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And the apostles and brethren … heard … And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him.
The dispute in the early Church
1. That even among God’s saints no one has been without blemish and folly.
2. That we must not put down the faults of the saints to wickedness.
3. That when we truly recognise and experience the universal love of God we shall be able to judge better of many events in God’s kingdom though they occur without the limits of our own Church. (Biblical Museum.)
Rents in the primitive Church
These are here represented--
I. For humility--in order to observe from them the power of the enemy, who never neglects to sow tares among the wheat.
II. For comfort--in order to recognise in them that nothing new befalls the Church in the divisions of the present day.
III. For doctrine--in order to see from them how the rents are to be healed by the power of evangelical truth and love. (K. Gerok.)
The ecclesiastical opposition
We have here--
I. A striking imperfection in the first Church. “The apostles and brethren heard”; and the point to be considered is the highly improper state of mind which the information produced. Instead of rejoicing at the event, and congratulating Peter, they called him to account as a criminal. This imperfection teaches us--
1. That antiquity does not confer infallibility. There are churches which are constantly referring us to the ancient and patristic for the final settlement of theological questions. Nay, there are men of antiquarian proclivities in every Church who refer to the past for the unerring and the perfect. Now, the fact that the Apostolic Church was imperfect exposes this folly.
2. That Christianity does not perfect its disciples at once. Some of these men had attained the rank of apostles, and yet had many errors to correct and habits to overcome. Christian excellence is a growth only, the germ of which is given at conversion; and unless the soil is well looked after, and the noxious weeded out, it will continue a frail and imperfect thing. Christians must “grow in grace,” etc.
II. A great man censured for a feeble work; which teaches us--
1. That Peter was not regarded as an infallible dictator in spiritual matters. The circumstance that he was called to account by the whole body of Christians goes against the assumption that he was vicar of Christ--the pope. “Call no man rabbi: one is your Master, even Christ.”
2. That men’s works must not be determined by the judgment of contemporaries. The best works have generally met with contemporary censure. Men ahead of their time awaken envy and alarm. The greatest theologians have been the heretics of their age, and the greatest heroes its martyrs.
III. An inspired apostle conciliating his brethren. There was nothing of the haughtiness of modern primacy about Peter. He might have heard in silence and withdrawn in contempt, or denounced their ingratitude and narrowness. Instead of that he listens attentively, and offers a calm, generous, dignified reply.
1. He recites facts--those of the previous chapter, with the exception of his sermon which was productive of such mighty results. He bases his defence, not on what he said, but on what God did, which--
(1) Indicates his own modesty;
(2) rebukes vanity in preachers.
2. He makes an appeal (Acts 11:17). This is the logic of his address--God had unmistakably indicated His will; who was he that he should oppose it?
III. A glorious victory over an old prejudice (Acts 11:18).
1. They heartily acquiesced in the fact: “They held their peace,” feeling that the apostle had done the right thing.
2. They devoutly rejoiced in the fact: “They glorified God.” That which had pained them now filled them with delight.
3. They joyfully declared the fact: “Then hath God,” etc.
(1) Salvation is the life of man.
(2) Repentance is essential to salvation.
(3) Repentance is the gift of God through the gospel ministry. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The best testimony of the servant of God against opposition and misapprehension
1. The Divine injunction of which he is conscious.
2. The eyes of men under which he acted.
3. The tranquillity of spirit with which he can vindicate himself.
4. The fruits of his work to which he is permitted to point. (K. Gerok.)
is the devil’s harvest. (Fontaine.)
Sectarianism, the strife of brethren
I recollect on one occasion conversing with a marine, who gave me a good deal of his history. He told me that the most terrible engagement he had ever been in was one between the ship to which he belonged and another English vessel, when, on meeting in the night, they mistook each other for enemies. Several persons were wounded and both vessels were much damaged by the firing. When the day broke great and painful was the surprise to find the English flag hoisted from both ships. They saluted each other, and wept bitterly together over their mistake. (W. Williams.)
Bigotry, Narrowness of
What a circumstance is that, that in 1624, at the request of the University of Paris, and especially of the Sorbonne, persons were forbidden by an arret of Parliament, on pain of death, to hold or teach any maxim contrary to ancient or approved authors, or to enter into any debate but such as should be approved by the doctors of the faculty of theology. So, again, after the telescope had been invented, many of the followers of Aristotle positively refused to look through the instrument because it threatened the overthrow of their master’s doctrines and authority; and so when Galileo had discovered the satellites of Jupiter some persons were infatuated enough to attempt to write down these unwelcome additions to the solar system. (Paxton Hood.)
Bigotry is concealed selfishness
Sir Humphry Davy, when he introduced his “safety lamp,” which has saved so many valuable lives, declined to take out a patent for it, saying that his sole object was to serve the cause of humanity. What of men who claim prescriptive rights to the gospel of Jesus Christ! (W. Baxendale.)
Peter reports to the Church
1. The importance of the centurion’s baptism rested not simply on its being the issue of a series of Divine interpositions, but on its being accepted as the commencement of a new era. Its recognition by the Church, however, hinged on its having been brought about by God. Hence Peter’s narrative was necessary before the new conditions of membership could be welcomed.
2. The news reached Jerusalem before Peter, and in an imperfect form, viz., that Peter had been treating uncircumcised men ecclesiastically and socially as though they were circumcised. Why they did not know, and hence they hardly knew whether to be glad or vexed.
3. Peter gave his report when “they of the circumcision were disputing with him,” i.e., those who afterwards came to form, and had when Luke was writing formed, the Judaizing party. The strong Jewish prejudice which was to work such mischief must have already been latent in the minds of many baptized Jews. This was the first occasion on which that prejudice was stirred into activity. The apostles would have inquired into the spiritual side of the transaction--the reception of Christ by heathen--whereas the question raised was merely that of “eating.” Nor would the heads of the Church have used the phrase rendered softly “men uncircumcised,” an untranslated expression of rude and displeased contempt.
4. Peter met the question with a calm and careful narrative of facts. It can hardly fail to startle those who know how his name has been used to cover the most unbounded claims, that he should be reduced to justify his apostolic action. Yet this is in perfect accord with the whole New Testament. The Church is never represented as a close oligarchy, much less as an empire with an infallible head. Before the assembly of the faithful this “Prince of the apostles,” this Rock Man, to whom Jesus had given the keys, was content to plead, and that on a matter which could justify itself, and to disputatious brethren whom he might have treated with contempt.
5. Peter passed over matters already known to detail the circumstances which prepared him for the reception of Cornelius--the vision, the coincident arrival of the messengers, the monition of the Holy Ghost--a threefold strand spun by a celestial hand, which drew him with a force he dared not withstand. So far the incident had been personal; now came the corroborative evidence of the six brethren who were witnesses that the Master’s promise to baptize His disciples with the Divine Spirit was fulfilled. Nay, more; God had bestowed that Spirit on the original disciples, not because of their Jewish birth or circumcision, but simply because they had believed on Christ. To the Gentiles, therefore, who believed had now come the very same “free gift,” to prove that “neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision.” In Peter’s words there lies, as in a seed, the whole doctrine of free grace and justification by faith, and no better commentary on them can be found than in Galatians 2:15-16, which was addressed to Peter when he renounced for a time the position that he here defends.
6. The general enthusiasm over this new-won freedom and the happy consciousness of a wider brotherhood broke forth in praise. It might have been hoped that the Church would now pass from its subordination to the Mosaic law into the spiritual freedom of Christ. Alas! the rise of a Gentile Church at Antioch soon after came to be viewed with rivalry, and a synod at Jerusalem could not compose the strife. Upon Peter’s vacillation Paul became the rock which turned aside from the Gentile Churches a current which would have swept Christianity into Mosaic legalism and exclusiveness. Yet in their convictions the two apostles were one.
7. The limitation which for so many centuries confined God’s favour to one tribe was one which must have forever shut out us and our fathers. In His wise pleasure He bad elected Israel, and might have let the election stand. But the very election contemplated ultimate catholicity. Israel was made a guarded focus of light just that it might one day enlighten the Gentiles. But, in spite of their prophets, they kept to their tribes what God had given to mankind. Thus it came that the grace of life had to tear itself away from their grip to overspread the globe. Yet it was by the hands of Jews after all that the grace of God was first conveyed to Gentiles in Caesarea, and by Jewish missionaries that the gospel has at length reached ourselves. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Peter to Jewish Christians
1. This differs from the previous speeches of the apostle (except the first), in that it is not an appeal to men to become Christians, but an explanation to Christians of a fresh course of action taken in the service of Christ.
2. While Peter tarried at Caesarea the apostles and brethren heard with surprise of this unexpected victory of the gospel. He was well aware of the necessity for a full explanation, and therefore went straight to Jerusalem, and with excellent judgment took the six Jewish Christians from Joppa who had baptized the believing Gentiles, who could corroborate his story.
3. “They that were of the circumcision contended with him,” not apparently about the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, or even their baptism, but about his eating with them. They were displeased that an apostle had broken a tradition of strict Judaism.
4. Such a condition of mind we regard with wonder and pity; and yet something very like it is far too common in modern Christendom. Who has not seen Christian faith miserably united with small-minded prejudices? And this also we see, that narrowness of sympathy goes with dulness of perception. These Jews could not see anything more important than the question whether Peter did well or ill in sitting at table with the uncircumcised. So now: the more that men make of external restriction in religion, the more they incapacitate their minds for appreciating what is spiritual and permanent. Note--
I. The position taken by even the leading apostle.
1. The name of Peter has been used to cover the claim of supremacy advanced by the Pope. But here we see that the brethren were not afraid to “contend with him”; and he made no attempt to silence the objectors by dint of authority, but patiently explained his action till he won their approval. Is it not plain that there was no such thing as Popedom known to St. Peter? There was not even oligarchic government by the apostles. The Church had leaders and guides; but the wisdom of Christ was imparted to the whole body, not to a few conspicuous members only.
2. It is not well that anyone should reckon himself above question from the brethren. It is quite possible that they may find fault through ignorance; but in such a case Christ’s servant must not give way to irritation, but calmly explain what they have misunderstood. Let him tell the unvarnished truth, and leave it to the heavenly Master to vindicate him.
II. The best way to remove misunderstandings among brethren.
1. Nine-tenths of the fault finding comes of defective information. The objectors here knew but very partially what Peter’s conduct had been, and none of the reasons. They heard that he had been living among Gentiles, but nothing of the visions or of the spiritual results. They certainly laid themselves open to a sharp reproof. But the apostle did not even make complaint. He wished to conciliate their better judgment, and preserve peace in the Church.
2. This, too, conveys, a most valuable lesson to those who find their course of action called into question. It will be often found that fault finders proceed on most inaccurate information; and, by doing so, they lay themselves open to retort. But the object of Christ’s servant should be not to triumph over an unreasonable brother, but to gain victories for the truth and maintain peace and charity.
III. The most effective answer to sticklers on points of order.
1. St. Peter did not enter into an argument upon the permanence of those restrictions which had separated the Jews from the Gentiles. He was himself scarcely prepared for such an argument, though a new light had been cast into his mind by the vision. No such light, however, had fallen on those at Jerusalem; and it would have been worse than useless to argue. Peter took them on ground which no Christian could call in question. As the Word of life was being preached to the Gentiles the Holy Ghost fell on them, just as on the Jews at Pentecost. Did not that one momentous fact settle all questions, overcome all misgivings?
2. This way of handling a difficulty makes short work with many Church controversies about holy orders, correct ritual, and the like. In ways that we consider exceptional, and through the labours of persons whose ordination has but an uncertain validity, thousands have been converted from sin to righteousness. This seems to us to be matter of fact which only a desperate bigotry can ignore? Surely when we see that sinners are turned from their evil ways our simple duty is to acknowledge the work of God whenever and wherever He pleases to work and give Him thanks.
IV. The true place and justification of baptism. The Gentiles at Caesarea having been baptized with the Holy Ghost, it was impossible to deny to them baptism with water. Indeed, there are not two baptisms, but one, having an outer form and inner sense. The former requires water, the latter the grace of the Holy Spirit. Superstition holds that the former always involves the latter, and therefore urges people to be baptized, or to have their infants baptized, in order that by that rite they may receive the Holy Ghost. This is “Christening” of which the Bible knows nothing. It is enough to trace the dispensation of baptism through these early chapters. At Jerusalem they that received the Word of salvation were baptized. At Samaria they that believed the good tidings were baptized. On the road to Gaza the Ethiopian treasurer first received Philip’s preaching of Jesus, and then was baptized. At Damascus, Saul, through the intervention of Ananias, was filled with the Holy Ghost. Then “he arose, and was baptized.” So here. Conclusion:
1. Peter’s speech had a marked success. The Jewish brethren “glorified God, saying, Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance into life.” Would that they had cherished this mood! What controversies would have been avoided! What trouble might have been spared to Paul!
2. These disciples had a clear conception of repentance--
(1) In its origin as the gift of God’s grace;
(2) in its issue as “unto life.” And with this doctrine ought “the fallow ground” of men’s hearts to be broken. It is God’s command; it is God’s gift; it is God’s encouragement: “Turn ye; why will ye die?” (D. Fraser, D. D.)
But I said, Not so, Lord.
Not so, Lord
How mental and moral characteristics cling to a man even after he has received grace! It is a false theory of conversion which represents human nature as changed. Grace is a principle working a slow and gradual change--“First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” The leaven was hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened. Peter is the same before and after conversion--strong-willed, vehement, and impatient of contradiction. He is here seen meeting the Divine directions with outspoken resistance. Here is--
I. Presumptuous resistance of Divine wisdom and grace. The most perilous endowment of a mortal is free will. All possibilities of evil and good are contained in this great endowment. How near the true use of will stands to its abuse! Will changes into wilfulness. “I will” becomes self-assertion, denies the rights of others, sets man in array against the rights and claims of God. This was Peter’s moral weakness, the source of errors and sins. Strong-willed, he had firmness. It had grown into self-assertion and presumption. There was a clear openness about him in his sinning; he was not a sneaking, backdoor sinner, and not a polished, sniveling hypocrite. It is better so. There is more hope for such a man than he who sins secretly; but it does not lessen his guilt. On several occasions Peter thought he knew better than the Lord. He said, “The Son of Man shall be rejected,” etc. Peter answered Him, “Be it far from Thee, Lord. This shall not be.” Jesus said, “I have prayed for thee.” Peter’s reply was, “I am ready to go with Thee, even to prison and death.” Jesus said, “Whither I go thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt afterwards.” Peter says, “Lord, why? I am ready.” And then the Lord warned him: “Verily the cock shall not crow,” etc. The Master bade His disciples tarry in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father. Peter, instead of waiting, set about electing an apostle. Here the Lord was disciplining him, that he might open the door of the kingdom to the Gentiles. “Arise, Peter; kill and eat.” He refuses point blank, and begins to justify refusal. There is a good deal of Peter in most men. They generally act as though they knew better than God what ought to happen and what they ought to do. This spirit gets into men--
1. When they object to the provisions of Divine wisdom and grace. Some sinners want to show God the conditions on which sin ought to be pardoned and heaven secured. Some are not content with unbelief and rebellion; they find fault with the scheme of mercy. Why should not God let the guilty go free?
2. The same spirit is manifested in all murmurings against Providence. How strange are the vagaries of the restless will! Men say God is all-wise in the ordinations of life, and sing, “Thy will be done!” But let a sickness come, a project miscarry, one dearer than life be smitten, and what rebellion there is! Often what we call resignation is only the exhaustion of nature after a useless fight with the inevitable.
3. All refusal to follow the leadings of Providence grows out of this resistance to the all-wise will. God is a guide. He has a way of life for each. Men miss the providential way; they will not simply trust and follow. They want certainty. “The bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” and when God says, “Forward,” they say, “Let us alone,” or “Let us choose a new leader and go back to Egypt,” or they shut all up with a “Not so, Lord.” Christ says to a young Christian, “Come out and be separate.” The reply is. “Not so, Lord. I can use the world without abusing it.” The Lord says, “Honest poverty is better than dishonest riches.” “Not so Lord; I mean to be generous to the poor, to help Thy cause.”
II. The consequences of this presumptuous rebellion. “Not so, Lord,” takes a man out of the circle of Divine and helpful benedictions and cooperations. He who will not have God for a friend when he may shall not find Him when he would. Men resent presumptuous opposition and folly. They think it a wonder God does not. But here are all the irregularities created by sin, and they work out a punitive discipline. Under the Divine government presumptuous and rebellious men come into contact with the negative action of the Divine laws, and cannot avoid their chastisement. But God’s harsh ways are kindnesses. Thorns in the hedge, which tear us as we attempt to get out of the right way, are admonitions to us to go back. Things go awry; troubles, worry. What is it all but the reaping what we have sown? Sensitive nerves suffer pain to warn us against what causes pain. If God be resisted, pain must follow, for we are out of the way of peace. Our wisdom is to submit to God, accept His plan of mercy, look unto Jesus, walk in His way. “Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, lead Thou me on.” (W. H. Davison.)
Human ignorance contradicting Divine wisdom
Peter had before this supposed that he knew better than the Lord what was right. Accordingly, this “Not so, Lord,” was very Petrine. God was going to honour Peter by giving him the second key wherewith he would open the kingdom to the Gentiles. Peter is shocked at the idea, and says,” Not so, Lord.” He not only refuses to obey, but offers a reason. His refusal and his buttressing argument were both shivered to atoms by the Lord’s reply: “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
I. Poor, weak, ignorant man is found contradicting and correcting the almighty and all-wise God. If God had a human heart, the thing would not happen twice from the same person. The Divine fire would consume the presumptuous soul. But God is not a man. He patiently endures all man’s presumptuous folly. Many, arguing from impunity, go on to increase their rebellion against God. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily,” etc. But this daring resistance to God is not confined to unbelievers. Our text shows that a Peter can say, “Not so, Lord.” There may be politeness in the form, but in the matter it is rebellion and nothing else. It is a declaration that “I know better than God.” What is complaint of our lot (which God has arranged) but a saying, “Not so”? What is refusal to follow the clear leadings of Providence but saying, “Not so, Lord”? And then we wonder we are not prospered. As if children in open rebellion could prosper!
II. All the forlorn experiences of Christians come from them saying, “Not so, Lord.” An Abraham going unhesitatingly to offer up his son at the Divine command is given us as a marked example of spiritual attainment. If ever man could have said, “Not so, Lord,” it was Abraham. He might have said, “Lord, I cannot commit murder; and I cannot commit sin against my natural affections. Furthermore, what will people say of it? Not so, Lord; I cannot do this thing.” But that which made Abraham’s name the synonym of faith, and which exalted him to the very highest rank in sainthood, was a humble, unquestioning, immediate obedience. Compare him with Jacob, who was fond of saying, “Not so, Lord,” and see the difference. A young Christian starts out in life. The Lord says to him, “Come out and be separate from the world”; and the young Christian replies, “Not so, Lord, for if I can marry into that influential family it will be of great benefit to me, and I can persuade my wife to become a Christian”; and so, repenting his “Not so,” he marries and is soon led into the entanglements of a thoroughly worldly society. To another young man the word of the Lord comes, “They that desire to be rich fall into a temptation,” and the young man responds, “Not so, Lord--there must be exceptions. I want to be rich in order to do more good.” And so this young man starts on a career for gold, and whether he grows rich or ends his life in poverty, his life is a wretched failure on the side of God.
III. The soul that says, “Not so, Lord,” must necessarily meet with evil. The unfortunate experiences are not accidents, but belong to the Divine system of government. Every departure from God’s way has a sting in it, that we may be stung into going back into the right way. Conscience does a godly service to every Christian wanderer. It is harsh in its kindness. But the work of conscience is supplemented by events around us. Are you finding things going awry? Are troubles multiplying? Look and see if you have not been saying, “Not so, Lord.” David suffered greatly from his children, and two “Not so’s” stand out conspicuously as the cause of it all. What a man soweth that must lie also reap. If we resist God’s commands, we shall certainly meet a reversal, because we are out of the only way where He insures our peace. It is of God’s mercy that those reactions occur, just as it is of God’s mercy that if I run a nail in my foot I am pained.
IV. The very opposite spirit to that which we have been contemplating is the spirit of humble inquiry for God’s will. It becomes us to be distrustful of our own knowledge and wisdom. James describes God as giving wisdom liberally to all who ask Him. We surely need not be discouraged. Now, the only method for every child of God to pursue is to go to God for everything, to seek constantly the Divine guidance. “But,” someone says, “how can you tell when it is God’s will?” Let me answer,
“If you stand a quarter of a mile off from your father, you will be sore puzzled to know what he says; but if you go within five feet of him, everything will be plain. So, if you stand away from your Heavenly Father, you will undoubtedly be much at a loss to know what is His will; but if you live near to Him, you will have no difficulty of this sort. Now, it is true (and Peter is an example of it) that a Christian may live near to God and understand His will and yet say, “Not so, Lord.” A paroxysm of self-confidence may seize him even in the very presence of God. It is a sad commentary on our feeble faith. The reaction in such a case is overwhelming. Peter’s “Not so,” when Jesus told him of a coming Calvary, was the direct antecedent of the threefold denial and the deep scar which it made on his whole life. Such a catastrophe arises from breaking what should be the invariable rule of going to God for everything. “Pray without ceasing” is the Divine injunction and its fulfilment is this life which is habituated to rest upon the Divine support and guidance. The thought of opposing God’s will would cause a shudder in such a soul. As in the case of a little child, it feels that independence would be only misery. (Howard Crosby, D. D.)
Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
Words whereby we may be saved
I am about to tell you such words; yet I am far from supposing that this announcement of my purpose is calculated to ensure to my message that attention which it demands; for man is interested about anything rather than the salvation of his soul--and yet, “what should it profit” man? The soul once lost is lost forever.
I. Every man’s first and chief concern ought to be about the salvation of his soul.
1. Every man is a sinner, and without salvation he must perish. You may be too proud to acknowledge this, or too much occupied to give it attention, or too indifferent to ponder it, or ready to deny it in the sense which we contend. Well, “you make God a liar, and His truth is not in you,” for “God has included all under sin.” Perhaps you will point me to that abandoned woman, or to that bloody blasphemer, or to that iron-hearted jailer, and bid me go preach this doctrine to such as these. Ah, the question is not whether you have sinned like this or that man, but whether you have sinned at all, for so it is written, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Oh, you will say, I never did anybody any harm, I have been a kind parent, an upright tradesman, my reputation without a blemish; but that is not the question; the question is, hast thou “loved the Lord thy God with all thy heart”? etc. I see you shudder and shrink back! I hear you cry, “But God is merciful”--so He is, but then, if you appeal to His mercy, you give up the point, you confess yourselves sinners, for if you be not sinners you may appeal with confidence to His justice.
2. Every man’s first and chief concern ought to be about the salvation of his soul, because, being a sinner, he is placed by his sin in circumstances of the most imminent peril. The wretch that trembles on the brink of a tremendous precipice, over whose head a sword is suspended by a hair, upon whom the volcano is ready to burst or the earth to yawn, is in safety compared to that sinner who has transgressed the law of God, and is exposed by his transgression to His righteous indignation and wrath. Oh, then, what will you do to be saved? Will you present an atoning sacrifice for your sins? Where will you obtain it? Have you wealth to purchase it? The ransom of ten thousand monarchs would do little, rivers of oil and oceans of blood are not sufficient. Do you propose to work out a righteousness whereby you can be justified in the sight of God? How can you do it? Can an imperfect creature work out a perfect righteousness? and even if you could for the time that is to come, how would it avail for the atonement of the sin that was past? Listen, it is our business to tell you the response to this cry from heaven.
II. The gospel is the only source from which satisfactory information is obtained on this most momentous of all subjects. Take this question, “What must I do to be saved,” to the system of modern infidelity or of ancient philosophy. What answer do you get? The sneer of derision, or the sullen silence of despair--they cannot tell. Take it to this Book, and the answer is instant, decisive, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” What does the violated law of God demand? Perfect obedience. Behold it in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Does justice demand an infinite atonement? Behold it in “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
1. In the gospel there are words whereby we may be saved, and the salvation they announce is precisely adapted to the sinner’s case. You are guilty, but there is forgiveness for you, and you are condemned, but there is a righteousness that justifies you freely; you are a rebel and an outcast, but there is an Advocate that pleads for you; you are polluted, but there is “a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.”
2. These are words whereby you may be saved individually. Let us hear your personal history. I hear one say, “I am a child of pious parents, and I have sinned against early instruction and impressions!” Well, but thou mayest be saved! I hear another, “I trampled under foot a father’s admonitions, and despised a sainted mother’s tears, and brought down their grey hairs with sorrow to the grave!” Well, but you may be saved! I hear another say, “Ah, but I mingled with infidels and apostates, I mocked the Bible, at God, I blasphemed Christ!” Ah, but you may be saved!
3. But while these are words whereby you may be saved, rejecting these, you must perish. “He that believeth not shall be damned.” “How shall you escape if you neglect so great salvation?” (T. Raffles, D. D.)
Saved by the Word
1. Cornelius was no common publican or sinner, but possessed all the qualifications of a saint, if a saint can grow in the sell of this earth, without a seed from heaven. If any man could be just with God apart from Christ, surely this is the man. Yet the Word of God treats him as a sinner, and tells him what he must do to be saved. There is no escape from the force of this case. It effectually shuts out all hope of merit. The difficulty of attaining a conviction of sin is greater where sins are less gross. Hence publicans and harlots go into the kingdom more readily than Pharisees.
2. By what means shall Cornelius be saved? By words. Strange when the loss is so deep and real that words, articulated air, should bring deliverance. It was natural for Naaman to toss his head in contempt at the proposal of a bath in Jordan as a cure for disease, and there is a class of scholars in our day who sneer at the proposal to cure sin by words. They have no confidence in doctrines that enter the mind from without; they would rather trust to principles that spring up within. Beware of wandering into the mist here. Words become life or death when God employs them to proclaim His will. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” “Lazarus, come forth,” and he came. Even in the ordinary experience of life men are saved or lost by words. An ocean steamer is rushing through the water--two words, “Breakers ahead!” from the watchman, “Starboard hard!” from the master, words that passed away as breath on a breeze, saved five hundred human beings from a watery grave. Humanity is like that ship, and God sends words whereby we may be saved.
3. Truth, like spirit, is invisible till embodied, and words are the body of truth. They may be spoken, or printed, or wired, it matters not what form they assume, they are the body in which truth dwells. Satan embodies himself in words whereby man may be destroyed, the Holy Spirit in words whereby we may be saved. Take heed how ye hear; the missing of a word may be the loss of a soul. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
Repentance unto life
I. Certain false repentances.
1. Trembling beneath the sound of the gospel is not repentance. “Felix trembled,” but had no sorrow for sin.
2. You may be “almost persuaded” to turn to Christ, you may even desire the gospel, you may even go upon your knees in prayer, and yet have no repentance, for you may get no further than Agrippa’s “almost.”
3. It is possible for men to positively humble themselves under the hand of God, and yet they may be total strangers to repentance. Ahab humbled himself, but did not turn from sin.
4. It is possible that you may confess your sins, and yet may not repent, for you may acknowledge your transgressions, and yet have no abhorrence of sin.
5. You may do some work meet for repentance, and yet you may be impenitent. Judas made restitution, but “he went out and hanged himself.”
II. True repentance.
1. Let me correct one or two mistakes.
(1) That there must be deep, horrible manifestations of the terrors of law and of hell before repentance. Terrible thoughts are very often not the gift of God at all, but the insinuations of the devil; and even where the law worketh these thoughts, they do not enter into the essence of repentance. “Repentance” is a hatred of sin; a turning from sin and a determination in the strength of God to forsake it.
(2) That they cannot repent enough. But there is not any eminent degree of “repentance” which is necessary to salvation. There are degrees of faith, and yet the least faith saves; so there are degrees of repentance, and the least repentance will save the soul if it is sincere.
2. And now what are the signs of true “repentance” in the sight of God?
(1) There is always sorrow with it. More or less intense, it may be, according to the way in which God calls, and previous manner of life; but there must be some sorrow. Not, however, that you must shed actual tears. Some men cannot.
(2) Practice--practical repentance. “‘Tis not enough to say we’re sorry, and repent, and then go on from day to day, just as we always went.” We know tree by its fruit; and you who are penitent will bring forth works of repentance.
(3) Does it last or does it not? Many of your repentances are like the hectic flush upon the cheek of the consumptive person, which is no sign of health.
(4) Do you think you would repent if there were no punishment? Do you repent because you know you shall be punished forever if you remain in your sins? Every murderer hates his crime when he comes to the gallows. If you knew that you might give up your life to sin with impunity, would you still desire holiness? If so, you need not fear but that you have a “repentance” which is “unto life.”
III. The blessed beneficence of God in granting to men “repentance unto life.” It is the marvel of Divine mercy that it not only provides the way of salvation, and not only invites men to receive grace, but that it positively makes men willing to be saved. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The propagation of the gospel in foreign parts
I. I begin with the blessing or benefit here said to be bestowed. “Repentance unto life.” Repentance is the infinite and inestimable gospel privilege, which the grace of God does, in and through Jesus Christ, allow to sinful men, and the happy consequence of this being no less than eternal life, it is therefore styled repentance unto life. As to the import of the word “repentance,” the expression in the Greek plainly signifies a change of mind; and the Scripture sense of the word implies somewhat more than that, and takes in besides a thing which naturally follows it, or is caused by it, viz., an alteration likewise of practice or behaviour, a changing or turning from one course or custom of life to another. By “life” here some indeed understand that present most blessed and desirable state and condition in which sinners are placed by repentance; whereas before this they were in a state of wretched darkness, no better than spiritually dead. And this is undoubtedly a true and good notion of repentance unto life, viz., that repentance is that which brings men to live like themselves, i.e., happily and at ease and with comfort; which it was not possible for them to do, so long as they continued in their former course, For that was irregular and disorderly and unnatural; and whatsoever is so is a certain enemy to quiet, and utterly destructive of true satisfaction. I see no inconvenience in considering life in this place in both acceptations, viz., the rational and religious life which repentance brings men to here, and that blessed and immortal life to which, upon their true repentance, they are to be advanced hereafter. For they are of very near affinity to each other. Life considered in the former sense is the certain forerunner of life considered in the latter, and the latter is the undoubted effect of the former, and a greater benefit or blessing than both of them together cannot be desired or imagined. And happy is it for us, happy for the whole race of mankind, that God has dealt out so great a blessing with so liberal a hand. For--
II. The persons it is bestowed upon. “The Gentiles.” We find that this favour was not confined, as the Jews, upon the first promulgation of the gospel, imagined it to be, to one people and nation, so that none besides themselves were to be partakers of it. By the term Gentiles the Jews understood all that were not of their own people and country and religion.. Heathens and nations and Gentiles are synonymous expressions in Holy Scripture, as may be seen by the following texts: 1 Samuel 8:20; Psalms 44:2; Psalms 79:1, and by many other places. These were the people whom the Jews, in comparison of themselves, greatly scorned. “Stand by thyself, come not near to me, for I am holier than thou” (Isaiah 65:5), was the scornful language of the Jew to the poor neglected Gentile. And this distinction between the Jews and the other nations, or Gentiles, was also mightily kept up even in the time of our Saviour; nay, perhaps never was at a greater height than then. So little aware were they, at the time of the appearance of the Son of God, of the gracious errand upon which He was sent, which was to break down the partition wall that was betwixt Jews and Gentiles, and to make both one, imply two things considerable.
1. I say, here is implied the wide and universal extent of this blessing, which seemed to the Jews very strange and wonderful.
2. Here was likewise a great difficulty and stumbling block in their way, and that was, that the people on whom this favour was conferred seemed to them, on other accounts, so utterly unfit for it, besides their not being of their stock and country. The Gentiles were persons that wholly set themselves against God, and were addicted to all manner of idolatry, but as for themselves they were a holy and a peculiar people. Nay, St. Peter himself, till convinced by the fore-mentioned miracle, was of this mind. He was for keeping up the distinction of clean and unclean till God Himself commanded him to the contrary.
III. The agreeableness of this method of proceeding with the nature and attributes of God and with the several declarations He had made to this purpose by His prophets. Now they had great reason to think it highly probable that even to the Gentiles God would grant repentance unto life, from the three following considerations.
1. From the contemplation of the boundless mercies and infinite goodness of God. The infinite goodness of God, if the Jews had attended to that consideration, might have rendered it to them highly probable that God would allow to the Gentiles also access to eternal salvation, or, in the words of the text, “repentance unto life.” These attributes, though inseparable from the idea of God, the Jews most plainly overlooked, or else they would never have gone ‘about to confine God’s blessings and engross His favours wholly to themselves, but must have argued after this, or the like manner, with themselves. “God being, as the very natural notions of Him do imply, a God of infinite and unlimited goodness, surely He will not continue to shine upon us only, but will dart the rays of His bounty over all the world. He is not, as Esau suspected of his father Isaac, furnished only with one blessing, but has an unexhausted fountain of blessings, and will therefore undoubtedly visit other nations in His good time with the same. For they likewise are the work of His hands as well as we. They, too, are of the same make, and have enstamped upon them the like Divine and heavenly image with ourselves. They are preserved by the continual care of His providence, and do already enjoy the common blessings of this life, such as health and strength and sunshine and rain.”
2. The Jews might have argued the great probability of this, from the extraordinary great need the Gentiles had of the blessing here spoken of, and that whether they considered their number or their condition. As to their number they were vastly the greater part of the world, the inhabitants of Judaea being very few and inconsiderable in comparison of those of all the earth besides; and yet that only, like Goshen in Egypt, was a land of light, whilst other parts were overspread with darkness and ignorance; and this suggests to us also the consideration of their condition. And the more sick the more need had they of a physician. Such sinners as they had the greatest need of all to be called upon to repentance. Their necessities were great, their indigences and wants were pressing and crying out for help; and these were such things as could not but plead strongly for them, with a good and merciful God, that they too might have a share in the blessed redemption effected by the Son of God.
3. This was not an instance of the Divine goodness barely to be hoped for from those lovely attributes of God, His mercy and loving kindness, but it is what God had promised and foretold He would do (Genesis 22:18; Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 5:2; Psalms 98:3; Haggai 2:7).
IV. The great reason that persons already admitted to the blessing of the gospel, have to use their hearty endeavours, that it may be enjoyed by others as well as by themselves.
1. In the first place, I say, gratitude to our Lord and Saviour, who hath redeemed us with His most precious blood, should make us not only pray that the kingdom of God may come, but should make us as on the one side, highly delighted to see it flourishing, so, on the other, uneasy whenever we see either any of the subjects of Christ’s kingdom in danger of falling away from Him, or others (who might, would we but take the pains to gain them, become subjects of His kingdom), not so much as knowing the Lord that bought them, nor consequently capable of bringing their thoughts and actions to the obedience of Christ.
2. And in the next place, this is the greatest instance of charity to man that is possible (1 John 5:12). If, affirmatively, the belief of the gospel be the way to life, and negatively, there be no other way beside it, how great a blessing, how valuable a privilege do we suffer men to want by letting them continue in unbelief? But to this it may be said, with regard to the infidel part of the world, Ignoti nulla cupido. As they have not heard of the joys of heaven, so it is not to be supposed that want of knowing the gospel can cause in them any uneasiness. But then we are to consider that the rewards of the gospel are a great prize, and to miss of that prize is a great loss for any to sustain, who might, if we so pleased, have had an opportunity of obtaining it. In the meantime, their being at present sensible, or not sensible, of their loss, makes no manner of alteration as to the truth and reality of it. With regard to persons who are in a lethargy, whilst they lie under the power of their distemper, and are utterly insensible of the badness of their own case, it cannot, because they are so, be therefore said of them that they are well. No; bystanders know the contrary, and pity them, and if they have any humanity will endeavour to relieve them. Just so should Christians act with regard to the Gentile world. We know how wretched a state the heathen world was in at the time of the promulgation of the gospel. And what reason have we to think that, at this present time, it can fare better with any people who have not amongst them the gospel of Christ to free them from these evils? Has not the common enemy of mankind, now as formerly, the same frailties and corruptions of fallen man to work upon? Or has he, since the mischief he did to our first parents, abated anything of his inveterate hatred to our race? (Bishop of St. David’s, 1736.)
Repentance unto life
1. A blessing granted; repentance unto life; so called, to distinguish it from legal repentance, and the sorrow that is unto death. This true repentance is unto life; for, by God’s appointment, it must go before eternal life; and whoso have it shall be sure of that.
2. The parties to whom it was granted; “the Gentiles,” those who were once without hope and without God in the world.
3. The author of it, “God.” It is His gift, as well as faith is. He works it in the heart. The doctrine of the text is, “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience;” Note--
I. The kinds of repentance.
1. Legal, such as was in Judas, and is not saving (Matthew 27:3), being produced by law terrors, without gospel grace changing the heart.
2. Evangelical, which is that in the text, and is the only true and saving repentance. The general difference betwixt them lies here, that in this last, one repents of his sin as it is sin, or offensive to God, as David did (Psalms 51:4); in the other, only as it brings wrath on him (Genesis 4:13).
II. Its general nature. It is a saving grace (2Ti 3:25), disposing the soul unto all the acts of turning from sin unto God.
1. It is not a transient action, a sigh for sin, a pang of sorrow for it, which goes away again; but an abiding grace, a new frame and disposition, fixed in the heart, disposing one to turn from sin to God on all occasions (Zechariah 12:10).
2. Nor yet a passing work of the first days of one’s religion, but a grace in the heart, setting one to an answerable working all their days.
3. It is a saving grace, distinguishing one from a hypocrite, and having a necessary connection with eternal life.
III. Its author.
1. Not men themselves; it is not owing to one’s natural powers (Jeremiah 22:23). The stony heart is beyond man’s power to remove.
2. It is God’s free gift, and wrought by the power of His Spirit in the heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:18-19). Sometimes notorious sinners become penitents, as Manasseh, Paul, etc. The knottiest timber is as easy for the Spirit to work as any other. The means the Spirit makes use of is the Word; hence we read of preaching repentance. And
(1) The law serves to break the hard heart (Jeremiah 23:29). It is like the Baptist preparing the way for the Messiah’s coming. Hence it is called “the Spirit of bondage” (Romans 8:15).
(2) The gospel serves to melt the hard heart, like a fire (Jeremiah 23:29); and so bow and bend it toward God. The soul is driven by the law, but drawn by the gospel.
IV. Its springs.
1. A true sense of sin.
(1) A sight of it (Psalms 51:3). The man’s eyes are opened to his sinfulness; the evil of his sin, its misery and danger to himself, and the dishonour it does to God.
(2) A painful feeling of it (Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30). This is necessary, because otherwise the sinner will never part with his sin, nor prize Christ and His grace (Revelation 3:17).
2. An apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ (Joel 2:12-13). Not mercy for mercy’s sake, bug Christ’s sake. This is necessary. For without it, one will either--
(1) Go on in secret despair, casting off the thoughts of his case, and making the best of it he can (Jeremiah 2:25); or
(2) Lie down in tormenting despair, like Judas. Both which will fix sin in the heart, and bar out repentance.
V. Its parts.
1. Humiliation. The sinner goes from God by the highway of pride and self-conceit, but always comes back the low way of humiliation. Grace pulls him down from the seat of the scorner, and lays him at the Lord’s feet (1 Peter 5:6). In it there is--
(1) Sorrow for sin;
(2) A holy shame for sin (Romans 6:21). They see now their spiritual nakedness and pollution.
(3) Self-loathing (Ezekiel 36:31; Luke 18:13).
(4) Penitent confession (Jeremiah 3:13), accusing and condemning themselves.
2. Conversion, or returning--
(1) From sin,
(2) To God and holiness. (T. Boston, D. D.)
Apostolic and modern missions compared
The passage I have chosen as the subject of our present inquiry informs us of the impressions produced on the minds of the Jewish converts at Jerusalem by St. Peter’s relation of the circumstances and success of his first mission to the Gentiles. The passage implies the previous operation of prejudice; it records the confutation of that prejudice; and it illustrates the argument in support of missions which arises from their success.
I. The passage implies the previous operation of prejudice--a prejudice against missions to the Gentiles. “They held their peace.” Then they had before opposed them. Was there anything in the character and genius of the gospel that could warrant the indulgence of this prejudice? No. How can we account for their prejudices against missions? They can be ascribed to their strong nationality, their religious distinction, and their material views of the Messiah’s reign. The old Jewish spirit was specially exclusive.
II. The passage records the confutation of their prejudices. “When they heard these things, they held their peace.” Their prejudices were refuted and their objections silenced by the facts which the apostle reported.
III. The passage illustrates the argument for the support of missions arising from their success. Success, abstractedly considered, is not the invariable criterion of a Divine religion, or the unequivocal proof of truth. The success of the false prophet of Mecca and of the Jesuits in China, on account of the way in which that success was won, proves nothing as to the value of their mission. But the success of the gospel does. It is a success against the passions, prejudices, and habits of mankind, won by moral means, and moral means alone.
(1) The success explains and vindicates the object of missions.
(2) The success supports and confirms our expectations.
(3) The success demands increased exertions. (J. Fletcher, D. D.)
Repentance to life granted to the Gentiles
The wise man hath said, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame to him.” Without waiting for the reasons of the apostle’s conduct, his Jewish brethren had contended with him. They listened to his explanation, and their reproaches are converted into praise. Upright minds may err in opinion and feeling, but they are accessible to evidence. They deny not themselves the pleasure and advantage of fresh discoveries in the path of truth, because they cannot endure the proof of their own fallibility.
I. Its nature.
1. In general. Repentance is distinguished by infallible signs. Not only does it awaken fear, by considerations of consequences, but hatred, by a perception of its intrinsic malignity. Such a repentance never fails to produce meet fruits. The subject of it abandons the sins he mourns, and enters on a new and holy course. Such was David’s repentance, but not Herod’s or Judas’s.
2. This repentance is unto life. The life with which it is connected is of the highest order; not animal life, alike the gift of worms and man; not mere intellectual life, by which man bears resemblance to angels, whether holy or fallen; but spiritual life, consisting in a right bias and employment of natural powers; its business, the service--its bliss, the enjoyment of God. True repentance originates in a principle of this life, implanted by the Holy Spirit, introduces into a course of it on earth, and issues in the eternal perfection of it in heaven.
II. Its Author and Giver. So hardening is the deceitfulness of sin, that repentance to life would never have become the inmate of the human bosom, but as a gift from God.
I. Who, except the merciful Author of our being, grants space and opportunity to repent? Why was not the persecuting Saul cut down in his sins? The prolongation of existence is the continuance of opportunity to return to God. He is “long suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The long suffering of God waited on the people of the old world. They disregarded, and they perished. Let their example be our warning.
2. He who grants the opportunity also bestows the means. Are some awakened by the preaching of the gospel? It is His appointment. Are others affected under the reading of the Word? All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. Is a third aroused by afflictions? They are the chastisements of their heavenly Father’s hand. If, in a further instance, the counsel and prayers and holy example of friends have been instrumental, whose gift are they? And, if in any cases the effect has been the result of a concurrence in these various kinds of subordinate agency, from whom do they all descend?
3. The best adapted means, however, will be unavailing unless the Father of lights bestow the Spirit of repentance. Jesus is exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, that He may give repentance. Shall the necessity of this heavenly gift be pleaded to excuse a neglect of the means of repentance? Nothing can excuse it. Penitence is God’s command as well as His gift; and the Spirit which produces it is promised to him who seeks.
III. Its effects on Christian beholders. The joy here was--
1. Benevolent. The good man knows the way of transgressors to be hard. He thinks of the tremendous end that awaits them; of the felicities in which penitence results.
2. Devout joy. He beholds in the repentance of a sinner a glorious triumph of almighty power over the might and artifice of Satan, and the ignorance, pride, and obstinacy of the human mind; of Divine mercy over its awful demerit. He contemplates an immortal mind debased and polluted by subjection to sin, emerging from its degradation, and resuming its primitive beauty. And thus it is an exultation like that of the angels of God. Such a blessing granted to an individual may well kindle joyful admiration of Divine goodness and power, but extended to many the effect should be proportionably augmented. If the bestowment of this blessing on others be a just ground of exultation, what pleasure and gratitude should it awaken when conferred on ourselves? Of a blessing, so preeminently important, can any regard themselves as destitute, and abide in tranquillity? (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
Now they which were scattered abroad … travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch.
Christianity at Antioch
I. Its entrance into antioch. Here (Acts 11:19) we discover--
1. Evil overruled for good. The very efforts to crush the gospel gave it new vigour and a wider sweep. Thus it has ever been.
2. The invincibility of Christian courage. The fugitives did not flee from the cause they had espoused, nor relax their efforts to advance it. While true courage does not consist in callous indifference to danger, it demands at all risks eternal fealty to principle and duty.
3. The legitimacy of lay preaching. It is significant that the planting of Christianity here, and in numerous instances since, has been the work of private men holding no ecclesiastical office whatever: which shows--
(1) That it is the duty of everyone who knows the gospel to proclaim it.
(2) That those who would restrict preaching to the professionally ordained are opposed to the best interests of man and to the genius of the New Testament.
4. The universality of the gospel. It is a system as suited to the Greek as to the Hebrew mind, and equally essential to the highest interests of both.
II. Its achievements at Antioch, which--
1. Involved a Divine change in the characters of many (Acts 11:21). Observe--
(1) The Divine power which attended their ministry.
(2) The faith which their ministry generated.
(3)The revolution which their faith effected.
2. Attracted the attention of the mother Church (Acts 11:22). This was natural. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The Church at Antioch
Persecution was the first means of propagating the gospel. Blow on the candle, and you extinguish the flame; blow on the fire in the grate, and you increase it. The reason is in the hold the fire has upon the combustible substance. If the hold is slight, blowing will put it out; if deep, will intensify it. Christ came to send fire on the earth; the fire ate its way down to the very depths of the disciples’ spirits. Saul “breathed out threatenings,” etc.; but the breathing only fanned the fire. Observe that this Church--
I. Was established by lay agency. These men were not commissioned by any ecclesiastical authority to preach. They did it instinctively. The flowers do not require to be told to blossom; let the sun but shine, and they do it without being told. Birds do not need an almanack to remind them that May is come, and that the season for outdoor concerts has arrived. And as soon as a man has knowledge of the Saviour, he feels an impulse to tell others of Him. Some Churches object to what they call irregular teachers. They forget that there are two ordinations. Sometimes the human and the Divine meet in the same person; sometimes they diverge. If you can get the two, well; if not, give me the Divine, let who will have the human. The hand of an apostle had not been laid on the heads of these disciples. But what of that? “The hand of the Lord was with them.” If that “hand” is with a man, surely the bishop’s is not vitally essential.
II. Was established among the Gentiles.
1. It was the first Gentile Church. Verse 19 tells us that they “preached the Word to Jews only.” But the following verse tells us that the natives of Cyprus and Cyrene preached to the “Greeks” also. The text, therefore, marks a new epoch in the history of the kingdom of God. Christ had plainly intimated the admission of the Gentiles into the fold. But the disciples understood Him not, and for years confined their labours to “Jews only.” And when Peter ventured to preach to Cornelius, he was put on his defence. We are prone to look upon the primitive Church as our pattern; but the infant Church cannot be a pattern to the Church in its maturity. Shame upon us if modern Churches are not much better than primitive! How narrow and bigoted was the Church of Jerusalem! How contentious and immoral the Church of Corinth! But life proved too much for prejudice; whilst they of the circumcision were contending the Church was instinctively extending its frontiers--it claimed the Gentiles also as its inheritance.
2. Three stages are traceable in the growth of this idea.
(1) From the establishment of the Church in the wilderness down to the Babylonish captivity, it was strictly Jewish. Not but that there was provision made in the law for the stranger and the alien; but the system was more tolerant than the men, and born Jews only were allowed to participate in its manifold privileges.
(2) But during the Captivity, Jews and Gentiles were brought into frequent contact, and better knowledge led to kindlier feelings. The Jews, therefore, on their return, attached to their temple a court of the Gentiles. Such a thought never entered the mind of Solomon or of his architects. Henceforth they displayed a missionary spirit, and compassed sea and land to make one proselyte. True, they did not pull down the wall; but they did put a few gates in it through which the Gentiles might be admitted. But mark--they were not received as Gentiles, but as Gentiles circumcised.
(3) The third stage is that indicated in this chapter. The wall is being pulled down, and Greeks may become Christians without first becoming Jews. The Jewish Church was like the chrysalis containing life in an undeveloped state; the Christian Church is the chrysalis emerging in the winged butterfly. In Judaism the Word of the Lord was standing; in Christianity it is flying. “And I saw an angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel.”
III. Was flourishing in grace.
1. When the Church at Jerusalem heard of the great things that had taken place at Antioch, “they sent forth Barnabas” mainly for his natural fitness (Acts 11:24). “Good” signifies more than mere moral worth; it means that he was a kind, genial, loving man. Many men--good, morally speaking--are stem and hard. But Barnabas was a man of a very gracious disposition--a very attractive man. A rash, haughty, domineering man, coming down upon a Church to which he was a stranger, would do more harm than good. But Barnabas--a son of sweetness and light--would disarm opposition, and secure confidence.
2. No sooner did he arrive in Antioch than “he saw there the grace of God.” If you have true religion in the heart, it is superfluous to declare it. If it is in the heart, it will be seen in the life. An ancient poet tells the painters of Greece, in a period of great art decadence, to write under their pictures the names of the animals they portrayed, implying that without the name it would be impossible to tell one animal from another--a very bitter satire upon the painters. And some men’s religion is such that you would never suspect it unless they carried about them the label; they do not shine before men, that their good works may be seen, etc. But the moment Barnabas’s eye caught the canvas, he could tell the picture. Nay, so decided was the likeness between them and Christ that the public recognised it, and there “the disciples were first called Christians.”
3. “He exhorted the people that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” Barnabas is by interpretation the “son of consolation” or exhortation. From this word we can partly judge of the character of his preaching; his exhortation brimming over with comfort, full of cheer and encouragement. His preaching was fine and stimulating rather than deep and convincing. He had the good sense to know this, and therefore hastened to Tarsus to fetch Saul. Barnabas would be worthy of grateful remembrance were it only for this one act. Barnabas exhorted the people; but when Saul came to his help, the “exhorting” became “teaching”; deeper thoughtfulness characterised the ministry. The people were before growing in grace--they are now growing in knowledge. Man has both a heart and a head. And every true minister, if he cannot accomplish the two-fold work himself, will, like Barnabas, seek another to help him. The dahlia is a gorgeous flower, but it has no fragrance. The perfection of a flower consists in exquisiteness of colour combined with deliciousness of fragrance. And the perfection of Christians consists in the combination of grace and knowledge. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
Success of preaching Christ
I. The import of preaching Christ.
1. The season in which these words were spoken.
2. The persons addressed--Jews only.
3. The impediments in the way--prejudice, ignorance, unbelief.
4. The topics announced.
(1) The harmony between Christ and the Old Testament representations of Him.
(2) The certainty of His resurrection and ascension into heaven.
(3) The design of the whole in its adaptation to them as sinners.
II. What was connected with this preaching.
1. The Divine authority and approbation.
2. Divine aid and support.
3. Power attending their ministry.
III. The effects produced. “Many believed and turned to the Lord.”
1. “They believed.”
(1) They credited the facts relative to Christ.
(2) They entered into the spirit of the whole design.
2. “They turned unto the Lord.”
(1) Renounced Jewish prejudices and ceremonies.
(2) They renounced justification by the law.
(3) Became holy in their lives, and manifested the fruits of the Spirit.
1. God acts mysteriously in accomplishing His important designs.
2. God never wants means to fulfil His gracious intentions.
3. All instruments and means, though weak in themselves, are mighty through Divine power. (W. Kent.)
The first preaching at Antioch
1. It needed a vision to impel Peter to preach to Cornelius, but here some Cypriote and African Jews, with no vision, command, nor precedent, with nothing but the truth in their minds and Christ’s love in their hearts, unconsciously do the thing about the propriety of which there had been such serious question in Jerusalem.
2. Verse 19 is a repetition of words in an earlier chapter. The writer returns to take up another thread of his narrative contemporaneous with those already pursued. Three distinct lines of expansion appear to have started from the dispersion of the Jerusalem Church--Philip’s mission to Samaria, Peter’s to Cornelius, and this work in Antioch.
3. This, the effort of a handful of unnamed men, was the true “leader”--the shoot that grew. Philip’s work, and Peter’s, were side branches, which came to little; this led on to a Church at Antioch, and so to Paul’s missionary work, and all that came of that. Notice--
I. The spontaneous impulse which these men obeyed. Wherever they went they took their faith with them, and, as a matter of course, spoke about it. The coals were scattered from the hearth, but that did not put the fire out, but only spread it. They had no special injunction “to preach the Lord Jesus.” They believed, and therefore spoke. Such a spontaneous impulse is ever the natural result of--
1. A personal possession of Christ. In regard to worldly good the instinct is to keep the treasure. But even in the natural sphere there are possessions which to have is to long to impart, such as truth and knowledge. And in the spiritual sphere this is emphatically the case. The old prophet spoke a universal truth when he said: “Thy word was as a fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” Deep conviction and strong emotion demand expression. True, sometimes the deepest love can only “love and be silent,” and there is a just suspicion of vehement protestations. But for all that, it remains true that a heart warmed with the love of Christ will give it forth, as certainly as light must radiate from its centre, or heat from a fire.
2. True kindliness of heart. We cannot truly possess the treasure for ourselves without pity for those who have it not. What kind of Christians must they be who think of Christ as “a Saviour for me,” and take no care to set Him forth as “a Saviour for you”? What should we think of men in a shipwreck who were content to get into the lifeboat, and let everybody else drown? What should we think of people in a famine feasting sumptuously on their private stores?
3. Loyalty to Christ. If we are true to our Lord, we shall feel that we cannot but speak up and out for Him. He who lives among rebels and is afraid to show his colours is already a coward, and is on the way to be a traitor. Our Master has placed in our hands the honour of His name, and the carrying out of the purposes on which His heart is set. How can we be loyal to Him if we are not constrained to respond to His trust in us, and if we know nothing of the “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!”
II. The universal obligation on all Christians to make known Christ.
1. In these early days the Church had a very loose organisation. But these fugitives had among them none even of the humble office bearers of primitive times. Neither had they any commission from Jerusalem. Whatever functions may be committed to Church officers the work of telling Christ’s love to men belongs to everyone who has found it for himself or herself. “This honour have all the saints.”
2. Whatever may be our differences as to Church order and offices, they need not interfere with our firm grasp of this truth. “Preaching Christ” implies no special method of proclaiming the glad tidings. A letter to a friend, a sentence in casual conversation, a lesson to a child on a mother’s lap, or any other way by which the great story of the Cross is told, is as truly preaching Christ as the set discourse which has usurped the name.
3. We profess to believe in the priesthood of all believers, in opposition to sacerdotal assumptions. Are we as ready to recognise it as laying a very real responsibility upon us, and involving a very practical inference as to our own conduct? Every Christian is solemnly bound to take heed to this: “Freely ye have received, freely give.”
III. The simple message which they proclaimed.
1. “Preaching Jesus as Lord.” Their message was a proclamation of the person and dignity of their Master, the story of the life of the Man, of the Divine sacrifice by which He had bought the right of supreme rule over every heart; and the urging of His claims on all who heard of His love. And this, their message, was but the proclamation of their own personal experience. They had found Jesus for themselves to be lover and Lord, and the joy they had received they sought to share with these Greeks. All have not the gifts which would fit for public speech, but all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious can tell somehow how gracious He is. The first Christian sermon was very short, and it was very efficacious, for it “brought to Jesus” the whole congregation. “He first findeth his brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias.” Surely we can all say that, and shall long to say it, if we are glad that we have found Him, and if we love our brother.
2. Notice, too, how simple the form of the message. “They spake.” It was no set address, but familiar, natural talk to ones and twos, as opportunity offered. What we want is that Christian people should speak anyhow. What does the shape of the cup matter? What does it matter whether it be gold or clay? The main thing is that it shall bear the water of life to some thirsty lip. All Christians have to do is to tell the good news--
(1) Simply and faithfully, as one who only cares to repeat what he has had given to him.
(2) Confidently, as having proved it true.
(3) Beseechingly, as loving the souls to whom they bring it. Let His mighty salvation, experienced by yourselves, be the substance of your message, and let the form of it be guided by the old words, “It shall be, when the Spirit of the Lord is come upon thee, that thou shalt do as occasion shall serve thee.”
IV. The mighty Helper who prospered their work. “The hand of the Lord was with them.” However feeble our hands, that mighty hand is laid on them to direct their movements and to lend strength to their weakness. It is not our speech, but His presence with our words by which a great number shall believe and turn to the Lord.
(1) There is our encouragement when we are despondent. There is our rebuke when we are self-confident.
(2) There is our stimulus when we are indolent.
(3) There is our quietness when we are impatient.
(4) If ever we are tempted to think our task heavy, let us not forget that He who set it helps us to do it. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Wearied of manifold errors and corruptions, we listen gladly when we hear of this. But, alas! those who are most ready to adopt the name are the most ready to abuse it. They boldly set out in search of it, but they lose their way in the Dark Ages, and never emerge into the Scriptural light that shines beyond. Three things appear at this point.
I. The ministry of men. These evangelists kept back their own names, but put forward their Lord’s; their only record is the multitude they brought to the Saviour. Persecution was the blast which spread the living seed. Being themselves Jews they preached at first to Jews only. The first opening into the wider world was made by Peter, but being made the crevasse widened rapidly. The theme of these evangelists was “the Lord Jesus.” Doctrines cannot arrest and control men: they are like spirits not embodied: they elude us. But when the soul of doctrine is embodied in a person we can apprehend it, and when that Person is Jesus faith looks and lives. Primitive preaching is to tell the story of Jesus until hearts of stone give way and flow down like water.
II. The hand of the Lord. The instrument human, the power Divine (1 Corinthians 3:9), just as in the cultivation of fields. Man breaks up the ground, watches, weeds, drains. The God of nature does nothing which man can do for himself. He gives rain, sun, and air. So in the cultivation of souls, as here, after man has done all he must wait for the hand of the Lord to give the increase.
III. The fruit that followed. “Believing” and “turning to the Lord” stand in interesting relation to each other--the one the root, the other the fruit. The root of a tree lies out of sight, but the fruit can be both seen and tasted, and by it we know the tree. To believe is the secret act of the soul; to turn, etc., is the visible course of the disciple’s life. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
I. Extension. Verse 19 is a condensation of Acts 11:1-18.
1. To the amazement of the early Christians the Word took effect upon others besides Jews. In this way the gospel became quite as much a revelation to Jews as to Gentiles. They saw that Christianity was not a local lamp, but a sun, and as its glory brightened the distant hills and made the far-off valleys sing with new joy, they were glad; they felt themselves invested with a new responsibility, and stirred with a new hope. Some such passions should fill our hearts when we see far-off men touched by the power of Christ. Herein is a proof of the Divine origin of Christianity. All other religions remain at home. Christianity is an aggressive religion. If its professors are non-militant they give the lie to their own faith. In the universality of the Christian offer I see its Godhood. Luxuries are only here and there, but necessaries are everywhere. Wines do not grow everywhere. But men need water, not wine. Some of God’s gifts are local and individual, but whatever is necessary to salvation is to be spoken in every language of earth.
2. There are two typical instances in the narrative. Christianity touched the mind of the centurion. Let him represent Roman strength, sternness, law, dignity. Christianity touched the Grecian mind. Let that stand for refinement, elegance, philosophy, for the completing line of human thought and service. Christianity becomes Roman to the Roman, Grecian to the Grecian--a great rock to the rocky man, a rainbow to the dreaming genius, a summer light to the poet’s fancy. No other religion does this.
II. Recognition. What was the effect of the news upon the Church? At once they sent Barnabas to inquire.
1. When he came he saw the grace of God. There is no mistaking it. It is like nothing else. Imitations perish under scrutiny, but the real grace of God grows upon examination. He did not find a number of technical theologians, skilful disputants. He found men praying, with eager minds, with forgiving souls, more on high than below.
2. When Barnabas saw this he was glad. Is the farmer glad when he sees corn growing upon land on which it never grew before? It is so the Christian feels when he sees strange men turning to the faith. Are we glad when we see men converted? Do newly-converted men find a warm, cordial, comforting atmosphere in the Church when they come in?
3. Having made this recognition, Barnabas said, “Now with full purpose of heart you must cleave unto the Lord!” Exhortation will do more than suspicion. A word of encouragement is what young beginners in the Christian race require. You who gave your heart to Christ a week ago or a month since--persevere.
4. Why did Barnabas take so much interest in these new converts? Because “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.” Good men see goodness in other men. Evil be to him who evil thinks. The good man comes to be made glad. With a charitable spirit, and benign and hopeful heart, he looks upon the work, and it must be very bad if he does not see in it something to quicken his own faith, and deepen his own grace, and heighten his own love to God.
5. What was the consequence? “Much people was added unto the Lord.” Barnabas did not go to Antioch for nothing--the work grew upon him, and now he said, “Saul must come.” So he brought him to the Syrian capital, and there for a whole year they taught much people. Thus are spheres found for men, and thus have men sometimes to tarry at Tarsus till their proper Antioch is found. But God will find it.
III. Proof (Acts 11:27-30). Were the men at Antioch really converted? Read in Acts 11:29 the proof. These men have received the Lord Jesus; and instantly on hearing that men who are partakers of the same faith are in prospect of want, they send to such men under the name of “brethren,” according to their ability. This is how Christianity works. Here is the communism of the Church. The formal communism of chap. 2. soon broke down, but the spiritual communism must continue forever. Wherever there is Christian need, Christian brotherhood must be acknowledged. The Cross broke down the middle wall of partition, and made the human family one. Conclusion: “And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” This name stands above all other names today. Of no man is so much expected as the Christian. The man who despises your faith expects from you on its account what he expects from no other man. So he answers himself. After having traduced your Lord, and disproved your documents, and cast scorn on your theology, if you do anything that calls down his displeasure he is the first to accuse of treason to the faith you profess. I ask for no higher intellectual and moral recognition of the purity of the religion of Jesus Christ. From no atheist is so much expected as from the weakest Christian. By Christians I understand Christ-ones, and were we what we ought to be there should be no other designation. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The spread of the gospel
Here we trace a series of providences--
I. In the instrumentalities. As the gospel was to be first preached to the Jews, it was fitting that Jews should be the first to proclaim it. Between that people, however, and all other nations, there existed formidable barriers. When, therefore, the time was come for them to be broken down, some medium must be found less hampered than the Jews by prejudice, and at the same time so far Jewish as to have received from the Jews the gospel. Such a medium was afforded here (Acts 2:19) by Greeks who had become Jewish proselytes. Belonging to a class “who sometime were afar off,” to whom should they turn so naturally as to their kindred, the Greeks? As, when the fulness of time was come for Christ to be born, God had prepared Gentile watchers to be looking for His star, so when the gospel was ready for the world the same Providence had prearranged that messengers fitted for the work should be ready to be to it as wings to bear it on its worldwide flight. It is ever thus. He who has prepared the gospel for the race, prepares means for its extension. In this God has often been in advance of His Church. When she has faltered He has opened ways into regions beyond, where His preordained messengers might plant Christian standards.
II. The place. Antioch was a centre of commanding influence. If the new religion could be planted in this queen of Gentile cities, with her wealth, her culture, her sources of widespread influence, her teeming thousands, then the followers of Christ would stand on vantage ground unequalled. And this was substantially accomplished. Antioch became a Christian city. In the time of Theodosius it is alleged that one half of her population were professed followers of Christ. Between the years 252 and 380 A.D., ten Christian assemblies were here convened. Here Paul exercised his first systematic ministerial work, and from this point he started on all his missionary journeys. Here Chrysostom was born, and here Ignatius wielded his mighty power for the Christian faith. Thus, this city, where the first Gentile Church was gathered, exerted for centuries a controlling influence in spreading the new religion. From this let us, who are now entrusted with the gospel, learn--
1. To be bold. Christ calls for no timorous messengers. Christianity is in this world to conquer, and it will.
2. To plant the gospel in centres of influence. There were other cities than Antioch, but none of so extended and controlling influence.
III. Is shaping the immediate results.
1. The name by which, for all ages, the followers of Christ are to be known (Acts 2:26). To the formation of this word each of the three leading nations of earth made a contribution. The thought is Jewish, denoting “The Anointed One”; the root, Χριστ, is Greek; the termination, ιανοὶ, is Latin. Thus, in the providence of God, the same three nations whose differing dialects proclaimed above the Cross, “Jesus, the King of the Jews,” now unite in forming a word which for all time shall be applied to those who follow Christ.
2. The breaking down of jealousies between Jewish and Gentile converts, as seen in
(1) The mission of Barnabas.
(2) The generosity evoked by the prophecy of Agabus. (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
The spread of the gospel
I. Believing in Christ’s name. In this story three forces are to be noted.
1. Persecution (Acts 2:19). The devil made nothing when he stirred this up. The blood of the martyred Stephen was the seed of many Churches.
2. Conservatism. “Speaking the Word to none save only to Jews.” Conscientiously seeking “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Unlike Peter, they had had no vision. They were acting under the impulse of hereditary bigotry and natural affiliations.
3. Progression. “Some of them … spake unto the Greeks also.” Notice--
(1) That it was only “some of them.” When an old bondage is to be thrown off, emancipation comes to individuals before it comes to the many.
(2) That it was not native Jews. Men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who had associated with Greeks as well as with Jews, it was as easy for them to speak to the one as to the other, and, not blinded by Jewish prejudice, they could see their equal right to the benefit of the sacrifice upon Calvary.
(3) That they were unknown men. In the time of Chrysostom about 100,000 were reputed to be Christian--here truly a great result from the efforts of a few obscure men.
(4) That their work was a simple one. They held up Jesus as Saviour and Lord--that which any other earnest disciple of Christ can do, and must do if the world is to be evangelised.
(5) That their work was immediately attested. “The hand of the Lord was with them.”
II. Known by Christ’s name. Let us see how this came about.
1. The work reported (Acts 2:22).
2. The work approved.
(1) The sending. The case of Cornelius had prepared the Church at Jerusalem for such tidings. Perhaps they were afraid that the workers might do some things ill-advised, but they showed their sympathy with the work by sending such a man as Barnabas.
(2) The rejoicing. The joy of Barnabas was the best sort of approval. Barnabas knew the Lord’s handiwork when he saw it.
(3) The exhortation. Barnabas believed in the perseverance of the saints--not in putting the hand to the plough, and then looking back. God wants no ninety-day recruits in His service. His enlistment roll is for life. Note, that continued fidelity to Him comes from “purpose of heart,” rather than purpose of the will or conviction of the head.
(4) The man. “For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith.” This statement is given as the reason why Barnabas so instantly showed his sympathy with the work among the Gentiles.
3. The work assisted.
(1) By the countenance that Barnabas gave to it. “And much people was added to the Lord.” As a representative of the Church at Jerusalem his approval would give the work a new impetus, as being done under the sanction of the Church. To this was added the force of his own personality, made potential by his goodness and possession of faith and the Holy Spirit.
(2) By the united efforts of Barnabas and Saul. The work too great for one. The glory of much of Paul’s career is due to the man who believed in Paul, and gave to him his opportunity. Many a man who is no Paul himself may set a Paul to work. The revival, as such, appears to have been over, and they devoted themselves to instructing these converts in the new faith they had professed.
4. The new name. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
III. Helping believers is Christ’s name (Acts 2:27-30). The starving Jewish believers at Jerusalem learned how good it was to have brethren not of the direct seed of Abraham. The Gentiles and Jews indeed had become “one flock, one Shepherd.” (M. C. Hazard.)
The diffusive Tower of the gospel
As there is in all living objects a reproductive capacity, so the gospel has in it a certain vitality which ensures its diffusion. Our Lord illustrates this in His parables of the wheat and the mustard seed. The incident of the text is a singular illustration of this wonderful potency. Note, here--
I. The stimulating power of the gospel.
1. These men of Cyprus and Cyrene continued without the least abatement of zeal to preach the gospel whilst in the very act of fleeing for their life. The storm of persecution seemed rather to fan the flame of their holy enthusiasm.
2. This enthusiasm is the Christian’s normal condition. The religion of Jesus is a religion of love and gratitude, and where these emotions abound they never fail to kindle enthusiasm. In the face of this, an apathetic, unimpassioned Christian is an anomaly as incongruous in conception as a frozen sunbeam or a petrified flame. The sun floats in an atmosphere of flame, which is the source of its marvellous influence over scores of worlds, of its power to quicken their myriad forms of life. The true Christian is a moral sun surrounded by an atmosphere of enthusiasm.
3. This enthusiasm, born of love and gratitude, constitutes the gospel’s most effective guarantee for its diffusion. For in nothing is this enthusiasm more assiduously manifested than in efforts to spread the story of the love which kindled it.
4. This enthusiasm the gospel is ever capable of awakening. So long as its power of benefiting men remains, so long will its power of awakening gratitude remain, and where this gratitude exists there will be enthusiasm ever impelling men to self-sacrificing labours for Christ.
5. This spirit should, however, be manifested not in the ministry alone, nor in the more official walks of Christian service, but should permeate equally all its humbler forms. Wherever present it illumines the most commonplace things, and invests the humblest service of God’s house with sublime dignity.
II. Its assimilative power--its power of raising men’s minds into loving unison with its own spirit and aim. This comes out in relation to these men in the fact that they preached the gospel to the Greeks--uncircumcised heathen.
1. It was a course of action for which they had no precedent, and was opposed to all their previous notions. Such views came even to apostles only as the result of extraordinary training. Could it come to them otherwise than by the broadening and heart-expanding influence of the gospel itself? They rightly apprehended that a scheme so rich in grace and wisdom must comprehend all nations. As with the ancient Jews, so is it with many modern Christians. There is a tendency to regard the grace of God as the special monopoly of a sect. Such feeling will cramp every effort to extend its operations. The gospel must be viewed as a thing destined for humanity, and it is only in the measure that Christians rise to this conception that their hearts will receive that breadth which will bring them into sympathy with every institution having for its object the realisation of its world-embracing aims.
2. But this new departure involved considerably more than the breaking away from Jewish traditions. In preaching to the Jews, the utmost that they had had to encounter were Jewish prejudices regarding the Messiah. They both believed in the Scriptures; but in presenting the gospel to the Greeks they were brought face to face with idolatry--a foe which enlisted every element likely to secure the sympathy of corrupt human nature. They had also to confront philosophies commended by the highest culture. Before these men could have ventured to initiate such a stupendous campaign, they must have had the most unfaltering conviction that the gospel was fully adequate to grapple with every form of opposition that the heathen world could furnish. Have we not in the firm, unwavering faith of these men in the gospel a most fitting lesson for the times? There are still to be encountered prejudices as strong as Jewish intolerance, abominations as foul as ever characterised ancient heathendom, assumptions of science and philosophy far more daring and arrogant than those of apostolic times. Like these men, we must not only believe that the gospel is for all men, but, also, that it is a power capable of overcoming every opposition standing in the way of it reaching all men.
III. Its utilising power. These persons were not recognised preachers, but men constrained to engage in the work by force of circumstances. Had they been persons of official standing their names would have been given. Philip, who was a deacon, is mentioned by name when his evangelistic labours are referred to. The lessons are--
1. That efforts to promote the spread of the gospel are not to be confined to those formally set apart. Offices are necessary. Christ has ordained them. This was essential to ensure order and steady systematic labour. Unofficial labour is subject to ebbs and flows, and hence the need of a duly appointed class to ensure regular and unbroken efforts. In countries subject to long droughts extensive systems of irrigation are provided to ensure a steady supply of moisture. But the falling rain, however intermittent, is no less welcome. Similarly the irregular services of voluntary workers are peculiarly acceptable to Christ, and He has not only sanctioned but enjoined such.
2. It is a great defect that ordinary Church members have come to regard all efforts to promote the cause of Christ as an obligation resting solely upon the official portion of the Church. Consequently--
(1) They make no personal effort to promote the salvation of their fellow men, and manifest the utmost indifference with regard to Sabbath school work and the operations of kindred agencies.
(2) The effect of this notion upon the official section of the Church is no less disastrous. It becomes the prolific source of some of the worst evils of priestism. The ministry becomes isolated from the people, and is lifted up with an undue sense of its authority, and surrounds itself with an air of cool official propriety.
3. The highest ideal of a Christian Church, and the one which is most in harmony with the primitive type, is that in which both official and voluntary agencies are found skilfully blended and wisely cooperating.
(1) Those spiritual energies and aspirations awakened by the influence of the gospel in the breast of every Christian would by voluntary labours obtain a proper channel for development and usefulness. Personal piety would gain considerably in breadth and depth by being called upon to act and interest itself on behalf of souls; and officers, looking on the results, would be “glad,” and would work with redoubled ardour, and so many would be turned to the Lord.
(2) By these efforts Christianity becomes clearly recognised. “The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.”
(3) Generous sympathies are evoked (Acts 2:27-30).
(4) Gifts are multiplied. This Church abounded in prophets and teachers.
(5) Spheres of usefulness are indefinitely widened. To this Church was allotted the great honour of being made the centre of the first systematic efforts to evangelise the world. It seemed fitting that a Church, thus composed of Gentile converts, should become the principal channel for communicating the blessings of the gospel to their own brethren in the flesh (chap. 13:3). (A. J. Parry.)
How the manifold gifts of Christians contribute to the general use
1. Those who are received as guests give the gospel as a present in return (Acts 2:19-21):
2. Those who possess the Word in abundance impart it to those who are in the first beginnings (Acts 2:22-28).
3. Those who are blessed with earthly wealth assist those who have nothing (Acts 2:29-30). (Lisco.)
The essentials of successful work
1. Undaunted courage in opposition to the world (Acts 2:19).
2. Docile attention to the Divine intimations (Acts 2:22).
3. Brotherly concord among the labourers. (K. Gerok.)
Christ all in all to His Church
I. The central subject of preaching (Acts 2:20).
II. The light and power of believers (Acts 2:21; Acts 2:23).
III. The example and model of ministers (Acts 2:24-25).
IV. The name and watchword of the Church. (K. Gerok.)
The hand of the Lord.
The word “hand” occurs in Scripture no fewer than 1,295 times. Man is the only being on earth that is furnished with two hands. Some other creatures have claws, but not hands. They cannot do as you can, make the thumb meet all the four fingers, so as to seize and hold all the most minute objects; nor can they perform one thousandth part of the skilful acts that man can perform with his hand. What other creature, e.g., can make a watch, or a needle? And there is power in man’s hand as well as skill; he can apply force in ways which none of them can approach.
I. In relations to God Himself, the word “hand” is used--
1. To denote His eternal purpose and almighty power (Acts 4:28; Acts 4:30).
2. To denote His mighty power to keep, defend, preserve (John 10:28-29; Isaiah 49:2).
3. To express His rich, providential provision for the wants of all His creatures (Psalms 104:28; 1 Chronicles 29:16).
4. To signify God’s right to be, as He is, the sovereign disposer of all circumstances, persons, and events (Psalms 31:15; Job 2:10).
5. When His inflictions and corrections are referred to (Judges 2:15; Psalms 32:4; Hebrews 10:31).
6. To denote His power to help (Psalms 74:11; Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:9; Ezra 8:18; Ezra 8:22; Nehemiah 2:8; Nehemiah 2:18; Psalms 80:17; Luke 1:66). As an expression for God’s Spirit, putting the spirit of power into us, as well as of love and of a sound mind (Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 3:22; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 37:1). We can be strong for any high and arduous duty only in His strength; all power indeed, all energy of purpose, all special skill in any art, cometh of Him. And not only is this spoken of as God’s “hand” as the mover, but the term is applied to the agent--the doer of the particular thing. The men of the world are spoken of as God’s “hand”; and His hand is also to be upon all them for good who seek Him. The “right hand,” as specially denoting power, is an expression that often occurs in Scripture, and is almost always applied to God (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:7; Psalms 20:6; Psalms 21:8; Psalms 44:3; Psalms 45:4; Psalms 45:9; Psalms 48:10; Psalms 60:5; Psalms 63:8; Psalms 74:1; Psalms 48:13; Psalms 62:8; Mark 16:19; Hebrews 1:3, etc., etc.).
II. In relation to man the word “hand” is used--
1. To denote power in all its various applications (Proverbs 3:27; Ecclesiastes 9:10). To “give one’s hand” is an expression which signifies to pledge peace, promise security, swear friendship, make an alliance.
2. To denote help (Psalms 16:8; Psalms 73:23; Psalms 142:4).
3. To indicate possession, as to rend it out of the hand of anyone denotes deprivation (1 Kings 11:11-12).
4. For the giving of advice (2 Samuel 14:19; 2 Samuel 14:5).
5. For deliverance from the power and oppression of others (Exodus 18:9-10).
6. To denote work of any kind (Luke 1:1; Luke 9:62; Acts 20:34; Proverbs 10:4; Proverbs 12:24). (S. Jenner, M. A.)
A great number believed, and turned, to the Lord.--
I. The end which we desire.
1. That men may believe the testimony of Christ to be true. There are some who have not reached as far as that: they reject the inspired Word, and to them the incarnation, etc., are so many old wives’ fables. There are also many who profess to believe these things, but their only reason is that they have been taught so, and it is the current religion of the nation. But we want more than this faith of indifference, which is little more than unbelief; we want men to believe for themselves because they have felt the saving power of Christ. We pray that nominal believers may treat the doctrines of revelation, not as dogmas, but as facts.
2. That men may savingly believe by putting their trust in Christ. A man commits his soul to Christ for safe keeping, and that saves him. He makes the Saviour trustee of his spiritual estates.
3. That men may so believe in Jesus that they may be turned unto the Lord. This means--
(1) To turn from idols to the living and true God. We desire that faith in Jesus may lead you to give up the objects of your idolatrous love, yourselves, your money, your pleasures, the world, the flesh, the devil.
(2) To turn from the love of sin. He who looks sinward has his back to God--he who looks Godward has his back to sin.
(3) That henceforth God shall he sought in prayer. The man who lives without prayer lives without God, but the man who has turned to God is familiar with the mercy seat.
(4) To yield yourself obediently to His sway. Faith is nothing unless it brings with it a willing mind.
II. The power by which this can be attained. “The hand of the Lord was with them.” Be encouraged; the hand of God--
1. Is upon men before we speak. I am studying a certain subject, and praying for a blessing on it, and in a chamber, which I have never seen, one of my hearers is smitten with a sense of sin, or troubled with uneasy thoughts, or rendered hopeful of better things, and thus he is being made ready to accept the Christ whom I shall preach to him. Sickness and pain, shame and poverty, often produce a condition of mind most hopeful for the reception of the gospel. Sow, brother, for God has ploughed. Go up and build, for God has prepared the stones and made ready the foundation.
2. Upon the teachers and preachers themselves. There are strange impulses which come over us at times, which make us think and say what otherwise had never crossed our minds, and these work with power upon men’s minds.
3. Upon the hearts of men when the gospel is preached. Not only is the Spirit in the Word, but over and above that He makes men--
(1) Recollect their sins. Men who have been giddy and careless and forgetful have on a sudden found themselves reviewing the past.
(2) See the beauty of holiness. When the preacher proclaims the way of salvation the Spirit leads men to admire it and to long for a share in it. Yes, it is not the preacher, and it is not altogether what the preacher says, but there is a power abroad as potent as that by which the worlds were made.
III. The desirableness of our object. Because conversions--
1. Promote the extension of truth, godliness, and virtue.
2. Make men happy. If religion be indeed a source of joy to yourself, you are inhuman if you do not wish others to drink of it.
3. Save men from hell.
4. Increase the Church. Self-preservation is a law of nature, and the Church can never preserve herself except by increasing from the world by conversion.
5. Promote the glory of Christ and give Him to see the travail of His soul.
6. Augment personal blessedness.
IV. How we may promote its attainment.
1. We must distinctly aim at it. As a rule, a man does what he tries to do, and not that which is mere by-play. There is the target, and if you continue to shoot into the air long enough an arrow may perhaps strike it; but if you want to win the prize of archery you had better fix your eye upon the white and take your aim distinctly and with skill.
2. We must press upon men the truths which God usually blesses (Acts 11:20). If we do not preach Christ we shall not see souls saved. Who ever heard of a Unitarian Whitfield, or a Socinian Moody gathering twenty thousand people to listen to a Christless gospel? We must equally avoid the modern intellectual system in all its phases. How many conversions are wrought by displays of genius, fine rhetoric, etc.? Certain views as to man’s future are equally to be kept clear of, if you would be the means of conversion. Diminish your ideas of the wrath of God and the terrors of hell, and in that proportion you will diminish the results of your work. Other crotchets and novelties of doctrine are also to be let alone, for they are not likely to promote your object, and will most probably divert men’s attention from the vital point. If you want a harvest, look well to your seed. If I had to sow my fields with wheat I would not take any but the very best.
3. We must feel a solemn alarm about souls. Believe their danger, their helplessness, that only Christ can save them, and talk to them as if you meant it. The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you.
4. There must be much prayer. In your closets, at your family altars, and in your prayer meetings be importunate, and the hand of the Lord must and will be with you.
5. There must be direct personal effort on the part of all of you. Great numbers may be saved by my preaching if the Holy Spirit blesses it, but I shall expect larger numbers if you all turn witnesses for Christ. We must expect converts. “According to your faith so be it unto you.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Then tidings of these things came to the ears of the Church,…and they sent forth Barnabas.
A St. Barnabas the need of the hour
You know the strain and the stress of the situation recorded in my text. We are speaking of Antioch, to which Barnabas is sent. Here, then, we have a strong, central, organised Church, going its own way on somewhat new lines, with a new environment, with a new development. And yet it causes a great deal of anxiety in those who are left at home in the old places in Jerusalem. This strong, assertive child of theirs, to what will it grow, what will happen to it? The very preachers who founded it made them at Jerusalem nervous. The gospel was in them as Stephen had proclaimed it; and they knew it was for the Greeks as well as for the Jews. It was the Greeks that were flocking in, from beyond the strict borders of the old race, and it was out of this people the Church grew. Such a Church would sit light by the old traditions. It was a new capital for Christianity, with altogether Gentile associations; and habits, and customs, and interests, and environment, and style of thought, and even of language, would none of them be Jewish. How different! And it was all going on so fast! “To what lengths are they going at Antioch? Where will they stop?” And so there was a bitter problem to solve, then as at all times; and it is difficult for us to realise how deep their anxieties would go; how possibly the Twelve would be almost as anxious as any. They might share the alarm with perfect loyalty. And then they had so much to think of--those Twelve at Jerusalem. There were the angry, hot-headed Pharisees, who believed in such numbers after the Lord had risen. They came pouring into the Church; but they were half Pharisees still. Their prejudices were very strong; and they had always been in terror of these Gentile converts; and here were the people at Antioch going ahead in a way just to give these people a sort of excuse to say, “Ah, we told you what would happen if these foreigners were let in!” And naturally the apostles say, “Well, we must be tender to these Jewish converts of ours, we must consider them, they are sensitive; there may be a recoil, a schism, if we do not hold in those at Antioch.” We can measure how terrible the danger was by remembering how fierce was the storm when it did finally burst on the head of St. Paul. So severe was the crisis, so imminent the peril. And yet all was warded off; the storm that afterwards broke on St. Paul was kept clear for the moment, and it was all done by one man. One name, the most honourable and beautiful; one name that could hold things together for the time; one name that could persuade, conciliate, win confidence, and avert wrath. It is the name of a man of healing, of advocacy, of intercession, of prevailing comfort--Joses, who was called Barnabas, the Son of Consolation. Now, Barnabas held this unique position, that each side of the controversy had a claim upon him. First for Jerusalem. He is, as we know, the very model and hero of the earliest Church in Jerusalem. In those very first days of the Church, when it still lingered on the Temple steps, when the apostles were altogether dominant, even then one name is singled out as specially catching the spirit of the hour--Barnabas, the Levite, who, “having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” As if to say that in that beautiful little Church, out of the host of people who were so good, one was supremely good, and he was Barnabas. He had the very spirit of generosity and charity that marked that hour. And yet Barnabas was not himself a Jew of Jerusalem; he was not a man who had been hedged in by all the ancient barriers and customs of the Jewish life. No; he was from Cyprus; he came from the very place to which these Antioch preachers had gone. He was a Jew of the Dispersion; he had got the temper and mind of a Jew who had lived in close contact with the Gentile life; and so disposed, he had been quick to understand, accept, and trust St. Paul. He was in sympathy with the Church at Jerusalem; he was in sympathy with the freer, bolder doings of the Church at Antioch. He would know these men who were going forward with such a dash. “Let Barnabas go”--that was the end of all these consultations. It was not a hostile mission, but one sent to allay a little alarm caused by wild rumour and exaggeration. Barnabas is just the man to review, to advise, to control anything amiss, to give confidence if he approves. So it was decided--“They sent forth Barnabas.” It was a delicate mission; and we know what happened, and how well he carried it out. We read of his wisdom, his sympathy, his width, his firmness, his insight, his courage. He came, and he saw “the grace of God.” Not suspicious, jealous, no standing aloof and refusing to acknowledge it. No, he saw it--it was “grace.” Only he gave them some warnings against unsteadiness, “exhorting them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” And then he does a most bold thing. He, so far, recognises that it is grace, true and real, that works at Antioch, that he determines to forward it with all his might; and he goes to Tarsus, where Paul is still in hiding, unable to work in a Church that suspects him. So he made the stroke of strokes--brought Saul to Antioch. That was the beginning of the work of St. Paul, of his ministry to the Gentiles; and all came from Barnabas, who had the courage to hold out his hand to Saul, and give him twice over to the Church. So triumphantly did he keep the unity of the Church and avert the storm. Antioch goes on growing apace, Barnabas and Paul working hand in hand for a whole year, “assembling themselves with the Church and teaching much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” “Barnabas,” the mediator between the contrasted forces that press for mastery over the fortunes of the Church. Ah! yes, we need his name still, today as much as ever. There is always a Jerusalem and an Antioch in the story of the Church. There is always an Antioch being occupied, always some new centre of action to be taken up, some new post on the line of advance, some new venture to be made, breaking new ground. There must always be a new Antioch where the fresh forces of civilisation and culture are active--forces which the Church must go out to, and establish herself in the midst of them. They cannot be reached from the old centres. There must be some adaptation of methods to reach them. Then Jerusalem too. There is--there always ought to be--“Jerusalem” behind us--the witness to the Eternal Truth, the unchanging apostolic deposit, on which the passage of time marks no alteration; there must always be the infallible experience, which touched, which felt, and knew the Word of God--the old, firm, solid centre, whence indeed all new effort must take its rise. Jerusalem--the sacred hearth of the holy fire whence all other fires were lighted; the ancient home, dear to all who name the One Name, Jesus Christ--Jerusalem, the mother of us all. There must always be Jerusalem, and always Antioch; but the difficulty is to keep the two together. Each will be apt to misjudge and to think the worse of the other. Each will judge the other by its most perilous adherents. At Jerusalem they will hear of nothing of Antioch but what is headstrong, reckless, rash, audacious, insolent. At Antioch they will be groaning at the rigid stiffness and obstinacy, nervous timidity, narrowness, and suspiciousness of Jerusalem. So there will alway be the need of a Barnabas, ready to pass from the one to the other centre; gracious, capable, sympathetic, loyal to the backbone; yet appreciative, sensitive, inside the movement, strong yet benign. Such men save the Church at each sharp crisis in her story. We want this son of advocacy to hold us together, someone who is courageous without hardness, conciliatory without weakness, who is so strong that he can afford to be firm. We shall want him in days to come I doubt not. We remember the simple qualification that the Bible gives of St. Barnabas--“He was a man full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.” That is all we want--someone sound and healthy to the core, someone felt to be morally wholesome, to have a good heart and a good nature all through, with nothing perverted or twisted about him, a man who has proportion and balance, and all his gifts in genial exercise. That first, “full of the Holy Ghost”--that Holy Ghost who is the Spirit of advocacy, who is so strong, who is so sweet and gentle--that Holy Ghost who is the very power that binds these two opposite gifts. He is the Spirit of fire, of vehement decision, the unconquerable purging force. And yet the Spirit of the wind--the Spirit so pliable, so elastic, so sensitive, so free, so moving, so quick, so ready to pass in and out, “blowing where it listeth.” The fire and the wind, strength and gentleness--that is the power of this blessed Spirit of God. Barnabas has both gifts; and we want a Barnabas nourished by the Holy Ghost, and so lifted and transformed by the power of Him who is fire and wind, to be full of faith, to be full of loyalty to the living Christ. (H. Scott Holland, M. A.)
Barnabas at Antioch
I. What Barnabas was.
1. “He was a good man”--a man of a kind, affable, and courteous disposition. This “goodness,” which is one of the fruits of God’s Spirit, should characterise all Christians. It--
(1) Adorns the doctrine of God our Saviour.
(2) Attracts the notice of the unhappy worldling.
(3) Wins the affections of the young.
2. He was also full of the Holy Ghost. An amiable disposition does not make a Christian. There are many whom we esteem for their sweetness of character, but who, like the young man that Jesus loved, yet lack one thing--the gift of the Holy Ghost.
(1) No man can be said to be a true Christian till the Holy Spirit has shown him his guilt, and led him to the Saviour.
(2) No man can call Jesus Lord but by the Holy Ghost.
(3) The sons of God are led by, pray, walk, and live in the Spirit.
3. He was full of faith. He had the most implicit confidence in the remedy he was to apply to the souls of men.
II. What he saw. “The grace of God”--i.e., its effects. These are sometimes seen in men’s--
1. Countenances. Wisdom “maketh the face to shine.” “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance.” And what can make the heart so merry as the assurance of salvation? Stephen’s face was as “the face of an angel.” Thus, too, was it with Moses. The believer may not be conscious of this heavenly expression. Others, however, will observe it.
2. Conversation. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” A man cannot himself feel the value of the Saviour without commending His preciousness to others.
3. Conduct. A tree is known by its fruits, so are believers known by their works.
III. What he felt. He was glad because--
1. Souls were saved. A thirsty traveller would not rejoice over a dry well, nor a musician over a tuneless organ. Nor will the believer rejoice over ordinances, however well administered, unless he has evidence afforded that Christ is faithfully preached, and that good is being done to the souls of men.
2. A public profession of Christ was made. “With the heart man believeth, but with his mouth he maketh confession.” Nothing gives so much consolation and influence to a minister and his people as when they first see one and then another coming out from the world and joining themselves boldly to the Lord’s side.
3. Christ’s presence was vouchsafed. Excellent as are a pure creed, a large Church, and an attentive congregation, the faithful minister will esteem them but formal and unprofitable unless he can see resting upon his labours Christ’s presence and blessing.
IV. What he did. Barnabas knew the weakness of the flesh and the power of Satan; and hence, although he saw the grace of God, he rejoiced with trembling. He saw the tree covered indeed with blossoms, and this made him the more anxious lest any of those blossoms should be blighted. He therefore exhorted these disciples. In every age similar exhortation has been needful. There are now, as there were then, false teachers, and temptations to seduce men from Christ into the world. Suffer ye the word of exhortation.
1. Do I address any who are growing weary in well-doing?--any who are beginning to be backsliders? I have an errand, O worldly professor, to thee: “Remember Lot’s wife.” Arouse yourselves, then, and do your first works.
2. I am doubtless addressing some who do not wish to be considered as religious professors. Now you I cannot exhort “to cleave unto the Lord,” for you have never yet come to the Lord. To you I address this: “If in that day the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (C. Clayton, M. A.)
The mission of Barnabas
I. Authenticated the genuineness of Christianity at Antioch. Verses 23, 24, shows us that personal Christianity--
1. Is essentially identified with Divine grace. It--
(1) Originates in it. “Of His own will begat He us.”
(2) Is sustained by it.
(3) Is a reflection of it.
2. Is an observable fact. Barnabas saw it. It is not an inoperative sentiment, a light under a bushel. It must reveal itself.
(1) The ruling spirit of life is new. There is a new heart. Old things are passed away.
(2) The master purpose of life is new. The aim is not how to serve self or the world, but to glorify God.
(3) The prevailing conduct of life is new. Converted men are about their Father’s business.
3. In its extension delights the heart of the good. They know that as it spreads--
(1) The world’s happiness will be promoted. It is the only power that works off social, political, and moral evils.
(2) God’s character will be revealed. It clears away all that conceals the moral beauty of God.
4. In its development is dependent on personal efforts. Though it originates in Divine grace, it is only kept by cleaving to God.
II. Gave a new name to the disciples.
1. Though given in derision--
(1) It towers above every other name.
(2) Represents the highest thinking.
(3) Stands for the Divinest sympathies.
(4) Is the inspiration of the grandest enterprises.
(5) Produces the sublimest characters.
2. Is destined to supersede all other names that have usurped its place.
III. Developed a new spirit of beneficence (Acts 11:27-30). This was--
1. Individual. “Every man.” There was no one who did not contribute something.
2. Proportionate. “According to his ability”--not according to what others did or expected.
3. Prompt. They did not postpone it for future consideration.
4. Judicious (Acts 11:30). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad.
The grace of God
I. Its source.
1. God is the God of all grace (1 Peter 5:10).
2. God is the giver of (Psalms 84:11).
3. God’s throne is the throne of (Hebrews 4:16).
4. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of (Zechariah 12:10; Hebrews 10:29).
5. Christ was full of (John 1:14).
6. Came by Christ (John 1:17; Romans 5:15).
7. Given by Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4).
II. How described.
1. As great (Acts 4:33).
2. Abundant (Romans 5:20-21).
3. Rich (Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:7).
4. Exceeding (2 Corinthians 9:14).
5. Manifold (1 Peter 4:10).
6. All-sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).
7. True (1 Peter 5:12).
8. Glorious (Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 1:9).
III. Its necessity.
1. Necessary to God’s service (Hebrews 12:28).
2. Necessary that Jesus may be glorified in the saints (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
3. Necessary to prevent pride (Romans 4:4-5; Romans 11:6; Galatians 5:6; Ephesians if. 7-9).
4. Saints are what they are by (1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 1:12).
IV. Its recipients. Saints--
1. Are heirs of (1 Peter 3:7).
2. Receive from Christ (John 1:16).
3. Abound in gifts of (Acts 4:33; 2 Corinthians 8:1; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 9:14).
4. Should be established in (Hebrews 13:9).
5. Should be strong in (2 Timothy 2:1).
6. Should grow in (2 Peter 3:18).
7. Should speak with (Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6). (S. S. Times.)
The grace of God
I. What are we to understand by the grace of God?
1. His free love or favour (Ephesians 2:5), by which believers are delivered from the curse of a broken law, from wrath, from the guilt, love, and dominion of sin.
2. A Divine principle in the heart (2 Peter 3:18; Colossians 3:16).
II. How this grace may be seen.
1. In spiritual quickening (Ephesians 2:1).
2. In the work of conversion.
3. In the outward deportment (Matthew 7:17; Matthew 12:35).
4. By the company kept.
5. By the places of resort frequented (Psalms 84:1-2).
III. The effect the sight had on Barnabas.
1. He was glad--
(1) That sinners were called,
(2) That their lives were reformed.
(3) That Christ was believed on.
(4) That the gospel was received.
(5) That God was glorified thereby.
2. He exhorted them to cleave unto the Lord.
(1) Unto His Person.
(2) To His blood for pardon.
(3) His righteousness for acceptance.
(4) His fulness for supplies of grace. (S. Barnard.)
A glorious sight and a good man
1. That persecution, instead of silencing, has spread the gospel. “Tidings of these things.” What things? The persecution which had Saul for its instigator, Stephen for its martyr, and the widespread distribution of Christians for its effect.
2. That God can render any pious agency in His Church soul saving and successful. The founders of this Church at Antioch, which was destined to play a most conspicuous and commanding part in the history of the Church, do not appear to have been apostles, or regular ministers.
3. That whenever God extends His Church, the Church should add to her concernment and care. The Church at Jerusalem does not appear to have taken umbrage at what was going on at Antioch. They did not say, “This is irregular, we must interdict it; this has not had our sanction, it must receive our condemnation.” They would not pronounce a judgment until they had investigated the cause. They selected a true and trusty messenger; they sent him, as far as I can see, not as a spy, or a critic, or a censor, but as a friend, an inquirer, a counsellor. The eye of Barnabas filled his heart. He was “glad.”
I. What he saw. He saw “the grace which (is) of God” (τὴν χάριν τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ), i.e., the grace which is manifestly, unmistakably, of God. But how could he see that which in itself is invisible? The grace of God is as viewless as the wind, as impalpable as gravitation. It is a life, and it grows; a leaven, and it leavens the lump; but we might look in vain to see the growth of life, or the influence of leaven. How then did Barnabas see the grace of God? He saw it, as other invisible things are seen, by its effects. We cannot see the wind; but when the trees rustle and their leaves wave, we know that it is because the wind blows. We cannot see gravitation; but when the earth rotates, producing day and night, and revolves, producing the seasons of the year, with their characteristic varieties and attractive beauties, we see by these effects that gravitation is at work. We cannot see the tree grow; but we know from its foliage and its fruit that it must have grown. It is thus the invisible puts on visibility; and “the invisible things”--even of God Himself--“are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” Where the grace of God is, ignorance of God, both shameful and baneful, gives place to a knowledge of Him which is as wondrous as glorious. Virtue supersedes vice, holiness displaces wickedness, the liar becomes truthful, the blasphemer reverent, the cruel merciful, the selfish beneficent; in fine, God’s grace transforms the lion of violence and vice into the lamb of innocence and uprightness. Now, Barnabas saw the wondrous effects of God’s grace upon the Grecian believers at Antioch. He saw idolaters discarding their gods, and turning to the “Living God.” “Is not this the finger of God?”
II. what he felt. Great sights always produce inappreciative observers, powerful emotions. The stupendous works of God, the splendid productions of art, and the manifold inventions of genius, in this way fascinate the eye and stimulate the mind of those who study them. But for a devout mind no sight is so pleasing, and no work so glorious, as the progress and peace of God’s Church. Of what character was his gladness?
1. Sympathetic. We are sometimes glad, and sometimes sad, we know not why. Now, it was holy unction, associated with a holy gathering, and admitted by a holy sympathy, that led Barnabas, “when he saw the grace of God,” to be “glad.”
2. Intelligent. Sympathy is a distinguished power in man, but it is not a distinctive prerogative. It exists, often in a larger degree, in the “inferior creatures” around him. But if they feel, if they love, if they rejoice like him in virtue of a sympathetic nature, they are not like him endowed with the powers of reason and the appliances of ratiocination. So here, Barnabas not only felt when be saw this sight, but he thought; and whether he looked upon it with a sympathetic eye, or reflected with an intelligent mind, he saw equal cause for gladness. For what did this work imply? It implied the presence and the propitiousness of God. It implied the triumph of truth over falsehood, and of Christ’s beneficent rule over the devil’s foul usurpation. If, then, Barnabas had looked upon this spiritual phenomenon as a Christian philosopher only, he might well have been, as he was, “glad.”
3. Religious. If, however, as a social and an intellectual man, Barnabas found gladness in the contemplation of this scene, how much more as a religious man and a gospel minister? It was his religion, indeed, that gave complexion and character to the whole case. It was his goodness that gave to him his gladness. Hence Acts 11:23, declaring his gladness, is conjoined with Acts 11:24, describing his goodness. “For he was a good man,” etc.
III. What he did. Barnabas was called Paraclesis (a name similar to that given to the Holy Ghost), and, in harmony with his name, he “exhorted them” (παρεκάλει)--encouraged them, comforted them. Now, his exhortation related to three distinct objects.
1. To God. In fine, God alone is the great Guide, the Almighty Guard, the impregnable Fortress, and the everlasting Friend of His people; and to cleave unto Him is at once their duty, their safety, and their glory. Then think how suggestive this word “cleave” is. To cleave to anything is to grasp it firmly, to hold it tenaciously, and to prefer to be torn in pieces rather than to be torn from it. It is thus the ivy cleaves to the oak, the sailor hangs to the rope that is to rescue him from a furious sea and a watery grave, and thus Ruth “clave” unto Naomi. “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth clave unto her”; and the incident teaches how much more there is in cleaving than in kissing. So let young converts, and even aged saints, cleave unto or continue “to abide with the Lord”; then they will avoid every by-path.
2. To their own hearts. “With purpose of heart.” There is tremendous force in these words. Without a purpose a man in this world will never become a power--never! Abraham and Moses, Paul and Peter, Augustine and Peter the Hermit, Luther and Knox, Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, wielded great powers because they were swayed by great purposes. But of all purposes, that of the heart is this most thorough. It quails in presence of no danger. The eye may fail to see the shore from which we sail; the hand may fail to hold its grasp, or may be severed from its object; but when the eye is lost in distance, and the hand is no longer capable of grasping, the heart “clings” to a land it cannot see, and to a person or cause it cannot grasp--“clings” with infinite longing and undying love.
3. To their entire number. He exhorted them “all.” This shows--
(1) His impartiality. He did not select for special regard the rich, the learned, and the Hellenist, to the exclusion of the poor, the unlearned, and the Hebrew.
(2) His discrimination, He knew full well there were duties which were not common to all Christians. (John Stokoe.)
Apostolic generosity in encouraging goodness
The character in which St. Barnabas is here presented to us is that of a person greatly rejoicing in other men’s goodness. He was glad when he saw the grace of God in his brethren. Of his doing so, there are several other instances; indeed, almost the whole of his conduct towards St. Paul is full, from the beginning, of such generous and affectionate joy. Now, concerning this disposition to rejoice in other men’s goodness, it is much easier to see how amiable it looks in others than to practise it one’s self in good earnest. Do not men envy others, not merely for their outward advantages, but for their goodness itself; especially for those parts of goodness which they themselves have not the heart to imitate? It is an ancient story, told of a virtuous heathen, that when a loud outcry was once raised against him, and he was to be banished from his country, a person of whom he asked a reason why he gave his vote against him, replied, “I have no objection to you, but I am quite tired of hearing everyone call you the Just.” And so throughout life, there is a disposition in the unrenewed heart to grudge all those graces which go too far beyond itself; a disposition the very opposite to that which the Holy Ghost wrought in St. Barnabas by faith. He rejoiced, but these are sorry, on beholding the grace of God. It certainly must require no small faith to believe that it is better on the whole for others to do the good which you desire than for it to be done by yourself. St. Barnabas must have his heart steadily fixed on the unseen rewards prepared on high, to make him acquiesce thus joyfully in his companion, St. Paul, receiving so much more of the encouragement provided for apostolical men in this life. Such self-denial, when regularly kept up, and not only indulged now and then, out of laziness or partial affection, is one of the clearest tokens that God’s Holy Spirit is with men, preparing them for eternal glory. And it is seen in nothing so much as in making persons continually watchful, to cherish and confirm one another in every good purpose of heart; in which respect the Spirit of the gospel is most directly opposed to the evil and selfish spirit of this age. For I know not how it is, but people, under pretence of liberty of one sort or another, are come to be, very generally, quite indifferent about the grace and salvation of others. Surely the hard, indifferent way in which too many of us treat the thought of our neighbour’s condition towards God is sadly like Cain’s way: sadly like the temper which led to a brother’s murder. The Christian, Catholic, renewed heart is altogether different from this; it is not at all satisfied, as men of the world are, with persons going on decently and quietly; it wants them to be inwardly sound and pure; first of all to have a good “purpose of heart,” and then to persevere in that purpose, “cleaving” to our Lord and Saviour continually. That anxiety about your neighbour’s soul, which Christian love causes you to feel, will be a continual, a watchful, a self-denying, but, for the most part, a silent principle. It will show itself in deeds rather than in words, in timely prevention of mischief rather than in late and loud remonstrance. It will not be very sanguine, nor reckon too much of any good which appears to be done, knowing that we are all by nature unstable as water. Nor yet will it be too soon disheartened or disconcerted, knowing that there is hope even of the worst, and that constant efforts and prayers, with the Church of God to your aid, will, by the aid of His good Spirit, prevail against everything but hardened obstinacy. Above all, this care of others’ good purposes, to be at all like that of St. Barnabas, must be accompanied with scrupulously good example; even as it is here said of this holy apostle, very emphatically, that “he was a good man.” Finally, the good advice of St. Barnabas, here given to the people of Antioch, may well serve as a kind of watchword for all Christians of every station, in times when the Faith and the Church are being violently assailed by their enemies. Then is the time to practise a holy obstinacy; not to mind if you be not able to give reasons, and talk knowingly about things, but “with purpose of heart to cleave to the Lord”; that is, to abide by what the Church has taught you let people say what they will. This will be called bigotry and stubbornness; and they who are wise in their own conceit will insist on your giving a reason for everything. Well, then, let your reason be given, not in words, but in a holy life. (Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times.”)
I. His history and character.
1. His ancestors had settled in Cyprus, for what purposes we know not. There Barnabas was born. He was called at first Joses, but after his conversion to Christianity, Barnabas, perhaps because of his estate--he was a wealthy man, and relieved the necessities of the poor--or because by his preaching he consoled the people of God, and encouraged sinners to come to Christ.
2. Ministers often differ considerably. Some are sons of thunder, others have “the tongue of the learned.” Now, never oppose ministers to each other. Their situation, natural complexion, gifts, graces, are different; but the Church needs them, and can well employ them all. Let Paul therefore plant, and Apollos water; let one comfort the feeble-minded, and another be set for the defence of the gospel; let one lay the foundation, and another build thereon. Each has his own work, and each shall have his own reward.
3. Much of the dispositions of persons may be discovered by the objects which awaken their attention and desire when they first enter a country or a town. Some are immediately looking about for scenery, some for curiosities, some for trade, some for buildings, some for libraries, some for pictures. Barnabas was alive to something else--it was “the one thing needful.” He immediately looked after the cause of God.
II. His discovery.
1. “The grace of God” is a principle. Seen it must be to God, “to whom all hearts are open”; and known, it may be, by the individuals themselves. But how can it be seen by other’s? I know only one way: by its effects. You cannot see life, but you can see the man alive. You cannot see health, but you can see the freshness and vigour of the healthy man. You do not break a tree to examine the rind, or open it to examine the wood, to know of what sort it is; a tree is known by its fruits. God says, “I will put My Spirit within them.” But who is to know this? Read on--“and cause them to walk in My statutes.” James says to the professor of religion, “Show me thy faith without thy works. I will show thee my faith by my works”: I will show thee the spring by the stream; the sun in the shining; the creed by the conduct.
2. When may we be said to “see the grace of God”? I expect to find in a man in whom there is a work of grace--
(1) A change in his outward conduct. If he has been vicious before, he learns to be virtuous; the drunkard becomes sober, etc.
(2) A love of good men; for like not only begets, but also attracts, like. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”
(3) A peculiar attachment to the Scriptures.
(4) A regard for the Sabbath. I am sure that the righteous man always “calls the Sabbath a delight, and the holy of the Lord, honourable.” “The grace of God,” therefore, will lead a man to regard the means of grace.
(5) Speech seasoned with grace. Physicians look at the tongues of their patients. Ministers should always examine the tongues of their patients. If these are disordered, they may be assured something else is disordered; for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
(6) A temper conformed to the spirit of Christ. Some, in exculpation of their fretful or fierce tempers, say, that the grace of God is sometimes grafted on a crab tree; yes, but when the tree is so grafted, we expect that it will bring forth fruit, not according to the stock, but according to the scion.
(7) Family piety.
3. With regard to the visibility of Divine grace, there are three things which I must remark.
(1) We may, after all, be deceived with regard to it. The imitation may be so nice and fine as to impose upon the most judicious observers. None of the disciples suspected Judas; and Peter, after baptizing Simon Magus, was careful to write of Stephanas, “A faithful brother, as I suppose.”
(2) You are not to consider persons as destitute of “the grace of God,” when their lives are blameless, and they are regular at the means of grace, and in their discharge of the duties of religion. When things are fair in character, you are not to go motive hunting. It is better to be occasionally deceived, than to live always in a temperature of suspicion.
(3) Divine grace is compatible with infirmities; otherwise we should exclude all from the possession of it. Our Saviour does not “despise the day of small things.” Let us follow His example.
III. His pleasure. What he saw was not a pleasing sight to all men. It was a hell to Satan to see how things were now going on; and there are those who too much resemble him. The elder brother did not rejoice when he saw the prodigal received, and there are Pharisees now who are ready to say, “Go to heaven with publicans and harlots”! But the salvation of the sinner is “the pleasure of the Lord.” The Saviour here “sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied.” The angels “rejoice over one sinner that repenteth.” And every convert may say, “They that fear thee will be glad when they see me.” We may consider Barnabas as a partaker of this pleasure.
1. As a man of piety. Whenever a man is converted, God has a subject born. Here is one in whom He is then glorified passively, because he displays traces of His perfections, actively, as he is now “made willing in the day of His power.” Can a man of piety see this and not rejoice?
2. As a man of benevolence. Barnabas was pleased when he saw the poor healed, the hungry fed, etc. But he knew that the body was nothing to the soul, or the time to eternity. What is every other attainment compared with that godliness which is “profitable unto all things”! Besides, every subject of Divine grace is not only blessed in himself, but he is made a blessing to others. Can a man of benevolence look on such, and not rejoice?
3. As a minister who had come here from preaching. There are some who cannot rejoice to see things done by others, especially, if they do not belong to their own communion. But if a man has the spirit of Barnabas, he will be able to say, Let God employ what instruments He pleases, therein I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.
IV. His concern. “Exhorted them.” Observe--
1. The importance of his admonition--that they would “cleave unto the Lord,” i.e., the Lord Jesus. Him they had received; in Him they were to walk. Had we heard Barnabas, it would have been something to this effect: Cleave to Him as your Teacher, as your Redeemer, as your Support in all your duties and in all your conflicts, as your Comforter, as your Master, as your Example.
2. The nature of it. He “exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they should cleave unto the Lord.” Now this impulse--not only conviction, but resolution--always issues out of the heart; and what is religion, unless the heart is engaged from the beginning to the end? Where the man can say with David, “My heart is fixed,” he will push on notwithstanding difficulties, and will convert hindrances into furtherances.
3. Its extensiveness. He “exhorted them all”; not only those who were weak in the faith, but those who were strong; not only the young, but the old. When was Solomon’s heart led away? In his old age. And does not Paul even say to that fine young man Timothy, “Flee youthful lusts”? (W. Jay.)
The experience and work of Barnabas
I. The fact which he observed. The grace of God operating in the converts. Note--
1. That conversion is always the result of Divine grace--that is, God’s free and sovereign favour. “For by grace are ye saved, through faith,” etc. True conversion thus resulting from Divine grace always becomes apparent and manifest by its effects. In place of the works of the flesh there will be the fruits of the Spirit, in place of carelessness, impenitence, unbelief, worldliness, and, peradventure, open and flagrant crime, there will be seriousness, there will be contrition, faith, holiness, love to God and to man.
II. The emotion with which, in the contemplation of the fact, he became inspired. “He was glad.” This gladness is justly excited because of--
1. The personal happiness which the operation of Divine grace in conversion secures to those who feel it.
2. The honour which the operation of Divine grace in conversion secures to the Godhead In every conversion there is a display of the Father; for by His purpose the conversion was accomplished, the conversion was directed. There is a display of the Son; for by His sacrifice the conversion was purchased. There is a display of the Spirit; for by His agency the conversion was effected.
III. The exhortation which, in connection with the emotion, he expressed and urged. Mark--
1. Its nature. Purpose signifies firm and resolute determination. “Cleave to the Lord” is an expression of Hebrew origin, and it occurs two or three times in the earlier part of the Old Testament Scriptures in a striking manner. To cleave to an individual seems to imply the act of a man anxious to obtain a blessing from another--a man who lays fast hold on his person, being resolved not to permit his departure until the blessing has been obtained; and this is the spirit in which we are exhorted with purpose and determination of heart to cleave unto the Lord. We ought to be steadfast in cleaving to the principles of the Lord; in obeying the commandments of the Lord; in promoting the praise and the glory of the Lord. And each one in whom Divine grace has operated must have it as a constant desire, that in the spirit of steadfastness he may be preserved till death. For this purpose, use the means which God has been pleased to appoint--meditation, the study of His Word with prayer, social conversation with those who are established in the faith and hope of the gospel, diligent and devout attendance on the public ordinances and means of grace, and then the result will be accomplished, and you will cleave unto the Lord. You will emphatically be kept from falling, and be presented faultless before the presence of the Divine glory with great and exceeding joy.
2. The reasons by which this exhortation may be enforced. “Cleave to the Lord”--
(1) That you may not produce disgrace to the gospel you have professed.
(2) That you may continue and complete the joy of those who have rejoiced over your conversion.
(3) That you may partake of the highest joy in this world which Christianity can impart.
(4) That you may become endowed with capacities of usefulness to the hearts of others.
(5) That you may prepare for that final recompense which will be your portion throughout the eternity of heaven. (J. Parsons.)
The experience and work of Barnabas
I. The grace that Barnabas saw.
1. What a man sees depends on what he looks for. An architect would have seen buildings, a merchant wares, a soldier fortifications. And Barnabas had an eye to business. He saw a temple built of living stones; to win souls was the gain he coveted; and like a good soldier he calculated how these teeming thousands might be made subjects of His King. True, he saw sights that made him weep, but he does not mention them any more than a navigator reports the vast tracts of water over which he travels. The business of the latter is to report the discovery of islands standing out of the waste of waters, of the former the state of the Church which stood out amidst the waste of sin.
2. Barnabas had this grace in himself, or he would never have seen it in others. Philosophers saw the same people and pronounced them vile fanatics, and many today would have done the same. God’s grace is only to be spiritually discerned.
3. But this grace is nothing less than the free pardon of sin, bestowed by God and accepted by man.
II. The gladness he experienced. Incidentally it throws light on his own character. Tell me what gladdens or grieves a man and I will tell you what he is. The prosperity that made him glad was--
1. Spiritual. Men with an eye and a taste like his are wanted now. We are carried away in a mighty tide of material progress; but the gospel is a more precious treasure than all our inventions.
2. Possessed and exercised by others. There is no finer feature in a man’s character than the tendency to rejoice in a neighbour’s good. “Charity envieth not.”
3. Produced by others. It is easy for a minister to be glad when he sees his own work prospering; but it requires no little piety to rejoice over another’s. But God teaches us that converting power does not reside in an arm of flesh. Unknown refugees founded a Church in Antioch while gifted apostles seemed to be spending their strength in vain.
4. Heightened by the contrasted masses of moral misery around.
5. No sentimental or selfish emotion. He brought Saul to share it.
III. The exhortation that he gave. That they should cleave to the Lord. There is nothing here about sacramental grace, the true Church, or a consecrated priesthood. In primitive Christianity everything was made to depend on personal union to a personal Saviour. There is mystery here. Yes, and I have seen a huge piece of iron hanging on another not welded or glued, but clinging with such a tenacity that it could bear my weight and its own. A wire charged with an electric current was in contact with its mass, and hence the adhesion. What that wire is to it, love is to us. We love Him, for He first loved us. Those who would keep a man close to God by brandishing the terrors of judgment before him, turn the wrong pole of the magnet to the steel and thereby repel instead of attract. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The exhortation of Barnabas
I. What he saw. “The grace of God,” and wherever that grace is made visible there we are to recognise a brother. Augustine said, “Where Christ is there is the Church.” True! but where is Christ? Wherever Christlike men manifest a life drawn from, and kindred with, His life. And so we say where the grace of Christ is visible, there is the Church. That great truth is sinned against by the successors of the more Jewish portion of that Church who sent Barnabas to Antioch, who exalt sacraments and priests to the same place as the Judaizers did the rite of the old covenant. The attempt is about as wise as to try to measure a network fine enough to keep back a stream. The true answer to all that assumption which confines the free flow of the water of life to the conduits of sacraments and orders, and will only allow the wind that bloweth where it listeth to make music in the pipes of their organs, is simply the homely one which shivered a corresponding theory in the fair open mind of Barnabas. It used to be an axiom that there was no life in the sea beyond a certain limit of a few hundred feet. And then when that was settled, the Challenger put down her dredge five miles, and brought up healthy and good-sized living things. We have all been too much accustomed to draw arbitrary limits to the diffusion of the life of Christ among men.
II. What he felt. It was a triumph of Christian principle to recognise the grace of God under new forms, and in so strange a place. It was a still greater triumph to haft it with rejoicing. We are apt to forget the strength of the convictions which these Jewish Christians had to overcome. Hence the context seems to consider that Barnabas’s gladness needs explanation, and so it adds, “for he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.” And there is much to overcome if we would know this Christlike gladness. Our natural interest in the well-being of our own Churches makes our sympathies flow most deeply in denominational channels. And then come in abundance of less worthy motives, and we have but a very tepid joy in anybody else’s prosperity. Let us set a jealous watch over our hearts that self-absorption, or denominationalism, or envy do not make the sight a pain instead of a joy; and let us remember that the eye salve which will purge our dim sight to behold the grace of God in all its forms is that grace itself.
III. What he said.
1. The exhortation itself, The sum of all objective religion is Christ--the sum of all subjective religion is cleaving to Him. From, whatever point we approach Christianity, it all resolves itself into the person of Christ. He is the revelation of God; theology properly so called is but the formulating of the facts which He gives us. He is the perfect exemplar of humanity! Wrenched away from Him, Christian morality has no being. He is the sacrifice for the world, the salvation of which flows from what He does, and not merely from what He taught, or was. There is a constant tendency to separate the results of Christ’s life and death, and unconsciously to make these the sum of our religion and faith. Therefore it is well to mark how vividly these early Christians apprehended a living Lord as the sum and substance of all which they had to grasp. We begin to be Christians, as this context tells us, when we “turn to the Lord.” We continue to be Christians, as Barnabas reminded these beginners, by “cleaving to the Lord.” Let us cleave to Him--
(1) By continual renewal of our first faith in Him. The longest line may be conceived of as produced simply by the motion of its initial point. So our progress should not consist in leaving our early acts of faith behind us, but in repeating them over and over again till the points coalesce in one unbroken line which goes straight to the throne and heart of Jesus. As in some great symphony the theme which was given out in low notes on one poor instrument recurs over and over again embroidered with varying harmonies, and unfolding a richer music till it swells into all the grandeur of the triumphant close, so our lives should be bound into a unity, and in their unity bound to Christ by the constant renewal of our early faith. Each moment must be united to Christ by its own act of faith, or it will be separated from Him. So living in the Lord, dying in the Lord, sleeping in Jesus, we shall at the last be found in Him at that day, and shall be raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
(2) By habitual contemplation. There can be no real continuous closeness of intercourse with Him, except by thought ever recurring to Him amidst all the tumult of our busy days. The Church has forgotten how to meditate. Many of us are so busy thinking about Christianity that we have lost our hold of Christ. Cleave to the Lord by habitual play of meditative thought on the treasures hidden in His name, and waiting like gold in the quartz, to be the prize of our patient sifting. And when the great truths embodied in Him stand clear before us, next must come into exercise the moral side of faith, the voluntary act of trust, the making our own of the blessings which He holds out to us.
(3) By constant outgoings of our love to Him. The same love which is the bond of perfectness between man and man, is the bond between us and Christ. Cold natures may carp, but love is justified of her children, and Christ accepts the homage that has a heart in it. The order is faith, love, obedience, that threefold cord knits men to Christ and Christ to men. For the understanding a continuous grasp of Him as the object of thought. For the heart a continuous out-going to Him as the object of our love. For the will a continuous submission to Him as the Lord of our obedience. For the whole nature a continuous cleaving to Him as the object of our faith and worship.
2. Its sufficiency. If Barnabas had been like some of us, he would have said, This irregular work has been well done, but there are no authorised teachers here. The first thing is to give these people the blessing of bishops and priests. Some of us would have said, A good work has been done, but these people are terribly ignorant. The best thing would be to get ready as soon as possible some manual of Christian doctrine. Some of us would have said, No doubt they have been converted, but we fear there has been too much of the emotional in the preaching. Plain practical instruction in Christian duty is the one thing they want. Barnabas knew better. He did not despise organisation, nor orthodoxy, nor practical righteousness, but he knew that all three, and everything else that any man needed for his perfecting, would come, if only they kept near to Christ, and that nothing else was of any use if they did not.
(1) We spend much effort in perfecting our organisations, and I have not a word to say against it. But heavier machinery needs more power in the engine, and that means greater capacity in your boilers and more fire in your furnace.
(2). A definite theology is needful, but the basis of all theology is the personal possession of Him who is the wisdom of God, and the light of the world.
(3) Plain straightforward righteousness and everyday morality come most surely when a man is keeping close to Christ. The same life is strength in the arm, pliancy in the fingers, swiftness in the foot, light in the eye, music on the lips; so the same grace is Protean in its forms, and to His servants who trust Him, Christ ever says, “What would ye that I should do unto you? Be it even as thou wilt.” The same mysterious power lives in the swaying branch, and in the veined leaf, and in the blushing clusters. With like wondrous transformations of the one grace, the Lord pours Himself into our spirits, filling all needs and fitting for all circumstances. Therefore for us all, individuals and Churches, this remains the prime command, With purpose of heart cleave unto the Lord. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Provide things honest in the sight of all men. Not only be honest, but let your honesty be seen. “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” “Show forth the praises of Him who hath called you.” As Bengel remarks in connection with our text: “A gem should not merely be a gem; it should be properly set in a ring, that its splendour may meet the eye.”
Exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
Cleaving unto the Lord
The only rational religious belief is that goodness is almighty, and the great Being, who comprehends all goodness in Himself, our Father. We owe Him everything, for He hath both made and redeemed us, and we should cherish towards Him the devoted affection of a son to his father, such as was shown in the following story. A little boy, the son of Sir George Staunton, was with his father, during his return to England, on the deck of the ship Lion. The father, imagining that a French man-of-war was going to attack them, desired his son to go below. “My father, I will never forsake you,” was the youth’s spirited and affectionate reply. So, when God’s way seems the path of danger, we should resolve to stand to it at all cost.
Determined purpose of heart
The Pastor Jacob of Oroomiah, Persia, writing to his son, in Manchester, narrates the following: “I have a young Mohammedan friend whose name is Koola Bak. For nearly a year and a half he has been coming to my house to hear the Word of God. On account of his being so Christ-like, some wicked people went and complained to their Great Moshtahed, or priest. He was taken to the Moshtahed’s house and asked what was his faith. He replied, ‘In Jesus Christ.’ Upon hearing this the Moshtahed rose up in great rage and beat him with his stick on the head. He again asked him the same question three times. The young man gave the same reply each time. He was then bound upon a beam and beaten by three servants with switches until the blood gushed out of his back and feet. Shortly afterwards the young man came to my house with his bleeding body and told me all about it. He said to me: ‘Pastor, I will not give up Christ, even if I am to be killed. I believe that He is my Saviour, and is able to deliver me from these wicked people, who try to torment me because of my belief in Jesus.’ A few days after this incident took place, the Moshtahed sent a gift to the young man and asked his pardon. The next day the Moshtahed with his brother visited the young man’s house, and they still try to win his heart, but he boldly said, ‘No, it is impossible for me to forsake Jesus, in whom I have believed as my Redeemer.’ So they left him and went their way.”
Barnabas was the Son of Consolation.” But exhortation is as needful as consolation, and he could stir up as well as comfort. He knew that it was not sufficient to begin well; it is the end that proves and crowns the whole.
I. The aim of the exhortation. Barnabas urges his hearers to cleave unto the Lord. The exhortation is urgently needed--
1. Because there is a natural tendency in the human heart to cleave to inferior things.
2. Because He is the only one worthy of our regard. He is the only Teacher, Saviour, Helper, Protector. The only Comforter, for He is the God of all comfort.
II. The character of the duty. “With full purpose of heart.” This implies thoroughness and persistency.
1. Without the heart religion is a poor business. So in anything else. Unless the affections and purpose are enlisted a man enters upon his business concerns with listlessness and apathy.
2. Without the heart nothing else can be given. It is principle God looks at. Outward actions weigh but little with Him. But it is here “full purpose of heart.” The whole soul is thrown into the work. It is not a divided heart. (Homilist.)
I. We exhort you to this decision and manifestation of character. “Cleave unto the Lord,” consecrate yourselves to Him.
II. We exhort you to adhere to the fundamental truths of the gospel. “Cleave unto the Lord” in His personal character as revealed in the sacred Scriptures.
III. We exhort you to cherish a spirit of charity to all who differ. The difference of Christians on minor points proves the truth of the great ones on which they are agreed.
IV. We exhort you to promote the worship of God. Attend to private, to family, and to public worship.
V. We exhort you to vigorous attempts to recover sinners. (J. Liefchild, D. D.)
Cleaving to the Lord
I. The exhortation.
1. It supposes those to whom it is directed to be already entered upon a religious course of life.
2. It requires the habitual exercise of all the graces of the Christian life; the constant performance of every commanded duty.
3. It requires that we make an open and honest profession of our adherence to the Lord.
4. It requires that we persevere in our adherence to the Lord to the end of our lives. We must hold on our way, and wax stronger and stronger as we proceed.
II. Some motives and arguments.
1. That the same reasons which at first determined you to choose the ways of God, are equally forcible for inciting you to persevere in them to the end.
2. That all the bribes which can be offered, in order to seduce you from your adherence to the Lord, are vain, precarious, and unsatisfying.
3. What obligations you lie under to this Lord to whom you are exhorted in the text, to “cleave with purpose of heart.”
4. That this duty, although difficult, is by no means impracticable. All necessary aid is provided for you, and ready to be conveyed to you as often as you shall ask it.
III. Some directions.
1. Labour to have your minds as richly furnished as possible with true Christian knowledge.
2. Besides the speculative knowledge of Divine truths, you must also labour to acquire an inward experience and relish of them.
3. If you would cleave with steadfastness unto the Lord, attend constantly to the inward frame and temper of your hearts. Make conscience of watching over your most secret thoughts.
4. “Be not high-minded, but fear.” Remember what our blessed Lord said to His disciples, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” A holy diffidence of ourselves is the true temper of a Christian, and will both serve to keep us out of the way of temptation, and teach us to act with the caution of men who perceive their danger and are careful to shun it.
5. Avoid, as much as possible, the fellowship of wicked men.
6. Beware of neglecting the instrumental duties of religion. (R. Walker.)
The subjects of Divine grace exhorted to cleave unto the Lord
I. That the conversion of sinners to the Lord is justly ascribable to His grace.
II. That where the grace of God is enjoyed it will be seen in its effects.
1. All who profess to enjoy the grace of God should be careful thus to show it--On principles of prudence; that their own eternal salvation may be secured (2 Peter 1:5-10). On principles of piety; that God may hereby be glorified (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 4:11-12). On principles of benevolence; that their weak brethren may be strengthened (Hebrews 13:13), and that their pastors may hereby be comforted (1 Thessalonians 3:8; 3 John 1:4). As an incitement to holy diligence, on this generous principle, our text teaches us--
III. That when the grace of God is seen it affords pleasure to well-disposed minds. “When he saw the grace of God, he was glad”; and his joy was both pious and pure.
1. His joy on this occasion was pious. It was the joy of a saint excited by seeing the grace of God manifested, and sinners saved. He was glad, as “a good man,” or a lover of mankind; because hereby many were benefited, being raised to a state of safety, happiness, and honour (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:1-6); and the welfare of the civil state was also promoted (Proverbs 14:32). He was glad, as a holy man; for he was “full of the Holy Ghost.” Hence he was glad, because the felicity of angels was hereby augmented (Luke 15:10). Christ was hereby most pleasingly satisfied (Isaiah 53:10-11); and God was hereby glorified (Isaiah 61:1-3). He was glad, as a faithful man; for he “was full of faith.” Hence, he confidently expected the fulfilment of God’s Word (Psalms 2:8). He beheld in these converted Gentiles the earnest of Christ’s universal dominion, and could exclaim with David (Psalms 72:19-20).
2. His joy on this occasion was pure. He was glad, though the subjects of this grace were Gentile strangers; it was not the joy of bigotry: and though he was not the instrument of their conversion, it was not the joy of self-complacency.
