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5. Ananias and Sapphira

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. 5And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. 6And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. 7And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. 8And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. 9Then 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. 10Then 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. 11And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

12And 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. 13And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. 14And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.) 15Insomuch 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. 16There 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.

17Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, 18And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. 19But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, 20Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. 21And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told, 23Saying, 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. 24Now 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. 25Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. 26Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. 27And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, 28Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.

29Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. 30The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. 31Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

33When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. 34Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; 35And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. 36For 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. 37After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. 38And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: 39But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. 40And 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.

41And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

1. Those things which Luke hath reported hitherto did show that that company, which was gathered together under the name of Christ, was rather a company of angels than of men, Moreover, that was incredible virtue, that the rich men did despoil themselves of their own accord, not only of their money, but also of their land, that they might relieve the poor. But now he showeth that Satan had invented a shift to get into that holy company, and that under color of such excellent virtue; for he hath wonderful wiles of hypocrisy to insinuate himself. This way doth Satan assault the Church, when as he cannot prevail by open war. But we must specially in this place have respect unto the drift of the Holy Ghost. For in this history he meant to declare, first, how acceptable singleness of heart is to God, and what an abomination hypocrisy is in his sight; secondly, how greatly he alloweth [approves] the holy and pure policy and govermnent of his Church. For this is the principal point, the punishment wherewith punished Ananias and his wife. As the greatness thereof did at that time terrify them all, so it is unto us a testimony that God cannot abide this unfaithfulness, when as bearing a show of holiness where there is none, we do mock him contemptibly. For if, having weighed all the circumstances, we be desirous to know the sum, Luke condemneth no other fault in Ananias than this, that he meant to deceive God and the Church with a reigned offering. Yet there were more evils packed under this dissimulation: the contempt of God, whom he feareth not, though he knew his wickedness; sacrilegious defrauding, because he keepeth back part of that which he professeth to be holy to God; perverse vanity and ambition, because he vaunteth himself in the presence of men, without having any respect unto God’s judgment; want of faith, because he would never have gone this way to work, unless he had mistrusted God; the corrupting of a godly and holy order; furthermore, the hypocrisy itself was a great offense of itself. 237237     “Accedit huc quoque obstinata mentiendi audacia,” to this was also added an obstinate audacity in lying, omitted. The fact of Ananias did bear a goodly show, 238238     “Praeclarum in speciem et memorabile,” in appearance noble and memorable. although he had given only the half of his land. Neither is this a small virtue, for a rich man to bestow the half of his goods upon the poor; but the sacrifices of the ungodly are an abomination to God, (Proverbs 15:8;) neither can any thing please him where the singleness of heart is wanting. For this cause is it that Christ maketh more account of the two mites offered by the widow, than of the great sums of others, who of their great heaps gave some part, (Luke 21:2.) This is the cause why God doth show an example of such sharp punishment in Ananias. Now, let us note every point by itself. He laid it at the feet of the apostles. Lo, what ambition doth! Ananias is ashamed not to be accounted one of the best; therefore, although he be greedy of money, yet to the end he may purchase a name amongst men, he depriveth himself of some part of his riches. In the meanwhile, he doth not consider that he lieth and deceiveth in the sight of God, and that God will punish this lie. So it is, that he honoreth the apostles’ feet more than God’s eyes. Wherefore, we must take good heed, that when we do well, we do not seek to be praised of the bystanders; 239239     “Theatri plausum appetamus,” long for the plaudits of a theatre. and it is not without cause that Christ saith, that it is profitable for us when we give our alms, to have the left hand ignorant of that which the right hand doth.

3. And Peter said. How did Peter know Ananias’ fraud (and purloining?) Undoubtedly by the revelation of the Spirit. Therefore, Luke signifieth unto us, that the apostles did after a sort represent God’s person, and supply his room. If the Spirit of God, by the mouth of a mortal man, do so sore urge an hypocrite, being otherwise painted with the beautiful color of virtues, how shall the reprobate abide the voice of God himself, with the sound of the trumpet, when they shall appear before his judgment-seat? Furthermore, Peter pointeth out the cruelness and horribleness of the offense 240240     “Criminis atrocitatem,” the atrocity of the crime. by his question, when he saith, that Satan had filled the heart of Ananias. For there is no man whose heart is not pricked with the pricks of Satan, and all men are also many ways tempted, yea, these temptations pierce into their minds; but where Satan possesseth the heart, he reigneth in the whole man, having, as it were, expelled God. This is a sign of a reprobate, to be so addicted and given over to Satan, that the Spirit of God hath no place. That which followeth afterward concerning lying may have a double sense; either that he did falsely bear a show of the Spirit, or that he lied against the Spirit. And, indeed, it is word for word mentiri Spiritum; but forasmuch as the Greek word [ψευδεσθαι] is joined with a double accusative case and that doth better agree with the text [context,] I am rather of this mind, that Ananias is reprehended, because he did lie falsely to the Holy Ghost. Which he confirmeth shortly after, when he upbraideth this unto him, that he hath lied unto God, and not unto men. Wherefore we must take great heed, that hypocrisy reign not in us, which hath this wickedness proper to it, to go about to deceive God, and, as it were cornicum oculos configere. To go about to make blind those which are most wise; 241241     “Veluti cornici, uti proverbio dicitur, configere oculos,” and as the proverb says, “put out the eyes of the crow.” which cannot be without a disloyal and unseemly mock. Wherefore it is not without cause that Peter saith, that where this cometh to pass the heart is possessed of Satan. For who durst (unless he were void of reason) so blaspheme God? Therefore Peter asketh him as of some wonder, because such blindness is horrible.

