Conversion: The Conversion of the Samaritans
In our last article we studied a case of non-conversion. Two weeks ago we studied the conversion of the three thousand (Acts 2). So this week we would like to invite your attention to the inspired statement of the conversion of the Samaritans. The city of Samaria was located approximately thirty-six miles north of the city of Jerusalem. During the the time when Israel was divided into the ten tribes and the two tribes, into Israel and Judah, Samaria was the capital of Israel. The Samaritans in our Lord's day were of mixed origin. They were not of pure Jewish lineage. They were part Assyrians, and part Jewish. So the Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. So bitter did the Jews feel toward the Samaritans that if they needed to go from Judea to Galilee, rather than pass through Samaria which lay directly between these two provinces, they would cross the Jordan River, go north on the east side of the River, passing through Perea, and then cross the River again to enter Galilee. They did not want to become "contaminated" with those "filthy" Samaritans. But the blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ taught the disciples of the Lord that the Samaritans had as much right to the blessings of the Gospel as did the Jews.
Occasion of Phillip's Preaching
In studying the conversion of the three thousand, we were studying the beginning of the church in the city of Jerusalem. After the disciples had tarried in the city of Jerusalem for a while, seemingly instigated by the plain, hard preaching of Stephen, a great persecution came upon the earth. "And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad through the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him. But Saul laid waste the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women committed them to prison" (Acts 8:1-3). The persecution became so intense in Jerusalem that it became necessary for the disciples to depart from Jerusalem, as we learn from the passages just cited. But when the disciples left Jerusalem, they left to go elsewhere preaching the word. Acts 8:4 says, "They therefore that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word." This persecution made possible the dissemination of truth elsewhere.
It is always unfortunate, disappointing and sad to see it necessary to discontinue services in any locality, whether the discontinuance be due to persecution which necessitates fleeing, or to the disciples taking up residence in another locality. But the departure from Jerusalem actually culminated in the preaching of the truth, and the establishment of churches in many other places. The gospel being preached in Samaria was directly due to the persecutions in Jerusalem.
One of the Jerusalem members of the church who departed was a man by the name of Philip. The Scriptures declare: "Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed unto them the Christ" (Acts 8:5).
Philip preached to these Samaritans the only message that could bring them salvation. He preached unto them "Jesus." There are many preachers in this land who purport to be preaching "Jesus," but actually who do not understand exactly what it means to preach Jesus. Sometimes people criticize certain kinds of preaching and declare that preachers ought just to preach Jesus and say nothing about this or that. It takes the same kind of preaching to save a person now as it did to save the Samaritans. Philip did not travel to Samaria to proclaim a message to these people that was unimportant. What Philip preached was necessary to their salvation.
To preach Jesus is to preach about Jesus, personally. One is not really preaching Jesus who fails to speak of His divine nature, His official character, His sacrificial death, His atonement for our sin, His burial, and His bodily resurrection, His ascension into heaven, His exaltation and intercession, His supreme Lordship, and His judicial return. To eliminate any of these essential facts about Jesus personally is to preach less than what the Bible teaches one should preach about Jesus.
To preach Jesus implies that one must preach the Gospel in it's fulness and finality, as it relates to both saint and sinner. Some people in the church misunderstand the Gospel. They think the Gospel consists only of the commandments necessary to making one a Christian. But the Gospel consists of all Jesus' teaching, both to members of the church, and to those who are not.
In this passage which says that Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed unto them the Christ much more is implied in this preaching than one might suppose. To preach Christ is to preach about Him, but also to preach what He taught. Preaching Christ is as inclusive a term as the cross. In Phil. 3:18, Paul said, "For many walk, of whom I have told you before, and tell you now, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ." To be an enemy of the cross of Christ does not mean that one literally opposes the pieces of wood upon which our Savior died, but to be an enemy of the cross is to be opposed to all that is symbolized by the cross, namely the whole Gospel system. To preach Jesus is to preach all that is contained in the Gospel system, which is what Philip proclaimed to the Samaritans.
