A DISCOURSE CONCERNING Ananias and Saphira, Wherein is laid open Their SIN & PUNISHMENT.

BY William Houghton, Minister of Ordsoll in Nottinghamshire.

1 Cor. 10.6, 11.

These things happened unto them for examples, and are written for our admonition.

Rom. 2.22.

Thou that abhorrest Idolls, committest thou Sacriledge?

Many who have fled from Idolatry, and reformed the Worship of God from that pollution [...], that is, by bending the crooked stick too much the other way, have run too far into the contrary extream, and taken away (some of us) all difference in a manner between Sacred and Prophane, and in so doing made our selves lyable to that upbraid of the Apostle: Tu qui idola abominaris, Sacrilegium admittis? Mede Diatr. 74.

LONDON, Printed by J. H. for Nathanael Webb, at the Kings Head in St. Pauls Church-Yard, 1661.

To the Reader.

WHen Adam and Eve had sinned in eating the forbidden fruit, Eve was first called forth and sentenced, then Adam: Here on the contrary, first Ananias, then Saphira. The reason here­of, I conceive, was this, because there the woman was first in the transgression, but here the man: There the Husband was consenting to the Wife, [...]. here the Wife was con­senting to the Husband. It is not a question this much materi­al to be stood upon which of them sinned first, it is likely there was no long space of time between them: In such a nearness as is between head and body the infection ran suddenly from one to the other. This therefore should rather take up our thoughts and meditations, [...], Rom. 1.32. that as they were consenting toge­ther in sin, so were they partakers in the punishment, this was the just judgement of God upon them; and this joyning toge­ther in sin is the cause of most general judgments. As sheep, having infected one another, die together of the rot: so when people have generally corrupted one another, they fall and perish together by Sword, Famine, or Pestilence. Therefore the first counsel both David and Solomon give in the Psalms and Proverbs, is, not to walk in the way of the ungodly, and, If sinners entice thee consent thou not. Especially, as thou lovest thy soul, have a care to keep thy self from this sin of Sa­criledge, and walk not in the way of Ananias. Many there are who count all gain godliness, therefore Sacriledge is not [Page]thought to be a sin by such men, but being weighed by the bal­lance of the Sanctuary, and the heavy judgments of God upon it, it will be found to be a great and grievous sin, highly pro­voking the eyes of Gods glory. The sin of Adam and Eve was the sin of Sacriledge, and the first sin that was punisht in the Old Testament: This sin of Ananias and Saphira the sin also of Sacriledge, and the first that we read of that was pu­nisht in the New Testament, after the descending of the Holy Ghost: Surely therefore (as Solomon saith) it is a snare to the man that devoureth that which is holy: [...]ov 20 15. If thou beest wise keep thy self out of this snare, [...]v. 18 4. and be not partaker with others in this sin, that thou receive not hereafter of their plagues.

W. H.

A Discourse concerning ANANIAS and SAPHIRA.

ACT. 5.3.

Why hath Satan filled thy heart to lye to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the Land?

IN this History of Ananias and Saphira three things are to be considered.

First, Their fact in three particulars:

  • 1. Selling of a possession.
  • 2. Keeping back part of the price.
  • 3. Laying down a certain part at the Apostles feet, V. 1.

Secondly, The Examination and Trial, which was several; 1. Of Ananias, to v. 7. then of Saphira, to v. 12. Peter is the Justice before whom they are brought by Gods Providence: His Examination or Trial of Ananias, hath in it, 1. Three Questions. And 2. The Sentence given.

I. The First Question sheweth the nature of his sin, v. 3.

II. The Second, That it proceeded from his own will; and that as he was not constrained to sell or give away his Land, so there was no outward compulsion used to constrain him to keep back part of the price: Both before and after the Sale, it was in his own power, v. 4.

III The third Question sheweth, that his sin was very absurd, though firmly setled in his mind, and that there was no cause why he should so resolutely yield to the temptation of the devil; Why hast thou conceived this thing in thy heart? v. 6.

2. His definitive sentence, being the fore-runner of Gods Judgement: Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God, v. 4.

3. The events three:

  • 1. In Ananias sudden death, the strange judgement of God upon him for his sin, v. 5.
  • 2. In all that heard it, fear, v. 5.
  • 3. In certain young men the performance of a duty, viz. his burial, v. 6.

In the arraignment of Saphira after her appearance, described by the circumstance of time, and her ignorance of the precedent judgment, v. 7. we may observe the same parts as before, viz.

First, Two Questions:

  • 1. To the former, whereof she answers affirmatively against her conscience, that they sold it for so much, v. 8.
  • 2. In the second Peter aggravates their sin by their mutu­all consent, and calleth it by another name, viz. A tempting of the Holy Ghost, v. 9.

Secondly, The sentence uttered, with relation to the judgment of her husband, v. 9. end.

Thirdly, The three former events are rehearsed, though not in the same order, v. 10, 11.

