"Cleave to the Lord"

Notes of an address on The First Gentile Church, Acts 11:19-30

In these verses there is a divinely-given description of the first Gentile church that was ever formed, and, as it is often God's way to give us a pattern of what He intends any new thing to be at the very beginning of it, we should study the features of this assembly with great interest.

How the Gospel Reached Them

The gospel was carried to Antioch as a result of the persecution that had arisen in Jerusalem at the martyrdom of Stephen. And in this there is encouragement for us when opposition meets us in the work and testimony of the Lord. The devil hoped to effectually stamp out the name of Christ when he let his fury loose upon the Jerusalem brethren; he only drove the gospel into a wider field, so that the purpose of God was fulfilled in that it reached the Gentiles. So God makes the wrath of the devil and men to praise Him.

The Preaching — The Lordship of Jesus

Those who were scattered abroad through the persecution went as far as Antioch and preached to the Grecians the LORD JESUS. The titles of our Lord in Scripture are not used in a haphazard way; every one of them has its special meaning, and we shall be greatly helped in understanding the Scriptures if we grasp the significance of the names and titles of the Lord as they occur. Here the disciples preached the Lord Jesus. They proclaimed the lordship of Jesus. This is sadly lacking in modern preaching. Men often take up THE NAME with very little reverence. They talk of St. John, St. Paul, St. Peter, and would not think of using the names of the apostles without the prefix, but when they speak of the Son of God He is simply Jesus of Nazareth and nothing more. Not so these early gospel preachers; they proclaimed His glory and called upon men everywhere to yield subjection to Him as the One whom God had made supreme over all.

They preached the name of JESUS in all its precious meaning. It was to them, and it is to us who know Him, the sweetest name on mortal tongue. It tells us of Him, the Man of sorrows, who in lowly grace came down to save us. It tells us of that lovely life in which the infinite tenderness of His heart was ever in manifestation. It tells us of how He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. Wonderful name!

JESUS — it speaks a life of love
  Of sorrows meekly borne;
It tells of sympathy above
  Whatever makes us mourn.

But this is the name that has been cast out by men, for He was despised and rejected. With the beasts in a stable at His birth, and with thieves on a cross at His death, such was the world's award to Him. But God has made this same Jesus both Lord and Christ, He has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name above every name. The crowns of immortal glory shine upon His sacred brow. He is supreme over all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth. Every knee shall bow before Him and every tongue confess that universal lordship is His by right.

The Grace — God Through Him

But there is more in the title "Lord" than authority. He has been put into that place of power to dispense the grace of God to men, and that is a very important side to this great title. In the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans you will find salvation is constantly connected with him as Lord. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus … thou shalt be saved" (Rom. 10:9). Salvation is connected with the Lord. He is the dispenser of the grace of God. This is illustrated, in type, in the case of Joseph. He was made ruler or lord over all Egypt, and all were commanded to bow the knee to him; but in that position he was the dispenser of Pharaoh's favours. To all the Egyptians who sought any favour from Pharaoh the king said, "Go to Joseph." The Lord Jesus Christ is upon the throne of God to dispense for men the grace of God. The One who loved us so much that He laid down His life to save us is now the One who administers all the grace of God, and all who would have that grace which saves eternally must go to Jesus the Lord.

They preached the Lord Jesus, the only One in whom men can find all that they need, "and a great number believed and turned to the Lord." They believed the glad tidings that were brought to them concerning Christ, but they not only believed, "they turned to the Lord." And here we may discern what many lack. People believe the gospel, but make no progress. What is the matter? They have believed unquestionably, but they have not turned to the Lord. If you turn to the Lord you turn your back upon the world. You find in the Lord, in whom all the grace of God is, a new source of supply. Up to the time of your turning your springs were in this world. You went to it for sympathy and help and pleasure. Now you are right about face. The world is no longer the source of your supply. Instead you say to the Lord, "All my fresh springs are in Thee."

In difficulties, in sorrow, in weakness, in temptation, or in service, do we at once turn to Him? Are our eyes in that direction moment by moment? If we have truly turned to the Lord we are looking to Him alone, and from Him there comes the supply of grace to meet our every need, for His supplies are all-sufficient.

These people at Antioch believed and turned to the Lord, and the news reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to see what was going on, and when he came and saw the grace of God he was glad. The grace they had received and were receiving from the Lord was something that could be seen; it affected their lives in every department of them, and Barnabas was glad when he saw it. It is a good thing when the grace of God is seen. There is nothing so delightful to the anointed eye as the grace of God. It pleases the eye and rejoices the heart. There is no sight like it on earth.

A Good Man

Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith. Would to God we had a few more men like that! What kind of a man is a good man? The man who is occupied with evil, even if he is bent upon putting it right, is not a good man, because every man becomes affected by that with which he is occupied. The good man is occupied with good. He will look for what is good in his brethren and rejoice when he sees it, and he will help to produce it in them by ministering Christ to them and praying for them. The one who is occupied with good is a good man. We are so constituted that the mind affects the whole person, and if the mind is affected by the things of the world we become worldly in ways and walk. I may not know it, but others will know it. If I am occupied with Christ and good, that will come out; I may not know that it is coming out, but others will see it. Moses when he came down from the mountain wist not that his face shone, but the Israelites beheld it. Poor Samson got into sad company, left the service of Jehovah to dally with sin, and in consequence he lost his Nazariteship, and wist not that his strength had departed from him, but the Philistines knew it. Christians, that with which the mind is occupied is that which affects and forms our character; it comes out in our lives, and others take note of it, whether it be good or bad.

The Great Exhortation

When Barnabas saw the grace that was manifested in those disciples, he exhorted them that "with purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord." He had just that one exhortation for them. It was the most important thing that he could have said to them, and it is the most important thing that can be said to us. We need it just as much as they needed it. It matters not how much we know; if we are not cleaving to the Lord we are worse than useless with all our knowledge. It matters not how little we know, if we are cleaving to the Lord we shall make progress.

Mark — he did not say "Cleave to the Shepherd" or "Cleave to the Saviour." Why? The Shepherd will cleave to us with the hand of omnipotence, for thus He holds His sheep in spite of every threatening foe, and whom He saves are safe for ever. But as LORD we must cleave to Him if we are to rightly bear witness to Him in this world, for all the grace we need is in Him. Just as a general, when he goes to war, will not permit, if he can help it, the enemy to outflank him and cut him off from his base, for he knows that if he is cut off from his base defeat will overtake him, so we, in an enemy's country, must cleave to the base of our supplies. We must keep in constant touch with the One in whom our resources are. Those resources are in the Lord. Thence the necessity of cleaving to Him with purpose of heart. We cannot do without the grace of God, for it is the Christian's vital breath. It is as necessary to our well-being as the sea is to the fish and the atmosphere to the birds, and all the grace of God comes through our Lord Jesus Christ.

"Much People Was Added to the Lord"

It is not without significance that just at this point we read of the blessing flowing out and men being gathered in. The testimony of these disciples was in power, for their words were backed up by happy Christian lives. They were doers of the word as well as preachers of it. Where this is lacking we cannot expect to see people added to the Lord, and when worldly means are used in the attempt to convert men the case is even worse. Yet with shame be it said that the professing church has harnessed to her labour pleasures that have been conceived in the minds of godless men, and she hopes thus to draw men to Christ. They are being dragged by these methods in the opposite direction, and disaster irretrievable must be the final end of them. To add people to the Lord we must ourselves first be in living touch with Him, for only so can the grace of God find a channel through us whence it can flow out to others. We must cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart.

All–The–Year–Round Christians

Barnabas departed to Tarsus to seek Saul, and brought him to Antioch, and for a WHOLE YEAR they assembled with the church and taught much people. If you cleave to the Lord you will cleave also to those who are the Lord's. You know what makes a swarm of bees, every bee cleaves to the queen; hence the swarm. If I cleave to the Lord and you cleave to the Lord and every one of us are cleaving to the Lord, we shall be kept very close together, and together we shall grow in the truth.

The only way Christians can be kept together really and happily, and grow to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, is by cleaving to the Lord. Now here the assembly of God met together, and for a whole year they continued. The whole year is a perfect cycle of time. All seasons are included — spring, summer, autumn, and winter. What we want today is all-the-year-round Christians. Some Christians are very bright in the spiritual summer-time, in the special gospel meetings, or when helpful ministry is being given for God's people. But when things get flat and the summer sun ceases to shine, when the winter-time comes on and things are not so prosperous, then they grow faint of heart and weary. They are not all-the-year-round Christians. The testimony of the Lord not only has its apparently prosperous times, but sometimes the winter winds blow and the storms seem to rage about it. Look at Paul in 2 Timothy. He had to say, "All they in Asia have forsaken me." They could not stand the winter-time. He had to say, "No man stood with me." Those Christians were not all-the-year-round Christians. How can we be such? By cleaving to the Lord. He is just as sufficient for the winter-time as for the summer-time. He sends down the spiritual sunshine upon us, and He permits the clouds to gather about us sometimes for our good, but He permits no circumstances in the which He cannot sustain us, and in which we cannot thankfully witness for Him.

It is right that certain animals should hibernate during the winter storms, for thus has God made them, but it was never His intention that Christians should retire into themselves when days of adversity come, yet many act like this. They think perhaps that other Christians are brusque and cold towards them, and they shrink into themselves. They are not cleaving to the Lord, or they would thaw the frost in others by the summer warmth of their own hearts; or they would be like the hawthorn bush, as the late J.B.Stoney used to say, beautiful it appears in the spring-time, when the blossom blooms thick upon it, but in the winter-time, when the frosts come it puts out its scarlet berries, and the birds that would otherwise starve are fed. Beloved Christians, if we cleave to the Lord we shall be like the hawthorn bush when the frosts come. We shall put out the scarlet berries for the good of others. Christians of that stamp are badly needed today. God grant that we may be such.

They Were Known as Christians

These disciples made progress, they grew in the knowledge of the Lord. That is what the Lord would have. We do not desire sensation, but there is something we must be far more afraid of than sensation, and that is stagnation. These did not stagnate, they made progress, and we read: "The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch." Not amid the bright days of Pentecost were the disciples called Christians. That name was reserved for these Gentile believers. It was a term of reproach at the start, but what an honour to bear it. The people watched them and listened to their talk, and they were so much like the Christ, they talked so much about Him, that that was the only name they could give them. "The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch." Oh that we might be called Christians because of what we are; that in the home and place of business we may be known as Christians because we are Christ-like; that they may say, "Well, so-and-so is a Christian, we are sure of that!" How can this be? We must cleave to the Lord for this. This kind of thing does not spring up from the flesh. These figs cannot be gathered from the thistle of fallen human nature. We must be in touch with the Lord. Our roots, so to speak, must be in Him. When that is the case, these things that will make people call us Christians will be manifested in us.

The Lord Jesus was sufficient for your soul's salvation. You knew it was no use for any one else to put their hands to that great work. You were satisfied to let the Lord Jesus do it. As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him. Let Him be sufficient for you all along the Christian pathway, as He was sufficient at the start of it. Be just as simple in your faith in Him today as you were then. Every difficulty will then disappear, for as you cleave to Him that grace will flow unhindered to you, and it is that grace which will carry you forward, and in the power of that grace you will be known as a Christian.

The Manifestation of the Love of God

There is still another beautiful touch to complete the picture. There came from Jerusalem at this time a prophet called Agabus, and he prophesied there would be great dearth throughout all the world. This was a very serious crisis, for the whole world was to suffer from the dearth. What do these Christians do? Do they say, "Well, we had better get in a stock of corn; we had better lay up for a rainy day and see to it that we are well provided for?" No, they say, "When this dearth comes it will go very hardly with these dear disciples at Jerusalem. We had better think of our brethren's need and make a collection for them." They were not thinking about themselves. It was not a question as to how the dearth would affect them. It was a question as to how it would affect others. They were thinking about others, and that, dear friends, is the mark given us in Scripture of divine love, the love of God being in the heart. If thou seest thy brother in need, and shuttest up thy bowels of compassion, how dwells the love of God in thee? These people had the love of God dwelling in them. They were not selfish. They were not self-centred. They thought about others. That must have been delightful to the eye of God. If the grace that was in these Christians delighted the heart of Barnabas, this love in activity must have delighted the heart of God. It must have been a pleasure to Him to look down into this world, across which might be written in large letters that ugly word "selfishness," and see this company of Christians so unselfish that they did not think of their own need, but earnestly cared for others. That was the manifestation of His life in them.

But how do we stand, who are believers on the Lord Jesus in regard to this? We are the children of God, and the children of God should bear the character of their Father. He is the giving God. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son." God commends His love towards us in what He has done. Are we called Christians? Do we deserve the name because we are like Christ, in whom God was perfectly revealed? Shall that wonderful love of God find a channel for its expression through us? God is seeking channels through which He may express Himself in this world. There in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ He was fully expressed. Every detail in His blessed character was manifested in Jesus. His nature was fully revealed. But the light of the world has been cast out, and now "ye are the light of the world." We are to be here holding forth the Word of life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, amongst whom we shine as lights. The glory of God is shining forth in the face of Jesus on the throne of God. That glorious light — God fully revealed — shines forth from that blessed countenance, and it has shone into our hearts to give the knowledge of God. But it does not shine into our hearts to be kept there. We have this treasure in earthen vessels that it may shine out again in this world, where our lot is cast. God is seeking channels through whom He may express Himself. How can we become those channels? Only by cleaving to the Lord. As we cleave to the Lord, we shall be, by the grace we receive from Him, the channels of the expression of what God is in His love in this world, and so will be fulfilled indeed those wonderful words spoken by the Lord to His disciples: "As My Father has sent Me into the world, even so have I sent you."

Thus we see, as we pass over these few verses, how important a matter it is for us to be cleaving to the Lord. Everything, whether it be our own soul's progress, the blessing of men around us, or the glory of God through us, depends upon this. The Lord grant that each one of us may be greatly stirred up to "cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart."