John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: October 16

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: October 16

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Philip the Evangelist


Although the apostles remained at Jerusalem, the deacons went away. The consideration already suggested concerning them, with the vehemence with which one of their number had been opposed, and brought to his death, render it probable that all of them were special objects of hostile attention on the part of the Jews; and as the dispersion of the church left no room for the exercise of their distinguishing office, there was no paramount duty to detain them at Jerusalem. Whither they went we do not know, except of one only of their number. This was Philip, whose name is second (after that of Stephen) in the list of the deacons, and whose place is also second in the apostolical record—being in fact the only one of the surviving deacons whose name recurs in it, or of whose labors we have any information.

He went to Samaria, where, although near, he was much safer than he would have been in many more distant places—in Damascus, for instance—for the Jews had no synagogues in Samaria, as they had in many heathen lands; nor had the Sanhedrin any influence or power there. Indeed, any attempt of theirs to exercise authority over any one resident in that territory, would have assuredly been deeply resented and resisted by the Samaritans, and might have led to a popular commotion.

It was not, however, from any prominent regard to his greater safety in Samaria than at other places out of Judea, that Philip made that province the place of his retreat; the hope of being there of service in his Master’s cause, was doubtless a prevailing motive with him. The place to which he went is described as “a city [not the city] of Samaria;” and which we take to have been Shechem or Sychar, and not the city of Samaria itself, which had been rebuilt by Herod, and to which he had given the name of Sebaste, the Greek for “Augustus,” in compliment to his patron, the emperor of that name. This was nominally the metropolis of the province, but Shechem was really the more important place, and the chief seat of the Samaritans. Here our Lord had been in person some four years before; and there can be no doubt that there were many among the inhabitants who retained a lively recollection of that visit, by which, as well as by their comparative freedom from the political prejudices of Judaism, they were in a state of some preparedness for the fuller doctrine which Philip was ready to impart. This evangelist, being, as we have presumed, a Hellenist, would also be comparatively free from those angry feelings towards the Samaritans, which might have deterred a native Jew from going among them. He could not but have known of our Lord’s teaching among them; and this must have seemed to him a sufficient warrant, for offering the Gospel to a people not recognized as within the pale of Judaism; and if he had hesitated, the recollection of our Lord’s express order, just before His ascension, for its general diffusion, must have removed his doubts. This, however, was a point on which the apostles themselves did not see their way clearly; and to Philip may be assigned the distinction of being led by the Spirit to anticipate the conclusions, to which they were all eventually led or driven.

The success of Philip among the Samaritans fully equaled and probably exceeded any expectations he had formed. Very general attention was paid to him; and very many were so deeply impressed by the doctrine he taught, and by the signal miracles of beneficence which he wrought in confirmation of it, that they declared their adhesion to Christ, and received baptism from the hands of the evangelist. Then there was “great joy” in the city; for many of its inhabitants had found that treasure of the soul, for which there was a general craving at that time. Among these converts was a man who had before been held in high reverence by the people of the place. His name was Simon, and he is described as one of those men, partly philosopher and partly charlatan, of whom there were many in that age, who pretended to have, and perhaps, indeed, deluded themselves into the belief that they had, a special intimacy and intercourse with the hidden spiritual world; and who, either by aid of the powers of darkness were enabled to work real wonders in support of their pretensions, or by their acquaintance with secrets of natural science now familiar to us, but then known only to adepts, were enabled to produce effects which astonished the uninstructed, just as the results of electricity or chemistry do still in many places alarm and bewilder the ignorant. This man had been looked up to with awe and reverence by the people as something more than human, his pretensions being favored by the circumstances of the time; for the general excitement in the minds of men, and the prevalent longing for something higher, to which we have frequently had occasion to refer, led the people but too readily to attach themselves to all such persons who affirmed that they had been favored with glimpses of the spiritual world. So we see here again the necessity of miracles—of such miracles as could, from their nature, be subject to no misinterpretation. Simon might here, for instance, do many wonderful things, but he could not heal the sick and dying, and restore strength to the helpless, as Philip did. He could astonish and perplex; Philip also could astonish, but he could do far more—he could, by the beneficent character of all his acts, re-open the springs of gladness in many a forlorn heart, and send thankfulness and joy to many a troubled home. These were practical realities; and no wonder that Simon soon found himself deserted. He therefore seems to have thought that he might maintain his influence better by an adhesion to the new cause, than by any hostility to it. He accordingly presented himself to Philip, declaring his belief in Christ, and was in consequence baptized. How far his belief was sincere, or how far simulated, is not for us to say. We know that he was not spiritually converted; but he may have had an historical belief in all that Philip taught concerning Christ, and may have thought that sufficient. Or it may be that he regarded the works of Philip as the results of an art simply higher than his own, and of secrets to which he had not yet attained; and he expected to be able to gain possession of them by attaching himself to the unsuspicious evangelist.

