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Peter being accused for going in to the Gentiles, maketh his defence, which is accepted. The gospel being spread into Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, Barnabas is sent to confirm the believers. The disciples at Antioch are first called Christians: they send relief to the brethren in Judea in time of distress.
Anno Domini 41.
Acts 11:2. They that were of the circumcision contended with him,— How good an argument soever this may be against the supremacy of St. Peter, it is none against the inspiration of the apostles; for it only proves that some who did not well understand the principles on which they acted, took upon them, without reason, to arraign their conduct; and consequently didnot, in this respect, pay a becoming deference to them. It plainly shews how little deference was paid to any uncircumcised persons, whatever profession they might make of worshipping the God of Israel.
Acts 11:3. Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised,— Saying, wherefore— διατι — did you associate and eat with the uncircumcised? See Genesis 44:4.Luke 2:49; Luke 2:49.
Acts 11:4. But Peter rehearsed the matter, &c.— But Peter beginning, opened to them the matter in order. As it is probable that they were only some of the Jewish converts who questioned St. Peter about what he had done, he might, no doubt, have overborne them by urging his apostolical authority, and referring them tothe miracles by which it was established: but as he could with no great propriety blame them, because he himself, till of late, had been as bigoted to the Jewish nation as any of them, he treats them in the most gentle and condescending manner, laying before them the reason of his conduct, and appealing to their judgments, whether, in such circumstances,hehad not acted according to the divine direction; herein giving a most amiable example of humility and condescension, which it would be the glory and happiness of Christ's ministers to follow in circumstances which bear any resemblance to this.
Acts 11:5. I saw—a certain vessel descend, &c.— I saw—somewhat descending, in the form of a great sheet. See on ch. Acts 10:11. It is generally supposed, that in this sheet all sorts of creatures, clean and unclean, were represented, promiscuously mixed together; but some expositors are of opinion, that they were only of the sorts prohibited by the law; because, say they, there would have been no room for St. Peter's scrupling to eat, had he seen any creatures there but what he apprehended to be prohibited by the law: but his expression of nothing common or polluted and unclean, may lead us to conclude, that the apostle, according to the Jewish principles, conceived the clean animals to be polluted by their intermixture and communication with the unclean.
Acts 11:14. Who shall tell thee words,— Who shall teach thee what is necessary for the salvation of thyself and thy family.
Acts 11:17. Forasmuch then as God gave them, &c.— Since therefore God has granted the same gift to them as to us, &c.
Acts 11:18. When they heard these things, &c.— When they had heard St. Peter's apology, they were silent, and acquiesced, turning their accusations of theapostle into praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God, who had granted unto the devout Gentiles, through Jesus Christ his Son, all the privileges of the gospel; and had received them into the Christian church equally with the believing Jews, without their being first circumcised and brought into subjection tothe whole law of Moses. But though these particular persons now acquiesced, yet this was the foundation of the grand controversy in the apostolic age; for we shall find, as the history proceeds, that it broke out again with respect to the devout Gentiles, ch. 15: and was afterwards extended to the converts from among the idolatrous Gentiles, as appears from most of St. Paul's epistles: and the attentive reader will there find, how very difficult it was to allay the prejudices of the Jews and Jewish Christians against the admission of the Gentiles, unless they would first, according to the Jewish phrase, become proselytes of righteousness, and of course be circumcised.
Acts 11:20. And some of them were men of Cyprus— But some of them, &c. St. Peter having opened the door of Christian faith, and laid the foundation of a Christian church among the Gentiles, after God had testified very plainly that it was agreeable to his mind and will,—otherChristians, hearing of this event, took occasion thence to imitate St. Peter's example: particularly, some Jewish Christians of the island of Cyprus and of the country of Cyrene in Africa, travelling in their dispersions to Antioch in Syria, preached the Christian doctrine there, not to the Jews only, but also to the Gentiles; and God blessed and prospered their labours. The Jews frequently called all nations except their own, Greeks, from the time of the Macedonian or Grecian empire, just as the Roman empire was afterwards called the whole world, because it extended over the most considerable part of the then known world. See Romans 10:12. 1 Corinthians 12:13.Galatians 3:28; Galatians 3:28. Colossians 3:11. See also on Acts 11:26.
Acts 11:23-24. The grace of God,— The happy effects of the divine goodness, in taking such a number of uncircumcised Gentiles into the Christian church. Barnabas, like a true son of exhortation, exhorted them to persevere with steadfastness and resolution;—to adhere to the Lord with full determination of heart; and indeed he was a very proper man to be sent among these converts; for he was not only a Cypriot, and born on Gentile ground, but he was a man of great benignity and sweetness of temper— Ανηρ αγαθος,— and on these accounts less bigoted to his own, and against the Gentile converts, and less likely to lay any unnecessary burden upon them.
Acts 11:26. When he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch.— Barnabas might go in quest of Paul, from a persuasion, that, as he was by his country a Greek, though by descent an Hebrew of the Hebrews; that is, descended from two Jewish parents, he would be peculiarly fit to assist him in his great work, especially considering on the one hand his fine accomplishments as a scholar, and on the other his extraordinary conversion, and eminent zeal and piety. Antioch was the metropolis of Syria; for magnitude, situation, and other agreeable circumstances, the third city in the Roman empire, being excelled by none except Rome and Alexandria. It was built by Seleucus, and called Antioch from the name of his son Antiochus. There was a Jewish university in this city, anda great number of proselytes according to Josephus, out of whom was formed a large Christian church, which was looked upon as the mother church of the Gentiles, as the church of Jerusalem was of the Jewish, or of all the Christian churches; and they were likewise the first fruits of the devout Gentiles out of Palestine. The Jewish converts had hitherto been called by their enemies, Men of that way, or sect; Galileans, Nazarenes, and other like names of reproach; and among themselves they had been called disciples, believers, the church, the saints; and to denote the unity and concord which were among them, they stiled one another brethren. But now the Gentile converts at Antioch were called by the name of CHRISTIANS, taking their denomination immediately from their Lord and Master CHRIST himself, just as among the philosophers, the Platonists, Pythagoreans, &c. took their names from their several masters.This name was first given to the converts at Antioch, I doubt not, by divine appointment; for the word χρηματισαι, here used, signifies "to be warned by a divine admonition;" see Matthew 2:12.Luke 2:26; Luke 2:26. Act 10:22 and accordingly Doddridge renders it were called by divine appointment. Dr. Mill has informed us, that the Cambridge manuscript reads this sentence thus; and then they first named by divine appointment, εχρηματισαν, the disciples, CHRISTIANS, in Antioch; whereby is signified, that Barnabas and Saul first gave them the name of Christians; and indeed the common reading, fairly rendered, seems to intimate the same thing: and it came to pass that they assembled, &c. and that they called the first disciples at Antioch by the name of Christians. Barnabas knew how unlikely it was that the church at Jerusalem should allow them the name of brethren, considering how strongly they had been prejudiced against them, and how backward they had been to receive them into the Christian church; though afterwards indeed the appellation of brethren was given them by the church at Jerusalem upon a full and mature consideration of their case. See chap. Acts 15:23. However, as the Jewish Christians could not presently get over all their former prejudices, and allow those Gentile converts to be upon a level with themselves, and as it was nevertheless proper that they should have some name to distinguish them from such of the Gentile proselytes of the gate as had not embraced the Christian religion;—for these, and such like wise reasons, they were called and distinguished by the name of Christians; and if that name was given them by a divine admonition, as we have shewn, it indicates the divine concern for them, and the honour which Heaven put upon them, in dignifying and distinguishing them by so high and honourable an appellation. Witsius thinks it a circumstance of remarkable wisdom, that this celebrated name should arise from Antioch, a church consisting of a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, rather than from Jerusalem, dignified in so many other respects; and that it was a kind of victory gained over Satan, who, from Antioch some ages before, had raised so many cruel persecutors of the church of God.
