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of the infant Church, the Apostles deemed it necessary to encourage the impulses. The profession of the religion of the crucified Redeemer was, indeed, in those days a taking up the cross. Its weight was felt immediately; the converts were often stripped of all they possessed, and must have perished from want, if the liberality of their brethren had not interposed to save them. Many, therefore, placed their property in a common fund to assist these sufferers; and the Apostles very naturally felt desirous both that the sufferings of the persecuted brethren should be alleviated, and that the true spirit of their religion should shine forth in the bounty of those, who had means and inclination to contribute.
But, though this generous feeling was encouraged by the Apostles, there was no compulsion ; every man might do as he pleased. St. Peter particularly observes to Ananias, that there was no constraint or necessity laid upon him, to give his whole property, and that he might have kept it, without attempting to impose upon them with a lie.
66 While it remained,” said he,“ was it not thine own; and, when it was sold, was it not in thine own power ” He might have done with it as he pleased; he need not have brought any; and if he had brought a part, it would have been accepted. It might, however, be concluded, from a hasty view of this subject, that the Apostles used this punishment as a means of terrifying their converts to bring in the whole of their property; and also that the severity of the punishment of Ananias was not called for by the magnitude or enormity of the offence. We will, therefore, more attentively contemplate some of the particulars of this transaction, and observe both whether there were not strong and special reasons for the immediate and miraculous agency of God to punish Ananias, and also what reflexions the subject suggests, which may be adapted to general edification, and more particularly to the situation of those who are to be partakers of the solemn ordinance of Confirmation.
In general we may observe of Ananias, that, though he had embraced Christianity, his heart was not thoroughly engaged in the cause. He seems to have been one of those unstable Christians described by our Saviour, in the parable of the Sower and the Seed, under the figure of seed falling upon a rock, which, because it had no depth of earth, sprang up quickly, but had no root, and was soon withered beneath the heat of the mid-day sun. Such appears to have been Ananias religion; he had heard the Gospel; he had been convinced of its truth; he had some sense of the awful dangers, and glorious rewards, which it revealed. The question, “ What must I do to be saved ?” had risen before his mind in strong and alarming characters; he had considered the answer, “ Repent, and be baptized :” he had, at first, obeyed it; but his root was not deep. No sooner did the scorching heat of trial rise upon him, than his religion withered. He saw that those who were hearty in the service of the Lord, gave up all that they had; he was but a weak plant of Christianity; he would not bear the sacrifice of his worldly goods; he had put his hand to the plough, but he “ looked back;" he was offended, and fell away.
But such, it may be said, was the case with many other Christians; and though they might hereafter be punished, yet there was nothing in their conduct that should call for signal or immediate punishment, or that should demand the miraculous interposition of God, to inflict upon him a death contrary to the ordinary lot of sinners. This remark is just, so far as only the guilt of the individual is concerned : we are not to conclude that it was merely for the general weakness of his Christian principles, or even for the mere sinfulness of his duplicity, that a miraculous punishment was inflicted. For these a miracle was not required; for these, due inflictions awaited him in that awful day, when all sinners, all the false and disobedient, will receive according to their works. But the miraculous death which he suffered was connected with the circumstances of the Gospel dispensation, with its evidences, and with the general success of its preachers. The reason is distinctly set forth; “ he had lied not unto men, but unto God.” But how not unto men? Were not the Apostles men? They were; but they acted under, and were enlightened by, the Spirit of God. Here, then, we haye, at once, the cause of this miraculous interference of the Divine power. The very act of Ananias brought into question the truth of the Apostles' inspiration. It implied a disbelief, it was a practical denial, that they were endued with the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; it showed a suspicion, that the spirit, which dwelt in them, was capable of being deceived and imposed upon. It showed that he expected, perhaps, to gain some of the general contribution, by pretending to have given up all that he had; or that he should derive from the Apostles some spiritual benefits, or at least some commendation, by persuading them of his zeal. But whatever were his views, it is clear they were built upon the hope of deluding the Apostles; or, in other words, the Holy Ghost, who directed them, and acted by them.
How then would their pretensions to divine inspiration have been maintained, had they been thus imposed upon? How would their assertions of their commission from God have been believed, if they could not have shown that they were informed of this base attempt? Or if it were admitted, that they knew it, were they to take a bribe, that the divine indignation should not be manifested against such deceit; and that it should not be known unto all men that the Spirit could detect, and would punish, falsehood ?
In this view of the subject, indeed, one most important consideration presents itself to our mind. What prejudice might religion have suffered, had the Apostles, claiming to be invested with power from on high, merely rejected the money, with a reproof, and without some signal mark of God's displeasure? The enemies of Christianity might have urged, and probably did urge, that the poverty of some Christians merely furnished the Apostles with a pretence for obtaining the disposal of the property of the wealthier part of their community; and that they were anxious for converts only, that they might have more wealth in the common stock, and under their control. How complete an answer was given by the fate of Ananias! It was not the money, but the motive, which had weight in the estimation of the Holy Spirit. No sooner did Ananias bring his gift, and with it offer an insult to the Spirit which dwelt in the Apostles, than awful and exemplary punishment followed. He was struck with instant death. It held out a terrible prohibition to all, to beware of expecting God to be propitiated with mere gifts; it cautioned all men to draw near with their hearts, or not at all ; it distinctly showed, that what was done before the Apostles, was done before the Spirit of God; and that whoso lied unto them, lied not unto man, but unto God. The punishment, that is to say, the miraculous part of that punishment, must be looked upon as one of the proofs of the Apostles' commission, and of the truly spiritual nature of that religion which they were appointed to preach. It showed that they were not to be imposed upon, and