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Matt. 10; Mark 6:7–13, 30–32; Luke 9:1–11.

The twelve are now to come before us as active agents in advancing the kingdom of God. Having been for some time in Christ’s company, witnessing His miraculous works, hearing His doctrine concerning the kingdom, and learning how to pray and how to live, they were at length sent forth to evangelize the towns and villages of their native province, and to heal the sick in their Master’s name, and by His power. This mission of the disciples as evangelists or miniature apostles was partly, without doubt, an educational experiment for their own benefit; but its direct design was to meet the spiritual necessities of the people, whose neglected condition lay heavy on Christ’s heart. The compassionate Son of man, in the course of His wanderings, had observed how the masses of the population were, like a shepherdless flock of sheep, scattered and torn,145145ἐσκυλμένοι, Matt. ix. 36, the reading preferred by critics = flayed, harassed. The idea suggested is that of sheep whose fleeces are torn by thorns. and it was His desire that all should know that a good Shepherd had come to care for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The multitudes were ready enough to welcome the good news; the difficulty was to meet the pressing demand of the hour. The harvest, the grain, ready for reaping, was plenteous, but the laborers were few.146146Matt. ix. 37.

In connection with this mission four things call for special notice: The sphere assigned for the work, the nature of the work, the instructions for carrying it on, the results of the mission, and the return of the missionaries. These points we shall consider in their order, except that, for convenience, we shall reserve Christ’s instructions to His disciples for the last place, and give them a section to themselves.

I. The sphere of the mission, as described in general terms, was the whole land of Israel. “Go,” said Jesus to the twelve, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel;.” and further on, in Matthew’s narrative, He speaks to them as if the plan of the mission involved a visit to all the cities of Israel.147147Matt. x. 6, 23. Practically, however, the operations of the disciples seem to have been restricted to their native province of Galilee, and even within its narrow limits to have been carried on rather among the villages and hamlets, than in considerable towns or cities like Tiberias. The former of these statements is supported by the fact that the doings of the disciples attracted the attention of Herod the tetrarch of Galilee,148148Mark vi. 14; Luke ix. 7. which implies that they took place in his neighborhood;149149Herod resided at Tiberias. while the latter is proved by the words of the third evangelist in giving a summary account of the mission: “They departed and went through the villages (towns, Eng. Ver.), preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere.”150150Luke ix. 6, κατὰ τὰς κώμας = “villages,” R. V.

While the apprentice missionaries were permitted by their instructions to go to any of the lost sheep of Israel, to all if practicable, they were expressly forbidden to extend their labors beyond these limits. They were not to go into the way of the Gentiles, nor enter into any city or town of the Samaritans.151151Matt. x. 5. This prohibition arose in part out of the general plan which Christ had formed for founding the kingdom of God on the earth. His ultimate aim was the conquest of the world; but in order to do that, He deemed it necessary first to secure a strong base of operations in the Holy Land and among the chosen people. Therefore He ever regarded Himself personally as a Messenger of God to the Jewish nation, seriously giving that as a reason why He should not work among the heathen,152152Matt. xv. 24. and departing occasionally from the rule only in order to supply in His own ministry prophetic intimations of an approaching time when Jew and Samaritan and Gentile should be united on equal terms in one divine commonwealth.153153John iv. 7-24 But the principal reason of the prohibition lay in the present spiritual condition of the disciples themselves. The time would come when Jesus might say to His chosen ones, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;.”154154Mark xvi. 15. but that time was not yet. The twelve, at the period of their first trial mission, were not fit to preach the gospel, or to do good works, either among Samaritans or Gentiles. Their hearts were too narrow, their prejudices too strong: there was too much of the Jew, too little of the Christian, in their character. For the catholic work of the apostleship they needed a new divine illumination and a copious baptism with the benignant spirit of love. Suppose these raw evangelists had gone into a Samaritan village, what would have happened? In all probability they would have been drawn into disputes on the religious differences between Samaritans and Jews, in which, of course, they would have lost their temper; so that, instead of seeking the salvation of the people among whom they had come, they would rather be in a mood to call down fire from heaven to consume them, as they actually proposed to do at a subsequent period.155155Luke ix. 54. Some have imagined that the restriction proceeded from the limitation of Christ’s own aims. but had His aim been as limited as is supposed, there would have been no mention of restrictions, and no need for them, for the disciples would never have thought of going among the Samaritans or Gentiles to preach and heal.

