Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (meaning Son of Encouragement),
I. THE CHANGE WROUGHT in Joseph Barnabas.
1. A Levite, but not passing by the fallen and dying humanity. Notice the contrast between the priesthood of the, old covenant and the priesthood of the new; between the man of a corrupt and decaying system and the new man in Christ.
2. A Cypriot from a country noted for its self-indulgent luxury and sensuality, yet by the Spirit of Christ delivered from selfishness.
3. A man of some wealth, becoming poor for Christ's sake and the gospel's, and subjecting himself to the new law of the apostles. The wonders of the Middle Ages anticipated. Yet our aim should not be to fill the Church's treasuries, but to bless the world with the spirit of self-sacrifice. The abuses of the ecclesiastics have always been their not being true sons of exhortation and consolation, but "greedy of filthy lucre."
II. THE ILLUSTRATION OF GOSPEL PRINCIPLES.
1. Counting all things loss for Christ. Losing life to find it. The Church, as well as the individual, is richest and happiest when it reckons its whole self as devoted to the work of helping others.
2. The sons of exhortation and consolation, i.e. the messengers of mercy, must be examples of self-sacrifice, and enforce their precepts with public deeds of generosity, and manifestation of the work of the Spirit in their own lives. The preaching of the Church will never much affect the world so long as it does not lay its wealth at the feet of Christ.
3. The true law of Christ's kingdom is not "Each one for himself and by himself," but all faithful to the vocation of the Church. "At the apostles' feet." He was a rich man, and probably a highly educated man, but he did not set up a Church for himself. He recognized Christ's rule. He was willing to be a servant that he might fulfill his ministry of consolation to the world, and so he was immediately recognized by those who represented the Master - " surnamed by the apostles."
4. The stamp of special, solemn approval is set on faithfulness to conscience in the money matters of the Church. There is an eye watching our hand. The money brought should be not merely what the world expects to be brought, or what will satisfy the demands of the time and maintain our reputation with fellow-Christians, but what the "law of Christ" dictates, which is the law of absolute self-denial, and overflowing brotherly affection. We may not be a Paul, or an Apollos, or a Peter, or a John, lacking qualifications for such eminence, but we may emulate the example of Joseph Barnabas, and be sons of consolation, channels of blessing and comfort to the world. If we would be so, let us lay what we have at the feet of the apostles, avoiding caprice, self-will, disorder, heresy, strife, self-exaltation. There is a true apostolic doctrine and fellowship in the world. Cling to it, and cast all to it. - R.
Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas.
I. WE SHALL BEST UNDERSTAND THE NACRE BY SURVEYING THE HISTORY. We know little of the antecedents of Barnabas. He was a native of Cyprus, the first stepping-stone across the great sea to the lands of the Gentiles. Its population was partly Greek, partly Oriental; and the kind of education which such a society would afford may have helped to make Barnabas a broader man than his brethren who had been born and bred in the closer atmosphere of Jerusalem. Tradition marks him out as among the seventy sent forth by Christ. Or he may have been one of the fruits of Pentecost. Some of those converts, we know, were "men of Cyprus and Cyrene." His first appearance has more of action in it than of speech. It was at the moment when, under the fresh impulses of their awakening, the disciples who had "houses or lands" were parting with them for the relief of their poorer brethren. Conspicuous among them was Barnabas. It was a good beginning for a Christian ministry. "Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." The interest deepens as we proceed. Six or seven years pass, and an unlooked-for and almost unwelcome proselyte presents himself. It is Saul, who finds himself an object of alarm and undisguised mistrust. The way is opening for a schism between them and this "last of the apostles," who seeks their sympathy, but who can dispense with it, strong in his own independent authority, and in the promised presence of the Lord. There was needed at that moment some well-known and trusted leader, large-hearted enough to become surety for the former persecutor, and to stand his friend. This friend was found in Barnabas. It was he who joined Peter's hands with Paul's, and who told the tale of the wonderful conversion in such a manner as to dissolve all doubt. The "son of consolation" appears here at his appropriate work, reconciling those