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first witnesses, we are to speak in the following chapter. His Gospel likewise, though opposed by many, and slighted by more, is never preached in vain. To some, it will always be the power and wisdom of God; they know in whom they have believed, and therefore are not ashamed to appear in his cause against all disadvantages. Supported and encouraged by his Spirit, they go on from strength to strength, and are successively made more than conquerors, by his blood, and the word of his testimony.
Observations on the calling and characters of our
Lord's Apostles and Disciples, previous to his
FROM what has been observed in the preced
ing chapters, it is evident, that those who assert a principle of free-will in man, sufficiently enabling him to chose and determine for himself when the truths of the Gospel are plainly laid before him, do thereby (so far as in them lies) render the salvation of mankind highly precarious, if not utterly hopeless and impracticable. Notwithstanding God was pleased to send his own Son with a gracious message; notwithstanding his whole life was a series of wonders, and all his actions discovered a wisdom, power, and goodness answerable to his high character; notwithstanding the time, manner, and design of his appearance and sufferings had been clearly foretold; yet, so far as a judgement can be made from the event, he would certainly have lived and died in vain, without influence or honour, without leaving a single disciple, if the same grace that provided the means of redemption had not engaged to make them effectual, by preparing and disposing the hearts of sinners to receive him.
In the account given us by the Evangelists of those who professed themselves his disciples, we may discern, as in miniature, the general methods of his grace; and, comparing his personal ministry with the effects of his Gospel in all succeeding times, we may be assured that the work and the power are still the same. The choice he made of his disciples, the manner of their calling, their characters, and even their defects and failings, in a word, all that is recorded concerning them is written for our instruction, and is particularly useful, to teach us the true meaning of what passes within our own observation.
First, Several things are worthy our notice in this view, with respect to the choice of his disciples.
1. They were comparatively very few. He was, indeed, usually attended by multitudes in the different places where he preached, because he spoke with a power they had never met with before, and because he healed the sick, fed the hungry, and did good to all; but he had very few constant followers. Those who assembled at Jerusalem, after his ascension, are said to have been but about one hundred and twenty ;a and when he appointed his disciples a solemn meeting in Galilee, informing them beforehand of the time and place where he would come to them, the number that then met here is expressed by the apostle to have been more than five hundred. We can hardly suppose that any who loved him, and were able to travel, would have been absent upon so interesting an occasion; but how small a company was this, compared with the many thousands among whom he had conversed in all the cities and villages through which he had passed, preaching the Gospel, and performing innumerable miracles, for more than three years! Well might the prophet say, foreseeing the small success he would meet with, “ Who hath be“ lieved our report, and to whom hath the arm “ of the Lord been revealed?” But since he, in whom the fulness of grace resided, had so few disciples, it may lessen our surprise, that his Gospel, though in itself the power and wisdom of God, should meet with so cold a reception amongst men as it has in fact always done.
a Ac's, , 15.
2. Of those few who professed a more entire attachment to his person, a considerable part, after attending him for some time, went back and walked no more with him. They were but superficially convinced, and rather struck with the power of his words and works, than deeply sensible of their own need of him. When, therefore, upon a certain occasion, he spoke of the more inward and experimental part of religion, the life of faith, and the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, so many were offended at his doctrine, and forsook him, that he
1 Cor. xv. 6. The word brethren there used does not prove that none but men were present at that time, any more than that, because the apostles, in their public preaching, addressed their hearers as “ men and brethren,” there were therefore no women amongst them, or the women were not considered as having any interest or concern in the Gospel Ministry.
© John, vi. ,66, 67.
said unto the twelve, “Will ye also go away?”. which seems to imply, that there were few but these remaining. Therefore, though we see at present that, where the sound of the Gospel brings multitudes together, many, who for a season appeared in earnest, gradually decline in their profession, and, at length, wholly return to their former ways, we have the less reason to wonder cr be discouraged, remembering that it was thus from the beginning.
3. Those who believed on Christ then, were chiefly (as we had occasion to observe before) persons of low condition, and many of them had been formerly vile and obnoxious in their conduct. While the wise and learned rejected bim, his more immediate followers were Galileans, fishermen, publicans, and sinners. This was observed, and urged to his reproach and theirs : and the like offence has always attended his Gospel. But what enrages his enemies, fills the hearts and mouths of his poor people with praise. They adore his condescension in taking notice of the most unworthy, and admire the efficacy of his grace in making those who were once wretched slaves to Satan, a free and willing people in the day of his power.
4. But this was not universally the case. Though not many wise, rich, or noble, were called, there were some even of these. His grace triumphed over every circumstance of life.
Zaccheus was a rich man; Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;
& Luke, i. 52, 53.
€ Zaccheus was a chief or principal publican, to whom the rest were accountable; a commissioner of the revenue. “ And he was rich.” The Greek is more expressive, “ And “ this was a rich man:” Luke, xix. 2.: perhaps alluding to what had past a little before; chap. sviii. 23. 'This remark Joseph, an honourable counsellor. We also read of a nobleman or courtier who believed, with all his house. In every age, likewise, there have been some persons of distinguished eminence for birth, honours, and abilities, who have cheerfully engaged in the profession of a despised Gospel, though they have thereby incurred a double share of opposition from the men of the world, especially from those of their own rank. The number of these has been always sufficient to confute those who would insinuate, that the Gospel is only suited to the taste of the vulgar and ignorant; yet it has always been so small, as to make it evident that the truth is not supported by the wisdom or influence of men, but by the power and providence of God.
5. It is further observable, that several of our Lord's few disciples were under previous connexions amongst themselves. Peter and Andrew were brothers, as likewise James and John; and these, together with Philip, and, perhaps, Nathanael, seem to have been all of ones town. The other James and Jude were also brethren. So
is added, to remind us, that what is impossible with men, is easy to him who can speak to the heart, and turn it as he will.
f John, i. 40. & Comp. Mark, i. 16. Luke, v. 10, with John, i. 44, 45, These six, and more than these, were fishermen, John, xxi. 2.; and such they continued; only their net success and capture were so much changed, that it became a new calling: he made them fishers of men. In the fisherman's calling, there is required a certain dexterity, much patience, and a readiness to bear hardships. Perhaps many observations they made in their former business were useful to them afterwards. And the Lord still brings up his servants so that the remembrance of former years (the years of ignorance) becomes a rule and encouragement in future and different scenes of life.