Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and withhold some of the proceeds from the land?
I. THE CONVICTION AS EXPRESSED BY ST. PETER. He urges:
1. That evil, in the shape of temptation, had been unresisted. The question "Why?" implies that resistance to the temptation had been possible. Had he resisted the tempter, he would have fled from him (James 4:7).
2. That Ananias was under no kind of compulsion. He was not bound by any rule of the Church. If be had brought, and called it, part, or if he had brought nothing, he could not have been blamed. If he was moved to sell he should honestly set forth what he bad done with the money. Man from his fellowman at least looks for sincerity and truthfulness.
3. And that while Ananias had only purposed to deceive the apostles, he had really been trying to deceive God, who dwelt, by his Spirit, in the apostles and in the Church. "Or, to state it as Peter stated it three hours after to the woman, this couple put God, the all-knowing Spirit, to the proof, tried him whether he would let himself and his Holy Church be taken in with a lie."
II. THE CONVCTION AS FELT BY ANANIAS. Throughout he must have borne an uneasy conscience, and in response to St. Peter's words it smote him hard. Shame and guilt overwhelmed him, and may even in part be allowed to explain his sudden death. Dr. Plumptre says, "In such a case we may rightly trace that union of natural causation and Divine purpose which we express in the familiar phrase that speaks of the visitation of God as a cause of death. The shame and agony of detection, the horror of conscience not yet dead, were enough to paralyze the powers of life."
III. THE CONVICTION AS CONFIRMED BY GOD. In the death of Ananias, and in the death taking place in such a sudden and awful manner. "In this case it is plain that the death of Ananias is an event supernaturally arranged by a higher power, because it is connected with the penal sentence of the apostle, which was spoken in the power of the Spirit." It may be pointed out that the Divine judgment here concerns only the sudden death, and the veil is not lifted to show us the eternal judgment, the secret Divine dealings with this so sadly erring disciple. Compare the teachings of such passages as 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Peter 4:6. Impress that, however our sin may be covered over and hidden from our own view now by self-delusions, the time of conviction must come sooner or later. A man must presently see his sin as it is, and see himself as he is. The conviction may come wholly by Divine inward leadings, it may come through providential circumstances, or it may be started by the word of some teacher or friend. Happy, indeed, is he who is brought to conviction in time - in time to seek pardon and eternal life in that living Savior who is "exalted to give repentance and remission of sins." - R. T,
Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost.1 Kings 5:4) or litigation (Psalm 109:6), often applied to human enemies, but in one place to an angel (Numbers 26:22), and with the article (2 Samuel 24:1), was a proper name without it (1 Chronicles 21:1), to the evil spirit or prince of the fallen angels, as the adversary and accuser of mankind (Job 1:7; Job 2:2; Zechariah 3:1, 2; cf. Revelation 12:9, 10). In this sense and application it is nearly equivalent to Diabolus (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2), meaning slanderer, informer, false accuser; to which the English devil may be easily traced back, through the intermediate forms of the French Diable and Italian Diavolo. As the same being is the tempter of our race from the beginning (2 Corinthians 11:3), the name Satan sometimes has that special meaning (Matthew 4.. 10, 16:23; Mark 8:33), and so it is used here.
(J. W. Alexander, D. D.)
I. THE EXISTENCE AND REALITY OF SATAN, that is to say of the evil spirit who is the prince of darkness, is throughout undeniably to be understood. It cannot here be considered as a mere allegory; the matter was too serious, and the speech of the apostle is much too impressive, severe and direct for that.
II. EVIL DOES NOT EXIST AND GROW ISOLATED IN THE HUMAN BREAST, but is connectively interwoven with the kingdom of evil in the invisible world. And precisely the worst sins, the subtlest hypocrisy, where evil clothes itself in the holiest garments of light, are the operations of Satan.
III. THERE ARE DIFFERENT DEGREES OF THE WORKING OF SATAN, from the smallest temptation to the filling of the heart, i.e., entirely and completely taking possession of it, which is the terrible contrast to the "fulness of the Holy Spirit."
IV. MAN IS RESPONSIBLE, AND HIS WILL FREE EVEN IN RELATION TO THE POWERFUL PROMPTINGS OF THE DEVIL. For Peter says not only Satan has filled thy heart, but asks why. And the reason he seeks lies evidently not in Satan, but in Ananias. "Why hast thou permitted it?" The apostle indirectly testifies that man, if he will, may resist the devil (1 Peter 5:9; James 4:7). There is no irresistible power of Satan.
(G. V. Lechler, D. D.)
I. HIS NATURE. One of His titles is "the Spirit of Truth." It is essentially inherent in Him. He cannot Himself be false, and falsehood cannot dwell in His presence.
II. HIS WORD. Christ prayed "Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth." This is the instrument by which He accomplishes all His purposes; and He will use no other. He tells all the truth as it regards God, man, sin, and salvation, time and eternity. Of such Jesus says, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." A lie is the rejection of the truth, and a direct resistance to the testimony and word of the Spirit.
III. HIS WORK IN THE HEART. "Thou desirest truth in the inward parts." When God writes His law upon the heart it is as a standard of truth which He sets up there. Establishing it within us, He entwines around it all our principles, affections and practices, He makes us "true men."
IV. THE CHARACTER WHICH HE FORMS IN HIS PEOPLE. They are "of the truth," "do the truth," "speak the truth in their heart," and are "girt about with truth."
(J. Morgan. D. D.)
I. THE VERY EPITHET WE USE TO EXPRESS THE ACTION OF EVIL IMPLIES THE RESISTIBILITY OF EVIL. Satan is the tempter, the initial action of evil is temptation. This is only another word for experiment or trial. It was the design of God (Deuteronomy 8:2), through certain discipline, to show Israel what was in His heart. Satan also tempts men, makes experiments upon their moral nature. But there is always this great distinction. God is ever aiming to realise the good that is in us, and to purge the evil; Satan to realise the evil and to purge the good. But uncertainty is of the very nature of temptation. When Satan makes an experiment upon us he may possibly succeed, he may possibly fail, according to the quality of our nature. He cannot coerce. Christ affirmed, "The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me" Nothing that owned his sway. He was pure gold, and as such He went into the crucible, and as such He came out again. The alchemist sought to transmute base metals into gold; the devil seeks to turn gold into cinders, which can never be done in the physical world, much less in the ethical. If you are of baser metal in your inmost self — I do not care how much gilt you put on the surface, nor whether you have got the hall mark of the Church — if you are at the centre base metal when you are put into the crucible, base metal you will come out. But if there is nothing of the devil in us he can get nothing out of us. Loyal to the truth in your deepest thought and sympathy, the black storm may bow you down, but having done all, you stand; rotten at the heart, when the storm comes upon you, great is your fall. Experiment demonstrates: it does not necessitate.
II. THE METHOD OF ITS APPROACH AND ACTION INDICATES THE RESISTIBILITY OF EVIL. The devil uses deceit. Temptation is cajolery. Evil comes in the wriggle of the serpent. All this is consolatory so far as it reveals the weakness which underlies all wickedness. Strong men do not resort to these equivocal methods; they wear no masks, proffer no bribes, tell no lies. The devil comes as a conjurer, not as a conqueror. The fowler setting his net shows that we are free; the destroyer proffering his sorcerous cup confesses that he has no authority to smite or bind; and seeing the serpent wriggling in the grass, it flashes on us in a moment how easily we may bruise his head. Irresistibility does not trick itself out in motley disguises. Be true in the inward parts and you shall be more than conqueror. The "properties" of a sorceror — mirrors, vapours, charms, incantations — will prevail nothing against the armour of light; the liar of ages will not deceive the simplicity of a little child (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12). The root of the whole matter is here. Do you love the truth in your inmost heart, and are you prepared to follow it at all sacrifices? Then no mystery of lawlessness or lying wonders, etc., shall lead you astray, but you shall hear a heavenly voice saying, "This is the way," and walking in it you shall be safe from the fear of evil.
III. IF EVIL WERE IRRESISTIBLE IT WOULD POSSESS A POWER WHICH GOD DOES NOT PERMIT HIMSELF TO EXERCISE. God respects the nature He has given, and does not compel us along any line of action. "Behold I stand at the door and knock." The heart of man seems but a but of clay, yet before its lowly door stands the Majesty of the skies asking admittance. God respects the freedom He first gave, and if ever He enters we shall have to turn the key. He knocks, but He does no more. God made the human heart to be opened only from within; and be sure what God will not do no other power shall be permitted to do. We have kept God out, and surely we can keep the devil out. The deceiver may post himself before the windows of our soul, and we cannot drive him away; but as sure as we are men he can never put his sooty foot across the red threshold of our heart except we agree to it (Luke 22:31). The French proverb is right, "The devil goes away from a closed door." The door of the soul is sacred: keep it shut, latch it with caution, bolt it with resolution, lock it with prayer, and all hell may gather about, as the Sodomites did about the door of Lot, yet they shall be baffled. But once have the door open, begin coquettings with evil, and the devil will soon be your guest and master.
IV. EVIL IS BEING CONSTANTLY VANQUISHED. Nothing is more terrible than that we should be convinced of the invulnerability of evil. Cortes sought to make the Mexicans believe that a Spaniard could not die, an illusion which unnerved them in the day of battle. We must entertain no such belief about evil. The spirits of wickedness are being tramped under foot every day. The Bible is full of the records of victory over temptation and sin. What is the lesson of the victory of our Lord in the wilderness but the powerlessness of the devil in the presence of faith and purity. In His strength His victory is being ever repeated "What's done we partly may compute, but we know not what's resisted." We see the ugly side of life: if anybody goes to the bad we all know it. But all around us magnificent moral victories are being scored: if our eyes were opened and we could see everything that is going on many a sublime spectacle would inspire us with exultation. Now a young man has the cup of guilty pleasure pressed to his lips, but in the critical moment, on which hangs eternity, he dashes it to the ground; now a young maiden, by the grace of heaven, turns away from some alluring cluster, keeping her purity and her paradise; now a struggling tradesman prefers honesty to gold; now a politician loses an election rather than self respect. Poor human nature! We often get the worst of it, but not always. You have innumerable brothers and sisters in tribulation, who by God's grace in miry pathways walk with unspotted robes, and the same grace shall be perfected in your weakness. The Jewish tradition says, "The devil cannot overcome except he first see your face." Turn your face to the light and your back to the devil, and you shall never perish. Conclusion:
1. If you do not want Satan to fill your heart, take care that God fills it first. Satan filled Ananias' heart because it was empty. Of his brethren we read "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." Satan could do nothing there. Here is our safety. When the devil finds an empty brain he fills it with false ideas, wicked plans; when he finds empty hands he fills them with mischiefs; when he finds an empty heart he fills it with vanities, burning passions, vicious sympathies and delights. If you wish to be saved from temptation's power, keep your heart full of the love of God, your hands full of noble work, your mind full of high thought and desire.
2. You say, "Satan has filled my heart; oh wretched man that I am." There is hope. The dispossessing power is sufficient. It is hard for a landlord to dispossess a bad tenant. He will not go out for the telling, you cannot frighten, coax, starve him out, it is only when the king's officer comes that you will get rid of the objectionable party. It is terrible work indeed to get the diabolism out of our heart. The Rationalist says, "I will persuade him out," but iniquity does not yield to argument. The Optimist says, "I will coax him out," but passion does not yield to blandishments. The Legalist says, "I will frighten him out," but lust will not yield to law. The Ascetic says, "I will starve him out," but pride, selfishness, and sensuality do not yield to discipline. The Pessimist says, "Death shall pull down the tabernacle, and so give us relief from the ghastly dilemma," to find relief only in the destruction of the house is to confess ourselves utterly vanquished. Appeal from earth to heaven. The strong man armed shall bind the strong man and eject him. Seek the delivering Christ, and although your fetters have been riveted through years of transgression, you shall be led into liberty and peace. Evil irresistible! never. "Thine is the kingdom, and the power," etc.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
Christian Herald.A journal devoted to the interests of horticulture states that a gardener in the employ of a gentleman at Pittsford, New York, has recently solved a problem which has long perplexed him. In the garden under his care is a large lawn, on which he has bestowed much labour, and which was his especial pride. For some time past a small patch on this lawn disfigured it, for the grass that grew there was poor and withered, in marked contrast to all around. For a long time the gardener vainly endeavoured to discover the cause of its decay. One day, as he stood meditatively gazing at it, he saw several birds settle upon it and thrust their beaks through the sod with much diligence and satisfaction. The gardener had the curiosity to turn up a portion of the punctured turf, and discovered, to his amazement, that the earth beneath was alive with a greedy multitude of large white grubs, which had completely consumed the roots of the grass. He continued the work, and at every fresh removal of the sod the same phenomenon presented itself, until quarts of the larvae were gathered and destroyed. It is to be feared that the lack of vigorous life in some portions of Christ's vineyard, the Church, may have a similar cause. The root of the piety of the members is being destroyed by Satan's worms of avarice, ambition, and love of pleasure.
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