Simony in the Sanctuary
August 14th, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
SIMONY IN THE SANCTUARY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-14-77 7:30 p.m.
We welcome the vast multitudes who are listening to this service on the radio station of the Southwest, KRLD, and on the radio station, KCBI, of our Center of Biblical Studies. You are listening to the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And the message is entitled Simony in the Sanctuary, Simony in the Church. It is an exposition of the middle part of the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts. And the first part of that we shall read together, and then I shall read the last. We shall read out loud together Acts chapter 8, beginning at verse 9 and continuing through verse 13. Then I will follow it in the conclusion of the word about Simon Magus. Do you have the passage? Acts chapter 8, beginning at verse 9, reading through verse 13; now, all of us out loud together:
But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:
To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying: This man is the great power of God.
And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.
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.
Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
You read so well, instead of my reading it alone, let us follow the story of Simon. Go down to verse 18 through verse 24—chapter 8 now, verse 18 through 24. Now together:
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 my hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
Then answered Simon, and said, Pray to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
This is one of the incidents that happened in the wondrous revival of Philip, the deacon layman, who went down to Samaria. And in a city of Samaria, God blessed his preaching and poured out upon them a marvelous spirit of revival [Acts 8:5-25].
Now, you will be surprised how much and how greatly this man Simon plays in post-aspostolic Christian literature. In the writings of the Apocrypha of the New Testament, and in the writings of the fathers, the church fathers, he plays an unbelievably extensive part. He appears in Justin Martyr’s Apology, in Irenæus’ great work Against Heresies, wherein he is thought to be the founder of Gnosticism. He appears in the Acts of Peter, an apocryphal gospel, and especially in the pseudo-Clementine recognitions and homilies.
Now I am going to read for you some of the chaotic, fantastic fables that appear about this Simon Magus in the literature that immediately followed the writing of the New Testament. He is supposed to have been born at Gitta in Samaria; educated in Alexandria where he picked up the language of mystic Gnosticism from Docethius. He was for a short time, they say, a disciple of John the Baptist. He murdered a boy, that the soul of his victim might become his familiar spirit and give him insight into the future. He carried about with him a prostitute of great beauty by the name of Helena, whom he represented as the incarnation of the wisdom and thought of God and the mother of all angelic orders. He identified himself as the promised Paraclete in the Christ and took the name of Huestan indicating his divine power. He boasted that he could turn himself and others into brute beasts. He boasted that he could cause statues to speak. His life was one of ostentatious luxury. He was accompanied by the two sons of the Syrophoenician woman, Mark 7. After this episode in Acts 8, he went down to Caesarea, and Peter was sent thither by James, pastor of the church in Jerusalem, the Lord’s brother, to confront him and to hold disputations with him on various forms of doctrine. From Caesarea, he made his way to Tyre and Tripolis and thence to Rome, and there was worshiped by his followers. Justin Martyr writes that he saw there an altar dedicated to this Simon Magus.
Peter followed him to Rome, and in the reign of Claudius, the two engaged in doctrinal confrontations in the imperial city. Hyppolytus and Ampotanus write of the extravagant claims of Simon, and even Jerome quotes him as saying “I am the Word of God. I am the Comforter. I am the Almighty. I am all there is of God.” Simon Magus evolved his own trinitarian formula. He revealed himself in Samaria as the Father, Jehovah Almighty. Among the Jews, he revealed himself as the Son; and among the Gentiles, he revealed himself as the Holy Spirit. Withal, Simon is portrayed in post-apostolic literature as the heretic of all heretics.
Eusebius, the great Christian historian, in his Ecclesiastical History, sums it up by declaring Simon Magus—this Simon—to be the author of all heresy. How did he die? One account, found in the Apostolic Constitution, says that he offered to prove his divinity by flying in the air, trusting that the demons would support him; but that through the power of the prayers of Peter, the demons he employed failed him. He fell down, all of his bones were broken, and thereupon he committed suicide. If you ever visited St. Peter’s in Rome, in the Vatican, on the western wall you will see an impressive large painting of Simon Magus falling down to death upon the prayers of Peter.
Another account, this is Irenæus, says that he was buried alive at his own request in order that he might show forth his power by rising on the third day from the dead, and so met his end. Now can you believe that is just somewhat of all that chaotic, fantastic, fabulous fables that these who followed the apostles wrote about this Simon Magus. Well, it is an interesting thing that you have here, and one of it lingers through all of the history of the church. And that gave title to the sermon tonight, Simony, Simony in the Church, named after Simon Magus, who offers to buy the presence of the Holy Spirit with money [Acts 8:18-19].