3. His joy on this occasion was exemplary; worthy of our imitation. Wherever the grace of God is seen we should rejoice: without bigotry, this is unchristian (Ephesians 5:24), and without envy, for this is devilish (James 3:14-16). Our text teaches us--
IV. That cleaving unto the Lord is the indispensable duty of all Christian converts.
1. By the Lord is meant our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Guide (Psalms 48:14), our Sovereign (Matthew 23:8), our Strength (Psalms 46:1), and our Foundation (Isaiah 28:16).
2. It is the duty of Christian converts to cleave, unto the Lord. Cleave unto Him--By habitual attention (Acts 3:22-23), by persevering obedience (Hebrews 5:9; Psalms 106:3), by importunate prayer (Hebrews 4:16), and by entire dependence (1 Peter 2:5-6; Jude 1:21-22).
3. All Christian converts should thus cleave unto Him. All, of every age, of every religious attainment, and of every station in the Church (John 15:5; Hebrews 3:12).
4. We should thus cleave unto the Lord “with purpose of heart.” This should and must be the object of our deliberate choice (Deuteronomy 30:19-20), of our steadfast resolution (Joshua 24:15), and of our incessant care (1 John 2:28; Philippians 3:16). Our test teaches us--
V. That affectionate exhortation is conductive to the steadfast perseverance of believers in Christ. “He exhorted them,” etc. Here we may observe--
1. To whom this exhortation should be addressed. As cleaving unto the Lord is a duty required of all Christians, so we find all of every description exhorted in the oracles of God. Private Christians are urged to this (John 15:4; Colossians 2:6); and public characters are also thus stimulated to exertion (1 Timothy 4:16).
2. By whom this exhortation should be employed. It should be given--By all those to whom the care of souls is committed (1 Corinthians 14:3; Colossians 1:28), and by all private Christians in their mutual communications (Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 10:24-25).
3. How this exhortation should be enforced. It should be urged by the consideration of our own total insufficiency (Jeremiah 10:23; 2 Corinthians 3:5), of Christ’s all-sufficiency (Hebrews 7:25), of Satan’s malice, who purposes and seeks to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8-9), of the dreadful evils to which apostacy would expose us (Hebrews 10:38; Revelation 3:11; 1 Chronicles 28:9), and of the blessings with which God is engaged to crown unfainting perseverance (Galatians 6:9; 2 Peter 1:10-11).
Barnabas knew that it required quite as much “grace” to go on as it does to begin. And he knew how only they could secure it, by cleaving unto the Lord.
I. The importance of a purpose. When there are religious feelings, and convictions, the great thing is to gather them all up to some distinct object. This “purpose” must not be only of the deliberate intention of the mind, but a “purpose of the heart.” But then feeling needs a focus. If you wish to keep a thought, turn that thought into action, else it would all evaporate. Give it an object, and it will live. The question then is, what fixed “purpose of heart” can we make for ourselves today? I advise you to determine--
1. That henceforth it shall appear to all men “whose you are and whom you serve.”
2. That your besetting sin--temper, or selfishness, or indolence shall be conquered.
3. That you will be more real and earnest in your private devotions.
4. That you will throw more love into daily life, and be more attentive to all home duties.
5. That you will exercise greater care, and more regularity, in your religious duties.
6. That you will undertake some new work for God; become a Sunday school teacher, or a district visitor, etc. Now if you would live for any such purpose, you must be much in prayer. Put less trust in your own good intentions. Be looking up for sustaining grace, for the great gift of perseverance.
II. The great purpose of Christian life is to cleave unto the Lord.
1. This means to be feeling that He is your very life; and to be always trying to make Him closer, and closer. It is God’s word for marriage: “A man shall cleave unto his wife.”
2. Only remember the power of this “cleaving” comes not from you who “cleave,” but from Him who all the while draws and holds you to the “cleaving.” He has “apprehended,” i.e., “laid hold of you,” that you may “lay hold” on Him.
3. Meanwhile, be very jealous of anything coming in to separate you for a moment, for that moment that you are separated from Christ your soul dies!
4. But do not be content even with mere nearness. There must be oneness. If you are really a believer, you are one with the Christ, just as any member in your body is at this moment one with your head. And, oh! what life, strength, safety, heaven is here. Your life is in Him. Where you are, at this moment, He is. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
New disciples admonished
To cleave to the Lord is--
1. To adhere to Him as the Revealer of the Truth, and to the Truth as revealed by Him.
2. To make Him the object of our constant faith.
3. To abide in His commandments.
4. To follow His example, who went about doing good and bore His Cross.
5. To abide in Him who is the fountain of grace and the Giver of the Spirit.
6. To cling to Him as our Portion and Happiness. (J. W. Alexander, D. D.)
Cleaving to the Lord
At the oceanside, where cliffs jut out to the waves, certain molluscs may be found sticking tightly to the rocks. Each mollusc clings so tenaciously that the concussion of the waves cannot smite it off. The secret of its hold is that the mollusc is empty. If it were filled either with flesh or with air, it would drop off immediately. This beautifully illustrates the condition of every sincere, humble, conscientious believer, who has been emptied of self, and therefore clings, by a Divine law of adhesion, closely to the Rock of Ages. If he should become puffed with pride and self-conceit, or gorged with fleshly indulgence, he would yield to the waves of temptation and be swept away.
For he was a good man.
The feast of St. Barnabas the apostle: tolerance of religious error
The text says that “he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.” This praise of goodness is explained by his very name, Barnabas, “the Son of Consolation,” which was given him, as it appears, to mark his character of kindness, gentleness, considerateness, warmth of heart, compassion, and munificence. His acts answer to this account of him. The first we hear of him is his selling some land which was his, and giving the proceeds to the apostles, to distribute to his poorer brethren. The next notice of him sets before us a second deed of kindness, of as amiable, though of a more private character. “When Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles, and declared how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” Next, he is mentioned in the text, and still with commendation of the same kind. How had he shown that “he was a good man”? by going on a mission of love to the first converts at Antioch. On the other hand, on two occasions his conduct is scarcely becoming an apostle, as instancing somewhat of that infirmity which uninspired persons of his peculiar character frequently exhibit. Both are cases of indulgence towards the faults of others, yet in a different way; the one, an over-easiness in a matter of doctrine, the other, in a matter of conduct. With all his tenderness for the Gentiles, yet on one occasion he could not resist indulging the prejudices of some Judaizing brethren, who came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Peter first was carried away; before they came, “he did eat with the Gentiles, but when they were come, he withdrew, and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch, that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.” The other instance was his indulgent treatment of Mark, his sister’s son, which occasioned the quarrel between him and St. Paul. “Barnabas determined to take with them,” on their apostolic journey, “John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.” He is an ensample and warning to us, not only as showing us what we ought to be, but as evidencing how the highest gifts and graces are corrupted in our sinful nature, if we are not diligent to walk step by step, according to the light of God’s commandments. Are we sufficiently careful to do what is right and just, rather than what is pleasant? do we clearly understand our professed principles, and do we keep to them under temptation? The history of St. Barnabas will help us to answer this question honestly. Now I fear we lack altogether, what he lacked in certain occurrences in it, firmness, manliness, godly severity. I fear it must be confessed, that our kindness, instead of being directed and braced by principle, too often becomes languid and unmeaning; that it is exerted on improper objects, and out of season, and thereby is uncharitable in two ways, indulging those who should be chastised, and preferring their comfort to those who are really deserving. We are over-tender in dealing with sin and sinners. We are deficient in jealous custody of the revealed Truths which Christ has left us. We allow men to speak against the Church, its ordinances, or its teaching, without remonstrating with them. To be kind is their one principle of action; and, when they find offence taken at the Church’s creed, they begin to think how they may modify or curtail it, under the same sort of feeling as would lead them to be generous in a money transaction, or to accommodate another at the price of personal inconvenience. Not understanding that their religious privileges are a trust to be handed on to posterity, a sacred property entailed upon the Christian family, and their own in enjoyment rather than in possession, they act the spendthrift, and are lavish of the goods of others. Undoubtedly, even the best specimens of these men are deficient in a due appreciation of the Christian mysteries, and of their own responsibility in preserving and transmitting them; yet, some of them are such truly “good” men, so amiable and feeling, so benevolent to the poor, and of such repute among all classes, in short, fulfil so excellently the office of shining like lights in the world, and witnesses of Him “who went about doing good,” that those who most deplore their failing, will still be most desirous of excusing them personally, while they feel it a duty to withstand them. Such is the defect of mind suggested to us by the instances of imperfection recorded of St. Barnabas; it will be more clearly understood by contrasting him with St. John. Now see in what he differed from Barnabas; in uniting charity with a firm maintenance of “the truth as it is in Jesus.” So far was his fervour and exuberance of charity from interfering with his zeal for God, that rather, the more he loved men, the more he desired to bring before them the great unchangeable verities to which they must submit, if they would see life, and on which a weak indulgence suffers them to shut their eyes. He loved the brethren, but he” loved them in the Truth” (3 John 1:1). Strictness and tenderness had no “sharp contention” in the breast of the beloved disciple; they found their perfect union, yet distinct exercise, in the grace of charity, which is the fulfilling of the whole law. I wish I saw any prospect of this element of zeal and holy sternness springing up among us, to temper and give character to the languid, unmeaning benevolence which we misname Christian love. I have no hope of my country till I see it. Many schools of religion and ethics are to be found among us, and they all profess to magnify, in one shape or other, what they consider the principle of love; but what they lack is a firm maintenance of that characteristic of the Divine nature, which, in accommodation to our infirmity, is named by St. John and his brethren the wrath of God. Regarding thus “the goodness” only, and not “the severity of God,” no wonder that they ungird their loins and become effeminate; no wonder that their ideal notion of a perfect Church is a Church which lets everyone go on his way, and disclaims any right to pronounce an opinion, much less inflict a censure on religious error. But those who think themselves and others in risk of an eternal curse dare not be thus indulgent. Here, then, lies our want at the present day, for this we must pray--that a reform may come in the spirit and power of Elias. Then only can we prosper (under the blessing and grace of Him who is the Spirit both of love and of truth), when the heart of Paul is vouchsafed to us, to withstand even Peter and Barnabas, if ever they are overcome by mere human feelings, to “know henceforth no man after the flesh,” to put away from us sister’s son, or nearer relative, to relinquish the sight of them, the hope of them, and the desire of them, when He commands, who raises up friends even to the lonely, if they trust in Him, and will give us “within His walls a name better than of sons and of daughters, an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (J. H. Newman.)
A good man
I. A good creed. Divine truth is the basis of all holy and devoted life. A good man has just views of Deity, of the method of salvation, of the present life, and of that which is to come.
II. A good heart. It is not possessed as natural to himself. The declaration with respect to the human heart is that it is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” We require, therefore, to have it renewed. And, hence, the promise under both Testaments is, that God will take away the heart of stone and give the heart of flesh--that is, He will give us new dispositions; He will reclaim us from our corrupt affections. Hence, therefore, we are said to be born again, to have received the Holy Spirit, of which Barnabas was full.
III. A good life. The Christian’s life is essentially right. It is governed by the fear of God; it is moved by love to Himself; and it is dedicated to the glory of His name. (The Pulpit.)
What a good man is and how he becomes so
All words describing moral excellence tend to deteriorate, just as bright metal rusts by exposure, and coins become illegible by use. So it comes to pass that any decent man, with an easy temper, and a dash of frankness is christened with this title “good.” The Bible is more chary. Christ rebuked a man for calling Him good, because he did so out of mere conventional politeness. But here we have the picture in the Scripture gallery, catalogued “He was a good man.” Note--
I. The sort of man whom the judge will call good.
1. Barnabas was a Levite of Cyprus. A Jew who had so come in contact with foreigners that many a prejudice was beaten out of him. We first hear of him as taking a share in the burst of brotherly love, so as to entail an after life of manual labour. Next, when the older Christians were suspicious of Saul, Barnabas, with that generosity which often sees deepest, was the first to cast the aegis of the protection of his recognition round him. In like manner here, when Christianity developed in a suspicious direction, Barnabas was sent, and being a “good man” he saw, and rejoiced in goodness in others. The new conditions led him to enlist Saul’s services, to engage with him in missionary service, and then, without a murmur, to allow his junior colleague to take the first place. Then came the quarrel in which he lost his friend, and we hear of him no more.
2. Note the lessons.
(1) That the tap root of all goodness is reference to God and obedience to Him. Not that nothing is good that is done without reference to God, but the noblest deed done without this reference lacks nobleness.
(2) That the truest goodness is the suppression of self--a characteristic of the whole life of Barnabas.
(3) That the farther traits of character are preeminent in Christian goodness. All this man’s virtues were of the meek and gracious sort, which make but a poor show by the side of some of the tawdry splendours which the vulgar world calls virtues. A thrush or a blackbird is but a soberly clad creature by the side of paroquets, but the one has a song, and the other only a screech. So there is comfort for us commonplace people. We may be little violets, if we cannot be flaunting tiger lilies.
4. That true goodness does not exclude the possibility of falling. The Bible is frank in telling us of the imperfections of the best. Often imperfections are exaggerations of characteristic goodness. Never let gentleness fall away like badly made jelly into a trembling heap, and never let strength gather itself into a repulsive attitude. But remember that only One could say, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin.”
II. The Divine Helper who makes men good.
1. This Helper is not merely an influence but a Person, who not only helps from without, but so enters that their whole nature is saturated with Him.
2. Strange language, but does not the experience of every man who has tried to make himself good show its necessity? Think of what is needed to make us good--the strengthening of the will which we cannot brace sufficiently by any tonic or support we know of; consider the resistance with which we have to cope from our passions, tastes, habits, occupations, friends, etc. You have got the wolf by the ears for a moment, but your hands will ache presently in holding him and what then? Ah, you need a Divine Helper, who will dwell in your hearts and strengthen your wills to what is good, and suppress your inclinations of evil.
3. The great promise of the gospel is precisely this. The first word is “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” the second, “Arise and walk.” The gift of pardon is meant to be introductory to what Christ calls emphatically “the gift of God,” the fountain of living streams of holy life and noble deeds. He who is good must surely delight in seeing us good, and must be able to turn us into His own likeness.
4. “Full of the Holy Ghost,” as a vessel might be to its brim of golden wine. Does that describe you? Full! A dribbling drop or two in the bottom of the jar: whose fault is it? Why with that mighty rushing wind to full our sails should we be lying in sickly calms? Why with those tongues of fire should we be cowering over grey ashes? Why with that great tide should we be like dry watercourses?
III. How that Divine Helper comes to men. “Full of … faith.”
1. No goodness without the Spirit, no Spirit without faith in Christ. If you open a chink the water will come in. If you trust in Christ He will give you the new life of His Spirit.
2. The measure in which we possess the power that makes us good depends on ourselves. “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.” You may have as much of God as you want, and as little as you will. The measure of your faith will determine at once the measure of your goodness, and of your possession of the Spirit that makes good. Just as when the prophet miraculously increased the oil in the cruse, the stream flowed as long as they brought vessels, and stayed when there were no more; so long as we open our hearts for the reception the gift will not be withheld, but God will not let it run like water spilled on the ground. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The moral sympathies of a good man
It is interesting to distinguish the historic names of the Church, and to recognise the forms of greatness that we associate with them. As were Peter and Paul and John in the apostolic age--men distinctively practical, intellectual, and spiritual, so it has been in every age since. The Church has had its practical workers, men full of spiritual earnestness and power--its dauntless and fervid preachers, its Chrysostoms, Fenelons, Whitefields, Baxters, Wesleys; its apologists, its men of broad intellectual views, its teachers, its controversialists, its Augustines, Luthers, Pascals, Butlers, Chalmers. And it has had its contemplative, spiritual men--men full of goodness, and practical solicitude, charity in them triumphantly reigning over knowledge, and tongues, and prophesying. Such were Bernard, Fenelon, Melanchthon, Fletcher of Madeley, Watts, and Doddridge. In this latter class we should assign a place to Barnabas. Note--
I. The evangelist’s idea of a “good man.” He evidently means more than that he was merely a good-natured man, and more than that he was simply a virtuous man. He was good in the sense in which the work was good; himself a converted, a spiritual man; good in the sense of being “full of the Holy Ghost and faith.” In the highest and scriptural sense of the term, no man can be good who is unspiritual. A man’s goodness must regard God as well as man; spiritual obligations as well as social ones. The most moral imperatively needs conversion; for what is conversion but the awakening in a man of the thought of God; the quickening in him of the love of God; the producing within him of sympathy with God; the restoration of him to the image of God; the begetting within him of a feeling of practical gratitude to God, which makes him do everything to please and to glorify God? A man may be very virtuous, and yet be utterly godless. As such he is only half a good man. The “faith” which is attributed to Barnabas was his spiritual recognition and reference; he “walked by faith, not by sight”; lived ever “As in the Great Taskmaster’s eye”; did all things with a spiritual reference, and to a spiritual end. A man can preach only as he believes, and he will preach vividly or dully, tamely or earnestly, in proportion as he believes.
II. It was in virtue of this eminent spiritual goodness that he rejoiced in the work which he saw going on. It was contrary to his national and dispensational theories; it shocked many of his prejudices; his instructions were to discourage, if not prohibit it; but the spiritual sympathies of the saint were too strong for the notions of the theologian, for the proprieties of the ecclesiast, for the dignity of the commissioner. He sees the manifest work of grace; and who is he that he is to gainsay it. He is learning that our proprieties are not always God’s methods; that God often chooses uncanonised ways and unconsecrated agents to do the mightiest things. The work appeals to the good man’s heart; it touches his spiritual sympathies. He sees sinners converted, however irregularly; he “sees the grace of God, and he is glad.” And should we, were we men of holier hearts, of stronger spiritual sympathies, have so much difficulty with our ecclesiastical theories and proprieties? If our piety were more fervent, we should more vividly appreciate the preciousness of men’s souls, and the unspeakable blessing of their salvation; and in our joy over the fact we should scarcely care to ask who had done it. Wherever we saw a spiritual work done, there we should recognise God’s worker, and rejoice over spiritual conversion by whomsoever effected. If we be good as Barnabas was good, we shall rejoice with his joy whenever we see what he saw.
III. The spiritual goodness which led Barnabas to rejoice in the good that had already been done, led him also to cooperate with it; and thus “much people were added to the Lord.” He found a work of conversion going on; and instead of contenting himself with mere commendation, he gave himself heartily to cooperate with these irregular men and their irregular work. He had energies to contribute, an influence to exert. Who was he that he should stand aloof when God Himself was working? If it be ours to work, in the mere peradventure that God will work with us, assuredly we may not without culpability withhold our effort when He is palpably working. Who but He can awaken solicitudes about salvation, and out of the sinner evolve a saint? And when these results are seen, we need be in no doubt whose work they are. And eagerly and fervently should we strive for the honour of working with Him. All good men do this. They wilt turn away from your strifes of doctrines and modes; but demonstrate your devoutness by your spiritual achievement, and then, just in proportion to their goodness, they will come and help you.
IV. The goodness of Barnabas was the cause of his success. And so it will ever be. Men are not converted by demonstrations of the gospel, but by inspirations of it. Men are never reasoned into spiritual life; they are quickened into it. We must ourselves be what we seek to make others. We can raise them no higher than our own level. I am not faithful to Christ merely because I eloquently and urgently preach His gospel; He demands of me that I be what I preach--His “living epistle, known and read of all men.” Learning may be desirable, eloquence needful; but piety is essential: it is the basis and power of all spiritual work. (H. Allon, D. D.)
Characteristics of the good man
A good man is--
I. A converted man. “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” “There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” These statements are not inconsistent with the fact, that there is a natural conscience in man, and that there are amiable feelings urging to noble and generous actions; nor can it be denied that, apart from the power of Divine grace, there is often a striking superiority of one man above another. But the qualities of unconverted men come far short of goodness; nay, they serve to show more strongly the wickedness of the human heart, which resists the dictates of natural conscience, and the admonitions of the Word of God. We must, therefore, be “transformed, by the renewing of our minds, that we may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” The eyes of our understanding must be enlightened, our affections must be fixed supremely on God. We must be dead to sin, that we may live unto righteousness. Till then, sin must have dominion over us.
II. A man who believes in Christ and makes open and steadfast profession of his faith. Infidelity is obviously incompatible with true goodness; for it is the wilful deliberate rejection of the truth. But unbelief, in the sense of the refusal of a sinner to accept of Christ as his Saviour, is equally incompatible. How can it be otherwise? All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. A Saviour has been provided, and, in the riches of the Divine beneficence, has been freely offered to men. Can there be any goodness in the heart which remains unmoved by love like this? Is there anything but the spirit of unholy rebellion in the breast of that man who refuses to comply with the first duty of a perishing sinner? No, a life of holy obedience must have its beginning in submission to the righteousness of Christ as the only ground of acceptance. And this faith we must openly and steadfastly profess. Believing with the heart unto righteousness, with the mouth we must make confession unto salvation. This is one of the evidences of the sincerity of our faith, the proof to ourselves, and the world around us, that our faith is a true and a saving faith, and not merely the cold speculative belief of the doctrine of Christ.
III. A man of piety and devotedness. Who can deny that it is one of the first duties of man to love God, and to seek to please Him? He is the all-perfect Jehovah, the fountain of our being, and the source of all our happiness; one whom we are under the strongest obligations to love, and fear, and serve. If it be our duty to love and honour our fellow men, much more it is our duty to love and honour God. This will appear still more evident if we consider that where there is no piety, the opposite dispositions must have the ascendency in our souls. If we do not love God, we must be at enmity with Him (Matthew 6:21; James 4:4).
IV. A man of active and enlightened beneficence. The Second Commandment of the law is as essential to real goodness as the First. Love to men never fails to flow from love to God. Love is the fulfilling of the law; it completes the character of a true Christian. No gifts or endowments, however excellent, can compensate for the want of Christian love. But all beneficence is not goodness. There is the beneficence of sudden impulses; the beneficence which needs to be awakened by touching representations; the beneficence of the Pharisee, who doeth his alms before men to be seen of them; extorted beneficence compelled by the example of others--the beneficence of fashion or custom, not of religious or even moral principle. True goodness or beneficence is different from all these. It has its root in a renewed heart. It is constant and uniform--a habit not an act--an ever-flowing stream, not the effervescence of momentary feeling. A good man loves his fellow men, and because he loves them he is earnestly desirous of promoting their real welfare. His “liberal mind deviseth liberal things.”
V. A man who endeavours to regulate his whole temper and conduct by the maxims and precepts of the gospel of Christ. He recognises the law of God as the only rule of his life and conversation. The law is not made void, it is established, by faith. Other men are governed by the principles of the world, principles often decidedly at variance with the law of God, and the morality of the gospel. A good man steadfastly refuses to submit to their authority.
VI. A man who earnestly desires the advancement of the Divine glory and the establishment of His kingdom. “None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself,” etc. This desire is not confined to the duties of prayer and praise. The good man is actuated by a holy solicitude that every part of his conduct may be so entirely in agreement with the law of Christ, as to curb and restrain the wickedness of the ungodly, and to strengthen and encourage the hearts of true believers in the diligent pursuit and practice of true holiness. (P. McFarlan, D. D.)
Goodness, as illustrated in the character of Barnabas
I. The good man as depicted by the world.
1. There is the decent and orderly man. He is so regular in his attendance on the ordinances of the Church, so decorous in all his proceedings, that if you venture to ask whether, while he bears the form of godliness, he also manifests the power thereof, you are decried as uncharitable, and never to be satisfied. “What is goodness, if such a man as this is not good?”
2. Then comes the liberal, open-hearted, and benevolent man. If you examine whether his liberality may not be thoughtless profusion, whether his benevolence may not be a mere natural feeling, whether other parts of his conduct uphold or contradict the supposition of his goodness, you are encountered with declarations that a better man never existed; and are silenced with the perverted text, that “charity covereth a multitude of sins.”
3. Then comes the industrious and frugal man--so laudably diligent in his business, so careful to provide for his family! If you intimate a doubt whether his labours exemplify any disposition beyond covetousness or mere worldly prudence, you are treated as a man determined to find fault, as one whom neither generosity nor frugality can please.
4. The next person is the cautious man. His object is never to give offence. He says civil things of every person; yet not so civil of any person as to excite the jealousy of another. He attaches himself to no party; but endeavours to induce all severally to regard ]aim as well inclined to their cause, and yet, while his conduct is a tissue of time-serving insincerity, he is generally allowed to be “a very good sort of man.”
4. Another is the easy, good-humoured man. He is so pleasant, so harmless, so neighbourly! Every person whom he meets he appears delighted to see. It is thus that, possibly without possessing a single estimable moral quality, he obtains far and wide the denomination of as excellent a man as ever was born.
5. The last character is the “man of honour,” who studiously practices whatever is creditable, and avoids whatever is discreditable, in the class of society in which he moves. Ask him why he shuns any particular practice. Does he reply, “Because it is sinful? “The expression is foreign to his lips. He answers, “Because it is mean, low, degrading, unbecoming a gentleman.” Why does he pursue a specified line of conduct? Because it is acceptable to God? He thinks not of such a standard. He pursues it because it has the stamp of fashionable estimation. Destitute, it may be, of a grain of true religion, this man is regarded by multitudes as a model of perfection!
II. The good man as portrayed in Scripture. Barnabas--
1. Was full of the Holy Ghost. The words describe him as sanctified by Divine grace, as being no longer of the world, even as Christ was not of the world, and as filled with the fruits of the Spirit, with all righteousness and godliness, with holy views, principles, tempers, desires, purposes, “which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.”
2. Barnabas was full of faith. His faith was sincere, cordial, warm, energetic, productive. It was not a cold and naked assent to the historical truth of the actions of Christ, such as he might yield to a true account of Pontius Pilate or of Judas. It was not a barren speculation dwelling in his head as a portion of abstract knowledge, like a curious principle in mechanics, or a subtle theorem in astronomy. It was faith in a Saviour. On that Saviour, to whom he owed all, he depended for all. To that Saviour he looked with assurance for strength and guidance. He knew in whom he trusted. His works were the fruits of faith, and his faith was manifested by his works.
