And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
This passage points out the characteristic fact of the cheerful social dispositions of the early disciples. The Jewish religion was the only one which ever organised joy as an integral and important part of its services. Christ and the apostles were Jews, and the same joyous spirit came with the new faith; and although they entered upon the organisation of the new life under circumstances calculated to make men bigoted and bitter, yet all the early periods of Christianity were sweet and calm. The earliest Christian art has not a single emblem of suffering or distress. All the representations were those of hope and cheerfulness. Subsequently philosophy almost destroyed this temper, and wrought an atmosphere of stoical hardness and moroseness which was not characteristic of true Christianity. Note: —
I. THE NATURE OF THE CHRISTIAN ATMOSPHERE. We all know how, in the physical world, that a dull, heavy atmosphere is unfavourable to pleasure or labour. We bear with it, fight our way through it; but it is the clear, bright, genial day that affects our spirits favourably, facilitates our work, and makes things grow. So the soul has an atmosphere of one kind or another. Discouragement, sadness, obscurity of soul makes it hard for a man to live, to be social. It is especially mischievous in religious life; for all the higher graces are such as spring up and bloom only in most genial atmospheres, just as many of our plants can only blossom in a long warm summer. The characteristics of this atmosphere are —
1. Good-nature — a grace not mentioned in Scripture because Paul did not speak English. This is better than genius, property, or honour. When Baxter spoke of marrying a woman who was of a good disposition rather than one who was eminently pious, he said that the grace of God could dwell with many persons that he could not live with. This good disposition is enjoined in "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love," etc., and is that charity which is "not easily provoked," etc. Now good-natured people are often not geniuses; because to have genius one must have nerves; but men whose nerves are well covered, are relieved from many exasperations and exaggerations which annoy people; but where men have not this protection anal still are good-natured, it is a peculiar grace.
2. Cheerfulness — a hopeful state of life under any conditions; a shining state which amounts to more than contentment.
3. Faith — not simply that act which accepts Christ, but that which includes the whole action of the imagination. A practical, matter-of-fact man is like a waggon without springs — every single pebble on the road jolts him; but the man who has imagination has always the power of glancing off from hard facts, and of overcoming the world.
4. Humour. The sense of the ludicrous is a distinct peculiarity of man as lifted above the brute creation. If it calls to itself an element of distinctiveness it becomes sarcasm. When it holds up a man as an object of mirth it becomes ridicule. When it has a certain element of suppression then it developes humour. It sees things in a funny light. Blessed are the men who are able to put this cushion between themselves and all the sharp edges of affairs — who know how to see something that will convert sorrow into a source of pleasure. A man who has it is always able to call to his side good-nature and happiness, and troubles are not so troublesome, nor cares so sharp to him as they would be if he had no such faculty.
II. ITS ADVANTAGES. He who is cheerful, imaginative, humorous, has summer of the soul, and whatever he has to do he will do better in that than in any other atmosphere. This atmosphere favours —
1. Earnestness and courage. It has been thought to tend to frivolity, but that is not the case. When Napoleon was crossing the Alps, and the strength of the men had almost given out, and there was hesitation, he ordered the band to strike up a cheerful air. The sound of the drums rolled through the mountain passes, and the men, catching exhilaration from the music, applied themselves with renewed earnestness to the task. Now, when we are called to disappointments, if under the influence of imagination we can but feel cheer and good-nature, that temperament of the soul will enable us to hold on our way. What kills men is discouragement. It is sitting down under trouble that destroys men; it is standing up and mocking it that enables men to go through it without harm. "I have thee, O man," says the Gorgon of disaster. "Not yet," says the man of hope, with a smiling face, and eludes his grasp.
2. Charity — that which seeks the well-being of men. A man who is without good-nature always judges harshly; but the man who has cheerfulness and humour is at peace with other men. The most difficult people to manage are those who never see a jest or develop a smile; they carry gashing angles to the end of life. And unfortunately among them there are only too many professing Christians; so that men say that if they wanted sympathy in distress they would rather go to their drinking companions than to members of the Church. But a man who is really a Christian is "light of the world" — a man whose temper and disposition make him luminous. Sweet emotions give light to the face, and bitter emotions make it dark. And a man whose face is lit with joy and hope carries among his fellow-men that good will which takes away the friction of life and gives joy to the sorrowful and hope to the sinful.
3. Patience under difficulties. The world is a great deal larger to a man of imagination than to a "Gradgrind" — a man of mere facts — a man of miles who treats the world as though it were a football. The former takes cognisance of things invisible which help him to see that the troubles of to-day are the instruments of the joys of to-morrow. The man of facts sees only the cloud; the hopeful man sees the sun behind and the fruitful showers after the cloud.
4. Realisation of the presence of God and trust in Him. The trouble with men in this world is that they have no God. A present help in time of trouble is God, and if there be no help for you it is because you have no God that you know how to use. A man might live to the age of Methuselah and never know what music was, if he did not know how to handle the instrument; and a man may live with God around him and yet be without God because he does not know how to use Him.And the soul's atmosphere is the medium through which a man discerns God more easily than through any other. In conclusion —
1. You ask, "Does not this tend to relax conscience?" Perhaps it does, and that is the best thing about it so far as some consciences are concerned. A man may be conscientiously wrong and cruel as were Saul of Tarsus and Loyola. What is needed of conscience is that it should act in the sphere of love. Love being the summer atmosphere of the soul, let any faculty act in it, and it will act right.
2. But do not many lack the capacity for such cheerfulness? Yes, but cripples are not to be held up as models of humanity.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And all that believed were together, and had all things common;