Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John:…
Between no two things is there a greater contrast. The contrast is a double one — between the natural and supernatural, and between the holy and the sinful. With respect to the first, they are for each other; and therein lies the task of the Church. With respect to the second, they are against each other; and therein lies the danger of the Church. Both the task and the danger are exemplified here.
I. THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD.
1. The extension of the Church in the world.
(1) The words of our departing Lord (Acts 1:8) are the theme of all Church history, as well as that of the first days. The evangelical history of the first thirty-four years of our dispensation conducts us from Nazareth to Jerusalem. The apostolic history of the same number of years leads us from Jerusalem to Rome. The bridge between Jerusalem and the heathen world was Samaria, a field planted by our Lord, whose prophecy of the harvest there (John 4:35-38) was now fulfilled in Philip, driven thither by persecution. The storm destroys flowers, but scatters seeds — a consolation for the Church in every age.
(2) Philip was a guardian of the poor, but the Holy Ghost made him an evangelist. The liberty of the Spirit is not bound by human order. He founded the Mother Church of Missions at Antioch by means of private Christians, and the Church of Rome by men unknown; prisoners brought the gospel to the Goths in Europe. He "bloweth where He listeth."(3) In the days of Jesus, Samaria had been greatly moved; then there arose a sorcerer who won the people. Hunger grasps at any food, for which reason also they accepted the word of salvation. The conversion of the Samaritans was a sign for the Jews (Matthew 21:43), and the apostles understood it well. The spread of the gospel is always a sign of warning. In our days the age of missions has begun anew. May not this be a sign that the word of grace will depart if we esteem it slightly. "Buy," says Luther, "while the market is at your door. Gather in while the weather is blight and fair. Use the word of God's grace while you have it. The Jews had it once; but they lost it, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to Greece; but they lost it, and now they have the Turk. Rome and Italy had it; but they lost it, and now they have the Pope. And you Germans must not think that you will have it for ever; for ingratitude and contempt will not suffer it to remain."
2. The Church preserving its unity in the world. The apostles send Peter and John to sanction the work of Philip, and to incorporate the Christians into the Apostolic Church. The rending of the body of Christ into such a multitude of sects is to be deeply lamented. Unceasingly should we think of the words of Jesus (John 17:12). But a self-conceived, self-made unity, only leads to schism. Unity gives strength, but only true unity — unity in the truth.
3. The testimony of the Church in the world (ver. 15-17). It must not be understood that the baptism of Philip was ineffective, and that laying on of apostolic hands made it so. The action of the Holy Ghost is twofold. He is a Spirit of life and a Spirit of work. He makes us children of God and servants of God. The first work of the Spirit was accomplished through Philip, the second through the apostles. The first is alike in all, the second manifold. God gives various gifts of service, and these are not necessarily and obviously miraculous. The gifts of knowledge, doctrine, guidance, etc., have nothing striking in themselves, and yet they are as much gifts of the Spirit as others. Without the power and blessing of God's Spirit, all our toil and skill are vain; but with that, our work gives evidence to the world that the Church is the possessor of heavenly powers.
II. THE WORLD IN THE CHURCH
1. The gathering of the world into the Church. The net cast into the sea collects all manner of fish. The condition of the Church is necessarily mixed; the wheat and tares must grow together here. When the reapers come at the Judgment, then will the Church be pure. Let us judge not, lest we be judged; but let us see to it that we are the children of God.
2. The spirit of the world in the Church. What is the spirit of the world and the spirit befitting the kingdom of God (Matthew 20:25-28). The world strives to rule, the Christian rejoices to serve; the one wants to be great, the other is willing to be nothing. It was not enough for Simon to be a Christian; he wanted to play the same great part as before his baptism; and to use the powers of the Spirit for the gratification of his self-seeking mind. And yet his sin grew from the corrupt soil of the heart, which is the same in all. Scarcely is the pride of the natural man driven out, when there comes the pride of the spiritual man. And, as Luther says, "the white devil is worse than the black." How hard it is to seek nothing but the favour of God, whatever man's opinion may be.
3. The Church's judgment on that spirit. "Thy money perish with thee" — i.e., all thy arts by which thou thinkest the powers of the Holy Spirit are to be obtained. How marvellous will it appear when, at the Judgment, those now esteemed "great " will be cast out, and the little ones esteemed great (Matthew 7:22, etc.). This judgment we can only escape by a penitent judgment of ourselves.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: