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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

Acts 5

 

 

Verses 1-11

ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA

1-11. In that country the summers are very hot [and this was June], superinducing very quick and rapid putrefaction, necessitating a speedy interment of the dead, especially in a vast multitude. They had no grave to dig, as they did not use them. The sepulchers were always ready for the deposition of the dead. From this history of the mournful fate of Ananias and Sapphira, we learn an exceedingly valuable and eminently profitable symbolic truth, pertinent to all ages; i. e., that if we do not radically and truly consecrate all to God, spiritual death will inevitably supervene. Horace, the celebrated Roman lyric poet, says:

“Retribution, though with lame foot, will inevitably overtake the criminal.”

Though the irrelevancy of the heathen poet, how significantly true! The Holy Spirit is omniscient, seeing every thought, feeling and motive of our being. Hence we can not deceive Him. Millions try it and fall dead [spiritually] like Ananias and Sapphira. Reader, profit by this awful warning. You can not deceive God. Now and evermore submit unreservedly, be loyal as an angel, your watchword ever ringing, “Thy will be done.”

IDENTITY OF THE TRINITY

3, 4 and 9 (also Romans 8:9). These Scriptures prove clearly the identity of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit of the Father. In Acts 5:3, Peter accuses Ananias of lying to the Holy Ghost. In Acts 5:4, he accuses him of lying to God. In Acts 5:9, he accuses him of tempting the Spirit of the Lord, i. e., of Christ. Hence we see that all these are used synonymously, proving their identity.

Romans 8:9 : “But you are not in carnality, but in the spirit, if the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. And if any one has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

In this verse we find the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ used synonymously, and both synonymous with the Holy Ghost. I have met much inquiry and know many people exceedingly puzzled and muddled along these lines of revealed truth, some having actually digressed into the tritheistic heresy, i. e., the doctrine of three Gods, because they too idly discriminate between the three persons of the one God, becoming somewhat oblivious to the fact that there is only one God, of whom the Father, Son and Spirit are three distinct persons, executive of the different departments in the gracious economy, and accommodatory to our finite apprehensions of the incomprehensible Divinity. I am editor in the morning, teacher in the afternoon, and preacher at night, day by day, in my industrial life; thus exhibiting three distinct characters and working on three separate lines. Therefore you see in me a human trinity. Yet I am only one man.


Verse 13

APOSTOLICAL SUCCESSION SPIRITUAL AND NOT OFFICIAL

13. “And no one of the rest dared to identify himself with them, but the people magnified them.” The popular mind has found a contradiction between this and the following verse, which states that “believers continued to be the more added unto the Lord.” There is no contradiction, but perfect harmony. While the conviction on the multitude was wonderfully augmented and intensified by the sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira, and consequently the revival took new impetus, spreading more rapidly than ever yet, as certified in Acts 5:13, they all recognized superhuman power in the apostles, peculiar to themselves alone, which did not appertain to the disciples. Hence the long-agitated controversy and the boasted ecclesiastical dogmata of apostolical succession are utterly without foundation, as the apostles never had any official succession in the sense claimed by the churches. In Ephesians 4:10, Paul mentions apostles in the catalogue of God’s ministers, along with evangelists, pastors and prophets throughout the gospel dispensation. But we must bear in mind that all these ministerial offices belong to the Holy Ghost alone, as it says He gives them. Hence official succession in an ecclesiastical sense is precluded. God made Bishop Taylor an apostle to Africa, and Hudson Taylor to interior China. And many others are leading forth the embattled host at the present day, as apostle simply means “one sent” as a pioneer. While all of these officers are still efficient on the earth, perpetuating the ministry of the church in her primitive beauty, spirituality and glory, yet they are given by the sovereign, discriminating power of the Holy Ghost alone, never having been transmitted to any ecclesiasticism. The Holy Ghost became incarnate on the day of Pentecost, and has so remained ever since, taking some to heaven, and filling and using others, thus perpetuating His church upon the earth. In contradisctinction to the human ecclesiasticisms, really Satan’s counterfeits and constituting spiritual Babylon, Rome, the old harlot mother, and the fallen Protestant churches, her daughters, constituting the counterfeit Bride, contrastive with the true, simple, humble, meek and lowly Bride of Christ, the sympathetic companion of the suffering Savior, left on the earth to represent Him and prepare the world for His coming kingdom. The Apostolic Church remained pure through bloody centuries of Pagan persecution, till by Constantine promoted from the lion’s mouth and the burning stake to Caesar’s palace, precipitating the great apostasy into Roman Catholicism. From the fatal epoch of the great Constantinian apostasy, God had a true people perpetuated in the novations, A. D. 250. During the middle ages they were denominated the Waldenses, and afterwards the Moravians, who became instrumental in the conversion and sanctification of John Wesley after he had preached ten years in the Episcopal Church, perfectly honest, exceedingly zealous, and awfully persecuted for having too much religion, while he did not have any; thus illustrating the blindness with which Satan beclouds human ecclesiasticisms. When carnal men appropriate the church, the Holy Ghost leaves it and lets the devil have it. Meanwhile, the Holy Ghost moves right on perpetuating His work, independently of human officers and institutions. While all these ministerial officers are still in the church, and always have been, they are the creations of the Holy Ghost, dispensed in different ages and nations, pursuant to His infallible wisdom, superabounding grace, and discriminating providence.