2. The work intrusted to the twelve was in one department very extensive, and in the other very limited. They were endowed with unlimited powers of healing, but their commission was very restricted so far as preaching was concerned. In regard to the former their instructions were: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give;.” in regard to the latter: “As ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”156156Matt. x. 7, 8. The commission in the one case seems too wide, in the other too narrow; but in both the wisdom of Jesus is apparent to a deeper consideration. In so far as miraculous works were concerned, there was no need for restriction, unless it were to avoid the risk of producing elation and vanity in those who wielded such wonderful power — a risk which was certainly not imaginary, but which could be remedied when it assumed tangible form. All the miracles wrought by the twelve were really wrought by Jesus Himself, their sole function consisting in making a believing use of His name. This seems to have been perfectly understood by all; for the works done by the apostles did not lead the people of Galilee to wonder who they were, but only who and what He was in whose name all these things were done.157157Mark vi. 14, “His name was spread abroad” (φανερὸν ἐγένετο). Therefore, it being Christ’s will that such miracles should be wrought through the instrumentality of His disciples, it was just as easy for them to do the greatest works as to do the smaller; if, indeed, there be any sense in speaking of degrees of difficulty in connection with miracles, which is more than doubtful.

As regards the preaching, on the other hand, there was not only reason, but necessity, for restriction. The disciples could do no more than proclaim the fact that the kingdom was at hand, and bid men everywhere repent, by way of a preparation for its advent. This was really all they knew themselves. They did not as yet understand, in the least degree, the doctrine of the cross; they did not even know the nature of the kingdom. They had, indeed, heard their Master discourse profoundly thereon, but they had not comprehended his words. Their ideas respecting the coming kingdom were nearly as crude and carnal as were those of other Jews, who looked for the restoration of Israel’s political independence and temporal prosperity as in the glorious days of old. In one point only were they in advance of current notions. They had learned from John and from Jesus that repentance was necessary in order to citizenship in this kingdom. In all other respects they and their hearers were pretty much on a level. Far from wondering, therefore, that the preaching programme of the disciples was so limited, we are rather tempted to wonder how Christ could trust them to open their mouths at all, even on the one topic of the kingdom. Was there not a danger that men with such crude ideas might foster delusive hopes, and give rise to political excitement? Nay, may we not discover actual traces of such excitement in the notice taken of their movements at Herod’s court, and in the proposal of the multitude not long after, to take Jesus by force to make Him a king?158158John vi. 15. Doubtless there was danger in this direction; and therefore, while He could not, to avoid it, leave the poor perishing people uncared for, Jesus took all possible precautions to obviate mischief as far as might be, by in effect prohibiting His messengers from entering into detail on the subject of the kingdom, and by putting a sound form of words into their mouths. They were instructed to announce the kingdom as a kingdom of heaven;159159This is the name usually given to the kingdom in Matthew, as distinct from the other evangelists, who employ the title “kingdom of God.” It is a curious fact that the most Hebrew Gospel should thus use the most spiritual designation for the kingdom. a thing which some might deem a lovely vision, but which all worldly men would guess to be quite another thing from what they desired. A kingdom of heaven! What was that to them? What they wanted was a kingdom of earth, in which they might live peaceably and happily under just government, and, above all, with plenty to eat and drink. A kingdom of heaven! That was only for such as had no earthly hope; a refuge from despair, a melancholy consolation in absence of any better comfort. Even so, ye worldlings! Only for such as ye deem miserable was the message meant. To the poor the kingdom was to be preached. To the laboring and heavy laden was the invitation “Come to me” addressed, and the promise of rest made; of rest from ambition and discontent, and scheming, carking care, in the blessed hope of the supernal and the eternal.

3. The impression produced by the labors of the twelve seems to have been very considerable. The fame of their doings, as already remarked, reached the ears of Herod, and great crowds appear to have accompanied them as they moved from place to place. On their return, e.g. from the mission to rejoin the company of their Master, they were thronged by an eager, admiring multitude who had witnessed or experienced the benefits of their work, so that it was necessary for them to withdraw into a desert place in order to obtain a quiet interval of rest. “There were many,” the second evangelist informs us, “coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed unto a desert place by ship privately.”160160Mark vi. 31, 32. Even in the desert solitudes on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee they failed to secure the desired privacy. “The people saw them departing, and ran afoot thither (round the end of the sea) out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto Him.”161161Mark vi. 33.

In quality the results of the mission appear to have been much less satisfactory than in their extent. The religious impressions produced seem to have been in a great measure superficial and evanescent. There were many blossoms, so to speak, on the apple-tree in the springtide of this Galilean “revival;.” but only a comparatively small number of them set in fruit, while of these a still smaller number ever reached the stage of ripe fruit. This we learn from what took place shortly after, in connection with Christ’s discourse on the bread of life, in the synagogue of Capernaum. Then the same men who, after the miraculous feeding in the desert, would have made Christ a king, deserted Him in a body, scandalized by His mysterious doctrine; and those who did this were, for the most part, just the men who had listened to the twelve while they preached repentance.162162Compare Mark vi. 30-35 with John vi. 22-25.

Such an issue to a benevolent undertaking must have been deeply disappointing to the heart of Jesus. Yet it is remarkable that the comparative abortiveness of the first evangelistic movement did not prevent Him from repeating the experiment some time after on a still more extensive scale. “After these things,” writes the third evangelist, “the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before His face, into every city and place whither He Himself would come.”163163Luke x. 1. The Tübingen school of critics, indeed, as we have already indicated,164164Vide note, p. 32. assure us that this mission had no existence, being a pure invention of the third evangelist, intended to thrust into the shade the mission of the twelve, and to exhibit the Christian religion as a religion for humanity, represented by the Samaritans as the recipients, and by the seventy as the preachers of the faith, the number corresponding to the number of the nations. The theory is not devoid of plausibility, and it must be owned the history of this mission is very obscure; but the assumption of invention is violent, and we may safely take for granted that Luke’s narrative rests on an authentic tradition. The motive of this second mission was the same as in the case of the first, as were also the instructions to the missionaries. Jesus still felt deep compassion for the perishing multitude, and hoping against hope, made a new attempt to save the lost sheep. He would have all men called at least to the fellowship of the kingdom, even though few should be chosen to it. And when the immediate results were promising He was gratified, albeit knowing, from past experience as well as by divine insight, that the faith and repentance of many were only too likely to be evanescent as the early dew. When the seventy returned from their mission, and reported their great success, He hailed it as an omen of the downfall of Satan’s kingdom, and, rejoicing in spirit, gave thanks to the Supreme Ruler in heaven and earth, His Father, that while the things of the kingdom were hid from the wise and the prudent, the people of intelligence and discretion, they were by His grace revealed unto babes — the rude, the poor, the ignorant.165165Luke x. 17-21.

The reference in the thanksgiving prayer of Jesus to the “wise and prudent” suggests the thought that these evangelistic efforts were regarded with disfavor by the refined, fastidious classes of Jewish religious society. This is in itself probable. There are always men in the church, intelligent, wise, and even good, to whom popular religious movements are distasteful. The noise, the excitement, the extravagances, the delusions, the misdirection of zeal, the rudeness of the agents, the instability of the converts — all these things offend them. The same class of minds would have taken offence at the evangelistic work of the twelve and the seventy, for undoubtedly it was accompanied with the same drawbacks. The agents were ignorant; they had few ideas in their heads; they understand little of divine truth; their sole qualification was, that they were earnest and could preach repentance well. Doubtless, also, there was plenty of noise and excitement among the multitudes who heard them preach; and we certainly know that their zeal was both ill-informed and short-lived. These things, in fact, are standing features of all popular movements. Jonathan Edwards, speaking with reference to the “revival” of religion which took place in America in his day, says truly: “A great deal of noise and tumult, confusion and uproar, darkness mixed with light, and evil with good, is always to be expected in the beginning of something very glorious in the state of things in human society or the church of God. After nature has long been shut up in a cold, dead state, when the sun returns in the spring, there is, together with the increase of the light and heat of the sun, very tempestuous weather before all is settled, calm, and serene, and all nature rejoices in its bloom and beauty.”166166Thoughts on Revival, Part o. sec. iii.

None of the “wise and prudent” knew half so well as Jesus what evil would be mixed with the good in the work of the kingdom. But He was not so easily offended as they. The Friend of sinners was ever like Himself. He sympathized with the multitude, and could not, like the Pharisees, contentedly resign them to a permanent condition of ignorance and depravity. He rejoiced greatly over even one lost sheep restored; and He was, one might say overjoyed, when not one, but a whole flock, even began to return to the fold. It pleased Him to see men repenting even for a season, and pressing into the kingdom even rudely and violently;167167Matt. xi. 12. for His love was strong, and where strong love is, even wisdom and refinement will not be fastidious.

