The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.Chapter 29
Almighty God, our life is thine. When we die in the Lord surely we return unto thee, and give thee that which is thine own. We bless thee for life, notwithstanding its daily burden and its continual sorrow. Thou hast wrought into the mystery of life a subtle joy which fills the heart with an emotion which we would might abide there for ever. In the midst of life we are in death, but death itself is swallowed up in victory. In Christ Jesus we can say to Death, "where is thy sting? grave, where is thy victory?" Jesus Christ hath abolished death, and in him, our Priest and Saviour, we are more than conquerors. In death we have found life. That which we sow is not quickened except it die. Help us to seize this great truth with all the energy of love, and with all the emotion of triumphant faith, that death may have no more dominion over us. Thou art our God and Father; a sanctuary of defence, and a pavilion of daily protection. Thou art unto us as a high rock, whose cooling shadow refreshes us at high noon. We come to thee always through Jesus Christ the righteous. He is our propitiation, our living answer to an accusing law, and our infinite defence against a righteous vengeance.
We commend to thee all to whom this is a day of mournful suffering. We recall the images of our friends and make them live before the eye of a loving memory. We hear their cheering voices; we feel the contact of their friendly hands, and we would now in spirit unite with them in the higher song of the higher sanctuary.
The subject is the same and unchangeable. When we see thee as thou art we'll give thee nobler praise. Comfort those who remain. Recall to their memory all thine exceeding great and precious promises. Show them that the angel is at the grave awaiting their coming, and that his presence there is a pledge of a resurrection to be accomplished by the power of Christ. Recall all that is dearest, sweetest, tenderest in the memory of our friends who have joined the upper band, and may we vehemently desire to be united to the blood-bought host and sin no more. As for those of us who remain, may we be doubly industrious. As the ranks become thinner, may those who are left fight with redoubled strength and watch with keener vigilance. Cause some who are young and strong to come forward and take the places of those who have been called higher, that thus the army of Christ may suffer no loss, and its leadership may be continually reinforced. We are here but for a moment; presently there will be a cry, "Behold the Bridegroom cometh! go ye out to meet him." May we be amongst those whose lamps will be a flame, and who shall be ready in heart and hand to meet the only One whose presence is heaven. We will see thee presently face to face, and then will speak further with thee. To-day we must be content with these few brief broken words, with references that are a pain to themselves because of their incompleteness. Yea, with sentences pained with much agony because they cannot tell the secret which gives life to our inmost hope.
We bless thee for friends returned from places far away. They come with cheerful countenances, with loving eyes, and with new tones of trust and love in their voices. So gather us altogether from across the seas, and rivers, and wildernesses, and make of us at last in Christ Jesus, Thy Son, one house from which no foot shall ever wander. Amen.
1. And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. [The context implies that the tidings travelled, while Peter remained at Cæsarea, first probably to Joppa and Lydda, and afterwards to Jerusalem.]
2. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended [the tense implies continuous or repeated discussion] with him,
3. Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised [men with a foreskin], and didst eat with them.
4. But Peter rehearsed [began and set forth] the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,
5. I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:
6. Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
7. And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.
8. But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.
9. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
10. And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.
11. And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Cæsarea unto me.
12. And the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. [The Greek verb has a special force as being the same as that for "contended" in Acts 11:2.] Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:
13. And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him. Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;
14. Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
15. And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
16. Then remembered I the word of the Lord [ch. Acts 1:5], how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
17. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ [the Greek construction gives a somewhat different meaning: If then God gave to the man equal gift as to us, upon their believing]; what was I, that I could withstand God? [the Greek gives a complex question, Who was I, able to withstand God?]
18. When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God [the difference of tenses in the two Greek verbs implies that they first held their peace, and then began a continuous utterance of praise], saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
Enlargement of Ideas
"AND the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the Word of God." This little common word "ALSO" is most pathetic. We find pathos sometimes in little words and in strange connections. In this instance it means more and more—further and further. The light is brightening, and the lands that are afar off are enjoying its glory. The word "ALSO" is, I say, but a common little word in many connections, but in this particular connection it is the creation of a new world, an annexation of new kingdoms and provinces to the central empire of Emmanuel. The same word occurs in the eighteenth verse, wherein the Jews said, glorifying God, "Then hath God ALSO to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." The keyword of Christianity is Enlargement—enclosure, continual extension of love and mercy, host upon host, army upon army, till, the whole universe is one Church, and its voice one song. Do not believe in any view of Christianity that excludes anybody. Christianity came not to exclude men, but to include them. Let that be a continual test when you are examining religious faiths, and religious propositions and plans. The theology that would shut out from Christ's heart any human creature is a bad theology—is a lie! Election is not exclusive, but inclusive. The ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans does not shut out any man who would come to Christ: it tells the Jews, in startling language, that God is greater than they are, and that in his great love he is going to gather into one all the lands and peoples of the earth. Take instances of the Divine election such as we can understand, and you will see how true is this doctrine in its higher relation. God elects one day in the week; does he thereby reprobate the remaining days? Do the six poor cold exiled days gather around the elected seventh, and say, "The way of the Lord is not equal; you have been chosen and we have been shut out; God has blessed and crowned you, and left us without benediction and coronation?" Nothing of the kind. Why does God elect the one day? To get at the whole six that are outside it. He does not say, "Remember Monday to keep it holy;" he says "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy;" for no man can keep Sunday holy without keeping the whole six days holy also. You cannot keep one day holy and make the other profane. Given a Sabbath of the real kind, an open door into heaven, a highway on which we meet the angels, a garden path through the very paradise of God, and the whole week partakes of its nature—reflects its love, vibrates with its music, and is glad with its joy.
Take the case of the human family. God made one man, but he made that man that in him he might make all men. God elected one family, that through one family he might bless all the families of the earth. And this idea of his love has been perverted; this wine of heaven has been turned into sourness; the very election that should have doubled the Gospel beauty, as the river throws back the sky, has been turned into an occasion of controversy and separation, and of mutual misunderstanding, and devils have laughed at the divisions of Christendom.
Here we have the marvellous power of prejudice. "When Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him." They had been trained in a certain view, and they were faithful to that view; so far of course they were not to be blamed, for they believed that they alone had the truth, and so believing they contended valiantly for it. The power of prejudice is probably the greatest power under which human life withers. The man against whom you have a prejudice can do no good. If required to vindicate your unfriendly attitude by fair and equitable argument, you would not have one word to say, but that you do not like the man; you are turned against him; he repels you in some way or other, reasonable or unreasonable, and that prejudice will be more difficult to conquer and eradicate than any number of reasons which you could advance in fair language. Here was a sect that could lay its arms upon its breast, drink in its own Christian satisfaction, and let all the world go down to the devil without one moment's remorse. Any religion that is fully comprehended, that will enable a man to do that is diabolical. There are some people in Christian countries today who, imagining themselves to be the chosen favourites of heaven, can allow all outsiders to go down to darkness without ever troubling them on their descending way. But for the spirit of Christ, I could call down fire from heaven upon such sectarians! Yet it is possible—yea, it is real—yea, more, it is the curse of Christian society. To see what we have seen of narrow-minded, bloodless men, pale, shrivelled, hunger-bitten, thinking that they had so attracted the Divine notice as to become the favourites of a discriminating Heaven, and that others had gone to live eternally with the devil because of a Divine decree! Personally I know of nothing in Sodom, or in Gomorrah, so terrible as such a damnable self-complacency. "God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life." He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours ONLY, but for the sins of the whole world." If I have today to elect my Gospel, I elect that, WHOSOEVER, EVERY CREATURE under heaven, a WORLD redeemed, and not a little company selected. Christianity destroys all complacencies. Christianity tells the most self-complacent man amongst us that the very poorest human creature that crawls on the streets is his brother. Nowhere does the Christian Gospel speak one contemptuous word of any human creature. Never did Christ say to any one, "You are too bad." No; as the sins piled themselves one upon another, blackening the blue heavens with their shadow, he said, "Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee." How is it, then, that the human heart shuts out this human religion—a religion that takes up the weak, that represents the dumb, that looks for what the blind have lost, and turns away with haughty independence from every man that would offer it the cruelty of his patronage? Surely this is a mystery to the angels!