Verse 15-16

DIVINE HEALING

15, 16. While the revival tide is inundating Jerusalem and rolling into the surrounding country like an ever-widening sea, we see as in all ages a corresponding prominence given to divine healing — “and a multitude of the cities around Jerusalem came together, bringing their sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, who all continued to get healed.” Bodily healing is the legitimate overflow and outgrowth of the spiritual life.

“He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit dwelling in you” (Romans 8:11).

Divine healing is normally for those who are filled with the Holy Ghost, who is always ready to repair any dilapidation of His own house, that it may be competent to answer the purposes of His occupancy, becoming His efficient instrument in His labors of love through our mortal instrumentality. Though we are very diligent to repair the houses in which we live, perpetuating their adaptations to the enterprises of our Occupancy, yet the time comes when it is no longer expedient to repair the breaches in the old house. In that case we desist from any further repairs, take it down and build a new one. Divine healing only reaches the body in this life in an earnest of the glory that awaits us when this mortal shall put on immortality in the transfiguration, received either by translation, as Enoch and Elijah, and all of the saints at the rapture, or in the resurrection, as final and complete bodily healing must eliminate mortality, which is the very element of physical ailment and death. The doctrine of divine healing, so prominent in the New Testament and practical in the Apostolic ministry, is especially valuable as a tributary to the spiritual life, furnishing a powerful incentive to all to be filled with the Holy Ghost, and to keep filled, receiving perpetually an increasing enduement of the blessed indwelling Comforter, who, pursuant to our perfect submission, obedience and humble faith, will keep His own tenement in good repair, adapted to the work He has given us to do, pouring on us a thousand blessings through our surviving physical infirmities, preparing us for translation when our Lord descends.


Verse 17-18

HIGH PRIEST AND OFFICIAL BOARD

17, 18. “And the high priest and all those with him, being of the sect of the Sadducees, were filled with envy, jealousy and prejudice, and laid hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.” Tell me not that the high priest did not, in all good conscience, sign the death-warrant of Jesus Christ, believing that he was doing God service. We have no right to impeach the honesty of these leading preachers and official members at Jerusalem. You have nothing to do but look at their successors at the present day. Their name is legion. They doubtless feel it to be their duty to crush out the Holiness Movement, whose votaries are preaching the Incarnation of the Holy Ghost, the Baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire, Entire sanctification, Divine Healing, and the Coming of the Lord. We are preaching precisely the doctrines which the apostles preached in Jerusalem. This can not be denied. We prove it constantly with an open Bible. Why do they oppose and interdict us, forbidding us to preach in their jurisdiction? While we have no right to impeach the candor of the high priest and his coadjutors, we know they did the work of Satan, believing they were obeying God. We have the same phenomena throughout Christendom this day. The logical sequence is irresistible. Just as the leaders of Judaism blindly resisted the Holy Ghost, so the leaders of fallen Christianity at the present day ostracize and interdict the holiness people, who are preaching just what the apostles preached. I am willing to preach in any of their churches, with the understanding that I am to be put out the moment I deflect from the New Testament. We challenge all of the anti-holiness preachers and officers to convict us of departure from the Word of God. But they do not charge us with antagonism to God’s Word, but simply forbid us to preach in their territory, when God has commanded us to “preach the gospel to every creature.” Of course, we are not going into their houses uninvited; but how dare they mark off a certain territory, and let drunkards; harlots, thieves, murderers and the devil into it, and then order God’s gospel herald out of it! We come to wage war with the devil and sin, and nothing else. Why forbid us thus, protecting the devil and sin in said territory, while they drag the people into hell by the wholesale? No doubt but these very preachers and church officers who antagonized the apostles at Jerusalem are down in hell. Look out! The Judgment Day is coming, when God will call the holiness evangelist to stand on the witness block and testify that he went, responsive to Jehovah’s bidding, to that wicked town to preach the gospel and warn those wicked people to flee from the wrath to come, and a certain clergyman ran him away. Will not that man be guilty of the blood of those souls? Better for him that he had never been born. Remember, there will be no dignitaries at the Judgment bar, but every tub will stand on its own bottom.

THE PEOPLE TRUER THAN THE PREACHERS

The preachers in charge of the orthodox Jewish Church at Jerusalem, availing themselves of the acquiescent civil arm, imprison the apostles. God sends His angel to open the prison and let them out. Having convened the Sanhedrin in the judgment hall on Mt. Zion and failed to find them in the jail, upon notification that they are standing in the temple and teaching the people,

25, 26 . “The captain of the temple guards along with officers, goes and brings them out by force, because they feared the people, lest they may be stoned.” When the church is in the kingdom of God, the leaders as a rule are better than the people, living nearer God, and thus leading the people on to grander achievements in the divine life. Et, vice versa, when the church is fallen and preachers and people out of the heavenly road and on a downward trend, as is true in case of apostasy, then the preachers are worse than the people. During all the martyr ages the preachers led the bloody persecutions. From Stephen, the first, when Saul of Tarsus, the top of the clergy, led the mob that stoned him, to the anti-holiness rally of the present day, the preachers have opposed and persecuted the holy people. Here doubtless they would have killed the apostles if they had not feared the people.


Verse 29

CONFLICT OF DIVINE AND HUMAN RULE

29. “Peter and John, responding, said, It behooveth us to obey God rather than man.” This is the salient point. When there is a conflict between the authorities, human and divine, we must “obey God rather than man.” If we do not, hell is our doom. God help us. That has been the battlefield in all ages. Two hundred millions of martyrs have sealed their faith with their blood. They all died rather than be untrue to God. The truest saints on the globe today are brought face to face with this very issue: “Will you obey God or man?” When men want you to disobey God, you may know they are not in harmony with God. If they were, there could be no conflict. I charge you, reader, as I shall meet you at the judgment bar, dare to be like the apostles, “Obey God rather than men.” God’s will is revealed by His Word, Spirit and providence to your intellect, spirit and conscience. Jesus says: “He that willeth to do his will shall know the doctrine.” If you are really fully consecrated to God, He will see that you have all needed light. When they were burnt, the priest, i. e., their own pastor, went out to the burning with Bible in hand, exhorting the martyr to give up heresy and live. The ignorant, illiterate saint, with radiant face and eloquent lips, nobly resisted and shouted in the flame. You must remember that the man who opposes the discharge of your conscientious duty to God is not with God. We must, like the apostles and martyrs, be true to God at any cost.


Verse 31

REPENTANCE AND REMISSION

31. “Him hath God exalted a Prince and a Savior at his right hand to give repentance and remission of sins to Israel.” Prince refers to the regal office of our Lord, and Savior to His atonement. He expiated our guilt on the cross, thus triumphing over sin, death and hell in His first advent. So the Father crowned Him mediatorial King at His right hand. During His absence the church is to preach the gospel of the kingdom to every creature, thus preparing the world for His second advent in glorious power, when He will be crowned King of all nations. If you want salvation, you must humble yourself before God till He gives you repentance. The true repentance is given of God, wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost. The old style of seeking the Lord till you find Him is correct. The old colored people in the South used to sing over the mourners:

“When I was a mourner just like you, I prayed on till I prayed right through.”

