16. Behold, I send you out, as sheep in the midst of wolves: be therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.17. But beware of men: for they will deliver you to the councils, and will scourge you in their synagagues: 18. And you will be brought before rulers and kings on my account, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.19. But when they shall deliver you up, be not anxious as to how or what you shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what you shall speak.20. For it is not you that speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you.
11. And when they shall bring you into synagogues, and before magistrates and powers, do not be anxious how or what you shall answer, or what you shall say.12. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in the same hour what you ought to say.
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 wolves from 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, 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.
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. 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 anxious 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? 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.
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.