Sunday, October 18, 2020


In Defence of Ananias and Sapphira

Acts 5.1-11 (Revised Standard Version):
But a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much." But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.
Walter Savage Landor, "William Penn and Lord Peterborough," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. III (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1909), pp. 9-123 (at 66, Peterborough speaking):
Would He, with such righteousness, such gentleness, such forbearance, have treated Ananias and Sapphira as Peter his successor did? Certainly the popes descend in a right line from this prince of the apostles; who very properly bears in his statue the head of Jupiter the thunderer. If he really did toward Ananias and Sapphira, what we are bound to believe he did, he neglected the example and disobeyed the commands of his master, and he infringed the laws and usurped the magistrature of his country. Would any modern king, Christian or Mahomedan or idolater, would any republic of any age, permit a private man to enforce, under pain or threat of death, so rigid and bitter an equality? Would you yourselves, who come nearest to the discipline of Christ, insist upon it? I do not ask whether you would point out for reprobation, I do not ask whether you would strike with extinction, a virtuous, generous, unsuspicious couple, who had given to the indigent the greater part of their possessions. Extinction for what crime?—the crime of holding back from their enthusiastic prodigality a slender pittance, with an object perhaps as justifiable and as sacred as charity itself. Their motives were unexamined, their cause unheard. We may suppose them desirous of repurchasing some quiet country-house, some shady little meadow, some garden with its trellised alcove or its woodland path at the end of it, the scene of their earliest tenderness and first caresses. There may be things about us so dear to us, that we should almost bear our soundest flesh to be cut away, before we could surrender them to another; and from a feeling so very different from avarice, that the avaricious man is perhaps the only one who is quite incapable of it. There are localities that have in them somewhat of an identity with ourselves: insomuch that, in almost all ages and countries, the poets have appealed to their consciousness: and poets search out and seize on resemblances of truth, even more striking than truth itself.

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