The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
1. But [much stress is not to be laid on the word But, for no contrast is intended] a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession [the same word is used Matthew 19:22],
2. And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it [an aggravated offence], and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles" feet.
3. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart [made thee bold enough] to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
4. Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived [implying long and deep deliberation] this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
5. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
6. And the young [younger] men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him [it was common to have graves ready beforehand].
7. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
8. And Peter answered [yet not an answer but a question] unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much [and no more].
9. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
10. Then fell she down straightway at his feet [where the money probably lay], and yielded up the ghost [an expression used in one other place only, Acts 12:23]: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
11. And great fear came upon all the church [assembly or congregation], and upon as many as heard these things.
Communism and Its Violation
WE have just seen what great excitement there was outside the Church. A lame man had been healed, and Peter and John had been shut up in prison, and had afterwards been threatened by the Sanhedrim. "And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them." The Christians, having heard the report, "lifted up their voice to God with one accord," and praised him, and gave themselves into his keeping, saying, "And now, Lord, behold their threatenings; and grant unto thy servants that with all boldness they may speak thy word. By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus." There they left the case. They passed no official resolution amongst themselves: they looked up unto the hills whence their help came, and having looked upward, and having spoken to God, they waited for an answer from heaven. That answer came: "When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness." They did not offer it as a suggestion, they did not submit it as a possible solution of great moral anxieties: they hurled it across the heavens, they uttered it with thunder, they spake it with the accent of the soul. We must go back to that cordial eloquence. Preachers of the everlasting Gospel do not stand up to make suggestions: they stand to deliver what they believe to be God"s testimony; and in proportion to their faith in the Divine testimony will be the clearness of their utterance, and the bold and thrilling emphasis of their very voice.
A great practical issue immediately took effect A new conception of property entered into the mind of the Church. Little ownerships, and narrow boundaries of individual claims and primacies, were done away. "No man said that aught he had was his own; they had all things in common." "As many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the price of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the Apostles" feet, and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." Here then are two concurrent movements, viz, a spiritual movement, and a social movement. The social movement arose out of the spiritual; if the cause go down, the effect must go down along with it. The Church can only do great social duties, and continue with constancy in great social sacrifices, in proportion as its heart is continually inspired by the Holy Ghost. The hand cannot go without the heart. The heart cannot be right without compelling the hand to do its holy and ennobling bidding. It is in vain to attempt to keep up the outward when the inward has given way. That is precisely what we are in danger of doing now. We keep up churches, institutions, organizations, machineries, after we have lost the Spirit. Is there anything more ghastly to the religious eye and the spiritual imagination than a Church out of which GOD has gone? The building stands there of undiminished magnitude, and undimmed beauty of form and colour, and undiminished commodiousness; but GOD has gone. The Bible is read, and not read. It is not the Bible that the man mumbled, but a book which he has found somewhere, out of which the Spirit has been driven. The very selfsame old hymns were sung that fifty years ago caused the walls to vibrate as with conscious joy; and though the music was exact in technicality, and well performed as to mere lip service, the old passion was not there, and the hymn rose to the ceiling, bruised itself against the beams of the roof, and fell back, a service unrecognized in heaven. This accounts for all the results of statistics as to attendance upon places of worship; for all the "dilapidated husbandry" of the Church; for all the boundless provision of mere space, and accommodation, and machinery, without eliciting the sympathy and the consent of the great heart of man. We have lost the Spirit; or we have forgotten that there is diversity of operation even under the same Spirit, and we have been trying to maintain old economies without new inspiration. What has to be done? Not to mend the outside, but to fall to praying, and to bring to bear upon heaven the violence of our impatient necessity, and the sacred ambition of men, who have found by prolonged and bitter experience that all answers worth having are to be had from heaven only. What is now wanted is a mission to the Church. It would be well for you if you would be good enough to let the masses alone for a while; the Church is now mad upon the masses. Any proposition to go after the "masses" is hailed with delight by those persons who do nothing but approve excellent schemes and then leave them to themselves. The great soul I cry for is a man who will preach to the preacher; who will convert the pulpit; who will set fire to the Church, and bring back our conscious need of the Holy Ghost. We are orthodox, but we are not Christian. Our notions are in excellent repair, but our love is a dead angel in the cold heart. We are sound in doctrine, but we are bitter in speech. We are clever in the arrangement and the rearrangement, and the repairing and the Revelation -adaptation of machinery; but when we come to pray, it is as if a skeleton should open its cold mouth and chatter with its lifeless teeth.
We come now upon a scene that contrasts with the marvellous exhibition of feeling we looked upon in our last reading of this exciting story. When persecution began to take effect upon the Church we trembled—needlessly. The Church needs persecution. Now we come upon real danger. External persecution brings to our memory the heroic words of our heroic Captain, "Fear not them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." Now we come inside the Church, and it is there and there only, that any deadly mischief can be done! The Church! Fire cannot burn it, water cannot drown it, fiends cannot intercept it; but it has in its own hand the power of suicide! Annas and Caiaphas, and John and Alexander, and all the kindred of the high priest, cannot touch the Church. They can "threaten" it, and they can denounce it; they can for a time imprison it; but its life they cannot touch. Do not fear the issue of anti-Christian literature, as if that could do the slightest injury to God"s truth. There is a secret fever amongst men as to the answering of the latest attack which has been made upon the Christian doctrine. We are not called upon to answer the last fool who has escaped from the mortar in which he was brayed. That is not the work of the Church: it is but an incidental service, and upon some occasions it may be a most valuable and indispensable service; but there is another work to be done. Let the Church put on her beautiful garments, and she will create a space for herself. Let her be pure, noble, seen as the angel of mercy and help and hope, that God meant her to be, and all other things will settle into their right courses and eventuate in their proper issues. Ananias and Sapphira can do more mischief in the Church than all the atheists that ever declared the heavens to be an untenanted space! That is the truth that needs now to be understood; and no other Isaiah, in comparison with it, worthy of a moment"s consideration. You uttered an unkind speech about your brother: that did more mischief than all the atheistic publications that have been poured from the press of infidelity for a quarter of a century. You, a preacher, a student, a member of the Church, a professor of Christianity, did a mean trick: that had a deadlier effect than all the denunciation possible to the feeble eloquence of unbelief. The "BUT" with which the fifth chapter opens is like a blow in the face. We were reading so joyously, passing on with a step of triumph, and suddenly an invisible but tremendous fist felled us to the earth. We gloried in the statement found in the fourth chapter, we smiled at Annas, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, when they threatened Peter and John: we felt the infiniteness of our strength, the overflow and redundance of power. Now that we come to this great, black "But" of the fifth chapter, there is no longer any laughter in our voice; nor does mirth write its signature upon our solemn faces. This is death. Ananias and Sapphira endeavoured to keep up a mechanical enthusiasm, and that is an impossibility in the divine life. We must here have reality. Some people try to sing in God"s house; but if you look at them they are not singing at all, for their eyes, like fools" eyes, are wandering all over the congregation. They bow in the attitude of prayer, but all the while their eyes are upon vacant space, or upon the earth.
This is a beautiful revelation of the life of the early Church, in so far as it shows us the entire voluntariness of every sacrifice and every service rendered by the first Christians. The selling of houses and lands was not a compulsory act. The property belonged to the individuals, they might claim it, they might part with it, they might keep a portion of the proceeds of the sale: all that was wanted from them was reality. This is the glory of all Christian service, that it is voluntary, expressive of the will, and of the vital love of the person rendering that service. This is the charm of our work; every man is here doing what he can do because he loves the engagement. Sunday morning is too slow in its movement for the inspired heart, for that heart is saying all the while, "Would that the golden gates were opened, and that the service were begun, and that we were already half-way up the hill which is crowned by heaven." Nothing is done of constraint; therefore labour is rest; therefore giving is getting; therefore prayer is its own answer; and therefore the Sabbath is the golden crown of the week of toil.
What then was the guilt of this man Ananias? It was the guilt of every age. Do not regard Ananias as a liar eighteen hundred or nineteen hundred years old; Ananias is the liar of today, and he is present in every congregation, and probably will be present until the end of time. Ananias represents those who say they have done all they can do, when they know that their statement is a lie. No man has done all he can do. Are we then all guilty before God in that respect? Certainly not. If a man will honestly say to God. "There are twelve hours in the day, and I cannot profess to give thee more than two of them," that man is an honest Prayer of Manasseh, and the two hours may be acceptable. But if a man shall endeavour to represent his two hours as twelve he will die, he will be killed, he will be buried, but not in "the sepulchres of the kings." Which of us has done all he can? Not I. I could have done ten times more. I could have prayed more, preached more, and suffered more. What they can say who have done nothing but enjoy themselves I know not. They make me afraid. I was told of persons who were supposed to be worth five-and-twenty thousand pounds that at the Communion of the Lord"s Table never contribute a coin, but put in the communion card alone. Is it possible? Thy money perish with thee. Keep it; keep it. Take it in the coffin with thee. Do insist upon having it there. Make a pillow of it; make a footstool of it; make a lining of it. Keep it, thou whited sepulchre! Ananias lied without speaking, and that is the worst form of falsehood. The blundering speaker of a lie may be converted; but the actor of a lie can only be killed.
The discipline of the Church here sets in very strongly. Ananias and Sapphira, his wife, probably thought that Christianity would endure only for a little time. They meant to make the most of it, and, in order to do that, they must undergo something like the process of a sacrifice. They underwent it. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." To bring my piece, and lay it down as if it were all, can any atheist stab the Christ of God so far in as that? To sit in the Church and drop in the little square communion card as if there might be something behind it, when there is nothing—can any bloodless atheist strike him between the eyes like that? O Church of the living God! conversion must begin within thee; and then the fire will burn, and throw out its happy influence upon the wide circumference, and there shall be joy in the presence of the angels of God over a prodigal Church, repentant and returned!
Almighty God, thou dost speak wonderful things unto the children of men. Thy voice is like none other. The sound of thy voice is heard in our heart like music from heaven, and it soothes and inspires, and warms our life with a new glow. All thy words are wonderful, but who shall tell the graciousness of thy promises, how sweet they are, how many in number, strong as a great host, many as the drops of the dew of the morning. And thou dost not withhold one of them from the hearts that love thee. Men of old called thy promises exceeding great and precious, and the men of today could repeat the word, for in our case thy promises have been greater than our imagination, and more precious than our love. We lean upon thy promises, we run into them as into a sanctuary, when the storm is very high. Hast thou not clothed us with salvation, and made us rich with confidence, and driven away our fear by the shining of an inextinguishable hope? We are in thy house, standing in the appointed place, and at the appointed time, and we come to thee in the appointed way, Jesus Christ, the wounded One, the triumphant Saviour, and we expect great things from heaven. Thou hast wrought in us a discontent with the prizes of time and the triumphs of earth, and by the very discontent which thou hast inspired, will we expect great things from Thyself. Open the windows of heaven, and astonish us by the outpouring of thy blessing! Let thy people be glad with a new joy, and thy saints shout aloud for ecstasy of heart. Return, oh Holy Dove! Return, sweet messenger of rest! Thy Church is indifferent, neglectful, reluctant to follow the heroic impulse; dead, all the fire of enthusiasm extinguished. Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire. Thou art the same yesterday, today, and for ever! And are not we also the same, but if left unto ourselves, do we not fall, and wither away? Then indeed is our strength dried up, and our power is as a dream that has vanished. Come, Holy Spirit! Wind from heaven, blow upon us! Spirit of the living God, baptize our souls as with fire! In the name of Jesus Christ, who knew no fear do thou deliver our souls from the bondage of apprehension. We feared for thy truth, and we are ashamed, because we were afraid. We feared for thy Church, forgetting that thy Church is in very deed thine own, lest any man should hurt her, thou wilt keep her night and day. We are not as were the Apostles in the early time. We are cold and calculating. We are self-involved, and self-satisfied. We have lost the sacred ardour; and the wings that could fly in the open firmament have been bruised or torn away. Return, oh Holy Dove—return! Shew us what we are, what time Isaiah, what earth Isaiah, how few our days are, how urgent is the King"s business; and may we hasten upon it, as those whose only delight is in its discharge. Comfort us one and all this day with reassured forgiveness. Say unto those who would serve thee, "Though the just man fall seven times a day, yet shall he stand up at the last." If any are cast down, tell them that they are not therefore destroyed. Speak comfortably to every heart as thou only canst speak. Where there is a great vacancy because the old companion is no more, join the solitary thyself, and make the companionship divine. Where there is great fear because the loved life is panting in its last weakness, send healing from Gilead and balm from the chief of the vineyards. Where there is any desire to serve thee with nobler strength, the Lord double the power, and give the resolution confirmation in heaven. And where the life is staggering because of the burden it has to bear, and the poor brain reels in great wonder, and the heart long so valiant, nearly gives up the unequal fight, oh God, be gracious with double tenderness. To them that have no might do thou increase strength. Unite us all in Christ, in the great Cross, in the infinite atonement for sin, in the profound, the eternal reconciliation wrought out by the Priesthood of Christ. May we walk the few remaining miles together, strengthening one another, loving one another, forgiving one another, and at last, one by one, may we be gathered to the general assembly and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven, and from the heights of the heavenly Jerusalem we shall see the way along which thou hast in mercy brought us, and then shall our praises never cease. Amen.
12. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon"s porch.
13. And [But] of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but [Howbeit. There are two different conjunctions in the original] the people magnified them.
14. And believers were the more added to the Lord [Better, Persons believing in the Lord were added to his church] multitudes both of men and women.)
15. Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches [the warm climate making this possible], that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.
16. There came also a multitude out of the cities [commonly used of small places as well as large] round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
17. Then [But] the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees) and were filled with indignation [jealousy].
18. And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
19. But the [an] angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,
20. Go [and], stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life [emphasising once more in the most natural manner the point at issue between the Sadducees and the Apostles].
21. And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early [the first sacrifice was offered at the very peep of day] in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came [into the council chamber], and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate [the older men; seventy-one in number] of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
22. But when the officers [the same word is rendered minister in Luke 4:20] came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,
23. Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.
24. Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.
25. Then [not an adverb of time] came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing [a prominent and undaunted position] in the temple, and teaching the people.
26. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.
27. And when they had brought them [to the judgment hall], they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,
28. Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? Better affirmatively, We straitly charged you] and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem [the testimony of enemies!] with your doctrine, and intend [wish] to bring this man"s blood upon us.
29. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought [we must] to obey God rather than men.
30. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
31. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
32. And we are his witnesses of these things; [the Crucifixion and Resurrection] and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
33. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, [not compunction, but annoyance] and took counsel to slay them.
34. Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, [the teacher of Saul,] a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
35. And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.
36. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
37. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, [seven years later than the enrolment mentioned, Luke 2:2] and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
38. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
39. But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.
40. And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his [The] name.
42. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
BY reading these verses through all at once, you get into their swing and rhythm. A keen, subtle music touches the reader whose heart is interested in the graphic story. Of what is the history? Of something quite dead and gone for ever? Would any man imagine from the controversies which now agitate the Church within its own boundaries, that the Church of today is the legitimate descendant of the Church of whose history these verses form a part? It requires the greatest effort, not of faith, but of imagination, to trace any connection between the Church of today, as we represent it, and even as we know it, and the Church of the heroic days. What is your ancestry? Why, if you knew it, you are children of the storm! It does not become you as a Christian to talk about quietness, and enjoyment, and absence of sensationalism. You are the children of the tempest, you were rocked in the cradle of the deep! You have lost the accent of your family. Men cannot tell whence we came, they cannot indicate our native country; we speak the usual language in the usual tone, we are afraid of anything that is eccentric and unusual, and thus we have abandoned all that makes our ancestry worthy of recollection. We cannot get away from the fact that we represent a faith which has been the most fighting faith of the earth. Christianity is a combative religion. What is the meaning, then, of this whimper that I now hear about retiring to quiet places, leaving all sensationalism, and adopting old-fashioned ways of doing things? My friends, bethink you, when you say the word old-fashioned, what do you mean? Where do you draw the line? Mention the date and measure of your old-fashionedness? There are those who take to themselves the character and quality of being old-fashioned people. Christians of the old-fashioned sort. I would God they were! They would be so good. They would warm the place. Their nearness would send a glow of enthusiasm and sacred ardour to the heart. But alas! their old-fashionedness may only go back to an intermediate period. It may be a kind of middle-age collapse. If you want the old-fashioned sort, you must go back to the Evangelists and to the Apostles, and read the document in the New Testament, which is specifically called the Acts, and there you do see what old-fashioned Christianity really was. But it is in this case as it is in tracing a man"s ancestry. He goes back in his ancestry until he finds the most important man in it, and there stops. But I ask about the ancestry of that most famous man himself. And so if we trace our ancestry back, not stopping at points we like the best and are proud of, we shall all come to Adam and Eve, and all fall in the first apostasy. Let us then be true to the facts of history and go really back to roots, and origins, and causes, and do not let us call ourselves old-fashioned simply because we are slothful. By every name that redeems and beautifies the earth, I protest against an old-fashionedness that thinks of itself, and is never lost in the generous absorption of apostolic self-oblivion.
Take a cutting out of any modern Church record, and put it beside this cutting from one of the earliest Church writers; then look on the two pictures, and tell me how the latter can justify even a family connection with the former. Verily mere was not much to induce the Apostles to go on with this work. Their payment was not large. The bribe did not amount to a temptation. Scoffing, imprisoning, neglect, hunger, cold, nakedness, thirst, abandonment. Yet they went forward with their work as if kings were their hired servants, and as if the treasures of the earth were bound to give them daily riches. How is this? What a fulfilment of Christ"s own word! In speaking of the revelation which Peter reported from heaven, Jesus said, "On this rock I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The gates of hell were not long in trying their strength upon that rock. Yea, the very bolts of fire seemed to be let loose upon the rock, as if they might melt it and cause it to flow away in fear and weakness. Are we in the Apostolic succession? Not so far! No man is in the Apostolic succession who is not in the Apostolic spirit, and the Apostolic spirit was a spirit of self-denial, self-suppression, courageous faith, valiant, soldier-like determination, to speak the truth and to live it. We trim, we modify, we adapt. Yes, that is what we are. Not Apostles, but adapters. I knew there was a word somewhere in the language that would exactly express our present spirit and service. We adapt the Gospel to the age. We preach to the times. We do not stand back in those eternal truths which belong to all ages, and whose musical thunder should bring into reconciliation every antagonism and discord. Yet we claim to be of the old-fashioned sort. The old-fashioned ministers bore scars for medals; they took honours in the school of suffering; they graduated in the dungeon and in the wilderness, and their breath was like the fresh air that blows round a mountain top. Do I speak to any young man who is about to enter the ministry? Any gentle, delicate, pale, frail creature who is going to take up the Apostolic banner—at least, the silken end of it? It is hard work. You can make it easy if you please; but in so pleasing you offend God. Wherever this Gospel is preached it must create antagonism. We have indeed, by a tacit compact, villainous in its every syllable, agreed to shut up the unpleasant, and to confine the disagreeable, and to hold converse only upon such topics and principles as soothe and comfort us, and assure us of our personal safety. Why, Christianity began as a fighting religion. When did it lay aside its first charter? Christianity came as a fire, as a sword, as a voice of judgment. When did it pass through a transformation which robbed it of its combativeness and made it as other faiths? When was this Samson shorn? See to it in very deed, because if we are Christians we must do deeds—at least bear such testimony as will bring upon us the aversion and hatred of wicked men. Any man who insists upon the disuse of ambiguity, and upon the use of straightforward and simple terms, must expect to bring upon himself hatred in the form of criticism, and must expect to be imprisoned within strong walls. Would that the old heroic days could come back upon us all! Do you know to whom you are indebted for the quiet enjoyment of Gospel privileges? Name the land from which the treasure came which you call your peace? You are indebted for your peace to the battles of other men. Because the Apostles suffered, we enjoy. Because they went to prison, we are kept out of it But the fear Isaiah, the shameful fear, is that we imagine that we are the creators of our own safety, and the originators of our own security. That would indeed be the climax of injustice and ingratitude. You are asked as young readers now and again to read the history of your nation; of the heroic days, of the brave days of chivalry, and I join in the appeal; but I add to it, and elevate it, and glorify it, by telling you to go back to Apostolic history, and to learn from those thrilling pages what it once was to be a Christian.
We ought, then, to have great patience with all persons who are starting up in any novel and eccentric way to endeavour to advance the Kingdom of Christ. If we begin to frown upon them, we repeat the iniquity which our Lord we know will condemn. We live in freedom. Christianity is wanting if it does not try by all means to save some. Christianity is still the religion of the Cross. That sacred, grim emblem is never allowed to fall into desuetude; and even on the most dazzling State occasions it is known by the agony of that symbol. Who dare appropriate the place in which we are now assembled, and many like it, to extraordinary or unusual religious services? Who dare fill such places as this with the very refuse and offscouring of London? If you came through many of the streets of the Metropolis this morning you saw crowds of persons who, probably, were never inside a Christian Sanctuary, or if they were, it was in some little colonial institution downstairs, or in some back place of the city, but not in the citadel that you call your Cathedral or your Temple, or your Tabernacle, or your Conventicle. The moment Christianity became respectable it became one of a multitude. Christianity must never have a second; she must not even be at the top of a list; she must be the Ruler, the One; and her uniqueness must be at once her strength and her beauty. Never forget that you are the descendants of men who ate up the fire that was to burn them, and digested it, and turned it into noble strength; that drank up the seas that were to have drowned them, and came through ever-thickening danger, gathering strength with exercise, and being made out of common men, heroic and illustrious characters.
