John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: October 7

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: October 7

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All Things Common

Act_2:41-47; Act_4:32-35

Before the day of Pentecost, there were at least one hundred and twenty disciples at Jerusalem—that day added three thousand to the church; and many of those who “heard the word,” after the miracle at the Beautiful Gate, believed, to the number of about five thousand. This makes altogether eight thousand one hundred and twenty souls; but, besides this, we are told that intermediately the Lord had “daily added to the church such as should be saved.” We may, therefore, safely conclude, that the church at Jerusalem comprised at this time not less than ten thousand members. This was the primitive church; and it is deeply interesting to inquire into its state, and examine the principles by which it was animated. The record before us, in the Acts of the Apostles, affords some interesting materials for this inquiry.

From this record it appears that the lives and manners of the new converts, after the great day of Pentecost, assumed a character in perfect conformity with the first principles of the religion into which they had been led; and it were impossible to find a more pleasing picture than that, which these intimations give of all that is amiable and instructive in the religion of Jesus. As charity, in the true sense of the word, as the love of mankind, founded on the love of God through Christ, as a more perfect and exalted holiness animated their whole conduct, we behold nothing but that happy community of sentiments, which is the ornament and perfection of the Christian church. Having been through grace enabled to “save themselves” from the entanglements and dangers of an “untoward generation,” they gathered closely around the apostles and early disciples of Him whom they now recognised as their Lord and their Redeemer. “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine”—hearing the apostles declare the way of salvation: and in manifesting the proper fruits of the Spirit “in fellowship,”—that is, not communion but communication, or a generous and unaffected liberality to all the brethren; “in breaking of bread,”—that is, some have supposed, in the participation of the Lord’s supper, but assuredly, at least in the exercise of an open unrestrained hospitality, and “in prayer,” presenting their united petitions to their Heavenly Father, through Him who alone makes all prayer acceptable, and who had promised that, whatever they should “ask the Father in his name, He would bestow.”

We are next informed, that they who “believed were together, and had all things common.” This we cannot suppose to mean either that they assembled at one time in one place—for their number was too large for this; nor that they resigned all particular interest in the property they possessed: for some, we soon afterwards find, sold such possessions as they had, that the proceeds might be disbursed to relieve the wants of the poorer brethren, which they could not have done had they literally had all things common before. It is certain however, that in the time of our Savior, the apostles held all their property in a common stock, Judas being their treasurer. They regarded themselves as a family, having common wants, so that there was no use or reason in their possessing property by themselves. It was, besides, then a matter of convenience among men living and travelling together as they did; for one who at any time had something of his own, would find himself so strongly called to satisfy some wants of others, who at that time had nothing, that it was obviously the best course for every one to cast into a common stock whatever came to him. This practice was without doubt retained by the apostles so long as they remained together; and to the new converts it might seem as a model for their proceeding also, at least for the time. Yet, even in our Lord’s days, it seems that the apostles themselves did not relinquish all their private property. The Galilean fishermen did not sell their most valuable possessions—their boats, but still had them, and used them, after our Lord’s resurrection. It appears also that John possessed some property which he retained, and which enabled him to offer a home to the mother of Jesus. Note: Joh_19:27.

It is clear indeed that our Lord did not command the apostles to give up their property into a common stock; and it is equally clear that the apostles themselves did not enjoin it; for we shall presently hear Peter asking one who had dealt perversely in this matter—“While it remained was it not thine own, and after it was sold was it not in thine own power?” Note: Act_5:4. It was therefore an entirely voluntary act throughout, and by no means imposed upon the new converts, or exacted from them by the apostles. It was a mode naturally suggested by the exigencies of the infant church, of applying those principles of brotherly love, and of self suppression, which the Lord himself had constantly inculcated. The need to be met was instant and special, and such as did not exist afterwards among the churches formed among the heathen, where consequently, we find nothing of this mentioned by the apostles in their epistles, in which the practice actually enjoined was, that every one should lay aside week by week “as the Lord had prospered him,” some portion of his earnings for the poorer brethren: and it was expected that he would contribute liberally, according to his means, to the collections made on special emergencies. We read of such collections among the churches in Asia Minor and Greece for “the poor saints at Jerusalem,” in which Paul greatly interested himself, and which he urgently enforced. This constant remembrance of the Christians in Judea by those in foreign parts, points to some peculiar causes of destitution which did not in the same degree exist elsewhere. This is not difficult to find. The converts in Judea, by the mere fact of their adhesion to Christ, “suffered the loss of all things,” unless they had property independent of the will, favor, or patronage of others—and the proportion of these was few. So deep an offence against Jewish prejudices cast them loose from Jewish charities, and involved loss of employment to such as were traders, and dismissal from their employments to such as were workmen and servants, producing a state of destitution which rendered extraordinary exertions necessary on the part of the more prosperous brethren; and how nobly they responded to the demands of this great emergency is shown in the record before us. This is no conjecture. It is illustrated and proved by what we actually see in operation at this day in Jerusalem. In that city some converts from Judaism are made; and no sooner does this appear, than they are instantly cut off from all aid, support, and employment from the Jews there, and would starve but for the missionaries, upon whose resources they are entirely thrown, and who are obliged to sustain them until they can find some means of employment for them, or can raise funds to send them out of the country. Hence great sacrifices are made by those on the spot for their relief, and hence the earnest appeals sent home for help to the converts at Jerusalem. The parallel is as close as can well be.

The necessity was too great for the richer brethren to be able to meet it from their income merely; and therefore they sold so much personal property or real estate (for both are specified) as was requisite to supply the wants of the destitute brethren, and brought the proceeds to the apostles, that they might make the distribution “as every man had need.” This practice, through the eager liberality of the prosperous converts, soon laid upon the apostles (as we shall presently see) a burden too heavy for them to bear. But the picture of cheerful and happy unanimity which prevailed under this state of things in the infant church is most cheering to contemplate, while it yet raises a sigh for that day when we may behold the like again. “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul. Neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own.” They possessed as not possessing, regarding all but as held in trust for the Lord’s service, and always ready for any claims which that service made.