Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith…
I. TRIBULATION. You may think something more consolatory might have been looked for from Barnabas than "much tribulation," but we recognise the voice of "the son of consolation," when those sorrows are represented as preparing us for heaven. But we must take care not to misapply his words.
1. Though the kingdom is to be entered through "much tribulation," there may be "much tribulation" which does not lead to the kingdom. Admitting that all suffering is the consequence of sin, yet what man endures now is at most but a temporal punishment. There is no expiatory power in our sufferings. You are not to think that because "many are the troubles of the righteous," that everyone who has many troubles must therefore be righteous.
2. There is, however, a different, though equally erroneous inference, which may be drawn from our text. When a man, whose course of life on the whole is one of evenness, reads of entering the kingdom through much tribulation, there is great likelihood of his suspecting that he is destitute of the chief evidence of being a child of God. If the greatness of trouble distress and harass one Christian, the very want of trouble may be a trial to another. But —
(1) Life is not finished yet; there may remain time enough for many calamities. It does not take long to darken the brightest sky, when God has once commanded the clouds from above.
(2) May it not be that the want of trial is thy trial; unbroken sunshine may be a trial as well as continued strife.
(3) The "much tribulation" is not made up exclusively of what the world counts distress. It consists generally in conflicts with our own evil hearts; in the grief occasioned by our sin; in the sorrow of finding the Divine image so faintly traced — the power of corruption still so strong — the will so biassed — the effections so depraved. And have you nothing of this?
(4) And then the tribulation of the text arose mainly from persecution. But has the trial of the Cross ceased? Is there no longer any "persecution for righteousness' sake"? The world must dislike genuine piety as that by which it is condemned; and it ought to make us doubt whether our piety be genuine if it do not cause a clash between the world and ourselves. Have you been faithful in reproving sin? Have you drawn a line with due breadth and distinctness between the world and yourself? No wonder that the world does not persecute you, when you do not openly separate from the world!
II. ITS NECESSITY AND ISSUE. The text describes affliction as the ordinary instrument through which God fits His people for their glorious inheritance. God thereby disciplines His people; detaches them from earthly things; refines their affections. It is in the furnace of trial that He burns out of us the impurities of indwelling corruption. For whatever tends to increase present holiness, tends equally to increase future happiness. Not, indeed, that the tribulation is indispensable. God, if He pleased, could make us ready for the kingdom through some other process; but the "much tribulation" is His ordinary course. I understand from this what St. Paul means when he says, "We glory in tribulations." He found tribulation grievous in itself, but he gloried in it as a preparation for heaven. Of what avail would it be, that the palace should be prepared for the inhabitant, unless the inhabitant be prepared for the palace.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.