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created by the liberality of others who had possessions. Acts ii. 44. "All that believed were together, and had all things common : and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need." Acts iv. 35. "As many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices 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."
The creation of such a fund, by the negotiations attending the sale of property; and, still more, the management of it afterwards, would be matter of no small difficulty. If out of all the baptized converts, only a thousand families applied for relief, there would be employment for more time than the apostles could spare. They must become servers of tables, keepers of accounts, instead of dispensers of the word of God.
Moreover, there arose a murmuring of the foreign Jews against the natives of Judea, as if their destitute families, and especially their widows or women, were neglected in the daily ministration.3 It is not probable that there was just ground for this complaint. It is far more likely that it arose out of those feelings of jealousy, which in nature are grievously predominant, and are hardly kept down by divine grace. Experience was sure to
3 Ai xvpac> are manifestly destitute female relations. The christian widows, properly so called, could not yet be numerous. The word is used in the same sense in 1 Timothy v. 9.
prove that such feelings would exist, when numbers were to be supplied out of a common fund, to which all had an equal claim.
There is at first sight something very pleasing in the thoughts of a community supplied as these first Christians were. How delightful, we are inclined to say; there were "none among them that lacked :" none who had more than their necessities required. What was superfluous to one family supplied what was deficient to another.
This, however, is a state of things which cannot last long in this world. He who ordained that man should "eat bread by the sweat of his brow," also ordained that every man should eat the bread of his own labour: should support, not his neighbour, but himself: should depend upon his own exertions, and enjoy his own possessions. It was only at Jerusalem, only at the first creation of the christian church, that this general rule was interrupted. No such practice prevailed, when new churches were gradually formed at Antioch, and Ephesus, and Philippi, and throughout the whole world. St. Paul speaks very vehemently on this point: saying, (1 Timothy v. 8,) "If any provide not for his own, especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."
There would, no doubt, be times, when a man could not provide for his own. And then another ordinance comes in, and supplies a remedy, "Look not every man on his own. things, but every man also on the things (the wants, the interests) of others." "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate." "Whoso have this world's good, and seeth his brother hath need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him ?" 4 To seek out, and to assist, the proper objects, is the business of christian charity. And of such assistance on the one side, and dependence on the other, the result is, mutual good will. The one party gives that which is his own; that which he might retain as his own, that which he denies himself to part with. The other receives that to which he has no claim, except through the christian principles of his neighbour.
Here, however, at Jerusalem, was a common fund, to which all had an equal claim. And this event shows us the wisdom of the general ordinance, and the danger of annulling it. The multitude, who were so lately "of one heart and one soul," are now likely to be divided. Even their common faith and peculiar circumstances could not prevent a murmuring. Some thought that others obtained too much, and that they and their families were neglected.
For the present emergency, it was needful to maintain the system which had been begun. The apostles, however, provided, that as far as in them lay, there should be no reasonable cause of discontent. Look ye out, they say to the disciples assembled together, choose for yourselves, seven men, (that number may suffice for the present,) seven men of honest report, (of known and approved character,) full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, (men seen to be living under the influence of the Spirit of God,) whom we may appoint over this business.
4 Phillip, ii. 4.—1 Timothy vi. 17.—1 John iii. 17.
5. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch: 5
6. Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
Laid their hands upon them. So Moses (Num. xxvii. 22) by divine command took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation : and he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded.
It was the solemn mode of invoking the grace of God, and commending the individual to his blessing. When young children were brought to Jesus "he laid his hands upon them, and blessed them."6 And one of the signs which were to accompany the apostles was, that "they should lay their hands upon the sick, and they should recover. 7
Thus solemnly devoted to their office, the deacons entered upon their charge. It was not temporary. We find from the epistle to Timothy, that deacons were stated ministers of the church. Neither was it merely secular; Stephen, as we shall soon see, continued to preach the gospel: Philip, as we shall soon see, did not hesitate to baptize. They were still engaged, therefore, in whatever might promote the progress of the gospel. But especially, at present, they were to attend to the temporal affairs of the church, and were not devoted so entirely as the apostles to prayer and the ministry of the word.
5 The Grecians were the complaining party. And it is remarkable that the names of those chosen to set the matter right are Grecian names. So careful were they to avoid the appearance of favour and partiality.
6 Matthew xix. 15. ^ Mark xvi. 18.
Only a few months had elapsed since the death of Jesus. And already was a community united . together, acknowledging him as their Lord and their God; and so numerous, as to require seven persons to administer their property. Surely the words of Gamaliel were verified: and "this counsel and this work" was not of men, but of God.
STEPHEN ACCUSED OF SPEAKING AGAINST THE LAW OF MOSES.—A. n. 33.
Acts vi. 7—15.
7. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.