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Ananias probably expected to obtain the same popularity as Barnabas had acquired by the same means; and, as those who had parted with all they had, must still have something for their subsistence, he intended to claim a share of the common fund. This share joined to what he retained, might make his circumstances as good, if not better, than they were before. But as he intended to impose upon the apostles, men who possessed miraculous powers, it was a high affront to the Being by whom they were inspired; and as the fraud, when discovered, would bring great reproach upon the Christian name, and prove an essential detriment to an infant cause, it was punished with great severity.
3. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to, “to deceive,99* the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land ?
4. While it remained, was it not thy own ? and after it was sold, was it not in thy own power ?
Why hast thou been guilty of a falsehood to which there was so little temptation ? For thy profession of the Christian religion did not oblige thee to sell thy land, nor, when sold, to lay the produce, or any part of it at our feet ? Here he remonstrates with him on the folly of his conduct; in the next words, on the heinous impiety of it.
Why hast thou conceived, « determined,” this thing in thy heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
That is, not to men only, but to God also; for he had lied to both : to men, because he had brought but a part of his property to the apostles, when he professed by his words, or his actions, or both, to bring the whole ; and to God, because he was guilty of this falsehood before men, who had given proofs of their being assisted by divine powers, and might therefore be well supposed, like the ancient prophets, to be acquainted with the hearts of men. By the devil and Satan, the writers of the New Testament sometimes mean the persecuting power, as when it is said, The devil goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; at other times, the supposed author of all moral evil; as when it is. said, the devil put it into the heart of Judas to betray his Master. In this sense Satan seems to be used in the present instance, where he is said to have filled the heart of Ananias with the design of deceiving the Holy Spirit. Not that they suppossed that he had any real agency, by which he could instigate to this or other crimes; but it was the common language of the Jews, borrowed, perhaps from some of their Eastern neighbours; for what is said to be the work of Satan, in one verse, is said to be conceived in his own heart in the next.
5. And Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and gave up the ghost, “ expired," and great fear came upon all them that heard these things.
His death was not the effect of sudden surprise or violent remorse, in consequence of having his guilt thus detected and exposed; but was produced by divine power, as a punishment for his crime, and a warning to others of what they might expect, if they should be guilty of a like offence. Such an event was well calculated to strike all who heard of it with an awe of the divine power. But that part of this verse which speaks of the impression produced, seems to be out of its place, and to be inserted here by mistake from the elventh verse, where it very properly closes the account of the whole transaction.
6. And the young men arose, i. e. the young disciples, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
It is usual with the inhabitants of Eastern countries, in order to prevent the infection which might be produced in a hot climate, to bury the dead within twenty-four hours after death; but this man was not kept the usual time; for he had every appearance of death, and there was less hope of a recovery in this than in other cases of sudden death.
7. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, cme in,
8. And Peter said unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? i. e. that for so much and no more. And she said, Yea, for so much.
9. Then Peter said unto her, How is that ye have agreed together to tempt, “to try," the Spirit of the Lord ? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
To tempt the Spirit of God, or, which is the same thing, God himself, is to make an improper trial of his power or knowledge, from presumption or distrust,* which is no small offence in his creatures. Of this offence both Ananias snd Sapphira were guilty, when they imagined that they could impose upon men who had given such unquestionable proofs of being aided by the power and knowledge of the Supreme Being.
10. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and expired. And the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
creat, presumptibake an imrod, or, which shall carr
* Farmer on Christ's Temptation, p. 118.
11. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
12. Moreover, they were all, with one accord, in Solomon's porch.
13. And after this, no one desired to meddle with them ;* but the people greatly magnified them.
14. And believers in the Lord were continually added, multitudes both of men and women. And by · the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people;
15. So that in every street they brought forth the sick, and laid them on couches and beds, that the shadow of Peter, as he passed by, might fall upon some of them.t
16. 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.
It is evident to every one that reads this passage with attention, that there is a considerable degree of confusion in the history, owing, probably, to a very ancient corruption of the original text by the transposition of sentences, through the carelessness of transcribers. I have read them in the order in which they appear to me best connected, and in which I conceive that they must have been written originally by Luke. In taking this liberty, I have done no more than what respect to the author seemed to require.
The persons here said to be vexed with unclean spirits, are the same whom we find so often mentioned in the evangelists as possessed with dæmons, namely, either insane persons or epileptics.
Solomon's porch or portico, so called because built by him, and lest standing when the rest of the temple was taken down, was on the eastern side of that building. Here the disciples assembled for public worship and instruction, when shut out of the temple; no one daring to prohibit them.
* So this passage is found in an ancient version, and it connects very well with what follows; being more intelligible than what we have in our translation, “And of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” See Wakefield.
1. This story affords a striking picture of the odious nature and the dreadful consequences of the vice of lying. It is a high offence both against God and man. In respect to the latter, indeed, it possesses different degrees of malignity, according to the object which men propose to themselves by uttering wilful falsehood: whether it be merely to conceal guilt, to acquire honour or riches, or for the more criminal purpose of depriving others of their property, of injuring their reputation, or taking away their lives. In the most favourable instances, it is a mean, selfish and pernicious vice, destroying the mutual confidence so necessary to the well-being of society, and introducing universal distrust and confusion. In some cases it becomes the foulest crime to be found in the calendar of human vices, and deserves to be ranked with theft, robbery, and murder, because employed to effect these enormities. In every case it is an offence against God, as well as man, because those who are guilty of it show that they suppose that he is ignorant of their behaviour, or indifferent about their moral character; that he knows not their guilt, or is unable or unwilling to punish it; a presumption highly derogatory from the essential attributes of his nature, and the purity of his moral administration; a presumption which partakes of the malignity of perjury, and which the righteous Governor of the world cannot fail highly to resent.
Let those who indulge themselves in this odious practice assuredly know that an omniscient Being is perfectly acquainted with all their secret falsehoods, however artfully disguised; and that, although he may not, from motives of wisdom and forbearance, inflict immediate death upon the offender as in the present instance; yet he beholds his conduct with displeasure, and will one day visit it with severe punishment. All liars shall have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.
To men of every age this narrative furnishes useful instruction; but more particularly to those who are in the early part of life. The temptations to falsehood are many and powerful; but, whenever tempted, let the young recollect this story, and they cannot fail to find in it strong motives for maintaining a sacred regard to truth in all circumstances.
2. We are here furnished with fresh presumptive evidence of the truth of the gospel history. Those who were so forward to punish falsehood and deceit, must surely be men without guile. How could Peter have had the effrontery to reprove Ananias for uttering a lie, if he himself had been at the same time publishing a more flagrant lie, in reporting the resurrection of his Master, and in asserting his own claim to a divine commission? How could God, the impartial Judge of all the earth, punish the less offender with so much severity, and let the greater go free? Or how could men, with such dreadful examples before their eyes, persist in a notorious fraud ? To such questions as these, let the enemies of our faith, if they are able, reply.
The apostles being imprisoned, are miraculously delivered. They
defend themselves before the council, and are dismissed with scourging.
Acts v. 17-42.
17. 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 ;
18. And laid hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
By saying that the high-priest and those who were with him, that is, the persons in public offices, were the sect of the Sadducees, the writer implies that such persons generally adopted the tenets of this sect. It is not likely, therefore, that the opinion commonly entertained of them can be true, namely, that they rejected all the books of Scripture, except the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses; for it is not to be supposed that persons denying the authority of so great a proportion of the Scriptures, would be placed in such situations. It is certain, however, that they denied the resurrection of the dead, and this, probably made them so violent in opposing the Christians, who maintained that doctrine. They were not satisfied now with apprehending one or two of the apostles, but seized the whole number, finding that they were all alike active in preaching.
19. But the angel of the Lord, by night, opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,
20. Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life, or, call this doctrine of life,»* i. e. the doctrine of eternal life.
It was the opinion of the Sadducess, but not necessarily untrue because patronized by them, that the angels mentioned in Scripture as intelligent agents, had no permanent existence, but were men or phantoms created by God for the particular occasion on which they appeared. Of this nature, may have been the being who performed the present miracle, which was intended to give courage to the apostles in preaching the gospel.
* See the authorities for TAUTA TMS Loons in Wakefield, and Griesbach, second edition.