Here we are told, I. Who they were that Christ ordained to be his apostles or ambassadors; they were his disciples, Matt. 10:1. He had called them some time before to be disciples, his immediate followers and constant attendants, and he then told them that they should be made fishers of men, which promise he now performed. Note, Christ commonly confers honours and graces by degrees; the light of both, like that of the morning, shines more and more. All this while Christ had kept these twelve,
1. In a state of probation. Though he knows what is in man, though he knew from the first what was in them (John 6:7), yet he took this method to give an example to his church. Note, The ministry being a great trust, it is fit that men should be tried for a time, before they are entrusted with it. Let them first be proved, 1 Tim. 3:10. Therefore, hands must not be laid suddenly on any man, but let him first be observed as a candidate and probationer, a proposant (that is the term the French churches use), because some men’s sins go before, others follow, 1 Tim. 5:22.
2. In a state of preparation. All this while he had been fitting them for this great work. Note, Those whom Christ intends for, and calls to, any work, he first prepares and qualifies, in some measure, for it. He prepared them, (1.) By taking them to be with him. Note, The best preparative for the work of the ministry, is an acquaintance and communion with Jesus Christ. They that would serve Christ, must first be with him (John 12:26). Paul had Christ revealed, not only to him, but in him, before he went to preach him among the Gentiles, Gal. 1:16. By the lively acts of faith, and the frequent exercise of prayer and meditation, that fellowship with Christ must be maintained and kept up, which is a requisite qualification for the work of the ministry. (2.) By teaching them; they were with him as scholars or pupils, and he taught them privately, besides the benefit they derived from his public preaching; he opened the scriptures to them, and opened their understandings to understand the scriptures: to them it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, and to them they were made plain. Note, They that design to be teachers must first be learners; they must receive, that they may give; they must be able to teach others, 2 Tim. 2:2. Gospel truths must be first committed to them, before they be commissioned to be gospel ministers. To give men authority to teach others, that have not an ability, is but a mockery to God and the church; it is sending a message by the hand of a fool, Prov. 26:6. Christ taught his disciples before he sent them forth (Matt. 5:2), and afterwards, when he enlarged their commission, he gave them more ample instructions, Acts 1:3.
II. What the commission was that he gave them.
1. He called them to him, Matt. 10:1. He had called them to come after him before; now he calls them to come to him, admits them to a greater familiarity, and will not have them to keep at such a distance as they had hitherto observed. They that humble themselves shall thus be exalted. The priests under the law were said to draw near and approach unto God, nearer than the people; the same may be said of gospel ministers; they are called to draw near to Christ, which, as it is an honour, so should strike an awe upon them, remembering that Christ will be sanctified in those that come nigh unto him. It is observable, that when the disciples were to be instructed, they came unto him of their own accord, Matt. 5:1. But now they were to be ordained, he called them. Note, It well becomes the disciples of Christ to be more forward to learn than to teach. In the sense of our own ignorance, we must seek opportunities to be taught; and in the same sense we must wait for a call, a clear call, ere we take upon us to teach others; for no man ought to take this honour to himself.
2. He gave them power, exousian, authority in his name, to command men to obedience, and for the confirmation of that authority, to command devils too into a subjection. Note, All rightful authority is derived from Jesus Christ. All power is given to him without limitation, and the subordinate powers that be are ordained of him. Some of his honour he put on his ministers, as Moses put some of his on Joshua. Note, It is an undeniable proof of the fulness of power which Christ used as Mediator, that he could impart his power to those he employed, and enable them to work the same miracles that he wrought in his name. He gave them power over unclean spirits, and over all manner of sickness. Note, The design of the gospel was to conquer the devil and to cure the world. These preachers were sent out destitute of all external advantages to recommend them; they had no wealth, nor learning, nor titles of honour, and they made a very mean figure; it was therefore requisite that they should have some extraordinary power to advance them above the scribes.
(1.) He gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out. Note, The power that is committed to the ministers of Christ, is directly levelled against the devil and his kingdom. The devil, as an unclean spirit, is working both in doctrinal errors (Rev. 16:13), and in practical debauchery (2 Pet. 2:10); and in both these, ministers have a charge against him. Christ gave them power to cast him out of the bodies of people; but that was to signify the destruction of his spiritual kingdom, and all the works of the devil; for which purpose the Son of God was manifested.
