated.
Lastly, Here is the return of the apostles to Jerusalem, when they had finished the business they came about; for as yet they were not to disperse; but, though they came hither to do that work which was peculiar to them as apostles, yet, opportunity offering itself, they applied themselves to that which was common to all gospel ministers. 1. There, in the city of Samaria, they were preachers: They testified the word of the Lord, solemnly attested the truth of the gospel, and confirmed what the other ministers preached. They did not pretend to bring them any thing new, though they were apostles, but bore their testimony to the word of the Lord as they had received it. 2. In their road home they were itinerant preachers; as they passed through many villages of the Samaritans they preached the gospel. Though the congregations there were not so considerable as those in the cities, either for number or figure, yet their souls were as precious, and the apostles did not think it below them to preach the gospel to them. God has a regard to the inhabitants of his villages in Israel (Jdg. 5:11), and so should we.