Acts 8:15
Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:
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(15) Prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost.—The prayer clearly pointed to such a gift of the power of the Spirit as had been bestowed on the Day of Pentecost. It assumed that such gifts had been received by the disciples generally at Jerusalem, and that they were distinct from the new birth of water and the Spirit (John 3:5) which was given through baptism. The Apostles looked on the Samaritans as qualified for that higher gift as well as for admission into the kingdom, and it was given to them, and not to Philip in his subordinate position as an evangelist, to be the channels of communicating it.

8:14-25 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.Were come down - To Samaria. Jerusalem was generally represented as "up," or "higher" than the rest of the land, Matthew 20:18; John 7:8.

Prayed for them - They sought at the hand of God the extraordinary communications of the Holy Spirit. They did not even pretend to have the power of doing it without the aid of God.

That they might receive the Holy Ghost - The main question here is, what was meant by the Holy Spirit? In Acts 8:20, it is called "the gift of God." The following remarks may make this plain:

(1) It was not that gift of the Holy Spirit by which "the soul is converted," for they had this when they believed, Acts 8:6. Everywhere the conversion of the sinner is traced to his influence. Compare John 1:13.

(2) it was not the ordinary influences of the Spirit by which "the soul is sanctified"; for sanctification is a progressive work, and this was sudden.

(3) it was something that was discernible by "external effects"; for Simon saw Acts 8:18 that this was done by the laying on of hands.

(4) the phrase "the gift of the Holy Spirit," and "the descent of the Holy Spirit," signified not merely his "ordinary" influences in converting sinners, but those "extraordinary" influences that attended the first preaching of the gospel - the power of speaking with new tongues Acts 2, the power of working miracles, etc., Acts 19:6.

(5) this is further clear from the fact that Simon wished to "purchase" this power, evidently to keep up his influence among the people, and to retain his ascendency as a juggler and sorcerer. But surely Simon would not wish to "purchase" the converting and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit; it was the power of working miracles. These things made it clear that by the gift of the Holy Spirit here is meant the power of speaking with new tongues (compare 1 Corinthians 14) and the power of working miracles. And it is further clear that "this" passage should not be adduced in favor of "the rite of confirmation" in the Christian church. For, besides the fact that there are now no "apostles," the thing spoken of here is entirely different from the rite of confirmation. "This" was to confer the extraordinary power of working miracles; "that" is for a different purpose.

If it be asked "why" this power was conferred on the early Christians, it may be replied that it was to furnish striking proof of the truth of the Christian religion; to impress the people, and thus to win them to embrace the gospel. The early church was thus armed with the power of the Holy Spirit; and this extraordinary attestation of God to his message was one cause of the rapid propagation and permanent establishment of the gospel.

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" (Tit 3:5-7; 1Co 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 Ac 10:44, where it followed Peter's preaching; and Ac 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. They; Peter and John.

Prayed for them; in this particular they did not pray for all that believed, amongst whom there were several women, Acts 8:12.

That they might receive the Holy Ghost; those extraordinary gifts of tongues, of prophesying of working miracles, &c. See Acts 10:45.

Who when they were come down,.... To the city of Samaria, where Philip was, and these converts dwelt:

prayed for them; for some of them, unto God:

that they might receive the Holy Ghost; the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, as to be able to speak with tongues, to prophesy and work miracles: they might pray for them all, that they might have a larger measure of grace, and more spiritual light and knowledge; and that they might be established in the doctrines of the Gospel, and hold fast the profession of their faith unto the end; but it can hardly be thought that they should pray for them all, both men and women, that they might have the above extraordinary gifts, which were not necessary to them all: and that these are meant by the Holy Ghost is clear from what follows, since he was not yet fallen on any of them, which cannot be understood in any other sense; and seeing it was something visible, which Simon could discern, and therefore cannot mean internal grace, and an increase of that.

Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the {d} Holy Ghost:

(d) Those excellent gifts which are necessary, especially for those that were to be appointed rulers and governors of the Church.

