« PoprzedniaDalej »
ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST.
JOHN xiii. 23; xxi. 20.-The Disciple whom Jesus loved.
THE person here described, is St. John the Evangelist, the author of that Gospel which bears his name. It was he who enjoyed the honourable distinction of being placed next to his divine Master, and of leaning on his bosom at supper. He was always one of those, whom our Lord admitted to his most confidential conversations and most interesting transactions, especially in the last awful and affecting scenes of his life; and he is scarce ever mentioned by any other name than that of 'the disciple whom Jesus loved.' These circumstances plainly mark the favourite and the friend: and, on the other hand, if we advert a little to the conduct of St. John towards our Lord during the course of his sufferings, the very time when true friendship would be most apt to show itself, we shall discover in it plain indications of a strong and tender affection.
When our Saviour was betrayed by Judas, and apprehended by the Jews, though St. John had, at first, with all the other disciples, forsaken him and fled; yet his affection soon got the better of his fears, and prompted him to follow his Lord, at the utmost hazard of his own life, into the palace of the highpriest. After Jesus was condemned and hung upon the cross, casting his eyes down from that dreadful eminence, he saw among the crowd the disciple whom he loved, standing by.' It does not appear from the history, that there were any other of the apostles, that attended him in this last melancholy scene, except St. John. They were terrified, it should seem, with the danger of openly espousing him at so critical a time. But, unawed by any such apprehensions, which all gave way to the ardour of his friendship, and the extremity of his grief, our Evangelist placed himself as near as he could to the cross, to catch the dying looks, and to wait the last commands, of his Lord and friend. The trust, then reposed in him, was of such a nature, as plainly showed, what unbounded confidence his
dying Master placed in his fidelity and affection.
Nor did his affection for his departed friend terminate here. It was continued after his crucifixion, to his memory, his character, and his religion. After a long life, spent in teaching and suffering for that religion, he concluded it with a work of infinite utility, the revisal of the three Gospels already written, and the addition of his own to supply what they had omitted. With this view principally he gives us several of our Saviour's discourses with his disciples, which are no where else to be met with; and it is very observable, that these, as well as the many other occurrences of his life, which he introduces as supplemental to the other Evangelists, are such as set his beloved Master in the most amiable and graceful point of view; such as a favourite disciple would be most likely to select, and most disposed to enlarge upon. Of this kind, for instance, are our Saviour's discourse with the woman of Samaria; the cure of the infirm man at the pool of Bethesda; the acquittal of the woman taken in adultery; the description of the good shepherd and his sheep; the affecting history of Lazarus; the condescending and expressive act of washing his disciples' feet; his inimitably tender, and consolatory discourse to them just before his suffering; his most admirable prayer on the same occasion; and his pathetic recommendation of his sheep to St. Peter after his resurrection. Whoever reads these passages with attention, will discover in them plain indications not only of a heaven-directed hand, but of a feeling and a grateful heart, smitten with the love of a departed friend; penetrated with a sense of his distinguished kindness; perfectly well informed, and thoroughly interested, in every tender scene that
it describes; soothing itself with the recollection of little domestic incidents and familiar conversations; and tracing out not only the larger and more obvious features of the favourite character, but even those finer and more delicate strokes in it, which would have eluded a less observing eye, or less faithful memory, than those of a beloved companion and friend.
From this short detail, it appears, that there subsisted between our Saviour and St. John a real, sincere, and tender friendship: and this fact, being established, will furnish us with some remarks, of no small importance to religion and to ourselves.
I. The first is, that friendship is perfectly consistent with the spirit of the Gospel, and the practice of every duty, that it requires at our hands. Who, indeed, but must grieve if it was not? For although, indeed, both the merits and the pleasures of friendship have been sometimes, by ancient as well as modern writers, most extravagantly and injudiciously magnified; yet after all, it must be allowed, that when it is formed on right principles, and conducted with sobriety and good sense, there is something in it so soothing, so congenial to the human mind; it is what the very best of men have been always so strongly disposed to cultivate and cherish; it so improves every enjoyment, and so lightens every misfortune; it is associated generally with so many excellent qualities; it gives birth to so many generous sentiments, so many noble and disinterested actions; it is, in short, though not a virtue, yet something so very like a virtue, that no one who has ever tasted the genuine satisfaction it affords, can willingly consent to part with it. The example of our Lord himself is alone sufficient to satisfy us on this head. If he had his beloved companion and friend, we cannot surely be acting contrary to his sentiments, if we also have ours.
