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JOHN AND THE THREE.
RAVE apprehensions are entertained by many devout minds respecting the results of the so-called "Destructive Biblical Criticism" of the present day. But it should not be forgotten that, simultaneously with these assaults on the outer bulwarks of revealed truth, new and more impregnable lines of defence are ever progressing toward completion; so that now, more truly than ever before, it may be said, "The foundation of God standeth sure."1 In other words, the constructive criticism of Christian scholarship is more formidable against all forms of rationalistic skepticism than are their attacks to the system of evangelic faith. Among the results of the more philosophic methods at present employed in Biblical investigation, may be mentioned a clearer perception of the essential unity and gradually progressive character of Divine Revelation, and of the intimate connection subsisting between the various parts of the Inspired Volume; but, above all, of the different but closely related offices fulfilled by those who were made the media of God's communication with mankind. Much has recently been written concerning the character and apostolic work of Paul; but it cannot be right that attention should be so exclusively directed to him as to involve neglect of the labors of the other disciples. Let us at present consider the Apostle John—I. As an Individual; II. As related to his fellow-apostles, Peter, James, and Paul.
» 2 Timothy ii. 19.
I. John as an Individual.
The family from which Saint John was sprung, belonged, apparently, to the middle class in life. There are several distinct sources of proof that he was brought up in circumstances of comparative affluence, and in all probability his earlier years afforded some opportunities for literary culture. While not made master of the refined subtleties of Rabbinic lore, by education at the feet of learned doctors in Jerusalem, he yet received the instruction befitting a Jewish lad born to thrift, and the conjoined labor and leisure usually accompanying middle station. His contemplative mind found healthy growth in communion with nature amid the hills and valleys of his native Galilee; and home-training in the devout performance of all religious duties was supplemented by the profound impression made upon his sensitive soul by the stately Temple ceremonial annually witnessed at Jerusalem. We are naturally anxious to possess ourselves of the clearest possible conception of the elements of that character which so won the affection of our blessed Lord; and materials are not wanting.
Ecclesiastical art has represented him with a woman's face, and it has been customary to ascribe to him the possession of feminine traits alone; but this is entirely incorrect. John was "every inch a man," and possessed many of the most strongly-marked masculine characteristics; but united with them others, evidencing wonderful delicacy of mental organization, so that the resulting character was truly unique, and suited to the accomplishment of a mission entrusted to no other mortal.
In the first chapter of his Gospel, the evangelist has recorded the account of his first meeting with his Lord. He seems to have been prepared to receive and welcome the Messiah at once. There are no evidences of any outward struggle before he could submit himself to the sway of a new master. Bather does his spirit seem to have rejoiced in the now consciously secure possession of an object of long and anxious search. He could say truly: "I have found Him whom my soul loveth."1 But though nature had done much for John, there yet remained abundant room for the operation of divine grace, in the purification and ennobling of his character. The John whom Jesus knew and loved, was not the gentle, heavenly-minded apostle of the later age, though the germs of these celestial graces lay hidden deep within, waiting for development at length into full flower and fruitage, under the radiant light and vital heat of the "Sun of Bighteousness." John was then a veritable Boanerges—
1 Solomon's Song iii. 4.
ambitious of preferment to the highest place in his carnally-conceived Messianic kingdom, impetuous and vengeful, even to invoking instant destruction on those who seemed to scorn his Master.1 So bigoted was he, that he would have permitted the devils to exult in unchallenged possession of their helpless victims, rather than suffer their ejectment by one who dared to remain in isolation from his own small company.2 Yet we cannot suppose that Christ called his bestloved disciple a " Boanerges" in the spirit of "unmingled censure." The eye of Omniscience was not chiefly directed to external manifestations of imperfection. It penetrated to the inmost depths of that soul which, shrinking from human gaze, spontaneously offered itself to the inspection of infinite holiness and love. John's heart was sound at the core. His fiery vindictiveness against the enemies of his Lord was but the other side of the noblest of all his noble traits— intensity of personal devotion to the object of his love; and his bigotry was but the wrong development of a spirit of holy zeal for Christ. John was probably the youngest of the apostolic band, and his character resembled a delicate vine, whose branches may be trained entirely at the will of the husbandman. With how great and loving care did the heavenly Husbandman nourish his tender vine during the years of its tender growth; and how patiently did he wait until the rich clusters of perfected fruit ripened into supernal beauty!
In John, the intellectual and emotional natures seemed to interpenetrate each other. Reason could not divorce itself from feeling. One cannot conceive of him as stopping, like Saint Paul, to argue a point of doctrine deliberately with an opponent. Truth was discerned by him as it were intuitively, and so entered into his very being as to share the intensity of his whole nature. John knew nothing of half truths. To him, what was not true was a lie; what was not from God was of the devil; what was not light was darkness; he who did not receive the Christ was anti-Christ; he who hated his brother was a murderer. We must find the source of this intensity of apprehension and description in the fact that the eternal verities of God were not to him idle myths—half real forms—but stern facts, taking hold on heaven and hell.
