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Nazareth Revisited


The Twelve Apostles: Their Call, Their Qualifications, and Their Instructions.

It is recorded that before the day on which he called his disciples together to choose from among them "twelve, whom also he named apostles," "he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God" (Luke vi. 12, 13). There is probably a deep connection between these two things. Jesus had just enjoined his disciples to pray to "the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth labourers into his harvest;" and here we have him engaged "all night in prayer to God" just before performing the most important operation in connection with that work -- namely, the appointment of twelve special men who were to take the leading part in the planting of the gospel in the earth, and who, with one exception, were to rank next to him in the glory of the kingdom of Israel restored (Luke xxii. 29, 30; Acts i. 6; Jno. xiii. 18, 21). Our estimate of the greatness of Christ may interfere somewhat with our appreciation of his dependence upon prayer. This is because of our inability to reach to the greater greatness above him, even the Father, of whom he said, "My Father is greater than I" (Jno. xiv. 28). Jesus "knew what was in man," and "needed not that any should testify what was in man" (Jno. ii. 25). Therefore, we are liable to conclude that he needed not to pray the Father to guide him in the selection of men for companionship in suffering and glory. We may learn the blindness of such a thought as we behold him retire to a mountain solitude during the darkness of night to pray all night to God.

God had prepared the men. John the Baptist, as we saw him in an early chapter, was sent before him to do this work -- "to prepare his ways" (Luke i. 76), "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (verse 17). John having done his work in the preparation and gathering together of a people, Jesus was introduced to notice, and the prepared people transferred to him. Jesus refers to this in the beautiful prayer of John xvii., "Thine they were, and thou gavest them me" (verse 6). A part of the process by which they were so "given" by the Father to Jesus, we see in this earnest and prolonged entreaty by Christ for guidance in the selection from the whole multitude of the disciples of the twelve, who were to be with him in a special and intimate manner. In this we may learn the need for our own application at all times to the same source of direction. "Commit thy way unto the Lord, and he shall direct thy steps." On the other hand, we will be protected against the presumption of so-called modern "faith," by observing that Jesus, having sought direction, proceeded to take the measures for the appointment of the apostles, instead of sitting down supinely to wait for God to bring them to Him. We must use the means; we must work with God. This is His beautiful arrangement by which God is glorified without man being spoiled.

The sun having risen, Jesus returns from his night-long communion with the Father on the solitary mountain side, and comes to where his disciples are within call, which appears to have been at the lower part of the hill. He went so far down the hillside towards them, and seating himself, sent word round that they were to come to him. They assemble before him -- in what numbers is not stated -- but, probably, several hundreds. He informs them that he is about to "ordain twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth, and to have power to heal sickness and to cast out demons." He then "called unto him whom he would, and they came unto him." First, Peter, whose first name was Simon; second, Andrew, Peter's brother; third, James, the son of Zebedee; fourth, John, the brother of James; fifth, Phillip; sixth, Bartholomew; seventh, Thomas (Didymus); eighth, Matthew; ninth, James, the son of Alpheus; tenth, Lebbeus Thaddeus (also called Jude or Judas); eleventh, Simon the Canaanite; and twelfth, Judas Iscariot. These, as their names were called, would step to the front, one by one, and stand before Jesus, who addressed special words to them.

Before we consider the words of the address, we will look for a moment at the appointed men -- not as regards their personal aspect and peculiarities, for of that we have little means of judging, but as regards their characteristics in common with the class to which they belonged, and their qualifications for the work to which they were separated in so special a manner. Those qualifications were not at all such as would commend themselves to ordinary human judgment. Among the many eccentric observations ("idle words") of Henry Ward Beecher is one to the effect, that the apostles were "poor stuff;" and that Christ could have found "better material" at Athens. From Mr. Beecher's point of view, which is the ordinary point of view of the natural man, Mr. Beecher is right. The apostles were mostly fishermen, which is enough to exclude the idea of those excellences which commend themselves to human taste and judgment. Literary culture or great breadth of mind are not usually found among fishermen, and did not characterise the apostles. The absence of educational polish is expressly noted in Acts iv. 13, where it is recorded that the rulers "perceived that they (Peter and John) were unlearned and ignorant men." The natural crudeness of character mostly belonging to them comes out in a variety of instances: such as the dispute among them who should be greatest in the Kingdom (Mar. ix. 34); their repulsion of the mothers with their children, who were seeking the blessing of Jesus (Mar. x. 14); their impulse to invoke judgment on the Samaritans (Luke ix. 54); the obstinate scepticism of Thomas (Jno. xx. 25); and Peter's threefold denial of Christ in the hour of darkness (Matt. xxvi. 74, 75).