The great trouble in these days of superficialism is that the people are manipulated through, instead of praying through. We should seek till God gives us repentance. Remission of sins and repentance are like Siamese twins — inseparable. They always live and die together. “What God hath joined together let no man separate.” Truly neither men nor devils can separate them. Here is the radical deficiency in the religions of the world. Pagans, Moslems, Romanists, Greeks, Arminians, Syrians and Copts seem to have lost every trace of evangelical repentance, while the Protestant churches are close on their track. There has been a general collapse at this point in the last twenty-five years. Surely the last days are upon us. Evangelical repentance and the witness of the Spirit always come and go together. The popular so-called tearless repentance never brings the witness of the Spirit, from the simple fact that the Spirit never witnesses to a falsehood. Get the people to seek on till they find it out for themselves.

They will then make everybody else know it. Good Lord, save us from counterfeit repentance.


Verse 32

THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST

32. Here we find that the Holy Ghost is given to them that obey God. The Greek for obedience and faith is the same word, which is also true of unbelief and disobedience, illustrating the fact that they are one and inseparable. A true faith always obeys, while disobedience is demonstrative evidence of unbelief. The Holy Ghost will not abide where He is not scrupulously obeyed. He is keenly susceptible of the slightest disobedience, evanescing unconsciously. So you wake to find the heavenly dove flown away out of your heart, leaving an aching void the world can never fill. It is a wonderfully delicate matter to obey God. It is easy, if you pursue the right method, but impossible on any other line. What is the right method? The Bible is the guide-book. If you are truly interested in the Guide, you will be thrillingly interested in the guide-book. With thorough abandonment to God, perfect commitment of your creeds, opinions, theories, notions and enterprises to Him, bereft of every care, sit meekly and lowly at the feet of Jesus, while the Holy Ghost teaches His blessed Word. If you say yes to God, and no to Satan, all the time, you will have no trouble to obey God, and in that case He gives you His Holy Spirit to dwell in your heart, giving you a sweet heaven in which to go to heaven. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” — this you will always find true if you will let God have His way in all things. Your life will become a cloudless sunshine.