4. Did it not remaining. This amplifieth the offense because he sinned, being enforced by no necessity. For seeing it is no just or lawful excuse to have been provoked by some other means, how much worse is it to run headlong unto wickedness willingly, and, as it were of set purpose to pull down God’s vengeance? We gather out of this, that no man was enforced to sell his goods or lands. For Peter saith, that Ananias had free liberty to keep both his land and his money; because in the second member, the field which was sold is taken for the price itself. Therefore he should nevertheless have been counted faithful, though he had kept that which was his own. Whereby it appeareth that they are men destitute of their right wits, who say that it is not lawful for the faithful to have anything of their own.

Thou hast not lied to men, but to God. Although the words be diversely construed, yet do I not doubt but that this confirmeth the former sentence. For hypocrites do so enwrap themselves in so many shifts, that they think they have nothing to do with God. And Peter speaketh thus expressly, because Ananias had deceived the Church. But he ought to have considered, that

“where two or three be gathered together in the name of Christ, he is present there as the chief governor,”
(Matthew 18:20;)

yea, he ought to have behaved himself no otherwise in that assembly, than if he should have seen God with his eyes. For seeing that God will reign in the Church, if we give him any reverence, we must reverence that rule and government religiously which he exerciseth by his Word. The apostles were indeed men, but not private men, because God had put them in his stead. Furthermore, we must note, that he saith that he lieth to God who doth lie to the Holy Ghost. For the divinity of the Holy Ghost is manifestly proved by this form of speech. In like sort Paul saith, “Ye are the temples of God, because his Spirit dwelleth in you,” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; and 6:19.)

5. When Ananias heard these things. The death of Ananias doth, indeed, declare and prove the force of the word, which Paul cloth highly extol; to wit, that it is the savor of death unto death to those which perish, (2 Corinthians 2:16.) He speaketh, indeed, of the spiritual death of the soul, but there was a visible sign in the body of Ananias of that punishment which cannot be seen with the eyes of men. He was not slain with sword, by force, nor hand, but was stricken dead with the only hearing of the voice. When we hear this, let the threatenings of the gospel terrify us, and humble us in time, lest we also feel the like effect. For that which is spoken of Christ,

“He shall slay the wicked with the breath of his mouth.”
(Isaiah 11:4,)

doth not only appertain to the head of the wicked, but also to every member. For those which refuse the salvation offered in his word, it must needs be deadly to them, which was naturally wholesome. But and if any man do think it an absurd thing that the apostle did punish Ananias bodily, first, I answer, that this was an extraordinary thing; secondly, that this was one of the gifts of the Spirit, as it appeareth by the 19th chapter of the First to the Corinthians, (verse 10.) After which sort we shall afterward see Elymas, the sorcerer, stricken with blindness by Paul, (Acts 13:8.) Therefore, Peter did nothing which was impertinent to his function, when he did in time shoot that dart which the Holy Ghost had given him. And whereas some think that this was too cruel a punishment, this cometh to pass, because, weighing Ananias’ sin in their own and not in God’s balance, they count that but a light offense which was a most great and grievous crime, being full of such heinous offenses as I have already declared. Other some do think that this was nothing so, because they see many hypocrites escape scot free daily, which do no less mock God than did Ananias; yea, because they themselves being most gross contemners of God, are yet notwithstanding unpunished for their wickedness. But as God hath poured out visible graces upon his Church in the beginning, to the end we may know that he will be present with us by the secret power of his Spirit, yea, he showed that openly by external signs, which we feel inwardly by the experiment of faith; so he declared by the visible punishment of two, how horrible a judgment remaineth for all hypocrites, which shall mock God and his Church.

