Acts 5:1-11.

It is no light matter, but serious and solemn in the extreme, as well as most blessed, to have to do with God, to be brought near to Him, to stand in the relationship of a child, and to be the object of His unchanging favour. It is to be feared that there are many who, while gladly appropriating to themselves all the blessings of such a position, have yet but a very feeble sense of the responsibility it entails. They have never yet apprehended the truth that God will not be mocked, and that, being what He is, He must have reality in those who draw near to Him. He has been sought by such, not for what He is, but merely for what He can give, and hence they have no sense of the deep blessedness of His presence; they have never known what it is to be at home with Himself, to find it enough to sit before Him.

Reader, have you known what it is to be alone with God - to isolate yourself for a moment, however brief, from the busy throng around, and from the crowd of circumstances in which you live - to be really alone with Him, and not only there without one fear or doubt, but to find your soul filled and satisfied with a sweetness and a blessedness that you know and experience, but cannot express in words; for human language fails to convey what the Spirit-taught soul alone can understand or enjoy? To taste it in any little measure ensures two things which, though distinct, ought never to be separated - the drawing out of the affections, and the exercise of the conscience. He whose affections are most drawn out will be the one whose conscience will be most deeply and healthily exercised; for there will be in it, in that case, nothing of the spirit of the legalist, no thought of what I must or I ought, but only what will suit and please the One that has got my heart.

There are many, it is to be feared, who do not wish to get too near to the blessed Lord, who would not care for the place of the beloved disciple - leaning on His bosom (John 13:23) - but who would find themselves more at home and less constrained with the servants of the high priest. (Luke 22:54-60.) And yet who would deny that the greatest nearness means the greatest blessedness? and that the Giver must of very necessity be far better than His gifts? And if the thoughts and purposes, the ways, and works, and actings of God, be so wonderful and glorious, what must He Himself be when revealed in His own essential blessedness? and if the soul does but apprehend, however feebly, something of what He is, how can it do otherwise than desire to be near Him? It is an immense thing to know something of the heart of God, to know His own eternally-formed and unalterable purpose to bless us, and to be able to measure every circumstance in our history by a love that will never give us up, but that will, in spite of ourselves, turn everything to account, and thus make all things work together for our good.

Man's thought of blessing is too often limited to mere earthly things, while in reality all true blessing consists in knowing God, being acquainted with Himself. Reader, do you know Him, more intimately than any earthly friend, so that your soul expands in His presence, a presence that to you brings no constraint, but only fills you with untold blessedness? Such blessedness as this is all unknown by those who allow themselves in anything that will not do for the Lord, and who imagine that words, mere empty words without corresponding acts, that profession without practice, that truth in the head without reality in the heart, will do for Him who is also the Holy and the True, and who cannot therefore tolerate what is inconsistent with the deep perfections of His being, while the more His presence is realized and manifested, the more intolerant is He of all evil - that is to say, of everything that is opposed to His nature.

The scripture at the head of this paper is a solemn instance of the holy government of God upon persons who had been guilty of no gross outward sin, but who sought to earn a character for greater devotedness than they really possessed. They presumed upon the forbearance of God, and imagined that He would take no notice of an unreality and a false profession of which their fellows knew nothing, but which was only most hateful to Him, to whom indeed - for He was present there - they had lied. They had brought but a part of the proceeds of the sale, while falsely pretending they were offering the whole, and God being there, their sin was exposed at once, and met with immediate judgment; for He could not be mocked with impunity. If His presence is less realized now in the assembly, and His forbearance more manifested, it is well to remember that His nature is unchanged, and though His power in government may not be displayed in so public a manner as it was in the above-noted instance, yet He can never give up what is due to Himself, and will most surely, sooner or later, unless it be truly repented of, visit in His holiness every act of unreality, and all mere empty profession, with the chastisement it deserves.

Unreality is the sure sign either of ignorance, indifference, or inertness of soul. It tells the sad and solemn tale, that he who bears its mark has not responded to the goodness of God, and that all the blessings so lavishly bestowed upon him have failed to awaken that holy and healthful gratitude which always proclaims its existence by the inquiry, How can I now please the One that has so loved and favoured me?

When the truth that is professed produces no corresponding result in the soul, when the words spoken remain but words, and have never been clothed with life and made good in acts, there a hardening process soon begins to manifest itself; the conscience becomes less sensitive, while the affections are less drawn out. The crust of profession may yet remain, but when such a soul is approached by others who may have less intelligence but more spiritual energy, less knowledge but more communion, the hollowness and emptiness are painfully felt.

Unreality is one of the most terrible weapons in the armoury of Satan. It dishonours the Lord; it degrades the testimony; it exposes the saint that is marked by it to the scorn and derision of the world; it awakens in every truehearted believer the feelings of sorrow and shame, while others only too gladly shelter themselves under its example. The spiritual perceptions are dulled, the conscience no longer in healthy exercise, the whole man (spiritually) is paralyzed and rendered incapable of forming a right judgment in any matter that may arise touching the Lord's interests. Reader, beware of unreality.

If there are some that cannot but be conscious of the distance there is between their profession and their practice, it must not be forgotten that there are many whose unreality, while patent to others, is all unknown to themselves; for it proceeds, not from the deliberate allowance of anything unsuited to the truth professed, but from ignorance or inertness of soul. Many a one in this state only needs to have the failure pointed out in order to act differently. There are some simple souls that are ignorant of the fact that the Holy Ghost has by the two great apostles, Paul and Peter, given very distinct directions as to the attire of women, while the whole Scripture abounds in general exhortations against conformity to the world. It is a solemn thing for such as know these truths, that profess too to have died to the world, to go up to meet the Lord and commemorate His death, and there, at such a time, to appear in His very presence in the trappings of that world, the silken chains of that slavery, to deliver from which the Lord of life and glory had gone to the cross and the grave. (Gal. 1:4.)

Many can speak freely of a "blessed hope," "a heavenly citizenship," and "an object for the heart," in a way that only makes others wonder at the incongruity between their words and their ways. Others again will boast of being on "the only right ground," and of having "come out to Christ," while all they have done has been to make Him the professed standard of their ecclesiastical separation, and of that alone. In everything else His claims are disallowed, and hence when the time of trial comes what is due to Him as the Head is also refused.

In whatever form unreality may be manifested, differing too as it does in various cases, both in its extent and immediate cause, yet it may all and always be traced back to this root - that it has not been the habit of soul to walk with God, to bring everything into the light of His presence, and to get His thoughts about the simplest of the everyday matters of life. No doubt he who does so will suffer in the flesh, which must be refused and disallowed if he would please the Lord; but, on the other hand, he will know the exceeding compensation of having the Lord's approval of his ways.

If God bring us near to Himself, it can only be to bless us, and this in a manner worthy of Himself, while those who acknowledge how richly He has blessed us for eternity, will surely not venture to say He is any less able or willing to bless us here in time. But the blessing must be in His own way, and that is ever perfect; while if any refuse it unless it comes to them in their way, not in His, yet will He seek and also find objects upon whom He can expend all the love of His heart, all the fulness of His blessing.

Reader, has He found such an one in you? and is it the settled purpose of your heart to walk with Him, and only and in all things to please Him? "Enoch walked with God, and he was not: for God took him," and "he had this testimony, that he pleased God." (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5.) F. S. M.