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The Believers Share Their Possessions

32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

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32. And the multitude. In this place there are three things commended; that the faithful were all of one mind; that there was a mutual partaking of goods amongst them; that the apostles behaved themselves stoutly in announcing the resurrection of Christ. He saith that the multitude had one heart; because this is far more excellent than if a few men should have a mutual consent. And heretofore he hath declared, that the Church did grow to be about five thousand. And now he saith that there was wonderful concord in so great a multitude, which is a very hard matter.

And surely where faith beareth the chief sway, it doth so knit the hearts of men together, that all of them do both will and nill one thing. For discord springeth hence because we are not all governed with the same Spirit of Christ. It is well known that by these two words, heart and soul, he meaneth the will. And because the wicked do oftentimes conspire together to do evil, this concord was laudable and holy therefore because it was amongst the faithful.

And no man did say. This is the second member; that they coupled this love with external benefits. But we shall see anon, after what sort they had their goods common. This is now worth the noting in the text of Luke that the inward unity of minds goeth before as the root, and then the fruit followeth after. And surely even we ought to observe the same order, we must love one another, 230230     “Sincero cordis affectu,” with sincere affection of heart, omitted. and then this love of ours must show itself by external effects. 231231     “Nam et externa beneficentia nisi oriatur ex corde, nihili est coram Deo,” for even an external beneficence, if it comes not from the heart, is of no value in the sight of God, omitted. And in vain do we boast of a right affection, unless there appear some testimony thereof in external offices. Moreover, Luke declareth therewithal, that they were not of one mind for any respect of their own commodity, forasmuch as the rich men, when they did liberally bestow their goods, sought nothing less than their own gain.

33. And with great power. This third member appertaineth to doctrine. For Luke doth signify that the zeal which the apostles had to preach the gospel was so far from being diminished, that they were rather endowed with new power. Whereas he doth only name the resurrection of Christ, it is synecdoche; for this part is put for the whole gospel. But Luke maketh mention of the resurrection alone, because it is, as it were, the furnishing or fulfilling of the gospel; and, secondly, because they had endured a sore combat for the same, and the Sadducees were sore grieved at it, who aid then bear the chief swinge, [sway.]

And great grace was He signifieth that this served not a little to the spreading abroad of doctrine, in that, by helping the poor so bountifully, they found favor at the hands of strangers. For he saith that they were beloved, because they were beneficial. 232232     “Benefici,” beneficient. Therefore, there is a showing of a reason in these words, No man amongst them did lack. Although we need not doubt of this, but that their honesty, and temperance, and modesty, and patience, and other virtues, did provoke many to bear them good-will. He declareth 233233     “Latius exponit,” expoundeth more at large. afterward, after what sort they had their goods common, which he had touched before, to wit, that the rich men sold their lands and houses, that they might relieve the poverty of the poor,

34. For so many as were. Although this be an universal speech, yet is it all one as if it were indefinite. And assuredly it is to be thought that there were many which did not diminish their possessions, and that may be gathered out of the text, [context.] For when he speaketh of Joses anon, undoubtedly he meant to note a notable example, passing all others. Therefore he saith, that all did that which many did every where; neither doth this disagree with the common use of the Scripture. Again, he meaneth not that the faithful sold all that they had, but only so much as need required. For this is spoken for amplification’s sake, that the rich men did not only relieve the poverty of their brethren of the yearly revenue of their lands, but they were so liberal, that they spared not their lands. And this might be, though they did not rob themselves of all, but only a little diminish their revenues; which we may gather again out of the words of Luke, for he saith that this was the end, that no man might lack. He showeth further, that they used great wisdom, 234234     “Adhibitam fuisse prudentiam,” that prudence was used. because it was distributed as every man had need. Therefore the goods were not equally divided, but there was a discreet distribution made, lest any should be out of measure oppressed with poverty. And, peradventure, Joses hath this commendation given him by name, because he sold his only possession. For by this means he passed all the rest.

Hereby it appeareth what that meaneth, that no man counted anything his own, but they had all things common. For no man had his own privately to himself, that he alone might enjoy the same, neglecting others; but as need required, they were ready to bestow upon all men. And now we must needs have more than iron bowels, seeing that we are no more moved with the reading of this history. The faithful did at that day give abundantly even of that which was their own, but we are not only content at this day wickedly to suppress that which we have in our hands, but do also rob others. They did and faithfully bring forth their own; we invent a thousand subtile shifts to draw all things unto us by hook or by crook. They laid it down at the apostles’ feet, we fear not with sacrilegious boldness to convert that to our own use which was offered to God. They sold in times past their possessions, there reigneth at this day an insatiable desire to buy. Love made that common to the poor and needy which was proper to every man; such is the unnaturalness of some men now, that they cannot abide that the poor should dwell upon the earth, that they should have the use of water, air, and heaven. 235235     “Ut communem terrae habitationem, communem aquae, aeris, et coeli usum pauperibus invideant,” that they envy the poor a common dwelling on the earth, the common use of water, air, and sky.

Wherefore, these things are written for our shame and reproach. Although even the poor themselves are to blame for some part of this evil. For seeing goods cannot be common after this sort, save only where there is a godly agreement, and where there reigneth one heart and one soul; many men are either so proud or unthankful, or slothful, or greedy, or such hypocrites, that they do not only so much as in them lieth quite put out the desire to do well, but also hinder ability. And yet must we remember that admonition of Paul, that we be not weary of well-doing, (Galatians 6:9.) And whereas, under color of this, the Anabaptists and fantastical [fanatical] men have made much ado, as if there ought to be no civil property of goods amongst Christians, I have already refuted this folly 236236     “Delirium,” delirium. of theirs in the second chapter. For neither doth Luke in this place prescribe a law to all men which they must of necessity follow, while that he reckoneth up what they did in whom a certain singular efficacy and power of the Holy Spirit of God did show itself; neither doth he speak generally of all men, that it can be gathered that they were not counted Christians which did not sell all that they had.