It has often been remarked that the personal preaching of our Lord was comparatively barren. There can be no doubt that the effects produced did not at all correspond to what might have been expected from so wonderful a ministry; but it had been predicted that the Messiah would be |despised and rejected
of men,| [36:1] and the unbelief of the Jews was one of the humiliating trials He was ordained to suffer during His abode on earth. |The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.| [36:2] We have, certainly, no evidence that any of His discourses made such an impression as that which accompanied the address of Peter on the day of Pentecost. Immediately after the outpouring of the Spirit at that period an abundant blessing followed the proclamation of the gospel. But though Jesus often mourned over the obduracy of His countrymen, and though the truth, preached by His disciples, was often more effective than when uttered by Himself, it cannot with propriety be said that His own evangelical labours were unfruitful. The one hundred and twenty, who met in an upper room during the interval between His Ascension and the day of Pentecost [36:3] were but a portion of His followers. The fierce and watchful opposition of the Sanhedrim had kept Him generally at a distance from Jerusalem; it was there specially dangerous to profess an attachment to His cause; and we may thus, perhaps, partially account for the paucity of His adherents in the Jewish metropolis. His converts were more numerous in Galilee; and it was, probably, in that district He appeared to the company of upwards of five hundred brethren who saw Him after His resurrection. [37:1] He had itinerated extensively as a missionary; and, from some statements incidentally occurring in the gospels, we may infer, that there were individuals who had imbibed His doctrines in the cities and villages of almost all parts of Palestine. [37:2] But the most signal and decisive proof of the power of His ministry is presented in the fact that, during the three years of its duration, He enlisted and sent forth no less than eighty-two preachers. Part of these have since been known as |The Twelve,| and the rest as |The Seventy.|
The Twelve are frequently mentioned in the New Testament, and yet the information we possess respecting them is exceedingly scanty. Of some we know little more than their names. It has been supposed that a town called Kerioth, [37:3] or Karioth, belonging to the tribe of Judah, was the birthplace of Judas, the traitor; [37:4] but it is probable that all his colleagues were natives of Galilee. [37:5] Some of them had various names; and the consequent diversity which the sacred catalogues present has frequently perplexed the reader of the evangelical narratives. Matthew was also called Levi; [37:6] Nathanael was designated Bartholomew; [36:7] and Jude had the two other names of Lebbaeus and Thaddaeus. [38:1] Thomas was called Didymus, [38:2] or the twin, in reference, we may presume, to the circumstances of his birth; James the son of Alphaeus was styled, perhaps by way of distinction, James |the Less| [38:3] -- in allusion, it would seem, to the inferiority of his stature; the other James and John were surnamed Boanerges, [38:4] or the sons of thunder -- a title probably indicative of the peculiar solemnity and power of their ministrations; and Simon stands at the head of all the lists, and is expressly said to be |first| of the Twelve, [38:5] because, as we have reason to believe, whilst his advanced age might have warranted him to claim precedence, his superior energy and promptitude enabled him to occupy the most prominent position. The same individual was called Cephas, or Peter, or Stone, [38:6] apparently on account of the firmness of his character. His namesake, the other Simon, was termed the Canaanite, and also Zelotes, [38:7] or the zealot -- a title expressive, in all likelihood, of the zeal and earnestness with which he was wont to carry out his principles. We are informed that our Lord sent forth the Twelve |by two and two,| [38:8] but we cannot tell whether He observed any general rule in the arrangement of those who were to travel in company. The relationship of the parties to each other might, at least in three instances, have suggested a classification; as Peter and Andrew, James and John, James the Less and Jude, were, respectively, brothers. James the Less is described as |the Lord's brother,| [39:1] and Jude is called |the brother of James,| [39:2] so that these two disciples must have been in some way related to our Saviour; but the exact degree of affinity or consanguinity cannot now, perhaps, be positively ascertained. [39:3] Some of the disciples, such as Andrew, [39:4] and probably John, [39:5] had previously been disciples of the Baptist, but their separation from their former master and adherence to Jesus did not lead to any estrangement between our Lord and His pious forerunner. As the Baptist contemplated the more permanent and important character of the Messiah's mission, he could cheerfully say -- |He must increase, but I must decrease.| [39:6]
