For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added to the Lord.
All words describing moral excellence tend to deteriorate, just as bright metal rusts by exposure, and coins become illegible by use. So it comes to pass that any decent man, with an easy temper, and a dash of frankness is christened with this title "good." The Bible is more chary. Christ rebuked a man for calling Him good, because he did so out of mere conventional politeness. But here we have the picture in the Scripture gallery, catalogued "He was a good man." Note —
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.