This is the logical Analysis, or resolution of the whole History; but because my purpose is to shew the nature of their sin, I will forbear to handle any other part save only Peters first Question, in these words: Why hath Satan filled thy heart to lye to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the Price of the Land? Wherein this sin of Ananias is set forth by five Arguments:

  • 1. The author, or first mover, Satan,
  • 2. The measure of corruption, Filled.
  • 3 The subject, or shop of Satan, the Heart.
  • 4. The matter of their sin, it was a counterfeiting of, or Lying to the Holy Ghost.
  • 5. The manner of it, By turning aside part of the Price of the Land.

1 But Peter said, Ananias, &c. First then of the author that set [Page 3]them a work, Satan; the word signifieth an Adversary:Why hath Satan. that ene­my of Piety, and murtherer of Mankind, that root of malice, and Prince of all wickedness, the Father of lies, that great Dragon,Rev. 12.9. that old Serpent called the devil and Satan; he is veteranus, an old ex­perienced Souldier, that rejoyceth not so much to have his hand in small attempts, as to be seen in great exploits; Facinus mag­num, & memorabile, some notorious mischief is to be expected when he comes upon the stage: When he tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, he brought a lamentable calamity upon all mankind; when he by one of his evill angels came upon Saul, Saul throws his spear at David, thinking to nail him to the wall;1 Sam. 18.11. When Satan stood up against Israel, 2 Sam. 19.10. and provoked David to num­ber the people, it put him into a great straight,1 Chron. 21. and there fell of Israel 70000 men: And when Satan, after the Sop,1. —14. entred into Judas, he most unnaturally betrayed his Master,Joh. 13.2.27. and most ungra­tiously sold him for thirty peeces, that was presently to redeem us with the ransome of his most precious bloud: So here, when Sa­tan, that old Serpent, crept into the hearts of Ananias and Saphirae, he filled them full of all mischief, and brought them to destructi­on. Why hath Satan? That sin cannot be small that proceeds from such an author: All men indeed are sinners, the best that are do sin through the proneness of natural corruption, but when men sin through the motion and instigation of Satan, then their sin becomes more devillish and haynous; now some men in sin­ning do more immediatly joyn hand in hand with the devil, enter­taining his motions, and consenting to his suggestions, they joyn with him, and he with them: They as his Vassals, he as their Lord; thus combining together, and uniting their strengths, they become the more strong, according to that, Vis unita fortior. Satan indeed, both by long experience, and by nature, is far more wicked than man, therefore when he infuseth wickedness into man, and im­parteth to him that hellish quality of his, then man committeth sin like the devil himself: When he moveth, counselleth, perswa­deth, filleth, or possesseth any mans heart (as here he did the hearts of Ananias and Saphira) he then bringeth some notorious iniquity to pass, and their sin becomes no small sin.

Therefore above all things take we heed of devillish motions and suggestions; the devil is oft exceeding sudden in his assaults,Inference. a spirit, and very quick; oh that we could be as quick, when he [Page 4]sets upon us, in flying unto God by prayer, saying as the Psalmist, Send help (O Lord) from thy Sanctuary, Psal. 20.2.70.1. Lord make haste to help me. When the devil seeks to throw his wild-fire into our hearts, let us presently take to us the shield of faith, whereby we may quench those fiery darts of his, and being strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, let us fight the good fight: When the enemy suggests any wicked thought, let us rise up against it with a holy indignation, and presently smite it down, send it as low as hell,Ruth 1.16. from whence it came; and as Ruth to Naomi, Intreat me not, for I am stedfastly minded to go with thee; so let us say to the adver­sary, Away cursed fiend, thou losest thy labour, never go about to perswade me, intreat me not, for I am stedfastly resolved with purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord. Thus resisting we shall not be overcome, but shall even force Satan himself to flight, for resist the devil (saith the Apostle) and he will flee from you. Jam. 4.7.

2 Secondly, From the author, let us go on to the quantity and measure of their sin in that word Filled. Filled. It is said in the former Chapter they were all filled with the Holy Ghost;Acts 4.31. here's now ano­ther manner of filling, they are filled with the wicked ghost, or spirit full of Satan; but how did Satan fill them is a point worthy our enquiry. First, You see they consent together to practice that wickedness which the devil put into their hearts, and herein they shew their great folly in this, that they had rather at last have part of the price wrongfully, and unlawfully, than at the first the whole lawfully and justly, and what greater folly could there be than this? But how doth Satan draw them to this folly? I answer, by his two Counsellors, Covetousness and Vain-glory; Covetousness saith, yet at least keep somewhat to your selves: Vain-glory saith, nay, but give all at least in shew. So then if to their folly we add Covetousness and Vainglory we shall see the measure already be­ginning to fill very fast.

Quest. But with what reasons do these two Counsellors perswade the embracing of their contrary directions?

Answ. I answer, To urge contrary conclusions they draw their Argu­ments from contrary topicks, that is, from Despair and Presumpti­on. Covetousness from despair, that is, from want of faith, and from distrust in Gods goodness, reasons thus: ‘What will ye in­deed give all away, and leave nothing to your selves? How will ye do then when old age comes upon you, and you shall not be [Page 5]able to take pains? What if you fall sick, and keep your beds, will these new Deacons and Overseers then provide for you? Or will they not rather sleight you, and not regard you? There­fore keep something in store for fear of the worst, you know not what may happen.’