Verses 33-42

DIVINE INTERVENTION

33-42. Now they reach a grand culmination. The Preachers in charge and the official board are signally defeated, “cut through,” so they are counseling to kill the apostles. They have condemned and imprisoned them a second time, ordering them positively to preach no more in their territory. All their orders are disobeyed. Jails will not hold them. They determine to settle the matter by killing them by the Roman civil arm, bought over for Jewish favor. Why did they not kill them? They all finally wore martyrs’ crowns, except John, who, according to Justin Martyr and other Christian Fathers, was honored with a translation. The simple solution of the matter is, their work was not done. A vile reprobate once pointed a gun at me, which fired all right a few minutes previously. When he pulled the trigger it only snapped. Why? My work was not done. So God’s saints are immortal until their work is done. So God puts His hand on Gamaliel, their giant, the greatest man of the opposition, their biggest preacher, and raises him up to deliver the apostles and prolong their lives till their work is done. Twenty years ago, in the time of the Temperance Crusaders, when holy women in our cities were miraculously closing Satan’s saloons by their prayers, immense was the excitement! A number of saloons have been closed. The holy Crusaders were praying in a large saloon. Satan’s mob came to break up the meeting, led by a huge ruffian. A holy woman rises from her knees, slips out and meets the mob, looks this gigantic, diabolical leader in the face, saying, “Will you please be so kind as to attend to the men and see that they do not interrupt our meeting?” Immediately he whirls on his heel and roars: “Back, fellows! back, fellows! We must have order here. You can not disturb this meeting. I will die for these good women.” So he commands and quells the mob. So God puts His hand on the giant theologian of the Sanhedrin, the tallest bishop standing at the head of the hierarchy. To the unutterable surprise of all, Gamaliel takes command of the situation and suggests that the apostles be sent out of the hall. Now he delivers a thrilling oration to the Sanhedrin, calling their attention to Theudas, the impostor, who a few years previously had made a great commotion among the people, receiving a large following, but had utterly evanesced with all of his adherents, leaving not a vestige. Then he reiterated the brilliant career of Judas, the Galilean impostor, in the days of the Roman enrollment, preparatory to the taxation of imperial Caesar. He with his adherents has also vanished away like the gossamer which recedes before the effulgence of an Oriental sun. Here he fortifies a stalwart argument, driving his logic with sledgehammer blows, and clinching the conclusion with the grip of a giant. Of course Luke gives us but a mere epitome of Gamaliel’s unanswerable oration. The fac simile thus culminates: Theudas, Judas and other impostors have risen, created great commotions and received large followings, stirring Judea and Western Asia. These have all vanished away, leaving not a trace nor a track. Now, if Jesus of Nazareth is also an impostor, He and His followers, with all this mighty commotion which is shaking the powers of church and state from center to circumference, will break down of its own weight, vanish away, utterly evanesce and sink into oblivion, like other impostors who have preceded. This is the negative side: If Jesus of Nazareth is an impostor as you say [“and He was one of them”], He will evanesce and go into oblivion with all of His following and work, like Theudas, Judas the Galilean, and multitudes of impostors who have risen and are now buried in oblivion, utterly unknown, not a vestige of their former greatness surviving. Hence the utter superfluity of all of this effort to put down Jesus and His followers, as certainly, on the hypothesis that they are impostors, they will inevitably play out, without any effort on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities. Gamaliel proceeds to evolve the positive side of his argument, which flashes with the forked lightnings of divine retribution: If Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Christ of God, as He and His disciples claim, the combined powers of earth and hell can never prevail against Him. Besides, in that case, “you will be found fighting against God,” and the unhappy victims of His righteous judgments and awful indignation, certain to overtake the impudent audacity so diabolically impetuous as to antagonize the Almighty. This discourse delivered by the master-spirit of the Sanhedrin was followed by a decisive negative verdict in reference to the preceding counsel to kill the apostles. However, they give way to their implacable hatred, beating them cruelly before they release them. Having thus suffered the deep humiliation, disgrace and torture of an unmerciful thrashing in presence of the multitude, the apostles depart from the Sanhedrin, shouting aloud, exultantly praising God for permitting them to enjoy the privilege of taking a cruel whipping in His name.


Verse 41-42

APOSTOLICAL SUCCESSION

41, 42. This chapter winds up Luke’s diurnal history of the Pentecostal revival, graphically describing the wonderful events of the first three days and two nights. Here you see clearly and unequivocally a solution of that vexed question among the warring sects, called Apostolical Succession.

The last fifteen hundred years since the great Constantinian apostasy, as the centuries roll by we see the robed priests and plug-hatted clergy of all ages and denominations crossing swords and fighting over the Apostolical Succession, like dogs over a bone, each one claiming it, and anathematizing all of his competitors; all ridiculously stultifying themselves and advertising to the world the egregious folly and silly nonsense characteristic of human ecclesiasticisms. Reader, look here at the inspired record and see, once for all, the fac simile of Apostolical Succession. It certainly means to succeed the apostles, doctrinally, experimentally and practically. The way is open to all who will enter: Get a sky-blue regeneration, assuring you that your name is written in Heaven. Then get sanctified with the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, as all the apostles did on the day of Pentecost. Then preach the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, on the streets, and from house to house, like the apostles, who had no church edifices. Preach and testify, without fear of men or devils, amid roaring mobs, rocks, mud, clubs, eggs, et cetera, spending the night in jail. When they cruelly thrash you like dogs, in presence of the mocking multitude, go away with bleeding backs and roaring shouts, transported with delight, because you are counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. Then you will be in the regular Apostolical Succession. It is free. All who want it can have it. What about the clerical aspirants, going puffing tobacco-smoke and disputing over Apostolical Succession? Not one of them will touch it with a forty foot pole. Luke again here puts to record the facts so prominent in the Apostolic ministry, of preaching from house to house. This is the way to convert the heathen millions and evangelize the slums and the jungles. The Holy Ghost is calling for a round million to volunteer on this primitive Apostolic line of street and household preaching. Who will respond?

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 5:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/acts-5.html.

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