The calling of the Apostles is here described to us, not as on a former occasion, when the Lord Jesus Christ, intending to prepare them for their office, selected them for admission into his private circle. They are now called to immediate performance, are ordered to prepare themselves for the work, receive injunctions, and, that there may be no want of authority, are endued with the power of the Holy Spirit. Formerly, they were held in expectation of future labor: now, Christ announces that the hour is come when they must put their hands to the work. It is proper to observe, however, that he does not as yet speak of perpetual apostleship, but only of temporary preaching, which was fitted to awaken and excite the minds of men, that they might be more attentive to hear Christ. So then they are now sent to proclaim throughout Judea that the time of the promised restoration and salvation is at hand at a future period, Christ will appoint them to spread the Gospel through the whole world. Here, he employs them as assistants only, to secure attention to him where his voice could not reach afterwards, he will commit into their hands the office of teaching which he had discharged. It is of great importance to observe this, that we may not suppose it to be a certain and fixed rule laid down for all ministers of the word, when our Lord gives instructions to the preachers of his doctrine as to what he wishes them to do for a short time. From inattention to this point many have been led astray, so as to demand from all ministers of the word, without distinction, conformity to this rule.567
Matthew 10:1. And having called the twelve disciples The number, twelve, was intended to point out the future restoration of the Church. As the nation was descended from twelve patriarchs, so its scattered remains are now reminded by Christ of their origin, that they may entertain a fixed hope of being restored. Although the kingdom of God was not in so flourishing a state in Judea, as to preserve the nation entire, but, on the contrary, that people, which already had miserably fallen, deserved doubly to die on account of ingratitude in despising the grace which had been offered to them, yet this did not prevent a new nation from afterwards springing up. At a future period, God extended far beyond Zion the scepter of the power of his Son, and caused rivers to flow from that fountain, to water abundantly the four quarters of the world. Then God assembled his Israel from every direction, and united into one body not only the scattered and torn members, but men who had formerly been entirely alienated from the people of God.
It was not without reason, therefore, that the Lord, by appointing, as it were, twelve patriarchs, declared the restoration of the Church. Besides, this number reminded the Jews of the design of his coming; but, as they did not yield to the grace of God, he begat for himself a new Israel. If you look at the beginnings, it might appear ridiculous that Christ should bestow such honorable titles on persons who were mean and of no estimation: but their astonishing success, and the wide extension of the Church, make it evident that, in honorable rank and in numerous offspring, the apostles not only are not inferior to the patriarchs, but greatly excel them.
Gave them power The apostles had almost no rank among men, while the commission which Christ gave them was divine. Besides, they had neither ability nor eloquence, while the excellence and novelty of their office required more than human endowments,568 It was therefore necessary that they should derive authority from another source. By enabling them to perform miracles, Christ invests them with the badges of heavenly power, in order to secure the confidence and veneration of the people. And hence we may infer what is the proper use of miracles. As Christ gives to them at the same time, and in immediate connection, the appointment to be preachers of the gospel and ministers of miracles, it is plain that miracles are nothing else than seals of his doctrine, and therefore we are not at liberty to dissolve this close connection. The Papists, therefore, are guilty of forgery, and of wickedly corrupting the works of God, by separating his word from miracles.
2. The first, Simon, who is called Peter The Church of Rome displays extreme folly in drawing from this passage their doctrine of the primacy. That Simon Peter was the first among the apostles we readily allow, but what was true in reference to a few persons, cannot, on any proper grounds, be extended to the whole world. Besides, the circumstance of his being mentioned first, does not imply that he possessed authority over his companions. Granting all that they ask regarding Peter, his rank will be of no avail to the Roman See, till they prove that wicked and sacrilegious apostles are Peter’s successors.
5. Into the tray of the Gentiles This makes still more evident what I have lately hinted, that the office, which was then bestowed on the apostles, had no other object than to awaken in the Jews the hope of an approaching salvation, and thus to render them more attentive to hear Christ. On this account, he now confines within the limits of Judea their voice, which he afterwards commands to sound everywhere to the farthest limits of the world. The reason is, that he had been sent by the Father to be
the minister of circumcision, to fulfill the promises, which had anciently been given to the fathers, (Romans 15:8.)
Now God had entered into a special covenant with the family of Abraham, and therefore Christ acted properly in confining the grace of God, at the outset, to the chosen people, till the time for publishing it were fully come. But after his resurrection, he spread over all nations the blessing which had been promised in the second place, because then the veil of the temple had been rent, (Matthew 27:51,) and the middle wall of partition had been thrown down, (Ephesians 2:14.) If any one imagine that this prohibition is unkind, because Christ does not admit the Gentiles to the enjoyment of the gospel, let him contend with God, who, to the exclusion of the rest of the world, established with the seed of Abraham alone his covenant, on which the command of Christ is founded.
6. But go rather to the lost sheep The first rank, as we have said, is assigned to the Jews, because they were the firstborn; or rather, because at that time they alone were acknowledged by God to belong to his family, while others were excluded.569 He calls them lost sheep, partly that the apostles, moved by compassion, may more readily and with warmer affection run to their assistance, and partly to inform them that there is at present abundant occasion for their labors. At the same time, under the figure of this nation, Christ taught what is the condition of the whole human race. The Jews, who were near to God, and in covenant with him, and therefore were the lawful heirs of eternal life, are nevertheless pronounced to be lost, till they regain salvation through Christ. What then remains for us who are inferior to them in honor?570 Again, the word sheep is applied even to the reprobate, who, properly speaking, did not belong to the flock of God, because the adoption extended to the whole nation; as those who deserved to be rejected, on account of their treachery, are elsewhere called the children of the kingdom, (Matthew 8:12.) In a word, by the term sheep, Christ recommends the Jews to the apostles, that they may dedicate their labors to them, because they could recognize as the flock of God none but those who had been gathered into the fold.
7. Preach, saying This is the preaching,571 I spoke of, by which Christ intended to arouse the minds of the nation to expect an approaching redemption. The kingdom of heaven is at hand For the kingdom of heaven Luke substitutes the kingdom of God; but the meaning is the same. It was to inform the Jews, first, that they owed their restoration to divine agency, and not to the kindness of men; secondly, that under the reign of God their condition would be prosperous; and, thirdly, that the happiness which had been promised to them was not earthly and fading, but heavenly and eternal.
8. Cure the diseased As he has bestowed on them power, so he enjoins them to be faithful and liberal in dispensing it, and charges them not to suppress that power, which had been lodged with them for the common benefit of all. By those miracles he shows why he was sent by the Father, and what was the design of his Gospel. It is not without design that he enjoins them to raise the dead and heal the sick, instead of bringing diseases on the healthy and inflicting death on the living. There is an analogy and resemblance, therefore, which those miracles bear to the office of Christ; and this is intended to inform us, that he came to bestow upon us every blessing, to rescue us from the tyranny of Satan and of death, to heal our diseases and sins, and to relieve us from all our miseries.
Freely you have received572 That they may be more willing to communicate the gifts which he had bestowed on them, he declares that they were not entrusted to them for their own individual renown, but in order that they might be, as it were, a sort of channels for transmitting the free bounty of God. “Consider whence you derived this power. As it flowed without any merit of yours from the pure grace of God, it is proper that, through your agency, it should flow freely to others.”
We know how unwilling every man is to communicate to others what he considers to belong to himself, and how any one who excels the rest of the brethren is apt to despise them all. No higher commendation could have been given to a liberal communication of spiritual gifts, than by the warning which Christ gives them, that no man surpasses another through his own industry, but through the undeserved kindness of God. Now Christ has presented to us in his ministers a proof of that grace which had been predicted by Isaiah, (55:1)
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milh without money and without price.
At the same time he shows, that no man will be a sincere minister of his word or dispenser of his grace, till he is prepared to bestow his labor gratuitously,573 and that all hirelings basely corrupt and profane the sacred office of teaching. Yet it is not inconsistent with this gratuitous dispensation, that the teachers of the church receive public salaries, provided that they willingly and generously serve Christ and his church, and that their support is, in some sort, an accessory of their labor.
Matthew 10:9. Do not provide. As the embassy575 was of such a nature, that Christ wished the disciples to traverse the whole of Judea within a few days, and immediately to return to him, he forbids to carry luggage with them, by which this speed may be retarded. Some have ignorantly supposed that the rule here laid down for the ministers of the word, or for the apostles, is perpetual. We shall presently meet with a few sentences which have a more extensive reference: but the present injunctions not to carry baggage must undoubtedly be restricted to that temporary commission of which I have already spoken. The whole of the prohibition of gold, silver, a scrip, and two coats, which is given by Matthew, must be read in immediate connection, as is evident from the other two Evangelists.
I have therefore chosen to translate υὴ κτήσησθε, do not provide: for our Lord simply intended to forbid them to take any thing for the journey They might have scrips, and shoes, and a change of coats, at home; but that they may be better prepared for the journey, he orders them to leave every thing that would be burdensome. Such too is the import of what Mark says, to be shod with sandals There is an appearance of contradiction as to the staff, or stick for, according to Mark, the staff is allowed, while according to Matthew and Luke it is refused. But there is an ambiguity in the use of the Hebrew word שבט, (shebet;) and the Evangelists, though they wrote in Greek, used the word ῥάβδος in various senses. Matthew and Luke mean by it a rod which would be burdensome to the person who carries it: while Mark means by it a walking-stick to support and relieve a traveler. It is evident, that in making a journey it was customary to carry a staff; and hence those words of Jacob, With my staff, I passed over this Jordan,(Genesis 32:10,) by which he acknowledges that he came empty and without money into Syria.
10. For the laborer is worthy of his food. Christ anticipates an objection that might be made: for it might appear to be a harsh condition to travel through the whole of Judea without any provisions.576 Accordingly, Christ tells them, that they have no reason to dread that they will suffer hunger; because, wherever they come, they will at least be worthy of their food577 He calls them laborers, not that they resembled ordinary ministers, who labor in the Lord’s vineyard, and who, by planting and watering, bring it into a state of cultivation; but merely because they were the heralds of a richer and more complete doctrine. They did not at that time receive the office of preaching any farther than to render the Jews attentive to the preaching of the Gospel.
11. Inquire what person in it is worthy. Again, they might object that they would be deprived of the food to which they were entitled, because nobody would acknowledge them as laborers But Christ meets this difficulty also by ordering them to make inquiry what person in each city is worthy of the message of salvation. By these words, he bids them ask, if there are any godly and upright men, who have some fear and reverence for God, and of whose readiness to receive instruction good hopes may be entertained, that they may direct their labors chiefly to them. For, as they were not at liberty to remain long in any one place, it was proper to begin with those who, in some respect were better prepared.
Remain there till you depart. This too has a reference to dispatch: for if they had made a longer stay in any place, it would have been necessary to change their lodging, that they might not be too burdensome to any individual. When, therefore, Christ enjoins them to remain in the house of the person who shall first receive them, till they depart to another city, he intimates that they must make haste, so that, after having published the Gospel in one city, they may immediately run to another.
12. Salute it. As they could not distinguish the devout worshippers of God from despisers, he enjoins them to address in a friendly manner any family which they may have occasion to meet. The act of saluting is a kind of opening to a conversation. They had already been warned to look out for persons to entertain them, whose religious zeal was generally known and believed. But as it sometimes happens that persons of lofty reputation, when they are brought to a serious trial, discover their impiety, it was proper that this rule should be expressly laid down. The meaning therefore is: “Make trial, when you first enter, whether your entertainers will cheerfully submit to hear you. Whoever shall willingly embrace your doctrine, remain in their house, that your salutation may be confirmed. If any shall reject, depart from them immediately, and, so far as lies in your power, withdraw your salutation.”