Vain-glory likewise from Presumption draws her Arguments thus: ‘If you give not all, I assure you you shall want a great part of your praise, you shall be less esteemed and regarded than such and such; Joses the Levite shall be better thought of, and have more repute amongst the Brethren, for he hath given all,Acts 4.34-37. wherefore if you will needs keep back part, be it so, yet seem to give all; who knows that ye do keep any thing back, make shew therefore of giving all, so shall you provide for your selves; seem as liberal as the best, yet lose no part of your commenda­tion.’ These then are the two Counsellors Covetousness and Vain-glory, the one looking at their profit, the other at their cre­dit; Vain-glory draweth on Presumption, Covetousness Despair: Vain-glory bears them in hand, that they shall be commended though they deal corruptly: And Covetousness would have them think, that if they sincerely yield to the motion of the Holy Ghost, and strictly follow the example of the Godly, then they shall be like to starve for want of things necessary.

See and observe from this,Inference. that as there is a concatenation of Vertues, so also of Vices, one seldom goes alone, but draws and hales on another into the heart, till it be filled therewith; there­fore saith the Prophet, They draw iniquity with cords of vanity, Isa. 5.18. and sin as it were with a Cart-rope; hence it is, that wicked men are said to add sin to sin, as Ananias and Saphira here did,30.1. they added one sin to another, till at last they were filled with sin; a whole band of the devils souldiers, Folly, Despair, Presumption, Covetousness, Vain-glory, these five are broke into their hearts, to which if you shall add two more, that is, their lying and tempting of God, you will easily perceive, that the unclean spirit which was gone out of them, at their first conversion to the faith of Christ, is now retur­ned, and finding the room swept and trimmed,Luk. 11.26. hath taken seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they are entred in and dwell there, and their last state is worse than the first; you have now seen how Satan filled them, these particulars that I have na­med make up the full measure of their iniquity, and do shew, that [Page 6]it is now come to the height, and that it is ripe, so that the Lord must needs come and thrust in his sickle.

3 The third particular is the subject or shop of Satan, which was his heart;Thy heart. these sins were entertained with the best welcome, with their mutual consent, and into the best room, their hearts. The heart is the principal place and seat of life in the natural man, and of grace in the spiritual. Now these places that should have been Sancta Sanctorum, the most sacred Temples of the Holy Ghost, are entred upon, and prophaned by the devils guests; And this is a further aggravation of their sin, for God hath set every man to guard and keep his heart as one would keep and defend a Castle, if a man deliver up this Castle into the enemies hands 'tis treason; evill thoughts are the keyes of this Castle, for they open the heart and let in the enemy; to think as the devil would have us think, is to deliver up the keyes of our hearts to him; the rolling up and down of evill cogitations is the turning of the key, and opening of the gates to Satan; And this is that for which Peter so sharp­ly rebuked Ananias: Why hath Satan filled thy heart? That is, why hast thou betrayed thy trust? Why hast thou delivered up the keys into his hands? Why hast thou done this?

Let us learn from hence what is the cause of all our sin and mise­ry,Inference 1. even our own hearts. The Apostle here laies the fault upon Ana­nias, expostulates with him, not with Satan: He doth not say, Sa­tan, why hast thou filled the heart of Ananias, but Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart? Why didst thou suffer him to do this? And yet more plainly, v. 4. Why hast thou conceived this wickedness in thy heart? [...], vers. 4. Or as it is in the Original, Why hast thou put this wickedness in thy heart? The devil could never have got this wic­kedness into his heart if himself had not put it in there: If Ananias had not opened the sack the devil could never have fill'd it; He could never enter, and come into our hearts, did not we open the door to him; therefore saith the Apostle, Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, Jam. 1.14, 15. and enticed, then when lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin. The devil indeed filled the heart or Ananias, but it was not till Ananias had conceived this wic­kedness in his heart, or had put it in his heart, that is, he gave it conception, and then the devill nourisht and augmented it till it came to the birth.

2 Secondly, That sins of the heart are great sins, and such as we [Page 7]should most strive against: For the Apostle here strikes at the root of this mischief, the heart. Why hath Satan filled thy heart? And why hast thou conceived this wickedness in thy heart? Making it, as it were, the engineer and framer of all this mischief: Such was his dealing with Simon Magus, Pray God, Act, 8 22. if perhaps the thoughts of thy heart may be forgiven thee. Thus the Prophet,Jer. 4.14. Wash thy heart from wickedness that thou mayst be saved. It was ordered by a Law called the Law of the twelve Tables, Fontinus. that all springs and fountains should be kept from filthiness and pollution, lest these being corrupted should fill the Land with infection: So here the heart is the fountain; there­fore (saith Solomon) above all keepings keep thy heart, Prov. 4.2 [...]. for out of it are the issues of life; If thou wouldst have any sin mortified, kill it in thy heart; if any grace entertained, plant it in thy heart. A good man (saith our Saviour) out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; Mat. 12.35. where the word (Good) is thrice repea­ted; but mark the order, first, a good treasure, then a good man, then good fruits: The treasure of the heart being good makes all good, gives the owner of this treasure his denomination, makes him a good man, yea, his speeches, actions, these fruits that come from him they are good also, the heart being good. It is the good­ness of the man sanctifieth all outward things, but it is the good­ness of the heart that sanctifieth the man.