Now, when the intelligence of this success of Philip in Samaria reached Jerusalem, Peter and John went thither to promote and establish this great work.

It is to be borne in mind, that though the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were shed abroad in the heart of every true convert, the extraordinary gifts, as those of speaking languages not learned, of working miracles, of discerning of spirits, etc., could only be imparted by the apostles, when not spontaneously effused, as on the day of Pentecost, or in the house of Cornelius. These gifts they imparted to such as seemed to them fit to receive them; and in this they could not well be mistaken, as they were endowed with the faculty of “discerning of spirits,” that is, the real spiritual condition of those to whom their attention was directed. This they did by laying their hands upon the heads of the persons for whom they sought these benefits—such being the universal Eastern practice with those who prayed for or invoked blessings upon another. The free Spirit of God was not, however, bound, even by the apostle’s invocation. He still dispersed his gifts severally to every man as He would—bestowing upon him that gift which he was best fitted to receive and exercise for the benefit of the church. Still, unlike the spiritual gifts, with which all true converts were enriched, these were manifest and palpable gifts, and in the eyes of a worldly man like Simon, must have seemed of immensely greater importance and value than those simply spiritual gifts and graces of the Spirit which, although ostensibly a convert, he had not received, and was incapable of appreciating. Seeing, therefore, the extraordinary endowments which followed the imposition of the apostles’ hands, he was greatly astonished. He measured them by his own standard; he regarded them simply as greater adepts than himself, or even Philip, in thaumaturgic arts; and perceiving at a glance how the possession of such a power as that which they exercised, might be made conducive to the objects of his selfish ambition, he thirsted to obtain it. He had not approached near enough to the apostles to understand them thoroughly. Notwithstanding the eclat of his conversion, there was something so mutually repellent between their nature and his, that no intimacy had grown up between them. Had that been the case, he would not have had the hardihood, or have committed the serious mistake, of attempting to bribe the apostles by a sum of money—probably a large sum—to impart their own power to him—not simply the power of speaking with tongues, of working miracles, of prophesying, of discerning of spirits—but the power of conferring those gifts by the imposition of his hands. The audacious atrocity and worldliness of this proposal, struck the apostles with horror and amazement; and Peter gave free utterance to his indignant abhorrence—“Thy money,” he said, “perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.” He added, with becoming severity, that he now perceived that Simon had “no part nor lot in the matter,” and that his “heart was not right with God,” and that he was still, notwithstanding his apparent adhesion to Christ by conversion and baptism, “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” Yet, seeing that Simon seemed appalled at his denunciation, he added, less severely—“Repent, therefore, of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if, perhaps, the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Nothing could more strongly manifest Peter’s estimate of this infamy than the subjunctive form in which he held forth the possibility of pardon. Simon felt this. The proud spirit of the man, the aim of whose life had been to secure the homage of men, stood rebuked before the plain-minded truthfulness of the Galilean fisherman. The philosophy of his life was at fault. Simple high-toned Christian honesty was a phenomenon which he could not well understand; it threw him sharply out of his entire course of thought; and perhaps for that moment he was a better man than he had ever been before, or ever was after. Yet, looking closely, fear seems to have been the paramount impression. He had doubtless heard of the fate of Ananias and Sapphira, and feared that the apostle might inflict on the spot the doom he seemed to denounce; and when relieved from this by the call of repentance, and the reference of his judgment to God, the words he brought himself to utter are less those of contrition for his offence than dread of its punishment—“Pray for me, that none of those things which ye have spoken come upon me.”

The word “simony,” formed from this man’s name, has perpetuated in the church the infamy of his thought, that “the gift of God might be purchased with money.”