Here you find Christianity working according to its opportunity. There were persons who brought sick folks in great numbers. There were multitudes out of the streets round about bringing with them those that were vexed with unclean spirits. Christianity does not examine into a man"s motive with such severity as to repel him from its bodily blessings. This is a law which, perhaps, we have not sufficiently recognized. Jesus Christ knew and said that the people came not for the sake of the doctrine, but for the loaves and fishes; but He did not, therefore, drive them away. Many others came to be healed, or to have their friends cured; and they cared not what was the speculative or metaphysical doctrine taught so long as a cure was effected. Jesus Christ healed all in the hope that he might save some. If you would feed all the poor of London you might save a few. Expect the sting of ingratitude, expect the discredit of imputed motives, expect that many whom you have helped will turn away from you in the time of your own necessity; but take not your inspiration from man"s ingratitude, but from Christ"s redeeming love. If we work for gratitude we will be ill paid, and we deserve to be. Whoever works for any degree of applause deserves all the contempt which may be inflicted upon him. Jesus Christ, let me repeat, for in repeating it I repeat a Gospel, healed all, if haply He might save some.
How do we account for the difference between Apostolic times, and our own days? Man is the same, truth is the same, the enmity of the heart against Christ and righteousness is the same. Christ is the same, the Holy Ghost is the same, and yet we are living along dwindling lines, and we are fast sinking into spiritual exhaustion. How is this? It is because we have lost the proper vocation of Christianity. What is that proper vocation? To save men, not to please them; not to flatter them, but to save them; and we have lost the proper vocation of the pulpit. The pulpit has become now another branch of book-making. The sermon has lost its individuality. It ought to be a thing that cannot be printed. A sermon that can be printed is not a sermon. A sermon is a speech, an expostulation, an entreaty, an exhortation, having its quality made up of the very personal elements of the man who delivers it—his accents, his quality of mind, his enlarged sympathy and nobleness; hence the true sermon is impregnated with elements which cannot be caught, fastened down, and presented to the eye. The sermon is not addressed to the eye; it is a thunder that beats upon the ear. You are to blame, as I Amos, along with all our contemporaries for the degradation of the sermon. We talk now about sermons being polished, and finished, and exquisite, with many a delicate little touch artistic. The Lord send fire upon all such abortions and burn them up, till their white ashes cannot any more be found! Read Christ"s words and wonder at their power. Read many of the subjects of Apostolic discourses and wonder at the results produced. Who can find in Whitefield"s sermons, Whitefield"s power? The sermon is not a book or a part of a book, it is not in the literary trade at all, it is something that stands apart, alone, and the preacher who is true to the vocation of the sermon will never lack a congregation. He has no competitor. It is when he begins to read his sentences and to measure them with sentences in books, that he becomes one of a number.
When he is true to inspired doctrine, and to his vocation, when he stands shoulder to shoulder with Paul and Peter, then he cannot be compared, for he is not in the list of competitive wrestlers and strugglers. But the Church must help the preacher. The Church must say to him in so many words, "Yes, you stand faithfully to that conception of preaching, and rely upon our prayers and sympathy, and trust and help."
As to the speech of Gamaliel, I accept it every word. Gamaliel gives me the only conditions the Church ought ever to ask for. To be left alone to carry our her own policy, and to realize the results of her own conception and faith. As a Christian teacher I have no right to ask to be heard at the expense of any other man. Let Theudas speak, let Judas of Galilee speak, and when they are done, let the Christian speaker make his appeal, and "the God that answereth by fire let Him be God."
Let Socrates conduct his dialogue, let Seneca read his moral proverbs and sententious ethics; let all Greek and Roman thinkers unfold their theories and make good their positions; let every man have all the hearing which he demands, and when they are all done, let us hear what Christ of Nazareth has to say, and "the God that answereth by fire let Him be God." Christianity is nothing if not heroically fearless.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 5". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25