To return to my Text.

This sin of Ananias as you have seen it set forth by the Author, Quantity, Subject; so in the fourth place, it is lively deciphered by the matter of it, and this will put us upon a narrower search 4 concerning the nature of this sin, [...]. and the natures of things are commonly known by their names: Now this sin of theirs hath three names in this Chapter, for first it is called a counterfeiting of the Holy Ghost; Secondly, Lying to the Holy Ghost in my 1 Text; Thirdly, Tempting of the Holy Ghost,Counterfeiting of the Ho­ly Ghost. v. 9. I will endea­vour to open them all in order.

First, There was a Counterfeiting of the Holy Ghost: It is said of Achan, that he took and stole the accursed thing,Josh. 7.11. and dissem­bled also.Vid. Cajetan in loc. p. 13. Joshua sent Officers into the Army to charge every man to keep the decree of Almighty God, in not taking the accursed thing, and when all the people answered that they had kept the decree, Achan said so too; thus he stole the accursed thing, and dissembled also, faining himself as innocent as any in the com­pany. [Page 8]Just so dealt this sacrilegious couple, they stole part of the Price, and dissembled also; they would seem to do as others did, and be thought as devout as any of them, here was a counterfeiting of the Holy Ghost, that is, of the grace of the Holy Ghost; a fain­ing, and making shew of that sincere grace which was not in them, in that they would seem to give the whole, when they gave but part only, here was their hypocrisie, for this is the guise of hy­pocrites, if they can cast a mist before your eyes, and walk invisible, if they can carry it away cleanly, and be reputed just and holy, they care for no more: They are like some Taverns, having before them the sign of the Angel, but within nothing but beastly drun­kenness: or as Christ saith, like whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, Mat. 23.27. but within are full of dead mens bones, and all un­cleanness: Fair without, but foul within; outwardly, they appear righteous unto men, but within they are full of hypocrisie and ini­quity. Many examples of such are recorded in Scripture, as of Saul, who said that he had done the Commandment of the Lord,1 Sam. 15. when he had done quite contrary;9 — 13. and Gehazi, when he had been run­ning after Naaman the Syrian for a bribe,2 King. 5.25. came and stood in a demure posture before his Master Elisha, saying, Thy servant went no whither. So Herod spake thus to the Magi, Bring me word when ye have found him, Mat. 2.8. that I may come, and worship him also, when he meant to murther him. As to cover and conceale a fault (in the presence of God especially, who knoweth all things) is dissimu­lation: So to set forth a colour and shew of vertue and goodness there where it is not, is Simulation and Counterfeiting, and both this and that is hypocrisie, and both to be seen in Ananias and Sa­phira, for they kept secret their thievery, and make a shew of their liberality; they give their heart to Satan, and their face to God; they counterfeit the Holy Ghost, being limbs of the devil; they feigned that they had that special and excellent grace of God in their hearts which was then in the Church, even the Communion of Saints in a rare and extraordinary manner, when indeed they had Communion and Fellowship with Satan, and he it was that had filled their hearts with devillish qualities.

Let it therefore teach us to take heed of this;Inference. Hypocrisie is such a sin, that it makes him that in shew is an Angel of light,Joh. 6.70. to be indeed a Fiend of darkness. Judas one of the twelve Disciples of Christ, and Doctors of the World, is [Page 9]called a devil, and therefore a devil because when he betrayed his Master he did it with a Kiss; that execrable venome of Treason was blandisht over with a soft and gentle, but hypocritical Kiss, He came to Jesus, and said, hail Master, and kissed him. Mat. 26.49. I end this with that excellent saying of Chrysostome: ‘O hypocrite, if it be good to be good, why wilt thou not be that which thou wilt seem to be? And if it be evil to be evil, why wilt thou be that which thou wilt not seem to be? If it be good to seem to be good, it is better to be so; And if it be evil to seem to be evil, it is worse to be so; therefore either seem as thou art, or be as thou seemest to be.’

Secondly, It is called Lying to the Holy Ghost in this verse, 2 and Lying to God, v. 4. that is, he lyed to the Holy Ghost being God. Lying is so linckt to Hypocrisie,Lying to the Holy Ghost. that it serves the same as an officious handmaid. Now this lye of theirs was very cunningly contrived. The proud (saith David) have imagined a lye against me; Psal. 119 69. Or it might be read thus: They have trimmed their lyes,Concinnave­runt mendacia. drest and trimed them under the shadow and colour of truth: So this lye of Ananias was very artificially trimmed up.Jun. vatabl. Many things come here to be considered about it.

1. We find that it was a real lye, not uttered in words, but ex­hibited 1 in their deeds, while their outward and apparent deeds did much differ from a secret and concealed action: Ananias in words did not utter an untruth, but his deeds did; he did not say, that he did not keep back part; but his deeds made shew of giving all, therefore that deed of his was a lye for another secret deed, namely, keeping back part did contradict the same. There are real lyes then as well as verbal, such was this of Ananias. That is the first.

