Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
PREFACE TO VOLUME SIX
After much expectation, and many enquiries, the last volume of the late reverend Mr. Henry’s Exposition now appears in the world. The common disadvantages that attend posthumous productions will doubtless be discerned in this; but we hope, though there are diversities of gifts, there will be found to be the same spirit. Some of the relations and hearers of that excellent person have been at the pains of transcribing the notes they took in short-hand of this part of the holy scripture, when expounded by him in his family or in the congregation; they have furnished us with very good materials for the finishing of this great work, and we doubt not but that the ministers who have been concerned in it have made that use of those assistances which may entitle this composure to the honour of Mr. Henry’s name; and, if so, they can very willingly conceal their own.
The New Testament may be very properly divided into two parts, the one historical the other epistolary. It is the exposition of the latter we now recommend, and shall offer some thoughts on the epistolary way of writing in general, and then proceed to observe the divine authority of these epistles, together with the style, matter, method, and design of them, leaving what might be said concerning the several inspired penmen to the prefaces appertaining to the particular epistles.
As to the epistolary way of writing, it may be sufficient to observe that it has usually three properties:—It may in some things be more difficult to be understood, but then it is very profitable, and very pleasant; these will be found to be the properties of these sacred letters. We shall meet with things not easy to be understood, especially in some parts of them, where we cannot so well discover the particular occasions on which they were written or the questions or matters of fact to which they refer; but this is abundantly compensated by the profit which will accrue to those that read them with due attention. They will find the strongest reasoning, the most moving expostulations, and warm and pressing exhortations, mixed with seasonable cautions and reproofs, which are all admirably fitted to impress the mind with suitable sentiments and affections. And how much solid pleasure and delight must this afford to persons of a serious and religious spirit, especially when they wisely and faithfully apply to themselves what they find to suit their case! Thus they will appear to be as truly written to them as if their names were superscribed on them. It is natural for us to be very much pleased in perusing a wise and kind letter, full of instruction and comfort, sent to us by an absent friend: how then should we prize this part of holy scripture, when we consider herein that our God and Saviour has written these letters to us, in which we have the great things of his law and gospel, the things that belong to our peace! By these means not only the holy apostles, being dead, yet speak, but the Lord of the prophets and apostles continues to speak and write to us; and while we read them with proper affections, and follow them with suitable petitions and thanksgivings, a blessed correspondence and intercourse will be kept up between heaven and us, while we are yet sojourners in the earth.
But it is the divine inspiration and authority of these epistles we are especially concerned to know; and it is of the last importance that in this our minds be fully established. And we have strong and clear evidence that these epistles were written by the apostles of our Lord Jesus, and that they (like the prophets of the Old Testament) spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. These epistles have in all ages of the church been received by Christians as a part of those holy scriptures that are given by inspiration of God, and are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, and are able to make us wise to salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ; they are part of that perpetual universal rule of faith and life which contains doctrines and revelations we are bound to believe with a divine faith, as coming from the God of truth, and duties to be practised by us in obedience to the will of God, acknowledging that the things written therein are the commandments of God, 1 Co. 14:37. And, for the same reasons that lead us to acknowledge the other parts of the Bible to be the word of God, we must own these to be so too. If there is good reason (as indeed there is) to believe that the books of Moses were written by inspiration of God, there is the same reason to believe that the writings of the prophets were also from God, because the law and the prophets speak the same things, and such things as none but the Holy Ghost could teach; and, if we must with a divine faith believe the Old Testament to be a revelation from God, we cannot with any good reason question the divine authority of the New, when we consider how exactly the histories of the one agree with the prophecies of the other, and how the dark types and shadows of the law are illustrated and accomplished in the gospel. Nor can any person who pretends to believe the divine authority of the historical part of the New Testament, containing the Gospels and the Acts, with good reason question the equal authority of the epistolary part; for the subject-matter of all these epistles, as well as of the sermons of the apostles, is the word of God (Rom. 10:17; 1 Th. 2:13; Col. 1:25), and the gospel of God (Rom. 15:16; 2 Co. 11:7), and the gospel of Christ, 2 Co. 2:12. We are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone; and, as Moses wrote of Christ, so did all the prophets, for the Spirit of Christ in them did testify of him. And the apostles confirmed what Christ himself began to teach, God also bearing them witness with signs, and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his will, Heb. 2:3, 4. The manifestation of God in the flesh, and the things he began both to do and teach until the day in which he was taken up, together with his sufferings unto death, and his resurrection (which things are declared to us, and are firmly to be believed, and strictly regarded by us), do give us an ample account of the way of life and salvation by Jesus Christ; but still it was the will of our blessed Lord that his apostles should not only publish his gospel to all the world, but also that, after his resurrection, they should declare some things more plainly concerning him than he thought fit to do while he was here on earth, for which end he promised to send his Holy Spirit to teach them all things, to bring all things to their remembrance which he had spoken unto them, Jn. 14:26. For he told them (Jn. 16:12, 13), I have many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now; but when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall lead you into all truth, and shall show you things to come. Accordingly we find there was a wonderful effusion of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles (who in these epistles are called the servants, ambassadors, and ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God), under whose infallible guidance they preached the gospel, and declared the whole counsel of God, and that with amazing courage and success, Satan every where falling down before them like lightning from heaven. That in preaching the gospel they were under the influence of the infallible Spirit is undeniable, from the miraculous gifts and powers they received for their work, particularly that gift of tongues so necessary for the publication of the gospel throughout the world to nations of different languages; nor must we omit that mighty power that accompanied the word preached, bringing multitudes to the obedience of faith, notwithstanding all opposition from earth and hell, and the potent lusts in the hearts of those who were turned from idols to serve the living God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, that delivered us from the wrath to come. Now that they were under the same mighty influence in writing these epistles as in preaching cannot be denied. Such infallible assistance seems to be as needful at least to direct their writing as their preaching, considering that these epistles were written to keep in memory those things that had been delivered by word of mouth (2 Pt. 1:15), and to rectify the mistakes that might arise about some expressions that had been used in preaching (2 Th. 2:2), and were to remain as a standing rule and record to which believers were to appeal, for defending the truth and discovering error, and a proper means to transmit the truths of the gospel to posterity, even to the end of time. Besides, the writers of these epistles have declared that what they wrote was from God: now they must know whether they had the special assistance of the divine Spirit or no, in their writing as well as preaching; and they in all things appear to have been men of such probity that they would not dare to say they had the Spirit of God when they had it not, or if they so much as doubted whether they had it or not; yea, they are careful, when they speak their own private opinion, or only under some common influence, to tell the world that not the Lord, but they, spoke those things, but that in the rest it was not they but the Lord, 1 Co. 7:10, 12, etc. And the apostle Paul makes the acknowledgment of this their inspiration to be a test to try those that pretended to be prophets or spiritual: Let them (says he) acknowledge that the things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord, 1 Co. 14:37. And the apostle Peter gives this as the reason of his writing, that those he wrote to might after his decease have those things always in remembrance (2 Pt. 1:15), which afterwards he calls the commandment of the apostles of the Lord (ch. 3:1, 2), and so of the Lord himself. And the apostles John declareth (1 Jn. 4:6), We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us; by this we know the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
As to the style of these epistles, though it be necessary we should believe a divine influence superintending the several writers of them, yet it is not easy to explain the manner of it, nor to determine whether and in what particulars the words they wrote were dictated to them by the Holy Spirit, as mere amanuenses, or how far their own memories, and reasoning faculties, and other natural or acquired endowments, were employed under the inspection of the Spirit. We must believe that these holy men spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, that he put them on and assisted them in this work. It is very probable that sometimes he not only suggested the very thoughts in their minds, but put words into their mouths, and always infallibly guided them into all truth, both when they expounded the scriptures of the Old Testament and when they gave rules for our faith and practice in the gospel church state. And yet perhaps it may be allowed, without any diminution to the authority of these epistles, that the penmen of them made some use of their own reasoning powers and different endowments in their manner of writing, as well as of their different sorts of chirography; and that by this we are to account for that difference of style which has been observed between the writings of Paul, who was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and those of Peter and John, who were fishermen. The like difference may be discerned between the style of the prophet Isaiah, who was educated in a court, and that of Amos, who was one of the herdsmen of Tekoa. However, the best way to understand these scriptures aright is not to criticise too nicely upon the words and phrases, but to attend carefully to the drift and design of these inspired writers in them.
The subject-matter of these epistles is entirely conformable to the rest of the scriptures. In them we find frequent reference to some passages of the Old Testament, and explanations of them: in the epistle to the Hebrews we have the best exposition of the Levitical law. Indeed the New Testament refers to, and in a manner builds upon, the Old, showing the accomplishment of all the ancient promises and prophecies concerning the Messiah, and explains all the antiquated types and shadows of the good things that were then to come. But, besides these references to the preceding part of holy writ, in some of these epistles there are contained prophecies, either wholly new or at least more largely and plainly revealed, as that in the Revelation concerning the rise, reign, and fall of antichrist, of which great apostasy we have some account in 2 Th. 2:3, 4, and in 1 Tim. 4:1-3. And in these epistles we have several of the great doctrines of the gospel more fully discussed than elsewhere, particularly the doctrine of original sin, of the sin that dwells in the regenerate, and of justification by the righteousness of Christ, of the abolishing of the Jewish rites and ceremonies, of the true nature and design of the seals of the new covenant, the obligations they bring us under, and their perpetual use in the Christian church.
The general method of these epistles is such as best serves the end or design of them, which is indeed the end of the whole scripture—practical godliness, out of a principle of divine love, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned. Accordingly most of the epistles begin with the great doctrines of the gospel, the articles of the Christian faith, which, when received, work by love, purify the conscience, and produce evangelical obedience; and, after these principles have been laid down, practical conclusions are drawn and urged from them. In taking this method there is a regard paid to the nature and faculties of the soul of man (where the understanding is to lead the way, the will, affections, and executive powers, to follow after), and to the nature of religion in general, which is a reasonable service. We are not to be determined by superstitious fancies, nor by blind passions, but by a sound judgment and good understanding in the mind and will of God. By this we are taught how necessary it is that faith and practice, truth and holiness, be joined together, that the performance of moral duties will never be acceptable to God, nor available to our own salvation, without the belief of the truth, since those who make shipwreck of the faith seldom maintain a good conscience, and the most solemn profession of the faith will never save those that hold the truth in unrighteousness.
The particular occasions upon which these epistles were written do not so evidently appear in them all as in some. The first to the Corinthians seems to have taken its rise from the unhappy divisions that so early rose in the churches of Christ, through the emulation of the ministers and personal affections of the people; but it does not confine itself to that subject. That to the Galatians seems directed chiefly against those judaizing teachers that went about to draw the Gentile converts away from the simplicity of the gospel in doctrine and worship. The epistle to the Hebrews is manifestly calculated to wean the converted Jews from those Mosaical rites and ceremonies for which they retained too great a fondness, and to reconcile them to the abolition of that economy. Those epistles that are directed to particular persons more evidently carry their design in them, which he that runs may read. But this is certain, none of these epistles are of private interpretation. Most of the psalms and of the prophecies of the Old Testament were penned or pronounced on particular occasions, and yet they are of standing and universal use, and very instructive even to us upon whom the ends of the world have come. And so are those epistles that seem to have been most limited in the rise and occasion of them. There will always be need enough to warn Christians against uncharitable divisions, against corrupting the faith and worship of the gospel; and, whenever the case is the same, these epistles are as certainly directed to such churches and persons as if they had been inscribed to them.