13. If it be not worthy. The import of this mode of expression may be thus stated, — “As their ingratitude makes them unworthy to enjoy the blessing of God which you have supplicated for them, break off every bond of communication.” The word peace refers to the mode of salutation which generally used among the Jews. As the Hebrew word שלום, (shalom,) peace, denotes prosperity, when they desire that any one may be well and happy, and that his affairs may succeed to his wish, they pray that he may have peaceI do acknowledge that the apostles brought to men a different kind of peace, but it is too great a refinement of speculation to make this passage refer to the free reconciliation which takes place between God and men.
14. And whoever will not receive you. This awful threatening of punishment against the despisers of the gospel was intended to animate his disciples, that they might not be retarded by the ingratitude of the world. He directs the apostles, indeed, what he wishes them to do if they meet with despisers. But his principal design was that, wherever their doctrine was rejected, their well-founded grief and distress might be relieved by consolation, that they might not fail in the middle of their course. And we see how Paul, relying on this consolation, boldly sets at naught all the obstinacy of men, moves on steadily in the midst of hindrances, and boasts that he is
a sweet savor to God, though he is the savor of death
to them that perish, (2 Corinthians 2:15,16.)
Now, this passage shows in what estimation the Lord holds his gospel, and, indeed, as it is an inestimable treasure, they are chargeable with base ingratitude who refuse it when offered to them. Besides, it is the scepter of his kingdom, and therefore cannot be rejected without treating him with open contempt.
Shake off the dust As the Lord here recommends the doctrine of the gospel, that all may receive it with reverence, and terrifies rebels by threatening severe punishment, so he enjoins the apostles to proclaim the vengeance which he threatens. But this they cannot do, unless they burn with very ardent zeal to make known the doctrines which they preach. We must therefore hold that no man is qualified to become a teacher of heavenly doctrine, unless his feelings respecting it be such, that he is distressed and agonized when it is treated with contempt.
To shake off the dust from the feet was probably a custom then prevalent in Judea, as a sign of execration; and was intended to declare that the inhabitants of the place were so polluted, that the very ground on which they trod was infected. That it was an ordinary custom I conjecture from our Lord’s manner of speaking of it as a thing well known. This form of execration confirms still more what I lately mentioned, that no crime is more offensive to God than contempt of his word: for he does not enjoin them to make use of so solemn a mode in expressing their detestation of adulterers, or murderers, or any description of malefactors.
Verily, I say to you That they may not imagine this to be an idle bugbear,578 Christ declares that those who reject the gospel, will receive more severe punishment than the inhabitants of Sodom. Some view the word judgment as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem. But this is foreign to our Lord’s intention: for it must be understood as referring to the general judgment, in which both must give their account, that there may be a comparison of the punishments. Christ mentioned Sodom rather than other cities, not only because it went beyond them all in flagitious crimes, but because God destroyed it in an extraordinary manner, that it might serve as an example to all ages, and that its very name might be held in abomination. And we need not wonder if Christ declares that they will be treated less severely than those who refuse to hear the gospel. When men deny the authority of Him who made and formed them, when they refuse to listen to his voice, nay, reject disdainfully his gentle invitations, and withhold the confidence which is due to his gracious promises, such impiety is the utmost accumulation, as it were, of all crimes. But if the rejection of that obscure preaching was followed by such dreadful vengeance, how awful must be the punishment that awaits those who reject Christ when he speaks openly! Again, if God punishes so severely the despisers of the word, what shall become of furious enemies who, by blasphemies and a venomous tongue, oppose the gospel, or cruelly persecute it by fire and sword?
The injunctions which Matthew has hitherto related had no farther reference than to that former expedition or commission, which was to be terminated in a few days. But now Christ proceeds farther, and prepares them for a future period, by informing them, that they were not merely chosen for that brief exercise of preaching, but that an office of greater difficulty and of far higher importance awaited them. Though they were not immediately brought into those contests of which Christ speaks, yet it was advantageous for them to have previous warning, that any uneasiness which they might then suffer might be known to be a sort of preparative for a fiercer warfare to which they had been destined. It was no doubt true in reference to the first mission, that the apostles were like sheep in the midst of wolves: but as the Lord spared their weakness, and restrained the cruelty of the wolvesfrom doing them any injury, these words properly relate to a subsequent period, when the Lord treated them more harshly. Before his resurrection, while the bridegroom was present, they were treated, so to speak, like guests at a marriage: but after the departure of the bridegroom, that softness and gentleness ceased, and they were reduced to such hardships as made them aware, that there were good reasons why they had been early furnished with those arms.
Perhaps, too, Matthew may have collected into one passage discourses which were delivered at different times: for Luke, as we shall afterwards see, (10:17) relates that the same things were said to the seventy disciples, who were placed in the room of the apostles. One thing is beyond dispute: These words did not merely foretell the consequences of that journey which they were now commencing, but gave them warning as to the whole course of their apostleship.
Matthew 10:16. Behold, I send you out The exhortation which immediately follows plainly shows the design of this admonition; and therefore the order of the passage must be explained in this manner: “You have need of wisdom and of harmlessness, because you will be like sheep in the midst of wolves ” The reason is drawn from the necessity of the case: for if they did not wisely exercise caution, they might be immediately devoured by the wolves; and, on the other hand, if they trembled at the rage of the wolves, or were incautious, they would presently waver, and would at length fail to perform their duty.