And there came great fear This was the Lord’s purpose, by punishing one to make the rest afraid, that they might reverently beware of all hypocrisy. And that which Luke saith, that they feared, doth appertain unto us also. For God meant to give all ages a lesson at that time, that they may learn to deal sincerely and uprightly with him. In the mean season, the punishment of this wicked person ought to have encouraged the godly hereafter to consecrate their goods more freely to God and the poor; because they might gather how precious alms was in the sight of God, seeing the profaning thereof was so punished. 242242     “Tam graviter,” so grievously, severely.

7. That punishment wherewith the Lord punished Sapphira containeth no new thing, save only that the example was the more confirmed thereby. And it came to pass by the certain providence of God, that the Church should see apart the obstinate wickedness and treacherous mind of them both. Seeing their faults were alike, they might have been known together; but this was more fit and profitable for the Church, that they might severally bewray their own wickedness. Neither was Sapphira provoked by the sight of her husband to dissemble, (as it falleth out oftentimes,) that the fault could be ascribed to shamefacedness, but of her own accord, and being pricked forward by no other means, she seemeth to be no better than her husband. Moreover, their wickedness in lying was like, forasmuch as she may see by Peter’s interrogation that their guile was found out.

8. Tell me. We see that God doth not by and by 243243     “Subito impetu,” by sudden impulse. punish her, but first he trieth the matter thoroughly, lest he should send vengeance upon any save the obstinate, and those which will not be pardoned. 244244     “Qui sibi veniam praecidunt,” who cut themselves off from pardon. For although Sapphira did know that the matter was hidden, she ought to have been stricken with this question of Peter, no otherwise than if she had been cited to appear before the judgment-seat of God. She hath a time granted her to repent; yea, this is, as it were, a pleasant 245245     “Placida,” calm. inviting unto repentance. But she, in holding on so carelessly, 246246     “Pergendo secure,” in proceeding securely. doth declare that she was incurable, because she is touched with no fear of God.

And hereby are we taught to labor diligently to bring sinners into the way. For the Spirit of God keepeth this moderation; but when as stubbornness and the stubborn contempt of God is added unto the offense, it is now high time to punish. Therefore, those men are too arrogant who are displeased with the immoderate rigor of God. It is rather our duty to consider how we shall in time to come 247247     “Olim,” one day. stand before the judgment-seat of God; although this is too much to despise his holy power and majesty, if we will have him mocked freely without any punishment. Moreover, so many circumstances, which before I have gathered, do sufficiently prove that Ananias and Sapphira were not worthy of one death only. For, first of all, hypocrisy is of itself very abominable to God. Secondly, whereas they are determined to lie unto God, this ariseth of great contempt, in that they do not reverence and fear Christ, being the Chief Governor of those amongst whom they were. It is ungodliness joined with impudency; because, so they can escape shame and reproach amongst men, before whom they were determined to vaunt and brag, they pass not to deny their manifest wickedness unto God. Whereas they do stubbornly deny their offense, this doth, as it were, make up the heap and measure. And whereas innumerable hypocrites do no less mock God and the Church daily, who, notwithstanding, are not punished with death, I have already showed why this ought to seem to be no inconvenient thing. 248248     “Absurdum,” absurd or strange. Forasmuch as God is the only Judge of the world, it belongeth to him to punish every man at his pleasure, when and how it seemeth good to him. Wherefore we must not prescribe unto him a certain mean and manner of punishment. But the greatness of the spiritual judgment, which is as yet hid, hath been set before us in the bodily punishment of two, as in a mirror. For if we consider what it is to be cast into eternal fire, we shall not judge that this is the greatest evil and punishment of all, to fall down dead before men. Look the 10th chapter of the First to the Corinthians, verse 5.

9. To tempt the Spirit. He uttereth the same thing in other words which he had said before; to wit, that they did mock God unreverently and contemptibly. But he said that they tempted the Spirit, because they had cunningly packed their fraud, as if the Spirit of God were not the knower of the hearts. For it was a point of too great carelessness, seeing the one made the other privy to their wickedness, to make their match between themselves, having, as it were, excluded God. For the Scripture saith, that God is tempted either when his power is taken from him, or the knowledge of all things is denied him. Furthermore, he meaneth that Spirit which governed the Church by the apostles. For when Christ saith, When the Spirit cometh, he shall judge the world, he noteth no other kind of authority than that which he exerciseth by the ministry of the Church.

11. And there came fear. He saith, again, that the punishment of one was a lesson to all. But he plainly expresseth in this place a double fear. He saith that the Church feared, because the faithful do never so perfectly fear God, but that they profit yet more, being admonished by his judgments. Therefore, by all those punishments which we read have been laid upon men in times past, and do daily see to be laid upon them, doth God call us back from the enticements and liberty of sinning. For our flesh must be bridled every now and then after this sort, because one bridle will scarce serve the turn. There was another manner [of] fear in the strangers, yet no such fear as brought them unto the sincere worship of God; yet, notwithstanding, it was such as caused them to give the glory to God.

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