« PreviousContinue »
of his life. But there must be a benefit surely in collecting together every thing that we can know about him, and in tracing out as much as can be discovered to illustrate his writings; inasmuch as if we ask who St. John was, the answer is, that he was the disciple whom Jesus loved; and if we ask what are his writings, we know that in them there is so eminent a measure of divine truth, that he was called by way of eminence in ancient times, " the Apostle who spoke of God.”
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were, as we all know, fishermen on the lake of Gennesaret or sea of Galilee, when our Lord called them to be His disciples. We all know also that they with Peter were alone with Him when he was transfigured on the Mount, that they alone were with Him when he raised Jairus' daughter from the dead; and that they alone witnessed His agony in the garden of Gethsemane. After His resurrection and ascension, it was by Peter and John that the first miracle was wrought in His name, the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful gate of the Temple; and several years later, when St. Paul went up to Jerusalem to communicate with the Apostles, he addressed himself particularly to Peter, and James the brother of our Lord, and to John; who, as he says were accounted pillars in the church. This is the last scriptural mention of St. John that is free from all doubt and uncertainty ; but what I
have noticed is enough to show that from the beginning of the Gospel onwards, St. John was ever regarded as among the most eminent of our Lord's disciples.
But this is not all: we know also that St. John had the highest and most awful privilege ever bestowed upon any human being, for he was in a peculiar manner the disciple whom Jesus loved. It were profaneness to attempt to dwell on this point farther than merely to notice it; but if we ask for what purpose it was recorded in the Scripture, and how without any profane curiosity we may yet regard it with benefit, the answer is, that this simple statement, together with what is said of our Lord's love for Lazarus and Martha and Mary, is the highest and most precious sanction for our own feelings of personal friendship and affection, as distinct from our general brotherly love or benevolence. The general language of the Scripture enforces general charity,--love to our brethren, that is, to our fellow Christians; love to our neighbour, that is, to all our fellow men. It was needful that we should have a Divine command for this, because we are so apt to fail in it; but we do not need to be commanded to feel personal regard or love for one or more individuals, for to this Nature herself prompts us. Lest however we should think that this was no more than an instinct of corrupt nature, which our
renewed nature should endeavour to overcome, it has been recorded that of this feeling our Lord Himself was a partaker; that He who so loved us all, that He laid down His life for our sakes, yet had those also for whom He entertained a particular, and, if I may venture so to speak, a personal affection ; that John was the disciple whom Jesus loved.
But when the mother of James and John ventured to ask for her sons that they might be exalted next to Christ Himself, when He came in His kingdom, His answer was,---" To sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, but it shall be given to those for whom it is prepared.” " It is not mine to give in the way in which it is now asked,mas an earthly prince might give honours to his favourites, out of partiality or private regard--but it shall be given to those for whom it is prepared of my Father ;--my judgment will be the judgment of Him who searcheth the reins and the hearts.” Infinite is the difference of feeling with which we should regard the greatest Apostle, or her who was highly favoured and blessed among women, and Jesus Christ our Lord both God and man.
Let us respect and love the characters of prophets and apostles ;-let us consider with awe and gratitude unspeakable that love to man which did not abhor the Virgin's womb. But let us beware, as of the most certain
idolatry, of that superstitious reverence which, separating the prophets and apostles and the Virgin Mary from all others of God's faithful servants, does really regard them with something of religious veneration, --with feelings I do not say the same in degree, but actually the same in kind, with those which we entertain towards our Lord. Nor let us be deceived with fond words, telling us that such veneration bespeaks an humble and reverent mind, such as becomes Christ's disciples, and that to refuse it is cold and hard and proud. For these are fond words, like those of the same sort of men in St. Paul's days, who in their supposed voluntary humility tried to persuade Christ's people to worship angels. If simple reverence or veneration be a Christian virtue, without reference to the claims of the object, then he who bows down before a thousand idols exercises more Christian virtue than he who worships God alone. One is our Master, even Christ, and all we are brethren :-all we, prophets and apostles included all we are brethren. Did Christ mean that we should respect all men alike, or that we should think none better or wiser than ourselves God forbid! But He did mean that we should think none so much better or wiser than ourselves as to forget their infirmities, as to bestow on them any the slightest portion of religious honour; that is, to suppose that they by reason of their holiness
can obtain favour for us from God; that they sit on Christ's right hand, and on His left, nearer to Him who judges than to us who are to be judged. When we so regard them it becomes idolatry; we give to man the honour due to God only. We shall all stand before Christ's judgment seat ;
-we have all need of His atonement, of His mediation; to seek help from one another, or to pretend to offer it to one another, is alike blasphemy.
It is necessary to say thus much, because this idolatrous regard for the Apostles, and even for other Christians far less eminent, is beginning to increase amongst us; and besides all its other evils it has this which is not of small importance, that it hinders us from studying the Apostles' characters as those of men like ourselves, and thus of deriving benefit from the faithful picture recorded in Scripture of their faults no less than of their virtues. For instance, it is recorded of St. John, that when he saw a man casting out devils in Christ's name, without following him as a disciple, he forbade him. And again, when the inhabitants of a Samaritan village refused to receive our Lord and His disciples, John asked “whether he should call for fire to come down and consume them, even as Elijah did.” You see that in St. John's early life, no less than in St. Paul's, there was a zeal not according to knowledge, a zeal which leads not to goodness and wisdom, but to