The congregation of believers was one in heart and soul. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they owned.
I. SOCIAL UNITY. It rested on a common faith, a common ideal, a common sentiment. Union with God is the only basis of human social union. Here, from the depths of the spirit-life, this principle was for a brief space brought to light. What was then made visible fact is constantly the invisible fact and ground of the spiritual kingdom.
II. ITS EXPRESSION. The abolition of property. Property is the most tenacious of institutions, because it is the product and the insurance of the person, the individual, the self of each man. Were the self-life, whose instinct is centrifugal and separates us from the commonalty, suspended, in that moment property must cease. For then the centripetal instinct, or love, must exert its force unfettered. This was what took place under the high tide of the Spirit's life in Jerusalem. Men forgot the peculiar in themselves, knew and felt only the universal. One heart, one soul; the ideal of heroes, patriots, philanthropists, was for a fleeting period realized. The magnet of the Name that reconciles drew all wills to itself. Necessarily there was an extraordinary access of power to individuals, for they drank of the very central source of all power; as we are weak who think self-interestedly and unsympathetically. And joy must accompany this entire emancipation of the spirit from the fetters of self. Nor could there be that sense of indigence which makes us ashamed and cramps our energies. All is for each, as each is for all. Self-sacrifice is the last test of love, its only infrangible proof. When the pain of self-sacrifice ceases, there the triumph of love is complete. And in the pouring of men's once private property at the apostles' feet, was the illustrious evidence of the conquest of the Prince of life over the human heart. As if to clench the argument, the special instance of Joseph's sale of his field is given. There is art in this. One such definite fact suggests a multitude of others to the imagination. Christian ethics simply teach that the inducement to work for wealth is the power for social good. Whenever this is seen to be the theory of wealth acted on in our society, it will be evidence of a new stirring of Divine love in its heart. - J.
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(T. H. Leary, D. C. L.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. GOD'S VOICE ASSURES US THAT "IT IS NOT GOOD THAT THE MAN SHOULD BE ALONE": and knit into the very stuff of our personality is the instinctive dread of loneliness and the craving after intercourse with our fellow-men. We know that it is only in fellowship with others that the life which belongs to us as men can find its essential exercise and development. Conscience, justice, sympathy, honour, pity, love: these are but a few of the words whose whole wealth of meaning lies in a man's dealings with his fellow-men. Every principle of morality, every safeguard of reason, every canon of taste, depends for its significance, if not for its sanction, on our position as members of a great community: and it was by a true and deep insight that the Greek declared that he who would live in solitude must be either more or less than man. The social instinct is astir in the very act of self-consciousness: and I would show something of the reality of the satisfaction which is offered to it in the Church of Christ — God's answer to the needs of man.
II. THERE ARE TWO WAYS IN WHICH WE MAY MEASURE THE ADEQUACY OF ANY COMMUNION AND FELLOWSHIP INTO WHICH WE ARE INVITED. Sympathy lives, so to speak, in two dimensions: breadth and depth: and we may call it great either for the extent which it can cover, or for the inner depths which it can reach. So, too, it may be cramped and narrow, either because it moves within a scanty range, or else because its diffuse activity hardly goes below the surface of life. And in correspondence with these two measurements of sympathy, there are two distinct ways in which the desire for communion may seek and seem to find its satisfaction without reference to Christianity.
1. On the one hand we may find an almost infinite scope for sympathy and fellowship, if we share or understand the wants and hopes and aims of our generation, and so bear our part in its corporate action. Probably there never was an age which offered wider range. more varied opportunity, more hopeful schemes for such an exercise and development of the social instinct. Whatever help we have to give, we can pass at once into commerce with hundreds of our fellow-men. Whether the feelings with which we go out into the world are mainly benevolent, political, or scientific, we are at once admitted to a tract of interest and work in which the social instinct moves without the fear of limitation.
2. It is when the other measurement is forced upon us that we feel the practical defect of a purely natural communion, however wide and intelligent, with our fellow-citizens or with mankind. Every human soul has energies, mysterious and profound, which find no exercise or answer in that diffusive interest which is ever losing, in intensity what it gains in width. For while our inner life looks out to no horizon, in our social relations we are hemmed in on every side: in each wider range of fellowship, more of our personal feelings and convictions have to be repressed or misunderstood: as we pass from love to friendship, from friendship to acquaintance, from acquaintance to association, at each stage we feel that less of our true self is active and satisfied, that we are exchanging the full and blessed sympathy "where hearts are of each other sure," for the excitement and effectiveness of living in a crowd. And from the partial and superficial communion which thus beckons on and disappoints in ever-widening fields of ever more restricted feeling, most men turn to seek in friendship or in home a sympathy which has less to fear from the second measurement of which I spoke. Probably we all know the intense relief of passing from the jar or compromise of society at large into some inner sphere of love where "we mean what we say, and what we would we know."
3. And having found the refreshment and confidence of such sympathy, most men come to live a double life: passing across day by day from the diffuse and shallow fellowship of the wide world to the quiet trust and swift intercourse of the chosen few: trying to supplement the extent of one communion by the depth of the other: even as the great poet of our day cries —
"God be thanked, the meanest of His creatures
Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with,
One to show a woman when he loves her."But must we put away for ever all thought and hope of any communion which shall be at once both wide and deep? Is there any power which can bring the souls of men together in a sympathy without either exclusion or reserve?
III. "I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS." THIS IS THE ANSWER OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH: she, and she alone, still clings to the hope and promise of a fellowship and sympathy which shall be at once deeper than any depth which a man can fathom in his own soul, and wider than the world itself: a brotherhood into which the most ignorant and outcast and sinful may through penitence find entrance, a brotherhood in which the most sensitive and thoughtful and exacting soul shall never feel or fear the touch of cruelty or stupidity, but ever be led on from height to height, from strength to strength, from glory to glory, by the answer of a love which never is out of sight, and yet never can be outstripped. By what means then does the Church propose to make good her promise of a sympathy both wide and deep? Must we look back for the plainest answer to these questions to the days when "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul"? It is, in deed and truth, a humiliating necessity. But still we cannot doubt that the Divine spirit of that communion is with us now: we know that, for all the noisy and obtrusive quarrels which are the shame and plague of Christendom, the strong love which held together the souls of martyrs and evangelists, the love which was stronger than death, is among us still: that in pure homes, in the fellowship of Christ's work among the poor and suffering, we can still see, in the perfect harmony of self-forgetful work, the inherited secret of Christian unity and the earnest of its achievement in the Church triumphant. But there is one plain ground of fellowship which lies so near to the experience of our daily life, that it is easy for all to see and measure. For at the outset, Christianity, and Christianity alone, sets before us all one Lord. Alike in earth and heaven we are to be brought into the true fellowship one with another by a service and devotion which is not mutual but common: by seeking first the same Lord and Saviour. The real secret of sympathy is to love in the first place, not one's friend, but that which he loves better than himself: and the fulfilment of the social instinct is found in the concentration of all hearts upon the one true God. We shall better understand what the communion of saints may be, in proportion as we can give our hearts, our strength, our lives, to Him who gave Himself for us — to Him who, since He was lifted up from the earth, alone can draw all to Himself, and link them in the one sufficient sympathy of one unending Love. For "if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another."
(F. Paget, D. D.)
Neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common
1. Not our worldly goods. Who created them? He who made them to be transitory. Who bestowed them? He who has a right to take them back. For what purpose have they been lodged in the hands of prosperous men? For their special benefit and gratification? Yes. But for their occupation, their exercise, their trial also, and more. In the first place, the changes of events prove to us that we do not hold' by any absolute tenure what we seem to hold; for how often it is suddenly snatched from us, or drained gradually away! So much for chances. And then come in the settled decrees of our condition and the demands of our consciences. Consider them both, and you will see how amply they vindicate the expressions of the text as applicable to all men and times and places. You will have no community of goods; and indeed we can scarcely conceive of any social project so unnatural, so unjust, so impracticable. Yet still the goods of the wealthiest cannot choose but flow into the community. He must part with them, whether he will or not, and regularly part with them. He can have no enjoyment from them but by their use, and their use is their perishing. They are not his but as they pass, and when they are gone whose are they? They must be spent and distributed, and return into the common stock from which they were amassed. Reflect further on what the various obligations of life admonish us ought to be. Are we not stewards and debtors, rather than owners and lords, in the portion that is allotted to us? Much is due to the service of our brethren; and all is in pledge to Him, to whom the whole must be accounted for. Benevolence, justice, and truth are greater apostles than Peter and James and John; and honest contributions must be brought and laid down at their feet.
