on Acts 8 :15
When they were come down - The very same mode of speaking, in reference to Jerusalem formerly, obtains now in reference to London. The metropolis in both cases is considered as the centre; and all parts, in every direction, no matter how distant, or how situated, are represented as below the metropolis. Hence we so frequently hear of persons going up to Jerusalem: and going down from the same. So in London the people speak of going down to the country; and, in the country, of going up to London. It is necessary to make this remark, lest any person should be led away with the notion that Jerusalem was situated on the highest ground in Palestine. It is a mode of speech which is used to designate a royal or imperial city.
Prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost - It seems evident from this case, that even the most holy deacons, though full of the Holy Ghost themselves, could not confer this heavenly gift on others. This was the prerogative of the apostles, and they were only instruments; but they were those alone by which the Lord chose to work. They prayed and laid their hands on the disciples, and God sent down the gift; so, the blessing came from God by the apostles, and not from the apostles to the people. But for what purpose was the Holy Spirit thus given? Certainly not for the sanctification of the souls of the people: this they had on believing in Christ Jesus; and this the apostles never dispensed. It was the miraculous gifts of the Spirit which were thus communicated: the speaking with different tongues, and those extraordinary qualifications which were necessary for the successful preaching of the Gospel; and doubtless many, if not all, of those on whom the apostles laid their hands, were employed more or less in the public work of the Church.
on Acts 8 :15
Were come down - To Samaria. Jerusalem was generally represented as "up," or "higher" than the rest of the land, Matthew 20:18; John 7:8.
Prayed for them - They sought at the hand of God the extraordinary communications of the Holy Spirit. They did not even pretend to have the power of doing it without the aid of God.
That they might receive the Holy Ghost - The main question here is, what was meant by the Holy Spirit? In Acts 8:20, it is called "the gift of God." The following remarks may make this plain:
(1) It was not that gift of the Holy Spirit by which "the soul is converted," for they had this when they believed, Acts 8:6. Everywhere the conversion of the sinner is traced to his influence. Compare John 1:13.
(2) it was not the ordinary influences of the Spirit by which "the soul is sanctified"; for sanctification is a progressive work, and this was sudden.
(3) it was something that was discernible by "external effects"; for Simon saw Acts 8:18 that this was done by the laying on of hands.
(4) the phrase "the gift of the Holy Spirit," and "the descent of the Holy Spirit," signified not merely his "ordinary" influences in converting sinners, but those "extraordinary" influences that attended the first preaching of the gospel - the power of speaking with new tongues Acts 2, the power of working miracles, etc., Acts 19:6.
(5) this is further clear from the fact that Simon wished to "purchase" this power, evidently to keep up his influence among the people, and to retain his ascendency as a juggler and sorcerer. But surely Simon would not wish to "purchase" the converting and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit; it was the power of working miracles. These things made it clear that by the gift of the Holy Spirit here is meant the power of speaking with new tongues (compare 1 Corinthians 14) and the power of working miracles. And it is further clear that "this" passage should not be adduced in favor of "the rite of confirmation" in the Christian church. For, besides the fact that there are now no "apostles," the thing spoken of here is entirely different from the rite of confirmation. "This" was to confer the extraordinary power of working miracles; "that" is for a different purpose.
If it be asked "why" this power was conferred on the early Christians, it may be replied that it was to furnish striking proof of the truth of the Christian religion; to impress the people, and thus to win them to embrace the gospel. The early church was thus armed with the power of the Holy Spirit; and this extraordinary attestation of God to his message was one cause of the rapid propagation and permanent establishment of the gospel.
on Acts 8 :15
8:15 The Holy Ghost - In his miraculous gifts? Or his sanctifying graces? Probably in both.