These general observations, we suppose, may be sufficient to introduce the reader into the book itself; let us now take a short view of the whole work, of which this posthumous piece is the conclusion. It is now about fourteen years since the first part of this exposition of the Bible was made public. In five years’ time the Old Testament was finished in four volumes. The first volume of the New Testament was longer in hand; for though the ever-memorable author was always fully employed in the ordinary work of his ministry, yet those last years of his life, in which he drew up the exposition upon the historical part of the New Testament, were less at his own command than any other had been. His removal to Hackney, his almost continual preaching from day to day, his journeys to Chester, and the necessity of more frequent visits to his friends in and about London, together with a gradual sensible decay of health, will more than excuse the three years’ time that passed before that was finished. And under such difficulties none but a man of his holy zeal, unwearied industry, and great sagacity, could have gone through such a service in that space of time. He lived not to see that volume published, though left by him ready for the press. The church of God was suddenly deprived of one of the most useful ministers of the age. We have been gathering up the fragments of those feasts with which he used to entertain his family and friends, in his delightful work of opening the scriptures. What remains is that we recommend the whole of this work to the acceptance and blessing of our God and Saviour, to whose honour and interest it was from the first directed and devoted. We need not be very solicitous about the acceptance it may meet with in the world: what has been before published has been received and read with great pleasure and advantage by the most serious experienced Christians in Great Britain and Ireland; and the many loud calls there have been for the publishing of this supplement, and reprinting the whole, leave us no room to doubt but that it will meet with a hearty welcome. Though it must be acknowledged that we live in an age which by feeding upon ashes and the wind, has very much lost the relish of every thing that is spiritual and evangelical, yet we persuade ourselves there will still be found many who, by reason of use, have, their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Those that may think the expository notes too long, especially for family worship, may easily relieve themselves, either by reading a less part of the chapter at one time, or by abridging the annotations, and perusing the rest when they have more leisure; for, though it must be owned they are somewhat copious, yet we are persuaded that those who peruse them seriously will find nothing in them superfluous or impertinent; and, if any where some things in the comment do not seem to flow so naturally and necessarily from the text, we believe when they are well considered and compared it will appear they come under the analogy and general reason of the subject, and truly belong to it. If there be any that think this exposition of the Bible is too plain and familiar, that it wants the beauties of oratory and the strength of criticism, we only wish that they will read it over again with due attention, and we are pretty confident they will find the style natural, clear, and comprehensive; and we think they will hardly be able to produce one valuable criticism out of the most learned commentators but they will have it in this exposition, though couched in plain terms, and not brought in as of a critical nature. No man was more happy than Mr. Henry in that useful talent of making dark things plain, while too many, that value themselves upon their criticising faculty, affect rather to make plain things dark.
But we leave this great and good work to speak for itself, and doubt not but it will grow in its use and esteem, and will, through the blessing of God, help to revive and promote family religion and scriptural knowledge, and support the credit of scripture commentaries, though couched in human expressions. These have been always accounted the great treasures of the church, and when done with judgment, have been so far from lessening the authority of the Bible that they have greatly promoted its honour and usefulness.
The following are the ministers by whom the Exposition on the Epistolary writings, and the Revelation, was completed, as given by J. B. Williams, Esq., LL.D.,F.S.A., in his Memoirs of the Life, Character, and Writings, of the Rev. Matthew Henry, 8vo. p. 308.
Romans.......................Mr. [afterwards Dr.] John Evans.
1 Corinthians................Mr. Simon Browne.
2 Corinthians................Mr. Daniel Mayo.
Galatians....................Mr. Joshua Bayes.
Ephesians....................Mr. Samuel Rosewell.
Philippians and Colossians...Mr. [afterwards Dr.] William Harris.
1, 2 Thessalonians...........Mr. Daniel Mayo.
1, 2 Timothy.................Mr. Benjamin Andrews Atkinson.
Titus and Philemon...........Mr. Jeremiah Smith.
Hebrews......................Mr. William Tong.
James........................Dr. S. Wright.
1 Peter......................Mr. Zec. Merrill.
2 Peter......................Mr. Joseph Hill.
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
In Jerusalem Christ, by his angel, had appointed his disciples to meet him in Galilee; there he appointed them to meet him in Jerusalem again, such a day. Thus he would try their obedience, and it was found ready and cheerful; they came together, as he appointed them, to be the witnesses of his ascension, of which we have here an account. Observe,
I. The question they asked him at this interview. They came together to him, as those that had consulted one another about it, and concurred in the question nemine contradicente—unanimously; they came in a body, and put it to him as the sense of the house, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? Two ways this may be taken:—
1. "Surely thou wilt not at all restore it to the present rulers of Israel, the chief priests and the elders, that put thee to death, and, to compass that design, tamely gave up the kingdom to Caesar, and owned themselves his subjects. What! Shall those that hate and persecute thee and us be trusted with power? This be far from thee." Or rather,
2. "Surely thou wilt now restore it to the Jewish nation, as far as it will submit to thee as their king." Now two things were amiss in this question:—
(1.) Their expectation of the thing itself. They thought Christ would restore the kingdom to Israel, that is, that he would make the nation of the Jews as great and considerable among the nations as it was in the days of David and Solomon, of Asa and Jehoshaphat; that, as Shiloh, he would restore the sceptre to Judah, and the lawgiver; whereas Christ came to set up his own kingdom, and that a kingdom of heaven, not to restore the kingdom to Israel, an earthly kingdom. See here, [1.] How apt even good men are to place the happiness of the church too much in external pomp and power; as if Israel could not be glorious unless the kingdom were restored to it, nor Christ’s disciples honoured unless they were peers of the realm; whereas we are told to expect the cross in this world, and to wait for the kingdom in the other world. [2.] How apt we are to retain what we have imbibed, and how hard it is to get over the prejudices of education. The disciples, having sucked in this notion with their milk that the Messiah was to be a temporal prince, were long before they could be brought to have any idea of his kingdom as spiritual. [3.] How naturally we are biassed in favour of our own people. They thought God would have no kingdom in the world unless it were restored to Israel; whereas the kingdoms of this world were to become his, in whom he would be glorified, whether Israel should sink or swim. [4.] How apt we are to misunderstand scripture—to understand that literally which is spoken figuratively, and to expound scripture by our schemes, whereas we ought to form our schemes by the scriptures. But, when the Spirit shall be poured out from on high, our mistakes will be rectified, as the apostles’ soon after were.
(2.) Their enquiry concerning the time of it: "Lord, wilt thou do it at this time? Now that thou hast called us together is it for this purpose, that proper measures may be concerted for the restoring of the kingdom to Israel? Surely there cannot be a more favourable juncture than this." Now herein they missed their mark, [1.] That they were inquisitive into that which their Master had never directed nor encouraged them to enquire into. [2.] That they were impatient for the setting up of that kingdom in which they promised themselves so great a share, and would anticipate the divine counsels. Christ had told them that they should sit on thrones (Lu. 22:30), and now nothing will serve them but they must be in the throne immediately, and cannot stay the time; whereas he that believeth doth not make haste, but is satisfied that God’s time is the best time.
II. The check which Christ gave to this question, like that which he had a little before given to Peter’s enquiry concerning John, What is that to thee? v. 7, It is not for you to know the times and seasons. He does not contradict their expectation that the kingdom would be restored to Israel, because that mistake would soon be rectified by the pouring out of the Spirit, after which they never had any more thoughts of the temporal kingdom; and also because there is a sense of the expectation which is true, the setting up of the gospel kingdom in the world; and their mistake of the promise shall not make it of no effect; but he checks their enquiry after the time.
1. The knowledge of this is not allowed to them: It is not for you to know, and therefore it is not for you to ask. (1.) Christ is now parting from them, and parts in love; and yet he gives them this rebuke, which is intended for a caution to his church in all ages, to take heed of splitting upon the rock which was fatal to our first parents—an inordinate desire of forbidden knowledge, and intruding into things which we have not seen because God has not shown them. Nescire velle quae magister maximus docere non vult, erudita inscitia est—It is folly to covet to be wise above what is written, and wisdom to be content to be no wiser. (2.) Christ had given his disciples a great deal of knowledge above others (to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God), and had promised them his Spirit, to teach them more; now, lest they should be puffed up with the abundance of the revelations, he here lets them understand that there were some things which it was not for them to know. We shall see how little reason we have to be proud of our knowledge when we consider how many things we are ignorant of. (3.) Christ had given his disciples instructions sufficient for the discharge of their duty, both before his death and since his resurrection, and in this knowledge he will have them to be satisfied; for it is enough for a Christian, in whom vain curiosity is a corrupt humour, to be mortified, and not gratified. (4.) Christ had himself told his disciples the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and had promised that the Spirit should show them things to come concerning it, Jn. 16:13. He had likewise given them signs of the times, which it was their duty to observe, and a sin to overlook, Mt. 24:33; 16:3. But they must not expect nor desire to know either all the particulars of future events or the exact times of them. It is good for us to be kept in the dark, and left at uncertainty concerning the times and moments (as Dr. Hammond reads it) of future events concerning the church, as well as concerning ourselves,—concerning all the periods of time and the final period of it, as well as concerning the period of our own time.
Prudens futuri temporis exitum
Caliginosa nocte premit Deus—
But Jove, in goodness ever wise,
Hath hid, in clouds of thickest night,
All that in future prospect lies
Beyond the ken of mortal sight.—Hor.
As to the times and seasons of the year, we know, in general, there will be summer and winter counterchanged, but we know not particularly which day will be fair or which foul, either in summer or in winter; so, as to our affairs in this world, when it is a summer-time of prosperity, that we may not be secure, we are told there will come a wintertime of trouble; and in that winter, that we may not despond and despair, we are assured that summer will return; but what this or that particular day will bring forth we cannot tell, but must accommodate ourselves to it, whatever it is, and make the best of it.
2. The knowledge of it is reserved to God as his prerogative; it is what the Father hath put in his own power; it is hid with him. None besides can reveal the times and seasons to come. Known unto God are all his works, but not to us, ch. 15:18. It is in his power, and in his only, to declare the end from the beginning; and by this he proves himself to be God, Isa. 46:10. "And though he did think fit sometimes to let the Old-Testament prophets know the times and the seasons (as of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt four hundred years, and in Babylon seventy years), yet he has not fit to let you know the times and seasons, no not just how long it shall be before Jerusalem be destroyed, though you be so well assured of the thing itself. He hath not said that he will not give you to know something more than you do of the times and seasons;" he did so afterwards to his servant John; "but he has put it in his own power to do it or not, as he thinks fit;" and what is in that New-Testament prophecy discovered concerning the times and the seasons is so dark, and hard to be understood, that, when we come to apply it, it concerns us to remember this work, that it is not for us to be positive in determining the times and the seasons. Buxtorf mentions a saying of the rabbin concerning the coming of the Messiah: Rumpatur spiritus eorum qui supputant tempora—Perish the men who calculate the time.
III. He appoints them their work, and with authority assures them of an ability to go on with it, and of success in it. "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons—this would do you no good; but know this (v. 8) that you shall receive a spiritual power, by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon you, and shall not receive it in vain, for you shall be witnesses unto me and my glory; and your testimony shall not be in vain, for it shall be received here in Jerusalem, in the country about, and all the world over," v. 8. If Christ make us serviceable to his honour in our own day and generation, let this be enough for us, and let not us perplex ourselves about times and seasons to come. Christ here tells them,
1. That their work should be honourable and glorious: You shall be witnesses unto me. (1.) They shall proclaim him king, and publish those truths to the world by which his kingdom should be set up, and he would rule. They must openly and solemnly preach his gospel to the world. (2.) They shall prove this, shall confirm their testimony, not as witnesses do, with an oath, but with the divine seal of miracles and supernatural gifts: You shall be martyrs to me, or my martyrs, as some copies read it; for they attested the truth of the gospel with their sufferings, even unto death.
2. That their power for this work should be sufficient. They had not strength of their own for it, nor wisdom nor courage enough; they were naturally of the weak and foolish things of the world; they durst not appear as witnesses for Christ upon his trial, neither as yet were they able. "But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you" (so it may be read), "shall be animated and actuated by a better spirit than your own; you shall have power to preach the gospel, and to prove it out of the scriptures of the Old Testament" (which, when they were filled with the Holy Ghost, they did to admiration, ch. 18:28), "and to confirm it both by miracles and by sufferings." Note, Christ’s witnesses shall receive power for that work to which he calls them; those whom he employs in his service he will qualify for it, and will bear them out in it.
