Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
In God’s providence, two prominent men heard the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ as it was proclaimed by Philip the evangelist. One of them, Simon the sorcerer, was an influential man in Samaria, who had bewitched the people and made himself out to be some great one. The other man was a eunuch of great authority, having charge over all the treasure of Candace, queen of Ethiopia. Both men made a profession of faith in Jesus and both were baptized; but only one of them was a true child of God. While God’s grace gripped the heart of the eunuch, the sorcerer remained in the bond of iniquity. Born from above, the eunuch sought after Christ and found Him; Simon, however, was a natural man, driven only by selfish ambition.
In one sense, we are all like Simon the sorcerer because we all have the old man of sin. But, by God’s grace, we are also like the eunuch, because God has given us the new man and has begun to renew us in the image of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we see a struggle between the old man of sin and the new man in Christ. When we see the old man acting out of selfish motives, our calling is to repent of our wickedness and turn to Christ for forgiveness. On the other hand, when we see in ourselves a rejoicing in Jesus Christ for our righteousness, we ought to give thanks to God for His gracious salvation.
Although the gospel seed is spread in different soils and even appears to sprout, only those whose hearts God has sovereignly plowed will receive the word and bear fruit. The reprobate will bear the fruit of bitterness. The elect of God, redeemed by grace and regenerated by the Spirit of Christ, will bear the fruit of rejoicing.
Before we can receive the gospel seed, God must prepare the soil of our hearts. That is because, by nature, we hate the things of the kingdom of God. By nature, we want only to fulfill the lusts of the flesh. We want the glory, riches, and pleasures this world has to offer. By ourselves, we never could bear any fruit unto God. The sovereign Christ alone is able to prepare the soil of the heart in which the gospel seed bears fruit. The heart of Simon the sorcerer was left to itself, while the heart of the Ethiopian eunuch was plowed and prepared by God.
Contrary to Arminian theology, God does not give grace to every heart that hears the gospel message. Simon the sorcerer is a case in point. Although some of his actions might be interpreted positively, in light of his whole testimony they indicate that the world still had a grip on his heart. True, Simon took an interest in Philip’s ministry; but it seems that was because of the miracles that Philip performed as well as the fact that many of the Samaritans were following Philip. If we had to make a classification, Simon seems to fit the category of a thorny-soil hearer: the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choked the gospel seed in his heart, even as he professed his faith and followed after Philip.
But when God sovereignly works salvation in us, He prepares our hearts to receive the word, just as the Ethiopian eunuch received the word.
The first sign that God was preparing the eunuch’s heart was his trip to Jerusalem. He did not come to seek after earthly riches; he already had great earthly riches, as evidenced by his position. Rather, he came to worship God (cf.). Such was his interest in the things of God, that on his way back to Ethiopia he wanted to read the Scriptures. When Philip found him on the road to Gaza, the eunuch was reading aloud from the book of Isaiah (cf. Acts 8:30). His interest in the things of God is evidence that Jesus Christ was working in his heart.
Do you and I have such an interest in the things of God? Have our hearts been softened by the plowing of the sovereign Lord? When we recognize the rocky soil of our hearts and the thorns that choke spiritual growth, do we repent and seek forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ? Do we want to know more of the free gift of salvation in Christ? Do we want to know about Him who was led as a sacrificial “sheep to the slaughter” to satisfy God’s justice for our sins? Do we want to learn about the Savior who was silent at His trial, like “a lamb dumb before his shearer” (cf.)? That kind of interest in the things of God points to the work of the sovereign Savior plowing up the soil of our hearts, giving us a hunger and thirst after the righteousness of Christ.
If the sovereign Lord has plowed our hearts and caused the gospel seed to be scattered there, He will also cause those seeds to spring up and bear fruit.
When the seed came to Simon the sorcerer and to the Ethiopian eunuch, it seemed to spring up in both of them, giving the impression that they might bear spiritual fruit. Both of them essentially professed, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior.” Both of them received the sign of baptism, which points to the washing away of sins in the blood of Jesus Christ. Both of them joined the church; but one of them had “neither part nor lot” in the matter of salvation (cf.).
