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THE WITNESS OF SIMON MAGUS
Acts viii, 18, 19.
“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the Apostles'
hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay
hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” NHE person here spoken of is Simon Magus, a
sorcerer who lived at Samaria. And the conduct of Simon which is here recorded, has given his name to a sin which was first committed by him, but of which many have been guilty since the days of Simon,—the sin of simony. Simon saw that the Apostles had power to give the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands. And being a man of low and miserable mind, who thought that money was everything and that everything could be bought for money, he proposed to the Apostles to buy this power which they possessed. He offered them money. If the Apostles would and could have sold it Simon would have bought this power. And St. Peter was very angry with him and told him that he and his money should perish together, because he thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money. The power of giving the Holy Spirit to baptized persons is not a matter of trade. The Church of the living God is not a house of merchandize. The Holy Spirit is "the
gift of God.” He is not a mercantile commodity, purchasable for money.
But I do not now intend to speak to you of Simon, or of the sin of simony. Simon is a beacon set up to warn the Church of all ages against a grievous error into which many men may fall. But I speak not now of Simon's error. I produce him rather as the witness for a great truth. There is no such striking evidence as that which is given against a man's will. The testimony of a friend may be suspected. However honest he is, he may be prejudiced; he may see what he wishes to believe rather than what actually is. But the testimony of an enemy is beyond suspicion. His prejudices are all against the truth which he delivers. His evidence is wrung from him against his will. And therefore if a man like Simon teaches us that the Holy Ghost was given, and given by laying on of hands, and that the hands which were laid belonged to Apostles, we cannot doubt such things as these, we cannot hesitate to believe that grace is given in confirmation, or that laying on of hands is the instrument by which grace is given, or that the hands through which it comes are apostolic hands.
These, then, are the three points on which I have now to speak to you. I am about to show you (1) that grace is given in confirmation ; (2) that it is given by laying on of hands; (3) that the persons who can thus communicate the Holy Spirit are bishops or apostles. And remember my witness is Simon. I adduce not the evidence of Simon Peter, the great Apostle and the rock of Christ's Church. I ask not the aid of one who loves and believes the truth. My witness is Simon Magus, the first of heretics, the child of the devil, the man whose heart was not right in the sight of God, and who had neither part nor lot in this matter. You may therefore be quite certain that what I say is truth.
I. First then I say, grace is given in confirmation. This is the first confirmation of which we read in Holy Scripture, unless we say—as we might—that this holy rite was first administered, without the intervention of any human instrument, and by the Holy Spirit Himself, upon the day of Pentecost. This, however, is the first occasion on which we read that hands were laid by Apostles, and that the presence of the Holy Spirit was the immediate and evident result. Philip the deacon had converted some of the Samaritans, and had baptized them. But he could not confirm his converts; he could not bestow on them the Holy Ghost. That this might be done St. Peter and St. John were sent for from Jerusalem, and they came and imparted to the Samaritans the gift of God, the promised Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God.
There cannot be a doubt of this. St. Luke tells us, “ they received the Holy Ghost.” The Apostles first prayed for the Samaritans, “ that they might receive the Holy Ghost.” They desired to impart this gift, and they prayed that they might be enabled to impart it. And then, if we can believe St. Luke, they did impart it. The people on whom they laid their hands “received the Holy Ghost.” If any man will say that they did not, he must say likewise that St. Luke is a false witness, and that the word of God is not the truth. But we ask not the witness of men, or even of God. We have the witness of the devil. Simon Magus, first and chief of heretics, “ saw that the Holy Ghost was given." Simon saw it,-80 we are told,-saw it with his eyes, saw it with his ears. The men who stood before him were evidently moved by powers above nature. The presence of Godhead was manifestly round about them. They spake with tongues, like the men upon the day of Pentecost; they prophesied. The gift was so plain, so open, so eonspicuous that Simon the sorcerer saw it; not of course with spiritual eyes, not with the eye of faith, not with the intuitions of love, for Simon was no saint, but a sinner. But Simon saw it with the flesh, saw it in such a way that even the devils believed in it, and trembled in the courts below, as they knew and felt that the gates of hell were shaking. Nor did Simon see only. He offered money for it. He would have bought this gift if money could have been given for it. So certain was he that the gift was actually given that he would have bought the power of dispensing it. I do not see that stronger evidence than this could possibly be given. Simon was a man of the world, and the only thing for which he cared was influence over the people, as a means of gaining money. By various arts and devices which he had learnt from the powers of evil, he had won for himself a name and great power among the people of Samaria. And now he saw before him a power far greater than his own, which threatened to eclipse his influence and extinguish his authority. And he was so convinced of its reality that he would have bought it,bought it, we may believe, at almost any price. I do not see that any clearer proof could possibly be furnished that grace is given by laying on of hands, or, to use other words, that the Holy Ghost is the special gift of confirmation. I might strengthen the certainty by several quotations from the epistles, in which Apostles speak of confirmation as an unction
from the Holy One, as the sealing of the Spirit, as giving the earnest of our heavenly inheritance. I might refer to the case of the twelve disciples whom St. Paul confirmed at Ephesus, and who spake with tongues and prophesied, being moved immediately by the inspiring influences of the Holy Spirit. But further evidence is superfluous. One good example, one sure witness, is as good as a thousand. And what could be a better instance, what more trusty evidence than this ? Simon the sorcerer, the enemy of truth, the archheretic, the sworn agent and copartner of the Evil Spirit, saw the effects of the Holy Spirit's presence, and was so convinced of the power which inhered in the apostolic office that he came to St. Peter and St. John and offered money, if he might have the power. It is impossible for any man of common sense or right reason to think of this, and not at once allow that the Holy Ghost was given in this first recorded confirmation. And, if in this, in every confirmation.
II. The Holy Ghost is given by laying on of hands. St. Peter and St. John prayed and then laid their hands upon the heads of the disciples. The power of God was the cause. The laying on of hands was the intervening instrument. The descent of the Holy Spirit was the immediate and manifest effect. Simon had no doubt regarding the connection between that which went before and that which followed after. The word of God speaks thus, “When Simon saw that through laying on of the Apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given.” That was what Simon saw. What did he say? “ Give me also this power;" that is, “You have this power; give it also unto me.' But what was this power? He adds, “ that on whomso