3. “When he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad.” He would have rejoiced had he beheld no more than the tranquillity and outward comfort of his fellow Christians. But the delight which swallowed up all other motives of joy was to behold the growing establishment of the Church of Christ; to behold sinners turning with abhorrence from their iniquities, and glorifying the Lord their Redeemer by newness of life.
4. “Exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” The joy of Barnabas did not waste itself in idle contemplation. His love of Christ constrained him to labour for Christ. His love of man impelled him to the assistance of man. How many sufferers previously (chap. 4:36, 37) experienced from his compassion the comforts of food and raiment! He went about as a minister to mankind of those blessings, which exclusively confer complete and durable consolation. (T. Gisborne, M. A.)
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus for to seek Saul.
Saul brought to Antioch; buried talent called forth to its appropriate field of labour
How Saul had been employed all this time (Acts 9:30) we have no means of ascertaining. We cannot well doubt that he would bring the claims of Christianity before philosophers and urge the proofs that Jesus was the Messiah in the synagogue; nor can we doubt that his labours would be in some degree successful. The work at Antioch required one like Saul, and in our age a telegraphic despatch would have summoned him; but then Barnabas had to go and find him. Notice--
I. The emergency which had then occurred in the Church. Observe that--
1. The ideas of Christians up to that time had been limited. It was a slow process by which the attention of the apostles was directed to the regions beyond Palestine, and even then their thoughts were directed to Hebrews.
2. The events at Antioch could not well be mistaken as bearing on this point. The gospel had been preached there to heathen with great power and success.
3. The name Christian was conferred and adopted just as this enlarged view of the nature of their religion was becoming the common view of the Church.
II. The ample field, on which the talents of Saul, now summoned from obscurity, might act.
1. Antioch itself. This Syrian capital, by its wealth, its commerce, its accessibility, its communication with the other parts of the world, its numbers, was one of the most important centres of influence; and we may readily understand, therefore, why he was called by Providence to labour there.
2. The world itself would be suggested as a field for which Saul was especially qualified; and which, in his call, he had been designated to occupy. The new idea was one which could not be confined in its operations to Antioch, for the principles which made it proper to preach the gospel there, made it proper to preach it everywhere. The events now occurring could not but suggest to a mind like Saul’s the fact that the whole world was to be visited by like influences of the Spirit of God.
III. The arrangements for calling talent forth to accomplish the Divine purposes.
1. Talent is found in one of these forms.
(1) In preparation for the future.
(2) In obscurity.
(3) Employed in a purpose corresponding to the design for which it was created.
(4) Perverted and abused. These forms may exist separately, or two of them may be combined. Thus talent in preparation, and as yet in obscurity, may be combined, for the occasion may not yet have arisen to call it forth. We have no reason to doubt that while Saul was in Arabia and in Tarsus he was preparing for his great work.
2. There is talent created in each age of the world, for all the purposes of that age. It is not developed from the past; nor is it the production of the mere laws of nature or hereditary; it is as much a new creation as would be the introduction of a new world. There was nothing in Stratford-on-Avon that could produce Shakespeare; nor anything in his father of which “Lear,” and “Hamlet,” and “Othello” could be the development. The mind of Shakespeare was as really an act of creation as the creation of a world. So with Johnson, Milton, Michael Angelo. These minds were made of such capacity, power, and adaptedness to a particular end, as God pleased; and were brought upon the earth at, when, and how He saw best. There is a difference between the Divine arrangements for the physical wants of the world, and for its mental and moral wants. In the former case, long before man was upon the earth, God had created all that the race would need in all its history. Mind, on the contrary, He brings upon the earth as it is wanted. At every period there is a class of minds needed to carry the world forward in its ordinary course--in working the fields already cultivated. As, however, the world’s most marked advances are not by a steady ascent, but rather per saltum, so (when the time arrives for such a new elevation) God creates the mind or minds fitted to the occasion. Thus some great lawgiver, poet, painter, soldier, philosopher. Such men as Moses, Caesar, etc., lay the foundation for new epochs, and such “epochs” really constitute the history of the progress of the world.
3. Under this arrangement much talent may be hidden; much may be in a state of almost unconscious preparation. How little did Washington, amid the quiet scenes at Mount Vernon, how little Oliver Cromwell, on his farm, dream of the great part each was to act in the history of the world! The emergency came. There was enough for those great men to do, and God had endowed them with talent sufficient to do all that was needful to be accomplished in their age.
4. Emergencies do arise to call forth the talent which God has conferred. When liberty is endangered, when reforms are to be effected, when the world is to he prepared for some new and signal advance, then talent before hidden is brought forward to do its work. Such--in a more eminent degree than aught else--was the period when, after so long a preparation, and when “the fulness of the time was come,” the Son of God was called from His obscurity in darkened Galilee. Such also--subordinate to that higher purpose, but still so marked in its character as to constitute a new epoch in the world’s history--was the calling forth of Saul to act his part on the great theatre of human affairs. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
What the world called the Church, and what the Church calls itself
Nations and parties often call themselves by one name, and are known to the world by another. These outside names are generally given in contempt; and yet they sometimes hit the very centre, and so by degrees get to be adopted as an honour. So it has been with the name “Christian.” It is never used in the New Testament by Christians about themselves. It occurs here in Agrippa’s half-contemptuous exclamation, and in 1 Peter 4:16. Consider--
I. This name given by the world to the Church, which the Church has adopted.
1. Observe the circumstances under which it was given. A handful of Jews from Jerusalem had come down to Antioch, and there they preached the gospel to heathen, and their success has for its crowning attestation that it compelled the sarcastic Antiochenes to find out a new name for this new thing; to find out a new label for the new bottles into which the new wine was being put. Clearly the name shows--
(1) That the Church was beginning to attract the attention of outsiders.
(2) That there was a novel element in the Church. The earlier disciples had been all Jews. But here is something that could not be called either Jew or Greek, because it embraces both. The new name is the first witness to the cosmopolitan character of the primitive Church.
(3) That even these superficial observers had got hold of the right notion of what it was that did bind these people together. They called them “Christians”--Christ’s men, Christ’s followers. If they had called them “Jesuits” that would have meant the followers of the mere man; but it is not Jesus the Man, but Jesus Christ, the Man with His office, that makes the centre and the bond of the Christian Church.
2. Plain lessons lie on the surface.
(1) The Church should draw to itself the notice of the world not by advertising, and ostentation, and singularities. If you are live Christians it will be plain enough to outsiders. What shall we say of leaven which does not leaven, or of light which does not shine? Are the world’s names for themselves enough to describe you by, or do you need another to be coined for you? The Church that does not provoke the attention of outsiders is not the Church as Christ meant it to be.
(2) The clear impression made by our conduct should be that we belong to Christ. The eye of an outsider may be unable to penetrate the secret of the deep sweet tie uniting us to Jesus, but there should be no possibility of his overlooking the fact that we are His. He should manifestly be the centre, guide, impulse, pattern, strength and reward of our whole lives. Do you think that, without your words, if you, living the way you do, were put down into the middle of Pekin, the wits of the Chinese metropolis would have to invent a name for you; and, if so, the name that would naturally come to their lips would be “Christians”--“Christ’s men.” If you do not, there is something wrong.
(3) It is a very sad thing when the world’s inadequate notions of what makes a follower of Jesus Christ get accepted by the Church. The name “Christian” ran all over Christendom in the course of a century and a half, largely because it was a conveniently vague name. Many a man is quite willing to say, “I am a Christian,” that would hesitate a long time before he said, “I am a believer”; “a disciple.”
II. Side by side with this vague, general, outside name the more specific and interior names, by which Christ’s followers at first knew themselves.
1. “Disciples,” the name employed almost exclusively during the time of Christ’s life upon earth, sets forth Christ as being the Teacher, and His followers His scholars, who learned at His feet. Now that is always true. He teaches us still by the record of His life, and by the living influence of that Spirit whom He sends forth to guide us into all truth. But that name is not enough, and so after He had passed from earth, it unconsciously and gradually dropped out of the lips of the disciples, as they felt deepened bond uniting them to Him who was not only the Teacher of the Truth, which was Himself, but was their sacrifice and Advocate with the Father. And for all who hold the essentially imperfect conception of Jesus Christ as being mainly a Teacher, either by word or by pattern, it is worthy of consideration that the name of disciple was speedily felt to be inadequate to represent the bond that knit men to Christ.
2. Teacher and scholars move in a region which, though it be important, is not the central one. And the word that was needed next lifts us into a higher atmosphere. Believers, they who yield not merely intellectual submission to the dicta of the Teacher, but living trust in the Redeemer. We believe a truth, we trust a Person; and that trust is the one thing that binds men to God, and the one thing that makes us Christ’s men. Apart from it, we may be very near Him, but we are not joined to Him. By it, and by it alone, the union is completed, and His power and grace flow into our spirits.
3. The name “saints” has suffered perhaps more at the hands both of the world and of the Church than any other. It has been by the latter restricted to the dead, and further restricted to those who excel, according to the fantastic, ascetic standard of mediaeval Christianity. It has been used by the world with a bitter emphasis to mean a pretender to be better than other people, whose actions contradict his claim. But the name belongs to all Christ’s followers. It makes no claim to special purity, for the central idea of the word “saint” is not purity, but separation. The New Testament idea of saint has in it these elements--consecration, consecration resting on faith in Christ, and consecration leading to separation from the world and its sin. And that must be the experience of every true Christian. All Christ’s people are saints, not as being pure, but as being given up to Him, in union with whom alone will the cleansing powers flow into their lives and clothe them with “the righteousness of saints.”
4. Brethren--a name much maltreated both by the insincerity of the Church, and by the sarcasm of the world. An unreal appellation which has meant nothing, so that the world has said that our “brethren” signified a good deal less than their “brothers.” But the main thing about that name is not the relation of the brethren to one another, but their common relation to their Father. As society gets more complicated, as Christian people get unlike each other in education and social position, it gets more and more difficult to feel that any two Christian people, however unlike each other, are nearer each other in the very roots of their nature, than a Christian and a non-Christian, however like each other. It is difficult to feel that but for all that it is a fact. And now I wish to ask you whether you feel more at home with people who love Christ, or whether you like better to be with people who do not. The duties of your position, of course, oblige each of you to be much among people who do not share your faith; but for Christian people to make choice of heart friends, among those who have no sympathy with their love to Jesus Christ, does not say much for the depth and reality of their religion. A man is known by the company he keeps, and if you deeply feel the bond that knits you to Christ, and really live near to Him, you will be near your brethren. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The name “Christian”
I. When it was given.
1. Not until twelve years, apparently, of most intense life, persecution, growth, did the Christians receive any abiding name, which serves to show us that God cares for things, not names. God makes the things, man gives the names; yet how much controversy is merely about names.
2. Not until after the disciples had become known among the Gentiles. The Jews would never have given us this holy name.
II. Where. In Antioch. Which was--
1. Beautiful. Situate on the Orontes, where it breaks through between Lebanon and Taurus; the scenery magnificent, itself splendidly adorned, and surrounded with groves and gardens.
2. Rich. The capital of Syria and the third city of the world; centre of traffic between east and west.
3. Pleasure-loving. The meeting place between the lively Greek and self-indulgent Eastern, with every inducement and advantage for enjoyment.
4. Wicked. Antioch was exceptionally depraved. Borne was horribly bad; but when the satirist wished to say that Rome was made tenfold more corrupt, he wrote that Orontes had emptied itself into the Tiber.
5. Heathen. Here were the notorious groves of Daphne, where Apollo was worshipped with all magnificence and vice.
III. Why. That is not quite so certain; but we may safely say that it came about thus: The Antiochenes noticed some among them who differed from others. The beauty of the place they regarded with sober admiration; its riches and business they cared little for: they were industrious, used no trickery, abandoned many trades altogether, and did not grieve much if they lost their money; its amusements they shunned, and as for the sins of the place, they both avoided and rebuked them. Then the heathen were astonished, and asked, “Who has taught you this? Who has given you this new-fangled view of the beauty, wealth, pleasure, and sin (as you call it) of Antioch? Who has forbidden you to worship our gods?” To this the answer was ever,
“Christ has told us that the world and its beauty pass away; but He has told us of a new heaven and earth far better. He has taught us to think but little of the world’s wealth, for He has given us treasure in heaven. He has taught us to look for higher pleasures, and to beware of yours, lest they lead us to sin and death. He has taught us above all to know and hate sin, and not to give to your gods that which is His due. “So,” the Antiochenes would say, “this is your God.” “Yes,” they would reply, “we are His, and cannot take the absorbing interest you do in the beauty, wealth, pleasure, sin, and idolatry of Antioch.” Some among the heathen would believe, the rest would scoff and call them “Christians.” (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
The Christian name
1. At first sight this might seem to be a piece of information such as is to be met with in an old chronicle, or in Notes and Queries, and it probably was meant to correct the idea that the disciples were first called Christians at Jerusalem. But we have here much more than this.
2. The name of a man or society is not like a label, which may be detached from a piece of lifeless furniture; it is a factor of which account must be taken for good or evil. Men have borne names which they have felt to be a stigma--an active cause of discouragement and failure. Men have also inherited names which have lifted themselves into a fellowship with a past of high effort. And, in religion names have a mighty power of shaping thought and sympathy. This applies to the greatest of names--Christians.
I. How came the disciples by this name?
1. It comes into view together with the first attempt to preach the gospel to the pagan world. The Jews would not have given it. They believed in a coming Christ, but rejected the true Christ. But His appearance was an entirely new and original idea to pagans, and the constant repetition of His name would suggest to the keen-witted Greeks to call the disciples Christians.
2. It is probable that the name was a nickname, meant to suggest that those who could do nothing but talk about their Christ were a set of fanatics to be laughed out of existence. The ease was parallel to the feeling about Christ crucified at Corinth.
II. There were other names by which the disciples were known.
1. Before: Brethren, Disciples, Elect, Saints, Faithful.
2. After: Gnostics, men who had a knowledge of Divine things--Theophori, Christopheri (God bearers, Christ bearers), Nazarenes, and at Rome especially, impostors, magicians, Galileans, sophists, atheists, Sarmentitii, desperate men, who were indifferent to death; Parabolani, men who lived only to die, Biathanati, men whose garments smelt of the faggot, etc.
3. Since: Catholic, a name of commanding power, but this describes a quality, Christian, the substance of true religion; the one views it in relation to mankind, the other in its source and author; Catholic might be dissociated from Christ--Christian never.
III. The import and glory of the Christian name. The apostles highly prized it: James calls it “that worthy name”; St. Peter a name for which it is a glory to suffer. It is a great distinction--
1. To be a learner in the one great school of truth. This is the very least that the name can mean, just as those who followed Plato were called Platonists.
2. To be in the service of such a commander as Christ. We know the feeling which attaches in our army to being in the best regiments; to be in the regiment led by Jesus Christ across the centuries, ought to satisfy a nobler ambition.
3. To be endowed with a new nature--that of Christ the Lord. Compared with this, how poor is “noble” birth! A Christian is a member of the aristocracy of heaven.
IV. The responsibility of the bearers of this great name.
1. It is a summons to unity.
(1) Because it distinguishes the disciples from others it has been stigmatised as a badge of division. Human, it is contended, would represent a more adequate bond of brotherhood. But the aim of Christianity is to make one synonymous with the other and the name is a pledge that it will one day do so.
(2) This name is borne by millions of Christian worshippers who are divided widely from each other. But the name implies amid all their divisions the substantial loyalty of all to Christ.
2. It is a call to holiness. “Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Application: Let us remember this name--
(1) In the morning.
(2) At night.
(3) In the hour of death. (Canon Liddon.)
The Christian name
We may consider this name in various views; as a name of distinction from the rest of the world, who know not Christ, or reject Him; as a patronymic name, pointing out the Founder of the Christian Church; as a badge of our relation to Christ as His servants, His children, His bride; as intimating our unction by the Holy Spirit; as Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit, or above measure, as a name of appropriation, signifying that we are the property of Christ and His peculiar people. But my present design confines me to consider the Christian name--
I. As a catholic name, intended to bury all party denominations.
1. The name Gentile was odious to the Jews, and the name Jew to the Gentiles. The name Christian swallows up both in one common and agreeable appellation. He that hath taken down the partition wall, has taken away partition names, and united all His followers in His own name (Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28; Zechariah 14:9).
2. It is but a due honour to Christ, the founder of Christianity, that all who profess His religion should wear His name; and they pay an extravagant compliment to his ministers when they take their denomination from them. Had this humour prevailed in the primitive Church there would have been Paulites from Paul, Peterites from Peter, Johnites from John, Barnabites from Barnabas, etc. Paul took pains to crush the first risings of this party spirit in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12-15). But alas! how little has this convictive reasoning of the apostle been regarded. Not to take notice of Jesuits, Jansenites, Dominicans, Franciscans, etc., in the popish Church, where, having corrupted the thing, they act very consistently to lay aside the name, what party names have been adopted by the Protestant Churches, whose religion is substantially the same. To be a Christian is not enough nowadays, but a man must also be something more. But where is the reason or propriety of this? I may indeed believe the same things which Luther or Calvin believed: but I do not believe them on the authority of Luther or Calvin, but upon the sole authority of Jesus Christ, and therefore I should not call myself by their name, as one of their disciples, but by the name of Christ, whom alone I acknowledge as my only Master and Lord.
3. To guard against mistakes on this head I would observe that every man has a right to choose for himself in matters of religion. In the exercise of this right he will find that he agrees more fully with some particular Church than others, and thereupon it is his duty to join that Church; and he may, if he pleases, assume the name which that Church wears, by way of distinction from others; this is not what I condemn. But for me to glory in the denomination of any particular Church as my highest character, to lay more stress upon the name of a Presbyterian era Churchman than on that of Christian; to make it the object of my zeal to gain proselytes to some other than the Christian name; to connive at the faults of those of my own party, and to be blind to the good qualities of others, or invidiously to misrepresent or diminish them; these proceed from a spirit of bigotry directly opposite to the generous catholic spirit of Christianity.
II. As a name of obligation upon all that bear it to be Christians indeed, or to form their temper and practice upon the sacred model of Christianity. To be a Christian, in the popular and fashionable sense, is no difficult or excellent thing. It is to be baptized, to believe, like our neighbours, that Christ is the Messiah, and to attend upon public worship once a week. In this sense a man may be a Christian, and yet be habitually careless about eternal things; a Christian, and yet fall short of the morality of many of the heathens. To be a Christian in this sense is no high character; and if this be the whole of Christianity it is very little matter whether the world be Christianised or not. But to be a Christian indeed is the highest character and dignity of which the human nature is capable. To be a Christian is--
1. To depart from iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19). What, then, shall we think of the profligate, profane Christians, that have overrun the Christian world? Can there be a greater contradiction? A loyal subject in arms against his sovereign, an ignorant scholar, a sober drunkard, a charitable miser, an honest thief, is not a greater absurdity, or a more direct contradiction. Therefore, if you will not renounce iniquity, renounce the Christian name. Alexander had a fellow in his army that was of his own name, but a mere coward. “Either be like me,” says Alexander, “or lay aside my name.”
2. To deny yourselves and take up the cross and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). To deny ourselves is to abstain from the pleasures of sin; to deny our own interest for the sake of Christ. To take up our cross is to bear sufferings, to encounter difficulties, and break through them for His sake. To follow Him is to trace His steps and imitate His example whatever it cost us. These are the terms if you would be Christians. These He honestly warned mankind of when He first called them to be His disciples (Luke 14:25, etc.). What, then, shall we think of those crowds who retain the Christian name, and yet will not deny themselves of their sensual pleasures, nor part with their temporal interest for the sake of Christ? A Christian, without self-denial, and a supreme love to Jesus Christ, is as great a contradiction as fire without heat, or a sun without light, a hero without courage, or a friend without love.
3. To be a follower or imitator of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Peter 2:21; Romans 7:22; Philippians 2:5). Conclusion: I might add that the Christian name is not hereditary, but you must be born anew of the spirit to entitle you to this new name; that a Christian is a believer, believing in Him after whom he is called as his only Saviour and Lord, and that he is a true penitent.
You may hence see--
1. That the Christian character is the highest in the world, it includes everything truly great and amiable. To acquire the title of kings and lords is not in your power; to spread your fame as scholars, philosophers, or heroes, may be beyond your reach; but here is a character more excellent, more amiable, more honourable than all these, which it is your business to deserve and maintain. And this is a dignity which beggars and slaves may attain.
2. That if all the professors of Christianity should behave in character, the religion of Christ would soon appear Divine to all mankind, and spread through all nations of the earth. It would be as needless to offer arguments to prove it Divine as to prove that the sun is full of light: the conviction would flash upon all mankind by its own intrinsic evidence. (S. Davies, M. A.)
The Christian name
I. What. All that the name has come to mean was quite unintended by the Antiochenes. But the question now is not what these ancient people meant, but what, after nineteen centuries of Christian literature and life, it has come to mean. Undoubtedly it comprehends--
1. Faith in Christ.
2. Love to Christ.
3. Imitation of Christ.
4. Union with Christ, with all the effects which flow from these, such as obedience to Christ’s will, loyalty to Christ’s cause, fellowship with Christ’s people, profession of Christ’s principles, and the blessed hope of being with Christ forever. Without each of these in a greater or less degree no man is entitled to the Christian name.
II. Where. At Antioch.
1. An unlikely place, one would think. Why should the worshippers of physical beauty, the slaves of lust, the devotees of gain, the priests of a false religion, and the teachers and disciples of an agnostic philosophy care a straw about the followers of a crucified Jew whose teachings ran counter to all their desires, practices, traditions, and disbeliefs, much less trouble to give them a new name? But experience should teach us that people are not so indifferent as they seem. With every motive to ignore the Christianity of today, people are earnestly noting and talking about it.
2. Really a most likely place. Here Christianity stood out in marked contrast to all the Antiochenes had ever known. It was a new thing. Its positive belief, purity, charity, brotherhood, stood in contrast with the prevalent scepticism, iniquity, and selfishness of the place. Light cannot but be seen in darkness, and of all places Christianity must have been most conspicuous at Antioch. It compelled attention, and the symptom of this attention was the name Christian.
3. The best place. No city in the world except Rome and Alexandria afforded such facilities for the dissemination of the knowledge of this name. Antioch was the Liverpool of the age. Let once a religious movement get well rooted in the great northern port, and all the world will soon hear of it.
III. By whom.
1. Perhaps by matter of fact men who wanted a word which they could use in current conversation and be universally understood when talking of this new movement. Just as when a name was required to describe the followers of Aristotle or Plato in ancient, and of Luther and Pusey in modern times, the convenient designations were Aristotelians, etc.
2. Perhaps by wits and scoffers, who gladly availed themselves of the opportunity of fixing the name of a crucified malefactor on fanatics whose tenets were only worthy of laughter or scorn.
3. Perhaps by admirers who saw a resemblance between the disciples and all that was known of Christ.
IV. When. When a new name was required to describe a new thing. Up till now all Christians were Jews, but even now there were such characteristics that marked them off from the rest of their race that a separate designation was required. When, however, Greeks came into the fold a distinctive name became imperative, and one was found which covered both Jew and Greek.
V. Why. Because the disciples were--
1. Consecrated to Christ.
2. Always talking about Christ.
3. Ever seeking to secure disciples for Christ.
VI. With what results. The name--
1. Gradually superseded every other name.
2. Still towers above every other name. All genuine Christians are glad to subordinate denominational distinctions.
3. Will eventually be the only name. (J. W. Burn.)
The disciples called Christians
I. Although everyone admits that the appellative “Christian” is derived from our great Master Christ, there is considerable variety of opinion as to the way in which it was so derived.
1. The view taken by one class of expositors is, that this appellative was first given in derision and contempt.
2. A second opinion is, that the title in question was first assumed by the Christians themselves, as a new and significant distinction.
3. But a more probable account of this matter is, that the name Christian was first adopted by Divine appointment and authority.
(1) The word translated “called,” in the text, is sometimes used in the sense of “to warn, or appoint by Divine authority.”
(2) The mere fact of the first use of the term “Christian” being recorded in so abbreviated and important a history as that of the Acts would argue that it was an event of much interest to the Church of Christ in all succeeding ages.
(3) As it is mentioned in immediate connection with the teaching of Barnabas and Paul, it is not unreasonable to infer that those holy men instructed the disciples at Antioch not only to believe in Christ, but also to adopt His name.
II. Having considered the derivation and meaning of the name, we must not inquire respecting the character; for it is one thing to be called a Christian, and another thing to be one. Suppose that, with the New Testament in our hand, we were required to give some account of one of those early Antiochian Christians; we should, without fear of contradiction, assert the following particulars:--
1. That he was a man who received and believed the doctrines of the Lord Christ.
2. Our disciple at Antioch, one of those first called Christians, would place his confidence in the Lord Jesus as his Saviour, and in Him alone.
3. He would be one that yielded implicit obedience to the commands of the Son of God.
4. He would consider the Lord Jesus Christ as that perfect and illustrious example he was bound by every obligation to imitate.
(1) Do Christians imitate the Lord Jesus?--then are they an inoffensive people; for He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26).
(2) Are Christians imitators of Christ? then are they a useful people; for He “went about doing good,” and then “gave Himself a ransom for all.”
(3) Are Christians people who follow the example of the holy Jesus? then are they a holy and devout people; for He frequented the temple and the synagogue, to pray in public; and retired to the mountain’s summit, to pray in private; and in that exercise sometimes wasted the hours of the night!
III. It only remains to deduce certain consequences in which we have all an intimate and deep concern.
1. The first is, that no man can become a Christian, in the evangelical sense of the word, without the intervention of Divine mercy and power.