First of all, we’re going to look at the eclipse of the preaching of Simon Magus. He had a vast influence. Dr. Luke says “over the small and the great” [Acts 8:10]. He had a vast influence over all Samaria. He presented himself as “the great power of God,” and the entire nation was bewitched by him [Acts 8:10-11]. So Philip goes down to Samaria to preach the gospel [Acts 8:5]. And as you read the passage, as we did a moment ago, Philip ignores him. He pays no attention to him whatsoever. He is just there proclaiming the truth of Christ [Acts 8:12]. Now isn’t that a lesson for us? We shouldn’t send out missionaries to argue with infidels. And Christianity is under no obligation to go down to Samaria, there to do a pitched battle with this Simon Magus.
Philip went down there—paid no attention to him whatsoever—and just declared the truth of God in Christ Jesus [Acts 8:12]. I can’t ever forget that the deacons in this church said to me, “Pastor, don’t go down to that radio station and have a debate and a confrontation with that female, [Madeline Murray O’Hare] don’t do it! All she is using you for is a platform just to air the inanities and the idiocies of her perverted mind. Don’t do it.” And I didn’t, except one time. Philip went down to Samaria, paid no attention to Simon Magus at all.
And the record here says that he preached the gospel, and the hand of the Lord was with him. And as he preached Jesus, God visited the Samaritans with a great revival [Acts 8:5-8, 12]. Isn’t that just as it ought to be? His gospel superseded that of Simon Magus. Simon preached himself, presenting himself as that great power of God [Acts 8:9-11], but Philip, this deacon, evangelist layman, just preached Jesus, and Simon was eclipsed by the truth of God revealed in our Lord. That’s always true.
What if the sun up there in the sky should have confrontation with one of these bulbs, one of these artificial light bulbs, and they should discuss who is going to rule the light of the world. It would be unthinkable! All the sun does is just shine! And that little light up there will flicker and finally go out. So it is with the message of the preaching of the Son of God: just declare it, don’t worry about that infidel, and about that agnostic, and about that blasphemer, and about that unbeliever. Just make known the truth of God in the revelation of the Lord in Christ Jesus. And God will bless it, and He will bless you.
Now, we are going to look, in the second place, at the attempt of Simon Magus to come back. Overshadowed and eclipsed as he is by the preaching of Philip [Acts 8:12], he seeks an avenue to come back, in order to regain that bewitching sorcery by which he held all Samaria in the palm of his hand [Acts 8:9-11]. Now when Peter and John come down there from Jerusalem, they pray [Acts 8:14-16]. And as they lay their hands upon the heads of the Samaritans, the fullness, and the unction, and the wonder, and the glory of the Holy Spirit came upon those Samaritans [Acts 8:17]. And when Simon [Magus] looked at it, he was overwhelmed by what he saw!
Simon [Magus], as he watched Peter and John, they waved no magic wand over the people. Nor were [the people] dumbstruck and fall down before the dazzling dignity of these two apostles from Jerusalem, Peter and John. Ah, those two men, they just prayed and laid their hands upon the heads of the Samaritans, and they were infused with the power and wisdom and glory of the presence of the Lord [Acts 8:14-17]. And when Simon Magus saw that, he said, “You know, if I could buy that power, I would have all of these people back in my hands again. And think of the money, money, money, I could make if I just had that power.” So he comes up to Peter, Simon Peter, and to John and says, “I will give you a great sum of money if you will sell to me this power, that on whom I lay my hands, they may receive this gift and presence of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 8:18-19]. That is simony—trying to buy the spiritual power of God. Well, what about that? What about money and what it can buy?
Money has a negative value and that is all. There’s nothing beyond it. Money has only a negative power, that is, if you don’t have money, you don’t have what it takes to buy food and shelter and clothing. But beyond that, money makes no contribution to your life at all! Its only value is negative—that without it, you don’t eat, and you don’t have a place to live, and you don’t have clothing to wear. And beyond that, it makes no contribution to your life.
Money will buy luxuries, but it will not buy spiritual power. Money will buy advancement and preferment, but it will not buy the recognition of God. Money will buy sycophantic fawning favor and accolades, but it will not buy soul respect. Money will buy a library, but it will not buy poetic fire or insight or wisdom. Money can buy a prostitute, but it cannot buy love. Money can buy diamonds, but it cannot buy the sparkle and light in the eye. Money can buy pleasure and entertainment, but it cannot buy happiness. Money can buy a suit, but it cannot buy a physique. Money can buy medicine, but it cannot buy health. Money can buy a house, but it cannot buy a home. Money has value only in a negative sense, and beyond that it has no contribution at all.