Acts 11:28. And there stood up one of them named Agabus,— Agabus prophesied that the famine should spread throughout the whole world, which phrase was frequently used in those times to signify the whole Roman empire, which included most of the then known world. Accordingly, Eusebius says of this famine, that it oppressed almost the whole empire; and that it was recorded by historians most averse to our religion. For instance, Suetonius, in the life of Claudius, says it happened ob assiduas sterilitates,—through a long barrenness. Josephus says, that it raged so much in Judea, that many perished for want of victuals. And Dion Cassius says, that it was a very great famine, and happened when Claudius and Caius Largus were consuls, that is, in the second year of Claudius; though it seems rather to have been that which happened (as Eusebius in his Chronicon, and Orosius, 50. 7. 6 place it) in the fourth year of Claudius. However, I see no sufficient reason to suppose that the phrase throughout the whole world, should not be taken in the strictest sense, and that the famine was not really universal.
Acts 11:29. Then the disciples, every man, &c.— It had been a custom for the Jews and proselytes, in their several dispersions, to send presents to Judea, and especially to Jerusalem; and the Jews in Judea seem to have expected it, as in some sort their due; particularly we find that Helena, queen of the Adiabenes, and her son Izates, who had lately become proselytes to the Jewish religion, were very generous to the poor at Jerusalem in this ensuing famine; for the queen went to see the temple, and to offer sacrifices there; and finding Jerusalem oppressed by the famine, and many perishing though want, she sent abroad her officers, some of them to Alexandria, to buy corn; others to Cyprus to purchase dried figs; who returned quickly, and distributed food to the necessitous; by which means she laid a lasting obligation upon the whole nation of theJews; and her son Izates also, having heard of the famine, sent a large sum of money to the chief men at Jerusalem. Thus also the Gentile Christians at Antioch, upon Agabus's prediction of the famine, determined to give (every man in proportion to his own ability and plenty) towards a charitable collection for the relief of the Jewish converts in Judea, and especially in Jerusalem, whence the sound of the gospel first proceeded. See Romans 15:25, &c. &c. For "as they were made partakers of their spiritual things, they thought it their duty to minister unto them in temporal things." Thus remarkably does the wise and over-ruling Providence of God adapt the common course of things so, as to subserve his own great and beneficent designs, as plainly appears in the instance now before us. For the reception of uncircumcised Gentiles into the Christian church, had a little soured the minds of the Jewish converts; but, upon this approach of a famine, an early occasion was given for cementing and uniting the Jewish and Gentile converts into one church and body, under Jesus Christ their common Head and Lord; kindness and charity most of all things tending to sweeten men's minds, and beget a favourable opinion of the persons who are so bounteous and liberal: the helping them in their distress, therefore, was the most effectual way to win over the Jewish converts; and the knowing the famine before-hand gave them an opportunity to provide for it. When the church was in its tender infant state, and many had forsaken all to preach the gospel, the gifts of the Spirit, and among them the gift of prophesying, were highly necessary: for such extraordinary difficulties and discouragements could not have been prevented, or over-ruled, without extraordinary helps and directions.
Acts 11:30. Sent it to the elders— The elders in the primitive church, were of three sorts, 1st, αυτοπται, the eye-witnesses, or those who had seen our Lord in the flesh, and were among the first disciples or most early converts; 2nd, απαρχαι, the first converts in any particular place, who were always honoured for their early conversion and ready acceptance of the gospel, and were the primary elders of particular churches; 3rdly, the διαδοχοι, successors of the απαρχαι, elders of the second sort. Those elders to whom Barnabas and Saul carried a charitable collection, were probably of the first sort; and such of them as were not apostles, were honoured as next in dignity and eminence tothe apostles. Upon the persecution which followed the martyrdom of St.Stephen, most of the Christians had fled from Jerusalem, except the apostles: when that persecution ceased, as it did some time before this, many of them returned again to Jerusalem, among whom were very probably the elders here mentioned. When they returned, the apostles could the better leave that city, and visit the other countries, as having left the mother church at Jerusalem in safe hands; and the absence of all the apostles appears to have been known to the Christians at Antioch, from their sending their contribution to the elders at Jerusalem. It may be proper just to observe, that this is the first mention we have of elders in the Christian church; and that Dr. Hammond labours to prove in a large note on this place, that these elders were the same officers with those who were called επισκοποι, or bishops; and he thinks there is no certain evidence from Scripture, that the name of πρεσβυτεροι, or elders, was given so early to another order between them and deacons.
Inferences drawn from the name of CHRISTIANS. Acts 11:26.—Who can help making a serious pause of gratitude and wonder, that casts his eye over this comprehensive sentence; the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch!—Christians!—The followers of the Son of God incarnate, how honourable a distinction!—The disciples of Jesus Christ!—Those who are alive from the dead! called from darkness into the marvellous light of the gospel! How glorious a change, and how inexpressible the goodness of God towards guilty sinners in effecting this change!
Just at the time that men's abominations had rendered them ripe for destruction, the Almighty Father published his glad tidings of mercy to all, and assured them of his everlasting loving-kindness, if they would hearken to the voice of his well-beloved Son. Christ Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved; to deliver us by the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation; to cast down all abominations, and every thing that loveth and maketh a lie; to recover envying mortals to the use of their reason; to dethrone the empire of sin and Satan; to put iniquity to open and universal shame; to banish all animosities, and revenge, and sedition; all bitterness, envying, and every evil work, from the earth; to humanize the tempers, and soften the hearts of men, by inculcating upon their minds every civil and social virtue, by enforcing them under new and more powerful sanctions, and by uniting all mankind together in the bands of love; in short, to conquer death and the grave, and, upon the ruins of darkness and violence, to establish a kingdom of light and peace; that so he might lead us, not to a land flowing with milk and honey, but to a heavenly country,—the everlasting city of the great king.
These were the glorious purposes of the captain of our salvation; and, in order to accomplish those purposes, what a multitude of troubles did he encounter? what calumny and scorn? what watchings and fastings? what poignant distresses of every kind did he endure? and how undauntedly did he brave them all! The bar of Pilate could not move his integrity; the coronet of thorns could not make him desert his cause; the ignominious cross could not terrify or shame him. Unconquered even in death, obedience to the will of his heavenly Father, and the good of perishing souls, were his only concern. As a lamb therefore led to the slaughter, he opened not his mouth: when stretched out on the accursed tree, he could behold the hands of the executioners raised against him, and the horrid nails just ready to pierce his sacred body, without recoiling, without a single complaint: nay, and under the inconceivable load of sorrows which oppressed him, his compassion towards sinful creatures never failed him; but, instead of reproaching them for that barbarous usage which he met with, in the midst of his agonies, he prayed to his heavenly Father to have mercy even upon those wicked men, by whom he was crucified and slain!
Such was the Saviour of the world; such that Master after whom we are called Christians; such his love to frail mortals, from his cradle to his grave! Yea, and after he had shaken off the fetters of mortality, his love was still the same; he rose from the dead to satisfy the diffident, and to confound the gainsayers; he conversed with his disciples for 40 days together, and, at last, to confirm all their hopes beyond the possibility of being deceived, he ascended up visibly into heaven; nay, and still further to animate and establish their souls in the faith, he sealed those who believed, with the Spirit of promise, his almighty power from on high.
Hence therefore genuine believers now know, and are assured, That they have not followed after cunningly devised fables; that the calls of the gospel are not weak and delusive, but the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Hence they know, that they are no longer aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, but a chosen generation, a peculiar people, the favourites of heaven, the sons of God, and heirs of glory. Our great Redeemer has purchased an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away: he has brought out his saints from the most dreadful abyss of misery and confusion, into the light of truth and the adoption of celestial love: Baal and Dagon are alike fallen: The Lord, he is God, even Emmanuel is their king!
How glorious a revolution, would we but duly consider its blessings! how strikingly expressive of the grace of God! The temple is no more at Jerusalem only; every true believer is himself a temple of the Holy Ghost; and in every corner of the globe, where the sound of the gospel has been heard, the foundations are laid for the dwelling-place of the Most High. The middle wall of partition is thus broken down, and the doctrines of a future state are as certainly established, as that Jesus himself is risen from the grave. A Happy, an everlasting possession is put into our hands, if we walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called in him; an incomparable inheritance, far above all sublunary enjoyments; a kingdom never to be moved; a treasure that never can perish or decay, and which is more than the most exalted conceptions that we can form of such objects; for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. Such are the privileges which we enjoy as Christians.
Can we then possibly reflect upon them without being moved? Can we reflect upon them, without ever after making them the most delightful subject of our meditations? What are all the pomp and glory, the riches and power, nay, the health, or strength, or beauty, or any other gratifications that we can enjoy in this world? What but mean and contemptible, uncertain and fluctuating things, no more to be esteemed than as dross and dung, when compared with these durable, these Christian privileges?
