In the opening chapter of the Acts, we are introduced into the first congregational meeting, so to call it, that ever was held in the Church of Christ. There are a hundred and twenty members present in the upper room, and the Presbytery of Jerusalem are met there with the congregation: moderator, clerk, and all. Peter presides; and he discharges the duties of the day with all that solemnity of mind and all that intensity of heart which we seldom miss in Peter (Acts 1:13-26).
For Judas Iscariot, a member of the Presbytery, so to call him, has turned out to have been the son of perdition all the time. For thirty pieces of silver he had become guide to them that took Jesus. Peter himself had almost gone down into the same horrible pit with Judas: and he also would have been in his own place by this time, had it not been that his Master prayed for Peter that his faith might not fail. And thus it is that Peter is now sitting in that seat of honor, influence and authority, and is conducting the election of a successor to Judas, with all that holy fear and with all that firm faith which makes that upper room, under Peter’s presidency, such a pattern to all vacant congregations to all time.
Considering her age and her size, the Church of Jerusalem had a large number of men any one of whom could quite well have been put forward and proposed for the vacant office. But Peter and his colleagues, with a great sense of responsibility, had prepared a short leet of two quite outstanding and distinguished men; Joseph, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias(Acts 1:23). And then one of the eleven led the congregation in prayer in these well-remembered words-“Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen.” (Acts 1:24) And the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles(Acts 1:25-26).
Now, somewhat remarkable to say, never before the day of his election, and never after it, is Matthias’s name so much as once mentioned in all the New Testament.
At the same time, we have Matthias’s footprints, so to speak, oftener than once on the pages of the four Gospels. And a man’s mere footprints, and the direction they point to, will sometimes tell us far more about the real character and capacity of the man than whole volumes of printed matter about him.
The first time we see one of Matthias’s footprints is on the sands of Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing(Acts 1:22). Like Andrew and Simon the sons of Jonas, and like John the son of Zebedee, Matthias was a disciple of the Baptist at that time, confessing his sins. The next day John saw Jesus coming to him, and said to Matthias, Behold the Lamb of God(John 1:36). And Matthias heard him speak, and he followed Jesus, along with John and Andrew. And when Peter tabled Matthias’s name on the day of the election, he certified all these things about Matthias to the ten, and to the women, and to Mary the mother of Jesus, and to His brethren, and to the whole hundred-and-twenty.
And more than that, Peter certified to the whole congregation that, when many who had been baptized, apostatised and went back and walked no more with John and Jesus, Matthias, said Peter, has this to his praise, that he has endured and has persevered up to this very present. Not only so, but this also, that Matthias had been a witness with the eleven of the resurrection of the Lord(Acts 1:21-22). And these, added Peter, are the two indispensable tests of fitness for this vacant office; a three years’ conversion and faithful discipleship, and this also, that he had seen the risen Lord with his own eyes. And the lot fell upon Matthias.
Now, it is sometimes not very unlike that when you yourselves meet to call a minister. Tremendous as the moment is: everlasting as the issues are that hang upon that moment: you may never have heard so much as the name of that candidate for the pastorate of your immortal soul. You may never so much as have heard him once open his mouth either to pray or to preach. Not one of the hundred-and-twenty had ever heard this stranger man Matthias once open his mouth. But Peter has had his eye on Matthias all along. Peter knew far more about both Joseph and Matthias than they could have believed. Peter was all ears and all eyes where a future apostle and pastor was concerned.