So Simon comes, this Magus, before Peter and John and says, “I will give you money. I will give you money if you will give me the spiritual power that on whom I lay my hands, they will receive the Holy Spirit” [Acts 8:18-19]. And that gave birth to a curse in the church that has continued to this present day called “simony”—that is, seeking to buy spiritual power and spiritual preferment with money. Simon Peter was horrified at the offer! And he says, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou has neither part nor lot in this matter: thy heart is not right with God. Repent, lest there come upon thee this bitterness and gall of iniquity” [Acts 8:20-23].
Simony in the church—using money for personal advancement, trafficking in spiritual matters; you see, the church became a part of the state, and state and church were one, beginning with Constantine—the conversion of Constantine. And simony referred to the buying of ecclesiastical office and benefits. A bishop’s office was sold for so much money; an archbishop’s office was sold for so much money; a cardinal’s hat was sold for so much money; and ecclesiastical living in parishes and in monasteries were sold for money—simony. And simony finally gave rise to the Reformation, when they sold, sold, sold all over Europe indulgences in order to get money to build St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. Finally, there arose Martin Luther and Melanchthon and the rest of those reformers who so inveighed against it that they led into the great Protestant Reformation.
Simony, trafficking in spiritual things, doing what you do for money—is such a thing characteristic of us today? I see it on every side. I don’t know of a sin that is more common in the house of God than simony; that is, doing what you do because of what you get out of it. I’m here because I’m hired. “I’m here because I’m paid. I’m here because I’m a member of the staff. I’m doing God’s work for pay and for money. And if I weren’t paid, I wouldn’t be here. And if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t be present.” Isn’t that one of the most terrible of all of the sins that could afflict the church—hirelings serving God at a price, for pay, for what you get out of it. And it is everywhere.
I don’t know of a commoner thing in the ministry than this, that the fellow looks forward to a better church, and a bigger congregation, and a bigger salary, and a bigger fame, and a bigger pulpit, and a bigger name, and live in a bigger house, and drive a bigger car, and be elected to a bigger office. Did you ever hear of a pastor feeling called of God to a little place? I presume there have been instances of that. But I’ve never come across it. Every time I see a young fellow who is being called of God, it’s always the call of God to a bigger church and a bigger pulpit and a bigger place—never to a smaller one; always to a bigger one.
There was a fellow I heard about who was called to a bigger church, and it happened to be at a time when a man came to see him. And he knocked at the door. And the little girl came to the door, and the man, the visitor, said, “I have come to see your father. Where is he?”
And the little girl said, “Why, my father has been called to a big church, and he is upstairs, and he is in his study, praying about it.”
Well, said the man, “Let me talk to your mother. Where is your mother?”
“Well, my mother is downstairs packing up, getting ready to go.”
Universal, universal; it is a sin of the ministry. It is a sin of the staff. It is a sin of the whole Christian world, doing what we do for money. And if I wasn’t paid, I wouldn’t do it. I have been asked ten thousand times, and been castigated for it about that many times, for an announcement that I made that I was going to give back to this church every dime and every penny that they had given me since I have been here. Ah, I never thought anything particularly about that. But the papers picked it up about a month after I made the announcement here in this church.
I was encouraging our people to give to the church to support it, and incidentally said I was going to do that. Then about a month later, the paper picked it up and then it spread all over the world. And, ah, you cannot imagine editorials and letters, open letters published about it. All I had in my mind was this. I hate serving God for pay! I hate staff members that are here just for what they get out of the salary! To me, it is an affront to God, and it is a disgrace to the name of the Lord! I think when we serve God it ought to be out of the deep of our souls, and I’m paid a salary just to keep myself alive. But as for money, serving God for money, it is unthinkable and unspeakable! “Thy money perish with thee, [because] thou hast thought to buy the favor of God for money” [Acts 8:20].
The only reason I would receive money for what I do is, it is a part of what it is for me to buy food and clothes and to keep myself going. I have refused to have a salary raise for the last five or six years in this church. Dean Willis came to see me not long ago, about a week ago, and said, “We’re going to raise your salary. You’ve not had a raise in five or six years.” I said, “Not so, Dean. You’re going to keep it just as it is, just as it is, just as it is.” That’s just something that I have in my heart. And I’m going to give back to this church every penny that the church ever gave to me in all of the years of my ministry here. Why? Just because I want the feeling in my heart that I had when I was a boy!
I remember the first time I ever preached in a church. In the days of the Depression, the chairman of the deacons came up and gave me a ten-dollar bill for preaching in the church. I said, “Sir, I don’t preach for money. I don’t preach for money.”