2. This Lye of theirs it was a concealing of the truth, and truth 2 sometimes may without sin be concealed; A man is not bound to speak all the truth at all times, yet it doth appear from this pre­sent example, that to conceale a truth, and not to tell it plainly, when the glory of God is concerned in it, and when it is expedient and profitable for men to know, the same is a lye, the making of a lye, though not the telling of a lye; therefore in bying or selling, or in any other matter wherein a mans silence or concealing the truth may hurt his brother, there his silence is a sin, and his con­cealing the truth a lye. I know what many will object: If this [Page 10]be so, we may go shut up our shops, for should we tell the fault of our goods, we should hinder our selves in the sale. But is it not better to hinder thy self in thy goods, than to offend thy God; nakedly and plainly to declare the goodness or badness of thy Commodities, than by taking advantage of the buyers ignorance to have singultum cordis, 1 Sam. 25.31. that is, a throbbing heart, an accusing conscience. This sin the of Ananias it was a lye, it was a real lye, and it was a lye in the point of concealment, because they concealed the truth.

3 3. Further, It is said to be a lye made to God, because it was secret, so that none but God could find it out; it was cunningly contrived in his deeds, therefore very secret and hidden, yet God findeth it out. He who is the Author of all truth hath said it, that there is nothing so secret but it shall be revealed; it is not possible for man to conceal his untruth and iniquity from God: He that made the eye, shall not he see? He that made the heart, shall not he un­derstand? Psal. 94.9. Surely he sees, and knows all the Mazes and Meanders; all the windings and turnings of our vain hearts.

Let this therefore teach us to hate and detest this sin of Lying. These are the things wich ye shall do, Inference. speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour, Zac 8.16, 17. execute the judgement of truth and peace in your gates; Let none of you imagine evill in your hearts against his neighbour, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate saith the Lord. In like manner the Apostle, Laying aside Lying, speak ye the truth every man to his neighbour, Ephes. 4.25. for ye are members one of another: So deal therefore one with another as one member of the body would deal with the rest. Consider what hath been said against this sin, That every lye is against the God of truth, and he will find it out; that it was the sin of these two notable hypocrites, and a sin that must help them out in their hypocrisie; they could never have made the World think so well of them if the lye had not come in to help them. Further, Lying is the devils badge, a mark of his disciples,Joh. 8.44. who himself is the father of lies. It is joyned and coupled together by the Prophet Hosea with four other capital sins,Hos. 4.2. Swearing, Murther, Theft, Adultery. Surely they that hide themselves under falshood and deceit,Isa. 28.15. and make lyes their refuge, will in the end be found to be but under a bad shelter; For (saith David) the Lord who loveth truth and righteousness, Psal. 45.7. and hateth ini­quity, Psal. 5 6. he will destroy them that speak lies; and how will he destroy [Page 11]them? St. John faith it shall be with an everlasting destruction,Rev. 21.8.22.15. he will shut them out of the heavenly Hierusalem. Let every one of us therefore labour for truth in our speeches, and for truth in our actions, ever saying with David, Lord, Psal. 119.29. remove from me the way of Lying.

Thirdly, You have seen what was the second ingredient, the 3 sin of lying, they counterfeited the Holy Ghost,Tempting of the Holy Ghost. and they lyed to the Holy Ghost; In the ninth verse it is called a Tempting of God. How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? This then is to be taken in as a third branch of their sin, and a devillish sin it is,Mat. 4 6. because when the devil tempted Christ in the Wilderness he tempted him to tempt God, saying, Cast thy self down headlong. This sin left the remembrance of it in giving a name to a place, where the people of Israel tempted God at Rephidim, for it is not only called Me [...]ibah of their contending and striving against Moses, but also Massah of their tempting of God; therefore Moses doth admonish them, that they should not tempt God as they tempted him at Massah, saying,Deut. 6.16. Is the Lord amongst us, or not. Exod. 17 7. The Psalmist also testifieth that they tempted him in the Wilderness, and required meat for their lust, saying, Behold, he smote the Rock that the waters gushed out, Psal. 78.20. and the streams overflowed, can he give bread also? Can he provide flesh for his people? As if it were not as easie for God to give bread as well as water, but they would needs tempt him, and try what he could do: So here Ananias and Saphira are said to tempt the Spirit of the Lord, because they meant to try conclusions, and prove whether or no the Holy Ghost could espy and find out their jugling, and whether he could punish it being found out.

This then being so great a sin to tempt God, let us take the more heed of it; let us take heed of presuming upon the mercy of God; let us not venture to commit any sin, entertaining such a thought as this into our hearts, Why? What if we do? God is not able, or he is not willing to punish us. Do we provoke the Lord to anger, are we stronger than he?2 Cor. 20.22. Oh let us do nothing with an evill conscience, nor against the knowledge of a good con­science, praying still with David, Lord keep thy servants from pre­sumptuous sins, Psal. 19.13. and let them not have dominion over us.

Their sin then, for the nature of it, was like Cerberus, a beast, as the Poets feign, having three heads; or like a poyson mixt, and [Page 12]made up of three ingredients, Hypocrisie, Lying, and Tempting of God.