The question is often asked: Why did our Lord select from the band of his immediate followers three, to form, as it were, an inner circle, and be witnesses of some of the most stupendous manifestations of his power, the strange scene of his highest earthly glory on the Mount of Transfiguration,3 and the yet stranger spectacle of his
1 Luke ix. 54. 'Luke ix. 49. 'Matthew xvil 1.
deepest humiliation in the agonizing conflict of Gethsemane ?1 And why, again, was one disciple chosen to be the recipient of his personal affection and tenderness? While these inquiries cannot be fully answered, the fact is plain that perfect equality of privilege and position did not exist among the apostles, either during the Saviour's life-time or subsequently to his ascension. We are assured, however, that arbitrary favoritism could not have been the ground of choice, either of the Three or of John. There must have been peculiar intellectual endowments and moral traits fitting them for so exalted an intimacy, and specially qualifying them to be the media of communicating divine mysteries to men. These endowments and traits are so far discernible as to leave no doubt as to the justice and wisdom of Christ's selection. Above all, in John there must have centred a combination of qualities, unexampled among men, in order to fit him for companionship, nay, even bosom friendship, with Incarnate Deity. What other human being ever attained a dignity so exalted? Under the Old Covenant Abraham was called the " Friend of God,"2 and an angelic voice saluted Daniel as the "man greatly beloved ";s but John's surname—"the disciple whom Jesus loved"4—was the noblest of all. It would be interesting to seek in the Inspired Eecord evidence of John's worthiness of such a friendship; to recall to mind his fidelity to his Lord and Friend, when all else proved faitoless; to remember how, at that last supreme and terrible moment, when a "horror of great darkness " overspread not only the face of universal nature, but even the soul of God's well-beloved Son, from the hidings of his Father's face, there stood close by the cross, in unwavering constancy, the loved apostle. On the first Easter morning, this was the swift-footed disciple who ran in eager haste5 that, if nought more, he might at least "behold the place where his Lord had lain." And yet again, when, after a long night of fruitless toil, the weary and sad disciples recognized not the voice, calling "children" from the familiar Galilean shore, the eagle eye of John first caught the lineaments of that loved face, so that he cried, with joy, "It is the Lord." 6 On this same occasion, Jesus thrice asked the thrice-denying Peter, "Lovest thou me? *7 How strange such a question would have seemed, addressed to John! For him, a life had given answer. When Jesus, to test the devotion of his sincere but fickle disciple, said, "Follow me," 8 Peter obeyed, but with eye averted from his Master, and cast wistfully back toward those imagined to be destined to an easier lot. What did he behold? The
1 Matthew xxv. 37. 'James ii. 23. 'Daniel x. 11. * John xxi, et. alt * John xx. 4. • John xxi. 7. 'John xxi. 15, ff. • John xxi. 19, ff. "disciple whom Jesus loved" following, uncalled. John could not help following. It was his instinct to go and to abide with Jesus; he could not bear the thought of being absent from his side. It was obscurely intimated that" that disciple should tarry till Christ came;" but who shall say that he would not have joyfully exchanged the long and weary years of separation, for union with his Lord, purchased even with the crown of early martyrdom? But being "pure in heart," he ever "saw God" in spirit; and the church has loved to represent him as borne aloft on the broad pinions of an eagle, and gazing from the calm and unclouded regions of holy contemplation into the open heaven, whence he momentarily expects the coming of his Lord.1
II. The Relation of John to the other Apostles, viz., Peter, James, and Paul.
There is another aspect of the character of John, which comes into view in connection with his apostolic work, as related to, and developed from the careers and labors of his fellow-disciples. To understand this, we must endeavor to ascertain the nature of the mission appointed to each.
It is a matter of dispute, almost as old as the Christian church itself, what was the true meaning of our Lord's promise given to Peter. What was " the rock" upon which the church was to be built, and against which " the gates of hell should never prevail ?"2 Was it the apostle himself, or the faith exhibited in his memorable confession? Clearly, the rock is none other than Peter himself, but only as "in Christ."3 The assurance that to him should be given the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" was fulfilled in the work which he was divinely commissioned and enabled to accomplish during his life-time. The Christian, in distinction from the Jewish church, dates from the day of Pentecost, and of this Peter was the founder. It is at once evident that his strongly-marked traits were just such as to eminently qualify him for the task. A man "of ardent, impulsive temperament, bold and resolute, as well as prompt in action," able to inspire respect in others and bend their wills to his own, was necessary as a leader of the infant church. And such was Peter. Perhaps it is not too much to say that the very weaknesses of his character were, in this emergency, sources of strength. Peter was, like John the Baptist, a connecting link between the Old and New Dispensations; though while the former breathed most largely the spirit of the Elder Covenant, the latter had his face set towards the
i Schaff, History of the Apostolic Church, 407.