But it does not follow that peculiarities which would have disqualified them for the execution of a human enterprise, were disqualifications for a work which God proposed to accomplish through them. On the contrary, it is possible to see that the supposed disqualifications were positive qualifications. To see this requires that a man take the Bible point of view in looking at the subject, and this, on thorough reflection, will turn out to be a thoroughly rational point of view -- intellectual prejudice to the contrary notwithstanding. The object in view is always everything in judging of means. A smoked glass, under ordinary circumstances, is an impossible medium of sight, yet it is the thing to look at the sun with. The object of the apostolic enterprise must be considered in rightly estimating the qualifications of the men chosen to carry it out. That object was God's object, and therefore it is with His view we must look to see the matter rightly. The principle underlying it comes out very clearly in various parts of Paul's writings. "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus our Lord" (II Cor. iv. 5). "I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom ... that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Cor. ii. 1, 5). "We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Cor. iv. 7). "Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things that are mighty ... that no flesh should glory in His presence ... according as it is written. Let him that glorieth, glory in the Lord" (1 Cor. i. 26, 31).

The object being to exhibit the wisdom and power of God, in the salvation of men by His grace for His glory, it was needful to make use of instruments who would not frustrate or obstruct this exhibition by distracting attention to themselves. Men of great polish and high natural gift would have been liable to fall into this mistake, without design. They would have figured largely in the eyes of the public, and would have been in danger of becoming important in their own eyes, especially with miraculous power at their command. God would not have been so visible as the instruments. This was the (unpremeditated) crime of Moses for which he was excluded from the land of promise. "Ye sanctified me not in thee yes of the congregation." In a moment of natural impatience with Israel's obduracy,he appeared to take the credit of giving them water out of the rock: "Hear now, ye rebels,must we fetch you water out of this rock?" Thus God was hidden when he was aiming to be seen, and thus it likely would have been with the apostolic work had men of position, parts, and education been chosen as its instruments, instead of men of obscurity, deficiency, and illiteracy. The exigencies of the work by-and-bye required a man of superior stamp like Paul, but even then the same principle was brought to bear in a special way. The danger of using him was neutralised by having allowed him first in his blindness to go to extreme lengths as a persecutor, and then by inflicting special disabilities of a humbling character. "Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.... For this thing I besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. xii. 7-9).

Hence, that very poorness of the material made use of in the selection of apostles which Mr. Beecher laments, was a necessity in the case. God was about to show His glory and His goodness in the offer of eternal life through a miraculously-attested agency; and His purpose in this offer required that the authority and the credit of it should be manifestly His own, and not those of the men employed at all. This object was secured by choosing fishermen of no education. But though of poor qualifications, as regards accomplishments that rank highly in human estimation, they were not (except as to one of them), without positive qualifications that rendered them precious in God's eyes, and perfectly suitable to be employed as His special servants. These qualifications were not such as appeal to human admiration, but were nevertheless in themselves of great and rare excellence and value. The nature of them comes out in the remark that Jesus made on a certain occasion, when, being in the heart of a crowd, a message was brought to him that he was wanted by his mother and his relations. "He stretched forth his hands towards his disciples and said, Behold my mother and my brethren, for whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother" (Matt. xii. 49). Here Jesus bears testimony that his apostles belonged to the class that did the will of the Father. If we consider what this "will" is, as expressed in the precepts of Christ, we shall ascertain what were the governing characteristics of the apostles as a body. The first had regard to himself: "This is the work of God that ye believe on him whom He hath sent" (Jno. vi. 29). This was God's own command: "This is My beloved Son, hear ye him." This the apostles did. They possessed an adoring faith in Christ. This was their first qualification which accomplished men would not have been likely to possess in the same intensity. Next, there were Christ's commandments to them, concerning which he said, "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I have commanded." Christ owned the apostles as friends (Jno. xv. 15). Consequently, they were men who kept his commandments. Look at these. They began with God: "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,' "Have faith in God." They extended to the promises of God: "Receive the kingdom of God as little children." They ended with themselves: "Be humble as little children." "Be kind to the unthankful and the evil."

