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SERMON XIII.

THE GUILT OF LYING.

ACTS v. 5.

"And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came upon all them that heard these things.'

THE judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira, the history of their instantaneous deaths under the word of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, forms a remarkable object, and stands out an awfully interesting record in the early history of the Christian church. And the account, as handed down to us by the sacred writer, is sufficiently plain and distinct for us to understand why they were thus publicly smitten,

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why they were, without any further warning, visited from the Lord with the signal punishment of death. Their crime indeed was of no light or trivial character. It was complicated in its nature, and most vile in its origin. And the Lord thought fit, at the outset of the preaching of his Gospel, and in the infancy of his visible church, thus miraculously and awfully to step forth to avenge the insult offered to the faith, and to show and to declare in the sight of all men how dangerous. and deadly a thing it was, and would ever be, for men professing to accept and believe in his Gospel to "tempt the Spirit of the Lord."

Whilst the number of believers was few, and they an isolated and proscribed sect, we read, as in the preceding chapter, "that as many as were possessed of land or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and distri

bution was made unto every man according as he had need."

Upon this charitable fund Ananias and his wife cast an evil eye of covetousness, and they sought to take a wicked advantage of this state of things which, from the necessities consequent on the peculiar situation of the infant church, had then existence among the brethren.

They, it is evident, consulted together to carry out this work of deceit ; agreeing to sell their worldly possessions, whether house or land it matters not, and to bring a part only into the christian treasury, as common stock to be appropriated for the use of the poorer brethren. At the same time, and herein lay the guilt and the fraud, they were to offer that part as if it were the whole. Thus they sought to make profit from the common purse, to acquire the reputation of having given up all for the sake of Christ; whilst, in fact, they did retain and enjoy in secret the hoard of money which should still remain

theirs and this base scheme was to be effected by the utterance of, and persisting in, a wilful and deliberate lie.

It may be that in their hearts they were disbelievers in the great truths which they had heard, and to which, outwardly at least, they professed to assent. They could scarcely have thought of, neither in their hearts have acknowledged, the mighty power of God, which was then working with the apostles "by miracles and signs and wonders." Perhaps, moreover, a fearful spirit of temerity was in them, and, independent of the gain to accrue from the deceit which they planned, they daringly thought to tempt,—to prove, that is, the skill and discernment of the apostles, whether, or no, these eloquent and distinguished men were worthily entitled to the respect paid to them, and qualified for the trust reposed in them. In whatever degree, however, any such feelings had place in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira, the inspiration, and consequent

authority of the apostles, was soon to be established, and too late were they to become aware, that power and knowledge superhuman had been bestowed and rested with these delegated ministers of the Lord Jesus. For no sooner was their scant and fraudful offering of worldly covetousness presented before the apostles, than Ananias heard himself, and only too justly, accused of having given way to the evil suggestions of the devil, of having schemed to deceive the Holy Spirit of illumination and truth.

And this the wickedness of Ananias was the more aggravated and without excuse, inasmuch as there was not the least compulsion as to the sale, or to the disposal of the money made by the sale of his possessions. "Whilst it remained unsold it was his own, and after it was sold it was in his own power.' His, therefore, was a deliberate and inexcusable act of knavery and cunning, of deceit and

1 Acts v. 4.

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