But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,…
Raphael's cartoon manifestly founded, not on the simple narrative of Acts, but on the corrupt Church's falsification of it. The apostles represented on a throne, from which with despotic decree they command men to death. Our object is not to terrify men into religion and ecclesiastical submission, but to win them to Christ; to save men's lives, not to destroy them. Solemn and awful as the facts are, they are yet beams from the Sun of Righteousness.
I. A revelation of THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST.
1. As the kingdom of light. Wisdom in discernment of spirits and judgment of human character. Distinction between pure and false fellowship. Exaltation of the great light-principle of self-sacrifice.
2. As the kingdom of righteousness. The act of Ananias was an act of rebellion against the first law of the gospel, both as a lie and as selfishness.
3. As the kingdom of order and peace. The rising brotherhood was the germ of a new human society, in which all men should be blessed. Ananias sinned against the Holy Ghost, i.e. defied and insulted the Spirit in his new work, trampled on the rising life. As a vindication of the kingdom, the sentence, though it looks at first sight unduly severe, was merciful, as a sign, not merely threatening, but inviting. It cleared the light of clouds.
II. An instructive example of HUMAN WEAKNESS AND SINFULNESS. A Judas among the apostles, an Ananias among the first believers. We must expect such things always.
1. The work of the Spirit is thus shown to be necessary. The deceit of the heart. The power of temptation. The influence of a multitude in hiding us from ourselves. The possibility of being carried away by a wave of excitement. The lure of ambition. Man and wife encouraging one another; Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The gospel needed to lift up even the ties of nature and renew and strengthen them in the grace of God.
2. The Christian Church must be prepared to encounter the facts of human fallibility and sin. We must rest upon the supernatural guidance and support. We must leave judgment in the hands of God. Peter pronounced no sentence. He simply, by spiritual power, proclaimed the truth, and left conviction to work its own work. A great lesson in the exercise of discipline. In the case of the wife, the fact became a prophecy, by inspiration, in Peter's mind. He saw the work of God beforehand. No assumption.
III. A PRACTICAL ADMONITION.
1. Against selfishness and dishonesty. They kept back for themselves part of the price, intending to deceive.
2. Against untruthfulness, which was deliberate, prompted by meanness mixed with ambition and desire of display, daring against the manifest signs of the Spirit. Not a mere lie unto men, but a defiance of God.
3. Against trifling with holy things. They, perhaps, thought that what they kept back would not be needed, but they made light of the Spirit's evident demand. They did dishonor to the infant Church and to the apostles.
4. Rebellion against the Holy Ghost. He put it into their heart to sell their property and join the Church. They recognized his command to give up all for Christ. They saw what he had done and could do. Yet they did violence to his order and might have produced endless confusion in the Church. Fighting against God is perilous work. - R.
Parallel VersesKJV: But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,