The Dealings of God With Peter: 11. In the Acts of the Apostles

Acts 3‑9  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Acts 3-9. (Continued)
But mark another thing which is very interesting. Although Peter was filled with the Holy Ghost, although he spoke with this most convincing power, they could see that he was an unlearned man. Inspiration did not give the appearance of learning. Inspiration gave divine power and kept perfectly from error, but it did not hinder the character, the style, of the man who was inspired. This is of immense importance to us, because unbelief builds a great deal upon a certain style. For instance, you find the style of James, you find the style of Peter, you find the style of Paul. To be sure we do, and that is the perfection of inspiration. Inspiration does not mean God speaking to men. Inspiration means God speaking by man to men, and therefore you see that it is not only that you have God speaking, but you have God speaking by the man, and the man gives his own style to the word of God that is spoken. It is never called the word of man; it is the word of God, but still it is the word of God by man, passing through a human mind, a human heart, and a human mouth, it may be, to men.
Well, accordingly, there is a certain style which is impressed upon the word of God, only the Spirit of God takes care that there shall he no error; and so it was upon that day. They saw the boldness of these men, but further, they perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men. It was not that they were ignorant of the truth. They were ignorant themselves. It was not that they were unlearned in the Scriptures. It was Caiaphas and Annas and these others who were unlearned in the Scriptures; but still, judged by the mere standard of education or letters among men, undoubtedly Peter and John were ignorant and unlearned men; and their being filled with the Holy Ghost, I repeat, did not in the least set this aside. It did what was infinitely better. It showed the power and the grace of God, so to speak, made perfect in weakness. It showed that, although there was this ignorance and want of learning after a human sort, there was what manifested the Holy Ghost; and they were being used with divine power both for the blessing of the believer and for the conviction of the conscience of the unbeliever. “So they marveled,” it is said, “and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.”
But then there is another thing. There was the very man that had been made strong, and they could not get rid of this evidence. They had him before them, but he was there who was the witness of the power of God. “Beholding the man that was healed standing with them they could say nothing against it.” You see it is not ignorance which is the terrible and damning thing in men's hearts. It is will that desires to expel the testimony of God, the grace of God, and the power of God, if they could, out of God's own world. That was their case, then. But God made them feel it.
“When they had, therefore, commanded them to go aside, they conferred among themselves.” And they let out their conviction of the fact. There was no doubt of the miracle, “but that it spread no farther let us straitly threaten them.” So we see the blindness of unbelief following, for how absurd to suppose that God had wrought in this way, and that it should be kept hidden, or that the persons who were the instruments of the power of God should conceal such a thing, or that that power was not to work in other ways similarly. “Let us straitly threaten them that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all, nor teach, in the name of Jesus.” But this only brings out the divinely given courage and wisdom of the servants of God, for “Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God.” What a position! And these were the servants of God! These men claimed to have God's own authority in the world. “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God” —that is what it came to “judge ye; for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” All that then remained was to threaten them further, and to let them go. And when they did go we find a new thing. They went to “their own company,” and there it is for the first time that anything of that kind is mentioned in Scripture. And it is a very important truth, too, that now Christians had their own company. Before the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, there was nothing of the sort. Their own company would have been the Jews. Now there was their own company separate from the Jews, and the people who were most opposed, most hostile, to their company were the Jews; so it was clear that God had wrought in some entirely new way on the earth. He had given a new relationship, new affections. What was the center of this? Christ; that was what made the difference. Jesus, the rejected Jesus, the exalted Christ.
There, however, they find themselves, and they raise their voices to God with one accord, saying, “Lord, thou art God which hast made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things.” They applied the 2nd Psalm. “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings, and grant unto thy servants that with all boldness they may speak thy word.” And so they did. After that they had prayed there was an answer given of the most conspicuous kind. “The place was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and they spake the word of God with boldness.”
You must distinguish, therefore, between the gift of the Holy Ghost and the filling with the Holy Ghost. The gift of the Holy Ghost, once given, was forever given. The filling of the Holy Ghost depends upon circumstances, and upon this circumstance above all others—that nature is denied any place practically. When that is the case the Holy Ghost fills the soul that is emptied enough of self to look to God to fill it. It is our own thoughts, our own will at work, that hinders our being filled with the Holy Ghost. But now here they had learned how completely it was a question of God and of God's grace; for what were they? And yet they could see now what were the high priests, what was all Israel. Enemies of God; enemies of Jesus! They therefore felt how Christ was everything to them, and the consequence is that they were filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. That was the effect of it.
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.” There seems to be a fresh impetus given to all those spiritual affections that had been found even before. There was a fresh start. “Neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great came grace was upon them all. Neither was there any I make that remark because it shows the great among them that lacked, for as many as were possessors of land 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.” There was a remarkable form that the grace took as an outward sign. It is in the very thing which a Jew would have been as unlikely a man as any in the world to part with, for the Jew certainly has never been considered remarkable for this kind of readiness to lay down all that he has in the world. But that was exactly what the Spirit of God wrought within them. He had come to give men another being, another relationship, and that was the effect of it. The earth was nothing and the things on the earth were nothing.
And you must remember, along with this having things in common, that all the Christians in the world were there together in that one city. When God extended the testimony to other cities we never find anything of the sort. There never was what was commonly called community of goods when God began to work in the cities of Juda, and still more among the Gentiles. It is when they were all in Jerusalem. We all understand it. They were a family; they felt that they were one family; but when it came to God's working here and working there it is clear that the day for community of goods was passed, and so there was a modification entirely of this remarkable display of the grace of God when the testimony extended to other places. Otherwise it would have been mere independency.
Now, there is no principle more opposed to the church of God than what is commonly called “independency” and “congregationalism.” Nothing. There is no one thing more opposed to it, because the having, in our own little circle, that which is the boundary of our affections and our duties cramps the church of God and hinders our sense of oneness, which is the essential truth of the word of God. There is “one body” all over the earth. We see therefore that, while the members of that one body were all in the one city, a state of things was suitable in the hands of the Spirit of God which was quite unsuited when Christianity became propagated and found in other places also. I make that remark because it shows the great folly of those that think, “Oh, how nice a thing it would be to have community of goods now.” The same kind of thing has entered into the heads of people at various times. It is true that they have carried it out in a very imperfect manner. There is another thing, too, that ruins it, and that is, making a law of it. Now there was no law in Jerusalem. Nobody asked them. It was a thing spontaneously done, and it was done, too, only by those who really had faith to do it. And it was there that Satan hindered. He put it into the heart of a man and a woman there to pretend to give up all their goods when they did not do so. And the story of this is the next thing that comes before us.
We have seen the hostile power of the world, and the world was defeated, but now we have to face another thing. Evil creeps into the church. But is there not power to meet it? There was ample power then, and so it was that the moment it appeared it was met by the superior power of the Holy Ghost. That is what I am going to show you as the great feature of the fifth chapter of the Acts. It is power of every variety meeting the effort of the devil to hurt the church of God. Now the first and most serious thing of all was the corrupting of some that bare the name of the Lord. And what showed the serious character of it was this: it was not merely an impulse, it was an agreement. It was deliberate deceit, and it was deliberate deceit of the very worst kind, because it was deliberate deceit to get the credit of superior grace without reality. This is what comes out, then. A certain man named Ananias —and this is confronted with what particularly marked a good man just before, Barnabas, that son of consolation—that man who in word and deed comforted so many desolate hearts—and a Levite too. No doubt things were only confused, too, because it was a strange thing that a Levite should possess lands and houses. And no doubt lie felt it; and accordingly it was such a happy opportunity to lay them down for Him who had died for him; to lay them down for those who were dear to Him. And so he did. He brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.
“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it.” They had time, therefore, to think what they were about. They were perfectly aware. It was no sudden impulse; it was a design. Just as if God were not looking upon it and quite aware! God was there; not now merely God in heaven, and not merely God in a vague way upon the earth, but God come down in special grace in the person of the Holy Ghost, to take His place with His people here below. It was an entirely new thing. It was not merely the vague sense of God delivering earth, but there was the dwelling of God—the special dwelling of God—in the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, who had now come and made the church His dwelling-place. So this aggravated the devil. “Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?”
I will make this remark, which I think to be one of practical moment, that all sin now, properly speaking, is sin against the Holy Ghost. I know there are many people who are dreadfully afraid of that term— “sin against the Holy Ghost.” They very often think and fear that they have sinned against the Holy Ghost. The fact is that every sin which a Christian commits is sin against the Holy Ghost—every sin. You will tell me, then, what a dreadful case that makes out. It is a very serious thing, but what you probably have got in your own minds is not sin against the Holy Ghost, but blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Now the moment that you distinguish between sin and blasphemy it at once delivers you from a great deal of uneasiness which has no foundation whatever. What is the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost? The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is the sin of a man that not only gives way to utter unbelief, rejects Christ, rejects the gospel, but imputes it all to the devil, imputes it to Beelzebub, that is, denies the Holy Ghost to have His part in that which is all part of that wonderful working of the spirit of grace founded upon redemption in our Lord Jesus Christ. If I impute the word of God—because it is all a part of the same great system of divine grace which He has now wrought in Christianity—if I impute the word of God to the devil it is clear that I am given up to the most hateful and abominable rebellion against God, and therefore it is plain that I am destroying all possibility of salvation for my soul. This is what people forget to be that which is meant by blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and it is plain that persons who are so found are lost. It is plain that they cannot be forgiven.
But this is clearly the last result of unbelief, and never can be found in a Christian person or anything like it. A person may be troubled with bad thoughts; that is another thing altogether. But these people were people that were not troubled at all. They were people that gloried in their wickedness; gloried in it; had no conscience about it whatever. They had got fully hardened and seared by Satan. I repeat that no sin now is what it was to a Jew. A Jew's sin was sin against the law. It was transgression of the law. But that does not define a Christian's sin. A Christian's sin is sin against the Holy Ghost, because the Holy Ghost has taken up His abode in the Christian, and, consequently, whatever sin he does is a disrespect to and a grief to the Holy Ghost. Hence a lie now is not merely a lie. In this case it was a very formal and deliberate one. Peter, therefore, brings out that which made its character to be awful: it was a lie against the Holy Ghost. “To lie to the Holy Ghost and to keep back part of the price of the land.” And the consequence is that he laid this upon him—that it was not to man he lied, but to God. God was there, and he had acted as if God was not there. So Ananias, on hearing these words, expires, and great fear came upon all.
What added to it was this: the wife came in not long after. The young men, in fact, had only returned from burying the husband when the woman came in, not knowing what was done, about three hours after; and Peter said to her, “Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much. And she said, Yea, for so much. 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.” So she fell down also, “and great fear came upon all the church.”
(To be continued) [W. K.