The Advent of the Gospel to Samaria
Acts 8:5-8
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ to them.…

With the history of Philip commences a new stage in the development of the Church. In the first commission to the twelve the glad tidings were restricted to the Jews, to the express exclusion of the Samaritans. This, however, was cancelled in the final commission, and Samaria first and then the whole world were thrown open to the gospel. But the honour of executing this commission, in both its narrowest and widest extent, fell not to an apostle, but to a deacon. Samaria directly, and Africa indirectly, were evangelised by Philip, the forerunner of Paul in his work as Stephen was in his preaching. "Coming events cast their shadows before." The forms of Stephen and Philip, projected on the canvas of sacred history, give us some idea of the gigantic figure in reserve. What moved Philip is not recorded. Perhaps the persecution was specially directed against him, as his name occurs next to Stephen's, and because he was as a Graecized Jew more liberal than his brethren in Palestine. He went down to a (not the) city of Samaria, probably Sebaste or Sychar. The orderliness of the spread of the gospel should be noted. It was to begin from Jerusalem as its centre, and first to permeate Judaea, the province of which Jerusalem was the metropolis, and thence to Samaria, the contiguous province, and thence to the uttermost parts of the earth. Now this collocation of Samaria (between Judaea and the uttermost parts of the earth) is not so much to be understood geographically as morally. The Samaritans were Judaised Gentiles, just as the Hellenists were Gentilised Jews. And it is obvious that Judaised Gentiles might play the same part which Hellenists played — act as a bridge between Judaism and heathenism. The Samaritans were probably purely heathen by extraction, descendants of those with whom Shalmanezer repeopled the desolated country (2 Kings 17.), whose corrupt religion soon found for itself a local habitation and a name. Manasseh, the son of a Jewish high priest, being threatened with expulsion from the priesthood for contracting marriage with a Samaritan lady, permanently sided with them, built a rival temple on Gerizim, and founded a rival priesthood. The Samaritan Bible was a copy of the law of Moses, and that only, showing, however, many alterations of the text. Thus where Moses commands the people to build an altar on Mount Ebal, Gerizim is substituted for Ebal. Thus the Samaritan religion was a spurious and mutilated Judaism. And hence the antipathy of the Jews to them exceeded their antipathy to mere Gentiles. Nothing do men hate more than a caricature of themselves. Accordingly Samaritans were cursed in every synagogue, excluded as witnesses from Jewish courts of justice, and could never become proselytes. These rancorous prejudices were foreign to the Spirit of Christ, and He took every opportunity of counteracting them. But while He forbids all animosity against them, He gave no sanction to their religious claims. It will be seen, therefore, that a strict Jew of the high orthodox school would have had a vast deal of prejudice to surmount in carrying the gospel to Samaria. But Philip did not belong to this school. His circumstances and office would give him wider sympathies than were to be found among Hebrews of the Hebrews. The original diaconate was now broken up, and Philip, the distributor of alms, appears in the new character of evangelist — a striking proof that the wisest plans for Church government must be subject to modifications by the Providence of God. Yet while the form of the early diaconate passed away, its principles remained, and we hear of deacons at Philippi, and of a gift of "helps " at Corinth. A concluding word on the slow development of the ideas which were to form Christendom. The Church had much to learn after Pentecost, which experience and struggle only could teach. The outpouring was not a magical enlightenment on all points of truth, but rather the implantation of a principle of light and love, which was to work out its results according to the laws of the human mind. Placed under the guidance of the Spirit the views of the apostles became gradually clearer and wider. Pentecost did for society what conversion does for the individual. Conversion is a period of warm and lively emotions, but the work of sanctification, so far from being finished, has only begun. Our young strength has to be approved by trial, and our little knowledge to be enlarged by experience. So it was with the early Church.

(Dean Goulburn.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

WEB: Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ.

Success and Disappointment in Christian Work
Top of Page
Top of Page