And so it is sometimes still. All you really know about your future minister you have to take sometimes on the best testimony you can get. As one of our own elders once said when we were calling our young minister: “I would rather trust to those two capable men who know him and have heard him preach, than I would trust to my own ears.” And he spoke with both wisdom and humility in so saying. Like the hundred-and-twenty, little as you know about your future minister, you know this much, that when all the other young men at school and college were choosing learning, and philosophy, and medicine, and law, and the army, and the navy, and trade, and manufactures, and so on; this youth now in your offer was led to choose the word of God, and the pulpit, and the pastorate, for his life-work. And, with all that, you may with some assurance, put your hand to his call, after you have made your importunate and personal prayer about this whole momentous matter to Him who knows the hearts of all men. For He knows your heart better than you know it yourself: and He knows just what kind of a minister your heart needs: your own heart and your children’s hearts. And, then, He knows the hearts of all those probationers also, and whether their hearts are properly in their Master’s work or no. As also what motive it was that made them ministers at first, and with what motive and with what intention they are laying out their future work among you. How well it is, both for congregations and candidates, that He knows all men’s hearts, and that all men’s hearts are in His hands.
Three years ago Matthias had come through a very sharp trial of faith, and love, and patience, and perseverance. At his conversion and baptism Matthias had prepared his heart to leave all and to follow Christ. But instead of being invited to do what with all his heart he wished to do, Matthias was deliberately passed over by our Lord in His election of the twelve.
Matthias had been in Christ, as Paul says, a long time before some of those men who were lifted over his head; and here was he as good as set aside and clean forgotten. And, just suppose, what is more than likely, that Matthias knew Judas’s secret heart and real character quite well; what a shock it was to Matthias’s faith, and love, and whole religious life, to see such a deceiver as Iscariot was, deliberately chosen by Christ, when Matthias would have shed the last drop of his blood for the Master who had refused to employ him. But Matthias, for all that, did not let his heart sour. He accepted being set aside as his proper place. He found in himself only too many reasons why he was so set aside. He was like the defeated candidate in Plutarch who, departing home from the election to his house, said to them at home that it did him good to see that there were three hundred men in Athens who were better men than he was.
And thus it was that when many men would have turned away and gone after another master, Matthias said to himself: ‘Office or no office, election or rejection, call or no call, to whom else can I go?’ Nay, not only did Matthias keep true to his Master through all these humiliations and disappointments, but he continued to behave himself and to lay out his life just as if he had been elected and ordained. So much so, that without ordination he worked harder at the out-of-the-way work of the discipleship than some of those did who were elected, and ordained, and honored, and rewarded men. And thus it was that Peter was able to certify to the hundred-and-twenty that Matthias had been as true and as loyal to his Lord all those three years as the very best of the eleven had been. ‘And thus,’ said Peter, ‘if there were some who were numbered among us who were not at heart of us, there were others who were at heart and in life really of us, though they were not as yet written down among us.’ So have I myself seen heaven-born and highly-gifted ministers of Christ passed over in the day when this and that vacant charge met to cast their lots.
And, like Matthias, I have seen such men left out at the beginning only to be the more promoted and employed in the end. But then, to be sure, they were like Matthias in this also, that all their days they were men of staunchest loyalty to their Master, and men of sleepless labor for His cause. When a door shall open, and where, is not the true servant’s business, nor his anxiety. It is the true servant’s part to be ready; which the truest of all servants never feels that he is. And disappointments and procrastinations to all such men are but extended opportunities to enable them to be somewhat less unready for their call when it comes.
If Matthias had been a modern probationer you would not have found him going about complaining against this committee and that congregation. You would not have seen him going about idle all the week, and then turning up at each new vacancy with the same old and oft-fingered sermon. No. You may shut all your doors on some candidates, but you cannot shut them out from their books, and from the hidden and unstipended work that their hearts love. You cannot, with all your ill-cast lots, either embitter or alienate a truly elect, and humble-minded, and diligent disciple of Christ, And with all your ill-advised elections the stone that is fit for the wall will not always be let lie in the ditch.
But is there anything possible to our very best probationers that can at all be compared to this qualification of those days – to have companied with the Lord Jesus all the time He went out and in among His disciples? Yes; I think there is. Nay, not only so; but when we enter into all the inwardness and depth of this matter we come to see that our students of divinity and our probationers have actually some great advantages over the twelve disciples themselves.