And shall we then resign these privileges for any other acquisitions of inferior name? give up the substance for the shadow, and the treasures of eternity for the things of time?—Shall the wise man glory in his wisdom, the mighty in his strength, the rich in his riches, the man of gallantry in his folly and his vices, and every sinner in his shame? And shall not we much more glory in what is so truly glorious,—that we are Christians? What is the name of Greek or Roman, what the name of Briton, when contradistinguished with this, which we are so honoured to bear? "CHRISTIAN, as the poet finely expresses it, Christian is the highest stile of man;" a name which has spread so far and wide, whose sound has filled the earth, and which has been so dear to some, and so odious to others; a name, which, in its genuine and original meaning, included in it every thing that is holy or amiable, just or charitable, noble and divine; and a name which would still have had the same glorious meaning, had it not been so frequently and so vilely prostituted by multitudes, who have made great pretensions to it, while their tempers and practices have been very different from their profession.—How abominable and provoking in the sight of God, as well as uncharitable and highly injurious to men! Would to God that Christ had been the only master, in whose name Christians had ever gloried! that all who had ever been called by this sacred and venerable name of Christians, had answered their character by their temper and conduct!
All other nominal distinctions are too often the offspring of pride, or ignorance, or folly, and not at all to be desired to make one wise; but Christian, like that of its great original, is a name that is above every name; more precious than riches; more honourable than all the ensigns of royalty: and every one who is possessed with the least insight into its excellence and importance, will aspire after, will contend for, will rejoice in it, more than in any other name.
But alas! what avails it that we call ourselves Christians, if we have not an interest in the atonement which Christ has made?—if we do not receive with unfeigned assent whatever Christ has delivered?—if we do not obey with ready souls all those sacred precepts which he has enjoined? if we are not indeed followers of Christ, why do we stile ourselves Christians? If we call ourselves Christians, why do we not prove ourselves such, and imitate our Master? He has set us a bright, a glorious example; and in vain, utterly in vain, shall we bear his name, if we labour not also to conform ourselves to the pattern he has set us, if we hold not pure the sacred faith which he has delivered; if we obey not sincerely and affectionately the divine lessons which he has taught us.
What a disgrace then, what a reproach are they to the Christian name, who, so far from imitating the example, keeping pure the faith, and sincerely obeying the laws of Christ, live in a direct—in a continued contrariety to each, to all of these? and call themselves Christians, while they live worse than heathens, earthly, sensual, devilish! Far better would it be for such, that they had never known, that they had never heard the name of Christ! Far better had it been for them never to have been born, than to have defiled that holy name by their unholy practices. For alas! all the benefits and all the blessings which arise from that name to the sincere and upright, will to them be turned into curses;—for they rejected the salvation of Christ; they despised his laws; they would not have this Man to reign over them; and therefore they must not, they shall not reign eternally with him.
Let the reflection awaken us to duty; for if it be deservedly accounted baseness and degeneracy to stain our blood, and reflect shame and dishonour back upon those forefathers who were men of like frailties and passions with ourselves, think how incomparably more heinous a provocation it must be, when those, who name the name of Christ, the eternal Son of God, depart not from iniquity, but minister occasion to libertines and infidels to blaspheme him and his gospel through their impure and vicious, that is, indeed, their infamously absurd and contradictory conversation? For it is no indifferent matter how we behave; nor does it affect only ourselves. As Christian is a common name, so a wicked Christian is a common reproach, and a common evil;—a stumbling-block in the way of numbers, drawing many weak ones to offend, who are apt to cry out, "In what are these Christians, as they call themselves, better than others? Nay, we see, in many respects, they are as bad or worse than others.—Tell us not of embracing Christianity, till we see that its professors are more holy and exemplary men." To such discreditors of the gospel and Christian name we may apply what Alexander the Great said to a pitiful coward of the same name with himself, Aut nomen, aut mores muta; "Either change thy name or thy manners. No longer profess thyself Christian, or act and live as becomes that high and venerable appellation! otherwise when thou shalt give an account of thyself to the impartial almighty Judge, what canst thou urge in plea? What canst thou offer in excuse of thy evil deeds, having been called a Christian, and yet having never obtained an interest in Christ—never imitated the example, obeyed the precepts, or regarded the doctrines of thy Lord and Master!"
