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THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES - Chapter 5 - Verse 9
Verse 9. Agreed together. Conspired, or laid a plan. From this, it seems that Sapphira was as guilty as her husband.
To tempt. To try; to endeavour to impose on, or to deceive; that is, to act as if the Spirit of the Lord could not detect the crime. They did this by trying to see whether the Spirit of God could detect hypocrisy.
At the door. Are near at hand. They had not yet returned. The dead were buried without the walls of cities; and this space of three hours, it seems, had elapsed before they returned from the burial.
Shall carry thee out. This passage shows that it was by Divine interposition or judgment that their lives were taken. The judgment was in immediate connexion with their crime, and was designed as an expression of the Divine displeasure.
If it be asked here, why Ananias and Sapphira were punished in this severe and awful manner, an answer may be found in the following considerations:
(1.) This was an atrocious crime; a deep and dreadful act of iniquity. It was committed knowingly, and without excuse, Ac 5:4. It was important that sudden and exemplary punishment should follow it, because the society of Christians was just then organized, and it was designed that it should be a pure society, and be regarded as a body of holy men. Much was gained by making this impression on the people, that sin could not be allowed in this new community, but would be detected and punished.
(2.) God has often, in a most solemn manner, showed his abhorrence of hypocrisy and insincerity. By awful declarations and fearful judgments he has declared his displeasure at it. In a particular manner no small part of the preaching of the Saviour was employed in detecting the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and denouncing heavy judgments on them. See Mt 23 throughout, for the most sublime and awful denunciation of hypocrisy anywhere to be found. Compare Mr 12:15; Lu 12:1; 1 Ti 4:2; Job 8:13; 13:16; 15:34; 20:5; 36:13; Mt 7:5; Lu 11:44.
In the very beginning of the Christian church, therefore, it was important, by a decided and awful act, to impress upon the church and the world the danger and guilt of hypocrisy. Well did the Saviour know that it would be one of the most insidious and deadly foes to the purity of the church; and at its very threshold, therefore, he set up this solemn warning to guard it; and laid the bodies of Ananias and Sapphira in the path of every hypocrite that would enter the church. If they enter and are destroyed, they cannot plead that they were not fully warned. If they practise iniquity in the church, they cannot plead ignorance of the fact that God intends to detect and punish them.
(3.) The apostles were just then establishing their authority. They claimed to be under the influence of inspiration. To establish that, it was necessary to show that they could know the views and motives of those who became connected with the church. If easily imposed on, it would go far to destroy their authority and their claim to infallibility. If they showed that they could detect hypocrisy, even where most artfully concealed, it would establish the Divine authority of their message. At the commencement of their work, therefore, they gave this decisive and most awful proof that they were under the guidance of an infallible Teacher.
(4.) This case does not stand alone in the New Testament. It is clear from other instances that the apostles had the power of punishing sinners, and that a violation of the commands of Christ was attended by sudden and fearful judgments. See 1 Co 11:30. See the case of Elymas the sorcerer, in Ac 13:8-11.
(5.) Neither does this event stand alone in the history of the world Acts of judgment sometimes occur as sudden and decided, in the Providence of God, as in this case. The profane man, the drunkard, the profligate is sometimes as suddenly stricken down as in this instance. Cases have not been uncommon where the blasphemer has been smitten in death with the curse on his lips; and God often thus comes forth in judgment to slay the wicked, and to show that there is a God that reigns in the earth. This narrative cannot be objected to as improbable until all such eases are disposed of; nor can this infliction be regarded as unjust, until all the instances where men die by remorse of conscience, or by the direct judgment of heaven, are proved to be unjust also.
In view of this narrative, we may remark,
(1.) that God searches the heart, and knows the purposes of the soul. Comp. Ps 139.
(2.) God judges the motives of men. It is not so much the external act, as it is the views and feelings by which it is prompted, that determines the character of the act.
(3.) God will bring forth sin that man may not be able to detect; or that may elude human justice. The day is coming when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and God will reward every man according as his works shall be.
(4.) Fraud and hypocrisy will be detected. They are often revealed in this life. The Providence of God often lays them open to human view, and overwhelms the soul in shame at the guilt which was long concealed. But if not in this life, yet the day is coming when they will be disclosed, and the sinner shall stand revealed to an assembling universe.
(5.) We have here an illustration of the powers of conscience. If such was its overwhelming effect here, what will it be when all the crimes of the life shall be disclosed in the day of judgment, and when the soul shall sink to the woes of hell. Through eternity the conscience shall do its office; and these terrible inflictions shall go on from age to age, for ever and ever, in the dark world of hell.
(6.) We see here the guilt of attempting to impose on God in regard to property. There is no subject in which men are more liable to hypocrisy; none in which they are more apt to keep back a part. Christians professedly devote all that they have to God. They profess to believe that God has a right to the silver and the gold, and the cattle on a thousand hills, Ps 50:10. Their property, as well as their bodies and their spirits, they have devoted to him; and profess to desire to employ it as he shall direct and please. And yet, is it not clear that the sin of Ananias has not ceased in the church? How many professing Christians there are who give nothing really to God; who contribute nothing for the poor and needy; who give nothing, or next to nothing, to any purposes of benevolence; who would devote "millions" for their own gratification, and their families, but not a penny for "tribute" to God. The case of Ananias is to all such a case of most fearful warning. And on no point should Christians more faithfully examine themselves than in regard to the professed devotion of their property to God. If God punished this sin in the beginning of the Christian church, he will do it still in its progress; and in nothing have professed Christians more to fear the wrath of God than on this very subject.
(7.) Sinners should fear and tremble before God. He holds their breath in his hands, he can cut them down in an instant. The bold blasphemer, the unjust, the liar, the scoffer, he can destroy in a moment, and sink them in all the woes of hell. Nor have they security that he will not do it. The profane man has no evidence that he will live to finish the curse which he has begun; nor the drunkard, that he will again become sober; nor the seducer, that God will not arrest him in his act of wickedness, and send him down to hell! The sinner walks over his grave, and over hell! In an instant he may die, and be summoned to the judgment-seat of God! How awful it is to sin in a world like this; and how fearful the doom which must soon overtake the ungodly.
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