the First Week of Advent
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Ananias and Sapphira
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
THEMISTOCLES tossed all night and could not sleep because of the laurels of Miltiades. And Ananias was like Themistocles because of the praises poured upon Barnabas by Peter, and by all the apostles, and by all the poor. Ananias and Sapphira could not take rest till they, like Barnabas, had sold their possession, and laid the price of it at Peter's feet. 'Lay it at Peter's feet,' said Sapphira to her hesitating husband, 'and say that you are very sorry that the land did not sell for far more. And after I have made my purchases, I will come to the Lord's Supper with you. Keep a place for me at the Table, and I will join you there in good time in breaking of bread and in prayers.' And Ananias did as Sapphira had instigated him to do. Only, Ananias was not at all happy in his approach to Peter's feet that day. Somehow or other, Ananias could not summon up that gladness and that singleness of heart with which all the other contributors came up that day. With all he could do there was a certain awkwardness and stumblingness of manner that Ananias, somehow or other, could not shake off all that day. You who are collectors for churches and charities are well accustomed to all Ananias's looks and ways of speaking that day. You often hear from us the very same explanations and apologies and self-defences. 'There had been a great fall in the rent of land in Judea of late. And thus the old estate had not nearly yielded its upset and expected price. But what it had yielded, Peter was welcome to it.'
Everything fell to Peter in those days. The offices and services of the early Church had not as yet been divided up and specialised into the apostleship, and the eldership, and the deaconship, and, till that was done, Peter had to be everything himself. Peter was premier apostle, ruling elder, leading deacon, and all. It was like those country congregations where the minister has to do everything himself, till he has neither time nor strength nor spirit left to give himself continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. But Peter was a perfect Samson in the Israel of that day. He was a minister of immense capacity, gigantic energy, endless resource, and overpowering authority. And thus it was that it had fallen to Peter to sit over against the treasury, and to enter the Pentecostal contributions that day. And it struck Ananias like a thunderbolt, when Peter, instead of smiling upon him and praising him, denounced and sentenced him so sternly. "Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?" And the young men arose, and wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And then, three hours after, just as Peter was shutting up his books to go to dispense the Lord's Supper, at that moment Sapphira appeared. 'You sold your farm for so much, your husband tells me?' 'Yes, my lord, for so much.' And the young men came in and found her dead, and they buried Ananias and Sapphira in Aceldama, next back-breadth to Judas Iscariot, the proprietor of the place. That the prophecy of Isaiah might be fulfilled: "They shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." And that the prophecy of Daniel also might be fulfilled: "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
What a world this is we live in! What a red-hot furnace of sin and of sanctification is this world! How we all tempt and try and test and stumble one another in everything we say and do! Barnabas cannot sell his estate in Cyprus and lay the price of it at Peter's feet, but by doing so he must immediately become the sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira. But for the Pentecostal love, and but for Barnabas's baptism into that love, Ananias and Sapphira would have lived to see their children's children and peace upon Israel. They would have sat down together at the Lord's Table till Peter preached their funeral sermon and held them up as two pattern proprietors of houses and lands. But Barnabas and his renowned name became such a snare to Ananias and Sapphira that they were buried on the same day and in the same grave. Ama nesciri has been the motto of more than one of the great saints. Seek obscurity, that is. Subscribe anonymously, that is. Do not let your collectors and the advertising people print your name or your amount, that is. Say, A Friend. Say, A Well-wisher. Put a star, put a cross, put anything but your name, not even your initials. Or, if you are a popular author, say, and not a landowner in these days; publish your books without your name. Employ another name. You may miss something that is very sweet to you by doing that; but it will be made up to you afterwards when all your royalties come in, and all your last day reviews. Think of Ananias and Sapphira when all men praise your generosity, or your Shakesperian genius, or your enormous emoluments. Be sure of this, that all Peter's praises of Barnabas did not refresh Barnabas's heart half so much as they caused that sinful sleeplessness, and all its consequences, to Ananias and Sapphira.
"Satan hath filled thine heart, Ananias." That was a terrible salutation for a man to be met with who had just sold a possession and laid such a large part of the price at the apostle's feet. But Peter knew all Satan's processes. Peter knew by experience what he was speaking about. And that is the reason why Peter speaks with such assurance and severity and indignation and judgment. And had Ananias at that moment gone out and wept bitterly, we would have been drawing far other lessons tonight out of that terrible Communion morning. Do you know the premonition, the sensation, the smell, so to say, when Satan approaches you to fill your heart? And what do you say to him? What do you do to him? Do you set a chair for him? Do you lay a cover and set glasses for him? Do you share your pillow with him? "Ah! you are there again, my man!" So an old saint in the congregation salutes Satan as often as her practised nostrils catch the beginning of his brimstone on her stairhead. "But you are too late this time. I am engaged today. There is Some One with me. And you had better flee at once. Come sooner next time!" Luther threw his ink-bottle. What do you throw? What do you do? Or is Satan in on you, and are you in his hands and at his service, in money matters, and what not, before you know where you are? "Ah, sir, you are there again, are you? But my heart is as full today as it can hold of Another," calls out my stairhead friend by reason of her exercised senses.