We shall first inquire what is meant by their being sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves Though men are cruel and bloody, the Lord might soften their ferocious temper; for he tames and subdues, whenever he pleases, the beasts of prey. When God does not subdue a considerable portion of mankind to the obedience of the gospels but leaves them in their own savage nature, he does it on purpose to try his ministers. Though all whom God does not regenerate with the spirit of gentleness are by nature wolves yet this designation is applied by Christ chiefly to the enraged enemies of the gospel, who are so far from being softened by hearing the voice of the pastor that they are inflamed to greater cruelty. The Lord sends the ministers of his word on the condition of dwelling in the midst of wolves; that is, of having many determined enemies and of being beset on every hand by many dangers, which render it no easy matter to discharge their duty in the midst of hindrances. To make the trial more severe, he does not supply them with defensive armor, but exposes them naked and defenseless to the teeth of the wolves
By calling them sheeps he does not refer to the sweetness and mildness of their manners, or to the gentleness of their mind, but only means that they will have no greater strength or fitness for repelling the violence of enemies than sheep have against the rage of wolves Christ requires no doubt, from his disciples that they shall resemble sheep in their dispositions, by their patience in contending against the malice of wicked men, and by the meekness with which they endure injuries, but the simple meaning of this passage is, that many powerful and cruel enemies are arrayed against the apostles, while they, on their part, are furnished with no means of defense,582 If it be objected, that in this way there is no contrast between sheep and wolves, the reply is easy. Though the Lords by calling the enemies of the gospel wolves, expressed their power rather than their desire to do injury, yet as no man is known to be a wolf but by his rage against the gospel, Christ has joined these two things together, the fierce cruelty which impels them to shed blood, and the power with which they are armed.
Be therefore wise The general meaning is, that their wisdom in exercising caution must be so regulated, as to prevent them from being more timid than is necessary, or from becoming more sluggish in duty. We see that those who wish to pass for cautious and circumspect persons are, for the most part, timorous and lazy. It is no doubt proper for the disciples of Christ, surrounded as they are by dangers on every hand, to maintain the strictest caution; but as they are in extreme danger of being kept back by slothfulness, he bids them move forward honestly wherever their calling leads them.
This is pointed out by a twofold comparison, wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Serpents, being aware that they are hated, carefully avoid and shrink from every thing that is hostile to them. In this manner he enjoins believers to take care of their life, so as not to rush heedlessly into danger, or lay themselves open to any kind of injury. Doves, on the other hand, though naturally timid, and liable to innumerable attacks, fly in their simplicity, imagine themselves safe till they are struck, and in most cases place themselves within the reach of the fowler’s snares. To such simplicity Christ exhorts his disciples, that no excess of terror may hinder them from pursuing their course. There are some who carry their ingenious reasonings still farther as to the nature of the serpent and of the dove, but this is the utmost extent of the resemblance. We see that Christ condemns that carnal wisdom, or rather that trickery, in which the greater part of men are too fond of indulging, while they look around them on every hand to discover how far it will be safe for them to proceed; and thus, from an unwillingness to encounter danger, they renounce the call of Christ.583
17. But beware of men Erasmus has inserted the word these, (beware of these men,) supposing that the article has the force of a demonstrative pronoun.584 But in my opinion it is better to view it as indefinite, and as conveying a declaration of Christ, that caution ought to be exercised in dealing with men, among whom every thing is full of snares and injuries. But he appears to contradict himself: for the best way of exercising caution would have been to remain at home, and not to venture to appear in public. I reply, he points out here a different sort of caution, — not that terror and alarm which would keep them from discharging their duty, but a dread of being excessively annoyed by sudden calamities. We know that those who are surprised by unexpected afflictions are apt to fall down lifeless. Christ, therefore, desired that his disciples should foresee at a distance what would happen, that their minds might be early prepared for maintaining a conflict. In short, he sounds the trumpet to them, that they may quickly make ready for the battle: for as foresight, when it is excessive or attended by unnecessary anxiety, reduces many to a state of weakness, so many are intoxicated by an indolent security, and, rushing on heedlessly, give way at the critical moment.
For they will deliver you up to councils It may readily be inferred from these words, that the contests of which Christ forewarns the apostles must not be limited to the first journey, in which they met with nothing of this description. The object of this prediction is to prevent them from being ever cast down: for it was no ordinary attainment for poor and despised men, when they came into the presence of princes, to preserve composure, and to remain unmoved by any worldly splendor. He warns them, too, that not in Judea only, but in more distant places, they will be called to fight; and he does so, not merely for the purpose of preparing them by long meditation for that warfare, but that, as instructed and experienced masters, they might not scruple to yield themselves to heavenly guidance.
For a testimony to them and to the Gentiles This means that the will of God must be proclaimed even to foreign princes, and to distant nations, that they may be without excuse. Hence it follows, that the labor of the apostles will not be lost, for it will vindicate the judgment of God, when men shall be convicted of their obstinacy.
19. Be not anxious585 A consolation is added: for in vain would Christ have given a hundred exhortations to the disciples, if he had not, at the same time, promised that God would be with them, and that through his power they would assuredly be victorious. Hence we infer, that Christ is very far from intending, by announcing those dangers, to abate the fervor of that zeal with which it would be necessary for the disciples to burn if they wished to discharge their duty in a proper manner. It is, no doubt, a great matter to endure the presence of princes; for not only fear, but even shame, sometimes overpowers well-regulated minds. What, then, may be expected, if princes break out into furious anger, and almost thunder?586 Yet Christ charges his disciples not to be anxious.
For in that hour shall be given to you what you shall speak The Spirit will suggest words to them. The more a man distrusts himself through consciousness of his own weakness, the more is he alarmed, unless he expect assistance from another quarter. Accordingly, we see that the reason why most men give way is, that they measure by their own strength, which is very small or almost nothing, the success of their undertakings. Christ forbids the disciples to look at their own strength, and enjoins them to rely, with undivided confidence, on heavenly grace. “It is not,” he says, “your ability that is in question, but the power of the Holy Spirit, who forms and guides the tongues of believers to a sincere confession of their faith.”
That they may not be alarmed by their present deficiency, he assures them that assistance will come at the very instant when it is needed. Frequently does it happen that the Lord leaves believers destitute of the gift of eloquence, so long as he does not require that they give him a testimony, but, when the necessity for it arrives, those who formerly appeared to be dumb are endued by him with more than ordinary eloquence. Thus, in our own time, we have seen some martyrs, who seemed to be almost devoid of talent, and yet were no sooner called to make a public profession of their faith, than they exhibited a command of appropriate and graceful language altogether miraculous.587
Yet it was not the will of Christ that the apostles should be free from all care: for it was advantageous to them to have such a measure of anxiety, as to supplicate and entreat that the Spirit might be given to them; but he desired to remove that deep and uneasy thought which almost always tends to perplex and embarrass. So long as men indulge in conjecture what is to take place, or whether this or the other thing will happen, and do not rely on the providence of God, they are kept in a wretched state of trouble and uneasiness. And, indeed, those who do not render such honor to the providence of God, as to believe that it will seasonably relieve their wants, deserve to be tormented in this manner.
Matthew 10:21. And the brother will deliver up the brother to death. He first gives warning what heavy calamities await them, and then adds a remarkable consideration, which sweetens all their bitterness. First, he announces that those circumstances which other men find to be the means of protection, or from which they obtain some relief, will prove to the disciples a fresh addition to their misery. Brothers, who ought to assist them when oppressed, to stretch out their hand to them amidst their distresses, and to watch over their safety, will be their mortal enemies.
It is a mistake however, to suppose that it happens to none but believers to be delivered up to death by their brethren: for it is possible that a father may pursue his son with holy zeal,590 if he perceives him to have apostatized from the true worship of God; nay, the Lord enjoins us in such a case (Deuteronomy 13:9) to forget flesh and blood, and to bestow all our care on vindicating the glory of his name.591 Whoever has fear and reverence for God will not spare his own relatives, but will rather choose that all of them should perish, if it be found necessary, than that the kingdom of Christ should be scattered, the doctrine of salvation extinguished, and the worship of God abolished. If our affections were properly regulated, there would be no other cause of just hatred among us.
On the other hand, as Christ not only restores the kingdom of God, and raises godliness to its full vigor, but even brings men back from ruin to salvation, nothing can be more unreasonable than that the ministers of so lovely a doctrine should be hated on his account. A thing so monstrous, and so contrary to nature, might greatly distress the minds of simple men:592 but Christ foretells that it will actually take place.
22. But he who endured to the end shall be saved This single promise ought sufficiently to support the minds of the godly, though the whole world should rise against them: for they are assured that the result will be prosperous and happy. If those who fight under earthly commanders, and are uncertain as to the issue of the battle, are carried forward even to death by steadiness of purpose, shall those who are certain of victory hesitate to abide by the cause of Christ to the very last?
23. And when they shall persecute you. He anticipates an objection that might arise. If we must encounter the resentments of the whole world, what shall be the end of all this?593 Though it may not be safe for them to remain in any place, yet Christ warns them not to despair, but, on the contrary, when they have been driven from one place, to try whether their labors in some other place may be of any avail. It is a mistake, however, to suppose that this is a bare permission: for it is rather a command given to the disciples, what it is the will of Christ that they should do. He who has sustained one persecution would willingly withdraw as a soldier who has served his time. But no such exemption is granted to the followers of Christ, who commands them to fulfill their whole course with unabated zeal. In short, the apostles are enjoined to enter into fresh contests, and not to imagine that, when they have succeeded in one or two cases, they have fully discharged their duty. No permission is granted to them to flee to a retired spot, where they may remain unemployed, but though their labor may have been unsuccessful in one place, the Lord exhorts them to persevere.
And yet the command implies also a permission. As to avoiding persecution, it ought to be understood in this manner: we must not condemn without distinction all who flee, and yet it is not every kind of flight that is lawful. Some of the ancients carried their zeal in this matter to an extreme and condemned flight as a species of disavowal. Were this true, some part of the disgrace would fall on Christ and his apostles. Again, if all without distinction are at liberty to flee, a good pastor could not be distinguished from a hireling during a season of persecution. We must abide by the moderation which Augustine recommends, when writing to Honoratus: No man must quit his station through timidity, either by betraying the flock through cowardice, or by giving an example of slothfulness; and yet no man must expose himself precipitately, or at random. If a whole church is attacked, or if a part of them is pursued to death, the pastor, whose duty it is to expose his life in place of any individual among them, would do wrong in withdrawing. But sometimes it may happen, that by his absence he will quell the rage of enemies, and thus promote the advantage of the church. In such cases, the harmlessness of the dove must be his guide, that effeminate persons may not seize on his conduct as an excuse for their timidity: for the flesh is always too ingenious in avoiding what is troublesome.
For verily I say to you. These words cannot be understood in the sense which some have given to them as relating to the first mission,594 but embrace the whole course of their apostleship. But the difficulty lies in ascertaining what is meant by the coming of the Son of man Some explain it as denoting such a progress of the gospel, as may enable all to acknowledge that Christ is truly reigning, and that he may be expected to restore the kingdom of David. Others refer it to the destruction of Jerusalem, in which Christ appeared taking vengeance on the ingratitude of the nation. The former exposition is admissible: the latter is too far-fetched. I look upon the consolation here given as addressed peculiarly to the apostles. Christ is said to come, when matters are desperate, and he grants relief. The commission which they received was almost boundless: it was to spread the doctrine of the Gospel through the whole world. Christ promises that he will come before they have traveled through the whole of Judea: that is, by the power of his Spirit, he will shed around his reign such luster, that the apostles will be enabled to discern that glory and majesty which they had hitherto been unable to discover.
24. The disciple is not above his master By his own example he now exhorts them to perseverance; and, indeed, this consolation is enough to banish all sadness, if we consider that our lot is shared with the Son of God. To make us feel deeper shame, he borrows a twofold comparison from what is customary among men. The disciple reckons it honorable to be placed on a level with his master, and does not venture to wish a higher honor, and again, servants do not refuse to share that condition to which their masters willingly submit. In both respects, the Son of God is far above us: for the Father has given to him the highest authority, and has bestowed on him the office of a teacher. We ought, therefore, to be ashamed of declining what he did not scruple to undergo on our account. But there is more need to meditate on these words than to explain them: for, in themselves, they are sufficiently clear.
25. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub This is equivalent to calling himself Lord of the Church, as the apostle, when comparing him to Moses and the prophets, (Hebrews 3:1,) says, that they were servants, but that he is the Son and heir. Though he bestows on them the honor of calling them brethren,(Hebrews 2:11,) yet he is the first-born (Romans 8:29) and head of the whole church; and, in short, he possesses supreme government and power. Nothing, therefore, can be more unreasonable than to wish to be accounted believers, and yet to murmur against God when he conforms us to the image of his Son, whom he has placed over all his family. To what sort of delicacy do we pretend, if we wish to hold a place in his house, and to be above the Lord himself? The general meaning is, that we carry our delicacy and tenderness to excess, if we account it a hardship to endure reproaches to which our Prince willingly submitted.
Beelzebub is a corrupted term, and would have been more correctly written Baalzebub. This was the name given to the chief of the false gods of the Philistines, who was worshipped by the inhabitants of Ekron, (2 Kings 1:2.) Baalim was the name of the inferior deities, whom the Papists of our day call patrons. Now, as Baalzebub means the patron of the fly, or of the flies, some have thought that he was so called on account of the great multitude of flies in the temple, occasioned by the number of sacrifices; but I rather conjecture that the assistance of the idol was implored against the flies which infested that place. When Ahazlah, under the influence of superstition, applied to him to be informed about his recovery, he gave him this name, which would appear from that circumstance not to be a term of reproach. But as the name gehenna was applied by holy men to hell, in order to stamp that place with infamy, so, in order to express their hatred and detestation of the idol, they gave the name Beelzebub to the devil. Hence we infer that wicked men, for the purpose of rendering Christ detestable to the multitude, employed the most reproachful term which they could invent, by calling him the devil, or, in other words, the greatest enemy of religion. If we happen to be assailed by the same kind of reproach, we ought not to think it strange, that what began in the head should be completed in the members.
Matthew 10:26. Fear them not therefore When the apostles saw the gospel so greatly despised, and recollected the small number of believers, they might be apt to throw away hope even for the future. Christ now meets this doubt, by declaring that the gospel would be widely spread, would at length rise superior to all the hindrances which might arise from men, and would become generally known. The saying, nothing is covered that shall not be revealed, has some appearance of being a proverb: but we restrict it in a special manner to the doctrine of salvation, which Christ promises will be victorious, whatsoever may be the contrivances of men to oppose it. Though he sometimes preached openly in the temple, yet, as his doctrine was rejected, it was still concealed in dark comers: but he declares that the time for proclaiming it will come; which, we know, happened shortly afterwards. In no part of the earth was there ever such thunder heard as the voice of the gospel, which resounded through the whole world. As this promise ought to fill them with courage, Christ exhorts them to devote themselves to it with boldness and perseverance, and not to be alarmed, though they see the gospel hitherto despised, but, on the contrary, to become its zealous preachers.
The passage which I have taken from Mark was, perhaps, spoken at a different time, and in a different sense: but as the sentences in that place are concise, I have followed the meaning which appeared to me the most probable. After having commanded the apostles to assemble burning lamps by sending out a bright light to a great distance, he immediately afterwards adds, nothing is hidden which shall not be revealed. Now the lamp of the gospel was kindled by the apostles, as it were in the midst of darkness, that by their agency it might be raised on high, and shine throughout the whole world. The passage in the eighth chapter of Luke’s Gospel is precisely alike. As to the passage in the twelfth chapter, there is no room to doubt that it has the same meaning, though there is a difference in the words: for Christ there commands the apostles to bring to light what they had spoken in darkness. This means, that hitherto they had only spoken in whispers about the gospel, but that their future preaching would be so public, that it would spread to the most distant parts of the world.
28. And fear not those who kill the body To excite his disciples to despise death, Christ employs the very powerful argument, that this frail and perishing lift ought to be little regarded by men who have been created for a heavenly immortality. The statement amounts to this, that if believers will consider for what purpose they were born, and what is their condition, they will have no reason to be so earnest in desiring an earthly life. But the words have still a richer and fuller meaning: for we are here taught by Christ that the fear of God is dead in those men who, through dread of tyrants, fall from a confession of their faith, and that a brutish stupidity reigns in the hearts of those who, through dread of death, do not hesitate to abandon that confession.
We must attend to the distinction between the two opposite kinds of fear. If the fear of God is extinguished by the dread of men, is it not evident that we pay greater deference to them than to God himself? Hence it follows, that when we have abandoned the heavenly and eternal life, we reserve nothing more for ourselves than to be like the beasts that perish, (Psalm 49:12.) God alone has the power of bestowing eternal life, or of inflicting eternal death. We forget God, because we are hurried away by the dread of men. Is it not very evident that we set a higher value on the shadowy life of the body595 than on the eternal condition of the soul; or rather, that the heavenly kingdom of God is of no estimation with us, in comparison of the fleeting and vanishing shadow of the present life?
These words of Christ ought therefore to be explained in this manner: “Acknowledge that you have received immortal souls, which are subject to the disposal of God alone, and do not come into the power of men. The consequence will be, that no terrors or alarms which men may employ will shake your faith. “For how comes it that the dread of men prevails in the struggle, but because the body is preferred to the soul, and immortality is less valued than a perishing life?”
Matthew 10:29. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?Christ proceeds farther, as I have already hinted, and declares that tyrants, whatever may be their madness, have no power whatever even over the body: and that therefore it is improper in any persons to dread the cruelty of men, as if they were not under the protection of God. In the midst of dangers, therefore, let us remember this second consolation. As God is the guardian of our life, we may safely rely on his providence; nay, we do him injustice, if we do not entrust to him our life, which he is pleased to take under his charge. Christ takes a general view of the providence of God as extending to all creatures, and thus argues from the greater to the less, that we are upheld by his special protection. There is hardly any thing of less value than sparrows, (for two were then sold for a farthing, or, as Luke states it, five for two farthings,) and yet God has his eye upon them to protect them, so that nothing happens to them by chance. Would He who is careful about the sparrows disregard the life of men?
