Living, as we are, in the last days of the Church's history here on earth, it is very interesting, as well as helpful, to be able to learn what characterized its earliest days, - what was the teaching and manner of life of the Apostles and their co-workers, and the results of their ministry, as also what they set before those who were converted through their means, for their guidance, encouragement, or warning.
In Acts 11 we have the account of the spread of the gospel amongst the Gentiles, through the agency of some unnamed disciples of the Lord Jesus from Judea, who had been driven out of their own country by persecution. It is very beautiful to see these early Christians, when thus persecuted and scattered, carrying amongst the Gentiles, into whose society they were thus thrown, the precious news of the love and grace of God, as declared by the death, resurrection, and exaltation (as Man) to glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom alone, all the grace of God could flow out to sinful men.
The Lord owned in a marked way their simple, yet powerful, testimony. He honoured these poor suffering disciples, who were enduring, patiently and joyfully, "for His Name sake," the loss of house, home, and country, and much more besides. He, up in heaven - the Man Christ Jesus - was looking down, and marking the sufferings and faith of His loved ones, and while sustaining and comforting them in their fiery trial, He was owning and honouring them as those who could thus suffer for Him, and glorify Him in it all.
What effect their lives must have given to the testimony they bore! And this is what the Lord can own, and set His seal upon. Hence we read "The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." (v. 21.)
Let us mark well the expression, by which the Spirit of God describes their conversion, - they "believed, and turned unto the Lord." This is very beautiful and instructive. It furnishes the true key to, and the basis of, the words addressed to them by Barnabas shortly after - he "exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord." This exhortation necessarily supposes that they had first "turned unto the Lord," and flows from it.
But we may here notice another expression which adds its testimony to the above, in making known to us what was chiefly and primarily before the minds and hearts of these early disciples, producing a corresponding effect in so powerful a way on those who received their word. I allude to verse 24, where we read "and much people was added unto the Lord." It was this blessed Person, whom they loved, and ins whom believing they rejoiced "with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (see 1 Peter 1:8), who was borne witness to, and presented to the Gentiles as the object of faith, by these despised and suffering saints; and it was His hand that wrought with them by the power of that Spirit whom He had sent down from heaven at Pentecost. (See Luke 24:48, 49, and Acts 1:8, and 2:33.) Hence it was unto Him that these believing Gentiles turned, and unto Him they were added, and consequently it was unto Him that they were exhorted to cleave with "purpose of heart." It is evident, then, that before this latter exhortation can be rightly understood and acted upon, the blessed Lord must be personally known to the soul as the object of faith and love. We could not cleave to Him if there were not faith in Him, - if He were not personally known by faith; and we would not cleave to Him if we did not know the love of His heart to us, so as to have "won our heart's affection."
For those who do know Him thus now, there is much food for meditation, and much profit to the soul, in this brief but comprehensive summary of the exhortations of Barnabas ("a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith") to these early Gentile converts.
Let us briefly consider the two parts of the exhortation. To "cleave to the Lord" was the burden of his desire for them. But the way by which alone this could be rightly effected and insured is also pressed upon them. "Purpose of heart" must be found in them; and in us too, if we are to go on with the Lord here, walking in His ways, doing His will, and growing in the knowledge of, and in moral likeness to, Himself. We must be prepared for the test which is sure to come for all who confess the name of Jesus, and own Him as their Saviour and Lord. It may be, and generally is, first the flood of persecution raised to terrify the heart, and cast down the spirit. If this does not succeed, the enemy seeks to attract the heart from Christ, to allure into some carefully prepared snare. But I need not here enlarge on the various ways of the enemy to destroy all true attachment of the heart to Christ, and devotedness to Him. Their name is legion; - anything and everything that we are most susceptible to, or most unwatchful about, are used by him.
Hence we need "purpose of heart." Woe to them that are at ease as regards this, that think, because they have made a good start, all will be well, or that would use the truth of God's unfailing grace and Christ's unfailing love, to walk carelessly!
The word of God plainly warns against any such thought or course. Not only have we the warnings and teachings of the New Testament, but the living examples of the Old Testament, written for our profit. How striking in this respect is the record of Scripture respecting Rehoboam! We read in 2 Chronicles 12:14, that Rehoboam sinned "because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord." The negative as regards purpose of heart, led to the positive as regards sinning against the Lord, and what a sad history was the result!
We are as those going through an enemy's land, and unless watchful, and keeping practically near the Lord, with our hearts set upon refusing all the attractions here, and fortified against all the opposition - as we read elsewhere, "in nothing terrified by your adversaries" (Phil. 1:28) - we are sure to be overcome, and the result will be that we shall practically fail to answer to the purpose of God in having us here, namely, to be led by the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, so that God may be glorified in us and by us, by the life of Christ being displayed where He was rejected and refused.
I would again repeat that there can be no cleaving to Him, and no purpose of heart in reference to Him, unless we are first turned to Him. Otherwise all will be vain efforts and legal striving. No, He must first be known as "the Object, bright and fair," to our hearts, Who has redeemed us by dying for us, and our hearts must have the sense of the glorious worth there is in Himself, as well as of the love of His heart, so that we can truly say:
"We love Thee for the glorious worth
Which in Thyself we see;
We love Thee for the shameful cross
Endured so patiently!"
We have a beautiful sample (indeed there are many others) of this purpose of heart and cleaving, in the touching Old Testament story of Ruth and Naomi. "Ruth clave unto her." (Ruth 1:14.) Naomi was more to Ruth than all other ties and attractions. Hence we read of her declared purpose to abide with her at all cost, in all places, and through all circumstances. I leave my readers to turn for themselves to the beautiful and eloquent expression she gives to this purpose of her heart, and to notice how constant she was in her attachment and obedience to Naomi. We may also recall what "a full reward" was granted to her from the Lord. And oh! what a reward will be ours if we, while here, are found in the same spirit, and walking in the same steps in regard to Him, Who is "fairer than all the earthborn race," and "perfect in comeliness," Who appreciates all that tells of devotedness or affection to Himself, and Who will in due time own and reward it as He only can do!
Surely we need to remember and lay well to heart, in these evil days in which our lot is cast - days of indifference and easy-going profession - the blessed Lord's own word of exhortation, "I come quickly, hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." S. M. A.
We are not free to follow Christ until we are delivered from man.
It is better to be thinking of what God is, than of what we are. This looking at ourselves, at the bottom, is really pride - a want of the thorough consciousness that we are good for nothing.
When we are absorbed in God's presence we lose sight of ourselves.