2. Our friends and the objects of our affection are not our own. You look into the faces of those you love, and take them by their cordial hands, and they seem to be yours, because their countenances have been always bright towards you, and you are well assured that their help is ready in the time of your need. But how many such have circumstances parted, and misunderstandings estranged! And how often has death severed the tie which no trials of life could weaken! Children are in a sense your creatures. None can share with you your parental rights. I will not say, that they may so disappoint your hope as to leave little disposition to rejoice in their belonging to you; that they may so grieve and burden your lives as to lead you to wish that you had been childless. But at least you are well aware, that what no temptations of after days might be able to make unworthy of your regard, the decree of heaven may remove from your side. The infant and the youth are as liable to be summoned away in their unsullied freshness, as the grown man in the fulness of his strength and the midst of his labours; and how can you claim as yours what is so changing and so frail? Rejoice, rather, that they are in better hands and at a wiser disposal; that their portion is in the assignments of an eternal Providence; and that their true Proprietor is the Holy Father, whose angels have a charge over them here, and who will never dismiss those blessed ministers from their office of love.
(N. L. Frothingham.)I. THE UNITY. "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and sou!." The Church of that day was a great contrast with the world, where there were "wars and rumours of wars," envious and jealous hatreds. Unity ever set forth in New Testament as a fundamental conception of the Church. Christ prayed for it. Apostles strove to preserve it. The ideal we should ever keep before us.
II. THE MANIFESTATION. "Neither said any of them that aught of the things that he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." This a convincing evidence of their unity. Teaches the surpassing love of that brotherhood of Christ. The principle is just as true to-day. The Church is a partnership in preaching the gospel and in good works.
III. THE CAUSES. By examining the context we may discover some of the causes or conditions.
2. Prayer (vers. 24-30).
3. Recognition of God's providence (ver. 28).
4. Holy Spirit (ver. 31). Notice it came in answer to prayer. To believers (cf. chap. 2:4). Churches need renewals (cf. Acts 2:4 and Acts 4:31) of Holy Spirit.
IV. THE RESULTS.
1. Great spirituality. Scatter the embers of a dying fire and it goes out. Rake them together and you have warmth and glow. So with a divided and a united Church.
2. Great power. "A city set on a hill," etc. Such a Church can make the powers of darkness tremble. Keep this ideal before us and we shall be a united, spiritual, and aggressive Church.
(E. E. Curry.)I. THE REASONS WHICH LED THE FIRST CHRISTIANS TO FORM THEMSELVES INTO A COMMUNITY HAVING ALL THINGS COMMON.
1. From the moment of the founding of Christianity the duty of living for others was insisted on. John the Baptist said, "He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none," etc. Nor was Jesus less explicit. "Sell that ye have and give alms." "It is more blessed to give than to receive," and many other passages which embody the principle of true socialism.
2. Doubtless some would urge that Jesus set the example of founding such a communistic society — not that He required all to part with their possessions, but it would seem that He did require this of the inner circle of apostles. "Lo, we have left all and followed Thee." "Go sell that thou hast... and come follow Me." Of this community Judas was the treasurer.
3. Remember again that this took place immediately after the outpouring of the Spirit, the natural effect of which would be the kindling of an enthusiasm which would make them capable of a self-sacrifice impossible to the natural man. It is evident, too, that poverty was very rife, and the newly invigorated affections rendered it impossible for a Christian to feast while others starved.
II. WHY WAS THIS SOCIALISTIC SCHEME ABANDONED? For it is evident that it did not last long, since we find it nowhere else, nor even here a few years later. The truth is experience taught them that in the existing state of society Socialism would not work. Why? Just the sinfulness and selfishness of men. For society can only prosper if men's faculties are sharpened, and their energy and industry exerted to the utmost. And it is found that only competition can supply the motive which will induce men to do their best. No doubt if men were perfectly unselfish it would be otherwise, but they are not. When a man's comfort no longer depended on his own efforts, so that even if he worked harder than others he would fare no better, the spur to exertion would be gone, and he would do less, or even nothing, and thousands would prey upon others. Even the sharp law under which we live, "If a man will not work, neither shall he eat," is evaded by idle impostors and beggars, but how indefinitely would the number of these social parasites be increased if all had a common right to the wealth of the community. And then again Socialism would give scope for fraud and dishonesty. The basis of any such scheme is that rich and poor give alike all they possess into the common fund. Selfish men, like Ananias, would seek to evade this and to live at the public expense while retaining what others had relinquished. It was this that probably broke up the scheme.
III. WHY ARE THESE FACTS RECORDED? Not merely to teach that Socialism is a mistake, but that it is true as an ideal, but false as a practical system. Its essential underlying ideas are true. It is a Divine instinct which makes us long to give the same blessings to the poor which the rich possess. It is right that each should labour not only for himself but for all. And while we cannot bring all humanity into a communistic society, we must nevertheless keep the ideal of social regeneration on the basis of brotherly love ever before us.
(A. M. Mackay, B. A.)
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