We are further told what it means to preach Christ when we read what the Samaritans believed. Faith comes by the presentation of testimony. They believed what Philip preached unto them. So in Acts 8:12, 13 we read: "But when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women." We are here told three things that are included in preaching Christ, and are consequently necessary to one's salvation. Philip preached (1) things concerning the kingdom of God; (2) things concerning the name of Christ; (3) things about baptism. All three of the things that the Scriptures specifically say that Philip preached, men today would have us to minimize or eliminate. To preach about the kingdom is to preach about the church. One is preaching Christ when he preaches about the government, birthdate, law, name, worship, or any other truth the Bible declares about the church. When one teaches that Christ died to buy the church (Acts 20:28), and therefore one can only get the benefits of Christ's death by being in Christ's body, the church, he is preaching Christ.
And when one preached that there is salvation in no other name than Christ's he is preaching Christ. Peter said, "And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The difference between wearing the name of Christ and wearing some man's name, or some name of human origin, is the difference between salvation and damnation.
Another doctrine that this man of God declared to the Samaritans was the commandment of baptism. Philip went to Samaria and preached one thing unto these people. He preached Christ. But when they believed what he preached, they were baptized. Read again Acts 8:12, 13. Now, how did they learn that they should be baptized? It was through the preaching of Christ. Many times Gospel preachers have been told that they should preach Christ and quit preaching so much the commandments of Christ, one of which is baptism. Baptism is a part of preaching Christ. Hence, one might as well urge one to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, but say nothing about it, as to suggest that a preacher preach Christ but say nothing about baptism, for to do either is an impossibility.
The Effect of Philip's Preaching
Before we proceed to notice the actual response to Philip's preaching, let us first notice tha agencies employed in the conversion of these people. God had a part in the conversion of these people. There had never been a person saved, but that was saved through the agencies, or the media through which God works. But God's part in the conversion of the Samaritans was the same as it is in the conversion of every other person. God operated on Cornelius, but through Peter. God operated on the heart of the Eunuch, but through Philip. And in this instance the Holy Spirit is operating or working on the heart of the Samaritans, but the agency of God in this instance is Philip. There is not one single instance in which the terms of pardon are revealed to a sinner but through a preacher of the Gospel, or through study of the word of God. This is in full accordance with Paul's declaration in 1 Cor. 1:21: "For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe." God's agency is preaching.
But just as there has never been a sinner saved without the operation of God's agency, so also has there never been a sinner saved without the agency or function of the sinner being fulfilled. What is the responsibility of the sinner? It is plainly stated in this record of the conversion of the Samaritans. "And Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed unto them the Christ. And the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things spoken by Philip, which they heard, and saw the signs which he did" (Acts 8:5, 6). The agency of the sinner in his own conversion is clearly seen from Peter's words to the Jews gathered on Pentecost. Acts 2:40 reads: "And with many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, Save yourselves from this crooked generation." The responsibility of the sinner is to give heed to the preaching of the word of God. It is not enough just to listen to the words of the preacher, but one must be noble as were those in Berea. In commending the Bereans, Luke said, "Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).
The sinner has the responsibility to give his ear to the preaching of the word of God, One who is so prejudiced or indifferent that he is not willing to listen to the preaching of the Bible cannot be saved. He must "give heed" to the words that are spoken. But this is not enough. One of the troubles with the religious world today is that too many people are willing to let someone else make their decisions for them. They accept as truth anything they are told. It is our constant plea that people search the scriptures daily whether these things be so. I am not trying to hide anything. If what I preach is not the truth, do not obey it, but please inform me wherein it is false in order that I might correct it, and also be saved. But if after investigation, you find it is the truth, believe it and obey it.
How did the conversion of the Samaritans occur? A preacher carried the gospel of Christ unto them (Acts 8:5). They heard his preaching. They gave heed unto it (Acts 8:6). They believed the things preached by Philip (8:12), and believing them, they obeyed the commandments (8:12). They believed what Philip preached about the church, about the name, and about the necessity of their being baptized. Hence they were baptized into the church, and began wearing Christ's name. This action was what saved the Samaritans. These are the same requirements that will save us if we are ever saved.
Truth Magazine XX: 49, pp. 771-773