Here is, I. The conviction which Christ gave his apostles of the truth of his resurrection (Mark 16:14); He appeared to them himself, when they were all together, as they sat at meat, which gave him an opportunity to eat and drink with them, for their full satisfaction; see Acts 10:41. And still, when he appeared to them, he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, for even at the general meeting in Galilee, some doubted, as we find Matt. 28:17. Note, The evidences of the truth of the gospel are so full, that those who receive it not, may justly be upbraided with their unbelief; and it is owing not to any weakness or deficiency in the proofs, but to the hardness of their heart, its senselessness and stupidity. Though they had not till now seen him themselves, they are justly blamed because they believed not them who had seen him after he was risen; and perhaps it was owing in part to the pride of their hearts, that they did not; for they thought, “If indeed he be risen, to whom should he delight to do the honour of showing himself but to us?” And if he pass them by, and show himself to others first, they cannot believe it is he. Thus many disbelieve the doctrine of Christ, because they think it below them to give credit to such as he had chosen to be the witnesses and publishers of it. Observe, It will not suffice for an excuse of our infidelity in the great day, to say, “We did not see him after he was risen,” for we ought to have believed the testimony of those who did see him.
II. The commission which he gave them to set up his kingdom among men by the preaching of his gospel, the glad tidings of reconciliation to God through a Mediator. Now observe,
1. To whom they were to preach the gospel. Hitherto they had been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and were forbidden to go into the way of the Gentiles, or into any city of the Samaritans; but now their commission is enlarged, and they are authorized to go into all the world, into all parts of the world, the habitable world, and to preach the gospel of Christ to every creature, to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews; to every human creature that is capable of receiving it. “Inform them concerning Christ, the history of his life, and death, and resurrection; instruct them in the meaning and intention of these, and of the advantages which the children of men have, or may have, hereby; and invite them, without exception, to come and share in them. This is gospel. Let this be preached in all places, to all persons.” These eleven men could not themselves preach it to all the world, much less to every creature in it; but they and the other disciples, seventy in number, with those who should afterward to be added to them, must disperse themselves several ways, and, wherever they went, carry the gospel along with them. They must send others to those places whither they could not go themselves, and, in short, make it the business of their lives to send those glad tidings up and down the world with all possible fidelity and care, not as an amusement or entertainment, but as a solemn message from God to men, and an appointed means of making men happy. “Tell as many as you can, and bid them tell others; it is a message of universal concern, and therefore, ought to have a universal welcome, because it gives a universal welcome.”
2. What is the summary of the gospel they are to preach (Mark 16:16); “Set before the world life and death, good and evil. Tell the children of men that they are all in a state of misery and danger, condemned by their prince, and conquered and enslaved by their enemies.” This is supposed in their being saved, which they would not need to be if they were not lost. “Now go and tell them,” (1.) “That if they believe the gospel, and give up themselves to be Christ’s disciples; if they renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh, and be devoted to Christ as their prophet, priest, and king, and to God in Christ a their God in covenant, and evidence by their constant adherence to this covenant their sincerity herein, they shall be saved from the guilt and power of sin, it shall not rule them, it shall not ruin them. He that is a true Christian, shall be saved through Christ.” Baptism was appointed to be the inaugurating rite, by which those that embraced Christ owned him; but it is here put rather for the thing signified than for the sign, for Simon Magus believed and was baptized, yet was not saved, Acts 8:13. Believing with the heart, and confessing with the mouth the Lord Jesus (Rom. 10:9), seems to be much the same with this here. Or thus, We must assent to gospel-truths, and consent to gospel-terms. (2.) “If they believe not, if they receive not the record God gives concerning his Son, they cannot expect any other way of salvation, but must inevitably perish; they shall be damned, by the sentence of a despised gospel, added to that of a broken law.” And even this is gospel, it is good news, that nothing else but unbelief shall damn men, which is a sin against the remedy. Dr. Whitby here observes, that they who hence infer “that the infant seed of believers are not capable of baptism, because they cannot believe, must hence also infer that they cannot be saved; faith being here more expressly required to salvation than to baptism. And that in the latter clause baptism is omitted, because it is not simply the want of baptism, but the contemptuous neglect of it, which makes men guilty of damnation, otherwise infants might be damned for the mistakes or profaneness of their parents.”
3. What power they should be endowed with, for the confirmation of the doctrine they were to preach (Mark 16:17); These signs shall follow them that believe. Not that all who believe, shall be able to produce these signs, but some, even as many as were employed in propagating the faith, and bringing others to it; for signs are intended for them that believe not; see 1 Cor. 14:22. It added much to the glory and evidence of the gospel, that the preachers not only wrought miracles themselves, but conferred upon others a power to work miracles, which power followed some of them that believed, wherever they went to preach. They shall do wonders in Christ’s name, the same name into which they were baptized, in the virtue of power derived from him, and fetched in by prayer. Some particular signs are mentioned; (1.) They shall cast out devils; this power was more common among Christians than any other, and lasted longer, as appears by the testimonies of Justin Martyr, Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian Minutius Felix, and others, cited by Grotius on this place. (2.) They shall speak with new tongues, which they had never learned, or been acquainted with; and this was both a miracle (a miracle upon the mind), for the confirming of the truth of the gospel, and a means of spreading the gospel among those nations that had not heard it. It saved the preachers a vast labour in learning the languages; and, no doubt, they who by miracle were made masters of languages, were complete masters of them and of all their native elegancies, which were proper both to instruct and affect, which would very much recommend them and their preaching. (3.) They shall take up serpents. This was fulfilled in Paul, who was not hurt by the viper that fastened on his hand, which was acknowledged a great miracle by the barbarous people, Acts 28:5, 6. They shall be kept unhurt by that generation of vipers among whom they live, and by the malice of the old serpent. (4.) If they be compelled by their persecutors to drink any deadly poisonous thing, it shall not hurt them: of which very thing some instances are found in ecclesiastical history. (5.) They shall not only be preserved from hurt themselves, but they shall be enabled to do good to others; They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover, as multitudes had done by their master’s healing touch. Many of the elders of the church had this power, as appears by Jas. 5:14; where, as an instituted sign of this miraculous healing, they are said to anoint the sick with oil in the name of the Lord. With what assurance of success might they go about executing their commission, when they had such credentials as these to produce!