The apostles, though fishermen and unlearned, were strongly imbued with these dispositions, and therefore were interesting men, and fitted to be the instruments of the grace of God, bringing salvation -- interesting in a different way than modern taste would compute, but still interesting. They were not the colourless and insipid men which it is customary to assume in the absence of station and accomplishments. Men who love God, and adore Christ, and believe in the kingdom, and practice mercy, and speak truth, submit to wrong, and are kind to all men, and humble in their own deportment, and small in their own estimation, are not the sort of men with whom modern life has made us familiar in the lower class, -- who mostly love themselves and adore nobody, and believe when they see, and act unfeelingly, and tell the truth when it suits them, and stand up for their rights, and are kind only to chums, and democratically self-assertive in their attitude, and as good as any other man in their own eyes. The working man is glorified wonderfully by modern politicians who depend upon his vote; but the working man, whether by the seaside or in the heart of the country, is not the type of the men whom Christ chose for apostles from among those who had been gathered together out of Israel by the preaching of the word of the Lord by John the Baptist. "Poor stuff" they may have been according to Gentile modes of reckoning men, but according to divine views, which are the lasting views, they were the "salt of the earth," the "little children" whom the Father loved -- the men chosen as the altogether suitable instruments for the attested declaration of the Father's love, and the after manifestation of His glory, as foundation stones in the new Jerusalem of the ages to come.

They varied among themselves as regarded natural characteristics: but the variation was a variety of suitable dispositions. Their very weaknesses were turned to account. If Peter was impulsive, it was mostly in the direction indicated by Paul when he said, "it is good to be always zealously affected in a good cause;" and Peter was required for the apostolic initiative which required what people in our day understand by "go." If he was weak and denied the Lord, his fault (washed away in instant bitter tears) qualified him, by the very abasement it brought with it, for that leadership of the apostles which might have filled a faultless man with too high notions of his own importance. If Thomas was unreasonably faithless of Christ's resurrection in the presence of evidence, his sceptism evoked the most powerful demonstration of its truth which believers then unborn have since had to rest on; whilst, as a dark background, it set forth his subsequent conviction with a striking prominence that loudly says, "Here is invincible unbelief convinced: how was it done? Ponder the cause, and believe ye." John as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," exhibits the combination of goodness and severity that belongs to God and receives His approval: gentle and loving when circumstances admitted of it, but decisive even to the sharpness of "a son of thunder" when other circumstances called for denunciation of "the high things that exalted themselves against the knowledge of God," as when he says: -- "He that saith, I know Him, and keepth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John ii. 4). James, sombre, stern, and faithful, was a pillar of stability in the times that came after, when men were liable to let justification by faith overshadow the necessity for the works by which faith is made perfect.Of the other apostles we know but little, except of Judas, and on him we need not dwell, except to note that contact with high privileges does not necessarily secure the just appreciation and faithful use of them, and that from the highest station it is possible, like him, to fall "by transgression." To teach such a lesson, as well as to provide a needed "vessel unto dishonour" -- the traitor through whom the Son of Man's delivery into the hands of sinners was to be effected -- was doubtless the object of his permitted entrance into the apostolic circle, by him who knew all men, and was aware of the true character of Judas (Jno. ii. 24, 25; vi. 70).

With the exception of Judas, whose place was afterwards filled by Matthias (Acts i. 24-26), the twelve men chosen by Christ from the body of the disciples, were all fit men to be used by the Holy Spirit in the work to which he called them; and afterwards (in the Kingdom to be set up by the Lord at his return) to fill the positions implied in Christ's promise of twelve thrones by his side (Matt. xix. 27), and in the inscription of their names on the twelve foundations of the wall of the symbolic holy city (Rev xxi. 14).They were child-like men, of earnest purpose,with a zeal of God according to knowledge.Such men Christ could not have found at Athens if he had gone there. He might have found "certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics" of the sort that after-wards encountered Paul (Acts xvii. 18), who seemed to them a "babbler." This class abounded through the prosperity of the schools that flourished there. They were in great reputation among the paganised and ignorant multitudes of Greece and Rome; but they were not in reputation with God. He did not choose them (1 Cor. i. 26). Why? Because "the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God" (1 Cor. iii. 19). Inspect their philosophy, and you see it is even so. It consists mainly of cloudy speculations on metaphysical abstractions on which the human intellect is not qualified to profitably operate. From the point of view of even modern science, most of it was sheer nonsense; how much more so in the eyes of Him who knows the ways of infinity about which mortals speculate in vain, and when to the futility and barrenness of their philosophy we add the intellectual pride with which it was allied, we may understand why they were not serviceable to Him with whom no man is acceptable, "except he humble himself and receive the Kingdom of God as a little child."

Having appointed and separated the twelve, the next thing was to send them out in execution of the work which Jesus had in hand. Hitherto, Jesus had been the only preacher -- attended and assisted, it is true, by the disciples, but not helped by separate and independent operations on their part. He and they were but a single harvesting agency, the whole burden of which fell on him. The work was now to be subdivided and extended through all the land. The twelve (and afterwards seventy) were to be sent forth, two and two, in all directions. enforcing and illustrating the Word which Jesus had come to preach. Before despatching them, Jesus addressed to them a few words of direction. His first instruction had reference to the limits of their work. They were not to go anywhere and everywhere: "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. x. 5, 6).

