But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,…
A well-matched pair, alike in ambition and in falsehood, Ananias and Sapphira. There are thousands of ways of telling a lie. A man's whole life may be a falsehood, and yet never with his lips may he falsify once. There is a falsehood by look, by manner, as well as by lip. There are persons who are guilty of dishonesty of speech, and then afterward say "may be," call it a white lie, when no lie is that colour. The whitest lie ever told was as black as perdition. There are those so given to dishonesty of speech that they do not know when they are lying. With some it is an acquired sin, and with others it is a natural infirmity. There are those whom you will recognise as born liars. Misrepresentation and prevarication are as natural to them as the infantile diseases, and are a sort of moral croup or spiritual scarlatina. Then there are those who in after-life have opportunities of developing this evil, and they go from deception to deception, and from class to class, until they are regularly graduated liars.
I. FIRST OF ALL, I SPEAK OF AGURICULTURAL FALSEHOODS. There is something in the presence of natural objects that has a tendency to make one pure. The trees never issue false stock. The wheat-fields are always honest. Rye and oats never move out in the night, not paying for the place they occupy. Corn shocks never make false assignments. Mountain brooks are always current. The gold of the wheat-fields is never counterfeit. But, while the tendency of agricultural life is to make one honest, honesty is not the characteristic of all who come to the city markets from the country districts. "You hear the creaking of the dishonest farm waggon in almost every street of our great cities, a farm waggon in which there is not one honest spoke or one truthful rivet from tongue to tailboard." The tendency in all rural districts is to suppose that sins and transgressions cluster in our great cities; but citizens and merchants long ago learned that it is not safe to calculate from the character of the apples on the top of the farmer's barrel what is the character of the apples all the way down toward the bottom. Milk-cans are not always honest. The producer sometimes practically says to the merchant, "You get your money easily, anyhow." Does he get it easily? Let those who get their living in the quiet farm and barn take the place of one of our city merchants, and see whether it is so easy. It is hard enough to have the hands blistered with outdoor work, but it is harder with mental anxieties to have the brain consumed. God help the merchants! And do not let those who live in country life come to the conclusion that all the dishonesties belong to city life.
II. I PASS ON TO CONSIDER COMMERCIAL LIES. There are those who apologise for deviation from the right and for practical deception by saying it is commercial custom. In other words, a lie by multiplication becomes a virtue. There are large fortunes gathered in which there is not one drop of the sweat of unrequited toil, and not one spark of bad temper flashes from the bronze bracket, and there is not one drop of needlewoman's heart's blood on the crimson plush; while there are other fortunes about which it may be said that on every door-knob, and on every figure of the carpet, and on every wall, there is the mark of dishonour. There are large fortunes upon which God's favour comes down, and it is just as honest and just as Christian to be affluent as it is to be poor. In many a house there is a blessing on every pictured wall, and on every scroll, and on every traceried window, and the joy that flashes in the lights, and that showers in the music, and that dances in the quick feet of the children pattering through the hall has in it the favour of God and the approval of man. But you and I know that there are in commercial life those who are guilty of great dishonesties of speech. A merchant says, "I am selling these goods at less than cost." Is he getting for these goods a price inferior to that which he paid for them? Then he has spoken the truth. Is he getting more? Then he lies. But there are just as many falsehoods before the counter as there are behind the counter. A customer comes in and asks, "How much is this article? " "It is five dollars." "I can get that for four somewhere else." Can he get it for four somewhere else, or did he say that just for the purpose of getting it cheap by depreciating the value of the goods? If so, he lied. Who would take the responsibility of saying how many falsehoods were yesterday told by hardware men, and clothiers, and lumbermen, and tobacconists, and jewellers, and importers, and shippers, and dealers in furniture, and dealers in coal, and dealers in groceries?
III. I PASS ON TO SPEAK OF MECHANICAL FALSEHOODS. Among the artisans are those upon whom we are dependent for the houses in which we live, the garments we wear, the cars in which we ride. The vast majority of them are, so far as I know them, men who speak the truth. I am speaking now of those who promise to do that which they know they will not be able to do. They say they will come on Monday; they do not come until Wednesday. They say they will have the job done in ten days; they do not get it done before thirty. So in all styles of work there are those who are not worthy of their work.
IV. I PASS ON TO SPEAK OF SOCIAL LIES. How much of society is insincere! You hardly know what to believe. They send their regards; you do not exactly know whether it is an expression of the heart or an external civility. They ask you to come to their house; you hardly know whether they really want you to come. We are all accustomed to take a discount from what we hear. Social life is struck through with insincerity. They apologise for the fact that the furnace is out; they have not had any fire in it all the winter. They apologise for the fare on their table; they never live any better. They decry their most luxurious entertainment to win a shower of approval from you. On small incomes we want the world to believe we are affluent, and society to-day is struck through with cheat and counterfeit and sham. How few people are natural!
V. I PASS ON TO SPEAK OF ECCLESISTICAL LIES, those which are told for the advancement or retarding of a church or sect. It is hardly worth your while to ask an extreme Calvinist what an Arminian believes. He will tell you an Arminian believes that a man can save himself. An Arminian believes no such thing. It is hardly worth your while to ask an extreme Arminian what a Calvinist believes. He will tell you that a Calvinist believes that God made some men just to damn them. A Calvinist believes no such thing. Then how often is it that there are misrepresentations on the part of individual churches in regard to other churches, especially if a church comes to great prosperity.
VI. LET US IN ALL DEPARTMENTS OF LIFE STAND BACK FROM DECEPTION. "Oh!" says some one, "the deception that I practise is so small it don't amount to anything." Ah! my friends, it does amount to a great deal. "Oh!" you say, "when I deceive, it is only about a case of needles, or a box of buttons, or a row of pins." The article may be so small you can put it in your vest pocket; but the sin is as big as the Pyramids, and the echo of your dishonour will reverberate through the mountains of eternity. There is no such thing as a small sin. They are all vast and stupendous, because they will have to come under inspection in the day of judgment. My friends, let us make our life correspond to what we are. Let us banish all deception from our behaviour. Let us remember that the time comes when God will demonstrate before an assembled universe just what we are. The secret will come out. We may hide it while we live, but we cannot hide it when we die.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,