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The tidings of Cornelius's Conversion are communicated to the Church Jerusalem. Peter is at first reproved for going to Cornelius; but: afterwards the Apostles glorify God for the Mercy. Some Account of Barnabas.
And the apostles and brethren that were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. (2) And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, (3) Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them. (4) But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying, (5) I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me: (6) Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. (7) And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. (8) But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. (9) But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. (10) And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven. (11) And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me. (12) And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house: (13) And he showed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; (14) Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. (15) And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. (16) Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. (17) Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? (18) When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
It will not be necessary to detain the Reader long over these verses, seeing they are but a recapitulation of what passed on the occasion of Cornelius's conversion, and are contained in the preceding Chapter, What I would chiefly request might be noticed, is, the conduct of the Church, in reproving Peter; and the very gracious behavior of the Apostle, in his modest defense of himself, in answer. Both are very instructive. The Apostles and Brethren which were in Judea, seem to have manifested a different conduct, upon a former occasion, when tidings was brought to them, that Samaria had received the word of God: for they sent upon that account, Peter and John to them, by way of comfort and confirmation. See Acts 8:14-15 . But here the reverse seems to have actuated them. It serves to teach us, how improper all hasty judgments are. The best of men, and the best of Churches, and in the best of times, are but men of like passions with ourselves. It is blessed to know it. And it is blessed to be humbled under a sense of it. Nothing more sweetly and powerfully preacheth Christ, than when taught our nothingness without him.
What a beautiful example Peter holds forth, both to ministers and people, in the quietness and meekness of mind, he manifested to the reproaches, with which he was first received by the Church, on his return. Caesarea from Jerusalem was little short of seventy-five miles. And it was a sad reception, which they gave him in their reproof when he went up from the house of Cornelius to Jerusalem, to inform the Church of what had happened. Peter knew who had sent him. And he was conscious of the Lord's blessing upon his labors. These things, no doubt, fortified his mind, and enabled him to bear all their reproaches. The Lord's faithful people may, and ought to learn from hence, that God's services, when they are employed in them by Him, and blessed in them by Him, will be sure to call forth the displeasure of men; yea, even the Lord's own people, (as was the case here,) shall sometimes be prompted by the enemy, to afflict their brethren, ignorant of what they do. Sometimes our false misconception of things, sometimes our judging by report too hastily; and sometimes, and perhaps not unfrequently, from the remains of indwelling corruption, jealousies creep in our hearts, and we feel somewhat which ought not to be, rising there. The Church complained of it, when she said; my mother's children were angry with me, Song of Solomon 1:6 . Reader! if you and I know with Paul, the plague of our own hearts; and that even in ourselves corruptions arise, which war against the soul and are bringing us into captivity, into the law of sin which is in our members; how can we wonder that others, who neither know our motives of conduct, nor the leadings of them, should sometimes reproach us?
And while such views of the common infirmity of nature, will, under grace, tend to soften the minds of the Lord's people, and suppress anger at any of their little unkind misconstruction of conduct when we are conscious we have not merited their displeasure; such will in an eminent degree under the Lord, preserve faithful ministers of Jesus, as Peter, in the instance before us, in patience to possess their souls, when the world, or still more the mistaken men in the Church, come forth to reprove them. To shew displeasure because we know ourselves to be right, is not the plan to correct them that are wrong. It is rather turning that which is lame out of the way. How much better, like the Apostle, in brotherly affection to submit as he did, the point to their cool decision: and how soon were their tempers changed, and the Lord glorified! This is what the Apostle Paul called, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves. For, said he, the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men: and an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity, 1 Timothy 4:12 .
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. (20) And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. (21) And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. (22) Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. (23) Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. (24) For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
I beg the Reader to notice, how the Lord overruled the persecution which arose at Jerusalem, in the death of Stephen, and other faithful servants to the Lord; to minister to his glory, in scattering his people far and near to spread the Gospel. How little are the enemies of the cross aware, how greatly their malice sometimes turns out, to the furtherance of the truth, as it is in Jesus! How often they become thereby, the unwilling instruments, in promoting the very reverse of what they intend. So it was here: so is it now; and so the Lord will forever make it, as long as the present-time-state of the Church shall remain. And I hope the Reader will not pass away from that precious verse, which speaks of the hand of the Lord being with them, until that he hath first observed the blessedness of the thing itself, and the blessings which are said to have followed.