“Why,” he said, “young fellow, you bought a ticket on the train and came here, and you preached Sunday morning and Sunday night. And this, I’m apologetic to you that it’s just ten dollars. I’m apologizing to you.”
“No,” I said, “I will not take it. I won’t take it. I don’t preach for money.” How in the world I thought I was going to eat and live and have a family, I have no idea, just crazy, just crazy. But I had that in my heart. I don’t preach for money, and you’re not going to give it to me.
Well, when I left, I was the last one to leave. When I left, I took my hat off of the peg out there in the hallway of that little white church. And there stuck down in the outside brim of my hat was that ten-dollar bill. I took it home and I gave it to mother. And I said, “Mother, what in the world am I going to do? This ten dollars was given to me for preaching, and I don’t preach for money.”
And mother said, “Well, son, we’ll just give it to the work and to the church of the Lord.”
I think in my soul that everyone that works in the kingdom of God ought to be somebody who feels called to do it. And that’s why we’re doing it. “God has called me, and here I am. And if this is God’s place for me, whether you pay me or not, I’ll be right there doing it. This is God’s work for me.” You just imagine the power in a church like that. “What I’m doing, I’m doing because God called me to do it.” And then He calls us to support these who work full-time in the vineyard of the Lord.
I have to close. Let me tell you one of the things that happened here in this church. You don’t remember it because I doubt whether I explained what I meant by the introduction. In the years gone by, I was preaching in West Africa, and I was attending a mission. They would use the word “mission” to include all of the people who work in a nation. So we were having a meeting of the mission in one of the cities in West Africa. And I was seated by the secretary of our Foreign Mission Board, Dr. Theron Rankin.
And as I sat there by Dr. Rankin, the executive secretary of our Foreign Mission Board, there stood up a fine looking young doctor to give his report for the year. And as he gave his report, Dr. Rankin said to me, “I want you to take a good look at that young man. I want to tell you about him.” After the service was over and he had made his report and the benediction had been said, why, Dr. Rankin said, “Did you get a good look at that young fellow?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “He was reared in one of the finest families in the eastern United States. And he was trained to be a doctor, and, as he was finishing his medical degree, a brilliant young fellow, he was invited to be a member of a clinic in one of the great cities on the Eastern seaboard at many thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars a year. But,” he said, “in the days of his medical training, he felt called of God to be a missionary. And,” he said, “he came before me and the board, and we appointed him. And you have heard his report just now.”
At that time, the salary of a foreign missionary was one thousand dollars a year—one thousand dollars a year. That brilliant young fellow, the son of one of the finest families in America—trained in his medical work, invited at a fabulous salary to become a part of a world-famous clinic—there in West Africa giving his report, receiving a salary of one thousand dollars a year. Well, as the days passed, he came to America on his furlough and came here to Dallas to see me, and I presented him to you. And when I did, I closed with this word, “Dear people, I don’t feel worthy to stand in his presence.” God’s people are never to be controlled by what do I get out of it? What is it for me, whether it is recognition, or accolade, or election, or preferment, or fame, or notice, or notoriety, or advancement, or money, but when we work for God it is a work of love and devotion; I’m doing what I’m doing because Jesus called me to do it. And if I’m not noticed, I wasn’t doing it for that to begin with; and if I am not elected, I was not serving Him for election; and if I am not preferred and advanced, I was not serving Jesus for preferment or advancement. I was serving Him for the love of God in my soul. He called me to do it.
Oh dear! what a wonderful church would you have if everybody in it—pastor and people and staff—were working for the love of God and leave the rest to Him. And don’t ever worry, He won’t let you down. He will give you twice as much as you ever thought for. Never in my life, the most my father ever made, I think, in his life was about a hundred twenty-five dollars a month—never in my life, in my fondest imagination, would it ever have occurred to me as a little boy growing up in that tiny town, that I would be where I am now. God didn’t let us down. God doesn’t forget us. Trust Him. Give your life to Him. Work for Him. And He will see you through, lift you up, bless you aboundingly, abundantly [John 10:10]. That’s God.
We must sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, to give your life to Jesus; if He calls, would you come and stand by me? A couple to whom the Lord has spoken; a family at whose heart the Spirit knocks; a young man, who has been moved of the presence of Jesus to answer God’s call in his life; a young woman, who feels in her heart the presence of Jesus and hears the whisper, “Come, and follow Me” [Matthew 19:21; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; John 1:43], as God shall lay upon your heart the appeal, make it now. Come now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. “Pastor, I’m joining my heart, and my life, and my hand with you in this dear church, and I’m on the way, I’m on the way.” God bless you as you come. Angels attend you as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.