5 I have done with the fourth particular, the matter of their sin, and proceed to the fifth and last, [...]. Keeping back part of the price of the Land. which is the Quomodo or man­ner of it; they made a lye to God, they tempted God, but how? Saint Luke saith, it was by turning aside part of the price of the Land; here was to use the School term Formale, the very forma­lity of it. The devil that old Serpent had compounded and in­fused a new poyson into their hearts, consisting of three ingredi­ents, they were the matter of their sin; now the manner of acting, and working, and what operation this poyson had, appears by their actions too open and known, the first, and the third, selling of their Land, and bringing part of the price to the Apostles feet; but the second was secret and unknown, viz. keeping back part of the price.

They began no doubt by the motion of the Holy Ghost to sell their possession, and in selling of it aimed at a good and holy end, that it might be distributed to the several necessities of the Church, therefore they bring it, and lay it at the Apostles feet: A good beginning, and a good end intended; but Satan creeps in between them, sets his foot in the midst, and mars all; like the envious thief in the Gospel, he sows tares amongst the good seed; yea, so far he bewitcheth them, that they presume through their hypocrisie to beguile and deceive the Holy Ghost, in concealing part of the price. Their sin then was a secret and voluntary withholding and keeping back some part of that which they began to give openly; and in conclusion a shew of performing the whole, when indeed they did but perform only some part. They gave all to God, they stole some of it again, and would have the rest to stand for the whole. Their own being given to God was no longer their own, but Gods, therefore their secret keeping back part was Sacriledge, that is, stealing of a holy and consecra­ted thing. Now this was a sly kind of Sacriledge, and hard to be exemplified out of Gods Word, and it seems but a small matter for them to take some of that which so lately was their own; yet seeing they were led to it by the instigation of Satan, he was the Parent, and that in travelling to bring it forth, they grew very big, being full of Distrust, Presumption, Covetousness, Vainglory, and having brought it forth, it appears in the light to be a monstrous [Page 13]birth, a hell-hound with three heads, Hypocrisie, Lying, and Tempting of God, (as you have already heard.) And lastly, seeing (as the Story shews) it was punisht with a sudden and fearful death as it were, the ireful breath of the Holy Ghost, blasting and smiting them both to death by the mouth of the Apostle; there­fore it is apparent from hence, that this their Sacriledge, suppose the lowest degree of Sacriledge, this their stealing of part of their own gifts from God, was a most fearful, and grievous sin. And from hence I propound these Queries following:

  • I. If to take it away Secretly were such a sin, what is it to do it Openly?
  • II. If to take away Part, what is it to take away All?
  • III. If to take away a mans Own gift were so great a sin, what is it then to take away Another mans gift?

But these things require a fuller debate, therefore let us consi­der of them severally.

I say therefore, First, If to steal Secretly that which hath been 1 given and Dedicated to God were such a sin, what is it to do it Openly? Doth not this argue greater contempt of God, greater boldness in sinning, and consequently greater disobedience? Therefore as it is an aggravation of the drunkenness of our times, that whereas this sin was heretofore committed in the night,1 Thes. 5.7. it is now committed in the light, and is become, as it were,Psal. 91.6. a noon­day devil: So it is not likewise an aggravation of the Sacriledge of our daies, that whereas Ananias and Saphira hid their sin,Job 31.33. as Adam, and kept it close, many do now on the contrary,Isa. 3.9. shew and declare their sin, as Sodom, they hide it not. We say, he is a bold Thief that will steal when men look on: Are they not then bold Thieves that will rob God of the means of his Worship, though all the World look on. That is the first.

The second Quere is this, If it be so great a sin to keep back Part 2 a mans gift, what is it then to take away the Whole? He that takes away all, and leaves nothing behind him, he is a bold thief indeed: Even so against God, Is not he a bold and graceless thief, who when he hath opened his mouth to God shrinks back, and will performe nothing of that he hath promised? When men will give to God, and when they have so done, take it away again, when Covetousness comes in and parlies with them, (as here it did with Ananias) so a revocation is made of their gifts: [Page 14]This questionless cannot be without sin; for in matters of God we are not to deliberate,In [...]e sancta deliberatio non habet locum. that is, not to reason with flesh and bloud, but to do as we have promised: When thou vowest a Vow unto the Lord thy God, Cypr. thou shalt not be slack to pay it, for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee, Deut. 23.21. and so it should be sin unto thee, saith Moses; Job. 2.27. So holy Job, Thou shalt make thy prayer to him, and he shall hear thee, and thou shalt render him thy Vows; To this purpose like­wise is that of Solomon, Eccles. 5.4. When thou vowest a Vow unto God, defer not to pay it, for he hath no pleasure in fools, pay that which thou hast vowed. Indeed unlawful Vows ought not to bind mens consciences, nei­ther are they to be kept, but rather to be broken by those that made them, because sin is not to be added to sin; but on the other side, take away and exclude superstition, wickedness, impossibility, then Vowes are lawful, they bind the conscience, and ought to be per­formed. When therefore a thing is once not only determined be­tween God and a mans conscience, but also publikely consecrated, and so notified before men, then it is no longer his that gave it, but it is Gods; It is not common, but holy, that is, set aside to a holy end. It is the gift of the Holy Ghost, because God is both the Au­thor and end thereof; for although the thing given be temporal and transitory, yet the manner of giving being spiritual and holy, the gift is the gift of the Holy Ghost, for God the Holy Ghost doth effectually move a mans mind to give it, and God the Lord Jesus Christ doth cheerfully receive it in his Members for the mu­tual cherishing and exercising of Gods gifts and graces amongst them, to the honour and glory of God the Father; wherefore what man soever, though theThe stile of all ancient Deeds and Grants shews this, [...]unning in this form: We have given unto God both for our selves, and for our heirs for ever. Magna Charta cap 1. When Ethelbert endowed the Church of Pancrace with Land, he did it with an irrevoca­ble Act: Adjuro, & praecipio in nomine Domini Dei omnipotentis, qui est omnium justus judex, ut praefata terra subscripta donatione sempeternaliter sit confirmata, ita ut nec mihi, nec alicui successorum meorum de ea aliquid fraudare liceat. Spelm, Concil. Britan. p. 119. Siquis rem domino jam devotam carnali victus illecebra crediderit denuo reposcendam, non est legitimus ejus rei possessor, sed divini juris pronunciatur invasor. Fulgent. Epist. 1. de debit. Conjug. Giver of the gift, shall either openly take away, or secretly purloyn the same, he commits Sacriledge, and stealeth from God, and not from men.

