Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,Definite Religious Teaching (In St. Lawrence Jewry, to the Association of Head Masters, 11th January, 1907)
What were they doing there? Worshipping—is the answer which used to be made; holding the primitive Divine service out of which have grown our liturgies. The unlikeliness of this answer does not need drawing out. We shall most of us agree that the meetings of the groups of Christians in the Temple's cloister must have been for conference on the affairs of the community on some few occasions, on most occasions for instruction.
The scene can be reproduced with ease and with much assurance that our reproduction is correct. A visitor to the Eastern Mediterranean, when he traverses the court of a university or loiters in the vestibule of a mosque, and sees a cluster of scholars seated on the ground round the little platform of a teacher, and echoing after him the texts which the instructor drones out to them, can feel sure, in lands where the outward course of life seems not subject to fashions or development, that the scene before him is a sound interpreter of the scene of Christians met with one accord in Solomon's porch. It is worth while to summon up to the eye, if we may, the spectacle of a Peter, a John, a Thomas, each with his score of listening faces in the rich dusk of the famed portico, because in looking on this we are looking on the beginnings of the Christian school.
I. Peter's teaching was, in whatever degree dogmatic, certainly practical. In his speech at Pentecost, the dogma (as perhaps we may call it) of the Resurrection, 'This Jesus did God raise up,' has its practical result on the fate of men at once enforced: 'He hath poured forth this which we see and hear'; and the hearers are called on to connect their fate with it: 'Repent... be baptised... and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost'. 'Save yourselves from this crooked generation' So it is with the dogmatic teaching in Solomon's porch, his object-lesson of the lame man at his side 'walking and leaping and praising God'; it is at once applied: 'Repent ye... that your sins may he blotted out... that He may send the Christ'. So is it in the house of Cornelius: 'Can any man forbid the water that those should not be baptised which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?' That is, the practical event of union with God in Christ has happened to them, therefore they are in the faith; their doctrinal position is true and adequate; give them the official seal of it.
II. Shall not we do well if, instead of thinking first and last of doctrine, we think first and last of human fate? If, like Peter, we teach the doctrine, or fact from which the doctrine flows, not as itself, not as a proposition setting forth a particular event in the life of the universe or a general law in the world of things, but as a fact in the life of our scholar, a law which will be illustrated by his personal destiny?
All of us must desire to make known in our classes a Christ Who is in the heart: Who, whatever heavens must receive Him since His Passion, must, if He be a Christ, abide with us all the days and abide in each.
III. Then the method, Peter's method, can it also be ours? It can be, and no other can, if we are to do something more than teach a subject, are to convey a faith. We may expound the doctrine, as we must, in the terms of human fate and human will, illustrate it from human experience, and fire it with the zest of a man's interest in what happens to the man. But we cannot thus expound, illustrate, and fire our lesson by any other art than that which Peter used in the school of Solomon's porch. We also must be the thing we teach, have the faith within us which we communicate, believe ourselves the lesson we read to our class. It is not our lucidity as teacher, but our force as believer, which will write the record on the fleshy tables of their hearts.
—J. Huntley Skrine, Sermons to Pastors and Masters, p. 47.
I. A man's shadow is the result of his position with regard to the sun. Its length and its sort depend on where he stands in relationship to the shining rays. Similarly the influence of a man's character is entirely conditioned by his relationship to the Son of righteousness. What I am toward Jesus Christ determines also what I am toward men, for relationship with Him controls the quality of my entire life. And just as in the sunlight a shadow is silently cast without the putting forth of any effort and is often quite unnoticed by the man of whom it is cast, so in the nature of the case is our unconscious influence. It is silent, effortless, and unavoidable, and falls either this way or that upon all who are in our pathway. It is therefore not a matter of option but of compulsion that we who are professed disciples of the Lord should lay to heart this fact and should seek that our lives in their unconscious outgoing may at all times minister to His glory.
II. It is of great importance that we bear in mind that while the Gospel of Christ calls us into personal relationship with Him, it is a relationship which nevertheless has social consequences. We must remember that while His blessing begins with us it by no means ends with us, for 'no man liveth unto himself'. We must recognise that while we are units in the kingdom of God, we are nevertheless joined to an innumerable company of similar units, and that our influence is for ever spreading, just as leaven spreads in a lump. This fact affords us at least a partial interpretation of much that is otherwise inexplicable in life, for God is always ordering our lives with a view to making their shadows helpful to others. It is not, for instance, merely that we may ourselves learn some lesson of faith and trust, or be purified in some needed measure, that we are put into the furnace of pain. It is also that our attitude of surrender and submission of love and of glad trust shall be seen of those who behold us. It is to make our shadow reach to some who need just its ministry. These experiences, whatever their nature, are all directed toward bringing us into closer fellowship with Him, that is into such new relationship with the Sun as shall cause our shadow to be a blessing to those who are always watching us and are forming their conception of Christ from our lives. It is true that in a certain sense our lives, like His own, are vicarious in character. Our sufferings mean eventually a longer shadow; and a longer shadow means fuller blessing for other lives.
—J. Stuart Holden, The Pre-Eminent Lord, p. 81.
References.—V. 20.—Bishop Talbot, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 27. Archbishop Alexander, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 41. V. 28.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 133. V. 30, 31.—Bishop Browne, Sermons on the Atonement, p. 85.
The Prince and His Saving Gifts
I. Peter's words cast an instructive sidelight upon the motives which rule the order of the heavenly world. The Father governs it in pity to His rebellious people, and the invisible, no less than the visible, spheres above us distil blessing upon a thankless race. The Father expresses at once His own compassion towards a rebellious people, and answers to the unfathomed deeps in the soul of His Son, by making Him the crowned servant of the human race which had despised and rejected Him. It was to help men, even the rebellious also, that He was uplifted to His throne, as well as to His cross.
II. Simon Peter's words give us a new sense of the beneficence of Christ's character. When he described Jesus as exalted for the express purpose of drawing men by His princely gifts to a better mind and a nobler destiny, he bears his testimony to the infinite unselfishness of Jesus. The superstitions of the human race everywhere express a low judgment of human character, and show that in the past no such ideal of forgiveness as this had ever been dreamed.
III. In virtue of what new power and authority does the exalted Prince bestow this gift? By redeeming men and standing as their representative at the right hand of God. He opened for Himself fresh avenues of access to the human conscience. He has been invested with authority to send and direct the Spirit who brings to men new light, new energy, new persuasion, new demonstrations of the eternal righteousness, and a new sense of sin. He can now reinforce the moral sensibilities from within, and so make repentance possible to the most obdurate.
IV. Repentance ushers in the remission of sins, for it is a law of this mediatorial grace that a second gift lies hidden within the first. Repentance is as surely linked with remission as stars in the same constellation are bound together and co-ordinate. Repentance and the Divine forgiveness are immutably paired. It is true a man may forfeit the first gift by wilful neglect; but so long as he keeps it he has an earnest of the second. This faithful pitying Prince cannot lead men into a sorrow which has no happy issue.
V. The fact that repentance is the gift of the exalted Saviour should give us a wholesome confidence in the better dispositions which arise within us. We must surrender ourselves bravely to the new impulses He creates. Till we reflect that there is something better than our own wisdom and virtue beneath the relentings which visit us in our more thoughtful hours, we cannot do this. If the gifts of repentance and remission can be lightly snatched away from us, the very motive of the exalted estate to which Jesus has been upraised suffers defeat. The forces of the Supreme King are with the penitent in His struggle toward better things.
Reference.—V. 31.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1301.
The Witnessing Spirit
I. The Subject-matter of the Witnessing.—'These things.' The Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ (vv. 30, 31). We of today are called not so much to testify of the facts as of the great truths they teach and prove—the completed atonement for human sin, the vindication of the dignity and power of Christ and of His exaltation as the Divine Prophet Priest, and King.
II. The Character of the Witnessing.—It is twofold—human and Divine. 'We—and also the Holy Ghost whom God hath given to them that obey Him.' Human testimony is defective. But when the Divine Spirit is joined to the human, when the evidence is the testimony of the Spirit in and through man, it is unmistakable. (1) The spirit inspires the witness with boldness. The spirit strengthens our natural faculties, so that we apprehend truth clearly, and believe and hold it with a certainty and power that nothing can shake. (2) The Spirit inspires the witness with humility. The spirit guards us from all boastful parade, and endows us with the meekness of wisdom. (3) The Spirit imparts to the witness sanctified common sense. Thus we are taught when and how to witness, whether by speech or silent action—to choose the time, the place, the manner. (4) The Spirit again gives continuity to the witnessing. The Spirit takes care that the succession of witnesses for Christ is unbroken.
Application.—(1) We are prompted to the duty of witnessing for Christ by the instinct of self-preservation. (2) By gratitude. (3) By the love we bear to Christ, and our ardent desire that others should love Him.
—G. Barlow, The Preachers Magazine, vol. v. p. 225.
References.—V. 34.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 33. V. 37.—C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 76. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 93. V. 38, 39.—G. F. Pentecost, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 139. G. MacKenzie, ibid. vol. 1. p. 170. F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 61. P. M'Adam Muir, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 205. V. 39.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 395. V. 42.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 369. C. M. Betts, Eight Sermons, p. 85. VI. 1.—F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 73. VI. 4.—G. Bladon, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 2. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 278. VI. 5.—G. A. Smith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. p. 24. VI. 6.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 391. VI. 7.—J. B. Meharry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 329. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 802. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 270. VI. 9.—A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. ii. p. 404. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 448; ibid. vol. v. p. 412; ibid. vol. vi. p. 379. VI. 10-12.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 91. VI. 13.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 382. VI. 14.—Ibid. vol. x. p. 395.
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.
And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.
And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)
Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.
There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,
And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,
Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.
And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,
Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.
Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.
Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.
Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,
Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.
For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.
And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.