But whence then, it is said, that remarkable silence of the Gospel on this subject? The answer is obvious. To have made friendship a necessary part of Christian obedience, would have been preposterous and absurd. For that similarity of disposition, and coincidence of sentiment and affection, on which friendship is founded, do not depend solely on our own choice, are not under the direction of our own will; and therefore could not possibly be the proper objects of a divine command. Our divine Lawgiver showed his wisdom equally in
what he enjoined, and what he left unnoticed. He knew exactly, what no Pagan philosopher ever knew, where to be silent and where to speak. It was not his intention, it was indeed far below his dignity, to say fine things upon popular subjects; pleasing perhaps to a few, but utterly useless to the bulk of mankind. His object was of a much more important and extensive nature: to inculcate the plain, humble, practical duties of piety and morality; the duties that were of universal concern and indispensable obligation; such as were essentially necessary to our well-being in this life, and our everlasting happiness in the next. Now the warmest admirers of friendship cannot pretend to raise it into a duty, much less into a duty of this high rank. It is a delightful, it is an amiable, it is often a laudable attachment; but it is not a necessary requisite either to the present welfare or the future salvation of mankind in general, and consequently is not of sufficient importance to deserve a distinct place in the Christian system. The utmost that could be done there, was to show (and it was sufficiently shown by the example of our Lord) that a virtuous friendship does not militate against the spirit of his religion; but is, on the contrary, improved and exalted by its precepts, and finds in them its best foundation and its firmest support. So far is Christianity from being adverse to any virtuous connections, that it actually provides a remedy for the greatest imperfection under which they labour. It does, what in the fond hour of affection has been often wished, but, till the Gos pel appeared, wished in vain; it renders our friendships immortal. It revives that union, which death seems to dissolve; it restores us again to those whom we most dearly loved, in that blessed society of just men made perfect,' which is to form, probably, one great part of our felicity in heaven.
II. But, secondly; the example of our Lord, in selecting one beloved disciple, does not only give his sanction to friendship, but it teaches us also what sort of friendship it is, that he allows and authorizes. For, whatever those qualities were, which attracted his notice and conciliated his affection, in the person of St. John, these, we may be sure, are the proper constituents of a legitimate, a Christian friendship. Now it does not appear, that St. John was distinguished by any of those showy intellectual accomplishments which are, of all others, most apt to strike our fancy and captivate our hearts,
although, in fact, they are often much better calculated for the amusement of a convivial hour, than for that constant fund of comfort and satisfaction through life, which we naturally expect from a well-formed friendship. That which princi pally attracts our notice, in his writings, and in his conduct, is a simplicity and singleness of heart, a fervent piety, an unbounded benevolence, an unaffected modesty, humility, meekness, and gentleness of disposition. These are evidently the great characteristic virtues, that took the lead in his soul, and break forth in every page of his Gospel and his epistles. These, then, are the qualities we ought principally to regard in the choice of our friends, and to cultivate in ourselves, if we would conciliate and preserve their affections. Now it is very observable, that these qualities are the very virtues which are properly styled evangelical, which the Christian revelation more peculiarly recommends, and which distinguish it from all other religions that ever appeared in the world. A friendship, therefore, founded on these principles, is, strictly and properly speaking, a Christian friendship; and it will be the direct opposite of those celebrated instances of Pagan friendship, of which we hear so much in ancient story. The characteristics of these commonly were, a haughty and overbearing spirit ; a vindictive, implacable, and impetuous temper; an intrepidity superior to every danger, and every consideration of justice, honesty, and humanity, in behalf of those partners in their iniquity, whom they choose to call their friends. Such wild extravagances as these, as well as those confederacies in vice, which young men, even now, sometimes compliment with the name of friendship, are indeed diametrically opposite to the genius of Christianity. To know what friendship really is, we must look for it in that sacred repository of every thing great and excellent, the Gospel of Christ. We shall there not only see it actually existing in its utmost perfection in the person of Christ and his beloved disciple; but we shall find, that almost all the virtues on which his religion lays the greatest stress, have a natural tendency to generate it in our souls. Examine only the several branches of benevolence, as they lie in the sacred writings, and especially in that exquisite picture of charity which is drawn by the masterly hand of St. Paul, [1 Cor. xiii.] and you will perceive that nothing is more easy than to graft upon them a firm and lasting friendship. They