Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
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.
For he was a good man.3 John 1). Strictness and tenderness had no "sharp contention" in the breast of the beloved disciple; they found their perfect union, yet distinct exercise, in the grace of charity, which is the fulfilling of the whole law. I wish I saw any prospect of this element of zeal and holy sternness springing up among us, to temper and give character to the languid, unmeaning benevolence which we misname Christian love. I have no hope of my country till I see it. Many schools of religion and ethics are to be found among us, and they all profess to magnify, in one shape or other, what they consider the principle of love; but what they lack is a firm maintenance of that characteristic of the Divine nature, which, in accommodation to our infirmity, is named by St. John and his brethren the wrath of God. Regarding thus "the goodness" only, and not "the severity of God," no wonder that they ungird their loins and become effeminate; no wonder that their ideal notion of a perfect Church is a Church which lets everyone go on his way, and disclaims any right to pronounce an opinion, much less inflict a censure on religious error. But those who think themselves and others in risk of an eternal curse dare not be thus indulgent. Here, then, lies our want at the present day, for this we must pray — that a reform may come in the spirit and power of Elias. Then only can we prosper (under the blessing and grace of Him who is the Spirit both of love and of truth), when the heart of Paul is vouchsafed to us, to withstand even Peter and Barnabas, if ever they are overcome by mere human feelings, to "know henceforth no man after the flesh," to put away from us sister's son, or nearer relative, to relinquish the sight of them, the hope of them, and the desire of them, when He commands, who raises up friends even to the lonely, if they trust in Him, and will give us "within His walls a name better than of sons and of daughters, an everlasting name that shall not be cut off."
(J. H. Newman.)
The Pulpit.Has —
I. A GOOD CREED. Divine truth is the basis of all holy and devoted life. A good man has just views of Deity, of the method of salvation, of the present life, and of that which is to come.
II. A GOOD HEART. It is not possessed as natural to himself. The declaration with respect to the human heart is that it is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." We require, therefore, to have it renewed. And, hence, the promise under both Testaments is, that God will take away the heart of stone and give the heart of flesh — that is, He will give us new dispositions; He will reclaim us from our corrupt affections. Hence, therefore, we are said to be born again, to have received the Holy Spirit, of which Barnabas was full.
III. A GOOD LIFE. The Christian's life is essentially right. It is governed by the fear of God; it is moved by love to Himself; and it is dedicated to the glory of His name.
I. THE SORT OF MAN WHOM THE JUDGE WILL CALL GOOD.
1. Barnabas was a Levite of Cyprus. A Jew who had so come in contact with foreigners that many a prejudice was beaten out of him. We first hear of him as taking a share in the burst of brotherly love, so as to entail an after life of manual labour. Next, when the older Christians were suspicious of Saul, Barnabas, with that generosity which often sees deepest, was the first to cast the aegis of the protection of his recognition round him. In like manner here, when Christianity developed in a suspicious direction, Barnabas was sent, and being a "good man" he saw, and rejoiced in goodness in others. The new conditions led him to enlist Saul's services, to engage with him in missionary service, and then, without a murmur, to allow his junior colleague to take the first place. Then came the quarrel in which he lost his friend, and we hear of him no more.
2. Note the lessons.(1) That the tap root of all goodness is reference to God and obedience to Him. Not that nothing is good that is done without reference to God, but the noblest deed done without this reference lacks nobleness.(2) That the truest goodness is the suppression of self — a characteristic of the whole life of Barnabas.(3) That the farther traits of character are preeminent in Christian goodness. All this man's virtues were of the meek and gracious sort, which make but a poor show by the side of some of the tawdry splendours which the vulgar world calls virtues. A thrush or a blackbird is but a soberly clad creature by the side of paroquets, but the one has a song, and the other only a screech. So there is comfort for us commonplace people. We may be little violets, if we cannot be flaunting tiger lilies.
4. That true goodness does not exclude the possibility of falling. The Bible is frank in telling us of the imperfections of the best. Often imperfections are exaggerations of characteristic goodness. Never let gentleness fall away like badly made jelly into a trembling heap, and never let strength gather itself into a repulsive attitude. But remember that only One could say, "Which of you convinceth Me of sin."
II. THE DIVINE HELPER WHO MAKES MEN GOOD.
1. This Helper is not merely an influence but a Person, who not only helps from without, but so enters that their whole nature is saturated with Him.
2. Strange language, but does not the experience of every man who has tried to make himself good show its necessity? Think of what is needed to make us good — the strengthening of the will which we cannot brace sufficiently by any tonic or support we know of; consider the resistance with which we have to cope from our passions, tastes, habits, occupations, friends, etc. You have got the wolf by the ears for a moment, but your hands will ache presently in holding him and what then? Ah, you need a Divine Helper, who will dwell in your hearts and strengthen your wills to what is good, and suppress your inclinations of evil.
3. The great promise of the gospel is precisely this. The first word is "Thy sins be forgiven thee," the second, "Arise and walk." The gift of pardon is meant to be introductory to what Christ calls emphatically "the gift of God," the fountain of living streams of holy life and noble deeds. He who is good must surely delight in seeing us good, and must be able to turn us into His own likeness.
4. "Full of the Holy Ghost," as a vessel might be to its brim of golden wine. Does that describe you? Full! A dribbling drop or two in the bottom of the jar: whose fault is it? Why with that mighty rushing wind to full our sails should we be lying in sickly calms? Why with those tongues of fire should we be cowering over grey ashes? Why with that great tide should we be like dry watercourses?
III. HOW THAT DIVINE HELPER COMES TO MEN. "Full of...faith."
1. No goodness without the Spirit, no Spirit without faith in Christ. If you open a chink the water will come in. If you trust in Christ He will give you the new life of His Spirit.
2. The measure in which we possess the power that makes us good depends on ourselves. "Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it." You may have as much of God as you want, and as little as you will. The measure of your faith will determine at once the measure of your goodness, and of your possession of the Spirit that makes good. Just as when the prophet miraculously increased the oil in the cruse, the stream flowed as long as they brought vessels, and stayed when there were no more; so long as we open our hearts for the reception the gift will not be withheld, but God will not let it run like water spilled on the ground.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)Augustines, Luthers, Pascals, Butlers, Chalmers. And it has had its contemplative, spiritual men — men full of goodness, and practical solicitude, charity in them triumphantly reigning over knowledge, and tongues, and prophesying. Such were Bernard, Fenelon, Melanchthon, Fletcher of Madeley, Watts, and Doddridge. In this latter class we should assign a place to Barnabas. Note —
I. THE EVANGELIST'S IDEA OF A "GOOD MAN." He evidently means more than that he was merely a good-natured man, and more than that he was simply a virtuous man. He was good in the sense in which the work was good; himself a converted, a spiritual man; good in the sense of being "full of the Holy Ghost and faith." In the highest and scriptural sense of the term, no man can be good who is unspiritual. A man's goodness must regard God as well as man; spiritual obligations as well as social ones. The most moral imperatively needs conversion; for what is conversion but the awakening in a man of the thought of God; the quickening in him of the love of God; the producing within him of sympathy with God; the restoration of him to the image of God; the begetting within him of a feeling of practical gratitude to God, which makes him do everything to please and to glorify God? A man may be very virtuous, and yet be utterly godless. As such he is only half a good man. The "faith" which is attributed to Barnabas was his spiritual recognition and reference; he "walked by faith, not by sight"; lived ever "As in the Great Taskmaster's eye"; did all things with a spiritual reference, and to a spiritual end. A man can preach only as he believes, and he will preach vividly or dully, tamely or earnestly, in proportion as he believes.
II. IT WAS IN VIRTUE OF THIS EMINENT SPIRITUAL GOODNESS THAT HE REJOICED IN THE WORK WHICH HE SAW GOING ON. It was contrary to his national and dispensational theories; it shocked many of his prejudices; his instructions were to discourage, if not prohibit it; but the spiritual sympathies of the saint were too strong for the notions of the theologian, for the proprieties of the ecclesiast, for the dignity of the commissioner. He sees the manifest work of grace; and who is he that he is to gainsay it. He is learning that our proprieties are not always God's methods; that God often chooses uncanonised ways and unconsecrated agents to do the mightiest things. The work appeals to the good man's heart; it touches his spiritual sympathies. He sees sinners converted, however irregularly; he "sees the grace of God, and he is glad." And should we, were we men of holier hearts, of stronger spiritual sympathies, have so much difficulty with our ecclesiastical theories and proprieties? If our piety were more fervent, we should more vividly appreciate the preciousness of men's souls, and the unspeakable blessing of their salvation; and in our joy over the fact we should scarcely care to ask who had done it. Wherever we saw a spiritual work done, there we should recognise God's worker, and rejoice over spiritual conversion by whomsoever effected. If we be good as Barnabas was good, we shall rejoice with his joy whenever we see what he saw.