2. The next is, that as a religious designation, the term “Christian” is of itself quite sufficient; and that all sectarian additions are but proofs of the infirmity or depravity of men. On this subject I venture to advise--
(1) That you esteem denomination as Christian, only as its members embrace the truth, imbibe the spirit, and obey the commands of Christ; and--
(2) That you glory in the name of “Christian,” and make no account of any other.
3. It is clear from what has been advanced, that to assume the name without sustaining the character of a Christian is a serious evil. No man can be so called without being eternally better or worse for it!
4. It is evident from the whole, that to be called a Christian, and to be one, is the supreme happiness of man! Oh the honour! to have that dear, that sacred, that exalted name, named upon us! Christians!--happy people! Innumerable, exceeding great and precious promises are theirs. Then why hesitate a moment to become an entire and decided Christian? To this high and unspeakable honour you are all invited; Oh, spurn not this mark of infinite mercy, condescension, and love! (James Bromley.)
The Christian nickname
A father once planned a pleasant surprise for his son who was just beginning to think for himself. In a corner of his garden he wrote with his finger his boy’s name in soft mould. The furrows he then sowed with seeds of cress. A few days after this, as was expected, the astonished lad came running in with the news that his name was growing up out of one of the flower beds. Then, with the explanation immediately rendered, followed the lessons--that nothing comes by chance; that many mysteries can be traced out very easily by a little patient study; that it is possible for men to seem to do many things of their own accord, when really it is God who overrules even the powers of nature to His own glory; and that, noble and excellent a thing as it is to have a Christian name, it is always worth while to ask where it comes from, and what it actually means. Here is a use for the illustration at once. Our young people, coming into life, find the name of “Christian” meeting their eyes at every turn, almost as if it had grown up out of the ground of human history with no hand to plant the seed.
I. Where was it that the name was first received? Twenty miles from the Mediterranean, just at the point where Syria joins Asia Minor, stood a town so magnificent that even the fastidious Greeks called it “Antioch the beautiful,” and the Romans “the Queen of the East.” But, as too often happens in this world, Antioch was as vile as it was beautiful. No man cared for God or for his fellow man.
II. Who gave the name? The Romans or the local inhabitants of Antioch under their sway. The term reads like the rest of Latin appellations. They called the followers of Herod “Herodians,” of Vitellius “Vitellians,” and so they easily invented the name of “Christians” from the name of Christ. Hence we see that in the beginning it was a mere nickname; probably they hissed it out hatefully, and pointed their fingers at the man who gloried in a crucified Leader. All we need to say, however, is that the beautiful city is today lying in unsightly ruins; and if anyone were to ask what Antioch was, the answer would be, the town where “the disciples were first called Christians.” That nickname preserves Antioch from being forgotten.
III. What does the name mean? One who goes after Christ as His Redeemer and Pattern. Change only one of the letters, and we have the whole significance; a Christian is a Christ-man. And this includes these things at the least: one who has learned about Christ; one who trusts to Christ for pardon; one who resembles Christ in his life; and one who gives to Christ his entire heart in a lasting love.
1. The first of these it might be assumed we all have already. Those person would be called heathen who had never been told of Jesus’ life and death.
2. But, most of all, we need to see that we are sinners; then we shall perceive how gracious God was in sending His only Son to die for us; and then we shall be ready to accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour.
3. Then, to be a Christian means that one shall grow like the Saviour. God has given us four portraits of Him in the Gospels. These we can study constantly.
4. Then we are to give our hearts to Christ in a loving service. We are to go about doing good, as He did. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
What is it to be a Christian
1. The Divinity of Christ is the object of the Christian’s worship.
2. The condescension and atonement of Christ are the objects of the Christian’s gratitude and trust.
3. The life and teachings of Christ are the subjects of the Christian’s example and belief.
4. The reign of Christ is the object of the Christian’s confidence and joy.
5. The return of Christ is the object of the Christian’s expectation. “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” (Homiletic Monthly.)
The history of Christianity at Antioch is on a small scale the history of Christianity in the world. Study the growth of one tree, and you will have a knowledge of the laws which regulate development in the vegetable world. The flowers that bloom today obey the same laws as did those of Paradise, and the Churches of today spread themselves after the same fashion as did that of Antioch. It is of the first importance, then, that we should know all that the name Christian means.
I. Choice. Choice does not rule everywhere. We did not choose whether we would have life, parents, name, country, or not. And there are some things connected with Christianity which may be put in the same list--Christian land, books, thoughts, facts, etc. We are not Christians because we live among these circumstances, any more than a man becomes a horse by being put into a stable, any more than a sheep’s clothing makes a sheep. Doubtless there are thousands who believe that baptism makes them Christians, just as Pagans believed that, by going through certain rites, they obtained the favour of the gods. But the New Testament teaches that Christianity is to be chosen. There must be first a willing mind--not a mere non-rejection of Christianity, but a clear acceptance of Christ. There is something inspiriting in this. Christ appeals to our manhood. He does not treat us like children to be led by the hand, nor compel us to a kind of religious slavery, but teaches us to stand erect in our humility.
II. Obedience. Authority is essential to all life. Natural life must be regulated by well known rules, which we did not invent, but which we found invented for us. So with spiritual life and communion. We may be improving their outward forms and adapting them to the changing culture of the age. But we must build on the same foundations, and progress on the same principles as the earliest Christians did--in one word, bow to the authority of Christ. The Church has suffered from the usurped authority of kings, parliaments, bishops, mobs; but the Church’s true Head is Christ. Alas for the Churches, they have too often lived as though the Head were a mere caput mortuum. But the Head of the Church is a mind that thinks of its difficulties and trials; it governs a hand that can guide it in all its devious paths; it moves a will that can defend it, and has a mouth by which the law of God can be made known.
III. Separation. One of the reasons why Christians were so much hated was that they stood aloof from the common enjoyments of life. But this was inevitable, for the festivities and customs of Greece and Rome were so leavened with idolatry and sin that indulgence in the one involved complicity with the other. The early Christians consequently were in danger of asceticism, and were tempted to confound what was innocent with what was sinful. Society, thanks to Christian influence, is not now so corrupt. And yet our danger lies in too much laxity and indifference. Depravity has not been charmed away, and there is no less peril in the world’s friendship today than there was eighteen hundred years ago. If, then, we would do good service in the world we must separate from its evil. The hope of the Church is in its clean hands and pure heart. Separation from all known evil is the mark alike of the Christian soul and the Christian community.
IV. Willingness to suffer for Christ (1 Peter 4:16). (S. Pearson, M. A.)
What constitutes a Christian
A friend of mine was staying at a farm in the South of Scotland. The district was supposed to be very religious; and one afternoon, while sitting in the dining room, my friend and the hostess fell into a conversation about Church affairs. The lady was quite well informed of the difference between these two great branches of the Presbyterian Church, the Free and the Established; but when her visitor asked if there were many real Christians in the parish, she only stared in blank amazement as she replied, “Why, we are all Christians.” “But,” continued her friend, “it is true Christians I mean, not merely nominal Christians, but men and women who have really trusted Christ with their souls, and are trying to convince and persuade their fellows to do the same.” But the distinction between real and nominal Christians seemed too subtle for her, and all she replied was, “But we are all Christians, we were all born Christians!” Her guest, however, was determined, if possible, to bring home the difference to her, and mentioning a man welt known in the locality for his drunken and disorderly habits, asked, “Would you call K--a Christian?” “Yes, I suppose he must be.” “Then there is G--,” mentioning a gentleman equally well known for his godly and philanthropic life, “would you call him a Christian?” “Yes!”--the “yes” came more heartily this time. “Then both these men are Christians. There is no difference between them.” “Oh, yes, there is a difference.” “Then what is that difference?” But she would not attempt to define it. She wished to keep that comfortable delusion that we are all Christians, whose principal Christian duty is to go to church on Sunday and put a penny in the plate. It is from such lukewarm, nominal Christians that the Church must shake herself loose before she can take her true place as a militant force against the powers of evil. (H. Hamilton.)
To what sort of a character should we attach the name of Christian; what life is it deserves that? The medals given to the Indians at the treaty of Red River were supposed to be of silver, but were really of a baser metal. Said an Indian chief, striking his in such a way that the deceit was apparent, “I think it would disgrace the Queen, my mother, to wear her image on so base a metal as this.”
What is it to be a Christian
A little child was once asked what it was to be a Christian, and she wisely answered, “It is just to do what Jesus would do if He was a little girl and lived at our house.”
A Christian by profession and practice
The Christian man is to be something like a physician. You know we call a physician a professional man. Well, how does he profess? There is a large brass plate on his door and a big bell, and everybody knows what the brass plate and the bell mean. That is part of his profession. What else? How does he profess to be a physician? He goes into company, and his dress is like anybody else’s. You do not see a box of lancets hanging at his side; you do not observe that he is dressed in any peculiar costume. He is a physician, and he is always a physician; but his profession is carried on by his practice. This is how a Christian’s profession is to be carried on, by his practice. The man is a physician professionally, because he really does heal people and write prescriptions and attend to their wants. I am to be a Christian in my actions, my deeds, my thoughts, my words. Therefore, if anybody wants a Christian, I should be known by my words and my acts. When we used to go to school, we would draw houses, and horses, and trees on our slates, and we remember how we used to write “house” under the house, and “horse” under the horse, for some persons might have thought the horse was a house. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
What constitutes a Christian
Four things are necessary to constitute a Christian.
1. Faith makes a Christian.
2. Life proves a Christian.
3. Trials confirm a Christian.
4. Death crowns a Christian.
What is a Christian
A young convert arose in the prayer meeting and said, “A few days since the foreman of my room came to me and said, ‘Henry, are you a Christian!’ I replied, ‘Yes, sir, I am. At least I am trying to be. I look to the Lord for strength and grace!’ And then I could think of nothing better to say, so I thought I would ask him a question; so I said, ‘Mr. Smith, are you a Christian?’ He replied, ‘I go to church!’ Then I didn’t know what to say. But a few days before this conversation a boy of about twelve years old came into the shop and asked for work. When the foreman told him he had none for him, he told a pitiful story of the sickness of his father and mother. The foreman then asked him if he had ever worked in a jeweller’s shop, and he replied, ‘No, sir, but I have worked next door to one!’ So, when I could not think what to say to my foreman, this came into my mind, and I said, ‘Mr. Smith, do you remember the little boy who came in here the other day and said he once worked next door to a jeweller’s shop?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you think that working next to a jeweller’s shop made him a jeweller?’ ‘No.’ ‘Do you think that going to church makes you a Christian?’ Who does not see that the answer of this young convert razes to the earth all the refuges of our dear friends away from the Saviour, who have become accustomed to substituting fallacies for reasons, and good deeds of their own for faith in Christ’s blood and New Testament obedience? Many who are deferential and reverential in the presence of the gospel’s proclamations say that, while such a way as it prescribes is doubtless proper for most people, they must be allowed to present, as the ground of their hopes, their uniform kindness to Christian ministers, their constant readiness to aid in their support, their presence and devout behaviour in church service, their compassionate and self-sacrificing ministrations to the unfortunate, their honourable business dealing, and their high regard, generally, for the rights of men. These are grand things. True Christianity is very far from discarding them; it insists upon them. But with equal vigour it protests against their substitution for the “faith which works by love.” This is evidently working “next door to a jeweller’s shop.” (Christian Age.)
And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
Fruit from the Gentiles
1. The relation between the old Church at Jerusalem and the new at Antioch was that which St. Paul, writing under parallel circumstances, described in Romans 15:27 (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:12-15)
. It was a becoming acknowledgment of the vast debt under which all the world must lie to the Jew, but it was no repayment of it, when rich Antioch sent bread to starving Judaea. Jerusalem sent prophets, Antioch sent back corn. Agabus appears once again (Acts 21:10), and again as a predictor of disasters. This is the more noticeable that prediction was not the usual function of the prophetic order of the apostolic Church. They were men whom the Spirit had gifted with persuasive speech, and insight into truth. We have lost the name, but the thing remains.
2. The prediction of Agabus had a practical design. He foretold the dearth that the Church might act upon it, and on the hint they acted. The reign of Claudius was one of disaster; in the opening year it was Italy which suffered from the failure of crops; in the fourth, Palestine; in the eighth and ninth, Greece; in the eleventh, Italy again. It was to the second of these dearths that Agabus pointed which occurred in A.D. 45-46. We are here on sure chronological ground, and know that the want was so great that many were starved to death. A new convert to Judaism, the Queen of Adiabene, was so struck with the condition of things that she sent to Alexandria and Cyprus for supplies; and her son also, as Josephus tells us, contributed great sums of money to the same object.
3. On such occasions it was usual for the foreign synagogues to remit aid, as at this hour numbers of indigent Jews in Jerusalem are sustained by the charity of their European compatriots. The Church at Antioch, however, did not contribute through the synagogue, and in this separate assistance there is the first historical recognition of the fact that church and synagogue had parted company; that to be a Christian cut off a Jew from the charities of his own people; and that henceforth the tie of fellow Christian was to prove a stronger bond betwixt Jew and Gentile, than any other which bound Jew to Jew or Gentile to Gentile. A new force had entered into humanity, the name of Christian had already begun to dissolve ancient unities and to reconcile ancient feuds and to construct on the ruins of race hatreds a catholic society.
4. It is true to this day that Christianity plants in genuine Christian hearts a brotherhood which can cross the barriers of nationality. When the Reformation revived the primitive faith, the newly-formed Churches of Germany, Switzerland, England, etc., were brought into close and friendly relations. They exchanged famous teachers, sheltered one another’s confessors, shared each other’s fortune, and leagued their political influence for their common good. The Evangelical Churches of our own day have shown a similar readiness to succour feeble and struggling foreign congregations. If ever that decaying virtue called patriotism is to lose itself in a more cosmopolitan charity, it must be on a Christian, not on a socialistic, basis. It is sad to see the best hearts of Europe groping after the foundations of a new civil order in which all men shall be brothers while they cast off the name of One in whom alone the principles of love and freedom and authority meet. It is sadder still to see a Christian Church so rent by animosity that instead of demonstrating to distracted peoples where to find the true secret of brotherhood, it rather repels from Christ those who are most passionate for peace and fellowship. But when Jerusalem shall not envy Antioch nor Antioch vex Jerusalem, when Churches that are poor in this world are rich in faith, and those who are rich in this world are “ready to distribute,” then will men learn that to be a Christian is to be free of a universal commonwealth whose citizens are all equal and all loving.
5. The Gentile Church made its gift more precious by sending it through its most honoured members. It is notable that just before we part with the mother Church, we hear for the first time of its being ruled by presbyters (verse 30). This official name, the most venerable and Biblical of all ecclesiastical distinctions, frequently recurs, at first associated with apostles at Jerusalem, and afterwards with deacons or alone in the Churches of Ephesus, Crete, Philippi, etc. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Early Christian beneficence
I. The want predicted. The prophets’ functions were two fold: to forth-tell, i.e., to utter the present truth in forceful and convincing language, and to foretell future events. The latter entered largely into Old Testament prophecy, rarely into the New. The office has survived, and the former and more important function is discharged by the Christian ministry; but what has become of the latter? That the future should be an utter blank, that the Church should live from hand to mouth, that Christians should be mere opportunists, is dead against the doctrine of the Divine presence in and leadership of the Church. What had become of Christianity, not only in great crises, but in its normal developments, if it had lacked “seers,” “men who had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do”? Inspired prediction has ceased, and men can no longer tell with minute circumstantiality what a century may bring forth. But men are endowed with sagacity, prudent forethought, keen foresight, and in politics, business, etc., often make their calculations with the nicest accuracy, and lay plans which only extraordinary contingencies frustrate. It is this faculty that the great Head of the Church now consecrates and employs--when the Church places them at His disposal which, alas, is not always the case. It is the duty of Christians to be on their watch tower and to look out for advantages, and not only within the citadel economising resources or strengthening fortifications, e.g., a town Church should anticipate the migration of the surrounding population to the suburbs, and make timely provision for future extension. If, however, it is content with its own immediate work, and with the supply of its present needs, it may find itself, as many a city Church has done, utterly stranded. Again, the home Church should ever keep its eye on emigration to our colonies. How many descendants of Christian people have grown up practically heathen from the neglect of this! Once more, as regards ecclesiastical buildings--churches, schools, etc.
there should always be room for expansion, or, lacking accommodation, adults or children will go elsewhere or go nowhere. Lastly, to recur to the text, how requisite it is that wise and timely provision should be made for the necessities of the poor. The poor we have always with us, and we know from bitter experience that their wants are augmented in winter. Yet we allow winter to come, and when the evil is on us, there is a terrible spasm of effort to collect money, hold sewing meetings, open soup kitchens, etc. How much better to make timely provision in the summer when resources are more ample, and when we might encourage the poor themselves to “put by for a rainy day.”
II. The want met.
1. In the spirit of brotherhood. “Disciples … brethren.” They were people of different races, and the Christians at Antioch had been regarded with none too much of charity by the Church at Jerusalem. Tilts, however, was unnoticed. It was enough that “brethren” were in trouble, and “disciples” could relieve them. There were poor at Antioch no doubt; but Christians had not then learned to confine their benefactions to their own communities. How many rich Churches with few or no poor need this example!
2. Universally. “Every man” did something. It is an unhealthy state of things when contributions are confined to the more opulent of a congregation. Christians sadly need teaching the privilege as well as the duty of giving.
3. Conscientiously. “According to his ability.”
(1) Not according to some arbitrary rule. Tithing in many cases would be far more than the poor could afford, but far less than the rich.
(2) Not according to mere inclination. This fluctuates, and at one time impels a man to be unjust to himself and at another unjust to others.
(3) Not according to urgent solicitation. Agabus asked for nothing.
(4) But according to ability at the time.
4. Delicately. “By the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” A gift is enhanced by the medium through which it passes. If you cannot give yourself, see that your gifts are conveyed by those who will not make it disagreeable to receive them.
5. Wisely. To the elders of the Church, who best know the cases to be relieved, and can distribute economically and kindly. (J. W. Burn.)
1. It is impossible for us to read this record without being struck with the spirit and devotion which stamped the character of Divinity upon the religion in connection with which it is shown. It was one of the remarks made by a heathen author in those days, “See how these Christians love one another.” Men looked to their opinions, and could not accept them--to the peculiarities of their religion, and were offended by them. But there was an argument which these Christians could adduce, which an unbeliever could not impugn; it was a positive, practical, evident demonstration of the power of God.
2. The history is soon told. Light loves to radiate. For a long time Christian light was centred in Jerusalem, but there came a time when God chose to disperse that central light. Men, imbued with Christian faith and love, were scattered abroad; and among them were some who went as far as Antioch preaching the Word. Christianity is catholic; is also reflex in its operation: it is not one of those lights which fall upon a non-reflecting surface. It is intended that God should shine upon individuals, and that individuals in their turn should shine upon each other. “Let your light so shine before men,” etc. Christian light had come from Jerusalem to Antioch, and these men of Antioch necessarily sought for some opportunity of showing their gratitude. They could not send them light, for this they had, perhaps, in a more perfect form than themselves. But they were rich, and the others were poor; for the Christians at Jerusalem had beggared themselves by their liberality in times past. And so, when the occasion arose, the men of Antioch made a bold and a noble determination that “every man, according to his ability, should send help to the saints in Judea.” Not that they passed resolutions merely; nor that they went through that parody of benevolence that you find in public meetings, where you shall find men hold up their hands in accordance with some proposition that they never intend to carry out. The men of Antioch determined to do; and as they determined they did.
I. The occasion which produced this liberality. The destitution assumed two features--
1. It was predicted. There was no exhibition of harrowing details--no picture of widespread distress--held before the men of Antioch. It was a thing to be. Nevertheless, these men acted upon it as though it were, and prepared to meet it. What does this teach us?
(1) The simplicity of their faith. They had nothing objective to look to which told them of the existence of distress. They looked, perhaps, at the state of the soil, at the state of the atmosphere, at the circumstances of times past; but there was nothing to create apprehension. All was quiet, except the voice of prediction; and God, who seeth not as man seeth, told them that the famine was coming. And what did they do? Other men might have stood by in silent expectation, or have derided the prediction, but these men took prophecy for fact. In these days, probably, when men walk by sight in place of by faith, they would have said, “Wait till the calamity comes.” No, said these men; it has come. “Come where? There is no trace of it!” God has predicted it, and in the simplicity of their faith that was enough.
(2) A positive refinement of benevolence. There is a certain vulgarity of benevolence. In these days we have to place before men a picture of calamity, to come down to statistics, to state the absolute startling facts. But these men looked not for facts. They were prepared to act upon the intimation, and they required no appeal to their feelings; they took the fact as given at their hands by God.
2. It was universal. The Jewish historian tells us, it was over the entire world, and that multitudes died on account of it, and therefore these men of Antioch were included in it. What might have happened then? They might have said, When that dark calamity falls, it will touch ourselves; we shall come to the time of high prices, of scant food, of short employment; let us therefore be wise now in the principles of political economy, and lay by for our own destitution. No. Notwithstanding that they themselves stood on the very threshold of the disaster, they passed a resolution which they carried out into action.
II. The motives by which these men were probably actuated.
1. The smallest and lowest of the dictates of humanity. There are feelings within feelings, and circles within circles, and humanity is not the less practised because Christianity is received. You shall find it among heathen nations. It was one of the noblest sayings of antiquity, “I am a man, and hold nothing that concerns human kind to be strange to me.” Those men of Antioch were men. They felt for others. It was not simply that the men at Jerusalem were Christians--they were men, and because they were men, it was in the first place that they determined to help them.
2. But there are principles not built upon the mere instinctive and natural feelings--a love to men, on account of their being brother Christians. The disciples determined to send relief to the brethren. These men had never looked upon each other face to face, nor exchanged a thought. What then? Sons of God in Jerusalem--sons of God in Antioch--members of the same family of Christ looked upon each other as brethren! We oftentimes ask ourselves the meaning of the expression, “The communion of saints.” You have an exhibition of it here. Did not the men of Jerusalem feel, “We have sent light to Antioch”? And did not the men of Antioch feel, “We are going to return it after our poor fashion”? What is all that but communion? There is such a link in the natural world, where you shall see the loadstone drawing to it the particles of iron that approach to it, imparting the same quality to the particles which it touches, and thereby drawing these particles the one to the other. And it is the peculiarity of Christian truth, to bind believers the one to the other. Why? Because, first of all, they have been bound to Christ.
3. Gratitude. The very best of blessings which one people could confer upon another, had been by the men of Jerusalem conferred upon the men of Antioch. They had sent to them their spiritual things; it was no wonder that they should reap their carnal things.
4. The love that they bore to Christ, and which constrained them to love one another. And it is that principle, after all, that tells. “He that loveth God will love his brother also.”
III. The modes in which their benevolence was manifested. We have oftentimes heard the charge of want of judgment brought against Christians. “They have all things but common sense.” Now, look at the steps taken by the men of Antioch. The distribution of their charity was marked by three features.
1. Universality and proportion. “Every man” was expected to feel for the brethren, and to show that feeling by contributing according to his means. It was not one of those things which a certain class or section was to take upon them. Now, why need we adopt house-to-house visitation, but because there are multitudes in this world who are content to stand by, and to see others bear the burden, and push it from themselves. Eighteen hundred years ago, that was not the course taken by the men of Antioch. There was no working upon the passions of people and constraining them to give. It was a simple method of giving in proportion to means. The matter was thus left to each man’s conscience to say what his ability was. Look at thy means. See whether, in the midst of thine affluence, comfort, and family expenditure, thou mayest not knock off something that is not absolutely necessary, and bring it to the rule of thine ability. Ask thyself not what thou wishest to do, not what thou mayest be seen to do, not what others are doing; but give in proportion to thy means. Is it not a righteous principle?--a principle recognised in Scripture. “Upon the first day of the week let everyone lay by according to his ability.” Is it so? If so, then must you learn a lesson from these poor, enthusiastic Christians in Antioch.
2. Promptitude. They did not trust to second impressions, or to second suggestions; and wisely. Upon hearing of a great deal of distress, our first emotions are generous; our second emotions are narrowed. At first, there is a burst of feeling; we draw out our purses, and almost pour out their contents. Second thoughts however come; but these men of Antioch would not trust themselves to second thoughts. No, said they; we had better act at once, before the blessed influence has left us. They put it out of their own power--out of their own hands. (Dean Boyd.)
Van Lennep tells us that among the Nestorian Christians dwelling in the fertile plain of Ooroomia, Persia, charity assumes an almost apostolic form; for it is their yearly practice to lay by a certain portion of their crops in order to supply the wants of their brethren living among the rugged mountains of Koordistan, whose food often fails them altogether, or is carried away by their more powerful enemies. Deeds of charity are highly extolled in the Koran, but the Mohammedans ignore these precepts, so the value of such acts by the Christians is more particularly felt where the rulers take no interest in works of public utility.
The law of brotherhood
The Irish famine (1847) touched the hearts of outside and distant peoples to a sentiment of their common humanity which was never stirred in them before to such fine issues. In America this fellow feeling pervaded the whole population, North and South, black and white, bond and free. The very slaves in the South, at their rude cabin meals at night, thought and spoke of the hungry people somewhere beyond the sea, they knew not in what direction. And they came with their small gifts in their great hands, and laid them among the general contributions, each with a heart full of kindly feeling towards the suffering. Never was there such a rummaging in cellars, garrets, wardrobes, and granaries in the United States for things that would be comfortable to the hungry and needy. The barrels and bags of flour, wheat, and Indian corn, the butter, cheese, and bacon sent from the prairie farmers of the Western States, were marvellous for number and heartiness of contribution. From a thousand pulpits a thousand congregations of different creeds were invited to lend a hand to the general charity in a few earnest and feeling words about the Universal Fatherhood of God and the Universal Brotherhood of Men. (Elihu Burritt.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 11". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Seventh Week after Easter