Philip in Samaria Part 3 of 3
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
The question arises at this point, as to why these people did not immediately receive the Holy Spirit upon their intellectual consent. I have no hard and fast answer. Whether the reason was spiritual or psychological is debatable. The story as it stands reminds us that we have no right to base a system or procedure on one picture given us in the Acts of the Apostles. Here were people believing on Jesus and subsequently receiving the Holy Spirit. There are other pictures where people believing receive the Spirit immediately. We cannot, I repeat, base a system or procedure on any one instance. Our system must be based rather on the whole revelation of the Acts of the Apostles. As in the Gospel stories, we see that Jesus did not fulfill His ministry in the souls of two men in the same way; that there was infinite variety in His method; so in the Acts of the Apostles we see that Christian experience cannot be tabulated and systemized in the case of anyone, for all are different. God fulfills Himself in many ways. The moment in which any theologian, or school of theology attempts to systemize the method of the coming of the Spirit into human lives, in that moment they are excluding a score of His operations and including only one.
Remember too that the first ten chapters of Acts are dealing with a period of transition, from the Jew, to the Samaritan, to the Gentile. God’s pattern for today is given in Acts 10; the sinner hears the gospel, believes, receives the gift of the Spirit, and then is baptized. It is dangerous to base any doctrine or practice only on what is recorded in Acts 1-10. Once you accept Acts 1-10 as a transitional period in God’s plan, with Acts 10 being the climax, the problems are solved.
Now let’s look closely at what happened when the Spirit came to these men in Samaria. Exactly the same thing that happened when the Spirit came to the men in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost. Exactly the same thing that happened when the Spirit came to Cornelius, falling upon him as it did upon those first disciples. Exactly what happened when the Spirit came to Saul of Tarsus? Exactly what happened when the Spirit came to that small group of disciples at Ephesus. Exactly the same thing when the Spirit came into our lives. They were baptized into the one Body of Christ; and that meant membership in the Church; all their resources at the disposal of the Church, all their gifts in the Church were gifts bestowed for their sake, whether they were gifts of the apostles, evangelists, prophets, teachers, or helpers. These people came into the mystic mystery of the one lonely, and indivisible Church of Jesus Christ.
Simon the magician comes before us again after the outpouring of the Spirit. “And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money.” The clause “Simon saw that the Spirit was given” implies there was some external manifestation to signal the coming of the Holy Spirit. Possibly, it was speaking in tongues, though the Scripture does not say so. Seeing what the apostles were capable of accomplishing by the imposition of hands, his professional interest revived. Simon wanted to purchase this power so that he could make money through its use. His attitude was strictly materialistic. The evil request of Simon originated a new word in religious circles—“simony,” which means the attainment of ecclesiastical positions by means of money.
What was the basis of Simon’s ‘faith’? His faith was not in the Word of God, but in the miracles, he saw Philip perform; and there is no indication Simon repented of his sins. He certainly did not believe with all his heart—“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” (Acts 8:37). His faith was like that of the people of Jerusalem who witnessed our Lord’s miracles (John 2:23-25), or even like that of the demons—“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19).
Peter reprimanded Simon for daring to make such a request—“Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost”—and called on him to repent so that he could be forgiven. Apparently, Peter had described some terrible things which would happen to him as a judgment from God, because Simon asked him to pray for him, that nothing of what you have said will come upon me. A sinner who wants the prayers of others, but will not pray for himself is not going to enter God’s kingdom. Simon heard the gospel, saw the miracles, gave a profession of faith in Christ, and was baptized; and yet he was never born again. He was one of Satan’s clever counterfeits; and, had Peter never exposed the wickedness of his heart, Simon would have been accepted as a member of the Samaritan congregation. It is evident that more clemency was shown for Simon than for Ananias and Sapphira.
What did Simon ask for and what did Simon want? It is constantly imagined that he asked for the Holy Spirit, and wanted to buy the Holy Spirit, but the story does not say so. He said to Peter: “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” He did not ask for the Holy Spirit, he asked for the power to bestow Him. The whole city had been under the spell of this man’s sorceries, and here was something he lacked. What he craved was not the power of the Spirit, but the power to bestow the Spirit. The sin was the desire to possess spiritual power for personal gain. Peter’s words to Simon—“Thy money perish with thee”—give every indication that the sorcerer was not a converted man. These were strong words, but Peter wasn’t finished, because he said to Simon, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.” While it is not out of place for believers to repent (see Rev. 2-3), the command to repent is usually given to unbelievers. The fact that Simon was “in the gall of bitterness” and “the bond of iniquity” would indicate that he had never been truly born again. Dear reader, being baptized with water, or going through some other ceremony will not make you a Christian. Simon continued with Philip, not to hear the Word and learn more about Jesus Christ, but to witness the miracles and perhaps to learn how they were done.
Peter and John remained in this city of Samaria preaching the word of the Lord. On their way back to Jerusalem to report their findings, they proclaimed the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. They had fully accepted the mission to the Samaritans as the intention of God and became an evangelist for Christ. The departure to the people of Samaria was a good beginning for the more radical movement to the Gentile world.
I don’t believe we are to judge others, because Christ will judge all men, and He will reveal the true condition of every man’s soul. The fact is, however, if men have not received the Holy Spirit they are not Christ’s own—“If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9).
Judaism never conquered Samaritanism, but the Word of God won in Samaria. So the triumph of the Church must be that of the Word proclaimed in the power of the Spirit.