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The next act of the brother apostles is a more direct and open arowal of their worldly and ambitious views, than is recorded of the rest. Salome came to Jesus with her sons, worshipping him, and requesting that they might sit, the one on his right hand and the other on his left, in his kingdom. To this Jesus answered, Ye know Not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of my cup and to be baptized with my baptism? Prompted by love, and fired with ambition, they answered boldly, We are able-we are ready to share thy fortunes. Our Saviour, through this dark cloud of ambition, perceiving the integrity of their hearts, replied ; Ye shall drink, indeed, of my cup, and be baptized with my baptism; but to sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give by partial favour, and much less to those who are actuated by the motives ye now betray; but it shall be given to them, for whom, in the perfect harmony of grace and justice, wisdom and holiness, it is prepared of my Father. If to drink of the Saviour's cup, and to be baptized with his baptism, be the path appointed to the honours of his kingdom; what sincere christian will decline them? Our's, in that case, be the cross and reproach on earth! our's the fellowship of the man of sorrows! In any, and in every way may we be conformed to Christ, so that we may have a name in his kingdom, and behold his glory!
In our Lord's last journey to Jerusalem, as he passed through a village of the Samaritans, their national hatred to the Jews betrayed itself, by refusing to Jesus and his apostles, the common refreshment due to the weary traveller. Stung by the indignity offered to their Lord by these Samaritans, against whom, as schismaticks, they probably gloried in indulging the most violent resentment; the sons of Zebedee said, Lord, wilt thou that we should com. mand fire from heaven to consume them, as did Elias? But Jesus answered, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. The son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. Let not this violence be deemed characteristic of these apostles; but let us at least learn from it to beware of cherishing unhallowed tempers, and holding proud and threatening language, under the specious veil of love to Christ, and zeal for his glory. We turn with disgust from the execrations of the profane; but when good men, and even ministers of the gospel of peace, launch vindictive anathemas from the pulpit and the press in the name of the Lord, we are filled with fear and grief. O, that before they endeavour to excite the flame of persecuting zeal, they would so far curb their spirits as to inquire with the sons of Zebedee, into the pleasure of Him whom they profess to serve! Vol. II.
When our Saviour was apprehended, James and John forsook him and fled, like the rest of the apostles; but John soon returning followed him to the palace of the high priest; probably attended him to the judgment hall of Pilate; and took his post near the cross of his expiring master. In that dreadful moment, when our Lord was enduring for our sakes the extremity of suffering, John received an affecting testimony of his peculiar love; for looking on his mother and the disciple whom he loved, (whose kind arms, perhaps, sustained the venerable woman, while a sword, as good old Simeon had prophesied, was piercing through her soul) he said, Woman, behold thy son! and to the disciple, Behold thy mother! and from that hour, that disciple took her to his own home. No comment can impress the heart which is insensible to the force and beauty of the text.
On the morning of the resurrection, John, first of all the apostles, reached the grave of his Lord; and there it is remarked to his honour, that on viewing the evidences of Christ's resurrection, while Peter reasoned, John believed. On the banks of Gennesareth, in the person of a venerable stranger, he was the first to recognise his Lord. On that occasion our Saviour used an expression which was construed by the Apostles in such a manner as might have injured a mind less pure than that of St. John; for they appear to have conceived the idea that he should not die; an idea which, at the time St. John wrote his gospel, had probably gained ground in the church from his advanced age, but which he evidently discourages; observing, that Jesus did not say, He shall not die, but if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
After the day of Pentecost we find the beloved John always associated with Peter in every important transaction: they stand conspicuous in the front of that immortal phalanx, which conquered the world, and taught us to conquer it; the first brave confessors and joyful prisoners of the Pacificator and Liberator of mankind. Did they formerly contend for worldly pre-eminence? A baptism of fire has pointed out to them the pursuit of nobler dignities, to be obtained by nobler means. Neither wealth nor honour were now the objects of their ambition, but the glory of their God and Saviour: and corresponding fears, hopes, and affections united them, and shall forever unite all who are actuated by the same motives, though it may be with some intervening clouds of occasional misconstruction, in bonds of amity, which neither life nor death shall sever.
From St. John we now return to the martyrdom of his elder brother, styled by the church, James the Great; to distinguish him from another apostle of the same name, called James the Less, the son of Alpheus and the brother of our Lord. Ten years were now elapsed from Pentecost, and yet the scriptures record no transaction of James, nor of any of the apostles except Peter and John; yet were they all of the same spirit, and mighty in their conversation and ministry. The conduct of St. James in particular was, no doubt, consonant to the name of Boanerges, and such as justified the peculiar honour shown him by our Lord; but probably the sphere of his labours was confined to Jerusalem, and to occasional visits to the rising churches of Judea, Samaria, and Gallilee. From the sword of Herod Agrippa first striking at him, we may infer his authority in the church, and the efficacy of his testimony among the people. St. Luke records his martyrdom without detailing any circumstances of it, or adding one remark to throw light upon his character, or as the eulogy of his virtues. Why was so great an apostle as St. James taken away in the prime of life, in the midst of his successful labours? and why are the particulars of his life and labours unrecorded? God knoweth, though we know not. Incapable as we are of reconciling apparent difficulties, we may rest assured, that the works of nature and the dispensations of Providence, proceeding from the grand source of wisdom and order, have all a fitness and harmony which escape our limited faculties. What we now deem a blemish will hereafter appear a beauty; and we shall learn to adore what now we question. Some noble blood might be wanting to witness the infidelity of the world, and to invigorate the zeal of the church. And what victim could have been selected more proper, than he who had declared his readiness to be baptized with the baptism of his Lord; or what blood more precious than that of this Son of Thunder? His life and labours, unrecorded on earth, are emblazoned in the annals of eternity, and shall be hereafter published to an assembled world.
