Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 308 - January 1882
Thus were the Samaritans sealed of the Holy Spirit and made members of Christ in full possession of the church's privileges, no less than the saints at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
The sight of the blessing brought out the true condition of Simon. He was amazed, before the two apostles entered the scene, as he beheld the signs and great deeds of power wrought by Philip. Now that others from among the Samaritans received like power, Satan prompted his unrenewed mind to evil.
"Now Simon, when he saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, offered them money, saying, Give me also this power that, on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive [the] Holy Ghost. But Peter said to him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou thoughtest to obtain the gift of God through money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for thy heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and beseech the Lord if so be the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee, for I see that thou art in gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity. And Simon said in answer, Beseech ye for me with the Lord that none of the things which ye have spoken come upon me " (ver. 18-24).
Undoubtedly there was somewhat to be "seen;" but this does not hinder the truth that the Spirit was being given inwardly, and not merely "gifts," still less only what . men call the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. They however point to the fact that this was through the imposition of the hands of the apostles. But why should not God give the Spirit thus if He please? It is for Him to judge His own best methods; and God, who gave the Spirit at Pentecost without the laying on of hands, was pleased now to honour the apostles as the channel. It is a question of His wisdom as well as sovereignty. For mere bishops to imitate the form without the power is without any basis of truth, and real presumption. Simon saw, in the fact, a means of self-exaltation, perhaps also of gain. Certainly he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power that, on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit." What an insult to God! What is bought with money may naturally be sold for money. But this divine gift, was it to be a matter of traffic among men?
It is a mistake to suppose that Simon wanted the gift for himself. He wished to buy the power of conferring the Holy Spirit upon others. It is very possible, however, that he may not have received the outward gift even for himself; assuredly he was not sealed of the Holy Ghost, which, as we have seen, implies the new birth previously. And Simon manifests not a thought or a feeling in communion with God. He was just a natural man, and a man even debased by all his former ways and character, especially those which profanely abused the name of God. The truth he had heard could never have judged his conscience or reached his heart. It was rather stupefaction in presence of transcendent power, and the keen desire to appropriate this power to his own selfish purposes. He judged, as man habitually does, from himself: not, as the believer does, from God. As money is the great means among men, he supposed it must be so with the apostles. Christ was nothing in his eyes; the rower that eclipsed his own was desirable to obtain at any price. This was all that he conceived of the Holy Spirit; and it proved, in the most conclusive manner, where his own soul was.
Simon's offer filled Peter with indignation, who said to him, "Thy money perish with thee, because thou thoughtest to obtain the gift of God through money." Christ alone is the procuring cause, and they alone who rest on His blood by faith, receive it. The word of Simon betrayed his ruin. He was, as yet, a lost man. There was no real faith and consequently no salvation in his case. Baptism is an admirable sign where there is life and faith; without these, it is a moat solemn aggravation of man's natural guilt and ruin. It is to perish with a Saviour in sight, with sin and God's judgment slighted as well as the Saviour. Simon had no share nor lot in this matter, for his heart was not right before God. This does not mean, in my judgment, a lack of share or lot in the sign-gifts but in the Saviour: the gospel was nothing to him. Had the word of truth reached him, his heart would have been purified by faith, for the grace of God is adequate to save the vilest. But no heart visited by grace could have thought of offering money in order to obtain the power of giving the Holy Spirit. Simon was self-convicted of total strangership to God and His grace. The heart of man, though a baptized man, was as perverse as ever, and had broken out into a more daring sin than was possible before. Outward nearness to grace is of all things the most fatal to him who is not subject to the truth of God.
Yet, as he had taken the place of professing the name of the Lord, Peter calls on him to "repent." Repentance is the clear duty and imperative cell of God for a sinful man. It was always an obligation since the fall; but the gospel, as it sheds a brighter light upon the need, so furnishes the mightiest motives to act upon the heart. " For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life." The highest of duties, then, is to own and honour the Son of God, confessing one's own sins, which brought Him, in divine love, to the cross. On the other hand, he that believes in the Son has everlasting life; whilst he that disobeys the Son, not subject to Him now fully revealed, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
Hence the apostle adds, "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness and beseech the Lord if so be the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee, for I see that thou art in gall of bitterness and in bond of iniquity." That there is grace in God and efficacy in the blood of Christ to meet any wickedness of man is certain. Peter would have never thus exhorted him had pardon been an impossibility. But the answer of Simon clearly shows that, though alarmed. for the moment, there was no sense in his soul of his shameless sin against God and especially against the Holy Spirit; no real reckoning upon grace in God, according to the revelation of Himself in the death of His Son. Peter did not say, "Beseech" God but "the Lord," for in Him and by Him only can God deliver a guilty soul; and now that He has sent His Son, the only sure and adequate way of honouring the Father is in honouring the Son. "He that confesseth the Son hath the Father also." Confessing the Father only, not the Son, neither saves the sinner nor glorifies God. So here Peter calls on hen to beseech the Lord, who is the "way, the truth, and the life." But there was no faith any more than repentance in Simon, who said in answer, "beseech ye (it is emphatic) for me with the Lord, that none of the things which ye have spoken come upon me."
There was confidence, if we can s ο say, in the channels of power. He who had no faith in Christ, confesses his faith in Peter; as millions since have done in saints, angels, or the virgin Mary. This, however, is not really faith but credulity and superstition; for it has no ground, either in the nature of the persons, or in the word of God. Faith in the Lord Jesus has alone a divine resting-place; for God sent Him, His only-begotten Son, into the world that we might live through Him—through none other but Him. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as propitiation for our sins." To all this truly divine and infinite salvation Simon was insensible. But he saw in Peter an instrument of power, without faith in the word he and Philip had preached; and so he entreats the apostles to pray to the Lord for him so that none of the things spoken might befall him. It was future consequences he dreaded, not his present state of ruin and guilt that he felt. Thenceforward, according to scripture he disappears from our sight; and none could wonder if the worst evil came on the impenitent man. But the reticence of Luke did not suit the ecclesiastical historians who to their own shame, detail for their readers, accounts which bear the stamp of fable in honour of Peter. And where is the Lord in all this? Wounded, we may say, as so often, in the house of His friends.
But we have a brief word added as to the two apostles. "They therefore, when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, returned1 to Jerusalem and evangelized2 many villages of the Samaritans" (ver. 25). It was not a mere transient act, as the common text has it, but a continuous work. Their hearts were toward the Lord, who had created in them a right and fervent spirit, and needed no entreaty to spread among small and great the glad tidings of His redemption. The villages of the Samaritans, and many of them, were not beneath the detailed and repeated labours of the apostles.