3. That their influence should be great and very extensive: "You shall be witnesses for Christ, and shall carry his cause," (1.) "In Jerusalem; there you must begin, and many there will receive your testimony; and those that do not will be left inexcusable." (2.) "Your light shall thence shine throughout all Judea, where before you have laboured in vain." (3.) "Thence you shall proceed to Samaria, though at your first mission you were forbidden to preach in any of the cities of the Samaritans." (4.) "Your usefulness shall reach to the uttermost part of the earth, and you shall be blessings to the whole world."
IV. Having left these instructions with them, he leaves them (v. 9): When he had spoken these things, and had said all that he had to say, he blessed them (so we were told, Lu. 24:50); and while they beheld him, and had their eye fixed upon him, receiving his blessing, he was gradually taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. We have here Christ’s ascending on high; not fetched away, as Elijah was, with a chariot of fire and horses of fire, but rising to heaven, as he rose from the grave, purely by his own power, his body being now, as the bodies of the saints will be at the resurrection, a spiritual body, and raised in power and incorruption. Observe, 1. He began his ascension in the sight of his disciples, even while they beheld. They did not see him come up out of the grave, because they might see him after he had risen, which would be satisfaction enough; but they saw him go up towards heaven, and had actually their eye upon him with so much care and earnestness of mind that they could not be deceived. It is probable that he did not fly swiftly up, but moved upwards gently, for the further satisfaction of his disciples. 2. He vanished out of their sight, in a cloud, either a thick cloud, for God said that he would dwell in the thick darkness; or a bright cloud, to signify the splendour of his glorious body. It was a bright cloud that overshadowed him in his transfiguration, and most probably this was so, Mt. 17:5. This cloud received him, it is probable, when he had gone about as far from the earth as the clouds generally are; yet it was not such a spreading cloud as we commonly see, but such as just served to enclose him. Now he made the clouds his chariot, Ps. 104:3. God had often come down in a cloud; now he went up in one. Dr. Hammond thinks that the clouds receiving him here were the angels receiving him; for the appearance of angels is ordinarily described by a cloud, comparing Ex. 25:22 with Lev. 16:2. By the clouds there is a sort of communication kept up between the upper and lower world; in them the vapours are sent up from the earth, and the dews sent down from heaven. Fitly therefore does he ascend in a cloud who is the Mediator between God and man, by whom God’s mercies come down upon us and our prayers come up to him. This was the last that was seen of him. The eyes of a great many witnesses followed him into the cloud; and, if we would know what became of him then, we may find (Dan. 7:13), That one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him in the clouds as he came near before him.
V. The disciples, when he had gone out of their sight, yet still continued looking up stedfastly to heaven (v. 10), and this longer than it was fit they should; and why so? 1. Perhaps they hoped that Christ would presently come back to them again, to restore the kingdom to Israel, and were loth to believe they should now part with him for good and all; so much did they still dote upon his bodily presence, though he had told them that it was expedient for them that he should go away. or, they looked after him, as doubting whether he might not be dropped, as the sons of the prophets thought concerning Elijah (2 Ki. 2:16), and so they might have him again. 2. Perhaps they expected to see some change in the visible heavens now upon Christ’s ascension, that either the sun should be ashamed or the moon confounded (Isa. 24:23), as being out-shone by his lustre; or, rather, that they should show some sign of joy and triumph; or perhaps they promised themselves a sight of the glory of the invisible heavens, upon their opening to receive him. Christ had told them that hereafter they should see heaven opened (Jn. 1:51), and why should not they expect it now?
VI. Two angels appeared to them, and delivered them a seasonable message from God. There was a world of angels ready to receive our Redeemer, now that he made his public entry into the Jerusalem above: we may suppose these two loth to be absent then; yet, to show how much Christ had at heart the concerns of his church on earth, he sent back to his disciples two of those that came to meet him, who appear as two men in white apparel, bright and glittering; for they know, according to the duty of their place, that they are really serving Christ when they are ministering to his servants on earth. Now we are told what the angels said to them, 1. To check their curiosity: You men of Galilee, why stand you gazing up into heaven? He calls them men of Galilee, to put them in mind of the rock out of which they were hewn. Christ had put a great honour upon them, in making them his ambassadors; but they must remember that they are men, earthen vessels, and men of Galilee, illiterate men, looked upon with disdain. Now, say they, "Why stand you here, like Galileans, rude and unpolished men, gazing up into heaven? What would you see? You have seen all that you were called together to see, and why do you look any further? Why stand you gazing, as men frightened and perplexed, as men astonished and at their wits’ end?" Christ’s disciples should never stand at a gaze, because they have a sure rule to go by, and a sure foundation to build upon. 2. To confirm their faith concerning Christ’s second coming. Their Master had often told them of this, and the angels are sent at this time seasonably to put them in mind of it: "This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, and whom you are looking thus long after, wishing you had him with you again, is not gone for ever; for there is a day appointed in which he will come in like manner thence, as you have seen him go thither, and you must not expect him back till that appointed day." (1.) "This same Jesus shall come again in his own person, clothed with a glorious body; this same Jesus, who came once to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, will appear a second time without sin (Heb. 9:26, 28), who came once in disgrace to be judged, will come again in glory to judge. The same Jesus who has given you your charge will come again to call you to an account how you have performed your trust; he, and not another," Job 19:27. (2.) "He shall come in like manner. He is gone away in a cloud, and attended with angels; and, behold, he comes in the clouds, and with him an innumerable company of angels! He is gone up with a shout and with the sound of a trumpet (Ps. 47:5), and he will descend from heaven with a shout and with the trump of God, 1 Th. 4:16. You have now lost the sight of him in the clouds and in the air; and whither he is gone you cannot follow him now, but shall then, when you shall be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." When we stand gazing and trifling, the consideration of our Master’s second coming should quicken and awaken us; and, when we stand gazing and trembling, the consideration of it should comfort and encourage us.
Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey.
We are here told, I. Whence Christ ascended—from the mount of Olives (v. 12), from that part of it where the town of Bethany stood, Lu. 24:50. There he began his sufferings (Lu. 22:39), and therefore there he rolled away the reproach of them by his glorious ascension, and thus showed that his passion and his ascension had the same reference and tendency. Thus would he enter upon his kingdom in the sight of Jerusalem, and of those undutiful ungrateful citizens of his that would not have him to reign over them. It was prophesied of him (Zec. 14:4), That his feet should stand upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem, should stand last there; and presently it follows, The mount of Olives shall cleave in two. From the mount of Olives he ascended who is the good olive-tree, whence we receive the unction, Zec. 4:12; Rom. 11:24. This mount is here said to be near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey from it, that is, a little way; no further than devout people used to walk out on a sabbath evening, after the public worship was over, for meditation. Some reckon it a thousand paces, others two thousand cubits; some seven furlongs, others eight. Bethany indeed was fifteen furlongs from Jerusalem (Jn. 11:18), but that part of the mount of Olives which was next to Jerusalem, whence Christ began to ride in triumph, was but seven or eight furlongs off. The Chaldee paraphrast on Ruth 1 says, We are commanded to keep the sabbaths and the holy days, so as not to go above two thousand cubits, which they build upon Jos. 3:4, where, in their march through Jordan, the space between them and the ark was to be two thousand cubits. God had not then thus limited them, but they limited themselves; and thus far it is a rule to us, not to journey on the sabbath any more than in order to the sabbath work; and as far as is necessary to this we are not only allowed, but enjoined, 2 Ki. 4:23.
II. Whither the disciples returned: They came to Jerusalem, according to their Master’s appointment, though there they were in the midst of enemies; but it should seem that though immediately after Christ’s resurrection they were watched, and were in fear of the Jews, yet after it was known that they were gone into Galilee no notice was taken of their return to Jerusalem, nor any further search made for them. God can find out hiding-places for his people in the midst of their enemies, and so influence Saul that he shall not seek for David any more. At Jerusalem they went up into an upper room, and there abode; not that they all lodged and dieted together in one room, but there they assembled every day, and spent time together in religious exercises, in expectation of the descent of the Spirit. Divers conjectures the learned have about this upper room. Some think it was one of the upper rooms in the temple; but it cannot be thought that the chief priests, who had the letting of these rooms, would suffer Christ’s disciples constantly to reside in any of them. It was said indeed, by the same historian, that they were continually in the temple (Lu. 24:53), but that was in the courts of the temple, at the hours of prayer, where they could not be hindered from attending; but, it should seem, this upper room was in a private house. Mr. Gregory, of Oxford, is of this opinion, and quotes a Syriac scholiast upon this place, who says that it was the same upper room in which they had eaten the passover; and though that was called anoµgeon, this hyperoµon, both may signify the same. "Whether," says he, "it was in the house of St. John the evangelist, as Euodius delivered, or that of Mary the mother of John Mark, as others have collected, cannot be certain." Notes, ch. 13.
III. Who the disciples were, that kept together. The eleven apostles are here named (v. 13), so is Mary the mother of our Lord (v. 14), and it is the last time that ever any mention is made of her in the scriptures. There were others that are here said to be the brethren of our Lord, his kinsmen according to the flesh; and, to make up the hundred and twenty spoken of (v. 15), we may suppose that all or most of the seventy disciples were with them, that were associates with the apostles, and were employed as evangelists.
IV. How they spent their time: They all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication. Observe, 1. They prayed, and made supplication. All God’s people are praying people, and give themselves to prayer. It was now a time of trouble and danger with the disciples of Christ; they were as sheep in the midst of wolves; and, Is any afflicted? Let him pray; this will silence cares and fears. They had new work before them, great work, and, before they entered upon it, they were instant in prayer to God for his presence with them in it. Before they were first sent forth Christ spent time in prayer for them, and now they spent time in prayer for themselves. They were waiting for the descent of the Spirit upon them, and therefore abounded thus in prayer. The Spirit descended upon our Saviour when he was praying, Lu. 3:21. Those are in the best frame to receive spiritual blessings that are in a praying frame. Christ had promised now shortly to send the Holy Ghost; now this promise was not to supersede prayer, but to quicken and encourage it. God will be enquired of for promised mercies, and the nearer the performance seems to be the more earnest we should be in prayer for it. 2. They continued in prayer, spent much time in it, more than ordinary, prayed frequently, and were long in prayer. They never missed an hour of prayer; they resolved to persevere herein till the Holy Ghost came, according to the promise, to pray, and not to faint. It is said (Lu. 24:53), They were praising and blessing God; here, They continued in prayer and supplication; for as praise for the promise is a decent way of begging for the performance, and praise for former mercy of begging further mercy, so, in seeking to God, we give him the glory of the mercy and grace which we have found in him. 3. They did this with one accord. This intimates that they were together in holy love, and that there was no quarrel nor discord among them; and those who so keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace are best prepared to receive the comforts of the Holy Ghost. It also intimates their worthy concurrence in the supplications that were made; though but one spoke, they all prayed, and if, when two agree to ask, it shall be done for them, much more when many agree in the same petition. See Mt. 18:19.
And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
The sin of Judas was not only his shame and ruin, but it made a vacancy in the college of the apostles. They were ordained twelve, with an eye to the twelve tribes of Israel, descended from the twelve patriarchs; they were the twelve stars that make up the church’s crown (Rev. 12:1), and for them twelve thrones were designated, Mt. 19:28. Now being twelve when they were learners, if they were but eleven when they were to be teachers, it would occasion every one to enquire what had become of the twelfth, and so revive the remembrance of the scandal of their society; and therefore care was taken, before the descent of the Spirit, to fill up the vacancy, of the doing of which we now have an account, our Lord Jesus, probably, having given directions about it, among other things which he spoke pertaining to the kingdom of God. Observe,
I. The persons concerned in this affair. 1. The house consisted of about a hundred and twenty. This was the number of the names, that is, the persons; some think the men only, distinguished from the women. Dr. Lightfoot reckons that the eleven apostles, the seventy disciples, and about thirty-nine more, all of Christ’s own kindred, country, and concourse, made up this one hundred and twenty, and that these were a sort of synod, or congregation of ministers, a standing presbytery (ch. 4:23), to whom none of the rest durst join themselves (ch. 5:13), and that they continued together till the persecution at Stephen’s death dispersed them all but the apostles (ch. 8:1); but he thinks that besides these there were many hundreds in Jersualem, if not thousands, at this time, that believed; and we have indeed read of many that believed on him there, but durst not confess him, and therefore I cannot think, as he does, that they were now formed into distinct congregations, for the preaching of the word and other acts of worship; nor that there was any thing of this till after the pouring out of the Spirit, and the conversions recorded in the following chapter. Here was the beginning of the Christian church: this hundred and twenty was the grain of mustard-seed that grew into a tree, the leaven that leavened the whole lump. 2. The speaker was Peter, who had been, and still was, the most forward man; and therefore notice is taken of his forwardness and zeal, to show that he had perfectly recovered the ground he lost by his denying his Master, and, Peter being designed to be the apostle of the circumcision, while the sacred story stays among the Jews, he is still brought in, as afterwards, when it comes to speak of the Gentiles, it keeps to the story of Paul.
II. The proposal which Peter made for the choice of another apostle. He stood up in the midst of the disciples, v. 15. He did not sit down, as one that gave laws, or had any supremacy over the rest, but stood up, as one that had only a motion to make, in which he paid a deference to his brethren, standing up when he spoke to them. Now in his speech we may observe,
1. The account he gives of the vacancy made by the death of Judas, in which he is very particular, and, as became one that Christ had breathed upon, takes notice of the fulfilling of the scriptures in it. Here is,
(1.) The power to which Judas had been advanced (v. 17): He was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry which we are invested with. Note, Many are numbered with the saints in this world that will not be found among them in the day of separation between the precious and the vile. What will it avail us to be added to the number of Christians, if we partake not of the spirit and nature of Christians? Judas’s having obtained part of this ministry was but an aggravation of his sin and ruin, as it will be of theirs who prophesied in Christ’s name, and yet were workers of iniquity.
(2.) The sin of Judas, notwithstanding his advancement to this honour. He was guide to those that took Jesus, not only informed Christ’s persecutors where they might find him (which they might have done effectually though he had kept out of sight), but he had the impudence to appear openly at the head of the party that seized him. He went before them to the place, and, as if he had been proud of the honour, gave the word of command: That same is he, hold him fast. Note, Ringleaders in sin are the worst of sinners, especially if those that by their office should have been guides to the friends of Christ are guides to his enemies.
(3.) The ruin of Judas by this sin. Perceiving the chief priests to seek the life of Christ and his disciples, he thought to save his by going over to them, and not only so, but to get an estate under them, of which his wages for his service, he hoped, would be but an earnest; but see what came of it. [1.] He lost his money shamefully enough (v. 18): He purchased a field with the thirty pieces of silver, which were the reward of his iniquity. He did not purchase the field, but the wages of his unrighteousness did, and it is very elegantly expressed thus, in derision of his projects to enrich himself by this bargain. He thought to have purchased a field for himself, as Gehazi did with what he got from Naaman by a lie (see 2 Ki. 5:26), but it proved the purchase of a field to bury strangers in; and what was he or any of his the better for this? It was to him an unrighteous mammon, it deceived him; and the reward of his iniquity was the stumbling-block of his iniquity. [2.] He lost his life m ore shamefully. We were told (Mt. 27:5) that he went away in despair, and was suffocated (so the word signifies there, and no more); here it is added (as latter historians add to those who went before) that, being strangled, or choked with grief and horror, he fell headlong, fell on his face (so Dr. Hammond), and partly with the swelling of his own breast, and partly with the violence of the fall, he burst asunder in the midst, so that all his bowels tumbled out. If, when the devil was cast out of a child, he tore him, threw him down, and rent him, and almost killed him (as we find Mk. 9:26; Lu. 9:42), no wonder if, when he had full possession of Judas, he threw him headlong, and burst him. The suffocation of him, which Matthew relates, would make him swell till he burst, which Peter relates. he burst asunder with a great noise (so Dr. Edwards), which was heard by the neighbours, and so, as it follows, it came to be known (v. 19): His bowels gushed out; Luke writes like a physician, understanding all the entrails of the middle and lower ventricle. Bowelling is part of the punishment of traitors. Justly do those bowels gush out that were shut up against the Lord Jesus. And perhaps Christ had an eye to the fate of Judas, when he said of the wicked servant that he would cut him in sunder, Mt. 24:51.
(4.) The public notice that was taken of this: It was known to all the dwellers in Jerusalem. It was, as it were, put into the newspapers, and was all the talk of the town, as a remarkable judgment of God upon him that betrayed his Master, v. 19. It was not only discoursed of among the disciples, but it was in every body’s mouth, and nobody disputed the truth of the fact. It was known, that is, it was known to be true, incontestably so. Now one would think this should have awakened those to repentance that had had any hand in the death of Christ when they saw him that had the first hand thus made an example. But their hearts were hardened, and, as to those of them that were to be softened, it must be done by the word, and the Spirit working with it. Here is one proof of the notoriety of the thing mentioned, that the field which was purchased with Judas’s money was called Aceldama—the field of blood, because it was bought with the price of blood, which perpetuated the infamy not only of him that sold that innocent precious blood, but of those that bought it too. Look how they will answer it, when God shall make inquisition for blood.