After the martyrdom of his brother, St. John is thought to have continued in Judea, until about the fifteenth year after the death of our Lord; discharging every office of filial duty to the pious mother of Jesus, until she was admitted to the glorious presence of her Son and Saviour. By her decease being free to discharge his apostolic office to the world at large, he appears to have quitted Jerusalem, and to have entered on the work of converting the Gentiles to the faith of Christ. Where first he exercised his office is not recorded; but after the death of St. Paul,
who first planted the gospel in those parts, we are authorized to say that he was much conversant in the Lesser Asia. The churches of Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia, are said to have been planted by him. These cities, with the addition of Ephesus and Laodicea, were the most flourishing of the Asiatic churches; and, from the circumstance of the seven epistles in the Revelations being addressed to them, we may conclude that they stood in a peculiar relation to St. John. From Ephesus, as a central situation, St. John is said, for many years, to have exercised his ministry with indefatigable labour and great success in various parts of the East and West.
In the reign of the emperor Domitian, long after Peter, Paul, and most, if not all, of the apostles had rested from their labours, he was sent a prisoner to Rome, as a subverter of the religion of the empire, and an asserter of atheism. By the command of that barbarous prince he is said to have been thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, from whence the Lord delivered him uninjured. The truth of this miracle we neither affirm nor deny, referring the curious reader to the disquisitions of the learned upon the subject. It is, however, uncontroverted, that Domitian banished this apostle to the Isle of Patmos; where he received from our Lord those Revelations which close the testimony of Jesus and the canon of scripture.
A few years after his exile, Nerva recalled the persecuting edicts of his predecessor, and St. John was permitted to return to the service of the Asiatic churches. Jerusalem was now razed from its foundation, after having shed much christian blood, especially that of two apostles, James the Great, and James the Less the brother of our Lord. Nothing more could be done for the beloved city, and for that once favoured, but now rejected, nation. In Rome Christ had been fully preached by St. Peter and St. Paul, and glorified by their faithfulness unto death. St. John also had borne his testimony there. The divine wisdom is therefore seen in reserving to the Asiatic churches, a station from which his peaceful ministry might, with most advantage, be extended on every side, as the necessities of the church should require, the lengthened labours of this only surviving apostle. In this blessed service he continued, until full of years, labours, and every good work, the weakness of nature put a period to his life, in the midst of his christian friends, and in the ninety-eighth year of his age. Eusebius tells us that his remains were interred at Ephesus.
The character of this holy man is delineated, and his eulogy given us by the Holy Spirit, in one emphatic line: He was tus
DISCIPLE WHOM JESUS LOVED. What can man or angel say more of human character? and St. John himself seems to have valued this distinction above all others, and to have dwelt upon it with honest delight. He mentions it thrice, with complacency, in the close of his gospel; and while he declines the subscription of his name, to give authenticity to his testimony, he concludes, This is the disciple which testifieth and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. Heavenly charity, in other words the love of God in Christ; which purifies the heart, and binds all the affections to truth, purity, and peace; which clears, expands, and invigorates the understanding; tranquillizes the mind; gladdens the spirit; softens the manners; humbles the soul beneath the meanness of pride, and exalts it beyond the littleness of created enjoyment; which gives meekness to wisdom, and temperance to zeal; the darling attribute by which Jehovah chuses to be known; the generous principle by which he requires to be served; seems to have formed the basis of St. John's temper, breathes through all his writings, and gives him those gentler shades of character, in which he appears peculiarly to resemble his divine master.
Every honour of the church was accumulated on his favoured head. He alone united the characters of evangelist, prophet, and apostle; and in each he maintains a pre-eminence which marks the beloved disciple. The divinity of Jesus, the doctrines of atonement and regeneration, union and fellowship with the Saviour, the work and offices of the Spirit, the deepest and most energetic truths of religion, are displayed in his gospel with peculiar felicity. A richer vein of piety, and a sublimer spirit, seems to characterize it. The simplicity of his diction, the sublimity of his thoughts, and the temperate wisdom of his mind, prove him to have been formed upon the strictest model of his Lord.
The character of St. John's Epistle is nearly similar to that of his Gospel. The divinity of Jesus, and fellowship with Father and Son; the faith which triumplis over the world; the love of God and man, evidencing itself in the genuine fruits of a holy and beneficent life; and the anointing of the Holy spirit; are the important subjects of which he treats. His Revelations, which carry us beyond the limits of humanity and the end of time, in a succession of illustrious prophecies, clothed in the boldest and most splendid imagery, exhibit him as the greatest as well as the last of the prophets. His extensive age seems to have given him a double apostleship; and as Jesus had before entrusted to his care his venerable mother, so to the same beloved disciple, in a peculiar manner, he appears to have committed the church frurchased with his blood.