How necessary, then, that we be sure our profession of faith is not merely acting out the motions of a formal religion. The fruit that Simon and the eunuch bore gives testimony to the condition of their hearts. Simon, on the one hand, showed himself to be an unbelieving child of the devil. The eunuch showed himself to be a regenerated child of God.
If our faith in Jesus Christ is a true faith, we will rejoice, and not in a salvation that we can earn. Nor in a salvation we can pay for. But in the full and free salvation that is ours by grace alone.
It is true, the text says, “Then Simon himself believed also” (). But, saying he “believed” does not mean he was saved. James tells us, “The devils also believe, and tremble” ( ). A careful reading shows that Simon’s faith was based upon the miracles that had so amazed him. We know that his faith was false because he thought the gift of God could be purchased with money. He saw Peter laying hands upon the saints so that they received the special gift of the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. When Simon offered Peter money so that he could do likewise, Peter responded, “Thy money perish with thee.” Simon’s proposal opened a window into his heart and showed that he didn’t know what salvation by grace was all about. Why did Simon make a profession of faith? Why was he baptized? For selfish reasons: likely he wanted to salvage the power and prestige he once had among the Samaritans.
Many hypocrites make a profession of their faith in Christ only because it provides some tangible benefit. Maybe it keeps the family from disowning them, or furthers their chances of marrying the man or woman of their dreams. Perhaps it brings a certain level of respectability, or makes good business sense. There are any number of reasons for a false profession.
The eunuch, on the other hand, was not trying to salvage his career. He wasn’t looking for earthly riches and power. God had already prepared his heart and showed him his sins and sinfulness. By a work of God’s grace, he saw his need of salvation and was looking for a Savior. When God works His work of grace in our hearts, He will cause us to hunger and thirst for salvation.
Significantly, the eunuch was reading a passage in the book of Isaiah that begins this way:
Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider ().
The eunuch was reading because he had keen interest in knowing about the Servant of Jehovah, who would deal prudently and sprinkle many nations so as to cleanse them and save them. As he continued, he came upon the portion quoted in: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.” Providentially directed by God, Philip approached the chariot just at that time and asked, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” To which the eunuch replied, “How can I except some man should guide me?” ( ). Oh, how the eunuch wanted to understand the gospel message!
Beginning at that very passage, Philip showed the eunuch the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus was that sacrificial Sheep led away to be slaughtered at the cross. Jesus was that Lamb silent before His shearer, in love willingly giving Himself over to the suffering that awaited Him. Jesus is the One who humbled Himself to the utter injustice of the cross in order to satisfy God’s justice for us. What glorious news to the eunuch: There is salvation in Jesus Christ! With that, the eunuch spied some water and wanted immediately to receive the sign that pictures the washing away of sins by the precious blood of Jesus. When the eunuch was baptized, Philip disappeared, and the Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing.
What a contrast with Simon who remained in the gall of bitterness, still in bondage to sin and to Satan! While the eunuch rejoiced in forgiveness, it seems that Simon wanted nothing to do with it. Peter called upon him to repent and pray to God “if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” But Simon refused to pray for himself, instead saying to Peter and John, “Pray ye for me.” Simon remained in bondage.
The explanation for the difference between the eunuch and the sorcerer is to be found in Christ’s work of softening the heart of one and hardening the heart of the other. Do we see our sins and sinfulness? Do we see our desperate need of a Savior? Do we see the Lamb whose body was broken and blood poured out for us? That is the inevitable fruit of the work of Christ in our hearts. He not only plows the heart; He also plants the seed and waters it and causes it to bear fruit. When Christ works in our hearts, we will seek for and find all our salvation in Him. And doing so, we will go on our way rejoicing.
Is Jesus Christ our rejoicing? May God grant us to see this glorious fruit of Christ’s work in our hearts.