But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria…
It may be at once allowed that it were difficult to measure with any exactness the amount of moral guilt in Simon Magus. Happily we are not called to do this. That we cannot do it will not hinder our noticing the phenomena of what may well strike upon our own knowledge and our own light as an amazing development of the very obliquity itself of moral or spiritual vision. Confessedly with most various amount and kind of effect does the glory of the natural sun strike on the profusion of the objects of nature. What brilliant effects some of these return! what rich and mellowed effects, others! How do some seem to give out all they have in gratitude's welcome, and others rest in their joy! till, when we come to the range of human life, we can by no means count upon any correspondingly uniform or correspondingly varying responses. Now something within asserts itself greater, more sullen, more given to contradiction and resenting of external force than the coldest granite, the gloomiest yew, the dreariest of scenery. Yet these things within men make no such stubborn and successful fight against a whole world's source of light and heat as they do often against the pure light of truth, the purer light of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the purest and most vitalizing force of light of all - God in the searching gaze of the Holy Spirit. An early type of this religion-blindness of human nature is before us. Wherever the slightest allowance may possibly be made for the individual in whom it is now illustrated so broadly and undisguisedly, there must the indictment press but the more heavily on the state of fallen nature itself. Let us notice respecting this religion-blindness -
I. IN WHAT IT STOOD SELF-CONVICTED.
1. It was in the presence of the greatest power of heaven that could be on earth, and (to begin with) did not stand in awe of it, nor recognized it as a presence to inspire awe. On occasions of far less direct manifestations of the like great power of God, it had been far otherwise with Peter, and often had it been far otherwise with the miscellaneous multitude; and in particular on occasion of a manifestation of strong resemblance to the present - on the day of Pentecost - it was far otherwise with such a multitude. But Simon, a picked man, a taught man, a man acquainted with "mysteries," is not cognizant of high emotions, of deep stirrings of the moral nature, as were they; but stands there still with covered head, with thoughts that run on business, and with a hand ready outstretched to do business!
2. It was in that presence, with moreover the strongest added symptoms that an unwonted holiness attached to it, and yet it was eager and was presumptuous to challenge intrinsic responsibilities in partnership with it. Forwardness to rush into responsibilities of the most sacred kind has always meant but one thing, and rarely enough led to any but one end. And yet the forwardness with which Simon may now be charged was not that of hasty impulse, of youth and its inexperience, of inconsiderate rashness. It has to be credited with a much worse and more ingrained genius. It was a calculating eagerness, an old and far too familiar impulse to be longer justly called impulse at all, the unaffected outcome of a heart indurate with self. This sort can surely no further go than when it intrudes its callous candidature for the most sacred partnership that Heaven itself has to name, nor suspects that it is at all specially to blame in doing so.
3. It was in that presence, and dares to offer money, that with it may be purchased a share of its most sacred prerogative or own nature. The "corruptible things" of "silver and gold" are proposed as an exchange value for the most incorruptible, living Holy Spirit! Once Judas, for the getting of money to himself, volunteers to be the betrayer of Jesus; but in real fact, human insolence of thought dared a higher flight of incredible audacity when it purposed to part with money for the attempted purchase of the gift of the Holy Ghost. Then not the leader of the rebel angels who kept not their first estate, more really affronted the holiness and the majesty and the sovereignty of God, than did Simon in that thought of his heart and word of his lip. In which lay implicit in part, and in part explicit,
(1) the treasonous thought that the sovereign gifts of God could be swayed by human inducement, and
(2) the impious thought that money could avail as the inducement. If there be any eye at all which sees but yet sees not the utter disparity between the symbol that makes the exchange value of one earthly thing against another earthly thing, and Heaven's gift most critical, most; mysterious, most gracious of all gifts, then that eye is color-blind with the worst deprivation, it is emptied of its own proper nature, religious rays have vainly struck upon it, and the light that is in it is darkness - "how great!" Confusion worst confounded is therefore at least one motto of the transaction proposed by Simon; for, fearful as was the degree of it, its darkest condemning lies in the kind of matter in which it exercised itself (Psalm 131:1).
4. It was in that presence, and did not humbly, earnestly pray for a personal experience of its mighty and gracious energy, but only to have the official dignity, the self-exalting dignity, or the literally gainful dignity of being the channel of conducting it to others. What could be more suspicious? What more unnatural? What more hollow, when the question once becomes a question of matter of the highest concernment? How can any man sincerely work for the salvation of another who has never found, never sought his own? How can any man purpose to be the servant of God and of God's Spirit in order to convey spiritual gift and spiritual grace and sanctification to others, if he is not himself in constant and living recipience of the same kind of gifts? Yet many propose this thing unconsciously which Simon proposed in so many most outspoken words. For how often are men glad to think of or even to see the devil cast out of others (Luke 10:20), who have never sought deliverance themselves, and never submitted to the humbling stroke that should break the chain of their own captivity to him! And how many with the lip speak patronizingly of Christianity and pray for the spread of true religion, who never illustrate the possession of it? Confessedly there are some outer things which one may be the means of conveying to others by the mere hand, and as the mere deputy of some original giver; but as certainly the attempt is as impious as it is impossible in other things. The higher you ascend in gift, the more absolute and patent is the inherent impossibility, until, after you have traversed all the ascending realms of mental bestowment and attainments, you reach that realm of pure spirit; crossing over into it, you cease for ever to assume to convey to others, except that "which you have heard... seen... looked upon, and your hand has handled" in the matter "of the Word of life." It might be that the blind man should pray if haply he might find the way to give sight to other blind - though still most strange if he pray not for himself, "Lord, that I might receive my sight." But if the case be that of a man spiritually blind, who prays and with his prayer offers money that he may be the "chosen vessel" for commanding spiritual light to others benighted as yet, yet prays not for spiritual sight himself, you say he is the most benighted of all, blind indeed, and, short of limiting God's power in the gift of repentance and the grace of his pardon thereupon, you say self-stricken, hopelessly blind! And of this there is every dread appearance in the instance of Simon.