Acts 8:15. οἵτινες: on this form of the relative see Rendall, in loco; Blass however regards it as simply = οἵ, Grammatik, p. 169, cf. Acts 12:10.—καταβάντες, cf. Acts 24:1 (Luke 2:42), Acts 11:2, Acts 21:12; Acts 21:15. Wendt defends the historical character of this journey to Samaria as against Zeller and Overbeck.—προσηύξαντο περὶ: here only with περί; the verb is characteristic of St. Luke, and he alone has the construction used in this verse, cf. Luke 6:28, W.H[217] The exact phrase is found in St. Paul’s Epistles four or five times (and once in Hebrews), but often in LXX, and cf. Bar 1:11; Bar 1:13; 2Ma 1:6; 2Ma 15:14. The laying on of hands, as in Acts 6:7 and Acts 13:3, is here preceded by prayer, see Hooker, Eccles. Pol., v., chap. lxvi., 1–4.—ὅπως λάβωσι Πν. Ἅγιον: the words express the chief and highest object of the Apostles’ visit: it was not only to ascertain the genuineness of the conversions, or to form a connecting link between the Church of Samaria and that of Jerusalem, although such objects might not have been excluded in dealing with an entirely new and strange state of things—the recognition of the Samaritans in a common faith. It has been argued with great force that the expression Holy Spirit is not meant here in its dogmatic Pauline sense; Luke only means to include in it the ecstatic gifts of speaking with tongues and prophecy. This view is held to be supported by ἰδών in Acts 8:18, intimating that outward manifestations which meet the eye must have shown themselves, and by the fact that the same verb, ἐπέπεσε, is used in cases where the results which follow plainly show that the reception of the Holy Ghost meant a manifestation of the outward marvellous signs such as marked the day of Pentecost, Acts 10:44; Acts 10:46, Acts 11:15 (cf. Acts 19:6). In the case of these Samaritans no such signs from heaven had followed their baptism, and the Apostles prayed for a conspicuous divine sanction on the reception of the new converts (Wendt, Zöckler, Holtzmann, and see also Hort, Ecclesia, pp. 54, 55). But even supposing that the reception of the Holy Ghost could be thus limited, the gift of tongues was no mere magical power, but the direct result of a super natural Presence and of a special grace—of that Presence speaking with tongues, prophesyings, and various gifts, 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:14; 1 Corinthians 14:37, were no doubt the outward manifestations, but they could not have been manifested apart from that Presence, and they were outward visible signs or an inward spiritual grace. In a book so marked by the working of the Holy Spirit that it has received the name of the “Gospel of the Spirit” it is difficult to believe that St. Luke can mean to limit the expression λαμβάνειν here and in the following verse to anything less than a bestowal of that divine indwelling of the spirit which makes the Christian the temple of God, and which St. Paul speaks of in the very same terms as a permanent possession, Galatians 3:2, Romans 8:15 (Gore, Church and the Ministry, p. 258). St. Paul’s language, 1 Corinthians 12:30, makes it plain that the advent of the Holy Spirit was not of necessity attested by any peculiar manifestations, nor were these manifestations essential accompaniments of it: “Do all speak with tongues?” he asks, “Are all prophets?” See further on Acts 8:17.

[217] Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in Greek: Critical Text and Notes.

15. who, when they were come down, &c.] It is clear from the whole history that the special gift of the Holy Ghost, bestowed at this period on the Christian converts in various places, was not given except through the Apostles. The case of Ananias, sent by God’s special command to Saul, differs from all others. Peter could promise it (Acts 2:38) to those who should repent and be baptized, but the Samaritan converts whom Philip had made received no share of such powers till the arrival of Peter and John. But the Apostles make it manifest by their prayer that the gift was not theirs either to impart or withhold, but was “of God,” as Peter calls it (Acts 8:20).

Acts 8:15. Προσηύξατο, prayed) In the ministry of the Gospel prayer has not less power than preaching. He therefore who cannot pray, cannot be a perfect minister. For the things of GOD ought to be laid before men, and the things of men ought to be laid before GOD.

Verse 15. - That they might receive the Holy Ghost. Why was it needful that two apostles should come down to Samaria and pray, with laying on of hands, for the newly baptized that they might receive the Holy Ghost? There is no mention of such prayer or such imposition of hands in the case of the first three thousand who were baptized. They were told by St. Peter, "Be baptized every one of you, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38), and they were baptized, and doubtless did receive the Holy Ghost, Neither is there any mention of such things in the case of the subsequent thousands who were baptized at Jerusalem on the apostles' preaching. Why, then, was it so in Samaria? To answer this question, we must observe the difference in the circumstances. The baptisms at Jerusalem were performed by the apostles themselves. The Holy Ghost was given upon their promise and assurance. But in Samaria the preaching and the baptizing were done by the scattered disciples. There was a danger of many independent bodies springing up, owing no allegiance to the apostles, and cemented by no bonds to the mother Church. But Christ's Church was to be one - many members, but one body. The apostolate was to be the governing power of the whole Church, by the will and ordinance of Christ. Hence there was a manifest reason why, when the gospel spread beyond Judaea, these visible spiritual gifts should be given only through the laying on of the apostles' hands, and by the intervention of their prayers. This had a manifest and striking influence in marking and preserving the unity of the Church, and in marking and maintaining the sovereignty of the apostolic rule. For precisely the same reason has the Catholic and Apostolic Church in all ages (Acts 19:5, 6; Hebrews 6:2) maintained the rite of confirmation, "after the example of the holy apostles." Besides the other great benefits connected with it, its influence in binding up in the unity of the Church the numerous parishes of the diocese, instead of letting them become independent congregations, is very great. Observe, too, how prayer and the laying on of hands are tied together. Neither is valid without the other. In this case, as at Pentecost, the extraordinary gift of the Holy Ghost was conferred. In confirmation, now that miracles have ceased, it is the ordinary and invisible grace of the Holy Spirit that is to be looked for. Acts 8:15
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