Object. But a man will say, May I not do what I will with mine own?

Answ. I answer again, It is not a mans own, if he have vowed, and promised it, but it is Gods. Was it not in thine own power, saith Pe­ter here to Ananias? True (as if he had said) it was, but being since consecrated, and given unto God, thou art now found to be a lyar and a thief in keeping it from him: Let all men there­fore take heed of dealing thus with their God; I am perswa­ded that this dallying with Almighty God, this playing fast and loose with His Majesty, is that which eats Religion out of the hearts of many rich men, and quenches the Spirit of God in them: Why should any man be so simple as to begin in the Spirit, and end in the Flesh? Begin with God, (as Ananias here did) and end with the devil?Gal. 6.7. Be not deceived (saith the Apostle) God is not mocked. This is a second thing offered to our consideration, If to take and keep back part were such a sin, what is it then to keep back the whole?

To proceed yet one step further in this climax or gradation:3 Thirdly, if it be so great a wickedness to keep back a mans own gift in part, or in whole, what is it then to take away another mans gift? Which never was his own that taketh it away, neither ever had he any right or title to it, but only by force or fraud hath wrung it to himself; and are there not many great thieves also of mony, seek to repair their decayed Estates with the ruines of they care not what, or of whom: That which they most desire to get into their hand is the means of the Church, which our pious An­cestors have given and devoted unto God, and that under a solemn Curse to fall upon him or them that should alienate the same: That which is the sweetest morsel in their mouths, and goes down most pleasantly is the gobbet stoln from the Altar: I had rather express the language and carriage of these men in the words of judicious Hooker than in mine own: ‘The devil (saith he) by certain strong inchantments hath so deeply bewitched Religion it self, as to make it in the end an earnest sollicitor, and an eloquent perswa­der of Sacriledge, urging confidently, that the very best service which men of power can do to Christ, is without any more ce­remony to sweep all, and to leave the Church as bare as in the day it was first born; that fulness of bread having made the [Page 16]children of the houshold wanton,Hooker Ecces. pol. l. b. 5. p. 432. it is without any scruple to be taken away from them and thrown to dogs; that they which laid the prices of their Lands as offerings at the Apostles feet, did but sow the seeds of superstition; that they which indowed Churches with, Lands poysoned Religion; that Tythes and Ob­lations are now in the sight of God as the sacrificed bloud of Goats; that if we give him our hearts and affections, our goods are better bestowed otherwise, &c. Covetous men have ever something to say for themselves, so these you see they want no words, desire of gain makes them very witty. But turn we our ears from them to God, and hear what he saith: They that wrong Levi in his substance God shall smite through the Loyns of such,Deut. 33.11. saith Moses. Mal. 3 8. Will a man rob God? Ye have robbed me in tythes and offe­rings, therefore are ye cursed with a curse, cries the Prophet Malachi; Those that say, Come let us take to our selves the houses of God in pos­session; O my God, make them like a wheel, still running about as if they were mad. As the fire burneth the wood: and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire; Psa. 83.13, 14. So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm; So David. Thus the Penmen of Holy Writ sharpen their Stile, denouncing heavier judgments against sacrilegious persons; This is therefore the third and last Question: If Ananias might not keep back part of that which was his own, but it cost him his life, How then dare men take away from the Church, that which never was their own, and not think themselves subject to the wrath of Almighty God?

Having thus laid open the several parts of this Text, and shewed the nature of this sin of Ananias and Saphira, let me desire thee (Christian Reader) to fix thy serious thoughts and meditations up­on this general Conclusion, very clearly arising from the premises: That there are many who call Christ Master, yet are the Worlds servants. Or, That it is possible for a man to go far in the way to heaven, yet be at length overtaken with a whorish love of this World, for thus was it with Ananias and Saphira. Who would ever have thought, that Saint Luke, writing so many things in their praise in the former Chapter, should here come in with such a tragical relation: There they received the Word, here give ear to Satan; There they prayed, here hold parley with the devil; There with joyful hearts they praise God, here they tempt him; There you read of their charity, now you have seen their hypocrisie; [Page 17]There they joyned themselves with the Apostles,1 Tim. 6.10. here for detai­ning the price of their Land were cast out of the blessed socie­ty and fellowship of the Apostles:Summos saepe viros transver­ses egit av [...]ri­tia. Salust. Hominum men­tibus est insper­sa cupiditas, & corum qui in pie [...]ate cons [...]u­ti vid [...]u [...], Chrysto [...] 5. p. 204. Well doth Saint Paul say, that the love of money is the root of all evil; It is the root of Apo­stacy, and falling from God. This sin creeps into the heart w [...]en other sins go out; and this is the sin of many Professors, men of eminent parts, who for Piety and Religion seem to be set in a higher rank and form than other men. Curtius writing the Life of Alexander, praiseth him for many things, as Wisdom, Valour, In­dustry, reports him very hardy, a man that when frost and snow lay upon the ground, would climb up the Alps on his bare hands and feet; then he gives a sudden dish with his Pen:Caeteruming en­tia animi bo­na, &c. hand tolerabili vini cupidita of aeda­vi [...]. Q Curt. p. 158. But he was into­lerably given to the love of Wine, and would be drunk, and that was a blemish to all his other Virtues: The like may be said of many Professors, that make a glorious shew, hear much, read much, do many excellent things; But their hearts are overcharged with the love of earthly things, and that deprives them of salvation, for thatPlaagere cos praecipit, non propter homici­dia, non propter fornicationes, aut alia postre­mo vitia letha­li gladio animos & parenns occi­sione jugulan­tia: sed prop­ter solas tan­tummodo opes; propter insanam cupiditatem, propter auri, at­que argenti fa­mem. ut ostende­ret scilicet suf­ficere hae [...] homini ad aeternam d [...]m­natio [...], [...]ri [...]ms [...] [...]atus olii [...] s [...] ­ [...]ssent Sal p 357. alone may do it as well as murther or adultery. The hea­rers, resembled to thorny ground, went they not further than the rest? Did they not hear the Word? Did they not beleeve it? Did they not receive it with joy? Yet after all this were choaked with cares and riches. The young man in the Gospel, did he not leave Christ because he would not leave his possessions. and Ananias here because he would not let go the price of his Land? Judas also, and Demas they both suffered shipwrack upon the same rock. When Naomi went out of Moab with her two daughters, Ruth and Or­pah, towards the Land of Judah, Ruth stuck to her, and would by no means forsake her: Orpah, she also went a good way with her, wept, and took on, but at length she kist her mother and departed; She returned to idolatrous Moab to her People, and to her Gods (saith the Text:) So a hypocrite may make a fair progress in the way to heaven, read, pray, converse with the Saints, weep it may be at a Sermon, yet for all this be deeply in love with the World, and have his heart there amongst his Gods of Silver and Gold: And these, O ye men of might, have been the Gods many of you have been fighting for so long;Luk. 8 14. Mat. 19.22. 2 Tim 4.10. Ruth. [...].15. Psal 7 [...].5. Mat. 21 38. that which you have chief­ly sought hath been to seize upon the inheritance, and to get into your hands the price of the Land; Who see [...]h not at this day a great measure of Ananias's hypocritical covetousness, and covetous [Page 18]hypocrisie to have been reigning in your hearts: Seeming Saints you have been, and servants of God, but the World hath been your Master: You have used Religion but as a ladder to climb up to wealth and worldly preferment, which being had, the ladder hath been thrown aside, no matter what became of it: Saint John saith,1 Joh. 5.4. This is the victory that overcometh the World, even our faith; to you it may be said, This is the victory that hath overcome your faith, even the World, and your worldly hearts, look into them, and you will find this to have been the root of your late so foul miscar­riages, but manum de tabula, oculos ad coelum.

The Lord showr down his blessings upon the head of our So­veraign Lord King Charles, and so replenish him with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that he may alwaies incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Bless the Great Council of the Realm assembled to­gether in the High Court of Parliament, grant that with a single eye they may look at thy glory, ever preferring the publick good before their private interests;Job 29.17. strengthen their hands that they may pluck out of the throats of those Cormorants the spoyl which they have so greedily devoured. Rebuke the madness of those false Pro­phets,2 Pet. 2.3. who through Covetousness with fained words make mar­chandize of thy people. Lord, bless Levi's substance, and accept the work of his hands; and suffer not the means of thy Worship to come into the hands of those who count all gain godliness.

This heavy judgment on Ananias struck fear into all that heard it: The Lord grant it may have the same effect in all that shall read these lines,Act. 5.5.11. that all Israel may hear, and fear, and do no more presumptu­ously. Deut. 17.13. Seeing few have conceived this sin of Sacriledge in their hearts who have not felt the judgement of God upon their backs;Deut. 21.21. may therefore the example of his heavy judgments deter and keep back all men from this sin.

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