There are here two things to be observed. First, Christ gives a very different account of the providence of God from what is given by many who talk like the philosophers, and tell us that God governs the world, but yet imagine providence to be a confused sort of arrangement, as if God did not keep his eye on each of the creatures. Now, Christ declares that each of the creatures in particular is under his hand and protection, so that nothing is left to chance. Unquestionably, the will of God is contrasted with contingence or uncertainty598 , And yet we must not be understood to uphold the fate of the Stoics,599 for it is one thing to imagine a necessity which is involved in a complicated chain of causes, and quite another thing to believe that the world, and every part of it, is directed by the will of God. In the nature of things, I do acknowledge there is uncertainty:600 but I maintain that nothing happens through a blind revolution of chance, for all is regulated by the will of God.
The second thing to be observed is, that we ought to contemplate Providence, not as curious and fickle persons are wont to do, but as a ground of confidence and excitement to prayer. When he informs us that the hairs of our head are all numbered, it is not to encourage trivial speculations, but to instruct us to depend on the fatherly care of God which is exercised over these frail bodies.
31. You are of more value This is true in general of all men, for the sparrows were created for their advantage. But this discourse relates peculiarly to the sons of God, who possess a far higher right than what they derive from creation. Now the rank which belongs to men arises solely from the undeserved kindness of God.
Matthew 10:32. Whosoever therefore shall confess me He now applies to his present subject what he formerly said in a general manner about contempt of death: for we must struggle against the dread of death, that it may not keep us back from an open confession of faith, which God strictly demands, and which the world cannot endure. For this purpose the disciples of Christ must be bold and courageous, that they may be always ready for martyrdom. Now confession of Christ, though it is regarded by the greater part of men as a trifling matter, is here represented to be a main part of divine worship, and a distinguished exercise of godliness. And justly is it so represented: for if earthly princes, in order to enlarge and protect their glory, and to increase their wealth, call their subjects to arms, why should not believers maintain, at least in language, the glory of their heavenly King?
It is therefore certain that those persons extinguish faith, (as far as lies in their powers) who inwardly suppress it, as if the outward profession of it were unnecessary. With good reason does Christ here call us his witnesses, by whose mouth his name shall be celebrated in the world. In other words, he intends that the profession of his name shall be set in opposition to false religions: and as it is a revolting matter, he enjoins the testimony which we must bear, that the faith of each person may not remain concealed in the heart, but may be openly professed before men. And does not he who refuses or is silent deny the Son of God, and thus banish himself from the heavenly family?
A more public confession of faith, no doubt, is demanded from teachers than from persons in a private station. Besides, all are not endued with an equal measure of faith, and in proportion as any one excels in the gifts of the Spirit, he ought to go before others by his example. But there is no believer whom the Son of God does not require to be his witness. In what place, at what time, with what degree of frequency, in what manner, and to what extent, we ought to profess our faith, cannot easily be determined by a fixed rule: but we must consider the occasion, that not one of us may fail to discharge his duty at the proper time. We must also ask from the Lord the spirit of wisdom and courage, that under his direction we may know what is proper, and may boldly follow whatever we shall have ascertained that he commands us.
Him will I also confess. A promise is added to inflame our zeal in this matter. But we must attend to the points of contrast. If we draw a comparison between ourselves and the Son of God, how base is it to refuse our testimony to him, when on his part he offers his testimony to us by way of reward? If mortals, and men who are of no worth, are brought into comparison with God and the angels and all the heavenly glory, how much more valuable is that which Christ promises than that which he requires? Although men are unbelieving and rebellious, yet the testimony which we deliver to them is estimated by Christ as if it had been made in the presence of God and of the angels.
Thus also by way of amplification, Mark and Luke602 add, in this adulterous and sinful generation; the meaning of which is, that we must not imagine our labor to be lost, because there is a want of proper disposition in our hearers. Now if any one is not sufficiently moved by the promise, it is followed by an awful threatening. When Christ shall make his appearance to judge the world, he will deny all who have basely denied him before men Let the enemies of the cross now go away, and flatter themselves in their hypocrisy, when Christ blots their names out of the book of life: for whom will God acknowledge as his children at the last day, but those who are presented to him by Christ? But he declares that he will bear witness against them, that they may not insinuate themselves on false grounds. When it is said that Christ will come in the glory of the Father and of the angels, the meaning is, that his divine glory will then be fully manifested; and that the angels, as they now surround the throne of God, will render their services to him by honoring his majesty. The passage from the twelfth chapter of Luke’s Gospel corresponds to the text of Matthew. What we have inserted out of the ninth chapter, and out of Mark, appears to have been spoken at another time: but as the doctrine is quite the same, I have chosen to introduce them together.
Matthew 10:35 To set a man at variance Hence we see more clearly what was stated a little before, that wars and tumults arise, contrary to the nature of the Gospel, through the fault of wicked men. What Malachi says about John the Baptist, [4:5,6] applies to all the ministers of Christ. They are sent for this purpose to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers. But in consequence of the malice of wicked men, those who were formerly combined no sooner hear the voice of Christ than they separate into opposite parties, and proceed so far as to break up the ties of relationship. In a word, Christ foretells that the world will come to such a state of confusion, that all the bonds of kindred will be treated with indifference, and humanity will be no longer regarded. When Micah complains [7:6] that a man’s enemies are the men of his own house, he deplores it as a state of extreme and ruinous corruption. Christ declares that the same thing will happen when his doctrine shall be published, which otherwise could not have been believed. At the same time, he does not mean that this will uniformly take place, as certain fretful persons foolishly imagine that it will be impossible for them to be good disciples without forsaking parents, children, and wives. On the contrary, every lawful bond of union is confirmed by unity of faith: only Christ warns his followers, that when it does happen, they must not be alarmed.
