Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all…
1. That persecution, instead of silencing, has spread the gospel. "Tidings of these things." What things? The persecution which had Saul for its instigator, Stephen for its martyr, and the widespread distribution of Christians for its effect.
2. That God can render any pious agency in His Church soul saving and successful. The founders of this Church at Antioch, which was destined to play a most conspicuous and commanding part in the history of the Church, do not appear to have been apostles, or regular ministers.
3. That whenever God extends His Church, the Church should add to her concernment and care. The Church at Jerusalem does not appear to have taken umbrage at what was going on at Antioch. They did not say, "This is irregular, we must interdict it; this has not had our sanction, it must receive our condemnation." They would not pronounce a judgment until they had investigated the cause. They selected a true and trusty messenger; they sent him, as far as I can see, not as a spy, or a critic, or a censor, but as a friend, an inquirer, a counsellor. The eye of Barnabas filled his heart. He was "glad."
I. WHAT HE SAW. He saw "the grace which (is) of God" (τὴν χάριν τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ), i.e., the grace which is manifestly, unmistakably, of God. But how could he see that which in itself is invisible? The grace of God is as viewless as the wind, as impalpable as gravitation. It is a life, and it grows; a leaven, and it leavens the lump; but we might look in vain to see the growth of life, or the influence of leaven. How then did Barnabas see the grace of God? He saw it, as other invisible things are seen, by its effects. We cannot see the wind; but when the trees rustle and their leaves wave, we know that it is because the wind blows. We cannot see gravitation; but when the earth rotates, producing day and night, and revolves, producing the seasons of the year, with their characteristic varieties and attractive beauties, we see by these effects that gravitation is at work. We cannot see the tree grow; but we know from its foliage and its fruit that it must have grown. It is thus the invisible puts on visibility; and "the invisible things" — even of God Himself — "are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." Where the grace of God is, ignorance of God, both shameful and baneful, gives place to a knowledge of Him which is as wondrous as glorious. Virtue supersedes vice, holiness displaces wickedness, the liar becomes truthful, the blasphemer reverent, the cruel merciful, the selfish beneficent; in fine, God's grace transforms the lion of violence and vice into the lamb of innocence and uprightness. Now, Barnabas saw the wondrous effects of God's grace upon the Grecian believers at Antioch. He saw idolaters discarding their gods, and turning to the "Living God." "Is not this the finger of God?"
II. WHAT HE FELT. Great sights always produce inappreciative observers, powerful emotions. The stupendous works of God, the splendid productions of art, and the manifold inventions of genius, in this way fascinate the eye and stimulate the mind of those who study them. But for a devout mind no sight is so pleasing, and no work so glorious, as the progress and peace of God's Church. Of what character was his gladness?
1. Sympathetic. We are sometimes glad, and sometimes sad, we know not why. Now, it was holy unction, associated with a holy gathering, and admitted by a holy sympathy, that led Barnabas, "when he saw the grace of God," to be "glad."
2. Intelligent. Sympathy is a distinguished power in man, but it is not a distinctive prerogative. It exists, often in a larger degree, in the "inferior creatures" around him. But if they feel, if they love, if they rejoice like him in virtue of a sympathetic nature, they are not like him endowed with the powers of reason and the appliances of ratiocination. So here, Barnabas not only felt when be saw this sight, but he thought; and whether he looked upon it with a sympathetic eye, or reflected with an intelligent mind, he saw equal cause for gladness. For what did this work imply? It implied the presence and the propitiousness of God. It implied the triumph of truth over falsehood, and of Christ's beneficent rule over the devil's foul usurpation. If, then, Barnabas had looked upon this spiritual phenomenon as a Christian philosopher only, he might well have been, as he was, "glad."
3. Religious. If, however, as a social and an intellectual man, Barnabas found gladness in the contemplation of this scene, how much more as a religious man and a gospel minister? It was his religion, indeed, that gave complexion and character to the whole case. It was his goodness that gave to him his gladness. Hence ver. 23, declaring his gladness, is conjoined with ver. 24, describing his goodness. "For he was a good man," etc.
III. WHAT HE DID. Barnabas was called Paraclesis (a name similar to that given to the Holy Ghost), and, in harmony with his name, he "exhorted them" (παρεκάλει) — encouraged them, comforted them. Now, his exhortation related to three distinct objects.
1. To God. In fine, God alone is the great Guide, the Almighty Guard, the impregnable Fortress, and the everlasting Friend of His people; and to cleave unto Him is at once their duty, their safety, and their glory. Then think how suggestive this word "cleave" is. To cleave to anything is to grasp it firmly, to hold it tenaciously, and to prefer to be torn in pieces rather than to be torn from it. It is thus the ivy cleaves to the oak, the sailor hangs to the rope that is to rescue him from a furious sea and a watery grave, and thus Ruth "clave" unto Naomi. "Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth clave unto her"; and the incident teaches how much more there is in cleaving than in kissing. So let young converts, and even aged saints, cleave unto or continue "to abide with the Lord"; then they will avoid every by-path.
2. To their own hearts. "With purpose of heart." There is tremendous force in these words. Without a purpose a man in this world will never become a power — never! Abraham and Moses, Paul and Peter, and , Luther and Knox, Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, wielded great powers because they were swayed by great purposes. But of all purposes, that of the heart is this most thorough. It quails in presence of no danger. The eye may fail to see the shore from which we sail; the hand may fail to hold its grasp, or may be severed from its object; but when the eye is lost in distance, and the hand is no longer capable of grasping, the heart "clings" to a land it cannot see, and to a person or cause it cannot grasp — "clings" with infinite longing and undying love.
3. To their entire number. He exhorted them "all." This shows —
(1) His impartiality. He did not select for special regard the rich, the learned, and the Hellenist, to the exclusion of the poor, the unlearned, and the Hebrew.
(2) His discrimination, He knew full well there were duties which were not common to all Christians.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.