Before passing from this topic, let us observe that there is another class of Christians, quite distinct from the wise and prudent, in whose eyes such evangelistic labors as those of the twelve stand in no need of vindication. Their tendency, on the contrary, is to regard such labors as the whole work of the kingdom. Revival of religion among the neglected masses is for them the sum of all good-doing. Of the more still, less observable work of instruction going on in the church they take no account. Where there is no obvious excitement, the church in their view is dead, and her ministry inefficient. Such need to be reminded that there were two religious movements going on in the days of the Lord Jesus. One consisted in rousing the mass out of the stupor of indifference; the other consisted in the careful, exact training of men already in earnest, in the principles and truths of the divine kingdom. Of the one movement the disciples, that is, both the twelve and the seventy, were the agents; of the other movement they were the subjects. And the latter movement, though less noticeable, and much more limited in extent, was by far more important than the former; for it was destined to bring forth fruit that should remain — to tell not merely on the present time, but on the whole history of the world. The deep truths which the great Teacher was now quietly and unobservedly, as in the dark, instilling into the minds of a select band, the recipients of His confidential teaching were to speak in the broad daylight ere long; and the sound of their voice would not stop till it had gone through all the earth. There would have been a poor outlook for the kingdom of heaven if Christ had neglected this work, and given Himself up entirely to vague evangelism among the masses.

4. When the twelve had finished their mission, they returned and told their Master all that they had done and taught. Of their report, or of His remarks thereon, no details are recorded. Such details we do find, however, in connection with the later mission of the seventy. “The seventy,” we read, “returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy name.”168168Luke x. 17. The same evangelist from whom these words are quoted, informs us that, after congratulating the disciples on their success, and expressing His own satisfaction with the facts reported, Jesus spoke to them the warning word: “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”169169Luke x. 20. It was a timely caution against elation and vanity. It is very probable that a similar word of caution was addressed to the twelve also after their return. Such a word would certainly not have been unseasonable in their case. They had been engaged in the same exciting work, they had wielded the same miraculous powers, they had been equally successful, they were equally immature in character, and therefore it was equally difficult for them to bear success. It is most likely, therefore, that when Jesus said to them on their return, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile,”170170Mark vi. 31. He was not caring for their bodies alone, but was prudently seeking to provide repose for their heated minds as well as for their jaded frames.

The admonition to the seventy is indeed a word in season to all who are very zealous in the work of evangelism, especially such as are crude in knowledge and grace. It hints at the possibility of their own spiritual health being injured by their very zeal in seeking the salvation of others. This may happen in many ways. Success may make the evangelists vain, and they may begin to sacrifice unto their own net. They may fall under the dominion of the devil through their very joy that he is subject unto them. They may despise those who have been less successful, or denounce them as deficient in zeal. The eminent American divine already quoted gives a lamentable account of the pride, presumption, arrogance, conceit, and censoriousness which characterized many of the more active promoters of religious revival in his day.171171Thoughts on Revival, Part iv. Once more, they may fall into carnal security respecting their own spiritual state, deeming it impossible that any thing can go wrong with those who are so devoted, and whom God has so greatly owned. An obvious as well as dangerous mistake; for doubtless Judas took part in this Galilean mission, and, for aught we know to the contrary, was as successful as his fellow-disciples in casting out devils. Graceless men may for a season be employed as agents in promoting the work of grace in the hearts of others. Usefulness does not necessarily imply goodness, according to the teaching of Christ Himself. “Many,” He declares in the Sermon on the Mount, “will say unto me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by Thy name, and by Thy name cast out devils, and by Thy name do many wonderful works?” And mark the answer which He says He will give such. It is not: I call in question the correctness of your statement — that is tacitly admitted; it is: “I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”172172Matt. vii. 22. See, for views similar to those above stated, Edwards’ Thoughts on Revival, Part ii. sec. ii.

These solemn words suggest the need of watchfulness and self-examination; but they are not designed to discourage or discountenance zeal. We must not interpret them as if they meant, “Never mind doing good, only be good;.” or, “Care not for the salvation of others: look to your own salvation.” Jesus Christ did not teach a listless or a selfish religion. He inculcated on His disciples a large-hearted generous concern for the spiritual well-being of men. To foster such a spirit He sent the twelve on this trial mission, even when they were comparatively unfitted for the work, and notwithstanding the risk of spiritual harm to which it exposed them. At all hazards He would have His apostles be filled with enthusiasm for the advancement of the kingdom; only taking due care, when the vices to which young enthusiasts are liable began to appear, to check them by a warning word and a timely retreat into solitude.

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