Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 319 - December 1882
Manifestation of grace provokes the adversary, and the flesh would gladly gain the highest credit to itself at the least possible cost. It was early to forget that God had just made the assembly His dwelling place; and certainly the witnesses to His presence therein were many and plain. But the enemy knows how to lure the soul by degrees into fatal evil, and spiritual pretension is a direct road and a slippery as well as rapid descent.
Barnabas had been singled out for special mention as he was afterwards to be used and honoured of God in the front rank of His servants. Ananias follows, but his heart was not right with God: that moment of "great grace upon all" was seized for his great deceit, with the aggravation of his wife knowing and taking part in it. Row many a christian woman has been the true helpmeet of her husband in timely warning and instant appeal, condemning any and every evil at the first buddings! Row dreadful when the man and the woman aid one another to forget God and Ris gracious but holy presence! when they agree to dishonour the name of the Lord by lying pretensions to self-sacrificing devotedness!
"But a certain man, Ananias by name, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession and reserved [part] of the price, his wife also being privy: and brought and laid a certain part at the feet of the apostles. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to reserve for thee of the price of the land? When it remained, did it not remain to thee; and when sold, was it not in thy power? How [is it] that thou conceivedst this thing in thy heart? Thou didst lie not to men but to God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down and expired; and great fear came upon all the hearers, and the younger [men] arose, swathed him, and carrying out buried [him].' (Ver. 1-6.)
Sin is aggravated by the position of the guilty, as is carefully shown in Lev. iv. The ruler is distinguished from one of the people, and the anointed priest involved far more serious consequences than both.
But there is another and yet more solemn criterion, the presence of God, and this according to His nature now fully revealed. In Israel it was Jehovah dwelling in the thick darkness, who governed His people, around Him yet unable to draw near, the Holy Ghost thus signifying that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest. Now it is, by virtue of the blood of Christ, who has therefore entered once for all into the holies, having found eternal redemption. Therefore also is the Holy Spirit come down to constitute us God's dwelling place, His holy temple. If sin became exceeding sinful through the commandment, how abominable in the light of the cross! But therein God condemned sin, not only in its fruits but in its root, and this in Him who became an offering for sin. Such was God's work in sending His own Son, the Holy One yet made sin, that we might become God's righteousness in Him. The sins of the believer are blotted out and forgiven; the evil nature, which could not be forgiven, is already condemned in His cross who died for it; and He is risen, and we are in Him, freed from all condemnation, and living of His life who is alive again for evermore. The Holy Ghost also is not only witness to us but power in us, and personally here to make good God's presence.
Then, again, the dwelling of God is the true and full ground of the call to holiness. Even in Israel it was so: " Holiness becometh thine house, O Jehovah, for ever." So shall they hereafter sing in truth of heart when the kingdom comes and Jehovah reigns. And so, looking back, not forward only, it had been when they had no more than a temporal redemption by divine power from Egypt, a type of the incomparably more blessed and permanent, yea, eternal redemption, which the Lord Jesus acquired by His blood. Even then, when the redemption was but the shadow of better things to come, the God of Israel manifested His presence on behalf, and in the midst, of His people. Now all is real; because Christ, who is the truth, came to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. The full result does not yet appear for the universe, till He comes to reign in righteousness, after which shall be the new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. But meanwhile the mighty work of propitiation is not only accomplished but accepted, and the Spirit of truth is come down in person to effectuate the presence and dwelling of God here below in the assembly of the saints as His house. Hence if the Book of Exodus is, above all books of the Bible, the figure of redemption in its first half, its last half shows us the consequent dwelling, the tabernacle, of God in the midst of His people; and the ways of the people are regulated accordingly. "There I will meet with the children of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar. I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons, to minister to me in the priest's office. And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God; and they shall know that I am the Lord their God that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God." Exod. xxix. 43-46.
So it is in the church, now. Ηοliness is imperative individually, for the Spirit of God dwells in us, as saints purged by the blood of Jesus, alive from the dead, freed from sin and become bondmen to God, that we may have fruit unto holiness, and the end eternal life. "What! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God? And ye are not your own, for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore with your body." 1 Cor.vi.19,20. But He dwells in the assembly also (1 Cor. iii.), and makes us collectively the living God's temple, responsible as come out from unbelievers to be separated, and to touch not what is unclean. There God dwells; to such He is a Father. "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." 2 Cor. vi. vii. Thus in every way, individual or corporate, holiness is grounded, not on law, but on what grace has wrought and given us through our Lord Jesus; and the Holy Spirit is present abidingly to make it good, or, if there be evil, to raise up a suited testimony against that which the cross has proved to be absolutely intolerable. In His children, in the church, will God least of all make allowance for iniquity. God is there in the power of the Holy Spirit to avenge the wrong done to His grace as being there, and to His nature of which the Christian is made a partaker.
Ananias, then, comes forward seeking credit for a display of faith working by love, which the flesh, set on by Satan; sought to emulate without trust in God, nay, seeking to deceive Him too, as if He had no house on earth in which to dwell and manifest His power as well as grace. Part of the proceeds of his sold possessions he kept for himself, part he laid as the whole at the feet of the apostles. The Lord by His servant resents the sin and insult. "Ananias, said Peter, why did Satan fill thy heart to deceive the Holy Spirit and reserve of the price of the land? . . . . Thou didst not lie to men but to God." What can more simply and withal more powerfully let us know their sense of God's presence? Sin then blinded the eyes of the guilty disciple; in days not far off unbelief stole the truth away from the church, which thereon set up its own bulwarks, rules, and functionaries, works of its own hands, its calves of gold, in forgetfulness both of Him who is coming back from on high and of Him who meanwhile is here to glorify the Son as the Father. There is no ground to suppose that the motive of Ananias was the hoped for possession of spiritual gifts like Barnabas, or the coveted power to impart them as in Simon's case. It is an error to infer that thus his sin was indeed against the Holy Ghost. The truth of God is deeper than any mere product of human reasoning. It is the same verb in 3 and 4, but a different construction: with an accusative in the sense of imposing on any by falsehood; with a dative as addressing a lie to a person, here to God Himself in the person of the Spirit sent down from heaven.
God was in His holy temple (the 014 temple being now by the rejection of the Messiah no more than "their house," the house of unbelieving Jews); and there one bearing the name of the Lord dared to lie to His face. It was no mistake of haste, but deceit with a selfish and hypocritical aim purposed in the heart; and it was so much the more heinous in presence of fresh and boundless grace on God's part, and its fruit in the unexampled self-abandonment of many saints before all. God of old sternly judged an Achan who coveted the accursed thing, and a Gehazi who enriched himself by a shameless prostitution of the prophet's name. " Is it a time," said the indignant man of God, "to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and men-servants, and maid-servants?" So, though it be the day of grace, it is on this account all the more solemn in God's eyes that one professedly a believer in Christ should expect his iniquity to pass muster in the house of His holiness.
On hearing the apostolic words Ananias fell down and expired; so that all that heard were overawed. The younger men that swathed and carried out his body to burial had not returned when, about three hours after, his wife entered, not knowing what was done; and Peter, drawing out from her the distinct evidence that she was privy to the imposture, said, "How is it that ye agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?" This is just what Satan desires and prompts, that those who are, or at least profess to be, the Lord's should not believe that He is among them. To tempt Him is to doubt this in word or deed—to say in heart, Is He among us or not? How unworthy of those who ought best to know His presence, secured at infinite cost as the Christian at least should also know! How awful to think of the prevalence of this sin now, little felt or judged even by true children of God! So completely, in fact, have the saints in general lost sight of the presence and action of the Spirit in the assembly, that they notoriously and periodically pray that He may be poured out afresh. They of course mean thereby little if anything more than an accession of comfort for believers, and a great increase in the conversion of sinners. But all the while they ignore His actual presence on earth, and seem quite unconscious of the deep slight put upon Rim by shutting out His revealed and sovereign working for the glory of Christ in the midst of the gathered saints. They may be waking up to allow more of His free action in gospel work outside for man's salvation; but as for His energy in the church for God's glory and in subjection to His word, they will not hear of it; whatever it may have been, it is out of date and disorderly now! Alas! this is to make the church of man and not of God, though what is of His purpose of grace will last fur ever.
But Peter added to the convicted widow, "Behold the feet of those that buried thy husband [are] at the door and shall carry thee out. Then she fell immediately at his feet and expired; and the young men coming in found her dead, and carrying [her] forth buried her by her husband." (Ver. 9, 10). An infliction from its repetition so unmistakably divine could not but make an immediate and still deeper impression; and we read that " great fear fell upon all the assembly, and upon as many as heard these things." (Ver. 11.) It was meant for all within, as well as without.
This is the first distinct mention of the church or assembly. It is spoken of, not as if just inaugurated, but as a known and already existing body. The church began as a fact on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit (the promise of the Father, whom Christ sent from the Father as the Father sent Him in the Son's name) baptised all the saints into one body. There had been saints from Abel; now they in the Holy Spirit became one. In chap. ii. 47 it is well-nigh certain that the true words run that the Lord was day by day adding together those that should be saved, without calling them as yet the church, though of course such they were. The thing was there, not yet so named. Now, according to the words of the Lord in Matt. xvi. xvii., they are thus entitled, when God was establishing in the gravest way the reality of His presence by the action of the Spirit who dwells there, and had all power and promptness to avenge deliberate wrong to His nature and majesty done within; unless He would be a party consenting to His own dishonour