The Natural Heart
Acts 8:20-24
But Peter said to him, Your money perish with you, because you have thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.…

In meditating upon the story of the Samaritan impostor, and studying our own depraved nature in it, we may remark —


1. According to some modern teachings, all men have a religious instinct, and worship God in some honest way, which, as He is a kind God, must be acceptable to Him. On analysis, we shall find that this is only either the action of a guilty conscience or of a poetic fancy. In the one case the man has a vague idea of retribution for his sins, and strives in some crude way to appease the offended divinity. In the other, the same disposition of mind which makes the painter and the poet makes the dreamy weaver of cobweb thoughts about the unseen. There is a desire to avert evil, and a blind ceremonial in consequence, or there is a constructive imagination indulging in its exercise.

2. But is this religion? Is this knowing and serving God? Can this satisfy the heart and purify the life? The religion of pagan nations is largely the product of this instinct. Does a comparison of these with Christian nations lead us to covet their condition? The religious instinct is of no higher character than the eating and drinking instinct, as far as true religion is concerned. They are both of the earth, earthy. Men are cut off from God by sin, and they can return only by the use of Divine means.

3. That which Simon brought out into full relief was simply the common character of the natural man. Divine things are treated with low, earthly affections, and, of course, as low, earthly things. Simon in trying to buy God's power was no worse than the many who try to buy God's pardon.

4. The prominent sinners of Scripture are only prominent by reason of their circumstances, not their sin. That is common to all. Pharaoh, Balaam, Doeg, Ananias and Simon are only types raised up high enough for all to see.

II. THAT MAN'S WICKEDNESS BEFORE GOD IS IN THE CONDITION OF HIS HEART. Men posit sin in overt acts, and fail to explore the pollution of their hearts. Our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount endeavours to correct this fatal error, and shows that the seat of murder, etc., is in the heart, and that the sins may there reside when these outward exhibitions are avoided. Simon's desire, not his request, was his sin. God saw the wickedness in his heart. He cannot allow wickedness concealed any more than wickedness in display, and can receive none except as the unholy heart is renewed. This fundamental truth is what the poets and philosophers ignore. They would reform man on the basis of the old evil heart. They would make the outer circles of life pare, and leave the core rotten. If, however, they say that the heart of man is pure, how then did it ever produce such universal impurity in life? But some will say, "We believe the heart must be renewed, but why cannot man renew it himself?" In reply, we say —

III. THAT ONLY GOD'S POWER CAN RENEW THE HEART. When the affections are in the wrong, how can their own influence take them out? Where is the first impetus to come from when that which forms the force of the life is fixed upon evil? Do you take refuge in the thought that there is some element of good in The heart, and that this at last accomplishes the renewal? Then why does it not always accomplish it? Any exceptional case destroys your theory, for Nature always works in the same way. But, besides that, how could the good element in the heart overcome the bad unless it had a majority? And if it had a majority, how came the heart ever to go wrong? No. The evil heart cannot renew itself. God alone can do that. Its condition without God is described as being in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity, wretched and helpless. The bound prisoner cannot loosen himself; another must do it. The conspicuous examples of this truth, such as the drunkard and the gambler vainly striving (in order to save their bodies or their property or their reputation) to stop their excesses, are only specimens of a universal rule.

IV. THAT THE HOPE OF MAN IS IN PRAYER. "'Pray the Lord." The "if" was not a doubt whether God would pardon if Simon prayed, but whether Simon would ever pray. Prayer must have penitence as its spirit. "Repent." It must have a deep conviction of personal sin. Simon seems to have been too far gone to have any such conviction. Hence we find him only afraid. Though Simon apparently did not take the road to pardon and to God, we see in Peter's injunction what the road is. It is prayer to God. The heart needs His forgiving grace. That grace, through Christ's sacrificial death for sin, fills the Divine reservoir, and is ready to be outpoured on every seeking soul. Prayer is that act of faith which makes the connection with this reservoir; the acceptance of the Divine power, which is waiting to be gracious to every sinner.

(H. Crosby, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

WEB: But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!

The Impotence of Money
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