The stroke was sudden, and, as we say, severe. But even at this distance of time and place we can see some good and sufficient reasons for the severity of the stroke. Pæna duorum doctrina multorum, is the epigrammatic comment of an old writer. On two hands that sore stroke would tell for long. On the one hand, on those who were tempted to join the Christian community in order to share in the Pentecostal charity. For, then as now, a crowd of impostors would dog the steps of the open-hearted and open-handed church. On the other hand, we all give very much as others have given before us. We measure our givings, not by our duty nor by our ability, but by what others have done, and by what is expected of us. We wish to impress you. We wish to have your approval. We say with Ananias: 'This is all I can spare; indeed, this is all I possess.' Our sin, and our danger of death in our giving, be not so much in that we have given less than we could have given, but in that we have not told the truth. "Yea, for so much," we say, till the feet of the young men are almost at our door. The stroke was sudden and severe to the onlookers, but it was not at all so sudden or so severe to Ananias and Sapphira themselves. It was not so unexpected and without warning to them. There were many provocations and aggravations on their part of which we are quite ignorant. Ananias may at one time have been a poor man's son, and when he came up to Jerusalem in his youth to push his fortune, he may have knelt down on the side or Olivet and said, 'Thy vows are upon me, O God. And if Thou wilt give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, and a wife and children in Jerusalem, then the Lord shall be my God, and the God of my household.' Or, again, in some time of adversity he may have said, "The pains of hell gat hold upon me; but I will pay that which my mouth spake when I was in trouble." Or, again, in those sweet but soul-deceiving days when they were bridegroom and bride together; in those Beulah days-"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Like David, we will walk with a perfect heart in all our household affairs at home." Ah, yes; God was no doubt quite sufficiently justified to Ananias and Sapphira themselves, when He judged them so swiftly that day. At the same time, Jeremy Taylor, who has given immense learning and intellect to all such cases, says that God sometimes accepts a temporal death in room of an eternal. And that, to some persons, a sudden death stands instead of a long and an explicit repentance. While Augustine, I see, and some other great authorities, are bold to class the awful case of Ananias and Sapphira under that scripture of the apostle where he assures us that some church members are delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Let us join with Augustine and Taylor in their burial-service over Ananias and Sapphira in the trembling hope that they were struck down in a sanctifying discipline, rather than in an everlasting condemnation. And that they so died that we might learn of them so to live as not to die. Let us hope that both husband and wife had the root of the matter in them all the time; and that we shall see them also saved in that day, in spite of Satan and all his fatal entrances into their hearts. The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan, is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
And now to come home to ourselves. As you all know, we have an institution in full operation in the Free Church of Scotland which is based and built up and worked out on exactly Pentecostal and Barnabas principles. Dr. Chalmers's conception of the Sustentation Fund was derived and developed from the spirit and the example of the Apostolic Church of Jerusalem. The same Pentecostal spirit was poured out at the Disruption of the Established and Endowed Church of Scotland, to support the Free Church of Scotland under her injuries and her impoverishments for Christ's sake, and for the sake of His people. And thus it was that the ministers and deacons' courts of the Free Church were then, and are still, all of one mind and spirit, and have all things in common. And that same Pentecostal spirit breathes and burns, and that same Apostolic institution still stands and extends and expands, to this day. And still the Prophetic and Apostolic benediction is pronounced over the Free Church and her liberal-hearted people-"Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, saith the Lord of Hosts, and prove Me now herewith, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it,"
"Prove Me now herewith," said the Lord. And He has promised that when we prove Him with our tithes, all manner of prosperity will follow our practice of that Scriptural rule and pattern. And the rule is not a Scriptural one only. Somehow or other, the tithe, the tenth part, fills all classical literature, as well as the whole of Holy Scripture. And yet, with all that before our eyes, as plain as plain can be, here we are, at this time of day, blundering about and telling lies, many of us, like Ananias and Sapphira, without any method, or principle, or rule in our givings, any more than if Scripture had never spoken on this matter, or as if a rule of love and common-sense had never been laid down. Till we waken up, and take the Patriarchal, and Mosaic, and Prophetic, and Apostolic, and even Pagan way of taxing our income, and laying aside a definite and a liberal part of it for church and charity, we need never expect to inherit the promises, or to enter into that liberty of heart and hand which awaits us and our children. It is surely time that we had found out some better way than our present haphazard way of dealing with this great and pressing matter. For everything comes on us in this city. All Scotland, all Ireland, and many parts even of rich England; France, Switzerland, Italy; churches, manses, missions-everything comes on Edinburgh, and on a limited field of Edinburgh. When some great financial genius, say, like Dr. Chalmers, arises in the Church to expound and enforce this disastrously neglected law of God, a new day will dawn on our whole religious and charitable exchequer. Then the Christian child will be brought up to tithe his pocket-money of sixpence a week for Jesus his Saviour's sake. And his father his pound a week, or his ten pounds, or his hundred, or his thousand. And, then, all we shall have to do, without straining our hearts or souring our tempers, will be calmly, and at our leisure, to exercise our best discretion as to the proportion and the destination of the stewardship-money we have had intrusted to us. And, when that Apostolic day dawns, our successors in the churches and charities of the land will look back with amazement at our poverty-stricken ways of collecting church money, leaning on State endowments, and all such like un-Pentecostal expedients. And all because our eyes had, somehow, not been opened to Scriptural wisdom, and to Scriptural love, and to Scriptural liberality, in this whole matter of our Lord's money.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Ananias and Sapphira'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​a/ananias-and-sapphira.html. 1901.