Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THAT GOOD MEN ARE OCCASIONALLY FOUND DOING THAT WHICH SEEMS HIGHLY CENSURABLE TO THE GODLY. We can hardly realize the intensity of the indignation which breathed and glowed in the accusing words, "Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them (ver. 3). Peter had done an act which was wholly irregular and positively unlawful. What did he mean by it? We know that he had simply followed the instructions which he had received from Christ, and that he could not possibly have acted otherwise without downright disobedience How many times, in what various spheres, under what different conditions, have good men found themselves placed by their very faithfulness in a position of contention" (ver. 2) with their brethren, either respecting
(1) a point of doctrine (e.g. "the Reformation"), or
(2) a matter of Church government (e.g. the way in which the Church should be officered, or the relation in which it should stand to the civil power), or
(3) a method of evangelization, or
(4) the position which should be taken toward other Christian communities! In these and similar matters the best and wisest of men have occasionally found themselves compelled to confront the strong censures of those with whom they were in communion. It is a most painful position to have to excite the indignation of good men, but it may be our plain and bounden duty so to do.
II. THAT OFTEN A SIMPLE NARRATION OF THE FACTS IS THE BEST POSSIBLE DEFENCE. "Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order" (ver. 4). He told the whole story in its simplicity (vers. 5-16). That was enough: it disarmed his accusers; they had nothing to reply; they accepted his defense; "They held their peace" (ver. 18). If some of them went no further than ceasing to complain, others acknowledged that a new step was taken, and that the Church was warranted in "going forward." It is often, if not always, the wisest of all plans to let the simple facts speak for us. If our complaining brethren knew as much as we know, they would not condemn. We have but to let in the light, and we shall be acquitted and perhaps commended.
III. THAT GOD WILL VINDICATE HIS OWN. Peter's one great argument was that he had done everything under Divine direction (see vers. 5, 9, 12, 15, 16). He summed it all up in the strong, overwhelming consideration, "What was I that I could withstand God?" (ver. 17). By his marked and manifest interposition, God had sustained his servant, and had given him the means of justifying his conduct when it came before the tribunal of his fellows. If wisdom is not always justified of her children at once, it will be in time. Unto the upright there will arise light in the darkness (Psalm 112:4). God may desire his servant to place himself in an attitude of opposition to his friends, and to bear the pain of their blows; but he will at length - later, if not sooner - vindicate that servant, and give him the greater honor for the shame he bore at his bidding.
IV. THAT WE SHOULD KEEP OURSELVES FREE FOR THE EXCULPATION OF MEN AND FOR OUR OWN SPIRITUAL ENLARGEMENT. The apostles and brethren had to own that Peter was right, and, at the same time, to receive into their mind a larger and nobler view of Christian truth. Happily they were free to do so; otherwise there would have been a bitter separation and an injurious rupture.
1. However wrong good men may seem to us to be, let us remember that it is possible that it is we and not they who are mistaken. We may be very confident we are right, but it is the most positive who are the most fallible of men.
2. Let us be ready to enlarge our view as God gives us light. "He has yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word." Wisdom does not dwell with us. Out of the heavenly treasury there are riches of truth still to be dispensed. A docile Church will ever be learning and acquiring. There are some men who, by their guilty stubbornness, will block the way of the chariot of God; there are others who will take up the stones and prepare the path that it may go swiftly on its benignant course. Let ours be the spirit of the apostles and brethren at Jerusalem, who, when they had listened and learned, said, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." - C.
I. SECTARIAN SUSPICIONS. In Judaea are the head-quarters of this sectarian spirit. There it centers and rankles. The very tidings which fill the generous spirit with joy fill the sectarian with jealousy. They hear that the Gentiles have received the Word of God. Happy news! Alas that any should regard them otherwise! But to the ideas of the sectarian any change is appalling which threatens to break down the fence and wall of the sect, and compel him to widen the extent of his fellowship. So the sectarians quarrel with Peter. Their charge is that he has visited the uncircumcised heathen and eaten with them.
II. THE TRUTH ELICITED BY OPPOSITION. God overrules all things for good, makes the wrath of man to praise him, brings the truth into clearer manifestation by the very means of resistance to it. Let us not be too severe on the sectarian, if he be honest in his opposition. Far more pernicious the hypocritical friend than the sincere and downright foe. Were every innovation tamely submitted to without inquiry, progress would not be so sound. It is by overcoming objectors that truth triumphs, not by silencing them. And again, facts are the best arguments. Once more Peter relates the vision at Joppa. To overcome others' objections, the best way is to show how our own objections have been overcome. The great point of opposition is the repugnance, inborn and strengthened by education, of the Jew to certain objects viewed by him as common or unclean. The great difficulty of overcoming the feeling lies in the fact that it is interwoven with all the best associations of the mind. The man, having learned the idea of holiness by means of a sharp physical distinction, fears that he shall lose the idea itself if that distinction be obliterated. No mere arguments in words will avail. But Peter can exhibit the argument of facts. Their fitting into one another with an invincible Divine logic can neither be denied nor refuted. The coincidence of the revelation to the centurion and to Peter has been already dwelt upon in previous sections. The end is the falling of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at the very moment when the Jew and the Gentiles are brought together and Peter opens his mouth to speak.
III. THE TRUTH OF THE PRESENT LIGHTS UP THE PROPHETIC DECLARATIONS OF THE PAST. Words deep in meaning slumber in the mind until the revealing event takes place. Then they are suddenly quickened into life and start up in all their power. Peter remembers the word of the Lord on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is in contrast to that of John at the opening of the evangelical era. It surpassed that of John as the positive surpasses the negative; the entrance into blessing, the denial of and departure from evil. The conclusion, then, of the whole is that the facts are irresistible. In these lie the clear intimations of providential will. Neither apostle nor angel can contend against fads, whether they refer to the outer world and are construed by scientific law, or to the inner world and are known by the devout soul as revelations and inspirations. The Gentile is placed on an equality with the Jew in reference to the blessings of the gospel; one does not stand in the vestibule, the other in the interior of the new temple, but both are gathered to the heart of God, who reconciles us to himself by Jesus Christ. A common faith in him entitles us all to the appellation" sons of God," and therefore brethren amongst one another: "Ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Thus, when the hour strikes, does God silence controversy, causes his voice alone to be heard, and presently draws forth a burst of praise from human hearts. Yes; at bottom the heart loves truth, and craves the revelation of love. "God then hath given the nations repentance unto life!" The signs of the times point to a similar revolution of the large and generous spirit of the gospel. May we be ready to meet it, and not be found amongst those who contend against the light and fight against God, but amongst those who herald with joy and thankfulness the approach of the new dawn; for the Sun of Righteousness shall arise to those that fear his Name with healing in his wings. - J.
I. The only stable foundation of SPIRITUAL FELLOWSHIP. Mutual confidence. Common dependence on the Spirit of God. Free speech. Entire understanding of the rule of life. Peter himself cannot be allowed to violate accepted principles without being called to account. He frankly explains and justifies his conduct. The old leaven of Judaism was at work; but the antidote was there - obedience to the Spirit.
II. The true conditions of SPIRITUAL ADVANCEMENT. The individual not despotically silenced, but called to his true place as one of the community, a member of the body, supplying his portion of new light. The standard of reference, not Peter's private Opinion, or the Church's decision after discussion, but the manifestation of the Spirit in facts and undoubted testimony. There were seven trustworthy witnesses. "Who was I, that I could withstand God?" Difference between such a revelation and these private, isolated assertions of inspiration such as Swedenborg's and others.
III. THE BREAKING DOWN OF THE "MIDDLE WALL OF PARTITION" between Jew and Gentile; glory to God. The old circumcision superseded by the new baptism. Repentance granted to all. The free gift of the Spirit. - R.
I. GOD STILL OPENS HIS TRUTH TO INDIVIDUAL SOULS. We do not, indeed, expect new revelations. There is a sense in which the book-revelation in the Scriptures is complete: no man may add thereto or take therefrom; and no man's testimony can be of any value save as it can be tested by the revealed Word. And yet, though this may be fully admitted, we may recognize the fact that, through spiritual insight or through intellectual skill, men do bring to light missed and hidden things, or they do set received truths in forms that are new, and by their newness arrest thought and even arouse opposition. In this way every truth of the Divine revelation is brought prominently before men's thoughts every few years. God sends among us great thought-leaders; stirs, by their preachings or writings, the stagnancy of religious thought, and makes fresh and living to us truths which had become mere dead formalities. St. Peter had but a fresh hold of an ancient truth, one long revealed by psalmist and prophet: still, he had such a new grip as made him a power; even the agent that fulfilled Christ's will, and "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
II. THE INDIVIDUAL WITH A FRESH TRUTH MUST EXPECT OPPOSITION. It will surely come from:
1. His fellow-workers, who will feel a secret jealousy of his being made the medium of Divine communications, and who will keenly feel how the new truth interferes with their teachings.
2. Those of conservative tendency, who think the absolute and final truth is in their charge.
3. The earnest but timid people who fear that everything fresh must put God's truth in peril.
4. The friends of theological or ecclesiastical systems, who consider their systems complete and needing no changes, nor having any open places in which new truth may fit. St. Peter found that an imperfect report of his doings at Caesarea had gone before him to Jerusalem, and when he himself reached the holy city, he was assailed from the very narrowest platform, and accused of the very small sin from our point of view, but very large sin from the Jewish point of view, of eating with the uncircumcised." He very wisely refused a discussion on this mere feature of the matter, and explained fully what had happened. Those who contend often take a mere point of detail, and are best met and answered by putting the question in dispute on the broadest, deepest grounds.
III. PROOF OF DIVINE LEADINGS OUGHT TO SILENCE ALL OPPOSITION. This is the great lesson of St. Peter's conduct and narrative. All through he pleads that he only recognized and followed the Divine will as revealed both to him and to others. God spoke to him in trance, and vision, and providence, and inward impulse. God spoke to Cornelius by angel-form and angel-voice. God sealed the work of St. Peter with the gift of his Spirit, and, as a faithful and true man, he could only go where God led him, and speak as God bade him. To his audience it was the best of all answers, the one that would disarm all opposition. A sincere Jew must be loyal to God's will, however it might be revealed, and however strange to his feeling it might seem. And this is essentially the answer which every thought-leader and every advanced teacher now must be prepared to make and to prove. If he only speaks, as a man, some religious fancies and feelings of his own, we are rightly skeptical; but if it is plain to us that a man has been "taught of God," and if we can see signs of acceptance and Divine benediction on his work, then we too must hear his testimony with open and unprejudiced minds, seeking grace to enable us to express our old faith in the new form, or to add the new thought to our received doctrines. God may, indeed, not speak to us now by dream, or trance, or vision, or voice; but we need not therefore think that direct communication with our soul is impossible. Still we may say, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth;" and still we have with us that Holy Ghost, whose work it is" to lead us into all truth, and to show us things to come." And it should be our abiding conviction and inspiration that "the Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word." - R.T.
I. STORING MEMORIES. Illustrate what anxious work this is to the parent, the school teacher, and the professor. Due effort is made to ensure
(1) adequate stores;
(2) well-arranged stores;
(3) clearly apprehended stores;
(4) moral stores.
Two things are found necessary to the holding of things in memory -
(1) they must be clearly apprehended;
(2) they must be sufficiently repeated.
It is found that we hold things in measures of safety dependent on the amount of attention which we have given to them. Apply these principles to the storing of our memories with religious facts and principles; dwelling on the importance of requiring the young to learn the Scriptures, of demanding from our Christian teachers clearness of statement and efficient repetition; showing that, as in St. Peter's case, a man only has the right truth or principle at command, on occasions of need, if these have previously been lodged in the memory. The skill with which our Lord, in his time of temptation, fetched the right weapons from the Scripture armory with which to defeat and silence his foe, reveals to us the fact that his memory had been well stored with Scripture during his childhood and youth. The duty of seeing that our own mind is well furnished, and that the minds of those directly under our influence are well furnished, with Scripture facts and truths and principles, should be earnestly pressed. We can do no better service to the young than to fill up their thoughts and hearts with "thoughts of Christ and things Divine."
II. KEEPING MEMORY-STORES. There is one great law which applies to the efficient retention of any kind of knowledge we may have. It is that we keep adding more stores of the same kind. We virtually lose out of memory facts relating to botany or astronomy unless we keep on adding to them new botanical or astronomical facts. And the same law applies to religious things - they will fade down and seem to die out of memory unless we constantly add to them. We retain by increasing. Show how this should be a powerful motive urging us to keep up our daily soul-culture, our reading of the Word, our meditations in the Divine truth, our attendance on the means of grace. We cannot keep what we have unless we set ourselves in the way to get more.
III. USING MEMORY-STORES. Just this St. Peter does in connection with our text. Something occurred which suggested a sentence his Lord had once employed. He hardly knew that he had put it among his memory-stores, but he had been attentive to every word that fell from his Master's lips, and they came up before him at the moment when he could use them wisely. We often think that there must be much more in our memories than can ever be of service to us, and we even think that it is useless to teach the young so much of Scripture and of Catechism and of hymns. But no man can foretell what situations unfolding life may make for him, or what moral demands it will present. Take any life, and it will be found full of surprises, and it is a very great thing to ensure that we are reasonably prepared for all possible situations. St. Peter could not have imagined himself in the house of Cornelius and set upon using that particular sentence. So we shall find, as life progresses, that
(1) occasions come for the use of our memory-stores;
(2) circumstances help to recall them; and
(3) God's Spirit brings them up before us, and aids us in finding their proper application and use.
The well-furnished godly memory is no accident. It is a part of the Christian culture, and therefore, for ourselves and for those on whom we are called to exert our influence, we come under solemn and weighty responsibilities. An interesting illustration of the use of a godly memory in time of pressure and need is found in Ezra 8:21-23, where Ezra's remembrance of God's promises to and gracious ways with his people in the olden time, gave him strength for an arduous and perilous undertaking. - R.T.
1. The inconsistencies of Christians in their individual life.
2. The "contentions of Christians in their mutual or collective life. We have before us a threatening instance of this latter kind, and an agreeable example of the way in which it was averted. Notice -
I. A THREATENING INSTANCE OF CONTENTION AMONG A BODY OF CHRISTIANS. We read that when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him." Though the more unfavorable turn of the word as now used by us need not be pressed, yet it certainly implies, as it stands, dissatisfaction with what he had done, and not the gentlest or suavest manner exhibited in calling him to account for it.
1. Contentions within Christian communities are in their simplest principle and beginning justifiable. It need not be said of them, as of offences, "Woe to him by whom they come!" though it may, nay, almost must, be said of them, that they "will come." It is for this reason, because the Church on earth is, as amongst its own members, its own guardian. It acknowledges the headship of Christ. It acknowledges the rule of the Spirit. It does not acknowledge any earthly lord, any vicar of Christ, any earthly sovereign authority. Hence it is answerable for its own doctrine and for its own discipline within its own pale. And investigation, debate, yea, all the formality of judicial trial (so that neither motives, methods, nor weapons are carnal), are within its province.
2. Contentions within Christian communities very generally arise on some plausible ground, to say the least. It was certainly so now. It is highly important to discriminate as far as possible between what is really legitimate and what is merely plausible. Of the first are -
(1) zeal of scriptural doctrine and revealed fact;
(2) zeal of a holy and consistent life.
But of the second are
(1) mere love of precedent;
(2) ascription of motives;
(3) generally scant charity.
3. Contentions within Christian communities fix stern responsibility on those who stir them, only second to that of those who cause them, when this is really done.
4. Contentions within Christian communities demand as much, as solemnly as any position whatsoever in life, singleness of eye and a pure conscience. Feeling, personal feeling, party feeling priestly feeling, and even the perfection of ignorant prejudice, have, in probably the saddest preponderance of history, profanely trampled on the ground and made it mournfully all their own. Nor is there any more hollow hypocrisy, more miserable mockery, more insulting blasphemy, than when these counterfeit zeal for the Lord of hosts and a pure and sensitive conscience.
II. A GRATEFUL EXAMPLE OF THE METHOD BY WHICH IT WAS AVERTED. It takes two persons to make a bargain, and two to make a quarrel; and, if a reconciliation is to be genuine and have in it the elements of lasting, both parties must do their share. It was so now.
1. Peter did what lay in him to remove cause of offence and to explain difficulty.
(1) He seems to have been taxed in a somewhat point-blank style. Yet he does not rein himself up, though he does rein temper in. He does not stand on his dignity, and refuse any account of himself and doings till he is addressed in a somewhat milder and more deferential style.
(2) He does not assert simply that what he had done he had done under an overpowering conviction "of duty" - a phrase among the worst abused of moral phrases.
(3) He does not assert positively, even though he had good right to know it, that what he had done was right and all right, and no two opinions about it with any man of understanding and principle.
(4) Discarding all irritating and aggravating beginnings, he even waives any expression of claim to the confidence of "the brethren," and instead, at once conciliating tells his tale. He tells it all from the beginning to the end succinctly. He narrates the revelations made to him (vers. 5-10). He states the facts, which could be easily disproved if incorrect (ver. 11). He instances his "six brethren" companions, who were witnesses of all he had done, and were now in the position of witnesses for him (ver. 12). He tempts out their memory by just quoting his own (ver. 16). And in closing even he does not pronounce a dogmatic verdict for self, but rather asks a verdict, and whether his hearers think the case admits of any verdict different from what he had in his conduct practically given. It is well worthy of notice how different the result might have been if Peter had at all, in a hectoring tone, begun with this question. But he did not begin with it; and when, with Christian gentleness, he now closes with it, all are ready in their answer to acquit him of blame. They see with his eye and are one with him.
2. On the other hand, those who had at first possibly rather peremptorily challenged Peter's conduct may be observed with some commendation now. Presumably these were some of his fellow "apostles and brethren" (vers. 1, 2). And of their disposition it is to be noted favorably that:
(1) If they had begun by putting themselves a little in the wrong so far as their tone was concerned, they do not therefore persist in it. The injurer is often the last to give in and forgive. So frequent is the occurrence and so fraught with mischief, that this may be called one of the "devices of Satan," that even Christian men will cleave to the thing they have said, let alone quite the subject of it, because they have once said it in a wrong manner. Eye and mind and heart get sealed up in deference to one humiliating fact, that they have uttered so much sound in wrong tone. Well, this was not the case now with those who called Peter to account.
(2) They give Peter a patient, and no doubt what soon became a riveted, hearing.
(3) They accept unquestioningly every statement that he makes, so far as it purported to be a statement of fact. There is no quibbling nor attempt at cross-questioning. This was Peter's due under any circumstances. But even fellow-Christians are chary sometimes in the matter of justice to one another.
(4) At the right yielding-point they do yield heartily. To "hold their peace" was a very victory of goodness. Better than this, while they "hold their peace" from blaming Peter, they open their mouth to "glorify God," Their mode of yielding bespeaks truth and honesty in them at the first, if even these manifested themselves forth in a manner a trifle unceremonious. Doubt, perplexity, a little vexation, clouded brow, all went in a moment. Pent-up anxiety and distrust are relieved. They are glad to hear and be persuaded by the things now "rehearsed to them" of Peter. They are not envious and still exclusive, but welcome the admission of the large Gentile brotherhood to the family of God and to "repentance unto life." And the end of that meeting was peace and joy - yes, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. We may give our better feelings leave to flow and our higher imagination to play while we think of the reconciliation, hearty and unfeigned, that those happy moments witnessed between Peter and the brethren. Nor shall we doubt that, for his fidelity and unflinching consistency in a moment's trying "ill report," he is henceforth held in higher honor and surer trust by those same brethren. - B.
1. The teaching of John the Baptist, and his requirement of repentance as preparatory to the reception of Messiah, retained its influence upon them.
2. When their Master had sent them out on their trial mission, he had given them this distinct message, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
3. When their Lord had been shamefully crucified, by the schemes of the leaders and representatives of the nation, and they had been confirmed in their belief in his Messiahship by his resurrection and ascension, they felt that the judicial murder of the Messiah was the greatest of national crimes, and so they realized how essential was repentance as preceding a profession of faith in him. They had spoken to Jews who, as a nation, through its representatives, had said, "His blood be on us and on our children," and therefore St. Peter, when answering their question, "What shall we do?" on the day of Pentecost, said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). And in his sermon following on the healing of the lame man, he said, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted" (Acts 3:19). And when called to plead before the great council, he further declared concerning Christ, "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31). Having this prominent to their minds as the very gist and essence of the gospel message, the Jerusalem disciples spoke in accordance with it when they accepted St. Peter's explanations, and said, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. The force of the combination of these terms, repentance" and "life," will be felt if we consider -
I. REPENTANCE AS THE FIRST GOSPEL DEMAND. The distinct meaning of the term should be noticed, and the precise meaning of the two Greek equivalents for our one word "repentance" may be pointed out. It is in the higher sense that the term is used by the apostles, and it includes
(1) conviction of sin;
(2) sorrow for sin;
(3) desire to be delivered from sin;
(4) serious purpose to put away and resist sin.
If the gospel were merely some educational or even some moral scheme for elevating the race, it need make no demand for "repentance." It is a scheme for the deliverance of men from the penalty and the power of sin, and this it can never effect save as it can work along the line of man's own will. And the only sign and expression of a man's sense of sin and desire to be freed from it is this "repentance" which the gospel demands. It is the only attitude which the gospel can meet, the only state of mind and feeling with which it can deal. A man is closed in and buttressed against Divine salvation, redemption by grace, until he "truly and unfeignedly repents," and so feels the need and value of Divine forgiveness, healing, and life. This point may be fully illustrated and enforced, and it may be shown that still the preaching of the gospel fails that does not make first demand for repentance. St. Paul's great address to the learned Athenians has this for its point and application: "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
II. REPENTANCE IS THE FIRST SIGN OF LIFE. The way in which our Lord made his disciples familiar with the term life" should be pointed out. Right relations with God are spoken of as "life," "eternal life." Those relations into which we may come through the Lord Jesus Christ are emphatically recognized as "life; " the only true, eternal, spiritual life. It is this "life" into which the disciples recognize that the Gentiles are admitted. When this is fully apprehended, the place of repentance in relation to the life will be readily recognized. To feel sin and the need of a Savior is the first sign of the life; it is its first breath; with it the life necessarily begins. Men absorbed in self find a new life when self is crushed in the dust. Men" dead in trespasses and sins" are raised up, to look and breathe and speak, when sorrow for sin comes to them. This is well illustrated in T. Moore's familiar poem of 'Paradise and the Peril' 'Lalla Rookh.' The most precious thing on earth, that which may even open heaven's gate to the banished pert, is the tear that falls from the eye of the penitent sinner.
III. REPENTANCE GIVES PLACE TO LIFE. It is here called "repentance unto life. Repentance is a step up to something else. Repentance is a temporary condition of mind and feeling, through which a man passes to something better, something permanent. Show how it passes
(1) into the joyous sense of forgiveness;
(2) into the blessed life of trust in the Dying Savior; and
(3) into the infinite happiness of setting our love upon Christ, and finding ourselves sanctified by the responses and gracious workings of his love to us. In conclusion, urge that repentance is still the one and only threshold of life. Humbled" we must be "under God's gracious hand," before we can be "exalted in his due time." We dare not hold back today our Lord's demand of "repentance unto life:" - R.T.
I. THE MANY WAYS OF GOD'S WORKING. We may be reminded:
1. How he defeats his enemies. "They which were scattered abroad upon the persecution... traveled... preaching the Word," etc. (ver. 19). If the enemies of the truth had been its best friends, they could not possibly have taken a course more favorable to its circulation and establishment than the one they took. God overrules the designs of his foes, and turns their attacks upon his kingdom into actual support. Again and again has the enmity, the cruelty, the violence, the cunning of sin been compelled to subserve the interests of righteousness. Mischief smites down the standing corn of truth, but, so doing, it sows living seed from which a large harvest will rise.
2. How he teaches his 'fiends. Those who were scattered abroad went "preaching the Word to none but unto the Jews only" (ver. 19). They did not understand that the gospel was intended for mankind: this was an enlargement of view which the Christian Church had then to gain. Its Divine Master had to teach it this most necessary lesson. How should he do this? He might have done so
(1) by the direct inspiration of his Holy Spirit; or
(2) by manifesting himself to some one of the apostles and conveying through him his mind on the matter. But he chose to do this
(3) by the teaching of his providence. "Some of them" - we do not know who, some whose names are lost and will never be discovered - some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, "when they were come to Antioch, spake, unto the Greeks [not 'Grecians'], preaching, the Lord Jesus." And this unpremeditated, irregular work proved to be marvelously successful (see ver. 21). When the Church at Jerusalem heard of these unauthorized proceedings, they dispatched Barnabas to inquire into the matter (see ver. 22). The nobility of his character and excellency of his spirit triumphed over the narrowness of his views, and, instead of disowning and discouraging the work, he acknowledged its Divine origin and furthered it to the height of his power. And thus the seal of apostolic sanction was set to the broader aim and the larger hope. Thus God leads us into his kingdom of truth. He places us in such circumstances that we take right steps without realizing all the consequences therein involved, and then our convictions rise to the height of our actions.
3. How God uses his servants. "Then departed Barnabas... to seek Saul" (ver. 25). Barnabas served God and his race in one way, Saul in another. Barnabas was not the man to do what Paul afterwards did. He had not the evangelizing, organizing, literary faculty in anything like the same degree in which his illustrious colleague possessed it. But he served the Church and the world in his own way. It was a valuable contribution to the cause of Christ and of the kingdom of God to introduce the distrusted convert to the confidence of the Church (Acts 9:27), and to give him such an opening for the exercise and training of his varied powers as that he now enjoyed at Antioch; it was an eminent and precious service thus to place on a firm footing and to bring into the foreground the man who was to be the means of doing such work as Paul accomplished for mankind. What immeasurable service have the fathers and mothers and teachers of our great reformers, evangelists, preachers, etc., rendered their race! Other men have other spheres to fill; that of Paul was the sphere of abounding activity. We may be sure that he had a great deal to do during those twelve months at Antioch, in "teaching many people" (ver. 26). Some in quieter, others in more active scenes; some in virtue of intellectual, others by means of moral and spiritual gifts; some by their influence on a few influential men, others by their action on the multitude; some by impressing their convictions on men by direct personal appeal, others by organizing and arranging; all in the way chosen of God and pleasing to him, play their part and do their work in their hour of opportunity.
II. THE ONE WORK OF GOD. At Antioch it became convenient to distinguish the converts to the new faith by some name which marked them off from the Jews; they were called "Christians." It is a mark which speaks of the rising tide of truth. It reminds us that God was working out a grand design, far, far beyond the elevation of a favored nation, viz. the redemption of the whole race of man by faith in Jesus Christ; he was and is engaged in "reconciling the world unto himself in Christ." - C.
I. THE SECONDARY CAUSES OF THE FOUNDATION. Christians had been dispersed by the persecution. And thus there went a stream of believers through Phoenicia, Cyprus, and the district of Antioch, charged with the Divine message, living seminaries of the word of love. Persecution, in breaking up communities, diffuses their spiritual contents, as when the box of precious unguent is broken a sweet perfume is diffused abroad. As a rule, these emissaries addressed themselves only to the Jews. But some there were who had seized the larger truth of the gospel and the time, and proclaimed the gospel to the Greeks also. On the day of Pentecost men from Cyrene are named as present, witnesses of the power of the Holy Spirit. Better fitted are they to carry back the gospel to their countrymen than those born Jews. God knows where to find the proper laborers for any harvest which he has ripening.
II. THE SUCCESS OF THE MISSION. The hand of the Lord, the Divine power, was with them, and in large numbers converts and believers were forthcoming. Is not the hand of the Lord ever stretched forth when his blessing is sought, his commands obeyed? All through these profoundly interesting details, do we not clearly see that God requires human co-operation? We bind the hands of God - to use a bold figure - when we do not faithfully deliver his truth, the truth which the time is bidding us to utter. It was the generals and world-wide application of the gospel which was followed by the Divine sanction and blessing. As it was then, so may we expect it to be now and ever.
III. THE VISIT OF BARNABAS.
1. The Church at Jerusalem, bearing of the progress of the truth at Antioch, dispatch Barnabas thither. They are quite otherwise disposed than upon a former occasion (ver. 1, sqq.). Peter had then to meet a storm of objections to his holding intercourse with the heathen. But now the same Church sends without hesitation Barnabas to further the good work. Thus gradually does God unfold his ways, and opposition gives way before his manifested counsels, as the frost-bound snows before the sun of the spring-time.
2. And when Barnabas saw the grace of God, he was glad. The spiritual eye discerns spiritual things. As God is no respecter of persons, neither is he who lives in the fellowship of God's mind. It is no question of the human instrument, but of the Divine results; not of the channels of the grace, but of that pure grace itself.
3. Barnabas proves himself true to his name and character, and proves his fitness for the mission. Good and holy himself, his exhortations tend to goodness and, holiness. Let them cleave to God with the full purpose of the heart. Ever a salutary counsel - to walk by the same rule, to mind the same thing, to stand in the old ways and inquire for the well-trodden paths. Religion is an attitude of the soul, a habit of the will. The constant Divine Object requires constancy in us; let us be true to him as the magnet to the pole. It is good to become a Christian, better to be a Christian, best of all to endure as a Christian and inherit the promise of the crown, of life. Here, too, we see the qualities of the true teacher - to be good and upright in life-conversation, to be full of the holy confidence which faith inspires, and of that contagious inspiration which God's indwelling imparts.
IV. THE RESULT OF BLESSING. A "considerable multitude added to the Lord." And this, it seems, in consequence of the visit of Barnabas. How mighty the power of one energetic will, one faithful heart, of a man who can say with all his heart, "I believe," and whose life backs up his word! So successful is the work, so full the net of the gospel fisher, that Barnabas has to seek the aid of Saul. Another proof of the pure and humble temper of Barnabas. Evidently he did not desire to make himself the great man at Antioch. The greatness of the work and of his Master engrossed his thoughts. Nor does Saul thrust himself forward, but comes when sought. It is a picture of friendship and comradeship in the service of Christ. Plato rhapsodized of the joint striving of two souls after knowledge and truth; but nobler and sweeter is the joint striving of two souls to serve the Savior of men and promote his kingdom of peace and love in souls. Memorable year in the annals of Christianity! Here were the disciples first called Christians - followers of the Christ, of the Anointed One; themselves anointed by the same Spirit and to the same life-work. Let us go back to the origin of our name, that we may understand its meaning. The notes of the true Christian are and ever were, the anointing of the Holy Ghost and with power, and the life seen to be busy, like that of the Master, in "doing good." - J.
I. THE MINISTRY EMPLOYED. Lay agency. Persecution compelling the Church to enlarge its borders. The circumstances opening the door to the Gentiles. Probably little success among Jews. The multitudes of Greeks at Antioch. The Greek mind prepared for inquiry. The state of the heathen world well represented there.
II. THE DIVINE TESTIMONY GIVEN. The hand of the Lord with them. The Spirit outpoured. Possibly not so much in miraculous signs, but in conversions.
III. THE MESSAGE PREACHED. "The Lord Jesus. Not speculations to catch philosophers, but facts to lay hold of hearts, Not preached in a tone of ecclesiastical authority, but by laymen full of the Holy Ghost.
IV. THE TWO CENTRES UNITED - JERUSALEM AND ANTIOCH. Apostolic ministry and lay agency. Barnabas, an intermediate representative man. The kind of man required; not lax in his views of truth, but a good man," full of kindly spirit, an inspired man, a firm believer. Thus the expansion of the Church was no rending of the body of Christ, but simple growth, spiritual life seeking its development.
V. THE SCHOOL OF THE CHURCH OPENED. Antioch a great catechetical center. Barnabas aimed at instruction and edification, that they should cleave unto the Lord. He called in Saul, as more eminently adapted than himself for work in such a sphere. The humility of both men exemplified. Both fitted to be masters, because both simpleminded. Teaching must accompany evangelization, or the work will fall to pieces. A whole year they taught much people; hence their steadfastness at Antioch.
VI. THE WORLD'S TESTIMONY TO THE NEW LIFE. "Called Christians. Antioch saw a distinct society arising; gave it a name, separated it in thought both from Judaism and heathenism. Recognized that the substance of it was Christ; that the members of it were like Christ and lived for Christ. The providential appointment of the name signalized the new start of the Church on its mission, with Saul at the head of it, to evangelize the world. An interesting line of progress from Jerusalem to Antioch. Divine guidance. - R.
scattered," so it was freely given, by these at least, to Grecians again, who were not of the pure "Hebrews," and not of "the circumcised." Many "Grecians" thus "believed, and turned to the Lord" (ver. 21). The sacred history returns in some degree upon its steps to speak of these things, and to record, after the signal given of the fullness of the Gentiles being brought in, how it had meantime been faring with these more nondescript Grecians. There is a certain degree of the enigmatic in these two verses. To remove this will at the same time unfold the truth which the Spirit may have intended to teach in this place. We seem to see -
I. AN ELEMENT OF ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITY. "Tidings" that presumably were of the best kind, and could mean nothing but good, are apparently not received as such, and are visited with some sort of scrutiny. The facts are exactly so. But it is to be noted that the authority that moved was one that moved itself, and is not an instance of an individual usurping ecclesiastical authority. The authority is not either arbitrary or that of an external hand. It is the Church itself. And it is the Church who delegates one evidently held in high honor, though not an apostle, to go to a long distance to inquire into the "tidings" that have reached itself at Jerusalem.
II. AN INOPPORTUNE EXERCISE OF ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITY. If the tidings were on the face of them good, credible in the nature of things, or rather in the nature of what the Church now well knew to be the operation of the Divine Spirit, why need the Church assume the attitude of caution anti do the action of apparent suspicion?
1. It is most grateful to note the first dawning exercise of infant powers and discretion on the part of the Church. This it learnt partly "from above," partly also from bitter and humbled experience of its own. It had already had the faithless within it, and the attempts of the worst worldliness (as in the instance of Simon Magus) to enter within its sacred fold.
2. The real gist of anxiety and of the inquiry proposed turned, no doubt, upon this great new gospel that was now coming upon those who had themselves received the gospel in very deed, and which only shook their faith (if it did shake their faith) lest it be too great, too good, to be true. The "mighty works" of God are being wrought upon and among all, Gentiles and Grecians, as they had been on the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem. Well may the Church stop and turn aside to see this great sight, and to find out for certain that it is not a vision and that they do not dream.
3. The Church, as results proved, did not act for the sake of mere caution or for the mere sake of enlightenment, least of all from love of cold and suspicious criticism, but, if things were real and true, also to give the right hand of fellowship to those who, like its own present members, were "called."
III. ONE SPECIAL CRITERION LOOKED FOR BY BARNABAS, AND GUIDING HIM. No details lie on the page for us, no sealed instructions are mentioned, no open instructions, no parting suggestions even; and nothing is said of all the thoughts and feelings that chased one another or amid which the very soul of Barnabas mused as he traveled afar. No; but we are not left without the necessary clue. He reached his destination, and apparently does not hold or offer to hold any court, and call witnesses, and loftily and inquisitorially investigate the state of things. With a large and open eye he surveys the scene. He looks and sees the proofs of "the grace of God" given to them at Antioch, even "the uncircumcised." He listens, and hears the sounds that attest "the grace of God" given to them. He mingles with them, and he sees the works that none could do unless "the grace of God" were given to them. And he is satisfied. The tree is known by its fruits, and there can be no mistake what the fruits are now. Would that the same simplicity of method of judging one another were the one method known and followed now and ever! For this beautiful expression, "the grace of God," does not stand for mere feeling and experience or profession of the same, but rather for those "works" and "fruits of the Spirit" which only could come of the imparted grace of God.
IV. THE VERY GLADNESS OF HEART ITSELF OF A HOLY MAN. It is emphatically said, "He was glad."
1. It was a relief to an anxious, inquiring mind, on a subject of thrilling interest. How it had weighed on the mind of Barnabas all his journey - the question itself, and his responsibility as delegated to examine into it!
2. It was a relief to Barnabas to think he could speak with such thorough confidence, and in no halting tone at all, to those who had sent him, when he should render his account to them.
3. It was all joy to his heart to think how day dammed at last on the whole world. What startling, ravishing prospects must have sometimes been revealed by the Spirit to the apostles and the early disciples and brethren in those days!
V. THE MINDFULNESS OF A HOLY MAN, EVEN WHEN EXCITED BY JOY.
1. Barnabas was mindful of his own duty, to speak the word of exhortation even in the midst of a scene full of present brightness, hope, confidence.
2. He was mindful of the ever-existing temptation to go back to the world, to love the world, to yield in enthusiasm's hour, but to relapse in the long days of heat and toil and trial. And therefore the burden of his exhortation was that they should "cleave to the Lord," and that "with purpose of heart they should cleave to the Lord."
VI. A SOMEWHAT INOPPORTUNE MIXTURE OF COMMENDATION OF BARNABAS AND HIS INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER WITH MUCH MORE SERIOUS MATTER. Let it seem so; let it be so. Yet this is the condescension of God. This is the sympathy of Jesus. This is the Spirit's comforting aid and honor shown to those who are true. However, as the sacred and abiding page of Scripture inscribes these things to the honor and glory of Barnabas, in the midst of matter which all redounded only to the honor and glory of God, we may observe that the character here given to Barnabas:
1. Justified his selection for a new and delicate and important embassy.
2. Explains the very deep, full, genial joy of his heart, its openness to conviction, and its freedom from the least and last taint of Jewish envy and Jewish exclusiveness.
3. Proves withal that it was God's Spirit who was in all," working within" him, when he came, when be saw, when he judged rightly, when he was profoundly impressed, when he was glad to the bottom of his heart, and also when he did not forget duty and solemn trying times to come amid the sympathies and congratulatings of bright hours. For he was "full of the Holy Ghost." - B.
unto the Grecians. Now this term may mean either Hellenistic Jews or Gentiles. The best manuscripts have the word Greeks, and this should be distinctly referred to the heathen, or Gentile, population. If it were so that these disciples preached the gospel to the heathen, and news of this came to the Church at Jerusalem soon after St. Peter's account of what had taken place at Caesarea, there was good ground for sending Barnabas to inquire into matters at Antioch, to explain the new view of the scope of the gospel as revealed to St. Peter, and to ensure harmonious working between those who labored for the Jew and those who labored for the Gentile. If this was the mission of Barnabas, it is important for us to be told concerning his personal character; for upon it the success of his mission would very largely depend. Only a man of great goodness and generous feeling would be likely to meet aright the difficulties that would be presented. There are many circumstances in life in which "character "can do more and better than "talent," and talent wins its noblest triumphs when it is united with and sanctified by godly character. Three things are specially noticed in relation to Barnabas.
I. HE WAS GOOD IS CHARACTER. "A good man." Our attention is directed by this term to his natural excellences of disposition. There was amiability, kindness of purpose and manner, generosity of spirit, considerateness for others, and readiness even to sacrifice his own things for the good of others. He was just the kind of man to win the confidence and esteem of all those among whom he worked; and it would seem that his very failing, in the matter of his dispute with St. Paul, arose from the warmth of his affection for his young relative Mark, and his too great readiness to make excuses for him. "His very failing leaned to virtue's side." His "goodness" may be seen and illustrated from each of the incidents in which he is introduced to us.
1. He seems to have set the example of devoting his property to the needs of the early Church (Acts 4:36).
2. He it was who overcame the apostolic suspicion of the newly converted Saul, in the generosity of his trustful disposition. When they were all afraid of Saul, "Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles," etc. (Acts 9:26-28).
3. His trustfulness is further shown in his making Saul, the new convert, his companion in his missionary labors. It may be urged that, while Christianity masters and corrects naturally bad dispositions, it wins its noblest and most beautiful triumphs when it inspires and sanctifies the naturally amiable and generous and trustful disposition. It is a thing to be ever devoutly thankful to God for, if he has given us characters that may win the love and esteem and confidence of our fellow men.
II. HE WAS FULL OF FAITH. This is something more than natural trustfulness, though closely allied to it. Two things may be included.
1. He had a strong grip of the gospel truth, and was not troubled with weakening and depressing doubts. He held, fast and firmly, the Messiahship and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and all that these involved. And only men of faith can be men of real power as God's witnesses and preachers. Men do not want to hear from ministers about their questionings and doubtings. The great cry is, "What do you know of God and truth and duty? What do you believe?"
2. He had a clear vision of the broader aspects of the Christian system. He was a follower of Stephen. He was prepared for the admission of the Gentiles to Christian privileges. And so he was just the man to go down to Antioch and deal with the difficulties that might arise from breaking down the old Jewish bondages. And there is constant demand for such men of faith, who can hopefully accept the passing changes of thought and feeling within the Church, even when they cannot personally sympathize with them. We need men of faith in the sense of broad outlooking and high hope for the future.
III. HE WAS FULL OF THE HOLY GHOST. That Holy Ghost came as the seal of all sincere believers, but it is here suggested that the measures and degrees of his gracious inward workings directly depend on the moods and attitudes and character of the man. And here lies the practical application of our subject. Barnabas, because he was a good man and full of faith, was also full of the Holy Ghost. And we shall find that anxious and careful culture of Christian character will also open our hearts, lives, and workings to the full energies of God the Holy Ghost. - R.T.
I. BARNABAS FINDS AN UNEXPECTED AND A GRAND FIELD OF LABOR AT ANTIOCH.
1. He came on one errand; he stays on another, and that a great enterprise. He came to inquire about the justifiableness of certain goings on. He is forced to become part and parcel of them, and to embark in them heart and hand and voice.
2. He observes "that a great door and effectual is opened before him" (1 Corinthians 16:9). Antioch, for its situation, its buildings, and its very various and important people - for its Jewish population, for its Greek fashion, and its Roman military, and its business and commercial connections - cannot be surpassed as a place of importance for preaching Christ from the first moment that it is apparent that not Jews only, but Gentiles also, Greek and Roman, are to be embraced within the blessings of the covenant.
3. When already "much people was added unto the Lord," and "a great number had believed and turned unto the Lord," his heart is "touched with compassion '(as his Master's once and often was) when he saw "the sheep without a shepherd," and "the fields white to harvest," and the harvest one of superlative promise, "but the laborers few." And no doubt he "prayed the Lord of the harvest," and got his answer.
II. BARNABAS CONSULTS AS TO ONE THING ALONE.
1. He wishes, if it be possible, to compass the work.
2. He knows no grain of envy or jealousy or selfish ambition.
3. He will lose a few weeks of time if he may return armed better by far for the work, for he bethinks himself (or otherwise in answer to his prayer has been reminded divinely) of one of remarkable conversion and of surpassing energy. He will be a likely helpmeet. Barnabas has already walked arm-in-arm with him in Jerusalem, and has been surety for him with the Church in Jerusalem. With this strong man, who has now been tried, been ripening in comparative retirement, and has borne the trial, would he wish to be associated in besieging, with a view to take, this tempting citadel Of Antioch. He is keeping up his character as given us in the preceding verses. He is "full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." His eye is single, his best reason and mental judgment are given to the question before him. His motives are pure and his conscience sensitive.
4. He is going to have his man. He will not miss of Saul. He journeys after him to seek him. He believes not in messages nor proxies. He finds him and brings him to Antioch.
III. BARNABAS AND SAUL BELIEVE IN CO-OPERATION.
1. They believe in brotherly love. It was a somewhat new thing to believe in, in some aspects of it. Not a few natural kinds of love unite us together. But brotherly love came in largely with the followers of Jesus, viz. that kind of love which brought two men to work together for religious ends.
2. They believe in the practical advantages of two working together.
(1) One sustains the purpose of the other.
(2) The weak side of one character is compensated by the forte of the other.
(3) Many an enterprise must pine for want of sufficient support at the hand of one alone, which may be easily compassed by two, and leave them still spare energy.
3. They disbelieve in unworthy rivalry, in comparisons, in personal ambition. Yet now, eighteen centuries later, these very things are occasionally heard as among the standard objections to two disciples of Jesus Christ being linked together in equal service for him.
IV. BARNABAS AND SAUL GIVE THEMSELVES FOR A WHOLE YEAR TO BUILDING UP AND EDIFYING THE CHURCH AT ANTIOCH.
1. The importance of Church life begins to be recognized, both for itself and for its witness, in the midst of a great people outside.
2. Even nature itself "is vindicating the need and the advantage of teachers and pastors and examples." "They assembled themselves with the Church, and taught much people." It was not all evangelization, nor all missionary journeys, even in earliest days of Christianity. And this is more remarkable in the light of an example, when we remember that the good work at Antioch had sprung up of what in brief might be called "self-sown seed." Those of the dispersion whose hearts burned within them had been, under the Spirit, the beginning of the work. And it was on account of the proportions to which their work had grown, and the fame of it that traveled to Jerusalem, that Barnabas had been sent to visit Antioch. The flock only need to be hungry to look for a shepherd, and the hungry flock do not fail to look up to the shepherd that feeds it.
3. The love of Barnabas and Saul must have been met by much love on the part of those "in and out among whom" they went, teaching them many things. This is the Church love. This is the secret of Church harmony. This the humble beginning alike of the holiness and the happiness of the Church above.
V. THE MINISTRY CONJOINT OF BARNABAS AND SAUL IS BLESSED. It is blessed in two directions.
1. It cannot be said to be a conclusion too remote or far-fetched when we assert that there is evidence of the witness that ministry was to the outside world. That "the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch" and at this time means nothing less than these two things.
(1) They take a status in the world; and this has been verified by history. World-wide their name is known.
(2) That status is given them, even if in partial ridicule, by the world. The Church of disciples, of saints, of brethren, of followers of Jesus, of Nazarenes, made its mark upon them of busy, prosperous, intelligent Antioch. They are not a ragged regiment, nor a rope of sand, nor a quarrelsome litigious clique. They have been doing work and have been living consistently.
2. That ministry has prepared those among whom it was exercised both to feel promptly compassion for their brethren who were to be visited by famine and poverty in Judaea, showing it also promptly by a practical charity and generosity, and also to convey that expression of love in a becoming and grateful manner. Great was the goodness of Barnabas, and great and good was the united ministry and work of him and his chosen, sought colleague, Saul. - B.
Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome. The birth of the religion; its triumph in full manhood over the world; and between these two points its baptism as the religion of the East and West alike. Describe position and influence of the city. The name not given by Jews, as recognizing that Jesus was Messiah. Not by disciples, as other names in use - "believers.... brethren," "saints," "friends." Nor by Divine direction. It was either a name of reproach or a convenient designation of a rapidly enlarging society. Consider -
I. THE NAME GIVEN.
1. Personal, testifying to the pre-eminence of Christ in the first preaching. The facts came before the doctrines, as they always should.
2. A name of distinction. Separation from the world. Baptism in his Name. Worship of Christ. Spirit of Christ. "See how these Christians love one another." Contrast with heathen world.
3. Prophetic. Christ expected to return. Judge of all the earth. Despondency the main feature of heathenism. Christians preached hope. The Resurrection and Ascension. Not as others, children of the night, but children of the light.
II. THE NAME HONOURED. "Called Christians."
1. The life should be evident before it is named. Baptismal regeneration is condemned by such a fact.
2. If the world looks upon the life, it will name it; let us see to it that it names it after Christ. It should be the sign of conversation, and the testimony to a spiritual work.
3. The privilege is to wear the name. Are we ashamed of it? Secret disciples an anomaly. Connect the profession with teaching at Antioch, and the name will be itself a publication of the truth.
4. It is not what we are called that will decide our final state, but what we are. Let all who name his Name depart from iniquity. "Christendom is an empty mockery. Seek the baptism of the Holy Ghost. - R.
Christian is very strange, its appropriateness has been universally recognized. The very essence of the gospel is the presentation of Christ to men, and the pressure of his claims to men's love and trust; and therefore those who receive Christ as their Savior, and obey him as their Lord, are properly denominated Christians." It is usual to call disciples after the name of their master or teacher, as may be seen in the terms "Mohammedan," "Buddhist," "Wesleyan," etc. Sometimes classes of men are named after the central principle which they have adopted. This we cannot do, because our central principle is "Christ" - not even some truth about Christ, but Christ himself. So we can have no name but that which the people of Antioch found when they discovered how prominently Christ was set forth in the early preaching.
I. THE THOUGHT OF THOSE WHO FIRST NAMED THE DISCIPLES "CHRISTIANS." It has often been pointed out that the name was started as a nickname. The idea of making so much of One who was known to have been crucified as a malefactor and impostor may well have excited the ridicule of humorous people, and we know how constantly the disciples were taunted with worshipping the Crucified. A caricature of the early times has been discovered, representing a person, with the head of an ass, stretched upon a cross, and a figure kneeling before it. Underneath is this inscription: "Alexamenos worshipping his God." In this spirit the name was first given, much as the term "Methodists" was applied to the followers of Wesley.
II. THE THOUGHT OF THOSE WHO ACCEPTED THE NAME, Perhaps in their modesty they did not think themselves worthy to bear their Master's name; but when others gave it to them they felt that they could accept it. And no name could be to them so honored. Their hesitation, however, might have arisen from another cause. To accept a distinctive title was to break away from Judaism, and take a position as a separate and independent sect. We can well understand how the disciples would hesitate to accept so defined a position. They thought of themselves as still Jews, seeking, some would say, the reformation of Judaism; and others would say, the spiritual fulfillment of Judaism; but anything savoring of sectarianism or separation would be distressing to them. Yet many times in Church history men have been compelled to take decided positions against their own wills, but their distinctness and separateness have proved to be for the world's permanent good.
III. THE THOUGHT OF THOSE WHO NOW NEAR THE NAME. For so many persons its deeper significance has faded out. It is so universally applied, and made so all-inclusive, as to have become a meaningless term. And yet how full of force and inspiration it should be to us
(1) for the sake of the history which the term embodies - the long story of Christian witness and struggle; and
(2) for the depths of meaning which we may now find in it, for to us it may mean not merely "followers or disciples of Christ," but Christ-like men and women, who are daily being "changed into his image from glory to glory; and who want to be "like him in all things"! - R.T.
I. HIS PROVISION FOR OUR TEMPORAL WELL-BEING. The great multitudes of mankind, the hundreds of thousands of millions are fed, year after year, age after age; and many hundreds of millions more might be sustained if all the use were made that might be of the opportunities open to us. God, in his bounty, provides what we want in
(1) fruitful and extensive soil,
(2) multiplying set,
(3) agricultural knowledge (Isaiah 28:26),
(4) materials for implements of husbandry,
(5) all nourishing and ripening agencies.
II. HIS CONSIDERATION OF OUR PIETY. God gives us our bread, our maintenance, in such a way that we are almost compelled to acknowledge his hand in the harvest. Evidently we did not produce the soil nor make the seed; evidently we cannot cause it to fertilize and grow; evidently it is his sun that shines and his rain that falls on our fields. The ordinary processes as by which the seed is multiplied are such as direct our eyes to heaven. And often, in his wisdom, he holds his hand, he withdraws the sunshine or keeps back his clouds, he sends dearth as "in the days of Claudius Caesar" (ver. 28), and then men are constrained to remember that there is work being done in the soil and in the sky which they cannot control, and in regard to which they must look up to God the Giver of all, whose is the earth with its fullness, and ask of him, and plead with him, and, it may be, humble themselves before him.
III. HIS REGARD FOR OUR INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL WELL-BEING.
1. Intellectual. God teaches us (Isaiah 28.), but he leaves much to be discovered by our own mental labor. Agriculture provides a very wide and a very noble field for observation, experiment, contrivance; it tasks and trains the mind.
2. Moral. We cannot secure our harvests without
(3) patience (James 5:7). The abundance, and indeed superabundance, of the earth's yield is such that
(4) there is enough for the supply of those engaged in other pursuits; hence there is room for all kinds of labor beside that of agriculture - for the pursuit of art, and for the teaching of religious truth and training in the religious life. Those who have received the bread of eternal life from the lips of others can furnish, as Antioch now supplied Jerusalem, the bread of this temporal life to those to whom they are under spiritual obligation. The abundance which prevails in some districts - and famine is never universal - gives the opportunity of
(5) showing practical kindness. On this occasion there was sufficient in Syria for its own need and for the distress in Judea, and the Christians of Antioch contributed to supply the wants of those at Jerusalem. We should:
(1) receive God's temporal mercies with the gratitude which belongs to piety;
(2) distribute of our abundance to those who have a claim on us, either on account of the spiritual favors they have conferred or in virtue of their special necessity. - C.
I. The test of REAL UNION must be an appeal to self-sacrifice. Antioch was wealthy; Judaea was poor. The prophets came from Jerusalem; the return was relief sent to poor brethren, both as a sign of obedience to the Spirit and as a pledge of future oneness. There could be no more decided evidence that the Gentile converts were really incorporated into the apostolic Church.
II. The prophetic element quite consistent with the maintenance of A SETTLED ORDER in the spiritual life. The extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit must be distinguished from the ordinary work of the Church. The collected relief was sent to "the elders." The hands of Barnabas and Saul carried it. Thus the new Gentile community at Antioch did not break away from the original center at Jerusalem. It was not Saul's aim to disacknowledge those who had preceded him; but, while carefully maintaining the connection, preserving independence.
III. WILLINGHOOD the principle of the Church's charity. "Every man according to his ability." "God loveth a cheerful giver." No sign of ecclesiastical rate-laying. Until the Church became corrupt, it had no need of any other law than spiritual law. - R.