“For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.”
THIS is the Holy Spirit’s verdict on the character and life of Barnabas. Very different from the magniloquent inscriptions on the tombs of warriors and statesmen; but it was better to deserve this from the lips of the Master than to have the longest list of titles ever appended to a mortal’s name. For a good man like this some would even dare to die. The characteristics of this good man were these:
He could see the good in movements outside his own church-order. The Church at Antioch originated, as this paragraph proves, from the preaching of a number of unknown, unordained refugees, who were fleeing from the iron hand of persecution. All we know of them is that they were men of Cyprus and Cyrene. They had broken through the barrier of the ages by preaching to the Gentiles, great numbers of whom had been saved. The Church in Jerusalem was somewhat suspicious of this new departure, and sent Barnabas to report; but when he came he was forthwith convinced of its genuineness, saw the evidence of the hand of the Lord, and was glad. No jealousy, nor narrow bigotry, nor suspicion, warped his judgment.
He was willing that another should share with himself the joys of harvest. He went off to Tarsus to seek his old acquaintance, and perhaps fellow-student, Paul, and for a whole year the two wrought side by side in loving fellowship, and taught much people.
He was eager that people should be added to the Lord. Too often good men seek a following for themselves, and rejoice in those who are added to their church or organization. This is not the noblest style of work. It is far better to imitate the Baptist, who was content to be the Bridegroom’s friend.
“When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.”
THERE are iron gates before most of us. We are not especially anxious about the first or second ward, but ah, that iron gate!
The iron gate of supreme difficulty; of a parent’s prohibition against entering the mission-field; of some obstinate circumstance which seems to forbid the execution of our plans; of some barred and locked prohibition; of death at the end of all. It may be that in his strange bewilderment, between waking and sleeping, Peter anticipated this iron gate with a good deal of dread. That at least would bar his progress; but lo, it opened on its own accord! So shall it be with many of the evils that we anticipate.
Not before we come to them, but at the moment of reaching them; when heart and flesh threaten to fail—in the dim light we shall find them standing open, set back for us to pass. The tram-line is not cleared from end to end before the tram starts. Were the driver to wait for this, he would never start at all. But as he comes to each van, or drag, or carriage, it moves, and allows him a free course; or, if it seems dilatory, his whistle hastens it. Thus, when we arise to follow the angel of God’s purpose, who has suddenly entered the dark cell of our life, we shall discover that apparently insuperable difficulties, which we have long dreaded, shall open to us, and allow us to pass, when we come to the object we have dreaded most, we shall find it gone.
Let there be plenty of prayer, “prayer without ceasing.” Let there be prompt obedience to the angel’s touch and summons; the willingness to gird the relaxed loins, and follow; and as you go through life, you will find yourself escorted by an invisible Companion, who holds the key to all doors.
“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”
THE Holy Spirit, as the representative of the ascended Lord, is supreme in the Church. It is His sovereign voice that summons His chosen workers to undertake missionary or home enterprise. Dr. Ryland, who at first opposed Carey’s idea of going to India, said afterward, “I believe God Himself infused into the mind of Carey that solicitude for the salvation of the heathen which cannot be fairly traced to any other source.” And the same is true of all missionaries. The true call is always of the Divine Spirit. Whom He wills to call, He calls. Whom He calls, He separates. Whom He separates, He endows and sends forth.
But, Divine and absolute though the selection is, the Spirit seeks the concurrence of the Church. It was in answer to the Church’s prayer for direction that the Spirit designated Barnabas and Paul for the great work of world-evangelization; and it was when the Church had fasted and prayed, and had offered these two to God as their wave offering, that they were sent forth by the Holy Ghost.
Thus the Spirit and the Bride cooperate.
In determining whether you have been called by the Holy Spirit to be a missionary, you must certainly call on the advice of Christian friends, and specially of the church with which you worship. If the Spirit of God is in you and them, they will ratify the movements of your heart. It is right, too, to consider whether you have been specially gifted and qualified for the work. In this also, the advice of the Church is most valuable. Of course, the Church herself must fast, i.e., be separate from known evil and indulgence, that she may hear God’s voice, and be able to advise her children.
“Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”
THERE is no source of encouragement more fruitful of help than the co-witness and co-working of the Holy Spirit. Those who are filled with the Spirit are called into communion, i.e., partnership, with Him in His work. Whilst they work from the outside, He works from within; whilst they sow the seed, He waters it abundantly. We must be very careful to be such in character and teaching that He may cooperate with us. Our hands must be very clean, if He, with an infinite condescension, is to grant signs and wonders to be wrought by them. But when we work with Him, and He with us, the results are beyond measure astonishing, and His alone.
“We are now seven years in this land,” wrote one of Gossner’s missionaries from the land of the Kohls in India; “but through these long years it was but trial of our patience and endurance....
Everything seemed to be in vain, and many said the mission was useless. Then the Lord Himself kindled a fire before our eyes; and it seized not only single souls, but spread from village to village; and from every side the question was borne to us, What shall we do? How shall we be saved? And I thought it was no more a heathen land I was in, but a Christian, and at home.”
Deus habet horas et moras, says the old proverb. God has His seasons and delays. We do not at once see the result of our sowings, toils, and tears; but we are conscious that our work is with our God—we know that we have our petitions, and we rejoice in hope. We must go on uttering “the word of His grace”—the grace that chooses such rebels to be His children; that cleanses them from sin; that restores and keeps and sanctifies.
“And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. ... And when there had been much disputing,
Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; ... ”
THERE is a difference between these two assertions. They are in exquisite harmony, but each contributes a different note. In the first we have the cooperation of the Holy Spirit with every faithful worker whom He sends forth; so that, while the servant speaks to the outward ear, the Lord simultaneously addresses the heart. In the second, we have the work of the Holy Spirit wrought through a yielded life which has become His pure channel and mouth-piece. This is His two-fold ministry.
His witness with us: As we speak of Jesus crucified, risen, ascended, the blessed Spirit convicts men of sin, righteousness, and judgment. To every faithful word of testimony there is a deep resonant affirmation from this hidden but mighty Cooperant. If we say, “Behold the Lamb of God!” He adds, “He takes away the sin of the world.” If we say, “He died in weakness,” the Spirit adds, “He was raised in power.” If we say, “Repent and believe the Gospel,” He adds, “Now is the accepted time. The Holy Ghost saith Today.” If the Bride says Come, the Spirit joins His voice to hers.
His witness through us: “The word which ye hear,” said our Lord,
“is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” And that which was His glory may be ours also. We speak not of ourselves. This is the secret of a fruitful life—to be the yielded channel; the cleansed vessel; the bugle at the castle gate on which the King may sound His summons; the lute on whose strings the Divine hand may play. Oh, be sure that the most lasting work in this world is only possible when we can say with Paul that we will not boast of anything save what Christ has wrought through us to make men obedient to the Gospel.
“And a certain woman named Lydia, ... which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. ... And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: ... And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.”
THERE are typical cases, put here in juxtaposition for the teaching and comfort of believers in every age. Each of them needed Christ, and each was brought into His true light; but each came in a different way. Lydia’s heart opened as a flower beneath the touch of the sun, so gradually and imperceptibly that it was impossible to say the precise moment of her new life. The jailer came to Christ suddenly, startlingly, amid the crash of an earthquake. The one was drawn by love; the other driven by fear. A distinguished missionary says, “The Lord awakened me with a kiss”—it was so that Lydia’s heart was won. Another tells us that the Lord sprang on him like a lion—it was thus with the jailer.
Lydia: Do not always be looking out for signs and manifestations; for marked experiences. We do not notice the lines of longitude and latitude as we cross the ocean of life. Without knowing it, your character may be in the process of transfiguration. By insensible gradations the work of God may be proceeding in your heart. The tide is rising daily by tiny wavelets that appear to recede as fast as they advance. Do not measure progress by experience; only be yielded to God, and let Him do His will.
The Jailer: Do not undervalue the influence of fear. There are some natures that never will be awakened unless they are startled by being brought face to face with the consequences of sin. If men will not come by the highest motives, be thankful that they come by any.
Remember it is not belief about Christ, about His death or resurrection, but trust in Him as a living Person, that saves from the power and penalty of sin. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is a living Person. Trust Him now.
“Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.”
THIS is what our Lord was constantly insisting upon during the closing days of His earthly ministry. “Behoved it not,” He asked, “the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory?” The Jewish nation rejected Him because His conception of Messianic power was so foreign to theirs; but in doing so, doomed themselves to rejection from the purposes of God, at least during the present dispensation.
It behoved Him, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest. How could He have sympathized with the anguish of human hearts, if He had not drunk deeply of the cup of sorrow? How could He have led His flock through the thorny brake, if He had not gone to and fro with His bare feet? In that He hath suffered, He is able to succour.
It behoved Him, that He might be the sacrifice for sin. The conscience demands that forgiveness should be consistent with righteousness. It was necessary, therefore, if Jesus was to bring us forgiveness, that He should be prepared to make reparation and atonement for sin. He must shed His blood, that He may cleanse His people from their sins: He must be willing to be their scapegoat; He must offer Himself without spot to God, that He may cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God.
It behoved Him, that He might reign forevermore. It is a fundamental principle in God’s universe, that suffering, humbly and resignedly borne, leads to royalty and reigning. He who can stoop most profoundly can rise to reign most gloriously. As is the descent, so is the ascent. In proportion to the submission to take the form of a servant is the exaltation to the right hand of power.