Here is, I. A conclusion of the foregoing account of Christ’s preaching and miracles (Matt. 9:35); He went about all the cities teaching and healing. This is the same we had before, Matt. 4:23. There it ushers in the more particular record of Christ’s preaching (Matt. 5:1-7:29) and of his cures (Matt. 8:1-9:38), and here it is elegantly repeated in the close of these instances, as the quod erat demonstrandum—the point to be proved; as if the evangelist should say, “Now I hope I have made it out, by an induction of particulars, that Christ preached and healed; for you have had the heads of his sermons, and some few instances of his cures, which were wrought to confirm his doctrine: and these were written that you might believe.” Some think that this was a second perambulation in Galilee, like the former; he visited again those whom he had before preached to. Though the Pharisees cavilled at him and opposed him, he went on with his work; he preached the gospel of the kingdom. He told them of a kingdom of grace and glory, now to be set up under the government of a Mediator: this was gospel indeed, good news, glad tidings of great joy.
Observe how Christ in his preaching had respect,
1. To the private towns. He visited not only the great and wealthy cities, but the poor, obscure villages; there he preached, there he healed. The souls of those that are meanest in the world are as precious to Christ, and should be to us, as the souls of those that make the greatest figure. Rich and poor meet together in him, citizens and boors: his righteous acts towards the inhabitants of his villages must be rehearsed, Jdg. 5:11.
2. To the public worship. He taught in their synagogues, (1.) That he might bear a testimony to solemn assemblies, even then when there were corruptions in them. We must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is. (2.) That he might have an opportunity of preaching there, where people were gathered together, with an expectation to hear. Thus, even where the gospel church was founded, and Christian meetings erected, the apostles often preached in the synagogues of the Jews. It is the wisdom of the prudent, to make the best of that which is.
II. A preface, or introduction, to the account in the following chapter, of his sending forth his apostles. He took notice of the multitude (Matt. 9:36); not only of the crowds that followed him, but of the vast numbers of people with whom (as he passed along) he observed the country to be replenished; he noticed what nests of souls the towns and cities were, and how thick of inhabitants; what abundance of people there were in every synagogue, and what places of concourse the openings of the gates were: so very populous was that nation now grown; and it was the effect of God’s blessing on Abraham. Seeing this,
1. He pities them, and was concerned for them (Matt. 9:36); He was moved with compassion on them; not upon a temporal account, as he pities the blind, and lame, and sick; but upon a spiritual account; he was concerned to see them ignorant and careless, and ready to perish for lack of vision. Note, Jesus Christ is a very compassionate friend to precious souls; here his bowels do in a special manner yearn. It was pity to souls that brought him from heaven to earth, and there to the cross. Misery is the object of mercy; and the miseries of sinful, self-destroying souls, are the greatest miseries: Christ pities those most that pity themselves least; so should we. The most Christian compassion is compassion to souls; it is most Christ-like.
See what moved this pity. (1.) They fainted; they were destitute, vexed, wearied. They strayed, so some; were loosed one from another; The staff of bands was broken, Zech. 11:14. They wanted help for their souls, and had none at hand that was good for any thing. The scribes and Pharisees filled them with vain notions, burthened them with the traditions of the elders, deluded them into many mistakes, while they were not instructed in their duty, nor acquainted with the extent and spiritual nature of the divine law; therefore they fainted; for what spiritual health, and life, and vigour can there be in those souls, that are fed with husks and ashes, instead of the bread of life? Precious souls faint when duty is to be done, temptations to be resisted, afflictions to be borne, being not nourished up with the word of truth. (2.) They were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. That expression is borrowed from 1 Kgs. 22:17; and it sets forth the sad condition of those that are destitute of faithful guides to go before them in the things of God. No creature is more apt to go astray than a sheep, and when gone astray more helpless, shiftless, and exposed, or more unapt to find the way home again: sinful souls are as lost sheep; they need the care of shepherds to bring them back. The teachers the Jews then had pretended to be shepherds, yet Christ says they had not shepherds, for they were worse than none; idle shepherds that led them away, instead of leading them back, and fleeced the flock, instead of feeding it: such shepherds as were described, Jer. 23:1; Ezek. 34:2 Note, The case of those people is very pitiable, who either have no ministers at all, or those that are as bad as none; that seek their own things, not the things of Christ and souls.