Matthew 10:37. He who loveth father or mother As it is exceedingly harsh, and is contrary to natural feelings, to make enemies of those who ought to have been in closest alliance with us, so Christ now says that we cannot be his disciples on any other condition. He does not indeed enjoin us to lay aside human affections, or forbid us to discharge the duties of relationship, but only desires that all the mutual love which exists among men should be so regulated as to assign the highest rank to piety. Let the husband then love his wife, the father his son, and, on the other hand, let the son love his father, provided that the reverence which is due to Christ be not overpowered by human affection. For if even among men, in proportion to the closeness of the tie that mutually binds us, some have stronger claims than others, it is shameful that all should not be deemed inferior to Christ alone. And certainly we do not consider sufficiently, or with due gratitude, what it is to be a disciple of Christ, if the excellence of this rank be not sufficient to subdue all the affections of the flesh. The phrase employed by Luke is more harsh, if any man doth not hate his father and mother, but the meaning is the same, “If the love of ourselves hinder us from following Christ, we must resist it, courageously:” as Paul says,
what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, (Philippians 3:7,8.)
38. He who doth not take up his cross From particular cases he proceeds to general views, and informs us that we cannot be reckoned his disciples unless we are prepared to endure many afflictions. If we are vexed and tormented by the thought, that the gospel should set us at variance with our father, or our wife, or our children, let us remember this condition, that Christ subjects all his disciples to the cross Yet let us also bear in mind this consolation, that, in bearing the cross, we are the companions of Christ, — which will speedily have the effect of allaying all its bitterness. The reprobates are not less firmly bound to their cross, and cannot with their most violent struggles shake it off; but as to those who are out of Christ the cross is accursed, a mournful end awaits them. Let us therefore learn to connect these two things, that believers must bear the cross in order to follow their Master; that is, in order to conform to his example, and to abide by his footsteps like faithful companions.
39. He who findeth his life Lest the former doctrine, which is very difficult and troublesome to the flesh, should have little weight with us, Christ confirms it in two ways by this statement. He affirms that persons of excessive caution and foresight, when they look upon themselves as having very well defended their life, will be disappointed and will lose it; and, on the other hand, that those who disregard their life will sustain no loss, for they will recover it. We know that there is nothing which men will not do or leave undone for the sake of life, (so powerful is that attachment to it which is natural to us all;) and, therefore, it was necessary that Christ should employ such promises and threatenings in exciting his followers to despise death.
To find the life means here to possess it, or to have it in safe keeping. Those who are excessively desirous of an earthly life, take pains to guard themselves against every kind of danger, and flatter themselves with unfounded confidence, as if they were looking well to themselves, (Psalm 49:18🙂 but their life, though defended by such powerful safeguards, will pass away; for they will at last die, and death will bring to them everlasting ruin. On the other hand, when believers surrender themselves to die, their soul, which appears to vanish in a moment, passes into a better life. Yet as persons are sometimes found, who heedlessly lay down their life, either for the sake of ambition or of madness, Christ expressly states the reason why we ought to expose ourselves to death.
It is uncertain if the discourse, which is related by Luke, was delivered on another occasion. There, too, our Lord exhorts his followers to bear the cross, but does not dwell upon it at equal length. To support this sentiment he immediately adds two comparisons, of which Matthew takes no notice: but as the subject treated is substantially the same, I have not scrupled to introduce in this place what we find in Luke.
Matthew 10:40. He who receiveth you, receiveth me. A considerable portion of the world may be opposed to the disciples of Christ, and the confession of their faith may draw upon them universal hatred. Yet here is another consolation tending to excite a very great number of persons to treat them with kindness. Whatever is done to them, Christ does not hesitate to reckon as done to himself. This shows how dearly he loves them, when he places to his own account the kind offices which they have received. He is not speaking here about receiving the doctrine, but about receiving the men. The latter meaning, I admit, arises out of the former, but we must attend to the design of Christ. Perceiving that this was exceedingly adapted to support their weakness, he intended to assure them that, if any one would receive them in a friendly manner, and do them kind offices, he would be as highly pleased as if their benevolence had been exercised towards his own person; and not only so, but that in such a sacrifice God the Father would smell a sweet savor, (Genesis 8:21.)
41. He who receiveth a prophet He begins with the prophets, but at length comes down to the lowest rank, and embraces all his disciples. In this manner he commends all, without exception, who truly worship God and love the gospel. To receive a person in the name of a prophet, or in the name of a righteous man, means to do them good for the sake of honoring their doctrine, or of paying respect to piety. Though God enjoins us to perform offices of kindness to all mankind, yet he justly elevates his people to a higher rank, that they may be the objects of peculiar regard and esteem.
Shall receive a prophet’s reward This clause is variously interpreted by commentators. Some think that it denotes a mutual compensation, or, in other words, that spiritual benefits are bestowed on the prophets of God instead of temporal benefits. But if this exposition is admitted, what shall we say is meant by the righteous man’s reward? Others understand it to mean, that those who shall be kind to them will partake of the same reward which is laid up for prophets and righteous men. Some refer it to the intercourse of saints, and suppose it to mean, that as by our kind actions we give evidence that we are one body with the servants of Christ, so in this way we become partakers of all the blessings which Christ imparts to the members of his body.
I consider it simply as denoting the reward which corresponds to the rank of the person to whom kindness has been exercised; for Christ means that this will be a remarkable proof of the high estimation in which he holds his prophets, and indeed all his disciples. The greatness of the reward will make it evident, that not one kind office which was ever rendered to them has been forgotten.
By way of amplification, he promises a reward to the very meanest offices of kindness, such as giving them a cup of cold water, He gives the name of little ones not only to those who occupy the lowest place, or are held in least estimation in the Church, but to all his disciples, whom the pride of the world tramples under foot.