There is much significance in this circumscription of their work. Popular theology cannot explain it. According to the pulpit theory of the work of Christ, all men are immortal souls in danger of going to hell and the devil, and Christ had come to save them all, or offer them salvation at least. By this theory, "the Gentiles" and the "Samaritans" stood as much in need of the apostolic ministrations as "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and in a sense, as men reason, might be considered as more entitled to them, seeing they had not been for ages the subject of disregarded privileges as Israel had. Yet Jesus says, "Go not into" their way. Confine your work to Israel. What is the meaning of this? Negatively, it is to be found in the fact that men are not what ancient philosophy and modern pulpitology unite in alleging them to be. Men are not immortal beings in any sense, but perishing forms of life under a specific and hereditary sentence of death from which man can only be delivered in God's way (Gen. iii. 19; Rom. v. 12-21; 2 Tim. 1:1-10). The bulk of mankind are no more to God than the grass that springs on a thousand hill sides (Psa. xxxix. 4, 5; ciii. 15, 16; cxliv. 3, 4; Isa. xl. 6-8, 17; Dan. iv. 35; James iv. 14; 1 Pet. 1, 24, 25). This fact is demonstrated in Elpis Israel, Christendom Astray, Man Mortal, and other publications, and need not be enlarged upon here. It is referred to merely as furnishing an explanation of the otherwise inexplicable limitation of the work which Christ put into the hands of the Apostles. The human race are but the raw material with which God is working out His own purpose with the earth, "after the counsel of His own will." This purpose is formed in wisdom, and involves a time to work and a time to refrain from working: human material to be used and human material not to be used: which explains to us every arbitrary limitation in the working out of the plan. The men that come not within the plan pass away like the beasts that perish -- without hardship, without injustice, without issue or trace of evil left behind (Psa. xlix. 14-20; Isa. xxvi. 14; Obadiah 16).

Next, Jesus told them what they were to preach: "As ye go, preach, saying, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand, " "The Kingdom of God*{* The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are interchangeable phrases. "God is in heaven," and therefore, the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God, just as the empire of Britain is the empire of Victoria.} is come nigh unto you" (Luke ix. 10).*{* The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are interchangeable phrases. "God is in heaven," and therefore, the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God, just as the empire of Britain is the empire of Victoria.} There is no real cause for the difficulty that some experience in reconciling this message with the view of the Kingdom of God outlined in the last chapter. We have but to consider the practical teaching of the Lord and his disciples to discern the sense in which a kingdom yet to be established had come nigh to Israel in the ministry of Christ. The question in its bearing upon those to whom they preached, was a question of "entering into" it -- "inheriting" it when it should come. Such statements as these illustrate the point; "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of heaven." "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God." "Hath not God called the poor in this world, rich in faith, heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him."

Now, in this sense -- in the sense of an invitation to the inheritance of the kingdom, the Kingdom of God had come nigh to that generation for the first time. As Jesus said, "The law and the prophets were until John, and since that time, the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it." Before the days of John the Baptist, they were under the law of Moses, which did not offer immortal inheritance of the Kingdom of God (though its obedience kept the door open for the recompense of faith with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and they were under the reproof of the prophets, whose mission it was to bring Israel back to the obedience from which they had deeply strayed. The full and formal invitation to the kingdom began with the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus -- being offered in connection with the resurrection of the dead at the coming of Christ. In this sense, the Kingdom of God had "come nigh," "approached," and was "at hand." It had not come nigh in the sense of being about to appear. This is shewn (if there were nothing else) by Christ's express confutation of that idea, as when we are informed in Luke xix. 11, that Christ spoke the parable there recorded "because they thought that the Kingdom of God should immediately appear." The parable speaks of a nobleman going into a far country, and being a long time away. "After a long time, the lord of those servants cometh" (Matt. xxv. 19). He taught them to look for that coming: and having spoken of signs of the approach of the event, he said: "When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand" (Luke xxi. 31). In the literal sense, therefore, the Kingdom of God is not "nigh" till it become so in Christ himself arrived to set it up. But in the sense of having come near to them in the offer of inheritance, it had come nigh to them in the wonderful seven years covered by the mission of John the Baptist and Jesus. Having come near in that sense then, it remained near, and had no longer to be proclaimed as having just come nigh. "If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then is the Kingdom of God come unto you" (Matt. xii. 28). That is, the miraculous power shown in the casting out of demons was proof that the kingdom had come nigh, both in a genuine divine offer and in the presence of the very king whose power would form that kingdom when extended in all the earth. The attempt to attach any transcendental meaning to the proclamation creates conflict and confusion between one part of Christ's teaching and another.

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