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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Acts 5



Verses 3-5



Acts 5:3-5. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.

IN contemplating the dispensations of Providence, there are some which, on a superficial view, we should be ready to accuse of severity; but, on a closer inspection of them, we shall find them to be replete with mercy. At the first establishment of the Jewish religion, Nadab and Abihu were slain for offering incense with strange fire; as Corah also and his company were for their rebellion against Moses. But such judgments, though terrible to the individuals concerned, had a direct tendency to benefit the nation at large; inasmuch as they proclaimed to all, that “God was greatly to be feared,” and “to be had in reverence by all them that are round about him.” Thus, at the first establishment of the Christian Church, Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for endeavouring to impose on the Apostles, and for professing to give the whole produce of their estate to the Church, whilst they held back a part of it for their own use. In our text, Peter shews him the enormity of his offence, and inflicts upon him the judgment which he richly merited. To make a suitable improvement of this history, we shall notice,

I. The representation here given of the Holy Ghost—

The falsehood uttered by Ananias and his wife seems to have been designed only to impose on the Apostles and the Church: but St. Peter speaks of it as “a tempting of the Spirit of the Lord [Note: ver. 9.],” and “a lying to the Holy Ghost,” or, in other words, “a lying unto God.” Now from these expressions see who the Holy Ghost is:

1. He is a distinct person—

[It would be absurd to imagine that the Holy Ghost is a mere quality; for on such a supposition the language of the Apostle would have no meaning at all. If he is tempted and deceived, he must be a person: and accordingly we find him spoken of continually as one indeed with the Father and the Son, but yet as personally distinct from them.

He possesses the attributes of a person;—understanding [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:11.], will [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:11.], and, if not affections, yet a susceptibility of impression suited to the manner in which he is treated by us [Note: Isaiah 63:10. Ephesians 4:30.]. He sustains the offices of a person, being a Comforter [Note: John 14:16-17.], an Intercessor [Note: Romans 8:26-27.], a Teacher [Note: John 14:26.], a Witness [Note: Romans 8:16.]. He also performs the acts of a person; commanding [Note: Acts 13:2-4.], forbidding [Note: Acts 16:6-7.], judging [Note: Acts 15:28.]. And, that we may not confound him with either of the other persons of the Godhead, he is spoken of as distinct from both, and as sent from the Father by the Son for specific ends and purposes, which, according to the plan proposed between the Sacred Three, were to be accomplished by him alone [Note: John 15:26.].]

2. He is the true God—

[This also is declared with no less clearness than the former: for, He is called by the incommunicable name, Jehovah [Note: Isaiah 6:8-10. with Acts 28:25.]. He has all the perfections of the Deity; eternity [Note: Hebrews 9:14.], omnipresence [Note: Psalms 139:7.], omniscience [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:10.]. He does the works that are proper to God alone: he formed the body of Jesus in the Virgin’s womb [Note: Luke 1:35.]: qualified him for the office he was to sustain [Note: Isaiah 61:1.]; is the author of every good work in us [Note: Galatians 5:22.]; and inspired from the very beginning all the Prophets and Apostles, that they might communicate to us with infallible certainty the mind and will of God [Note: 1 Peter 1:11 and 2 Peter 1:21.]. He receives also the worship that is due to God only [Note: 2 Thessalonians 3:5. Revelation 1:4.], and is joined with the Father and the Son as the glorious Being to whom we are consecrated in our baptism [Note: Matthew 28:19.], and as equally with them the source of all spiritual blessings [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:14.].

From this view of the Holy Ghost we see with what propriety the Apostle spoke of him as “God;” nor do we hesitate for a moment to proclaim him, “The Most High God [Note: Compare Hebrews 3:7-9. with Psalms 78:56.].”]

The more exalted our conceptions of the Holy Spirit are, the more shall we see,

II. The importance of approving ourselves to him in all things—

It is certain we may commit the same sin as Ananias and Sapphira did—

[Let us get a precise idea of what their sin was. Many in the Church sold their possessions, and laid the whole produce of them at the Apostles’ feet, to make a fund for the support of the Church at large [Note: Acts 4:34-35.]. Barnabas in particular is mentioned as having done this [Note: Acts 4:36-37.]. Doubtless this generosity gained them high credit in the infant Church: and Ananias and Sapphira determined to come in for a share of this honourable distinction. They sold their estate therefore; but not being able to trust God for their future support, or not choosing to relinquish all their temporal comforts, they agreed to keep back a part of the price, and to present only a certain portion of it to the Apostles. Wishing however to appear as eminent as others, they professed to give the whole produce; thus endeavouring to obtain the full credit of others, without making their sacrifice. This was their sin; a mixture of ostentation, of covetousness, of unbelief; a seeking of credit which they did not deserve, and a pretending to virtue which they did not possess.

This the Apostle calls “a lying unto,” and “a tempting of, the Holy Spirit:” for it was an attempt to deceive the Apostles, whom the Holy Ghost had invested with miraculous gifts and powers; and it tempted the Holy Spirit to shew whether he were an omniscient, holy, and just Being, or not.

Hence then it appears that all allowed hypocrisy is of the very nature of their sin. The short-comings and defects of a sincere Christian, though contrary to his profession, cannot properly be classed with their sin; but every wilful deviation from duty, especially if deliberate and persevered in, is in fact a lying unto God.

What then must be said of those who harbour any secret lust? — — — or make any reserve whatever in their obedience to God? — — — or do even what is right in itself from any corrupt motive? — — — A desire of man’s applause will carry some to great apparent heights of virtue; it will urge them to laborious exertions, and reconcile them to painful sacrifices: but God, who seeth the heart, will abhor all such offerings, and account them no better than that which Ananias and Sapphira presented to him.]

And it is certain also, that if we do, God will both detect and punish it—

[God not unfrequently exposes hypocrites to shame in this world; and suffers their hidden corruption to be brought to light. How often does it happen, that a person, who on the whole has maintained externally a creditable profession, is instigated by his predominant passion, whether of lust or covetousness, to an act that blasts his character for ever! But, if no such exposure take place in this world, the mask will be taken off as soon as we come into the presence of our God. Alas! what will be our sensations, and the sensations of many around us, when we are interrogated by our Judge in relation to things from which perhaps we gained the greatest credit? What must have been the surprise of Ananias and Sapphira, and of all their friends too, when the act which appeared so excellent, was proved so faulty, and was visited with so awful a judgment! Let us endeavour to realize that scene, and we shall have some faint idea of the hypocrite’s feelings at the day of judgment. We may easily deceive men; but “God will not be mocked:” to him every secret thought is open; and in the last day “he will make manifest all the counsels of our hearts [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5. Psalms 44:21.].” Then, if not before, “our sin shall find us out;” and “the Holy Ghost himself,” whom we have tempted and deceived, shall “be a witness” against us to our everlasting confusion [Note: Hebrews 10:15. Malachi 3:5.].]

The only improvement we would make of this subject, is that which the Church itself made of the event

[We read that “great fear came on all them that heard these things.” O that such a fear may come on all who hear me this day!

Tell me, O ye who live in the allowed indulgence of open and known sins; have ye no cause for fear? If this liberal act of Ananias was so abhorred of God, because of the insincerity that attended it, and brought such a tremendous judgment upon him, do you think that your iniquities shall pass unpunished? — — —

And, ye who profess religion, have not ye cause for fear also, lest your services at last should be found to have been only splendid sins? Remember that “God requireth truth in the inward parts.” If you had the whole armour of God upon you, and it were not fastened on with the girdle of truth, it would leave you exposed to all the arrows of the Almighty [Note: Ephesians 6:14.]. Those who are “hypocrites in heart heap up wrath [Note: Job 36:13.];” and “fearfulness will at last surprise them [Note: Isaiah 33:14.].” Behold then, as our Lord said even to the Apostles, so say I to you, “Beware of hypocrisy [Note: Luke 12:1.]:” beware lest ye profess more than ye design to practise [Note: Jeremiah 42:20-21.]. Seek to have “your hearts right with God.” Entreat him to give you “the wisdom that is from above, which is without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” Then will the Spirit of God abide with you [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.]; then will the blood of Christ also cleanse you from the defilement which cleaves to your very best actions [Note: 1 John 1:7.]; and God the Father will delight in you to all eternity [Note: Proverbs 11:20.].]