Our Lord’s words are final, and full of instruction and comfort to us, on this matter. His words to Thomas, I mean. Jesus said to him “Thomas, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed(John 20:29).”
And you will all recall Sir Thomas Browne’s noble protestation: “Now, honestly, I bless myself that I never saw Christ nor His disciples. I would not have been one of Christ’s patients on whom He wrought His wonders. For then had my faith been thrust upon me, nor should I enjoy that greater blessing pronounced to all that believe and saw not. I believe He was dead and buried, and rose again: and desire to see Him in His glory, rather than to contemplate Him in His cenotaph or sepulchre. They only had the advantage of a bold and noble faith who lived before His coming, and who upon obscure prophecies and mystical types could raise a belief and expect apparent impossibilities.”
To have seen and handled the Word of Life; to have had Him dwelling among them, full of grace and truth, as John says; to have had Him going in and out among them, as Peter says, was a privilege incomparable and unspeakable. At the same time, let any student in our day read his Greek Testament, with his eye on the Object: let him be like John Bunyan:-“Methought I was as if I had seen Him born, as if I had seen Him grow up, as if I had seen Him walk through this world, from the Cradle to the Cross: to which, when He came, I saw how gently He gave Himself up to be hanged and nailed on it for my sins and wicked doings. Also, as I was musing on this His progress, that dropped on my spirit, He was ordained for the slaughter,” and so on. Let any of our students company with Christ all the time He went in and out in that manner, and he may depend upon it that the beautiful benediction which our Lord addressed in reproof to Thomas will be richly fulfilled to that wise-hearted student all his happy ministerial days, and through him to his happy people.
Now, if there were a divinity student here I would ask and demand of him out of this Scripture for students-Are you so companying with Christ while you are still at college? Do you see with all your inward eyes what you read in your New Testament? Do you believe and believe and believe your way through the four Gospels? Is your faith the very substance itself of the things you hope for, and the absolute and conclusive evidence of the things you do not as yet see? Do you pray your way through the life of Christ? Do you put the lepers, and the sick, and the possessed with devils, and the dead in their graves, out of their places, as you read about them; and do you put yourself into their places, and say what they say, and hear and accept what is said to them? For, if so, then you will receive, all your preaching and pastoral days, the end of your faith, the salvation of your own soul, and the salvation of the souls of your people.
Then, again, could any of our probationers be put forward by his proposer as Matthias was still put forward by Peter? No. It could not possibly be said of any man living in these dregs of time of ours that he had been an actual witness of the resurrection of Christ. And yet I am not so sure of that. Strange things can be said when you come to speak about a true probationer. With man it is impossible; but not with God With God all things are possible. I myself know probationers who are witnesses of the very best authority that Christ is risen indeed. Let such a young preacher come to your vacant pulpit with Ephesians 1:19-23; Ephesians 2:1 for his Sabbath morning exposition; and let him set forth with Paul, that the spiritual quickening of a soul dead in trespasses and sins is done by the same mighty power that quickened and raised up Christ, and you will soon see if he knows what he is speaking about. And if he does: if he makes your hearts to burn with the noble doctrine of his and your oneness with the risen Christ, then you have in your offer a living witness of apostolic rank for Christ’s resurrection. You might have the angel who rolled away the stone and sat on it for your other candidate, but he should have no vote of mine.
Give me for my minister, not Gabriel himself, but a fellow-sinner who has been quickened together with Christ, and who can describe the process and the experience till my death-cold heart burns within me with the resurrection-life of Christ. Give me a minister whom God has raised from the dead, and you may have all the sounding brasses and tinkling cymbals in heaven and earth for me.
And I am glad to say that there are not a few probationers abroad of that experience. Only, are you sure you will recognize them when they appear and preach in your pulpit? For-A jest’s prosperity lies in the earOf him that hears it, never in the tongueOf him that speaks it.Let the hundred-and-twenty take heed how they hear.