(5.) The fulfilling of the scriptures in this, which had spoken so plainly of it, that it must needs be fulfilled, v. 16. Let none be surprised nor stumble at it, that this should be the exit of one of the twelve, for David had not only foretold his sin (which Christ had taken notice of, Jn. 13:18, from Ps. 41:9, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up the heel against me), but had also foretold, [1.] His punishment (Ps. 69:25): Let his habitation be desolate. This Psalm refers to the Messiah. Mention is made but two or three verses before of their giving him gall and vinegar, and therefore the following predictions of the destruction of David’s enemies must be applied to the enemies of Christ, and particularly to Judas. Perhaps he had some habitation of his own at Jerusalem, which, upon this, every body was afraid to live in, and so it became desolate. This prediction signifies the same with that of Bildad concerning the wicked man, that his confidence shall be rooted out of his tabernacle, and shall bring him to the king of terrors: it shall dwell in his tabernacle, because it is none of his; brimstone shall be scattered upon his habitation, Job 18:14, 15. [2.] The substitution of another in his room. His bishopric, or his office (for so the word signifies in general) shall another take, which is quoted from Ps. 109:8. With this quotation Peter very aptly introduces the following proposal. Note, We are not to think the worse of any office that God has instituted (whether magistracy or ministry) either for the wickedness of any that are in that office or for the ignominious punishment of that wickedness; nor will God suffer any purpose of his to be frustrated, any commission of his to be vacated, or any work of his to be undone, for the miscarriages of those that are entrusted therewith. The unbelief of man shall not make the promise of God of no effect. Judas is hanged, but his bishopric is not lost. It is said of his habitation, that no man shall dwell therein, there he shall have no heir; but it is not said so of his bishopric, there he shall not want a successor. It is with the officers of the church as with the members of it, if the natural branches be broken off, others shall be grafted in, Rom. 11:17. Christ’s cause shall never be lost for want of witnesses.
2. The motion he makes for the choice of another apostle, v. 21, 22. Here observe, (1.) How the person must be qualified that must fill the vacancy. It must be one of these men, these seventy disciples, that have companied with us, that have constantly attended us, all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, preaching and working miracles for three years and a half, beginning from the baptism of John, from which the gospel of Christ commenced, unto that same day that he was taken up from us. Those that have been diligent, faithful, and constant, in the discharge of their duty in a lower station, are fittest to be preferred to a higher; those that have been faithful in a little shall be entrusted with more. And none should be employed as ministers of Christ, preachers of his gospel, and rulers in his church, but those that are well acquainted with his doctrine and doings, from first to last. None shall be an apostle but one that has companied with the apostles, and that continually; not that has visited them now and then, but been intimately conversant with them. (2.) To what work he is called that must fill up the vacancy: He must be a witness with us of his resurrection. By this it appears that others of the disciples were with the eleven when Christ appeared to them, else they could not have been witnesses with them, as competent witnesses as they, of his resurrection. The great thing which the apostles were to attest to the world was Christ’s resurrection, for this was the great proof of his being the Messiah, and the foundation of our hope in him. See what the apostles were ordained to, not to a secular dignity and dominion, but to preach Christ, and the power of his resurrection.
III. The nomination of the person that was to succeed Judas in his office as an apostle.
1. Two, who were known to have been Christ’s constant attendants, and men of great integrity, were set up as candidates for the place (v. 23): They appointed two; not the eleven, they did not take upon them to determine who should be put up, but the hundred and twenty, for to them Peter spoke, and not to the eleven. The two they nominated were Joseph and Matthias, of neither of whom do we read elsewhere, except this Joseph be the same with that Jesus who is called Justus, of whom Paul speaks (Col. 4:11), and who is said to be of the circumcision, a native Jew, as this was, and who was a fellow-worker with Paul in the kingdom of God and a comfort to him; and then it is observable that, though he came short of being an apostle, he did not therefore quit the ministry, but was very useful in a lower station; for, Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Some think this Joseph is he that is called Joses (Mk. 6:3), the brother of James the less (Mk. 15:40), and was called Joses the just, as he was called James the just. Some confound this with that Joses mentioned Acts 4:36. But that was of Cyprus, this of Galilee; and, it should seem, to distinguish them, that was called Barnabas—a son of consolation; this Barsabas—a son of the oath. These two were both of them such worthy men, and so well qualified for the office, that they could not tell which of them was the fitter, but all agreed it must be one of these two. They did not propose themselves nor strive for the place, but humbly sat still, and were appointed to it.
2. They applied to God by prayer for direction, not which of the seventy, for none of the rest could stand in competition with these in the opinion of all present, but which of these two? v. 24, 25. (1.) They appeal to God as the searcher of hearts: "Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, which we do not, and better than they know their own." Observe, When an apostle was to be chosen, he must be chosen by his heart, and the temper and disposition of that. Yet Jesus, who knew all men’s hearts, for wise and holy ends chose Judas to be one of the twelve. It is comfortable to us, in our prayers for the welfare of the church and its ministers, that the God to whom we pray knows the hearts of all men, and has them not only under his eye, but in his hand, and turns them which way soever he will, can make them fit for his purpose, if he do not find them so, by giving them another spirit. (2.) They desire to know which of these God had chosen: Lord, show us this, and we are satisfied. It is fit that God should choose his own servants; and so far as he in any way by the disposals of his providence or the gifts of his Spirit, shows whom he hath chosen, or what he hath chosen, for us, we ought to comply with him. (3.) They are ready to receive him as a brother whom God hath chosen; for they are not contriving to have so much the more dignity themselves, by keeping out another, but desire to have one to take part of this ministry and apostleship, to join with them in the work and share with them in the honour, from which Judas by transgression fell, threw himself, by deserting and betraying his Master, from the place of an apostle, of which he was unworthy, that he might go to his own place, the place of a traitor, the fittest place for him, not only to the gibbet, but to hell—this was his own place. Note, Those that betray Christ, as they fall from the dignity of relation to him, so they fall into all misery. It is said of Balaam (Num. 24:25) that he went to his own place, that is, says one of the rabbin, he went to hell. Dr. Whitby quotes Ignatius saying, There is appointed to every man idios topos—a proper place, which imports the same with that of God’s rendering to every man according to his works. And our Saviour had said that Judas’s own place should be such that it had been better for him that he had never been born (Mt. 26:24)—his misery such as to be worse than not being. Judas had been a hypocrite, and hell is the proper place of such; other sinners, as inmates, have their portion with them, Mt. 24:51. (4.) The doubt was determined by lot (v. 26), which is an appeal to God, and lawful to be used for determining matters not otherwise determinable, provided it be done in a solemn religious manner, and with prayer, the prayer of faith; for the lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposal thereof is of the Lord, Prov. 16:33. Matthias was not ordained by the imposition of hands, as presbyters were, for he was chosen by lot, which was the act of God; and therefore, as he must be baptized, so he must be ordained, by the Holy Ghost, as they all were not many days after. Thus the number of the apostles was made up, as afterwards, when James, another of the twelve, was martyred, Paul was made an apostle.