Bible Lesson LVII
Acts 5:1-11
Napoleon’s Ambition


by Emma Curtis Hopkins


Victor Hugo wrote of Napoleon at Waterloo: “Awaiting the throne of the world, St. Helena became visible.”

In this lesson of Acts, fifth chapter, first to eleventh verses, two people are awaiting the honors of a company of noble-minded people, and the tomb of disgrace becomes visible.

Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) Napoleon sowed ambition and reaped St. Helena. These two sowed ambition and reaped their St. Helena — apples of Sodom.

It is written of every human being that he has four A’s to overcome in his nature, born with him, leering along by his side and sifting their flavor through all his thoughts. The four A’s stand for Approbativeness, Amativeness, Ambition, and Acquisitiveness.

They are all purely mortal characteristics, and show forth in their order, most apparent in the four quarters or seasons of human life, namely, childhood, youth, middle age, and old age. Some people take all four of the A’s along through the whole passage from so–called birth to so–called death; these have the strange marks in their faces which make them called “disgusting”. That is the way approbativeness indulged in, finally rewards its victims. Awaiting the smiles of empires, we meet the common disgust.

Each of the four A’s permitted to get lodgment serves its recipient with the same fate. Here it is ambition and approbativeness united. In Napoleon, it was ambition, pure and simple. He cared for no favor of God, man, or Satan, so he carried his point. These two cared, beyond all things for praise, but were bent on carrying out their own purposes also.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Matthew 12:25)

Ambition and approbativeness in the same head, work cross– purposes. Sudden death at the sudden crossing of their swords is very common.

Peter himself had been a great liar. This is what makes him so horrified at these two poor little liars. A coward is always greatly disgusted at the cowardice of another. We all make a great show of disgust at the very things we most tend to ourselves. This is the law of mortality.

Ananias means, “grace of the Lord” and Sapphira “beautiful”. On the spiritual side of the nature there are four A’s. They are the substance of which the other four A’s are the shadow, namely: Artlessness, Attractiveness, Aspiration, and Ascendancy.

He who talks much or believes much on the side of evil cannot help showing one or the other of the first four A’s in a marked fashion. He who talks much on the side of the good and will not admit that there can be any evil in a universe occupied by goodness, cannot help showing forth all of the last four A’s sooner or later.

Ananias and Sapphira had permitted themselves to discuss the question of poverty. It is a poor question to discuss. Plenty of people have shut off their time among us by reason of having discussed the idea of poverty. It is a discussion of nothing, a discussion of absence, a discussion of vacancy. Whatever we discuss comes to pass upon us. Discuss nothing and come to nothing. We may discuss within our own mind, all alone by ourselves, a vacancy or lack, till the place that knew us once, shall know us no more forever.

These two people had two themes, which their names signified on the spiritual side, which they ought to have discussed continually. These two themes were the grace of God, and the beauty of comeliness. In speaking of the grace of God, Ananias would have come up high into the mountains of the truth that God is such an abundant Provider that wherever the word is spoken that “God is my support and the support of the universe,” it shall be proved by some marvelous benefaction or unexpected success.

It was intended by his spiritual nature that he teach those who were destitute. He was intended by his spiritual nature to teach those destitute disciples the law by which Jesus made up purses for His twelve missionaries to pay their way without having to beg, borrow, or work for their money. Talking on that side and meditating on that idea, would have made Ananias a teacher of the law of self–increasement. But you see he talked and thought on the nothing or absence side. So he “died”.

Death is nothing but a hiding. It always comes as a result of thinking about nothing. Nothing else ever brought on death in the world but talking of nothing. The absence of riches means no riches. “No riches” is but another expression for “nothing.” Very likely he had said, “Poor Peter; too bad he has no money; nice man; strange this law of healing will not work in supporting its followers without calling on us. I declare! Now wife, we have worked carefully to save our money, and it seems pretty hard on us to give it up to these poor fisher folk, who never had anything before and very likely will not know what to do with it. Your father would feel pretty bad if he could rise from his grave and see us throwing away his hard–earned dollars this way.”

Thus they talked on the vacancy and absence and nothing side till it actually “killed them”. Killing is only thinking on the nothing or absence or vacancy side, till it suddenly demonstrates. All “sudden deaths,” or being “murdered,” as the mortal expressions run, come to those only who have had a perpetual discussion on the absence or vacancy of something or other. Talk of nothing and come to nothing. Put this down as an axiom in metaphysics.

Do not give pennies to so–called beggars with the idea of their being “poor things.” If you do, you will come short exactly as much as you gave. How should you give them their pennies? Exactly as you would “carry coals to Newcastle” or give a lace handkerchief to Mrs. Vanderbilt. The bounty of Jehovah Jireh is pouring down its sluice — ways forever to man. There is no exception. How can we see it? By talking about it, thinking about it, and rejoicing in it.

Approbativeness, amativeness, ambition, and acquisitiveness, are all on the nothing side. They are on the vacancy side. They are words, which mean absence. They will hide anyone who will let them get a hearing. Artlessness, attractiveness, aspiration, and ascendancy, are words on the substance side. Whoever thinks or talks upon the ideas which these words bring up, will show out great beauty and power of character. Talk about the defense of innocence, the comfort of the spirit, the enchantment of inspiration, the grandeur of goodness, all the time, and there cannot any death ever occur.