I admire the character given of Barnabas. It is but short, though sweet. A good man, and full of the Holy Ghost! What could be said more? And observe what holy joy it opened in his soul, when he had seen the Lord's work, in the hearts of the Lord's people. For, in the great number which are said to have believed, Barnabas beheld some of the same blessed effects discovering themselves in the people, which he felt in his own experience. For where God the Spirit dwells, all the properties of regenerating, renewing, illuminating, converting, and confirming grace, cannot but abound.
And there is a very great sweetness in this exhortation of the Apostle, which he gave them, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord, He used the exhortation, but he was directing their minds to look unto the Lord for the accomplishment. Hold thou me up, (said one of old,) and I shall be safe. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee! Reader! it is blessed, when at any time we receive the Lord's commands, to be looking to the Lord for grace to follow them. I shall run (said the same holy saint I just now quoted,) the way of thy commandments; when thou hast set my heart at liberty. Here is the strength for performance. And when we are enabled to accept the Lord's biddings, as enablings! oh! how sweet and precious are all the Lord's ways to his people, Psalms 119:32 . Reader! do not dismiss this view of Barnabas, and his exhortation, before that you have first enquired at the heart, whether you have followed it. No man can cleave unto the Lord, until he knows the Lord. And if we truly know the Lord, we shall know ourselves also: and in that knowledge, both of our nothingness, and Christ's all sufficiency, the tendency of the soul will be, to cleave unto him. They that know thy name will put their trust in thee. No man can trust, or cleave to, an unknown God, John 4:10 ; Psalms 9:10 .
And it will be among the easiest of all things, to discover whether we cleave to the Lord by the conscious strength and help we derive from the Lord. The tenderest plants in nature are not more feeble, when they throw their blanches round some statelier tree for support, as the ivy to the oak, than a child of God, which cleaves to Christ, and lays hold of Jesus, as his whole security. And how sweet in confirmation is that Scripture. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms, Deuteronomy 33:27 . Reader! it will be well for you and me, if while we admire, as we cannot but admire, this interesting account of Barnabas, we can trace somewhat of the same spirit which marked his life, in our own. Moses, the man of God, enjoined the same motive to Israel for cleaving to the Lord, because (said he,) he is your life, Deuteronomy 30:20 .
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: (26) And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
As the Holy Ghost hath been pleased to have it recorded, where the honored spot was, from whence the Lord's family first derived the high privilege of being called Christians, I think it well merits our attention. It should seem, that before, and about this period, the faithful in Christ Jesus, were variously distinguished in names, who spake of them in derision, called them Nazarenes, Galileans, men who trouble our city, and teach customs which are not lawful: Acts 16:20-21 . who have turned the world upside down: Acts 17:21 , and, as they called Paul, a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: Acts 14:5 . so no doubt the whole community were considered the same. And, whether the name of Christians was first given to them by their enemies, or by friends, is not said, though I confess to me it appears, as though it evidently came from the Lord. But one thing is certain, the scoffer used it in reproach. And for many generations after, as well as then in Antioch, the foes to the cross considered nothing more opprobrious, than when they called a man, Christian. Paul said for himself and companions, that they were esteemed the filth and off-scouring of all things, 1 Corinthians 4:13 .
I have already said, that to me, I confess, it appears to have come immediately from the Lord. And my reasons are these. It was the Lord's promise, that when the Gentiles should see Christ's righteousness, and all kings his glory, that then the Church should be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord should name, Isaiah 65:15; Isaiah 65:15 . And the name itself doth not simply mean a follower of Christ, or one professing Christ, (though the enemies of Christ, perhaps mean no other, when they call the Lord's people Christians,) but the name means anointed ones. Thus in that beautiful passage of the prophet, where Christ is represented as going forth for the salvation of his people, it is added, even for salvation with thine anointed, Habakkuk 3:13 . That this passage refers to Christ, is beyond all dispute, for this going forth can mean no other, and so Micah describes Christ, whose goings forth have been from of old from everlasting, Micah 5:2 ; Matthew 2:6 . And the Church, is specially, and properly, Christ's people. In proof, see Psalms 110:3 ; Matthew 1:21 ; John 17:6 . And when it is said by Habakkuk, that the Lord went forth for salvation with his anointed; though the word is in the singular, yet it is put as meaning the whole body. In a similar passage in Zechariah, the word to the same purport is plural. These are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth, Zechariah 4:14 . And if, as may be supposed, (though I presume not to speak decidedly,) those two mean the Lord's witnesses, Jew and Gentile, these correspond to the anointing of Christ's Church, which is but one and the same, Song of Solomon 6:9 ; John 10:16 ; Revelation 11:3-4 . Some indeed render the words of the Prophet, when he saith, thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed, even for salvation for thy Christ's, that is the same word anointed, for Christ means anointed. So much for the name.