All the Twelve, when enlisted as disciples of Christ, appear to have moved in the humbler walks of life; and yet we are scarcely warranted in asserting that they were extremely indigent. Peter, the fisherman, pretty plainly indicates that, in regard to worldly circumstances, he had been, to some extent, a loser by obeying the call of Jesus. [39:7] Though James and John were likewise fishermen, the family had at least one little vessel of their own, and they could afford to pay |hired servants| to assist them in their business. [40:1] Matthew acted, in a subordinate capacity, as a collector of imperial tribute; but though the Jews cordially hated a functionary who brought so painfully to their recollection their condition as a conquered people, it is pretty clear that the publican was engaged in a lucrative employment. Zacchaeus, said to have been a |chief among the publicans,| [40:2] is represented as a rich man; [40:3] and Matthew, though probably in an inferior station, was able to give an entertainment in his own house to a numerous company. [40:4] Still, however, the Twelve, as a body, were qualified, neither by their education nor their habits, for acting as popular instructors; and had the gospel been a device of human wisdom, it could not have been promoted by their advocacy. Individuals who had hitherto been occupied in tilling the land, in fishing, and in mending nets, or in sitting at the receipt of custom, could not have been expected to make any great impression as ecclesiastical reformers. Their position in society gave them no influence; their natural talents were not particularly brilliant; and even their dialect betokened their connexion with a district from which nothing good or great was anticipated. [40:5] But God exalted these men of low degree, and made them the spiritual illuminators of the world.
Though the New Testament enters very sparingly into the details of their personal history, it is plain that the Twelve presented a considerable variety of character. Thomas, though obstinate, was warm-hearted and manly. Once when, as he imagined, his Master was going forward to certain death, he chivalrously proposed to his brethren that they should all perish along with Him; [40:6] and though at first he doggedly refused to credit the account of the resurrection, [41:6] yet, when his doubts were removed, he gave vent to his feelings in one of the most impressive testimonies [41:2] to the power and godhead of the Messiah to be found in the whole book of revelation. James, the son of Alphaeus, was noted for his prudence and practical wisdom; [41:3] and Nathanael was frank and candid -- |an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile.| [41:4] Our Lord bestowed on Peter and the two sons of Zebedee peculiar proofs of confidence and favour, for they alone were permitted to witness some of the most remarkable scenes in the history of the Man of Sorrows. [41:5] Though these three brethren displayed such a congeniality of disposition, it does not appear that they possessed minds of the same mould, but each had excellencies of his own which threw a charm around his character. Peter yielded to the impulse of the moment and acted with promptitude and vigour; James became the first of the apostolic martyrs, probably because by his ability and boldness, as a preacher, he had provoked the special enmity of Herod and the Jews; [41:6] whilst the benevolent John delighted to meditate on the |deep things of God,| and listened with profound emotion to his Master as He discoursed of the mystery of His Person, and of the peace of believers abiding in His love. It has been conjectured that there was some family relationship between the sons of Zebedee and Jesus; but of this there is no satisfactory evidence. [41:7] It was simply, perhaps, the marked attention of our Saviour to James and John which awakened the ambition of their mother, and induced her to bespeak their promotion in the kingdom of the Son of Man. [42:1]
Though none of the Twelve had received a liberal education, [42:2] it cannot be said that they were literally |novices| when invested with the ministerial commission. It is probable that, before they were invited to follow Jesus, they had all seriously turned their attention to the subject of religion; some of them had been previously instructed by the Baptist; and all, prior to their selection, appear to have been about a year under the tuition of our Lord himself. From that time until the end of His ministry they lived with Him on terms of the most intimate familiarity. From earlier acquaintance, as well as from closer and more confidential companionship, they had a better opportunity of knowing His character and doctrines than any of the rest of His disciples. When, perhaps about six or eight months [42:3] after their appointment, they were sent forth as missionaries, they were commanded neither to walk in |the way of the Gentiles,| nor to enter |into any city of the Samaritans,| but rather to go |to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.| [42:4] Their number Twelve corresponded to the number of the tribes, and they were called apostles probably in allusion to a class of Jewish functionaries who were so designated. It is said that the High Priest was wont to send forth from Jerusalem into foreign countries certain accredited agents, or messengers, styled apostles, on ecclesiastical errands. [42:5]
During the personal ministry of our Lord the Twelve seem to have been employed by Him on only one missionary excursion. About twelve months after that event [43:1] He |appointed other seventy also| to preach His Gospel. Luke is the only evangelist who mentions the designation of these additional missionaries; and though we have no reason to believe that their duties terminated with the first tour in which they were engaged, [43:2] they are never subsequently noticed in the New Testament. Many of the actions of our Lord had a typical meaning, and it is highly probable that He designed to inculcate an important truth by the appointment of these Seventy new apostles. According to the ideas of the Jews of that age there were seventy heathen nations; [43:3] and it is rather singular that, omitting Peleg the progenitor of the Israelites, the names of the posterity of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, recorded in the 10th chapter of Genesis, amount exactly to seventy. |These,| says the historian, |are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations; and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.