2. He excited his disciples to pray for them. His pity put him upon devising means for the good of these people. It appears (Luke 6:12, 13) that upon this occasion, before he sent out his apostles, he did himself spend a great deal of time in prayer. Note, Those we pity we should pray for. Having spoken to God for them he turns to his disciples, and tells them,
(1.) How the case stood; The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few. People desired good preaching, but there were few good preachers. There was a great deal of work to be done, and a great deal of good likely to be done, but there wanted hands to do it. [1.] It was an encouragement, that the harvest was so plenteous. It was not strange, that there were multitudes that needed instruction, but it was what does not often happen, that they who needed it, desired it, and were forward to receive it. They that were ill taught were desirous to be better taught; people’s expectations were raised, and there was such a moving of affections, as promised well. Note, It is a blessed thing, to see people in love with good preaching. The valleys are then covered over with corn, and there are hopes it may be well gathered in. That is a gale of opportunity, that calls for a double care and diligence in the improvement of it; a harvest-day should be a busy day. [2.] It was a pity when it was so that the labourers should be so few; that the corn should shed and spoil, and rot upon the ground for want of reapers; loiterers many, but labourers very few. Note, It is ill with the church, when good work stands still, or goes slowly on, for want of good workmen; when it is so, the labourers that there are have need to be very busy.
(2.) What was their duty in this case (Matt. 9:38); Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest. Note, The melancholy aspect of the times and the deplorable state of precious souls, should much excite and quicken prayer. When things look discouraging, we should pray more, and then we should complain and fear less. And we should adapt our prayers to the present exigencies of the church; such an understanding we ought to have of the times, as to know, not only what Israel ought to do, but what Israel ought to pray for. Note, [1.] God is the Lord of the harvest; my Father is the Husbandman, John 15:1. It is the vineyard of the Lord of hosts, Isa. 5:7. It is for him and to him, and to his service and honour, that the harvest is gathered in. Ye are God’s husbandry (1 Cor. 3:9); his threshing, and the corn of his floor, Isa. 21:10. He orders every thing concerning the harvest as he pleases; when and where the labourers shall work, and how long; and it is very comfortable to those who wish well to the harvest-work, that God himself presides in it, who will be sure to order all for the best. [2.] Ministers are and should be labourers in God’s harvest; the ministry is a work and must be attended to accordingly; it is harvest-work, which is needful work; work that requires every thing to be done in its season, and diligence to do it thoroughly; but it is pleasant work; they reap in joy, and the joy of the preachers of the gospel is likened to the joy of harvest (Isa. 9:2, 3); and he that reapeth receiveth wages; the hire of the labourers that reap down God’s field, shall not be kept back, as theirs was, Jas. 5:4. [3.] It is God’s work to send forth labourers; Christ makes ministers (Eph. 4:11); the office is of his appointing, the qualifications of his working, the call of his giving. They will not be owned nor paid as labourers, that run without their errand, unqualified, uncalled. How shall they preach except they be sent? [4.] All that love Christ and souls, should show it by their earnest prayers to God, especially when the harvest is plenteous, that he would send forth more skillful, faithful, wise, and industrious labourers into his harvest; that he would raise up such as he will own in the conversion of sinners and the edification of saints; would give them a spirit for the work, call them to it, and succeed them in it; that he would give them wisdom to win souls; that he would thrust forth labourers, so some; intimating unwillingness to go forth, because of their own weakness and the people’s badness, and opposition from men, that endeavour to thrust them out of the harvest; but we should pray that all contradiction from within and from without, may be conquered and got over. Christ puts his friends upon praying this, just before he sends apostles forth to labour in the harvest. Note, It is a good sign God is about to bestow some special mercy upon a people, when he stirs up those that have an interest at the throne of grace, to pray for it, Ps. 10:17. Further observe, that Christ said this to his disciples, who were to be employed as labourers. They must pray, First, That God would send them forth. Here am I, send me, Isa. 6:8. Note, Commissions, given in answer to prayer, are most likely to be successful; Paul is a chosen vessel, for behold he prays, Acts 9:11, 15. Secondly, That he would send others forth. Note, Not the people only, but those who are themselves ministers, should pray for the increase of ministers. Though self-interest makes those that seek their own things desirous to be placed alone (the fewer ministers the more preferments), yet those that seek the things of Christ, desire more workmen, that more work may be done, though they be eclipsed by it.