II. IN WHAT IT FOUND ITS PREDISPOSING CAUSES.
1. In a long career of profession. Simon's very profession was to make profession. And it was of the very essence of dangerous profession, since it was profession about self. Self was the object as well as the subject. The ill odor in which self-assertion, as a mere individual act, is held is well admitted. But how much worse when this has become habit! worst of all when it has become the bread and livelihood of a man. "Giving out that himself was some great one," sounds the irony of biography. It was all that and more for him.
2. In a professional career that rested on the basis of deception. "Of long time he had bewitched the people with sorceries." Whatever reality there was in the sources from which he derived power to work "sorcery," there was no reality of benefit flowing to a deluded people from his works. When "they all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying; This man is the great power of God," they were "all" the victims of Simon's most purposed and systematic deception. And however much they were to blame, he more by far, who prostituted persuasive powers to mislead and to rob his fellow-creatures, instead of to guide and enrich them. By all this, whatever else, whatever harm he did to others, he was effectually branding his own conscience with a hot iron, and putting out his own inner light.
3. In the habitual recourse to methods which, so far as they were not mere deception, were the result of some sort of league with the powers of evil. Whether this were really so, and if so to what degree it obtained, may be held moot points still; but two things must be said on the subject.
(1) That it is hard to escape the conviction that the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments purport to say so and to give that impression. And
(2) that if it be not proved that in notable periods of mankind's history bad men were permitted to be in some real league with the unseen rowers of evil and darkness, it is not yet disproved. Now, the tampering with the unseen is ever hazardous, the mere familiarity of that kind dangerous; but disastrous in the highest degree it is to enter into relations with such powers. Samson taken of the Philistines (Judges 16:21) is a type, but a very feeble one still, of that enthralled captive.
4. Yet once more, however badly things were looking for Simon, one thing might have stayed the filling up of the full measure of his iniquities - might have stayed the utter extinction of the moral eyesight; namely, if he had kept well within the domain of his darkened self and career, and not tried that worst attempt, to ally his evil unrenounced to the good. Long had he known the pride, the flattery, the intoxicating effect of a large and enthusiastic following. The hour came when he saw all this slipping away from him, and he follows - follows those who once followed him. It is significantly said, that "then," i.e. in the rear, not in the van, "he himself believed also." But it was no "belief with the heart," and none "to righteousness." And every step that he took by the side of Philip, as he "beheld and wondered at the miracles and signs which were done" by him, was a calculating step. He beheld with envious stirrings within; he wondered, and not least, how by any means he might become a sharer of that which he eyed with envy. That moment marked his fall certain. It was the turning-point. This thought filled his sordid ambition, to keep his darkness and get some light to work it to better result. And it was the supreme insult, the last wound to his moral nature.
III. IN WHAT SORT OF CONDITION IT FOUND ITSELF IN THE END.
1. It found for the first part of its reward the most trenchant and unsparing denunciation. This denunciation was just as justice could be, but it was of the severest and most scathing that Scripture records (ver. 20).
2. It brought upon itself uncompromising exposure. The character is weighed and declared wanting. The heart is analyzed and is pronounced "not right." It is brought under "the eye of God" and is ruled wrong by that unerring estimate (vers. 21, 23).
3. It courted the visitation of a humiliating exhortation (ver. 22). Simon had been "baptized," so that, though he might writhe under the spiritual inquisition made of him and this spiritual monition addressed to him, he had put himself where he could not refuse to bear stripes. That his submitting to baptism and his continuing with Philip made some demand on his pride, and would bear some traces of patronizing condescension, is very possible; but none the less has he placed himself where the stripe cannot be evaded.
4. It ended the scene in an unmasked acknowledgment of miserable insincerity. Simon vanishes from our view, unregretted under any circumstances, for we cannot say that he was "not far from the kingdom of God;" but none the less so for the unwelcome echoes of his latest voice left on the ear. No tide of "repentance" stirs him to the depth; no movement of sweet penitence begins to sway to and fro a yielding heart; no manly attitude in him wakens within us a particle of sympathy for an humbled career; no publican's prayer and broken-hearted petition for pity and the extended hand of mercy, "strong to save," part asunder his bloodless lips. All the contrary - a stranger still to his own guilt without a dawning or even dreaming conception of sin's exceeding sinfulness, he can only find it in him to beg with unreal tone and with cowardly simulation that those who have found him out will pray that his sins may not find him out. He would fain ask that they take on themselves the responsibility of praying the hypocrite's prayer, to pray the prayer which it is "an abomination" to pray - that his sins may not be reckoned against him, though unrepented their guilt, unpardoned their aggravation, and unsought any saving shelter for his own soul. Such a prayer never rose accepted; it never rose at all; it never had the wing on which to rise. It must needs drop out of view, as Simon now out of our view, into the uncovenanted, unknown. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: