"He exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they should cleave unto the Lord."—Acts xi. 23.
A Handful of fugitive Christians, without any officials among them, and with no commission from men, found themselves in the heathen city of Antioch, and took a great stride forward in the process of expanding the Church into a world-wide society, by preaching to "the Greeks." The brethren in Jerusalem did not quite know what to make of this new development, and felt that it needed to be looked into. They chose Barnabas to go and inquire, and his selection showed that the inquiry was to be sympathetic and friendly since, being a Cypriote, he would act as a sort of mediator between Jew and Gentile. Barnabas may have come to Antioch with some doubts, but he was fairminded, and what he saw ended his doubts, if he had any. Not every one is "glad" to see "the grace of God " manifest in irregularly constitutea communities, but Barnabas's Christianity was wiaer than his prejudices. He knew brethren when nc saw them, and rejoiced in the signs that they were so. Therefore the Alpha and Omega of his message to these new converts, ignorant and recent as they were, was that they should cleave unto the Lord.
To understand this exhortation we must remember that, as a rule, "the Lord," in the usage of the Acts, means Jesus. The very key-note of the book is that He is the living Lord, ever present with, and working on and by, His servants. It was the Lord, for instance, that opened Lydia's heart, though it was Paul's hand and Paul's message that seemed to do it. It was "the Lord " that "added to the Church daily such as were being saved"; and all through the book we find the same refrain. Now, it has just been said of these Greeks in Antioch that a multitude "believed and turned to the Lord." That is the essence of what we call "conversion"— that a man shall realise and enter into a personal relation, for his very self, with the personal Christ— not with a doctrine, however orthodox and needful for salvation, still less that he submit to a sacrament. What makes a man a Christian is getting a grip of Jesus Christ. The personal relation is at the bottom of everything. And so Barnabas's exhortation was, "You have turned to the Lord; cleave to Him." Keep up the relation that you have begun, and all else will come right.
Now, the word here rendered "cleave" is a very strong one; it is an even stronger one than Jesus Christ used when He said, meaning substantially the same thing, "Abide in me, and I in you." The word here is stronger, but the whole exhortation is less strong, for Barnabas said, "Cleave to the Lord," and Christ said, "Abide in me." There is a relation which is nearer than all nearness, and that is the true relation of the Christian man to Christ—not "near" only, but so near as to be "in." That mysterious "in " runs through all the pages of the New Testament, and is the key to all its deepest blessings and its highest hopes.
How are we to "cleave to the Lord"? One plain way is by habitual direction of thought to Him, by cultivating the sense of His presence. It is hard amid the whirl and press, but it is possible. How do we keep near dear ones on earth who are absent? Only by thinking about them; and we do not need, if we really love them, to be told to think about them; we cannot help it. In the same way, if we are to keep ourselves in that close personal relation to the Christ "whom having not seen we love," there must be a great deal more actual occupation of our minds and thoughts with Him than is usual amongst professing Christians. It is hard for men torn by the distractions of business to keep up anything like even short swallow-flights of thought while they are at work. Interweaving these thoughts with the web of the daily life, they will be like golden threads that will make a bright pattern on the sombre stuff. Unless we have learned the secret of thus turning to Jesus, we shall be robbed of our religion before we know. The bulk of our lives is necessarily devoted to temporal things, and, unless we can bring about an alliance between daily work and heavenly thoughts, our hold on Christ will be slack. The perfume of His name should find its way, like some penetrating odour, into every cranny and corner, for wherever it does not reach, the atmosphere will be laden with germs of disease. We cleave to the Lord by obedience also. A little disobedience makes a great separation. We cleave to Him by depending on Him, as a cragsman clutches the rope which keeps him from being dashed to pieces on the sharp reef, or drowned in the heaving billows far below.
A determined effort is needed to keep this injunction. Nothing less than "full purpose of heart" will do it. Strong forces tend to sweep us away from our hold on Christ. The current is always running, and, unless we are well moored to a fixed point, we shall be carried out to sea. Much in ourselves tends to relax our grasp. The strained muscles automatically lose their tension unless we continually tighten their grip. It is such unconscious weakenings of our hold that we have to fear. For one man that leaps away from Christ a thousand slide away from Him, and never know it; like some little child that has been gazing into a shop-window, and lost its elder brother unawares, and all at once lifts up its eyes, and sees itself to be alone, and then lifts up its voice and weeps. A grain of sand between the limpet's shell and the rock will keep the creature from glueing itself to its fortress. Small imperceptible separations accumulated will gradually make a gulf. How are the great canons on the American rivers, with a thousand feet of sheer precipice, formed? That little stream at the bottom there has done it all, by eating off the rock grain by grain, grain by grain, until the two sides that were once continuous stand grimly apart, never to be united any more. "He exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they should cleave to the Lord."
The exhortation was all-sufficient. These raw converts needed instruction, organisation, and many other things ; but, first and most, they needed a grip of Jesus Christ, and if they had that, all else would come right. To be joined to Christ brings all needful knowledge, all needful grace, and all needful blessedness. The Lord never comes empty-handed, for to those who cleave to Him He gives Himself, and in Him we have righteousness, strength, and all treasures, to supply all our need.
Barnabas said, Cleave to the Lord; Jesus said, Abide in me. There is a union nearer than all nearness. We are not only to cleave to, but to abide in, Him, and then we " shall bring forth much fruit," while severed from Him we can do nothing, and are nothing.