And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem to Antioch.…
1. It is impossible for us to read this record without being struck with the spirit and devotion which stamped the character of Divinity upon the religion in connection with which it is shown. It was one of the remarks made by a heathen author in those days, "See how these Christians love one another." Men looked to their opinions, and could not accept them — to the peculiarities of their religion, and were offended by them. But there was an argument which these Christians could adduce, which an unbeliever could not impugn; it was a positive, practical, evident demonstration of the power of God.
2. The history is soon told. Light loves to radiate. For a long time Christian light was centred in Jerusalem, but there came a time when God chose to disperse that central light. Men, imbued with Christian faith and love, were scattered abroad; and among them were some who went as far as Antioch preaching the Word. Christianity is catholic; is also reflex in its operation: it is not one of those lights which fall upon a non-reflecting surface. It is intended that God should shine upon individuals, and that individuals in their turn should shine upon each other. "Let your light so shine before men," etc. Christian light had come from Jerusalem to Antioch, and these men of Antioch necessarily sought for some opportunity of showing their gratitude. They could not send them light, for this they had, perhaps, in a more perfect form than themselves. But they were rich, and the others were poor; for the Christians at Jerusalem had beggared themselves by their liberality in times past. And so, when the occasion arose, the men of Antioch made a bold and a noble determination that "every man, according to his ability, should send help to the saints in Judea." Not that they passed resolutions merely; nor that they went through that parody of benevolence that you find in public meetings, where you shall find men hold up their hands in accordance with some proposition that they never intend to carry out. The men of Antioch determined to do; and as they determined they did.
I. THE OCCASION WHICH PRODUCED THIS LIBERALITY. The destitution assumed two features —
1. It was predicted. There was no exhibition of harrowing details — no picture of widespread distress — held before the men of Antioch. It was a thing to be. Nevertheless, these men acted upon it as though it were, and prepared to meet it. What does this teach us?
(1) The simplicity of their faith. They had nothing objective to look to which told them of the existence of distress. They looked, perhaps, at the state of the soil, at the state of the atmosphere, at the circumstances of times past; but there was nothing to create apprehension. All was quiet, except the voice of prediction; and God, who seeth not as man seeth, told them that the famine was coming. And what did they do? Other men might have stood by in silent expectation, or have derided the prediction, but these men took prophecy for fact. In these days, probably, when men walk by sight in place of by faith, they would have said, "Wait till the calamity comes." No, said these men; it has come. "Come where? There is no trace of it!" God has predicted it, and in the simplicity of their faith that was enough.
(2) A positive refinement of benevolence. There is a certain vulgarity of benevolence. In these days we have to place before men a picture of calamity, to come down to statistics, to state the absolute startling facts. But these men looked not for facts. They were prepared to act upon the intimation, and they required no appeal to their feelings; they took the fact as given at their hands by God.
2. It was universal. The Jewish historian tells us, it was over the entire world, and that multitudes died on account of it, and therefore these men of Antioch were included in it. What might have happened then? They might have said, When that dark calamity falls, it will touch ourselves; we shall come to the time of high prices, of scant food, of short employment; let us therefore be wise now in the principles of political economy, and lay by for our own destitution. No. Notwithstanding that they themselves stood on the very threshold of the disaster, they passed a resolution which they carried out into action.
II. THE MOTIVES BY WHICH THESE MEN WERE PROBABLY ACTUATED.
1. The smallest and lowest of the dictates of humanity. There are feelings within feelings, and circles within circles, and humanity is not the less practised because Christianity is received. You shall find it among heathen nations. It was one of the noblest sayings of antiquity, "I am a man, and hold nothing that concerns human kind to be strange to me." Those men of Antioch were men. They felt for others. It was not simply that the men at Jerusalem were Christians — they were men, and because they were men, it was in the first place that they determined to help them.
2. But there are principles not built upon the mere instinctive and natural feelings — a love to men, on account of their being brother Christians. The disciples determined to send relief to the brethren. These men had never looked upon each other face to face, nor exchanged a thought. What then? Sons of God in Jerusalem — sons of God in Antioch — members of the same family of Christ looked upon each other as brethren! We oftentimes ask ourselves the meaning of the expression, "The communion of saints." You have an exhibition of it here. Did not the men of Jerusalem feel, "We have sent light to Antioch"? And did not the men of Antioch feel, "We are going to return it after our poor fashion"? What is all that but communion? There is such a link in the natural world, where you shall see the loadstone drawing to it the particles of iron that approach to it, imparting the same quality to the particles which it touches, and thereby drawing these particles the one to the other. And it is the peculiarity of Christian truth, to bind believers the one to the other. Why? Because, first of all, they have been bound to Christ.
3. Gratitude. The very best of blessings which one people could confer upon another, had been by the men of Jerusalem conferred upon the men of Antioch. They had sent to them their spiritual things; it was no wonder that they should reap their carnal things.
4. The love that they bore to Christ, and which constrained them to love one another. And it is that principle, after all, that tells. "He that loveth God will love his brother also."
III. THE MODES IN WHICH THEIR BENEVOLENCE WAS MANIFESTED. We have oftentimes heard the charge of want of judgment brought against Christians. "They have all things but common sense." Now, look at the steps taken by the men of Antioch. The distribution of their charity was marked by three features.
1. Universality and proportion. "Every man" was expected to feel for the brethren, and to show that feeling by contributing according to his means. It was not one of those things which a certain class or section was to take upon them. Now, why need we adopt house-to-house visitation, but because there are multitudes in this world who are content to stand by, and to see others bear the burden, and push it from themselves. Eighteen hundred years ago, that was not the course taken by the men of Antioch. There was no working upon the passions of people and constraining them to give. It was a simple method of giving in proportion to means. The matter was thus left to each man's conscience to say what his ability was. Look at thy means. See whether, in the midst of thine affluence, comfort, and family expenditure, thou mayest not knock off something that is not absolutely necessary, and bring it to the rule of thine ability. Ask thyself not what thou wishest to do, not what thou mayest be seen to do, not what others are doing; but give in proportion to thy means. Is it not a righteous principle? — a principle recognised in Scripture. "Upon the first day of the week let everyone lay by according to his ability." Is it so? If so, then must you learn a lesson from these poor, enthusiastic Christians in Antioch.
2. Promptitude. They did not trust to second impressions, or to second suggestions; and wisely. Upon hearing of a great deal of distress, our first emotions are generous; our second emotions are narrowed. At first, there is a burst of feeling; we draw out our purses, and almost pour out their contents. Second thoughts however come; but these men of Antioch would not trust themselves to second thoughts. No, said they; we had better act at once, before the blessed influence has left us. They put it out of their own power — out of their own hands.
Parallel VersesKJV: And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.