(2.) He gave them power to heal all manner of sickness. He authorized them to work miracles for the confirmation of their doctrine, to prove that it was of God; and they were to work useful miracles for the illustration of it, to prove that it is not only faithful, but well worthy of all acceptation; that the design of the gospel is to heal and save. Moses’s miracles were many of them for destruction; those Mahomet pretended to, were for ostentation; but the miracles Christ wrought, and appointed his apostles to work, were all for edification, and evince him to be, not only the great Teacher and Ruler, but the great Redeemer, of the world. Observe what an emphasis is laid upon the extent of their power to all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease, without the exception even of those that are reckoned incurable, and the reproach of physicians. Note, In the grace of the gospel there is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every malady. There is no spiritual disease so malignant, so inveterate, but there is a sufficiency of power in Christ, for the cure of it. Let none therefore say there is no hope, or that the breach is wide as the sea, that cannot be healed.
III. The number and names of those that were commissioned; they are made apostles, that is, messengers. An angel, and an apostle, both signify the same thing—one sent on an errand, an ambassador. All faithful ministers are sent of Christ, but they that were first, and immediately, sent by him, are eminently called apostles, the prime ministers of state in his kingdom. Yet this was but the infancy of their office; it was when Christ ascended on high that he gave some apostles, Eph. 4:11. Christ himself is called an apostle (Heb. 3:1), for he was sent by the Father, and so sent them, John 20:21. The prophets were called God’s messengers.
1. Their number was twelve, referring to the number of the tribes of Israel, and the sons of Jacob that were the patriarchs of those tribes. The gospel church must be the Israel of God; the Jews must be first invited into it; the apostles must be spiritual fathers, to beget a seed to Christ. Israel after the flesh is to be rejected for their infidelity; these twelve, therefore, are appointed to be the fathers of another Israel. These twelve, by their doctrine, were to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, Luke 22:30. These were the twelve stars that made up the church’s crown (Rev. 12:1): the twelve foundations of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12, 14), typified by the twelve precious stones in Aaron’s breast-plate, the twelve loaves on the table of show-bread, the twelve wells of water at Elim. This was that famous jury (and to make it a grand jury, Paul was added to it) that was impanelled to enquire between the King of kings, and the body of mankind; and, in this chapter, they have their charge given them, by him to whom all judgment was committed.
2. Their names are here left upon record, and it is their honour; yet in this they had more reason to rejoice, that their names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20), while the high and mighty names of the great ones of the earth are buried in the dust. Observe,
(1.) There are some of these twelve apostles, of whom we know no more, from the scripture, than their names; as Bartholomew, and Simon the Canaanite; and yet they were faithful servants to Christ and his church. Note, all the good ministers of Christ are not alike famous, nor their actions alike celebrated.
(2.) They are names by couples; for at first they were sent forth two and two, because two are better than one; they would be serviceable to each other, and the more serviceable jointly to Christ and souls; what one forgot the other would remember, and out of the mouth of two witnesses every word would be established. Three couple of them were brethren; Peter and Andrew, James and John, and the other James and Lebbeus. Note, Friendship and fellowship ought to be kept up among relations, and to be made serviceable to religion. It is an excellent thing, when brethren by nature are brethren by grace, and those two bonds strengthen each other.
(3.) Peter is named first, because he was first called; or because he was the most forward among them, and upon all occasions made himself the mouth of the rest, and because he was to be the apostle of the circumcision; but that gave him no power over the rest of the apostles, nor is there the least mark of any supremacy that was given to him, or ever claimed by him, in this sacred college.
(4.) Matthew, the penman of this gospel, is here joined with Thomas (Matt. 10:3), but in two things there is a variation from the accounts of Mark and Luke, Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15. There, Matthew is put first; in that order it appears he was ordained before Thomas; but here, in his own catalogue, Thomas is put first. Note, It well becomes the disciples of Christ in honour to prefer one another. There, he is only called Matthew, here Matthew the publican, the toll-gatherer or collector of the customs, who was called from that infamous employment to be an apostle. Note, It is good for those who are advanced to honour with Christ, to look unto the rock whence they were hewn; often to remember what they were before Christ called them, that thereby they may be kept humble, and divine grace may be the more glorified. Matthew the apostle was Matthew the publican.
(5.) Simon is called the Canaanite, or rather the Canite, from Cana of Galilee, where probably he was born; or Simon the Zealot, which some make to be the signification of Kananites.
(6.) Judas Iscariot is always named last, and with that black brand upon his name, who also betrayed him; which intimates that from the first, Christ knew what a wretch he was, that he had a devil, and would prove a traitor; yet Christ took him among the apostles, that it might not be a surprise and discouragement to his church, if, at any time, the vilest scandals should break out in the best societies. Such spots there have been in our feasts of charity; tares among the wheat, wolves among the sheep; but there is a day of discovery and separation coming, where hypocrites shall be unmasked and discarded. Neither the apostleship, nor the rest of the apostles, were ever the worse for Judas’s being one of the twelve, while his wickedness was concealed and did not break out.
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