III. THE SPIRITUAL GOODNESS WHICH LED BARNABAS TO REJOICE IN THE GOOD THAT HAD ALREADY BEEN DONE, LED HIM ALSO TO COOPERATE WITH IT; AND THUS "MUCH PEOPLE WERE ADDED TO THE LORD." He found a work of conversion going on; and instead of contenting himself with mere commendation, he gave himself heartily to cooperate with these irregular men and their irregular work. He had energies to contribute, an influence to exert. Who was he that he should stand aloof when God Himself was working? If it be ours to work, in the mere peradventure that God will work with us, assuredly we may not without culpability withhold our effort when He is palpably working. Who but He can awaken solicitudes about salvation, and out of the sinner evolve a saint? And when these results are seen, we need be in no doubt whose work they are. And eagerly and fervently should we strive for the honour of working with Him. All good men do this. They wilt turn away from your strifes of doctrines and modes; but demonstrate your devoutness by your spiritual achievement, and then, just in proportion to their goodness, they will come and help you.
IV. THE GOODNESS OF BARNABAS WAS THE CAUSE OF HIS SUCCESS. And so it will ever be. Men are not converted by demonstrations of the gospel, but by inspirations of it. Men are never reasoned into spiritual life; they are quickened into it. We must ourselves be what we seek to make others. We can raise them no higher than our own level. I am not faithful to Christ merely because I eloquently and urgently preach His gospel; He demands of me that I be what I preach — His "living epistle, known and read of all men." Learning may be desirable, eloquence needful; but piety is essential: it is the basis and power of all spiritual work.
(H. Allon, D. D.)
I. A CONVERTED MAN. "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." "There is none that doeth good, no, not one." These statements are not inconsistent with the fact, that there is a natural conscience in man, and that there are amiable feelings urging to noble and generous actions; nor can it be denied that, apart from the power of Divine grace, there is often a striking superiority of one man above another. But the qualities of unconverted men come far short of goodness; nay, they serve to show more strongly the wickedness of the human heart, which resists the dictates of natural conscience, and the admonitions of the Word of God. We must, therefore, be "transformed, by the renewing of our minds, that we may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." The eyes of our understanding must be enlightened, our affections must be fixed supremely on God. We must be dead to sin, that we may live unto righteousness. Till then, sin must have dominion over us.
II. A MAN WHO BELIEVES IN CHRIST AND MAKES OPEN AND STEADFAST PROFESSION OF HIS FAITH. Infidelity is obviously incompatible with true goodness; for it is the wilful deliberate rejection of the truth. But unbelief, in the sense of the refusal of a sinner to accept of Christ as his Saviour, is equally incompatible. How can it be otherwise? All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. A Saviour has been provided, and, in the riches of the Divine beneficence, has been freely offered to men. Can there be any goodness in the heart which remains unmoved by love like this? Is there anything but the spirit of unholy rebellion in the breast of that man who refuses to comply with the first duty of a perishing sinner? No, a life of holy obedience must have its beginning in submission to the righteousness of Christ as the only ground of acceptance. And this faith we must openly and steadfastly profess. Believing with the heart unto righteousness, with the mouth we must make confession unto salvation. This is one of the evidences of the sincerity of our faith, the proof to ourselves, and the world around us, that our faith is a true and a saving faith, and not merely the cold speculative belief of the doctrine of Christ.
III. A MAN OF PIETY AND DEVOTEDNESS. Who can deny that it is one of the first duties of man to love God, and to seek to please Him? He is the all-perfect Jehovah, the fountain of our being, and the source of all our happiness; one whom we are under the strongest obligations to love, and fear, and serve. If it be our duty to love and honour our fellow men, much more it is our duty to love and honour God. This will appear still more evident if we consider that where there is no piety, the opposite dispositions must have the ascendency in our souls. If we do not love God, we must be at enmity with Him (Matthew 6:21; James 4:4).
IV. A MAN OF ACTIVE AND ENLIGHTENED BENEFICENCE. The Second Commandment of the law is as essential to real goodness as the First. Love to men never fails to flow from love to God. Love is the fulfilling of the law; it completes the character of a true Christian. No gifts or endowments, however excellent, can compensate for the want of Christian love. But all beneficence is not goodness. There is the beneficence of sudden impulses; the beneficence which needs to be awakened by touching representations; the beneficence of the Pharisee, who doeth his alms before men to be seen of them; extorted beneficence compelled by the example of others — the beneficence of fashion or custom, not of religious or even moral principle. True good. ness or beneficence is different from all these. It has its root in a renewed heart. It is constant and uniform — a habit not an act — an ever-flowing stream, not the effervescence of momentary feeling. A good man loves his fellow men, and because he loves them he is earnestly desirous of promoting their real welfare. His "liberal mind deviseth liberal things."
V. A MAN WHO ENDEAVOURS TO REGULATE HIS WHOLE TEMPER AND CONDUCT BY THE MAXIMS AND PRECEPTS OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. He recognises the law of God as the only rule of his life and conversation. The law is not made void, it is established, by faith. Other men are governed by the principles of the world, principles often decidedly at variance with the law of God, and the morality of the gospel. A good man steadfastly refuses to submit to their authority.
VI. A MAN WHO EARNESTLY DESIRES THE ADVANCEMENT OF THE DIVINE GLORY AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF HIS KINGDOM. "None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself," etc. This desire is not confined to the duties of prayer and praise. The good man is actuated by a holy solicitude that every part of his conduct may be so entirely in agreement with the law of Christ, as to curb and restrain the wickedness of the ungodly, and to strengthen and encourage the hearts of true believers in the diligent pursuit and practice of true holiness.
(P. McFarlan, D. D.)
I. The good man AS DEPICTED BY THE WORLD.
1. There is the decent and orderly man. He is so regular in his attendance on the ordinances of the Church, so decorous in all his proceedings, that if you venture to ask whether, while he bears the form of godliness, he also manifests the power thereof, you are decried as uncharitable, and never to be satisfied. "What is goodness, if such a man as this is not good?"
2. Then comes the liberal, open-hearted, and benevolent man. If you examine whether his liberality may not be thoughtless profusion, whether his benevolence may not be a mere natural feeling, whether other parts of his conduct uphold or contradict the supposition of his goodness, you are encountered with declarations that a better man never existed; and are silenced with the perverted text, that "charity covereth a multitude of sins."
3. Then comes the industrious and frugal man — so laudably diligent in his business, so careful to provide for his family! If you intimate a doubt whether his labours exemplify any disposition beyond covetousness or mere worldly prudence, you are treated as a man determined to find fault, as one whom neither generosity nor frugality can please.
4. The next person is the cautious man. His object is never to give offence. He says civil things of every person; yet not so civil of any person as to excite the jealousy of another. He attaches himself to no party; but endeavours to induce all severally to regard ]aim as well inclined to their cause, and yet, while his conduct is a tissue of time-serving insincerity, he is generally allowed to be "a very good sort of man."
4. Another is the easy, good-humoured man. He is so pleasant, so harmless, so neighbourly! Every person whom he meets he appears delighted to see. It is thus that, possibly without possessing a single estimable moral quality, he obtains far and wide the denomination of as excellent a man as ever was born.
5. The last character is the "man of honour," who studiously practices whatever is creditable, and avoids whatever is discreditable, in the class of society in which he moves. Ask him why he shuns any particular practice. Does he reply, "Because it is sinful? "The expression is foreign to his lips. He answers, "Because it is mean, low, degrading, unbecoming a gentleman." Why does he pursue a specified line of conduct? Because it is acceptable to God? He thinks not of such a standard. He pursues it because it has the stamp of fashionable estimation. Destitute, it may be, of a grain of true religion, this man is regarded by multitudes as a model of perfection!
II. The good man AS PORTRAYED IN SCRIPTURE. Barnabas —
1. Was full of the Holy Ghost. The words describe him as sanctified by Divine grace, as being no longer of the world, even as Christ was not of the world, and as filled with the fruits of the Spirit, with all righteousness and godliness, with holy views, principles, tempers, desires, purposes, "which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God."
2. Barnabas was full of faith. His faith was sincere, cordial, warm, energetic, productive. It was not a cold and naked assent to the historical truth of the actions of Christ, such as he might yield to a true account of Pontius Pilate or of Judas. It was not a barren speculation dwelling in his head as a portion of abstract knowledge, like a curious principle in mechanics, or a subtle theorem in astronomy. It was faith in a Saviour. On that Saviour, to whom he owed all, he depended for all. To that Saviour he looked with assurance for strength and guidance. He knew in whom he trusted. His works were the fruits of faith, and his faith was manifested by his works.
3. "When he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad." He would have rejoiced had he beheld no more than the tranquillity and out. ward comfort of his fellow Christians. But the delight which swallowed up all other motives of joy was to behold the growing establishment of the Church of Christ; to behold sinners turning with abhorrence from their iniquities, and glorifying the Lord their Redeemer by newness of life.
4. "Exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord." The joy of Barnabas did not waste itself in idle contemplation. His love of Christ constrained him to labour for Christ. His love of man impelled him to the assistance of man. How many sufferers previously (chap. Acts 4:36, 37) experienced from his compassion the comforts of food and raiment! He went about as a minister to mankind of those blessings, which exclusively confer complete and durable consolation.
(T. Gisborne, M. A.)
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