We think "they that were of the circumcision" is a sentence which refers to people that lived many centuries ago. It is not; it is a sentence which includes men and women who are breathing in this house at this moment, and who are to be found under every ecclesiastical roof in the world. Every one of us has his own "circumcision." Each says, "We must draw the line somewhere." So say I. I would lay my line on GOD'S LOVE! God did not make me a line-layer. He made me a minister of his grace, and wherein any word of mine is less than God's love, reject my unholy Gospel, for Gospel it is none—only a word that would wither and blight the heart of man. Some men's "circumcision" is the regularly-turned out creed, numbered, partly written in capitals, partly in italics, itemed, and arranged, weighed out, defined, indexed, settled. If you believe this creed you are good, if you doubt it you are infidels, if you reject it you are atheists. Others have a notion that there is what they term "a regular ministry." You would be surprised at the fine lines that have been drawn amongst ministers. One man is "only a missionary," nothing more! Another man is "only a home missionary," nothing more! Another man is only "a sort of a home missionary," and others are "regular ministers," properly made, clothed, decorated, and otherwise classified, so as to have no ambiguity about their exact standing. Others have been "educated" for the ministry. Sometimes they can look contemptuously upon men who have not been "educated" for the ministry. Educated to tell mankind that Christ came to the world to save sinners, and that he tasted death for every man. I would that we could escape this "circumcision," narrowness of mere creed, and mere ministry, and merely ecclesiasticism, and know that all men who bow at the altar of the Cross are the ministers of Christ. The Lord's fire consume all priestism! They that are of the "circumcision" know exactly where the right Church is. In their estimation you who now hear me are not a Church at all! You are labouring under an amiable delusion if you imagine that you are a Church; and we on our side have prejudices quite as narrow, and in some cases even more irrational. "Then hath God also" to every sect and name and party and class granted of the glory of his light and the quietness of his peace. Seize that idea and drop your angry controversies and miserable wrangles over interpretations which there is no human authority sufficiently infallible to determine. I do not know whether to rejoice more over the fifteenth verse or over the eighteenth. The fifteenth verse reads, "And as I began to speak the Holy Ghost fell on them;" that is enlargement. The eighteenth verse reads, they "glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." The work of extension took place in two directions. The mind of the Church was expanded. Not only did the Gentiles receive the rising light, but the Church itself, on hearing that the morning glory had lifted itself above the lands that sat in darkness, became sensible of a great outstretching of mind; so the Gentiles sang their new hymn, and the Church uplifted its anthem, and hymn and anthem blended into one music-offering to heaven, and the Jew and the Gentile knew that "the middle wall of partition" had for ever fallen down!
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.Chapter 30
Almighty God, this is thine house, and the spirit of it is thine. Surely it is thine altogether. There is no unholy chamber in the Lord's great sanctuary. Are not all things cleansed with blood that are in the house of the Lord? are they not without spot or wrinkle or any such thing? and are not we ourselves called upon by the Spirit of the house to put on garments of righteousness, and clothing beautiful as thine own holiness? Is not this our calling in Christ Jesus the spotless One?—the Lamb of God, the sacrifice for the sins of the world, a sin-offering without sin, an acceptable Propitiation! Enable us, we humbly pray thee, to know that thou art here looking upon us, and that the air also is full of angels and the spirits of the loved who have gone up to the throne and to the light. May we know that this is not common ground, but a chosen place, a land cleansed and prepared, where the flame is, out of which the God of Abraham and the Father of Jesus ever speaks to the sons of men. We have come to see heaven opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. We would be no longer tossed about as those who have no centre and standing place. We would know that the Lord reigneth, that all things are in his kind and mighty hands, and that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without the Father. All things are in the hollow of thine hand. The opening of thine eyes is the sending forth of day and summer over the whole firmament and over the whole land. So we have rest. We have peace with God; we have security in thy righteousness, and hope because of thy mercy. Thou lovest thine own image and likeness. Thou dost see a reflection of thyself even in the ruin which we have wrought. We therefore come, desiring to be reunited with God, restored through Christ Jesus, the one Saviour, purified and comforted by the Holy Spirit. We have brought our sins with us, but we need not take them away. Thou wilt dissolve them as clouds that shall no more darken our outlook. Thou dost send trouble upon us not to grieve but to test us. Sanctify all bereavement, all sudden darkening of the household joy, every opened grave, every shattered hope. Show us that in all these things thou art working out a sovereign purpose of love. Help us to hold fast the hand when we cannot see the face of God. The darkness and the light are both alike unto thee. The night shineth as the day, and all that we now know of light is but darkness compared with the glory which shall be revealed. Thou wilt make the moon as the sun, and the sun sevenfold in brightness, and the glory shall burn like the light of thy throne. These are our expectations in Christ Jesus the Lord. Already we have in him a wonderful inheritance. Our loved ones have not died who have fallen asleep in his arms. They are still ours, and the more so that they are his, and the whole family in heaven and on earth is named in him who is the Son of man. Let our wants cry unto heaven, and let thy mercy respond. We want more light, more purity and nobleness of soul, more faith, more of thyself. Thou that dwellest between the Cherubim, shine forth. Let there be no darkness in our souls; may our inward life be like a house filled with the light of God. Few and evil are our days—at the most they are but a handful. The grave is always just outside the window, and is part of our very dwelling-place. Show us that in Christ Jesus, the Resurrection, there is no death, and that we should see the garden, not the tomb. The Lord direct us all the remaining days of our life. Give us good cheer by the way, when the heart is made suddenly sad. Pluck the fruit that is on branches too high for us to reach. Take us up awhile and give us rest when the way is long and the flesh is weary, and at the last may we hear rather the salutation of the angels than the farewells of the dying. Amen.
19. Now they which were scattered abroad [a new and important section begins with these words] upon the persecution that arose about Stephen [whose death was followed by a general outburst of fanaticism] travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch [the great Syrian capital], preaching the word to none [to no one,—the Greek number is singular] but unto the Jews only.
20. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene [Greek-speaking Jews], which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.
21. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
22. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas [whose sympathies for such work were shewn in his very name, Son of Consolation], that he should go as far as Antioch.
23. Who when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all [the tense implies continuous action], that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
24. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith and much people [a great multitude] was added unto the Lord.
25. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul [probably implying some intercourse with the Apostle, by letter or message, since his departure from Jerusalem].
26. And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called [got the name of] Christians first in Antioch.
27. And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
28. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world [the Roman empire]: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
29. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability [as each man prospered], determined to send relief [to send as a ministration] unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:
30. Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
Cleaving Unto the Lord
THE first part of this text is a condensation of the former part of the chapter. To the infinite amazement of the early preachers the Word of the Lord took effect upon others besides Jews. It touched the heart of the Centurion, and it awakened the faith of the Grecian in Antioch. In this way Christianity became quite as much a revelation to the Jews themselves as to the Gentiles. It was a surprise of love. The Jews saw that Christianity was not a local lamp, but a universal sun, and as its glory brightened the distant hills and made the far-off valleys sing with new joy, the preachers were glad; they felt themselves at once invested with a new responsibility, and stirred with a new hope. Some such passion should fill our hearts when we see far-off men touched by the power of Christ. The extension of Christ's kingdom is the supreme joy of the loyal Church. To see another province added to his empire is to partake in our little degree of the travail of his soul, which brings him his one satisfaction. Herein we may see a proof and seal of the Divine origin of Christianity. All other religions remain at home. Other religions are cold theories or entertaining speculations or sentimental dreams. They do not come out in the dark, nor do they brave the wilderness, nor are they tempted across the sea. They pillow themselves at home, and then fall into ignoble rest and useless dreaming. Christianity never stops at one place as a final point. Having showed its light, sounded its trumpet, offered its hospitality, it says, "I must preach the Gospel to other lands also." Any religion that talks in that beneficent tone needs no cunning argument of man to sustain and vindicate its divinity. Christianity is an aggressive religion, Christianity is a fighting faith, Christianity is a military theology. If its professors are non-militant, easy, self-contained, self-complacent, they give the lie to their own faith: they are baptized infidels. They do not know the spirit of zeal which goes out to the whole earth and to the ends of the world, seeking, calling, blessing, saving, giving itself away in continual and hopeful sacrifice. In proportion as we sit at home we disown the spirit of the Christianity to which we owe our security. In the universality of the Christian offer I see its Godhood. Luxuries are only here and there, but necessaries are everywhere. Wines grow on these sunny hills, and in yonder sheltered valley, they do not grow everywhere; but show me the land where there is no water! Men need water, not wine. "The burning rays of the ruby shine" in special places, but the light of the sun goeth forth everywhere with impartial splendour and ungrudging benediction. Some of God's gifts are special, local, and individual, but these gifts are not necessary to salvation. Whatever is necessary to the soul's redemption and unification with Christ is spoken, or to be spoken, in every language and dialect of earth. Universality is argument in such a case.
There are two typical instances given in the narrative. Christianity touched the mind and heart of the centurion. Let him represent Roman strength, sternness, law, force, dignity. Christianity touched the Grecian mind. Let that stand for refinement, elegance, delicacy, philosophy, for the completing line of human thought and service. There you have the whole circle. Christianity becomes Roman to the Roman, Grecian to the Grecian—a great rock to the rocky man, a rainbow to the dreaming genius, a summer light to the poet's fancy. Christianity speaks to every man in the tongue wherein he was born. Christianity says, You cannot learn my language at once, but I can speak yours. Therefore, with the infinite stoop of Divine and tender grace it comes down to the lowliest and obscurest of men and utters its gracious Gospel. No other religion does this. Every other religion says, "You must come to me; I will not take one step towards you." This religion, symbolized by the blessed Cross, comes out towards every man to seek and to save. In such circumstances such beneficence is argument.
What was the effect upon the Jewish Christian Church when tidings of evangelized Gentiles came to its ears? At once the Christian Church in Jerusalem "sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch," and inquire concerning this last of the miracles. When he came, what was the result? He saw the grace of God. There is mistaking it. It is like nothing else. Imitations perish under scrutiny, but the real grace of God grows upon examination. Into it there comes a keener glow and ardour, around it there flashes a tender and more delicate beauty, out of it there rises a holy aroma such as might be felt among the hills of the heavenly paradise. He did not find a number of controversialists, technical theologians, excellent and most skilful disputants. He found men praying, with eager minds, with forgiving souls, unconscious of earth, more on high than below. There are no words for such a mystery. This Christian emotion must be felt, for it cannot be expressed. When Barnabas saw the grace of God he was GLAD. He did not think that his soul could be any more joyful than it was, but it could! There is always a higher wave; beyond is the fuller billow. We have not yet exhausted the possibilities of Christian enjoyment. Is the farmer glad when he sees corn growing upon land on which it never grew before? Does he not come home with a new expression upon his countenance, and when he speaks does he not speak in tones of glad thankfulness, and does not everybody in the house feel that something good has happened outside? It is so the Christian feels when he sees strange men turning to the faith. When looking down the hills he sees whole armies moving up towards the all-uniting and all-sanctifying Cross. He says this is prophecy fulfilled. Is it not said that he who is our Christ shall have the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession?—and lo, they come! In that hour of sacred rapture he touches the very ecstasy of Christ himself. Are we glad when we see men converted? Do we not criticise the process of their conversion? Are we not given to too much suspicion of the genuineness of the so called change of mind and heart? Do newly-converted men find a warm, cordial, comforting atmosphere in the Church when they come in? Let the Church take care lest by a cold internal atmosphere it check and discourage beyond recovery the march and victory of its own external attempts at evangelization! Barnabas took the right course; he said, "This is the grace of God." He himself felt glad beyond all expression. Having made this recognition, and having sympathetically entered into this experience, he said, "Now with full purpose of heart you must cleave unto the Lord." Exhortation will do more than suspicion. A word of encouragement is what young beginners in the Christian race require. They are not to be filled with fear and driven back by suggested doubt and difficulty; but Barnabas, the man of the musical voice, because of the musical heart, should be found in every Church saying to the young believers, "So far on you are right, but you are only putting on the armour, not putting it off—only beginning the fight, not enjoying the victory; now with full purpose of heart, with one soul, one thought, one heart, cleave unto the Lord, put your arms around him, and know no other homage but the worship of his name." That exhortation is in time in every age. You who gave your heart to Christ not a week ago or a month since—persevere. Cleave unto the Lord; pray without ceasing; watch day and night. Look unto the hills whence cometh your help; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Why did Barnabas take so much interest in these new converts? The answer is given in the twenty-fourth verse. It is the answer to all such inquiry, "For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." Good men see goodness in other men. Evil be to him who evil thinks. From some persons you never get a judgment which is not tinged with censoriousness or bitterness, that is not marked by some flaw of half-heartedness or partiality or unholy prejudice. Their hopes are only inverted fears, and their shake of the hand is a genteel repulsion. The good man comes to be made glad. You have a great work of conviction to do in his mind before you can persuade him you are not as good as he is. He comes to be pleased. He says, "I hear that there is a revival in your Church, that obdurate hearts are laying down their weapons of rebellion. I have come to see this great sight; the Lord's name be praised that I do hear of such victories." Then with a charitable spirit, and benign and hopeful heart, he looks upon all the work, and it must be very bad if he do not see in it something to quicken his own faith, and deepen his own grace, and heighten his own love to God, My brethren, the pulpit now must be apologetic, or it cannot live. I would therefore venture to ask in the humblest of tones whether when new converts come into the Church they will find in it good men full of the Holy Ghost and of faith? That they will find critics, and controversialists, and hypocrites, I know, to some extent; but will they find men full of the Holy Ghost and of faith? Thank God to that inquiry I can return an emphatic affirmative. We owe everything to the people who encourage us. You owe very little to the man who merely finds fault with you. What was the consequence of the presence of Barnabas amongst the new converts? So good was he, so gracious, so representative of heavenly influences and ministries, that "much people was added unto the Lord." Barnabas did not go to Antioch for nothing—the work grew upon him, and now he said, "Saul must come." And when he had found him at Tarsus, he brought him to the Syrian capital, and there for a whole year they assembled themselves with the Church and taught much people. Thus are spheres found for men, and thus have men sometimes to tarry at Tarsus till their proper Antioch is found. But God will find it. He will one day tell you that the time is come to break silence and to preach Christ's Gospel to them that are nigh at hand or afar off.
Now comes another picture. "In these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world." "Then the disciples, every one according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea." I know no instance in which the proof so speedily followed the argument. We wondered if the men at Antioch were really converted We find in the twenty-ninth verse this proof of their conversion,—"Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto—the brethren which dwelt in Judaea." Unto whom? "The brethren which dwelt in Judaea." Then their family relations had increased? Yes; marvellously! They were not "brethren" a few weeks ago. What has happened in the mean time? The revelation of Christ in the mind and heart has happened! These men at Antioch have heard of the faith that is in Jesus Christ; they have received the Lord Jesus; and instantly on hearing that men who are partakers of the same faith are in prospect of necessity, they send to such men under the name of "brethren," according to their ability. This is how Christianity works. Here is the communism of the Church. We have seen in these readings that the formal communism soon broke down, but the spiritual communism must continue for ever. Wherever there is Christian need, Christian brotherhood must be acknowledged. If you have means, and see your Christian brother in the remotest corner of the earth suffering want, and do not send to him, your Christianity is vain. How have the men in Antioch and the men in Judæa become brethren? By the Cross. What did that Cross do? It broke down the middle wall of partition. It made the human family one!
These are the two pictures in the text—the picture of Barnabas and the picture of the prophet Agabus. But there is one line which I have reserved for the last, "And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." There is great diversity of opinion as to why this name was given. Some say it was given by Saul and Barnabas. Some say it was given in derision and scorn, as men in our own land have been called Puritans, Methodists, Wesleyans, and the like. I do not know whether the Christian believers ever called themselves distinctly Christians. I believe the word Christian occurs only about three times in the New Testament. That is a remarkable circumstance. Believers were called brethren, saints, disciples, but I am not aware of any instance in which they distinctly and formally describe themselves as Christians. But however the name was given, it stands above all other names today. It is the supreme glory of human designation. Of no man is so much expected as of the man who is called Christian. The man who despises your faith expects from you on its account such conduct as he expects from no other man. So he answers himself. He puts the sword to his own life. After having traduced your Lord, and disproved your documents, and cast scorn and contempt on the whole circle of your theology, if you do anything that calls down his displeasure he is the first and the bitterest to accuse of treason to the faith you profess. I ask for no higher intellectual and moral recognition of the purity of the religion of Jesus Christ. From no atheist is so much expected as from the weakest Christian. When you, a Christian, do anything wrong, the mocker knows how to mock you with the bitterest taunt and scorn. He charges you with hypocrisy, with degeneracy, with unfaithfulness, whereas, if his own argument were really believed by his own heart, he would congratulate you: he would say, "Now, this is freedom from superstition; now you have freed yourself from the principles which are gathered up in the hated name of Christ." The enemy always puts an end to his own life. The more we allow him to do so the more leisure we shall have for the affirmative declaration of Christian faith.
By Christians I understand Christ followers, Christ lovers, Christ worshippers, Christ-ones. It is a thousand pities, in one aggravation of distress, that such a name should have been debased, commercialized, and made the password to unworthy confidence and honour. Were we what we ought to be in integrity, in simplicity, and in equity of soul, there should be no nobler designation known amongst men, and no other should be needed. Roman Catholics, Protestants, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians—what are they, and how have they come to have any existence at all, and especially any honor as names? Did Christ ever use them? The one name that we ought to have is Christian, meaning by that a man who takes Jesus Christ as his Lord, Saviour, Priest, Pattern, Inspiration. Could we restore that definition of the now perverted term, no name known under heaven amongst men could be such a warranty of conduct and such a seal of dignity.