Death of anything is only hiding it. Nothing need be hidden. Life need not be hidden; beauty need not be hidden; riches need not be hidden. Nothing hid beauty but talk and thought on the absence and vacancy side. Remember death is only hiding. To speak of riches as hidden means the same as calling people poor. It is death of their riches. Death is only a hiding. Nothing need be hidden. “There is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed.” (Matthew 10:26)

Are you in the habit of speaking of your business slightingly? It will soon be hidden. You are talking of the absence side. Do you pay your servers less than they earn, on the plea that you cannot afford more? Something will hide from you. Maybe someone will hide. Many a toothless, homely old woman commenced to hide her beauty when she “made believe” to someone that she had not in her possession something which she had.

There is never any telling where “the make believe” will strike. Love is sometimes hidden by “making believe” that we do not know something that we do know. Children are often hidden by our making believe we believe something, which we do not. The other name for “making believe” is either approbativeness or ambition. Either one will strike something out of sight. You cannot tell how the idea that four plus one makes seven will work out your problem in arithmetic or trigonometry; so I cannot tell you just how your present “A” will strike your affairs.

Jesus just stood and cried at the grave of Lazarus because Lazarus and his two sisters had talked about His absence till it had made them so sick in heart and head that one of them had “died” (became hidden). The fact is, and was and ever shall be, that Jesus Christ is in us, and near us and with us. He had been with them all the time in Spirit. (If they had not talked of His absence in Spirit, He could never have seemed to be absent).

What was the weeping of Jesus? Was it not grief at their thought of absence? But if He grieved at their idea of absence, was it not just as bad as for them to believe in absence? Yes. What we complain of in another is what we are thinking about. He did not truly grieve. He did not truly recognize their talk of absence. That was the way He seemed to them to be doing. When the Spirit descended upon Him and said with a loud voice, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:17) they said it thundered. When He hung on the cross and cried with a loud voice, “How Thou hast glorified Me!” the people said He cried, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:47)

In the same way, while He was giving thanks in great ecstasy of gratitude to the presence of life, they said He was mourning at death. Then He spoke His silent thanks aloud, and explained that He only spoke aloud because of the people thinking He was mourning.

It was the habit of the people constantly to misrepresent His words. Therefore, He spoke in object lessons. He promised to become visible again among all people as a pure, spiritual doctrine, without any parables. That time is now.

There are a few words He is speaking on the spiritual side, which make those who hear them very happy. There is inspiration in them. To hear them is to breathe them in. To breathe them in is to understand them. Understanding is the right word to use for aspiration. Aspiration in its true sense is the breathing in of the Spirit. It is a good treatment to think silently in the mind that we are now breathing Spirit. The air is Spirit. The air is God. Breathe deeply and be pleased to be breathing God. Some people have been cured by doing this.

One word, Jesus Christ is now speaking, is that there is nothing to overcome and there was never anything to overcome. Another word is that there is no defeat possible to the one who is in the right. He cannot even seem to be defeated, if he will hold himself from talking or thinking on the defeat side. Defeat is absence of victory. Absence is vacancy. It is the law that to talk on the defeat side is to talk on the nothing side, and to hide the victory side. This victory is not the overcoming of something, but the bringing to light of something.

Wherever did the church get the idea that the Christian life is a warfare? Not from Jesus, most certainly, for He was very explicit in proclaiming His doctrine as an easy one. “I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

Emerson tells of “Benedict,” who though not quoting Jesus Christ for saying that, “My words are life,” (John 6:63) yet kept himself alive and came off conqueror by talking and thinking on the “word–of–life” side. Hear him: “I am never beaten. I meet powerful, brutal people to whom I have no skill to reply. They think they have defeated me. It is so published in society, in the journals; I am defeated in this fashion, in all men’s sight, perhaps on a dozen different lines. My ledger may show I am in debt, cannot yet make my ends meet, and vanquish the enemy so. My race may not be prospering; we are sick, ugly, obscure, unpopular. My children may be worsted. I seem to fail in my friends and my clients, too. That is to say, in all the encounters that have yet chanced I have not been weaponed for that particular occasion, and have been historically beaten. And yet I know all the time that I have never been beaten, have never yet fought, shall certainly fight when my hour comes, and shall beat.”

Dante tells us that on the planet Mars we will find the saints of earth, who fought and bled in great bravery for the cause of Christ. But Spiritual Science teaches us that those who “fought the good fight” and died as brave martyrs now know that they did not need to believe in the possibility of martyrdom. There was nothing to fight for, nothing to resist, for the doctrine of Jesus was safety enough. “My words are Life.” (John 6:63)

They did not need to hold out bravely against opposition. There was nothing to oppose. “My words are peace.” They are entirely careful now to be found speaking on the peace and freedom and easy side. They understand this teaching about not hiding anything, by talking of its presence, instead of its absence. They know that the four A’s all belong to the vacancy side, and to be admitting that we have any one of them is to be hurrying to look upon our sandy St. Helena, or our sandy sepulchre. They hear the voice of their victorious comrade, Isaiah, in its truest word, that the strength of Zion is to sit still – not to compete in the lists with mankind.

Take up this song of the Spirit: My strength is in my peaceableness. My strength is in my meekness. I compete with none. Thereby I am now victorious. My strength is in that I neither strive nor cry nor try.

There shall not a bone of my world be broken. Because with Jesus Christ, who ran not in the lists for the favors or possessions of men, I also run not, but am at home in my house of content. There was never any power risen against me or my doctrine. And I am not and never was a power risen against any doctrine. High over the memories of my words, which made my walk upon earth with the banner of truth over my head, a warfare, rises my spirit, buoyant, unchallenged, unhindered, knowing no warfare and nothing to win, for this is the rest of Jesus. On the earth, this rest is mine for the taking. There is no death to their hopes for them that speak of the Spirit.

Hereby we are sowing the seeds of immortal life to reap Jesus Christ, our King.

August 14, 1892


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