I must not dismiss the subject of the Church being first called Christians at Antioch, without remarking further, that supposing, (as I have ventured to state, the hand of the Lord was in the appointment, what a singular mercy it was, that from such a place, and at such a time, the Lord should Mr 1-16. And is it not so now? yea, hath it not been the same in all ages? Psalms 2:0 throughout. Reader! depend upon it, the truths of our God were never more opposed than in the present hour. I mean the pure, distinguishing truths, which peculiarly belong to the Gospel. Men may be called Christians, yea, indeed, they are called so, because they are born under the meridian of Christianity. And, for the same reason, the same men had they been born in Turkey, would have been called Mohammedans. But a man must be new-horn to be really and truly a Christian, as those at Antioch were, when branded by the carnal at that place, with the name of Christian. And if you, my brother, are truly a Christian, an anointed one in Christ by regeneration, and know, as you cannot then but know by that blessed work of the Holy Ghost wrought in you, your union with Christ and communion in all that belongs to Christ's being justified wholly by Him, sanctified in Him, and professing before all the world, that your everlasting All depends upon Him; an open profession of these glorious truths, and a corresponding conduct in life and conversation, answering to the same, will bring upon you reproach as much as true believers in Christ did the saints of old at this famous city, when the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. The offence of the cross hath never ceased. And unless men temporize, and give in to the conformity of the times, now, as much as then, they who will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution, 2 Timothy 3:17 . There is a fashionable gospel in the present day, which all the world may follow, and yet escape reproach. But none who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth, will go free. Reader! it will be your province of duty, now I have performed mine on this subject, to enquire after the real cause for which you are called Christian. And I shall leave the subject with you, only first requesting you to consult those two striking Scriptures of the Lord Jesus on the point, as both addressed to Pharisees, Luke 16:14-15 and John 3:3 .
And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. (28) And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. (29) Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: (30) Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
The Prophets here spoken of, according to the original word made use of to call them by, were men divinely warned. Probably they were certain eminent disciples, who though not called to the Apostolic office, yet acted under them in the ministry of the word. We read of different orders in the Church, 1 Corinthians 12:28 . And in relation to the purport of their prophecy, in the expectation of dearth; this seems to have been in great grace and mercy, given them from the Lord. Many such things have taken place from the watchful care of the Lord, in various ages, even down to modern times of the Church. And it is a truth which ought to be always kept in view: the Lord is as much a God of providence, as He is the God of grace, to his people. That sweet promise, concerning the Spirit of truth, shewing his Church things to come; may be, and ought to be, applied to all cases of his redeemed, in all their warfare, John 16:13 . This famine gave occasion for the exercise of the love, and alms-giving of the Church. Thus the Lord overrules circumstances of seeming evil to real good; and in the diversities of character, and station, affords opportunity for calling into exercise, the various graces of the Holy Spirit.
I would ponder well the several weighty things contained in this Chapter, and chiefly with an eye to behold the gracious tendencies of God the Spirit, watching over his Church and people. It is really wonderful when we trace how the Lord carried on the ministry of his sacred word, amidst all the oppositions, not only against the wickedness of the enemy, but the mistaken weakness of friends. Who could have thought, that after Christ's own direction to his Apostles, to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; those very Apostles should have been so prejudiced in Jewish notions, as to feel displeasure, when that Gospel was preached by Peter, and owned of God. But, Reader! what is human nature, in its highest attainments!
My soul! ponder that worthy name by which thou art called; and see amidst the undistinguished mass of the Christian world, falsely so, called, what distinguishing part is in it, known by thee, and by which thou canst prove thy real title. For as he is not a Jew, that is one outwardly: so neither can he be a Christian, that is not one inwardly. Regeneration it is, which gives the just claim. And this is in the heart. The name first began at Antioch, Antioch is now no more. And where will be the last place where this holy name will be truly known? It is a solemn question. But what a tremendous scripture is that of Christ's, and which must be assuredly fulfilled: Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils; and in thy name done many wonderful works. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me ye that work iniquity.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 11". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany