On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 4:31-37.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 318 - November 1882


Chapter 4:31-37.

A distinct and immediate answer to united prayer was now given, faith as ever receiving more than it asked. " And when they prayed, the place wherein they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the1 Holy Spirit, and spoke the word of God with boldness. And the heart and soul of the multitude of these that believed was one; and not one said that aught of his possessions was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power did the apostles give their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great grace was upon them all. For as many as were owners of lands or houses sold [them] and brought the prices of the things that were being sold, and laid [them] at the feet of the apostles; and distribution was made to each according as any one had need. And Joseph that by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, son of exhortation), a Levite, Cyprian by birth, having a field, sold [it] and brought the money and laid [it] at the feet of the apostles." (Verses 31-37).

The voice of Jehovah shaketh the wilderness. He looketh on the earth and it trembleth. So when He comes to reign, the earth will see and tremble. Here it is not in judgment, but in grace that He gave this outward token of His intervention, not conveying as in an earthquake the idea of some universal and unlimited danger, but, by its peculiar form, limited to the place wherein they were assembled, giving the conviction that He heard and watched over them for His own glory.

But there was more and better than any external sign. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke (not now, as far as we are told, with other tongues, but) the word of God with boldness. It was the presence of God manifested most suitably in power but grace withal. It is wholly distinct from that operation of the Spirit where a soul is born anew. It was the energy of the Holy Spirit, shown outwardly as well as in believers: the Spirit not only given, but excluding the action of flesh so that, for the time at least, nothing wrought which was not of Himself. It was spiritual power but in the dependence of faith, and uttering not strong and original ideas, but the word of God with boldness, as became His servants, confiding in His perfect grace, and feeling the ruin of man without Christ. Before this, two of the apostles when forbidden by the high authorities of Israel pleaded, " We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." They were all now animated with like faith and fervour in the Holy Ghost. It was no small thing for any to be thus strengthened; how much more to see au entire company of such confessors.

How are they characterised? " And the heart and soul of the multitude of those that believed was one." Never before Pentecost had such a sight appeared on earth. The description is, if possible, more vividly spiritual now that opposition came out distinctly against them. All savours of His presence who deigned to come down from heaven and make the saints the dwelling-place of God. The Holy Spirit it is whose energy works all that is acceptable to God, all that is edifying for man. Without Him there had been only se many individuals. The Spirit unites to Christ; He also and thereby gives practical unity as here. The heart and soul of those that believed, though a multitude, was one. Undoubtedly such unity could not have been without one supreme and absorbing object, even Christ; but there was also needed the power of the Spirit to exclude the activity of each several will. For flesh loves to differ, and seeks its own things. Next they all sought the things of Jesus Christ, though without intelligence of union with Christ or heavenly relationships. Yet never before nor since has there been in any communion on earth an equal testimony to deliverance through His name from the selfishness of nature and the pride of the world, never more sustained joy in God or mutual love through our Lord Jesus. It was the accomplishment of the prayer in John xvii. 20, 21, "that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." Their heart and soul was one. The expression of the inspired historian is most energetic, as the practical unity in grace was realised with singular brightness before the world. No sign of greater weakness in the church than division of way, feeling, or thought; no more evident mark of the Spirit's power than unity of which Christ is the spring and character.

Next follows, as fresh as ever, that unexampled token of superiority to personal interests which Pentecost first beheld. "And not one said that aught of his possessions was his own. but they had all things common." Certainly this was in no sense law but grace; but is it not surprising that any believing the scriptures should elude the plain and blessed fact? It was a state of things beautifully suited to the church when it was all in Jerusalem, and in the full early bloom created by the ungrieved Holy Spirit: when saints were gathered to the Lord elsewhere, we find it no more. Communion of goods, so far as it was carried out in grace, in the nature of things could only be rightly whilst all the members were in one place. When the Lord wrought in other places, the saints were as near in divine relationship as those that dwelt in the same city. That which was peculiar to the assembly in Jerusalem then merged into more ordinary and comprehensive forms of love toward all the saints wherever found: for the church on earth is one, and we are members one of another even if in the most distant quarters of the globe. We have then instruction and exhortation of the, most precious kind about giving, as in Rom. xii., 1 Cor. xvii., 2 Cor. viii. ix., Gal. vi., Eph. iv., Phil. iv., 1 Tim. vi., Heb. xiii., &c., clearly supposing no such state as all things common, but rather rich and poor who were appealed to accordingly. The word of the Lord, though to us always true, was receiving its most marked application: "Verily, I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren; or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."

Here too we are told of the prominent place Christ's resurrection held in apostolic teaching. "And with great power did the apostles give their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." Need it be urged that the apostles were right, not the moderns who preach the Lord in His service, or in His death, and there practically stop? For thus do these curtail the true witness of its. blessed fulness; and all their preaching, not to say their faith, suffers. For why sever the resurrection from the death of Christ? If He be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain: ye are yet in your sins. Without His resurrection there is no proof that our sins are gone, ourselves justified, and God glorified. Where resurrection is not held fast in power, the door is ever open both to ignore man's total ruin, and the full deliverance God has wrought in Christ and is now giving freely in His grace. One may reason, others may hope; but the resurrection is the grand fact that He who suffered for our sins is no longer in the grave where man laid His body, but is raised of God; whose glad tidings concerning His Son are that He is thus proclaimed victorious over sin and death, to the salvation of every believer.

And this witness is of all efficacy for the believer, for " great grace was upon them all." It is of all moment to arrest and turn unbelievers; but faith sees in the resurrection of the Lord the pledge of its own justification no less than of the judgment of all who oppose or neglect so great salvation. The God who raised from the dead Him who made Himself responsible for our sins, and went down into death under divine judgment for our sakes, is the Saviour God; and His great grace reproduces itself in those who know Him thus. Love is not the fruit of a command or of an effort to love. His grace has creative power of graciousness in such as know themselves loved of Him.

It is painful that any one should, from chap. ii. 47, reduce this great grace to " popular favour." The next verse does not give the reason why the people looked favourably upon them (" because they suffered none of their number to be in need," as if the church were a good benefit club!). Verse 34 really exemplifies a special way in which the great grace upon them wrought: especially as it was no longer the simple immediateness of giving which was originally seen in chap. ii. 44, 45. Now, when lands or houses were sold, the prices were laid at the feet of the apostles, and distribution was made to each according as anyone had need. What a contrast between the spontaneous unselfishness here manifest, and the formal rigour of monastic rule, Mendicant Friars, &c.!

Among those distinguished by their self-stripping love for the brotherhood stands. specially recorded the afterwards eminent name of Joseph, surnamed Barnabas (verses 36, 37), son of exhortation or perhaps consolation. Later on (xi. 24) he is characterised as "a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith." Here, a Cyprian, he is said to have been a Levite, yet possessed of a field, which he sold, and laid the money at the feet of the apostles. The express mention of the circumstance here proves how little the practice had, become compulsory: for why name Barnabas in particular, if it were rule absolute and universal? Where men imitate in the world or even in the church, law-work supersedes grace, and the community swamps the individual, to the destruction of love on one side and of conscience on the other. The grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ alone puts and keeps both in their true place, whether the individual or the body, because thus only God is God before man believingly. Popery and communism alike strive in vain to realise the unselfish grace of these early days in the church; for they are, neither of them, likenesses but caricatures, as far as possible from having the same source, character, or issue. Grace is inimitable: only the Holy Spirit can produce it in reality. He it is who wrought in so rich a measure then; and He abides to work whatsoever is in keeping with Christ at all times, with full consideration of what is due to God's actual ways, and man's state also. But the interests and activity of the Holy Ghost are no longer in the fold of Israel. He is present, in the fulness of grace and power withal, in a new and different sphere outside Israel no less than the nations; He is there bearing witness of the risen Jesus whom men crucified and slew, and of the boundless blessing conferred on those that confess Him. He is producing new and suited fruit in those that are His, united as one soul, whatever their old habits or once clashing interests: such now the sweet effect of their oneness in the Father and the Son, that the world might believe that the Father sent the Son.



1) The article is required by the beet authorities: a plain proof, if needed, that the Holy Spirit personally is in question, not a mere influence. Bishop Middleton is also mistaken about the converse, or absence of the article, which is quite independent of personality, nod simply characterizes.