And all that believed were together, and had all things common;…
The infant Church, from the nature of the case, was composed mainly, though not exclusively, of the less prosperous classes. The work it had to do at Jerusalem brought together a number of persons whose homes were elsewhere, and whose ordinary occupations were suspended, and it became necessary to face the all-important question of their simplest food and lodging. For this purpose a common fund was instituted, to which those who had money or other property might contribute for the temporary support of those who had none. There is no evidence that these were anything but voluntary offerings. There follow, for example, repeated references to the existence of rich and poor side by side in the same Church, and to the need and duty of almsgiving. Had there been any system in force, tantamount to a "community of goods," neither of these things could possibly have survived. It might seem, indeed, superfluous to argue such a point were it not for two reasons — one, that there are always to be found well-meaning persons who, believing that the earliest type of Church, before corruption entered and human frailty overthrew Divine institutions, was and must be the best, and the one we ought to seek to restore, look back with yearning upon a state of things so different from our own, and resolve that our faces ought to be firmly set towards reviving the primitive usage. Imagining that true Christian equality involves equality of conditions and advantages, they see in the phenomena of our modern Church only the most terrible of inconsistencies. Many of these objectors are genuine friends and adherents of Christianity, and as such demand our warm sympathy. But there are others, I need not say, hostile to our religion, who in all times have made useful capital out of these alleged discrepancies. We cannot but notice that one chief grievance against Christianity in our day is that it does not tend to rectify human inequalities; that while it professes to hold all men equal in the sight of God, it seems quite content that they should remain unequal in their own. But though the objection is put as one against religion, it is obvious that the grievance is really one against Providence, or rather (since this form of socialism is almost always atheistic) against fate, which has allowed one man to enter the world better equipped than another for the struggle of life. Hence this form of socialism, which we see more and more asserting itself, is not merely atheistic, it is bitterly antitheistic, since it chiefly resents inequalities, due not to defective laws, but to natural, inborn, inherited differences. Such socialism demands, as the first right of humanity, that society should aim at compensating the feeble for their feebleness at the expense of the strong; or rather, that arrangements should be made that neither weak nor strong should be at any expense; that society should be restored to one level, and that of universal prosperity and comfort. This, it asserts, a reform in the world's laws might and would effect. Religion, it alleges, is a failure; civilisation is a failure; legislation is a failure, seeing that all these have so far failed to bring about an equalisation of human lots. Those who use this language and lead captive many willing listeners are at least thus far justified in that Christianity has beyond question failed to bring about the result they desire; and they might even go further and object that Christianity does not start from any such assumption as the equal rights of human beings. From first to last the Bible nowhere teaches this kind of equality among men; nor their equal right, nor the right of any individual among them, to prosperity and comfort. It does not even regard these things as the aim towards which human effort should be directed. Its millennium is not in any sense a millennium of an equally distributed prosperity. Every counsel and command addressed to the rich and strong is, on the contrary, framed on the evident expectation that inequalities .of condition would always exist. It must be frankly admitted that Jesus Christ accepted such inequality as a fact of human existence, and addressed His teaching to show how that fact might be made the best of — how it might minister to the discipline of man's nature, and its preparation for the kingdom of God. Christ's teaching abounds in denunciations of the rich. But it is never for being rich, but for not recognising and accepting the responsibility of riches. He enunciated no fixed and rigid rules for the regulation of society. He enjoined no pouring of the world's wealth into a common stock, from which the once rich and the once poor should be endowed anew on one uniform and unchangeable scale. He never offered to put back the clock of time, and to start all men on the race of life afresh. He took society as it existed in his day, and propounded the law and the spirit by which it might be made ever sounder and sounder, even while the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, lived and worked side by side. A vulgar Socialist, aiming first at winning adherents, might have preached vaguely how all this would speedily be at an end; how no one should suffer much longer from his present disabilities, but that all should share and share alike when new laws should be passed in the Constitution he would frame and establish. But Jesus promised no such thing; He introduced no such topic. He dealt, indeed, persistently with the subject of equality. He called all men, without distinction, His brethren; He spoke of them all as alike dear to the heart of God, and as equally invited to the highest blessings that God confers. He appealed to all who were weary and heavy laden to come to Him (Jesus) and He would give them rest. And, before all things, He insisted that in that kingdom there is no such thing as caste. The first upon earth might be the last in that kingdom, and the lowliest on the earth the highest and greatest there. Who can doubt that it was this Christian doctrine of equality — this form of Christian Socialism ("fellowship," "membership in one Body," He preferred to call it) that fell like music on the wearied spirits of that motley crowd? No religious caste — no intellectual caste — no social caste — each man's acceptance of the responsibilities of sonship; each man's faithful cultivation of the talent entrusted to him — this, the one way of working out his own salvation, and entering upon eternal life. This was the one only equality that Christ recognised and proclaimed. As to inequalities of human fortune, so-called, and their methods of equalisation, it apparently did not enter into His plan to speak. On such subjects as a man's right or duty to "better himself" in his earthly position He said nothing. He neither commanded nor forbade a man to do his utmost in that kind. There is a common sneer against religion that it looks with coldness upon the ambition which natures, not apparently vicious, are aware of, to rise in the world, and to win fame, position, and wealth by the effective use of the talents confided to them. Whatever can be reasonably inferred from the Bible's teaching is to the very opposite effect. A gospel which enjoins its followers to cherish and improve every talent committed to them is in itself a command to excel, and therefore to advance, in whatever the hand, or the intellect, findeth to do. And to excel, and to advance, means and implies (let us not be afraid of the word) competition. If, of two men to whom talents are entrusted, one cultivates them and the other neglects them, what power that we can even guess at can prevent one of these men outstripping the other in the course of pre-eminence? If one man rises through moral character and fidelity to the talents given him, and another sinks through moral weakness and indolence, who can deny that in that contrast is witnessed a survival of the fittest? And the gospel of Christ did not interpose to remove such inequalities. But the primary purpose of the revelation of God to men was to change their conceptions of success and failure; to alter the world's standpoint as to happiness. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." And who can fail to observe that whichever be cause and which effect, the decay of belief in a God, and the assertion of every man's right to be prosperous, always appear together? It cannot be otherwise; for belief in the God whom Christ revealed is not consistent with belief that we have all, or any of us, a right to any blessing or comfort save one, the greatest and most blessed of all. We have no rights as against God: we have only obligations. The very things that difference us from other men are our talents. We are forgetting to thank God for what He takes away. Prosperity — equal prosperity — and the gradual extinction of bodily pain and mental distress — this is the earthly paradise to which thousands are now being taught to look forward. Does it harmonise well with the teaching of Him who claimed to be the Elder Brother of the race, whose appointed life was suffering and self-denial, and whose death was the death of the Cross? The cure for discontent is to turn our thoughts to the noblest, purest, best Friend of our spirits; and then, recalling what He has been to us in the past, and what things He has prepared for us in the future, we may well feel that with all our unworthiness, all our weakness and disappointments, our profoundest sorrows and anxieties, we are more than conquerors; that having received this pledge of victory, we may indeed scorn to "change our state with kings."
Parallel VersesKJV: And all that believed were together, and had all things common;