Gateway to the Classics: St. Mark by J. Paterson Smyth
St. Mark by  J. Paterson Smyth


Spoiling Christ's Kingdom

Acts IV. 32, to V. 17.

"An enemy hath done this."

R ECAPITULATE last Lesson, briefly emphasizing the Courage and Confidence and Enthusiasm for God's service. What was the power that made them capable of this? Power of Holy Ghost at Pentecost. Now turn today from their public preaching and suffering and the persecutions of men, and see the effects of this power of the Holy Ghost on their ordinary life.

What two things are told of them in v.  32? Meaning of "one heart and one soul"? How many were they that were "of one heart and one soul"? (v.  4). Is this a usual thing to happen in this world? How did it happen? A great miracle, such miracles as Holy Ghost is performing always on men's souls. Here are 5,000 men of all varieties of age and character and position, of all varieties of opinion and temper and taste and feeling. Yet all in perfect agreement, because of their loving God and loving each other so thoroughly. That is what Holy Ghost always does, then and now.

Did their love consist merely in talking of love? How did they show it? They gave up all for each other's sake. Talk is cheap. Emotion is easy. But self-sacrifice is a thorough test. You remember our Lesson on St. Mark on "Glory of Self-sacrifice"? (Lesson VIII.) That was Christ's teaching to men, that self-sacrifice for God's sake and for others' sake was the grandest thing in the world. And now His disciples were learning His lesson. They cared only for God and their brethren. Cared not for self or money. Neither said any man that what he possessed was his own. They had one common fund; the rich put in all their riches, that the poor might share alike with themselves. They had learned Christ's lesson, that the true use of wealth was—what? Hoarding it up?—spending it all on our own fancies? No—doing good, serving God and their brethren.

Do you think their plan of community of goods was a very wise one? No. Even good men, filled with love and with power of Holy Ghost, can make mistakes. It would have been a beautiful plan if all  were entirely perfect. But this wicked world spoiled its beauty. Poor workingmen had not to work to support their families—were supported free. Probably some got lazy; other people pretended to be Christians in order to get supported, and so on; and so after a while the Church sadly learned that the devil could spoil the beauty even of their lovely "Kingdom of God."

But if it were a mistake, was it not a glorious, generous, noble mistake? Would you rather see a man make such mistake with a loving, generous motive, or see him letting the poor suffer through his selfish caution? Which would God rather see?

These early Christians were really trying to carry out our Lord's idea of founding a true "Kingdom of God" on earth. Remember our Lord's plan that He was so enthusiastic about. (St. Mark, Lesson II.) A "new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." A kingdom whose laws should be? The laws of Heaven. Whose glory should be? The glory of self-sacrifice. Whose power should be? Power of Love. Whose subjects should be of the character pictured in 1 Corinthians xiii. Tell me that character? "Suffer long and are kind—envy not—seek not their own—bear all things—hope all things—endure all things."

Have we yet got very near to having this beautiful kingdom? No; but we are getting nearer to it. Where in Lord's prayer do we pray for it? This little period in the early Church was a grand attempt at it. But Satan spoiled it greatly. Could not bear to see such a lovely thing in the world. How did he spoil it? (1) By tempting the poor to laziness and hypocrisy. (2) By tempting the rich to pretend generosity.

Two specimens are picked out for us of the rich men. Who? Read iv. 36, 37; v. 1, 2. Be careful to notice that the historian is contrasting the two. The bad chapter division unfortunately spoils contrast. Contrast is between work of Holy Ghost in Barnabas and work of Satan in Ananias. What did Barnabas do? What sort of character was he? Ever hear of him again? What did Ananias do? Who shared his sin? Who tempted him? Why? In order to spoil Christ's lovely kingdom. Like a wicked boy spoiling another boy's beautiful things out of spite. Oh, what a shame, in the glory of that beautiful Christ life in the Church, to dash in that horrible thing of ugliness and sin! Ought it not make us angry with Satan? Make us hate him and resist him? Make us so ashamed when we join with him, like Ananias, and are disloyal to our Lord! But if it was Satan's fault why blame Ananias? Could he have helped doing what he did? See what Peter blames him for (v.  3). He is held responsible. He could have resisted. He made himself tool of Satan. He let Satan fill his heart. Who should have filled it? (ch.  iv. 31). He let Satan come into the "temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians vi. 19), and coax him to go against his Lord.

Now question fully on the whole story, ch.  v. 1-17. (Notice proof that Holy Ghost is God in vv.  3, 4. "lied unto God.") Did Ananias really tell a lie? Did he speak at all? How could he then tell a lie? Yes. Acting a lie is just the same as saying it. Ananias said nothing. He simply walked in and laid down his money like Barnabas. But he tried to make the Church believe he was a generous, liberal Christian like Barnabas, full of love to God and man. Do boys and girls sometimes care more for good opinion of the Church than for that of God? Think more of comrades' good opinion than that of God's? Do they ever act a lie, and comfort themselves that they have not told one? Is there any difference in God's sight? Who condemned Ananias to death? Peter? Certainly not. Probably Peter was as much surprised as anyone else. It was Christ who was watching so closely over every movement of the Church (see Lesson on Acts I.), and saw the need of a terrible punishment just then when men were joining with Satan to spoil his beautiful plan for the blessing and happiness of mankind. Apparently in Sapphira's case Peter knew that the same thing would happen as to her husband. But it was the Lord who struck them both dead. We have been thinking so much about His love that we are in danger of forgetting the sterner side. Sometimes sinners force Him to be stern; and, dearly though He loves poor sinners, He hates sin with an awful hatred. If terrible punishment is necessary to prevent terrible evil, He will inflict it.

See the effect—great fear. Yes, that effect sometimes necessary. Great shock to the Church—would have been greater shock, perhaps, if falsehood and hypocrisy seemed to be thriving unpunished. It taught men not to make light of God's holiness or presume too far on His loving patience. (See v.  13). No more hypocrites or careless people dared to come into the Church of the holy Christ.


(1) Acted lie is same as spoken lie.

(2) Indignant resistance to Satan, the Lord's enemy, who is trying to make tools of us with which to spoil the Lord's blessed plans for good.

(3) What would make the Church to-day powerful and successful as in the first days? More of the power of the Holy Ghost, which we could have if in earnest about it. We want to show the world this "one heart and one soul," instead of the wretched divisions of Christians who refuse to worship and work for God together. We want to show, also, that we believe Christ's theory of wealth, that the highest use of money is the service of God and our brethren. We want to show them, like the infant Church, the enthusiasm for God and Righteousness, the willingness to bear everything for Christ's sake—the beautiful lives, kindly, loving, unselfish, brightening and blessing all life around us. We should soon convert the "heathen at home" and the heathen abroad. We should soon force the world to believe in the "Kingdom of God" and in the power of the Holy Ghost.

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