And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul…
Their conduct was answerable to so great a change as had been brought over their spirits. In several respects it was singular; such as befitted their special condition, but was nowise applicable to any other community or any after generation. Among these was the community of goods; — a usage into which they fell by a natural consequence of the relation in which they stood to one another and to the rest of mankind, and even by their own position and expectation upon the earth. They were few, and they were brethren. If they had been numerous, or if they had been divided, the idea would have been from the first as impracticable as it soon became. But at the outset it almost forced itself upon their observance. What was wealth to them? They were set upon a profession of self-denials. There was nothing that they cared to purchase or inherit in the places that were so soon, as they imagined, to be destroyed. Their minds were attracted but by incorruptible treasures and enduring abodes. For this reason it was, that none of them said "that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." Let us trace a few lines of reflection over so great a subject. What can we consider our own? Relatively, in certain connections, and to a certain extent, everything that we can conceive of. All the objects that delight the senses, all the pursuits that interest the attention, all the truths that occupy and nourish the mind, are ours. We have no need to become the proprietors of anything, in a commercial sense, in order to make it belong to us. The poor borderer upon a rich domain may use and enjoy it more than its real occupant and lord. He who borrows a book from a wealthy library may render it more truly his than it is the collector's, whose name is written in it, but whose understanding has never grown familiar with its contents. Whatever we can avail ourselves of for the purpose of our instruction, of our profit, of our happiness, is our own. Whatever we can put away at a calm distance from us, doing without it and feeling above it, is more than our own. The fruits of our endeavours are ours, the days of our being, the circumstances of our condition, the pictures of our fancy, the associates of our hearts. The universe offers itself to the eyes that can love its beauty, not only as a spectacle, but as a gift; and the very Lord of that boundless whole is manifested as the portion of obedient souls. Since everything we know is imaged in the mind, and the mind is ourself, we may call the powers of nature and the lessons of wisdom our tributaries, wherever those powers are surveyed or those lessons embraced. But if we are ready to be elated with such a description of the extent of the authority that has been committed to men, we have but to take into view that opposite truth which accords better with the expression of the text, and account that none of the things which they possess are theirs, in any absolute sense. We may say, with the apostle to his Corinthians, "All things are yours." But then we must add, in the words of the same great testifier, "Ye yourselves are not your own; ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." Let us turn to this side of our theme, and remark some of the leading particulars that belong to it. None of the things which we possess are absolutely our own.
1. Not our worldly goods. Who created them? He who made them to be transitory. Who bestowed them? He who has a right to take them back. For what purpose have they been lodged in the hands of prosperous men? For their special benefit and gratification? Yes. But for their occupation, their exercise, their trial also, and more. In the first place, the changes of events prove to us that we do not hold' by any absolute tenure what we seem to hold; for how often it is suddenly snatched from us, or drained gradually away! So much for chances. And then come in the settled decrees of our condition and the demands of our consciences. Consider them both, and you will see how amply they vindicate the expressions of the text as applicable to all men and times and places. You will have no community of goods; and indeed we can scarcely conceive of any social project so unnatural, so unjust, so impracticable. Yet still the goods of the wealthiest cannot choose but flow into the community. He must part with them, whether he will or not, and regularly part with them. He can have no enjoyment from them but by their use, and their use is their perishing. They are not his but as they pass, and when they are gone whose are they? They must be spent and distributed, and return into the common stock from which they were amassed. Reflect further on what the various obligations of life admonish us ought to be. Are we not stewards and debtors, rather than owners and lords, in the portion that is allotted to us? Much is due to the service of our brethren; and all is in pledge to Him, to whom the whole must be accounted for. Benevolence, justice, and truth are greater apostles than Peter and James and John; and honest contributions must be brought and laid down at their feet.
2. Our friends and the objects of our affection are not our own. You look into the faces of those you love, and take them by their cordial hands, and they seem to be yours, because their countenances have been always bright towards you, and you are well assured that their help is ready in the time of your need. But how many such have circumstances parted, and misunderstandings estranged! And how often has death severed the tie which no trials of life could weaken! Children are in a sense your creatures. None can share with you your parental rights. I will not say, that they may so disappoint your hope as to leave little disposition to rejoice in their belonging to you; that they may so grieve and burden your lives as to lead you to wish that you had been childless. But at least you are well aware, that what no temptations of after days might be able to make unworthy of your regard, the decree of heaven may remove from your side. The infant and the youth are as liable to be summoned away in their unsullied freshness, as the grown man in the fulness of his strength and the midst of his labours; and how can you claim as yours what is so changing and so frail? Rejoice, rather, that they are in better hands and at a wiser disposal; that their portion is in the assignments of an eternal Providence; and that their true Proprietor is the Holy Father, whose angels have a charge over them here, and who will never dismiss those blessed ministers from their office of love.
(N. L. Frothingham.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.