| [43:4] Every one who looks into the narrative will perceive that the sacred writer does not propose to furnish a complete catalogue of the descendants of Noah, for he passes over in entire silence the posterity of the greater number of the patriarch's grandchildren; he apparently intends to name only those who were the founders of nations; and thus it happens that whilst, in a variety of instances, he does not trace the line of succession, he takes care, in others, to mention the father and many of his sons. [44:1] The Jewish notion current in the time of our Lord as to the existence of seventy heathen nations, seems, therefore, to have rested on a sound historical basis, inasmuch as, according to the Mosaic statement, there were, beside Peleg, precisely seventy individuals by whom |the nations were divided in the earth after the flood.| We may thus infer that our Lord meant to convey a great moral lesson by the appointment alike of the Twelve and of the Seventy. In the ordination of the Twelve He evinced His regard for all the tribes of Israel; in the ordination of the Seventy He intimated that His Gospel was designed for all the nations of the earth. When the Twelve were about to enter on their first mission He required them to go only to the Jews, but He sent forth the Seventy |two and two before His face into every city and place whither He himself would come.| [45:1] Towards the commencement of His public career, He had induced many of the Samaritans to believe on Him, [45:2] whilst at a subsequent period His ministry had been blessed to Gentiles in the coasts of Tyre and Sidon; [45:3] and there is no evidence that in the missionary journey which He contemplated when He appointed the Seventy as His pioneers, He intended to confine His labours to His kinsmen of the seed of Abraham. It is highly probable that the Seventy were actually sent forth from Samaria, [45:4] and the instructions given them apparently suggest that, in the circuit now assigned to them, they were to visit certain districts lying north of Galilee of the Gentiles. [45:5] The personal ministry of our Lord had respect primarily and specially to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, [45:6] but His conduct in this case symbolically indicated the catholic character of His religion. He evinced His regard for the Jews by sending no less than twelve apostles to that one nation, but He did not Himself refuse to minister either to Samaritans or Gentiles; and to shew that He was disposed to make provision for the general diffusion of His word, He |appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before His face into every city and place whither He himself would come.|
It is very clear that our Lord committed, in the first instance, to the Twelve the organisation of the ecclesiastical commonwealth. The most ancient Christian Church, that of the metropolis of Palestine, was modelled under their superintendence; and the earliest converts gathered into it, after His ascension, were the fruits of their ministry. Hence, in the Apocalypse, the wall of the |holy Jerusalem| is said to have |twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.| [46:1] But it does not follow that others had no share in founding the spiritual structure. The Seventy also received a commission from Christ, and we have every reason to believe that, after the death of their Master, they pursued their missionary labours with renovated ardour. That they were called apostles as well as the Twelve, cannot, perhaps, be established by distinct testimony; [46:2] but it is certain, that they were furnished with supernatural endowments; [46:3] and it is scarcely probable that they are overlooked in the description of the sacred writer when He represents the New Testament Church as |built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.| [46:4]
The appointment of the Seventy, like that of the Twelve, was a typical act; and it is not, therefore, extraordinary that they are only once noticed in the sacred volume. Our Lord never intended to constitute two permanent corporations, limited, respectively, to twelve and seventy members, and empowered to transmit their authority to successors from generation to generation. In a short time after His death the symbolical meaning of the mission of the Seventy was explained, as it very soon appeared that the gospel was to be transmitted to all the ends of the earth; and thus it was no longer necessary to refer to these representatives of the ministry of the universal Church. When the Twelve turned to the Gentiles, their number lost its significance, and from that date they accordingly ceased to fill up vacancies occurring in their society; and, as the Church assumed a settled form, the apostles were disposed to insist less and less on any special powers with which they had been originally furnished, and rather to place themselves on a level with the ordinary rulers of the ecclesiastical community. Hence we find them sitting in church courts with these brethren, [47:1] and desirous to be known not as apostles, but as elders. [47:2] We possess little information respecting either their official or their personal history. A very equivocal, and sometimes contradictory, tradition [47:3] is the only guide which even professes to point out to us where the greater number of them laboured; and the same witness is the only voucher for the statements which describe how most of them finished their career. It is an instructive fact that no proof can be given, from the sacred record, of the ordination either by the Twelve or by the Seventy, of even one presbyter or pastor. With the exception of the laying on of hands upon the seven deacons, [47:4] no inspired writer mentions any act of the kind in which the Twelve ever engaged. The deacons were not rulers in the Church, and therefore could not by ordination confer ecclesiastical power on others.
There is much meaning in the silence of the sacred writers respecting the official proceedings and the personal career of the Twelve and the Seventy. It thus becomes impossible for any one to make out a title to the ministry by tracing his ecclesiastical descent; for no contemporary records enable us to prove a connexion between the inspired founders of our religion, and those who were subsequently entrusted with the government of the Church. At the critical point where, had it been deemed necessary, we might have had the light of inspiration, we are left to wander in total darkness. We are thus shut up to the conclusion that the claims of those who profess to be heralds of the gospel are to be tested by some other criterion than their ecclesiastical lineage. It is written -- |By their fruits ye shall know them.| [48:1] God alone can make a true minister; [48:2] and he who attempts to establish his right to feed the flock of Christ by appealing to his official genealogy miserably mistakes the source of the pastoral commission. It would, indeed, avail nothing though a minister could prove his relationship to the Twelve or the Seventy by an unbroken line of ordinations, for some who at the time may have been able to deduce their descent from the apostles were amongst the most dangerous of the early heretics. [48:3] True religion is sustained, not by any human agency, but by that Eternal Spirit who quickens all the children of God, and who has preserved for them a pure gospel in the writings of the apostles and evangelists. The perpetuity of the Church no more depends on the uninterrupted succession of its ministers than does the perpetuity of a nation depend on the continuance of the dynasty which may happen at a particular date to occupy the throne. As plants possess powers of reproduction enabling them, when a part decays, to throw it off, and to supply its place by a new and vigorous vegetation, so it is with the Church -- the spiritual vine which the Lord has planted. Its government may degenerate into a corrupt tyranny by which its most precious liberties may be invaded or destroyed, but the freemen of the Lord are not bound to submit to any such domination. Were even all the ecclesiastical rulers to become traitors to the King of Zion, the Church would not therefore perish. The living members of the body of Christ would be then required to repudiate the authority of overseers by whom they were betrayed, and to choose amongst themselves such faithful men as were found most competent to teach and to guide the spiritual community. The Divine Statute-book clearly warrants the adoption of such an alternative. |Beloved,| says the Apostle John, |believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God. .... We are of God, he that knoweth God heareth us, he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.| [49:1] |If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed; for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.| [49:2] Paul declares, still more emphatically -- |Though WE, or AN ANGEL FROM HEAVEN, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.| [49:3]
In one sense neither the Twelve nor the Seventy had successors. All of them were called to preach the gospel by the living voice of Christ himself; all had |companied| with Him during the period of His ministry; all had listened to His sermons; all had been spectators of His works of wonder; all were empowered to perform miracles; all seem to have conversed with Him after His resurrection; and all appear to have possessed the gift of inspired utterance. [50:1] But in another sense every |good minister of Jesus Christ| is a successor of these primitive preachers; for every true pastor is taught of God, and is moved by the Spirit to undertake the service in which he is engaged, and is warranted to expect a blessing on the truth which he disseminates. As of old the descent from heaven of fire upon the altar testified the Divine acceptance of the sacrifices, so now the descent of the Spirit, as manifested in the conversion of souls to God, is a sure token that the labours of the minister have the seal of the Divine approbation. The great Apostle of the Gentiles did not hesitate to rely on such a proof of his commission from heaven. |Need we,| says he to the Corinthians, |epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men; forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone, but in the fleshy tables of the heart.| [50:2] No true pastor will be left entirely destitute of such encouragement, and neither the Twelve nor the Seventy could produce credentials more trustworthy or more intelligible.