Verse 20



Acts 5:20. Go stand, and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life [Note: A little sketch given extemporaneously to a young friend.].

CONSIDER the commission,

I. As given to the Apostles.

1. Suffer not yourselves to be intimidated—

[Execute the high commission you have received.

Assure yourselves of protection from on high.

Know that none can prevail against you any farther than God shall see fit — — — or than He can overrule for his glory, and for your good — — —]

2. Suffer not them to be robbed—

[The Gospel is the word of life and salvation (ver.29–32.)

It is the only means of life — — — and the effectual means to all who receive it — — —

Suffer not envious and wicked men to rob them of it.

Regard not your own bodily life, if you may but advance the life of their souls—]

II. As given to us at this hour.

We have the same word of life to preach to you—

[You hear it under far more favourable circumstances. None forbid us to preach it, or you to hear it — — —

You are come for the very purpose that you may hear it—]

Lo, then I now preach it to you—

[Christ has died that you may live.

Believe on him and you shall live.

This I declare to all, without hesitation and without exception.

Avail yourselves of the opportunity afforded you.

Contemplate the sad alternative if you reject our word.

If our word be not a savour of life unto life, it will be a savour to your death and condemnation — — —]

Verses 30-32



Acts 5:30-32. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

AMONG the various things which have weight and influence in forming decision of character, there is nothing so powerful as religion. The fear of God operates to the dissipating of all other fear; and the love of God subjugates or refines all creature attachments. Persons actuated by any other principle, will bend to circumstances: but religion will give us an uniform direction, like that of the needle to the pole. We see this very strongly illustrated by the conduct of Peter and the other Apostles. We acknowledge that they were not destitute of a religious principle during their Master’s life: but it was not till the day of Pentecost that they fully understood the nature of Christianity, or were completely subjected to its dominion. From that time, the most timid of them were emboldened to confess Him whom they had just before forsaken and denied. They had just been imprisoned for bearing their testimony to his office and character: yet, when threatened with still heavier vengeance, they undauntedly persevered: charging the very rulers themselves with the guilt of murdering the Lord of glory, and affirming that the very person whom they had crucified as a malefactor, was exalted to be the Saviour of the world.

In considering this address of theirs to the Jewish council, it will be proper to notice,

I. The testimony here borne to the Lord Jesus—


1. The testimony itself—

[The Jewish rulers conceived, that, in having crucified the Lord Jesus, they had wholly subverted his influence in the world. But the triumph was altogether on the side of Jesus, of whom the Apostle testified, that he was raised to the most exalted state in glory. Jesus had foretold that he would rise again on the third day; and that, as he had come from the Father, so in his ascension he would return to the Father. And now the Apostle declared that this was accomplished in him: and that, though “he had been crucified through weakness, he was now raised by the power of God,” and seated at the right hand of his majesty on high.

He further declared, that he was invested with the highest honours. He had been crucified as a malefactor who had arrogated to himself the title of “The King of the Jews;” nor had he interposed to save himself. But he was now “exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour;” even the Supreme Governor of the universe, and the Saviour of the whole world, of all at least who would believe in him. However strange such claims might appear to his murderers, they were no other than what the prophets had taught them to expect, seeing that “every knee was to bow to him, and all the ends of the earth were to be saved by him [Note: Isaiah 45:22-23.].”

To this he added, that he was empowered to bestow the richest blessings. He was to be the one fountain of good to all his believing people, “giving repentance” to the most obdurate, and “forgiveness” to the most abandoned, the very instant that they should seek these blessings at his hands.]

2. The truth and certainty of this testimony—

[The Apostles all professed themselves “witnesses of these things;” that is, witnesses of his resurrection and his ascension, and consequently of those things which were the special objects of his exaltation.

