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The Holy Ghost was with the apostles, at this time, not in that ordinary measure in which he is with all the people of God; but in that extraordinary degree which gave them the power of "discerning spirits,"4 and of knowing what is in the heart. Therefore, to suppose that the apostles could be deceived by falsehood, was to suppose that the Holy Ghost could be deceived: to attempt an imposture upon the apostles, was to deny the existence or the power of the Holy Ghost: to lie, not unto men, but unto God. And God saw fit by a sudden judgment to show the heinousness of such hypocrisy in his sight: to show that "there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known."5 Had this truth been present to the mind of these two persons, or had they been so influenced by faith as to act upon it, they would not have committed their sin. What shall it profit us, they would have argued within themselves, if for a while in the esteem of man we are held to be thus generous? That feeling which now lies below, hidden in the heart, and covered by an outward appearance of zeal, will be revealed and brought to light hereafter before the whole assembled world.
So little, and therefore so justly, would the praise or blame of man be valued, if we could always keep in view the day when '' God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ."6
4 1 Cor. xii. 10. Without this power, the apostles could not have set the infant church in order. They might have been deceived as to the character and qualifications of those whom they most trusted; and such mistakes at that moment would be fatal.
5 Luke xii. 2.
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 unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much f And she said, Yea, for so much.
9. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord P behold, the feet of them that have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
10. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: 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, and upon as many as heard these things.
Thus this unhappy transaction, awful in itself, was over-ruled for good. It confirmed the power of the apostles; showed "that God was with them of a truth," and gave authority to all they did in establishing the church. Great fear, we are told, came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these words. And fear, rightly directed, is both proper and salutary to such a creature as man. The fear of God, and the dread of sin, as displeasing to God, is the greatest blessing to the soul. This awful example would produce and cherish it. Great fear might well come upon all the disciples, when they saw before their eyes the consequence of sin. This consequence we are ready to acknowledge. The difficulty is, to feel a due conviction of the truth. We confess, that " the wages of sin is death." But "because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."8 Here the sentence was executed speedily: here that judgment was witnessed, which it is part of our probation to believe; to receive on faith. And the whole event may well incline us to pray with David, "Keep back thy servant, O Lord, from presumptuous sins: let them not have dominion over me; then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression."9
6 Eom. ii. 16.
7 To tempt or prove the Spirit: as if to see, whether He would detect the fraud. Thus the Israelites are said to have tempted God in the wilderness by doubting his power.
Peter did not require her answer, for his own information; but he elicited it, to prove the guilt of Sapphira in the face of those assembled.
THE APOSTLES ARE IMPRISONED AND MIRACULOUSLY SET AT LIBERTY.—A.d. 33.
Acts V. 12—32.
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.1
13. And of the rest' durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.
14. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)
15. Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, 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 round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
17. Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is of the sect of the Sadducees,) and were
filled with indignation,
1 As before, chapter iii. 11. There they had their principal station: there they might be regularly found, both by their own party, and by those who desired to resort to them.
s Of the wavering and undecided, like those who had just now fallen under their hypocrisy.
18. And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
19. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,
20. Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.
Our Lord had promised, that the gates of hell should not prevail against the church,3 which Peter and John were now engaged in building. The promise implies that the powers of hell should be employed against it. They were employed. The high priest, ungodly himself,4 or he would not have united with the unbelieving Sadducees, sends officers to apprehend the men who were daring "to preach through Jesus the resurrection of the dead." They laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. If, at this important crisis, they had been permitted to remain there for any length of time, Satan might have prevailed. The shepherds being smitten, the sheep would have been scattered abroad. Therefore they must not be allowed to live there: the prison cannot hold them: the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple all the words of this life. The doors of the prison were opened, and the gates of hell were closed. The servants of Christ should still stand up in the
3. Matthew xvi. 18.
4 As is believed, a Sadducee, and certainly connected with that party: chapter v. 17.