There cannot surely be a character so odious, so justly abominable in the sight of God and every honest man, as that of him, who, calling himself a Christian, thus gives up all regard to every duty of Christianity; who dares to call Jesus Christ Lord, Lord, though he does not the will of his heavenly Father. Amazing and unaccountable temerity! how can we reflect upon it without a generous disdain and indignation!
Have we then, my readers, enlisted ourselves under the sacred banners of truth, and righteousness, and peace? Let our lives be a standing demonstration to whom we belong. We who make our boast of the gospel, let us not dishonour Christ, through transgression of that Gospel. We who profess to embrace that religion which descendeth from above, let us not give occasion to Jews and Mahometans, and baptized infidels, through our vices, to blaspheme its blessed author. For, to use the argument of the great apostle, "Verily Christianity profiteth, if through almighty grace we keep the laws of the gospel: otherwise our Christianity is as no Christianity, a mere farce and horrid mockery of God. For, to whomsoever we yield ourselves servants to obey, his servants we are to whom we obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness and life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord."
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The conversion of the Gentiles, and the admission of those into the Christian church who were uncircumcised, was a thing so new and extraordinary, that it soon reached Jerusalem. And we are told,
1. What offence it gave to some of the Christians there, who were as yet wedded to the Jewish ritual. They that were of the circumcision contended with Peter; so far were they from entertaining any thought of his supremacy or infallibility, which his pretended successors have since claimed, that they called him to account for what he had done, as if it was a matter of blame, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised; and didst eat with them; supposing it a prostitution of their privileges, and a high disgrace to the apostolic character. Note; (1.) Even good men are sometimes strangely enslaved by prejudices and bigotry. (2.) Rash censures have sometimes dropped from men who have been in a measure gracious; and we must mildly bear with them, and answer in the spirit of meekness. Even godlike charity will be sometimes called latitudinarian by narrow minds, that have not fully tasted the warm sensations of generous, catholic love.
2. St. Peter relates the whole transaction from the beginning, and then refers the matter to their judgment. It is a debt that we sometimes owe ourselves and our brethren, to set what is misrepresented in its true colours, and remove, as far as we can, the prejudices of others.
[1.] He informs them of the vision which he himself had seen in all its particulars: wherein God intimated to him that all the Mosaical distinctions between meats and persons were now at an end.
[2.] He relates the vision which Cornelius was favoured with, and the express command given him to send for Peter from Joppa, as the person by whose words he and his house should be saved, through faith in that Saviour whom the apostle should preach unto him, and out of whom there is no salvation.
[3.] He declares the express command which he had from the Spirit to go with the messengers that Cornelius sent, and his prudent precaution to take several of the brethren with him, that his journey might be the less subject to any misrepresentation, when he had them as witnesses for his conduct.
[4.] He pleads, what above all other arguments vindicated his procedure, the attestation which the Holy Ghost bore to his word almost as soon as he began to speak to them of the gospel salvation, giving them the same miraculous gifts as he had bestowed on themselves at the beginning. And this brought to his mind the word of the Lord, just before his ascension, Act 1:5 how that he said, John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Seeing therefore this promise thus eminently fulfilled, and that God made no distinction between Gentile and Jewish converts, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and expected salvation by faith in him alone, what was I, that I could withstand God? or refuse to admit to baptism those whom he had so eminently called to the participation of the glorious privileges of the gospel?
3. An account so satisfactory silenced every cavil. No objections could possibly be made to St. Peter; but contrariwise they glorified God for this unexpected event, saying with wonder and delight, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
2nd, We have an account of the planting of the gospel at Antioch the metropolis of Syria, and one of the most celebrated cities in the Roman empire.