Now certainly they were competent witnesses, both of the resurrection and the ascension of our blessed Lord: for, though they had not actually seen him rise, they had seen him frequently after he had risen, and had even eaten and drunk with him, and beheld him in the very act of ascending into heaven. The very incredulity which they manifested in relation to these things, is a strong confirmation that they did not hastily credit the report of others, or even their own senses, till they were overpowered with such evidence as was absolutely irresistible [Note: Mark 16:14. Luke 24:39-43. John 20:25-29.]. They were also as unexceptionable witnesses as could possibly exist: for, being poor illiterate fishermen, they could not frame an imposture that should deceive the whole world; nor had they the smallest inducement to attempt it, since they could expect nothing but contempt and persecution in this world, and eternal misery in the world to come. They gave their testimony too in the most unexceptionable manner. If they had been impostors, they would have gone to a distance, where their conspiracy should not so easily have been detected; or, at least, have delayed till the present ferment had subsided; and have practised their imposition first on the weak and credulous. But, instead of this, they bore their testimony without any loss of time, and in Jerusalem too, where every falsehood could be so easily detected, and before all the Jewish rulers, who were most of all interested in disproving the facts attested.

As for the testimony by which the Jewish rulers endeavoured to invalidate the assertions of the Apostles, it still further established the very point which it was intended to disprove [Note: Matthew 28:11-15.]. For, if the guard slept, how could they tell what was done in their sleep? and why were they not punished? Why too did the rulers engage to screen them from punishment, when their disappointment and rage would rather have called forth their most vindictive efforts?

In addition to them, the Holy Ghost himself also bare witness to these things. The Lord Jesus had repeatedly declared, that, after his ascension to heaven, he would send the Holy Ghost to testify of him. On the accomplishment of this promise depended the validity of his pretensions. At the appointed time he fulfilled his word, and sent down the Holy Ghost in a visible manner on his Disciples. In this first instance then the Holy Ghost testified, that Jesus was indeed risen, and that he had ascended to the right hand of God. By the influence of the Holy Ghost, the Apostles were enabled to preach the Gospel in a great diversity of languages which they had never learned. They wrought also many and stupendous miracles in confirmation of their word. They were empowered also, by the imposition of their hands, to communicate the Holy Ghost to others. By all these things the Holy Ghost bore yet further testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. By his communications also, of light, and peace, and holiness, he testified in the hearts of all who received the Apostles’ word: and to this hour does he continue to testify unto thousands in the same way.

Can we conceive that God the Father would have interposed in this astonishing manner to aid an imposture? Assuredly the facts so attested must be true; and Jesus is exalted for the ends and purposes which are specified in the text.]

To mark the immense importance of this subject, I proceed to shew,

II. The interest we have in it—

Of what importance this testimony was considered by the Jewish rulers we see by the effect it produced upon them: “They were cut to the heart,” from a conviction that the testimony was true; and they sought to slay the witnesses, that the truths asserted by them might be no further spread among the people. Now this whole record calls on us,

1. To believe in Christ ourselves—

[We are as much interested in the resurrection and ascension of Christ, as ever the Jews were, because by the one we know him to be the Messiah; and because by the other we know him to be able to fulfil all that he has promised to his believing people. We are perfectly sure that he is “a Saviour,” yea, the Saviour that was to come into the world; and that he has effected all which was necessary for our salvation, making a full atonement for all our sins, and working out for us a righteousness wherein we may stand perfect before God. We know also that he is “a Prince,” yea, the Prince who shall rule over the whole world, and bring all things into subjection to his will. In this double capacity we are assured that he is able to “give repentance” to our souls, by “taking away the heart of stone, and giving us a heart of flesh;” and at the same time so to blot out our iniquities, that no sin we have committed shall ever rise up in judgment against us, or be imputed to us in the last day. What can be more delightful tidings to fallen man? Let every one of us hear them, and rejoice in them, and bless God for them. Let us renounce every kind and every degree of self-dependence, and have all our righteousness and strength in Christ alone — — — And let none despond: for, if these tidings were proclaimed to those who had so recently imbrued their hands in the Saviour’s blood, and were at this moment seeking to slay all his chosen Apostles, to whom shall they not be proclaimed? or to whom shall they not be available, provided a penitential frame be really desired, and forgiveness of sins be fervently implored? — — —

At the same time let us receive Christ in his entire character, and look to him unreservedly for all his blessings. Let us not dream of “forgiveness” without “repentance,” or think of calling him “Saviour” without submitting to him as our Ruler and Governor. All that God has united in him for our benefit, must be united in us for his honour: nor must we presume, or even wish, to “put asunder, what God has so inseparably joined together” — — — As we must have nothing united with Christ for the salvation of our souls, so there must be nothing in Christ which we do not actually receive from him, and manifest to be enjoyed by us as a matter of our daily experience before God.]

2. To make him known to others—

[The Apostles no sooner received the communications of God’s Holy Spirit, than they preached the Saviour to all around them. Nothing could deter them from this blessed work. They had all been imprisoned; but they were not intimidated. They were menaced with severer punishment; but they made no account of any sufferings that could be inflicted on them; and when they were actually beaten, “they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the Lord’s sake.”

Now this shews us what we also are to do. We must “confess Christ” openly before all, and commend him to all, that they also may be made partakers of his salvation. True, we are not all called to minister after the manner of the Apostles: but in our life and conversation we must preach to all around us, and be “living epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.”

At this period, through the tender mercy of God, there are greater facilities for the discharge of our duty than ever were afforded us before. There are societies without number for the diffusion of divine knowledge, both at home and abroad: and by aiding them we may all, in our respective spheres, contribute greatly to the spread of the Gospel, and the establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom throughout the world [Note: Here any particular society, whatever it may be, whether the Bible Society, or Mission Societies to Jews or Gentiles, or Education Societies, may be commended to the audience for their support.] — — —

Imitate, then, the holy Apostles in their zeal and love; and, whilst you look to Christ for salvation yourselves, endeavour to make him known to the whole world, as their Prince, and as “the Author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him.”]

Verse 41-42



Acts 5:41-42. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

IN the annals of the world we find many examples of magnanimity, which excite our admiration, and shame the lowness of our attainments. But it may well be doubted whether any single instance which we read of in profane history, will stand the test of close examination. Pride and ostentation were almost invariably the fountain from which the most specious actions of heathens flowed: and in proportion as the principle was bad, the action itself also must have been depraved. But in the passage before us, we behold a greatness of mind which was truly admirable, and in every point of view worthy of our imitation. In discoursing upon the conduct of the Apostles as it is here set forth, we shall,

I. Illustrate their magnanimity—

The whole of their spirit and conduct on this occasion was in the highest degree worthy of their high calling—

1. They gloried in all their sufferings for Christ’s sake—

[Poor and illiterate men are apt to be disconcerted if called into the presence of their superiors, especially if those superiors have the power and inclination to oppress them under the forms of law. But these poor fishermen, when summoned before the supreme council, pleaded their own cause with undaunted firmness, testifying against their very judges, that they had crucified the Lord, and exhorting them to believe in him as their exalted Prince and Saviour.

After having been unjustly imprisoned, and miraculously delivered from their confinement, they were again summoned before their oppressors, and again, though without either invective or complaint, they vindicated their conduct in an unanswerable manner: and, notwithstanding they were beaten, and menaced with severer treatment, and might therefore have felt indignation rise in their bosoms, they lost sight of all the injuries which they themselves had sustained, and gloried in their sufferings as an honour conferred upon them, an honour of which they deemed themselves utterly unworthy.]