opposing forces with the sweet reasonableness of his own gentler spirit. He was selected, shortly afterwards, for a mission in which the same spirit would find scope. Tidings had reached the apostles of strange successes attending the gospel in Antioch, and they were not prepared for such an event. The baptism of Cornelius was in obedience to a direct revelation from heaven, but this larger movement appeared unauthorised, and might prove unwarranted. Barnabas was accordingly chosen to visit the spot and make inquiry. Now it is not altogether easy for any man to give unstinted commendation to a work in which he himself has had no share. He is apt to point out what might have been done better, rather than what has been done well. Finely in contrast with that tendency stands out the candid and generous behaviour of Barnabas. He "saw the grace of God," "was glad," and expressed himself in terms of warm congratulation and approval. Nay, he threw his own energies into the glorious enterprise, and "exhorted them .all that with purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord." When he departed he left many further converts added to the infant Church, and the impression that "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." Next we find that by his urgency Paul was brought from the seclusion of Tarsus, and introduced to the field .of work which lay ready for him in Antioch. It was through his generous co-operation that the ministry of the apostle of the Gentiles found favourable opportunities of exercise. But from that hour the lustre of his name begins to pale beside the fervent and forward energy of his incomparable companion. We find in the history no trace of any jealousy; but rather tokens of a noble modesty, akin to that of the Baptist when he drew back into the shade before the perfect light of Christ. This man, who, when others shunned Paul, had become his patron and protector, laying him under no common obligation, is now content to yield the precedence, and to walk loyally and lovingly at his side. When the missionaries differed — if we have to choose between the two — surely it was Barnabas who erred upon the generous side; for what he did was to take a faint-hearted brother whom Paul was too impatient to endure, and to give him that fresh chance of honourable service which made Mark "profitable" ever afterwards to Christ and to His Church.
II. All will acknowledge THE PECULIAR CHARM WHICH ATTACHES TO THE TRUE "SON OF CONSOLATION." There are men who everywhere leave behind them a sense of irritation, like winds that blow dust into face and eyes. They are the opposites to Barnabas. There was sunshine where he came. At his approach the feeble gathered strength, and trembling souls crept out of their hiding toward the light. Hard words were hushed in his company; the sternest grew gentle, and the very churl tried to be liberal. Yet it would be a mistake to suspect him of moral weakness and irresolution. The sunshine has its strength, as well as the wind, though it makes much less noise. Barnabas was once, to Paul's great wonder, "carried away by the dissimulation" of others; but his very wonder — even Barnabas!" — shows how unusual the symptom was. For "sons of consolation" are also sons of strong encouragement, who can themselves burn against injustice or hypocrisy, and inspire others with a kindred zeal. It is significant that heathen men "called Barnabas Jupiter," the name that embodied their poor conceptions of what was greatest and best, most fatherly, and most benignant. We recognise the presence of such men in our own generation. The temper of the moment may not tend to exalt them, or to press their example on our imitation. The sterner gifts may be mostly in request. We watch with mingled awe and admiration as some impetuous missionary spirit sweeps by, rousing the dull Church to a measure of its own activity. We applaud the controversialists, who contend for separate sides of truth, or for principles which they reckon overlooked. No doubt there is great need of them. Is there not need also of "the son of consolation," and may he not do as good a work as they? Surely it is not below the ambition of the strongest to play the part of Barnabas among the Churches of to-day. As long as so many timid, undecided souls remain, needing the tenderest touch and a patience almost motherlike to bring them to decision; as long as there are little children to be drawn into the Saviour's arms; as long as the Church has her backsliders to reclaim, and her doubters to direct and encourage; so long there will be ample occupation for such a man, and abundant reward. Nor will he live in vain, but rather to the highest purpose, if he be made instrumental, like Barnabas, in dissipating suspicions, and confirming friendships, between Christian brethren.
