From Pentecost onward, the church in Jerusalem made rapid progress, even to the conversion of
a great company of the priests (Acts 6:7). But with the stoning of Stephen, the first
martyr of the cross, there began a great persecution of the church in Jerusalem, driving the
disciples from the city and scattering them throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1)
and even to distant parts (Acts 11:19). "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went
every where preaching the word" (Acts 8:4).
Persecution has never hindered or even retarded the progress of the gospel. Opposition to the preaching of the pure gospel of Christ by the sectarian world is a healthy sign. "Let the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing."
Philip journeyed to Samaria and "preached Christ unto them" (Acts 8:5). The early disciples could not remain in idleness while the world about them lay in ignorance and wickedness. While waiting in Athens for the coming of Silas and Timothy, Paul busied himself preaching the gospel there (Acts 17:16-34). So Philip in Samaria waited not for the cessation of persecution in Jerusalem that he might return there in peace, but began a gospel meeting at once.
We know the Samaritans as a mongrel race of Jewish and Gentile blood, despised by the Jewish ruling class as an inferior people. Their religion was a corrupted form of Judaism. They accepted only the Pentateuch, and that differed much from the Hebrew text. To such a people, Christ Himself had preached (Jn. 4:4-42), and to such a people Philip, the Jew, preached Christ.
We know exactly what Philip preached, as he "preached Christ unto them." He preached "the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12). He preached the gospel, the saving gospel, the only preaching that can save (Rom. 1:16). He proclaimed in substance what Peter proclaimed at Pentecost, and years later to the household of Cornelius (Acts 10). This was the same gospel that was afterward preached by Paul from Damascus, Jerusalem, and Antioch to every part of the ancient world.
The preaching of this gospel will always produce the same gracious and blessed results wherever it is proclaimed, believed, and obeyed. Of the Samaritans, it is said, "And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did" (Acts 8:6). "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12).
To the rule stated above, there are no exceptions. Whenever and wherever the pure gospel of Christ is preached, those who hear it and give heed to it by believing, repenting and being baptized "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38) are saved. Such was true at Pentecost, and such was true in Samaria. Such was also true in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, of Saul of Tarsus, Cornelius, Lydia and her house, the Philippian jailer and his house, and of all others in apostolic days. And such remains true in our day.
God's plan for the salvation of men has not changed. Those who proclaim otherwise than what is plainly set forth in the Scriptures are perverters of the word of God and come under the condemnation stated in Second Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6-8, and Revelation 22:18-19. These are hard words, but they are the words of the unchangeable and eternal God, coming to us through men who "spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."
Philip told the whole story of the Christ — of His pure and matchless life, His vicarious death on the cross to atone for the sins of men who will believe and obey Him, of His triumphant resurrection from the dead, and His glorious ascension to the Father, the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the establishment of the kingdom on that glorious day.
Into the story of the conversion of the Samaritans enters the case of Simon Magus (the magician). The proponents of the doctrine, "Once in grace, always in grace," contend that Simon was not truly converted. If he was not, then no others were, for there is nothing said of the Samaritans generally that is not also said of Simon: 1) The Samaritans believed. So did Simon. 2) The Samaritans were baptized. So was Simon. 3) And something was said of Simon that is said of no other: "...he continued with Philip..." (Acts 8:13).
But when Peter and John came down from Jerusalem to perform a work that Philip, not being an apostle could not do, Simon wanted the power which belonged only to an apostle. He knew from experience the power of money, and sought to buy this power to confer the gift of the Spirit upon others. For this, Peter condemned him (Acts 8:20), saying, "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter..." (Acts 8:21). What matter? The matter which had called Peter and John to Samaria — that the Samaritans should receive the Holy Spirit. The matter of conferring miraculous gifts belonged only to the apostles.
Peter continued in Acts 8:20-21, saying Simon's heart was "not right in the sight of God" because he thought to obtain this special gift of God with money. He then called on Simon to repent and pray for forgiveness. That Simon was penitent is evident from his words to Peter: "Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me" (Acts 8:24). Simon was commanded to do just what every other Christian is commanded to do when he sins and comes again under the righteous condemnation of God — to repent and pray for forgiveness. The advocates of the unconditional, final perseverance of the saints can draw no comfort from the case of Simon Magus of Samaria.