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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;* and when he appointed his disciples a solemn meeting in Galilee, informing them before-hand 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 t 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
Acts, i. 15.
+ 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.
success he would meet with, "Who hath believed "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.
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 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 or 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 him, his more immediate followers were Galileans, fishermen,
# John, vi. 66, 67.
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; 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
* Luke, i. 52, 53.
+ Zaccheus was a chief or principal publican, to whom the rest were accountable; a commissioner of the revenue. " 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. xviii. 25. This remark 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.
the wisdom or influence of men, but by the power and providence of God.
5. It is farther 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 one † town. The other James and Jude were also brethren. So it is said, Jesus loved Mary, and her sister, and Lazarus, three in one house; when, perhaps, the whole place hardly afforded a fourth; and more in a single village than were to be found in many larger cities taken together. This circumstance more strongly marked the discrimination of his grace, in making the means effectual where, and to whom, he pleased. Such has been the usual event of his Gospel since. It is proclaimed to all, but accepted by few; and of these several are often found in one family, while their next-door neighbours account it a burden and offence. It flourishes here and there ‡ in a few places, while those of the adjacent country are buried in more than Egyptian darkness, and resist the endeavours of those who would invite them to partake of the
* 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.
† Amos, iv. 7.
same benefits. Thus the Lord is pleased to display his own sovereignty, in raising and sending forth his ministers when and where he sees fit, and in determining the subjects and measure of their If others dispute and cavil against this procedure, those who believe have cause to adore his goodness to themselves; and a day is at hand, when every mouth shall be stopped that would contend with the just Judge of all the earth. The impenitent and unbelieving will not then dare to charge him with injustice, for dealing with them according to their own counsels and desires, inasmuch as when the light of truth was ready to break upon them, they chose darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Secondly. In the calling of our Lord's disciples, and the manner in which they were brought to know and serve him, we may discover the same variety as, at this day, appears in the conversion of sinners by the preaching of the Gospel.
Some, from a religious education, and early acquaintance with the Scriptures, and the secret influence of the Spirit of God upon their hearts,
* See Rom. xi. 23. There are but few who dispute upon the subject of the Divine Decrees with that reverence and caution St. Paul expresses. In chap. ix., when an objection was started, he cuts it short with, "But who art thou, O man, that repliest "against God?" And here he breaks off abruptly, with, “O "the depth!" He seems to have followed the narrow winding streams of human reasoning, till he finds himself, unawares, upon the brink of an ocean that has neither bounds nor bottom. And every word expresses the reverence and astonishment with which his mind was filled. The wisdom of the divine counsels in their first plan; the knowledge of their extensive consequences in this world, in all worlds, in time, and in eternity; the riches of that wisdom and knowledge; the depth of those riches; his counsels inaccessible; his proceedings untraceable; all is wonderful in St. Paul's view. How different this from the trifling arrogant spirit of too many upon this topic!