W. Claude Hall
Acts 8 is unique in that it records two laws of pardon. The first is exemplified in the eunuch’s conversion. This is sometimes called a primary law of obedience.
When one has heard the gospel, has repented of his sins, and has been baptized into Christ, he is then divorced from his sins. The same idea was expressed by Ananias when he said to Saul, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22:16). Every case of forgiveness of sins in the early church indicates that the candidate must hear the word of the Lord, receive it into his heart in faith, and follow its instructions until the climax is reached in becoming a Christian.
After becoming a child of God, one may sin. The guilt of this sin is held against him until the second law of pardon has been applied. This second law is beautifully expressed in the story of Simon, the sorcerer. This man had deceived practically all the people of his community. A long time he had, through legerdemain, necromancy and other sleight of hand performances, deceived the people. He attributed these powers to God. His reputation had grown until the entire population was amazed at his tricks of sorcery. Through his own advertising scheme he had given out that he was a great one. It seems that the entire population was ready to acclaim him as a great power of God, and because of their having been amazed they gave heed to him and obeyed his directions.
At this juncture, Philip, a Christian evangelist, came to the city of Samaria and preached the glad tidings of hope. His power to heal the sick attracted the attention of the community, and they flocked to see these miraculous demonstrations. Simon himself attended these services, possibly to find out whether Philip was an imposter in his own class. Upon concluding that these powers were real, he became interested in the gospel. With the powerful preaching of Philip playing upon the highly-accomplished mind of Simon, his heart was penetrated by the gospel, which power brought conviction.
The Bible tells us that he believed Philip’s preaching. In this of course there was no hypocrisy, nothing deceptive, but a reverent, Christ-like obedience to the gospel; and, of course, as all others who had believed, he was forgiven of all his sins. Philip’s simple gospel teaching produced faith in the heart of Simon, and he thus fell out with sin and loved it not. His penitence brought about a condition of heart which caused him to cease practicing sin, and now the guilt of sin still in his heart needed to be removed. Hence, he was baptized into Christ where remission of sins had been promised (Acts 2:38). He came in contact with the blood of Jesus, hence was forgiven.
Some time after this obedience, we do not know how long, Peter and John, two apostles, were sent from Jerusalem to Samaria, because they had heard of the great success of Philip’s preaching. It was necessary in those days to have special spiritual gifts bestowed upon men so that the church might increase. No one but the apostles were able to bestow these gifts. We gather this truth from the fact that Peter and John distributed supernatural gifts among the church at Samaria soon after they arrived, but Philip did not do so.
Simon, being a member of the church, was present when these special endowments were made. He watched Peter and John as they laid hands on these specially selected men, who were able to perform miracles afterwards. These gifts were necessary because at that time the church had no New Testament which they could follow as we do.
It seems that Simon, as he beheld this marvelous power, reverted to his old desires to be a trickster. He, no doubt, thought this had been the most wonderful demonstration he had ever witnessed. He, therefore, requested Peter to be allowed to participate in this matter. He even went so far as to offer to buy the gift of God with money. This was a great sin. Here we have Simon, a Christian, offering to purchase from one of the apostles of God the power of the Holy Spirit.
Peter became exasperated and, without any temerity whatever, told him,
Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:20-23).
Simon had already obeyed the first law of pardon. Now, with this scathing rebuke, Peter touched his sinful heart, and he sued for pardon. He asked Peter with a contrite spirit to, “Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me” (Acts 8:24).
Some erroneous teaching has been built around this passage because of a misquotation of it. I have heard preachers quote it thus: “Thou art yet in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” This leaves the impression that Simon had not been forgiven. But when one reads the quotation carefully, he discerns that the word yet is not in the text. Peter told Simon that he was in the gall of bitterness at that particular time. He did not mean that he had been in the gall of bitterness all the time, but that his sin of trying to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit had put him in this condition.
The Scriptures teach that Simon heard the gospel, believed it, and was baptized, which, in accordance with the promises of God, made Simon a Christian. To say that he was insincere is adding to God’s word. Afterwards he sinned, and while in this sinful state Peter said, “Thou art in the gall of bitterness.”
This story occurs in the Bible to emphasize the lesson of forgiveness. When a Christian sins, it is not necessary to be baptized again, but he must repent and pray for forgiveness. This is known as the second law of pardon. The story of the eunuch emphasizes the first law of pardon which includes the hearing of the gospel, repenting of sins and being baptized into Christ.
These laws are universal and shall continue to be binding till the end of the Christian age. May we teach them plainly, earnestly and diligently. This is God’s plan and no one will be able to avoid it.