1. The preachers of the gospel, who, on the persecution which arose after Stephen's death, were dispersed abroad, carried the glad tidings of the gospel as far as Phenice, a province of Syria, and Cyprus, a large island of the Mediterranean sea, and Antioch. But as they knew not yet the extent of their commission as reaching to all nations and every creatures they confined themselves wholly to the Jews who were dispersed in these countries. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, a city in Africa, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians; not only to the Hellenist Jews; but, on hearing of the conversion of Cornelius and his friends, and that the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles had been approved by the apostles, they enlarged their field of usefulness, preaching to the Grecian Gentiles the Lord Jesus, whose character, offices, grace, and glory, were the constant subjects of their ministrations. And the hand of the Lord was with them, not only enabling them to perform astonishing miracles, but blessing their labours with signal success: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord, effectually brought to Jesus as their only Redeemer and Saviour, on whose infinite merit and intercession they placed their entire dependance. Note; (1.) The labours of God's ministers are only then effectual, when the hand of the Lord is with them: without him, Paul must plant and Apollos water in vain. (2.) True faith will ever shew itself in real conversion of heart, from the ways of sin and the world, to the love and service of the blessed God.
2. The church at Jerusalem, whither the apostles still frequently resorted, no sooner heard these glad tidings, than they sent forth Barnabas, a Hellenist, a native of Cyprus, and a man of singular abilities, that he should go as far as Antioch, passing through the places where the gospel had got footing, to strengthen and establish the new converts. Barnabas readily accepted the mission, and proceeded to Antioch; and when he had seen the grace of God, visibly manifested in the conversion and conversation of those whom the Lord by his gospel had called in that city, he was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord; encouraging them to maintain their profession amidst all opposition, and suggesting the most powerful arguments to establish their fidelity; for he was a good man, of a noble, generous, disinterested spirit, sweet and affable in his discourse, and full of the Holy Ghost, possessed of very eminent gifts and graces, and of faith in a most abundant measure; and much people was added unto the Lord by his ministry and labours. Note; (1.) They who are truly partakers of the grace of God in their own souls, behold with singular delight the powerful effects of the same grace upon the hearts of others. (2.) They who turn to the Lord, must cleave to him in a persevering course of fidelity: but if any man draw back, aggravated perdition must be the consequence. (3.) When we are ourselves deeply and fully persuaded of the truth, we shall be enabled to speak more forcibly and powerfully to others.
3. The field being large, and the prospect promising, Barnabas sought an able fellow-helper; and knowing that Paul was yet at Tarsus, about a hundred miles off, he went to seek him, and invite him to Antioch, where his labours were greatly wanted. Having found him at Tarsus, he entreated him to return with him to Antioch, to which Paul readily consented; and for a year they assembled themselves with the church, leading the religious assemblies of the faithful, and taught much people, vast multitudes attending their ministrations. Note; (1.) They who have the glory of their Lord simply at heart can take pleasure in the greater gifts and abilities of others, and are happy to procure their assistance, though they may be more admired and useful preachers than themselves. (2.) The work of the ministry is doubly pleasing, when we see the fruits of our labour in the growing edification of the faithful, and the conversion of sinners to God.
4. The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch, not by their enemies as a term of reproach, but by some divine intimation, and solemn act of their own. Thus they would abolish the distinction of Jew and Gentile, and in their very name, as Christians, make profession of their full and entire dependance on Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Are we Christians then? let our lives prove the reality of the profession that we make.
3rdly, Among the eminent gifts bestowed on the primitive Christians, some were endued with the spirit of prophesy. We are told,
1. Of a visit from certain prophets of Jerusalem, who, hearing the great success of the gospel at Antioch, came thither to help forward the glorious work, and to comfort and establish the hearts of the disciples.
2. One of them, named Agabus, had it revealed to him by the Spirit, that there should be great dearth throughout all the world; and, standing up in the midst of the assembled church, signified to them this afflictive event. See the Annotations.
3. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to find relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea, who, by the persecutions they had suffered, were greatly reduced; and those who were once rich, had at the first parted with all for the service of the gospel; and probably it was suggested that the famine would be most severely felt in those parts. No sooner was the matter resolved, than the contribution was made, and they sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul, to be distributed according to the necessities of the faithful; than which nothing could serve more to conciliate their minds to the Gentile converts, and to remove their deep-rooted prejudices. Note; (1.) Every Christian, according to his ability, is bound to contribute to the assistance of his brethren. (2.) God will take care of his poor, and by some means or other provide that in the time of dearth they shall be supplied. He that feedeth the ravens, will not leave his children to famish.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 11". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30