2. They persisted unalterably and indefatigably in the path of duty—

[Though they gloried at present in their sufferings, it might have been expected that they would be very cautious of exposing themselves to the increased resentment of their persecutors. But they well knew that Jesus Christ was the only Saviour of the world, and that all must eternally perish who did not believe in him. They therefore lost no time, but instantly resumed their labours both in public and in private. They declared the death of Christ to have been an atonement for sin; they testified of his resurrection and ascension to carry on his work in heaven; and they proclaimed a full, a free, an everlasting salvation to all that would believe in his name. This was the obnoxious doctrine which they were forbidden to preach: but they proceeded on this one principle, that they were bound to “obey God rather than men:” and they were determined to suffer the last extremities rather than swerve from the path of duty, or relax, their exertions for the instruction and salvation of immortal souls.

But it was not their perseverance that we admire, so much as the spirit and temper with which they conducted themselves throughout the whole of their trials: they shewed a firmness that was invincible; but without petulance, without anger, without ostentation, without complaint. They acted, not from self-will, but from zeal for their Lord, and love to their fellow-creatures: and their glorying was, not from a proud conceit of being martyrs to their cause, but from a persuasion that to suffer any thing for Christ was the greatest honour that could possibly be conferred on mortal men; since it gave them an opportunity of manifesting their love to Christ, and rendered them conformable to his blessed image.]

Such being the example which they have set us, we would,

II. Recommend it to your imitation—

We are required to “be followers of them who through faith and patience now inherit the promises.” Therefore let me commend to your imitation, The principle from which they acted, the determination of heart with which they obeyed that principle, their view of the sufferings they were called to endure, and the manner in which they endured them.

That we may all resemble them,

1. Let us get that love to Christ, which was the governing principle in their hearts—

[Without a supreme love to Christ, it is in vain to hope that we shall attain to any eminence in the divine life, or indeed to any real experience of it. We shall never be willing to endure much for him, much less be able to glory in sufferings and shame for his sake, if our hearts do not burn with love towards him from a sense of what he has done and suffered for us. This therefore is the first thing we are concerned to seek after: let us get the knowledge of Christ as our crucified, risen, and exalted Redeemer, and, under the constraining influence of his love, let us devote ourselves entirely to his service.]

2. Let us, like them, be steadfast in our obedience to the will of Christ—

[We shall find many things both from within and from without that will endanger our fidelity to Christ. But nothing must be suffered to divert us from the path of duty. We owe allegiance indeed to our governors in all things lawful; but if their commands be opposite to those of God, there can be no doubt whom we are to regard in preference, and to whose authority we must yield obedience. We must therefore arm ourselves equally against the allurements of inward temptation, and the terrors of outward persecution; and have it as an established principle in our hearts, that nothing is, on any account, to interfere with our duty to God.]

3. Let us, instead of dreading the cross, account it an honour to suffer for our Lord—

[Sooner or later we must have a cross to bear, if we will be followers of Christ. We may be screened for a time; but “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution.” Nor should any be ashamed of the cross; but rather, as Moses and all the saints of old, accounted the reproach of Christ to be their honour, and loss for Christ their gain [Note: Hebrews 11:26; Hebrews 10:34.], so should we rejoice and leap for joy, if we be counted worthy to endure any thing for our blessed Lord [Note: Matthew 5:10-12. 1 Peter 4:12-16.]. To suffer for him is represented as a special favour conferred on us by God for Christ’s sake; a favour equal, if not superior, to the gift of salvation itself [Note: Philippians 1:29.]. In this light then let us view the cross; and we shall take it up with cheerfulness, and bear it with unshaken constancy.]

4. Let us very especially take heed to our spirit when we are under persecution—

[It is no easy matter to unite firmness and constancy with meekness and love. We are in danger on the one hand of Yielding to intimidation, or on the other hand, of indulging an angry, complaining, ostentatious, or vindictive spirit. It may be well therefore frequently to set before us the examples of our blessed Lord and his Apostles [Note: 1 Peter 2:20-23. 1 Corinthians 4:12-13.], that we may follow their steps, who returned nothing but blessing for curses, and fervent prayers for despiteful persecutions. The whole of our duty is contained in one short but comprehensive sentence (may God inscribe it on all our hearts!) “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good [Note: Romans 12:21.].”]


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Acts 5:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

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