Christ's First Address to the Twelve Apostles.
It is natural that in a special address delivered by Christ to the twelve apostles before sending them forth the first time, there should be notable features demanding a careful consideration. We have looked at two of them. Those that remain are of a more special character in some respects. Having told the newly-selected twelve what they were to preach, he next instructed them as to what they were to do and how they were to behave in the various circumstances in which he foresaw their work would place them. His words go beyond the limited errand on which he was just sending them. They stretched forward to the time when he should be no more with them, and when, in a larger field of operations, after his resurrection and ascension, they would themselves be arraigned before kings and governors, and slain.
They were to exercise the miraculous power which the Father had placed at his disposal, and which he placed at theirs. They were to "heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons." It has been a question how they were to be able to do these things in advance of the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which was to confer miraculous gift. It need not be a difficulty in view of Christ's own exercise of these powers. "The power of the Lord was present to heal" with him; and worked from him at their invocation. As the seventy afterwards said, "Lord, even the demons are subject unto us through thy name." At the name of Jesus, the power rooted in Jesus was put forth in the performance of miracle. The power was not in themselves at this stage, but after the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the power was rooted in the twelve themselves, and they had power to bestow it by the imposition of their hands (Acts viii. 18). The possession of it was a necessity for proof that their message was from God.
They were not to provide themselves with money or baggage. They were to take nothing but the clothes in which they stood. "The workman," said he, "is worthy of his meat;" we might add, not only worthy, but in the case of the apostles thus sent forth, he was in a position to command it, which rendered provision superfluous. This is the explanation of an apparently unwise procedure. Any man going on a journey in a thickly-populated country, with power to work miracles -- (and this power they were to put forth without stint, -- for, said he, "freely ye have received, freely give") -- any such man, journeying as an emissary of Christ, whose fame filled the country, would command a ready hospitality. There would, in fact, be a competition among the people for the honour of it. It would therefore be a question of choice with the apostles. "Into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy." They were to select quarters accordingly. If the people of the place did not receive them favourably, it was to be reckoned a crime entailing severe results afterwards. "Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily, I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city" (Matt. x. 15).
All this was natural to the circumstances. The apostles were being sent forth as the trustees of the most honourable responsibility ever entrusted to man; and it was reasonable so far as they were concerned that a trial of faith should be linked with it in the command to go forth absolutely unprovided. On the other hand, the places visited by them were actually approached in their persons by the authority and power and majesty of God in Christ. It was, therefore, reasonable that they should be held under a paramount obligation to render the homage of attention and accommodation. But the attempt to apply these instructions of Christ to modern instances is self-evidently out of all propriety, and must lead to the most hideous and ridiculous caricatures. The attempts of Mormons and others to act the part prescribed to the apostles, in this matter of gratuitous accommodation, are really disgusting impostures -- attributable to ignorance in many cases, no doubt, but none the less odious and detestable, and powerful to bring a totally unmerited reproach on the apostolic procedure.
Jesus said the apostles so sent forth were "as sheep in the midst of wolves." In no terser or more comprehensive phrase could the ideal character of Christ's disciples be sketched in a word: in no more expressive manner could the difference be indicated between them and the itinerant impostors of all kinds and times since, who have prowled about the world on the pretext of godliness, preying like wolves upon the sheep -- coming, not as honest wolves, but as hypocritical wolves, clad in the fleece of the flock -- sheep's clothing. Sheep do not prey upon others. Sheep-men yearn to bestow a blessing. They are not "looking out for number one." Like Christ, their prototype, they have "come, not to be ministered unto, but to minister." The population of the earth is mostly made up of such as "seek their own," in the accomplishment of which they are as unfeeling as the wolves in their acts of unmercy. It is still the case that the disciples of Christ areas sheep in the midst of wolves: sheep in their harmlessness, sheep in their defencelessness: sheep in their running from aggression instead of fighting it. But they are not sheep in witlessness. Jesus said, "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, harmless as doves." Though kind and unresentful, they were not to be simpletons, but quick-witted and fertile in their expedients for avoiding evil. While they were not to fight the wolves, they were not to offer themselves to them, but to evade them by their adroitness. "When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another." They were not to court persecution, like the crowds, who, under the unwholesome influence of Ignatius in the second century, rushed to the stake. There were to "beware of men," because men were dangerous. "They will deliver you up to the councils; they will scourge you in their synagogues." The men who would do this were Jews, who have in all ages shown an almost insane antipathy to those sent from God to them to bring them to the right ways of God. But the Gentiles also would be like them in their opposition. "Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake." This was not a pleasant prospect for dove-like and illiterate men. It was indeed a part which they could not have sustained by their own resources. They would have been overawed and silenced by the majesty and power of authority. But they were not to be left to their own resources. Jesus gave them a good reason for dismissing all dismay on the subject: "When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you." "I will give. You a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist." But why did not Jesus, in his great power, prevent all collision between them and the authorities? Such a question has been asked. It is answered by the explanation that they would be brought before kings and governors, "for a testimony against them and the Gentiles" a testimony against these authorities -- Jew and Gentile. Jew and Gentile were both to be punished for their opposition to God and His anointed, but they were first to have an opportunity of shewing that opposition in a form justifying their condemnation -- an opposition which amounted to sinning against the light, seeing they were to have the very apostles in their hands, with hose "works' which plainly testified to honest intelligence that their message was a divinely authorised one.
Why should both Jew and Gentile manifest such repugnance towards so beautiful and glorious a thing as the apostolic enterprise? We may know if we consider. Men are always hostile towards what they dislike. They are always friendly towards what is in harmony with their feelings; Divine thoughts and demands are not in this harmony, but in fundamental antagonism. Jesus says "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" This saying may be reversed, "That which is highly esteemed by God is abomination in the sight of men.' Paul virtually avers this in saying "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. ii. 14). He also says "The carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. viii. 7). With this, Christ's description of Peter's diabolism agrees: " "Thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men" (Matt. xvi. 23). Because, then, the things the apostles had to submit to the consideration of men were such as were opposed to human tastes, prejudices, and superstitions, their work would evoke deadly hostility on every hand. "Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake." It would extend to their very relations, "A man's foes shall be they of his own household!" "The brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child, and the children shall rise up against the parents and cause them to be put to death." These were rough words, and excluded all ideas of peace as the result of the labours of the apostles. The apostles appear to have entertained such ideas. They appear to have thought that Christ had come to bring peace at that time. He expressly denies it in this address to them. "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth, I came not to send peace, but a sword." There is, of course, no inconsistency between this declaration and the announcement of the angels at the birth of Christ that there would be "peace on earth and goodwill to men;" or of the prophets, that he should "speak peace to the heathen,' and that his name should be the "Prince of Peace." The two things belong to different stages of the same work. Peace at last, -- profound, perfect, imperturbable -- will be the effect of Christ's work upon earth: but in the first stage -- in the absence of his enforced power, the reverse of peace is the result. The introduction of the truth concerning him creates parties for and against -- a small party for, a great party against -- and there is no peace between such, but war which cannot end till he come. There is no greater proof of the divinity of the word and work of Christ than that he should predict such a result. We have had a fulfilment of 1800 years' duration. The world is no nearer peace about him now than ever it was; and left to itself it never would approach it. There would be an endless repetition of the frictions and antagonisms that have prevailed for centuries, and that have lost none of their asperities with the latest generation. A shallow reading of the situation would have predicted peace: Christ, with an eye that penetrated to the remotest labyrinth of time and to the deepest springs of human action, foretold war: and war it has been and will be till he stop it by his own appearance upon the scene.
Meanwhile in this discourse to the twelve, he tells them what to expect and the part they must act (and what he said, though primarily intended for them and their special journey, is applicable to all his friends in all circumstances, and was written because so applicable). They were to expect misconception -- hatred -- persecution. The comfort he gives them is this: "The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough that the disciple be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?" It may seem poor consolation to be told that some one else, less deserving of it, has suffered the same or worse treatment than you. But there is a real consolation in it. If Christ, the perfect servant of God, was misconceived -- hated -- killed, it is easier for the erring servants to endure a similar experience. Suffering in good company is always felt to be easier suffering than suffering by ourselves. This is the help Christ gave to the apostles: "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you." it is a real help. It strengthens the mind to that performance which Paul describes as "enduring hardness." It fortifies us for the bitter experience of being regarded and hated as evil doers for a course of life that is in reality dictated by the highest considerations of righteousness, truth, and benevolence. The experience is inevitable, and therefore the strength to endure is a necessity. "All that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. iii 12). If our experience is otherwise, -- if all men speak well of us, -- if we are on cozy terms with the world right and left, it is a proof either that we are not godly, or that the godly savour of our life is not manifest. Our light is hidden in some way. Men do not know that we belong to Christ -- exclusively animated by the principles incarnate in him. If they did, their feelings would not be those of friendship. This ignorance on their part could only come of our not confessing Christ before men. On this Christ had something to say in his address: "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.... He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me is not worthy of me." These maxims were intended for the guidance of the twelve in the work upon which he was sending them forth: but it is evident they were also intended for all to whom their testimony should be presented. The "who-soever" shows this. Consequently, we may realise what Christ contemplated as a satisfactory result of the truth. It is evidently very different from what is popularly and clerically recognised as a sufficiency of Christian attainment. It is something more than a theoretical acquiescence in Christian principle. It is something more than a fair external conformity to Christian behaviour. It is evidently a thing of fervour amounting to devotedness, and of courage amounting to heroism, of conviction amounting to an all-suffusing faith inspired by knowledge amounting to illumination. Only such a pronounced and consecrated type of discipleship could be worthy of what he promises: "I will confess him before my Father who is in heaven." With what pleasure or propriety could Christ acknowledge in the Father's presence men who are disciples only in name, whose faith is ready to die, and whose hearts are in the present evil world, which is God's enemy? He has told us how he feels towards these lukewarm, self-satisfactionists: "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Rev. iii. 16).>
He makes a point of endurance. "He that endureth to the end shall be saved." The very word brings with it the idea of bearing what is disagreeable. No one would speak of "enduring" what was pleasant. Hence, Christ intimates that the position to which he was calling men was not a position of satisfaction, nor a position in which there would be much to gratify, -- on the contrary, much to mortify; much that would involve the infliction of pain -- so far as the human bearings of the position were concerned. Experience shows the truth of his words. This is why so many fall away, and have done since the very day the apostles themselves were in the field of labour. Jesus foretold that in the generation immediately succeeding his departure, "the love of many should wax cold," because of the disagreeables. A man can only endure these disagreeables steadfastly who retains confidence in the main facts; and he can only retain this confidence by keeping their evidence before his mind in the persevering perusal of the Scriptures; and he will only maintain this perseverance by the adoption of a wise plan of reading which he incorporates in the programme of his daily life. In the case of the apostles, they had the help of the Spirit's abiding, enlightening, and comforting presence. Still, it is evident their endurance was tested as thoroughly as that of any less-privileged believers: for if they had greater help, they had greater labour, responsibility, opposition, and suffering.
As regards their persecutors, they were to "fear them not" -- for three reasons, 1, things covered up would in the end be revealed in their true light; 2, their enemies were only able to kill the body; 3, the faithful servants of God were precious to God Himself, and in His keeping. The combined force of these reasons was very great. The appearance of things for the time being was all against the apostles. Their enemies, the priests and rulers, were not only in great reputation with the people, but were apparently the righteous of the earth, and were officially the chosen and divinely-appointed leaders in spiritual things. On the other side, Jesus was but a carpenter, without any origin or status such as could weigh with a people so beholden to caste, and accustomed to Mosaic sanctities. And his apostles were engaged in a work that was in apparent rebellion against the divine authority established in the nation. The whole situation was "covered" and "hid" as in a fog or under a veil, in which the true relations of things could not be discerned, and appeared the reverse of what they were. Jesus tells the disciples that this would be altered; that nothing was hid but what would be revealed; the true wickedness of their apparently righteous adversaries would be made manifest: the true worth and godliness of the work of Christ which was evil spoken of would be triumphantly revealed in the upshot of things. Therefore, they were to fear not their adversaries, but to go forward, and proclaim on the housetops, in the teeth of all opposition, the things whispered to them by him in secrecy. The worst their adversaries could do was to kill them, and this was not to be feared at the hands of those who could only break up the present mortality, and could not touch the issues of life (translated "soul"). Those issues were in God's hands, who purposed the bestowal of life eternal at an appointed time, as he said "This is the Father's will that of all that He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" (Jno. vi. 39). They were therefore to fear Him who could and would in certain cases destroy both body and life at that time -- causing some who had saved their lives to lose them, and some who had lost their lives to find them. To Him faithful lives were precious; and His power was equal to their preservation against that day. All things even now were embraced in that power. Even a sparrow, hunted, caught, and sold for less than a penny, could not fall without the Father's permission. If He chose to interfere, He could prevent it. His all-prevalent, subtle discernment extended to the number of the very hairs on the head. How much, then, might those who to Him were "of more value than many sparrows." go forth in the strength of His declared will, and boldly front any antagonism in the obedience of His commandments. They could never be out of His reach: never away from his presence: never out of touch with that permission without which they could not be prevailed against.
He presented a final consideration of great power to sustain them in their work, and which contains within it the seed of some serious reflections for those who are inclined to the modern habit of disparaging the apostles and their work: "He that receiveth you receiveth me: and he that receiveth me receiveth Him that sent me" (Matt. x. 40). He states the matter conversely thus: "He that despiseth you despiseth me, and he that despiseth me despiseth Him that sent me" (Lu. x. 16). What deeper source of confidence and boldness could men have in the execution of any enterprise than the certainty that they represented Christ, who represented God, and that God and Christ would reckon all that was done to them as done to themselves? This certainty the apostles possessed without presumption, because derived from Christ's express assurance; and it would be a constant comfort to them in all their tribulations. It is a Roman Catholic corruption to maintain that this relation of things extends to any "successors" so-called. The apostles can have no successors. Their qualification was intransmissible. They were to speak as witnesses of what they had seen and heard, which nobody could do for them, except at second-hand, and this anyone could do without involving "successorship."
In the exercise of this function of witness-ship, they were to be used and guided by the Holy Spirit, which would even dictate their speeches to them when arraigned before the authorities. In this inspired presentation of truth, no one could succeed them who was not inspired: and none of the clergy, Catholic or Protestant, are inspired. It is therefore presumption and blasphemy for them to claim the Divine delegation assigned to the apostles. We are not hearing Christ in hearing the clergy: we are not despising Christ in despising the clergy. But there is a form of things in which we may commit the crime of despising Christ, and of this crime none are more guilty than the clergy. The Holy Spirit moved the apostles to commit their testimony to writing. If we despise or make light of that testimony, by nullifying or casting their writings behind our backs, we depise the apostles and, by consequence, Christ who sent them to speak and write; and by further consequence, God, who sent Christ. A man's attitude to the apostolic writings is his attitude to Christ and to God. Hence the heinousness of the treatment that these writings receive at the hands of all classes of men. The clergy nullify them by substituting their own authority and teaching their own fabulous traditions. Critics of all sorts and complexions make them of none effect by attributing their authorship, either wholly or partly, to the erring fishermen of Galilee. Men in vast multitudes, professedly Christian, despise them by neglecting the study of them, and by living in daily violation of their most elementary precepts. By one process or another, the word of God is made of none effect, and God rendered morally powerless among men. It is a crime that will shortly be purged in great judgment, when happy shall they be who are found in the position of listening to the apostolic testimony with the deference its authority demands.
Jesus concluded his discourse on this occasion by a declaration intended to procure a favourable reception for the apostles in the mission on which he was sending them, but which at the same time is full of comfort in its subsequent application. It has needlessly occasioned surmise with some as to its meaning. It is this: "He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward, and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward." The apostles were the "righteous men," "prophets," and "little ones" of this assurance, which amounts to this, that all who would receive and help the apostles in their character as Christ's servants, and the doers of Christ's work, would share in the reward to be bestowed on that work in the day of recompense. To receive a righteous man in the name of a righteous man is to receive him because he is what he is. To receive him for some other reason would not be receiving him in the name of a righteous man. To be kind to him because he is a native of the same country, or a scion of the same family stock, or an inhabitant of the same town, would not be shewing kindness to him in the name of a righteous man, but in the name of a townsman or in the name of a kinsman, or in the name of a fellow countryman. It is evident that Jesus means no mere philanthropy, but kindness arising from a full perception and hearty endorsement of the principles and aims identified with the apostolic work. None but those who believed in Christ would be likely to show this kindness to the apostles as such, and give the typical cup of cold water to the least of Christ's disciples. The importance of the discernment lies here: some have concluded from the words of Christ that salvation will be ensured by mere acts of kindness, irrespective of that reception and conformity to the faith of Christ which the apostles preached as essential. This would be to put Christ in contradiction with himself, for he clearly taught what his apostles afterwards more abundantly made manifest, that none could be saved but those who believed in him and obeyed his commandments. His words assume the reception of the faith of Christ on the part of those receiving and helping the apostles or their work. Their special value lies in the intimation they give us that men may. share in the apostolic blessedness to come who have no opportunity of taking the direct and public part of the apostles themselves, if they so approve and appreciate their work as to help it, according to opportunity, by all the facilities in their power, even if amounting to nothing larger than the cup of cold water.
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