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The Prosperity of the Church; The Liberality of the Disciples.
32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. 36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, 37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
We have a general idea given us in these verses, and it is a very beautiful one, of the spirit and state of this truly primitive church; it is conspectus sæculi—a view of that age of infancy and innocence.
I. The disciples loved one another dearly. Behold, how good and how pleasant it was to see how the multitude of those that believed were of one heart, and of one soul (v. 32), and there was no such thing as discord nor division among them. Observe here, 1. There were multitudes that believed; even in Jerusalem, where the malignant influence of the chief priests was most strong, there were three thousand converted on one day, and five thousand on another, and, besides these, there were added to the church daily; and no doubt they were all baptized, and made profession of the faith; for the same Spirit that endued the apostles with courage to preach the faith of Christ endued them with courage to confess it. Note, The increase of the church is the glory of it, and the multitude of those that believe, more than their quality. Now the church shines, and her light is come, when souls thus fly like a cloud into her bosom, and like doves to their windows, Isa. lx. 1, 8. 2. They were all of one heart, and of one soul. Though there were many, very many, of different ages, tempers, and conditions, in the world, who perhaps, before they believed, were perfect strangers to one another, yet, when they met in Christ, they were as intimately acquainted as if they had known one another many years. Perhaps they had been of different sects among the Jews, before their conversion, or had had discords upon civil accounts; but now these were all forgotten and laid aside, and they were unanimous in the faith of Christ, and, being all joined to the Lord, they were joined to one another in holy love. This was the blessed fruit of Christ's dying precept to his disciples, to love one another, and his dying prayer for them, that they all might be one. We have reason to think they divided themselves into several congregations, or worshipping assemblies, according as their dwellings were, under their respective ministers; and yet this occasioned no jealousy or uneasiness; for they were all of one heart, and one soul, notwithstanding; and loved those of other congregations as truly as those of their own. Thus it was then, and we may not despair of seeing it so again, when the Spirit shall be poured out upon us from on high.
II. The ministers went on in their work with great vigour and success (v. 33): With great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The doctrine they preached was, the resurrection of Christ: a matter of fact, which served not only for the confirmation of the truth of Christ's holy religion, but being duly explained and illustrated, with the proper inferences from it, served for a summary of all the duties, privileges, and comforts of Christians. The resurrection of Christ, rightly understood and improved, will let us into the great mysteries of religion. By the great power wherewith the apostles attested the resurrection may be meant, 1. The great vigour, spirit, and courage, with which they published and avowed this doctrine; they did it not softly and diffidently, but with liveliness and resolution, as those that were themselves abundantly satisfied of the truth of it, and earnestly desired that others should be so too. Or, 2. The miracles which they wrought to confirm their doctrine. With works of great power, they gave witness to the resurrection of Christ, God himself, in them, bearing witness too.
III. The beauty of the Lord our God shone upon them, and all their performances: Great grace was upon them all, not only all the apostles, but all the believers, charis megale—grace that had something great in it (magnificent and very extraordinary) was upon them all. 1. Christ poured out abundance of grace upon them, such as qualified them for great services, by enduing them with great power; it came upon them from on high, from above. 2. There were evident fruits of this grace in all they said and did, such as put an honour upon them, and recommended them to the favour of God, as being in his sight of great price. 3. Some think it includes the favour they were in with the people. Every one saw a beauty and excellency in them, and respected them.
IV. They were very liberal to the poor, and dead to this world. This was as great an evidence of the grace of God in them as any other, and recommended them as much to the esteem of the people.
1. They insisted not upon property, which even children seem to have a sense of and a jealousy for, and which worldly people triumph in, as Laban (Gen. xxxi. 43): All that thou seest is mine; and Nabal (1 Sam. xxv. 11): My bread and my water. These believers were so taken up with the hopes of an inheritance in the other world that this was as nothing to them. No man said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, v. 32. They did not take away property, but they were indifferent to it. They did not call what they had their own, in a way of pride and vainglory, boasting of it, or trusting in it. They did not call it their own, because they had, in affection, forsaken all for Christ, and were continually expecting to be stripped of all for their adherence to him. They did not say that aught was their own; for we can call nothing our own but sin. What we have in the world is more God's than our own; we have it from him, must use it for him, and are accountable for it to him. No man said that what he had was his own, idion—his peculiar; for he was ready to distribute, willing to communicate, and desired not to eat his morsel alone, but what he had to spare from himself and family his poor neighbours were welcome to. Those that had estates were not solicitous to lay up, but very willing to lay out, and would straiten themselves to help their brethren. No marvel that they were of one heart and soul, when they sat so loose to the wealth of this world; for meum—mine, and tuum—thine, are the great makebates. Men's holding their own, and grasping at more than their own, are the rise of wars and fightings.
2. They abounded in charity, so that, in effect, they had all things common; for (v. 34) there was not any among them that lacked, but care was taken for their supply. Those that had been maintained upon the public charity were probably excluded when they turned Christians, and therefore it was fit that the church should take care of them. As there were many poor that received the gospel, so there were some rich that were able to maintain them, and the grace of God made them willing. Those that gather much have nothing over, because what they have over they have for those who gather little, that they may have no lack, 2 Cor. viii. 14, 15. The gospel hath laid all things common, not so that the poor are allowed to rob the rich, but so that the rich are appointed to relieve the poor.
3. They did many of them sell their estates, to raise a fund for charity: As many as had possession of lands or houses sold them, v. 34. Dr. Lightfoot computes that this was the year of jubilee in the Jewish nation, the fiftieth year (the twenty-eighth since they settled in Canaan fourteen hundred years ago), so that, what was sold that year being not to return till the next jubilee, lands then took a good price, and so the sale of those lands would raise the more money. Now,
(1.) We are here told what they did with the money that was so raised: They laid it at the apostles' feet—the left it to them to be disposed of as they thought fit; probably they had their support from it; for whence else could they have it? Observe, The apostles would have it laid at their feet, in token of their holy contempt of the wealth of the world; they thought it fitter it should be laid at their feet than lodged in their hands or in their bosoms. Being laid there, it was not hoarded up, but distribution was made, by proper persons, unto every man according as he had need. Great care ought to be taken in the distribution of public charity, [1.] That it be given to such as have need; such as are not able to procure a competent maintenance of themselves, through age, infancy, sickness, or bodily disability, or incapacity of mind, want either of ingenuity or activity, cross providences, losses, oppressions, or a numerous charge. Those who upon any of these accounts, or any other, have real need, and have not relations of their own to help them—but, above all, those that are reduced to want for well doing, and for the testimony of a good conscience, ought to be taken care of, and provided for, and, with such a prudent application of what is given, as may be most for their benefit. [2.] That it be given to every man for whom it is intended, according as he has need, without partiality or respect of persons. It is a rule in dispensing charity, as well as in administering justice, ut parium par sit ratio—that those who are equally needy and equally deserving should be equally helped, and that the charity should be suited and adapted to the necessity, as the word is.
(2.) Here is one particular person mentioned that was remarkable for this generous charity: it was Barnabas, afterwards Paul's colleague. Observe, [1.] The account here given concerning him, v. 36. His name was Joses; he was of the tribe of Levi, for there were Levites among the Jews of the dispersion, who, it is probable, presided in their synagogue—worship, and, according to the duty of that tribe, taught them the good knowledge of the Lord. He was born in Cyprus, a great way off from Jerusalem, his parents, though Jews, having a settlement there. Notice is taken of the apostles' changing his name after he associated with them. It is probable that he was one of the seventy disciples, and, as he increased in gifts and graces, grew eminent, and was respected by the apostles, who, in token of their value for him, gave him a name, Barnabas—the son of prophecy (so it properly signifies), he being endued with extraordinary gifts of prophecy. But the Hellenist Jews (saith Grotius) called praying paraklesis, and therefore by that word it is rendered here: A son of exhortation (so some), one that had an excellent faculty of healing and persuading; we have an instance of it, ch. xi. 22-24. A son of consolation (so we read it); one that did himself walk very much in the comforts of the Holy Ghost—a cheerful Christian, and this enlarged his heart in charity to the poor; or one that was eminent for comforting the Lord's people, and speaking peace to wounded troubled consciences; he had an admirable facility that way. There were two among the apostles that were called Boanerges—sons of thunder (Mark iii. 17); but here was a son of consolation with them. Each had his several gift. Neither must censure the other, but both case one another; let the one search the wound, and then let the other heal it and bind it up. [2.] Here is an account of his charity, and great generosity to the public fund. This is particularly taken notice of, because of the eminency of his services afterwards in the church of God, especially in carrying the gospel to the Gentiles; and, that this might not appear to come from any ill-will to his own nation, we have here his benevolence to the Jewish converts. Or perhaps this is mentioned because it was a leading card, and an example to others: He having land, whether in Cyprus, where he was born, or in Judea, where he now lived, or elsewhere, is not certain, but he sold it, not to buy elsewhere to advantage, but, as a Levite indeed, who knew he had the Lord God of Israel for his inheritance, he despised earthly inheritances, would be encumbered no more with them, but brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet, to be given in charity. Thus, as one that was designed to be a preacher of the gospel, he disentangled himself from the affairs of this life: and he lost nothing upon the balance of the account, by laying the purchase-money at the apostles' feet, when he himself was, in effect, numbered among the apostles, by that word of the Holy Ghost, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them, ch. xiii. 2. Thus, for the respect he showed to the apostles as apostles, he had an apostle's reward.