1. He was a native of the island of Cyprus, which was renowned for the worship of Venus, and the very name "Cyprian" is still a synonym of impurity. But, as the brightest light is kindled on a point that comes out of a bed of charcoal, so this light-bearer of the gospel came out of a very dark region of debauchery and idolatry. His original name was Joseph; but another name was given him after his conversion to Christ. They christened him Barnabas, the son of consolation. That is a name to be proud of, and it comprehends a vast deal; it signifies a helper of the weak, a guide to the wanderer, a comforter of the sad, a succourer of the perishing, with an eye to discover misery and a hand to relieve it. My old friend William Arnot has well said that this name bespeaks a fine character. "To possess consolation is to give it; not to give it is not to possess it. The more of it you have, the more you may give; and the more you give to others, the more you retain for your own use. This circle, when it is set a-going, moves perpetually, like the sea giving out its waters to the sky, and the sky sending back the boon by rain and the rivers to the sea again." The power of this man lay in the same quality that characterised nearly all those first converts to Christianity, and that was their superabounding sympathy. Barnabas, if in New York or Brooklyn or London now, would likely be found in a mission church for the half or the whole of every Sabbath. He would .show us how to bridge the chasm between wealth and poverty, and between Christian culture and city heathenism. On many an evening during she week he `would be found beside the squalid bed of sickness, or amid the swarming outcasts of the slums. When the members of our Churches become "sons of consolation" in the broadest sense of the word, bestowing not merely their dollars, but their time, their presence, and the sympathy of their hearts upon the unchristianised masses, we shall have a primitive and Pentecostal revival. Personal sympathy is worth more to the poor, the suffering, and the neglected than silver and gold. Pulpits speak only for an hour or two, and then only to those who fill pews before them; it is by sermons in shoes — and plenty of them — that the suffering and the sinning only can be reached. The curse of too much of what passes for Christianity is itself selfishness.
2. There is another plume in the coronet of Barnabas. He was the father of systematic beneficence. We are told that having land he sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. Having given his heart to Christ, he consecrated a goodly portion of his property to his Master's service. Some others of the new converts may have done this as soon as he; but he is the first one mentioned. He is, therefore, to be regarded as the pioneer in that long procession of systematic givers which reaches on to our times, and numbers in its ranks the Nathaniel Ripley Cobbs and James Lenoxes and William E. Dodges, and many other bountiful stewards of the Lord; and not only they who gave of their abundance, but every conscientious Christian who gives according to his means — however humble — and gives spontaneously. Barnabas did more than fling loose money into Christ's treasury. He sold real estate and contributed the proceeds. That looks as if there were real self-denial in the transaction, and that the man would stand a pinch for Christ's sake. When he was converted, the work reached not only the bottom of his heart, but the bottom of his pocket.
(T. L. Cuyler.)I. Barnabas was a Levite, YET HE POSSESSED LAND, which was contrary to the old law of Israel, but probably on account of great and frequent changes it was found impossible to maintain the ancient constitution in its integrity. Barnabas was a good name; but how rife is its opposite — the son of complaint, of gloom. To such a man everything appears in its darkest colours. He sees no green on the earth, and in the heavens no blue — all is seen through the medium of a jaundiced eye. Barnabas had much comfort himself because he had much to bestow on others. If we see streams flowing to refresh a neighbourhood we argue that the spring is full. His great contributions did not embitter his spirit. The flow of bounty from that man's hand acted as the flow of water from the drain on a ploughed field — it sweetened and made fertile the whole breadth of his life. It is the gorging up of water for want of outlet that makes the land sour and leaves it barren. Barnabas was a rich man, and therefore able to bestow practical consolation; but in thus expending his wealth he acquired the better and more enduring riches.
II. Barnabas was a Levite, YET HE WAS A SON OF CONSOLATION — how unlike many of the class to which he belonged, who "despised others." See, e.g., the parable of the Good Samaritan, Yet is not this note added to show that an order must not be blamed for the vices of individual members? Levi had a remote descendant called Caiaphas; he had another surnamed Barnabas. Let those who assail the ministry and other professions remember this.
III. Barnabas was a Levite — A RELIGIOUS TEACHER. He could administer comfort from his lips as well as from his purse. Many can only give lip comfort; what we have, then, let us give cheerfully.
Of the country of Cyprus
I. took it in 1191, and sold it to the Templars, whose oppression drove the people into revolt. Richard resumed the sovereignty, and gave it to Guy of Lusignan, the expelled king of Jerusalem, in 1192. The Lusignans retained it for nearly three centuries, which was a flourishing period for Cyprus. The Venetians were its next masters, but in 1470 Selim
II. seized it. "No grass grows where the Turk sets his hoof," and ever since ruthless despotism has wasted the fair island, so that from 1,000,000 in the days of Barnabas, the population has dwindled to 100,000. Now under British protection, and with British enterprise, capital, and missionary zeal, Cyprus may become prosperous once more.
(F. A. Warrington.)
Having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet
(A. Moody Stuart, D. D.)
(Bp. Cleveland Coxe.).
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