The Exhortation of Barnabas
Acts 11:23
Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all…

I. WHAT HE SAW. "The grace of God," and wherever that grace is made visible there we are to recognise a brother. said, "Where Christ is there is the Church." True! but where is Christ? Wherever Christlike men manifest a life drawn from, and kindred with, His life. And so we say where the grace of Christ is visible, there is the Church. That great truth is sinned against by the successors of the more Jewish portion of that Church who sent Barnabas to Antioch, who exalt sacraments and priests to the same place as the Judaizers did the rite of the old covenant. The attempt is about as wise as to try to measure a network fine enough to keep back a stream. The true answer to all that assumption which confines the free flow of the water of life to the conduits of sacraments and orders, and will only allow the wind that bloweth where it listeth to make music in the pipes of their organs, is simply the homely one which shivered a corresponding theory in the fair open mind of Barnabas. It used to be an axiom that there was no life in the sea beyond a certain limit of a few hundred feet. And then when that was settled, the Challenger put down her dredge five miles, and brought up healthy and good-sized living things. We have all been too much accustomed to draw arbitrary limits to the diffusion of the life of Christ among men.

II. WHAT HE FELT. It was a triumph of Christian principle to recognise the grace of God under new forms, and in so strange a place. It was a still greater triumph to haft it with rejoicing. We are apt to forget the strength of the convictions which these Jewish Christians had to overcome. Hence the context seems to consider that Barnabas's gladness needs explanation, and so it adds, "for he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." And there is much to overcome if we would know this Christlike gladness. Our natural interest in the well-being of our own Churches makes our sympathies flow most deeply in denominational channels. And then come in abundance of less worthy motives, and we have but a very tepid joy in anybody else's prosperity. Let us set a jealous watch over our hearts that self-absorption, or denominationalism, or envy do not make the sight a pain instead of a joy; and let us remember that the eye salve which will purge our dim sight to behold the grace of God in all its forms is that grace itself.


1. The exhortation itself, The sum of all objective religion is Christ — the sum of all subjective religion is cleaving to Him. From, whatever point we approach Christianity, it all resolves itself into the person of Christ. He is the revelation of God; theology properly so called is but the formulating of the facts which He gives us. He is the perfect exemplar of humanity! Wrenched away from Him, Christian morality has no being. He is the sacrifice for the world, the salvation of which flows from what He does, and not merely from what He taught, or was. There is a constant tendency to separate the results of Christ's life and death, and unconsciously to make these the sum of our religion and faith. Therefore it is well to mark how vividly these early Christians apprehended a living Lord as the sum and substance of all which they had to grasp. We begin to be Christians, as this context tells us, when we "turn to the Lord." We continue to be Christians, as Barnabas reminded these beginners, by "cleaving to the Lord." Let us cleave to Him —

(1) By continual renewal of our first faith in Him. The longest line may be conceived of as produced simply by the motion of its initial point. So our progress should not consist in leaving our early acts of faith behind us, but in repeating them over and over again till the points coalesce in one unbroken line which goes straight to the throne and heart of Jesus. As in some great symphony the theme which was given out in low notes on one poor instrument recurs over and over again embroidered with varying harmonies, and unfolding a richer music till it swells into all the grandeur of the triumphant close, so our lives should be bound into a unity, and in their unity bound to Christ by the constant renewal of our early faith. Each moment must be united to Christ by its own act of faith, or it will be separated from Him. So living in the Lord, dying in the Lord, sleeping in Jesus, we shall at the last be found in Him at that day, and shall be raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

(2) By habitual contemplation. There can be no real continuous closeness of intercourse with Him, except by thought ever recurring to Him amidst all the tumult of our busy days. The Church has forgotten how to meditate. Many of us are so busy thinking about Christianity that we have lost our hold of Christ. Cleave to the Lord by habitual play of meditative thought on the treasures hidden in His name, and waiting like gold in the quartz, to be the prize of our patient sifting. And when the great truths embodied in Him stand clear before us, next must come into exercise the moral side of faith, the voluntary act of trust, the making our own of the blessings which He holds out to us.

(3) By constant outgoings of our love to Him. The same love which is the bond of perfectness between man and man, is the bond between us and Christ. Cold natures may carp, but love is justified of her children, and Christ accepts the homage that has a heart in it. The order is faith, love, obedience, that threefold cord knits men to Christ and Christ to men. For the understanding a continuous grasp of Him as the object of thought. For the heart a continuous out-going to Him as the object of our love. For the will a continuous submission to Him as the Lord of our obedience. For the whole nature a continuous cleaving to Him as the object of our faith and worship.

2. Its sufficiency. If Barnabas had been like some of us, he would have said, This irregular work has been well done, but there are no authorised teachers here. The first thing is to give these people the blessing of bishops and priests. Some of us would have said, A good work has been done, but these people are terribly ignorant. The best thing would be to get ready as soon as possible some manual of Christian doctrine. Some of us would have said, No doubt they have been converted, but we fear there has been too much of the emotional in the preaching. Plain practical instruction in Christian duty is the one thing they want. Barnabas knew better. He did not despise organisation, nor orthodoxy, nor practical righteousness, but he knew that all three, and everything else that any man needed for his perfecting, would come, if only they kept near to Christ, and that nothing else was of any use if they did not.

(1) We spend much effort in perfecting our organisations, and I have not a word to say against it. But heavier machinery needs more power in the engine, and that means greater capacity in your boilers and more fire in your furnace.

(2). A definite theology is needful, but the basis of all theology is the personal possession of Him who is the wisdom of God, and the light of the world.

(3) Plain straightforward righteousness and everyday morality come most surely when a man is keeping close to Christ. The same life is strength in the arm, pliancy in the fingers, swiftness in the foot, light in the eye, music on the lips; so the same grace is Protean in its forms, and to His servants who trust Him, Christ ever says, "What would ye that I should do unto you? Be it even as thou wilt." The same mysterious power lives in the swaying branch, and in the veined leaf, and in the blushing clusters. With like wondrous transformations of the one grace, the Lord pours Himself into our spirits, filling all needs and fitting for all circumstances. Therefore for us all, individuals and Churches, this remains the prime command, With purpose of heart cleave unto the Lord.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.

WEB: who, when he had come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad. He exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they should remain near to the Lord.

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