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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, espe cially that of two apostles, James the Great, and James the Less the brother of our Lord. Nothing more could be done for the be loved 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 THE
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 triumphs 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 purchased with his blood.
AN ADDRESS TO PRACTICAL UNBELIEVERS.
PROFESSED infidels are doubtless few, when compared with those who are practically such; that is, those who, while they profess to believe in the truth of divine revelation, yet in works deny it, and contradict their profession. Which is the most odious character in the sight of God, I will not undertake to say; but the professed infidel is certainly the most consistent character, as his practice corresponds to his professed belief. Practical unbelievers profess to believe in the scriptures as a revelation proceeding from God; how inconsistent then is their conduct! and, if their professed belief be well grounded, how awfully dangerous is their condition!
Permit me with plainness to address such. Those scriptures which you profess to believe as divinely true, declare, that “except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Can you then rest in an unregenerate state, and give yourselves no concern, while you are sensible that you are in this state, and have never experienced the renewing influences of the Spirit of God? These scriptures again declare, that, "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish," and "he that believeth not shall be damned." And can you, acknowledging that you believe this, yet live in security without having repented of your sins, with such a repentance as the scriptures require; and by faith, a faith which works by love, and brings forth fruits of holiness in the life, embrace the Lord Jesus Christ? The scriptures declare to us, that " without holiness, no man shall see the Lord." What, then, according to your own belief, will become of you, who neither practise nor love holiness?
You profess to believe yourselves constantly under the all-seeing eye of a holy and jealous God, who is a consuming fire unto the workers of iniquity, and who hath delared that "there is no peace to the wicked;" and accountable to him for all your actions. Can you, with such a belief, provoke him from day to day with your unlawful deeds? Such conduct put into words, how would it speak? Lord I believe, that I am constantly under thine observation, that thou art a holy, sin-hating, and sin-punishing God, and that thou wilt bring me into judgment, and punish me for mine iniquities; but, nevertheless, I will still continue in sin, dare thy power, and tempt thy vengeance. How inconsistent, and how shocking is such conduct!
You profess to believe in the immortality of your souls, that there is a future state of eternal happiness and misery, and that
in a few years at most, and perhaps in a few days, you must visit this eternal world, stand at the bar of God, and receive your irreversible sentence; and yet you are entirely absorbed in the things of this world, to the neglect of eternity!
The scriptures represent to us a heaven of unutterable bliss, and, notwithstanding all the glorious representations given, declare, that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." You acknowledge a belief of these things, and yet by your actions prove that you disregard them as much as if they were idle tales. Do you believe that there is a hell of torment, in which God will eternally confine the wicked, and that here, as the scriptures represent, their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched; that from hence the smoke of the torment of its miserable inhabitants, " ascendeth up for ever and ever," and that they have no rest day nor night, but shall drink of the wine of the wrath of almighty God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation? Do you believe these things, and yet, in defiance of this belief and all these horrors, sustain the very characters which the scriptures teach, shall have their eternal portion in this place of torment? How is such a belief, and such a character, to be reconciled with your being rational creatures?
The scriptures declare," that neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God:" they declare, that "the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” You profess to believe the scriptures to be true. Out of your own mouth therefore are you judged, and, according to your own professed belief, you fornicators, you adulterers, you thieves, you covetous, you drunkards, you revilers, you extortioners, you profane swearers, you have no title to the kingdom of God.
What awful inconsistencies of character do you practical unbelievers sustain, and, according to your own professed belief, how dangerous must be your situation! To what shall you be exhorted? to become infidels in profession as well as practice? contradict reason? counteract conscience? persuade yourselves that there is no hereafter? that death is an eternal sleep? Ah! it is in this fatal manner, that practical unbelievers too often seek to escape from that mental uneasiness, which is produced by a life at war with their principles. But as you value your souls, take the course which is the opposite of this. Instead of striving to accomodate your principles to your life, conform your life to your principles. It is your practice, and not your faith, that requires to be altereds